Suffer for Who You Are

In many ways 2018 has been an exciting year for me. I’ve joined Clover Health as a software engineer, become a crisis counselor at a suicide hotline, and was voted into the Board of Directors at the bookstore cooperative I work at. That being said, there’s never a better time to examine what’s happened to me than towards the end of the year. I don’t necessarily love to reflect on my growth, rather I like to see what I can take away from it and how I can become better.

So taking a step back and looking at all the problems of this year, how they’ve occurred, and what techniques I’ve learned to overcome them; I’ve recognized a common theme.

Repeating some of my past writings and sayings, it’s evident that lack of honesty and vulnerable communication is the root of many problems. In social, work, or even situations with myself I find being honest to be the most difficult thing. It requires me to be cognizant of my setting, my emotional leaps, and others. I’ve always tended to be an emotional and neurotic person (fun fact: my Myers-Briggs personality is INFJ) and that hasn’t changed a bit.

And so to reiterate, I find that honesty is the biggest thing I’ve walked away. It takes a lot of guts to be honest in a world filled with reasonable insecurities and pride. It takes a lot of sacrifices and putting all your cards out there, letting folks know that this is who you truly are. And finally it takes a lot of awareness / mindfulness of the present. It takes emotional burden to take a step back to care for yourself and respect others.

I’ve realized that a lot of my disagreements over situations stemmed from miscommunication. Spoken or written language is nuanced in the sense that it is multifaceted and multi-layered. Whether or not we intend it to be, the words we speak and the sounds we make carry multitudes across different ears. It’s wonderful in a way, but also has unintended consequences.

“I am large. I contain multitudes.” - Walt Whitman

In some ways it’s unfortunate we don’t have some universal method of communication. Consequently I think it is difficult to be honest in a world where people are so vast and contain different backgrounds. Many philosophers have argued that the world is created by the language that we choose (Wittgenstein and some others subscribe to this philosophy).

The silver lining is that there’s a remedy for this. It is also the case that this remedy is not a panacea to all problems. Angela Davis said to some degree that perfection will never be reached, and when one summit is acquired, many other problems tend to form. But we can’t stay still. We can’t maintain the world as it is. Because of all the suffering and pain that is happening, it doesn’t require much explanation to realize that we need to change.

And so people always ask… how do we start? Do we start by letting the floodgates open? Do we start by letting everything out? Or do we trickle problems out one by one? How do we heal?

By letting each other know how we truly feel. By having integrity towards ourselves. By being vulnerable and letting other people in. And yes, it does hurt. It hurts much more than anything else. But at least the end of it, we can say we tried our best.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” - Antonio Gramsci

Ethics, Self-Awareness, Compassion, and Ramblings at Midnight

Audre Lorde taught me to be vocal, and to translate my feelings into language. That I am tasked with something greater than just feeling my emotion(s).

“For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.”

It is by this this quote that I believe engineers need to hold themselves accountable for their decisions. I think about the time when I took Contemporary Ethics for Computer Science at UT. I remember thinking it as the most banal class ever. Everything was so boring and the professor shouted platitudes and cliches at the students. I recently peeked at some of my old essays and was surprised to find how highly analytical they were. How they examined the world from a critical perspective, questioning the morality behind computing decisions that software engineers tend to nowadays neglect. It sounds solipsistic, but what I’m trying to get at is that there was a point where I was more concerned with the ethics of my software choices.

Nowadays I’ve definitely compartmentalized a lot of these decisions or thoughts. Moments where people have been oppressed in the workplace, when I’ve been oppressed, or when morally gray decisions were made. To all those who I may have affected: I am sorry. Oftentimes engineers throw up their hands and cry foul when it comes to their programming choices. A lot of this has been the negative culture we’ve built around whistle-blowing. In fact, the term whistle-blowing itself has some negative vibe to it.

Similar to past psychological experiments, people do things when it involves a higher authority order. The fact is that change cannot happen from the bottom-up. It is simply too hard at this moment. Society has constructed a chain of command where people feel obligation towards superiors. The belief of superiors has made whistle-blowing movements difficult and somewhat precarious.

Therefore I propose a solution: To create an empathetic space where our superiors can communicate and debate effectively with their reports. If leaders aren’t willing to change their minds, or at least be open to criticism, then no change can happen. This involves all of us. It requires emotional effort and capacity. It won’t be easy.

2018 is a year where I planned to be true to myself. To speak up for things that I felt true to and at the same time, be receptive to criticism. I hope you feel the same way too.

Oppression is not equal

When 2018 started I set off to read about 40 books for the year. One of my main goals was not just for vanity’s sake, but it was to increase my understanding of the societal issues that have contributed to the world’s current problems. This doesn’t just extend to capitalism as my recent readings have been, but also poverty, wealth inequality, racism, and sexism (I do agree that I need to look at more heterosexism literature too). And after reading a couple of books, I’ve found that oppression is deeply rooted and unequal. There has been so much literary, historical, and -ism contributions as to the multitudes of oppression that we experience. Whether it is in the religious Bible (Adam & Eve - Eve’s mistake in eating the apple) or in the historical context of the feminist movement (horizontal oppression versus vertical oppression - racism), it’s been hard to navigate the path towards a possible solution.

