Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Model for Interpersonal Interactions, Part 1

Each person is but the sum of their experiences, or so we are told. Every experience which you have, every interaction which you make leaves you changed (unless we’ve been desensitized of it). Deep inside we have conscious awareness, unconscious unawareness, and everything in between that forms the construct of the person we are, the fabric of our being.

An individual construct, however complex, can be deduced to series of areas that combine in special ways:

Ontological component: The study of being and what constitutes objective and subjective existence, and what it means to exist.

Theological component: A particular system or school of religious or spiritual beliefs and teachings.

Cosmological component: The study of the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe.

Axiological component: The study of values and value judgments.

Epistemological component: The study of what is meant by "knowledge". What does it mean to "know" something as opposed to merely having an opinion?

Ethical component: The principles of right and wrong that are accepted by an individual or a social group.

Take 10 different people and ask them, for instance, “What constitutes your objective and subjective existence and what does it mean to exist,” or…if you didn’t want to be so long-winded, one could simply ask “what is the meaning of life for you?” You would likely get 10 different answers. Because things like the theological, cosmological, and ethical components have a tendency to be more discrete in nature (“What are your theological beliefs?” “I’m Lutheran” or “what is your belief about the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe?” “The standard model of cosmology, thank you very much!”). Ethics tend to vary between social groups, societies, and civilizations: What is an accepted belief in Western Philosophy, for example, isn’t necessarily something that one would find in Eastern Philosophy: The paradigms between cultures vary in context and, therefore, meaning.

How these various components interact comprise the objective versus subjective within the individual. Objective things are those that can be proven by fact, whereas subjective matters are often interpreted by the individual to fit into their individual world. The sum of accumulated learning goes through the “filters” of the individual—the ontology, theology, cosmology, axiology, epistemology, and ethics filters. Each person’s perception of the world is unique in that how they pass new information through these filters to change something.

Worldviews, supported by personal values, are a framework for interacting with others: More on that in the next post.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Personality and Intelligence: A Brief Contrast and Comparison

Personality: The complex of all the attributes--behavioral, temperamental, emotional and mental--that characterize a unique individual; "their different reactions reflected their very different personalities"; "it is his nature to help others"

Intelligence: The ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience.

Many people have been conditioned to think that one of the above can be changed while the other is concrete for life. The ability to comprehend and apply lessons to one’s experiences to their benefit and the benefit of others is something that is not constant: This is a reason why intelligence quotient tests can be used as a metric of change in intelligence. Given a specific demographic the knowledge, skills, and the ability to apply them to a series of problems is charted across peers in that demographic. As we grow older we may learn more or we may learn less, but at any rate maturity tends to bring with it increased judiciousness and a changing attitude towards risk.

By contrast, personality is the underlying construct to intelligence: Just like an operating system controls the functions of a computer or the framework of a house determines how large the house can be or where walls, rooms, and doors can go, personality instructs how we learn and how our intellect interacts with the rest of the world. Just as new information can change our intelligence if we are receptive to it—just as it is that a house can have an addition added or rooms taken away—what is to say that personality, the underlying construct of who we are, cannot be just as malleable?

Research by developmental psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University suggests that this is, in fact, the case. An article recently published in Newsweek overviews the old way of thinking and the empirical data that suggests otherwise:

The old thinking was that our personality—the sum total of our human qualities—was an inherited legacy, fixed at birth and unchanging through life. So we had adventurous people and timid people; competitive Type As and laid-back Type Bs; conscientious, truthful types and—well, scoundrels and liars.


The new thinking is that these traits are not fixed but in flux, and there are many ideas about why personality might change. Dweck's theory is that our beliefs about ourselves and the world—our "self theories," in the jargon—are a powerful influence on who we become in life. In other words, our own lay theories about personality and aptitude actually shape our character.

Years ago when I was in a special leadership development course we were taught that “People see the world how they want to see it.” This correlates strongly with the adage that “someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.” My friend Rick once counseled me with the following advice: Whenever we have problems with someone it behooves us to look inside. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to change our world and how we interact with it is to look inside and change our worldview.

In Dr. Dweck’s research hundreds of pre-teens were given a standard IQ test. Most of them scored “OK” on the test but different groups were praised differently on the test: Some were praised for their natural talent (“What a great score! You're so smart!”), while others were praised for their hard work (“What a great score! You must have worked very hard!”). The first message was crafted to convey people’s abilities as a fixed personal asset and the second message meant to convey a person’s abilities as something that can be changed.

