This past weekend I finished the first part of documenting the faces I saw at the local markets. It was a little awkward asking people for their photo and I might not have done it had I not had a friend with me. I did lie I bit and say I was doing it for a project for USC since I think the idea would have seemed a bit strange otherwise. I also tried to be as nice as I could (which in some cases meant buying an item) so they would know I wasn't trying to exploit them. I think most were a little initially skeptical, but I actually only had one person (an old lady who said she didn't even like her family taking her photo) decline when I asked. I think experiences like these are good. It's also necessary. I think if I had tried to do this with a telephoto lens it would have been cheating. I am glad I took the time to ask each person their name and have a short conversation with them.
I am glad I finally got around to creating this, especially now that the weather is going to be perfect for the types of outdoor shoots I enjoy most. I am hoping that more than anything else it also gives me a reason to redouble and focus my efforts of some long-standing projects I have wanted to complete. I have some stories I want to tell and now I have a place to share them in the way I want them to be seen.
One is simply a local interest project where I would like to record some of the most iconic (but often over-looked) piece of Americana. There are a few things that would look absolutely bizarre to an out-sider, but to someone who grew up here they seem completely normal. I think they say a lot about the character of this place and what makes it different from other parts of the country.
The second is to document the distinctive faces I regularly see at flea markets. They just have so much more emotion and character than I tend to see on streets where everyone seems to have homogenized their appearance around a uniform perspective of beauty. At these markets, the faces range from the forlorn droopy to bright smiles bursting through old leathery, whiskered skin. They are black, white and brown. Most are poor an uneducated. However, I have started to see them differently. As a kid plundering around at these markets, I might have seem them as sad, pitiful people. People would were unfortunate or should have tried harder in life. I saw a great distance between who they were and who I was at the time (and what I hoped to become). Now, I just see them as people. I just want to show their common humanity - that regardless of their circumstances (or even what they did wrong) they still have the same hopes, fears and disappointments. This isn't really for anyone else but me.
Last is to wrap up one on the industrialization of small South Carolina farms. The earth and the genetically modified crops have all become a living factory. I don't think this is a particularly new idea, but the what is most interesting is the predictability of it all. How things have become so quantifiable. I guess it's the loss of mystery and chance. No longer are things left up to the cooperation of a stubborn mule and uncertain raindrops. Everything has been laid out. There is something a lot less magical about it now. It's almost as big a difference as is found between a putting green at the Master's and a putt -putt course in Myrtle Beach. Something is just lost.
On a related note, I also had a friend tell me that my lack of eye contact led to a lack of deep trust. I relayed that I never really stared at eyes because it was too much effort and I felt just as much emotion was revealed through the lips and mouth. I had never considered that I might have had a "trust deficit" with others because people have always comment on that aspect. I then asked her, "would you not leave me your house keys or trust me with your car for a day?" She replied "Of course I would, but that's not the kind of trust I am talking about. I mean I wouldn't trust you enough to be emotionally open." From there she gave some concerns about how openly critical I can be of others (good advice to reflect on), but her main point was that she just didn't have a gut feeling of trust, and that was mainly a result of eye contact. For the next few minutes I did my best to make eye contact and she responded that it felt like a completely different conversation. I on the other hand, found the process to be very emotionally draining, I find it difficult to form my own thoughts when I look into someone else's eyes. Maybe that's the point though. It's a chance to put yourself in their shoes and begin to experience their version of reality. Maybe that is just the process of piercing our own bubbles of reality. I know when I was on Strattera, that was one of the perks. I wonder if it's possible to develop this skill. I guess there is no other way than to find out.
I did share a little research on the topic that I found interesting. The article discussed the difference in Western smiley faces -- :) :P :D which tend to focus on mouths and those from Asian countries which tend to focus on the eyes -_- ^_^ 0_0 At the time it made me think what I was doing was normal, but after discussing with other friends over the past few weeks, it appears that eye staring is the more common preference among my social circle by a ratio of 3 or 4 to 1. Those who were also mouth gazers also shared a similar experience of being overwhelmed when staring at others eyes. Sounds like a great Seinfeld episode.
