Category: Human Stuff

We are all humans. This is stuff about being human that you may relate to.

The other day I heard a conversation on the radio about loneliness. In the program, an expert was discussing the difference between being alone and being lonely. Many people rang in with great ideas about how to stay connected. This is particularly concerning for older people who are increasingly finding themselves isolated in our society. I didn’t get a chance to call in but I wanted to because basically, I don’t get lonely. Well, I don’t anymore.

There are different kinds of loneliness and probably much like you, I’ve experienced many of them. I can recall being an angst-ridden and lonely teen. No one understood me, no one was ever going to understand or love me. At times that felt very cold and dark, but I always had a love of movies, books and music and could lose myself in those joys. It was also quite untrue as I had very good friends and a caring family. I wasn’t alone often but still there were times I convinced myself that I was lonely. In my teenage mind not having a girlfriend was definition enough to feel lonely, to feel I didn’t fit with social norms.

As an adult I’ve experienced a number of different personal relationships, some longer than others, some intense, others relaxed, committed, non-committal and the annoyingly undefinable. Regardless, I’ve come to see that for me the greatest sense of feeling lonely was the experience of lying next to someone and being completely disconnected from them. And after a number of relationships that didn’t work out I felt the loneliness of being on my own. For a time I wallowed in a sense of rejection, but then I recalled the sense of loss and disconnection with others and realised it was actually myself I was disconnected from. I took the opportunity of being single as a time to have a relationship with myself. I did things for myself that I would do for someone I was in a relationship with. I took myself to nice places, I made myself good food, I bought myself things I knew I would really like.

I enjoyed being with myself and I completely stopped being lonely. I came to a point where I was content to be alone but open to being in a relationship if it was equal to or better than being on my own. Ironically that state of being attracted a like-minded person and I find myself now in a wonderfully connected relationship. While we greatly value time with each other we also value time to ourselves and we understand that if things were to change it’s our connection to ourselves that underpins a sense of well-being.

We are social beings and we are also extremely suggestible. Our society continually pumps out messages about what is normal, what you should be feeling, thinking and doing. It’s no wonder we feel lonely when our lives don’t match up to the image being projected. But ultimately loneliness is a state of mind and it’s directly related to how we see ourselves and how we think society sees us. Connecting with others is an essential part of our social interactions, but connecting and remaining connected to ourselves could quite possibly be the best remedy for loneliness we’ve got.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

On my first visit to New York city I overheard the following exchange between a mother and daughter in Times Square.

Mother: I’ll meet you back here in 15 minutes.

Daughter: OK.

Mother: That’s my 15 minutes not your 15 minutes.

Daughter: OK

Mother: Because your 15 minutes is never 15 minutes.

Daughter: Ok

Mother: My 15 minutes is actually 15 minutes and when I say I’ll will be back here in 15 minutes that means I want to meet you here in 15 minutes, not in 20 minutes or half an hour or 16 minutes. It means 15 minutes.

Daughter: ok


Einstein was correct and particularly in this case when he said time was relative.


I have an ongoing battle with my own daughter over the perception of time. It turns out we all have our own perception of time. Even though we may agree on some basics e.g. there are 24 hours in a day, we can’t agree on what the passing of time feels like. As I observe my daughter’s morning routine it’s clear to me that her sense of being on time is completely different to mine. I’ve struggled for a number of years to help her change, to guide her to conform to the contemporary concept of punctuality, but to no avail. Now I find it's me that is required to change. There are reasons her lateness distresses me. The main one being that getting her to school is part of my routine and responsibility. When she is late, then I am late. Like dominoes all set to fall, her being late sets off a chain reaction that pushes on through my day. For her it stops the moment I stop complaining.


Rather than beating my head against this repeatedly I've decided to take a step back. I no longer want to deal with her in the morning. She’s old enough to take responsibility and I don’t need to helicopter around continually pointing to the clock with ever increasing alarm as the time for departure comes and is inevitably passed. So I no longer take her to school. Occasionally I make amusing remarks about how quickly time is passing as I get myself and my son ready but we leave before her. She gets a lift with my mother, walks or catches the bus.


