Super Saturday: A Metaphor Concerning a Family Card Game

This post was originally published on December 26, 2011. Uno was the first card game I played in the hospital after the accident, and I played it so many times when I got home. I made everyone who visited me play it. From the very beginning, I used my strategy.

Holidays at the Smith household are pretty amazing. We spend a lot of time playing the card game Uno.

That’s not completely accurate.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince my family that we should play Uno. I really like it. It’s a very simple game. It’s mostly about luck – what cards you draw and what cards others play. But I have a strategy.

My family doesn’t believe in the strategy, but the numbers speak for themselves. Over the past few days, I have won the most games (the numbers are even more striking when you don’t count Dad’s wins when he cheated and when we played by my brother’s “house rules”).

I don’t think that I’ve cracked Uno. That’s not very likely. Like I said, it’s mostly a game of luck. And I don’t think my strategy is ground-breaking. It’s just a plan. It does two things for me.

1. I always know how I’m going to play a hand. No matter the cards in my hand or the cards in my opponents’ hands, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I do all the thinking well before I ever pick up a card. It saves me from making mistakes during game play.

2. I never worry about what else is going on. Obviously, you can’t control the cards that your opponents get in Uno. But if you have a plan, any plan, then you are controlling all that you can. Therefore, there’s no reason to worry about what else is going on; you can just play.

That’s what a good strategy does. It gives you a plan, and it frees you from worry.

Super Saturday: A Blog Post In Which I Over-Think My Tendency to Over-Think

This post was originally published on October 18, 2011. A month or so ago I told my father that traumatic brain injuries work out pretty well for perfectionists because I’d always have something to blame my mistakes on that had nothing to do with talent or intelligence. But now, I see that it actually makes being a perfectionist even worse. Now, I have one other thing about myself that is capable of causing a mistake. My parents tell me quite often that I’m over-thinking stuff.

I think far too much. Ask anyone who even knows the first thing about me, and they will all say the same thing. Thinking too much isn’t always a bad thing. I think it might be connected to my need to listen to jazz music while I study and my love for reading and my general ability to sometimes make good decisions. And all of those things are good.

But sometimes, it is a very bad thing. There are several reasons for this.

1) Thinking too much paralyzes. It keeps you from actually doing anything. Sometimes I get so caught up in the theoretical components of an activity, that I never actually do the activity. I am guilty of this in responsibilities as small as reading e-mails. I think about how great it would be if I set a little time apart each day to answer all my e-mails. And while I am thinking about this, my inbox piles up and my time disappears. But if I answered e-mails as they came in, I would have plenty of time for them.

2) Thinking too much leads to bad thoughts. When you think too much, it is impossible to think good thoughts all the time. Invariably, then, less than good thoughts creep their way into your mind. Often, I find myself thinking about how I am going to fail at something. And even more often than that, I find myself thinking about how I compare to other people. Spending time comparing myself to others is probably the biggest time-suck I engage in. It makes no sense. As I am thinking about how I measure up to other people, they are getting even farther ahead. Some people might argue that I shouldn’t think about it like that, but I do. And it is helpful to think that if I just did the work, I would stand a much better chance of measuring up. You can’t do anything standing still.

3) Thinking too much causes a decrease in self-confidence. If I listened to my head all the time, I would really hate myself. My apartment is rarely clean, my inbox rarely empty, my work rarely done, my dreams rarely achieved, and my relationships rarely deep. But what my head doesn’t tell me is that all of those things are within my ability to change. I just need to stop thinking and get up and do them.

What are you thinking about? How much you hate these questions? Leave a comment anyway. I would love to hear from you!

Super Saturday: A Life-Changing Incomplete Thought

I published this post on December 22, 2011. It’s something that I need to remind myself of just about daily now. Since I’m doing lightyears better since four months ago, I want to be out doing things. It often feels like my life is on hold. I’m waiting for that magical moment where I’m teaching again like it’s going to be the life-changing thing. I think it’s the journey of recovery that is actually the life-changing thing.

What if we woke up one day and someone told us that all of the stuff we were doing in preparation for that really important life-changing thing was the really important life-changing thing?

That’s a little confusing.

Let me put it another way.

You might be busy building a social media platform, training for a marathon, dating in an attempt to find a life-partner, getting a degree for a job, starting a business, or starting a movement. Currently, I have a couple of things like that on my plate. I am trying to get a degree. I am starting a student organization on campus. I am trying to build a platform as a blogger. And it’s hard. And a lot of time, I think my real effect on the world will happen when I have my degree, when my student org is running by itself, and when I have over a thousand people following my blog.

There’s a really great war novel I once read where these soldiers are training for war by using video games, but you find out in the end that the video games were the war.

That’s how life works. The life-changing part happens while we are trying to get to the part we think is going to be life-changing.

Why Dualism Just Makes Sense

I’ve been reading The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy. It is a collection of essays from philosophy scholars about the Harry Potter series. There’s an essay by Scott Sehon called “The Soul in Harry Potter.” It attempts to figure out which philosophical theory about the soul is happening in the books.