I also spent some time readings others suggestions for small talk. They are all rather obvious, but that hasn't kept me from making the obvious mistakes. The main thing is to ask questions that allow the other person plenty of room to talk (avoid yes-no questions seek out open-ended ones). Ask something that can elicit an emotional response. When they do this it's also important to pat attention.
At the onset, it's also important to be positive and keep an upbeat attitude. Compliments are nice here too. Just find something you like about the other person. Mood tends to be contagious. Along these lines it's also important to remember the importance of confidence (not arrogant). The main thing is to not be nervous, Think about the standard question "How are you doing?" This could be said nervously as a test to see if someone will talk to you. This could be used simply as an acknowledgement of another human (but with clear disinterest to the response). Lastly it could be said calmly and directly with genuine concern for another person. It's clear the final answer would be the most likely to elicit the most honest response from the other person.
A nice suggestion from one person was to plan an exit strategy (ie. I need to go talk to an old friend) so that you leave the person wanting more and don't over-saturate them from the onset. I tend to disagree too much at the onset. I also tend to ask rather stereotypical questions to avoid the nervousness of meeting a new person.
Another good piece of advice was to avoid questions that come with assumptions about the other person (How is work? They might be unemployed). In some ways this assumption implies that you think this is a perquisite for being a worthwhile human being - it's ever so slightly judgmental.
Again, they all urged practice. Talk to strangers. Engage the people you meet on a daily basis. Don't feel pressure to be funny or charming. Just listen. Have a few questions that generally matter to you than you can ask people you meet.
She highlights the role reputation plays in online exchanges such as AirBnB, TaskRabbit, Skillshare and a host of other sites in soliciting/acquiring peer-to-peer services. She does have some cool charts and employment anecdotes to highlight that this phenomenon is creeping into the mainstream.
Retail is similar. For the most part, the traditional experience of buying a product in a brick and mortar store brings too much uncertainty. What am I getting? Is this a fair price? I have switched over the past year to becoming almost an exclusively online shopper. I read reviews religiously. I rarely buy a product without them unless it happens to be from China (usually Hong Kong) and only costs a few dollars including shipping (ie eBay). On Amazon, the first step in this process (even before price) is filtering the universe of potential purchases to those which only have a 4-Star or above rating. Then, I look at the number of reviews and the distribution - The larger the sample set the better and I generally avoid the leptokurtic distribution - That's a sign of bad quality control. I also find the 2 & 3 star reviews to be very helpful in pointing out the limitations of a given product. Anyway, that was a very long aside to point out that REPUTATION is the basis for my products. I trust the collective wisdom of Amazon users even though I haven't met a single one.
This analogy certainly extends to people. Though we all have free will (and infinite amount compared to a set of headphones) we generally still manage to provide a very "consistent product" from day to day regardless of our internal mood or external environment when dealing with others. If the collective description is detailed, the comprehensive coverage can offer a lot of predictive value. This is the essence of trust in business - reliability (though trust in the context of human relationships is a very different thing - it has less to do with action and more to do with feeling - these things don't often matter in business because we usually only want a single item or specific task performed).
As an aside, I do think there is something very interesting about how the ability to allow others to report publicly about other's behavior tends to keep everyone more honest. It's similar to how putting cameras in public places will generally lead to less crime. People will behave when they know they are being watched. This obviously does not create a world of people with better hearts and souls, but if the only desire is to reduce negative behavior we would all be wise to design systems that allow for the possibility of public praise or scorn.
