Everyone has a garden… whether they know it or not.

What is it that makes life worth living?

Is it money? Fame? Fun?

Why is it that some people can have nothing, yet persevere in the face of adversity? They can be hated, attacked, ridiculed, and yet they continue to live their life to the fullest. Yet others seem to struggle even when seemingly everything is going right for them.

Could it be that the people who struggle live for a non-existent thing called the future? A place built of nothing more than hopes and dreams? While those who thrive have learned to make the most out of their present?

I’ve come to believe that we all have a garden inside us, a garden of dreams. The fruits of that garden are evident in the lives we live, how close we are to living the life of our dreams.

Anyone who has planted a vegetable or flower garden knows that gardens must be tended. They must be watered, the plants must be put in nutrient-rich soil, weeds must be plucked. Have you ever seen a garden that’s planted and left untended? It gets so overgrown you can barely tell what was planted on purpose and what started growing by accident.

Yet, no matter how much care one takes, there will always be predators. Bugs, birds, varmints—even deer—there will never be a shortage of creatures that want to eat from your garden.

What do these creatures have in common? They don’t produce anything. They don’t grow their own garden. They take from what others have cultivated. They’re scavengers. They do what they do out of habit and instinct, not malice. They don’t know any better.

What I’ve noticed is the more a garden is tended, the less damage these scavengers do. Just the steady activity of a loving gardener can discourage such pests. Yet, in our own lives, how many of us tend our garden as diligently? How many of us turn off the television so that we can read a book that will increase our knowledge and understanding, that will get us closer to achieving our dreams? How many of us log off Facebook so we can spend time building whatever it is we dream of, working with our hands and hearts to create the life we want?

The modern world has a hundred million tiny distractions waiting to eat at us if we let them. Advertising that creates unnecessary want, political crises that keep our attention glued to cable news, celebrity scandals screaming from every tabloid cover at every supermarket check-out. Everything screaming for our attention seems like the most important thing in our world at the time.

What if we turned it all off? What if you stopped giving your time and attention to all those things? What if you focused, instead, on tending your garden of dreams?

Could it change your life? Could achieving your dreams put you in a position to really do something about the problems in the world that bother you? What dream of yours could change the world if you only let it grow?

 

Everyone has a garden… whether they know it or not. was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

My Novel Journey

In August of 2011, I self-published a novella. Despite great reviews, the book never gained any traction at all. After a few promotions, I finally made about $500 off the book, with sales somewhere around 1500 copies (not counting free copes sold through Amazon Kindle Select promotions). That story was originally written as a screenplay and adapted after a careful critique of the screenplay revealed that I just wasn’t ready for screenwriting. Instead of writing another book after that, I dove into the study of screenwriting, taking ProSeries classes through ScreenwritingU and eventually winning the 168 Film Project’s Write of Passage screenwriting competition in 2013. Still, I wasn’t happy with my work.

Through Facebook, I’ve made many friends in the screenwriting world. The most successful of them contend that studying structure and analyzing stories is a waste of time; the only way to write a good story is to sit down and write a good story. Yet, I’ve kept on my path of study. My one question has been, how will I know I’ve written a good story if I don’t know what a good story even is?

Many people who read my first book loved it, and quite a few have even asked me recently when my next book is coming out. Short answer is, it will be out when I finish writing it. The long answer is this series of blog posts.

Throughout this series, I will talk about books that have helped me, about my outlining process, and—while I won’t reveal character names or specific plot points until the final draft is copyrighted—I will talk about the process of writing my current novel. Will it sell better than my first? Will it flop? Hopefully, we’ll find out soon.

 

My Novel Journey was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

A letter of gratitude to AMC

In 2014, AMC premiered a show called Halt and Catch Fire. Airing right after the mid-season finale of Mad Men‘s final season, the show began with a large number of viewers and dwindled down to almost non-existitent ratings within the course of 10 episodes. Most networks would have ended things then, but for whatever reason, AMC decided to give Halt and Catch Fire a second season. Ratings didn’t improve. Then they gave the show a third season on a different night. Ratings got even worse. Just when it looked like the show would meet its end, AMC surprised everyone by renewing Halt and Catch Fire for a forth and final season, which premiered August 19th, 2017.

What a season it’s been. What a series it’s been.

Thank you, AMC. Thank you, too, to show creators and show runners Christopher C. Rogers and Christopher Cantwell for creating a television series that was (and is) unlike any other.

Years ago, I use to spend a lot of time around musicians, even though I’m musically ignorant. Often they would marvel at some group or song or album that exhibited a level of musical mastery that impressed them. Occasionally, I could appreciate the music with them, but those times were rare. More often than not, I didn’t get it. When I didn’t get it, they tried to explain the technical reasons why the music they loved so much stirred them. No matter how much they explained, it still didn’t stir me. What I came to realize is that they were appreciating the technical artistry beneath the surface while all I was hearing a form of noise, the art and artistry wasn’t as approachable to an outsider like myself. I either liked it or I didn’t. I have come to believe that Halt and Catch Fire is much like that, a story that storytellers can marvel at. It wasn’t meant to be that way — no television show or movie is meant to be that way — but that’s how it has ended up.

