PSI Basic & My Experience

A couple months ago, I was hanging out with a good friend.. We shall call him Steve.  Much like myself, Steve has spent the last 10 years realizing that our universe is much bigger than the neighborhood we grew up in.  While our paths have been different at times, we still have a great deal in common.  I’d say that he probably knows me, my journey, and my direction better than anyone.

Part of Steve branching out and exploring his new universe was reading more, expanding his interests, and trying out some self-help courses.  He mentioned that he had gone to one and that it was a little weird but that he did learn a few things.  Not long after, he was headed to the states for a follow up course or something to that effect.  Maybe it was a Tony Robbins thing?

I had seen Tony Robbins on YouTube, and while I understood and appreciated the things he would say, I didn’t find them very motivational.  Same could be said for the other ‘motivational’ speakers I’ve watched.  I actually found their material rather repetitive and somewhat hollow.  There was lots of talk about waking up at 4:45 am or loading up your desktop with pictures of things you wanted to accomplish, but very little mention of how to actually navigate the obstacles I was actually facing.

I think part of it is that I’m already motivated.  When people are asked to describe me, ‘driven’ is usually in the top 3.  Another element is an appreciation that not all strategies work well for all people or in all situations.  I know plenty of people who have no business waking up at 4:45 am and are remarkably productive well into the evening.  And perhaps the biggest for me, is recognizing their BS sales tactics.  The one that sticks out for me is ‘look at my garage full of exotic cars, if you want to be like me, pay for my motivational BS’.

While I think those reasons should be enough for most people to be wary, I think there’s another level to it for me.  Not long ago, I realized that I’ve made a career out of making things harder than they needed to be.  If something was easy, there was a good chance that I would find a way to make it more difficult.  I was constantly looking to challenge myself and push my boundaries.  It led to a lot of mistakes and those mistakes often had rather significant consequences.  But I learned.  I didn’t learn to make fewer mistakes or to fear the consequences of my actions.  I learned the value of making mistakes, the lessons which were afforded by them, and how to roll with whatever consequences presented themselves.  As someone who embraces making mistakes but is fixated on not repeating them, you’re afforded the opportunity to learn a great deal.

So a couple months ago, Steve and I are hanging out at my place and he’s telling me about this self-help seminar that he did and he does a real soft-sell, asking if I’d be into it.  I do my best to keep an open mind, but ultimately reply with a soft-decline.  I tell him that most of what they’re teaching, I’ve already learned (the hard way), and that I’m not the type to be motivated by someone bouncing around on stage telling me about my untapped potential.  He suggests that it helped him with a few things and that he thinks it would be a very interesting experience for me to go through.  I say anything can be interesting with the right perspective, whether it’s worth my time and money is a different conversation.   So I ask him what the course material is.  He tells me that he’s not supposed to share it.  What?  Apparently, knowing the course material ahead of time tampers with the ‘experience’.  I suggest that this is probably a better fit for some of his other friends.  He tells me that it’s difficult to talk about this kinda stuff with his other friends.  He tells me it’s a money-back guarantee.  Hmm…  I still decline.  Then he reluctantly shares with me that part of his ‘success’ in this program is being able to communicate its value with others… and get them to sign up.  I went from being surprised that he let them do that to him, to unsurprised that this was one of their tactics, to disappointed that he went along with it.  But I could tell that it was important to him.  A money-back guarantee you say?  He says that if nothing else, he’s very curious to see what happens when you put someone like me in an environment like that.  I agree.

A few weeks later, I go to a dinner-pitch hosted by Steve with a presenter from the weekend seminar.  The presenter is a mortgage-broker by trade, and says that within the first 10 seconds of his introduction (I wonder how much business he sources from this).  He goes on to introduce the organization that he’s a part of: PSI Seminars.  He touches on a few basics like the value of living outside your comfort zone, or the mind-state of a jaded adult vs. an innocent child.  He then moves on to talk about how much he benefited from the program, mentioning that his income doubled and that he has a much better relationship with his family now.  He then brings up others who have gone through the process and they say the same thing.  Then they deliver the sales pitch, referring to the cost of the seminar as ‘tuition’ and providing a discount to anyone who signs up that night.  He all but confirmed that I was walking into exactly what I thought I was walking into, but I had made a commitment to a friend and that was more important to me.

A few more weeks go by and it’s time to go the PSI: Basic, a Friday, Saturday, Sunday seminar, each day running 10am-8pm.

 

Day 1

On day one, we go through our registration and all 70 of us pile into a smaller banquet room at a mid-sized hotel in the burbs.  The music is terrible.. like crappy, upbeat country kinda terrible.  The man who takes the stage is a 50 something white guy in a boxy suit.  Right away, he establishes a rapport with the audience by poking fun at his suit and talking about how half the people in the room still aren’t sure how they were talked into this.  He shares that he was super skeptical when he went through the ‘basic’ 17 years ago.  He pokes fun at the lack of participation from the crowd at first, but once he gets people laughing, the crowd seems to relax.  Trust +1.

Then we break into groups headed by a ‘micro-leader’, someone who has done the program previously and wants to be further involved.  In our micro-groups of 5, we’re told to go around in a circle and tell each other about the accomplishment(s) we’re proudest of.  Then the rest of the group is asked to provide first impressions of that person.  I ended up with a list of qualities which I aspire to.. things like honesty, integrity, intelligence, and work ethic.  Others end up with similar positive lists.  I’m a little disappointed as I’d much rather have constructive feedback.  Validation +1.

We’re told a story about Jim Carrey, how he came from humble beginnings, and about the $15,000,000 check he wrote to himself.  Apparently this was a turning point for him because every time he reached into his wallet, he saw that check and this motivated him to be able to cash it one day – the law of attraction.  I’m someone who recognizes the law of attraction as a small part of a larger effort in achieving something.  I’m not a fan of those who suggest that it’s the only thing standing between you and all your goals.  Positivity +1

That afternoon, we do an exercise where we divide everyone into 4 groups, based on how you identify around dominance and formality.  It’s basically a limited introduction into personality science, helping people understanding that different personalities behave and interact differently.  As someone who’s been familiar with MBTI for over 10 years and is already reading Carl Jung’s works.. it was a bit light for me.  Trust +1

Later that afternoon, he tells us about the innocence of children.  How they don’t carry the prejudice, hurt, or other emotional baggage that tends to hold adults back.  He talks about undoing ‘programs’ that we’ve built within our minds.  I often see my thoughts as algorithms, and use the basic premise of re-coding to adjust my behavior.  I would’ve liked to explore that at a deeper level but this was just a brief introduction.  Trust + 1.

That evening, we were taught about the victim mentality.  That when life gives you lemons, you can either take responsibility for those lemons and make lemonade, or you can bitch and complain about how you got lemons and hope that you get something better next time.  As critical as I’ve been, it’s an important lesson these days.  At the end of the day, there’s a lot to be learned and gained by taking responsibility for things, regardless of how they came about.  I think this was intelligently communicated.  Already a lesson which is near and dear to my heart, I still appreciate them teaching it here.  Trust +1.

