A view of the world from my own unique perspective

Archive for the ‘Ruminations’ Category

Do Creationists Make Better Novelists?

Fountain Pen 1.1

Last week, I was having lunch with a coworker, “Ray”, who is a science fiction author. I asked him for some writing tips to help me to craft better blog posts, and he told me that one of the secrets is proper preparation. When he plots his novels, he always writes the last chapter first.

That seemed counter-intuitive to me, so I asked him to elaborate. He explained “Write the last chapter first, and then explain how you got there. If you don’t do this, then you are no longer in control – you no longer write the story; the story writes itself.” That, of course, would eventually lead to this disconcerting moment:

I Should Have Plotted That Book

This was an interesting approach, and it got me thinking “Do Creationists make better novelists?” If these two things seem hopelessly disparate, then allow me to connect the dots.

Very few people still believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible these days, so – ironically enough – Creationists have evolved. They are now repackaging their idea and marketing it as Intelligent Design Theory. They hope that calling their idea a theory will actually elevate it to that stratum. We know better. What they are proposing (in my opinion) lies somewhere between a hypothesis and a whimsical notion. Even if we are generous and accept it as a hypothesis, it’s still not remotely close to qualifying as a theory. What’s the difference, you may ask?

Hypothesis

  • An untestable idea that cannot currently be falsified.
  • An assumption, proposed so that it can be tested. It is the starting point for additional study.
  • Based on projection.
  • Based on limited data.

Theory

  • An idea that has been well-tested, and substantiated by data.
  • An explanation that has been obtained through the scientific method, and confirmed through observation and experimentation.
  • Based on evidence, verification and repeated testing.
  • Based on a wide range of data, and tested under varying conditions.

A theory follows the scientific method. It begins with a hypothesis, which is then modified and refined (as often as needed) by repeated observations, measurements and data collection. The data is then analyzed and a conclusion is drawn.

Scientific Method

If someone claims that Intelligent Design is a theory, then it’s the only theory that begins with a conclusion. Its adherents then scurry about, in a frenzy of confirmation bias, desperately searching for any observations that bolster this immutable conclusion.

The ending of Intelligent Design has already been written first, and now they are trying to document how to get there. Otherwise, independent observations may make the hypothesis write itself, and who knows where it might lead? It may meander in a completely different direction, and that would be clearly unacceptable.

Coincidentally, this is exactly how my colleague Ray plots his novels. So, would modern-day Creationists make better novelists? Personally, I’m inclined to believe that they would. Creationists do have more experience than evolutionists, in the construction of elaborate fictional stories. They also – like many novelists – require of their audiences, the suspension of disbelief. Besides, it was a group of Creationists who collaborated on the all-time best-selling fictionalized work…

Bible, Side View

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Percussive Mimicry

From time to time, pop and rock bands need to include a specific, non-musical sound in their songs – generally something that will complement the lyrics. While they could simply ask their audio engineer to overlay a sound effect in the studio, many bands will often call upon their drummers to use their drum kit, or any other instruments as well as objects they may have – castanets, bells or even wooden blocks – in a creative way in order to mimic that sound.

Over the past few months, I’ve been listening for examples of this creative use of percussion instruments. The more I heard, the more impressed I became with versatility of the modern drummer. This is what I’ve compiled so far – I’ll be adding to this list as I discover more examples of percussive mimicry. If I’ve missed anything noteworthy, please let me know in the comments.

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Band: Bananarama
Song: Shy Boy
Effect: Heartbeat
Lyrics: “I never missed a heartbeat [SFX], sitting in the back seat.”
MM:SS: 00:25

Shy Boy AC-2

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Band: The Beatles
Song: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Effect: A hammer being struck on someone’s head.
Lyrics: “Bang [SFX] Bang [SFX] Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head”
MM:SS: 00:48
Comments: I couldn’t find the original Abbey Road version of this song on YouTube. This was the closest-sounding version I could find.

BAR AC-2

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Band: The Beatles
Song: A Day In The Life
Effect: A car crash.
Lyrics: “He blew his mind out in a car [SFX], he didn’t notice that the lights had changed.”
MM:SS: 00:44
Comments: A drum fill mimics a car crash, or (as I interpret it) a car rolling over several times, before coming to a stop with its freshly-deceased occupant inside.

BSP AC-2

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Band: Doug & the Slugs
Song: Too Bad
Effect: Gunshot.
Lyrics: “A 45… goodbye! [SFX] I used with no hesitation.”
MM:SS: 02:32
Comments: In the official video, Doug Bennett is despondent over a failed relationship and shoots himself in the head. As he crumples to the ground, his love interest merely rolls her eyes. Miraculously, Doug survives with just a little bit of stage blood on his forehead.

