Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 14th, 2021

Our Workplaces Think We’re Computers. We’re Not.

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Ezra Klein interviewed Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain. (NB: There’s an unauthorized companion workbook and journal of 86 pages with the same title, a blatant effort to ride the coattails of Paul’s book. Do not buy that workbook and journal, but it would indeed be a good idea to buy a blank notebook, title it “The Extended Mind Workbook & Journal” and in it develop your own guide based on the book — asking yourself questions, writing in your own words the guidance the author provides, and keeping a journal of your thoughts and efforts as you apply what you learn from the book.)

You can can listen to the entire interview on “The Ezra Klein Show” on AppleSpotifyGoogle or wherever you get your podcasts. The interview transcript (not fully edited for grammar or spelling) begins:

EZRA KLEIN: I’m Ezra Klein, and this is “The Ezra Klein Show.”


Something I’ve been wrestling with lately, both in my head and then, of course, on the show, is what I’ve come to think of as productivity paradoxes, these things that look and feel to us like work, like productivity, that the culture tells us are work and productivity but turn out to be the opposite. They turn out to be distractions or they turn out to miss something profound about how we work or how we think or even how we live.

If you remember, for instance, my interview with Cal Newport from earlier this year, that was about one of these: the way constant communication on platforms like Slack and Teams and to some degree even email, it codes as work, it looks like work, and it’s often a distraction not just from work but from its fundamental precursor, focus. There are also, of course, distractions from life and leisure. When we’re not able to work well in productivity in the time we’re supposed to do it, it expands outward into everything else. So this isn’t just about work but about being able to balance work and the rest of life.

Then I began reading this new book, “The Extended Mind” by Annie Murphy Paul. Paul is a science writer, and her book, the work here, began as an inquiry into how we learn, but then it became something else. It became a book about how we think. Because what came to tie her research together was this 1998 article by the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers called “The Extended Mind,” which argued that there was a, quote, “active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes,” end quote. That what you should think of as our mind, and certainly the way our mind worked, was extending out beyond our head and was intimately shaped, like actually intertwined, with tools, with people, with the environment, with the visual field. And subsequent research really, really bore this out. And the implications of it, I think, are profound.

A lot of this book is about recognizing that we have the intuitive metaphor of our minds, that they’re an analytical machine, a computer of sorts. And we’ve taken this broken metaphor of the mind and then built schools and workplaces and society on top of it, built the built environment on top of it. And the result is that our work and school lives are littered with these productivity paradoxes.

What so often feels and looks like productivity and efficiency to us are often the very activities and habits that stunt our thinking. And many of the habits and activities that look like leisure, sometimes even look like play, like if you’ve taken a walk in the middle of the day or a nap, those end up unlocking our thinking. If the question is, how can we be the most creative or come up with the most profound productive insights, you need to do that stuff.

And so if you read it correctly, in my view at least, this is a pretty radical book. It has radical implications not just for how we think about ourselves but for policy, for architecture, for our social lives, for schooling, for the economy. And I’ll say that it has stuck with me quite a bit. It has changed the way I structure a bunch of my days. I’m trying to work with my mind more and against it less. As always, my email for guest suggestions, reading recommendations, whatever, is

Annie Murphy Paul, welcome to the show.

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL: Thanks, Ezra. I’m really glad to be here.

EZRA KLEIN: You have a quote in the book that encapsulates kind of the whole of it for me, and you’re talking here about the limits of the brain as a computer, this analogy that we use all the time. And you write, quote, “When fed a chunk of information, a computer processes it in the same way on each occasion, whether it’s been at work for five minutes or five hours, whether it is located in a fluorescent lit office or positioned next to a sunny window, whether it’s near other computers or is the only computer in the room. This is how computers operate.

But the same doesn’t hold for human beings. The way we’re able to think about information is dramatically affected by the state we’re in when we encounter it.” End of the quote. Why is that true? Why doesn’t our brain work the same way in all contexts?

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL: Well, it has to do with the fact that our brain is a biological organ and an evolved organ that’s very different from a computer. And the computer metaphor for the brain has been dominant since the emergence of cognitive science in the middle of the last century, and it really permeates the way we think and talk about the brain, and it places these sort of invisible limits on how we use the brain, how we regard other people’s brains, and it’s because that metaphor is so faulty it leads us to act and to make choices in ways that are not at all optimal.