- New experience
Expanding on these words (and the connections between them) resulted in this these statements:
1) Good relations between between people and other living systems - a sense of inclusion with these
2) An understanding of my place in the world and what role I can fill
3) Maintaining a clear purpose in the midst of distraction/temptation - able to overcome adversity
4) Thoughtful and unique solutions to complex problems
4) The ability to maintain a contagious and positive disposition
Are these good values? Should I change them? Will they lead me where I want to go?
I rather quickly noticed this list did not include novelty and new experience (people, ideas, places, ways of life, hobbies). I feel like it is integral to the others and keeps me excited. It's like turning over a log and never knowing what will be there: a salamander, some strange insect, an odd fungus. This is how I see life.
I should also note (contrary to popular belief), I am not my values. They are simply a guide that I choose to follow (or not).Do my values sync up with my goals? What are my goals right now?
1) Learn - TED talks/books/thoughtful friends
2) Meaningful work - improve current role or find a new one
3) Focus energy on key friends
4) Drop time/energy sucking habits (Sex, Alcohol, Facebook)
6) Exercise & better body
7) Better communication
8) Engaging (and new) Hobbies
Where do my goals differ from my values? What is different between the two lists?
Values not reflected in goals:
1) Not seeking to create harmony in the world - I want everyone to get along, but am not doing anything about it
2) Not working on any new/big problems
3) Not actively planning any adventures
4) Not seeking out my strengths and how I can apply them
Goals not reflected in values:
Thoughts on differences:
Obviously, I need better goals (I also need to read them every few days because I have not made progress on a few of them). I need to incorporate these and find a better union between the two. How might I do that?
1) Find problems in Columbia that I can work on. Find issues at work that can be improved.What divisive issues can I work on ameliorating to create more harmony.
2) Plan a few trips. Find some odd communities or events within 100 miles to be a part of.
3) Value my own health more
4) DO more things/activities. I tend to spend my time "hanging out" or noodling around online. To make better use of my time I will need to do a little more planning and research (Free Times, meetup.com, ect)
5) Spend time identifying and developing my strengths
I grew up in a home where we didn't really talk about feelings and what other's might be thinking at a given moment has always been a bit of a mystery. There were rules, and things that you didn't do, and tasks that needed to be done. The world was very simple. There was no need to complicate it. My father''s father was a stern distant man so it's clear to me why my dad was the way he was.
Some of my friends can instantly and intuitively sense and feel what others feel. I struggle with moving beyond cognition. It's more of a rule based system for me. I have to study others almost scientifically to really understand what is going on. When I first meet someone I will ask them dozens of times what they mean by various facial expressions, tone of voice, muscular tenseness or word usage. Once I slowly develop some understanding, I begin to test out this intuition and see how accurate I am. You look sad, is something wrong (they might respond no, I have a runny nose or they might in fact be really sad). In all it takes a lot of observation and questioning before I can fine tune my understanding of another person (this is also why I like MBTI - it gives me a bit of a cheat sheet and framework for processing this) though thankfully because of television these subtle cues are widespread among everyone I encounter. TV has popularized specific expressions that we often tend to emulate. In a lot of ways I think I am doing the same thing everyone else is, I am just having to go through it step by step whereas it just clicks with other people. I generally try to have this systematic approach to things (ie my interests in ecology and evolution) though so this is just an odd extension of that.
As an aside, breakups highlight when we don't understand the other person. We put in things but the response we get out is totally unexpected. We must tweak our simulation. The same actions no longer bring the same response.
Anyway, Piaget talked about "theory of mind" and this is exactly what is going on. I guess you could say given my family's emotional reticence I was at a bit of a disadvantage. Add in the fact that I lived in a rural area, with few neighbors my age (also consider most of my early interactions were in super positive places [sometime to the point of being artificially polite/deferential] like church and family gatherings) and the fact that I grew up essentially as an only child and it is not difficult to see why I might be lacking in these faculties.
This is where drama comes in - at least good film -- honest film. It hits at the glittering kaleidoscopic of human emotion. Masters have a way of even highlighting the nuance in moments we think we have experienced and know well. They can unpackage the complexity and reveal it through editing, camera work, a musical score and thoughtful dialogue. They literally focus their lens on this subtlety.
