Books I read 2017 – Part 3. Spirituality, Fun, Politics

This is part 3 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1, and Psychology and Management in part 2.

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  2017 has become my baseline year for what to expect for myself in the future.

Here they are:


Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.


A sample of a book: Robert kegan, discerning heart

5  STAGE 3 – CREATING AN INTERPERSONAL SELF

For the person functioning at Kegan’s stage 2, relationships entail the coordination of two sets of needs: what one person desires and what the other person desires.  There is a clear recognition of the other person as a separate individual with his or her own separate needs and interests.  But in a fundamental way, the stage-2 person’s experience of his partner remains an external experience.  What others think and feel may matter to them, but it doesn’t become a feature of the stage-2 individual’s sense of self. The monumental shift in perspective-taking that occurs with the advent of stage 3 is the capacity to make another’s experience of us a part of our own experience of ourselves.  The stage-3 “deep structure” that creates this new understanding of relationships is the ability to take two social perspectivessimultaneously.  We often see the first expressions of this capacity in early adolescence.  Consider the following incident.  My13-year-old daughter left for school one morning in apparent good humor.  A few minutes later I was surprised to hear her returning through the front door.  Going to see what brought her back, I discovered her in tears.  Thinking she’d probably had another encounter with the neighborhood bully, I asked her what was wrong.  Her reply was, “Everybody’s going to think my shoes look stupid.” 

217 words in 31 seconds.


Part 3 includes a loosely defined “spirituality, “Fun” and “politics”.  Take what you will from those headings – they were decided after I had read the books and sorted them into categories of their topics.


Spirituality

Mindfulness meditation.  Chade is known as “the jolly fellow of google” for being in the lucky position of being an early google employee and now probably a gazillionaire.  But also for being able to breathe out joy and loving-kindness on those around him with every breath he takes.  He also teaches the program of mindfulness around the world as he goes.  How to imagine loving-kindness on all those around you.  I read this book in the middle of my great citrulline-malate-enlightenment saga.  One that I would not recommend you follow.  But if you are on the journey to enlightenment you might as well indulge in a few methods of getting there (see PNSE as well).

See Zen koans.  This is a book of original traditional zen koans.  They are fun to play with, as described in my post/dojo.  It’s not a “book” book, but it’s a path to spiritual enlightenment if you choose it.

This is one of the very well talked about books on spirituality.  It’s very convenient that when you start reading into all of these and they agree with each other and they give you the feeling of “everything makes sense” not in the sense that it actually makes sense but in the sense that you think it does.  He covers the non-self also known as non-duality stuff.  and he does well.  Meditation, consciousness, it’s a hard area to lay it all out.  And he does it well.  If you need spirituality.  He has answers.

It’s Jordan Peterson.  He’s a great character with hundreds of hours of videos on youtube that you can lose yourself in.  This book is about finding meaning.  His thesis is that you find meaning by viewing your life through narrative.  Past, Present, Future.  Where you came from, where you are now and where you are going to.  Knowing this and being able to write it out and share it is what makes meaning.  Most of this book is quoting various biblical mythologies and fitting all that into a framework that “people have always created meaning using narrative”.  Which is fine.  It’s an idea.

He goes on to suggest some tropes like, The hero enters the chaotic world by leaving safety, where he is first beaten to a pulp and terrified.  While in the chaotic land he learns to tame it, slays the dragon and brings back the pelt as armour.  He then return home to celebrate victory.  Except dragon is any challenge and the pelt is any learning that you gained when you grew from adversity.  That’s it.  That’s meaning.

Except for one thing.  JP has a very very high verbal IQ.  That means he’s a great story teller and an even better lecturer.  But what he would have difficulty taking into account is his own lens.  His way of seeing the world through story, his thesis, is literally his lens of the world.  In classic typical mind behaviour he insists that this works for everyone, and acts very convincingly to say so.

It’s up to you.  It’s a dense read, maybe you can skip the quoted blocks and just read the bits that are not quotes.  But I think he is biased to his own worldview.  And good on him!  But that’s not how I get my meaning.  There is also a big community out there if you want to talk to JP’ers.

Well.  The comforting thought is that it just happens.  Nothing personal.  It’s not you, it just happens.  And aside from the fact that this is just not meant to be comforting and is just about making known the fact that just so things are just so.  I think the book would be a lot better if it wasn’t 90% bagging out organised religions in the process of saying “death is. and that’s okay”.  I would say skip this book.  It’s not that comforting and yeah, death happens. people die.  ’tis life.

This is a paper not a book but really it’s an excellent presentation of information clustering enlightenment experience onto a continuum and comparing different people’s enlightenment to each other and being able to say “yes” people do end up in the same place when they end up enlightened.  It’s short and it did nothing for me for 6 months till suddenly it clicked and a lot about enlightenment made sense.  But that’s a story for another day!


Not Finished:

Yea. The short says it. I suppose looking back I didn’t understand exactly how taoism sees talk about taoism.  The short version is – Taoists don’t think very highly of talking about the tao, with an attitude of “talk about the tao is not the tao”.  That’s right.  Your goal is this thing but we can never really talk about it or tell you about it and maybe it will make sense if you get closer to it but how do you do that? well we can’t tell you because talking about the tao would be not the tao so good luck with the journey because we can’t give you any clues because it’s not tao if we tell you.

Which is just a really annoying way to say, “don’t try to hit me, actually hit me” or “do or don’t, there is no try” according to Morpheus and Yoda.  So that leads to the guy in this book thinking he is hilarious when he is smirking to himself about how he can’t talk about the thing he wrote the book about.  It’s a real shame because he could have just said that but instead he gives cryptic diatribes about how the Tao is not the Tao for a while until you lose interest.

I feel like a cynic trying to put that together but the honest truth is that I didn’t make sense of the book at all and I gave up part way.

I only wanted to read a chapter or two of this.  In short it says that god (in various religions) was about tolerance and peace and not mass murder and anyone using god to justify their holy wars is wrong because that’s not what God said and that’s not God.  But anyone about to read this book is going to be someone who realises that you are preaching to the choir.  Why would anyone who disagrees with that concept ever pick up this book?

In enlightenment territory there is the path of “meditate on a mountain for 10 years” and then there is the path of, “it was here all along, you just need to get it to click”.  TBH if I had to choose I would choose the easy path.  The, “It’s here”.

Gateless gatecrashers (love the name) is exactly that.  It’s about gatecrashing and shortcutting enlightenment.  why not have it all right now?  And I agree.  The book is a series of guided conversations on how to think differently about the enlightenment being here already and examples of other people unlocking their enlightenment like that.  Which is pretty great.  If you can use this method I definitely would.  Don’t waste your time for 10 years with meditation.  Just work out how to click on to the sheer nothingness, irrelevance and “everything will be okay” of enlightenment.  Go on!  It’s fun!


Fun (Fiction mostly)

Ferrett is my favourite author.  Fix is the one novel I will have read this year, it’s the 3rd in the series of Flex, Flux and Fix.  I have been calling The Ferrett my favourite author for over 10 years despite him only having written his first books in the very recent few years.  He has been blogging for a very long time – writing hilarious stories for all of that time and generally living a hilarious and ridiculous life the whole time.

