Joan Didion on Self-Respect

“Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs…

…Again, it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds…

…To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent…

…To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”

-Joan Didion, “Self-Respect.” Vogue. 1961.

While I’ve mentioned this essay before, on re-reading, I thought it deserved its own post. Lovely.

How to Think For Yourself

“It matters a lot who you surround yourself with. If you’re surrounded by conventional-minded people, it will constrain which ideas you can express, and that in turn will constrain which ideas you have. But if you surround yourself with independent-minded people, you’ll have the opposite experience: hearing other people say surprising things will encourage you to, and to think of more.

Because the independent-minded find it uncomfortable to be surrounded by conventional-minded people, they tend to self-segregate once they have a chance to. The problem with high school is that they haven’t yet had a chance to. Plus high school tends to be an inward-looking little world whose inhabitants lack confidence, both of which magnify the forces of conformism. And so high school is often a bad time for the independent-minded. But there is some advantage even here: it teaches you what to avoid. If you later find yourself in a situation that makes you think “this is like high school,” you know you should get out.

—Paul Graham, “How to Think For Yourself.” November 2020.

How Many Summers Are Left?

“I ask Grant Heslov about his friend’s decision to step back from acting, to direct and otherwise live his life. ‘This is how he put it to me when I was trying to do something during the summer recently,’ Heslov says by way of an explanation. He says Clooney proposed an exercise. ‘Let’s sit down and try to figure out how many summers we have left,’ Clooney said. ‘Let’s say we were 55 at the time. So let’s say we have 25 more summers left—25 years, 25 summers. That doesn’t seem like that many if you lose a whole summer, right?’”

-Zach Baron, “George Clooney When We Need Him Most.” GQ. November 17, 2020.

Reminded me of Warren Buffet’s 20 Slot Rule and Wait But Why‘s Your Life in Weeks. Also, there’s this chart from the CDC. If you make it to 65 years of age, you’re more likely to live longer than average. Obvious, when you think about it, but it’s still a point worth remembering.

Why Do We Talk to One Another?

Open Question: Why do we talk to one another?

“…To varying degrees, there is an uncrossable chasm between you and everybody you care about.

There are two ways you can interpret this. One is the depressing route: to believe that your friends are not really your friends and that you don’t really know them. That you will never really know anybody at all. Or you can take the more optimistic route: it’s not that you know your friends less than you thought you did, it’s that you know strangers more. You don’t need to have an established relationship to help someone. Even transient moments have meaning.

This second route is the one my colleagues and I take every time we pick up the phone. Conversations on a phone helpline are different from normal conversations in two ways: we make few assumptions about the caller or their background, and our goal is for the caller to reach a better emotional state than when the conversation started.”

-Natalia Dashan, “Working on a suicide helpline changed how I talk to everyone.” November 9, 2020.

I find this quote interesting. For me, conversations are about ideas. I talk to people because I want people to know something, or I want to know something. However, I generally view people’s emotional states as their own problem. Managing our emotions is, arguably, one of the defining features that separate human beings from animals.

On the other hand, I recognize that my view is certainly the minority, if not an outlier. Most people’s conversations is primarily emotional in nature, where they are talking about their feelings and want other people to talk about theirs.

My experience is shaped by my relationships with people with Cluster B personality disorders. I have many posts on this topic, e.g., A Narcissist’s Prayer, Hoodoos, Toxic People, Psychic Vampires, Sucking Black Holes, The Unhappy & The Unlucky, etc. The common tactic of people that manipulate others is to get them to talk about themselves, and then, they use this information to their advantage.

In my view, trying to manipulate someone else’s emotional state, even if you are doing so with their benefit in mind, is still manipulation. In certain circumstances, such as when you are working on a suicide help line, this may be appropriate behavior. People are calling in crisis are because they need help. You are there to help them. So, these kinds of interactions are kind of built in.