There are people in the world that operate on their own time. For me I feel being on time is important, probably something I learned as a child from my grandfather that has stuck with me. I don’t like having my time wasted, that’s fair enough. But it’s also sometimes better to remove yourself from a situation when the only other solution is changing another human being against their nature. Who am I to say my concept of being on time is more correct than my daughter’s lack of interest in the very concept?


Time is relative in many more ways than we think.


Evan Shapiro

My son is obsessed with getting a new smart phone. He’s 12 years-old, has recently started high school and was given a second-hand phone for emergency use. Most days now our conversations start with him asking me if he can have my phone or some other variation on any one of a number of ideas that result in him getting a newer phone.


‘Dad’, he says, ‘you’ve never ever bought me a phone before.’ This is true. His mother gave him a second-hand phone that was gifted to her. So in fact no one has bought him a phone. But does a 12 year-old really need the latest and most expensive phone? In his mind the answer is yes. In my mind the answer is no. ‘Dad’, he says, ‘if you worked harder you could upgrade to a new phone sooner and then I could have your old phone.’ He forgets his older sister is next in line. She’s been using the same older model phone as his for much longer and has never once complained. In my mind she is much more likely to get my current phone should I decided to upgrade.


This conversation has become a regular dance between us with him hoping at some point I will cave in and throw my current phone at him (not literally though he would be ready to catch it). With this in mind I’m now more and more ready each day with a different outlook for him. Rather than indulging his scenarios I’ve taken to answering obtusely. Here is an example.


‘Dad,’ he says, ‘the new iPhone will be out in October, you should upgrade. Then you could give your old phone to one of your children and buy a new older model for the other child. The slightly older models will be cheaper then.’


‘I see,’ I say. ‘I think I’ll just buy your sister a new phone and keep my old one. I’m happy with it.’


‘What about me?’ he asks indignantly.


‘Well the thing is,’ I say, ‘less is more and more is less.’


‘What?’ he asks awash with confusion.


‘The more you ask me the less likely you are to get a new phone. Constantly asking me is annoying and so asking more will get you less. Your sister never asks. She doesn’t annoy me about getting a new phone so in that case less will become more.’


‘That’s not fair,’ he says.


‘No,’ I say, ‘you’re right, it’s not fair. Not fair that I should have to have the same conversation over and over. The more you ask the less you will get. The less you ask, the more likely you are to get what you want. I acknowledge your request for a new phone but just so we are clear, every time you remind me, what I will be hearing is ‘dad take longer’. Less is more and more will get you less. Ok?’


‘But dad?’ he says.


‘It’s your choice my boy.’ And choice is actually what I would like to give him. Not the choice between the latest models of smart phone, but a choice not to suffer unnecessarily. A choice not to have the idea in his mind that his life is somehow incomplete without a very expensive product. There are enough struggles and challenges ahead without having to spend time and energy desiring a product that is created, packaged and marketed with such relentless seductiveness. As these products are almost completely irresistible to adults I can’t blame my son for being caught by the shiny glint of such an object of desire. I’m somewhat unsure if I will achieve my goal of helping him be free from this relentless and self-inflicted struggle. A struggle that is turning out to be a defining characteristic of our time. I feel like I’ve only recently overcome it myself.


In a very practical way wanting less does free you to have more things of value in your life. The time spent desiring objects becomes available to you for use in pursing more meaningful things. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from my son just now, but regardless I will keep answering his call for a new phone with my own pre-recorded message.


More is less and less is more.


Evan Shapiro

Author - Road To Nowhere

Have you ever taken kids to a café, restaurant or pretty much anywhere that has required them to wait for something? I recently took my daughter, son and nephew out for breakfast as a school holiday treat. They wanted Belgian waffles from their favourite café.


It was a little busy when we arrived, however we were seated quickly and ordered. It didn’t take long for the inevitable questions to start. ‘How long will our waffles take?’ my son asked. Like most children mine have developed a strange but understandable assumption that I know everything, that I am somehow tapped into a deeper understanding of the space time continuum in a way that they are not yet able to access. To them it must seem like I have my own internal WiFi connection and I’m not sharing the password. This connection, they assume, allows me to answer questions that are otherwise impossible to answer. In this case I clearly have no way of knowing how long the waffles will be. I’m not working in the kitchen, I’m not employed by the café, I don’t know how many orders are before us, I don’t know how long it actually takes to plate up the waffles and carry them out to our table. But of course they think I should know.


