June 2021

Thoughts about…

Making Meaningful Decisions

I recently finished reading the classic sci-fi novel Dune in anticipation of watching its new movie adaptation. The story was engaging and the writing inspired. To build such a rich world populated with so many unique characters, forms of technology, and thought-provoking philosophy was incredible. As such, there were so many profound passages throughout the book! However, the quote that resonated most with me was actually part of the “bonus” material in the back of the book.

Needless to say that quote caught my attention, particularly the last bit about “… what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.”

Due to the exponential increase in population over the recent decades and the fact that we’re all generally living longer, the world is effectively getting smaller. But a topic as broad as the above quote illuminates could yield conversations traveling in a million different directions. And, I believe, most of those directions would eventually just lead down the same old well-trodden paths of political and religious dogma and ideology. So instead of talking about planet-wide existence and the global consequences of our collective actions, let’s instead contemplate the micro-scenario of those gas molecules in a sealed flask.

Rather, let’s consider our individual existence because that’s really the crux of the matter. If we’re all doing the “right” thing, theoretically things should be fine for everyone. If only…!

I know I’ve said it more than once, but the importance of my daily quality of life has become the prime motivator for most of the decisions that I make. The only person who can truly ensure that my existence amounts to something more than mere survival is myself. Political and religious figures, jobs and careers, and the geographical location at which we live all contribute to and influence our state of mind. However, in the end, those things are not truly what will decide whether or not we’re happy or at peace. That can only come from within ourselves. We alone must cultivate and express this peace, love, joy … whatever you want to call it, through meaningful decisions and actions.

American Black Bear - Ursus americanus

American Black Bear – Ursus americanus (5/22/21) © Jared Manninen

But let’s not confuse the approach of focusing inward with selfishness. Being selfish on occasion and in small quantities is unavoidable. We’re all human, after all. But choosing to be selfish when the outcome has the potential to be catastrophic is unconscionable.

At the beginning of June (2021), a person flying their drone illegally over the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (Huntington Beach, CA) wound up crashing their drone on the island. This caused about 3,000 adult nesting Elegant Terns to flee the site as they believed the drone to be a predator. Ultimately, the drone proved to be a big enough threat to those Terns that they felt forced to abandon their 1,500-2,000 eggs. You don’t have to be a wildlife biologist or a bird nerd (like me!) to understand that killing off over a thousand birds in one shot is pretty messed up. And, for what, a stupid Instagram post or YouTube video?

At the heart of every choice we make, no matter the size, is the opportunity to practice being mindful.

And, the practice of being mindful is very similar to the process by which we make ethical choices.

Ethics deal with decisions we make that result in behaviors and actions that could be classified as being either “right” or “wrong.” Sometimes it can be difficult to discern whether or not something is right or wrong. For example, just because we can personally justify an action doesn’t actually mean it’s an ethically sound one.

Consider that drone operator. “What’s the big deal? I’m just going to do a quick flyover. Nobody’ll know the difference.” One crash later and we now have a mass casualty event. No big deal, huh?

Long-Billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus scolopaceus

Long-Billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus scolopaceus (5/4/21) © Jared Manninen

On the other hand, the choice as to whether or not you’re going to brush your teeth before going to bed tonight isn’t necessarily going to result in a huge moral conundrum.

That said, we could look at that benign example of teeth brushing to illustrate the three basic levels of thought that go into making ethical choices.

  1. We make a decision based on the fear of being punished (i.e. I brush my teeth every night because I don’t want my dentist scolding me and then working extra hard to clean them, which is often more painful).
  2. We make a decision based on the fear of standing out or not conforming to societal/cultural “norms” (i.e. I brush my teeth every night because that’s what everyone else does, and I don’t want to be considered the weirdo or told that I have smelly breath).
  3. We make a decision based on the desire to do the right thing for the “resource” which, in this case, is my teeth (i.e. I brush my teeth every night because without the consistent mechanical action of brushing, plaque will accumulate on them and food particles will become trapped in my gums. Both situations have the potential to lead to long-term health problems, so I brush my teeth because I want to be as healthy as I possibly can be).

You could obviously argue that ethics have nothing to do with brushing our teeth. Or that developing gum disease, for example, is the “punishment” that we fear. And, I might agree with you on both accounts. But splitting hairs isn’t really what I’m talking about here, right?

The point is to begin making mindful decisions in our daily lives that will (hopefully) yield meaningful action. In most cases, taking meaningful action requires us to look beyond our personal wants and desires and to consider the resource in question. Interestingly enough, even when we make a mindful choice from which we directly benefit, the action that follows often ends up supporting the greater good.

Again, the teeth brushing affair directly applies to our own health and well-being. However, if everyone took better care of their teeth (making those small, individual mindful decisions) perhaps our insurance rates would go down because there would be less need across the board for costly and invasive dental procedures. Perhaps the emphasis on maintenance would decrease the need for triage, decreasing everyone’s stress and making space for the professionals to address actual emergencies (not primarily the self-inflicted kind).

White-Faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi

White-Faced Ibis – Plegadis chihi (5/7/21) © Jared Manninen

All big things come from small beginnings.

Life decisions again, regardless of magnitude, have to be based on more than just seeking the biggest reward for the least amount of effort. They have to be based on more than just one-upping the competition, or only picking the lowest hanging fruit. Do we really need a new law explicitly stating that we can’t do this or that, when we already know that it’s a dubious act? Just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

So instead of maintaining our death grips on our most self-serving beliefs while we all hold hands and circle the drain together, what if we re-evaluated the nature of our individual existence in an effort to create a world worth living in for those of us who do survive?

Click on each photo for its name and the date taken.

A short hiking-related video in the snow! In the spring!