Collectively, the forty episodes of Halt and Catch Fire are be a masterclass in visual storytelling. Even with four episodes left unaired that I haven’t seen, I feel confident stating that. Everyone working on this show did so much right. From camera angles and editing, to dialogue choices and music curation. Even the series’ repeated time jumps were brilliant — why spend time showing things the audience already knows are going to happen when jumping straight to the aftermath serves to move the story along much quicker and, often, with a greater emotional resonance? Binge watching the show, one gets the sense that every moment on screen was chosen deliberately, carefully, influenced very much by things the audience hasn’t seen but senses in their gut.

Critics have pointed to all kinds of reasons why they don’t like the show. One frequent criticism is that the technical detail are inaccurate. While that’s true, Halt and Catch Fire was never meant to be a showcase for technology. In the very first episode, the character Joe MacMillan lays out the key to understanding the entire series in one often-ridiculed line of dialogue: “Computers aren’t the thing, they’re the thing that gets us to the thing.”

What is that thing? That ultimate goal? It’s people, connection, the feeling of working together. It’s a very human conflict hidden beneath the veneer of technology and computers. As television blogger Joshua B. Hoe (@OnPirateSat on Twitter) has often written in his episode recaps, these characters are a family — they just don’t realize it yet.

Throughout the series, these characters have made decisions that are downright baffling. Then, like a inexplicable magic trick, something organically happens in later episodes which explains past behavior perfectly. It wasn’t until I’d watched the second season that I could truly appreciate the first season. Even though I liked the first season, I didn’t love it. The character motivations that first season didn’t make sense until I had seen their journey in season two. In that way, I’ve come to see the entire series as circular, a story moving forward through time but best understood by looking back. Much like life.

In all four seasons, we’ve seen the same situations arise time and again and watched different characters react to those situations differently, the way real people react to similar situations so differently. Some have said that every season is the same plot, told over and over, and in a very general sense that may be true. But it’s simply amazing how the same plot plays so differently when the characters are moved like chess pieces to different positions. It’s also amazing to see both reprehensible behavior played out and also acts of grace and forgiveness played out, often by the same character.

At a time when AMC is criticized for relying too much on zombie shows and moving away from the type of complex television drama that redefined the expectations of what a television show could be, believing in Halt and Catch Fire enough to give it four full seasons was an act of grace itself. One that, I sincerely hope, pays off for the network somehow.

As far as I can tell, there’s no litmus test for Halt and Catch Fire. It’s fans are passionate because they strongly identify with these characters. Search for #HaltandCatchFire on Twitter as an episode is airing, and you’ll find engaged users fully immersed in the story. When big drama happens, such as season 3, episode 7, when the two main female leads forced everyone around them to take sides in a corporate squabble, fans react as though they’ve just experienced the same betrayal as the on-screen characters. They argue about who was right. They choose sides. They engage with each other. They cheer when a character rises above their past and their current position in life to do something great. They are disappointed when a character chucks all their potential out the window and takes a safe, selfish escape. After each episode, the fans discuss the show as if they’re talking about real people, because these characters are alive and vibrant to fans in ways that other characters on other shows aren’t.

The fans truly are a community, much like the fictional Mutiny community featured so prominently on the show’s second and third seasons. The end of Halt and Catch Fire is also the end of a fan community that many of us have never experienced before. And, yet, the connections made in that community will live on long after the series has aired it’s final moment.

I remember watching the first episode in 2014 and wondering why the show was moving so quickly, why the characters were behaving the ways they were. Coming off Mad Men, Halt and Catch Fire felt so wrong. I believe that I, and maybe some others watching those first episodes, were looking at this world through the lens of Don Draper. In fact, most people seemed to assume that Halt and Catch Fire was a Mad Men clone in much the same way the show’s fictional Cardiff Giant computer was an IBM PC clone. And, maybe it was in the sense that the Cardiff Giant was designed to be twice as fast as the IBM at half the cost, and Halt and Catch Fire somehow told a faster story in fewer episodes that was just as complex as its more widely watched (and awarded) counterpart. Ironically, as Halt and Catch Fire closes in on its final four episodes, the series has covered almost exactly the same span of story time in four seasons and 36 episodes as Mad Men covered in 92 episodes spread over seven seasons. As fans of the show know, Halt and Catch Fire can move forward in time very quickly without sacrificing the story to do so. With four episodes remaining, the show could literally jump from the 1994 setting of the last episode to Y2K scare, or even to present day. Each episode is awash in possibility and creative energy.