It’s at these moments I see I have a clear choice. I can 1) get annoyed and be cranky or 2) I can make them think. If I’m doing my job as a parent correctly, then I should always choose to make them think.


‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘Do you have a stop watch on your phone?’ I ask.


‘Yes,’ my son replies.


‘Then start it now and when the waffles arrive you will know how long it takes.’


My daughter at least is amused and starts her stop watch. My nephew smiles with an expression of understanding that I’ve said something that makes sense but frustration that it doesn’t answer his question and my son rolls his eyes but starts his stop watch anyway.


I relax as my coffee arrives and we all wait expectantly for the waffles. Occasionally they glance at their stop watches but they don’t ask me again how long it will take now they are in charge of measuring the reality. We are free to discuss other topics and I begin to wonder if this is a one-time winner for me or if I can add it to my parental war chest for future use. Only time, measured on a stop watch, will tell.


Evan Shapiro

Author - Road To Nowhere

It’s a thin line between calm and chaos. I want to take that line and make it thick. Really really think. I want to make it so thick that chaos is held clearly and firmly on its side of the line.

As I write this I’m aware that I’m talking about chaos. It’s not going to be contained by a line, real or imagined. By its nature chaos is going to do its best to destroy the very idea of a line. Even when we feel we may have created or discovered some degree of balance, chaos is lurking. It waits patiently for the façade of calm to crumble. Or is there a means to conquer it and remain calm in the face of inevitable chaos?

When I examine what I go through in my day I can see where the conflict between calm and chaos arises. On one side I have my plans, I have a clear idea of how I want to spend my time. There are deadlines to meet and goals to achieve. Chaos sits on the other side poised to thwart, metaphorical spanner in hand, ready to be thrown into my works. It’s so simple for chaos to hinder my plans and by so doing unravel my calm. My calm is almost entirely based on my desire to achieve what I have told myself I need to do. Chaos is no more than the frustration of my desires not being met. And there is the solution lying at the crux of the problem. I am giving chaos all the power. The true chaos is the idea I have created in my mind, that if I don’t tick off my list today then I have failed, that my idea of what needs to be achieved is somehow so vitally important that if frustrated it will lead to calamitous retribution. Aiding chaos is the idea that when anything new comes along I immediately think I have to deal with it and drop what I think is truly important.

The answer to what has seemed like an endless riddle to me might be to alter my perception of emerging priorities and rationally address them for what they are rather than seeing them as obstacles to my calm. Applying reason, I can either give immediate attention to the interruption or triage it. I also have to look closely at the things on my to do list. Who said I had to do all these things? Who said I had to make them all happen today? Who said I had to do them all at once? Turns out I did! Why exactly I don’t know, but it’s clear that the malicious force I personify as ‘Chaos’ is only a figment of my over active human mind, so too is my seemingly endless list of desires. Perhaps the best way to create calm is to remove the line between calm and chaos entirely, remove the very idea of an internal world of opposing forces. With that perhaps I can take away the power they hold in my mind and the affect they have upon my thoughts and actions.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

My daughter is in her last year of high school and as the final exams move ever closer I can see that she is well on the way to being an adult. The constraints of child-hood; going to school, wearing uniform, being told to clean her room, living by parental and school schedules, now all appear like ill-fitting clothes. Life is one size too small and she’s ready for bigger and broader experiences.

This has got me thinking about being a parent and about our roles in life. I’ve always aimed to provide her with a safe and secure environment as well as opportunities for development. I’m certainly very happy with how she has embraced those opportunities and become an interesting thoughtful human being. If there is hope for our species, it’s in the minds of young people like my daughter.

But soon she will no longer be my child and may well leave home to continue studies, to travel or work. She will go into the world and be an adult responsible for her own decisions. For many parents this stage is unsettling. For me it’s liberating and I’m excited to watch what she does with her life.

