On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons learned from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Every day when they were zapping through the 30 TV channels offered to them they would see Hitler documentaries. They had gone through the 20th century in Germany for what felt 3 years now. First they were studying it in their history lessons in 10th grade. Then they were studying different ideologies during their philosophy courses taking a deep dive into utilitarism, striving the so called social darwinism. Then they got to know how the mothers and fathers of the "Grundgesetz" (basic law) were implementing it to make sure things like the third reich won't ever happen again just to study the 20th century from beginning to end again in thirteenth grade.


A few weeks back I attended the ceremony for the Shimon-Peres-Price, when it was given to a project I’ve been part of. To be honest I did not know a lot about Shimon Peres but he’s a particularly interesting person. He used to be one of the first advocates for bilateral relationships between Israel and Germany. He was one of the first to say that should work together but never forget what happened. Germany is living a culture of embracing its past, of making sure that nobody forgets what our ancestors did. I do not know why but for the past 12 years, basically since I became old enough for such conversations, I overheard adults complain about just that. Adults in my family, friends of the family, strangers whenever one was bringing up that topic. Maybe they inherited this behavior from their ashamed parents, but maybe they’re just tired of hearing it just like I’m tired of hearing the same complaints from my grandmother every week. If so this raises the question: How do you remember and remind others of the dark ages of history?

On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century answers this question perfectly. When I started reading this book, I thought it was just more of the same, but it gave me a lot of new insides. The author starts every chapter with a thesis of how to oppose those who seek to confuse the people, divide and reign and eventually set up a dictatorship of one way or the other. Every of theses theses is then supported by examples from the past and connections to the present are drawn. 

Especially the last chapter was interesting to me: The author describes two different ways of making politics: One announcing that things are inevitable while the other praises the good old times. While we’ve seen the first of them for quite some time, the latter one is rising in nearly every of the biggest economies: The U.S., France, the UK, Germany, we’ve seen it in Hungary and Poland and that is neglecting the other major players in the world such as Russia and China. How is the president saying he’s going to bring the US back into the good old times of 80 years ago? How is anyone thinking they can do this? How was Merkel able to say what the government did during the financial crisis was „alternativlos“ (inevitable)? How is the AfD, the „Alternative für Deutschland“ (Alternative for Germany), an alternative?

I could go on a multiple hours long rant right now, but I'll save that up for later. The question I was asking before is still open at this point: How can we remember this time and remind others in order to make sure no such thing ever occurs again? I think this book puts a great perspective on the topic as a whole. There is simply no judgement. There is no emotion. I think even the most ignorant person in the world could read this and draw their own conclusion. And it is a fairly short read of less than 150 pages in a small form factor. Go get it and read it, because you should

Get out of my way

This will definitely be one of my most favorite articles. Pascal must have been thinking something like this or something very similar as he was creating the draft for this post. It took only a year and a half to eventually get to write this post.

The biggest win in terms of productivity which I found for myself is that idea of getting out of my way. I found it somewhere between third and fourth semester in university. I had failed every exam during the first two semesters of my studies, but I had the will to finish my degree in the standard period of 5 years for the bachelor's and master's. The third semester was when I learned how to study, a skill which I hadn't picked up in school. 

I had and still have a very good friend who was in with me on that goal and so we agreed to learn for every exam together. 4 weeks of at least 5 days a week for one exam. In some kind that friend taught me that very important lesson. He was my trainer. He knew exactly how much time he needed for a given task and he had no excuses for himself. 

With him I learned to stop to complain about my tasks. I hated almost every second of studying, but together we just pushed through it. During that time I still managed to meet with people once or twice a week even though I was still visiting my grandmother once a week.

Here is what I think makes this so effective:

- If you just start attacking your problem, you won't procrastinate on your task for an hour before you start doing it anyways: 1 hour won

- If you know that you need to get shit down in order to be able to allow yourself to see your crush, you'll be a lot more motivated.

