Category Archives: Thoughts on Thoughts

Why Life Coaching?

A friend of mine recently posted a few questions about fb about life coaching. I felt that I had more to say than could be conveniently be expressed in a fb comment, so you’re getting it here.

The questions they asked were (mild editing for clarity):

0) ‘I wonder if now’s an opportune time for me to try it’
1) ‘General opinions, and beliefs about its effectiveness in various contexts’
2) ‘What can it do (for you, or more generally), and how does it do that?’
3) ‘How do I find someone really good and really compatible with me and my goals?’

0) ‘I wonder if now’s an opportune time for me to try it’

I’m a firm believer in the idea that the best time to do something is ‘now’. There’s a great story about a famous barbershop coach (Greg Lyne, I think). He was talking with the leadership of a chorus about him giving them some coaching, and they said something like “We’re looking for a five year plan to get better.” His response was “Why wait? Be good now!” Similar to Agile software development practices, you want to test your ideas and theories as soon as possible in as-close-to-real-world-situations, so that you can iterate on them. If you have an idea that might help you improve everything about you and your life, why would you wait to try it out, especially if it might take some time to ramp up?

1) ‘General opinions, and beliefs about its effectiveness in various contexts’

I feel like in our culture (and probably many others), it is considered a sign of weakness to ask for help. And yet, we do this every day. Every time that we exchange money for a good or a service, we are asking for help. You could learn to make your own shoes, or you could perform some task where you have more of a competitive advantage, receive money for that, and then exchange that money for shoes. By specializing[1] like that, we make our modern civilization possible. A Life Coach is a specialist in helping you achieve your potential, whatever that might be.

So, what is Life Coaching? I see it as:

– Helping you achieve clarity on your goals
– Helping you figure out how you are ‘getting in your own way'[2] of achieving those goals
– Helping you work through yourself to make progress and eventually achieve your goals

I’ve personally found it useful for ‘getting unstuck’ in job and career, for helping me unlock my love of writing, and for helping me set boundaries in various parts of my life. But I think the clarity it can bring is the key, and the foundation upon which all other things are built. If you know exactly what you want, and why, you can be so much more focused and effective.

2) ‘What can it do (for you, or more generally), and how does it do that?’

I think I’ve answered much of this under question 1), but I’ll go a little more into the ‘how’.

First, you want to figure out what your goals actually are. From my experience, this often includes some individuation and separation of your ‘social self’ (what others want from you) and your ‘essential self’ (what you actually want on the inside).

Next, you want to figure out how you are preventing yourself from doing these things. You may be plagued by self-doubts brought on by years of exposure to certain types of people, you may be a perfectionist who never starts anything because it will never be good enough, you may be spending all of your time trying to please others, and never taking any time for yourself. This seems to me like a very personal and individual process, involving a number of exercises designed to help you to better understand yourself and your interactions/experiences.

Then, now that you know your goals and how you’re preventing yourself from achieving them, you make plans and start to work towards these goals.

It’s an iterative and very personal process, but it can be tremendously helpful. As I mentioned above, I’ve personally found it useful for ‘getting unstuck’ in job and career, for helping me unlock my love of writing, and for helping me set boundaries in various parts of my life.

3) ‘How do I find someone really good and really compatible with me and my goals?’

Like finding a job or a life partner, good fit with a life coach is very important. I don’t have any easy rules to follow here. Ultimately, you’re at the mercy of your ability to judge people (and more importantly, how you feel around those people).

I would treat it as an interview, the type where you are interviewing them in the same way that they are interviewing you. See if the types of questions they’re asking might help you achieve clarity. See if they are expressing realistic expectations about what a life coach can and cannot do (you yourself need to be engaged, and it can take months). But perhaps most of all, see if you trust the person you’re talking to[3]. Do you feel comfortable talking with them[4]?

With all of the questions above, you can always just simply ask them of a prospective life coach, and see how they answer. You can glean a lot of how and whether they share your values, and how they will approach things. Read their website. Read any testimonials they may have.

If you trust your gut[5], and make sure it feels right, you should be okay.

I’m currently seeing Gorett Reis for life coaching, and she’s fantastic.

[1]And mass production, and whole host of other things. I understand this example is somewhat flip, but appropriate for the circumstances of this post.

[2]My Life Coach, my old singing instructor, and my Inner Game-reading performance coach used this same analogy. I think it’s a good one.