And so in this book, I wanted to challenge the metaphor of the computer and point out that, no, actually the brain evolved in particular settings, mostly outside. It evolved to do things like sense and move the body to find its way through three dimensional landscapes, to engage in encounters in small groups of people. These are the things that the brain does effortlessly, naturally. The brain is not a computer. It never was, and its failures are particular to its own nature, and it has to be understood on its own terms.

EZRA KLEIN: You argue that a lot of thinking — I don’t know if you’re quite saying happens in the body, but it’s certainly picked up by the body as opposed to picked up by our mental ruminations. And the body can in some ways be even more rational than what we think of as a brain. What do you mean by that? Make that argument for me.

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL: Well, as we go through our everyday lives, there’s way more information than we can process or retain consciously. It would just completely explode our mental bandwidth. But we are taking in that information, noting regularities and patterns, and storing them in the non-conscious mind so that it can be used later when we encounter a similar situation. Then the question becomes, well, if it’s non-conscious, how do we make use of that information?

And it’s because the body lets us know. I mean, that’s what we call a gut feeling or what psychologists, what scientists call interoception, which is the perception of internal sensations that arise from within the body. And people who are more attuned to those internal signals and cues are better able to draw on that wealth of information that we know but we don’t know. We possess it, but we don’t know it explicitly or consciously. So that’s what a gut feeling is. It’s sort of your body tugging at your mental sleeve and saying, hey, you’ve been here before. You’ve had this experience before. Here’s how you responded. It worked or it didn’t work. Here’s what is the right thing to do now.

But in our world where we are so brain bound, so focused on the cerebral and the things that go on in our head, we tend to push the body aside, to quash those feelings, to override them, even, in the service of getting our mental work done, when really we should be cultivating that ability, becoming more attuned and more sensitive to it, because it has all this accumulated experience and information to share with us.

EZRA KLEIN: You cite a study that just floored me by the psychologist Antonio Damasio, which looked at the body picking up some of these unconscious processes in a pattern recognition game. Can you describe that?

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL: Yeah. So Damasio set up a kind of card game online on a computer where players were asked to turn over cards from one of four decks. And they could choose which cards they wanted to turn over. And they were given a starting purse. The object was to gain as much money as possible and lose as little money as possible, because each card came with an associated reward or took some money away. And so the experimenter said go. People started clicking on the decks and turning over cards.

And unbeknownst to them, . . .

Continue reading. It’s interesting and offers a new perspective.

See also: Embodied cognition.

UPDATE: Toward the end of the interview, Ezra Klein says:

EZRA KLEIN: Well, let’s talk about the distinction you made right there between expanding and contracting the mind. Because a point you make in the book is that we often think about the demand side of our attention, which is to say, we think about what we want to devote our attention to and that we need to be tougher about being rigorous about where we put our attention. We need to work harder at devoting our attention. But you talk about working on the supply side of our attention, trying to expand the amount of attention we have, trying to replenish the attention we have. So how does using that framework change what you do? If I’m tired or I’m getting ready for a podcast, what do I do to expand the supply side of my attention?

I immediately thought of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way (included, BTW, on my list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending). It’s a 12-week program of beginning each day by writing three pages in a journal (preferably by hand), without pausing — just free-associating and continuing to write. (If you’re stuck, just write “word, word, word,” until something comes to mind and continue.) She provides more information and some direction in her book, which IMO is worth getting — and the 12-week program is worth doing.

One of the things she mentions is that on one day each week, you schedule and keep an “artist’s date,” which is a period of 1-2 hours in which you get outside and walk around and take in impressions. It might be in a city, or in a neighborhood, or in a park. The important thing is just to take time to observe things happening.

She say that the morning pages are output, a flowing forth of ideas, and it is vital to also have time for input, to absorb impressions, observe things, and allow time for ideas to form.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 3:46 pm

Flora, Fauna, and … Funga? The Case for a Third ‘F.’

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Giuliana Furci wrote a field guide for Chilean fungi and set up the Fungi Foundation when she realized the unique organisms were largely ignored in Chile. Visual: Mateo Barrenengoa

Jonathan Moens writes in Undark:

IN 1999, GIULIANA FURCI developed a profound interest in fungi. They were everywhere, and the 20-year-old took particular joy in the multiformity of mushrooms: small and button-shaped; tall and umbrella-like; bulging, with crimson red caps topped with white flakes. But Furci also quickly realized that these fungi went largely ignored in Chile, where there were few guidebooks and an almost total lack of policies and resources to legally protect them from over-harvesting, land exploitation, and deforestation.

