Against Proselytizing

July 24, 2010

If you found something you thought was a great thing now and that you believed would put you in a much better place when your body decides to stop breathing, wouldn’t you want to share it with other people?

Not unless they asked for my advice, because I’ve found that what works for me has no bearing on anybody else’s life. And I believe it’s especially arrogant to assume such things when they take the form of advising someone on “the one, true way”.

The above statement contains several unacknowledged assumptions about the nature of the world. Religious people with these ideas seldom seem to understand atheism in anything but a very shallow way. I wouldn’t group Christianity with sun-worship, and I expect that, before a Christian tries to change my mind on a topic as sensitive as religion, they should have an adult grasp of the arguments involved. Otherwise, all they’re communicating is, “I don’t give a damn about what you think, I know what’s best for you,” — which is how the the Dutch felt about the Congolese, and the Portuguese felt about the South Americans.

Aggression can be Subtle

In offering unsolicited advice, an advisor is leveraging the listener’s wish to not be rude; many people will feel uncomfortable being proselytized to but will put up with it for far longer than they feel is reasonable. It’s happened to me and I’ve watched it happen to others. The unfairness increases when it becomes a two against one situation, which is often the case with Mormons knocking on one’s door. I’m well able to handle them (and do so politely) but it makes me mad when I think of others who are not as robust or able.

Proselytizing is Coercive Persuasion

Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes, or behaviors using psychological pressureundue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation, and/or stress. [Martyn Carruthers]

It’s repellant, and it’s both morally and ethically bankrupt—which is not a great way to start a conversation about The Ultimate Truth.

It staggers me that supposedly mature adults place themselves above basic morals, and even simple manners, and proceed from there to tell me how they understand the fundamental nature of the universe. I’m, like, “Do you have any idea of the basic human principles you just trampled on?”

The Silver Rule

When it comes to religion, the Golden Rule should be discarded in favor of the Silver Rule:

“Do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.”

This is why, even though we know that eating like a pig will give you diabetes (and cause national budget problems down the road which affect everybody) we don’t allow government to send anyone into our homes to harangue us into eating broccoli. And we get annoyed when confronted by a dietary do-gooder who tries to do the same, just because he’s sure he knows better*.

Multiply by a million when it comes to something as personal as a religious worldview. Nobody should be so arrogant as to think they know what’s best for anybody else.

* Of course, the dietary do-gooder is actually objectively correct: most people will be far better off eating fresh vegetables instead of donuts; the difference being that his assertion can be backed up by science, evidence, and common knowledge—whereas religion is an elaborate fantasy without a shred of evidence, science, or common sense to back it up.


Thinking About Adoption?

January 13, 2007


The missus and I are pretty open on-line about our daughter, whom we adopted from South Korea in April 2006. So every couple of weeks, someone sends me a note that says, roughly: “Me or someone I know is thinking about adopting. Where can I start?”

We’re in the U.S. but the following points probably hold true in most places…


If you’re planning on adopting internationally, each country has different requirements. Korea has the toughest: you have to be under a certain age, not obese, no health issues, married, etc. China has far more relaxed rules, though things are tightening there now too. Guatemala is another place to look into. Russia is popular too and has a strong, well-oiled program.


Some countries require that you travel abroad to attend court meetings, etc. Korea doesn’t and there are a few others like that, but most do.

Attachment Issues

You want a little one that’s been in an orphanage as little as possible because, no matter how good the orphanage, the standard of care is just not that great. Specifically: nutrition, health, developmental and emotional issues. It’s not the end of the world if the child doesn’t arrive home until 12 months old, or even a bit later, but it is a consideration in terms of emotional issues. You want to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible—so the earlier the better. This is why we looked into Korea and Guatemala: in both countries the children stay with foster mothers, so they have great bonding abilities. However, Korea is slowing down its program so you’d need to research carefully now. If we were to adopt again, we’d probably look into China.

Health 1

Our decision was to stress health over any other consideration. For example, looks are important to some people in terms of having a child that looks like one of the family. As it happens, we got a supermodel but the only thing we stressed to the agency was health, health, health. You don’t always have your pick there but if, as in our daughter’s case, two referrals come into the agency at the same time and only one couple is stressing health, the other couple will get the less healthy child. It’s more of a concern with some countries than others. Research will lead you down the right path.

Health 2

Some countries provide very good health records (immunizations, health issues, genetics, etc.) and some countries don’t. There is always an uncertainty factor that you just have to live with. When you think about it, it’s not such a stretch: pregnancy has its own risks.