Apart from him being an excellent author who was going on to do great things, his actual book is set in a world like our own however it has ‘mancy.  Which is the super powers that humans sometimes get when they obsess about a topic so bad that they burn a hole in the universe experiencing their topic.  Sounds a bit like our world only if you Special.Interest that hard here people just avoid you and maybe put you in a mental asylum or tell you to hang out on tumblr.  In the world of Flex, you get magical physics bending powers that are mediated by whether you think that karma is your bitch or you are at the mercy of karma.

Various world destroying events cause people to freak out and governments to lock down all the magic they can so magic is illegal and the government wants to kill anyone they find because sometimes when you rip a hole in the universe it doesn’t stitch back up and people get hurt and you accidentally the whole Europe.  The main character is a bureaucracy-mancer who gets away with his tricks by being agenty and going full munchkin on his powers (the kind of story that rationalists will love).  The thing about bureaucracy is that it has roots at the core of every record and every tracking system.  Including time travel requests both forwards and backwards to collect forms and information from sources that might not exist yet.  I don’t need to tell you that it’s both hilarious and brilliant the way the story pans out.  To top it all off Ferret is a tragic kinkster who slips in wild sex moments casually.  While they don’t add to the story all that much, and there are some dead plot hooks where “suddenly buttsex” because he has a great vision for that character that really did not get to play out in these books, it’s nice to see the normalising of the things that “we can’t talk about yet”.

All in all a great read.  The next time The Ferrett publishes a book I will once again stop my life for as many hours as it takes to read that book too and enjoy being immersed in his world for as many words as he gives.

Theological fiction in an alternative reality where the kabbalistic and magically powerful “names of god” are active.  And then you get capitalism to basically freak the shit out of that kind of hunger-free world-peace world you might get if humans didn’t have co-ordination problems.  And a main character who is funny to read about and loves puns about whales.  Enjoy.

This is a collection of stories about Feynman and the shenanigans he got up to by accident by being honest, simple minded, and genuine through his life.  Highlights include a hobby in safe cracking, accidentally becoming and important space-travel person, trying to work out what a good math book is, and many many more.  He had a wonderful way of looking at the world that is maybe under-appreciated.  If we were all 1% more Feynman the world would be a better place.


Political/Cultural movements

This is the bible of the rationality movement.  Written by the prolific Eliezer Yudkowsky in basically a death march of a million or so words in as short a time as it’s possible to write a million words.  It covers some amazing basics of thinking skills.  Map and territory, epistemics, politics, words and how we use them to confuse ourselves.

EY wrote RAZ on the way to making MIRI and building himself a career in the cutting edge of AI safety research.  He needed to first explain to everyone why it was important, then he needed enough support to do what he wanted to do, and how he is doing exactly that.

I call this a cultural movement because the Rationality movement is a culture.  It’s not so much a political movement as it is a subculture and a way of thinking that cares about clarity of thought and truth seeking.  Aside from being a huge book and a reread, the community is alive and very active and it’s worth checking out.

A fascinating look into the history and gradual progression into aged care facilities and how we got to where we are today.  Once upon a time people would die at home, then as medical technology advanced we could prolong life better and better.  Eventually various kinds of retirement living homes and systems were set up to accommodate getting older.  This was interesting because it was a regulator’s nightmare.

You try telling people that they have to build a nursing home facility with certain provisions in mind.  Good luck to the lawyers because you know that’s who’s making money on that kind of regulation.  The real trouble is that people get old and less able in different ways so a facility designed for someone who can still drive a car is going to be radically different to one designed to cater to someone who just lost the ability to read.

The mistake we made was living in the golden age between when people would just drop dead of “unknown causes” and the golden age where people just live forever by replacing organs and bodies as often as necessary to fix whatever is not working.

This kid has the right idea.  But until that day; this book is a fascinating glimpse into what goes wrong when the incentives in the system are money and you are regularly guilted into “sparing no expense on grandma”.  This is also relevant to the fact that on average a quarter of a person’s lifetime healthcare costs are spent in their last year and it doesn’t usually provide any benefit to the patient.

Importantly this book will teach you to ask the questions; “what is quality of life?  When is life not worth living?”, for this person in particular – with some excellent stories about trading bad choices for worse ones and trying to get the most out of life that a patient wants to get out of life.

If eating food with family is your quality of life and your choices are to do a risky surgery which may see you eating through a tube or spend another month letting the cancer get worse – sometimes the better choice might be to let the cancer get worse while you enjoy that month.  It’s not like we can stop death.  What we can do is enjoy and maximise the time we have.

I really got out of this book – asking that question.  Asking what matters (See also – the NVC book)

Swarmwise is about the pirate party.  A political movement that worked to mobilise the lazy people on the internet that were willing to contribute a little bit here and there.  They developed some fascinating strategies for keeping things moving, despite being run, organised and managed by effectively a swarm of humans with short attention spans and lots of little ideas all over the place.

They talk about having a pipeline.  For example if you have someone willing to print fliers for you, and another person willing to hand them out, you need to make sure you find someone in the middle to get the fliers from A to B.

They talk about asking for support in terms of specific funding.  “we need $X to print the fliers, if you gave $11.50 we’d need 100 people like you to make this work”.  This makes it easy for people to be willing to help.

This and a few other small tips means that if you are looking to run a political or social movement with boots on the ground, you should definitely read this book about how to mobilise people.

Saul Alinsky is the father of left-ish protesting movements.  With some fascinating ideas that strike at the hearts of making executives uncomfortable.  Saul suggests that you can make the issue personal with naming-and-shaming tactics.  Pick a figurehead and target them for action.  He also makes sure to suggest tactics that use your power against the other parties power.  For example – do something fun like a barbecue.  Don’t do something hard-work like a walking rally if your constituents are old and don’t walk well.  If your enemies are debaters, don’t let them talk!  Take it off their turf and catch them off guard.

Fascinating to read about “play dirty then justify your actions later”.  Definitely has some insights into human psychology and behaviour.

The bible of effective altruism.  If you want to do good, how do you maximise the good that you do?  The book is not a magically enjoyable read but that’s not why you read a book like this.  It’s got all the classics like the drowning child argument, but it’s not nearly as convincing as I would have liked.  Still better than nothing.

A political diatribe about how migrants are the cause of all Australia’s problems and we should let less people in.  I thought it would be about housing, it was not and it was charged with an agenda and not that exciting.  DS is a famous Australian who has strong opinions and is a good speaker and has a growing following as a household name.  That doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong about things.  I read this because I was hoping to find him pleasantly sharper and on the ball than I expected and I found him without justifications and with poor data when he had data.


Not Finished

This was suggested to me by a very good friend, several years ago.  I got about two chapters in and was very disappointed.  When I raised it with the friend they said that the book was not nearly as good as they thought it was back then and the arguments raised seemed to be about emotional pull and not good reasoning.  It’s kind of on the side of if you already agree then you don’t need to read the book but if you don’t agree then you are probably not picking up the book in the first place.

I didn’t finish because I didn’t find it enjoyable or compelling and I got the feedback from my friend that it would not suit me.

This landed in my direction on the back of the 2017 crypto madness.  It’s not a bad book but it’s not a good book either.  It’s got some crypto foundation but for a person connected to the internet you probably know most of what’s in here.  It does go into depth about some of the history and have some information that I didn’t have, but also didn’t need.

The thing about crypto is that someone worked out that they could print money.  And they do this for a while.  that’s fun until the government decides it does not want other people printing money.  Then you have a problem.


This is part 3 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1, and Psychology and Management in part 2.

Part 4 coming soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

why don’t people communicate?