Determined to correct this, Furci wrote a field guide for Chilean fungi and set up the Fungi Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to fungi conservation for which she is the executive director. In 2010, she took an even bigger step: Allied with other environmental nonprofits, Furci put forward a proposal for the Chilean government to systematically assess how large new developments such as housing, dams, and highways affect fungi. In 2012, the motion passed and Chile became the first country in the world to protect fungi by law.

Chile is unique in its legal commitment to these spore-producing organisms. As a taxonomic group, fungi are both ubiquitous and diverse, including molds, yeast, mushrooms, and a variety of other organisms. They are also largely neglected in global conservation efforts. Of the estimated 2.2 to 3.8 million species of fungi on Earth, approximately 450 have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature for inclusion on its Red List of Threatened Species, a large-scale effort to catalog the conservation status of species across the globe. Groups like mammals, birds, and amphibians have been completely or almost completely assessed, while fungi account for less than a percent of all assessments to date.

Policymakers and biodiversity institutions agree that fungi are fundamental to rich and sustainable ecosystems, but few institutions have taken direct steps to explicitly include these organisms in their policy frameworks. One reason: People tend to prefer large charismatic creatures, says Axel Hochkirch, a professor of biodiversity conservation at the University of Trier in Germany. Whales, rhinos, and elephants capture the collective imagination and foster a sense of empathy, he says, driving interest, money, and resources into fighting for their preservation. Fungi have historically been associated with disease, death, and decay, especially in the Western world, says Gregory Mueller, chief scientist and vice president of science at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Fungi face an additional challenge. After decades of being classified as plants, in the late 1960s biologists recognized that they needed their own separate kingdom. But this recognition has been slow to seep into policy. Popularized by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, the term “flora and fauna” no longer includes fungi, but mycologists argue that the term lives on in environmental laws, international biodiversity conventions, and treaties, allowing fungi to be overlooked in policy frameworks and making it challenging for conservationists to obtain legal environmental protections for this diverse and ecologically important kingdom.

In response, a small team of fungal experts and legal scholars have banded together to try and tilt public and legal discourse in favor of fungal conservation. The team aims to add another “F” — funga — to upcoming high-impact reports, declarations, conventions, and treaties that would otherwise focus on “flora and fauna.” One of their chief goals is to get fungi explicitly included in the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nations multilateral agreement and one of the most influential conservation initiatives in the world, whose next meeting is now scheduled to take place in Kunming, China in October.

“Government, people, institutions still think of biodiversity in terms of ‘flora and fauna,’” says David Minter, president of the European Mycological Association. “And that, of course, absolutely excludes fungi — it’s so pervasive.”

Until relatively recently, fungi could belong to only one of two scientific categories: plants or animals. Given that fungi are non-motile organisms often anchored to the soil, they were scientifically classified as plants. But they also differ from plants in significant ways — notably fungi reproduce via spores rather than with flowers and seeds and lack basic structures that plants have, including stamens and pistils. Because of this, for decades fungi were generally considered more primitive and were referred to as “lower” plants.

In 1969, the ecologist Robert Whittaker published a paper challenging the binary classification model, proposing, instead, a five-part classification system that included fungi as its own kingdom. (Later models have included even more kingdoms.) In Whittaker’s system, fungi’s lack of chlorophyll, its general inability to photosynthesize, and its distinct cell wall composition — made from the same substance as insect exoskeletons — made them a unique kingdom of life, more similar to animals than plants.

Fungi establish deeply symbiotic relationships with trees and other plants through intricate underground networks of thread-like filamentous structures, which improve access to water and nutrients for the plants in exchange for carbohydrates. Fungi also decompose leaves, rocks, and other organic materials, turning them into soil, which create the foundation for other organisms to thrive on.

“Their symbiotic nature is very important, and they are the organisms that actually create ecosystems. Without fungi, you just have separate components,” says Furci. As a result, omitting fungi from conservation initiatives has had dire consequences on the world’s ecosystems, experts say. And despite a lack of data, scientists know enough to say that many species of fungi face similar environmental risks as plants and animals, given their susceptibility to climate change, land exploitation, pollution, and deforestation.

Overharvesting of prized mushrooms is also a problem. For example, in Northern Sicily, the white ferula — a girthy, eggshell-colored mushroom noted for its delicious flavor — was the first fungi placed on the IUCN Red List. Found in an area spanning no more than 39 square miles and frequently picked by mushroom hunters, the white ferula is currently teetering on the brink of extinction, with no formal legislation to protect it in the wild. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including photos.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 12:57 pm

The Cigar-Box Guitar Maker

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Nancy LeBrun writes in Craftsmanship Quarterly:

1. Musical Freedom   
2. Pure Americana    
3. Box Mysteries     
4. Simple Dreams

It seems like a crazy way to make music— a cast-off cigar box, a stick of wood, and a few strings that barely look capable of making a twang. That’s about all there is to a cigar box guitar. Yet when Paul Simon recorded his acclaimed album So Beautiful Or So What, he played one. Jimi Hendrix made one when he was a kid. Johnny Depp once gave one to Paul McCartney. To a guy named Mike Snowden, the sound of these instruments is so compelling that making them has become the central passion in his life.

I recently found Snowden on a bright spring morning, rolling power tools around his garage in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb outside Atlanta. To set up his workshop, Snowden had to thread his way through kayaks, kids’ bicycles, storage boxes and the usual household detritus. “I don’t have crazy expensive tools,” he said, with an easy smile and a shrug. “Just a table-top saw, a router, a drill press, a sander and a band-saw.” Dressed in Converse sneakers and a plaid shirt, Snowden seemed so laid back that I wondered if he is permanently relaxed. It soon became clear, however, that he is deceptively diligent about his trade, happily following a path that has demanded a few idiosyncratic choices.

Snowden grew up Natchitoches, Louisiana, the state’s oldest town, where the main street echoes the New Orleans French Quarter—in both its Creole buildings and its vibrant music scene. Snowden took it all in. At age 13, he bought a bass guitar and began playing along to his parents’ albums, which included the standard Springsteen, Beatles and Stevie Wonder repertoire. In high school, he started playing bass with local bands but wanted more. When he turned 18, he headed not to college but to Atlanta, where groups like The Black Crowes and Indigo Girls had gotten their start. After four years of playing the bar scene, he helped found a blues-rock group named Band De Soleil, becoming their bass player.

The day after the group formed, they left for a six-week tour. They were soon opening for acts like Joe Cocker and Dave Matthews. Those were heady days. “We had a manager, attorneys, we were signed to a record deal, the whole shooting match. It was like being in the middle of a hurricane.“ For five years, Snowden played roughly 250 nights a year. Before they could reach their next level, however, exhaustion and rivalries began to take a toll. At one point, while they were in Atlanta recording their second album, they slowly realized it was over. It just wasn’t fun anymore. “Near the end of the band, it was way out of control, too many people had different things going on.” Snowden felt they were now at mercy of the recording industry, and had lost control of their destiny. “I was just done,” Snowden says. “I was so tired of music and playing music.”

After limping through a few last bookings, Snowden headed home to Marietta, back to his wife Monique, his high-school girlfriend. They soon had a daughter, and to make ends meet, Snowden took the job that he still has 18 years later—working the 5-10 a.m. shift in the garden department at Home Depot. At heart, though, he was still a musician. He just didn’t want the circus that went with it. For several years, Snowden didn’t touch a musical instrument. But when his daughter was five, something dawned on him: “She’d never seen me play,” he says. If she was ever going to know who her father really was, he realized, she would need to hear his music.

In an effort to find a new path back to his old love, Snowden tried drums, the banjo, the mandolin. “I started buying all these instruments and nothing satisfied me,” he recalls. One day, while surfing the web, he stumbled on a video of a guy playing a guitar made out of a cigar box. “I thought I knew a lot about music,” he says. But this was something totally new—at least to him.


A cigar box guitar may be simple, but there’s a certain art to making a good one. The first one Snowden attempted worked, “and that’s what surprised me,” he says. Entirely self-taught, Snowden hammered his way through the craft’s learning curve. “The first hundred or so weren’t that great,” he says. “As you’re learning, you get real frustrated, it’s a very emotional thing. Sometimes I’d be down in my basement and I’d be like, ‘What am I doing, man?’”

