People like us be like… [Friday Flow #3]

Values, despair, windows, cutlasses


How's your week been? Mine's been so-so—just one of those weeks where I've had to drag myself along a bit more than usual. But I recently committed myself to writing daily, no matter how I'm feeling, and that's actually been great—everything in today's newsletter was stuff I collected from my daily writing throughout this week.

The contents for today's Friday Flow:

⭐️ Values are not abstract
👩🏽‍🤝‍👨🏾 “People like us do things like this”
🖊 Catch up with this week's essay
🎭 Despair as false confidence 
🌅 See through another window
🙌🏾 Praise and cutlasses

⭐️ Values are not abstract

We often talk about values as if they're vague and abstract. I believe that's because we mistake ideals for values: values are the most concrete thing, if you think about them as what drives the choices you make, and not as what you wish to be like.

Here's how I think about it.

  • Ideals: what we aspire to—these are rooted in our knowledge

  • Values: what we actually prioritise—rooted in our actual choices

  • Culture: how we and those we work with see and do things—based on actual behaviour

In other words, to know what your values are, don't look in your head—look at your calendar and budget: how you spend your time and money. And that applies equally to communities, organisations, families and individuals.

If that feels like it might be humbling—that your values aren't what you wish to be, but what you already are—you’re right. But it's also the first step toward actually making your values look more like your ideals.

(This was inspired by a conversation I had on Twitter about company cultures and how they are—or aren't—informed by values.)

👩🏽‍🤝‍👨🏾 “People like us do things like this”

And culture? My favourite definition of that comes from Seth Godin

“People like us do things like this.”

And that's important because culture comes from values—but also shapes values—it's a loop, and it can be for good or ill. In other words: if you're struggling to align your values with your ideals, find a group of people who embody those values—or leave the group you're in if it embodies the values you're trying to let go of.

Speaking of culture, one of my highlights this year has been a group of amazing folk, none of whom I've met in person, but all of whom have been a significant part of 2020. They're my weekly writing group, who I met in the Write of Passage course, and  we meet online every Saturday to write and Sundays for feedback. 

You may have seen their names on my essays recently, and if my writing has improved, I have these guys to thank for it.

People like us do things like this.

Do you have any groups like that?

🖊 Catch up with this week's essay

Still on culture, did you catch this week's essay? It was about how language (which is fundamental to culture) shapes our views of our own minds and mental health. Here’s an excerpt:

At first I saw her difficulty in verbalising her symptoms as a reminder of the absence of a directly emotional vocabulary in Yoruba (and as I would later find, several other Nigerian languages). The words for describing emotion in Yoruba often express it in terms of the body. When we say, “I’m happy” (“inú mi dùn”), we’re literally saying, “My insides are sweet” (or as in Hausa’s “ina jin dadi”—“I feel sweetness in my insides”). There are words like the one in my own name, “ayọ̀” which mean “joy” or delight, but our vocabulary for emotion more often describes it in relation to physical organs.…

But then I realised something else: even in English, there are words that do this kind of thing. A well known example is expressions like, “gut feeling” which is of course a reference to instinct, but described in terms of a physical organ. Other examples are when we talk about “butterflies in my tummy”, or being “heartbroken”, or someone “having balls”, or feeling something “in our bones”. Even the word, “feel”, is used equally for beliefs (“I feel he’s untrustworthy”), and sensation (“I feel cold”). Just like in Yoruba and Hausa, the same words are often used to describe physical and mental perception.

I was very excited to publish the essay, even though it was a bit of a challenge to write—I have a tendency to try to do too much in my essays. Adam Tank and Charlie Bleecker (from my writing group) have been super helpful in reminding me to scale down and focus!

Catch the full essay here: Mind your body

🎭 Despair as false confidence 

We don't often think about it, but there's a sense in which losing hope can be a form of false confidence about the future: that it's not going to be better.

But do you actually know that?

That’s what makes it false. I learned this from one of my favourite stories of all time (emphases mine):

"Despair, or folly?" said Gandalf. "It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognise necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy!"…

[Elrond]: "The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

— JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1)

I hope that encourages you today: your hands may be small, but they matter. 

You matter. 

🌅 See through another window 

Feel like you could use some calm in these crazy times? Try looking through someone else's window!

Check out, a website that lets you see what the world looks like through the windows of people who’ve submitted their photos from across the world—it’s really good and unexpectedly soothing!

🙌🏾 Nigerian proverb 

And speaking of each of us mattering, here’s today's proverb:

When the labourer is praised, his cutlass cuts more keenly.

I think the meaning of this one's straightforward, so instead of asking you what you think it means, my question for you today is: whose cutlass can you help sharpen this weekend with your praise?

Yours in culture,

Doc Ayomide