Empathy is always a risk

A few selfies in front of Tokyo Tower or the temples of Kyoto won’t be enough to understand the Japanese people. To understand them, you must be willing to live with them, eat their food, work alongside them.

This is one reason, perhaps, why the arrogant end up with few genuine friendships. How can you connect with someone when you think you know everything there is to know?

Empathy is always a risk. On one hand, we risk asking the wrong questions and, as a result, hurting or insulting someone. On the other hand, we risk creating a connection, an emotional two-way street we cannot close, that forces us to feel someone else’s pain and suffering.

Charles Chu writing in Medium 

Policing people’s grammar online is never really about grammar

One of the many unexpected side effects of the internet is that it’s shown us just how many people appear to lose the capacity for emotional self-regulation when confronted with a misused semicolon. Scroll through the comments section of any publication or simply sign on to Twitter, and you’ll find plenty of examples of people who treat typos and grammatical errors not just as ordinary mistakes, but as a kind of moral offense.

When a grammar stickler obsesses over the proper placement of an apostrophe in a Facebook status or a blog post, they’re not engaging with the actual content. How many times have we seen an online commenter whose only remark on a post about the author’s struggles with body image is “It’s their not there,” or a Twitter acquaintance who proudly screenshots a typo in a New York Times article on science education? The instinct to publicly criticize and police linguistic errors is also a way to avoid wading into the muck of other people’s thoughts and feelings, and redirect the conversation back toward oneself.

Because young or poor or immigrant populations are often among those who may not conform to traditional English grammar and spelling and punctuation usage, focusing on linguistic deviations can reinforce the barriers of privilege.

Sarah Todd writing in Quartz

a Call for Help

Asking for help is smart. It's also the answer to fatigue and the "I'm indispensable" image. But something keeps us from this wise course of action, and that something is pride. Plain, stubborn unwillingness to admit need. The result, painful though it is to admit, is a lifestyle of impatience. We become easily irritated- often angry. We work long hours. Take less time off. Forget how to laugh. Cancel vacations. And all the while the specter of discouragement looms across our horizon like a dark storm front,- threatening to choke out any remaining sunshine.

Say, my friend, it's time to declare it. You are not the Messiah of the twentieth century! There is no way you can keep pushing your life at that pace and expect to stay effective. Analyze yourself any way you please, you are H-U-M-A-M... nothing more. So? So slow down. So give yourself a break. So stop trying to cover all the bases and sell popcorn in the stands at the same time. So relax for a change!

Charles Swindoll, Encourage Me

Go Take a Hike

A century ago, economists believed that you could predict how poor someone was by how much he or she worked. The whole point of earning wealth, they argued, was that it afforded you less toil and more downtime. But somewhere in the annals of America’s workaholic culture, putting in inhuman hours at your job became a status symbol, especially for the elite.

Today’s high-flying executives are some of the worst offenders. Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3:45 a.m. each day to fire off work emails, and is often the first one in the office and the last one to leave. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has bragged about pulling all-nighters at her desk.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban once didn’t take a vacation for seven years. These executives continue to put in grueling 100-hour workweeks long after they’ve made more money than they could hope to spend in a lifetime. Why? Because in our work-obsessed society, busyness has become something that we aspire to. It signals that we are in demand, and that our time has value.

You could argue these executives are doing what they love, and that meaningful work provides a real sense of fulfillment. But all that industriousness probably isn’t making them more creative or productive. Some of history’s most accomplished figures across science, math, and literature—people like Charles Darwin, Henri Poincaré, and Charles Dickens—insisted on working just four or five hours a day. The rest of their mornings and afternoons were filled with long walks and other leisurely pursuits that recharged their mental batteries and gave rise to creative ideas.

Studies of exceptional performers and athletes reveal similar work/rest patterns, with just a few hours a day of serious, focused effort. No one expects corporate America to suddenly start breaking for afternoon naps. But the next time your colleague sends an urgent 10 p.m. email, you might tell him, quite literally, to go take a hike.

Carolyn O’Hara, The Week magazine

Accepting the Gift

A friend once told me, "Everything worth anything is hard." That proverb is true in many areas of life, but we've got to abandon it briefly if we want to grasp and embrace God’s grace. It comes freely. You can't earn it. A part of us rebels against such lavish and reckless generosity. It sounds noble to say, “I don't want anything handed to me that I don't deserve. I work for what I get.” But if you earn it, the spotlight shifts from God's graciousness.. to your own striving and accomplishment.

Are you anxious and "tied up in knots" today? You know can’t be good enough. You know you don’t measure up. You don’t deserve to be happy or fulfilled or forgiven. But there's good news. When we come to the end of ourselves and let go.. we are set free and can truly relax in grace. There’s not a thing we can do to make God love us any more.. or any less.

Stephen Goforth

We are Lousy Self-evaluators

A stranger walks into a room and sits down behind a table. He picks up a piece of paper and read aloud a generic-sounding weather report. He completes his “report” in about 90 seconds and walks out of the room.

Next, you’re asked to guess his IQ.