I’m struggling with my partner, he doesn’t communicate. I tell him I need to understand what is going on for him but he doesn’t seem to be able to get it out and across to me.  I don’t know if I am not listening or he is not trying.


In my experience this is one of two things.

1. Finding the words is hard.
Most people don’t have the following phrase:

I want to tell you something but I don’t know how to explain, can you give me some time to put it into words?

Even if most people could say that on the tip of their tongue, they would then have to think of words. And that’s hard.  A good communicator will be willing to help the other person find the words to map out what’s going on internally

2. Safety to say what you want to say.

Safety includes not expecting to be judged for what you say, and not expecting consequences for what you say.

Consequences can include

  • People feeling emotions (like sad, angry) about what you say.
  • People punishing you for what you said.
    • by judging you
    • by reacting physically
    • by reacting at all negatively (sometimes positive reaction is also a punishment)
    • by reacting in a way to manipulate you
  • People being unpredictable in behaviour (this requires the skill of predicting what people will do as well as people who act predictably.
  • receiving legal or financial attack based on what you say.  (or expecting this)
  • metaphysical/spiritual threat (God will judge what you say, or what you were thinking)

How to fix this?

  1. make safe the space for communication.  Make sure it’s private.  Build up trust (read: repeatedly be reliable in your ability to not judge them and not cause consequences for what they say.  This may take practice, this may take baby steps.)
  2. help them with the words.  Some people need help with words.  They need the guidance to find the feeling they are having.  They need some helpful questions to explore specificity of what’s going on.  Remember to be careful, without safety this is uncomfortable territory.

Also no one owes you anything.  You can ask for someone to help you to reach an understanding but they are allowed to say no.

Message sending should be easy.  But sometimes it’s more complicate than we realise.

Posted in communication | Leave a comment

I’m going to help you quit Facebook with some science

I was a serial Facebook addict.  I used to spend 2+ hours a day on Facebook, most days.  Until I worked out how to change my mind.

Let’s talk about the news feed.  We all have this feeling that the news feed is drivel.  Even curated, mine was still full of crud. Even super curated it was dull at best.  Eventually I realised, something had to give.

As with many conflicts, indecision feels uncomfortable.  Personally, I was super uncomfortable sitting in the cognitive dissonance of two conflicting beliefs:

Belief 1: Facebook is drivel and I want to spend less time on Facebook.

Belief 2: Facebook has good content from my friends that I want to keep up with.

There are three possible ways this can go.  Either Facebook is in fact drivel and I will be happy to avoid it at any cost.  Or Facebook has good in it and I’m staying around for the good stuff because I know it’s worth it. Or Facebook is sometimes bad and sometimes good in some other complicated fashion, and I should check Facebook in some complicated intermittent fashion because of that…

This is how I worked out which belief was right.


You will need:

  • your news feed
  • pen and paper
  • 5-10 minutes

Basic premise: Facebook has some good content and some bad content.  But how much of each is ideal, acceptable or tolerable?

  • If there were 10 good posts for every 3 bad posts, I might be willing to accept that.  Maybe I can take some rubbish with the good! I should visit more often. 10:3
  • If there was 1 good post to every bad post, I could still accept that. 1:1
  • If there was 1 good post for every 5 bad posts, maybe I could suffer that.  After all, not everything is perfect. 1:5
  • But what if there was only 1 good post for every 10, 20, 30 bad posts?  I don’t think I’d be okay with that. 1:10
  • And if it was worse – 1 good for every 50 bad – that would be enough to leave the platform.  There’s no point digging for diamonds in a dung heap. I’d rather just read a book. 1:50

Think about the possible ratios and write down your pre-commitment.  What ratios do you consider ideal, acceptable, and unacceptable? Don’t worry about getting it perfect; you’re an adult who can change their mind at any time.  The purpose of writing down a ratio is to establish a baseline expectation before testing. I’m not coming to sneak up behind you and see your piece of paper and judge you if you change your mind.  It’s fun to try set a belief and then test it. This is doing science.

Once you’ve decided your ideal, acceptable and unacceptable ratios, write down another number.  What do you think the actual ratio is? Try to be honest. No one is looking.

Next, draw this table on your page:

Now comes the part that takes the time.  I want you to go down your news feed and I want you to count if you think posts are good or bad.  There’s also the “maybe” list for if you can’t decide. Be honest with yourself. Try not to count posts a particular way.  Try not to push the result somewhere. As a scientist, be curious about what it’s going to be. No need to bias the results.  It won’t work as an exercise if you lie to yourself. It’s also unnecessary to lie.

What’s good and what’s bad?  I don’t know. It’s subjective anyway.  I can’t tell you how to do that. You might want to think about:

  • Do you want to hear this?
  • Do you like the person it came from, is that enough to make the post good?
  • Is it user generated content or is it shared content from elsewhere?
  • is it “funny”?
  • is it “news”?
  • is it “happy”?
  • is it “political”?
  • Think of your own version of what factors might matter.
  • Is this an ad?

And keep going.  You can go to 100 posts, you can go for 5 minutes, go till you get bored.  Up to you how you decide when to stop. With a warning: If you don’t pre-determine the stopping rule you can bias the numbers a little.  What if post 101 is a good one, you might stop at 101 not 100. That means you swayed everything a little more good on the ratios than you would otherwise have measured.

Then what?  Count the columns.  Then? Do nothing. It’s just a ratio.  We measured, but we don’t have to do anything different.


How does this work?  What happened?  What did you do to me?

I say do nothing.  But I am confident that you are going to allocate less time to Facebook than previously.  Just naturally end up on there less often.

The trouble with feelings is that they are based in System 1.  I have a hunch that Facebook is boring. But I don’t always naturally know what to do with that hunch.  The task above takes the feeling and brings that into System 2. We can count and measure the exact quantity of the feeling.  Then maybe we can be better informed to act. And act you can.

Depending on what you uncover, you can choose what to do next.  You now know exactly how good or bad your news feed was today. Take this information and choose to look at Facebook less, or choose to look at Facebook more.  Maybe it’s where you find all the good ideas! And any time you like – retest. See how your intuition for the site, mismatches or matches to reality.


Another interesting thing I noticed on Facebook:

If I hit the “like” button, Facebook tries it’s valiant and hardest to show me more of that same thing.  That means if it’s pictures, Facebook will deliver slightly more pictures. If it’s from a group, posts from that group.  If it’s from a friend, I’d be hearing more from that friend over the next week. I kind of stopped hitting the like buttons.  Facebook doesn’t need to know my likes. I also hate like notifications so much that I got a browser add-on that hides them from view and notification.

Now I wasn’t hitting the like button so much.  But I would still comment occasionally. I would watch flame wars as they happened.  And I started getting interested in arguments.  I tried to work out where they started.  It seemed that they always started earlier than I expected.  Well before a flame war, people are getting aggravated. But while that was interesting to learn, I wasn’t commenting – I didn’t want to interrupt the arguments that I was seeing, I was trying to be an objective observer.  When I would make the occasional comment, same as likes, Facebook would deliver content that was similar to my future browsing.

if you are curious how the news feed will change, you can follow me in stopping likes and commenting.  Try it. Also try other experiments. Science is fun!


Meta: I did this 6+ months ago and the results stuck.  I spend a lot less time on Facebook than I used to.  But the amazing thing is that the effect was almost overnight.  It was obvious.  My ratio was worse than 1:20.  That was unacceptable to me.