Leaving at 8pm, you become very aware that your only break for food was a lunch at 2pm.

 

Day 2

We start the day off with sharing things that we learned the day before.  A few people get up and say something to the effect of ‘I was skeptical when I arrived yesterday, but then the exercise that we did about ______ really stuck with me’.  Good for them.  Then this middle-aged Chinese lady with a thick accent stands up and proceeds to deliver quite the speech.  You could tell that she had come from a place of hurt and frustration in how she was talking and she went on to talk about how the Jim Carrey story had motivated her to go get that money she felt she deserved.  But it wasn’t the $15 million, she wanted $200 million!  Then she referenced the analogy of the child, saying that she was also inspired by how when children want things, they want them *now*.  She talked about how she wanted to make a movie, but that everyone around her implored her to at least start with a book.  She was fired up.  She wanted that $200 million and she wanted to make a movie and there was nothing that was going to stop her.  She also managed to say that this is why she admired Trump, because he dreamed big and he was bold.  It seemed that her takeaways from the day before were a sense of entitlement and a lack of patience.  But the fact that she was passionate, speaking her truth, and overcoming a language barrier earned her a big round of applause from the crowd.  I was hoping the facilitator would curb some of that behavior, but instead, he chose to ride the wave of applause and said “Someone get her a job at PSI!”  Really?

The next exercise was about having a better relationship with your parents.  We were told to close our eyes and take some deep breaths.  Then this Disney-esque motivational music comes on and the facilitator begins to read a script.  We’re told to imagine our parents in a few scenarios which are designed to create empathy.  The lesson is that our parents did the best that they could, regardless of how well or poorly they did.  The room was sobbing.  I had a great relationship with my dad, and said everything that I wanted to him before he died.  My mom and I had a more estranged relationship up until a couple years ago, but we’re in a good place for a variety of reasons, including understanding that she did the best she could.  I managed to avoid any tears until I was told to imagine my parents together, smiling, and happy for me.  My parents broke up when I was a young teenager.  They were sleeping in different rooms well before that.  Imagining my parents together was a brief moment of happiness, but reflecting on it now, it seems rather hollow.  Trust +2.

That afternoon, we went through another eyes-closed exercise.  This required you to visualize walking through a forest, into a compound, digging a hole… finding a chest.. and zzzzzzz.  I fell asleep.  When I woke up, I quickly figured out that the exercise was about the importance of keeping your word.  As someone who is big on keeping his word, and surrounded by people to struggle to keep theirs, I appreciated this lesson.  Trust +1.

The last exercise of the day was a game.  We were divided into two groups, given a quick set of rules, and then our group was sent off to another room for the game to begin.  I recognized it pretty quickly as an exercise in game theory so I asked the facilitator if he still wanted me to participate.  He said ‘sure, go for it’.  I asked my group if they wanted some insight, which they did, so I proceeded to give them a quick overview on what game theory was, how it applied to this game, and how it connected to everything we were talking about.  People were on board pretty quick, and both groups managed to achieve the best possible outcome for 8 of the 10 frames we supposed to play.  Then two people at the back of our group with name tags spoke abruptly and said, “the game is over, don’t talk and go back to the other room.”  Everyone was confused as to who these guys were and why the game had ended short of its conclusion.  Lots of questions were being asked, but no answers so we herded ourselves back to the other room.  On the way over, an older lady asked why I thought the game had ended early.  I joked and said maybe they realized we figured out the winning strategy and cut it short.  The guys from the back of the room were right behind us and rather loudly said, “I said be quiet and go to the room.”  My immediate reaction was to laugh it off, apologize, and proceed to the room.  Once we were back, we were told about how game theory worked and how it connects to life in general.  Someone asked why we weren’t given the opportunity to complete the game and we were reminded that we were only given 30 minutes to play.  The person asking the question said that we weren’t given a clock, and we had been asked to keep our watches and cellphones out of sight.  The facilitator snapped back pretty quick about being a victim and not taking responsibility.  He said that the game wasn’t over yet though and we would continue tomorrow.  For a lot of people, Trust +1.

On my way home, I was increasingly annoyed with the way that guy had tried to reprimand me for talking.  Being able to explain game theory to the group, helping them navigate the temptations to preemptively screw over the other team, and helping us arrive at a perfect score was the highlight of my day.  Especially because the people in the room really appreciated it.  But we were cut short of a perfect game, followed by these two randoms barking at me like prison guards.  We were told that the game was still going… maybe this was part of the game?

 

Day 3

We begin day 3 with another sharing session.  To little surprise, the Chinese lady from the day before is looking to share again.  This time she opens up about some of her failures.  She talks about borrowing money to invest just before the 2008 financial collapse.  She lost that money, and borrowed more through her credit cards hoping that the market was coming back.  It wasn’t, she lost that money too.  Then her boyfriend left her.  Her parents called her out for poor decision making, but ultimately bailed her out to the tune of $150,000.  She went on to say how when she was at her lowest, she asked god what he had planned for her.  Apparently god spoke to her, saying keep your head up, I have big things in-store for you and you just have to make it through this rough patch.  She went on to talk a lot about god, and how he loves all of us, and that his love is the only love we need.  I think it went on for about 20 minutes.  Again, to a large round of applause and more positive reinforcement from the facilitator.

I can’t remember if it was the second or the third day, but the facilitator broke protocol and told us about his background and his path into PSI.  He was a minister at a church in California.  A pretty large church by the sounds of it as he worked with the largest youth group in the city.  As he tells it, he married the wrong woman.  When he looked towards a divorce, his church wasn’t having it.  It sounded like he had to choose between leaving his church and staying in an unhealthy marriage, and he choose to leave his church.  Good on him.  Trust +1.

As we were getting into our micro-groups for the morning, my micro-leader asked what had happened the day before.  I wasn’t sure what he was getting at.  Apparently, he was told that I was starting trouble during the game theory exercise.  I had almost forgotten about it at that point.  I never expected those guys to escalate it, let alone to describe the situation as me being disruptive.  That was annoying.

For our micro-group exercise, we were asked to identify our goals, our supports, and our obstacles.  Basically, 3 people who represented your obstacles would stand in front of you and yell at you while 1 person who represented your support would stand behind you and yell supportive things at you.  My obstacles seemed to want to avoid eye contact with me… not very intimidating.  Everyone else found that they were able to tune into the positives while tuning out the negatives.  Trust +1.

During one of our breaks, the older lady from the other day came up to me and started apologizing for the behavior of the guys from the day before.  I told her that while I appreciated her apology, it was not accepted because she had nothing to apologize for.  She may have been the one to ask me the question,  but I was the one who chose to answer.  And frankly, just because someone tells me not to speak doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to it.  She offered to tell PSI about what had happened and was furious when she found out that they had already reported it and had cast me as the trouble maker.  I calmed her down, told her the guy was probably just having a bad day, and everything was gravy.

Back in the seminar room, we were told that the game from yesterday was over.  The facilitator fielded several questions and helped people better understand the point of the game.  Once all the questions were over, I put my hand up.  I said that some staff — “volunteers”, okay, some volunteers were rather rude to me yesterday after the game and I wanted to know if that was a part of the game.  The facilitator said, “well they were trying to get you to stop talking.” To which I replied, “you’re right, and some ways are more rude than others.”  I told him that I just wanted to know whether it was a part of the game, or if someone was just having a bad day, in which case I could resolve it myself.  The facilitator said it wasn’t part of the game, and that he assumed there would probably be a conversation to be had after this.  I thanked him and we proceeded.

I think after this was the ‘I love myself’ exercise.  We were partnered up again, told to sit directly across from someone with our eyes closed, and to tell them what love means to us, and how we want to be loved.  Again, the room broke into tears.  I may have started with love is familiarity over time, but did my best to articulate what I understood love to be and the ways in which I wanted to be loved.  It’s something I had already given a fair bit of thought to having just read The General Theory of Love, a book about the brain chemistry behind emotions.  But again, it seemed like a big breakthrough for a lot of the people in the room.  Trust + 1, Validation + 1.

I wish I could remember the exact sequence of events, but I can’t at this point.  What comes next might not be an exact timeline, but I think the conclusions will remain the same.

What likely came next was this lesson that seemed half way between you can’t solve problems with the thinking that you used to create them, and there are different ways of closing the distance between where you are and where you want to be.  Both very important lessons, but I don’t think they were effectively taught as what followed was an awkward soul train dance-party.  Basically, everyone had to line up on one side of the room and make it to the other side of the room among music and clapping.  The rule was you couldn’t do it the way someone previously had.  Most people chose to make it across with bad dance moves, some with uninspired shimmies, and a few (mostly the staff and volunteers) with way more sparkle than the situation called for. But when everyone is clapping and cheering for you.. Validation +1.

While I’ve listed most of the core curriculum here, it was 30 hours of seminar work so there’s a lot that I’m leaving out.  Perhaps the most significant of which are the ‘feel good’ moments.  There was a lot of clapping.  A lot of positive reinforcement for just showing up.  A lot of ‘believe in yourself and the world is yours’. moments  At one point, the facilitator actually said the only difference between you and MLK is that MLK believed in himself.  I wanted to throw something at him.  Just because most people who are successful are also confident, doesn’t mean that confidence leads to success.  In reality, it’s often success that leads to confidence.  To earn that success, you have to put the hours in.

Throughout the weekend, trust was being established between the audience and the facilitator.  Peppered in were all these moments of ‘I am strong, confident, and deserve to be loved’.  There were back rubs, and hugs, and lots of crying.  During various interactions, people were trying to articulate what they thought about something, and the facilitator would say ‘forget what you think, tell me how you feel’.  The room was being molded into this tribe which was exchanging critical thought for feeling good.  Not just feeling good about themselves, but also feeling good about where they were, who they were with, what they were learning, and especially about the person leading the seminar.  Hmm…

During the late afternoon of day 3, we were introduced to ‘The Ranch’.  We were told that this was the PSI Basic, and that after this comes a visit to the ranch which was a 7 day seminar somewhere in eastern California.  We were told how this seminar was only scratching the surface of your potential and that to really spread your wings and fly, you would need to attend this next seminar.  Then some of the volunteers were asked to step up and tell us about what the ranch had helped them accomplish.  Of the 5, 4 said that they doubled their income.  3 said that they then found the love of their lives.  There was definitely a theme here.  Including a 30 minute sales pitch for the next seminar during this session wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t the end of the world.  But then things took a hard right.

There wasn’t just the ranch, there was also another leadership seminar after the ranch, which together would cost about $12,000.  “but if you sign up in the next 20 minutes, we’ll knock that price down to $8950.  Now I know some of you are thinking that’s a lot of money but the best thing you can do is just go for it.  If you sign up for it now, you’ll find the money.”

As I was watching this unfold, and looking at the people around me wide-eyed and nodding their heads, I became frustrated.  These people were in such an emotional, trusting, and positive state of mind, that they weren’t thinking rationally.  Anyone who truly understands money knows that you don’t make financial decisions when in a highly emotional state.  These people were being taken advantage of.  Do I stay quiet?  Do I let this happen?  One of the core lessons of game theory is that you do what you know is right, regardless of how others might react.  Fuck it.  I’m saying something.  I reminded the facilitator that his first piece of advice to us on day 1 was to appreciate that some of the things happening this weekend would take time to digest and not to rush into anything.  I said that since this was a rather significant financial decision for a lot of the people here today, wouldn’t it make sense to think it over?  Bless his heart, he paused, and said that’s a good point.

The room was rather tense, so the mortgage-broker from the dinner-pitch stepped up from the back of the room and started by saying they get that question all the time.  The facilitator casually interjected that it was the first time he had heard that question in 17 years of teaching it.  The mortgage-broker then proceeded to string many words together in an attempt to justify what was happening.  He then asked me if that made sense, I was going to reply no, but the facilitator did it for me.

During that 20 minute break, I saw a few people going to the back of the room to sign up but really had no idea if what I had said made an impact.  A few people did approach me and thank me for what I did though.  What I really appreciated was that the facilitator came up to me and said, “I had to think about it, but I have an answer.”  He went on to tell me that his advice at the beginning was about dating or soliciting business from people at the seminar, not about spending money.  I asked him why the same principles didn’t apply.  He said something to the effect of the momentum people have going into that pitch is the best opportunity for them to appreciate what they could get out of it.  I asked how that was different from any other pressure-sales tactic.  I criticized him for helping people arrive at a highly emotional state of mind, reluctant to think critically about the money they were spending or the value they were receiving, and then giving them 20 minutes to spend more than what the average family saves in a year.  He was stuck, and said that this was how the company approached their business.  I told him that I thought he was a good person, and sensed a very genuine desire in him to help people become better versions of themselves.  He said whether it was this or the church, there were always going to be things that he disagreed with.  I pressed and asked that if he knew this is how PSI approached their business, why was he working here?  He laughed it off and said, “you’re not that good.”  Maybe not, but I would bet good money that he won’t get that conversation out of his head any time soon.  I hope so.. he deserves better.

The next activity was learning about the workshop of the mind.  I think it’s largely an exercise in visualizing, not dissimilar to Sherlock’s mind-palace.  We were told to think of someone with an illness and then share the gender, age, and name of the individual with our partner.  The partner was then asked to visualize what was wrong with them and come up with some creative solutions on how to heal them.  Both my partner and I proceeded to get ‘most’ things right about who the other person had in mind.  We were told that this was like wifi, that our bodies just had to tune into the telepathic signals being sent back and forth.  I was told about a 57 year old named Stanley.  So I analyzed the person in front of me, ended up with some assumptions on the type of person she would likely choose, and then proceeded to identify someone with salt and pepper hair, with glasses, who wore a collared shirt, pants with a belt, nice shoes but not too nice.  For ailments, I suggested lower back pain, a past knee injury, and that his liver could probably be in better shape.  Right on all counts.  But how many other 57 year old males did I just describe?  Mentalism will teach you just how much information is communicated non-verbally.  I think that to assume we can’t tap into these ‘frequencies’ of information would be premature.  To say that this exercise is a real-life example of how human intuition borders on telepathy, would be overly ambitious.  Unfortunately, I think that this exercise best demonstrates why astrology is still so popular.

