Investing in Friends: Three Heartbreaking Books About Loyalty

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I used to see my friends as an escape from the real world. They were a little treat I gave myself. If I deserved it, I get to hang out with my friends.

As we got older, what was once a treat has now become a bit of an obligation. That’s growing up. I used to meet up with my friends for pleasure, now I meet up with them because I know how important it is to keep the ship afloat. “I should be resting,” or “I should be working,” says my guilty self. Still I go and I have a good time, often. It has turned into an expense, a holiday, an indulgence. I’m paying to keep them. I need them for a rainy day as if they are insurance. And like insurance, even if nothing bad happens, it’s worth having.

The idea that these important people can fade like an old memory is heartbreaking. But it is the way it is. A good friendship like a good investment, compounds. You have to keep attending events, buying gifts, showing that you care so that you keep making memories. You need to keep money in savings, and only withdraw when necessary. My life is not split into events, but rather the people entering and exiting my life — depositing and withdrawing.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that I read multiple books at the same time. I’m a polygamous reader. The same way I can have different relationships with different people, I feel the same way with books. Some books teach me, some books make me laugh, and some books make me empathetic. Friendships are the books of you, written in partnership with another, and should that partnership ends, the book goes unfinished — unread.

In one way or another, we’ve all gone through a situation where a friendship met its demise. This could be because of irreconcilable differences. This could be because of geographical changes. This could be because of the volatilities of life, things that are out of our control, twists of fates that pull two people — two groups — apart, stranding them on their own. In this world, we pick sides, what are the chances that your friends won’t pick yours?

This article, I pose that question to you…

I want to discuss three novels where the loyalty of friendships and families are tested, pulled to very limits, and allowed to snap.

Friendship as an Expense

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap is one of those stories told through the perspective of multiple characters. Each chapter, the vantage switches and we see through the eyes of someone we thought we couldn’t possibly feel sympathy for. That’s the beauty of a good book, it can make you love and hate many characters individually. One moment you are rooting for them and the next you are cursing them.

At the heart of the story, The Slap asks us to pick sides when an invisible line is crossed. It ask you where you yourself set the lines. Would you cheat on your wife with a younger woman? Would you use a racial slur without malice? Would you hit someone else’s child in order to protect your own? Where is that line for you in this gray world? And should you cross it, how will you live with the consequences? What if it was your friend who crosses it? Will you stand by him?

There are numerous themes coursing through the veins of this book, and when I finished it I happily, but without confidence, claimed to my fiance (now my wife) that this was the best book I have ever read. I said it like this, “I think it’s my favourite book.” This one found me at exactly the right time in my life, as I watch two of my best friends make their way into parenthood.

Whenever I hear that one of my friend is going to have a kid, I put on a smile and congratulate them. It is what they want and I am happy for them. In my childfree life, I’m saddened to know that those wild late nights with those individuals have officially ended. I will see them on key occasions throughout the year — birthday parties, Christmas, etc. — but otherwise, we aren’t going to hang out like we used to. Even if we lived close by, it becomes a long distance relationship. We now see the world differently. But that would have happened otherwise. Different jobs, different neighbourhoods, different gender of the child you bear will lead to different life values.

Time is not the only thing that is gone. What they want to talk about also changed. What they were once proud of has changed. I look at the pictures of their children as they show me, and I smile… once again happy for them. We are friends still, yes, maybe even family in some way, but we aren’t sharing the same qualities that friends share. You see that when friend circles gather together, at say, a BBQ, like the characters of The Slap were when the conflict occur, when the child was slapped.

Parenting, like food or politics, is something that every person has an opinion on whether they have children or not. People with kids are quick to dismiss the thoughts of those without — and those without see parents as fixed in their ways. It’s easy to be fixed in your ways because the consequence is so far away. You don’t know your child will turn bad until later on in life, and even then, can you really say parenting was the fault?

I digress. We, as our own person, just like the eight characters we enter the minds of in the book, we don’t feel what other people are feeling. We can never know what it’s like to be a parent without having kids, we can never know what it’s like to be ethnic if we are not, and we cannot know what two people are like when they are alone, so how can we judge someone for adultery — when in the same situation, in the same life, we would do it as well?

Watching my friends have children made me realize that from this point on, I’ll never see eye to eye with these people. We’ll have different politics. What is good for them will no longer be good for me. What makes them happy, will not be the same thing that makes me happy. Yet, beyond all that can we still be friends? Of course. But what happens if I cross the line? How great is our loyalty then?

There is a way of thinking that says, if your friends can’t propel you forward, they are holding you back. I think that’s true. What’s the point of having friends if they are just going to make you miserable or keep you from reaching your potential? The key is to notice this before it’s too late. Loyalty in friendship is honourable, sure! But it’s not always healthy. Recognizing your friend’s values as they change will save you from crossing the line in the future.