Too Bad AC-2

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Band: Duran Duran
Song: Is There Something I Should Know?
Effect: Jungle drums.
Lyrics: “People stare and cross the road from me, and jungle drums [SFX] they all clear the way for me. Can you read my mind, can you see in the snow?”
MM:SS: 01:52
Comments: I wasn’t sure if I should even include this example, because it’s essentially a drum imitating another type of drum. Yes, this mimicry is a bit of a stretch…

Duran AC-2

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Band: Huey Lewis & The News
Song: The Heart Of Rock & Roll
Effect: Heartbeat.
MM:SS: 00:02

Sports AC-2

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Band: The Knack
Song: Your Number Or Your Name
Effect: Subway train wheels.
Lyrics: “Caught a glimpse in the subway, but you weren’t going my way. You were lost in the rumble of the train [SFX].”
MM:SS: 00:57

Knack AC-2

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Band: Paper Lace
Song: The Night Chicago Died
Effect: Clock ticking.
Lyrics: “And there was no sound at all, but the clock up on the wall [SFX].”
MM:SS: 02:24

Paper Lace AC-2

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Band: Rough Trade
Song: High School Confidential
Effect: High heels against the hard floor of a high school hallway.
Lyrics: “You can hear, her stilettos click [SFX]. I want her so much, I feel sick.”
MM:SS: 00:45

Rough Trade AC-2

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Band: Styx
Song: Don’t Sit On the Plexiglass Toilet
Effect: The sharp staccato sound of a toilet seat smacking against the base of a toilet.
Lyrics: “A boy of five stands close to the toilet, holds the lid up with one hand. Won’t let go the lid for fear that, on his banana it will land [SFX].”
MM:SS: 00:21
Comments: This is a hidden track from their 1973 album, The Serpent Is Rising. It received some airplay during the 1980s, on the Dr. Demento Show.

Styx TSIR AC-2

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Band: Tony Orlando & Dawn
Song: Knock Three Times
Effect: A hard object hitting a pipe – presumably the pipes beneath the kitchen sink.
Lyrics: “Oh my sweetness [SFX – foot stomping] means you’ll meet me in the hallway. Twice on the pipes [SFX] means you ain’t gonna show.”
MM:SS: 00:50

Tony Orlando AC-2

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Artist: Trini Lopez
Song: If I Had A Hammer
Effect: Bell.
Lyrics: “If I had a bell [SFX], I’d ring it in the morning…”
MM:SS: 00:57

Trini Lopex AC-2

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Unintended Lyrical Inspiration: Lenny Kravitz

This post is one in a sporadic series in which I analyze pop song lyrics from a my own unique perspective, and discover inspiration where the musician never intended any. Today I’m going to examine a song by Lenny Kravitz called Always On The Run.

This song – a collaboration between Lenny Kravitz and Saul Hudson (who wrote the music) – opens with a guitar riff that’s reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, followed by lyrics that that consist of well-intentioned maternal advice. Here is a line from the first verse (at 0:52 in the video) that in my opinion, rises above the rest: 

“My mama said, ‘You can be big or small.‘ “

If your reaction to this line is indifference, then I agree that it may not sound particularly meaningful or even important. The first few times that I heard this song, this admonition didn’t do anything for me either. 

So what are we supposed to get out of it? On the surface, this line, when spoken by a parent to a child or teenager, probably means “You can achieve whatever you like in life. You are limited only by your talent and ambition. However, you can also decide to do as little as possible and coast your entire life, without striving to develop your character or a solid work ethic. The choice is yours.”

I’d like to add an additional interpretation: “Once you decide to leave the nest, you are essentially on your own. If you lack ambition and decide to coast though life, no one (other than your immediate family) is going to care if you don’t accomplish anything.”

You’re probably thinking “Come on, that’s just common sense. Everyone knows that they have to make their own mark on the world, and no one is going to care if they are not reaching your potential.” That’s what I thought too, until a decade ago, when society started to change. This change was the emergence of the helicopter parent, and the deleterious effects that their over-nurturing was having on their children.

Garden Hose

When I was a child, we didn’t have helicopter parents, and in hindsight, my friends and I had a fair amount of freedom:

  • There were no cell phones, so we could be playing with the neighbour’s kids all day long, and our parents weren’t the least bit worried.

  • I rode my bicycle up and down my street, and on the road, since our street didn’t have any sidewalks.

  • Starting in Grade 5, I walked to school and back, by myself. This was a 20-25-minute walk, each way.

  • We played road hockey, and if a car was coming someone would simply yell “Car!” and we all stepped aside. I didn’t see this as inherently dangerous.

