Secret Santa exchanges the Web way

Elfster makes it easy to set up Secret
Santa gift exchanges. It automates signing up, drawing people, and
even anonymously asking questions. Here’s the one I made for one of my
barkadas. (Small group because everyone had to know everyone else
well…)

Christmas is about love, not shopping. ^_^ So let’s have a letter
exchange! Instead of scouring tiangges looking for the perfect gift
that’ll fit into your already tight budget, write a nice, long, warm,
heart-felt letter instead. Also, make one New Year’s Resolution and
dedicate it to your recipient. We could all use a little help in
keeping _those_… =)

Incidentally, the organizer can rig it. I didn’t, though. ;) It would
be fun to have it randomized. Of course, nothing’s stopping us from
writing letters for _everyone_, if we feel particularly diligent… =)

Check out Elfster and set up your Secret Santa gift exchange soon!

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Twenty-three years and two strikeouts

You just can’t win them all, I guess. As warm and fuzzy as other
people feel about me, there are people who would really rather not
hear from me again. I’ve tried pinging them a few times, but now I’m
getting definite get-out-of-my-life replies. I might check back in
another decade. In one case, I really messed up, but that’s part of
life. I didn’t hurt him as much as I hurt some other people before,
who had forgiven me and come around to being one of my best friends.
In another case, I don’t understand what he’s having such a hard time
with, but oh well.

At the very least, this is a good way to learn how to deal with
rejection. I need to develop a thick skin, anyway. And as Kathy Sierra
said in Creating Passionate Users, until or unless you’re willing to risk passionate hate, you may never feel the love.

Random Emacs symbol: tibetan-tibetan-to-transcription – Function: Transcribe Tibetan string STR and return the corresponding Roman string.

On friendship and getting better at it

A quiet week led me to thinking about friendship and how I can learn more about it. W- and I are both introverted and we spend most of our time at home. I need to make a deliberate effort to get together with people. Otherwise, it slips off my radar.

Why am I thinking about this? I see the close friendships my mom has developed with my ninongs and ninangs (godparents) and with people throughout the world. I think about the laughter and openness of my barkada (clique of friends) back home. I reflect on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and what he shares about friendship. It’s a good thing. It enriches life.

I plan for the long-term when it comes to finances. I can certainly invest the time and effort into developing something deeper and more important than that. I know that if I’m left to my own devices, I’m probably not going to make much progress, so deliberate action is worthwhile here.

I have friends. I’m also aware that I don’t get to see those friends very often. There’s a bit of asymmetry, too, which I thought about again at Lotusphere. It’s easy for people to know about the significant events in my life, and even the day-to-day details. I don’t have that same sense of awareness about a lot of people, and I’d like to develop it.

There are so many people I’d like to get to know further. I want to help make their lives a little better. I want to help them ask interesting questions. I want to learn from what they’re learning along the way. It gives me pleasure to think about them and to hear about their lives. Even focusing on people I already know will give me plenty of opportunities to learn about friendship – and then there are all these fascinating people I have yet to meet. In other words, it’s not you, it’s me. =) I can work on me.

Thank goodness many people use Twitter and Facebook to share what’s going on. The fragmentary nature of these streams mean that I get glimpses into other people’s lives, but they’re interleaved with other updates. I sometimes find myself flitting from update to update without a deeper sense of each individual person.

So I’m thinking of working on this from two aspects: online and in-person.

Online, I’m trying out tools like Gist that give me a social dashboard which aggregates news, organizing it by person. I set aside time to think about other people, learn more about what’s going on in their lives, take notes, and reach out. I set aside some money for the little differences I can make in people’s days. I switched to a phone plan that includes international text messages, too. I’m also going to more regularly check and respond to personal mail (hi!).

In person, I’m deliberately looking for experiences I want to share with other people, and for opportunities to learn more about people’s interests. This is a bit more of a stretch for me because I like spending time at home and I hardly ever eat out. (I once attended a New Year’s Dinner and found myself thinking I could host a decent party for the cost of my meal.) I’ll probably start with movies and opera, and maybe look into setting up lunch or coffee with people.

Have you worked on learning more about friendship? Have any thoughts to share?

On friendship and becoming more social

I’ve been talking to people about my project of becoming more social, getting better at connecting. It makes sense. I get to practise and pick up tips at the same time. =) Sometimes people say, “Sacha, aren’t you already pretty social? How big is your network, anyway?” But it’s not about that, and I think I’m starting to figure out what it’s about.

There are so many interesting people. W-, of course, is gosh-darn-awesome. And there are all these wonderful people I’ve gotten to know: my family, my barkada, my ninongs and ninangs, my friends in Canada who helped me get the hang of those first few winters, my friends at work and in various clubs, my friends through this blog and Twitter and all these other networks, and people I have yet to become good friends with. So the limiting factor isn’t the lack of people to develop friendships with, but my ability to do so.

