Extreme Minimalism: Owning Only 15 Things

How many things do you own? Whatever it is, it's probably a lot more than the things tech entrepreneur Andrew Hyde owns. The extreme minimalist was photographed above with the 15 (or so) things that he owns:

The first question someone asks me when I tell them about the project is “How do you define something you own?” Great question, but that is a lie. The first question is always “Do you do laundry? How many pairs of underwear?” I’ll never get a stranger’s obsession with my knickers, but that is *always* question #1. Question #2 is the “What do you own?” countdown, which is both fun and annoying to answer.

I don’t have a permanent address or a second pair of jeans. Forgive me if I don’t want to answer it, but it takes a bit of emotion to go from an overconsumer to a minimalist, and perhaps even more emotion to think about it all the time. When I get up in the morning, I wear what is clean. That is my thought process. Then I’m out the door. When I am asked about what I own, I have to think about it deliberately. Imagine everything you own? Name it. Longer list than mine, but you still have to justify things as you list them, which is exhausting in a way that makes you pair emotion with physical objects. [...]

So, back to everything I own. The “rule” of ownership is the express-lane checkout rule. If you were checking out in a grocery store, what would be counted as one item in your bag? A six-pack of beer would be one, right? I count my things as resellable items I would be pissed if someone took.

Coffee cup? No. Jacket? Yes. iPhone and headphones? One thing. Simple enough?

Here is the list, as of May 2, 2011. I made a similar list in Colombia. Scott Berkun also did an interview around that time too.

Arc’teryx Miura 30 backpack
NAU shirt
Mammut rain jacket
Arc’teryx tshirt
Patagonia running shorts
Quick Dry towel
NAU wool jacket
Toiletry kit
Smith sunglasses
MacBook Air
iPhone 3GS
NAU dress shirt
Patagonia jeans
Running shoes

Link (with podcast of interview with ABC Radio News' Dan Patterson)

Update 6/14/2012: Andrew just published a book "This Book Is About Travel" (Website | Amazon) - Thanks Andrew!

Cool idea, it reminds me of the backpack idea in Up In the Air.

I aimed toward a minimalist lifestyle after reading a lot of Henry David Thoreau. I suppose Walden probably provides a lot of inspiration for minimalism. Thoreau lived in a log-cabin he constructed near Walden pond, somewhere on Ralph Waldo Emerson's property. He grew his own food in a small patch of garden and spent his days writing about Walden.

Ironically, an amusement park was later erected at Walden pond, and a whole array of tourist attractions dedicated to Henry David Thoreau. The amusement park has since been torn down, but Walden pond remains quite the tourist attraction.
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I find the minimalist movement very, very attractive. But I have this question: how can you bear to get rid of the books you own that aren't digital yet??
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I was at an out of town trial that was supposed to take one day. It lasted one week. For that week I swapped between changes of clothing and lived with a minimal list of items: Besides the changes of clothing, I had a notebook, a cell phone and a toiletry kit. Everything else was either borrowed, rented or disposable.

I turned out to be a wasteful consumer and bothersome guest.
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I agree that we in the West consume way too much, but this seems like just another guy pretending not to own anything. He forgot to mention his money and at least one thing in his picture. Besides, his definition of 'own' is kinda arbitrary.

I can play this game too- all I own is my wardrobe, pantry, bicycle and laptop. Four items!
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This may be minimalist, but that doesn't mean it isn't materialist. I find the preoccupation with brand-names unimpressive. Plus this guy probably just ends up borrowing everything from his friends who aren't too vain to own stuff in the name of practicality.
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A toiletries kit is not one item :p And counting the stuff in the picture, there's more like 20 things...still not a lot of course.

But I'm with some of hte other commentators; how often does he borrow stuff from other people? Cause if he "owns' 15-20 items but borrows stuff daily then he's not a minimalist, he's a mooch.
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Pretentious and affectatious. I've sold everything except my Mac, cellphone and clothing and now live in a family member's mobile home because of devastating life circumstances. Hitting rock bottom and really facing some raw facts, especially internally, are simply words to those who would not last a WEEK doing the same. This is just an 'exercise' for Mr. Brand Name Tech Entrepreneur. I'm not hating here - I have lots of life experience and a big heart.
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So... No cooking/eating utensils? No pants? No socks? But does own a macbook air. What a tosspot. He could go the whole way and just rent everything. That way he won't 'own' anything.
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Yes I think the example given is a bit of a stretch but the concept of owning 'less stuff' is something that I have tried to adopt. The idea I heard (don't know where) and try to live by is 'if you haven't touched it in 12 months, do you really need it'.