Please subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. Thank you 🙂 

Now that I’ve slowed down production of my YouTube videos, I’m beginning the process of writing articles again for Tahoe Trail Guide. It definitely feels good to publish on the site again!

Click the image to read its article.

Hiking Fallen Leaf Lake

Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…

-Jared Manninen

Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.

If you like any of the images I post in these newsletters, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to upload them to my RedBubble account so that you can order prints and other merchandise featuring the images.

Categories: Newsletters
Tags: #2021

Comments (10)

  • Bobby Connolly . June 14, 2021 . Reply

    Excellent commentary Jared. Thank you for your thoughts. Getting to hike with you and experience the forest through your lens has been so uplifting, Looking forward to more shared experiences.

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 15, 2021 . Reply

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Bob 🙂

      I had a great time birding with you, as well! Hope you didn’t get back too late, though 😉 I didn’t realize we were out for nearly an hour and a half. haha

      You have my info, so keep in touch! And if you remember, remind me of that birding app/website that you use for bird sound identification. I’ve been searching online, but there are lots of similar sites.

  • Sandra Pieper . June 11, 2021 . Reply

    Love everything you do, Jared! More commentary soon!🥰

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 12, 2021 . Reply

      Thanks, Sandra! I appreciate the kind words 🙂

  • Craig Rieser . June 11, 2021 . Reply

    Jared, thank you! First, it was very good to see you in Tahoe when we recently celebrated the long partnership of our dojos and the current changes with John C leading Sacramento and Matt landing in Tahoe with y’all … if I’m correctly understanding how those changes are unfolding (I may be a little slow to grasp details). I’m glad your commitment to aikido endures, resonates in the work you do, and continues to grow and inspire us. Seems we’re not so separate and isolated; the watershed of our influences seems to feed like rivulets into streams into rivers and perhaps touches into cycles that circle the world beyond our knowing. So this piece is beautiful and inspiring, from the rich tone in the voice of your narration to the depth and poignancy of your content. Like an exceptional movie that you enjoy seeing more than once, I have repeatedly enjoyed checking this out. Very bookmark worthy. So, thank you very much. And again, it was really good to see you. And with the current dojo changes, maybe it won’t be such a long while between visits. I hope it goes both ways too, though Tahoe kinda trumps Sac destination wise. Ok, I gotta get back to your site and keep exploring….

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 12, 2021 . Reply

      Hey Craig! Thanks for tuning in 🙂

      I’m kind of all over the map with regard to online platforms, but I’ve turned this site (my personal one) as a bit of a one-stop browsing experience. These monthly newsletters allow me to take inventory of my previous month’s work, as well as to include some type of essay that may or may not be related to my Tahoe Trail Guide website. I have a habit of compartmentalizing my work (as I produce a lot of seemingly unrelated things), so this just allows me to reel it all in on a monthly basis 🙂

      Yes, it was fun catching up (albeit briefly). I do miss you and many of my other Aikido friends. But life has a way of leading us in the correct direction when we don’t fight it. As much as I miss training, I just need(ed) time to myself to gain momentum with Tahoe Trail Guide and its related projects. Essentially, I’ve just been trying to carve out some sort of independent career based on all of this outdoor recreation stuff. And the bottom line is that I need time to accomplish that. For all intents and purposes, these past few years have been probably some of the most focused years of my life as far as staying on course with regard to a long-term artistic endeavor. I really enjoy the journey and will continue to walk the path.

      The philosophy that’s inherent in Aikido has definitely influenced, informed, and affirmed a lot of what I try to impress upon others. It’s an interesting time in my life as I’m no longer a young guy repeating or parroting things I’ve heard or briefly studied. Not that I’m any sort of success, but based on my action and output (over the course of my adult life) I believe I have enough longevity in practicing what I “preach” that what I say tends have more resonance with people. At least that’s what it feels like, anyway.

      So, it was great to see you again and I appreciate your meaningful comment and kind words 🙂 We will eventually get a chance to hangout again!

      Keep in touch 🙂

  • Elizabeth Macasaet (née Sullivan) . June 11, 2021 . Reply

    David and I were recently listening to Joe Rogan of all people and he had a scientist on who was talking about how the use of plastics is reducing the size of male genitalia and that the size had a direct effect on fertility that is irreversible for 3 generations. Multiple studies have been done which prove the mothers level of a chemical in certain plastics is directly related. Anyway the fallout of that is overwhelming. The mind goes to a Handmaids Tale distopian future. But one thought I had was, well maybe this is nature’s way of limiting the growth of a consumptive population. Nature doesn’t judge on a moralistic basis but it is heartless in doling out consequences and in the survival of some and not others.
    Anyway your thoughts reminded me of this and I thought I’d share. Also I need to read Dune. I think I watched the movie back in the day and loved it but now I can’t remember. I was a fan of Kyle Maclachlan at the time due to Twin Peaks… but I digress.

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 12, 2021 . Reply

      Thanks for your inspiring thoughts, Elizabeth 🙂

      I find it an interesting paradox that the universe won’t tolerate a vacuum but, at the same time, it will also offer up a solution (albeit destructive) to an overabundance of one thing or another. There often appears to be tolerances on either side of the scale, but “balance” seems to be the natural law of things. I haven’t read much about the plastics/infertility research being conducted, but I have seen multiple headlines about the topic. Definitely an interesting topic for conversation, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a subtle (and insidious?) way for Mother Earth to implement some sort of corrective action to ensure that the planet doesn’t turn into a total wasteland.

      Kyle Maclachlan and Twin Peaks … classic 🙂 Unfortunately, David Lynch’s Dune was entertaining but not so great. haha!

  • Joan Treppa . June 10, 2021 . Reply

    Great life lesson! Bravo!

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 11, 2021 . Reply

      Thank you, Joan 🙂 You’re the best!

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