- We had one goal, we had a very clear task to execute in order for us to reach that goal and so the only discussion we had was whether or not to prolong the lunch break for 20 minutes more or not.

Only when I got out of this super working relationship I saw that I was performing better than most of my pears and I saw other struggle a lot with even starting a task. I've talked about James Clear's website a couple of times before and I still believe, it's a great resource for hacking your productivity. Start something now!

A year of why?

It happens to every single one of us. One day we wake up and we just wonder why we're doing all that stuff that doesn't really mean anything to us? For most people in my parent's generation this was called the midlife crisis as it was striking people in their 40's or 50's when they are pretty good in what they're doing professionally, the children have grown out of their teens and they finally understand that they've wasted a pretty big part of their lives chasing money or whatever was driving them. 

My generation however is obsessed with doing everything right in the first place. Don't make a mistake. Don't get into the treadmill of work to fast. Take a year of between school and university, do a work and travel, change jobs in between... . I've always been like that. Even though I couldn't afford to take a year of and I was kinda rushing through my studies, I never wanted to do anything meaningless.

I didn't write a lot of blog posts during the last year as I was jumping from one thing to another, but when I decided to go back to my blog and start writing again, I thankfully read my pages "Who I am" and "Me in 2021" again. What I found was that I had lost touch with the me of a year ago.

I started this blog because I want to help others, but for the better part of 2017 I've been fairly egotistical. I spent 4 months of 2016 more or less full-time in an unpaid refugee project in Berlin, yet I've hardly met any of my new friends. I've spent half a year obsessing about my position in the startup I've been working for, thinking about coding projects I wanted to get done in order to eventually cash in on those projects in one way or another. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and way to high cholesterol: At the age of 25 I'm taking 3 pills every day.

Reading those ideas I had for who I am and who I want to be, reconnected me in some way. I would recommend you to do something like this and revisit it every now and then. I made some changes to those pages and I'm certain that I'll be changing a lot more in the future, but some things are not meant to be changed that easily. Changing them will make you feel uneasy, stressed and you won't like the position you're in. I'll see if I can stick to that and what kind of conclusions I need to draw from there.

Addiction

It’s three in the morning. Pascal’s alarm clock gets off even though the bus he needs to take in order to get to school will only take of in 4 hours. Pascal is just 13 years of age, but he needs to get up. He gets to the computer, turns it on and waits for it to boot up. He gets excited. The troops he’s commanding in a browser game he’s playing should have reached and conquered the enemies provinces. He logs in and checks the battle reports as he is seeing that an army to big to be real is marching towards the provinces he’s controlling. He posts this encounter to the alliance forum and sends out soldiers to befriended territories in order to settle down there and start over in case he gets overrun. 

Why does he do that?

 

Why am I addicted to basically every thing? I recently listened to another episode of one of my favorite podcasts: The Art of Charme. The episode I’m referring to was an interview with Russel Brand called „Freedom from our Addictions“

As Russel was pointing out so brillantly, people get addicted because they are looking to get some kind of fulfillment from an outside source. We starve to get some kind of happiness we should seek to find in themselves. I don’t want to offend people who are physically addicted to any kind of drug as I do not seem to belong to this group, but I cannot help but to notice that I am always kind of addicted to something. Usually I can get rid of my pseudo addiction relatively easily. When I did stop drinking after becoming a muslim last year, I was craving alcohol for some time and I still do when I am at any parties, but I don’t know if one could call that an addiction. What I do though is to do everything in excess. I am very bad in finding a middle ground. I simply wasn’t able to dring one or two beer. I would always just stop when we ran out of drinks, I ran out of money or I was so tired I had to go to bed.

 

I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure (at the age of 25), which I didn’t have two years ago, but I’ve been suffering a lot of stress since then and I cannot help but to notice that I’ve kind of addicted to work and stress. I feel bored if I don’t challenge myself all the time but I tend to expect to much of myself and as a result push myself to hard. I had two panic attacks since I started my current job (my first one), because I felt I was to slow and made to many mistakes while my bosses said I was doing a way better job than what they did expect. Again the question is: Why do I do this to myself?