Also, 'atoms to electrons', or if you need it 'can you scan it on to the puter'.

And yes I still have too much stuff...like books, I mean fuck e-books.
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When I got my first job out of college it was 250 miles away from my friends and family. I left for my first day of work with a sleeping bag, pillow, backpack, clothes and cellphone. I found a small apartment that day during lunch and was able to sleep there that night. I bought a mattress and a lamp that weekend and that was basically my apartment until I got married. I acquired takeout containers and utensils I used for dishes. I lived next to the library so I never really needed anything else.

There was a certain charm to it but it's also nice to sit back in my leather recliner and watch movies on my 52" HDTV while drinking draft beer from the fridge nowadays.
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Yes, his list reads like a magazine editorial. The thing which got me is that he refers to it as a "project". I remember owning very few things myself: it was called being really poor.
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i lived in San Diego with my cousin for about 6 months. i reside in Pittsburgh. i dumped my ice hockey equipment out of it's large bag (i'm sure you guys know the size of those), and i packed everything i needed into that thing. wasn't much, and the bag wasn't even filled all the way. so in SD, everything i owned fit into a dining room closet about 2 ft wide, 6 feet hige. hangers and about 3 shelves. happiest/simplest time of my life. i often think of getting rid of most things i own. but i understand practicality, and i'm a pretty sentimental guy... i guess what i'm trying to say, i loved my time as a minimalist :-)
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Thanks for the post Alex. Wanted to answer a few questions / respond to a few comments:

@Ryan S I just reread Walden (on the kindle app) and enjoyed it. Interesting they built an amusement park.

@Kealani set them free (or just give them to friends who have not read them). My bike and book collection were the hardest things to let go.

@Miiike I travel with my bag, feel free to dig through it (not much there). Wallet is listed.

@Samuel People generally want to know what gear I use and how long it lasts. Most of it doesn't have a logo on it (two things do, just checked). I didn't in the first list, decided to list them in this list.

@Badger I totally mention that in this post: http://andrewhy.de/the-15-things-i-own/ :)

@Cam I've gone through that stage as well

@houndogg Ups and downs for sure but for the most part it is very enjoyable.
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Every now and then I run into someone who tries to tell me that true happiness is reached by giving up your possesions. Thats great if you live in a shed in the woods and eat roots and berries, but everyday people need stuff. Probably less stuff than they currently own, but stuff is still needed. Mechanics need tools, a lot of them.If you don't own plates and flat ware eating and cooking becomes a pain in the ass, and eating out all the time is expensive. Painters need brushes and paint and canvass. Maybe some rich cock can get away with eating out and borrowing things from people all the time, but normal people can't get away with that. This guy can kiss my ass.
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This guy sounds very self-absorbed and narcissistic. Reminds me of someone The Onion might do a story on: "Area Man Never Gets Tired of Talking About How He Only Owns 15 Things"
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I'm counting like 18 or 19 things, without the backpack or clothes he's wearing, and counting the socks as 1 thing.

Aside from this though, the whole concept of minimalism as it plays out is pure BS, because all the person is really doing is borrowing or renting the same possessions the rest of us borrow, rent, or own.

I mean, I could live at a hotel, eat all my meals from restaurants, use the hotel's appliances, computers, television, power grid, information network, and use the roads and transportation infrastructure. And own nothing more than 2 sets of clothing.

Does that make me a minimalist? No.

Being less consumer-driven is nice. Being efficient is nice. But this is frankly a bit consumer driven, and more about a smug aesthetic than any useful or interesting contribution.
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True power isn't how much you have, but how much you can do without.

When we acquire new possessions we get a high from it's novelty, in the form of a dopamine surge in our brains. But we quickly habituate to the possession and the process of consuming goods. Such that it can become an addiction.

Kids used to have nothing but a stick and a hoop to play with, or just rocks, and believe me they were just as happy at times and just as miserable at times. Because our brains/minds get used to everything and it all seems dull and boring.

For Thoreau, this was not the case, he found an awe and reverence for life and nature that meant he didn't need all those possessions. The way he saw it, he and the universe were one, in a harmonious matrimony that gave him all the pleasure he needed. Admittedly this can be hard to understand and appreciate.
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Thoreau lived "in the woods" very close to his family's house. He visited them for dinner and received regular care packages from his mother. Good writer? Yes. Self-sufficient woodsman? No.

