Homer and Hospice

This has nothing to do with cartoon characters named Homer; not directly, anyway.

Homer the First was a poet-entertainer who lived about 3,000 years ago.  The only works we have that are attached to his name are about the city of Troy, and then the adventures of a gentleman named Odysseus.

The reason he’s headlining today’s story is because he gives us intimate details about the behavior of people.  Today’s microscope is on how we deal with valuables worn by those who are dying.

I’ve heard that some people attending a funeral will steal things from the corpse.  In Homer’s stories, the same thing happens during battle.  One warrior kills another, and the next thing you know there’s a feeding frenzy around the dead body.  Everyone gets a piece of the victim, literally: helmet, shield, spear, lance, buckler, and so on.  The more famous the victim, the better the spoils, and the greater the enthusiasm.

Ancient history, never happens today.  Right?

Up until recently, I thought so as well.  However, Dad was in Hospice for what seemed his final days.  We all worked hard to make his stay as comfortable as possible, including almost everyone on the staff.  Certainly the vast majority of those working in this industry are on the short list for angels.

However, we made a tactical error.  We left him alone one evening.  The next day, his expensive hearing aides were missing.

Did they fall out?  They never fell out before.  If they did fall out, why did both fall out?

Did they get tossed into the dirty laundry?  A nurse checked ALL the soiled linens (yuck!), finding nothing.

Did he toss them somewhere in the room?  It’s a small room and we looked everywhere many times.  Nothing.

Here’s where it gets fun.  I talked with a policeman friend, with no relationship to Hospice, and he says portable computers and hearing aides are frequently stolen for quick street cash.  A $2,000 hearing aid would sell for $50.  Each.

Then I happened to be talking to a nice nurses assistant one morning, and she confided that hearing aides and dentures were the two most frequently “lost” items.

Dentures?  DENTURES?

Yes, there is a market for stolen dentures.

Stripping a dead or dying body of its valuables isn’t new.

What’s “new” is the fact that we are still doing this.  Our society hasn’t changed as much as we like to think.

As students of behavior, we can use this knowledge to our advantage.  It means we can learn from old stories, ancient cities, and buried civilizations.

As someone caring for his Dad in Hospice, I’ve learned something else.

Stay with your loved one 24/7, and share this information so that someone else can learn from our mistake.

May everyone rest in peace.

 

Painting by the Number$

This painting sold for half a billion dollars the other day.

Now you might be saying to yourself,

HALF a WHAT ????

And you’d be right to do so.  Mostly because every other person on Earth who heard this news said the same thing.

Is the painting that good?  Is the artist that famous?

No, the painting isn’t that good.  The guy who did it would never value it that highly.

The guy who did it is very famous.  Leo da Vinci.  Nice guy.  Smart guy.  Way ahead of his time.  His stuff hangs in museums, public and private.

But is his painting worth half a bill?

Guess what?  It depends.

If you wanted to have something pretty on your wall, or in your own museum, and you had an extra billion sitting around, what could you do?

You could buy this painting.

And that’s the point.  Someone DID buy this painting.

Here’s where the behavior bit comes in.

Someone, SOMEONE, had an extra bill burning a hole in their babushka.

Someone else, someone who already owned this painting, needed a few extra mills to keep the fires lit.

One sells, the other buys.  Everyone is happy.

Or are they?

Something * might * be wrong with society if it allows one person to amass so much money that there is a burning billion hanging around, not being very productive in general.

There is also the chance that something is wrong when so much money can be transferred, anonymously, legally, between two very rich people.

The vast majority of us live here in the lowest rungs of the economy.  We work, we spend money carefully, mostly, and dream about what we’d do with a million dollars.

There is a very small proportion of people who hold vast amounts of wealth.  Their decisions can help sway society, but do they make the best decisions?

In this case, the decision was made to hang a painting for a whole lot of money.  For all we know this was actually part of a money laundering scheme.  There is no way to know for sure.

When something with a small value suddenly acquires such a high price tag, we should open our eyes.

After all, that’s the only way to appreciate great art.

 

Stalling for Time

WARNING: Behavior means everything we do as people.  One of the things we do is go to the bathroom, or as most people put it today: poop.

Public pooping means sitting in stalls.  This article deals with sitting in stalls.  If you are sensitive to this kind of discussion, chances are you aren’t cut out for the dark underworld of behavior.  You’ve been warned.

Spoiler alert: Everything comes out alright, in the end.