 

I for myself know that I’m seeking attention more than I’d like to admit. It’s my ego constantly getting in the way. I need to work constantly to get closer to that picture representing me as I would like to see myself. Consuming a lot of sugar and coffin helps me to work harder, drinking alcohol was the only way I had to slow down a bit. So what do I do next? I found that talking about it helps, but I need to start accepting myself for who I am now without losing the will to improve. I’m afraid of losing my grid as soon as I am happy with who I am.

Muslim Lifestyle I - The prayer

I promised that I would give some insights to my way into Islam and what I like about it. I thought that I should probably start with the prayer, since it is the topic, that might be the most repelling one when it comes to being a Muslim for Christians or other religious people. If you consider yourself an atheist who doesn't even feel able to believe in some kind of godlike entity: stay tuned. (And probably keep reading those articles, because I think they are interesting anyways :-P).

I will say this thing over and over again in every separate article: I am not an expert on this. I did not study Islam (or any other Religion for that matter) and I can only tell you, what I've been told. When in doubt: consider me wrong and correct me in the comments, but please remember to be polite. One of the people who where there, when I converted, told me: "Always remember, you are new to this religion and you will always make mistakes. I have been a muslim for 56 years now and I am still learning new things about it. When someone tells you that you're wrong, just tell them that you're new to the religion. You can even say this in 10 years from now." 

Having said this, I want to talk about the prayer. People consider it some kind of brainwashing, if you pray 5 times a day and I agree that there is something to it. Other muslims I've been talking to, agree with that as well and openly told me: "Of course you are less likely to do something bad, if you are trying to talk to God ten minutes later, asking to go to Ghannah [Arabic Word for Paradise]." (I am paraphrasing). But I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. I believe that most rules which should be followed in Islam make every day life easier, if everyone follows them. And I believe, that they make it healthier. I will post more on that later, but I want to say: Putting up rules, which make life easier/better and then putting a system in place to make people follow the rules, is a good idea.

Another thing that I like about praying that often is the meditation that comes with it. I already put up some posts on how much I love meditation and I've been bragging about it on social media. It is great. Praying for me basically triggers the same effect. Starting with Wudu, the religious washing procedure before the prayer, you have a powerful ritual which helps you, to take a step back, relax and refocus. James Clear wrote tons of articles on creating rituals and processes in order to be more productive. During the washing process (I do it, if I can, in some bathtub), you clean up your hands, your face, your arms and your feet (plus some additional parts) in a particular order. I like to do it with warm water, because it feels like a big stress relief and it helps me free my mind, a practice you could also incorporate in you meditation.

For me it feels, like the idea of the whole thing is, to minimize all distractions. I think this is also the main reason, why men and woman are separated in the mosque. I have prayed with families, where men and women pray together and I don't think, that this rule is very sexist (even though it kind of neglects the existence of gays and lesbians or other genders, but that's something I still have to think about later). I think minimizing distractions would be a good idea for meditation too. Distractions that are taken care of in Islam:

  1. If you are using a carpet for praying, it's supposed to have as little ornaments as possible.
  2. The floor on which you are praying should be clean. 
  3. You are supposed to clean yourself, I guess it will prevent itching and smelling xD. Especially the cleaning of mouth and nose is interesting to me, because I used to be pretty distracted by parts of my breakfast back in 7th grade, when I went to church. 
  4. Men should cover everything from their shoulders down to their knees. Women should cover everything besides their feet, hands and faces. 
  5. Every prayer follows the same order. Order helps the human brain to follow in certain patterns. Again: repetition means learning.
  6. If you can, you're supposed to pray in a group. This helps to create a feeling of community. Praying in the mosque creates a similar feeling of community for me that is similar to concerts I've been attending in the past. It feels nice to have the feeling of belonging to a group and I get goosebumps all over my body when everyone prays together (The same feeling of belonging also comes up when I see girls with a Hijab outside, but that's again another story).