Go to any major bookstore and flick through their adoption and parenting sections. There’s an incredible amount of info available now. It’s not like the old days, with all that secrets and lies and shame crap. There’s a U.S. magazine called “Adoptive Families” which is absolutely fantastic and I’d imagine there’s something like it available from the UK market. Maybe there’s even something specific to the Irish market. And, as always, give Google a spin. There are some good links at the bottom of this article too.


The current thinking is that your child, by the time they become an adult, should have been told everything about their background that’s known. This can involve some fairly brutal details. There’s always sadness in adoption stories because no-one wants to give a child away—our daughter’s story happens to be very pleasant and loving—but you may have to consider a story that involves dire poverty, drug abuse, murder, violence, incest, abandonment, and race. No matter what, you always have to confront a lot of unknowns: genetics, health, family history. A child is a child is a child. You don’t think about any of that when someone hands you a picture of an innocent baby. But adoption can involve heavy stuff.

Cultural Reasons Children are Placed for Adoption

One of the reasons we went with Korea was that the children there are given up for cultural reasons: for all their techno-savvy it’s practically impossible for single mothers over there, and its even harder for their children. In China, the one child policy means lots of girls are up for adoption. So, in both countries it’s not war or abuse or poverty or famine, which are the kinds of reasons children are placed for adoption in other countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, and Western countries.


Yes, it’s expensive. In the US there’s very good tax relief, so in the long run it’s not too bad. But in Ireland things are oddly unprogressive. You might have to shoulder most of the financial burden.


No matter what, it’s a roller-coaster. The paperwork, the interviews, the money and, worst of all, the waiting. Our process seems to have been easy as things generally go, but we thought it was tough! The waiting was definitely the hardest: you see a picture and get a few details and, from that moment on, your heart will just not stop. Every day you’re waiting for the call. It’s tough. Then the agency calls and tells you they forgot some piece of paper and it’s going to delay things another week. Then that happens again. It’s really stressful. But, in the end, someone puts your little one in your arms and you forget all that. Truly.


The culture around adoption has changed significantly since we were children. In the U.S. it’s its own demographic. Asian adoptees are their own demographic. In fact, even Korean adoptees constitute their own demographic! That’s how common it is. And there are enough open-minded people in the world now that an interracial family, with an obviously-adopted child, elicits warm smiles and coochee-coos from strangers in the supermarket aisle.

Adoption is a wonderful thing. We wish you the best.

Onine for American Parents

Online for Irish Parents

Starting Up is Hard to Do

Newly-independent designers often worry about finding clients and work. It’s scary. The cost of health insurance and the ability to generate work are the two things that keep normally creative, defiant thinkers working for the man. If you’re dreaming of the independent life—your own hours, no commute, working in your underpants—the most common advice is not to jump ship until you’ve got a couple of solid gigs lined up. Make a master list of all your business contacts and get busy. While you’re planning your bust out of Alcatraz, stash away enough loot to keep you afloat for at least three months. More often than you think, those promised, guaranteed, definitely-green-light projects will be postponed at the last second, or fail to materialize at all.

The Bills Your Boss Used to Pay

Having to pay for your own health insurance and fund your retirement really sucks. I have an HMO through my local Chamber of Commerce. It’s restrictive but it covers our family. In 1996 a spider bit my ankle. Nothing bad happened. But between the grime of New York Sticky and scratching that delicious itch, the bite swelled up so much I couldn’t bend my ankle. What with doctor visits and meds, I spent about $900 in two weeks. I hate my health insurance premium (especially when I feel healthy, young, eat well, etc.) but you just can’t do without it in this country. If you can’t afford an HMO, a Health Savings Accounts in conjunction with Catastrophic might be your next best bet.

Too Much to Chew

In the past, I’ve had periods where I’ve taken on too much work. It was never worth it. Even when I was in my twenties and made of rubber, staying up half the night (or all night) drained my life’s energy. Every time I did it, it crushed a little piece of my soul. There’s nothing worse than that burned-out feeling, where you’re dragging your increasingly chubby ass to work only to climb a mountain—all the while worrying about your other clients looking for an update on their project. I’ve learned to pace myself and say “no” when necessary. I’ve learned not to work with jerks. I’ve learned not to work on projects I’ll hate.

