Monthly Archives: June 2017

The giving pledge

Jeff Bezos is a clever guy with unique approaches in business. Now he’s reached out through Twitter for philanthropy ideas to address problems “here and now,” it could be a new direction for philanthropy.

Some people feel like alleviating  misery better use of their money than promoting joys – like orchestras, university programs, and the like. Both are doing good and sharing wealth with society at large.

Lots of the very wealthiest people join Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.

As part of their pledge, they write letters describing their giving philosophies. For example, George B. Kaiser, an Oklahoma oil and finance guy purportedly worth about $8 billion wrote this

“I recognized early on that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck. I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents. So, I had the advantage of both genetics … and upbringing.”

He feels “morally bound to help those left behind by the accident of birth. Though almost all of us grew up believing in the concept of equal opportunity, most of us simultaneously carried the unspoken and inconsistent ‘dirty little secret’ that genetics drove much of accomplishment so that equality was not achievable.”

By channeling a lot of his giving to early childhood education he hopes to promote kids’ genetic endowments.

As Bezos’s wealth climbs, it’s around billion and growing, it’ll be interesting to see what impact his philanthropy has.

It doesn’t matter who gets shot

It doesn’t seem to matter who gets shot. A congressman and others were shot while practicing baseball and nothing much has come of it so far.

I guess looking back at Sandy Hook, America decided, through its inaction on gun control, that killing children was ok. So what’s the big deal if a congressman gets seriously wounded by being shot in the hip? Was the lack of response to the Sandy Hook killings the end of the debate over gun control?

Why is it so hard to implement any solutions to what is really a public health issue. Probably because the vast majority of gun owners are behaving within the law. But when a few act out (killing and injuring innocent people) it reflects badly on the majority. There must be some acceptable controls that can be put in place.

The extra cookie

I ran across this interesting metaphorical story on Kottke.org that uses a cookie to illustrate the connection between luck and privilege. I’ve shortened it a little:

In 2012, Michael Lewis gave the commencement speech at Princeton, his alma mater. Near the end of his speech, Lewis, who wrote Moneyball and The Big Short, addressed luck’s role in rationalizing success. He told the graduates, who’re already winners in so many of life’s lotteries, that they “owe a debt to the unlucky.” 

A few years ago, a psychology department staged an experiment using students. They broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams into a room, arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader and gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there.

It should’ve been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group.

Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

The rise of cold drip coffee

A recent NYT article proclaimed that the United States is becoming a cold brew nation. I’m from New Orleans where it’s long been popular and I probably make a batch about every week and a half. So of course I’ve talked about cold drip coffee before.

The article provides a little history about cold drip coffee and its recent rise in popularity across the US. the focus of the article is about the retail business but If you like cold drip coffee and are curious, the device I use is a Toddy home brew model. Below, I’ve edited the article for length and clarity. (Cold drip is just another name for cold brew coffee.)

What’s cold brew? Essentially, it’s the method of preparation. You steep coffee grounds in room-temperature water (which isn’t “cold,” strictly speaking) for six to 20 hours (depending on the recipe) to make a concentrate that can be diluted with water and served over ice. By giving up heat, you have to add time.

What was once a regional curiosity largely limited to New Orleans and the South is now found throughout the country. The shift started about 10 years ago, when cold brew was adopted by innovative coffee shops like Blue Bottle.

Cold brew was a niche market until 2015, when Starbucks introduced the drink in a number of stores; it is now available at all of their shops. It’s a coffee with both mass-market appeal and indie credibility. Today, you can find cold brew at a coffee shop where everything is meticulously crafted by hand, and at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The drink’s range is expanding even more rapidly when you count “ready-to-drink” canned, bottled and packaged coffees. You can get that New Orleans-style iced coffee in a school-lunch-size milk carton, or that nitro cold brew in what looks like a beer can. Ready-to-drink is now appearing everywhere. As of last month, you could find bottles of Slingshot Coffee, a small-batch company in Raleigh, N.C., at nearly 250 Target stores in the South.

Cold brew is more than a slowed-down version of hot coffee; it’s a noticeably different product. Hot water will bring out the acids in coffee, a characteristic that professional tasters call “brightness.” Cold water doesn’t but still gets the full range of mouthfeel and sweetness.