So yes all in all I believe that the muslim prayer has some good things to it and I don't believe that the only reason for praying 5 times a day is to get control over the muslim. I believe it's supposed to help the muslim cope with the biggest challenges in life. The given timings force you to get a good rhythm into your life, which is helpful if you're depressed. Praying every few hours for the things which are important to you, helps you stay focused throughout the day. For example I was praying for my friend to find an apartment. Every day after one of the prayers I would call him and ask him if he had applied for some rooms, which forced him to eventually work on it, apply for rooms and eventually he got one. You don't even have to believe in god to realize that constantly pushing into the same direction will make you reach your goals.

 

21st century Muslim

It's been a long time since I have posted something here. Or anywhere for that matter. I joined a little NGO in the end of July 2016. This lead to me doing less and less work for my masters thesis and eventually hanging around there more or less 24/7.  I'm still in the process of going back from there to a "healthy" way of doing it and I will most likely write a blog post about it in the not to far future, but right now I want to talk about something else.

I converted to Islam, one of the biggest religions on planet earth and a religion with a lot of very interesting aspects to it. I need to explain all of these aspects with single posts for each of them and just wanted to give a little introduction to the topic as it is one that I've lately been thinking about quite a lot.

No worries: I won't start being sexist, try to convince you to convert, run around with weapons or stop having fun and humor. I stopped eating pork and drinking alcohol though, which is incredibly hard to do, if you love both of which as much as I do and live in Germany....

I'm looking forward to writing about my thoughts about this interesting religion in the coming days and weeks. Have a great week!

Moving forward

I haven't written anything in this blog for about two months. Two months are a quite long time. I've made new friends, met old ones, I felt miserable for three weeks without really talking about it, I've dated a girl, started new activities and discontinued old ones.

I read this article yesterday about the morning routine of seven pretty successful women. Not only are all of them stunningly beautiful (I don't mention it because I am a sexist and I think women have to be beautiful. I rather like to appreciate the beauty in all people), but all of them have a morning routine, which they believe is part of their success.

I'm mainly writing this blog for two reasons beside the fact that I'm an attention whore:

  1. I like to give advice to young people who need it. I want to show that there is a silver line on the horizon and I want to help people figure out how to deal with their depression.
  2. I need to write stuff down in order to hold myself accountable. I want to showcase my journey in order to a) show that I know what I'm talking about and b) stick to my plans.

So apparently I've failed in both points, but at least I'm restarting. I also stopped meditating every day, but I've incorporated some techniques in my every day life. 

Long story short: I will change my behaviour to the following. I will start every day by writing down 5 things, which I want to do. At the end of the week, on Saturday I will give a report here on what I've accomplished. Hopefully this will a) make me feel awesome because I actually reflect, that I've achieved something. b) pressure me into actually doing something c) there is no step 3.

 

 

Perfectionism

Perfectionism kills productivity. At least for me that is the most hurting truth ever. 

Even though the articles and pages on this blog don't look all that thoroughly crafted, I truly see myself as a perfectionist. It's not part of my nature to expose stuff that is not finished to the world. It hurts. It makes me afraid that others will think that I am incapable, because they will not see my peace of work as perfect and beautiful as I imagine it to be in the future; I don't start working out, because I would have to do stretching afterwards, to have the best results and I don't want to stretch; I don't even start cleaning up my room, because I would need to take the trash out or do laundry.

So I end up not meditating, not doing any sports, procrastinating on my studies even though I'm in university and feel miserable about myself at the end of the day. This blog started as my way out of the vicious circle, because I could just start of working on an article and finish it somewhen in the future. Most of the time I finished my articles in one session and suddenly I couldn't even start to write an article. Why? Well, I wouldn't be able to finish it in one session.