You’re part of a psychological experiment, and you object to the absurdity of the request. I don’t know anything about that guy. He just came into a room and read a report. It wasn’t even his report- you gave it to him to read! How am I supposed to know his IQ?

Reluctantly, you make a wild guess. Separately, Fake Weatherman is asked to guess his own IQ. Who made a better guess?

Amazingly, you did, even though you know nothing about Fake Weatherman. Two (German) psychologists.. conducted this experiment, and they found that the strangers’ IQ predictions were better than the predictions of those whose IQ was being predicted- about 66 percent more accurate.

To be clear, it’s not so much that you’re a brilliant predictor; it’s that he’s a lousy self-evaluator. We’re all lousy self-evaluators. College students do a superior job predicting the longevity of their roommates’ romantic relationships than their own.

Savor, for a moment, the preposterousness of these findings. Fake Weatherman has all the information, and you’ve got none. He’s got decades of data- year’s worth of grades, college entrance exams cores, job evaluations, and more. Fake Weatherman should be the worlds foremost expert on Fake Weatherman!

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

Finding our Preferred Facts

Most of us have ways of making other people confirm our favored conclusions without ever engaging them in conversation. Consider this: To be a great driver, lover, or chef, we don’t need to be able to parallel park while blindfolded, make ten thousand maidens swoon with a single pucker, or create a pâte feuilletée so intoxicating that the entire population of France instantly abandons its national cuisine and swears allegiance to our kitchen. Rather, we simply need to park, kiss, and bake better than most other folks do. How do we know how well most other folks do? Why, we look around, of course—but in order to make sure than we see what we want to see, we look around selectively.

For example, volunteers in one study took a test that ostensibly measured their social sensitivity and were then told that they had flubbed the majority of the questions. When these volunteers were then given an opportunity to look over the test results of other people who had performed better or worse than they had, they ignored the test of the people who had done better and instead spent their time looking over the tests of the people who had done worse.

The bottom line is this: The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Humility

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people CALL ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Are you Average?

The last thirty years of research shows just about all of us think we are more competent than our coworkers, more ethical than our friends, friendlier than the general public, more intelligent than our peer, more attractive than the average person, less prejudiced than people in our region, younger-looking than people the same age, better drivers than most people we know, better children than our siblings, and that we will live longer than the average lifespan.

(As you just read that list, maybe you said to yourself, “No, I don’t think I’m better than everyone.” So you think you’re more honest with yourself than the average person? You are not so smart.)

No one, it seems, believes he or she is part of the population contributing to the statistics generating averages. You don’t believe you are an average person, but you do believe everyone else is. This tendency, which springs from self-serving bias, is called the illusory superiority effect.

In 1999, Justin Kruger at the New York University Stern School of Business showed illusory superiority was more likely to manifest in the minds of subject when they were told ahead of time a certain task was easy. When they rated their abilities after being primed to think the task was considered simple, people said they performed better than average. When he then told people where were about to perform a task that was difficult they rated their performance as being below average even when it wasn’t . No matter the actual difficulty, just telling people ahead of time how hard the undertaking would be changed how they saw themselves in comparison to an imagined average. To defeat feelings of inadequacy, you first have to imagine a task as being simple and easy. If you can manage to do that, illusory superiority takes over.

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart

How We See Ourselves

You pay attention to the successes and failures of friends more than you do to those of strangers. You compare yourself to those who are close to you in order to judge your own worth. In other words, You know Barack Obama and Johnny Depp are successful, but you don’t use them to as a standard for your own life to the degree you do coworkers, fellow students, friends you’ve know since high school.

(Researchers) had students list the number of people they considered friends and then asked if the subjects believed they had more friends than did their peers and more friends than the average student. Thirty-five percent of the students said they had more friends than the typical student, and 23 percent said they had fewer. This better-than-average feeling was enhanced when considering their peers- 41 percent said they had more friends ship than did the peers they considered to be their friends. Only 16 percent said they had fewer. On average, everyone things they are more popular than you, and you think you are more popular than them.

Sure, some of your faults are just too obvious, even to you but you compensate for those by inflating what you like most about you. When you compare your skills, accomplishments, and friendships with those of others, you tend to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You are a liar by default, and you lie most to yourself. If you fail, you forget it. IF you win, you tell everyone. When it comes to being honest with yourself and those you love, you are not so smart

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart

Humility

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people CALL ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

How We See Ourselves

You pay attention to the successes and failures of friends more than you do to those of strangers. You compare yourself to those who are close to you in order to judge your own worth. In other words, You know Barack Obama and Johnny Depp are successful, but you don’t use them to as a standard for your own life to the degree you do coworkers, fellow students, friends you’ve know since high school.

(Researchers) had students list the number of people they considered friends and then asked if the subjects believed they wad more friends than did their peers and more friends than the average student. Thirty-five percent of the students said they had more friends than the typical student, and 23 percent said they had fewer. This better-than-average feeling was enhanced when considering their peers- 41 percent said they had more friends ship than did the peers they considered to be their friends. Only 16 percent said they had fewer. On average, everyone things they are more popular than you, and you think you are more popular than them.