As they say, “the proof is in the pudding:” Where results are the things that matter, the children who were told that they were smart were less apt to expose themselves to more circumstances that would possibly offer evidence to themselves that would take away this worldview, this perception, that they had. The pre-teens that were told that they had worked hard, however, were more apt to expose themselves to new challenges more because it allowed them the opportunity for growth.

To prove the point, the pre-teens were subsequently given very difficult problems to solve. When they failed, the children that were told that they were “so smart” saw it as a blow to their self-worth. Those that were told that they had worked “very hard” just “dug in more.

The story gets better.

After all the testing Dr. Dweck gave the kids the opportunity write down their thoughts about the test, leaving a space to record their grade on the test under the auspices that it would be for those that took the test in the future. Those that scored badly inflated their test scores in order to improve their own self-perception of their own self-worth. In other words they justified their actions by lying to themselves in order to make themselves feel better instead of expending the effort to actually do better.

In the end the research has proven that undesirable personality traits need not be permanent or be allowed to affect our lives for the worse: As long as we don’t allow our self-perceptions to be negative and look at problems as opportunities, exerting enough good old-fashioned effort, each of us should be able to overcome anything in our path.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Of Mankind

"Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain."

Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince"

Don't allow yourself to be generalized into this statement. Be someone else.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Murphy's Lesser-Known Laws

If you are reading this then there is a good chance that you came here seeking pearls of wisdom by which to enrich your life. Today I will present something slightly different than the usual fare: They say that variety is the “spice of life,” so let’s look at some long-held common wisdom and pick it apart to see what makes it truly tick.

Murphy's Lesser-Known Laws

1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

A good friend of mine, Rick, should like this one because it is reminiscent of a quote of which he is fond. If you can look smarter than you might sound, reconsider saying anything.

2. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Thinking quickly is sometimes something people are born with. The rest of us learn how to think more quickly.

3. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

In other words, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. When confronted with an opportunity, use the best tool for the job.

4. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

When you’re not attributing to malice what you can attribute to ignorance, people tend to have dumb luck in the face of foolproof methods which you have implemented.

5. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

I’d like to look into the probabilities of this, but I know this: When you’re faced with too much information, you tend to choose the wrong one. In circumstances as such you should “use your heart.” What tends otherwise is that you will over-analyze, panic, or both: Neither allows for a good probability for a good decision.

6. The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.

Boldness! Speed! Simplicity!

7. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll sit in a boat all day, drinking beer.

What can I say about this? There are people out there that work only to live and will choose laziness above productivity and contribution to society.

8. The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

…And my shins can prove it.

9. A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

…This is what is wrong with the American tax system. When you get enough wealth people will tend to attack you in some way or another and you’ll be targeted to redistribute that wealth to others that aren’t motivated enough to make the wealth themselves.

10. When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

Although it is a bit cynical…justice through the judgment of your “peers” has its benefits…and it’s drawbacks.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Today don't look so bad, compared to tomorrow
if time is all we have, then we're living on borrowed


Once upon a time there was a group of philosophers that clung to the belief that virtue was the only necessity and was entirely sufficient to be happy. They believed in this philosophy to a fault: Neglecting everything else that would further their perfection of a virtuous existence. They neglected everything from their own personal hygiene and their family obligations to society. Nearly naked and devoid of provisions, a Greek by the name of Diogenes traveled the land and frivolously enjoyed the sun and the beaches, gathering thousands of people to listen to him sarcastically talk about society. Alexander the Great curiously sought him out, Diogenes suggesting that he renounce his conquests. Alexander, however, was apt to decline because he firmly believed that his destiny had already been written. Diogenes belonged to a group that history would recall as the cynics. In fact, Diogenes had the symbol of the cynic placed onto his tombstone.

Alexander the Great, mind you, conquered most of the known world by the time he turned 30.

Would you rather be a cynic or a conqueror? Are you satisfied with the habits of Diogenes and the cynics or molding and shaping your own world?

