Humility Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q4

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates

First, I’d like to thank you. Without you, I probably would not have stuck to my plan and spent a year documenting personal reflections. I’ve always looked forward to whatever feedback you could afford, and was heartened to learn that so many of you, at one time or another, were dealing with similar thoughts, issues, and reflections.

Second, this is the final post — if you can believe it — another year has quite literally flown by. With full honesty, I can say 2016 was a significant year in my life. The results of spending some time each week reflecting on actions, thoughts, virtues, have been profound. I may write about it in the future, but right now I feel like a new person — still making mistakes — but certainly walking on firmer ground. So again, thank you for helping me get here, and I hope that this little journey together has helped you in some way too.

All the best,

Patrick

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To be honest, when I first wrote about Humility, I was a little embarrassed to write, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”  I guess that’s just a sign of the times, but over the course of the year, what I’ve been searching for, or what we define as happiness is, in essence, spirituality. Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues are not original; he, like every other self-help guru, borrowed heavily from religion. In Ben’s case it was Christianity. Personally, I’ve ignored Christianity for a long time. I prayed and attended mass and wakes, but those were passing motions; reading a book without understanding the words.

Deprivation tanks, mindfulness, meditation, being present, are not new concepts, not by a long-shot. There is a torrent in all of us, it has been recognized since the dawn of time. Today’s world does us no favors, and nor did it in antiquity. Sure the technology and stimulants have changed, but the fundamental concepts, mistakes, anxieties remain the same: children, family, security, work, life, sickness, death, etcetera. Then, as now, to weather any storm, one needed a strong foundation. Then, as now, the strongest foundation for humanity is virtue. This widely available secret is hidden in plain sight. The reason I had not seen it was twofold: 1) I had to want to change; and 2) I had to be willing to endure change. Maybe a third preceded the other two as well: I had to recognize that something was wrong. 

Two years ago, despite huge positives in my life, I felt my life was a mess — specifically anger and unhappiness dominated a very sullen outlook. Bright happy sparks would often get overwhelmed by darkness. There were many parts to this darkness: age (goodbye youth), (im)maturity, alcohol, self-image, reality vs. self-image, personal failures. Behind a quick smile and easy laugh was a sadness that impacted my wife, my job, my life. It’s easy to see how people fall into substance abuse — it’s an easy way to cover the pain.

The good thing about pain was that it alerted me something was wrong, something needed to change. The change was slow, incremental, and small, tiny modifications became ingrained habit that over a period of 12-18 months paid profound dividends. Nothing is perfect, it never will be, but I’ve been humbled by this experience and will continue it humbly into the future. I have found true worth here.

I have not become evangelized, I am not here to convert, but to reflect, and when I reflect honestly about Humility specifically, and virtues generally I can’t help but come back to spirituality. I look at the happy people, the content people, those who are put to rest peacefully and with great love. They have religion in their lives, family in their lives, children, friends, love. Some of us stumble, some of us find the bottom, and when you do find bottom, when you are ready for change, if you are ready, Imitate Jesus, or Socrates or Buddha or whomever. The secret to happiness has long been discovered.

Chastity Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q4

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Personal notes:

  • Everyone’s favorite week;
  • Life certainly is different now.

Short post this week for Chastity because in a way, there’s not much to say. I’ve given up on sex — no, not that way — but the other way: the way that was young, carefree and full of partners. Sex now is probably the quickest way to ruin: paying a woman to leave, a hidden online relationship, a dark hotel room. Sex has become dangerous. So for me, I think about chastity and understand the real value of the phrase “injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.” I could lose more than reputation — I could lose the people I see everyday.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q4

HumilityImitate Jesus and Socrates

Well, it’s been a year — can you believe it? — and next week’s post for Humility is the last. With all that’s going on in the world, we could all use a moment (and maybe more) to reflect on Humility.

Tranquility Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q4

Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Personal notes:

  • Trifles are life’s paper cuts;
  • A lot can be gained from taking a breath and letting go;
  • Focus on what matters.

It’s easy to say, “Be not disturbed at trifles,” when your daughter isn’t singing girl-pop at the top of her lungs, 6am Monday morning, before coffee, before you’re awake. It’s easy then. “Baboo-oo-oo-oons, I wish we could go our separate ways. Baboo-oo-oo-oons…” Have you ever heard a super, energetic 5 year old belt out Lion Guard? While you’re trying to write? While you’re trying to think? It takes significant self-restraint not to lash out. I wanted to lash out, but didn’t. I won that day, but not everyday. So I thought: When didn’t I win? When did the urge to lash out win? One month in particular stood out. 