I don't mean to write something crappy, but I need to work against that perfectionism. Why? Besides the fact that I need years to start working on something, because I know that it will be so hard to finish it, I also don't finish most of my projects. I am a person that a has a very high need of approval and I just loose the motivation if I don't get any approval. I stop to work at most of my projects after hitting 60-80% because it's not new anymore and I would need some kind of approval from someone, even me. 

I finally started working out again after almost a month of missing it. I skipped half of the stretching routines both times, but it is okay. At least I am doing something. I did meditate twice this week, also starting over after a month. I wrote another blogpost, I even managed to read on in that one book, that I had laid aside for two months. I am not very proud of my work, but I am proud, because I managed to show up. At least I keep moving somewhere and as soon as I build up some momentum again, I might even move in the right direction. Until then I will stick to 

Violence

After the most recent events in #Orlando (NY Times Article) I can't wrap my head around it once more. Once more each and every one is including the families and friends of the victims of another shooting to their preyers: Even though just a few of us know what it feels like to loose part of our family in an attack, we mourn their deaths.

As always after such a tragedy debates are rising. Donald trump did the obvious thing and repeats his call for the ban os Muslim Migration. Obama has made his points clear about his stance on gun rights after shootings before and he does it once again

Unnecessary to say, that I don't agree with Trump and that I believe in more strict gun laws. I mean I get it, I get pissed of every time someone tries to lessen my freedom even if I just get a piece of advice that I didn't ask for, but seriously: Why the hell are you guys so stubborn when it comes to your right to wear a gun, but don't do anything about the NSA?

But I don't think that this will solve the problem. It's a cure that tries to fight off the symptoms instead of curing the issue. As @HKesvani pointed out in his post about an existing queer Muslim community: It is assumed that most terroristic attacks are executed in order to achieve personal significance.

There is a couple of things that need to be addressed when speaking about this:

I can only speak for myself, but I am sure, that this applies for others as well: I have felt strong anger and the urge to destroy stuff and hurt people on a psychological or physical level. Like most people I can contain myself and don't follow these urges, but I have to admit, that I feel it, so I'll assume, it's part of human nature. I got much better in coping with those feelings when I learned to accept them using meditation.

We are indeed living in great times. Our knowledge in science and medicine grows every day. At least in Europe nobody really needs to be homeless or fear hunger. 

But then again the gap between the poor and the rich is growing. It's not as bad as it is in third world countries but people are afraid of loosing what they have. Especially in Germany I have seen politicians blame almost every group over the course of years. First it was the unemployed who were just to lazy. At our times it's the Greek who are way to lazy. All the time they are blaming someone else in order to find excuses to not improve schools, fund more teachers, policemen, rebuild our rotten streets or do whatever would be needed. In other words: a human being is just worth something, if he/she/they work and if you don't do anything "productive" or "useful", you are merely more than a parasite. 

On the other hand we are automizing more and more of our work. Basically we're building machines that do the easy work, that can be automated. The work for which we needed lesser educated workers just a few decades or even years ago. It won't take a lot of time until we just don't have any work for them anymore. 

Each and everyone of us needs some kind of sense in live. There is studies that show that religious people tend to have less mental illnesses which is connected to the need of people for a deeper meaning. Even the well recognized Amen Clinics, which are doing a lot of scientific work, include "spiritual" well being to the equation

Most people in our society find a sense of purpose in their work, but what will they do if you take it away from them? People also think that they can't change anything through politics anymore and all the sudden they are feeling paralyzed in a world they don't understand because it is to complex.

So what do you do when you feel powerless? The bottom line is that we need to have those people integrated in our society. They need to find a purpose, because they won't be able to accept people who are different from them as long as they need to find someone whom to pledge guilty and whom to fight, because they are not satisfied with their lives. It's not a problem of the LBGT community, it's a problem of the society as a whole and those resentments and feelings will always erupt and discharge on any minority.