Because souls seem to exist outside the body in the series (ghosts, horcruxes, etc.), Sehon concludes that materialism is not the correct philosophical theory in the series. I definitely agree with this conclusion, but not in just the series but in real life.

One of my greatest fears as a tbi survivor is whether, once I’m completely recovered, I will be everything I was before the accident. Time and time again, I prove to myself that I don’t have anything to worry about. I am the same person. Since my brain was injured, you would expect that I would be different if you are a materialist.

I know that all tbi’s are different, and doctors warned me that I might have personality changes. So that kinda throws an obstacle into dualism. I’m alright with conceding that personality is based on physical things (the brain of course). But is a personality all there is to a soul? I don’t think so. My personality is all the same, but I know I shouldn’t universalize my experience with a tbi to all other tbi-survivors.

You would never say that two people who have the same passions have the same personalities. You could, of course, but it wouldn’t always be true.

Dualism, then, is the way to go.

The Importance of Listening

I’m a much better listener now than I was before the accident. Not only am I working on my memory, but I’m also bored thinking about/talking about myself. I ask more questions when someone is visiting me because I’ve missed two-three months of his/her life.

Before the accident, I remember coming up with what I was going to say next while the other person was talking. I thought that I was going to fall on that again because memory is a thing I’m working on, but I’ve never found myself doing it.

When someone was talking to me, I often did something else like thinking about whatever was on my mind. I don’t do that anymore because I never knew how difficult it is, how much effort it requires, to actually listen to someone. I get all of that now. I get that my attention should be focused on the person with whom I’m having a conversation.

I’ve found that being a better listener has allowed me to think more critically than I did before the accident. I was a critical person before the accident but not at the level I am now.

On Heroes

2/21/2018 Update: I have been reading The Individual, Society, and Education: A History of American Educational Ideas by Clarence J. Karier and in the 11th chapter of that book, he wrote about how MLK was targeted to discredit him by the FBI during his career and part of that targeting involved “female plants” to tempt him in order for him to make mistakes precisely so that blog posts like this would be written. I thought that was a necessary addendum to add to this post. Excuse me for my naivete in 2012.


The world needs heroes, but the world doesn’t want them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had affairs.

Does that mean that everything else he did was worthless?

We demand perfection from our heroes. We want divinity. We want our politicians to appeal to every interest group, our preachers to never sin, our journalists to never plagiarize, our celebrities to be role models, and our intellectuals to always be right.

But we allow politicians to win elections with less than 50% of the vote. We talk of doctrine where everyone, the greatest of the great and the least of the least, sins. We put our writers in high-stress jobs where they are expected to know everything about everything. We make celebrities of sixteen-year-old kids. And we put our intellectuals in a culture of democracy, in which anyone has the right to criticize.

The world needs heroes, but the world doesn’t want them.

I cannot promise perfection. I cannot promise a life lived without mistakes.

All that I can promise is that the mistakes I make will either be a result of great intentions or personal weakness.

I think we should reverse it.

We should want heroes but not need them. We should be thrilled when ordinary, awful people do extraordinary, amazing things. We should understand MLK, Jr. not as a great man who fell but as a fallen man who was great.

The Kid Coming Through Technique

First, let me apologize for my unexplained absence. My life got away from me for a little bit, and then I went to NYC with Students for Education Reform . So life was a little hectic. But I am back now and with a vengeance!

So like I said, I spent my weekend in NYC, which was pretty cool. I had never been before. And the best part was that being in the city wasn’t even the cool part. The people were. But we will save them for another blog post.

On Saturday night, a friend of mine graciously took me to Times Square. She had already been. If you have ever been to Times Square, then you know it’s kind of a one-time thing. You don’t really need to do it more than once unless you have a lot of money that you are just dying to spend on outrageously priced M&M trinkets.

As with most highly-populated places, there are about a billion street vendors milling about (that’s an estimate; there were probably more). They are trying to sell you all kinds of things – paintings, photographs, tickets, bags. But as I listened to them yell at the passers-by I realized that I was getting a great lesson in sales and marketing.

There was one interaction that was especially informative. I call it the “Kid Coming Through” technique – the KCTT. One vendor was selling pictures or something, and he wasn’t having much luck. Everyone was basically ignoring him, and he didn’t have a real good location on the street. He was up against a wall, both metaphorically and literally.

But he saw an opportunity. There was a young dad pushing his child through the crowd, and the vendor started yelling, “Hey, kid coming through” in order to clear the crowd for him. That is the KCTT. It’s that simple. Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

1. It draws attention to yourself. You have an excuse to yell louder than everyone else. And you can use it all you want. No one is going to reprimand you when you are yelling for the less fortunate.

2. You come out looking like a philanthropist. Even if you are doing it for purely self-motivated reasons, the objective reality is that you are actually doing something for someone else. And people respect that.

3. Friends are more likely to buy from you than strangers. The dad with the stroller is now your friend. It’s going to be harder for him to say no to you now.

The KCTT is cool, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s a lot cooler when it’s motivated by love.