So anyway, what I can do from here? Well tonight I was just watching a new TV series (House of Cards) and realized I knew exactly how one of the characters felt but it was totally intellectual. I had the idea of pausing the film and trying to soak up the emotion of the scene. I don't know if this is silly or not, but I am going to try it from now on when it's clear I could mentally put myself in that person's shoes but fail to have the emotional resonance. I hope it will help me start being able to feel what others feel so that I can actually "be" with them when we talk.
Here are two articles on the subject:
An Exercise in Empathy
Empathy and Fiction
Pochemuchka - A person who asks too many questions
Ilunga Tshiluba - a word for a person who is able to forgive any abuse the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time
Wabi-Sabi - a way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay
Tartle - pause or hesitation introducing someone because you have forgotten their name
- Optimization of more than four or five variables can make your mind explode. Consider all the variables in buying a PC: touchscreen or not, Normal or solid state hard drive, processor speed, RAM, ease of uprade, portability and weight (as well as desktop vs laptop), build quality and finish, external ports, operating system version, new vs used, expected resale value, presence/quality of webcam/mic, and the fact that different resellers and manufacturers will have different prices and combinations of these aspects. Choice is a burden and it is often difficult to make a decision without to much regret. Though with a little patience, some planning, lots of research (youtube and reviews are super helpful), and self discipline you can make a pretty wise choice that balances all these. However, it's interesting how this process can be all consuming, and the necessary mental resources required to balance all of these factors can lead to something bordering on temporary obsession (what has been labeled hyperfocus by those who are blessed/cursed to have ADHD). It can become an all consuming quest to make the right decision, often taking me away from work and relationships. This happens all the time when I encounter really complex life situations (creating a course schedule in college, picking a career/job, deciding who I should marry, and really any purchase of over $250). They make my mind work in a way that everyday life does not. I think I secretly enjoy the whole process but I do need to think of ways to balance these fits of determination with the needs of everyday life so they don't distract me. I found another word for this: Monomania
- Important in all of this is that nagging feeling underneath your skin that says "No, don't do this." It often cannot be immediately articulated but it is a kind to some mild nausea or uneasiness about the decision even if it meets all the rational requirements laid out. It is a good guide that should not be ignored. It's a trusted second opinion to reason. It's all a very delicate interplay between this feeling and clear direct reasoning. I used to ignore it. I will still override it from time to time, but if it does appear I tend to make myself sleep on it for a day or two just to ensure my mental conviction as strong as I think it is.
- I should never regret investing in things that save me time. (if the costs are within reason) The reason I wanted the computer in the first place was because I had all but given up on most of my photography because photo editing had become unbearably slow. Technology was becoming a bottleneck for something I really enjoyed doing (and something that also paid for itself.). It was harder than it should have been to convince myself to spend the money on equipment. The nice thing is that it also saves me time in other areas (something I didn't factor into my decision). Webpages load in about 20% of the time that it took, there is no lag loading programs and I also have access to all of the new technology that is part of Windows 8.
- Life is rarely all in. I spent $400 on this purchase, but an important aspect of this was that I knew I could in a worst case scenario still re-sell it for $200. This made the purchase a lot easier. It is also a good lesson to remember. Whether it is a job, a relationship, a hobby, an event or anything that requires an investment of emotion, time or resources it is unlikely that there won't be some residual value. There is also usually something to be gained along the way. In this case I also picked up the extra (and unplanned) benefit of saving time in a very regular daily task (surfing the web). If life we almost always meet new people, learn new things, and grow in unexpected ways. It's easy to discount things when we have very uni-purpose objectives in mind (think about people who only view relationships as a vehicle to marriage). If we only keep the singular goals in mind we will often face much more disappointment than if we more aware of and grateful for the unexpected.
