A more human place

It’s a good time to be a pet.

We spend substantial sums to feed, care for, entertain, and yes, infrequently and awkwardly, clothe them. Some are pampered at spas while others find themselves at pet hotels for a few days, perhaps working on a long-delayed novel.

Befitting their place at center stage, our pets are stars of social media. What proportion of revenue does YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram owe to our furry creatures? How many views, clicks, likes, and faves are due to their ridiculous cuteness and adorable antics? With emoji, we can converse in tiny animals.

Our own treasured pet is an orange tabby named Mango who is approaching her 15th birthday. When my wife's phone recently complained of low space, a confession followed: "Well, I do have a lot of pictures of Mango on here." I’m convinced that my son makes room in his schedule for FaceTime conversations primarily to see Mango obliviously meow at the screen.

They're cute and entertaining, defenders of our homesteads and generally lovable, but why are pets such a focus right now?

Pets are a happy distraction, but also reminders of priorities that are easy to lose sight of in our harried lives. The things they care about are simple and essential: food, sleep, play, companionship, shelter, sunshine. And day after day, they find joy in these. As funny as it sounds, they are present in moment. I like to imagine animals discussing the concept of multitasking. "But why wouldn't you just do the single most important thing at the moment until another most important thing comes along?"

They don't care what others think of them, except for the few people that truly matter. They're not endlessly chasing the unattainable (usually).

Finally, they are steadfast. Your status doesn't fluctuate by the hour. They are free of judgment and unconditional in their love (stop laughing, cat owners).

Pets are wonderful in endless ways, including the way they wordlessly remind us to take deep breaths and enjoy where we are and who we're with. Also, naps.

Prompted

The last dispatch asked, What are your wishes for the new year?

Lara wrote:

In keeping with the goals of Uncommon, my wishes for the new year are for everyone (including myself) to take things more slowly, enjoy the moment, and to make an effort to cultivate real connections with the wonderful people around them. I'm going to work to create connections with everyone I meet. I find the older I get, the less I'm interested in the surface small talk - I want to get in and under that and really understand what makes people tick. There's nothing better than discovering an unexpected passion in a person you don't know very well! I have a long list of other wishes for the year, but I've always had those lists focused on achievement, and I always find I feel a bit disappointed with my efforts at the end of every year, so this year I'm going to give myself a break and practice being as accepting and gentle toward myself as I'm learning to be toward others. I hope others will look after themselves in the same way.

Jenny wrote:

A wish for 2015 that came to mind just now is for my younger brother to find his career path after graduating in the coming summer. He had some hiccups and detours during his university years. Thankfully it seems that he is now able to extend his hobby of gameplay to a potential profession, as he studies to become a game designer/ developer. Step by step, I wish he will find his direction and confidence to deal with - and enjoy - life.

That aside, I wish we can all develop personal peace and sense of freedom, and somehow channel these positive energies to places and people full of hatred and suffering. Not sure how technically this will work but every time I read about news of man-made tragedies like ISIS and Taliban, I always wonder if there is anything individuals can do...

Oliver wrote:

I hope my Mom’s condition doesn’t get worse. I hope my wife stays healthy and continues to find the wild success she’s enjoyed until now. I hope I get to switch careers once and for all. I hope to become closer to my friends and family. I hope to be less distracted. I hope to spend less time doing all the things I “have” to do and more time doing the things I want to do. I hope that, no matter what comes, I will remain positive and happy. I hope that I make good use of the year and enjoy every moment - because life really is far too short.

Marcus wrote:

Me and my wife spent last night talking about last year and what we want from this year and I realised that I have one wish for this year, and that is that I take the time at least once per week to reflect over all the things I'm grateful and for the things I want to change.

I also want to share a new years benediction from Neil Gaiman that always gives me inspiration and a smile. I listen to it a couple of times each year.

Adam wrote:

On a personal level, for all my family's various work, play, and other activities to go at least as well as 2014, if not better. We had a good year, despite some rough patches, and I'd love to see that continue.

Outside of that, I'm mostly hoping for more thoughtfulness, consideration and kindness as we all try to find our balance. More justice for the weak, more peace for those without, and an extra hour of sleep a night for everyone. :)

Ryan wrote:

As at the beginning of the previous three years, I most wish that my wife and I will make meaningful progress toward being self-employed at our respective crafts: writing for me, fashion design for her. We haven’t always made the best strategic decisions in service of this goal, and finding time to work on the specific project of the moment always turns out to be harder than we’d hoped or imagined, but when January 1 rolls around, we always say to each other, "This is our year." And maybe, in 2015, we’ll be right.

Brad wrote:

My wishes for the new year have emerged from lessons brought by the past one. For myself, I wish to pursue more empathy, adaptability and excellence in my work and my relationships. Understanding many of the fundamental imbalances of my industry, especially surrounding unfair and short-sighted hiring practices, I would like to take positive steps to increase awareness of these issues within my new workplace and amongst the greater technology community in Austin. We have a long way to go before software is a diverse, thriving and more human place for all people to work and grow.

More broadly for the US, I wish good progress to be made on the relationship of law enforcement and authority figures with the common people. The entitlement, tribalism, institutional racism, over-prosecution and militarization of police and other authorities are trends that can be reversed and turned into more productive and trusting relationships with communities across the country. This will likely require new empathic and humble leadership for those organizations, so I'm not sure how likely or swift the progress might be. One can hope.

In December 2013, we asked a similar question: What would you like more or less of in the new year? The thoughtful replies are worth revisiting.

Uncommon reads

The Unending Anxiety of an ICYMI World by Teddy Wayne:

Now, the very shortening of the phrase is a byproduct and acknowledgment of the velocity of information against which its attached link is racing. The implication is that you probably have not seen it, and it’s not necessary to your existence, but the sender would like to bring it to your attention anyway, please. It serves as a call of desperation as much as an announcement: Can you hear my whisper in these howling winds?

Among the Disrupted by Leon Wieseltier:

Every phone in every pocket contains a “picture of ourselves,” and we must ascertain what that picture is and whether we should wish to resist it. Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy.

Why is everyone so busy? from The Economist:

The problem, then, is less how much time people have than how they see it. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems.

When experiences can be calculated according to the utility of a millisecond, all seconds are more anxiously judged for their utility.

Stop Trying to Save the World by Michael Hobbes:

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits.

Doors

We hope you enjoyed the dispatch's first quarterly theme. From October through December, we explored doors. First, doors people open for us and doors we pass through. Then, doors that make a home possible and doors we hesitate to open. And finally, doors that lead to the unexpected.

It was a wonderful project. Thanks to everyone who contributed your words and attention, especially Erin, William, and Erin. As we toy with ideas for next time, if you have thoughts on what you loved or would change, or have possible themes to pass along, please share them.

Your turn

What memories do you have of your first pet?