When you try this, make sure you put down some predictions.  Part of the scientific method is to make predictions and then test those predictions.  In the process of modelling the world, predicting the future and generally being awesome, it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to be right – that’s why we test.  It’s not okay to fake the results and lie to yourself. Wouldn’t it be something if you were surprised. Or confused. Or you changed your mind in response to the evidence you found.

Facebook and social media are becoming an entrenched part of our lives.  Hopefully you ask the question about who’s in control.  Facebook is out to get you after all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Basic model of Sending a Message (Communication 101)

My hope in writing this out is that you go “well duh!  Of course” and then pretend like you knew this all already.  Whether or not you did is up to you.


With communication there is going to be a Sender and a Receiver. These can and will regularly swap around in a healthy relationship. There will also be a Message. The message goes from the sender to the receiver. Often we feel most heard when we get confirmation or affirmation that the message was received and it was the same message that we sent. This can happen by repetition (See also Handshaking (computer science)).


It’s not all that complicated.


A short time later.  A confirmation of the first message or a new message being sent.


Confirming a message, also a diagram of communication about message sending.

There are many ways that a message can go wrong.

Here is a few of them:

  • Over emphasis – you get the message across but it’s super harsh.  “Don’t walk on my left side” is heard as “never ever do that ever again”
  • Under emphasis – you get the message across but it’s a mild form and not taken seriously.  “can you make sure you message me when you are running late” becomes “if you remember to text me, that would be great”
  • Opposite message – you successfully send the opposite message.  “I appreciate your attention” becomes “leave me alone”
  • Wrong message – you successfully sent a different message. “I want you to tell me that you like what I am wearing” becomes “I want you to lie to me to make me feel better”
  • Under specific – you sent a message but it’s not clear what the specific problem is. Or why you are sending this message. “you need to be a cleaner person” when you wanted to say, “clean your bathroom because there is mould on the walls and it’s making you sick”
  • Over specific – you get the message across but it seems like it only applies to the past and not other similar situations.  See also rules-lawyering your relationships – “you said you didn’t want me to go to dinner, you didn’t say anything about lunch”.  “you said you didn’t like me holding hands, you didn’t say anything about walking arm in arm… why are you so upset! Come back and talk to me!”
  • garbled – it’s clear you are sending a message but it’s not clear what.  “Hey when you do that thing I wish you would do something different instead”.  “lets meet up some time to talk”.
  • Incomplete message – “hey can you just…”
  • Rambling long – Grice’s Maxim of quantity (Make your contribution as informative as is required.  Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.) – “I was just talking to sally and she said that I should tell you what I was telling her so I decided I would tell you and then I caught the bus here and then I was hungry so I went to get a sandwich and then I decided I would come talk to you…”
  • Sending a message by accident – you seem to be giving off a message.  See “resting bitch face”.  “when you cross your arms I think you are angry”  “but I was just cold”.  Also it’s counterpart-
    • Seeing a message that isn’t there – “you didn’t reply to my text for seventeen minutes so you must hate me and want to break up”.  You said “goodbye and not sweet dreams so something must be wrong”.

Problems with messages can be to do with one of these errors, or to do with a failure to successfully send and receive a message.  For example an interruption while sending can cause a message to be incomplete.  If the receiver is not paying attention this can get in the way of a message being sent.

It can also be helpful to be clear what you want someone to do with the message.

Some ideas:

  • I want you to repeat the message back to me.
  • I want you to confirm if you agree or disagree.
  • I want you to do the action I told you to do.
  • I want you to offer something as an exchange.
  • I want to know how this message makes you feel.
  • I want you to have heard the message and not responded.
  • I want validation from you.
  • I want support from you.
  • I want your ideas around solving this problem

See also emotional bids, validation/affirmation from NVC (video), Circling. 4 types of conversation from number 2 – difficult conversations in my list of models of relationshipsFilter on the way in, Filter on the way out, A model of arguments.  What is a problem?


Meta: I’ve never seen it written out.  My hope is that this simple model can help you think about communication and message sending.  It’s very simple and doesn’t cover barriers to sending a message and many other things but it’s a start.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No Offence, no defence.

On the case of saying the phrase, “no offence” followed by a statement that may or may not cause offence.

Should you use the phrase? Should you avoid the phrase? Is the phrase misleading? For what purpose might one misuse the phrase? What kind of social responsibility does using the phrase imply? What kind of social context does the use of the phrase set? Is the phrase net good or net harm?

The issue is complicated.

One crux of the complexity is that offence is in the receiving party. It’s an experience of “feeling offended”. You can’t forcefully cause someone offence on purpose. However you can damn well try. You can say things that might beyond a reasonable doubt cause a reasonable person to take offence. In contrast you also can’t perfectly avoid causing offence but again you sure can try, and you can take a reasonable expectation that a reasonable person won’t be offended by a certain phrase. (See also: The reasonable person test)

For example – A situation in which “A would not expect to cause offence”
A: “Good day”
B – Taking offence: “What do you mean by that?”

In this example, depending on the tone used, A can probably be reasonably confident that a reasonable person won’t take offence from a statement like, “good day”. However we don’t know the full context. B could look like death warmed up and implying “good day” might be taken as a sarcastic and rude implication that A would be willing to disregard the context and rudely “pretend” that it’s a good day despite the context. Hold onto the complexity here. Offence is in the receiving party.

Social Grey Area

As with many social experiences there is a “grey area” Open to dispute as to where lines should be drawn. Some would say that it’s necessary for a free flowing society for there to be have an open and grey area. People need the capacity to ask each other the time. People need some grey area in which to explore and be social without reasonably being restricted. A society with too many restrictions would not be one worth living in. Having clarity about the existence of the grey area, it becomes clear that one cannot perfectly cause or avoid offence, there exists only subjective personal experience that cleaves the white and black from the grey. Legally we use the reasonable person test, and to judge which side of offence is taken.

The man on the Clapham omnibus is a hypothetical ordinary and reasonable person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party has acted as a reasonable person would – for example, in a civil action for negligence. The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated, intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_man_on_the_Clapham_omnibus)

This issue only gets more complicated from here.

Saying “no offence” gives off a signal to the receiver. You have some kind of understanding that what you are about to say can be easily or at least slightly taken as offensive. And you are going to say it anyway. It doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to “not offend people”. You may think that if they take offence it’s their problem. But then why say, “no offence” in the first place?

As for responsibility for resultant offence, You don’t necessarily take on the responsibility to ensure a person is not offended. As mentioned above, it may be impossible to prevent offence. The limit may be a reasonable person and a reasonable statement. Beyond which if you expect a person to be not offended, you best keep yo big fat mouth shut rather than say anything at all.

Responsibility

I propose that saying “no offence” creates a responsibility. By saying “no offence” you think have some responsibility to not offend. Or at the very least a responsibility to warn people of the upcoming offence. By saying “no offence”, you set the social context that, “offence should not be made”. And a further social context that one has a responsibility to warn before causing offence. Or warn of the potential of upcoming offence. While the warning creates an implied understanding that you expect the potential of offence. This doesn’t automatically make you responsible if you cause a resulting offence.  It does imply a duty or responsibility that you invested in, by saying, “no offence” – to not be causing offence.

If you do believe that a responsibility is created. And it would appear from the use of the statement, “no offence” that you would wish to take on a responsibility to not cause offence. Or at the very least a warning that offence is forthcoming. I would propose a responsibility to “not cause offence”, comes with a responsibility to, “repair the resultant damage”, if you do cause offence. In which case, if one truly intends to not cause offence, not be the causer of offence, not be responsible for causing offence or responsible for repairing the damage, one might not want to say any warning of “no offence” or in fact say anything at all.