 

 

Emotions

During the last weekend I've been attending @subscribe_de, a German podcaster conference. It's been a pleasure to meet all these wonderful people, get to know the faces of all the voices I had been listening to for years and get to know all the fancy new people and podcasts I hadn't even noticed yet. If you're by any means capable of listening to German content, I would strongly recommend checking out their Youtube channel. Especially the videos of subscribe 7 should be interesting for you, as soon as they are available.

Why am I writing this article? Well, even though the conference was great and deserves an article for itself, I was not going to write a lot about it. What made me write this article is a talk by @nahlinse

Besides the information that she is using ravelry to promote her podcast (As far as I understood, Revelry is a fancy platform about all kinds of projects that deal with textiles of any kind), there were some points that struck me.

First: No matter what you achieve in life (Monika is indeed a Physicist <3), people tend to see you as the person they want to see you. Right now Monika produces a podcast called fiber thermometer (I love those puns), concerned with all kinds of fibre including "masculine" topics like Vikings and building bridges. 

She was trying to announce the feed to her podcast to several podcast directories but was ignored several times and didn't even get an answer when she asked why she was not being approved. 

She felt justifiably judged when she read comments about podcast concerned with knitting, weaving and so on. Those comments were trying to put her in the corner of a woman dutifully doing her housework or whatever. And again there are multiple points for me to deliver:

Most important to me: As a white hetero guy with interests like science, art, music and technology studying at a German university and intelligent friends I hardly ever get to see this chauvinist tendencies that are still part of our society. I remember those days when I was talking to my exgirlfriend about it because she had been exposed to similar thing when she went to Gamescom and people started asking her whether she was really playing video games. They were astonished when she would defeat them in shooters or other non casual games. 

So guys, wake up! Women do whatever they want to do. When they ride motorcycles, like my girlfriend did, it's fine. And when they want to discuss all sorts of fibre, it's fine too. Every topic is equally interesting. Just because your tiny little mind is not capable of finding something interesting in it, doesn't mean others don't. What I love about this point in time is that basically anyone can do anything. They can be one of many genders, men can knit and women can drive racing cars or hunt or do whatever else they want to do. Don't take it away from them, because you will take away what is most precious to me: freedom.  (BTW: When I was younger I learned how to crochet, because I wanted to - I just quit because I was not talented. I learned how to ride horses, because I wanted to. Now I spend half of my day singing, writing, talking and meditating, because I want to.)

The other thing that struck me was that people in the audience, whom's opinions I respect asked Monika to not take it so seriously. I totally get where this is coming from because I used to give and get the same advice. Growing up in groups of largely males it's important to learn to laugh about everyone including yourself because jokes will hit everyone. And if you are not able to laugh about it, you will get hit by more and more jokes and that's why you need to learn to ignore and laugh about it. 

Nonetheless I totally get why Monika has her issues with that. I can laugh about jokes about my very person. But there is a small group of people who get to make those jokes. And sometimes even jokes from my closest friends hurt, because I am very sensitive. When I get hurt by a friend I can tell them about my feelings and they can make it better, but with strangers on the internet you often times can't do that. There is also the missing smile or tone of voice to give an ironic statement it's signs. What I am trying to say: Taking things not to seriously is sometimes not that easy. I am sure that I will get hostile comments with growing exposure too. I will be prepared for it but just because all of us now that every part of society has it's assholes, it does not mean that we should not fight back. All of us should fight for nice communications on the internet and tell people politely that they are full of shit. 

I am a guy and I think that women have to decide how they would want themselves and society to be. I never thought of myself as a feminist, but I like to stick to the following quote:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. - Rosa Lumxemburg

So if you're trying to take away anyone's freedom I will get pissed by you. And if you're hurting others because you can't think ahead how you hurt them with your statements, I will get pissed too. It doesn't hurt to be nice. So be nice. Thank you for reading.