I Leggo My Ego

Everyone studies behavior, whether we like it or not.  We’ve been doing it since we were babies, watching parents and siblings very closely.

Today we watch our co-workers, our boss, our employees.  We watch those who feed us, and those we feed.

To truly get a deep understanding of what makes us tick, we have to open our minds to infinite possibilities.  The very way we are raised, and the haphazard methods we normally use to learn about behavior introduce bias into our understanding.

The only way to get rid of bias is to recognize it within ourselves and let it go.  Only then can we get a deep understanding of what makes others do what they do.

Getting rid of bias isn’t easy.  The first step is to get rid of our own sense of self-importance, our ego.  If we accept all others as being of value equal to our own, in a world that contains no judgments, then our ego is no longer a factor.

Without an ego there is no longer right or wrong, good from bad, and moral from immoral.  There is only, behavior.

Without an ego, we can begin to get a better idea as to what may be going on within someone else’s mind, even if that someone else is a wild animal or sports team.

So, let go of your ego.  Don’t throw it away, keep it close because it comes in handy at times.  But when you’re going to get serious about understanding behavior, put it aside; it only gets in the way.

 

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Why study Behavior?

“You in the back.  Yes, you.  Blue shirt, chewing gum.  Why are you here?”  I used my gravelly voice.

She looked about, casting for help, and responded timidly.  “Because I want to study behavior?”

“I already know that.  This class is Behavior 101.  More to the point, why do YOU want to study behavior?”

She stared at her device, blankly, then looked up again with fear in her eyes.  I’ve seen that fear at the beginning of every single new class.

“I’m not sure?”  in the form of a question.

“You’re not sure?  Are you in the right body?”

The class tittered, giving me time to find her name.  I wandered across the stage for drama.

“Perhaps, Miriam, you have a boyfriend and you want to understand him?”

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head no.

“No?  Perhaps then you wish to learn why your mother always acts crazy with you?”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“Miriam, do you want to save the planet?  Do you care about your unborn child?”

“Of course!”  Almost petulant.  Good, perhaps she had a backbone.  But a backbone can also be a weakness.  Best to test her now, rather than later.  I let the silence linger.

“Miriam, do you have a hidden agenda?

“What?  No!  I don’t think so.”

How do you feel about drug testing on cute little animals?

“Very much against it!”

“Mizz Miriam!”  I put as much fury into my face as I could without laughing.  Acting was the hardest part of my job, and I can’t write about it without smiling.

“Who made you God?”

“Professor!” she gasped.

“You, all by yourself, encouraged by your animal-loving friends, have already decided.  How can I trust you to learn the truth, if you already have the answer?”

“But they’re so cute.  How can hurting them possibly…?”

“Miriam, you might be right.  Perhaps it is cruel to hurt cute little animals.  But our job is to study behavior, not to judge it.  You have to learn to put your judgements away, and to study behavior with a completely open mind.  Do you understand?

“Maybe.”

“Miriam, are you the kind of person who distorts reality to fit your agenda?  Will you sacrifice logic and respect for others in order to achieve what YOU think is right?”

“I don’t know.”

“YOU … DON’T … KNOW?”  I bellowed this to the whole class because it was so important.

“Listen, all of you.  By the end of this semester, you will know why you’re here.  If it’s not to start understanding behavior, you will at least begin to see what it takes to understand behavior.  This road to knowledge is not for the greedy, or the weak.  You will be dissecting live specimens in this class, and that specimen is yourself.  If you have an agenda, you will fail.  If you have a problem with truth, you will fail.  If you have a bias or preconception of any kind, you will fail.”

I turned back to face Miriam again.  The poor thing was already trying to sneak out the back door.

“Miriam!” I bellowed.  She stopped and turned.

This time I smiled and asked her the ultimate question.

(stay tuned!)

 

You want to study what?

The guidance counselor screwed his face into a Picasso print.

Behavior,” I said.

There is no such major.  How about psychology?

Sure, sounds good.  Does psychology study organizations?”

Sure, there’s Industrial Organizational Psychology, and Organizational Behavior.

Great, and do they teach you how to lead people?”

No.  For that there’s Business.  And maybe Military Science.

That sounds good too.  Does they also teach what’s best for the nation?”

No, not necessarily, that would be Political Science, or maybe Philosophy.  You could study those.

Great!  Do they emphasize history, and other cultures?”

Not so much.  You could study History.

But what of also studying other cultures, both those that still exist today, and those that are extinct?”

Well, for those you could use some Anthropology, Archaeology, and maybe some Ethnology for variety.

“Now you’re talking!  And will those disciplines help me understand the big picture, the grand forces that help define success versus failure, growth versus death?”

That’s a tall order.  No, for that you should get into economics.  Yes, you’d make a great economist.

That’s pretty cool.  I’d like to be an economist.  They get to be on TV all the time.  Do economists also deal with what makes people really care about?  Things like the meaning of life, where we come from, what this all means?  You know, like what happens when we die, that sort of stuff?”

Well, no, for that you should really be studying Religion.  You could become a priest, or rabbi, or mullah.

I’m okay with that, too.  After all, people give you lots of stuff.  But will I also be able to study all the rules that people should live by in order to always be safe, respectful, and kind to each other?  Are there enough religious rules to make everybody always kind to each other?”

Not quite.  For that you’re probably going to have to study Law.  Yes, the law is all about the rules that govern how we deal with each other.  Yes, I can definitely see you as a lawyer.

Nice.  My father always wanted me to be a lawyer.  Maybe I could be a great trial lawyer.  Yeah, I’ll be a prosecutor and take on creeps!”

The counselor looked at me with a sigh of relief.

Good, I’ll put you down for trial law, he said.

He started typing away, but was thinking aloud…

First, you should start learning psychology…

 

 

50 shades of self-loathing

There’s a popular book and movie running around at the moment that features a young woman being sexually manipulated.  The fact that he’s a older man is not important for now, because the subject of today’s observation is the fictional young woman. [1]

Many cultures have ways of keeping themselves organized.  The British have always been good about tracking their families; what schools they go to, what lands they own, what titles their ancestors have carried.  In Britain, you can be part of the nobility and upper class, or an ordinary person without status.  How they indicate this is both obvious and secret.  Obvious signs of status might be your title, or your school tie, or the fact that you live on an estate.  Secret signs might be the very way you pronounce “heredity” or “worcestershire.”

Signs of status are more numerous in India, where the caste system has been in effect for thousands of years, well before England even spoke English.  And in Japan, there is a very well engineered caste system embodied in the language itself!  Women speak to each other differently than men speak to each other, speaking to elders is different, and speaking within your social rank is different from speaking up or down in rank.

Now we have a popular fictional character submitting to acts of sexual stimulation for another person, and as a culture we find this acceptable.  What does it say about us?

It says that a new form of status expectation is forming.  It reinforces the stereotypes of young versus old and woman versus man.  It re-emphasizes the importance of sex as part of that relationship, and sends an unambiguous signal to everyone that these are considered acceptable behaviors.

As an indifferent observer, I’m not going to label these developments “good” or “bad.”  They simply exist, and whether or not society is a better place because of them will be for others to decide.

But as a parent and husband, I choose to teach and reinforce self-respect and confidence in my daughter and wife.  They never need to bow or pretend for anyone.  They stand equal with anyone on this planet, including the queen.

And in this there is no grey – only black and white.

 

 

[1]  Spoiler alert: I know nothing about this story, and don’t have enough popular culture curiosity to find out.  I do know it makes older women giggle and whisper among themselves.  And I’ve read the first few paragraphs on wikipedia.

 

Listening is hard to do

They say that we are all born with two ears and one mouth.  But it seems that most of the people we meet act as if they have two mouths and only one ear.  How many times have you been with a friend who gets a call on their phone.  Instantly their one ear is attached to the phone, yet they are talking to you and the other person.

Listening is behavior.  And it’s time I heard something from all of you.  I’ve got tons of questions, a few billion questions (they don’t weigh as much), and some fairly good observations.  And writing these down now and then is not only good exercise for me, but it keeps the old neurons on their toes.  Did you know neurons have toes?

So it’s time to listen.  What do YOU think about all this sort of behavior stuff?  Do you have questions?  I know you did, once upon a time.  When we’re young we bother our parents with all sorts of bothersome questions.  They typically tell us to go away or not worry about it.  Do you remember any of those questions?  I’d like to hear them and maybe, together, we can figure out some answers.

Maybe it’s not as hard as we think.

 

 

Living the Gym

I hate exercising.  I hate to sweat.  Yet, I do it anyway.  Several times a week.

Why?

If I work out so hard that I feel like dying, then I know I must be alive.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense.  I’m hoping that if I say it often enough I’ll believe it.

But exercise is behavior.  It’s something we do; at least, it’s something that many of us do.  If you’re a die-hard writer, it’s hard to get up the gumption to sweat, especially since it might interfere with the creative juices.  Then again, pushing that damn pen (or keyboard) can be hard enough.

What does exercise tell us about others?  Or about our society?

We seem to like to exercise in groups, for one thing.  We like to be led, and we like something that is new and somewhat flashy.  Remember when fancy dancing was the rage, then lots of ab work on balls?  Then there was slidy things, and now it seems to be hot yoga and lots of boot camps.  It also seems that many people like to be seen when they work out, so it’s a form of parade where we show off our social status.  We work out in only the ‘best’ places.

How many people exercise because they know it’s good for them?  And indirectly good for their families because it means they’ll be around longer to help them and less of a burden on them in their old age?  How many people think that it’ll be a good thing for society because their health-care bills will be lower?

Or do we do it because someone will take a long look at us when we’re in our skimpy bathing suit?

Because that’s how you know you’re alive.

 

Yoga Reviews

This wonderful Chicago doctor is spreading the word (and practice) of yoga as a way to save money on health care!  How cool is that?

And that got me thinking.  There are TONS of different yoga teachers out there.  Literally.  Yoga teachers don’t weigh a lot, as a rule.  But if you put them on a scale and weighed them, there would be, like, a million of them.  And a million yoga teachers would weigh, probably, a thousand tons.

And there’s a zillion different styles of yoga, too.  Well, maybe not a zillion, but there’s a lot.  Even if there’s a fixed style that’s legally copyrighted and patented, it’s still going to change a little bit depending on the teacher and the class.

Anyway, it suddenly came to me; It’s like restaurants!  Look, there’s a godzillion pizza places, right?  And you might say, pizza is pizza.  So what does the local news media do?  They employ a restaurant reviewer.  Someone goes around and tries all the restaurants for you and then writes about it.  This place has great sauce but lousy crust, but the owner kisses everyone who comes in.  Another place has great prices but the sauce is never the same.  You get the drift.

We need someone to do this for yoga studios!  And teachers!  It’ll be fun!  Imagine the stories; This studio has great ambiance but I’m being herded through like cattle.  This other place does a full 15 minute savasana (I only go for the savasana anyway).  Or, so-and-so teacher can be a bit temperamental, but is worth standing in line for.  This other teacher is too nice, and never corrects your alignment.

Will this be a high-paying position?  Probably not.  Will it bring you fame and glory as a writer?  Probably not.  But is it a bona-fide profession?  The answer is YES!

Here’s where being a serious student of behavior pays off.  We can make solid predictions of the future.  Just as the profession of being a restaurant critic emerged as “restaurants” emerged, so too will Yoga-Reviewer soon come into being.  If it hasn’t already.  You’ll have to go incognito.  You’ll have to be knowledgeable in the art of yoga without coming off as too smart.  And you’ll have to travel all over your territory.  Can you handle it?

No, don’t nod your head… write me!

Hmmm.  What is the sanskrit word for writer’s pose?

 

 

Dark Side of Free Will

Every power and right carries threat and responsibility.

As students of behavior, and with a rudimentary knowledge of philosophy, we can identify a power that only people seem to possess; something called free will.

As a great power, we revel in it throughout our childhood.  Our first car, our first experience away from home, our first great financial decision are all empowering actions that declare “I have free will!”

There is a terrible downside to free will, one that is touched upon all too seldom because of its terror.  And for those of you who tremble easily, you’ll be forgiven for closing this page and visiting again next week.

This terror exists in every being that possesses free will.  It lives in you, and for that reason you will be afraid.

This terror is what we call suicide.  It is the decision of an individual with free will, exercising that free will in such a way as to end their life.

As students of behavior we must commit ourselves to an impartial, unbiased, and evenly balanced study of all things that behave.  Suicide is one of those things, and we must study it.  This next series will touch upon suicide in many forms, not only the form in which you know it best, and fear it most.

Through these articles I have come to meet many of you, and know some of you have been touched by these dark forces.  I extend my condolences.  Many years ago a cousin decided to take her life, at such a young age, and it still pains me to this day.  I have some understanding of the forces that were acting upon her, but can never know exactly what went through her mind in those final days.

To her I have not ceased thinking about what she did, and what it may reveal about myself, society, and life in general.  Here are those thoughts in a few short essays.

For KM.

 

Funny Family Business

Anyone here know a family?  Did you come from one?  So did I.  Sometimes I wished I wasn’t, but overall it was a nice experience.  As a child there were many times I thought about running away and joining a circus, or the army, or any other family but mine.

Maybe you have your own family now.  How’s it going?  Mostly fun?  I sure hope so, because how much fun you have is up to you.

Here’s the rub, as far as studying behavior goes.  Your family is unique.  It’s an island almost all by itself.  Sure, you may visit a house of worship with other families, or belong to other such social groups, but most of the time it’s only your family.

All the rules and regulations that apply to behavior of groups have to apply to your family, too.  We don’t like to admit it, but a family is a very special kind of group.  In fact, we could argue that it’s one of the better inventions that evolution has thrown our way.

We need to learn all of these things so we can make a better family in the future.  The problem with evolution is that it’s just so darn slow!  If we wait for evolution to make a better family, it could take a million years.  Frankly, I don’t think we can afford the wait.

So, in order to learn better and faster, we should talk about things our families do.  But this is the funny part.  We don’t.  Almost everyone thinks that what happens in the family should stay in the family.  Shame things.  Hurt things.  Bad things.

This attitude does no one any good.  It protects the bad people, it tells the victims that they have no support, and it doesn’t allow any of us “do-gooders” to try and intervene or help.  My own extended family practices this form of self-inflicted pain, because my sister and her ex like to try and hurt each other by manipulating their children.  I see them suffer, and I know that their future happiness will suffer as well.  And I’m powerless to stop it.

Funny how that works.

 

 

Picture sharing, old school

Today we have so many choices as to how we share our favorite images.  But there was a time when we didn’t have all this technology. What did us old-timers do in the “Before Times?” back before the Goog or the Yahooz, before the FaceBible or Imjurz?  There were photo albums and slide shows.  But even before then, what was there?

Photographs?  Before!

Pens and paper?  Canvas and oils?  Before!

Charcoal on cave walls?  OK, we’ve gone back too far.

Before our ability to share images on the internet and the new, mysterious “cloud,” we had another mechanism, one which is at once simpler, yet also more powerful.  It is language, but language used in a specific way.

If I share a photo with you on facebook, you can see what I see, exactly.  But if I describe it to you, you and I will see different things.  As students of behavior, there is no good or bad, there is only benefits and costs to every decision.  And if I decide to try and describe the picture in my head using words instead of a photo-sharing site, that’s my choice.  Let’s try one and see how it works.

Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”  There, see anything?  There’s a good chance that within your mind you are seeing almost exactly the same image that I see.  The juxtaposition of little ink (or pixel) dots that form the phrase at the beginning of this paragraph have conveyed an image from my mind to yours.  No connecting wires (at least for the last few meters, right?) and no need for the cloud.  For we, you and I, are the cloud.  Next.

Jackie Robinson’s first Dodger’s game, April 15th 1947.  I wasn’t there, and there’s a good chance you weren’t either.  I met a man the other day who was.  Jackie was put in at first base.  He struck out the first time at bat; and was roundly booed.  Next at bat he put it out of the park.  I don’t think he was ever booed after that.  But that’s not the point.

The point here is that the phrase did not create the same image within my head as yours.  I’d learned about this event from someone who was there.  But it took many more words to get that image across.

Even if we had both been at the park that day, there’s a good chance that we would share the same experience, but not the same pictures within our head.  The reason is that we sat in different seats.  But the overall experience, that is something we would always share.

Picture sharing.  Experience sharing.  In words.  Who would have thought?

Be the cloud.