The main challenge had to do with . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including photos and more videos.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 12:50 pm

The Strange Case of Dr. Cahill and Ms. Hyde

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Jonathan Jarry describes a problem on the website of McGill University’s Office of Science and Society. How can it be solved? He writes:

“If you’re under, like, 70 or 65 and you’ve no underlying conditions, this is all a hoax.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that this wild assertion about a pandemic that has killed over 4.3 million people worldwide and caused sequelae for an untold number of survivors came from someone who knows nothing of medicine and immunology. These words were spoken by Professor Dolores Cahill, a tenured professor at the School of Medicine of University College Dublin with a doctorate degree in immunology. She is part of a coterie of outspoken academics and healthcare professionals spreading harmful misinformation about COVID-19, people who should know better, and their contrarian crusade creates friction between two competing ideas: academic freedom and scholastic rigour.

Cahill, who until recently was teaching a class for first-year medical students called “Science, Medicine and Society,” has been making a number of staggeringly erroneous claims about COVID-19 and its associated vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic, never correcting her mistakes and always doubling down. She has said, falsely, that COVID-19 can be prevented by taking vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc, and that the most efficient treatment is in the form of hydroxychloroquine, a cheap medication against malaria and autoimmune diseases that turned into an object of worship for some individuals, even as the evidence clearly showed it did not work against COVID-19. She has boldly stated that children wearing a mask—the kind that doctors, nurses and dentists have been wearing for decades—would be starved of oxygen and see their IQ lowered. As for the RNA-based vaccines, she falsely claimed they did more harm than good. “If you paid me ten million,” she warned, “I wouldn’t take it. I would go to prison first. If someone vaccinated me [with an RNA vaccine], I would charge them with attempted murder.”

Bolstered by Cahill’s academic and scientific credentials, her misinformed and hazardous claims have grown to the point where students at her university wrote a 33-page scientific rebuttal of these claims, a document that was signed by 133 students from the university’s own School of Medicine and sent to its administrators. One of the claims these students had to debunk: that once you get COVID-19, you are immune for life. This brazen assertion’s confidence is in contradiction with actual knowledge in the field, which is that we do not clearly know how long immunity does last. But this is the upside-down world at University College Dublin right now, where students are teaching their own professor basic facts about a topic she should be familiar with.

Because Dolores Cahill is not a naturopath, or a multilevel marketing supplement saleswoman, or a bestselling author claiming that a spirit whispers medical information from the future into her ear. She has a proper biomedical research background, working for many years at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics and as an advisor and international expert on many boards and committees, including the Irish Government’s Advisory Science Council. Ironically, she has also been active in the field of scientific integrity. To say that her credentials are at odds with her public campaign of COVID denialism is to put it mildly: her pre- and post-pandemic academic selves seem completely at odds with each other. When, arguing against physical distancing, she claimed that “only three organisms are transmitted in that way [via the air]: it’s tuberculosis and smallpox and Ebola,” I’m at a loss for words. Has she never heard of measles? Does she not know that hospitalized patients with the flu are isolated to prevent transmission? Does she understand respiratory infections?

While the School of Medicine eventually distanced itself from her views on COVID-19, the university cited strict guidelines on academic freedom as a reason for their inaction. Can university professors say whatever they want, no matter the harm they cause, and get away with it?

Freedom from truth?

The idea of academic freedom is very old: it can be traced back to Ancient Greece and it made its way into the German university system from which it was adopted into the United States in 1876, with the founding of the first American research university, Johns Hopkins University. Academic freedom is meant to protect the search for truth. It is the right for members of academia to pursue research, to publish and to teach without restraint or control from their employer. Basically, if a university is uncomfortable with the fact that the sky is blue—perhaps because many of its donors belong to a group that believes the sky is yellow—its professors are allowed to conduct and publish research showing that the sky is blue without fear of losing their jobs.

This principle of academic freedom, which is argued to be useful to attract high-quality professors and to protect them from ideological witch-hunts, has encountered a growing challenge. Professors are more and more taking to social media, to video-sharing platforms, and to podcasts to address society at large, and what they are saying has, in a few cases, been wildly inaccurate and potentially harmful. Cahill does absolutely not represent the majority of academics, who tend to be responsible when speaking to the public, but she is unfortunately not alone. I am aware of a Canadian university professor who has repeatedly made ill-informed statements about the pandemic. When a concerned citizen contacted the university president, the reply was a limp statement of the problem with no solution in sight: the university was at once deeply committed to academic freedom and to the highest standard of scholastic integrity.