But of course, like the obligation of going to work, we are at times obligated to see our friends. They are family. We enter the social scene and at the end of the night, we leave breathing a sigh if nothing bad has happened. The Jenga pieces that are our friendship wasn’t destroyed, but each time we see each other we are forced to pull a tile from the bottom and move it to the top. That’s progression. But what if it does fall? Is it tragic? What if it wasn’t you that knock down the pieces either? It was someone else, another friend. There you watch as two friends bite at each other… their relationship is sent to the fringe. By staying neutral, you lose both of them… what do you do? That is the case with many of the characters in the novel The Slap. Friends are told to pick sides and in that — loyalty and value are tested.

It’s not about who you share the most precious memories with that holds a friendship together. It’s about who you will keep as friends as one by one each of them crosses that line you drew for nobody but yourself.

Friendship as an Investment

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The painful idea of having to pick sides between friends led me to my next tragic novel by Haruki Murakami. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (a mouthful), for me, falls into the category of mystery. In The Slap, it’s so obvious what happened. The knife that severed the bond of the friendship was clear. But what if the situation wasn’t? What if suddenly one day, all your friends stopped talking to you?

To me, when I talk about wealth, I’m not always talking about money. Sometimes, wealth can be having a supportive group of people around you. When you are ill, is there someone that will come and take care of you for free? If no, then you are poor. If something great has happened to you and you want to celebrate, is there someone you can immediately call and share the news with and know that there won’t be any jealousy or animosity? If not, then you are poor.

Like money, the friends in our lives are currency. You don’t need money to pay for movers if you have a group of burly friends with freetime and a truck. You don’t need money to pay for dinner if you have a friend that is a culinary fiend and just wants you to taste his latest recipe. You don’t need to rent a hotel if you have a friend who has relatives in New York or San Francisco or London or Tokyo and they are happy to have you for a few days to a week. Not that you bother all those friends all the time — being a good friend, and a smart investor, is knowing when to cash out.

Wealth in any form can be lost. One morning you can wake up and find that it has all disappeared. Like you had been robbed, all the friends you thought you had. The friends, like your savings that you were hoping will be there for you until your old age, will be gone. That is exactly what happened to Tsukuru Tazaki.

Like a poor investment, the same feeling is felt with people. You wonder where the mistake was made. If your core group turns their back on you, do you have more in the reserve to call upon? Will you demand to know what happened? Will you take it as the natural forces of growing up? A painful lesson. If a friend decides to stop showing up to parties, if a friend stops responding to your messages, if a friend disappears from your life completely, will you be okay with it? If you lose a hundred dollars, wouldn’t you want to know where it went?

Every person within a core friend circle needs to fill a role. You might not consciously recognize this, but it’s true. Like a community cannot have too many bakeries or too many tailors, it cannot have too many members with the same characteristics, skillsets, or functions before they start stepping on each others toes.

For example, in a group of five where three are male and two are female, it’s going to be tricky for the third boy if the two other are paired up with the two girls. The boy will ultimately be forced out, this is especially true if he has feelings for one of the girl as well. When you pick your core group of friends, the ones you want to be sustainable for the rest of your life, ask yourself will you betray one of them for your needs — will they betray you? And if they should, will the others join you — or will you be the odd man out?

With friends, we often think in the short term, we walk into a party, we see a group of people and we join in. Slowly we learn the dynamic of each person within the circle, but is this the group where you want to put your chips down? Sure you can invest a little in this group and a little in that group, and create a lot of little bonds and feel that when they are looking around at the stakeholders of the group and wondering who they should buy out, most likely it’ll be the one who only chipped in a little. Like accumulating monetary wealth, generosity is a necessary quality for establishing friendships that is sustainable. It can’t all be fun. If you want someone to take care of you when you are sick, you better be willing to do the same for them. Getting wealthy with friends is not about winning the lottery, it’s about investing, it’s about paying insurance, it’s about putting funds in every day, week, month, year, and knowing that when shits hit for you, they will be there tenfold.

Friendship as a Debt

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

In The Slap, we witness what happens when friends turn against each other. In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, we see what happens when friends turn against us. But what happens when we turn against our friends? Like a dog with an incurable itch we scratch at ourselves, and when our friends, our companions, attempt to block our nails from another vicious scratch to the face, the neck, or the wrist, we bite at them.

A Little Life is hands down the saddest novel I have ever read — and thus making it a book that I encourage anyone that needs a heavy dose of empathy to checkout. It may cripple the light hearted, but those that are having trouble feeling grateful for the simplicity of life, they need to read this epic novel based around a group of male friends living in New York, growing old together.