I stopped writing one month because it was recommended to take some time off before editing — so I took a month off. Incrementally at first, but steadily, all the bad habits came back. I filled my time with the computer: consuming news, staring at portfolios, checking Facebook. Days passed, and I became angrier — significantly so. I felt like Saturday morning after too many Friday night scotches. But this time I couldn’t blame commuting, or job, or alcohol or lack of exercise. The problem was me — my mind. An idle mind and the devil and all that, it was true. The result: Tranquility slipped, and then all the other virtues slipped too.

I lost Tranquility. I lost the ability to remain calm, to refrain from snapping, to be happy. Nothing seemed worth keeping around. I lost it because I stopped writing, I stopped filling time with quiet. Writing quiets my mind; so does manual labor or cleaning (it’s funny but it’s true), and playing with my kids. When I stopped filling time with quiet, and replaced it with the shallow, it was like replacing a healthy meal with junk. It tasted good at first, but over time it took its toll, offered no sustenance. My world became chaotic, those closet to me became a burden; 12 months of progress were nearly wiped out by 1 month of regression. You really need to stay on your guard. An idle mind and the devil and all that.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q4

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”

Personal notes:

  • Everyone’s favorite week;
  • Life certainly is different now.

It’s Monday morning, the furthest thing from my mind is sex. Right now, all I want to do is to go back to bed. That would be better than sex, that and a washer/dryer in our apartment (our baby — the biological result of sex — was throwing up last night). Sex has changed in so many ways.

Don’t worry about being chaste this week. If you can sneak it in, I’m all for it! But maybe give a thought on how it has changed for you.

Have a great week

Cleanliness Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 10, Q4

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location.

Personal notes:

  • I feel terrible when frumpy, dirty or disheveled;
  • Clutter drives me crazy;
  • Pine needles are everywhere!

We love Christmas in our house. We love the decorations, the tree, the lights, the dishes, the ornaments — everything — but in the end, our love has an expiration date, and it’s about a week after New Years.

I think being unclean is great fun, temporarily. Camping, or a good workout, or playing with the kids — or Christmas clutter and holiday gluttony — feel great, but after some time, there is a deep seeded desire to get Clean. To get home and take a shower, to wear fresh clothes, to get rid of clutter, to eat clean food.

Enjoying the physical, the human, the temporal feels wonderful. Returning to Cleanliness feels better. It is a return to the spiritual. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q4

Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Personal notes:

  • Trifles are life’s paper cuts;
  • A lot can be gained from taking a breath and letting go;
  • Focus on what matters.

Trifles — tiny wounds that cause such terrible sting. But there is no injury. Just inconvenience. 

Moderation Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q4

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Moderate actions;
  • Moderate emotions;
  • Moderate when at your worst (tired, exhausted, hungover).

I snap at family — not strangers, not associates — but family. I used to wonder why, why the people I love? Then I realized I bottle anger and spill it at home. It’s easy to spill at home because it’s the ultimate safe space, where I’m comfortable and shielded from the world. It’s a mistake.

Moderation has been a focus of mine this past year. I’ve gotten better, but still have triggers. My ultimate trigger is my kids. They can bring out the best, and the worst in me. When it’s the worst, I try to take note. Here is that list.

  1. Electronics: I’m consistently amazed at how much worse my reactions are when using electronics. It is digital heroin. Yesterday morning I sipped tea while reading the news on my phone. My 2 year old came over for a hug, and spilled tea all over me — I lost it. When situations are unduly escalated, electronics are involved.
  2. Alcohol: I’ve significantly tempered back alcohol for a variety of reasons, but the main one is family. Hungover with children is the worst — I am also at my worst. My temper becomes extremely short and extra surly. I’ve seen fear in my daughter’s eyes. Had to cut this one down.
  3. Sleep: Young children are exhausting. Sometimes that exhaustion can lead to anger. Coffee is necessary, and TV can be a friend. I’ve learned to enjoy My Little Ponies.
  4. Hunger: Not so much me, but my wife and daughters are bears if they are hungry. Feed the bears.
  5. Exercise: I feel like shit if I don’t work out, and that makes me miserable. I’ve enjoyed martial arts — if you need to get rid of some anger, it’s best to take it out on angry, bearded men.
  6. Direction: Whether you call it direction, passion, or purpose. It’s a big one, it quiets all the inner voices swirling about. This year gave me direction, and it was the surest way to moderate my action. Sitting for hours writing at my desk quieted voices in a way that sitting at a desk for hours reading financial statements seemed to exacerbate them. It was an important, and unintended discovery. If you haven’t found it, it’s certainly worth the investment (a year or more) to find.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 10, Q4

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location.