[3]I was lucky enough to have known my Life Coach for a number of years beforehand.

[4]Or, if you are not comfortable talking with people, do you at least feel more comfortable talking with them than other people you’ve just met?

[5]My first post in this blog talked about this concept, and I believe that learning to better trust and understand yourself is probably the best thing you can ever do.

A Guided Meditation

This was inspired by a guided ‘being in your body’ meditation with Gorett, my life coach. You may also be interested in my previous post on this. Anyway, here goes:

First, you want to be wholly in your body.

Close your eyes, and make yourself comfortable.

Walk through each of your senses, and see what each of them are saying.

You may still see some colour, depending on how much light there is where you are. You may see some bright spots and dark spots, depending on what you were last looking at. Watch them. Watch them fade as your eyes acclimatize to being closed. You may see some of the sparkle patterns or moving objects that happen sometimes when you close your eyes. Watch them for a while. See how they move. Acknowledge them. Understand that they happen and that that is okay.

Next, figure out what your ears are telling you. You may hear someone in the next room, a siren in the distance, the beating of your heart. What do you smell? Is it a familiar smell? Is there anything at all? Can you smell yourself? Sometimes you can smell the inside of your own nose, similar to how you can see the inside of your eyelids. Acknowledge these things, glory in them, let them wash over you.

What are you tasting? Is it the thing you just ate? The mint from the toothpaste? Something else? Acknowledge it. Experience it fully, let it wash over you.

Where is your body? Think about each of your limbs and where they are. Are you sitting down? Lying down? Experience it fully and let it wash over you.

What are you touching? Are your hands in your lap? What is the sensation of your hands on your legs? Feel your hands, your lower arms, your upper arms as they come out of your shoulder. Flex your shoulders just a little bit to remind them that they’re alive. Feel the sensations as your muscles move. Now relax your shoulders, your arms. Feel your toes. What are they feeling? Feel your feet, your ankles, your calves, your knees, your thighs. Feel your pelvis, your hips, rotate them just slightly to know they’re there, to put them in a slightly more comfortable spot. Feel your lower belly, think about what you most recently ate, and let it go. Take a deep breath and let it go. Feel your heart beating. Feel your breath in and out. In and out. Move your shoulders again. Feel your neck, feel your ears, the hair on the back of your head, your chin, your mouth, your nose, your cheeks, your eyes, all the way to the follicles on the top of your head.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out.

You are in a safe space now. You may be hearing a voice right now, telling you things about yourself that you don’t want to hear, that you have something lacking. Acknowledge that voice, feel it fully, experience it, and let it go. Breathe in, experience it, breathe out, let it go. Breathe in, feel it, breathe out, let it go.

You are now allowed to forgive yourself. We are forgiving ourselves for many reasons. We could talk about absolution, we could speak of religion, or spirituality, but here we are forgiving ourselves because the voice in our head is getting in the way of us doing the things we want to do. Acknowledge the voice, experience it, forgive it. Breathe in, breathe out. This is a safe space of forgiveness.

Be in your body. Check in on your body, are you still comfortable? Things may have shifted. Move yourself a little bit to make yourself a little bit more comfortable.

Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. You are in a safe space. Acknowledge, fully experience, forgive, let go.

Now, on your own time, you can take as much time as you want, you can open your eyes and share with me how you are feeling, what you might be thinking. On your own time, take as much time as you want.

Flowing Around Obstacles

When I was working at the University, I would teach safety to each of the undergrad classes.

For me, part of teaching safety was helping the students find a mental space where they could act in a safe way in the lab.

Every time that I made a serious mistake, or I was hurt at work, it was when I felt time pressure, that my emotions were high, that I was rushing.

I talked about a few tactics to help with reducing the tendency to rush, including the importance of proper preparation and planning. Even as the people running the lab, proper preparation and scheduling during the lab turned a 4 hour marathon into a much more manageable 2.5 hour run. Having all of the participants also being prepared would only help this further.

Perhaps knowing that not all students would have prepared for all of the labs they would encounter, I also talked about general tactics for dealing with strong emotions in a setting where they could prove dangerous. Interestingly, looking back, it shares a lot in common with how I now think about meditation[1].

I would tell that what I did when I wanted to deal with strong emotion in a setting where that was not useful was to take all of the emotion in, to experience it fully, and then let it go[2].

