Tag Archives: Empathy

Struggle Does Not Mean Bad: Choices and Illusions, Part 3

In Part 1, we took a closer look at the first 6 chapters of Eldon Taylor’s book, Choices and Illusions. There were some great stories about how our thoughts can have an effect on us, even when we don’t think they do. In Part 2, we looked at chapters 7 through 12. In particular, we looked at an important story that emphasized the importance of ‘wait and see’ as a viable option when deciding a course of action. In today’s post, we’ll look at the last 6 chapters of the book.

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Chapter 13 reminds us that we may have limiting belief systems preventing us from achieving what we ‘want.’ For instance, if you want to be successful or prosperous, do you think you’ll get there if you have a belief that people who are prosperous or successful are evil (and you don’t want to be evil)? Taylor also reminds us that we shouldn’t hate our work and discusses the importance of empathy.

In chapter 14, Taylor reassures us that having limiting beliefs doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, it’s actually quite normal. He goes on to talk about the importance of looking within one’s self to find those limiting beliefs that may no longer be serving you. For instance, when you were younger, you may have developed the belief that speaking in front of people is really scary or that it may cause you harm. If you now work as an analyst for a big company, there’s a good chance that you may have to speak in front of people at some point. As a result, it would probably do you good to have brought this limiting belief to light and then replaced it.

Like with yesterday’s post, there’s a great story from Chapter 16 that I think you’ll enjoy. In fact, it reminds me of the best piece of advice (We’ll See…):

There once was a scientist who beheld the glory of an emperor moth and was so totally taken by the creature that he decided to study it. For more than a year he monitored the activities of the giant moth.

One day he came upon a caterpillar ready to spin its cocoon. He gently captured the caterpillar and took it back to his lab. He watched the caterpillar build its cocoon within a glass container and enter that state of deep sleep. While in the chrysalis it changed its form, from crawling on the ground to floating in the sky.

The day came when the moth was ready to leave the cocoon. The scientist watched anxiously as the tiny head chewed its way into the light of the laboratory. The moth struggled and struggled, seemingly getting nowhere. Its body was simply too large to fit through the tiny hole in the cocoon. The moth tired and laid its head to rest on the shell of the cocoon. The scientist took it upon himself to help the tiny creature. “How could I stand here for so many hours watching this beautiful moth go through such agony and pain?” he questioned. “Where is my mercy?” he continued as he took his tweezers and scissors to cut away the cocoon. The moth fell from the cocoon badly deformed, and soon died.

Later the scientist discovered that it was precisely the cocoon-escaping struggle that pressured the fluids down into the body of the emperor moth and gave it its aerodynamic ability. The cocoon forced the fluids into the body, perfectly proportioning the moth as it pushed its way out. Cutting away the cocoon in an effort to help had only killed the moth.

You may be familiar with a similar story about butterflies and moths, but this is an important story with regard to being okay with things that you may otherwise not be. For instance, some folks couldn’t stand to watch the moth struggle in this case, but if they were to interfere, they’d actually be disrupting the process by which the moth needs to undergo to become a butterfly. This raises all kinds of possible ethical dilemmas when we consider intervening within certain environments or the animal kingdom. To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating no intervention, but I think it’s important to remember stories like this when we are considering intervening. As Taylor says, “Struggle does not mean bad.”

There’s another great story in Chapter 18 highlighting the possibility that judging could be viewed as a sickness. I’ll let you read that one on your own, though.

(Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book.)

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

Have you ever broken the rules? If you’re answering honestly, no doubt, your answer should almost certainly be yes. If you drive, you’ve probably rolled a stop sign once or twice in your life. Or, you’ve probably at least barely gone over the speed limit, even if you were trying to maintain a speed below the limit. There’s always jaywalking. That is, you’ve probably crossed the street when you weren’t in the crosswalk when the walk sign was on the cross. What about taking office supplies from work? You may feel justified in doing so, but I bet if you read your contract or the rules/regulations of your organization, it’s not something that’s endorsed. There are probably plenty of other examples where you’ve broken a rule (accidentally or intentionally!), but there may only be a few (one?) where you’ve had an experience that changed your life.

I don’t necessarily mean that it changed your life in some profound way (although it may have). I’m speaking more towards those experiences that you’ll always remember. The lesson(s) you learned from the experience(s) was/were just what you needed at the time. Do you have one of those experiences? Now that you’re thinking of that experience, I wonder: did you receive a punishment for breaking the rules or did you get off with a warning?

I’d hazard a guess that if I polled those of you reading this article, the majority of you would say that the experience where you were left off with a warning was the one that stuck with you. And why is this? Empathy. Compassion. Kindness.

These are human expressions that tend to touch us in ways that the antithesis of these expressions don’t. It’s a tired sentiment, but the news is filled with negativity. As a result, experiences that show us the opposite of this negativity tend to shock us. This surprise tends to stick with us and the experience can teach us something we weren’t expecting.

