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.)

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