I internally sometimes use the analogy of “water off a duck’s back”, but I think a far more apt analogy is how a cat feels when you accidentally do something to it. It feels the emotions immediately, reacts, and then goes back to sleeping or cleaning itself, or whatever else it was doing.

Fully experience the emotion, then let it go.

This brings me to the title of this post, ‘Flowing around obstactles’.

Last time, I wrote about writer’s block and the obstacles of tiredness and the fear of not doing justice to the topics that speak to you the most.

I talked about flow, the idea that you know that the obstacles are there, but you aren’t letting them affect you emotionally. It’s not a rigid or brittle ‘not letting’, more of a ‘letting them flow around you’.

Growing up, I focused on the concept of “don’t let it affect you”, which is effective at pushing things aside and allowing you to focus on the thing in front of you, but it isn’t very helpful at helping you to determine exactly what should be the thing in front of you.

More recently, with my life coach, we worked on relaxing into working through obstacles[3].

This feels similar to letting emotions flow into, around, then out of you.

You acknowledge them, but they seem to have no power over you. You have your essential self that you have found parts of and are piecing together, and the obstacles are of no moment, and you can flow around them, or they flow around you.

It’s not that the obstacles disappear, or are non-existent. It’s not that they don’t matter emotionally. You can see that you have emotions about them, but you can flow through that to the state where you can focus on solving the problem. It’s similar to understanding how your emotions or hackles can be raised in a situation, but it has nothing to do with the person in front of you[4]. You notice this, you flow around and through the emotions, you find the root cause, and you solve the problem.

Good examples escape me right now, but I think you get the idea. Either way, comment below!

Next time, we’ll talk about forgiveness and the essential self. Stay tuned!

[1]And the Flame and the Void, which some people have tried in real life, with interesting results.

[2]Experienced readers will note that this is an interesting counterpoint to how I was raised, which was to ‘not let it affect you’, with subtle but important differences.

[3]Somewhat similar to re-incorporating your shadow, relaxing, and becoming more whole.

[4]It’s probably the patriarchy.

Being in Your Body

Very recently, I came to a personal epiphany about meditation. I had known about it since time immemorial, had friends who extolled its virtues, and had heard about the relevant scientific studies, but had never really understood it myself.

Similar to how salmon skin rolls were my introduction to sushi, I would end up discovering meditation from an unexpected direction. One day at life coaching, my life coach and I were working on ways to help me deal with an upcoming stressful event, when we came upon the idea to do a guided exercise of ‘being in my body’.

Coming out of the exercise, I was extremely relaxed. The way I see it, part of it is the relaxation from sitting in one place, actually listening to your body and how it’s uncomfortable, and dealing with that, but most of it comes from finding all of the things which are affecting you, all the things you are paying attention to without realizing it[1]. You use meditation to find these things, make them conscious, then you can deal with them or let them wash over you. Either way, you can move beyond them. In the limit, you can do a guided meditation, then when you come out of it, you may notice things which were bothering you in a much more conscious way, allowing you to deal with them more easily.

‘Being in your body’ was a much more accessible phrase for me than ‘meditation’, perhaps because it was a new phrase, or a much simpler phrase, without any of the social and cultural attachments of ‘meditation’. ‘Meditation’ always felt very abstract, something that you would do with your mind only, something that you would do in an uncomfortable position in a boring way. Doing it in a trusting environment in a comfortable position I think was key for me. ‘Being in your body’ was also key. A vital part of the process (for me, at least), is being/becoming aware of as many parts of your body that you can, and acknowledging their effects on you[2]. So, for me, at least at the start, it is much more about body consciousness than mind consciousness[3].

The other key for me was forgiveness. IIRC, G made the connection that many people find it difficult to accept failures in themselves, and they can further find it very difficult to forgive themselves for these failures. When you cannot forgive yourself inside your own head, it is no longer a safe space, and you no longer want to spend time there. So, you might spend time distracting yourself, you might self-medicate in any one of a number of ways.

But the first step towards solving this is to understand what is going on, to understand what you are saying to yourself all of the time. Then you need to allow yourself that safe space inside your head by forgiving yourself. I don’t have a magic answer here (although I plan to write on forgiveness later), all I can say is what worked for me. What might help is understanding that the words you say to yourself may not originally be your own, and differentiating between these words and what you actually feel may help you forgive yourself.

Either way, after going through this, when I got home, S told me that seemed almost asleep standing up, I was so relaxed. I know I didn’t feel asleep, just very relaxed and at peace.