What does it mean to be friends with someone? In the Nichomachean Ethics, where he devotes a book of fourteen chapters to the topic of friendship, Aristotle distinguishes between friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of good character. Of these, I’m interested in friendships of good character. In this kind of friendship, you appreciate the goodness of other people and they appreciate yours. You wish them good, and they wish you good as well.

One can’t have many friends at this level. In W.D.Ross’s translation of the Nichomachean Ethics:

But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare. Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together'; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each. Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.

And also:

Now there are three grounds on which people love; of the love of lifeless objects we do not use the word ‘friendship'; for it is not mutual love, nor is there a wishing of good to the other (for it would surely be ridiculous to wish wine well; if one wishes anything for it, it is that it may keep, so that one may have it oneself); but to a friend we say we ought to wish what is good for his sake. But to those who thus wish good we ascribe only goodwill, if the wish is not reciprocated; goodwill when it is reciprocal being friendship. Or must we add ‘when it is recognized’? For many people have goodwill to those whom they have not seen but judge to be good or useful; and one of these might return this feeling. These people seem to bear goodwill to each other; but how could one call them friends when they do not know their mutual feelings? To be friends, then, the must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other for one of the aforesaid reasons.

That makes me think of several things. First, to wish good for other people, you should know them beneath the surface. It’s easy to say that I wish my friends to be happy, but knowing the specific things they consider pleasurable or good means I can share good experiences, find good gifts, or help people grow.

I’m probably an outlier in terms of writing and making it easy for people to get to know me through my interests. If I’m going to get to know other people, then I’m going to need to take the initiative and reach out, maybe slowly getting a sense of a person over time. I can get better at this by also, say, compiling notes on people’s expressed preferences. (Yes, I’m a geek.)

Second, friendship is reciprocal. I can feel goodwill towards many people, such as the people I’ve gotten to know through blogs. Some may even feel goodwill for me back, without my knowing. Friendship, I think, is when we both know it and that mutual understanding influences our actions.

I think that people are rather better at caring about me than I am at caring about them. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people as much. It means that I think other people are more thoughtful and are better at making a connection, and that there’s plenty of room for me to learn. Add to that the occasional asymmetry of knowledge and it can be a little awkward, but I’m getting better at getting past the awkward bit and just focusing on getting to know people more.

One of the things I’m particularly curious about is developing friendships online. When I listed people I might call if I needed a favour or I needed someone to talk to, I realized that there were some people I’ve never actually seen in person. I’d like to get even better at cultivating friendships online. From literature and other people’s examples, it’s clearly possible to develop deep connections beyond your geographic reach. With many of my friends outside Toronto – or infrequently met even in the same city – it’s something worth learning more about.

A lot of this is a matter of time: time to learn about people, time to share experiences, time to build trust, and so on. I can’t do much to speed things up. But it’s also equally a matter of attention – if I don’t invest that attention, then that time will pass without much effect.

Of course, reflecting on the Ethics, I need to be careful that people and friendship don’t become means. It’s not about checking off a little checkmark on my list of things to learn, or dissecting people and finding out what makes them tick, or chasing the pleasure of making someone’s day.

So that’s what I’m talking about when I say I want to get better at connecting or I want to be more social. It’s not about making sure I’ve “got my dance card filled”, or that I go out to at least one get-together each week, or even that I remember to host tea. I think it’s more about knowing people more so that I can appreciate their goodness and wish them good, and about building deeper connections.

2011-02-18 Fri 06:50

From the feeds: Friendship, planning ahead, and crossroads

ccattrib_sharealike_trees_2006_lincolnian

One of the great things about spending time with my family is seeing them with old friends, the kind of friendships developed over decades and despite distance.

Mel Chua shares this poem by James Hayford:

Time to plant trees is when you’re young So you will have them to walk among – So aging, you can walk in shade That you and time together made. – James Hayford, "Time To Plant Trees"

Greg Wilson writes about friendship and running partners in life:

In the end, the search for that feeling is the common thread through
almost everything I’ve done. … We are none of us long in this life,
and I think we all want to believe that when we have to run our last
lap, we won’t have to run it alone. I think we all want friends to
keep pace with, day after day, while we’re alive, so that we can be
sure that someone will be out there, still running, when we’re not.

I want to enjoy and be inspired by great friendships through the decades. It’s easy to be insular, but if no man can really be an island (or at least be healthy doing so), I might at least be a peninsula. =)

Speaking of planning ahead, Trent (The Simple Dollar) has great advice on what to do at life’s crossroads. Living a frugal life and keeping expenses down means that we can take more risks, yay.

Photo © 2006 lincolnian, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License

Getting together

I find that I quite enjoy slowing down and spending time with friends, bringing people together for conversation. I still stress out a little beforehand, but thinking of the people makes it easier to tidy things up and get things ready. Then it’s different; it’s like preparing and wrapping a gift.

It’s a pleasure to see friends becoming friends with each other, too. It makes conversations easier, and I learn more about people because I can see all these other aspects.

I’d like to give this sort of care to friends far away, and to new ones as well. David’s figured part of this out – he has good friendships around the world. There’s much to learn, but it’s good to do so.