We are all troubled. Every one of us. Everyday we wake up and we face our demons. Your demons might be addiction. Your friend’s demons might be a repressed childhood experience. Your other friend’s demons might be a relationship he or she is trapped in. We are all facing our own battles. Sometimes, we lose and our friends have to watch as our defences, our fortress that they so proudly built with us: our confidence, our happiness, and our successes — they watch it all crumble. Nobody will really know what it’s like to be you. Nobody can ever save you from yourself. But a friend is one that hopes — a friend is someone who doesn’t give up on you. They wait across the moat, watching the dust settle and for you to emerge from the ashes ready to lower the bridge, ready to let them back in, and ready to rebuild.

Jude, the protagonist of A Little Life, had built a facade, a shield he hid behind. For the majority of the story, we only learn what he tells his friends, especially his closest friend, Williem. His childhood injury that has caused spinal damages and affected the way he walks was merely addressed as a misfortune. His self-mutilation was hidden because he will never be seen by others without a shirt or with short-sleeves. His inability to be intimate was shrugged off as him not feeling any sexual desire for anyone, male or female.

When we build a fence or a wall, we do two things: we keep people out and we lock ourselves in. What Jude has done is that he has build a wall around his castle in ruins. He is there alone trying and failing to repair himself. His friends want to enter to help, but for much of the novel, he shuns them with one reason or another: he cannot trust that they are not Trojan horses entering as a gift and dismantling his world ever worse. Additionally, for the friends he knew who were loyal and noble, he did not want them spending their short life on Earth, helping him salvage what little life he had. His friends were all successes in their profession: artist, actor, architect. They deserved better than him — he did not want to be a charity case.

I have a problem with empathy. In day-to-day life, I’m failing at that trait — maybe barely passing. I am not the most empathetic person I can be, which at times, I feel can make me a less than perfect friend. When I was in high school, there was a class… actually, it was more of lecture, because it wasn’t so much of a course, as just a social worker coming into talk to us. We watched a movie where the main character went through some trauma and was cutting herself. I uttered out loud that indeed this movie was fiction. At that age, without having ever faced trauma of my own — misfortune yes, but nothing I can call trauma — I couldn’t understand why a character had chosen to hurt herself. The social work failed in empathy that day as well. All she said was, “I hope you never have to understand,” which was a weak attempt at educating, as if a math teacher will say, “I hope you’ll never need to use long division” after I failed a test. Empathy is such an important skillset and I feel like I was handicapped at an early age, because it was not something that came naturally. I had a hard time practicing empathy, so now when I see my friends in trouble, I wish I could do more, but I merely stand at the perimeter, from my tower, looking in their direction, hoping they will figure it out before it’s too late.

A Little Life taught me more than what that high school social worker teacher (or whatever she was) could. It taught me that loyalty goes both ways. A dog defends its master and the master feeds the dog. The thing is… in this scenario, sometimes the master gets sick and there is nothing the dog can do. Sometimes the master dies and there is nothing the dog can do… That is the lesson I got out of A Little Life, we might end up being the dog without a master. We are all hanging to life by a rope or a string or a piece of thread, awaiting to drop into oblivion. If we only have one person to rely on for our needs: food, shelter, love, then we are merely hanging by a thread.

Empathy becomes the knotted tether. Empathy gathers other threads and strings and binds them. If we want loyalty. If we want lasting friendships. If we even just want to be nicer to strangers, it all begins and ends with empathy. If we can’t do that… then we don’t deserve it. To have friendship without empathy is theft: theft of trust and loyalty and will ultimately lead to a sad heartbreak. We can’t always know our friends truly, but when things get bad — and they will, because the world is hard — we must lower our weapons, because our friends are fighting a must tougher enemy, one that you can’t see. We can help them instead.

I recommend these three books to anyone feeling the pull of life dragging them away from the good times. I recommend these three books to those who have lost a friend, be it through betrayal, misunderstanding, or tragedy. I believe sometimes the best way to cry is in the rain, so that nobody can see, but we can’t control the weather, so let it pour from the heart.

 

This piece was originally published on Medium.

If you enjoyed this piece, check out What I discovered when I read Fight Club and The Four-Hour Workweek together.

 

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The First Rule of Worklife Freedom: ‘Fight Club’ or ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’?

Fight Club and the Four Hour Work Week

I’ve recently finished reading two books that shared some eerie thematic similarity about society, class, freedom, and identity: Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

If you judge books by their cover, they don’t have any visible similarities. One is non-fiction, encouraging want-to-be entrepreneurs to abandon the old route towards wealth by innovating and automating their lives, thus becoming the New Rich. The other book is the source material for the famed Brad Pitt-Edward Norton movie about a man suffering from insomnia, meeting a mysterious individual named Tyler Durden, and starting a terrorist group that spawned from an underground fight club.

What association am I seeing? What am I even trying to say? Well — let me connect the dots for you and you can tell me if you see it too.

