Assorted Musings

Quick thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots…

1. A recipe for good character? Be raised religious – absorb the good old-fashioned values of the 10 Commandments variety — and then become atheist later, and bask in rationality. My friend Dave generalized this observation to the following: “People who were raised with a strong value system of some kind, but then questioned the value system and decided for themselves their values and ethics, both (a) tend to choose value systems that you like and (b) live them relatively consistently.”

2. Among the many other benefits of playing team sports when young: You get used to people yelling at you and giving direct, brutally honest feedback. You are being constantly criticized. At every single one of the thousands of basketball practices I went to, I made mistakes, and somebody told me how I could improve.

3. When there is a crying baby sitting next to me on a plane, I am sometimes tempted to take off my sock, preferably sweaty, and tie it around its face and mouth. [Speaking of babies, why are black babies generally cuter than white ones?]

4. In a group setting with impressive people (conference, dinner party, etc) have a third person introduce each person instead of self-introductions. You can’t brag about yourself. A third party can.

5. It seems like we need some intermediate step after you graduate from a liberal arts college. There's college, in which you learn little about the real world, then right away the real world. Maybe four year colleges should offer a fifth year that is a super charged internship period / life skills bootcamp. I have long liked the Northeastern University co-op program

6. Theory: People who glorify "being different" were born normal. Normal people think being different is cool. People who are actually different spend most of their life trying to be normal.

7. Here's what I do when I visit new cities: I meet people. I was in New York one week and I met 17 people in five days. I didn't go to MOMA, or Central Park, or do any other tourist things. I sat in Starbucks and met people. To me what makes a city special are the people who live there. That's what I can't get at home. I can go to top museums or restaurants or parks in any big American city. And most of the tourist attractions in the U.S. don't interest me much. When I'm abroad, I spend less time meeting people and more time exploring, but I still find myself going into office buildings and meeting people.

8. Doubt the awesome power of peer pressure? Next time you’re at a crosswalk and someone starts jaywalking on a red light, notice how you feel.

9. The key characteristics of people who make good travel partners: flexibility, open-mindedness, low-keyness. When deciding whether to travel with someone emphasize these characteristics over your overall closeness with the friend.

10. Sometimes asking a direct question about an abstract concept can be effective. For example, in a job interview, you could ask a candidate,  “Do you have self-confidence?” and see how he responds. The answer is in the body language and poise, so it wouldn’t work as a written question.

11. Single men and women tend to be more self-absorbed and arrogant than their married or in-a-serious-relationship counterparts. This is for two reasons: married life means focusing a lot on someone else’s life (almost as intensely as on your own) and second, a spouse will ground you when your conception of self becomes a bit grandiose. When another person has seen your dirty laundry and seen you in your lowest lows, she sees you as a fallible human and can call bullshit when you forget this fact. It is extremely difficult to get this type of honest feedback from anyone else.

(Thanks to Seth Roberts, Penelope Trunk, Steve Dodson, and Dave Jilk for helping brainstorm some of these musings.)

21 comments on “Assorted Musings
  • #3: You should put the sock on the parent’s mouth. They are the ones who made the decision to bring the baby on the plane.

    #7: The more interesting stuff in a city was created by the people there.

  • Re #6:

    I think this is wishful thinking– I am not sure that people are self aware enough to classify themselves as different or normal. I still can’t decide which way I fall, and I’ve thought about this for a looong looong time.

  • I fit (1), but good character, hard to say

    (3) I like the ideas. My recent flights to and from Istanbul were surrounded by screaming babies. It seems like family with babies tends to choose sit in front (just behind the business class area).

    (8) I’m the jaywalking guy.

    (11) From your description, it seems personality and the types of relationship one has (not necessarily marriage or serious relationship) matter more. Control for them, marital status probably doesn’t matter.

  • #7 makes me feel better about my own reluctance to engage in “activities” in new cities. Part of this is because I hate itineraries and being tied to plans, but make an exception for meeting people (new ones or old friends).

    Which reminds me of something I’ve been wondering (and this blog seems as good a place as any to muse aloud on it): Do most or many people spend a lot of time being concerned about whether or not they are doing the right thing at any given moment? As in, “It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m cooking – I should be out playing tennis” or “I’m wandering aimlessly around Central Park on a Tuesday afternoon – I should be buried in emails” or “It’s 10AM on a beautiful Saturday – I should be hiking, not sleeping in.” Is this something others worry about a lot, in general? I’m guessing not.