– Be in your body
– Forgive yourself
– Relax

Thanks for reading! Just writing about that helped me relive/re-experience some of those feelings, and I’m feeling much more relaxed.

[1]Cf. Getting Things Done’s ‘Open Loops’ writ large.

[2]I understand that this inconsistently reductionist and simplistic. I imagine that most of my writing is this way. After this exercise, I am at peace with this. 😀

[3]This is also reductionist and wrong, but beyond the scope.

Whimsy

Whimsy.
noun: “playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.” (OED)

To me, it speaks of playfulness, perhaps some randomness, a willingness to play along and see where things go. Perhaps somewhere between the Pkunk and Dirk Gently.

If you played the old M:tG ‘Shandalar’ computer game[1], you may remember this card.

But I’m speaking of whimsy today because I had recently noticed that I had been feeling much less of it my life, due to some stressful circumstances that (I think) have now dissipated. You may have been following my writing for a while, and this is a large part of why I have not written in months, with the few sporadic mostly-picture posts being the most that I could put together.

I’ve been working with my life coach for some time now, on a number of things. One of the largest ones was finding space to create. I had spent a lot of time focusing on making physical and temporal space for creation, but had forgotten about creating the mental space, to be able to deal with distractions.

I almost said ‘push away’ distractions, but similar to the discussion of Saidin and Saidar, pushing away distractions is okay as a crutch, but being able to relax into the flow is much more powerful.

Either way, I’m excited to be feeling creative again, and have some ideas[2] about how to keep this going, even through the next set of distractions that will inevitably crop up.

It’s going to be an interesting year, thanks for being here with me.

-Nayrb 😀

[1]Still one of my favourite games of all time, and I think, even with all its faults, the best M:tG computer game.

[2]Interestingly, a bunch of these are around meditation, which I feel I only discovered very recently.

Enterprise: Broken Bow

So, we finally watched the pilot (Broken Bow) for Star Trek: Enterprise.

I thought it was pretty good. (I’ll try to keep this as spoilers-low as possible.)

The pacing felt good, through the action scenes, I was actually (figuratively) on the edge of my seat, genuinely tense about what would happen to the characters.

I feel like they captured the feeling of exploring into a completely unknown and dangerous galaxy, that any moment, they could be overwhelmed by an alien force, if they should do the wrong thing.

It was also a really interesting choice having the Vulcans being almost reluctant parent allies. Not quite adversaries, not quite obstacles, but always watching and judging…

It’s also interesting to see the first real human/vulcan team start to really learn to work together. To see the first tentative steps towards actual friendship…Two peoples who know they’re better together, but are still learning to trust each other well enough to actually find the synergy they know is there somewhere.

I had been worried about the T’Pol & co. ‘Decontamination Chamber’ scenes, that they would be pure fan service, uninteresting/unrelated to the show. Instead, they were a very odd, fascinating confrontation between the Id (Tucker) and the Superego (T’Pol). I’m not sure exactly how well the scene worked, but it was fascinatingly brave, having two characters who have to rub decontamination gel on each other, a very intimate act, while having an intense emotional argument about Human/Vulcan relations going back decades and discussing the future of the Human species. As the canonical Superego would say: ‘Fascinating’.

Perhaps the most jarring parts of the episode was the slightly too wordy exposition, setting out the political and historical landscape of the early Federation, especially the Human/Vulcan conflict.

At the same time, the Klingon-Human first contact was handled well, with the imperfect universal translator adding a nice touch.

Scott Bakula was a good choice for captain (although the cast felt a little white male focused, with little differentiation between them, even compared with TOS or TNG.) He genuinely seemed a little more afraid, pushing through with more bravado than even Kirk. But perhaps that’s because he didn’t have his Spock yet. Some reviews described him as somewhat of a ‘pirate’, but that hasn’t come out yet.

SPOILER:

I think the Temporal Cold War arc was introduced well, but I could see how it could get old hat if it becomes too commonplace.

Walking into the Rigel X Trade Complex felt like a very Star Trek experience. I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why, but something about the atmosphere of the music (or the visuals!) was very Star Trek.

END SPOILER

Interestingly, this episode also featured the first in canon definition of a specific warp speed[1], when Archer says: “Neptune and back in six minutes”, when describing warp four point five.