Read the complete article here on Medium. 

Why we need to say goodbye

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In order to grow, you need to say bye to old friends and family

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. August 4, 2016

I’m reaching a transitional point in my life where my time with friends and family is diminishing and therefore, growing ever more precious. Yet, the times that I do have with them are spent idle, spawning zero growth. We’re old friends—we’re family—we know what our personalities are like, we know what our opinions are, and we’ve reach a comfort zone where we no longer feel the need to push each other. My old friends and family have become content with the way I am, and therefore, I must say goodbye.

My mother did not want me to move out. Her plan was to have me live with her and take care of her. Additionally, she wanted me to progress, get married, get employed, and succeed. There was no way I could have done those things without first finding my own independence. She wanted me to stay the same caring little boy she thought I was. Selfishly, she wanted to keep me.

The same goes with workplaces. A quality worker is hard to find and quality employers know this and will do what they can to retain them. However, many workforces don’t offer good employees room to grow. Look at the diligent server or the hardworking barista; it doesn’t matter how many hours they put in, eventually, they will hit the ceiling. There are no more rungs on the ladder to climb.

With friends, it can get a little more complicated. There are no resignation letters, although you can write a Facebook message explaining why you don’t have time for their birthday parties or why you can’t go see that concert with them. Life is full of resistances and some come in the form of comfort. Friends are like a comfy bed; they don’t care if you get anything done during the day or if you lie there dreaming. Friends want you with them, but in doing so you revert to idleness, and that would be a great shame.

There will be a time when you have to make the decision to say goodbye to all the comfortable relationships you’ve created. Those moments weren’t wasted. Those moments lead you to where you are now. But you, like me, will one day reach this transition point, where you need to be realistic with the time you spend and ask: “Do I want to sacrifice my personal growth and potential success just so I can make this person, organization, or team happy?”

It’s not abandonment. It’s merely a departure. They can join you if they want, but they’ll have to understand the journey you are going on will be long and arduous. It can be an academic pursuit or it can be a business opportunity; either way, they need to buy in 100 per cent. If they don’t follow, no worries. There are many more people along the way, heading in your direction, waiting to say, “Hello.”

So, think about all the friends within your circle and ask yourself: “Are they joining me? Or is it time to say farewell?”

Who’s the real burger king?

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Flavour feud: Burgers

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. August 4, 2016

When it comes to food, I find the burger to be the consistent favourite, one that seldom disappoints. Pick the burger on the menu and you know what you are going to get. It might never blow you away, but it’s also hard to mess up.

In this Flavour Feud, we’ll look at four players in the fast food game, and see which burger stacks up best against the competitors.

A&W’s Teen Burger: The initial bite had a generous serving of bread, crisp in my mouth, soft between my hands. As I made my way through the flavour landscape of the Teen Burger, I was filled with fluctuating emotions. Like a song that had a good beat but awful lyrics, the Teen Burger was great one bite and mediocre the next. This is because of the ingredients.

A&w flavour feud

Nobody takes centre stage on the Teen Burger, all the ingredients share a unique spot and that is its downfall. One bite I’ll get the bacon, one bite I’ll get the lettuce, and one bite I’ll get the mustard.

While there is no spotlight on any individual ingredient, it’s not surprising that the bacon is the saviour, the hero. Sometimes I find that bacon can overwhelm a burger, but here it is perfect. It’s subtle, doing its thing in the background.

However, the lettuce is lackluster and the mustard—whenever put into a burger—is a lame attempt. It’s not a hotdog, after all. A bad supporting line-up of ingredients let the Teen Burger down.

4/5

McDonald’s Big Mac: Long have I been a fan of the Big Mac. When I talk about consistency, I’m thinking of the Big Mac. On this occasion, it was ready to impress. There is always a wild card when ordering fast food. One thing that can spoil the burger is the freshness. Feeling the warmth of the burger bun assured me that this experience would not be affected by the timeliness of the bite.

The Big Mac is a marshmallow of a burger. It is never “big,” but as you eat it, it slowly compresses within your grip. Smaller and smaller, it gets. That’s not the only pattern that the Big Mac has: the flavour crescendos one bite after the next, until you reach the creamy middle. There is a lot of bun in the beginning, but as you reach the core, you cannot ignore the savoury goodness.

mcdonald's big mac

The sauce is what separates the Big Mac from any other burger in the world. It relies so heavily on it that I wonder what a Big Mac without the sauce would taste like. Probably very bland. The thing is, the sauce can elevate every burger on the menu, but it is reserved solely for the Big Mac. And that is why the Big Mac is still one of the most popular options on the menu. One criticism: Get rid of the middle slice of bread.