Shark-Infested Waters

It took me five years to realize that whenever a potential client said, “If you do this one cheap, there’s a lot more work down the line,” it was, in each and every case, a load of number two. It wasn’t around when I was a tender wee lad but No!Spec is a great resource for independent designers.

Losing Your Way

One of the slipperiest slopes is trying to be all things to all clients. I started in print design, did that for a number of years, then the Web came along. For a long time, I tried to do both. Last year, however, I decided I was kidding myself if I thought I could be the greatest pixel pusher known to man and Milton Glaser’s print nemesis. It’s an easy mistake to make. When you’re running the shop, you need to pay the bills. So when a client says, “Can you turn that brochure you did into a Web site for us?” you say, “Sure!” and off you go. I’ve learned a lot doing things that way. The problem is that developing real expertise in a field means you can’t spend half your time fiddling around with something else. For me, being a full-time Web head means constantly reading, constantly learning, constantly keeping up with new Web technologies. It is a full-time job. At least now I can snort at designers who “specialize” in print, photography and Web design.

Losing Your Way, Again

Unless you take steps to maintain your perspective, tunnel vision will happen to you. Life can become a blur of work, work, work, work, work. For designers based at home, say, it’s a real struggle to maintain a solid work/life split; when my office was in the house, I never really managed it. With the computer calling out to you morning, noon and night, “I’ll just check my e-mail,” inevitably turns into an hour’s work, or more. This is a bad way to live. Your work-life is supposed to feed your home-life, and vice versa. Your home-life shouldn’t have a stapler and pile of invoices in it. I now have a separate building for the office. It’s on our property, but at the end of the day I can leave all my work paraphernalia where it belongs. I work strictly 9-5 and almost never on weekends. I know designers who seem to be able to keep their work and home lives separate, even when their office is part of their living room, but if you’re not that disciplined, and you don’t have a separate space for your studio, renting space may be something to think about.


Tied with work/life is every designer’s favorite guilty pleasure: procrastination. Some swear by it: they say the last minute pressure fuels their best creativity. Maybe so. If we’re honest, though, most of us probably swear at it, and ourselves. Procrastination cheats both designer and client. By 2005 I was so sick of my ways I read six or seven books on the topic. The best by far was Neil Fiore’s compact classic The Now Habit. I keep it with Getting Things Done in my office. Both have key-for-me passages highlighted. They’ve saved my bacon many a day.

Staying Organized

I don’t have a problem keeping track of multiple jobs. I’m well organized and have a system in place (taken from David Allen’s Getting Things Done) that does 90% of the work for me. But I sometimes find that switching from one project to the next can be quite tricky. When I’m on a roll, I’d rather spend 3-4 hours working on a project. It bugs me to have to stop and start. But keeping multiple clients happy means I’m often forced to work in 30, 60, and 90 minute project-chunks. Clients need to see a little progress every day or two. When you have 15 or more active projects running, it’s challenging.


You have to be your own bean counter. Keeping track of expenses, paying quarterly taxes, typing up invoices. Is that vomit in your mouth? I’ve got it down to about seven hours a week. Two hours for billing, the rest for planning, office work and publicity.


Not the least of the independent designer’s problems, working alone can be a serious stress on your well-being. No matter how wacky your workspace, you just get sick of being in the same environment every day. An on-line design community like HOW or Creative Ireland can take the edge off, but nattering with peers, especially when there’s an argument brewing, can become a major time-suck.

Once or twice a week, a change of scenery works wonders; WiFi is now so widespread you can easily work from multiple locations, cappuccino in hand. My local library and nearby cafés all offer free WiFi. Noice.

I read somewhere that you need 12 social interactions with different people every day—or you’ll go mad. Mad! Thankfully, they don’t have to be deep: a quick chat with the post office clerk counts. Doesn’t matter. Seeing familiar faces and dealing with your larger community just keeps you feeling topped up.

Once a day, I walk the dog and check in with the neighbors. They keep chickens, make hunting bows from scratch, distill things they shouldn’t. There’s always something going on. One guy is an expert balaphone player. Another is missing half his nose and lets his poodle shit inside the house; not, I imagine, the best of combinations. That guy annoys his closest neighbor, a crusty old geezer who fought the Commies in the Korean War, hates his brother’s dog and likes to shop at Target. That’s what’s goin’ down in my ‘hood.

In 2010, still struggling with this issue , I joined a coworking space. Many large cities have several coworking spaces, and even some smaller cities. It’s been a huge help seeing familiar faces several times a week.