The Difference Between Bob Marley and Bobby McFerrin: Also, Walking Slowly is Important
So I was at Peers Conference in St. Pete's Florida this past week. The following is a pretty good example of the kinds of conversations that happen there amongst other web professionals, freelancers and various sized business owners. Yes, this is in part a plug for the conference. I think you should go next year assuming you like collecting hugs more than business cards.
I was sitting at a 'pub' sort of a place drinking a glass of house red, mainly because I'm cheap and I think wine should stop right at the 'drinkable' line. I was sitting with some old friends and some new friends who had a similar attitude. Across the table from me was an old friend of mine by the name of Leslie Flinger. She's internet famous, by my standards at least. I'm not invoking her here to ride her coattails or partake of her followers or anything. I just think the story will make more sense to you if you know her or at least know that she is a very charismatic, warm, friendly, approachable, argumentative, highly skilled and seasoned veteran of the tech world.
So we're sitting across from one another and we launch into an argument about who wrote Don't Worry, Be Happy. Every circus animal older than 20 knows that Bobby McFerrin wrote Don't Worry, Be Happy...
Your landlord say the rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry be happy now... [then start whistling]
So Flinger starts yelling at me when I tell her that her claim that Bob Marley wrote that song is wrong. I try to calmly explain to her that Bob Marley wrote Three Little Birds instead, which is somewhat easily confused since the lyrics go...
Don't worry about a thing.
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright.
Singin' "Don't worry, about a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright!"
Now I took offense to the idea that Flinger would conflate these two songs. Both are very powerful in that they are easy to remember (for most humans) and they both help you remind yourself whenever you feel you need it, that most of the jive-ass nonsense bullshit hornswoggled bamboozelry out there has no meaning when compared to stuff like laughing with a friend, some birds chirping, kids playing or a nice slow walk somewhere. Both of these songs can be invoked in seconds and their message can help you remember what's important, especially when you are in a moment of worry, anxiety or dread.
Now Three Little Birds just so happens to have been a song that kept me, during a very difficult business year last year, from walking in front of a beer truck a few times. So yes, I got a bit energetic when my friend Flinger took such a strong stand on its authorship.
So she's yelling at me and I'm yelling at her. People around us are trying to help and trying to diffuse the situation, but we're committed. Finally I tell her that I know all of the words to both songs and that I am certain that she is confused. Then she goes for the jugular and challenges my manhood. She says, "Fine then! Sing the Bob Marley one right now in front of all these people!"
Like I said, I know all the words. I memorized them so that I could sing them to my kids and all that. These are great fricken songs. They are simple and elegant and profound. But in that moment, I choked. I could not remember how Three Little Birds began. Did it start with the chorus? Or did it start with 'woke up this morning...'?
That sucks. I hate a missed opportunity. She won the argument, de facto, because I couldn't sing on the spot, even though I was factually correct. We'll get back to that.
How did we get on the topic of "Don't worry about a thing, be happy now, [whistle]?"
At the beginning of the conversation my old friend Flinger asked me how I was doing. What was I up to. How was my life going (more or less). I told her that I had an awful 2015 and that one of the things that emerged from it was a weird enjoyment of walking slowly.
"What do you mean walking slowly?"
I said, I mean like when I am in the airport. I find nothing more pleasing and satisfying than just taking my time getting through security and getting to my gate. Everyone else around you is rushing around, cutting each other off, trying to meet fictionally important deadlines, being rude, being self-absorbed. In the mean time I am just strolling nice and relaxed, looking around at the cute kids riding on luggage, watching business dudes bark at their mobile phones, watching ladies in way too high heels trying to get noticed walking miles up and down an airport.
I said I like the feeling of having plenty of time to let someone cut ahead of me in line if they seem like they are in a jam. I like slowly taking my shoes off and slowly putting them back on for the security stuff. I like having time to smile at someone and see if they will make eye contact and smile back, maybe even bullshit for a couple of minutes about whatever. You never know when you will be able to make someone laugh really hard or have them make you bust out. (Jess, the power behind Peers, could probably speak to the power of making a perfect stranger cackle in public.)
So then Flinger says, she's very quick witted and reads widely, she says, oh you mean like Thich Nhat Hanh when he says, "Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet."
I had never heard this before but it is exactly, I mean, exactly, to the letter, what I am talking about. I just had never really reflected long enough on it to realize that what I was playing with was yet another tenet of buddhism, namely mindfulness. Walking slowly is one of many ways to practice mindfulness and mindfulness is part of the path to peace and quietude in the soul.
It took me a minute to get to my point here, but I wanted to tell you that this Peers Conference thing is just exactly what we tech people need in this day and age. We need a place where we can do the communal work of maturing as a discipline and a profession. We need a place where we can have conversations with our fellow web plumbers about how meaning, value, fulfillment, happiness — tie into building up and keeping the plumbing of the internet functional and clean.
I think most all of the conversations I had, or overheard, or heard about at Peers were along these lines; tech people talking shop but also talking about how we can do what we do in a way that sustains us, our families, spouses, little kids, communities. This field we're in is maturing. We're shaping it as we go. Conversations like these help us create something of beauty and longevity instead of something cheap and chintzy and frail.
So then I said, yeah that sounds like exactly what I am talking about. I want my feet to kiss the Earth with every step. I want to take my time. I have very little time on this Earth. I want to enjoy each moment if I can. I want to be present. Then I said, "I'm just trying to not worry. I'm just trying to be happy."
And right around here is when Flinger and I start yelling at each other about Bobby McFerrin and Bob Marley.
I loved it. I like directness and clarity. I like the playfulness of jumping into a direct conflict with a friend and really telling them what you think. I love the faith we can have in some of these relationships, that we won't really do that much damage by having a little argument. It was playful. We were having a blast getting caught up and reacquainted.
So Flinger gave me a little gift in the form of a fun argument and a little Thich Nhat Hanh quote and I think for that I owe her a little something in return, maybe a little bird, or maybe three.
Flinger, this one's for you: