Forward this, too.

Last week I mentioned that if you’ve had email for more than a minute, then you’ve gotten a forward from a friend.  It was meant as humor, but unfortunately, it’s pretty close to the truth.

I have some friends that I would consider to be pretty darn smart.  Like designing aircraft smart.  Flying helicopters smart.  Organizing social events for hundreds of people within a few days smart.  Yet these are the same people who send me forwards that show me what they are thinking (conservative, liberal) based on totally fictional statements!

The most recent two forwards (in the last two days!) were about how our socialist anti-military president recently ordered all our first-line naval vessels into Pearl Harbor for surprise and unstated upgrades.  All very mysterious.  But if you’re a current-president hating conservative who believes everything he does is evil, then you love the message.

A quick search on the web shows that the last time five large naval vessels were ordered to port at one time is from 1997, in Norfolk VA.  Not “first-line” vessels, it had something to do with nuclear upgrades, and certainly nowhere near Hawaii.  At the same time, there was nothing in the Hawaiian news about such a momentous event as five large vessels at the same time.  Trust me, having all those sailors hitting Waikiki beach at the same time would make quite a splash!

The other forward stated that a new anti-Jesus film was coming out soon casting Jesus and his posse as homosexuals.  Another search stated that not only was this a very old forward, it had existed on paper back in the early 80s!

When I get these forwards I take a few seconds to check them.  Then I write back to my friend and point out that, just maybe, their information is wrong.  I always get an interesting response.  After a while I stop getting as many forwards.  Are they still my friends?  I hope so, I’m not going to let that worry me.  Are they still sending out as many forwards?  I hope not.

As our society gets dumber, it’s up to those who still care to fight the tide.  Be a skeptic.  Trust no one.  No bit of information is too small to be suspect.  Being skeptical is an important trait to be a good scientist.  And if we intend to be scientists of behavior, it’s going to be especially important.

Believe it.  Or not?


Let there be PEE on Earth

When’s the last time you thought about peeing?  No, not actually having to empty the ole bladder, but the act of urinating in general?  Getting rid of the waste water from your blood and body?  Excessive liquid stuff sloughing through your gut?  Hate to break the news to you, Gentle Reader, but peeing is behavior.  You did it soon after breathing oxygen, and you’ll probably do it a few moments after you die.

So, what’s so interesting about peeing? from a behavior standpoint?  Well, for one, it’s something no one talks about because it’s always, well, THERE.  It also has something to do with our “naughty bits” as put by the Brits, so most people get a bit upset when you bring it up.

One of the great trends I’ve noticed over the decades is the freedom that young people seem to have talking about things like pee.  As a kid we would never even mention it to each other, let alone in the presence of adults.  What’s funny about young people talking about it is the other trend – old people like discussing it as well!  If the youth of today is talking about peeing so openly now, what will be left when they’re 100?

Doctors are wonderful people who have the honor to talk about pee when necessary.  Some are brave enough to have to taste it, because it’s an easy way to test for sugar.  That’s important if they suspect diabetes.  It can also be tested for all sorts of other things, drugs, babies, stuff like that.

But the act of peeing, not on the table.  And it should be.  We should be discussing it?

Any takers?  Or should we just flush this subject down the drain?





Locker room etiquette

There’s BIG behavior, like evolution.  There’s medium behavior, like wars and famine.  And then there’s a whole lot of teeny tiny behaviors.  Thumbs up.  Covering your mouth when sneezing.  Winking at a friend.  These are all teeny behaviors.

But these teeny behaviors can give us deep insights into who we are.  For instance, one of the things I notice in the men’s locker room at the gym.  There’s quite a few guys (maybe 20%?) who leave their locker door open when they leave.

The polite clean freak within me closes the lockers for them.  I hear my father’s voice from eons ago saying things like “are we paying to heat the outdoors?” or “were you born in a barn?”

No, I don’t want to heat the outdoors, and no I wasn’t born in a barn.  My grandfather was, but that’s another story.  Instead, as a student of tiny behaviors, let’s think about what it means to leave the locker door open for someone else to close.  What does it say about their character?

Perhaps they are forgetful.  Perhaps they think it’s beneath them.  Perhaps they don’t pay attention to things that aren’t their concern.  Perhaps they feel that since someone else will do the work, let that other person do the work.  Perhaps it’s a deliberate insult to the gym – their way of ‘giving’ back.

In a real sense, I don’t care about what may be going on inside their head.  What I care about is what I can see, and measure.  They didn’t close the door.  To me that means they are probably the kind of guy who doesn’t put down the toilet seat after peeing, even if he’s married.  He’s the kind of guy who leaves a mess at the coffee pot because he knows the next person will clean it up.  And he’s probably the kind of guy who won’t finish the spreadsheet on product performance in Pennsylvania because he knows his coworker will finish it for him.

Here’s the fun part.  Do I want to hire a guy who can’t close the door behind him?  Do you want to friend a guy who can’t be bothered to clean up after himself?  I certainly don’t.

Now, if there was only a way to get this question answered honestly on a job application.



Problems counting

Last week I rambled on about how there is no science of problems.  Is there?  Did anyone contradict me?  What do you think?

So, what the heck.  Let’s try it ourselves.  This is supposed to be a day of rest and reflection, right?  Let’s think about how lucky we are and how problem free our lives are.

What?  You say that’s not true?  You have problems, too?  Certainly not starvation or educational neglect.  But still problems?  Great.  Let’s hear them.  Let’s list them.

Maybe if we get enough problems we can start listing them using some system.  Maybe the Dewey decimal system – now that it’s been abandoned by our libraries.

Go ahead – list all of them.  Think about them.  We have computers with giga-bits of space – so try to fill them up.  How many problems are there?  Are there more problems than people?  Maybe it’s people that are the problems?  List them!

Maybe, just maybe, like the Nepalese names of god, if we list all the problems there are in existence they will magically go away?  I wonder.

Okay, I’ll start.  Here’s a starter list of problems.

What happened to flight MH370?  Why are the Russians overrunning Crimea against Ukraine’s wishes?  How can we help people living in squalor in tidal regions, like Bangladesh?  What can we do to help, and prevent, with accidents like the mudslide in Washington state?  How can we prevent every possible child molester?  What’s the best way of being 100% assured that all know molesters will never harm another child?  How can the SAT or ACT be improved so that it becomes a perfect predictor of academic success, without needing ANY preparation?

On the small front, how can I eat better so that I don’t gain weight so fast?  Why do my coworkers always seem to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior?  When can I expect my suppliers to always do things better than I expect, instead of just doing well enough to get by?

That’s my list, for now.  What’s your problem?


Dreams, behave yourselves!

Did you dream?  Was it a long story complete with great camera angles, character development, wonderful scenery and meaningful symbolism?  My wife dreams like that.

Or was it more like my dream, a snippet of a scene, a weird dysfunctional reality where something is totally out of whack.  Crazy things like a staircase to nowhere, a car that turns into a tent, or running slowly away from some menace to suddenly find yourself flying above the roof tops?

Sleep research says we all dream.  Whether we remember it or not depends on when we wake up.  What I want to ask is this; does dreaming constitute behavior?  If it’s something we do, then it must be!

But if we dream and can’t remember it, did it really happen?  It sounds a lot like that damn tree that fell in the woods.  For some reason, philosophers have bad hearing because they ask, did it make a sound?

It all depends on what “sound” means to us.  If sound is energy dissipated in the form of compressed air in a certain frequency, then of course it does.  Silly philosopher.  But if sound means your ear capturing those air waves and registering them as energy from the same direction as the tree, then the answer is NO!

So, is dreaming behavior?  If no one is there to hear it, does it count?  Even if that person is you?

Dream about that!


My affair with Jane

True confession.  My wife introduced us.  I’d been married several decades when she introduced us the first time, through a movie called “Bride and Prejudice.”  Jane’s intelligence, insight, and delicate manipulation of both character and plot shone through this Bollywood / Hollywood mashup.  It didn’t hurt that it also had the most beautiful woman in the world as the lead actor.

I was hooked.  I needed to know Jane better.  Jane Austen, that is.  She’s been dead a while, so my wife doesn’t feel too threatened.  And in all fairness, I only know Jane through one of her works, Pride and Prejudice (P&P) and some of their variants.

If you don’t know P&P, I’m not going to reveal too much except to say you’ll enjoy it.  It’s one of those pieces of Great Literature that is actually so great that you don’t have to care that it’s great because it’s simply good.  It’s fun.  It’s so much fun at so many levels that each time I read it I figure something else out.

One of the wonderful aspects of the book is that it’s a window into the society of England during the early 1800s.  She writes of many tiny details of etiquette and protocol that we no longer follow.  Teasing them out and trying to understand them in the context of society then, and now, is one of the fun things a student of behavior enjoys.

One of my mysteries in the book has always been a reference that Darcy makes roughly midway, when he says that even Mr. Bennet acted foolishly during a ball.  Now, I happen to really like Mr. Bennet.  He is extremely sarcastic, spends a lot of his time in his library, and can’t brook fools.  Maybe I identify with him too much!  Anyway, I always thought all of Mr. Bennet’s utterances were fairly intelligent.

Oh, not so!  He, much like myself, starts taking his own sarcasm as being natural.  During the all-important ball at Netherfield in Chapter 18, he tells his anxious-to-perform daughter Mary that she should “… let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.”

Elizabeth, the main character, is aghast.  And later, so is Darcy.  But what the hey?  He was calling it truthfully – they all wanted a chance to show off!  And it finally dawned on me that his indiscretion was simply calling attention to that fact!  Back then you didn’t allude to such obvious and mundane motives.  You were upper class!  Your shit didn’t even stink!  (It probably did, but they NEVER talked about it.)

Poor Mr. Bennet.  I really can’t blame him.  I’m sure he was deadly tired from being at a ball in the first place.  He had to listen to his wife prattling on in ways that not only embarrassed her daughters, her husband, and everyone around her in the book, but the first time I read it – it was embarrassing me as well!  It’s that well written.

Finally, one of the most flattering statements we can make about an actor is to comment about their character as if it were a real person.  And the best Mrs. Bennet I’ve seen (1980 version of P&P) had me pretty much despising the character all the way through the show!  It wasn’t until the second (or third?) time I watched it that I could remind myself that this was an actor doing a fantastic job.

So, there it is.  Jane.  She’s in my heart and head.  I don’t think any production has yet done her single greatest work justice.  Lucky for us, we still have her words.

Recognition, in your eye!

Recently, a dear relative fell to the ground and damaged her eye.  The surgeon worked on it for 5 hours, trying to dig out much of the clot and dying tissue.  His words to us after the surgery were these; if the eye could sense light, even a little bit, then it could remain in the body.  If the eye could not sense any light, the body would turn on it as a foreign invader and ultimately reject it.

That’s not the bad part.  The body would then turn on the good eye, battling it as if it were an invader.  Ultimately the body would win. the eye would lose.  And complete blindness would be the result.

But that’s not what is most intriguing to this student of behavior.  The fact that the eye in some way talks to the immune system and says “leave me alone” is nothing short of incredible.  That our neural system in some way can influence the immune system is astounding, at least to me.

Then again, there are those mystics who believe that the right chant, the right light, or the right crystal can also enhance your immune system.  As a skeptic I find these claims hard to swallow.  There are those who claim the right herbs, the right diet, and the right eating rituals will also improve your ability to ward off evil bugs.  Again, my skeptical gourmet says “where’s the beef?”

Finally, and most convincingly, there are those who can show a link between stress (as evidenced in cortisone levels) and the ability of mice and men to resist infection.  But even this link is at the molecular level.

Finally, we have real evidence that our neurons and our immune system are linked.  Medical fact hints at the fact that our brains and our physical strength are connected.  What other surprising connections are there in our behavioral universe?  I can’t wait to find out.


Forward this!

If you’ve had email for more than a minute, then you’ve gotten a forward from a friend.

Religious, conservative, liberal, ranting, and most likely, total fiction.  There’s always been something about the urge to pass around a message that contains absolutely false information.  At the same time, it’s the kind of information that arouses our emotions; we rankle in anger, we giggle in anticipation, or we laugh at the outright craziness the message describes.

I can remember, from painful personal experience, one such “forward” back in the days before computers.  Yes, forwards have been around that long.  It was in grade school, on the playground, and the rumor went around that I didn’t have on any underpants!  Oh, the hurt, the pain!

Today, I can imagine the first such published “forward” taking place soon after the invention of the printing press.  A disgruntled employee of Gutenberg may have stayed late one night, taking the opportunity to print up a series of pamphlets directed against his tyrannical employer.  It probably said something like this; Johannes G isn’t wearing any underpants!  And he underpays his employees!

The point is, as an aspect of behavior, such forwards have been around a long time.

The problem today is that the speed of the internet has given the forward a whole new life, a breadth and penetration of our psyche that is greater than ever before.  This didn’t exist 50 years ago, and the effect only seems to be getting greater.

I would like to think that, in an advanced society, there would be a mechanism protecting us from fiction that tries to pass as fact.  Yet, in a “free” society, we place a high value on the value of “free speech.”  At the same time, the courts have (justly) ruled that crying out “FIRE” in a crowded place is not protected speech.  Perhaps it’s time we also protect facts from fiction.

Or are we destined to simply become, dumb?



Multiply your taxes by ten, then…

Happy tax day everyone.  This Tuesday many of us are sending a few hard-earned dollars to our Uncle Sam.  He always appreciates the fact that we show our appreciation to him for all the fine work he’s doing.  We know he treats our money as if it was still ours; there’s no waste, no entitlements, no reason not to trust him.

Well, not today, anyway.

For today, let’s look at something else our favorite Uncle likes to do.  He likes to tell us how much he’s saving us when he does something.  For instance, he might change the tax laws that penalize corporations for paying their executives more than a million dollars a year.  I know it slows down my corporation.  They keep trying to pay the head guy many millions, but he says, “wait! we don’t want too many taxes!”

So Uncle Sam changed the laws to tax companies paying out “too much” money.  No discussion about how corporations figured out a way around this.  They did.  What Uncle Sam did next is the fun part.  He took to the cameras and newsertainment outlets and told everyone that he’d just saved you and me billions of dollars.  Wow.  That’s a lot of dough!

But wait a minute.  At the end of every sentence about that savings, he’d throw in this little tidbit under his breath; “over ten years.”

Really?  Really?  TEN YEARS?

So that Billion Dollars is not really a billion dollars, it’s a hundred million dollars.  That’s like nothing! I can’t even buy a small country for that amount.  Well, maybe a small country, but you know what I mean. So what’s the deal with the 10 years?

The politicians claim they always need a 10 year window because taxes take such a long time to accumulate and apply.  Sure.  I always wait 10 years before paying any particular tax – like my sales tax on chewing gum.

No, they put the 10 year number on there because it makes everything look BIGGER.  They don’t mention that within two years these corporations will figure out another loophole to hide those billions (oops, almost did it myself! I mean, millions) of dollars.

Yet again, this is something new that our country never did before.  And it’s something that our newsertainment people swallow hook, line, and sinker.  It’s something that the rest of us don’t even notice.  And it’s yet another little insight into how our nation is slowly becoming dumber and dumber.

So, this year, give them a taste of their own medicine.  Send in only a tenth of your taxes, and let them know they can get the rest over a ten year period.  I wonder how much of a sense of humor the IRS has?


Money Day – First impression

Want to make a great first impression?  You only get one chance, ‘they’ say.  It’s probably true to a large extent, because we meet a vast number of people once, maybe twice in our entire lives.  So why not try to make a nice first impression?

Psychology tells us that a first impression takes only seconds to form when we meet someone.  In that few seconds a normal human can take in massive amounts of information: your hair, voice, skin color and tone, facial features, eye characteristics and movements, odor, choice of clothing, to name only a few.  There are thousands of other things that your potential boss can notice, and probably will.  Most of these are out of your control (skin color), but you can influence many others (body odor?).

One very BIG thing that bosses and interviewers notice more than ever are people who use their mobile device.  Not only using it during an interview, but even before or after.  Face it, if you use it during a first interview, you might as well leave.  Did you realize that using it at all could work against you?  It can, because it sends a distinct message to your potential employer; I’m easily distracted.

You say, “Nay, I’m not distracted at all!”  It’s not me or even you that needs to be convinced, it’s that employer.  Let me confess from the employer’s perspective; if you’re on your device, you’re not paying attention to me.  And if that’s not important to you, then you aren’t important to me.

Do yourself a favor; demobilize your mobile.  There are a lot of things about you that you can’t change.  But this is one aspect of behavior that is totally under your control.  Be a true student of behavior and take charge!

Now, get excited about the opportunity to meet a new person, to learn about a new company and new job, and increase your chances of success at the same time.  Good luck!