And it can be served more quickly. As one shop owner said, ” From a logistical standpoint, we can get cold brew out the door in 10 seconds,If you want a coffee and you want it quick, cold brew is the answer.” Provided she made enough the night before.

How do shrinks think?

I’m curious about why people sometimes behave the way they do. Combine a psychologist and an MD and you’ve got a good start at figuring out people’s behaviors. But what insights into the human condition do shrinks have? And what enables them to help people who’re suffering from different forms of mental anguish? Do they know something most of us non-mental health folks aren’t tuned into?

Dereck Sivers jotted down some observations of psychiatrist G. Livingston as Sivers read Livingston’s book. These observations were gleaned over his life as a therapist. I’ve paraphrased and listed some of his ideas but in no special order.

I don’t have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better. I am, however, able to sit with them while they figure it out. My job is to hold them to the task, point out connections I think I see between past and present, wonder about underlying motives.

The vast majority of your life’s results come from small behaviors, repeated thousands of times over the decades. Sure, habits are notoriously hard to change and some of us are compulsively self-destructive. But knowing is much more powerful than not knowing.

A staggering proportion of human activity is motivated by the desire to feel safe and secure.

Nothing outside your own mind can properly be described as negative or positive at all. What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things. If your map doesn’t agree with the terrain, then the map is wrong, but It’s difficult to remove an idea with logic that wasn’t put there by logic.

There’re few solutions to life’s problems, only trade-offs.

The three components of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Get plenty of psychological sunshine. Circulate in new groups. Discover new and stimulating things to do.

Most people know what is good for them and what will make them feel better: exercise, hobbies, time with those they care about. They don’t avoid these things because of ignorance of their value, but because they’re no longer “motivated” to do them. They’re waiting until they feel better. Frequently, it’s a long wait.

Only bad things happen quickly. All the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.

We are responsible for most of what happens to us.

In judging other people, pay attention to how they behave – not to what they promise. Past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.

The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it’s a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.

My favorite therapeutic question is “What’s next?” which bypasses the self-pity implied in clinging to past traumas.

Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.

Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.

When confronted with a suicidal person I seldom try to talk them out of it. Instead I ask them to examine what it is that has so far dissuaded them from killing themselves. People in despair are intensely self-absorbed. Suicide is the ultimate expression of this preoccupation with self.

When people fall in love, no justification for their attachment is necessary. When people fall out of love, the demands for an explanation are insistent: What happened? Who’s at fault? Why couldn’t you work it out? “We didn’t love each other anymore” is not, in most cases, a sufficient response.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

It’s possible to live without criticizing and directing everyone around us. I ask people in conflict to withhold that criticism to see if this changes the atmosphere. It’s amazing how radical this suggestion seems.

Awfulizing is the idea that any relaxation in standards or vigilance is the first step toward failure, degradation, and the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The ability to laugh is the most therapeutic.

Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long. But inventing a narrative around an event or a person keeps the feeling going for a very long time.” If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. It’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.

Parents have a limited ability to shape their children’s behavior, except for the worse. Our primary task as parents is to convey to our kids a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy. Do this by example. Demonstrate qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Parents can try to teach the values and behaviors that they’ve found to be important, but it’s the way we live as adults that conveys the real message to our kids about what we believe in. Whether they choose to integrate these values into their own lives is up to them. Kids have a keen nose for hypocrisy.

Behavior that’s reinforced will continue; behavior that’s not will extinguish.

Children raised in homes where parental control is severe turn out to have a poor set of internalized limits because they have experienced only rigid external rules. Conversely, in families where there are few constraints children do not have a way to learn those guidelines necessary to live comfortably with others.

“What can I do to make sure this kid turns out well?” Not much, but maybe cutting down on the fights and not trying to control your child’s every decision might help.

Enjoy life even as we are surrounded by evidence of its brevity and potential for disaster. Mental health is a function of choice. The more choices we are able to exercise, the happier we are likely to be.

Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

If every misfortune can be blamed on someone else, we’re relieved of the difficult task of examining our own contributory behavior or just accepting the reality that life is full of adversity. Most of all, by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response.