However, I’m not as comfortable thinking about helping the people in my life this way. This is the kind of behavior that underlies the paternalism that most parents engage in with their children, that what they are doing is for their own good. However, it is often “their own good” from our perspective and not theirs, which can often not be their good but our own. How is this different from the behavior of a Cluster B personality? I’m not sure it is different.

Yet, on the other hand, creating environments where people can grow and be supported emotionally is something most of us want. Individually, we can increase our vocabulary that helps us describe, understand and experience our feelings, using tools such as The Feeling Wheel or the guidebook, “Staying With Feelings“. But, maybe one piece I’ve been missing is that this kind of development ultimately has to be processed through our relationship with others.

The rub, and the thing that is very much not clear to me, is how do you make sure that what you are doing is about getting to a better emotional state for everyone rather than getting a better emotional state for ourselves or manipulating other people’s emotions for some other ends. I find this question difficult, one where I have thought it is best to let people deal with their own emotions and try not to be involved with it. But, I’m thinking, in this moment, that this is naive. Every conversation has an emotional component, and we cannot pretend that we don’t have, at least, some responsibility for the kind of emotional environment we are creating, both for ourselves and others.

I don’t have any answers here. However, I do think these are good questions worth much deeper exploration.

So, You’ve Made a Mistake…

  • Acknowledge you’ve made a mistake to yourself.
  • Think about the mistake. Why did it happen?
  • Think about making the same mistake again in the future.
  • Acknowledge the mistake, describe it and the damage it caused precisely, apologize to those impacted, suggest how it might be redressed, and then listen.
  • Agree on a course of action to address the mistake, and do it.’ve_made_a_mistake_and_it’s_public…

Hold the Line

This both begins and ends this blog’s election coverage. Fare thee well.

“The list of potential and real challenges we face is long. Whether it’s cuts to the US Postal Service; malfunctioning voting equipment; voter suppression; misinformation; intimidation at the polls; violence among political supporters; or the President improperly using the powers of the executive branch and possibly refusing to accept defeat; we are witnessing ongoing actions that destroy our democracy bit by bit.

We the People need to prepare ourselves to take on these threats swiftly, strategically, and in ways that protect the Constitution and restore accountability. This guide is designed to help people from all walks of life take action to ensure that the election is free and fair, and that the results are respected. There is a role for everyone in this effort, and your help is needed.

Hold the Line

Two Religions

“There are two religions in the world the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.”

—Garrett Bucks quoting his pastor in an interview with Anne Helen Petersen, “when you realize you’re on the wrong side.” Substack. October 22, 2020.

Advice across religions:

(1) You should make it clear where you stand from the jump, but they need to know that your goal isn’t to “win” a single conversation, but to keep them coming back to the table with you

(2) The point isn’t to hear why or how the other person justifies their beliefs, but to get an understanding of what fears/wants/desires/needs are behind those beliefs and

(3) Offer them alternate baby steps “out” of their current belief system that are still rooted in fulfilling or satisfying those same needs.


Stereotype Content Model: Warmth & Competence

“Fiske…had been developing a theory of dehumanization called the Stereotype Content Model, in which there are two criteria by which we measure people we meet: warmth and competence. “What do you need to know about people who are unfamiliar to you?” she says. “First you need to know their intentions — good or ill. If their intentions are benign, you trust them more. If they’re malignant, you don’t. Then you need to know whether they can act on their intentions. Because if they can’t act on their intentions, they don’t really matter to you. That’s competence.”

These two measures form a square with four quadrants into which we sort the people we meet. Those we consider to be like us are both warm and competent. People we envy are those we see as competent but not warm (think Wall Street bankers). We see people we pity or sympathize with as warm but not competent (disabled or elderly people). And people who are neither competent nor warm we see as something else entirely.”

-Frank Bures, “Are Cyclists Human? October 13, 2020

I’ve always been one to focus on competence. It occurs to me that not focusing on warmth can lead to other emotions beyond envy, such as being perceived as arrogant.