(Neptune being around 4.5 billion km from Earth, that puts warp 4.5 as 9e12m/360s, or 83.3c. This is only slightly different from the TNG technical manual, which places warp 4 at 102c, which can be explained by the need to avoid using warp drive while close to gravity wells.)

I also greatly enjoyed the ‘mad scientist’ Doctor Phlox and his menagerie.

Overall, a good episode (and I believe lived up the ‘best Star Trek pilot’ that they were shooting for). It was more dramatic than usual Star Trek, probably more emotionally raw, but it worked well to keep the audience engaged, by having heightened emotion even while arguing important points of philosophy, almost like the best of the lightsaber battles.

4.5 stars, some of the best Star Trek I’ve seen. Even the opening credits, and their message of humans hopefully striving, made me cry[2].

[1]“Warp 6.” “Aye sir, full impulse.” doesn’t count.

[2]Interestingly, very similar to the “Cineplex – 100 Years of Movies” trailer.

When Your Partner Succeeds, How do You React?

Recently, a friend of mine posted this article, which talks about a study where the experimenters measured how participants felt about themselves after hearing that their partner either did very well or very poorly on a test.

Interestingly, the male participants[1] felt better about themselves when they were told[2] that their partners did poorly, and worse about themselves when they were told that their partners did well[3].

Perhaps more interestingly, this only happened when measuring ‘Implicit self-esteem[4]’, but was absent (or much less pronounced) when measuring ‘Explicit self-esteem[5]’.

So, what does this mean? Many or most of us are feeling something subconsciously. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to detect, as the expression can vary widely from person to person and event to event. In the article, the author described one example thus:

“Not long ago a friend’s first book was published, so when I arrived at her home for a visit I eagerly voiced my enthusiasm and congratulations for her accomplishment. Moments into the interaction, her husband strode across the living room to a bookcase and returned with a copy of a book he authored 15 years ago.”

I remember acting like this once[6], and ascribing it to “trying to take away someone else’s success”, or “trying to take their success for your own[7]”. I compensated for it by explicitly giving praise and support whenever someone told me something they were proud of[8].

More recently, I talk with pride about the accomplishments of my partner[9].

Similar things could also manifest as ‘waiting to talk’ rather than ‘listening’, a calling out I remember vividly from early on in my efforts to learn how to communicate.

So, if this is a subconscious feeling, what exactly is it that you’re feeling? Some kind of threat, but what kind of threat? Some kind of threat to yourself? Some kind of threat to how you see yourself or your place in the world? Why does your subconscious think it’s bad for someone else to succeed[10]?

Why does your subconscious see this as a zero-sum game? What are you afraid of? What is the training that you took in as you were growing up that motivated you to think/act this way?

Knowing that, how can you deal with it? You could start by imagining how your partner being successful would help the both of you. As Belgarion said[11], when you notice yourself reacting to something more strongly than you might expect, you can pause, delve into that emotion, try to understand it, and think about it.

Outwardly, you can try listening and praise. Figure out what the person is proud of, why they’re proud of it, and try to find something along that axis to compliment them on. Usually, when your partner is telling you something, it’s like a bird bringing a present back to the nest for their partner. It’s important to acknowledge them and their gift[12]. There will be more than enough time for you to talk about the things you’re proud of, to talk about how you feel. Let them have this moment.

So, how do you react when your partner succeeds? Do you have coping mechanisms for dealing with subconscious issues like this? Share them in the comments below!

[1]”The mean age of participants was 18.9 years (SD 1.52). The average relationship length was 10 months and did not moderate any study results.” All hetero- couples, presumably of college-going demographics.

[2]Interestingly: “Extensive debriefing revealed that all but two participants
believed the feedback. Data from those two participants were
dropped from analysis.”

[3]The effect was opposite, but not statistically significant for female participants.

[4]”The self-esteem IAT assesses associations among two concept categories (self and other) and two evaluative attributes (good and bad) by requiring that participants categorize stimulus items representing the four categories as quickly as possible using two keys of a computer keyboard.”

[5]”Global explicit self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg (1965) Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). The RSE consists of 10 statements related to overall feelings of self-worth. The items were answered on a 4-point scale ranging from (1) Strongly Disagree to (4) Strongly Agree (Cronbach’s alpha = .77).”

[6]’once’ as ‘in the past’, not ‘one time’. 🙂 It would undoubtedly have taken me multiple occurrences to have noticed the pattern, and likely multiple calling-outs.