The friction between the two is not easily resolved. For example, there are tensions between Stanford University and the Hoover Institution it helped spawn. Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Hoover, became the coronavirus adviser for the White House and contradicted public health guidance during the pandemic. When he spread health misinformation essentially under the name of Stanford University, many of the university’s professors were troubled. Academic freedom does have limits: in fact, tenured professors (meaning professors who achieve an indefinite appointment at their university and benefit the most from academic freedom) can be declared unfit for duty. The problem is, what constitutes unfitness? It is rarely made explicit.

Returning to Cahill as an example of an academic who divorced herself from science while benefiting from her credentials, her constant misinformation is embedded in a larger ideology. She was the chairperson of the right-wing, Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party until March of this year, when she quit after being condemned for spouting COVID-19 misinformation. She is currently the president of the World Freedom Alliance, whose website identifies her as “Professor Dolores Cahill” and . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 12:42 pm

How to have a difficult conversation

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Adar Cohen holds a PhD in conflict resolution from Trinity College Dublin and has lectured at Harvard University and the University of Chicago. He “helps families, businesses, and communities have big conversations,” and he writes in Psyche:

Need to know

I’m in a Zoom meeting, speaking to a screen full of black squares, trying to coax voices out of the void. The other callers are all members of an executive board, and they’re in turmoil over the strategic direction of their company. Several of them are no longer on speaking terms, and employees and shareholders have not been shielded from the drama. On a good day, these calls are tense, but more often than not they’re explosive. Only my camera is turned on, and I watch myself try to look optimistic.

I’m a mediator. I have helped people have difficult conversations for more than 20 years: in conflict zones and in living rooms, with leaders of corporations and foundations, and people in my own community. If you’ve ever avoided or postponed a difficult conversation, you’re not alone. Conflict avoidance is everywhere. At home and at work, we steer around conflict as prodigiously as we create it.

And yet conflict isn’t inherently bad. It offers us information about how we could work with others more effectively, improve our relationships, and grow as individuals. It’s far worse to try to avoid it, because you just end up creating new conflict – which ends up being more insidious and costly than the original issue.

When I help people have difficult conversations, we’re always aiming for one of three outcomes: a solution, a plan or an understanding. A solution is a grand bargain, a resounding win, a comprehensive resolution expected to withstand the pressures of all unknown future challenges. With a mediator this can happen, but it’s ambitious. We all have a tendency to hope for a dramatic and permanent solution, but this usually causes new problems by overburdening an already stressed relationship. A plan is more realistic, and is like a map for finding a solution. It leaves the precise terms of the resolution open-ended but provides a path forward. A plan reorganises the relationship with new boundaries, revised norms, and sets up shared expectations for how the trickiest parts will be navigated.

But the most realistic outcome, especially at the beginning, is to focus on reaching an understanding. An understanding is a new awareness of what the other person has experienced in the conflict; it’s a mutual appreciation for one another’s needs, fears and hopes. Reaching an understanding is feasible, provides great relief, and can lay a foundation for a plan, a solution and a new relationship.

For example, I recently helped a family to reach an understanding when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a college student to move back in with his parents. They were having difficulties renegotiating their relationships once they were suddenly living together again. Their renewed understanding led to a plan for new expectations and boundaries, which they’re currently using to navigate the uncertainties and discomfort of this period. I expect they’ll find their solution soon.

In my work as a mediator, I’ve learnt that successful conversations always involve what I call a ‘gem statement’. When two parties have listened long and hard to each other – have made the heroic effort to listen curiously and empathically even when they disagree strenuously – someone eventually unearths a glowing, priceless gem. It usually takes the form of a short, powerful statement, such as these two I’ve heard recently:

We’ve kept on fighting in part because neither of us is willing to walk away from this friendship. That’s something.

Even when we can’t agree on Dad’s medical care, I’ve never doubted your good intentions. I know you want the best for him.

It happens almost every time. From the muck of blame and anger, someone lifts out a beacon. I then seize the opportunity and hold up the gleaming gem for all parties to see. It lights the way toward a new conversation revolving around compromise, solutions and goodwill.