I will miss this show greatly and, like Mad Men before it, it will shape me a writer. The journey these characters have taken has been memorable and unique. For those who don’t like the show, I get it. It’s okay. There’s no judgement for not liking the show. Not every show is meant for every viewer. But for those of us who have fallen in love with this show, and I believe that the most passionate fans truly have fallen in love with this show, the past four seasons have been a very powerful experience that we all are very grateful for.

A letter of gratitude to AMC was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

I Don’t Care Anymore…

I read recently that the average American adult has an attention span of 8 seconds. That’s roughly the same a goldfish. The author went on to suggest that the actual data indicated 8 seconds may be too long, but that the researchers didn’t want to insult people by saying that a goldfish has a longer attention span.

Is the 8 second attention span real? A joke? A faulty conclusion based on bad science?

Does it matter?

If you’re somene who pays attention to things like news and politics, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. Someone will say something. It will get blasted all over the news, all over social media, and seemingly around the world. For a brief, shining moment, it seems like everyone is talking about this event. Then, it’s forgotten. Poof. Almost as if it never happened.

This is why politicans make all kinds of promises during elections. Keep people distracted and they’ll soon forget.

Ryan Holiday wrote a book in 2012 titled TRUST ME I’M LYING: CONFESSIONS OF A MEDIA MANIPULATOR. Holiday used the book as a platform to detail his own antics as director of marketing at American Apparel, and how the methods he used to manipulate the media and get free publicity for his brand were being used widely and for nofarious purposes. Holiday followed this up with business / self-help books, EGO IS THE ENEMY and THE OBSTICLE IS THE WAY. Yet he tends to maintain that the viewpoint that the media is, in essence, the Great Wizard of Oz and that we as people have the power to pull back the curtain, if only we would decide that we actually wanted to.

Maybe the 8 second attention is real. Maybe it says less about our intellect as a society and more about the constant flashes of information that come through the screens around us: our television, our phones, our tablets, our computers, and — increasingly — even our cars. And maybe the people who have best learned how to use to this 8 second attention span aren’t the ones with our best interests at heart.

Holiday says the best way to make things better is to turn off the news. Stop stalking the newsfeed. What do we do when we turn off the news? We get involved in the lives of other people. We get involved with the world around us. We get involved, period.

Change doesn’t happen because we rant on Facebook or share some article that’s already trending, change happens when we see needs in the lives of people around us and in the world around us and we do something about those needs.

I Don’t Care Anymore… was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

CS Hope In-Ear Headphone Review

<a href=”https://www.tomoson.com?code=TOP8ea0b7252e2312c23c375b5e3faab0cc” rel=”nofollow” style=”display: none;”></a>

I was supposed to post this on Tuesday. I forgot. These are CS Hope nylon-wrapped headphones. The audio quality is tuned heavily toward bass and mids, but I’ve found it perfect for podcasts and audiobooks and it’s not pad with most of my workout music, either. I’ve taken these to physical therapy and they’ve been hung in equipment, dropped, snagged, and abused — and they’re still working fine.

 
In short, I like them. They’re not my go-to for sound quality, but the durability makes them perfect for the gym. Once I finally kill these (which I will, I usually manage to kill headphones every 6 months), I’ll probably get another set.
 
DISCLAIMER: I purchased these at a discount in exchange for an honest review.
 
You can purchase a pair on Amazon:
 

<a href=”https://www.tomoson.com?code=BOTTOM8ea0b7252e2312c23c375b5e3faab0cc” rel=”nofollow” style=”display: none;”></a>

CS Hope In-Ear Headphone Review was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

On the Fallibility of the Mind… and How You Can Exploit It For Your Own Gain

Fake news and alternative facts are terms we’ve all grown sick of hearing by now, I’m sure. The current state of American politics aside, history is filled with examples that tragically illustrate how lies told boldly, often enough, are believed by many.

“We tend to think of memories as perfect little time capsules—important records of past events that matter to us and made us who we are, as unchangeable as a dragonfly stuck in amber,” says Dr. Julia Shaw. And she’s right. Yet, how often do we check the accuracy of our memories? How often do we check the accuracy of our beliefs? And how often to we examine the way our memories shape our beliefs?

The idea that the brain is fallible, that memories don’t always correlate with reality, can be difficult. Yet it explains how otherwise intelligent people believe lies and, in fact, base the way they live their lives on those lies. Some join cults, some live in paranoia because of conspiracy theories with little or no validity, some live in mediocrity and misery because they refuse to believe in their own abilities and talents.

Jesus said in John 8:31 and 32: “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My diciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Of course, this passage usually gets condensed to “The truth will set you free,” which misses a lot of what Jesus actually said. Truth can’t set you free if you don’t know it, and in a world so saturated by lies and deception, how can one find actual truth?

This isn’t a new question. It goes back almost two and a half millennia, before Christ, illustrated by Plato’s cave analogy:

Fast forward to today, in an age when information is abundant and most of us have phones with mobile data access in our pocket and voice assistance that can search for answers to any question we may have. Why, then, would truth be an issue today?