Repair

In the context of a person having said, “no offence” and offence still being caused. Does a person have a responsibility to repair? Following on from above.  Creation of responsibility to not cause offence, having now caused offence. I propose that you stand responsible for the words that you created and what may come from them.

If there is in fact a duty and responsibility for social humans to not cause each other offence, and you set the context of the current interaction by saying “no offence”. You take on the responsibility and duty for offence, you have a duty to respond to the offence caused.

In summary – you should stand up and apologise for the offence, if offence is cause, from statements that follow the use of “no offence”.  Even more so than if the statement was not used.

Ensure your apology includes the acknowledgement of the pain caused and the intention to not cause harm in the future. (see the book: “On Apology” by Aaron Lazare)

The crux

Does saying “no offence”, create a responsibility?  Does it create more responsibility than not saying so?  Does it explicitly identify a responsibility that already existed?  Does the responsibility if implied by the statement, in intention as a warning, also carry over to the potential resultant offence, if created?  It does not appear clear.  It would take someone greater than I to be able to declare one way or another.

One thing is clear.  If you want to be a good and honest, perhaps, “reasonable person” – would a reasonable person intend offence?  Would a reasonable person create a warning?  I don’t know.

Perhaps the reasonable person, in living in the social grey area world in which we live in, trying to do the right thing, need only be mindful of the risks.  Perhaps acting in good intention, in attempting to cause no offence, in trying to not create offensive statements, in taking ownership of offence if it is caused, by acknowledging offence and honestly attempting to repair the harm caused.  Perhaps that is all a reasonable person needs to do.


Meta: I don’t take myself too seriously.  You probably don’t need to take me too seriously either.

Edit: I should have probably mentioned the prescriptive/descriptive split. It’s not very useful to prescribe language use. We can only really look at how people use it and draw inferences from there.  Language use changes over time and the use of language is always up to popular culture.  It’s interesting to look at these things but sometimes hard to be conclusive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Relationships, Emotional bids and Attachment styles

Emotional bids

A husband and wife are at the breakfast table. The wife looks out the window and says, “oh what a pretty bird”. The husband looks in the paper and says, “looks like there is a town meeting on this Saturday night”

John gottman – the mathematician who studied relationships defined a bid as one of those times when you reach out to another person. Anything is a bid, and there are 3 broad ways to classify a bid/response pair. (my notes on his theory here at number 4)

  1. Positive – “Why yes honey, very pretty”
  2. Negative – “I don’t know why you want us to go to those stupid meetings”
  3. Silence – no reply.

Important note: you can give a positive bid response while saying no to an offer. Often a bid comes in the form of an invitation. Inviting a friend to an event or party. The wife above could have said, “oh yeah, thanks for reminding me. I don’t really want to go to the town meeting. You can go without me.”

Gottman Proposes that in the order above, ideally positive, second negative and the worst is silence. A partner can still learn from a negative bid. You might not like that topic. It might be hard to say “thank you” around an area, you can teach your partner to ask more carefully with negative bid responses. The worst is silence. We can’t tell if it was good or bad or old-age deafness.

Great relationships have a high ratio of positive to negative bids. You can make any relationship better with more positive bids. This means two things:

  1. Have enough bids goin on. (You may have to make more bids)
  2. Have them be positive.

For 2 – Ensure positive responses when you are returning a bid. Don’t get discouraged with a negative response. Remember the person is trying to tell you something.  It’s not necessarily clear what.  Try to clarify silences/negatives with positive intent (See also Gottman “turn towards don’t turn away”).  Silences – “Yesterday evening when you didn’t reply – I am guessing you fell asleep”.  If negative, “I am confused (and needing clarity), What do you want? do you want me to talk about that topic in the future? or are you distracted?grumpy?occupied?other? right now?”

You can’t force bids in any direction. Just like you can’t force a relationship. But you can try a little harder, and you can be careful/conscious around your bids. Some people are naturals at this. Some need to understand the model in order to do it better.

A note on bids: Bids can be big or small. Some people like big bids like an expensive gift, a fancy dinner, a holiday. Some people like lots of small bids through a day, notes, messages, reminders that you care. On some levels, bids score “relationship goodness points” no matter the size. On other levels, the size of the bid matters. See also the 5 love languages (wikipedia has a good summary), for some more things to consider in terms of the contents of bids and what might be appreciated the most.


Attachment styles

There are 4 adult attachment styles in the theory. The research isn’t clear on how people end up in their styles. The healthiest is secure, the others are “insecure” styles.  I wanted to explore the question – how do the various attachment styles feel about the emotional bids theory?  How do they engage with various types of bids, and how does this propagate various attachment styles?

Secure

Mostly positive bids.  Lots of bids.  If there are less bids it doesn’t personally feel like it’s a problem.  Occasional negative or missed connection because it can happen.  But you can always explain to each other what went wrong.  You don’t take it personally when they don’t reply because “you know they didn’t mean to” ignore you and probably have a good reason to not have replied (positive attributions).

Anxious–Preoccupied

Negative replies are hard to avoid. Bids are sometimes negatively returned too. Sometimes the world seems to be in such a way that you can’t help making an attacking bid that is likely to be responded to negatively. You are preoccupied sometimes and miss a connection.  Having a bid un-returned gives you damage.  People don’t return my bids because I am not valuable/important.

Dismissive–Avoidant

negative bid responses. Sometimes radio silence. Positive bids seem like a demand or pressure to act in a certain way and you can’t just be happy because people only do positive bids when they want something.  Probably lives with sassyness because that seems like “what you do”.  Not responding to people seems like a normal thing to do.  Sometimes being with other people feels like they are demanding my time and attention and I need my freedom.

Fearful–avoidant

Negative bid responses often. Sometimes silence because you are scared of the bid-responses. Or a bid seems to be an attack and you can’t trust the partner to not be attacking you.


Meta: I don’t know if this helps.  It just is.  Maybe if I understand just one person who reads this then I can help a little bit.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Draining friends

Some friends can be draining.  When you think about spending time with them you recall being made to feel tired.  Maybe they always bring you down.  They say things that make you feel frustrated.  They sound like a broken record at times.

There are probably a few ways that people can be draining friends.  This is an exploration of that concept.


Think of a friend who is draining.  I have three in mind.

What have they done that made you feel drained?

  1. My friend C used to make financial plans that I felt were irresponsible.  C would get excited about planning a holiday.  Look up prices, start working out how much it would cost.  All without having much savings.  C would intend to spend all their savings and come back with close to zero spare dollars.  They would excitedly share their plans about spending money.  I would listen intently, think about their plans and carefully point out the ways that simple things might go wrong.  Ways that C might end up with negative dollars when they got back.  I would be unconvincing at first.  C is a very stubborn person.  So am I.  I would slow down.  Explain some financial fundamentals.  Suggest some ways that things could go wrong.

    Eventually I would get the message across.  C would plan differently, but I would be “drained”.  I would be tired of having to teach them these things.  I love helping people understand concepts they don’t currently understand.  This was pretty confusing to me.  I don’t know exactly what made them more draining than other people.  And I am not entirely sure how to fix the feeling of draining.  But something about that interaction made them draining.

