Monday, February 27, 2012

Friendship, Technology, and Fear.

I'm not sure I've ever learned how to be a good friend.

Does this mean I'm not a good person?


Even online personality profiles tell me I'm less kind than average. I don't feel less kind. So this must mean I act less kind.

This is why I think it would be great if everyone had their own reality TV show for a few days, once a year. We'd get to learn so much more about ourselves by going to videotape.

If it's become standard in professional sports to do all this analysis after a big game, or during training, then why not for everyday people facing everyday problems? I think we could really benefit from that feedback, with or without a coach.

But most people are probably more socially adept than I. I think I'm okay much of the time, but I am making up for a lack of emotional connectivity with intellect and rote tricks.

Maybe we all feel this way? I think this is another place technology, and the 'Primer' mindset, can help. Do others feel like I do? Well, a blog crawler could easily tabulate keywords and associated phrases.

Imagine the relief: "Well, no, not everybody thinks like you think. Not everyone feels what you feel. But 64% of the 30 Million active bloggers in the world have expressed similar things to what you are right now."

Forer effect is a really good sign that most people's fears and beliefs are pretty universal. It's why I feel comfortable, when data is lacking, to use personal anecdote as a guide rule in how I approach problems. If I imagine myself in a certain position, I can usually get an idea of what a person is feeling or how they are going to act.

But it takes a lot of work on my part. It is not intuitive. And, I often just wind up stuck in my own head, or my own problems, and I end up walling myself off from others, despite my best intentions otherwise. I am not good at sustaining the effort. And I wind up upsetting my friends while I'm trying to empathize with them. I either wind up some sort of overbearing problem-solver or a distant sociopath. But Your Mileage May Vary.

I recently upset a good friend. I didn't mean to. I was trying to understand her predicament, because I sensed a lot of turmoil in her life that kinda tasted like impending doom. But maybe it was just impending upheaval and change. I tend to be wary of extreme change. It's an aspect of my fear of extremism in all forms.

But I upset this friend while trying to puzzle out what she was thinking, how she was doing what she is doing. I don't know if I threatened her independence, or ruined her concept of me with naivete, or what. But I tried my best to send the sort of message I would like to receive. And it didn't go over too well.

Maybe I just need more instant replays, so I can master my swing, through better feedback on results. But I hit a foul ball.

If I can't even figure out how to communicate with myself, how am I supposed to do it with someone different? Someone who has different sensitivities and problems, who has lived a completely different life from my own?

And so we are not all alike. We are all completely different. Which is another reason we need algorithms and computers to help us. They can guide us on how we are different. "64% of people expressed a similar keyword phrase to what you are feeling, but of those, a 42% majority used this synonymous expression, and only .001% said it with your language and phraseology."

You are a unique and beautiful snowflake.

There are ways you can help yourself and others that are amazingly universal to all humans.

We just have to figure out the intersection of the two. Or, I do. Because I have a hard time empathizing intuitively.

I am very afraid.

My brain is fogging up, cutting out like a faulty hard disk. I kept spacing out last night. I told myself I was tired. I meditated. I slept nine hours. I drank two cups of coffee. I'm still nervous & weird and having a difficult time focusing. What's going on?

Somebody help!

But the lines are down. I am nervous about repeating past social disasters. I am told that interacting positively with other people is necessary to feel good. Work is probably a good place for this. But when I can't maintain focus and build rapport, I tend to find I am burning bridges as fast as I can build them. I turn into the hot mess. Which is a problem.

At my workplace, there is a lack of reliability. There's a certain tendency toward flakiness. I am definitely part of this. Overcoming my fears would help immensely. So I work at this. I try to be open and communicative. I do my best to be kind and available. Sometimes this comes across as strange.

Again, it would help to get feedback. I'd like to know: What am I doing that weirds people out or makes them distrustful? Let's go further- is it all in my head? If I just went into work and smiled and nodded through everything, would it all work out?

I tend to think I am functioning at a much-reduced capability. But maybe others don't notice. I am told others don't notice, but then the way people interact with me seems to change dramatically. Huh? What is going on?

I'm sorry, I had to call in sick to work today. My head hurts. But I don't have a headache. I have the heeby-jeebies. I have the fear.

I have the brain-fog chronice fatigue syndrome. I have the lack-of-willing syndrome. I have the obsessively internal cannot stop thinking syndrome.

I have the I-don't-know-what.

So tell me, what's going on?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Intelligence Quotient?

