Monthly Archives: April 2005

Resistence to Change and Importance of Emotions

An awesome post over at the great Creating Passionate Users blog on how change is vital to people and organizations (duh) but how we are hard wired in our brains to resist change. The way to overcome this challenge is to introduce positive, intrinsic emotions instead of relying on simple logic or facts. This resonates with me. I’ll be at a party and a peer from school will be smoking a cigarette. I will ask him, “Are you nuts?” I’ve never understood teens who start smoking a cigarette or two a day and think they’ll just quit in a year.

For so many years, we thought of emotions as something to be down played, poo-poo’d. We thought: hey, we’re human beings with a big brain, using our logic we can live better lives. Now we know better: emotions are key to learning, memory, decision making, and to changing our behavior.

Facts don’t really make a huge difference in people’s behavior. I think this is surprising to people because we believe, intellectually, that knowing a fact (e.g. smoking is bad for you) should be enough to change your behavior. But it’s not! Proof positive: we’ve known for years that smoking is really bad for you, but people do it anyway. Facts are interpreted within a frame, as the article calls it. This frame is the existing structure and wiring of our brains. If we are told a fact that doesn’t fit in with that frame, then we simply ignore it or choose not to believe it.

Link: Creating Passionate Users: Change — or lose your mind.

Facilitating a Discussion on World Intervention

Last week I was asked to co-facilitate a discussion section at my school on world intervention during world crises – specifically, the Rwanda genocide and how the international community let that happen. A faculty member got a Fulbright-Hays grant last summer to travel to Rwanda and study the culture. This discussion was modeled around what is called “popular education” – where the people have both the questions and answers.

When thinking about world intervention, there are some obvious questions that are hard to answer. Does the United States have a moral or economic obligation to step in and help resolve international crises? If so, how do we decide where to lend aid? Should we only be focusing our efforts at those areas from which we have some gain ourselves (e.g. Iraq and oil)?

After the Holocaust we said “never again.” After Rwanda we said “never again.” Now, as Darfur is exploding, we are saying “never again.” I sense a pattern that I don’t like.

This Blog and Google Results

I laughed when I got an email last week from a marketing guy at Sports Illustrated magazine wanting to know how/why this blog was the #1 result for a Google search for “sports illustrated blog” (no quotes). I responded saying I had an insider deal with Google. Other than this post when I quoted some very funny excerpts from a Sports Illustrated issue, there should be no other reason why I come before the actual company itself.

Similarly, a woman from Scripps College came across my blog after a Google search for “college admissions blog.” Unfortunately, Scripps is a women’s college, but in our exchange I did encourage to start a blog with an “insider’s look” at the college admissions process.

Link: Google Search: sports illustrated blog .

What To Read in the Times Today

A great Sunday morning of NYT reading. Don’t miss:

1. David Brooks’ Column – Even though I would opt for happier years due to great health than a few more years of obsesity-induced depression, this is a funny take on the latest nutrition study that says people slightly overweight may live longer than skinny people.

Mostly, I’m happy on an existential level. I like to be reminded that the universe is basically crooked. This is what the zero-tolerance brigades and all the better living gurus never quite get. They’re busy trying to mold everybody into lifelong valedictorians, who spend their adulthood as carb counters and responsible flossers – the sort of organized folk who actually read legal documents before they sign them…In reality, life is perverse and human beings don’t get what they deserve. The people with the worst grades start the most successful businesses. The shallowest people end up blissfully happy and they are so vapid they don’t even realize how vapid they are because vapidity is the only trait that comes with its own impermeable obliviousness system. The people regarded as lightweights, like F.D.R., J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan, make the best presidents, while you – so much more thoughtful and better read – would be a complete disaster. Life isn’t fair, logic is of limited value and, as Woody Allen observed years ago, everything your parents once thought was good for you turns out to be bad for you: sun, milk, red meat and college.

2. Aural History – In the “Reading File,” an excerpt from an article in Smithsonian about a project to preserve distinctive sounds.

Much of the richness of life is absorbed through the ear. And much of the clash and chaos, too. From a mother’s lullaby to the drumroll of thunder from an approaching storm to the cacophony of car horns in a traffic jam, the sounds of our lives help define our lives…But unlike spotted owls and snail darters, endangered sounds have few advocates.

3. Watching TV Makes You SmarterSteven Johnson’s article adapted from his new book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.

4. Book Review: End of Poverty – Reviewed by Chicago prof and blogger Daniel Drezner. I will be reading the book soon.

5. Book Review (Education Life): Art of Teaching – Being a good teacher inside or outside of a classroom is a marvelous skill. This is a brief review of a Middlebury prof’s new book The Art of Teaching.

6. Education Life: The Unpopular Major – I’ve always found people who majored in something wacky – say, religious studies or philosophy – far more interesting than your yet-another Poli Sci major.

