What You Feed Grows

What you feed grows. Don’t like something you see on the Internet or in your life? Ignore it. Responding is rewarding the behavior, which means you’ll see more of it. Getting no response drives people that want attention to do something else. Give your attention to what you want more of.

Warmth: Charisma & Commitment

I’ve been thinking a bit about stolzyblog‘s comment on Coin of My Realm: Meaning post from a few days ago. Let me quote the exchange entirely:

“SB: Warmth. It’s what is missing from Robin Hansen’s “insight”. And the interesting thing about this is it seems (from watching some of his interviews) that he does not know this. All his knowledge has kept this region dark to him.

CB: I tend to focus on ideas over people too. Warmth is really caring more about people, that they have value beyond what they offer you. Sometimes it takes people that live in their heads a long time to learn that lesson, using by finding someone that loves them beyond their ideas. But, some never find it. You make a really good point here.

SB: True, and a nice realization (about what warmth is). I have noticed something else too, though. Ideas and concepts can also be delivered or communicated with warmth. Some speakers accomplish this. But many do not… their information is sprayed forth coldly and analytically, sometimes even like a kind of psychic weaponization, if you know what I mean.”

I started to think that there were two dimensions in play. On one dimension, it matters how something is communicated. I tend to be blunt and not as diplomatic as other people might like, and my wife is often saying to me: “You can say that, but you have to say it nicely.” What she means by nicely is that I need to say it in a way that leaves more room for the fact that I could be wrong and the other person right and that even if I am saying something critical, I still like and respect them as a person. Saying something like, “That’s a bad idea and you are a bad person for thinking it,” doesn’t do that.

I saw a tweet recently that shed some light on why this is important, focused on small talk:

So, we are spending 20% of our time in social interactions, and the primary purpose of these interactions are not sharing ideas but serving as testimony that we like one another well enough to spend the time together. What we discuss is mostly irrelevant.

But, “social commitment” implies something more. It’s not just being a “fair-weather friend” who is pleasant to spend time with, but it also implies that, to some degree, a relationship that can be relied upon in difficult times.

If we want to think of the question in terms of relationship archetypes, you might parse it as:

  • Ideal: pleasant to spend time with and can be relied upon
  • Fair-weather: pleasant to spend time with but with limited reliability
  • Difficult friends: not pleasant to spend time with but reliable

The key here is that the thresholds of what constitutes reliability are a sliding scale. Every relationship has limits and what people need from them vary a great deal from individual to individual. For example, someone may be an introvert who, when they want companionship, want it limited to a few friends. Others want to be the life of a party, which means being at a party with more than a few friends.

Context also matters. When experiencing grief, even the life of the party doesn’t want to be at a party. Part of being reliable is being able to context switch, and be in the mode appropriate for the moment.

There’s also the problem that our capabilities change over time. A person with dementia is often both unpleasant and reliable. But, how we are with them also reveals something about the kind of person we are, when we interact with them. So, these relationships are important, not only to the person with the illness, but because it holds up a mirror to our character and reveals facets of ourselves we may not have been aware. Chances are those will be deficiencies, a lack of reliability we were not aware of or limits which we didn’t know we had.

Beyond the personal, it also reveals something about other types. For example, sociopaths are fair-weather friends. They want reliable relationships but don’t offer reliability themselves. Difficult friends want to be liked and to like the people around them, but they don’t show these qualities to others.

Warmth, broadly speaking, might be how we respond to these gaps. Can we be pleasant to the unpleasant? Can we be reliable to the unreliable? Where are our limits? And, are they more or less than some perceived norm?

Let Go With Grace

“Once you accept that as a fundamental boundary on your capacity as a manager, it’s going to set you free. Free from centering on the self-serving anguish over what you could have done differently, and on to the acceptance that these outcomes are inevitable when dealing with the opaque potential of strangers.

The redeeming realization is that this is a great, big world. The human pieces that don’t fit into your puzzle will complete someone else’s. And in fact, if you refuse to let go of a piece that doesn’t fit on your end, you’re keeping someone else from making theirs. Besides, nobody wants to be the piece that doesn’t fit.

So learn to let go with grace. You’re not here to save anyone. It’s an illusion of grandeur to believe that you can.”

-David Heinemeier Hansson, “I can’t save you, nobody can.” world.hey.com. August 5, 2022

This reminded me of a conversation with a neighbor I had several years ago. They were trying to get involved in the lives of heroin addicts in order to “save” them. I said it was a mistake. It’s a rare circumstance where you can “save” anyone. Moreover, the most likely outcome is that they would negatively impact her, not the other way around.

There are acute situations, where an intervention at a key moment, might change the outcome. They happen. But, they are rare.