[7]’Trying to take their success for your own’ is a separate issue, with its own long and terrible history.

[8]This was actually quite difficult for me at first, as I had to learn it by rote, as my parents found this difficult to do for me as I was growing up.

[9]This may or may not be related. I like telling stories about how cool she is, and cool things she’s done or is doing make for good stories.

[10]There’s a long literature on this topic, probably the most explicit is Wired’s article on how male computer game players who are losing the game are more likely to harass women.

[11]I can’t find the exact quote, but basically, he discovered something about himself that he didn’t like, and he had to take it out, look at it, and think about it for a while. (I think it was him. It was in something by David and Leigh Eddings.)

[12]This is from ‘Blink‘s discussion of successful couples.

Trolley Problem Memes

Trigger warning: Conversation and possibly dark humour about fictional (and possibly not-so-fictional) people dying in car and train accidents.

How do you design a self-driving car to appropriately value human life? Can you use a Facebook group to speed the development of philosophical discourse?

The ‘Trolley Problem‘ is a problem in ethics, first known to be described in its modern form in the early 1950s. Basically, it boils down to the question:

If you have a choice between action and inaction, where both will cause harm, but your action will harm fewer people, is it moral to perform that action?

Interestingly, people answer this question differently, based on how active the action of harm is, the ratio of people hurt between the choices of action and inaction, and other reasons.

The astute will notice that this type of decision problem is a very common one, the most obvious being in military applications, but also vaccines (and invasive health procedures in general), firebreaks, and perhaps the canonical example, automobile design and manufacturing.

This type of decision making has become even more important with the advent of self-driving cars:

Would you drive a car that would choose to drive you into a brick wall rather than run over five pedestrians?

Overall, you would think that this would reduce your risk of fatality, but few people would choose that car, likely because it is a classic prisoner’s dilemma[1][2].

What is your self-driving car's ethical system?
What is your self-driving car’s ethical system?

Personally, I think that much of this conversation is sophistry[3]. If one is truly interested in preserving life, the solution is not to convince self-driving cars to kill different people, but perhaps to have more stringent driving training requirements, to invest in fixing known problem intersections, to invest in better public transit.

So, if these conversations are not useful for anything else, they must be useful in and of themselves, and therefore must be Philosophy[4]!

One of the places that these conversations are occurring is the ‘Trolley Problems Memes Facebook page‘[5].

Now, you can argue that this page is purely for entertainment, but I think there’s a lot more hidden there. There is a fomenting and interchange of ideas, much faster and more fluidly than at any time in history. The person who writes the next book[6] on the ethics of decision making could well be influenced by or be an avid user of a site such as this one.

They may have started with Rick-rolling, but image macros are helping the advancement of human knowledge. Stew on that one for a while.

And while you’re thinking about that, something which ties it all together[7]:

"The creator might argue that his robot is an 'individual', capable of his own decisions, while the opposition would say that he (the creator) is responsible for the algorithm that led to the action. Imagine this happening - it would give birth to one of the greatest on-court debates ever." From Patrice Leiteritz via Trolley Problem Memes
“The creator might argue that his robot is an ‘individual’, capable of his own decisions, while the opposition would say that he (the creator) is responsible for the algorithm that led to the action. Imagine this happening – it would give birth to one of the greatest on-court debates ever.” From Patrice Leiteritz via Trolley Problem Memes

[1]If everyone cooperates, overall they will receive a better result, but if any one of them betrays the others, they get an even better result, but everyone else’s result is much worse. This theoretically leads everyone to betray everyone else, leading to everyone having a worse overall outcome.

[2]People also like the feeling of control.

[3]Check out the article. Apparently, the Sophists were the first (recorded) right-wing think tanks.

[4]My undergrad Philosophy 101 prof. made the argument that because philosophy was not useful for anything else, it must be inherently be useful (and that that was better).

[5]Dark humour. You have been warned.

[6]And it might not even be a book! A blog post, even! 😀

[7]Not a deliberate pun.

The Oft-Hidden Fringe Benefit of a Liberal Arts Education

“In retrospect, it was so cheap. Only 30,000 a year for people to care about your opinion on art history!”

http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/final-exam-dram

How does it affect the world to have people in school be told that their (often wrong and terrible) opinions matter? That someone actually cares about their ideas? How does this affect issues of privilege?