  • I remember a field trip in Grade 6 that involved orienteering. After a lesson on how to use a compass and read a map, we were sent into the woods (in small groups) to find various markers on trees, and then make our way back to the starting point.

Parents At Job Interviews

Today, many parents not only drive their teenagers to high school, they rarely let their kids out of their sight. While you could argue that this is merely an enhanced form of parental nurturing, I call it coddling, and it doesn’t end when the children grow up and become adults. Some parents are even accompanying their adult children to job interviews, which I think is just bizarre.

What emerges from this overbearing style of parenting, is a set of unrealistic expectations from others and from society. Witness bridezillas and promposals

Helicopter Parents, Pool

If the constant, smothering attention weren’t annoying enough, some helicopter parents believe that their child can do no wrong and often blame or even harass teachers because their child is performing poorly in class.

Imagine growing up surrounded by people who give you participation trophies so that you will never experience disappointment, and who bend over backwards to ensure that you never have to exert yourself. This, to me, is similar to growing up with Secret Service protection. You will eventually feel invincible and believe that no harm will come to you, no matter what decisions you make.

That’s why I believe that many of these kids will enter the workforce with a skewed sense of entitlement. Not all, obviously, but a greater percentage than the previous generation.

That’s why Lenny Kravitz’s song lyrics have acquired a renewed relevance. Once you strike out on your own, it will be up to you to make a name for yourself, which requires paying your dues and working harder than everyone you know. If you don’t succeed, no one will care.

While society owes you nothing, this doesn’t mean that people will be mean to you. In fact, people will likely be kind and sympathetic. For example, if you are at a fast food restaurant and the cashier is a man in his mid-30s or mid-40s, you obviously aren’t going to make fun of him. On the contrary, you may think:

  • He enjoys what he does for a living – so who are we to judge?
  • Maybe this is all he’s capable of doing. We mustn’t criticize.
  • Maybe he needs to work two jobs to support his family or for an unexpected expense.

However, you’re not going to wonder whether this middle-aged McDonald’s cashier is achieving his version of fulfillment or self-actualization in his life. That’s his problem.

Lenny Kravitz GH

“My mama said, ‘You can be big or small.‘ “

If you’re a young adult about to enter the workforce, memorize this line. Better yet, make it your mantra. I hope that you will become an ambitious and accomplished person, and that you’ll make your own positive mark on the world. On the other hand, if you decide to take the path of least resistance in life, no one will care. Your well-meaning helicopter parents created an artificial environment for you, which unfortunately bears no resemblance to the real world that you are about to enter. Lenny Kravitz may not have thought about it in this way, but he has just given you a valuable life lesson.

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Is There a Hidden Inspirational Message In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Have you ever experienced a really profound dream – one in which you’ve stumbled upon the hidden mysteries of the universe, and one so intense that it actually woke you up in the middle of the night? Upon awakening, you think to yourself “This is it – I’ve discovered the secret! Yes, it all makes sense now!” Then you roll over and go back to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ve completely forgotten what your dream was about. I had one of those dreams a few weeks ago, but this time it happened just a few minutes before I was supposed to wake up, so I was able to remember it. It doesn’t seem as profound now as it did when I was dreaming it, but for what it’s worth, here it is…

In my dream, I uncovered a secret inspirational message contained within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Of course, since Einstein died in 1955, we can’t ask him if it’s true, so this will be nothing more than the whimsical nocturnal speculations of my overactive imagination.

Albert Einstein

I suspect that I was able to connect the dots because I’m a fan of Leonard Bernstein and had recently been watching his Harvard lectures. In 1973, this Harvard alumnus delivered a series of lectures at his alma mater called The Unanswered Question. In the first lecture, Musical Phonology, he told the students that the principal thing that he learned from his masters at Harvard was a sense of interdisciplinary spirit, and that “the best way to know a thing, is in the context of another discipline.

It was in a similar interdisciplinary spirit that I was dreaming about something very analytical, which appeals exclusively to the left hemisphere of our brains – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – from a decidedly right-hemisphere point of view. I was contemplating relativity from a new and unique vantage point: the self-help section of a bookstore.

EMC2

Even if you don’t understand it, you are undoubtedly familiar with Einstein’s relativity equation: E=MC² It states that energy (E) equals mass (M) times the speed of light (C) squared. It’s also important to know a couple of facts about the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, or about 300,000 kilometres per second. Einstein stated that the speed of light was always constant, and that nothing (or at least nothing with any mass) can travel at or faster than light. I admit that it does seem strange that there could be a maximum speed for anything in the universe, but the concept of light’s maximum velocity can be illustrated in the following graph:

Energy vs Speed Graph

This graph displays speed along the x-axis (horizontally) and energy along the y-axis (vertically). The faster an object travels, the more energy is required to reach that speed. As you can see, there is a vertical asymptote at c (the speed of light). I’m sure that you already know that a vertical asymptote is a vertical line that the graph plot approaches but never actually touches (because its value would have to be infinity in order to reach it). In this graph, it means that it will take an infinite amount of energy to propel anything at the speed of light. That’s why nothing (with mass) can travel that fast – there just isn’t enough energy in the universe to do it.