Because we must know the truth. Not only that, we must take time to seek it out and learn how to recognize it when we see it. And, once we find it, we must accept it.

Sometimes truth is ugly. Sometimes truth hurts. Sometimes the truth is that our ego leads us to believe things that aren’t true in order make us feel special. That’s how cults of all kinds grow. Sometimes we get so invested in untruths that we fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy, thinking that we must stay committed to the lies because we’ve invested so much time and effort and make such a big deal about our belief in them.

See, it’s not enough to want truth or freedom. As Epictetus said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” And, as Ravi Zacharias said in his update to Walter Martin’s rather pointed examination of non-Christian religious belief systems, THE KINGDOM OF THE CULTS, one does not discover new truth that supersedes hundreds or thousands of years of scholarly thinking in by spending a few minutes searching on Google. Yet people think they do just that, every day.

We’ve all heard the computer programming acronym GARBAGE IN = GARBAGE OUT. The same is true for our mind. In fact, according to Lisa Cron’s book WIRED FOR STORY, the subconscious mind gets so wrapped up in a good story that it can’t tell the difference between make-believe and reality; in other words, stories shape our world. If you notice, marketers and advertisers are really latching on to the power of story to sell products and brands. So, too, are people with more nefarious intent.

That’s why it’s important to guard your mind, to carefully choose what you put in it and what story you’re telling yourself. I submit this not so much as a cautionary tale of the mind’s fallibility, but as an indication of how it’s possible to elevate and change. As Vice’s profile of Julia Shaw’s memory research concluded:

So, if our memories are so easy to manipulate, and constantly in flux, pulling in new details and dropping others, is anything we remember really a true record of the past?

“I think that reality is purely your perception. And it’s a completely personal experience. The world as you know it only exists to you, [as you are] right now. Every day you wake up a new person,” with a different brain, and a different set of memories to guide you.

“I like to say that all memories are essentially false,” Shaw said. “They’re either a little bit false, or entirely false. There are entire experiences that never happened.”

Which means, we can write a new story. We can choose how we feed our mind. We can choose to find sources of truth and encouragement, of success and joy, and make those things the story our mind believes. And, every day, we can wake up a little better than we did the day before.

The key to this is truth. It’s not about fake it ’til you make it. It’s about recognizing the truth that you can improve your life, you can change yourself, you can overcome enormous obstacles. Those are truths you need to feed yourself. Rewrite the story of your life in such a way that you overcome.

Will it take work? Yes. Is this a quick-fix? No. But it’s work well worth doing.

On the Fallibility of the Mind… and How You Can Exploit It For Your Own Gain was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

Truth and Resurrection

This weekend, Christians around the world will celebrate Resurrection Sunday, a memorial of the day Christ rose from the grave as depicted in the gospels. Already, my social media feed is filled with images of crosses and caves with boulders rolled aside, most imprinted with a verse from the gospels.

One, particular, struck me: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Truth is a thorny subject. It became the unspoken centerpiece of the 2016 presidential election, as voters on both sides questioned the truthfulness of the opposing candidate. Terms like fake news and alternative facts have become pop culture fodder. But 2016 was hardly the first time truth came into such scrutiny. Controversial subjects like climate change, 9/11 conspiracy theories, President Obama’s birth certificate, and even whether God exists or not have all been battlegrounds for truth in ways that most of us are probably very familiar with. More recently, ideas like whether the earth is flat or not have become new battlegrounds for truth.

In any argument, there is only one truth. There can only be one truth. Truth is absolute, it’s immutable. The sky is blue, grass is green. Yet, because truth exists, doesn’t mean that any side of a given argument even knows the truth. So, you get facts or quotes taken out of context, you get data manipulated, you have both sides digging in their heels to be right.

In court, whoever is on the side of truth is supposed to win. Sometimes, though, someone becomes so good at lying because they don’t want the truth to come out that everyone around them believes the lies. And then those people dig their heels in to support the liar. And in cases like that, the liars have power. The more they lie, the more power they seize for themselves.

It’s particularly infuriating when the liar-in-chief tries to pull off some kind of religious superiority, particularly in a role of Christian leadership, seeing as the Bible says all liars go to hell (Revelation 21:8) and that the devil is the father of all lies (John 8:44). Either that person doesn’t actually believe the Bible and they’re using religion as leverage to get what they really want — power, manipulation, money — or they’re too crazy to know what the truth is. Either way, they’re not fit for leadership, whatever role they’re claiming, whether it’s missionary, pastor, evangelist, or Sunday school teacher.

It’s interesting that Jesus says to his disciples that they will know the truth and the truth will set them free in the same chapter of John that he calls the devil the father of all lies, isn’t it?