Even before grade inflation and students’ expectation of full feedback, students would perform work, someone from the establishment (TA or prof.) would peruse the work, and assign some sort of grade, sometimes with suggestions on how to improve.

But this is not generally true outside of undergrad classes. Questions are not so well defined, answers are often illusory, and generally many fewer people immediately care about the quality of one’s work.

Learning to accept these, I feel, is an important part of growing up. Teaching classes where things are not so well defined is inherently more difficult, and is generally reserved for extremely small class sizes. Illusory answers, or avoiding the ‘easy answer’ can also be difficult for many, as it requires significant introspection. This introspection can also be directed more easily in extremely small class sizes. One also needs to internalize the importance of the quality of one’s work, which is more difficult when someone in power is watching every assignment/essay/exam that one writes.

“No, it was a fantasy. All of those people cared about the quality of my work. Everything mattered so much.”

Perhaps marking of exams and essays persuades people to focus on the minutiae[1], rather than striking out[2] and saying something truly novel and interesting in the ‘real world’ that people actually care about. But maybe it’s important to have small, provable ideas.

But back to the original question. Is it a good or a bad thing to pay money for someone to care about your opinions on art history?

Those with more money can effectively pay to be seen as more important, those with less are forced into other disciplines, or more precarious positions.

At the same time, those in positions of less privilege may find it beneficial to have anyone at all in a position of power care about their writings[3].

“Everything mattered so much.”

When everything matters so much, it can disguise what is actually important[4], but it can also help find new important new things not discoverable by normal methods[5].

Thoughts? Comment below!

[1]I’m not going to address how formal education enhances conformity, that’s a well-known first-order effect.

[2]In this context, ‘striking out’ is an amusing auto-antonym.

[3]Although it can probably be even more devastating if those people in positions of power say that their writings are bad or unimportant.

[4]Analogy: Human civilization changing which traits are passed down.

[5]Analogy: Simulated Annealing.

Interview Questions: Behavioural and Situational

Balancing factors. Persuading people.

Yesterday, I talked about three types of interview questions:

‘Behavioural’ questions ask ‘Describe a time when you encountered a problem like this’.

‘Situational’ questions ask ‘Given this situation, how would you solve it?’

‘Technical’ questions ask ‘Solve this defined problem for me.’

Today, I want to talk about the ‘Behavioural’ and ‘Situational’ questions.

First, how are these questions similar?

Both of these are asking you to describe a solution to a problem, a problem from a surprisingly narrow set of options.

Two (or more) factors that you need to balance[1].

Helping people work together when they disagree[2].

The two factors might be technical, like how you would balance ‘Reliability’ and ‘Performance’, or they might be human, like Legal disagreeing with Marketing. Already, you can see these options blurring together. Really, these questions are really asking about how you balance things and make decisions.

The follow-up is often ‘So, once you made this decision, how did you implement it? How did you convince people that this was the correct route?’

Balancing factors. Persuading people.

So, how are these questions different?

‘Behavioural’ questions ask ‘Describe a time when you encountered a problem like this’.

‘Situational’ questions ask ‘Given this situation, how would you solve it?’

‘Behavioural’ questions ask you to tell a story about something you’ve done. You want to look at all the things you’ve done (especially everything you put on your resume), and think about what kinds of problems each of them were. What factors were you balancing there? How did you persuade people to work together and solve the problem?

An interviewer may ask you this question from a number of different directions. It’s up to you to fit one of your stories into the narrative question they’ve created (or to rephrase it such that your story fits).

‘Situational’ questions ask you how you would solve a hypothetical situation. An interviewer would present a situation with multiple factors to balance, where people disagree, and you would need to mediate, make a decision, get buy-in for your decision.

In this case, it again can be calling on your experience, but be careful that you’re actually trying to solve the problem presented, not a different problem that you’ve encountered before[3].

Summing up:

‘Behavioural’ questions ask ‘Describe a time when you encountered a problem like this’.
‘Situational’ questions ask ‘Given this situation, how would you solve it?’

In both of these:

Balance factors.
Persuade people.

To answer:

‘Behavioural’, fit a story from your past into the question.
‘Situational’, put yourself into their story, and tell them how you would resolve it.

Next time, we’ll look at the more ‘technical’ side of interviews. Stay tuned!

[1]If you didn’t need to balance between two things, you would just choose one of them, and really, no decision is required.

[2]If people are in agreement, what decision is required?

[3]Or something from your childhood, natch.