Incidently, this morning I gave a dollar to a real minimalist sleeping under some newspapers on a park bench.
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"I do believe people can fall into the trap of believing that 'freedom' is, like you know, I do what I like, I don't really think that's freedom because you are still bound by your desires. You know, your passion is still determining your behavior, so where is the freedom?"


Freedom does not mean; free to do what one wants.

Freedom means; free to do other than what one wants.

That is in the strongest sense of freedom from psychological determinism.
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@Ryan S

So you are saying that, if the hypothetical mechanic Rumson mentioned found "an awe and reverence for life and nature" like Thoreau did, he wouldn't need a wrench to untighten a rusty bolt?
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"Question #2 is the “What do you own?” countdown, which is both fun and annoying to answer".

He brags about owning a set # of posessions, then complains when people ask the obvious question of "what are they." It reminds me of my friends who are vegans who deliberately identify themselves to others by what they eat, but then get annoyed when people ask questions about it.

If we're having a conversation and I tell you I'm a soil collector, I would hope I don't get annoyed when people engage me in conversation about the topic that "I" brought up and "I" deem so important that I use it to identify myself.
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Couldn't you guys find someone more deserving of attention than this cornfed boob?

There are people throughout the world who have few possessions, who live off the land, grow their own food, catch their own game, make some of their own clothes, etc.
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@steve dall

What's the wrench for? A bolt? As I recall Thoreau didn't use bolts for anything.

I think you guys are missing the point. Thoreau wasn't about going without things completely in vain. He only spent 2 years at Walden before moving on and reintegrating to society. It's all about psychological determinism/psychological egoism.


Part of our egoic tendency is to project egoic motives on others, such that the enemy becomes externalized through our projections. In this way, even Saints are degraded to Sinners. Mahatma Gandi never did anything saintly because he slept with naked women. Nevermind the fact that he did so as a test of his psychological egoism, which may in-fact be rooted in egoism, but that is such a convoluted process, at least the guy tried. But we have a tendency to diminish others accomplishments, especially when they appear better than us!
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When I lived in the dorm, I too cultivated the minimalist vibe. I didn't own a bed, desk, chair, tv, radio, car, spoon, or much of anything except a few articles of clothing and school necessities.

I became an artist, got married, and now own a house that provides living quarters and and studio/storage space. As an artist, I produce, sell and own material goods--paintings. Sure, my paintings are more than material goods, but they are nonetheless, material objects. Likewise, Thoreau produced material objects--book manuscripts. He and I both need a host of material objects to accomplish the production of these material objects.
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Oh Ryan,

Thoreau used a pen to write. That's right, a tool much like a wrench. He used tools to build his cabin. "Reintegrating with society?" Please, Thoreau lived by his parents; he had visitors all the time; his mom brought him care packages as someone above mentioned. We live in the internet age, all this information is readily available. Educate yourself instead of indulging in undergraduate fantasy.
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I'm guessing that if someone were to swack Ryan's pointy head with the spine of a copy of Walden Pond, the resultant hollow, coconut sound would secretly delight onlookers.
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You gotta like how this Hyde character says, "I’ll never get a stranger’s obsession with my knickers, but that is *always* question #1."

That's just a covert way to say, "man, you must stink to high heaven under those Patagonia jeans." Besides, as any "extreme minimalist" will tell you, commando is the only way to go. One less thing.
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An excerpt from Richard Zacks, An Underground Education:

Most Americans have an image of Thoreau as a rough-hewn, self-educated recluse, who, following the grand tradition of prophets, disappeared into the solitude to commune with nature. We picture his little shack far off in the woods, the man a voluntary Robinson Crusoe, alone with his thoughts and the bluebirds.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Thoreau could see the well-traveled Concord-Lincoln highway across his field; he could hear the Fitchburg Railroad as it steamed along the track on the far side of Walden Pond.

He visited Concord Village almost every day; Thoreau's mother and sisters, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodies baskets every Sunday, stocked with pies, doughnuts, and meals; Thoreau even raided the family cookie jar during his frequent visits home.

The more one reads in Thoreau's unpolished journal of his stay in the woods, the more his sojourn resembles suburban boys going to their treehouse in the backyard and pretending they're camping in the heart of a jungle.

The children of Concord visited on weekends and the cabin became a popular picnicking spot for local families. One winter, fellow writer Bronson Alcott had dinner there on Sunday nights; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequent visitors.

"It was not a lonely spot," understates Walter Harding in his excellent The Days of Henry Thoreau. "Hardly a day went by that Thoreau did not visit the village or was visited at the pond." The joke making the rounds in Concord was that when Mrs. Emerson rang the dinner bell, Thoreau came rushing out of the woods and was first in line with his outstretched plate.
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Great excerpt Greg!