I once recall reading a piece on reducing the amount of cynicism in your life by reducing one’s hostility. It started by asking oneself the question “My philosophy in life is based on:” The follow-up question was then “Are these beliefs irrational? If they are, which rational beliefs could replace them?” You would then make a table whereas alongside the left-hand side there would be a list of those beliefs and along the right-hand side would be the replacement beliefs: Left side irrational, right side rational (this would also be a great exercise for individuals exhibiting maladaptive behaviors). Of course, the entire point of this exercise is to see the logical substitution of the rational version of irrational “cynical” beliefs then integrate the new belief system into one’s emotional responses. Changing your emotional responses, in turn, changes your behaviors and thus how you fundamentally interact with the world. The key to this sort of behavioral modification, as I’m sure it is with others, is internal motivation and/or finding some method of reinforcing behaviors when one begins to “slip.”

Of course, if you continue to feel the effects of this cynicism and hostility via tried and true warning signs:

· People seeking your companionship or advice infrequently

· Feeling of lacking motivation or desire for personal growth, wellness, and success

· You hurt other people’s feelings and don’t understand why they’re hurt

These are just an indicative few, but if they begin to manifest themselves again, the results of the technique need to be re-applied. I’ve often heard that habit is what you call something after you’ve done it 21 times: An average to be certain, but the underlying thought is that each person will develop a pattern after doing something so many times: Force of habit begotten by the momentum of having done the routine so many times…inertia makes it more difficult to stop a pattern of behavior unless sufficient energy is applied and there is enough self awareness to guide a person along.

Overcoming cynicism is not easy, but success is the manifestation of sacrifice and perseverance. If you can become truly motivated enough to be the person that you want to be then you needn’t let anyone stand in your way.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Death Wish

Sunday, May 20, 2007


People break down into two groups when the experience something lucky. Group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck: Just a happy turn of chance. I'm sure the people in Group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in very suspicious way. For them, the situation isn't fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear.
—Mel Gibson’s character Father Graham Hess from the movie “

Sometimes things happen which are particularly poignant to the current events in our lives. After having not seen it for many years it was a welcome contribution to the wisdom which helped reveal thoughts and feelings that I was having about some things in particular.

Which group are you in? For the longest time I’ve been in “there-is-no-such-thing-as-coincidence” group, but sometimes there are series of events in a person’s life, patterns, that offer a person the opportunity to change their mind. What if a person’s life lacks those things to give her confidence, to give him faith? What if there is no reason to have these things? When the absence of anything meaningful in a person’s life leaves them as an empty shell of their former selves, what is there to be, what is there to do, what is there to strive to?

About 15 years ago I started my foray into journaling, analyzing my thoughts and feelings against the benchmark of everything happening around me. In that turbulent world, this activity brought me solace. In these years with the advent of the technologies that allow information to be a ubiquitous feature in anyone’s life that desires it I am able to pass on those things which I have learned over the years: Philosophies that I have thought about at great lengths, pearls of truth which have been presented to me, everything forged in the fire of the meandering path of my own life across half the world and to meet many thousands of people.

Some people are probably thinking that this is the end of the world,” Remarks the younger Merrill Hess.

That’s true.” The older Graham Hess replies.

Do you think it could be?


How could you say that?” Merrill is visibly taken aback.

That wasn’t the answer that you wanted?

Losing your faith is the quickest road to cynicism. In the above exchange, M Night Shyamahan accurately portrays the man, whose job it once was to be the most faithful, losing his faith: All that he is, that which once defined him. The death of his wife shattered this paradigm making him lose the balance between faith and reason. There are multiple paragraphs here that can be applied dealing with the process of loss or change through the stages of grieving, but that is not the scope of this entry. He tries to comfort Merrill by stating the quote with which this blog entry began. At the end of the greater exchange:

“I’m a miracle man. Those lights are a miracle,” Merrill mentioned.

“There you go.” Graham replies.

“Which type are you?” The younger Hess asks his older brother.

“Do you feel comforted?”

After a brief moment of process and analysis, “yeah, I do.”

“Then what does it matter?” Graham finishes.

Although the underlying character of the man—the honor and the staunch values to which he holds—he had no faith but still saw to it that he could offer comfort when he had nothing to offer.

Loss can do seemingly crazy things to a person, those things that in the mind of this person are not crazy: They are just par for the course.

People are the way that people are: Those things which I discuss in greater detail in the broader scope of this blog, largely because it is what interests me.

Instead of allowing humanity to degrade into a large group of self-centered narcissistic buffoons, go out and prove the greater trend wrong today.