  2. My friend J used to believe the world was against them.  Every week they would have a new story describing the way that someone actively plotted to ruin their day.  The person who pushed past them on the bus.  The co-worker who didn’t respect their contribution.  The ex that said words that seemed designed to hurt them.  Each story I would listen intently.  And I would do what I do in my head when someone pushes past me on the bus.

    I imagine that they are busy and have somewhere to go.  Maybe they are running late, maybe they are rescuing babies from burning buildings.  I would share the way that I would be willing to interpret the same world experience.  This might not always go over well.  I’d have to explain the foundations of fundamental attribution error.  I’d suggest that maybe the co-worker doesn’t have time to appreciate their work because they were too busy with other responsibilities and it’s not the co-workers fault either.  Invariably I’d get the message across that maybe the world doesn’t hate J.  There would be peace in their world.  But not for long.  Only as long as until the next ambiguous world event happened.

  3. My friend S has a pet topic.  They always want to bring up the topic and engage about the topic.  It doesn’t help that the pet topic is one of those endlessly arguable topics.  So there is often new ways to look at the topic and try to explain it differently.  It’s gotten to the point that I will avoid conversation with this person because I anticipate they will invariably end up on that topic and end up in a debate.  Often an adversarial truth seeking method, not a collaborative truth seeking method.  I don’t always dislike adversarial truth seeking, but there appears to be a pattern here that I don’t enjoy.

Erratio had an example too.  A friend who would have a lot of complaints about how they were being treated socially.  Having stories that sound like, “He said this.  Then she said that. And can you believe they would do that to me”.  Erratio would do the emotional labour of processing these experiences until they were not so much “the universe is plotting against you”, and more, “sometimes things happen and you don’t always win”.  Erratio suggests – the thing that makes it extra draining is the thought that – knowing that a friend will end up having one of these conversations with you – you brace yourself to manage the conversation.  To the point where, even thinking about conversation with the person will cause the feeling of being drained.


Among these scenarios there are a few common elements:

  • A person with an idea or worldview that comes up and gets shared and portrayed a certain way.
  • A desire to change that view or interact with the idea.
  • Changing or interacting with the idea seems to be like walking through mud.  It’s harder work than just walking.
  • After successfully navigating to place of clarity around the idea, there is no recognition or acknowledgement of the distance travelled, or the work put in to reach a better place.  Often there is a desire from the other person to move forward as if they always agreed with me – despite the sudden change in view.
  • There is an expectation that the pattern of conversation will repeat.  Either because it has repeated in the past or because it was unresolved the last time it came up.
  • There is a desire to not engage in the pattern again.  The feeling of being tired just thinking about attending the conversation.
  • There is some implicit burden or responsibility to change the view.  This might be, “people wrong on the internet”, or “this person I really care about is about to make a stupid mistake that could be avoided”.  You feel you have a duty to be involved, often before consenting to being involved.

Something that might matter:

  • The view is strongly held and this makes it hard to communicated any different view, or that an understanding is missing.

Ways to fix this:

An obvious solution is to look at the draining features.  Either the parts listed here, or your own experiences of a draining person.  Consider changing the features of the drain

If I only ever go out to the movies with my friend J, I won’t be stuck having that conversation, we will talk about the movie, we might talk about the topic a little bit.  Overall I expect to not have to brace myself for the topic.

I could talk to my draining friend.  I could link them to this post, I could get curious and communicate about it.  I’d like to think I’ve done some work here to understand what’s going on, this isn’t an accusation of wrongdoing, it’s just an observation of how I am experiencing some social situations.  I have no blame around the fact that I feel drained.  Ideally I don’t want to feel drained.  Maybe there is a way we can talk about the important issue that doesn’t lead to the draining feeling.  Maybe my friend has a solution.  Maybe my friend had no idea they were causing the draining feeling.  Maybe there are other people in their lives that don’t feel as drained that they can talk to more.  Maybe they can improve their relationships by understanding the draining problem more themselves.

I could try working on myself.  At first I could think about my expectations.  Just because the friend was draining in the past does not mean they will always be draining in the future.  Alternatively, maybe I don’t have to help.  I don’t have to solve the problem.  Maybe the mistake is small.  Maybe letting my friend make the financial mistake would help them learn to not make that mistake again.  Maybe I am too worked up and invested in my friend here and I need to step back and not be so concerned.  It’s not my problem.


I don’t have the answers.  I do have these thoughts.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A novel model of ADHD. Some self reported experiences and a comparison of motivation, flow, and more.

Imagine your mind is a big whiteboard.  All the things you want to do are on the board. By the end of a day the whiteboard is full of the things you thought about. Things you ran out of time to finish.  Ideas that want you to come back.  Ideas that want interest and attention. When you wake in the morning the whiteboard is blank. So is your memory of all the things you wanted to do yesterday.  What do you want to do today?  Anything I like!

This is my life on ADHD. Every morning I wake up without stress.  It’s wonderful!  I wake up to an empty whiteboard.  There’s nothing to do today!  I am free to do as I like!  What a carefree and worry free life I live.  This comes at a cost.

A blank whiteboard is also motivation free.  Long term goals are hard.  Impulsivity to check out what exciting new things have appeared on my radar. New messages, new cat videos on my feed, new cool math problems and neat technology…  New things to write on my blank whiteboard!  I wonder if…  What if that…  Maybe I should…  I’ll watch that later (if I remember).


ADHD model

I propose a working model of ADHD.  

Start with the basic 2 system model of the brain proposed by Daniel Kahneman. System 1 – fast intuition, “instinct” brain.  System 2 – procedural stepwise brain.  An ADHD neurotype can perform habits and routines and get into procedures.  This represents a working S1, without which, a skill like riding a bike is impossible.  Without S1 such a skill can’t become intuitive and automatic.  Intuition is needed for difficult-human type problems where action is required faster than a procedure strategy can be enacted.  While the process of learning to ride a bike may be fraught with distraction.  Once they overcome learning, it is possible for an ADHD person to ride a bike.

As an example – “why does the frisbees appear to get bigger as it gets close to my fac– *THUD*”.  That would be an example of S2 trying to play/think about frisbee.

I propose that all people are constantly noticing potentially distracting details.  Noises that pop up, people moving in the background, ideas that come from being reminded of something, connections to other parts of the brain.  A neurotypical person develops s2 control over impulses.  S2 can guide a, “oh this reminds me of a time…”, or a “let’s pick that thing up”  distraction with self-talk that says, that’s not relevant right now or other various tactics to keep one’s self on topic.  For example a phone reminder every half hour to check for yourself what you are working on like tagtime.

In ADHD neurotype, impulse control is deficient.  It’s not non-existent but it’s reduced.  The impulses that a neurotypical brain might naturally dismiss (as above) are not mediated.  That includes emotions that are fast to change, intrusive or creative thoughts, the desire to fiddle or fidget, and several other examples covered in the diagnostic questions below.

Impulse control

Let me be specific about impulse control.  When I say impulse I use the concept from the motivation equation model:

Motivation = The desire to do a task.

Expectancy = The expectation that you will be successful at the task.

Value = How important you find the result of doing the task.

Impulsiveness = The distractions that come up when doing the task.

Delay = How far away the reward is.

A quick example.  How motivated am I to finish my Science degree?

I expect I will be able to do it aside from the distractions and difficulties studying.  I value it very much as an achievement.  I am impulsive every time I try to study because I am distracted by reading Wikipedia, talking to friends on my phone and 101 other tasks.  The delay is abous 2-3 years away to finish the degree.