In addition to gratitude for the person who dug out the gem, I have also felt impatience. I’ve wondered, Why can’t they say something like this earlier in the process? Or better yet, at the beginning? Does the conversation need to naturally find its way to such a moment, or could we engineer it to happen much sooner? It seemed worthwhile to find out, so I developed a process to reduce the amount of time people spend digging in the muck. And I’ve found it works: when people find a gem earlier on, they experience less pain and more benefit from having their difficult conversation.

This Guide is to help you do this – without a mediator. Mediators can be helpful during challenging times, but we don’t actually resolve peoples’ conflicts. We create the conditions in which people feel heard and acknowledged, increasing the quality of their communication and problem-solving. When you’re facing a tough conversation, it’s not really the mediator you need – it’s the conditions we’re good at creating and maintaining. [Like a person who buys a drill doesn’t really need a drill — he needs to have holes in something. – LG]

If you don’t feel safe or if your situation involves illegal activity or any type of abuse, this Guide isn’t right for you. In those instances, get help from a professional right away. There are also some situations that don’t call for further conversation – some relationships or difficulties are better left in the past, and you should trust your instinct about whether a conversation is the right step for you. But if you think talking could do some good, then this resource can help get you started.

Maybe you feel misunderstood or unappreciated at work. Or maybe you’re caught in a recurring family pattern that causes pain and drives you away from the people you love. If you feel hurt or angry when thinking of a difficult conversation you need to have, there is a good chance that the relationship is important to you. Whether it’s a relationship within your family, at work or in your community, it’s become this challenging because you have a vested interest, you care deeply or your future is somehow intertwined with the person you need to talk with.

If you feel the situation could improve if someone really heard what you have to say, there’s hope. If you feel ready to make an earnest effort to really hear someone in return, there’s even more than hope. Remember that your goal here is not to find a quick solution or plan straight away – that’s tempting but unrealistic, and might backfire. Your goal is to understand each other.

What to do

1. Prepare for the conversation

The first step is a thought experiment: think about the person with whom you need to talk, and allow yourself to imagine that you just finished having the best possible conversation with them. You were heard fully. Each of your concerns was addressed to your satisfaction. If an apology was appropriate, you received an excellent one. Stay with this – just imagine it! You’ve reached an understanding that gives you confidence in the future of the relationship. This is a challenging thought experiment, but you’re almost there… You are relieved, you feel lighter, and even grateful to the person you’ve been in conflict with.

2. Dig out a gem

What would you say to them in this moment? (Remember, in this exercise you’ve been heard, you’ve received an apology, and it went exceedingly well.) What would you say to your counterpart if all of that happened? What’s ‘underneath’ the conflict? What’s true when you’re not consumed with negative feelings? Write down the first gem statement you think of. You can write others too, but usually the first one is the real deal.

Your statement should be an authentic expression of how you’re feeling, but should also have significant meaning and positive impact for the other person. For example, two more gem statements I heard recently were: ‘I can tell you care a lot about reaching our team’s goals, and I have a lot of respect for you.’ You can tell it’s a gem when you’re terribly tempted to tack on a grievance to the end of it. Like this: I can tell you care a lot about reaching our team’s goals, but the way you go about it is causing great difficulty to everyone around you. If you find yourself doing this, leave out the second part. You’ll get to say it, just not here.

3. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Much excellent advice and some good suggestions for further reading. And of those by all means read this short but wonderful piece by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 10:33 am

Dapper Doc has a pleasing fragrance

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Dapper Doc’s Old Time Lilac & Fig shaving soap, in Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 formulation, produces a terrific lather, in consistency, skin-kindness, and fragrance. My Sabini ebony handled brush had an easy task, and I thoroughly enjoyed the lathering.

This King C. Gillette safety razor has a Mühle/Edwin Jagger head, near as I can tell, and so it does an excellent job — this morning, a job that exceeded my expectations, but that may have been aided by a combination of the CK-6 lather on top of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave. At any rate, the shave was intensely enjoyable. The only fly in the ointment was the handle: a little too long for my taste and too smooth and slick toward the bottom. Nevertheless, this was a solid 9 on a 10-point scale of enjoyment.

And It was a 10 on a 10-point scale of result: totally smooth face following the shave. A good splash of Dapper Doc’s aftershave (with a squirt of hydrating gel) and I’m ready for a walk. I skipped yesterday because of smoke from wildfires.

A great way to start the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2021 at 7:55 am

Posted in Shaving

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