After rigorously looking around for possible movements to join, one of the most prominent issues I’ve come across is the lack of diversity within a field. Whether it is in technology, grassroots, non-profits, or activist movements I’ve concluded that a majority of causes are unfortunately segregated, whether it be by race, gender, or etc. Consequently this fracturing has caused a deep rift within groups aiming towards similar goals and has pivoted issues from vertical to horizontal.

To elaborate, it’s been evident that groups target others within similar movements (Audre Lorde’s reference to Black males being sexist towards Black females, disregarding that they are both aiming towards racial equality), resulting in time wasted and the top (benefactors of the oppressed) benefitting.

These conclusions are more of a digest of what I’ve been reading lately, and are by no means a solution. Rather, it is an observation and suggestion that we are constantly fractured and will continue to be unless we become a more inclusive and loving world. After volunteering at the Suicide Hotline and reading James Baldiwn, Audre Lorde, etc. I have come to the belief that love and understanding will contribute greatly towards unity and empowering our ideals. Yes, there is still a problem in the lack of structure within grassroots movements and non-profits (I will not comment on that; I don’t believe I have enough understanding into how difficult it is to organize and maintain one), but I believe that inclusivity of all folks will lead us towards some commonality which we can accept.

To summarize, we must recognize that oppression is not equal, and that we will never progress unless we realize that.

New year, new you, new me?

When I looked back at my last post, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was audcacious of me to think I could write every day. I’ve always been one to have ambitious goals, at least when it comes to self-improvement. I’ll admit it’s one of the more yuppie-esque things about me. Despite that, 2018 is here and I really haven’t written in forever. A lot of things have changed since my last post, and a few more things will be changing soon.

1) My resume now marks the end of my time at Munchery. It’s been a brief an interesting stint. I learned a lot about myself, my goals, and a lot of my desires when it comes to software engineering. I hesitate to say where I’ll be going and what I’ll be doing next, but you’ll learn soon enough if you keep up to date!

2) I’ve been frenzied when it comes to volunteering. Volunteering has always been something I cared about. For selfish reasons, I believe it’s important to take a holistic approach to life and embrace situations that make one uncomfortable – poverty, health, or education. From an extrinsic standpoint, it’s amazing to see people succeed and help them get to where they want to be. I encourage everyone to look into volunteering within their community. The connection that you form with your neighborhood and its residents is very powerful and not one to be overlooked.

3) I did my first marathon in January! It was a brutal few months of training that pushed me to my extremes. Mornings where I didn’t expect to wake up at 5:30 AM to run 15 - 20 miles, and mornings where I couldn’t move in the blistering cold when it was <50 degrees. Regardless, it was an amazing experience and running warrants a post in itself.

Ultimately I think my life has undergone a lot of change the past year, for better or worst – I’m not entirely sure yet. But one thing is that the people in my life have changed. It’s amazing how many different people you can meet and form a connection with. I always get sappy and write about how grateful I am to my friends, but I never any other way to express my thoughts. Without my friends (old and new), I don’t think I’d be able to be where I am. Many late-night conversations, drunken nights, and thought-provoking discussions have helped me progress to where I am today, and I am eternally grateful to all of you.

Anyways, this is just a preview post! There’s more to come, and maybe a site redesign if I’m not too lazy.

Cheers, Daniel

Incremental Improvement

The great thing about writing everyday is that I get immediate feeback on how my writing is. Being able to instantly observe, correct, and iterate on my previous writing is something that I am attempting to focus on more. I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate towards short sentences and blurps, however I don’t elaborate and explain more of my thought processes. This is definitely a sticking point in my writing, and I figure I will need to improve on this eventually.

One thing I’ve currently noticed about my website, is that some of the pages aren’t very functional. The HTML is being rendered, but for some reason the CSS isn’t being applied properly. Knowing me and my non-ui skills, this is going to be a work in progress for me to fix.

Aside from the website currently being down, I’ll be pleased to say I have finally purchased a Kindle. Needless to say this isn’t the end of my foray into paperback / hardcover books, however it’ll just be easier for me to decide on which books I actually want to purchase. I’ll definitely need to be cognizant when I buy books, in that I don’t just buy books in which I love, rather books that I find useful. One of the greatest things about having a book, is that I’m able to loan them to other people, and at same time, admit that I don’t necessarily like the book, but I appreciate its opinion.

Somewhat relating to books, tomorrow is the start of my Coursera writing class! I’m very excited to try to improve my writing, seeing as this is the first large effort I’ve put into it. I’ll be documenting my process, along with other random blurps that come up

Anyways that’s all for today, I’ll need to start reading now.