And now, the essence of the dream… was Einstein an even greater genius than we thought? While E=MC² was certainly a groundbreaking equation for physicists, it could also be interpreted as an important social statement. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might actually be a parable – much like one of Aesop’s Fables – disguised as an equation. I had finally decoded the secret, inspirational message contained within the equation, because I (much like Leonard Bernstein’s professors) was examining it within the context of another discipline.

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The 80/20 Rule and Project Management

If that graph looks familiar to you, then this might be why. If your job is at a manager’s level or higher, then you probably know about the 80/20 Rule, known formally as The Pareto Principle. It’s embraced by many different industries, and each one places their own personalized spin on it:

  • 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of network traffic occurs during 20% of the day
  • 20% of computer code contains 80% of the errors

In project management, there is a popular maxim paraphrased as follows “80% of a project can be completed in 20% of the time… but it’s that final 20% that requires 80% of the project’s timeline (or even more, in many cases)“. This graph illustrates that maxim quite well.

Take a look at the graph from a Project Manager’s point of view, but relabel the x-axis as “Percent Complete” and the y-axis as “Time”. At the 80% mark, the project time requirements start to skyrocket, and soon it becomes clear that delivering every feature (flawlessly) within the initial time frame will not be possible. Compromises are inevitable. Did Einstein leave this message for Project Managers in his Theory of Relativity?

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Perfectionist Personalities

We all know people who are perfectionists, and I’m sure you’ll agree that they can often be trying. Some of these folks – those who insist that others should rise to their perfectionist standards – can be annoying or even insufferable. Personally, I think that perfectionists are generally not very happy, since they have set for themselves, a goal that cannot realistically be achieved, and therefore exists in a continual state of disappointment.

Perfectionist

In that same graph, let’s relabel the axes once again and assume that the x-axis represents our own perceived level of perfectionism, and that the y-axis represents the time, money and energy required to reach this level of perfection. Since we are all imperfect beings, targeting 100% is a pointless exercise. In fact, I would love to show this graph to a perfectionist and say “Study this graph, and then please abandon your quest for perfectionism. None of us will ever be perfect, so stop trying. As you can see, you can reach and maintain a fairly respectable level without even breaking a sweat, but soon as you set your sights on 100%, the effort (relative to the gains) rises exponentially. The graph is speaking to you!

Could Einstein have coded into his equation, this sage and practical advice for the perfectionists in our lives?

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Reinterpreting Relativity

For more than a century, Einstein’s concept of relativity has been viewed only one way. Could it also be examined within a social context? I’m going to propose that Einstein embedded a behavioural allegory in his Theory of Relativity, and that the following is his hidden personal and motivational message for all of us: What relativity really means is that you must measure yourself relative to those around you, and not on an absolute scale of perfection. Since none of us is perfect, then your life is really a lot better than you realize. If you’re a perfectionist, then trying to achieve 100% perfection is merely an exercise in futility. Do the best you can, but as you can see from the graph, anything more than that will take a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money.

Einstein was certainly a genius, but I’m going to propose that he was also a cross-disciplinary visionary who purposely designed his Theory of Relativity to appeal to both hemispheres of our brain. This theory challenged Newtonian physics and also contained an inspirational message for everyone. It simply took the rest of us a century to decode this second component. Who could have guessed that analyzing a graph of the speed of light might make us a little more… enlightened?

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And now, I’d like to pose what I call The Grand Unifying Question: should books about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also be placed in the self-help section of your local bookstore?

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He Never Reigns In Southern California

OK, perhaps “never” may be overstating things a bit – rarely or seldom might be better choices – but I couldn’t resist making a musical reference.

A few weeks ago, I was in San Diego for a conference. After I retired to my hotel room for the evening, and was getting ready for bed, I thought to myself “In this increasingly secular age, do the Gideons still place Bibles in hotel rooms?” There was only one way to find out… I pulled open the drawer of the bedside table, and there it was!

Bible

Not only was there a Bible, it was an actual Gideon’s Bible!