There are many ways to look at preparing a human being for life. We can build a nest or cage, that is both nurturing but constraining. Offering comfort, support and boundaries. When they leave we can feel empty, all that time and effort and then suddenly they are gone, all that remains is an empty cage. Or we can look at parenting as building a platform, a launching pad for the future. I much prefer the latter. I like to think I’ve given my daughter what she needs to dive into the world and make of it what she wants. She is not an extension of me. Her purpose in life is not to correct mistakes I or others in her lineage have made. Her purpose is to live the best life she can. Actually her purpose is up to her. From me she will always have the support and grounding to restart if needed or to keep flying higher. And I look forward to being a parent to an adult-child and sharing life experiences that don’t involve me always having the answers (unlikely as it may seem), sharing experiences between human beings, not just between father and daughter.

Our roles in life are what we make them and they change all the time. It seems wrong of me to resist that change and far better to embrace it.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

Recently I saw a social media post from a teacher I know in Nepal. It showed two young children sleeping in the streets of Kathmandu. I found the image heartbreaking. I don’t know who these children are, if they have been helped or if they continue to live life on the streets. Having worked with the 108 Lives Project in Nepal I know I have helped some children and I know other people who have done and continue to do the same. But here in front of me was a picture of two children that I could see but have no way of helping.

One of the challenges of providing aid is coming to understand that you can’t save everyone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and perhaps you can do better for the people around you even when you feel powerless.

When I was faced with divorce I had two young children. One thing that became very clear to me and their mother was that the kids had to come first. This turned out to be the best prism by which to focus decisions. For my part I chose to remain an active parent and over time my ex-wife and I have forged a strong co-parenting practice. I believe this helped fast track recovery from our own negative feelings brought on by the divorce, enabling both of us to provide loving happy childhoods for our children.

The news is flooded with terrible things happening to children, from unprecedented refugee numbers, famine, drought, poverty, ecological disaster, slavery, violence and sexual assault. Like many people I waver between outrage and apathy. The life I am living is filled with demands, responsibilities and distractions that often make me feel powerless in the face of human tragedies.

What I can do however, is offer an idea and that is to put the rights of children at the forefront of every decision. I ask it of myself, I ask it of you and I ask it of our leaders. Imagine if everyone truly put the welfare of children first? It sounds idealistic but surely it is something that as a species we could get our heads around. Children are vulnerable and deserve protection and nurturing. Our apathy gives them the opposite of what they should have and a future as bleak as their childhoods. We can start by combatting our own apathy and examining our choices through this simple idea. You don’t have to be a parent, just a human being, it is no more complex than that. Once you drop the pebble in the water the ripples can be far reaching.


I jumped in the car yesterday, ready to run off to collect the kids from school and taxi them around to their various social engagements with a secret agenda to perhaps do a little shopping for dinner along the way.

The car wouldn’t start.

I sat for a moment as the idea of being late played out in my head like a bad episode of a TV soap. Dance lessons would be missed, after school games forfeited, homework abandoned and my children would go hungry. The day would end in copious tears.

As the car heated up in the hot afternoon sun and the beads of sweat began to drip down my forehead and spine I contemplated the reasons why I hadn’t taken the car for its routine service. They were all justifiable, other bills that needed to be paid, finding a time that was convenient to go without transport, the constant demands of work and parenting. None were as rational as not actually having the car running in good order. My mind moved to wondering why I was so calm in the face of the immediate chaos and I realised that while I had been neglecting the car lately I hadn’t been neglecting my mind.

Just like a car, house or any form of construction, the human mind and body require maintenance. You wouldn’t buy a new car without the expectation that it required looking after. If you decide not to look after it, well the expectation that it will at some point breakdown, as in my case, will certainly be met. You also wouldn’t get on an airplane that was not subject to a stringent routine of servicing and repair. The human mind is no different, it is just as subject to entropy as physical objects.

Our greatest weapon against entropy is maintenance. We can make things work better and last longer if we look after them. It’s safer and much nicer to drive around in a well maintained car, and certainly safer to be in a well looked after aircraft. As your mind and body are what you use to travel through this world practicing routine mindful maintenance can vastly improve your user experience of this very precious existence you find yourself in.

I turned the key again and the car started. Chaos for the moment was averted. There would be no tears before bedtime but there would be more maintenance.