In the theory of the motivation equation, we can improve motivation by recognising which factors are the worst offenders and make them better.  For example the delay to reward is quite high in the example given but I can improve that with a calendar that I cross off each day, and a reminder that I am working towards a degree every single day that I cross it off.  In a neurotypical this strategy may not even be needed.  Or the strategy might come naturally.  In an ADHD brain, this strategy probably needs to be trained.  Then – even if the calendar strategy is trained, it may not work because of other factors.

Impulses are the off topic thoughts that pop into your mind. Impulses are the thoughts that reminds us to also add something else to the shopping list.  Impulses help us to notice that there are flies around because someone left a window open (otherwise there are just flies around).  Impulses allow us to suggest novel solutions to problems because we see the bigger picture.  They allow us to step away from the present stress and daydream for a moment. Impulses also cause us to not be able to study if there is a dirty cup on our desk.  They are the extended thought beyond, “there are flies”, to “why are there flies?” and more.  They can be trained to be productive, supportive and helpful.  Impulses are not good or bad.  Most importantly – they just ARE, You can’t fight them, and if you did they would get worse.  Making strategies to work with impulses is the best option you have.

In ADHD you don’t get to choose which impulses inspire you and come to your mind.  Not unless you train them.  Strategies that will work include planning and controlling the environment (workspace, etc) to reduce distractions, training habits of thought or behaviour to manage distraction (set a timer to allow for a quick break), fidget toys, and more.

Medication?

I have explained above why behavioural strategies would work.  Why does medication work? Medication may cause the impulse reduction part of the brain to be louder.  The sort of medication that might make someone else anxious can suddenly cause an ADHD person to have impulse control thoughts.  For example coffee that will “bring people up” is know to bring ADHD people down to focus.  Of course these things are a fine balance and long term exposure to systematically messing with a brain can cause unknown adaptations.  Example: when not on medication, everything is worse, and medication dose needs to increase to remain effective.  (like how people adapt to coffee)

Hyperfocus

We know from Autism spectrum that the ability to hyperfocus and have special interests remains in brains that are not neurotypical.  But why?  I propose an analogy.  Imagine (as a neurotypical) you find something really interesting.  So interesting and stimulating that you don’t get distracted.  That is – a piece of information or something so amusing you can pay attention to it for long stretches at a time because nothing is currently more interesting.

ADHD still has the capacity to be hyper focused but only for very specific or stimulating content.  Impulse control is not needed if there are no impulses because the current topic is interesting enough.  In this sense an ADHD person has an advantage towards learning if they can teach themselves how to be sufficiently interested in learning hard things.  They also have a disadvantage in that sometimes you have to learn boring things before moving to the more interesting things.  Like learning how to write before learning how to use new words.  Fine motor control of writing may be harder to learn because it’s not interesting enough compared to the novel potential of new words.

This also means if you can reasonably convince someone with ADHD why a skill is interesting, you can probably get them to concentrate on it.  (this works for all people – cultivate interest and intrigue)

Flow

In Flow theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, there is an optimum balance point between difficulty of task and skill at the task.  If this balance point is found you will be in the flow channel and having enjoyable experiences.  If a challenge is too easy for your skill level you will be bored.  In ADHD boredom corresponds to impulsive thoughts and without impulse control that means they will no longer be doing the task.

In ADHD it is possible that the “flow channel” is a lot smaller than in neurotypical people.  The balance point between hard enough and not too hard might be small or negative in size.  That is, a hard task can also be boring at the same time as causing anxiety.

I propose to always try to give an ADHD person stimulating experience.  Pay attention for signs of boredom and impulsive thoughts and inspire interest in the topics you would prefer they focus on.  It’s not that they don’t want to be doing the thing in front of them.  It’s that they might have forgotten why they want to do it.


If this working model needs clarification feel free to ask me.

I have also evaluated this model against the Adult ADHD Self Reporting Scale Question and the criteria in the DSM V and it fits.  To read the extra information with good formatting – look at this google document.


Meta: Something about talking about ADHD just lends itself to inspire me to be distracted.  I spent the better part of a 13 hour day at my computer not working on this document.  And I don’t really understand how I had that many distractions in one day.  That’s not counting the 3 hours the day before spent writing it up for the first time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two kinds of Agency

Let’s talk about agency.  This week I read Transform Your Self, as reviewed by Kaj Sotala in How I found and fixed the root problems behind my depression and anxiety after 20 years.

Transform your self explains that we each carry identities, self beliefs in a kind of database.  A self identity is a completion to the phrase, “I am-“.  Separate from things that you do, “I drive a bus”, or very broad strokes, “I am a human”.  Rather things that you can answer, for example, “I am kind”.

Paul Graham talks about keeping your identity small.  As he said, “The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.”, Identity is baggage that can burden us.  But Nate Soares says, caring about something is Something To Fight For.  So which is it?  It’s both.

We both need less of the bad types of identity and more of the good types of identity.  This is a class of problem of Joint over and under-diagnosis by Scott Alexander.  Which is also that we can’t simplify this model to “identity is good” or “identity is bad”.  If we do, we can no longer explain what is going on.  We’ve lost information.

Jointly we need less, “I feel bad because I didn’t get the assignment in on time” and more, “I feel good because I did the tasks that I care about”.  As per usual, Advice should come on a spectrum.  And sometimes you have to hear the opposite advice for it to be applicable to your situation.

I’ve been working on the self concept of “agency”.  Building a personal database of examples of me exercising my agency.  I seem to come up with two types of agency:


Agency Over Your Own Brain

This is the agency where:

  • In your head you can be anxious about making a phone call but “do it anyway”.
  • You can feel grumpy but not dump that onto other people.
  • You can feel angry but not punch someone in the face.
  • You know you don’t like taking tablets.  So you bargain with yourself and decide you are allowed chocolate with the tablets and only if you take the tablets.  Not at other times.
  • You don’t like exercise so you throw away your bus pass so that you have to walk to work.
  • You know you will usually chicken out of social obligations, so you create a sunk cost by paying for a night course for 10 weeks up front.  Then you will feel bad if you don’t attend.
  • You know you hate wastage and love cooking.  So you make plans to cook for other people so that you don’t have to eat the foods and ruin your diet.

For some, having agency will mean that they are able to manipulate their squishy brain.  There’s a debate that could be opened here.  Are “you” the Squishy one?  Or are “you” the one convincing the squishy one to do things.  Are you the one who wants to play video games all night?  The one failing with abandon.  Or are you the one who wants to get a good night’s rest?  The agent who knows you don’t have to fail with abandon.

Agency is the ability to pull levers and push buttons so that your body does the diet thing even when you are hungry.  So that you get to the distant goals even when you didn’t find them initially salient.

Agency over your surroundings

Also known as a Munchkin.  If someone were to offer me a cheat code, but over the real world – I’d take it in a heart beat.  There is no such thing as cheat codes for life.  If there were, life would be a bit more like Unsong (Where the right syllables cause kabbalistic super powers).  Life would be a bit less bound by physics and a lot more bound by whatever made the rules and the cheat codes for those rules.

Surrounding agency is to realise, sitting in the meeting, hot and sweaty – you can stand up and turn on the fan (and other people might thank you for it).  Agency is deciding to ask, “Am I in the right cue” before waiting to get to the front of the line to find out if that is the case.

Agency is asking for a discount when one might not be publicised.  Agency is calling up a store to ask if they have a product before you get there to find out they are sold out.