Personal notes:

  • I feel terrible when frumpy, dirty or disheveled;
  • Clutter drives me crazy;
  • Pine needles are everywhere!

I haven’t showered yet, and feel gross. Time to get clean.

Justice Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 8, Q4

Justice: “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Personal notes:

  • Be true to others;
  • Act honorably;
  • Avoid expediency.

I threw away the first draft of this reflection because it was garbage. That’s indicative of my experience with Justice throughout the year. I’ve had a tough time with it. Not because I am an unjust person, but because the idea of Justice is too effusive and porous. What is Justice? The word is thrown around loosely and repeatedly, its essence and glimmer worn away.

Essentially, there is big Justice: high courts, marble columns, great acts of humanity; and small Justice: treatment of strangers, waiters, your fellow man. Inevitably, I wander to big Justice, and sound like a wind bag doing it — hence the first draft in the garbage. But what I didn’t realize is, I use big Justice to hide the small.

It turns out, I am not so Just — not so perfect. I can be quick to judge. I can lower my expectations of people based on their words, clothing, appearance. I can be mercilessly critical of those closest to me or most like me (the exact opposite of what one would expect). Punctuality, brands, tastes, all very minor things, can leave a very sour taste. I can despise people for it. I can write them off.

I’ve had a tough time with Justice because I’ve been lying to you, and lying to myself. I’m not unduly critical everyday, but often enough. It took a year of denial for me to realize it. When my mind swirls with rosy pictures of noble causes, it’s easy to convince myself that I am a just person. It’s a lie. A helpful lie, but a lie nonetheless. I hid behind the big, and lied about the small. I need to focus on the small. I need to come back to the day-to-day.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q3

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Moderate actions;
  • Moderate emotions;
  • Moderate at your worst (tired, exhausted, hungover).

Tired, exhausted, hungover — that’s how I feel. I love the season, but I’m always a little glad when the holidays are over. Finally, a chance to save money, a chance to eat less and drink less, a chance to moderate.

Sincerity Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 7, Q4

Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

Personal notes:

  • Such an important one to practice;
  • Especially with friends & family;
  • Be an open book to the ones you love.

Before this year, Sincerity was sorely lacking; brevity and levity, rather than “innocently and justly.”  The simple “you look beautiful” or “I love you,” was hidden, and shared a quarter of the time it was thought. The words were always there, shouted within, but crushed in their infancy. To clarify, these weren’t childish impulses or outrageous declarations, but mature, reasoned statements I could not say, and I could not understand why. Why keep such innocent thoughts locked away? Why is so much left unsaid?

We guard our true words and noble thoughts. We lock them away out of fear and shame. It takes courage to say these words, courage to let them see air. Paradoxically, we live in a world where it’s easy and expected to share glib, ignoble thoughts — quickly slipped into breath, free from hinderance and depth. Silence is a very big part of Sincerity. The more I was silent, the more my thoughts could settle and mature, the more I could distill what I meant to say, the more I could remember, remember my bearing, and remember to be just.

This past weekend, courage failed me. I saw my grandmother. She is dying. Most of what I wanted to say was left unsaid. Instead, I sat there and held her hand. That was all the Sincerity I could muster.  What was so scary about telling an old lady I love her, and that I am sad to see her go? I don’t know, but the words were trapped — I heard them in my mind, and felt them wither in my chest.

What is scary about telling a child you love them? Or that they make you happy? Nothing. Nothing is scary about it. I know because I say it every day to my children. Why then, is it scary to say these same words to an adult? Even one so close as your wife or grandmother. I don’t know. I certainly don’t have the answer. But I do know that after a year, I am getting better, getting closer. Sincerity is a paradox, it is born from restraint and silence and it takes courage to ensure it is not bound by them.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 8, Q4

Justice: “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Personal notes:

  • Be true to others;
  • Act honorably;
  • Avoid expediency.

As we approach the New Year, what could be a better than starting off with a promise to live a more Just life?