4.5/5

Burger King’s Whopper with Cheese: The Whopper with Cheese comes wrapped like a gift. And, like most gifts, there is sweetness to it. Warm and soft, the Whopper is so much more with the cheese. It’s definitely worth it to have the premium.

Where the Whopper falters is with the construction of the burger. Take a bite and you’ll notice the big crunch of the veggies, but the patty and the sauce are lost. The Whopper does not melt, it requires you to chew, chew, and chew. With the sauce at the top and the thick layer of ingredients in the way, you never truly taste the soul of the burger. Try eating it upside down.

The burger patty itself doesn’t get a lot of love, which is ironic considering it is the Burger “King.” Where it redeems itself is with the vegetables. They taste fresh, like actual vegetables in a market, which is high praise for a fast food restaurant. The onion, however, was a bit overwhelming.

Overall, the Whopper is filled with missed opportunities to highlight the key tastes you would expect from a burger.

3.5/5

Wendy’s Dave’s Single with Cheese: Held tightly within the trashy looking wrapper is the not-so-famous Dave’s Single with Cheese. Yes, even the name is less than impressive. I’ve driven 30 minutes to order a Baconator from Wendy’s, but I would not go out of my way for the Dave’s Single with Cheese.

While the Baconator is in another league, the Dave’s Single with Cheese is barely even playing the same sport when compared with the other burgers on this list. It is cafeteria food at worst and a McDonald’s hamburger at best. While eating this burger, I can’t help feel that we have overpaid for it—the same feeling I get when buying food at a movie theatre.

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So what qualities harmed the Dave’s Single with Cheese the most? First, let’s talk about the bun. It’s uninspiring and almost insulting. Without any sesame, the bun feels fake in my hand, as if I’m holding a prop. Secondly, the sauce is boring. What is it? Ketchup. Lastly, the square burger patty is gimmicky and tasted as though it might have past its prime.

Good thing Wendy’s is not relying on the Dave’s Single with Cheese as its sole attraction. It’s a lazy burger, one that I can make at home with a frying pan—and I’m not a good cook.

1.5/5

Elliot’s rankings:

Big Mac
Teen Burger
Whopper with cheese
Dave’s Single with Cheese

By Eric Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief

A&W’s Teen Burger: This was the burger of my childhood. I’m not sure I even set foot in a Burger King or Wendy’s until high school, and my mother had a bad experience with McDonald’s meat growing up…amusingly meaning the rest of us were restricted to their chicken and fish offerings as well. Clearly a bullet dodged.

This was probably my first Teen Burger since I was actually a teen, and it’s still fantastic. “Good” fast food is a bit of a crapshoot—it takes a bit of luck. If you get stuck with a smaller tomato slice or onion, the cheese isn’t centred to melt properly on the patty, or the employee was generally a little sloppy in creating your solidified grease, it’s quite possible to go from a good burger to a disappointing one. I got lucky in this case. First bite had it all. Tomato, lettuce, bacon, onion, pickles, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and teen sauce. Scrumptious goodness.

4/5

McDonald’s Big Mac: The Big Mac is the definition of a flagship burger and it’s so wonderfully iconic that most everyone immediately knows what it is. You can hold up any other burger and have some confusion, but not the Big Mac. You know it’s the Big Mac. Two buns, two patties, lettuce, pickles, onion, special sauce, and the all-important bread in the middle. Thing of beauty.

The day I had a Big Mac for the first time was the moment I realized there was more to life than five value picks for under $10. It didn’t disappoint then and it never has. The key here is, of course, the bread in the middle. Part of the problem with burgers is that it’s very difficult to get every part of the burger in every bite; the Big Mac solves this. Whether partially as a placebo or actually backed up by heavily funded and biased fast-food science, the middle serves to soak up all the flavours and present them in one delicious mouthful after another. I’d probably be more than happy to just eat a bunch of middles with nothing else. Probably.

4.5/5

 

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Burger King’s Whopper with Cheese: My first experience with the Whopper came last year when I was working at a Starbucks right beside a Burger King. It was love at first bite then and it hasn’t changed since. Easily one of the heftiest burgers around; it sits so solidly in your hand that you could swear there’s some invisible ingredient in there weighing it down. But there isn’t. It’s just a real burger. Giant juicy patty, adequate support ingredients, and quality thick wrapping. And while you can eat more than one, there’s no need to unless you really want to. It’s like the Gatorade of burgers: hunger quencher. Get it on Whopper Wednesday for $3 ($3.50 with cheese) and it’s the best value out there.

4/5

Wendy’s Dave’s Single with Cheese: When I first picked up the burger I assumed the apostrophe following “Dave” was to show ownership. Whose single with cheese is that? Dave’s. However, halfway through my first bite I realized my mistake. The apostrophe is for a contraction. This offering is so bad that it’s resulted in the bachelorhood of poor Dave. Dave is single with cheese. What an absolutely garbage excuse for a burger. One of the precious few times I’ve been unwilling to finish.