I’m not a particularly religious person, and I’m certainly not someone who is likely to spend an evening reading the Bible. In fact, to paraphrase A.J. Jacobs (the author of The Year Of Living Biblically) “I consider myself a devout Catholic in the same way that The Olive Garden is considered an ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant” :o)

However, I do have an active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for just about everything. As I stared at the good book, I began to wonder… “How many previous hotel guests have read that Bible? Which passages did they choose? Which words contained within these covers offered comfort, solace, hope and inspiration to those who were here before me?” While I don’t possess any extrasensory abilities, I did remember one trick I learned many years ago: if you want to know which pages of a book have been read the most, place the book on a flat surface, balance it carefully on its spine, and then slowly let go. After a couple of seconds, the book pages will separate at the most-read spot(s).

This trick would be my pre-Internet retro cookie – a low-tech way to surreptitiously track the Bible browsing habits of others. That’s not a sin, is it? I hope not…

It was time to conduct a little experiment! I removed the Bible from the drawer, walked over to a table on the other side of the room, balanced it on its spine very gingerly, and then slowly moved my hands away. This is what it looked like:

Bible On Spine

It remained like this for about 8-9 seconds, before listing to the left, and then finally keeling over. I tried it again, making sure that it was perfectly balanced and perpendicular to the table. I waited expectantly, but witnessed the same disappointing result. Finally I opened the Bible slightly, and (being careful not to bend the spine) gently riffled through the pages, to loosen them a bit. Maybe a little coaxing was needed in order to get them to reveal their secrets. After placing the Bible on the table a third time, the same thing happened. After a few seconds, the entire book simply tipped over.

While my experiment was clearly unscientific, the conclusion seemed obvious: apparently I was the first person to actually open this book. My initial, and decidedly sanctimonious thought was “I can’t believe this! California must be overrun with heathens!

However, the next morning, as I pulled back the curtains, and gazed out the window at the blue skies, sunshine, palm trees, joggers and dog-walkers, my attitude changed. I now thought “Actually, this is starting to make sense. I don’t need to read about the paradise described in this book… I’m already in paradise!

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The Most Hurtful Interpretation

Human interactions can be challenging. Even though I don’t know you, I’ll bet that you often feel misunderstood, especially by people who know you very well.

You’re not imagining things. You were born with a social disability, and I’m going to explain exactly what it is, and how you can adapt to it. Once you succeed in doing this, it will feel like someone has bestowed upon you, a remarkable sixth sense. You will be able to detect what others around you cannot, and in time, all of your relationships will become more harmonious.

If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. If you’re a fan of the television series The Big Bang Theory, you probably know that Sheldon is not the most socially-adept creature, in part because of his difficulty in interpreting facial expressions, and therefore, the emotions of others. We were all saddled with a similar interpretive disability – one that makes it challenging for us to accurately interpret the true feelings and intentions of other people.

A few years ago, I was perusing a book co-authored by Jack Canfield, one of the authors of the Chicken Soup For The Soul series of books. Unfortunately, the title of this book escapes me right now, but it contained one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever read. Canfield wrote – merely as an aside – something that I thought was absolutely profound. He said “If people hear something that has multiple interpretations, then they will assume that the most hurtful interpretation is the correct one“.

Teary Eye

At first I thought this was just silly. Perhaps young children (who are continually seeking parental approval) may assume this, but we’re all educated and mature adults with superior reasoning abilities. In any conversation, all interpretations will be considered, and then evaluated properly and sensibly.

Then something unexpected happened. As the weeks and months went by, I realized that Canfield’s pronouncement was true. I heard example after example, with stunning (and frankly, troubling) regularity – more instances than I could count. My otherwise wise and educated family, relatives, friends and colleagues were all affected equally by Canfield’s unsettling statement. My surprise morphed slowly into intrigue. I thought to myself “The divorce rate in this country is about 45%. How could the percentage be this high when there is presumably a year or more of character vetting and compatibility analysis during the courtship and engagement periods? Could this behavioural quirk be a contributor? If we were all keenly aware of The Most Hurtful Interpretation, would our marriages and relationships last longer?“. I realize that this is merely speculation, but like Carrie Bradshaw hunched over her MacBook “I couldn’t help but wonder…“.

Here are just a few examples I encountered:

  • One of my relatives told me that it had been several days since she had read any Facebook posts from a particular member her extended family, and wondered why she had been de-friended. I explained that Facebook doesn’t display every post from each of your friends – otherwise we’d never get through our news feeds. Only selected posts are displayed, and I had no idea what Facebook’s selection algorithm was.
  • A friend and I were e-mailing each other semi-regularly a few years ago. In one message, she asked me something, and I intended to reply the next day, but then forgot all about it. Two weeks later, she e-mailed me again and wanted to apologize if she had said anything to offend me, since I hadn’t contacted her in a while.
  • I was worried sick about you!“. How many times have you, as a teenager, heard these words from your parents after staying out later than you had intended? Statistically, there is a very small chance that anything serious would have happened to you, but that’s not how parents think. They are going to assume the worst.