Seems kinda weird to brag about your IQ. Because someone smart enough to have a sufficiently high IQ to brag about, should know that bragging is only the most hollow form of social achievement.

"...the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status." -Stephen Jay Gould

If one wishes to ice that unhappiness cake: "The ceiling of most standardized (validated and normed) intelligence tests is at around the 99.9th percentile."

So, congratulations, you've distanced yourself from nine-hundred and ninety-nine people out of a thousand who could be your friends, allies, supporters. But in a chaotic world of 7 billion people, that's a pretty lousy measure of individuality, considering how narrow in scope an IQ test is to begin with. If you're one-in-a-million, there's eight of you in New York. If you're bragging about your IQ, there's too many to count. (I wanted to include links here to how people and corvids can both only count to about seven (not 7 million or 8 thousand), and it's our ability to use language that lets us count any higher, but I can't find the links and have to get to work!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From Feedback to Kaizen: reflecting on Richard Feynman

Yesterday, I started telling our new Director of Sales about my father's guiding rules. These are simple concepts that take a lot of thought and effort to truly understand (in the sense that you can effectively apply them), but they are easy to carry around. These memes take up little space in the noggin.

Examples I gave included "feedback on results" and "design controls". It occurred to me that these were systems my father used not to fool himself. This reminded me of a 'speech' by Richard Feynman, the brilliant humanist and scientist.

He said,
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are
the easiest person to fool."

A recent article spoke of the importance of fact-checking. I think the article's view is old and tired. Let's all be each other's fact checkers! But on the other hand, what she is saying is a very exciting idea. She is suggesting a much more democratic process than traditional human discourse. But how do we fact-check each other?

Well, one thing that really pissed me off as I grew out of school (figuratively, as I am only 6' tall, but dropped out of highschool at 16) was how woefully underprepared it left me for being a human being. I knew there was stuff that was much more important to my day-to-day life, that somehow other people were learning and I wasn't.

"But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves--of
having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something
that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that
I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis."

well, it turns out all this stuff other people were learning was not this. Somehow I caught on to the integrity of not fooling myself. I got it by osmosis from my father and ran off screaming on an exciting adventure. I took not-fooling-yourself to absurd extremes, then realized they weren't that absurd. I realized that RPF was talking about science, but that not-fooling-yourself as a human is much harder. We're designed to fool ourselves. We don't even have the words to describe this deep introspective process. I went cave diving into my own underpinnings with a very weak guide line to find my way back out. I'm pretty sure I nearly went nuts.

Well, I'm back.

And I'll tell you, we need a lot of clever people to tackle the world's problems today. RPF was a sharp guy, and I don't think he even thought to delve into the underpinnings of language, the Progress Paradox, the myriad ways we are now unraveling how we have been naturally selected for survival, not in this world we live in now, not for an optimal life, but as carriers for genes.

But damn, he sure came impressively close. Check out his speech here. If you like it, I suggest finding a copy of The Meaning of It All.

"The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. ... No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it. " -RPF

So we have some very good scientific principles for science, but we don't have very many good ones for living our lives.

So I leave you with a call-to-action! An extremist guiding rule of my own: Kaizen.

The zen philosophy of taking the smallest possible step forward. The idea of, when necessary, breaking every action into as many smaller actions as possible, and noting the progress of each nigh-imperceptable step. This is the concept of how to climb a mountain. One step at a time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I am the 100%.

I am the 100%. I believe there are 7 billion of us and nobody is escaping this planet anytime soon. I believe that every single person I have ever met is a good person, so I have no reason to believe anyone is evil.

I have seen the perpetration of evil. Lots of evil things occur every day. Many of them are the actions of individual. I believe even an individual who repeatedly commits evil is a good person. I think it is time we tried to understand a system that allows evil and suffering on a large scale, a system that allows us to ignore the suffering of our fellow man.

I believe in the future. Now is the best possible time to have ever lived. The world is beautiful. I want to understand that beauty. I want to share that beauty, even after I am dead. I know I will never see beauty the same way the other 7 billion do.

I am willing to work hard. I am working hard. I have not been given the tools I deserve. I feel this way about every other person, too. I wish I better understood each of them, and I wish I better knew how to bring them joy. I know we would work together, if we were able to understand each other.

I am willing to blame systems for problems. I am willing to blame ideas for problems. I am willing to blame icons and idols and actions for problems and I will point my finger at evil. I do not blame myself. I do not blame others.

I am not the 99%. I am not the 53%. I am not the 1%. I am a humanist. I will sacrifice, to help mankind live and learn in sustainable contentment. I am the 100%.