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Starting with the presentation, things were already going downhill: an overbearingly shiny foil wrap with metallic red print—food attire so offensive to the eye it even looks like it’d get kicked out of even the most desperate of nightclubs. The bun was tasteless and thick, the patty had a weird taste to it, and the rest of the ingredients—while mediocre enough to pass in any other burger—sure weren’t even remotely good enough to salvage the barely edible performance. The meat at Wendy’s, and thus, in a Dave’s Single with Cheese, may be fresh, never frozen, but if this were a prizefight, that burger would be out cold.

1/5

Eric’s rankings:

Big Mac
Whopper with cheese
Teen Burger
Dave’s Single with Cheese

Do what the robots can’t

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If robots can replace your job, it’s not the robots’ fault

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. June 8, 2016

Robots are here to make our lives easier, and in the process, they are eliminating a lot of menial work. We see it everywhere from the banking to the food industry, and all areas of retail and trade. These industries employ people all across the globe. The idea of all of these jobs becoming obsolete is a bit concerning since there has yet to be a real replacement.

When a worker is made redundant, replaced by a machine or an algorithm, the situation is met with pessimism. The notion is that if you don’t know how to code, you might as well starve. However, the rise of the automated, robotic workforce is something we have been experiencing since our youth. We grew up with computers and machines, so why is it so shocking when a new system replaces us on the assembly line?

In tech, there is a lot of talk about disruption. Is this software or hardware capable of changing the way we accomplish a task? Can the iPhone change the way we pay our bills? Will streaming services make video rental stores relics? How can virtual reality change the way we shop online? Not only do innovators consider how a product can disrupt an industry, they consider the industries ripe for disruption. They find the problem before the solution.

A controversial disruption at the moment is with driverless cars. The technology is there, but regulations and lobbyists are preventing it from reaching the next phase. The transportation network Uber has openly announced that as soon as driverless cars are available, clients will be able to select that as an option when hailing a ride. Who’s angry with this? Taxi drivers, chauffeurs, transit people, and anybody else that makes a living working in transportation.

Only time will tell if driverless cars will become a fixture in our daily society. But if I was a taxi driver, I’m not going to bank on my driving skills to sustain me for the next 40 years, I’m going to start developing some other set of skills just in case. Learning how to fix cars can be another skill to add on. That’s just a thought.

So often we are pessimistic when it comes to new technology stealing our jobs. But these technologies didn’t sneak up on us. These technologies took years and years of development. They are all over the news and they gave us every opportunity to be more relevant. Like a rival, it is pushing us to improve. You cannot and should not fight against it, as it has been shown all through history, humans will veer to the side of convenience, profitability, and security.

Turn the lens onto yourself and ask: “How will a robot disrupt my career?” Then, either build that robot, or be better than it. The question is not how robots can replace you, but how can you replace the robots when they come? I’m confident that you will figure it out.

Don’t be a brand; be brand new

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Why your personal brand may be limiting

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. May 4, 2016

At a young age, we created an identity for ourselves. This identity follows us like a shadow throughout our academic, professional, and even romantic endeavours. We become this persona of what people see us as, and we measure ourselves by our accomplishments within that scope.

While establishing a personal brand for yourself may be useful if you are marketing your services to employers, I don’t believe it should be a strict guideline for you to live by. As human beings, we should be allowed to have the freedom to explore. This exploration nurtures growth, a type of metamorphosis that can only happen when new experiences are injected into our lives. You cannot experience anything new if you live your life as a brand.

Let’s say you love rap music. It’s your thing. It’s your brand. Everyday you wear your headphones and you listen to rap. People know you for that and you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to anything else. That sounds like a pretty limiting life, doesn’t it?

It’s important for us to put aside our preconceptions once in awhile and be open-minded. Your brand shouldn’t be rap music; it should be music or art. While you can specialize in rap, you will have a more diversified understanding of music if you listen to the whole range. Rap can be your passion, but if you want your brand to grow and mature—and not just be a pretentious shadow that throws shade at other people who don’t like what you like—you have to broaden your horizons and explore.

It’s easy to establish a brand for yourself and live within those boundaries. People expect you to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and act a certain way. We like when things are predictable. After all, that is why McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart are so popular: you know what to expect. However, unlike billion-dollar corporations, we as human beings need to have the flexibility to shift gears without upsetting the shareholders.

You are not a brand. You are a person. You might have followers, you might have employers, and you might have friends that will expect you to behave in a way that fits their branding, and that’s fine. You can wear a persona like a uniform. You can be professional and friendly, but you must also be pushing yourself beyond those that are already around you. While those within your vicinity will influence and support you, they also act as a black hole that is pulling you deeper and deeper into a character that is merely their expectation of you. Don’t be that character. Don’t be a brand.

When you wake up tomorrow, be someone who dares to do something different.

What to do when you don’t like your group

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All projects need a leader—could it be you?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. May 4, 2016
We’ve all been in a group project where we felt that we’ve drawn the short straw. In every classroom there are the students who are the workhorses, there are those who are naturally gifted, and there are those who are simply slackers. At one point or another, you’ll get the last pick and end up in an indecisive group where progress is agonizingly slow. Most likely, you’ll be waiting for someone else to finish his or her part before you can complete yours. This pushes the workload further and further towards the deadline, causing a lot of stress for those who genuinely care.

I’ve been in those types of groups, and I’ve been both a diligent worker and an idle procrastinator at different times. I’m sure there are people in the world that will vow to never work with me again, or even talk to me. However, there are people who I have a great working relationship with. Why does one environment cause me to retreat into my shell and another allows me to meet or exceed expectations?

Group projects, without a measure of respect within the group, are volatile environments where people’s emotions and the idea of fairness harm the process of the assignment. When a group of students is left to govern and motivate themselves to finish a project—one where the only guidelines are written on a piece of paper—there are bound to be disagreements. These disagreements can sustain themselves throughout the length of the project and go unresolved until the very moment you hand it in. Why?

The problem with bad group projects is that nobody rises up and takes a leadership role. With no guidance, what ends up happening is that the collective begins to resent each other, as work is not being completed, or is being completed in an unsatisfactory way. I know we all think of ourselves as adults who are capable of taking on responsibility and following through with it—but I don’t believe that maturity or seniority has anything to do with a successful project.

At school, we think of the teacher or the instructor as the boss, but that is not the accurate way of thinking about it. The teacher or the instructor is actually the market—the ones receiving the goods you are making. They are the consumers and you are trying to please them. But if that’s the case, then who is the boss?

A leader should always be a member of the team, one who is closely entwined in the happenings of the project. It should never be someone external. It’s the reason companies of all sizes have a president, CEO, and managers at every level. Some groups will function fine as a democracy. But if you are dealt a shitty hand and end up with a group of people who aren’t motivated, a fair voting system isn’t going to work. Someone needs to lay the hammer down, make decisions, delegate work, and make sure there are repercussions if the tasks aren’t completed at a predetermined time. In your next group project, make sure that happens.

Go Caucasians Go!

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Should we get rid of the Cleveland Indians or have more racist team names?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. May 4, 2016

In early April, journalist and ESPN host Bomani Jones went on Mike & Mike wearing what appeared to be a Cleveland Indians t-shirt. But it wasn’t. Instead of the Cleveland Indians mascot, the wide grinning racist caricature, Chief Wahoo, it was a whitewashed spoof. This character had pale skin and instead of a feathered headdress, he had a dollar sign on his head. To hammer it home, in the same font as the baseball team logo, there was the word “Caucasian” printed on it. No doubt, the shirt was making a not-so-subtle message that racism can go both ways.

If you don’t have a problem with the Cleveland Indians, but you do have a problem with the Cleveland Caucasians, then you most definitely have a problem.

So much has been said about racist team names in sports. The resistance is what is most surprising. But then again, the fact that Donald Trump has so much momentum in the presidential race after giving bigoted, racially insensitive speeches perhaps dampens the shock.

I’m tired of arguing against racist team names that are so obviously racist. Let’s argue the other side for a bit. My question: why aren’t there more racist team names?

The thing is, America has a long history of racism—every country does. What I’m kind of upset about is that the Native Americans are really the only ones that get any spotlight as team mascots. As a Chinese person that seems kind of unfair, because the Chinese have been screwed over in America too. If the Native Americans get a team name, shouldn’t we get something along the lines of the New York Yellow Skins? Or maybe the Latinos deserve one before we get one… I don’t know what’s fair anymore.

If we don’t have a problem with the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins, then surely we won’t have a problem with a team called the Cleveland East Indians or the New Mexico Rednecks. I’m just brainstorming here, but those are a couple good names to cheer for.

I’m not going to create a petition or anything because, in the end, I know that that would be wasted energy. So why not poke fun at it? Why shouldn’t we have a good sense of humour about this kind of stuff? See, the thing about making fun of racism is that certain people are affected more by it than others. It’s not hard to rile an African American person; we, of different ethnicity, know that magic word to do it. However, it’s apparently pretty hard to rile or harm a white person via racism. That is because Caucasians—the apparently politically correct term to call them by—have the majority of the power on this continent. A lesson here for the minorities: you don’t get what you want by making fun of the majority with power.

Here’s the proof that they have the power. They are the Patriots, the Saints, the Cowboys, the Vikings, the Yankees, the Rangers, and the Mariners. Are those names multi-cultural? Meh. Not really. These are titles that heighten the rank of white people.

I’ll end on a positive note. There are some quality team names out there that honour the culture that it was inspired from. These are the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Diego Padres (padres is Spanish for father or fantastic) and the Atlanta Braves. These are names that give power without discrimination.

You don’t need a tour—just go!

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Backpacking is a commercialized form of traveling, but that’s okay

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016

Recently, there have been a lot of critics against the popular youthful form of travelling known as backpacking. What people are saying is that backpacking no longer represents what it once did, when it came into prominence in the 1970s during the “hippy trail,” when hippies traveled across Asia and Europe in search of… themselves. Backpacking is now as much a part of conventional tourism as all-inclusive resorts and walking tours. It’s not an independent experience, but rather an experience composed by those who run businesses around tourism. Nevertheless, you should still try it.

Let’s be honest: no matter what we do, we cannot get the same experience as those hippies in the 70s. We cannot have Woodstock, no matter how many music festivals we go to. We cannot experience the thrill of special effects, no matter how many Star Wars movies we make. And we cannot expect the world to revert to a time when tourism was as new as virtual reality is today. All we can do is set off and have our own experiences, even if they are tailored for us.

The tourism industry is huge in countries where the hippy trail originated. Today, it supports the livelihood of millions of people in regions where earning a living is not always easy. Even though backpackers are known for their thrifty form of traveling, the locals recognize that an American dollar can go a long way in a place like Cambodia or Myanmar. So they want you to spend as much as possible. They don’t care about the genuine backpacking experience. They want you to buy. The genuine backpacking experience, to them, must sounds like the most pretentious piece of bullshit. Just go to their country and have fun.

Travelling is a great way to gain a perspective in the world. It’s a good way to learn independence and communication skills. However, I don’t believe going on a trip will change a person significantly. The old cliché of finding yourself in India or having an Eat, Pray, Love moment is something that doesn’t change who you are when you return home, even if you want it so much that it seems to exist in your mind. So to say that your backpacking experience is less because you planned everything on Expedia is a terrible way to look at travelling in general.

Backpacking sounds like a lot of fun, but it is also a rigorous and sometimes frustrating experience. There are brief moments of spirituality now and then, but those moments can occur in your apartment condo as well. So go backpacking, and don’t think about all the baggage that the travelling style carries with it. Go with the flow of the journey. If that means taking a flight instead of a bus, do it. If that means going on a tour instead of venturing alone, do it. If that means staying in a hotel for a few days instead of a hostel, do it. It’s your trip; there doesn’t have to be rules.

Stick with red

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Why ‘rainbow marking’ students’ assignments is a waste of time

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016

When it comes to painting, I enjoy seeing a piece of work that skillfully incorporates the full range of the colour spectrum. However, when it comes to homework assignments, receiving a marked page with two, three, four different colours in not only disarming, but also a bit confusing.

In an effort to soften the “aggressive” tone of criticism, teachers in Europe and North America have been testing out a new form of marking, where different colour pens are used to classify different types of feedback. For example, a green marking can represent grammar error, purple can represent inaccuracy, and blue can represent misspelling. This technique is coined “rainbow marking.”

While it may seem like an invigorating way to help students recognize their mistakes, we also must remember that a significant part of a teacher’s job is marking. Having them go the extra mile to pick up different pens to mark different errors seems like an unproductive use of their cognitive energy and time.

For the students, it leaves a whole new level of confusion. If they don’t understand how they made their mistake to begin with, changing the colour of the marking is not going to educate them any better. They might be able to see that the green mark means they should have removed the comma and added a period, but they wouldn’t know why. They know it is wrong, but they don’t know the principles of their mistakes. The root of the problem is never resolved.

As for the argument that the colour red is “too aggressive” for students, I say: “toughen up.” You cannot coddle students forever with pretty colours. This type of teaching reinforces the idea that some errors are less important than other errors. When I was in grade school, a common question that would pop up whenever an assignment was due was “does spelling count?” For some reason, we felt that the accuracy of our spelling should not compromise the content of our homework. Of course spelling counts. How will anyone understand what you wrote if you don’t spell properly? Yes, some errors are more glaring than others, but if we want our students to strive for perfection, we cannot say that that mistake is better than another. We need to be aggressive if we want results.

In Western culture, we put too much onus on the little nuisances of the teachers. We call out the teachers for the students’ mistakes. It’s clear that “rainbow marking” is another system of testing the instructors, not the students. It allows a third party to look at the marked paper and say, “Well, the teacher is clearly incompetent. He used a blue pen here when clearly he should have used an orange pen.”

Why not just mark the paper with a pencil? Why not just allow the student to erase it afterward so they can feel better? If the teachers are hired to do the job, then trust their judgment. Let them stick with the tried-and-true system: red pens for marking.