WebMD Everything Causes Cancer

  • A generation ago, if you weren’t feeling well, you went to see your doctor. Today, the Internet gives us the ability to self-diagnose our symptoms by visiting a number of medical web sites. One of the most popular is WebMD. Just type in your symptoms, and WebMD will display a plethora of diseases and conditions that are associated with them. While poring over this list of possible afflictions, which ones are we drawn to? Which do we think we might have? I think you already know the answer…
  • A few weeks ago, I was watching the Steve Jobs DVD. If you’ve seen this movie, then you’ll remember that Jobs initially denied the paternity of his daughter Lisa. Back in the late 1970s, DNA testing wasn’t nearly as accurate as it is now, and while Jobs did take a paternity test, he said to a TIME magazine reporter that his DNA test results could apply to 28% of the men in the United States. Therefore, he felt no need to admit anything. Lisa’s mother, Chrisann, read the article and thought that Jobs had accused her of sleeping with 28% of the men in the United States. To be fair, this movie is a partially fictionalized account of Jobs’ life, so I have no idea how accurate the recounting of this event is. However, it is a perfect example of The Most Hurtful Interpretation.

Lorne Grabher

  • Finally, there’s Lorne Grabher’s license plate. Mr. Grabher was proud of his fine German surname, and decided to place it on a vanity license plate. For a while, everything was uneventful, but then one person noticed his license plate, and read it as “Grab Her”. This unnamed person felt that Lorne was “misogynistic and promoting violence against women“. So s/he filed a complaint with the Ministry of Transportation and they revoked his vanity plate.

I’m Also Not Immune

After perusing Canfield’s book, I naturally assumed that I would be granted an instant and lifelong immunity to this phenomenon. How could I possibly be affected, since I was now in possession of this incredible insight? Since I was familiar with the underlying behavioural machinations, I could note this behaviour in others from a distance, as a detached observer. Obviously, I was wrong. I was affected as much as everyone else, and this example illustrates that The Most Hurtful Interpretation is not limited to human interaction.

Door Access Card v1a

Last year, as I was returning to the office from my lunch break, I held my access card against the card reader beside the reception area door. The card reader always beeps, and then its light changes from red to green, followed by the audible click of the door unlocking. This time, nothing happened. I tried again – still nothing. It took about 4-5 attempts before the reader recognized my card. I found out later from someone in the IT department that the door reader was a little quirky and had been giving everyone trouble. That should have been my first assumption, since it was not only logical but was also the most likely scenario. However, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at opening the door, my actual thoughts were “Oh no – I’ve been fired! They always deactivate your security cards and computer accounts first. How could this happen? I’m a good worker. What have I done (or not done)?“. Yes, in hindsight this sounds silly, but at the time it was a genuine concern for me.

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Now That You Know…

The first thing you’ll want to do is look for evidence. Keep your ears open and listen carefully to the conversations you have with your family, friends and co-workers. Then listen to the conversations around you. Within a few days, you will probably start hearing numerous examples of The Most Hurtful Interpretation. I was astonished by how many examples I heard.

Fast forward several weeks… since you’ve heard a variety of examples, and are adept at identifying this behavioural quirk, you now possess your special sixth sense! As you listen to the interactions around you, you now have the ability to predict how a statement will be interpreted by the recipient, even when the speaker does not.

At this point, you may want to take steps to ensure that your sentiments are not misinterpreted in a hurtful way. Unfortunately, this is not going to be easy. In Toastmasters, I learned that communication consists of two components: the message we deliver, and the message that the audience actually hears (and interprets). Unfortunately, we can control only the first component. Since the listener is always free to interpret your words in any way, what can you do? Before speaking, think about all of the different ways that your message can be misinterpreted (in a hurtful way) and then consider how to modify your message to reduce the chances of this happening. Here are a few ways to limit the breadth of the interpretations.

  • Speak clearly
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Avoid ambiguity
  • Provide plenty of details
  • Surround your message with as much context as possible

Finally, build up a mental case file (or write down the examples you hear). Analyze each conversation, and consider the following:

  • What was the original intent of the speaker’s message?
  • What was the listener’s interpretation of that message?
  • How did the listener arrive at their conclusion?
  • If I were the speaker, how could I rephrase my message to prevent this particular interpretation?