Book: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

I finished A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace which is a collection of writings from “one of his generation’s pre-eminent talents.” That Wallace is brilliant has never been a question; he received a MacArthur Fellowship which is basically $500k paid out over 5 years with no strings attached, no reporting requirements, etc. to people who are contributing to society.

The book is a collection of seven pieces ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner. Each piece is lively, well written, and often contains some deeper meaning that can be lost amidst Wallace’s jest. He can take what would otherwise be a few page overview of a tennis tournament, and turn it into a 25 page romp that begs the question, “Would have ever been able to grasp that much detail?” Since reading the essays I’ve noticed myself observing tiny Wallace-esque details at, say, the coffee shop. If you like hilarious nonfiction essays that turn the seemingly trivial into the fascinating, read this book.

Is It Immoral to be Unhappy?

This morning I saw this provocative post by Auren Hoffman which asked, “Is it immoral to be unhappy?” He refers to the extremely lucky in the world (ie people who have the capacity to read blogs) as the “blessed class.”

Imagine an unblessed person. Imagine what they think when they see someone who is blessed, who has everything … yet is still unhappy. They’ll think you are crazy … insane … because you have it all.

So today at lunch I posed this question to some friends: “We have unlimited opportunities in this world and amazingly lucky, so guys, is it immoral to be unhappy?” The response came: “I think there’s a difference between being appreciative and being happy. I can be appreciative for what I have but not happy.” My response: “But are you truly appreciative if what you have can’t make you happy?” Hmm…

All Hail Benedict!

I was named “Benedict” after my great great uncle Benedict Arnold, the great American traitor. I tell this story often so I was pleased when people came into my English class “Ben, the new pope has chosen the name Benedict!!!” I was thrilled. Along these lines, the Baby Name Wizard NameVoyager is a great site that shows how popular your names (and others) were/are at different points in history.

Link: German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Elected Pope.

Fitting an Impossible Ideal

I have never been in such a pressure cooked environment in my life. Two more SATs, APs, final exams, and final papers all converge over the next 6 months. Seniors are getting rejected from colleges and, amazingly, you only hear about the couple dozen kids who are going Ivy League. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle did a front page story on the results from the SAT I and tens of thousands of others took last month. My college counselor was quoted extensively in addition to a mini-profile of a guy in my class who got a perfect score of 2400 – 1 of 100 in the country. What are lunch time discussions? People printing out US News rankings; people saying they just want to become a lawyer and make money; people blurting out “Geeze, if so-and-so had perfect SATs and 4.0 GPA and got waitlisted from Harvard, what are they looking for?” My classmate Elena Butler summed up her gripes in this eloquent post:

It’s dehumanizing. At times, I feel like I’m just another case study. My scores, my grades, even my extracurriculars/interests (that supposedly make me unique) just make me more like everyone else. In other words, all my curiosity, passions, and energy now seem two-dimensional.

I can’t be the kid who is an athlete and a musician, has straight A’s, a 2400, and a life (though I can be his best friend). Instead, I’ve realized that I want nothing more in my life than to effect change, either through an idea, invention, or discovery. But right now, I feel boring. I think this is because the college process has fostered in me the desire to fit an impossible ideal.

I only hope this desire does not recur in my life–after all, it’s nonconformity, not conformity, that wins out in the end.

Great Leaders/Doers Drink Tea and Eat Wheat Bread

Think of the people you know who are coffee-addicts. I think of people who rely on artificial energy boosts, who get 2 hours of sleep, and people who are “good” but not “great.” I think of sleazy salespeople.

In my experience people who drink tea are the “great” leaders. A) Tea is very healthy for you and herbal teas have been proven to decrease the risk of certain diseases. B) There’s a soothing factor involved with inhaling the aroma of an herbal tea and, for me, part of my “active meditation” routine. You can drink tea all day long which is important for those of us who do a lot of talking.

Here’s another proposition: wheat bread shows character. (Ok, I may be taking this too far.) Back in the day I would chow down Wonder bread without thinking twice. Adults who I respected kept telling me “Eat wheat, it’s better for you.” I didn’t understand them. Now I do. I’m addicted to 100% whole grain wheat. I want wheat for my sandwiches and wheat English muffins.

I’m not as smart as Steven Levitt and his brilliant explanations for the “hidden side of everything” (see Freakonomics) but hey – I tried.

Moral Sense Test (MST): Test Your Moral Intuitions

Link: Moral Sense Test (MST): Test Your Moral Intuitions.

This is a very interesting Harvard research test to see how you make moral choices. The scenarios are all pretty similar – if a train was screeching out of control with five passengers and the only way to stop it was to throw a heavy object in front of it, and the only heavy object is the heavy man standing next to you, would you throw the man in front of the train, killing the man but saving the five passengers? Take the test and realize how tricky – and inconsistent – you may be in moral choices.