I’m not fast, especially with this.  Age plays a role.  Take my word on this.

I have recently noted three incidents where I’ve entered my stall, seeing that someone else is sitting nearby.  Judging by only the feet, thankfully, they’ve been younger.  And men.  Did I mention that?

Here’s the fun part.  I’m all finished and cleaning up (hint hint) and my partner in poop is still at it.

In two cases the cause was evident.  One guy was having a conversation.  Ugh.  It was in Chinese so I couldn’t eavesdrop.  Another was playing a game; zoom sounds were his accompaniment.  Guy three was deathly quiet.

Now that I’m noticing this sort of thing, I realize it’s been going on all around me, so to speak.  There was even a guy at work who was known to spend a half hour at a time on the toilet, twice a day.  Did he think no one would notice?

My prediction is we’re going to see more of this, whether we like it or not.

Our mobile, our cell, our handy, or whatever you want to call the computer in your pocket, has become an emotional link.  As a society, we used to invest our emotional capital into other humans.  Now, the most exciting apps are those that act as emotional surrogates.  Google, tell me a joke.  Siri, what’s my horrorscope?  Alexa, find me a restaurant.

There are other words describing the behavior of giving pleasure to yourself, but I’m not going to go there.  Instead, I’m going to take the long view.

Time.  Time is the most valuable gift we are given.  When young we feel like we’ll live forever.  We celebrate 30 like it’s a major milestone.

So we learn to spend hours a day with our personal emotional surrogate.  It’s so important to us that we’ll waste that time, literally.

What could those three guys have done with that time if they’d behaved differently?  Would our employee still be with us if he wasn’t spending an hour a day, for whatever reason, in the bathroom?

We don’t know.  You and I never will.  However, there’s a good chance that students of behavior, many many years from now, will be able to look back and determine how good, or bad, “stalling for time” had upon our society.

For now, I can make a guess.  And for the moment, I’m keeping my hands off my phone.

Thanks for reading.

 

Socrates’s Mistake

How do I dare say this about the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I wouldn’t have applied for the job of Socrates, Two, if he hadn’t overlooked this subject.

In his defense, he didn’t so much as overlook it as have a much larger issue to deal with first: teaching us how to learn about the natural world.  The Golden age of Greece had great insights, but they weren’t insightful enough to invent and use engines, electricity, and airplanes.

Socrates gave us the tools necessary to learn about the natural world.  That learning gave us the tools needed to start the scientific and industrial revolutions.  Those revolutions gave us engines, electricity, and airplanes.  That’s how deep his teaching went.  Not bad.

The problem he avoided was behavior.  Socrates left it off the table.  By doing that, he was implicitly teaching that our behavior was something beyond nature, something we couldn’t study using the tools of logic and measurement.

Bull s***.

You heard it right.  I who never swear said this in the strongest, most emphatic terms I can imagine.

Behavior is natural.  We have tools to study natural phenomena.  If we don’t study behavior, humanity is doomed.  And here is the final shocker.

Socrates knew this.

He had many things to teach.  A good teacher only teaches one thing at a time.  A good teacher only teaches as fast as his students can absorb that knowledge.  Socrates was a good teacher.

Socrates knew his students believed in Gods.  He knew society was very protective of their gods.  And the gods were a very popular cause of behavior.  Much craziness was sourced directly to those denizens of Olympus.

If Socrates interfered with the gods, it meant he couldn’t teach them about the rest of the natural world.  So he stayed away from behavior.

Socrates knew that a true study of behavior as a property of nature would also mean denial of gods, any gods.  He also knew his students weren’t ready for that.

Most modern people still aren’t ready.  Here we are, almost 2500 years later and it’s hard to go anywhere in this world without bumping into someone’s god.

That was Socrates’s mistake, an intentional one.  For if we are to truly study behavior in a scientific manner, we must consider ourselves part of the natural world.  We must deny the supernatural in all its forms.

After all, if there are deities that control everything including our fates, then what’s the point?

Putting it another way: You got God?  Party time!

 

Socrates, 2

I angered my friend by asking questions, too too many questions.

Most people don’t like that.

Most people are done learning early in life.  Some are done by the time they’re teenagers.  Some wait until they’ve finished school.  Others will fade as their hair changes color.

A few never stop.

Socrates never stopped.

He was going full tilt all the way to the end.  He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens almost 2500 years ago.  He insisted on a trial, was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death at the age of 60.

His legacy was his students; and they had his methods, his conclusions, and most importantly, his enthusiasm for questions.

Today we live in a larger world by every possible measure.  Socrates would have marveled at the size, power, and speed of everything we take for granted.  Yet his questions are as powerful today as they were then.

In fact, they are more powerful.  For one important feature we have today that Socrates didn’t have then; information about how people behave in great detail.  We have access to thoughts, desires, and choices far beyond the simple toga-toting times of Athens.

It’s time for the sequel to Socrates.  In this day and age we are used to sequels, and even sequels of sequels.  Why not a sequel to the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I’m applying for the job.

I’ve got lots of questions, a good handle on the use of logical reasoning, and a fairly open set of assumptions and biases.

Additionally, I’m familiar with many of the modern disciplines, scientific methodology, and many of the technical tools available.

There it is, friends.  I am applying for the position of Socrates, too.  The sequel.

I’m affordable, work from home, require little supervision, and have a fairly decent sense of humor.

I’m also open to shortening the job title a tad.

How about,

Tusok?

 

Challenges of Socrates

I angered my best friend today by suggesting a better way to take a picture.  In all fairness, it would have been a gorgeous picture of a dandelion ball covered in delicate frost, with a fiery orange maple tree as the background.

Instead of a picture, I got an earful.  She said:

“You’re constantly challenging me, and it’s tiring.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

Ouch.  That really hurt.  I didn’t realize it, and I certainly don’t want to anger her, or you.

I started to ask: what do you mean by constant?  who others?

But she instantly corrected me by explaining questions are challenges.

Now I’m crushed.  It’s been hours since the frosty ball-of-fluff incident, and I’m crushed.

What’s worst is the very essence of my being is what she finds annoying.  I’m not worried about our relationship, there’s plenty more for us to base that upon, but it does mean;

No more questions.

Which brings us to the reason for today’s post, and the purpose of this site.

It’s all about questions.   Asking questions is the very essence of learning.  If my friend finds me annoying, what do my other friends, relations, and even YOU think?

Perhaps all of them, and you, are also annoyed.

For that I’m a little sorry.  Sorry because I would rather intrigue and please you so that you would press on and think these questions through on your own.  Also sorry because the alternative means we won’t learn, and future history will be the same as past history.

Which brings us to Socrates.

He lives about 2500 years ago, and was the greatest teacher in history.

How great was he?  His teachings created philosophical schools that have lasted up to today.  Second, he was able to teach using questions, allowing the student to reach the proper conclusion based on their own current knowledge.  Third, his teachings about objective definitions and the use of logic eventually led to the Renaissance; the scientific and industrial revolutions.

It’s quite possible that if it weren’t for Socrates we’d still be living in the Dark Ages, fighting Holy Wars, and travel around the world using nothing but wind-powered ships.

It took 2000 years for that message to get through.  All because he wasn’t afraid to challenge his students.

 

First Names

Quite literally.  FIRST names.  Not just your name that comes first on a traffic ticket, or what you call yourself online.

No, this is about your very first name.

I dreamt I was zoning out at this Beverly Hills party when a popular actress came up and asked what I was doing.  She was worried I was either a bit too “happy” to drive, although she thought I might be meditating.

I was in baddha konasana, and I had my mind and breath exactly where I wanted them, so she was mostly right.

Anyway, she wasn’t bothering me.  She’d seen me someplace and knew my name.  I didn’t know hers and asked.  She gave me her famous name, and I asked her for her REAL first name, the one that she was born with.

Why? she asked.

Give me your hand, I said, holding my own out palm up.  She rested her hand on top of mine.  I didn’t move a muscle, but looked into her eyes.

This is your hand, but it’s not yours.  It was given to you by your parents, their parents, and unknown numbers of other living things long forgotten.  You have had this ever since the universe created you, and it will remain in your possession for a short time.  This is a gift, and you take care of it precisely because it is a great gift.  A gift of love from all those before you.  When you are done with it, it returns to the universe to become a gift to someone else.

I put my hand in my lap and she took hers back, looking at it, then looking back at me.

Your name, your first name, the one that was given to you by your parents, tells me something about you that can’t be told any other way.  That name was created by your parents and bestowed upon you as a brand new life within the universe.  That name holds their hopes, and their fears.  It tells a story about them, as individuals, and a couple.  It may also hold clues to your own history, ancestors who struggled so that you would be here, now.  That name is important not because you were born with it, but because it contains your history.  When you are done, that name remains as part of your family’s memory.

Your Hollywood name, like my stage name, is for publicity.  They want something to remember us by, but you well know that what they know of you is artificial, created on the screen.  The real you is inside, just the same as your real name still resides, here.  I pointed to her heart.

Her friends came up to us at that point and wanted to know what we were talking about.  I smiled and told them I was going back to sleep.  Being an old man lets me get away with stuff like that.

Tusok

 

Just Desserts

There are some French shows where dessert is the only thing on the menu.  These shows are at a higher level than what we’re used to seeing from other countries, because, well, IT’S FRANCE!

More to the point, little morsels of gastronomic delight can teach us more than making our saliva glands go into overdrive.

Here’s the short form:

  • Quality ingredients,
  • High standards in all areas,
  • Mastery of technique in everything,
  • Pride in one’s profession, knowing how to work as a team member, knowing how to be a leader, knowing how to handle stress, and always being supportive of others whether they are your competitor or teammate,
  • Either having the best tool for the job, or knowing how to compensate
  • Paying attention to all the senses, in visual aesthetics, variety of textures, the impact of flavors upon the tongue and the nose, and perhaps the most important,
  • Knowing how to savor all this work in small amounts.

 

How can all of this come about from one small tasty morsel?

Strangely enough, it does.  It’s all a matter of looking deep into the eyes of your culinary delight, understanding everything that goes into it, closing your eyes, and…

… letting your palate do the rest.

Bon Appétit

 

Harvey Women

A friend of ours showed us a 1945 movie from her collection called “The Harvey Girls.”  It reminded me of the strategy some modern restaurant chains use to get customers.  The difference is that then, the young ladies were far more “proper” and, with marriage as their only career path, may have done more to win the west than anything else.

As I watched one of the big dance numbers with many dozens of lovely young ladies.  I wondered if they had known any Harvey Weinsteins (#MeToo) back then.

I knew the answer.  Probably all of them.

The title of the movie took on a whole new, dark, theme.

As a student of behavior, I wondered if I could objectively estimate how many of those young women had successfully passed the casting couch exam.

  • I knew that some would have the strength to say no.
  • I knew that some would be lucky enough to skip the exam.
  • And I knew that there may have been some honorable men in the industry hiring a young women based on talent and looks rather than other features.

How do we measure the number?

We look at all the films for that studio, for all the studios.  We figure out how many of those young women made it from film to film.  The more movies in which a young woman appears, the better the chance she’d seen at least one casting couch.

Now, here’s the hard part for those who idolize actors like Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury.  These were young women who became legendary.  But they started out exactly like the other young women.

What are the chances they also passed the couch test?  What are the chances that their experiences led them to having a difficult life later?  Consider what happened to Judy Garland.  Perhaps the demons she was fighting weren’t all personal issues, but more like “personnel” issues.

Sometimes watching an old movie isn’t as much fun as it should be.  That’s the downside of studying behavior, we have to take the light with the dark.

Thanks for reading.

 

Size Matters, Not

There’s a groundswell of voices telling us that women have been abused far too long.

There’s also a spark of light forcing writers to improve the standards of writing.

Hooray.  The more people who tell their stories to #MeToo, the more super-actors who demand better scripts, the better for all of us.  EVERYONE.

In this case, the size of the movement matters.

But there is something else.  Our fascination with size in a different sense.

A standard joke among men is that the size of certain “parts” directly relate to how attractive they are to women.

Any comments, ladies?

Probably not, because it’s a “touchy” subject.  Truth is, they are being polite.  Size doesn’t matter.  If you’re married long enough, they’d be happy if it just fell off.

But unless you ladies speak up, the joke and the behaviors that are TOO aggressive will continue.

Ladies, don’t get smug.  Now it’s your turn.

Did you know that the greatest number of DD breast implants are done in Texas?  Did you know it’s one of THE most popular unnecessary surgeries?  Why do women do this?

Because they think (know) that their chest size has an impact on how many men they attract.

What they don’t know, or want to acknowledge, is that the TYPE of men they attract this way are not necessarily the type of men they want to be with.

Ladies, a guy who is going to love you is NOT going to list chest size in your top ten features.  Unless he can only count as high as ten.  In that case there’s a whole new problem.

So, the challenge to all of you who #MeToo and want better writing: Remind yourself, and others, that size does NOT matter.

Quality.  Not quantity.

That goes for your holiday feast, by the way.

Eat well, everyone.