I’d like to share an example that I think accentuates my point. I came across an answer on Quora to a question asking about people’s best experiences with police. This particular answerer, Andrew Bosworth, was 16 years old and on his way home from Sacramento to the Bay Area. He was really tired and knew he was driving somewhat erratically. He’d glance down at the odometer and he’d be just as likely to be going 20 mph over the speed limit as he would be going 20 mph under the speed limit. Eventually, he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol:

Instead of giving me a ticket, he pointed down the offramp to a place I could get some coffee and rest. He asked if I had enough money to get some coffee and offered to give me some if I didn’t. He said if I really couldn’t get back to an alert state that I should call a friend or my parents and get a ride because what I was doing wasn’t safe for myself or other drivers.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that getting a ticket would have had nearly as big an impact on my driving as the short, compassionate conversation that officer had with me that night.

While there are certainly times where some form of punishment may be more appropriate, I’d like to believe that in many cases, compassion and empathy can be just as, if not more, effective.

 

Women Read More Fiction: Is That Why They’re More Empathic?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a rather informative tweet:

 

When I first saw that, I was a bit surprised. Statistics tells us that for every 100 females born, there are 105 males born. So, there should be more boys than girls and as a result, we might expect that more boys would be reading than girls. Of course, there are so many other factors involved, but from a volume standpoint, I’d think that more boys would read than girls. I thought I’d click-through and read the report, but it’s behind a wee bit of a paywall to the tune of $799. As a result, I won’t be able to (maybe you or someone you know can?) read over the statistics. Nonetheless, I had a different direction I’d like to take this post. Empathy.

I’ve written before about how reading fiction can boost empathy. This very important human skill needs to be cultivated and one of the ways to do that is to read fiction. In addition, we all know the ‘stereotype’ that women are more empathetic than men. However, when there’s data to back it up, I suppose that it’s not so much a ‘stereotype’ as a likelihood. So, in putting these pieces together, my thought was that maybe this empathy gap has grown because women are more likely to read fiction than men. Sounds plausible, right?

In doing research for this post, I came across something from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. That post was talking about whether women’s empathy is the result of nature or nurture. It cited a few studies supporting both sides of the debate. I wonder if we could then add the data point of women reading more fiction to the nurture side… or the nature side? Nature side, you ask confused? Well, in saying that women read more fiction leading to greater empathy, we’d have to test whether women reading more fiction leads to a greater empathy or if women having greater empathy prefer to read. If you know anyone doing empathy research, this might be an interesting study.

What Does the Dalai Lama Want for his Birthday?

The Dalai Lama turned 78 (does he look 78?) this past Saturday. If you were invited to his birthday party, what do you think he’d ask you to get for him? He’s clearly not a man who seeks out material possessions, so a new car/house wouldn’t be in order. Would you believe that all he wanted was empathy? No? Then, you should watch his birthday message.

Please, keep your own mind, your own heart, more compassionate. More sort of, spirit of, seriously or genuinely, sense of concern of others well-being. And with that sort of motivation, if possible, serve other, helping other, other people, also other animal, if you do not have the opportunity to serving, then at least, resisting harming them.

The laughing at the end is priceless. He has such an infectious laugh.

The Top Ways For Avoiding Cognitive Biases: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 17

Last Monday I wrote that my cognitive bias series had come to an end. However, several of you emailed me asking for a more concise summary (as you’ll recall, the last post was over 3000 words). So, I thought I’d aggregate the most frequent suggestions of ways for avoiding cognitive biases. It’s in the same vein as a post in this series I don’t often link to: WRAP — An Acronym from Decisive.

Today, I’ve gone back through the post I wrote last week and categorized the different ways for avoiding the cognitive biases that I’ve listed. I’ll list the ways in descending order of their most frequent occurrence on the lists, along with the biases that they helped to counteract:

Alternatives (6): Sunk Cost Fallacy, Endowment Effect, Planning Fallacy, Framing Effect, Confirmation BiasThe Contrast Effect

Assumptions (5): Sunk Cost Fallacy, Framing Effect, Overconfidence Effect, Halo Effect, Functional Fixedness,

Data (5): Planning FallacyGambler’s Fallacy, Primacy/Recency Effect(s), Status Quo BiasThe Contrast Effect

Empathy (3): Endowment Effect, Framing Effect, Fundamental Attribution Error,

Big Picture (3): Loss Aversion, Fundamental Attribution ErrorThe Contrast Effect

Emotional (2): Loss Aversion, Endowment Effect,

Self-Awareness (2): Overconfidence Effect, Hindsight Bias,

Expectations (1): Loss Aversion,

As you might expect, assumptions plays a big part in our decision-making, so naturally, uncovering our assumptions (or recognizing them) is an important way for avoiding the traps of cognitive biases in decision-making. Similarly, it’s important to consider and/or develop alternatives. On an important related note, one of the most important things you’ll learn about negotiating is BATNA. This stands for: the Best Alternative to a Negotiation Agreement. Alternative. It’s also not surprising to see the frequency with which “data” appears, too. Data are a really important part of making a “cognitive bias”-free decision. I’ve written about the virtues of empathy, so I won’t review it.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight that “big picture” appeared on this list a couple of times. I was surprised that it only appeared a couple of times, but that could be a result of the way I was thinking (or my biases!) when I was writing these series. For instance, two of the categories here on this site are Perspective and Fresh Perspective. Meaning, I think it’s really important that we learn how to view things from a wider scope. “Big Picture” probably coud have fallen under “Alternatives,” but I believe there’s an important distinction. With alternatives, it’s still possible to only be considering things from a micro-level, but with the big picture, there’s a necessity for seeing things from the macro-level.

PS: Happy Canada Day!

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Cutting Salary to Show Solidarity: This Isn’t Empathy

A couple of days ago, there was news indicating that President Obama was going to return 5% of his salary, which amounts to about $17,000, as a sign of solidarity with those federal workers who’ve been furloughed. In case you’re not familiar with this situation, I’ll explain a little first.

In 2011, there was the debt-ceiling debacle. One of the things that came of that was the sequester. The sequester was supposed to be such drastic cuts to the federal budget meant as an incentive to make some sort of deal before the deadline. It wasn’t ever meant to happen, (at least that’s what politicians said publicly), and the date set for the deadline to make a deal (and begin the implementation of the sequester if there weren’t a deal) was January 2, 2013. As part of the New Year’s Eve tax deal, Congress pushed the start of the sequester to March 1, 2013, which is when it began.

As the sequester has a great deal of spending cuts, this has greatly affected some of the workers in the federal government. For instance, some workers have had to take furloughs — temporary unpaid leave. Companies (or the government) don’t usually use this unless there’s a need because of the budget situation. As an aside: on Chris Hayes’ new show (All In with Chris Hayes), he went into detail with one particular worker who has had to take furloughs and had a brief panel discussion about it. That brings us back to President Obama.

A couple of days ago, President Obama stated that he was going to return a portion of his salary to show solidarity with those workers who are having to take these temporary unpaid leaves. The President may have started it, but he’s certainly not finishing it. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are all showing similar signs of solidarity. So is freshman Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. But this is not limited to Democrats. Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Mike Lee have both indicated that they will return some of their salary. I think all of this is well and good, but the one thing that irked me was how Lindsey Graham wrote about his decision on Twitter. (I should note, I don’t know if any of the other politicians have said made similar claims, as I just saw someone retweet Lindsey Graham’s commentary.)

After I saw this tweet, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter that I’ll include below:

 

Let’s first start with the issue of empathy. People often confuse empathy and sympathy. I’ve written about empathy before:

Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.]

I should note that the “note” in that quote actually comes from the post. So, now that we know what empathy means, let’s return to Senator Graham’s comment. He said he was cutting 20% of his pay to empathize with those furloughed. In order for Senator Graham’s actions to demonstrate empathy, it’d actually have to affect his life in the way that those furloughed are affected. For an example of this, scroll up in this post and watch the video I linked to with Chris Hayes talking to someone who is being furloughed. Senator Graham’s current salary for FY2013 is $174,000. If we take 20% away, that leaves him with about $140,000. Something else that’s important to this conversation is Graham’s net worth, which is now pegged at $1.5 million. I understand that politicians have to keep up two offices (one in DC and one in their district/state), but does anyone think that Senator Graham’s going to have as hard a go as thing with a $140K salary as the military serviceman who had to get a second job delivering pizzas?

This is not empathy.

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As an addendum to this conversation, I wanted to include data about the current Congress’s net worth, but there doesn’t seem to be a list out there. However, I was able to find a list for all members of Congress in 2010. Some things of note: of 100 Senators, only 7 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 24 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000. Of the 435 member of Congress, 81 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 42 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000.

Speaking the Same Language is Harder than it Looks

Have you ever tried speaking with someone who’s native language is not your own? That is, if you’re an English speaker, have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who’s first language is not English? As the world grows closer to itself (in many ways) I suspect that you’re more likely to be forced to converse with people who won’t be communicating in their first language. I bet you might be surprised just how difficult communication can be with someone who’s native language is not your own. It can be quite an experience and I encourage you to try it.

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The corollary that follows from this idea is you being the person who’s not the native speaker. That is, if you’re native language is English, try learning another language and then speaking with someone for which this language is their native language. So, maybe you’re trying to learn French. It can be quite a humbling experience to try and speak to someone who is a French-speaking person. You might recognize some of the frustrations you had when you were the native speaker when looking at the person speaking French with you.

The important point I’m trying to make here is the idea of empathy. This exercise I’ve just outlined is a great way to foster empathy. You’d be able to tangibly experience what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.