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Universality

There’s something about offering another person a cup of coffee that has a universality to it.

No matter what cultural background you come from (in my experience thus far, at least), the gesture of offering a caffeinated beverage transcends gulfs of any size.

I’ve seen violent, physical arguments brought to a halt due to the introduction of tiny ceramic cups of coffee. I’ve seen incommunicative chasms bridged when one person offers another a mug. It’s a gesture that says, “I don’t care who you are, where you come from, what you believe, or where you’re going. What matters right now is our shared humanity. And to honor this connection we have, please let’s enjoy a drink together.”

We may not always think about it this way, but that’s the deeper implication. Whether we’re sharing our coffee, with its stimulants, or alcohol, with its inebriating properties, we’re sharing a universally understood object to acknowledge the things we have in common; even if that list begins and ends with, “We’re both human.”

I like that. I like indulging in that shared bit of humanity whenever possible. Because something else I’ve learned while on the road these past five years is that very few of us actually wish for there to be divisions between cultures and groups; organizations and governments might, but people on the ground? No.

With our labels removed, we’re all essentially the same. We have different musical tastes and opinions about the afterlife, and in some cases wildly conflicting views on just about everything. But so what? It’s the people up top — who are largely safe from the consequences of putting human beings at each others’ throats — who encourage us to care about such frivolities. It’s they who want us to be divided and consequently easier to rule.

The rest of us, though, we’re people who enjoy a shared beverage; who enjoy bridges, whatever form they might take.

We’re people who cherish the moment when, looking into a stranger’s eyes, wondering about their intentions, they show themselves to be a friend through their body language, a warm smile, or a shared cup of coffee.

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Significance

There are many significant dates in a person’s life.

A birthday, for example, is considered to be quite significant. Another year lived! Huzzah!

A year — 365 days — is a unit of measurement derived from the amount of time it takes the Earth to travel around the sun. Which is cool, but bears no actual relevance to a person’s life. There’s no set number of experiences a person has in such a time period. As milestones go, a birthday’s only significance is that most of us stop and take stock after about the same amount of time has passed since our last birthday.

Birthdays are dates of ‘relative significance’: something that is truly significant to us, but not significant on a larger, concrete, non-personal scale.

Consider another event of relative significance: New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1999.

Folks were going nutty over all the supposed meanings of such a switch, but in actuality the new (Gregorian) calendar was introduced to avoid using the older (Julian) calendar. Why? Because the older one documented a time period during which Christians were persecuted, and the new calendar was calibrated using the assumed dates of things like the birth of the Bible’s Adam, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. There’s no orienting documentation for these events which are used as milestones, and as such, the modern calendar starts from an arbitrary point in time worked out by a Scythian monk in 525 AD.

Which means the year 2000 doesn’t have any absolute significance, only personal significance. It’s a number that feels different to us, being nice and round and big, and therefore living through that kind of transition — the year 1999 to the year 2000 — feels important. The only importance it has, though, is the importance we allow it to have.

Now consider the Y2K bug: an overhyped error caused by some computer code in which there were only two digits allowed for the year. The resulting bug, it was thought, would cause computers of all kinds to think the year 2000 (listed as ’00’) was actually the year 1900 (also listed as ’00’) and kill our financial structures, office spreadsheets, and AOL accounts.

Thankfully, this didn’t end up happening; the bug only impacted a very small number of machines. But such a bug is a good example of ‘practical significance,’ which is something that’s noteworthy in an absolute way.

No matter how you or I might have felt about transitioning to the year 2000, that bug could have had major repercussions, regardless. It was quite real in a way that was untethered from our perception of it.

Consider that many of the things we allow to have significance in our lives are not of the practical variety, but rather the personal. Consider, too, that items of personal significance only carry the weight you allow them to carry.

If you decide that birthdays aren’t important, then they aren’t important. If you decide that squirrels are significant to you in a way that other animals are not, then squirrels become ‘your’ animal. Recognizing that we have this power, over time we can experience fewer emotional entanglements with birthdays, or find greater joy in squirrels.

It’s not always easy to detach emotion from things that seem so deeply ingrained, but recognizing that they’re only important because you allow them to be definitely helps. And this is perhaps most true when it comes to traumatic, harmful, or restrictive things, people, or moments from our past that we allow to negatively impact our future. We decide how we feel about the things that happen to us, and we decide what we take away from such experiences.

There are few things more empowering than the realization that the most significant things in your life are whatever you want them to be.

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Artistry and Craftsmanship

Artistry is the ability to conceive of something that doesn’t exist yet. It’s a creative flourish that elevates what might otherwise be ordinary, making it new. Interesting. Compelling in some way.

Craftsmanship is a focus on how something is built, be it something physical, digital, or conceptual. It’s the construction of an idea or a chair. An applied solution that solves a problem, and solves it well.

Artistry tends to grow in a non-standard, sputtering, unpredictable fashion. One’s ability to be inspired may be catalyzed by a mind-blowing interaction with another person, a deep-dive into the history of a foreign culture, or a really great slice of cake. Or for no reason at all.

Craftsmanship requires a more consistent application of effort and energy to develop, but it can also be refined more predictably. Though one is unlikely to have a construction-related eureka moment, a slow, steady, iterative developmental process will almost always lead to vast improvements over time.

Artistry needs craftsmanship, because without coherent action, ideas remain immaterial and ineffective.

Craftsmanship needs artistry, because without new ideas and approaches, existing solutions — no matter how well-built — fail to solve new problems.

Most ideal is imbuing one’s work with both artistry and craftsmanship, as they’re far stronger together than independently.

Artistry gives us breakthroughs, but those breakthroughs wouldn’t survive a strong wind without craftsmanship behind them.

Our work, history, heritage, and discoveries wouldn’t survive our own lifetimes without craftsmanship, but without artistry behind such work, no one would care if they survived or not.