Industry Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 6, Q4

Industry: “Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cutoff unnecessary actions.

Personal notes:

  • Fully engage with what you’re doing; immerse yourself;
  • Shut off distractions;
  • Find fulfillment.

At my last job, I worked towards deadlines without interruption — “cutoff unnecessary actions” — but the work had no depth: good enough analysis that got the job done. Spare time in the pre-deadline lull was spent cruising the internet rather than learning or improving. I wouldn’t call it laziness, not at all. The problem was, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fake it; my heart wasn’t there. When I fall in love with something, it consumes. When I don’t, I move on. Work was an Industrious lie: shut out distractions, half-assed product.

When I completely give into something, I become absorbed by and obsess little details. I lose myself completely. Unfortunately, it can’t be manufactured. I’m amazed by folks who pick something up, anything, and find it fascinating. Honestly, I find it boring — call it a hangover from the military. Imagine trying to convince a wild animal the value of an industry report. Not going to happen. I’d sit there restlessly at my desk, like the tiger walking back and forth in its cage. It wasn’t a good feeling, but it was there, and as we eventually learn on Saturday mornings, you need to get past the hangover.

In the beginning, Bens13 left me hungover. I found it difficult to wake early on a Monday and write something of value. Grammar and composition were ok, but the reflections were half-assed. I wasn’t providing depth — not the depth you and I deserved — and I wasn’t in love with Bens. To be honest with you, I’m still not in love with Bens, but somewhere along the way, something changed. Over the past year I learned that I owe it to you and to myself, to do better. I owe readers, family, and friends better. This is not for the “A” chased by a wide-eyed college student, but the tired and haggard better of sincerity and sadness. I had to be better and, most importantly, I had to be honest.

Thanks to Bens, I think I got there, or at least started the journey. I learned that true Industriousness requires Depth. Even if you don’t like something, hate it actually, but have to get it done, you owe it to yourself and others to do it well. But more than that, when you work at something long enough, play with the words and rearrange the sentences, stare at the spaces and fill the crevices, somewhere along that road, something magical happens. Between the lines and the letters you find meaning, and there is no greater work than that which is meaningful.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 7, Q4

Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

Personal notes:

  • Such an important one to practice;
  • Especially with friends & family.

For me, the most important words for this week are: “think innocently.” When I think about those words, I think about my kids and how they make me feel. They make me feel like Christmas. What better time than now to be Sincere?

Frugality Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 5, Q4

Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.

Personal notes:

  • Only purchase necessary items;
  • Be cognizant of cost;
  • Give special attention to Christmas presents.

We did a lot this year to cut costs. I mean a lot. And I’d like to think Bens13 helped bring it into focus. The biggest item we cut was rent. We cut it by almost 50 percent! No joke – it was a major downsize – and the benefits weren’t just financial, there was a big decrease in anxiety (anxiety is still here, but more manageable). I still make mistakes though – I’m a sucker for the kids and good food – but, as my wife says, “We have to live,” and we are indeed living. If you want to know what we did, here are a few steps we took, but the biggest lesson we learned was the lesson to live smaller.

First, I made a pretty substantial spreadsheet with all our expenses. This is brutal — unless you love excel (nerd) — If you don’t love excel, it takes time to make, and you may want to research programs like Mint that’ll track expenses for you. Why was it important? To be honest, at first I thought it a waste, but then at year end I was appalled by some of our totals. They were jaw-dropping. If you’re a Starbucks junkie, make Starbucks a line item, and then imagine the Caribbean vacation you could have taken with that three grand. We grind our coffee at home now.

Tracking our expenses manually was more painful, but it forced me to focus on trends and outflows. For us, the most substantial costs were our fixed costs. Yes, we cut cable and saved money in other places — 20% Amazon Subscribe & Save, Verizon family plan, etcetera — but the big money was fixed: rent, car, student loans and a few others. If you can cut one of those, it makes a big impact. For us, it was our rent but we targeted additional fixed costs. Without going through all the specifics: we paid down credit card debt; paid off the balance each month; found a card with good cash rewards (we use Amex Blue 6% back for groceries, pays for the card and then some); and got interest on student loans below 4%. We used SOFI.

We rent because it’s favorable for us to do so (check out this handy NYTimes calculator to find out what’s best for you). The problem was our first apartment. It was super nice but too big for what we needed. As a result, we were needlessly throwing away money while funding our jackass landlord’s vacations. Downsizing was necessary but tough. Moves are demanding and expensive, but it’s already paid for itself. Most importantly, it taught us we don’t really need what we thought we did. We are far happier in this smaller space then when our kids had a playroom, a backyard, and plenty of space they didn’t use. They didn’t want any of that, we did, they just wanted us.

Aside from rent and credit cards, the other fixed costs were tough to trim. We need our car (a modest Mazda), childcare and insurance. Medical and dental trips seem to (always) pop-up. One-time miscellaneous costs are actually every month. And little feet don’t stop growing. We also found it helpful to increase our cash reserve/savings by automating as much as possible. We automated to the point we’re almost stressed by the monthly budget. But the pain is worthwhile (we were able to save a lot in a short period) and it forced us to be hyper vigilant about the small stuff.

It’s fair to say we don’t have everything under control — I think that’s impossible — but we’re on the right path and have successfully saved this year. The one thing I would emphasize above all else is to live smaller. We thought we deserved certain rewards, we felt we earned a bigger space, we made a lot of excuses. We convinced ourselves because we wanted (not needed) the big and fancy. Now that our space is smaller, the girls are happier, our bills are manageable and our savings increased, we realize how much better smaller could be.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 6, Q4

Industry: “Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cutoff unnecessary actions.

Personal notes:

  • Fully engage with what you’re doing;
  • Immerse yourself;
  • Shut off distractions;
  • Find fulfillment.

Super tough to do as the Holidays bear down on us, but essentially necessary to survive. Good luck getting through these next few days. May Industry be your guide. 

Resolution Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 4, Q4

Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Personal notes:

  • Determine key tasks this week;
  • Ignore unnecessary items;
  • Act with purpose.

Not gonna lie, writing this blog was difficult. Took a lot of Resolve to get here: One year commitment; How much to reveal each week; How honest to be; 5 am Monday morning; etcetera. To be honest, I wasn’t always completely honest; some things were better left unsaid, or said over quiet conversation. Most posts were transparent, some weren’t – especially Chastity. Chastity was best left unsaid, or said to my wife over quiet conversation. What I can say is this, when I started this project, I didn’t realize the Resolve it would require to get here, but I’m glad I committed to you, and I’m glad you had the Resolve to help me through. In fact, the only thing that kept me going was you. Thank you. Stating a goal publicly was one thing. Knowing folks were reading this was another.

Resolve to perform what you ought. Over the year, I realized this project was something I ought to do. I was holding onto too much anger from the past and became anchored to it. For me, it was the military; I defined myself in that mold and didn’t achieve my goals. It’s hard to write, but for the past 10 years I’ve felt guilt and anger. I was ashamed I wasn’t with my closest friends at the times of their greatest peril. I’ve shared this with a few folks, and a good friend once told me: “That right there is something you need to just get over.” He was right but, until this year, I didn’t have a framework to get over it.

Quitting is easy. I’ve thought that many times. I’ve thought about quitting this blog. Every other week I’d say: no one’s reading this nonsense; who cares if I don’t finish; half of it is crap anyway. The problem with Quitting is that it is easy, and it feels great in the short term. Quit something once and it’s terribly easy to quit again; it becomes a drug of choice. I’m not talking about quitting a miserable job/relationship/situation, I’m talking about quitting ‘the good’ — where you give up on the good in your life because it becomes difficult. Stray onto that darker path and it’s increasingly difficult to get right. Quitting becomes subconscious; self-destructive decisions prompt others to quit you.

Resolve is a hard one, especially compared to the short term rewards of giving up, but if you choose to persevere, there are rich rewards. Perform without fail what you resolve. I view this year as one of the most rewarding I have had in a very long time. Resolving to take a year of reflection has truly helped put a lot of this pain behind me and helped gain new appreciation, and love, for friends, family and life. Getting there was not easy; but I can say without fail, I’m glad I did it. Everything has changed for the better: not over-confident, not over-sure, not perfect, but grounded, happier and in a place to navigate life without self-destructing. For me, the key to Resolve was making it public, finding support, and forcing repeat. Repeat until it becomes habit, and Resolution becomes Disposition.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 5, Q4

Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.

Personal notes:

  • Only purchase necessary items;
  • Be cognizant of cost;
  • Give special attention to Christmas presents.

Great to keep this one in mind as the Holidays approach. Drinks, dinners, presents, decorations, trees: the list goes on. Focus on being generous and charitable; don’t focus on buying the biggest and shiniest. 

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