Sure, some of your faults are just too obvious, even to you but you compensate for those by inflating what you like most about you. When you compare your skills, accomplishments, and friendships with those of others, you tend to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You are a liar by default, and you lie most to yourself. If you fail, you forget it. IF you win, you tell everyone. When it comes to being honest with yourself and those you love, you are not so smart.

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart

Your #1 (Psychological) Priority

To determine your #1 priority ask yourself, “What am I trying to avoid?”

What you are trying to avoid: Stress

#1 priority: comfort

How Others May feel: irritated or annoyed

The price you pay: reduced productivity

What you are trying to avoid: Rejection

#1 priority: pleasing

How Others May feel: accepting

The price you pay: stunted growth

What you are trying to avoid: Unexpected Humiliation

#1 priority: control

How Others May feel: challenged

The price you pay: social distance, reduced spontaneity

What you are trying to avoid: Meaninglessness

#1 priority: superiority

How Others May feel: inadequate

The price you pay: overburdened or over responsible

What you are trying to avoid: Pride

#1 priority: humility

How Others May feel: blessed

The price you pay: die to self

Commercial Culture’s Substitute for Love

Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.

Its first line of defense is to commodify its enemy. You can all supply your own favorite, most nauseating examples of the commodification of love. Mine include the wedding industry, TV ads that feature cute young children or the giving of automobiles as Christmas presents, and the particularly grotesque equation of diamond jewelry with everlasting devotion. The message, in each case, is that if you love somebody you should buy stuff.

A related phenomenon is the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb “to like” from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving.

The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)

But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick

Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.

And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.

I may be overstating the case, a little bit. Very probably, you’re sick to death of hearing social media disrespected by cranky 51-year-olds. My aim here is mainly to set up a contrast between the narcissistic tendencies of technology and the problem of actual love. My friend Alice Sebold likes to talk about “getting down in the pit and loving somebody.” She has in mind the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard.

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self

The big risk here, of course, is rejection. We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived. Even just to say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my 30s” is to consign yourself to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources. Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.

The fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

Jonathan Franzen, Kenyon College 2011 Commencement speech

owning the failure, too

We humans are the victims of an asymmetry in the perceptions of random events. We attribute our successes to our skills, and our failures to external events outside our control, namely to randomness. We feel responsible for the good stuff but not for the bad. This causes us to think that we are better than other at whatever we do for a living.

Nassim Taleb, The Black Swain

 

Shut up with your cynical, I’ve-seen-some-things attitude

You’re at the beginning of your life with the entire world in front of you. Whatever happened before reaching this point is done and unchangeable. What lies ahead is entirely up to you. Get the chip off your shoulder and walk on. Allow your past to be a source of strength and direction, not the thing that keeps you from moving on with your life.

Alex McDaniel

Mental shortcuts work until problems get complex

Franck Schuurmans, a guest lecturer at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, has captivated audiences with explanations of why people make irrational business decisions. A simple exercise he uses in his lectures is to provide a list of 10 questions such as, “In what year was Mozart born?” The task is to select a range of possible answers so that you have 90 percent confidence that the correct answer falls in your chosen range. Mozart was born in 1756, so for example, you could narrowly select 1730 to 1770, or you could more broadly select 1600 to 1900. The range is your choice. Surprisingly, the vast majority choose correctly for no more than five of the 10 questions. Why score so poorly? Most choose too narrow bounds. The lesson is that people have an innate desire to be correct despite having no penalty for being wrong.

Gary Cokins writing for icrunchdata News

Proof that "experts "overclaim" what they know

New research reveals that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts, a phenomenon known as "overclaiming." The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In one set of experiments, the researchers tested whether individuals who perceived themselves to be experts in personal finance would be more likely to claim knowledge of fake financial terms.

As expected, people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.

"The more people believed they knew about finances in general, the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms," psychological scientist Stav Atir of Cornell University, first author on the study, says. "The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography."

"For instance," Atir explains, "people's assessment of how much they know about a particular biological term will depend in part on how much they think they know about biology in general."

In another experiment, the researchers warned one set of 49 participants that some of the terms in a list would be made up. Even after receiving the warning, the self-proclaimed experts were more likely to confidently claim familiarity with fake terms.

from Science Daily

What know-it-alls don’t know

Know-it-alls can be insufferable, and now there’s new evidence that they know less than they’d have you believe. Researchers from Cornell and Tulane universities found that self-proclaimed experts are more prone to “overclaiming”—essentially, pretending to have extensive knowledge of something they’re clueless about. In the study, 100 volunteers were asked to rate their level of knowledge in various subjects, such as biology, literature, and personal finance. When quizzed on 15 different economic terms, the people who fancied themselves financial gurus were far more likely to claim they were familiar with phenomena such as “pre-rated stocks” and “fixed-rate deduction” that were actually complete fictions. Tests on the other topics revealed similar results—even when participants were warned that some terms would be phony. “Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple,” researcher Stav Atir tells Science Daily, “particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.”

The Week Magazine, August 7, 2015