For fuller context, here’s what Jesus says in verses 43-45: “ Why don’t you understand the language I use? Is it because you can’t understand the words I use?  You come from your father, the devil, and you desire to do what your father wants you to do. The devil was a murderer from the beginning. He has never been truthful. He doesn’t know what the truth is. Whenever he tells a lie, he’s doing what comes naturally to him. He’s a liar and the father of lies.  So you don’t believe me because I tell the truth.”

Who, exactly, is Jesus talking to here? The most religious of His day. In fact, in John 8:3 calls them “experts in Moses’s teachings and the Pharisees”. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching in the Jewish temple — the most holy place in Judaism. These religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery, thinking that Jesus would condemn her and allow her to be stoned. Now, imagine, what was the motive here? To disrupt the teaching that Jesus was doing? To bring death into the most Holy place in their religion? To try to trick Jesus on some procedural error?

Imagine a modern church where a woman caught in the act of adultery — maybe she’s naked, maybe she’s in lingerie or a bathrobe — is dragged in front of everybody for judgement. Imagine the chaos, the confusion, the outrage.

The religious leaders brought Jesus a woman who should have died under their religious law. On any other day, in any other occasion, she would have been stoned to death. Yet, she was dragged to this holy place and presented to Jesus to pronounce judgement upon her and instead, Jesus writes on the ground and commands the person there with no sin to throw the first stone. Eventually, all these accusers leave. It’s just Jesus, his students, and the woman.

In John 8:10-12, Jesus asks her: “Where did they go? Has anyone condemned you?”

The woman answered, “No one, sir.”

Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go! From now on don’t sin.” After this, Jesus launches into a verbal assault on the religious people around him.

Imagine! The woman, caught dead to rights in her sin, released without so much as a verbal scolding, only the admonition to sin no more. And the religious people who thought they were so perfect, scolded ruthlessly. In the midst of scolding the religious, John 8:30-32 records this: “As Jesus was saying this, many people believed in him. So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, ‘If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” When the religious people asked Jesus how He could say that, he responded in verse 34: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.‘” And then things take an ugly turn. The chapter ends with these same religious people picking up rocks to stone Jesus, after letting the woman caught in adultery leave.

Why?

Could it be that Jesus dared to tell people that they should live by what He said, not what the experts in Moses’s teachings and the Pharisees said? For those people, in that place, on that day, Jesus’s words challenged the whole paradigm of their life. And they did not like it one bit.

I mean, think about it. You had this woman dead to rights and whatever Jesus wrote on the ground and whatever authority he carried when he said “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone” was so powerful that they let her go. Yet the same people pick up stones to kill the same Jesus who persuaded them to let the adulteress go.

People like to distort the truth. Distortion gives them power. Truth brings freedom, but it also destroys the power that comes from lies. Those who have built their power based on lies will do anything to prevent the truth from coming out.

Here’s an example of what truth can do. When an elephant is a baby, handlers will chain it up to a stake in the ground. The baby elephant is too small to pull the stake free. Eventually, it stops trying. When that elephant grows up, it can be held in place by a stake and a chain. The truth is, that elephant is big and strong enough to yank that stake up and go wherever it wants, but the elephant doesn’t know that truth.

What Jesus told those people was the equivalent of telling them that they can yank up the stakes that were holding them in place and go wherever they wanted. Instead of being grateful, they became enraged. They refused to believe the truth Jesus told them. They couldn’t recognize the truth.

How does one recognize the truth? That’s a philosophical question that could go on for days.

In industry, the key to recreating the same part time after time is to reduce the amount of variation in the process. Put another way, simplicity creates consistency. The same can be said for truth.

People are becoming intoxicated with the idea that they’ve discovered some long-hidden truth that’s been kept from the world. Anyone who finds such hidden truth is special, unique. Better than everyone else. It becomes a matter of pride.

For example, one who believes that the earth is flat and the idea of a round earth is part of a complicated conspiracy going back hundreds of years that involves the complacency of all the governments of the world will feel as though they’re free from the lie of a round earth. They will feel as though they’ve been liberated from the Matrix, that they have special knowledge and that they must be special themselves because they rejected the lie of round earth. When confronted with arguments such as, “What about pictures from space?” they will argue that NASA is fake and all those pictures are forgeries. When asked “How can someone fly or sail around the world?” they respond with special maps that “prove” their claims or, in some cases, deny that such world crossings are even possible. When asked what keeps the water from falling off the edge, they’ll respond that there’s an ice wall — and if asked why no pictures of the ice wall exist, they’ll claim that soldiers are stationed on the ice wall to prevent anyone from getting close enough to take pictures of it. And on, and on, and on it goes.

Why do people believe these things? Because it makes them feel special, and the idea that they’re special becomes so engrained into their core personality that they’ll do whatever they have to in order to protect it. Lie, or willingly believe lies. Destroy the character of those trying to help them. Attack anyone who presents any argument they don’t want to believe.

How solid can any claims that require a vast, complicated conspiracy in order to be true really be? Occam’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the truth.

Truth is like gold. It can be used to cover lies made of lead. One has to know where to find truth, how to recognize it, and how to filter out everything that’s not true.

And our feelings can be our worst enemies. Things can feel true when they’re not, and truth can feel lie lies. We have to move past our feelings and find some concrete, absolute, rock-solid foundation upon which to weigh truth.

Sometimes the truth means realizing and admitting that we’re wrong. Sometimes the truth means giving up power we have over others. Sometimes the truth has consequences we don’t want to face. Sometimes, people love their sin too much to stop lying and embrace truth.

When you know someone is lying about something — anything — don’t believe them about things they claim are true. If someone will lie to make themselves look better, they’ll lie to gain control over others. They’ll lie to manipulate and take from others. They’ll lie just for the fun of it. Jesus said they’ll lie because they’re under the influence of their father, the devil.

When we live in lies, we know it. It’s like a fog that permeates everything. We can’t shake it off, we can’t see past it. We just know and we can either chose to ignore it and pretend everything is okay, or we can look for the source of truth.

Truth is very precious and rare. Sadly, it’s not rare because of vast conspiracies. It’s rare because of human nature. When Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, He’s promising a life free from sin, free from lies and the manipulation of those who tell lies. He’s promising that we will know truth when we hear it. And, perhaps, He’s promising a resurrection of our own lives — that once we embrace the truth and live in the truth, we can start over again, freed from the lies that held us down before.

On this resurrection weekend, it’s important to look back at what Jesus did on the cross, but it’s also important that we renew our commitment to do what Jesus asked of His followers, to obey Him, and to live by the truth of what He said, not what other people have told us is true. It’s a personal journey. Too many people are content to let others tell them what Jesus said instead of finding out for themselves.

Truth and Resurrection was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat

Revealed: The Dirty Little Secret to Stealing Your Attention

A good magician never reveals their tricks. Why would they? They make too much money selling the illusion. It’s the bad magicians, the ones who can’t sell out venues, who don’t have the marketing and public relations savvy to become big stars, who usually end up making those “secrets revealed” exposes that were so popular in the late ’90s.

Think of me as a failed magician. I know the secrets, and I’m willing to share them with you right now. If you let me, I’m going to give you a very cynical way to look at the world. I’m not trying to sell a book that explores these ideas further. I just feel the need to put this out there so people can be aware.

Knowledge doesn’t equal awareness. You have to choose to be aware. You may choose to dismiss everything I’m about to write. You may think it’s too simple or flawed. That’s fair. But it’s free.

Want to know more? Then keep reading.

Believe it or not, successful magicians use the same tricks that successful writers, salesmen, marketers, news organizations, politicians, and even televangelists use: knowledge gaps.

I just used one to get you to click on on the read more button.

Once you understand what knowledge gaps are and how they work, you’ll see them used in a lot of places you’d never expect. Particularly in politics and religion.

Ah, politics and religion. The quickest way to make people mad, right? Hang with me, though, My goal isn’t to offend, but to give you a peek behind the curtain.

I’m not a successful writer. Not yet, maybe never. But one thing I do know about writing is the importance of creating an itch that will send readers flipping through page after page in order to scratch. Knowledge gaps are these itches.

Mostly, these knowledge gaps are used in successful marketing campaigns. In the late ’90s, when I was in college, one of the first successful online marketing organizations I ever ran across was called Double Your Dating. In the days before Facebook ads, I don’t even remember how I found out about Double Your Dating. However, I fit their demographic — male, heterosexual, single, with access to the internet — so naturally their ads targeted me.

I wasn’t studying marketing in college, that didn’t come until graduate school. But I noticed, even back then, that Double Your Dating started very simply. The only product was a book titled Double Your Dating. I don’t know how much it cost, but I’m thinking it was $20 or so. High, but not unreasonable. The ad copy promised to teach buyers the secrets of dating and having sex with beautiful women.

Here’s where the knowledge gap comes in: people who bought the book wanted to date and have sex with beautiful women, but they didn’t know how to. That was their gap. It existed before they clicked the ad, the ad just made them aware of it. What Double Your Dating did was promise to fill that knowledge gap with information that would allow readers to fulfill their desire.

Did the book do that? I never bought or read the book, but I would imagine that it provided a series of tips about how a man could get a woman’s attention and explanations as to why those tips work on a psychological level.

After being seeing ads for Double Your Dating for months, I noticed that the company started selling more than just the one book. They added a CD set of a workshop where the author would go in-depth into concepts explored in the book. Not long after that, there were two different CD sets. Eventually there were DVD sets and workshops and an online membership site where users could connect and trade stories, as well as receive exclusive content. The focus moved beyond simply dating and having sex with beautiful women to becoming a better man, to finding and fixing problems inside of one’s self and living a life of authenticity. It was quite a remarkable transformation, actually — from a commercial standpoint as well as a content standpoint.

How did Double Your Dating grow? The same way any good marketing organization grows. They filled the need they set out to, but they didn’t provide complete or comprehensive knowledge to fill their users’ knowledge gap. There was always more that their customers wanted or needed to know, so new products were added to fill those knowledge gaps.

To many people, this sounds dirty and underhanded. Really, it’s just marketing. What’s fascinating about Double Your Dating is that it was so successful from a marketing standpoint that it created an entire subculture of pick-up artists and competing products. Different gurus developed different methods that appealed to different men, and sold their own books and CDs and DVD sets. There was even a reality show on VH1 for a while titled The Pick-Up Artist, where the host “trained” a group of men how to date and have sex with beautiful women over the course of however many episodes it ran. As one might expect, the show itself was ridiculous and bizarre, but the fact a TV show was produced at all is a credit to the success of Double Your Dating.

Neil Strauss wrote an expose of the culture in his book, The Game. For a book about a bunch of men who taught other men how to seduce women, it was remarkably raw and honest about the culture and the lifestyle. What haunted me from reading The Game is how miserable these pick-up artists were, despite having the two things they thought they wanted most — a lot of money and the ability to date and have sex with beautiful women. In fact, there were even attempts to move beyond the dating and sex coaching into helping men find long-term relationships and marriage.

The dating guru fad either died or I finally aged to the point that the ads didn’t target me anymore. Honestly, I’m not sure which. After reading Strauss’s book and watching the TV show, the formula these gurus used seemed remarkably bland: get in shape, dress well, get a tan and a decent haircut, find drunk women at bars and buy them drinks, then show a genuine interest in their life. Almost anyone’s older brother or pervy uncle could have told them as much, for free. But these gurus made a lot of money packaging their brand of execution in such a way that it created an itch and promised to scratch it.

Why? Because they presented their product as a proven way to fill a knowledge gap.

Honestly, selling dating advice to lonely young men is pretty much the definition of grabbing low-hanging fruit. The customer already wanted the product, they were born with a biological drive for it. In other words, the itch was already there. Regardless of how one may feel morally about the venture, from a marketing perspective, this whole phenomenon was pretty much inevitable and right up there with pet rocks in the “Why didn’t I think of that before?” category.

What if I told you the itch could be manufactured? It can. Network news does this all the time.

Here’s how it works.

There’s a theory called Maslow’s hierarchy that pretty much everyone who has ever studied business or psychology in high school or college should be familiar with. We can argue about the accuracy of Maslow’s theory, but at a basic level, it works and has for generations. Humans have basic needs. We’re born with them. They’re programmed into us biologically, much like our sex drive. At a basic level, we need safety, we need food and water, we need shelter. Once we have these things, the most basic part of our brain can relax and let the next-level part take over: this part wants things like community, relationships. As each progressive part of the brain gets its needs met, another takes over, providing its own unique set of itches that need to be scratched. Low-level needs are basic and easy to define. Each level up, the needs get a little less defined until the highest level of the brain is allowed to provide it’s own fuzzy itch: self-actualization. This is the top of Maslow’s theory, the one that’s hardest to define and even harder to satisfy.

The whole thing works very much like a video game, where competing one level opens access to another level with its own unique challenges. Everyone starts at level 1, not everyone makes it to level 6. In fact, few do.

Have you ever wondered why a Hardee’s or Carl Jr’s television ad looks like softcore pornography? Because their marketers are exploiting these biological needs in order to connect their product with the viewer’s desire for sex and food. Yes, the tactic sparks outrage, but the commercials haven’t changed much in a decade or so. It must be working.

In order to manufacture an itch, one must only reframe the conversation in such a way that it appeals to one of these human psychological needs. Because low-level needs are so common, most marketing attempts to create knowledge gaps based around base needs.

That’s why cable news has become so dramatic, so emotional. Commentators make their political point-of-view seem as though it is a matter of life-or-death (appealing to safety needs). Whatever political party is in power, they’re constantly fighting unfair opposition from the other side.These commentators practically scream, “This country would be perfect if not for those guys, and if we can just get rid of those guys, everything will be perfect! But if those guys ever get into power, they’ll destroy everything you love. Now, I’m gong to give you information that will help you be smarter and more informed than anyone who tries to argue with you, so we can get those guys out of power and make everything perfect.”

The political pendulum swings back and forth, but for these commentators, there’s never a point where we’re safe. Even if one party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, there’s always some threat looking to bring harm to America. And if you look at the way these news agencies promote their stories, they never present the whole picture. There’s always more to the story. Many times, it’s a multi-part report that spans several nights, so the viewer must keep tuning in to find out how “the other guy” is plotting to destroy their safety or financial security. These commentators promise to provide the power to keep your family safe and the knowledge to win any argument with anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

Even local news uses knowledge gaps to pull in viewers. Haver you ever been watching TV and seen a commercial where the announcer says something like, “Could this common household product kill your children and pets? Find out tonight at 11.” And, of course, if you love your children and pets, you’ll probably tune in to make sure you’re not going to kill them — because the commercial created an itch and promised to provide you with information that would fill your knowledge gap, but only if you tuned in to their newscast.

Remember, the point here isn’t a political argument, it’s the tactic of using knowledge gaps to steal people’s attention.

Sermon series have become popular with churches for this reason. If a preacher can start a 6-week series on an subject that people are passionate about, then those people are likely to come to church for everyone of those 6 weeks in order to hear the information they’re desperate for. Maybe it’s a series on “What the Bible says about healing your marriage” or “How to find purpose and vision for your life.” Whatever it is, once the series starts, it creates an itch for those interested — they’ll hang on to every word, they may even buy CD sets or download podcasts so they can listen again and again.

Religion is interesting in that it appeals to safety needs (the idea of heaven or hell) as well as self-actualization needs (how to be a better person, how to give value to the world). However, self-actualization can be commercialized without religion.

Self-actualization is not a great way to market hamburgers, but I would argue that Apple, Inc., has marketed itself into the world’s largest brand by appealing to self-actualization. Almost all of Apple’s advertising asks one of these same question:

1) What can I create with an Apple product?
2) What can I experience with an Apple product?
3) What dull / boring tasks become easier with an Apple product?

Subconsciously, what Apple is selling is escape from the mundane things that prevent its users from being self-actualized. The iPhone is simple, you don’t have to waste a lot of time figuring out how to use it. The iPad is powerful like a computer but you don’t have to learn how to use a computer to use one. Macs are powerful and get out of the way so the digital artist can focus on art instead of the mechanics of using a computer.

Now, keep in mind, this is what the ads sell — the idea that life is better with Apple technology. Compare that to other technology companies, whose marketing focuses on the specific traits of their newest device: a better camera, a bigger screen, a cheaper price, a more robust user experience.

At a technical level, Apple’s products are typically outdated before they hit the market. Companies like Samsung, HP, and even Microsoft are offering much more impressive technology at a lower price. People who don’t “get” Apple often become visually agitated when someone suggests that they buy an iPhone or a Mac. It’s even been described as a cult.

Why do consumers pay as much, if not more, for products that are outdated when they hit the shelf? In part, because of the proprietary software Apple products use is preferred by most of its users. But don’t underestimate the appeal of Apple’s marketing, because Apple appeals to their users’ self-actualization in a way that no other company does.

This is the same reason pickup trucks are advertised using images of construction work or cowboys. Pickup trucks have become a vehicular expression of masculinity because marketers have created the pick up truck itch for American men. The bigger the truck, the more powerful its engine, the more weight it can haul, the manlier the truck is perceived. For decades, truck advertising has subconsciously asked the viewer if they’re man enough to drive one of these pickups.

Many times the knowledge gap marketers create is, “What would my life be like if I had this product?” It doesn’t matter if that product is a truck or an iPad or an informational class. This type of marketing appeals to the idea that life can be different, but to find out how it can be different, we have to try the product. It can be something as simple as a movie that promises 2 hours of laughs or thrills or excitement, an escape from boredom. Or it could be a class that promises you a six-figure income (or more!) after you pay the small price of $1500.

This is often called lifestyle marketing. Any time a marketer asks the question, “What will your life be like after X, Y, or Z happens?” they’re creating a knowledge gap based on possibility and potential for a different lifestyle. Sometimes the products themselves promise to be the gateway to a new lifestyle. Apple markets their smartwatch as a device that facilitates an active lifestyle, making the subtle promise that its owners will be more active, more fit, and happier.

That’s what Double Your Dating did as well, promising the ability to connect with another human — although short term

People get mad at marketers. They don’t trust marketers. A lot of this negativity is because they feel tricked. We’ve all been tricked by marketing. We’ve all paid money from some product under the assumption that it would fill in a knowledge gap only to find it barely scratches the surface of what we thought it would do.

Call me jaded. Even though I know how these things work, I still fall for it. Every time there’s a new iPad or MacBook, every time I see an ad for a new truck or the big new movie release. Heck, every time I see a new Kindle, I think to myself, “If I had that, I would read way more — it’s an investment in myself”. I mean, seriously, how much different is one Kindle from the next? And yet I fall for it.

This blog post barely scratches the surface, but hopefully it got your wheels turning. I you want to read more, I highly suggest Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday. Holiday is a business coach and former marketing director for American Apparel. He’s probably most well known for two books he’s written: Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way. However, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator is probably his most powerful work, a phenomenal bok that goes into great detail about how mainstream media is coerced by those with an agenda. If you’re really interested in the idea of knowledge gaps and how they can be used to steal our attention, get his book.

Oh, and I just used a knowledge gap again. I’m sneaky like that, what can I say?

Revealed: The Dirty Little Secret to Stealing Your Attention was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat