Thursday, 21 September 2017

Philosophy serves no purpose if it does not help improve your life

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You can easily tell dead-end projects by the massive opposition they generate. If your initiatives create high resistance, stress and anxiety, it might be wise to reconsider your strategy. Some products or services are just impossible to sell at a profit, even if they could greatly benefit potential customers. People choose to ignore whatever conflicts with their convictions.

Entrepreneurs are conscious of the fact that markets possess sensitivity and taste. If you try to impose your views on customers, you will fail. If you try to sell what people find misplaced, your attempts will produce only irritation and waste.

Prosperity and happiness require loyalty to principles and practicality in the implementation. Only fools start fights where everybody loses. Logic and consistency are worthless without a workable plan. Philosophy serves no purpose if it does not help improve your life.

A practical question

The question is how to accomplish demanding goals while remaining loyal to truth. The story of Roger Williams (1603-1683) provides powerful inspiration about how attain success and well-being by minimizing confrontation, in other words, by taking the path of least resistance.

Williams was born in London at a time when religious dissidence was often punished with death. As a child, he witnessed the public execution of members of minority movements. Those tragic events shaped his philosophy and turned him into a highly effective advocate of tolerance and individual responsibility. Williams definitely refused to allow adversity to keep him down.

After his ordination as protestant priest, Williams got married and emigrated to America. When he arrived in Boston, he was 29th years old. He gained employment as preacher in one of the local churches and began to promote his ideas of tolerance and respect of religious minorities.

His parishioners, who favoured a strict line of thought, did not appreciate William's views. Soon after, he faced a difficult choice. If he refused to conform his ideas to public expectations, he would lose his position. If he remained loyal to his philosophy, his reputation would be damaged and no other congregation in the area would be willing to hire him.

Principles and values

He attempted to find steady employment in Salem and Plymouth, to no avail. Churchgoers in those cities liked Williams' opinions as little as those in Boston. He consulted his wife, Mary, and learned that she was pregnant. An upcoming baby constituted a strong reason for Williams to try to keep his position even if that meant sacrificing his ideals. What would you have done in such a situation?

Choosing the path of least resistance requires, in the first place, that you determine your principles and values. Random decisions do not lead to happiness, especially if they are motivated by fear. A wise man identifies his priorities before assessing his options. Our goal should be to find the alternative that can accomplish our objectives with minimum opposition.

Williams analysed his possibilities carefully. On the one hand, he could renounce his views and keep his job. On the other hand, he could give up his ambition of establishing himself in America and return to England. None of those alternatives was satisfying. Instead, he opted for a third choice, the path of least resistance.

With his pregnant wife on trail, he left Boston, purchased some land from the Narragansett Indians, and established a new settlement that he called Providence. Williams' philosophy of tolerance and self-reliance soon attracted entrepreneurial minorities of all sorts. As a result, his land became one of the most prosperous American colonies.

The two alternatives that he had rejected were dead-end projects. If he had kept his position in Boston, he would have continued to receive a regular income, but only at the price of betraying his ideals. If he had returned to England, his destiny would have not been much different.

Finding a better way

In retrospective, William's decision to establish a new settlement was the obvious path of least resistance. He had seen the consequences of intolerance in England and was convinced that there was a better way. He suspected that thousands of people thought the way he did, minorities of all sorts, entrepreneurial individuals who only wanted to be left alone to lead their own lives.

Instead of disputing the views of his Boston parishioners, Williams walked away. Instead of wasting time on bitter debates, he opted for building a workable alternative. Instead of trying to impose his views on disgruntled opponents, he decided to spend his life with those who were naturally on his side.

The success of Providence during the following decades provides an impressive example of the benefits of rational decisions: increased cooperation, tolerance, goodwill and self-reliance, all accompanied by growing industry, trade, and productivity.

In addition, Williams' peaceful relations with the neighbouring Narragansett tribes led to mutual understanding. In 1643, he published a handbook on the language of American Indians, which he hoped would improve communication and exchanges between frontier communities.

The next time that you are faced with a similar situation, why don't you adopt the same strategy? Write down your values and priorities. Identify which elements are essential to your happiness. Discard options that don't fulfil your fundamental requirements. And amongst the remaining choices, choose the path of least resistance

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical fountain; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2017.


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 

 
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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Dealing with the unpredictability of personal development - The importance of steady, focused work


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"The principle is one, but its manifestations are many," wrote Chinese philosopher Cheng-Ha a thousand years ago. If we had to establish the simplest possible formula for maximizing happiness, it would probably contain just one instruction. In fact, a single word would suffice: growth.

Some authors define self-development as becoming more of what you are and reaching for more ambitious goals. In pure biological terms, growth implies dilatation or enlargement. Paralysis, most of the time, involves some form of pathology. Stasis is equivalent to death.

Increasing one's ability to live is the fundamental driver for animals and plants. For humans, extending our breadth and depth of experience is the only goal that can be all-encompassing. If you are looking for a permanent and comprehensive recipe to make the best of your life, growth is all you need.

How personal growth takes place

The unpredictability of personal development is what makes it difficult to pursue it successfully. Growth frequently takes place in areas where it is least expected. On the other hand, concentrating all efforts on developing a certain skill might, paradoxically, constrain overall personal growth.

How does self-development actually take place? In which way can it be facilitated? Why must each man follow a different path towards personal growth? These questions have occupied psychologists for years. Here is an answer that you can use:

When you learn a foreign language, your knowledge does not increase following a precise pattern. By memorizing 20 new words per day, your ability to communicate does not expand at a fixed rate, for example, at 1% per day.

Even with sustained study and practice, your progress will now and then stagnate. Sometimes, you will even forget words that you had already learned. Finally, after extensive effort, one day, you will reach a point where you can speak that language fluently.

Still today, despite decades of research, there is no guaranteed method to achieve growth. Some focus on a limited set of skills and try to develop them to perfection. Others prefer to learn bits and pieces on various subjects and put them together in original ways.

Steady, focused work

Using commonplace elements to produce unexpected combinations is a great development strategy. Breakthrough ideas result, on many occasions, out of curiosity rather than from the organized approach of research laboratories.

Experience shows that understanding the varying speed of self-development can help increase one's peace of mind. Pushing the human body beyond its capabilities does not accelerate, but hinders healthy growth. Do not try to run too fast, and make sure not to carry too much weight.

The important lesson is that taking daily steps in your chosen field is the best formula to make yourself ready for growth. When opportunities materialize, you will be able to seize them. More often than not, regular work and steadiness of purpose lead to a better life. There are many variations, but the theme is one.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of landscaped garden; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2017.


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 

 
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Friday, 18 August 2017

The rational approach to higher resilence

 
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If you want to pursue ambitious goals and protect yourself from discouragement, your best ally will be resilience, not luck. Numerous men and women start their careers full of enthusiasm, only to succumb to the first difficulties. The path leading to achievement seldom runs straight. When obstacles stand on the way, detours are inevitable.

An unbreakable psychology


A healthy psychology depends more on steadiness of character than on a sunny disposition. Wise men do not allow adverse circumstances to deter them. When they encounter obstacles, they use their creativity to find passage. They face difficulties with courage, avoiding wishful thinking and exaggerated optimism.

Their resilience is based on a realistic assessment of their possibilities and their constancy on the knowledge that perseverance can overcome disaster. Their prudence rests on their past experience of success and their alertness on the wish to seize opportunities.

Some individuals never get the blues and, if you adopt an entrepreneurial mentality in all areas of your life, you can become one of them. Initiative and creativity will help you in private and business matters, in your dealings with friends as much as in those with customers.

Can you increase your resilience as a way to prevent problems for the future? Is it possible to render yourself immune to low spirits? What steps can to take to get rid of fears and doubts? A steady temper is the consequence of a person's history and convictions. The former is influenced by chance, the latter determined by one's will.

How to increase your resilience


You need to use your rationality to develop your resilience. Those who think logically rarely fall prey to anxiety. If you view life in perspective, you will never be immobilized by depression. Keep your beliefs anchored in reality and your actions aligned with essential truths.

Individuals who possess a steady character tend to be persistent and entrepreneurial. If they ever worry, it will be only for the short time they need to change their course of action. They make the best of past mistakes and draw lessons for the future. Each of us can acquire the five elements that form their character, namely:


1. Assess situations calmly

 
First, a fair assessment of the impact of time on human affairs: In an era when most people expect to live at least 70 years, we should never allow adversity to sink our spirits. A man who has acquired a proper perspective of life does not get angry at inconveniences.

Provided that you have sensible goals, you have plenty of time to pursue them. Even though success is not guaranteed, your heart should remain confident and serene. Banish discouragement from your thoughts and commit yourself to developing a calm perspective.


2. Adopt a long-term perspective
 
Second, understanding the long-term benefits of consistent behaviour: Animals such as cats and dogs show occasional persistence, but cannot make plans and implement them consistently. Steadiness of purpose, a uniquely human characteristic, constitutes the foundation of serenity.


The pursuit of long-term goals multiplies the effectiveness of human action. Resolve turns prototypes into marketable products and transforms ideas into profitable businesses. Experienced managers know the advantages of keeping an unvarying course. If you place your goals above short-term adversity, you will be able to preserve your peace of mind.

3. Conserve your resources
 
Third, a desire to avoid waste and economize resources: Complaining to those who cannot solve our difficulties is a waste of energy and time. In contrast, people who draw lessons from past mistakes know how to concentrate their efforts on finding solutions.

The longer you conserve your resources, the faster you will overcome adversity. Individuals who protect their assets look confidently at the future. On the contrary, those who dilapidate their possessions fear the day when their luck will change.


4. Draw lessons for the future
 
Fourth, relentless curiosity and interest in learning: When unexpected events disrupt well-constructed plans, victims tend to react with irritation, condemning anyone who stands on their path. Their lamentations, however, have little effect on problems, except perhaps making them worse.


You can On the other hand, if you approach failure with curiosity, you will be able to draw invaluable lessons for the future. Innovators are individuals who have learned to view problems as questions and obstacles as delays. Opposition, instead of irritating them or making them stressed or anxious, makes them wiser.
 

5. Seek fresh opportunities

Fifth, a perception of the asymmetry of markets: The idea that life offers limited possibilities is false and brings about exaggerated concerns. If you are afraid of blowing your only chance, your obsession is likely to block your success.

Markets are asymmetric because opportunities come and go. Prices can be low today and high tomorrow. Customers often modify their tastes and preferences. Constant change is a source of endless possibilities. If you take this fact into account, you will be more alert to future openings in your field.

People who are well prepared for the future make the best of every hour. Positive circumstances advance their interests and negative events increase their knowledge. These persons have learned how to look ahead, prevent problems to the extent possible, and let time play in their favour.

Commit yourself to economizing resources and focus your efforts on promising initiatives. Pursue your goals single-mindedly and understand the long-term benefits of consistency. Prepare yourself for the future and acquire an unshakable serenity based on rational expectations.


Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical painting; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016.


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 

 
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Here are the links to five recent media interviews:

Sunday, 6 August 2017

A medieval prescription for productivity, success and happiness

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The French use the word "nombrilism" in order to designate people who fail to see the big picture because they are focusing on their own navel ("ombril"); people who, instead of pursuing large goals, opt for thinking small and without system.

Of course, any attempt to achieve large goals by thinking small and without system is doomed to failure. There is no way that you can make major improvements by taking small, inconsistent steps. There is no way that you can turn your life around by means of little, uncoordinated tricks.

Some people find it impossible to accept that universal principles exist, and that they have always existed. In particular, the keys to productivity, success, and happiness have remained the same for centuries.

Universal principles

I am always reminded of this fact every time I take a tour of historical sites. Every time I look at vestiges of the past, the principles are always there, right before my eyes. Last week, while I was travelling through Spain, visiting medieval castles, churches, and monasteries, the Basilica of St Vincent in Avila (central Spain) made a deep impression on me.

Its construction started in the tenth century, but it took a hundred years before the building was finished. For this reason, the basilica bears witness to the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. In addition, St Vincent's Basilica embodies the keys to productivity, success, and happiness.

Firstly, the basilica was built on solid rock, a decision that was not a coincidence, but the result of the events that, from the very beginning, led to the idea of putting up the building: In the third century AD, in the times of Emperor Dioclecian, Spain was a province of the Roman Empire, and following Dioclecian's orders, the local governor was carrying out a persecution of Christians.

Nonetheless, Roman legal procedure required that, when someone was accused of being a Christian, he had to be given the chance to recant his faith, and demonstrate his allegiance to the Emperor by making a sacrifice to ancient Roman deities such as Mars (the god of war) and Minerva (the goddess of wisdom).

That was exactly what happened to Vincent, a Spanish merchant who was known to be a devout Christian. Roman soldiers took him into custody, and required him to renounce his Christian faith. They told him that, if he refused to comply, he would be facing the death penalty.

While Vincent was in custody, he received a visit from his sisters, Sabina and Christeta. "You have to flee, Vincent," they urged him. "Otherwise, the soldiers will kill you." Vincent was reluctant to run away, but his sisters insisted. "We have paid off the guards, and we have brought horses. Come with us, and we will escape together."

Vincent and his sisters slipped away during the night, and used the horses to flee. However, the Roman soldiers began to chase them the next morning. Eventually, the soldiers captured Vincent and his sisters in Avila, tortured them, threw them off the city wall, and left their corpses lying on a rock at the bottom of a cliff. This is the rock upon which the basilica was built in the tenth century.

A solid foundation

If you visit St Vincent's Basilica in Avila today, you will still be able to see the rock. It stands in the crypt, right below the altar where the faithful have been celebrating mass for the last one thousand years. The rock provides the basilica with a clear purpose, a definite meaning, a solid foundation. Throughout the centuries, the rock has welcomed hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, and seen the basilica flourish. It has helped transform brutality into benevolence, and confusion into structure.

Similarly, your productivity, success, and happiness are dependent on your ability to build upon solid foundations. Without a consistent philosophy, there is no way you can attain high productivity because you will simply not know what to do. Without a clear purpose, there is no way you can determine which path to follow because you will simply not know your destination.

For this reason, it puzzles me that unprincipled people spend so much time looking for productivity tricks and short-cuts to success. In a way, they are trying to build a basilica by piling up stones at random. They are trying to put up a building without having any idea of what it should look like. Such attempts always fail miserably. No wonder that such people feel immensely stressed.

Having a rational, integrated philosophy is a prerequisite to high productivity. You need to know your ultimate goal. You need to know your life's mission. You need to know what you want, and why you want it.

A well-designed structure

Secondly, you need to build a well-designed structure, which is something that requires consistent efforts. Do you know what you are trying to achieve in life? Can you ensure that the decisions you make today are in line with your long-term objectives?

As soon as the basilica was finished in the eleventh century, the Bishop of Avila ordered the construction of a cenotaph to house the remains of Vincent and his sisters. The cenotaph was built by a team of local artists, following the Bishop's instructions: "I want you to illustrate Vincent's story by means of twelve scenes made of small sculptures," asked the Bishop.

The sculptures, only thirty centimetres high, were placed on the sides of the cenotaph, and painted in blue, yellow, red, black, and white, making them look almost alive. Since few people in the Middle Ages were able to read, the cenotaph proved a perfect complement to the basilica.

The Bishop ordered to place the cenotaph inside the building, to the right of the main altar, so that pilgrims could walk around the cenotaph, admire its sculptures, and learn the details of St Vincent's life. Precisely as the Bishop expected, the combination of cenotaph and basilica proved a lasting success. Both creations share the same purpose, carry the same message, and appeal to the same audience. They enhance each other's beauty, meaning, and reputation.

Sticking to your chosen strategy is the second key to increasing your productivity, success, and happiness. Like the Bishop of Avila did when he ordered the cenotaph, you must ensure that your actions are consistent with your purpose. You need to make sure that your decisions are integrated, focused, and aligned with your goals. If you do that, they will enhance each other, and multiply your results.

A clean board

Thirdly, you need to keep a clean board by having the discipline to say "no" to distractions, temptations, and interruptions. You need to clear your path of obstacles, so that you can keep advancing towards your goals.

The habit of keeping a clean board can dramatically contribute to your productivity. Your commitment to staying on track day after day can enormously enhance your results, and increase your peace of mind.

Unsurprisingly, St Vincent's Basilica also shares this trait. Since the Middle Ages, its right and left corridors have been kept free of furniture, so that pilgrims can walk freely, admire the cenotaph, and pray unencumbered.

A beautiful medieval anecdote confirms this point: When Pedro Barco, a hermit famous for his piety and wisdom, died in the early twelve century, his neighbours could not agree where to bury him. Two villages were claiming the right to have him interred in their church.

After some discussion, the neighbours agreed to let a mule determine where the hermit should be buried. For this purpose, they placed the hermit's corpse on the mule's back, and let the mule go its way. "Wherever the mule takes him, that's where we will bury him," they convened, expecting the mule to head for one of the two villages.

Yet, to everyone' surprise, the mule took to the main road, covered all the way to Avila, arrived at St Vincent's Basilica, went through the portal, continued unencumbered through the right-side corridor, stopped ten meters away from the cenotaph, and tapped firmly on the ground, indicating where the hermit should be buried.

Nine hundred years have passed, and Peter Barco's sepulchre still lies ten meters away from St Vincent's cenotaph; and the basilica's right and left corridors are still free of furniture, so that pilgrims can continue to walk unencumbered.

The rock that bears witness to St Vincent's story still stands in the crypt, naked and unadorned. The building and the cenotaph still keep conveying their original message strongly and clearly, like a man who has found his mission in life, and knows exactly what he is doing.

Next to Pedro Barco's sepulchre, there is a curved mark on the basilica's floor. If we believe the legend, it was a mule that made that mark nine centuries ago, a mule that knew exactly where it wanted to go, and how to get there; a mule that had instinctively figured out the key to productivity, success, and happiness.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of medieval sculpture; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2017.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
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Monday, 17 July 2017

How the devil sets productivity traps for the unwary

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There's a short story by Leo Tolstoy about a farmer who was very poor, and who asked God for help. Soon after, the devil came to see the farmer, and offered him a deal.

I will give you as much land as you want,” proposed the devil. “It is up to you to decide how much land you'll get. All you have to do is run as fast as you can, tomorrow, from dawn to sunset. All land that you'll traverse will belong to you at the end of the day.”

The farmer felt exceedingly happy upon hearing the proposal, and turned to planning what he was going to do the next day. He intended to cover as much territory as possible, but at the same time, he wanted to ensure that he would be running on fertile land.

At dawn, the farmer started to run. He didn't take with him any food or water because he didn't want to waste time taking a break for eating and drinking. He only had one day to make his fortune, and wanted to make the best of it.


For the next hours, the farmer ran as fast as a reindeer on the prairie. However, when the sun was high in the sky, he began to grow tired. “Should I stop and get a drink?” he wondered. “Should I stop and get something to eat?”

Yet, he determined to keep on running, and continued the whole day without ever taking a break. Occasionally, he would slow down for a few minutes, but then remembered that the devil had promised him all the land he could traverse until sunset.

The whole afternoon, the farmer continued to run with a smile on his face, realizing that he had already covered more land that he would ever be capable of cultivating. However, he continued to run farther.

When the sun began to descend on the horizon, the farmer felt severe pain on his chest. He slowed down for second, and then stopped. “I am not feeling well,” he said. Next, he found it difficult to breathe, and felt the taste of blood in his mouth. And before he knew what was happening to him, he fell on the ground, and died of a massive heart attack.

So much for a productive day.

In the twenty-first century, we are not far different from Tolstoy's farmer. We run all day, and we are constantly looking for short cuts to do things faster.

Each day, new software applications become available with the goal of helping us answer additional emails, read documents faster, access our files day and night, and listen to audio recordings twice faster than the speed of human speech.


Despite these innovations, our work has become increasingly frantic. Millions of people do not even take the time to have a proper lunch. Instead, they gulp down some pizza, drink soda, and munch some cookies on the go, so that they can keep running like Tolstoy's farmer.

Day after day, the scheme repeats itself in the name of high productivity, but is this really true? The problem is that some of those software applications are going to prove worthless because they just help us do at a higher speed things that we should not be doing in the first place.

Like it happened to Tolstoy's farmer, the appeal of better results can make us lose our sense of proportion. It can make us want more just for the sake of getting more, while we lose sight of our primary goals. It can make us want to do things faster, just for the sake of doing them faster, without actually thinking if we should be applying our energies elsewhere.

The danger of productivity traps is that they can push us further than we want to go because they make us forget the big picture. They make us forget that the real goal of productivity is not to do things faster, but to do the right things well at a sustainable speed.

If you think about it, we shouldn't want to do things that add little value to our lives, nor aim at working twenty-four hours a day. Least of all, we don't want to create useless work for ourselves by filing electronic documents that we will never have time to retrieve, let alone read.


Such useless exercises remind me of the advice that Van Helsing, the vampire-slayer, received in Bram Stoker's novel “Dracula.” This is what a friend told Van Helsing:

You were always a careful student, and your case-book was always fuller than the rest. You were only a student then, but now you're a master, and I trust that your good habits have not failed. Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory.”

A friend was warning Van Helsing against the danger of paying too much attention to details, and forgetting about one's primary goal. Productivity traps produce the same effect. They make us devote efforts to tasks that seem urgent but that, in practical terms, deliver little value.

Like animals, we human beings are fascinated by shiny objects. Everything new, everything fresh, everything colourful attracts our attention, and makes us want to try it out.

Yet, if we want to be highly productive, we need to force ourselves to ignore shiny objects. We need to force ourselves to devote our energies to the areas where we can make a difference, to the areas that really count.

If you allow yourself to get carried away by productivity traps, you will end up like Tolstoy's farmer, getting a heart attack while you were trying to do something that you should not be doing in the first place.

Lack of consistency is what makes people get ensnared in productivity traps. People forget the primary purpose of their work. They forget their life's mission, and instead, they just keep working for the sake of working. As I explain in my books, without a consistent philosophy, nobody can make the right decisions. With coherent views, nobody can resist the appeal of productivity traps.

Already in the nineteenth century, Jane Austen put in the mouth of Elizabeth Bennet, the female protagonist of “Pride and Prejudice,” the conclusion that we should be mistrustful of anything or anybody that lacks consistency:

There are few people whom I really love, at even fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.”


Consistency is the answer. If you keep the big picture in mind, you will not find it difficult to avoid productivity traps. If you possess a strong sense of direction, you will not find it difficult to discard unimportant things.

By sticking to your life's mission, you will be able to become immensely proactive without having to chase shiny objects that will eventually prove detrimental.

Highly productive people don't feel anxious or stressed. You will not see them pursuing shiny objects because they have long ago embraced the ideal that Walt Whitman presented in his work “The Poet.” If you want to be highly productive, you should also embrace this ideal:

Nothing out of its place is good; nothing in its place is bad. He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportion, neither more nor less. He is the arbiter of the diverse; he is the key. He is the equalizer of his age and land. He supplies what wants supplying; he checks what wants checking.”

Let the ideal of consistency, simplicity, and balance guide your life. It will help you avoid worthless shiny objects and productivity traps, and hopefully, contribute to preventing an early death due to a massive heart attack.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical painting; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
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