- For the fact that smiles are contagious. A sour mood is unlikely to withstand in the face of a community of happy faces. This is one of the best reasons to go to church. It's rare we find communities of happy, welcoming people.
- For the imagination to face the worst case scenario. It makes everything else easy. Especially if it is pre-emptive. Utilitarian creativity/
- For the quiet moments and the people who showed me the value in them. In some ways I have the winter to thank for this. It ushers us inside and makes us deal with ourselves.
The fear of the lord is hatred of evil. Pride, arrogance, evil and perverted speech I hate.
An older friend and mentor mentioned to me that he often double or triple books his time. For him this meant watching his favorite show with a relative (which had the third benefit of relaxing him). I had already planned to do this to some degree at the gym, but it is a broader life lesson. I need to incorporate my friends into what I do rather than relaying back to them later. There are only a few hours each day where I am rested enough to do this. They are too precious to spend aimlessly. I need to think about how my activities can link up or at least build synergy - maybe reading and meditation or running and TED talks.
Microsoft has a tool that will take all of the information on your hard drive and move it to one contiguous block of data, thus leaving one big chunk of free space at the end. This leaves room for big files and generally makes for a more orderly HD.
I need to do this with my time. One thing I have noticed about Facebook is that the aggregate time I spent wasn't that great, but the intrusions are. My buddy was teasing me about my break and mentioned he didn't understand the issue. He said he spends an hour or two every Monday and Friday and catches up on everything. That's probably a good strategy. Turn it into something analogous to a TV show. I could do the same with email (which is a big distraction for me at work). Online dating goes on this list too. I could restrict texting to once every hour or so unless it's a close friend or something that needs an urgent reply (which is rare). I also shouldn't be spending precious morning or daylight hours on my computer outside of work. I tend to write as I have an idea. I can jot out an email and deal with it in the evening.
- Grateful for chance encounters that lead to deep friendships. It's a lesson I should remember everyday and be more open to new people.
- White privilege and good parents. I am fortunately to live in a society where I am perceived as nice and trustworthy. Rather than feeling entitled to this perception, I need to be more thankful for it on a daily basis (as it is a rare thing in the world) and work to give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Inclement weather because it is a reminder than I have a roof over my head, a house that keeps me warm and a society that has given me simple pleasures like electric blankets, wool socks and hot showers.
Loss of time and money. Well beyond the obvious loss of money that comes from dating and the time spent on actual dates (it should also be noted the time spent leading up to a date can equal the time of the date itself - Online dating only exacerbates this.). I have always thought meeting the right person had as much to do with quantity of contacts than anything else. My strategy for some time has been to cast a wide net, see what I catch and then go from there. I used to find one person to pursue, singularly focus on it and then see what happens. That directed strategy more often than not, lead to disappointment, so I adapted.
Second, and more important, is the effect it takes on my outward personality. In essence, I often bend who I am in an effort to be "desirable." It probably has a lot to do with being American (hyper-materialistic, with an over-emphasis on dating), but I often find myself adjusting my personality (and appearance) to be ever more attractive to the opposite sex. Any individual change is usually slow and modest but the cumulative effect can be great. That being said, I don't think they are all necessarily bad (I have heard some argue the entire institution of marriage largely serves to civilize males) but, when sex enters the picture my motives become more ignoble (deception is the real risk) and I bend and reshape who I am with one, very particular goal in mind. It's also to just completely forget what you wanted if you keep acting a certain way for a long period. This is where the real problem lies.
In many ways, it causes a similar problem to sex. It's time consuming and warps what I share with the world. Though rather than skewing me to be a particular person, Facebook tends to hollow out what personality I have (except the truly exhibitionist side of me which does have a mass market appeal) leaving what I share with others rather hollow and bland. Given the wide social circle I have, I tend to chisel away my more extreme social/political/religious views for fear of offending anyone (though I still manage to do this quite effortlessly). It also leaves a rather detailed paper trail that could be used to incriminate me at any point in the future given how freely I might comment on some posts.