But more than 99% of the time, people interesting in “saving” others are not focused on these moments because they have a different agenda. They feel broken and in saving others they are trying to save themselves. Or, more generally, if others can be saved, perhaps they can be saved. And much of that time, they doom themselves because they are busy trying to solve someone else’s problems rather than working on their own.

But, of course, that also sounds selfish. You don’t want to save others? You only want to save yourself.

The reality is that I can only control what I do. The key point is that we are interconnected. We cannot solve only our problems. But, we cannot solve the world’s problems. Nor can we solve the problems of a large group. Our effective influence is a few people, who we have enough interaction with to see those rare moments when an opportunity opens. We need to prepare ourselves to meet that moment, which means working on our own shit and keeping good relationships with people – building our relationships – so we trust one another when the storm hits. The reality is that trust often isn’t fully cemented until after the storm, when you rose to an occasion and you could have left.

But, the only way to get there is to spend the time and do the work. Even then, it may not be enough. It won’t be enough if you are with other people that aren’t spending the time and doing the work. I guess the net on that is make sure you choose your relationships wisely.

Woke or Witch-Hunt?

“At the protest, I met Tulsi Patel, a postdoc at Columbia. Patel tells me about a new bullying policy at Columbia, which she helped to write, to deal with “power-based harassment” that doesn’t fall into the already illegal categories like sex and race-based harassment. “We recommended calling it the Office of Conflict Resolution, just to make it sound like a chill thing, like it’s about resolving conflicts,” Patel said. The provost is reviewing the proposal. 

Grossman, the dean of NYU’s medical school, talks a lot about, “listening to our community” and “believing in the process,” but the protestors don’t really care about any of that. They’re playing a different game. They know that if they make enough noise, if they claim enough “harm,” NYU— or any other school that brands itself as inclusive or progressive—will give in. And even if Sabatini were hired, no one would have worked with him. It would have been social suicide to.  

Many of the researchers and postdocs I spoke to pointed out that, as scientists, it’s essential to look carefully at all the evidence and to leave no stone unturned. The way the Whitehead and MIT conducted their investigation into David Sabatini runs counter, they say, to the scientific method itself. It also sends a clear message: That ground-breaking research takes a backseat to an ideal of social purity, and that subjective truth is the only truth that matters.

“In my lab, there were two criteria we always strived toward; that the discovery is fundamentally true, which means proving it in many different ways, and that it’s new,” Sabatini said. “Everyone talks about your truth, and my truth. Physically, chemically, there’s only one truth.”

-Suze Weiss, “He Was a World-Renowned Cancer Researcher. Now He’s Collecting Unemployment.” bariweiss.substack.com. May 19, 2022.

Obviously a one-sided story. But, it does raise questions about what the appropriate response to these kinds of allegations should be. In this version, it would appear that Sabatini is on the receiving end of someone using sexual harassment as a tool for punishment for a relationship that did not work out.

Then, there are claims like those against Warren Ellis, who had many women have come forward has a pattern of “sexual manipulation.” Or women like Chrissy Hynde, who blame themselves for sexual assault.

Further, much of this discussion falls into black and white notions of someone being at fault. Relationships are complex. People make mistakes. But, there are also people acting badly and unaccountably. What to do about it?

Conflict resolution seems like a reasonable way to think about it. But, what does “resolution” consist of? If it is truly about creating environments where people feel safe, then the main focus of the process cannot be about passing judgment and destroying people.

Where’s the line between woke and witch hunt? How can we move to create safer, more inclusive spaces, but at the same time, recognize that people make mistakes? With all the discussion about these issues, you rarely see any nuance beyond passing judgment and attacking people. That’s not creating a safe environment for anyone.

The Iron Law of Institutions

“The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution ‘fail’ while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to ‘succeed’ if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it’s that this cannot be changed. What can be done, sometimes, is to force the people running institutions to align their own interests with those of the institution itself and its members.”

-Jonathan Schwarz, “Democrats And The Iron Law Of Institutions.” tinyrevolution.com. September 5, 2007.

Tragedy of the Commons After 50 Years & A New Model of the Rational Actor

“[Elinor Ostrom] then developed a ‘second-generation model of rationality’ in which humans are ‘complex, fallible learners who seek to do as well as they can given the constraints that they face and who are able to learn heuristics, norms, rules, and how to craft rules to improve achieved outcomes’ (E. Ostrom 1998, p. 9). The second-generation model of rationality predicts that reciprocity, reputation, and trust as ‘core relationships’ can lead to increased net benefits (13). This theoretical model identifies “individual attributes” that are particularly important in explaining behavior in social dilemmas. These attributes include ‘[1] the expectations individuals have about others’ behavior (trust), [2] the norms individuals learn from socialization and life’s experiences
(reciprocity), and [3] the identities individuals create that project their intentions and norms (reputation)’ (14).”

-Alain Marciano, “Tragedy of the Commons after 50 Years.” SSRN. September 11, 2019.