There's no doubt that Thoreau wrote some great stuff even if Walden Pond was only "semi-autobiographical."
I guess if I can forgive Thoreau his personal, wanton douchebaggery, I can forgive Hyde his manifest bafoonery.
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Ryan S says:

"Part of our egoic tendency is to project egoic motives on others, such that the enemy becomes externalized through our projections. In this way, even Saints are degraded to Sinners. Mahatma Gandi never did anything saintly because he slept with naked women. Nevermind the fact that he did so as a test of his psychological egoism, which may in-fact be rooted in egoism, but that is such a convoluted process, at least the guy tried. But we have a tendency to diminish others accomplishments, especially when they appear better than us!"

Stop me if I'm wrong, Ry-man, but, isn't this just a verbose way to say, "Help, I have no penis."
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Whats the point? A Bronze Age man owned more than 15 things and he was just trying to get by.

I'm all for a good idea and trying to live up to ideals but not when they are absolutely pointless.

What are you going to do if you become ill? Stop wearing clothes so you can have a couple of bottles of pills?
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What's the point? This is guerrilla advertising. Why else did he mention all the name brands. It's like a commercial. "Nothing comes between me and my Patagonias."
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I don't see how any of that detracts from the fact that the Concord School of Philosophy of which Thoreau was a part was based in transcendentalism. German idealism to be more specific and is essentially as I said overcoming psychological egoism and attaining absolute wisdom. Give it at try, maybe you'll find less need to be so insulting.
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@Hanaka "Oh Ryan, Thoreau used a pen to write. That's right, a tool much like a wrench. He used tools to build his cabin."

I think you are completely missing the point of Thoreau's philosophy. But that makes sense since you don't really want to understand him.

Psychological bias ensures that when we want to find fault with something we will, and when we don't care to understand something we won't. That is precisely the kind of thing the transcendentalists were aiming to overcome and the reason Thoreau did what he did.

Your brain processes an enormous amount of information and integrates all of it into a common perception (consciousness) which is pushed through the cortico-thalamic complex, phenomenal representations with a high Phi value, according to Integrated Information Theory are the most salient. Your conscious attention is typically fixated on the most salient features of your integrated consciousness. That means that all the subtle little distortions and inner narrative that are driving you, your thoughts and desires, are drowned out by the oberabundance of salient stimuli. Your world is chalked full of distractions, stimuli vieing for your attention. In fact, now-a-days our own minds interfere with our attention on average every 8 seconds. When you go to the woods or something and you let go of all your concerns for the world, those things no longer predominate in your consciousness and the lieing, manipulative bastard that you are arises into awareness. But you have to be completely open to such an experience. Then you will hopefully realize why most of these comments just sound like ego-based defenses of anothers lifestyle. But what I'm challenging you to do could take you 5 years, 15 years, or the rest of your life, depending on how much concern you actually have for it. If unbecoming false is not your main concern then, sadly, like most you'll probably remain false your whole life.

A Bugatti Veyron is just a tool, from going from A to B, but it is also excessive compared to a Horse and Buggy. A similar tool for going from A to B.

It’s ego – the false self – that exalts the guru and declares the teaching sacred, but nothing is exalted or sacred, only true or not true. - Jed McKenna

The universe isn’t vague and ignorant. I am vague and ignorant. Something is true, and it doesn’t matter what it is, I’m not going to be false any more. I have not even the slightest trace of the slightest reservation that I would rather suffer and die figuring out what is true than continue this life as a slave to lies and ignorance. - Jed McKenna
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A good commentary on this sort of philosophy distilled is from the little-known author Jed McKenna (quoted above). AhabCaptn on YouTube has a series of narrative videos with stunning surreal artwork and excellent background music. Of course, Herman Mellville's Moby Dick, from which the channel gets its name, is another transcendentalist body of work, if you can see it, otherwise it's just a neat story.

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If I had known the subject himself would be 'here' then I would have asked him his thoughts on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1162348.stm and the German lad who did similar and left his 'exhibition' as an exhibition ie naked.

However, I think the post is neat.
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Throughout your posts you engage in self-indulgent pontification and presume to "educate" others with no knowledge of their level of education. Both of these behaviors smack of the "psychological egoism" you ostensibly seek to lessen in others. You are an apologist for hypocrisy because, either consciously or unconsciously, you recognize the trait in yourself. As the incomparable Mark Twain wrote: "Nothing needs reform like someone else's behavior.