Agency is asking someone what they want as a gift before you buy it (debatable and complicated).  Agency is taking the boring advice.  Agency is setting up birthday messages on automated timers a year in advance and reaping the benefits in the future.  Agency is finding very social friends and tagging along to their social life.


If you want to become more of an agent.  build a database of examples in your head or written down:

  • Times when you acted with agency
  • Times when you saw people acting with agency that you liked
  • Times when people (or you yourself) acted without agency that you didn’t like
  • Times where you might want to act with agency in the future

Try to get 3-4 or more of each.  The pository examples are more important than the negatory. Think about being connected to these memories as a part of your identity.  Bring more agency to your life.


Meta: Short post.  about an hour or two to write.

Cross posted to lesserwrong: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/7W7nfdRWWerffLgLg/two-kinds-of-agency

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Complainy and Explainy voice

To my dear friend,

I value you more than you know.  I want to share this because it’s so very important to me that you grow.  I want you to become a better person.  I don’t see the bad.  I see the infinite awesome future.  What you become.  I’m not good at communicating.  I can only hope that you hear this as a kindness and not just a criticism.  Not an attack but an opportunity to grow.  I can only hope that your filter receives this kindly.

There really isn’t much more I can say.  I honestly wish you would take this as well as I intend it.  Not as an insult.  Saying this at all, especially before we established safety of conversation (1 in the link) is something very vulnerable (16 in the link).  It’s really scary to look at someone I consider a potential new friend then Dare Greatly.  At the risk of failing to communicate in a way that might push you away…  I was inspired by Mako when they said:

I realised if I ever wanted the world around me to be halfway acceptable to me, I would have to learn to change people.

People say “you can’t change people”, but they’re just telling themselves that to absolve themselves of this very heavy responsibility we all have to take an active role in each others’ growth.

I would regret not trying to take this vulnerable leap.  To give myself an active role in your growth, and the growth of all the people around me.

I want what I have said so far to not come across as “about me”. I want this to be about you and how I want to help you.


You have two particular voices.  The Explainy Voice and the Complainy voice.  They present at the same time or in rapid succession.  I am not sure that you have noticed that there are two, because they can be used so close together and interchangeably.

Explainy Voice

Internally your behaviour would feel like, “I just found something you don’t know.  Let me teach you all about it”.  The trailing verbiage will be some kind of educational material that you deemed valuable and relevant for sharing.  I love this.  It’s an honest gift of knowledge.  It’s a chance to learn directly from yourself who feels like they are a master.  Training and guiding in “the way of things”.

Often your Explainy voice comes from a miscommunication, a lack of understanding or clarity, or a need for learning.  The sentiment behind Explainy voice can be understood as prefacing every sentence in the Explainy voice with the words, “This is really interesting, let me help you understand this thing that I know really well“.  And that’s a really valuable sentiment.  It’s how we learn as humans and it’s how we grow.

From the outside, Explainy voice sounds passionate, enchanted, optimistic, animated, inspiring, supportive (and more).  From the inside it’s like putting on a cape.  Being a superhero of truth, knowledge and all things sacred and honest in this world.

Some people call this voice “Mansplaining”.  I don’t see a problem with explaining passionately.  Especially if you can share new words, concepts or phrases that describe the topic in a cleaner and simpler way.

Complainy Voice

Dark cousin of your Explainy voice.  It’s the friend who only has critical things to say.  “did you like the movie?“, “that movie last week that was better“.  The Complainy voice is frustrated at the world.  That movie last week was in fact better and therefore deserves a mention.  That’s what it feels like from the inside.  From the inside of Complainy voice it feels completely justified to be raising the complaint.

The world is broken in many ways.  Complaining about the ways in which the worlds is broken is going to sheds light on them.  Shedding light is going to bring about change.  And change is going to make the world a better place.  Or at least that’s what it feels like from the inside.

From the outside view (people looking at you), when you use Complainy voice it makes you look bitter.  At first passionate.  Then invested.  Only people who care enough will bother to complain.  Cultivating an understanding of the nature of the problem is a major milestone on the road to solving a problem.  Einstein said;

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is and 5 minutes solving it.

Experiencing the thoughts that the world is broken.  Noticing exactly how, What’s gone wrong.  Then moving toward a solution, is an incredibly rewarding process.  Without being able to complain (by thinking, describing and identifying the problem), the solving could not happen.  Complainy voice is important for this reason.

When it’s only used on it’s own.  This is what I dislike about complainy voice.  It sounds angry, bitter, frightened, mistrustful, irritated, aggrivated, outraged, resentful, contemptful, upset, desparing, (and more).  It sounds ugly.  It sounds like the feelings that I don’t want to go anywhere near out of fear of being sucked in.  I want to emphasis that complaining as part of a bigger picture is crucial.  Complaining alone is dangerous and antisocial.  It’s not enjoyable to hear.

If as Jordan Peterson suggests – meaning comes from story, and your story is all complaining.  Your world is all about complaining.  That’s what will fill your identity.  That’s where your sentiment about the world will derive from.  Is the world “mostly good” or “mostly bad”?  Is the answer different coming from a complainy place to if it comes from an explainy place?


Gottman Contempt

In the Gottman book, one of the four horsemen of divorce (or relationship ending), is contempt.

This is about an internal state as much as an external state.  Contempt is about the story we tell ourselves about the other person (see NVC) and is a state of negative intent.  I hold you contemptuously.  For example, “a good person would not run late”, “if you were smarter you would just…”, “I work so hard on this relationship and you just…”, Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour [see – emotional intelligence about physiological events].  This overlaps with Inherent criticism and makes more sense with [NVC].
Contempt has two antidotes, Teacher mindset and curiosity.  Teacher mindset can change an attitude of, “He should know what he did wrong” to, “I need to explain to him how to do it right, otherwise he won’t know”.  Curiosity [See NVC] can take you to a place of trying to understand what is going on and take you away from the place of the stories we tell ourselves.

I have absolutely butchered the theory by squeezing it into a quick summary, but importantly I want to bring up the antidotes.  Similar to contempt, the antidote to Complainy voice is to use the Explainy voice or to be curious about why things are so Complainy-worthy.  When complaining, no amount of understanding can satiate the complaint.  When explaining, you impart the intention to be understood.


This might be a personal preference.  I might be mad.  I listen to complainy voice and I disconnect.  I hear stories and I don’t feel like I am being shared with.  I feel like I am being shared at.  Like a voice recorder.  This is distinctly different to the feeling of receiving explainy voice.  I love to receive explanations, I love to learn from anyone who has a passion for knowledge.  I could listen to someone teaching me things all day.  But complaining, I can listen longer than most… and far shorter than I can for explanations.

To my friend.  I don’t know if I successfully scared you away.  I don’t know if you appreciate the difficulty. It’s hard to choose to tell you words which might hurt you.  Even if they make you grow afterwards.  I would rather live in sin, than never have taken the chance.


The funny thing about writing for a friend is that in some ways that friend is me.  It’s me of a few years ago.  In my phase of angry-at-the-world teenager.  Or angry-at-the-system adult.  Or angry-at-the-universe in my yesterday.  Today I look at that version of me, with compassion for who I was.  Working with the information at hand.  And hope for a better me tomorrow. To look back at who I am today.  With compassion.


Meta: this took 4+ hours and some real life inspiration to write.  I need to get it into better words.  I only wish I knew how.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment