Attack of the Killer Pencils

Written by on April 23, 2018

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Isn’t it crazy how many things are killing us nowadays?  Gun violence, highway collisions, crime, poor health, drugs, and stress to name a few.  How can we possibly control these things and protect ourselves and our loved ones against these vicious culprits?   What’s the solution to all of our worldly problems? We could just get rid of the bad things and keep the good, right?  Let’s start with the knife. You know, the one that can surgically save your life or tragically take it. Where do you stand?


The Dirt: Guns kill.  Speed kills. Drugs kill.


There are many ways to die in this world.  Some are mostly outside our control (getting hit by lightning for example), with the remainder being mostly preventable.  For the latter, we have a host of objects and concepts unto which we like to lay blame.  While convenient and easy, blaming these inanimate things is no more correct and true than blaming the Big Mac for our Big Butt.  This is not to say they don’t facilitate and accelerate the process, but by themselves, without a protagonist, they are as useless and blameless as grandpa’s flatulence.  

“There are many intelligent people out there and every single one of them is incompetent in most things.”

What if what’s really killing us is our blame on those things we believe are killing us?  The list of items is without end, but include knives, guns, speed, ladders, heart disease, hot dogs, drugs, crime, etc.  Stop for a moment and consider this question: Can an Opioid on the counter top addict us to death, or do we have to stuff it in our face without regard to its power?  Is it really the speed of the car that killed that person or the unintentioned loss of control? Just like pencils don’t misspell words and spoons don’t make people fat, acknowledging these things as the tools they are can help us focus on the root cause and the root solution.

This goes beyond dying however.  Following this way of thinking will kill our lives before we actually die.  If we cannot accept the fact that someone must pull the trigger on a gun or lose control of a speeding vehicle for a tragic event to occur, then we’ve given up the responsibility for it and along with it, any chance we would ever have had to fix it.  Do you really believe that banning spoons will lower obesity? How about attacking cars for allowing drunk driving?

This begs the question, what is truly killing us then?  Allow me to submit to you that our two biggest adversaries in this area are incompetence and delusion.  Each one deserves a special place in the trial of our lives, for they are both guilty for our woes and innocently ignored in our world.  While they may have good intentions, they often and eventually lead to tragedy.



How is it that some folks can drive 200 mph and never crash while some drive 30 mph, lose control and die?  How is it that some people can use a knife to save a life while some people slip and kill themselves while cooking (Chef Cynthia Tan Kian Hoon in 2012)?  If speed killed people, there would be no NASCAR and if knives killed people, we may have had to evolve as herbivores, never tasting a juicy steak.

Accidents are the fourth leading cause of deaths overall, with the first three arguably due to incompetence further down the line.  For example, heart disease is the number one cause of death (not in my opinion, but certainly according to the medical profession.) The main causes of heart disease include smoking, poor eating, sedentary lifestyle, and stress resulting in high blood pressure.  Given this, would you agree that we either we hate ourselves, or we are incompetent at understanding and acting properly in those areas?

Incompetence is our inability to do something in a purposeful way on a consistent basis.  Please do not confuse this with intelligence, which is only our capacity to learn. There are many intelligent people out there and every single one of them is incompetent in most things.  Dentists are often incompetent in fixing transmissions just as car mechanics are incompetent in doing a root canal (though it seems like we need one when we see the estimate.) No judgement, just a simple truth.  What’s scarier is that some dentists and car mechanics are incompetent at their own designated craft.

Incompetence is formed from the lack of knowledge and/or lack of skill in an area.  Knowledge is the primary foundation for competence. It lets us know how something must be done to be successful.  If we acquire the (correct) knowledge, we can then take this impotent information and energize it with action. Skill is what we acquire when we act repeatedly on that knowledge and it moves us closer to accomplishment.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistent effort, it does happen.


I remember the Tooth Fairy as a kid.  It was so exciting to get some money for a tooth that was dumb enough to leave my head.  My belief was so strong that it was my reality, until I found out from a friend that it was my parents putting the money under my pillow.  That was quite the innocent delusion I experienced, but it was a delusion nonetheless. I had full and firm belief in something that was contradictory to reality.  No harm, no foul, right? Yes, but what if there were a host of other things we’ve been told in which we haven’t been able to (or ever will) figure out as being untrue?

Delusion is not the same thing as being crazy.  No, it’s much more normal than that. A crazy person is one that stands out from the crowd and not in a good way.  A delusional person often blends in with the crowd, but when it comes to addressing problems, their connection to reality is lacking and their actions can have grave consequences.  It’s the society that believes an eye for an eye – flopping on either side of the revenge/justice line. It’s the graduate who starts their career with 25 years of debt in a job outside their field of study that leads to depression and suicide..  It’s the school shooter who believes that inflicting pain on others will ease their own.

At the end of the day, we all want something.  There’s no question there. It might be something grand, something small, or just to be left alone.  But want it we do. The delusion arrives when we determine how we will get it. When we start from a place of delusion, we severely limit our options and our paths to success.  We leave ourselves with nothing but a lonely road to a dark place. We end up hurting ourselves and others, since without recourse, what else is there to do?

What if there were another way?  Imagine opening ourselves to other options, especially ones based on a firmer grasp of the truth and not just tied to our traditions, upbringing, schooling, parenting, and marketing.  Instead of believing that money isn’t everything, we saw it as a tool that can do great things for others. Or instead of life being a battle between you and me, it’s a coalition of us and them together for the betterment of all.


Tips on a creating a competent reality

  1. Learn, learn, learn.  Books and audios are great resources that take a successful life or a complex topic and boil it down to 300 pages.  Finding a mentor is another great way to learn and form a good association. Warning: Be sure your source is competent in that area.
  2. Do, do, do.  The only way to develop skill is to get out there and do it.  No textbook can help here. Practice may not make perfect, but it makes the skillful. Remember that you have to be bad before you’re good, so keep going and never give up.
  3. Question everything.  Be curious.  Don’t let old habits and assumptions lead you down the path to delusion.  Habits are the opposite of questioning. Take a close look at them and make sure they serve you.  If they don’t, change them.
  4. Reality check.  Ask yourself if you are making decisions based in objective reality or poor beliefs.  Objective reality does not depend on someone’s interpretation: You have a brain. Poor beliefs are not based in reality yet can be very influential and life-draining:  Why don’t you use your brain! (How would a child believe/act after hearing this 189 times from a “loving” parent?)


The good news is that we have a choice.  We can blame the inanimate, or we can choose competence and a positive reality.  The former will have us chasing our tails for the next millennium, while the latter will allow us to build and succeed in becoming the person worthy of the life we desire.


“I am, as I’ve said, merely competent.  But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.”

-Billy Joel


I dare you to share this with 13 people who still fear inanimate objects.  It just might save their life – really. I appreciate every single one of you.  Meet you at the top because the bottom’s becoming more and more overcrowded.


Josh Zepess



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