  • @Jackie – on your musing, I have this same tendency. My solution, to the extent I have dealt with it, is (a) to try to understand whether there is a good reason why I’m thinking I should be doing something else, (b) if there is, to do it, (c) accepting that sometimes it’s ok to do whatever I feel like doing right now, whether or not it’s “optimal.”

  • @Jackie: If I’m cooking, biking, dancing, or out with friends? Probably not. If I’m at the computer, watching TV, reading a magazine, or doing something that feels in any way passive, very much so. Even if I truly want to take a little time out of the day to kick back, I tend to assume that anything that can be only done under a certain set of circumstances (ie during daylight, in the park, while an event is in town) should always be prioritized to the exclusion of more flexible activities. What this leads to, of course, is either never getting to do those more flexible activities, or doing them but feeling guilty all the while.

  • Ben:

    Your CheapShots/BonMots series is my favourite. Now that “praise” is out of the way:

    1. Generally true unless the only value system you were brought up with was “question everything”. Very liberating for my siblings and me, but I am sure now it is very irritating for my dad.

    3. We find “different” cuter. I find the cutest babies are Chinese, blue-eyed blondes, and Indian Sikh kids.

    4. In an event I attended, the moderator made people talk to the people on their left or right and then introduce them. Worked. Seven years later I am good friends with people I met on my left and right that evening.

    6. Camus?

    7. I mix the two if I can. e.g. Have dinner in a restaurant I want to eat in but with people I want to meet. But sometimes I go away to get away from people, an awful lot of whom live per square mile in London. :-/

    11. There is a hierarchy of self-absorption there too. Married/ coupled-up people without kids are far more self-absorbed than people with kids. GIve them a chance and see who they talk about. 😉

  • One thing to think about on point #1 is that if you end up forsaking your religion after your religious upbringing but feel that it’s value was unparalleled to the development of your character you, by consequence, end up denying your offspring the same value.

  • I was given a religious upbringing even though my parents weren’t religious. (My mom is spiritual and my dad is atheist.) Their rationale was that they benefited from a religious upbringing and we could make our own choice when we were older. Now that I’m grown, I want to raise my children the same way. My rationale is that religious verses non-religious beliefs can be polarizing, and I want my children to understand both points of view.

  • 1. I fall in this category. My family (and some others too) thinks I’m wild.

    3. @Kun Lung Wu: the baby bassinets are usually just behind the business class, hence you find more babies (screaming or not) there. [I’m brown, and I find black and white babies cuter.]

    6. I don’t know which category I fall into. Sometimes I try to be different. Sometimes I try to fit in.

    11. I may be more self-absorbed than my married counter parts. But some of their holier-than-thou attitude (just because they are married or because they are parents) puts me off.

  • #1 fits my own history, but I wonder if it’s necessary to actually be raised with a flawed, rejectable value system in order to grow up and do your own thinking about values, or if being raised in an ethical atheist type household in which values are systematically described and inculcated, would also work.

    I’m open to the possibility that you have to be raised with flawed but strong values in order to end up with an emotionally moral background whose authority you find you must later reject – sort of like the idea that you would have to raise children with Santa-Claus style false beliefs in order for them to develop strength as rationalists later.

  • The upside is that those moments when I have no doubt that I am in the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing are pure bliss.

  • #7 I’m glad others feel the same way about meeting people vs seeing tourist sights in new cities. There’s so much to learn from talking to people on the street or sitting in the park that can’t be replicated in a museum. You can gain an understanding of a city’s politics, finances and how quality of life has changed over the last few decades.

    I’d also add visiting ethnic neighborhoods as an interesting study to the ones we currently reside as interesting. The residents of Chicago’s Chinatown tends to be on the poorer side and from the Taisan region of China. If you walk toward the towering buildings a few blocks north (?) the Chinese people there are wealthier and call Taiwan their hometown.

  • Only because Ben is white. If he were any other colour, saying ‘kids of are cute’ would be filed under ‘assertion of identity’ and saying ‘white kids are cuter than ‘ would earn him an unpleasant sobriquet from within his own community. That is the way the cookie crumbles. :-/ Sad but true.

  • Ok html boo-boos strike! First quoted line is meant to be ‘kids of his own colour are cute’ and second quoted line is meant to be ‘white kids are cuter than his own colour’.. 😎

  • 11. I find a good sibling relationship is also a fine BS detector. My brother is a charmer; I’m one of the few people who will challenge some of his nonsense. He goes after me when I’m over-rationalizing as well.

  • It took me a long time to get this under control. Until I did, I had a hard time enjoying myself. It still pops up from time to time.

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