Though this point has been made by others, I think it's worth repeating. It is also a rather one-sided view of people. We only project the positive (outside of asking for help from others). No one is every going to "like" a status that says I had an awful day, I am really confused, I am upset, I am mad as hell at my wife/gf. Yes, you can take some mildly cryptic, indignant stance (maybe something like "Don't yourself be a doormat") that will get a response. Sometimes, it might get a little support from concerned friends (especially from females) but it's not going to generate nearly the same response a generally positive statement or quotation. Along those lines it tends to reinforce the view that other people don't have the same problems I have. I also tend to compare myself to my most successful friends when I have absolutely no interest in making the daily sacrifices they are willing to make to ensure they progress along their career.
It has also, (aided by ubiquitous cellular a wifi connections) become the default way to deal with boredom and face a formerly natural state of solitude and personal reflection. My addiction to the site have eliminated whatever time I might have to pause and sort out of my thoughts and plan. I also too easily get sucked into never-ending political debates and can easily spend hours crafting and researching responses (this also leads to lots of time-consuming, unfocused and externally directed reading). It also serves as a distraction to help me avoid the otherwise uninteresting responsibilities of life (like doing the dishes) or from doing useful activities which usually require a little concerted effort to get started (and break the inertia of sitting in bed). Often I find myself with a two hour window to do something. It's not hard for me to get on Facebook for 45 minutes and blow the opportunity to do something I would have otherwise done.
In just the first few days without it, I have noticed I have spent my time on the things I have said I have wanted to for the past few weeks. Hopefully it stays that way.
Side note: I think I am going to quit blogging about the TED talks (unless they are truly exceptional) though I still want to continue my year long feast of them (maybe one per week would be nice). Writing about them takes up quite a bit of time and keeps me from writing about what I find the most interesting in life (and am thus more passionate about writing about). From here on, I will simply incorporate their ideas into other posts.
I take a much more open approach to religion. Jefferson did this when he created The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He talked about finding the "diamonds in a dunghill." So as I journey through various faiths, I try to find similarities and what makes them unique. I try to find new practices that help to deal with the problems I face. I participate in their rituals and practices but at the time time also try to reflect on what we have learned from medicine, neuroscience and psychology. I openly allow the experience yet intentionally avoid ascribing the same meaning to it.
More importantly, science has not done a good job of answering the questions I am concerned with the most (though this is quickly changing and I do think it's entirely possible that "science" might one day extract all the value from religion [CBT is a good example - they stole some of the best parts from Buddhism] but that hasn't happened yet). Given that, I am happy to wade through all of the information, much like a gold miner, to find a few nuggets of "truth."
A.J. Jacobs: My year of living biblically
Notes from a forum a while back. I thought they were worth sharing
Persuasion - two ideas - convincing them you are right or convincing them your idea is a win for them (Though don't overestimate your knowledge of the other persons goals...)
Break the ice question: "What keeps you up at night?"
- In short, to be successful, you have to make an effort to get inside the other persons head
- Think about who the other person has to lose and who they have to please
- Determine what success and failure mean to the other person
- Deposit in the "trust bank"- make a good faith effort. ' and remind them "That's what friends do for each other"
- Remember the value of reciprocity - people like to repay favors
- Don't be emotional, step away if necessary
- Just listen - "at what point did I ask you for advice?"
- There are times to shut up and listen and times to fix things
- Don't be afraid of "no" - just ask
- Establish your physical presence (don't be too passive)
- Raise up your chair, spread your arms, use strong (but not agressive) body langugae)
- Last, Best and Final.... Low ball, get better, then give the real offer...
- You have to be able to give something or people will doubt your sincerity
- Negotiate in person, not over email if possible. Body language is lost. Tone is lost.
- Sarcasm can explode into nastiness.
- If the range of outcomes shifts - redefine victory.