In the arena of human interaction, if it seems that the odds are stacked against you, they’re not – they are stacked against all of us, which levels the playing field. However, you now stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Now that you know about The Most Hurtful Interpretation, you possess a special sixth sense – an acute social awareness that almost no one else on the planet shares with you. It will take a bit of time to develop and hone this ability to predict the reactions of others, but once you do, I predict that you will be heralded by those around you as a talented and empathetic communicator.

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The Utility Of Humility

I remember reading a comic strip a number of years ago. Two people were waiting patiently at the gates of heaven, while St. Peter was leafing through his large book. Finally, St. Peter looked up and said “I’m afraid that we have space for only one more person, so to help me decide who gets in, I would like you to answer this question: Which of you two is the most humble?”.

This Catch-22 scenario reminded me of the utter confusion I had often experienced during my Catholic elementary school religion classes. In my blog post The Generosity Coefficient, I lamented that my while my religion teachers used to recite a plethora of Bible verses, they didn’t do a particularly good job of explaining what they meant or how they might apply to us. This comic strip reminded me of another one of their pronouncements – Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” As a child, this one also didn’t make much sense to me. It was actually counter-intuitive because this was the 1970s – a time when schoolyard bullying meant more than mere verbal taunting or name-calling – there were also threats of physical violence. Being meek was not a wise strategy for me or for any of my classmates, and it certainly wouldn’t get one very far in my world.

Another related verse that I heard in church quite regularly was “He who is humbled shall be exalted”. Our priest never elaborated on this one, which frustrated me. In hindsight, I should have approached him afterwards and asked him to clarify what it meant. Everyone else in the congregation seemed quite content, as if they understood all of its nuances.

Exalted

I decided that it was time to revisit this verse and find out exactly what was being promised to us. After Googling some online Bibles and doing a few text searches, I discovered that this verse appears many times, in slightly different ways. Here are some examples:

Matthew 23:12: And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
James 4:10: Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Peter 5:6: Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in the time of visitation.

To me, these verses all seem to be counter-intuitive. First of all, if you are a genuinely humble person, then why would you want to be exalted? This advice appeals only to those who are narcissistic or otherwise ego-driven in their behaviour. In another one of the many ironies I’ve discovered in the Bible, the above verses seem to be directed toward those who suffer from hubris. Hubris is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and according to Wikipedia, it’s the the original and most serious of them all. In my opinion, genuine humility requires no ulterior motive; people should be humble because it’s simply a good way to conduct oneself.

Secondly, as we age, we become wiser and more mature (well, most of us, anyway). In general, we become less inward-looking and more outward-looking. We focus less on ourselves, our social position, the accumulation of material goods or what other people think of us, and we concentrate more on helping others and giving back to society. I think it’s safe to say that those nearing the end of their lives probably don’t care much about being exalted.

When can we expect to be exalted? The first two quotes don’t give a timeline, but the last one says “in the time of visitation”. What could that mean? I decided to look up Peter 5:6 on the Bible Study Tools web site, which provides dozens of interpretations and translations of this verse, and it was very vague. That phrase was interpreted as “at the right time”, “in due time”, “at the proper time” or “in His own good time”. Not particularly helpful…

Personally, I envision two possibilities: God will either exalt you while you’re here on Earth, or after you get to heaven (I assume that those who are on their way to hell are on their own). As far as I know, no human (other than Jesus) has ever been exalted by God – if so, then the media would have been all over this story. Therefore, it’s unlikely that we will receive our reward while we’re still here on Earth. I also asked a few of my friends what they thought these verses meant to them, and their answers were fairly uniform: “Be humble now, and God will exalt you when you get to heaven”. Given the lack of any exalted people here on Earth, this seems like a reasonable interpretation.

It sounds like someone wants to ensure that we remain humble during our entire lives, by promising us a reward – at an unspecified time, but more than likely after we die – that appeals to our ego. Yet another intangible dangling carrot…

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And now, The Bob Angle… these verses do not deliver the right message. Yes, humility is a noble character trait, but one mustn’t say “be humble and you’ll be exalted after you die”. Not all of us are able to embrace the concept of delayed gratification. If you want proof, then just look at the popularity of scratch-off lottery tickets – there is a segment of the population that can’t even wait until Saturday night’s lottery draw for their reward. What Matthew, James and Peter should have said instead was “be humble, and you’ll be rewarded immediately and often”. Not only will more people respond to it, that’s also how society actually works, and I can prove it with these examples:

It’s no secret why Pope Francis is the most popular and beloved popes in recent memory. Despite his ascribed status, he is a genuinely humble man who remains unaffected by his new station in life. Immediately after the papal conclave, he went back to his hotel to pay his bill. Afterwards, Francis declined to live in the papal apartments, and chose to live at a residence for visiting clergy, the decidedly more modest Casa Santa Marta, and eat in the communal dining room.