When you learn to disengage from these behaviors you will be that much closer to the ideals you seek to attain and, as such, you will be treated with less disdain.
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Untrue, if I did that I would only be doing so to protect my ego from disdain.

As a matter of fact, I'm stating what I understand to be true and putting my neck out their like that precisely because it is the least gratifying to my ego. This is not an isolated incident.

There is always the possibility that someone will prove me wrong, insult me or even threaten my life. I've experienced it all before, and I persevere. If I let the fear of those reprocussions shut me up, then I would be acting egotistically.

Ego in this sense is more than the Freudian usage. Ego refers to Self in it's entirety. Jesus Christ's life represents the life of a person who was egoless, as too does the life of Socrates. They were both ridiculed and murdered. See, it is egotistical to have disdain for someone who speaks with conviction. It is popular in our society to be as dumb as possible to avoid any sense of superiority. Still, nobody asks a surgeon to fix their car. There is a such thing as real superiority and inferiority.

I have a good handle on Thoreau because I've studied his writings and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In addition I also take a lot of interest in German idealism and I'm particularly fond of Kant. I have a book-shelf chalked full of books by these authors and spent the last 5+ years of my life reading them and not doing a lot else. To recognize that I understand better than the average person isn't an ego-based delusion, it's most likely reality. Though I can still be wrong, and there is no need for me to feel embarrassed or anything when I'm proven wrong, rather I just need to accept the reality. That is the critical point of egoism.
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"In case you hadn't realized, it has somehow become uncool to like sound like you know what you're talking about...."

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@ Ryan

"In case you hadn't realized, it has somehow become uncool to like sound like you know what you're talking about...."

Then you must be the coolest guy in the room.
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Ahabcptn has videos for other authors too. Mainly Walt Whitman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu80Ml9rGhI&feature=related) Herman Mellville and Mark Twain.

Check out these youtubers too:
Philosopherfresh (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t4royOtvWU&feature=channel_video_title)
Soulfetcher (http://www.youtube.com/user/soulfetcher)
Menoftheinfinite (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbWFjv31cgQ&feature=channel_video_title)
Therearenosides (http://www.youtube.com/user/ThereAreNoSides)
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Ryan says:

"Jesus Christ's life represents the life of a person who was egoless, as too does the life of Socrates. They were both ridiculed and murdered. See, it is egotistical to have disdain for someone who speaks with conviction."

WOW, JUST WOW!!!! Talk about an ego and an amazing capacity for self-delusion. Yah, you're following in Christ's footsteps pal. What an EGOMANIAC!!!!
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So, Steve, if you break down your statement. Is there anything in there that is supposed to enlighten me? Or is the statement just intended to be insulting? I'm examining it for something substantive, but I'm not seeing it. My mind wants to think that you are merely intending to attack my ego. If that is all, then I can safely ignore it. If your intention was to cause real damage to my ego, your best bet is to actually reveal some failure on my part. But even then, I might just agree with you that I was wrong on some point and grow out of it. That is my aim anyway, but I'm not a perfect man, I too have a tendency to react egotistically.

So my intention is always to love and I do find that difficult. It is harder to love someone who hates you or who insults you, but that is what I intend to do. Though, love, especially antagonistic/brotherly love is difficult. With brotherly love, we have to love each other while criticizing each other. That way we don't just support each other's egotistical delusions, but we aren't just attacking each other either.

At any rate, if you are looking at me to exemplify what I'm saying completely then I will probably appear hypocritical at times. But you know, I'm also a smoker and I think it is a terrible habit that no one should ever take-up. That makes me somewhat of a hypocrite too, but not wrong.
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I didn't put it quite like that, but that is what Jesus calls us to do; "Deny yourself, pick-up your cross and imitate me."

See, the ego, and not just yours or mine, but all ego doesn't like the idea of superiority. If the ego reveres Jesus for example, it's going to have a hard time accepting that someone else is like Jesus or that they even intend to be like Jesus. The ego would rather call this person a heretic and crucify them.

And so, a lot of Christians think you shouldn't be like Jesus. You shouldn't deny yourself, adorn a crucifix and imitate Jesus (ie. sacrifice yourself for truth and humanity). But these people are just keeping themselves down through egotism, and exalting Jesus in the same way. Jesus himself did not ask us to worship him, he asked us to imitate him. Few are doing so because they don't they can or should and won't accept anyone else doing it either.
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So hey, I forgot, Ahabcaptn has a Henry David Thoreau video as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WATe4jC-zOA

I guess that would be most pertinent to the discussion. It describes Thoreau's philosophy.
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