‘Looking at the world through rose coloured glasses’ is an expression that has fascinated me since I was a child. I had a baby sitter who actually had rose coloured glasses and said she preferred to see the world through them than the harsh reality she saw without them. She let me try them on once and I found it amusing to flick them up and down, comparing my reality to her rose tinted version.

The phrase implies a world view that is ignorant to the truth, but could it be seen another way? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting to see things better or perhaps just differently to the way you naturally perceive things. Putting a rose tint on everything isn’t any different from filtering all you perceive through your own mind and body. ‘You’ are what you have to perceive the world. Your mind and body are essentially your mechanisms for perception. Your world view and your self view completely influence how you see things. So, consciously adding a tint is quite possibly more aware than simply going through life taking in information and not recognising how you are altering information as it comes in.

In science this is called the ‘observer effect’, that by the act of observation, the observer actually changes what is being witnessed. If we have low self-esteem, poor self awareness then pretty much everything you think and do will be altered by that ‘reality’.

There have been times in my life where I have felt embarrassed to say what I think, too shy or concerned about what other people might think about my opinion. To people who know me now this must seem ridiculous. Yet I’m aware of how these patterns can corrupt my experience of the world. Over time, through self examination, I have learned to be accepting of myself and this has unlocked a degree of confidence. But I know people who are consumed by what they perceive as their failings. If perhaps they realised they could remove that filter and choose a different way to look at things who knows how their observations of life might change the world before them.

Evan Shapiro

Spending a week away camping with my family recently was both deeply relaxing and at times extremely frustrating. As I experienced moments of frustration, though I couldn’t always stop them, I could however observe myself as the feelings took over.

Why was I getting frustrated in the first place? This was a family holiday, camping right on the beach with amazing wildlife all around and nothing to do but swim, nap and find a good spot to read and relax. I have one word that explains it. Family! I love them, but sometimes they trigger my frustration like no other human beings can. Our interchange with each other is based on years of behaviour. We all have our likes, dislikes and oddities. We can make each other laugh hysterically but we can also drive each other crazy.

I set my agenda early. Reading. I wanted to sit and read. And I told them, I told them all, don’t hassle me because I want to read this year. I’d seen others in the group do it, why couldn’t I?

As I sat in my camp chair in the shade of our makeshift living space determined to enact my chosen course of relaxation my loved ones around me had other ideas about what constituted relaxation. I love having a good chat, but can’t they see the book in my hand? Food preparation, an understandable distraction. Outings; can we go to another beach? Can we go for another swim, can you come out with us and catch waves? Yes of course, I love all those activities, and naturally it’s only fair I take my turn shared among the adults for beach safety. BUT I WANT TO READ!

Everyone had their time table and it seemed that their plans for one reason or another required action by me to enable their desired outcome. This is not a complaint, it’s just what I observed, more about myself than about them. I looked long and hard and wondered how I had contributed to being an enabler, a provider, a necessity to others, a conduit they had to pass through in order to obtain something. How did I come to hold that position? I wasn’t the only one of course. There were a few of us in the group that also filled a similar role for our respective dependents. Did we create this way of being because we want to be in control? Was it just a side effect of being a parent? Was it because I take my responsibilities seriously and I like to make sure those around me are looked after? If so why was I frustrated by it? I’m not one to shirk my responsibilities. On the contrary I would feel guilty when attempting to enact my own desires to relax to the point that, when the opportunities to relax arose, I found myself asking if anyone needed anything? I invited interruption. I maintained the structure of dependency equal to or perhaps even more than those I was ‘responsible’ for.

It wasn’t my wonderful crazy family after all, well not totally. It was me. I was responsible for how I interacted with them and it was up to me if it was going to be different.

Let’s see what happens next year when I sit in my camp chair, book in hand. I think I’ll make a few signs to hold up to help re-educate my loved ones and myself.

‘I’m not moving but I’m actually really busy right now’,Before asking me, ask yourself’, perhaps just ‘Do Not Disturb, information download in progress’ or ‘I love you, but please go away.

I guess I’ll see how it goes. Ultimately it’s my choice to go with the flow, swim against the tide or step out of the water.