Pope Washing Feet

One the the things I admire most about Popes is the ceremony in which they wash their parishoners’ feet. They may lead a rarefied existence, but this act of humility brings them back down to earth, and raises their profile immensely for me.

Prince William Cleaning Toilet

Prince William seems to be one of the most popular members of the royal family. While it may be his good looks, I think it’s because he doesn’t exist in a proverbial ivory tower. He seems to be more in touch with ordinary people. In 2009, William spent a night on the streets, living as a homeless person would, in order to experience first-hand, how indigent people live. In 2000 during a charity expedition to Chile, the prince was treated like everyone else in his group, which meant physical labour and even cleaning toilets.

Root Beer MugTom Hanks was a guest on The Tonight Show a few years ago, and told Jay Leno about a particularly enjoyable Friday night – he and his wife stayed in and watched movies. This A-list celebrity explained this very ordinary evening in great detail. He and his wife love to drink root beer while watching movies; they like to drink it out of large glass mugs (like the ones used at A&W) and they always put the mugs in the freezer first so that they are frosted. While many celebrities enjoy showing off their ostentation lifestyle, Tom Hanks brings himself down to the lifestyle of his audience by describing something completely ordinary and easily attainable.

Add Friend ButtonFacebook has two classes of user accounts: Standard and Public Figure. You can follow a public figure and see their posts on your news feed, but you can’t send them a friend request or (in most cases) send them a private message or post anything on their wall. Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae are two people who impress me with their humility. Both are very well-known in their field, have illustrious careers and are most certainly public figures, yet they each have standard Facebook accounts. If you look at their Facebook home pages, you’ll see a green “Add Friend” button. I like this, because it demonstrates that they don’t feel above anyone else, despite their fame and success. Of course, this might also be because people called Robert (or Bob) are just naturally humble, decent and down-to-earth… :o)

Twitter - Dalai Lama

A few years ago, I decided to follow the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account. A few minutes after I did, the following e-mail appeared in my Inbox “The Dalai Lama is now following you on Twitter!”. This is one of my favourite e-mail messages, and I still can’t bring myself to delete it. Yes, I know that it was probably sent by an automated script, and I doubt that his Holiness is actually reading my tweets, but the sentiment is significant: if I am interested in what the Dalai Lama has to say, then he is willing to return the favour and listen to me. Years later, I still remember this humble gesture.

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You’re probably thinking “These examples are fine if you’re a famous person, but I’m just an ordinary guy (or gal). What could I possibly do to demonstrate humility?”

Be respectful toward others. Politeness and common courtesy are really acts of humility. I’m sure that you, while driving, have often encountered kids and teenagers on skateboards who simply roll through intersections without any consideration for the other vehicles. This also applies to cyclists who seem to think that stop signs don’t apply to them; there are even pedestrians who simply walk right across a busy four-way intersection without breaking their stride. As a pedestrian, I watch the other cars carefully and always wait my turn before crossing the road. However, what I’ve often noticed is that drivers will often wave me through, even if I’ve arrived at the intersection a couple of seconds before they did. Even if I’m not waved through, the other drivers often give me “the wave” as they make their turn or drive across the intersection. When I show respect for the driver by waiting to cross, I am often rewarded by that driver who either gives a wave of appreciation, or often allows me to cross first.

In my blog post Keep Looking Up, I suggested that we should all start associating with people who are smarter than we are. We will initially feel a sense of humility or even inadequacy, but we will eventually be rewarded with an abundance of new ideas, points of view, information, knowledge and wisdom that we wouldn’t otherwise have acquired from our current circle of friends.

Chores 1

Chores 2

Men – help out around the house. Offer to do less-than-glamourous chores, such as cleaning the bathroom, washing the dishes, vacuuming, or the laundry. You may think that these are thankless tasks, but on more than one occasion, I’ve read Facebook posts by several women who said that the sexiest thing their husband or boyfriend can do is wash the dishes.

HTML CodeIf you’re a programmer, then embrace your bugs and compiler errors. Yes, they are frustrating, time-consuming and often confounding, but they force us to dig deeper into the code and do additional research. Personally, I learn a great deal when I am faced with an error or some unexpected behaviour in my programs. At first I’m a little disappointed that my programming skills weren’t what I thought, but as I work through the code, I learn much more about the language, and the idiosyncrasies of the operating system and the computer than I did before. My humility makes me a (slightly) better programmer.

There you have it – be modest and unassuming now, and enjoy the adulation immediately. If you don’t expect to be exalted until “the time of visitation”, then it is more likely that you won’t notice or appreciate the way people are treating you right now, in their reactions to your humble behaviour.