Towards the end of the night, we were told about our graduation ceremony the following week.  This ceremony would see each of us graduate and receive a certificate for completing the course, and we were encouraged to invite as many people as we could.  We were told stories of how people renting 3 minivans just to bring all the people they had invited.  Then we were told that after the graduation ceremony, there would be a short presentation on the value of PSI: Basic, and that if any of your friends or family wanted to sign up, there would be people waiting at the back of the room.  Yuck.

The last exercise for the night was where we were all grouped together by who had invited us to the seminar.  We were told to close our eyes and imagine how much that person cared about us, and what it took for them to help get us here.  I immediately started thinking that they were bringing in the people who had invited us for a big final reveal, but I knew Steve was in Mexico for the week.  With my eyes closed, I was tempted to flash a middle finger to let him know that I knew he was there (probably).  I opened my eyes and there he was, fresh off his return flight.  After being asked to stare into each other’s eyes for a couple minutes, we hugged it out and called it a day.

Earlier that day, we were asked to write a letter to the person who had invited us.  It won’t be word for word, but I’ll give you the gist.  Steve knows me better than just about anyone.  He’s one of my few friends who knows about this blog and actually reads it.  He’s the one who sees me write about loneliness and makes a point of hanging out.  He’s also the one I use to hold me accountable to my goals, and the friend I bounce ideas off when those ideas are way out there.  If someone’s going to tell my story some day, they won’t be able to tell that story without writing extensively about him.  He’s my brother in the truest sense of the word and I appreciate why he wanted me to take this seminar.   It wasn’t the pressure that PSI was putting on him, or him being swindled into the cult of self-help, or the fact that he thought I needed the help.  He just wanted to see me continue to grow.. and that’s why we’re bros.

He also told me that he was talking to the mortgage-broker guy when he came in and that he was rather flustered about me speaking up during the sales pitch.  Apparently he called me a ‘little shit’ and wanted to take me aside and talk to me one-on-one.  Steve proceeded to tell him that this was a terrible idea and that I would talk circles around him.  I love Steve.  Not just because he put buddy in his place, but more so because he reminded him to stay within the spirit of what was being taught at PSI.  Yoda’s voice is echoing in my head, “Remember your teachings young padewan.”

 

Day 3+1

After it’s all said and done, our micro-group leaders reach out to us on whatsapp and start a group chat around accomplishing goals for the month.  I get a message shortly after saying that I had been uninvited from our graduation ceremony later that week because I had asked for my money back.  I found that a bit surprising as the PSI paperwork says that you must attend graduation in order to receive your refund.  Part of me was happy that I didn’t have to waste more time on PSI sales pitches, but another part of me was a little annoyed that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to support those who did receive value from the experience.

 

Day 3 + 8

I think that if anyone asks for a refund, it’s the responsibility of their micro-leader to approach them about why.  My micro-leader reached out to me and asked if we could grab coffee and chat.  We did, it was super amicable, and not much was accomplished.  I tried to impress upon him the importance of integrity when aligning yourself with organizations like this but I don’t think he was in the right state of mind to hear it.  Nice kid, but I think he’ll need to figure this out for himself.  We had  brief conversation around what I had learned.  I told him that the biggest take away for me, was having a deeper understanding of how and why religion appeals to people.  The similarities between how PSI approached personal growth and how churches approached spirituality were remarkable.  I’ll save that for the next one.

 

 

 

EQ vs. IQ

I was reading an article the other day about hiring practices.  The article discussed how people used to hire for IQ, until they learned that it was better to hire for EQ.  An example they gave was how brilliant leaders would rarely fail for a lack of IQ, but failed often for a lack of EQ.  Interesting.  The article went on to talk about how people are now hiring for LQ, or a learning quotient.  Now they’re talking my language.  In an age where your ability to acquire knowledge is worth 10x your ability to retain it… this is the age of learning.

But I digress.

What inspired this entry was the article’s brief comparison between EQ and IQ, suggesting that EQ is a better predictor of job performance than IQ.  I can’t help but disagree with that.  And I can’t help but think that EQ, as the general public understands it, has become overvalued.

Before the Justin Trudeau ran for Prime Minister, I remember hearing all these comparisons to Pierre Trudeau, his dad who had also held the role of Canadian Prime Minister.  The one which stood out for me was from John Oliver and it was about IQ vs EQ.  Where Pierre Trudeau was intellectually brilliant, Justin Trudeau had Emotional Intelligence.  I’ve been paying very close attention to the value of EQ since and I’ve noticed a few things.

I guess the first thing we should do is define the term EQ.  Google defines it as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” It’s the first time I’ve seen that definition and I quite like it.  Actually, I really like it.  Let’s break it down.  The first part is about self-awareness, self-expression, and the ability to control your emotions.  So often, someone who is highly emotional qualifies themselves as having a high EQ but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  If being aware of your emotions and having an ability to control them is part of EQ, that makes a lot of sense.  The second part is about being able to understand the emotions of others while handling those relationships fairly.  This is where things get interesting.

Emotions are part of the human blueprint.  To assume they don’t exist is incorrect.  To assume they can be suppressed indefinitely is unhealthy.  To be aware of, to be in control of, and being able to experience emotions seems to be the philosophy of emotional intelligence and I can get behind that.  Being able to understand the emotions of others, as a non-verbal language… I can get behind that, too.  Where I think the modern understanding of EQ falls apart is when handling interpersonal relationships judiciously.

I’m often criticized for being insensitive.  I’m also recognized as being very honest.

If you were presented with the option of telling someone what they wanted to hear and making them feel good about themselves, or telling them a hard truth and making them feel bad about themselves, which would you choose?

When people discuss individuals with a high EQ, they seem to be discussing people who are skilled at telling people what they want to hear.  It’s like a comedian walking into a room, being able to feel out the crowd, and then delivering the kinda jokes they want to hear.  When you hear what you want to hear, you feel good about yourself, and when you feel good about yourself, you tend to think highly of the person who helped you get there.  That’s what I see when I see EQ being discussed in the mainstream,and it’s wrong.

In the age of thought bubbles and echo chambers, we desperately need to move away from the people who are skilled at telling us what we want to hear.  Those who prioritize telling us what we want to hear are selfish.  For them, our long-term well-being is secondary to feeling good in this moment.  And feeling good in this moment almost always produces what they’re actually looking for.. a date, a sale, a vote.. and even a presidency.  And it’s extremely unhealthy.

There’s a 50 Cent song from back in the day called A Baltimore Love Thing.  50 raps from the perspective of heroin.  If you’d like to know what a relationship looks like when the other person cares more about making you feel good in the moment than your long-term health, that’s it.  And if you’re looking towards the other end of the spectrum, think exercise.  It always sucks at first, and the harder the exercise, the more it burns.  But the more you do it, the better you feel about and the healthier you are.

And this brings me back to my personal struggle, perhaps why this topic is of such interest to me.

Over and over, I’m labelled as low EQ because being capable of understanding and controlling my emotions is perceived as suppressing or not engaging with them.  Over and over, I’m labelled as insensitive because I’m unafraid of delivering the hard truths that help people the most.  Over and over I’m told that I’m not empathetic towards others because I’d rather motivate and inspire than offer blind support.  I’m done accepting those criticisms.

I am not without room for improvement, but I am not without EQ.

 

 

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

Power Vs. Strength

When dealing in abstract concepts like these, it can be difficult to have a real conversation without first agreeing on how to define the terms.  I think that a lot of people use power and strength interchangeably, yet I can’t help but think that they differ in very important ways.

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I was taught that quote by a very influential history teacher in high school and it has continued to echo through my mind since.  I can’t help but be reminded of it when I see people in positions of power put the needs of the few before the needs of the many.  It’s as if there’s something inherently inefficient about power.

When I think of strength, it’s similar to power.  But not quite.  Strength is almost like the potential of power.  Unused power.  A visual of strength does not require a display of aggression.  Perhaps there’s a duality here.  Is power to offense as strength is to defense?

It’s interesting, you could say that someone is both powerful and weak at the same time.  A frail old king is both re(g)ally powerful and physically weak.  Politicians are known for having political power but weak integrity.  Movies are constantly filled with villains who wield vast power, but lack a strength of character.  I’m not sure if I know of any villains who have a great strength of character, but wield little power.  In many cases, is that not the hero?  The unassuming, jacked, strong jaw line with a warm smile kinda hero?

Analyzing this in the abstract is usually a journey down the rabbit hole, but there are some examples that help me clarify what I’m thinking.

Name calling has gotten out of control.  For most of my life, I was taught not to feed into it.  To walk away.  To appreciate that the person doing the name calling is probably doing so because they’re battling their own demons.  It was tough when I was younger but it’s second nature now.  Now, when someone’s hostile towards me, I’m much more likely to view the situation with compassion than anger and I can’t help but think that makes me strong.  Moving through life, invulnerable to the malicious attitudes of others is really something else… I highly recommend it.

Yet I seem to be in the minority.  Rather than seeing it as an issue of personal strength, compassion, and helping someone move beyond their own issues, it’s about power.  The victim being name called is no longer interested in making themselves stronger, they’re interested in becoming more powerful.  This is the era of the victim shaming the bully.

If we could teach everyone the simple philosophy of not taking things personally, the effectiveness of name calling would disappear.  When something is no longer effective, we tend to stop using it.  We become stronger, we become wiser, and we move forward.  Instead, we’re more interested in giving the victims the power to hurt them back.  Laws are being changed for compelled speech.  What does being triggered in this context mean?  What happens when being triggered is an excuse to tap into that power?

I also can’t help but see this dynamic in women’s empowerment.  I remember finding out that I was a feminist back in university because I believed in equality.  It made sense to me that men and women were different but equal.  But I struggle to resonate with parts of modern feminism.  There seems to be this pursuit of equal outcome over equal opportunity.  A denial of inconvenient biology.  A tendency to deal in absolutes instead of nuances.  And what drives it all, seems to be a pursuit of power over the pursuit of equality.

I don’t think it’s that complicated either.  For decades, centuries, or millennia (however you want to look at it), men have been powerful.  They’ve ruled, they’ve warred, they’ve killed, they’ve raped, and they’ve pillaged.  Things are different now.  In an age of equality, women want to be powerful too.  They’re no longer looking for a seat at the table, now they want equal rights to be the asshole boss at the table.  I suppose that is equality, I suppose I’m just a little bummed out that there isn’t a motivation to be better.

I sometimes joke that I feel sorry for Hilary Clinton for having lost the 2016 election.  She could’ve been a role model for feminism.  She lost when she ran against Obama, but had the composure to pick her self up and run again.  Then she went up against one of feminism’s greatest foes, keeping her composure throughout.  Had it not been for Russian interference, she probably would’ve won that presidency.  She couldn’t have been a role-model for feminism, right?  One of the bigger reasons why Hilary lost, was because for many, she was indistinguishable from the Washington establishment.  She literally spent her entire career learning how to play within a corrupt, man’s world to the point where she probably played it better than anyone else – Just in time for the American public to be fed up with it.  I felt bad for women that they missed out on their first female president, but I had hope.

My hope is that the first woman to be elected president, be the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, locomotion of intelligence, strength, integrity and all the qualities of a great leader, but without the sacrifice of feminine qualities like compassion, intuition, and ability to nurture.  I want her to be able to set the bar.  Not just for future women, but for future men and politics in general.  I want her to inspire us to look up to women, not to reasons to avoid looking down on them.

In the pursuit of equality, women are looking at men, and trying to draw the line 50/50 through it all.  You don’t want it all.  A lot of it is garbage.  Please don’t take the garbage too.  We’d all be way better off if we could leave it behind, and this is an opportunity to do so.  This power isn’t something you want, it’s something that none of us should want.  We need to let it go.  But we need help.  We need a little leadership.

It’s not power that you want, it’s strength.  It can be tough to tell the difference when you look at the people holding you down and the most obvious difference between you is power.  But they’re not strong.  That’s why your strength makes their power irrelevant.

You can have a world where everyone is strong, but not a world where everyone is powerful.  For someone to be powerful, someone else must be powerless.  Strength however, resides within.  A world in which everyone pursues power is chaos.  A world in which everyone pursues inner-strength is peace.

Decentralized journalism

Had an idea the other day.  I think it could be a big one.

Decentralization is something I’ve paid a great deal of attention to over the years.  We’ve seen it tackle the taxi industry, hotels, and several forms of media.  Next, I’m keen to see how it tackles things like energy and currency.  In each case, the premise seems rather simple:  Make better use of the resources we already have, and let technology shoulder the workload of keeping things organized.

Every great business is a solution to a very real problem.  In this case, the solution is to the problem of modern journalism.  Currently, journalism places a greater emphasis on being first than it does on being right.  Sensationalism has replaced accuracy.  Journalism has become more about producing ammunition than telling a story.  And it needs to change.

There’s a curious link between humans, size, power, and corruption.  The bigger we get, the more power we’re inclined to have, and the more power we’re inclined to have, the more susceptible we are to corruption.  The news industry in America became tremendously powerful over the decades, and was far more centralized than most people realized.  Even today, organizations like Sinclair and Fox are making significant moves to expand their political reach.  Anytime an industry gets big and corrupt like this, it’s time for decentralization to save the day.

My idea is a news platform which would allow journalists to earn a living while maintaining their independence and their integrity.  While also holding them accountable.  I realized that while I knew the names of all these news anchors, I couldn’t name the author of a single article I had read in the last week.  The twisted thing is that I barely watch any cable news – and I real a lot of articles.  Why didn’t I know their names?  It was because they were promoted as secondary to the organization they were reporting on behalf of.  I wonder what journalism would look like if journalists were front and center for their work?

Similar to a Google news feed or Reddit, your feed would be a collection of news articles curated around your interests.  What would make it different though, is that the person behind the article would also be well profiled.  These individuals deserve to be recognized for the work that they’re doing.  By letting good journalists be closely associated with their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing and build a reputation for it.  By letting poor journalists be closely associated for their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing as well.

How these journalists would be profiled is a very interesting question.  An overall 5 star review system would probably be part of it, but maybe not.  Maybe the 5 star rating system is a better predictor of popularity than competence.  I know that for me personally, the biggest concerns in journalism are honesty and accuracy.  So maybe the first thing that gets added to the profile is a bullshit meter.  If you used alternative facts in a story you wrote, the people reading should know that and be able to hold you accountable.  And that becomes part of your profile..

Most of our news today is delivered to us through a TV personality, quoting another news organization, using a piece of information gathered by one of their journalists, who used an anonymous source to report what they heard.  By the time you hear it, you’re not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.  Who knows by the time it makes it to you.  But what if the journalist who broke this news, had an immaculate track record with their news releases?  What if they used anonymous sources?  Would you care if they’ve always been accurate?  Personally, I don’t mind the use of anonymous sources if they’re being verified by someone who I trust.  Not all anonymous sources should be treated equally.

So we would want everyone to be held accountable to the same standards of honesty.  How that would be accomplished exactly, I’m not sure.  I think it would probably do well to partner with an existing fact checking organization, but the best solution would involve the community holding its own community members accountable.  Something I enjoy thoroughly about the comment section on Reddit (depending on the subreddit), is that the most upvoted comment is often one that adds more clarity to the article.  Sometimes it’s for calling out the article on inaccuracies, sometimes it’s by providing additional sources to elaborate on a point.  I think that a community like this would be imperative to this platform’s long-term success.

The next thing I’d like to see on journalist prifles are accuracy of speculative statements.  If you have someone who’s always telling you how things are going to turn out, it’s important to know how often they’re right.  Those who are able to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy should probably be listened to more.  Those found to be crying wolf too often, should probably be heard less.  Allowing for people to be held accountable to these speculative statements will hopefully drive more practical discussions and limit unreasonable fear mongering.

However this profile ends up looking, it’s purpose is to give the audience context about who they’re hearing the story from.  It’s to help create an informed reader, while encouraging journalistic integrity.  Especially in a climate like this, I’m confident in the value of honesty.  I’m confident in the peoples’ value of journalistic integrity and honesty, but I’m also sympathetic to their distrust of large media corporations controlling the dialogue.  This would be a big step in separating the two.

I think this would have to work in tandem with a user profile as well.  One of the biggest issues we run into in modern media are thought bubbles and echo chambers.  Perhaps a way around that is having an algorithm track your bias.  For example, if your political bias shows that you’re off center, the algorithm would include some of the most credible articles that might disagree with your views.  A balanced perspective is key, and there’s no evidence to suggest that everything in your news feed should be something that you agree with.

Another element of this platform is that it would welcome all sources of media.  Podcasts are the new radio.  YouTube is the new TV.  This is about inclusivity of talent, and allowing merit to drive the spotlight.

Now how would you go about attracting all these high quality reporters away from their existing jobs?  Promise them the flexibility and freedom to write about whatever they’d like, at whatever place they’d like to write at?  Too easy.  Tell them they get to work from where ever they’d like, as little or as often as they’d like?  Meh.  Promise them that they’ll be the one’s who are recognized for their articles and that they have the ability to build a personal brand around their craft?  Maybe.  Or maybe tell them that they’ll have a 50% revenue split with all ad revenue generated by their articles.  Bam.

People might say that democracy is dying when Trump is elected while half the American voting population stays home.  Yet we’re liking, and up-voting more than ever.  I think we enjoy voting, it’s just that there’s a bit of a cost reward calculation going on.  Putting some big up-votes behind some talented journalists who aren’t afraid to put their neck on the line to expose those big truths… we could bring them to the mainstream.  We could make heroes out of them and remind ourselves of the ideals we should be striving for.  We could give journalism the home it deserves.

So where to start?  School news papers of course.  I\ve learned that when looking to the future, look to the kids.  Go to the high schools, universities and colleges, and show them how easy it is to move their school publication on to this platform.  Instead of having to run everything through the bureaucracy of a normal news paper or site, have your journalists operate independently.  Teachers might not be into it. Some parent’s might be concerned.  But that’s the point.  And the fun.  Have the conversations that they don’t want you to have.  Talk about the things that you’ve been told not to talk about.  Dig into the real.  And imagine how real that gets at a university paper.  And imagine the power of a platform like this taking hold at an academic level, and producing the fierce, confident, intelligent, rational journalists that are capable of providing us with an honest and accurate view of the world.

Wouldn’t that be something.

Thought Vs. Emotion

I grew up with an unemotional father while my mother and sister were on the other end of that spectrum.  I was probably a bit of a drama queen in my own right when I was a kid, but I seem to have grown out of it.  Now I’m known for my lack of emotion.  In trying to understand the sequence of events that led from there to here, I’ve noticed some interesting dynamics.

The first was bullying.  I grew up in the kind of neighborhood where fragile didn’t last.  As far as your peers were concerned, it was their responsibility to toughen you up.  For others who have been through this, they’ll know that this kind of behavior was more likely to come from my friends than from people I didn’t get along with.  Even now, we tease each other relentlessly, but I’m happy to have gone through that.  When the worst names you’ve been called come from the people who care about you most, you have to decide whether it comes from a place of hate or a place of love.  When you realize it’s a place of love, you start to realize that the intentions behind the words are far more important than their definitions.  That’s when I understood that words would only have the power that I gave them.  Today, even if it’s at my expense, I’m just as likely to laugh at a good joke as the people around me.  I can’t remember the last time I felt sad or hurt because someone said something mean to me.

From my perspective, being ‘triggered’ is an emotional state of over-sensitivity that comes from people reacting to a word’s definition without understanding the intent behind it.  Even if someone called me the worst name imaginable, with the most malicious of intent, they still wouldn’t get an emotional reaction out of me.  If anything, it would be a response of compassion.  Regardless of who I am or what I’ve done, what that person is saying has everything to do with who they are and the way they experience their reality.   If they’re overwhelmed by the need to lash out at me, they’re probably not in a very good place.  If I can, I’d like to help them get beyond that.  I can’t help but think that if we understood this dynamic collectively, we wouldn’t be so divided.

Back at University is when I first noticed myself becoming less emotional.  I think it probably started with trying to be the guy that I thought women wanted me to be – the tough guy who doesn’t cry.  I’m sure it was a lot of posturing at first, but eventually things started to shift.  There were several moments where I felt like I was forced to choose between breakdown and cry, or dig deep and march forward.  I never chose to breakdown and cry.  I’d blast some Eminem, and tell myself that even if my collar bone is crush or crumble, I will never slip or stumble.  I persevered – and was stronger for it.  Eventually, I got knocked down so many times that getting up and pushing through became second nature.  Eventually things that would’ve derailed me before barely phased me.  It was like I had gained so much momentum that I started feeling like a freight train that could crash through just about anything.  I think that’s when I started associating emotion with weakness, and a lack of emotion with strength.

Then my dad got sick.  He meant the world to me.  Everything I do now, is still, in some way for him.   When he was first diagnosed, he was given weeks to live.  I was the first one he told and he asked that I not share it with the rest of the family until he better understood what we should do next.  It was a completely unemotional conversation for both of us.  We had been presented with an impossible problem to solve, but we knew that being emotional about it wouldn’t improve our chances of getting through it.  In my family, we tend to choose our time rather than let our time choose us.  The tough old bastard lasted nearly 2 years.

As we were getting closer to the end, I remember reaching out to a friend and telling her that loosing my dad would be the hardest thing I would’ve gone through.  I told her that every time I went through something like this, I became less emotional.  I was concerned that after this, I wouldn’t have any emotions left.  I didn’t know what it would mean or how it would affect me.  My whole life, I was told about how important emotions were, but I had become so strong without them.  It was confusing.

The last time I saw him when he was coherent was when he had decided to stop eating.  He had picked his time.  I teased him a bit about being difficult and the weight he had lost.  He smiled.  I think he appreciated someone who wasn’t feeling sorry for him.  I knew that was going to be my last conversation with him so I wanted to avoid making the mistake that every macho man makes.  I broke down.  I told him that I loved him and respected more than anyone else I had ever known.  I could barely get the words out but I didn’t care.  Nothing was more important to me than him knowing how much he meant to me.  He looked at me, said happy to hear it, and shook my hand.  I laughed off the tears and thanked him again for everything.  Some people might think that he probably could’ve done a better job of saying ‘I love you too’ or something to that effect.  It wasn’t his style – nor was it needed.  What he helped me understand was that love isn’t a moment of passion or words, it’s a lifetime of action.  I had no doubt that the least emotional person I had ever known loved me more than anyone I had ever known.

My dad passed away about a week later – within hours of me taking him off the oxygen.  He was surrounded by friends and family.  We all cried.  I tried to be strong but I wasn’t that strong.  Within hours though, I was dialed in.  The bankers, the accountants, the lawyers, the executor, the bills… all me.  It was so rewarding knowing that I was able to shoulder these responsibilities, the kind of things my dad would’ve been doing to make sure the family was taken care of.  His shoes weren’t mine to fill, but his family was my family and I would always make sure they were taken care of.

I spent the next week in the zone, making sure everything was looked after.  Once I ran out of responsibilities, I went back to work.  I hadn’t shown any signs of emotion since watching my dad pass and I was concerned.  As important as it was for me to be strong for my family, it was more important that I be strong for my family for all the years to come and I didn’t want to risk having emotional baggage.  So after work each night, I did my best to allow myself to be sad.. and bummed out.. and miss him.. and to let those emotions run their course.  I did, and they did.  A funny thing happened though.  At the end of the week, I could almost hear my dad asking ‘how much longer are you gonna keep this up?’.  I thought, you’re right, I’m good.  Time to get back at it.

This wasn’t a Jedi mind trick that I was trying to play on myself.  I understood that it’s tough for a kid to lose a parent, but that it’s nothing compared to a parent losing their kid.  This was part of the natural order of things, and my father had lived a life worth living.  Rather than mourn his death, I chose to celebrate his life, and let his legacy inspire me to become greater than I could’ve otherwise been – allowing me to create a more positive impact on the world than I was previously capable of realizing.  Sadness, sorrow, love, and all these other emotions were a natural reaction to having gone through something, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to think and truly understand my situation that I gained this perspective.  It was as if emotion was the physiological reaction and biochemical experience while thought was what let me understand what had happened and allowed me to rise above it.

My dad had left a modest sized portfolio to the kids and I was responsible for it.  It was through my work on that portfolio that led me into my role as an investment advisor with a major bank later that year.  For the first time in my life, being unemotional was like having a super power.  In understanding the psychology of the markets and working with individual investors, you quickly learned that emotions were the enemy of investing.  When the market had gone up for a while, people felt safer and more optimistic it would keep going up.  That’s usually when it would start moving in the other direction.  This was especially true when the market was in a deep correction.  People would run for the hills, looking to stuff their money in their mattress when the market was in rough shape but this was always the best time to invest.  If you invested emotionally, would you almost always buy high and sell low.

A big part that role was research.  I put a great deal of time into studying great investors like Warrent Buffet as well as great CEOs like Steve Jobs.  As I continued to learn what made them tick, I also payed close attention to the qualities they had in common.  Musk, Zuckerberg, Gates, Cook, Buffet and others were all remarkably bright, inspired leaders, and unemotional.  That was the tier of human being I was aiming for, so the virtue of being unemotional was reinforced yet again.  It became something I was proud of.  It let me make rational decisions while emotions drove others to make irrational decisions.  I started to see emotions as something which clouded peoples judgement more than anything.  But I was still human.

I don’t think it would be fair to say that I didn’t have emotions, but I became very good at not letting my emotions impact my thoughts.  If I noticed that they were, it was a moment of weakness and I was quick to correct it.  Even now, I look at emotions as something to be understood and that once they’re understood, they become thought.  I can’t imagine how confusing this must’ve been for the girls that I dated.  But that’s also where I had to face the reality of thought versus emotion.

I was convinced that thought was a higher form of cognition than emotion.  You couldn’t think hate, you could only feel it.  I would say the same about fear.  Prejudice was often rooted in emotion or an incomplete thought.  I looked throughout history at some of humanities greatest accomplishments and greatest failures.  The accomplishments were heavily skewed towards great thinkers while the failures were often attributed to someone letting their emotions get the best of them.  Another thing I noticed throughout history is that as a species we seemed to be getting less emotional – suggesting that there might be an evolutionary angle.

Most of us would agree that even today, we carry evolutionary traits that we’ve outgrown.  Physical attraction is perhaps one of the best examples.  Joe Rogan calls it leftover monkey brain and it’s often at odds with how we conduct ourselves has humans today.  I’d argue further that our minds are evolving faster than our bodies and the idea of thought versus emotion is highlighting an internal battle we’re all facing.  So thought is a more evolved form of cognition than emotion right?  I don’t think it’s that simple.

Consider the example of burning your hand while cooking.  Upon first contact with the hot surface – nothing – then comes the pain.  You don’t think the pain, but you certainly feel it.  You instinctively pull your hand away from the heat source, panic for a brief moment, and then probably go put your hand under cold water.  Afterwards, your burn is highly sensitive if not painful.  I often joke around, saying that people are much easier to understand when we think about them like robots.  Extreme pain triggering an instant withdraw, followed by hypersensitivity until a repair is complete sure sounds like a subroutine to me… But that’s a physical reaction, not an emotional reaction right?  Consider the example of being cheated on.  You put yourself in a position where you expected to be safe, but weren’t.  The shock and the pain created a sharp withdrawal, maybe even inspired a few new curse-words.  You spent time feeling hurt.  Even after you get past the initial pain, there’s some degree of hypersensitivity.  While there are variations to each the point is simply that feeling like you’ve been burned is a lot like feeling like you’ve been burned.

The overlap between instinctual behavior and emotional behavior is too significant to ignore, but I think there’s at least one more layer to this: intuition.  I’m not talking about girl who’s been cheated on and is now hypersensitive to anything that might look like suspicious behavior, I’m talking about the trusting girlfriend who’s never been cheated on whose intuition is telling her that something’s wrong, even if she doesn’t know what it is.  She can’t explain it, but she can sure as hell feel it, and that’s real.

Whether we’re talking about nature or nurture, evolution or personal growth, I think it’s reasonable to assume that emotional responses can be trained.  Back to my robot analogy, imagine the human body containing thousands of sensors.  In a body like mine, those sensors feed directly into the CPU where the CPU cross-references that sensory input with other sensor data to ensure that it’s a valid reading,  Then I scan my memory for all past events relating to this sensory input, looking for patterns that would help me identify an intelligent response.  I then cross-reference that response with my internal guidelines and if all checks out, it produces an action.  Very IFTTT.  But that’s me.

So what if someone’s cognitive process excelled at sensing where I excelled at processing?  Theoretically, they’d be working with more data, and more accurate data.  When you have higher volumes of more accurate data, patterns tend to become more obvious.  When patterns are more obvious, they’re easier to react to intelligently.

When trying to understand this dynamic, I often imagine someone being able to feel the vibrations of the universe similar to how a spider senses the vibrations in their web.  When a spider feels that vibration, it knows exactly where to go and what to do, and I doubt that involves a great deal of active thought.

So thoughts versus emotions – equal but different?

I’m not sure.  I’ve always been well-served by accepting what I don’t yet understand, and pursuing a greater understanding of it.  That’s where I rest with this now.  I think there’s a strong body of evidence which suggests that the absence of thought is primal but I’m also tempted to say that an absence of emotion is hollow.  I would joke and say that the difference between thought and emotion is understanding that the world is round but feeling like it’s flat.  Well, what exactly would it be like if we understood that the world was round but lacked that ability to feel grounded?

Perhaps thought helps you connect to the non-physical universe similar to how emotion lets you connect to the physical universe.  If this is true, and we’re expanding the reach of our minds faster than we’re able to expand the reach of our bodies, thought becomes more valuable.  As we move towards virtual and digital realities, I’ll be interested to see how emotions evolve.  If I’m right, the understanding which we’ll eventually arrive at is reminiscent of Vulcan culture.  Something to the effect of emotions are a natural part of the human condition and should be appreciated as such, but they make a better co-pilot than pilot.

Female Empowerment Vs. Equality

I grew up around feminists.  My mom, my sister, my sister-in-law… all very strong minded, outspoken, and ready to thrown down if you’ve crossed a line they think you shouldn’t have crossed.  Oddly enough, I didn’t find out that I was a feminist until university when I was teasing my friend about taking a women’s studies course.  He asked what my views on women were, so I told him that I thought men and women were equal.  He said that made me a feminist.  Oh? Sure, why not.

I’m now reflecting on why I didn’t understand feminism as a battle for equality when I was being raised by someone who considered herself to be a fierce feminist.  My mother spent a great deal of her life angry.  Angry at her father.  Angry at her brother.  Angry at my dad.  Angry at me.  There was also a lot of blame, and she placed very little of it on herself.  Men were the source of all her problems.  When I saw her brand of feminism, it wasn’t about raising women up, it was about putting men down.  It was about being hurt, being oppressed, and making sure that others knew about it.

Now I have a sister who thinks that a man is a rapist if a girl who has consented to  sex changes her mind mid-way, even if she doesn’t tell him to stop.  I also have a sister-in-law who condemned John Damore’s memo on social media, but said that she had done too much emotional labor around the topic to even discuss it.

I don’t think we’re still dealing with the pursuit of equality here.  This is about the empowerment of women, and those are two very different things.

I often joke around and say that men have had this coming for centuries and we’re just the unlucky bunch that have to deal with it, but sometimes it’s not a joke.  I’ve had women tell me more than a few times that because of what men have done around the world, and throughout history, women deserve to be more than equal.

More than equal.

Does that not suggest that women would be superior and men would be inferior?  Is that really the goal of feminism?  These dynamics have been interesting to observe because as I try to have these discussions and understand the rationale, I’ve found a lot of inconsistencies that demonstrate several different perspectives within feminism.  Some think that porn is the objectification and sexualization of the female body while others think that a women choosing to do porn is female empowerment.  Some feminists think that Caitlyn Jenner is a strong and beautiful woman, some think that she’s a shitty person.  When I see these inconsistencies, I try to focus on where everyone agrees and that usually illuminates what’s really connecting the movement.

When I think about this deeply, I see two separate movements: Female empowerment, and the pursuit of equality.

Female empowerment is defined by the collective hurt, frustration and powerlessness that women have been feeling for generations.  For them, powerlessness and inequality are the same problem.  To solve inequality, one must become more powerful.  With power comes the ability to right wrongs and protect those you care about.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen this dynamic in history and it’s probably not the last.  The problem with a virtuous  pursuit of power is that you start to think that any decision that makes you more powerful is a virtuous decision.  At that point, right and wrong no longer have any bearing.

The pursuit of equality has been my jam for most of my life.  It understands that there is a natural order to the universe and appreciates that we’ve just scratched the surface on understanding it.  It accepts that we’re all unique people with unique circumstances and this leads to the unique lives which we collectively call humanity.  If each of us lives a truly unique existence, then we should really only be judged on the merit of what’s in our soul.  In the pursuit of equality, eventually you understand that equality already exists, it’s simply our perspective on the matter which needs to change.

Perhaps I should be concerned.  There’s a lot of momentum behind female empowerment.  It’s especially interesting to hear men explain their affinity for it. Unfortunately, the problem with the pursuit of power over equality is that you’re more likely to end up with power than equality.  If the women of today are successful with that pursuit, what are they leaving for the next generation?  There’s a pendulum effect worth observing here.  If female empowerment leads to men being treated as the inferior sex, how long until male empowerment catches on?  If I was a feminist of today, that is not the future I’d be looking to create for my children.

The reason why I’m not concerned is because while fear is often louder, love is almost always stronger.  I suspect that while the majority of men and women today might not understand equality, they believe in it.  There’s something intrinsic about equality which resonates with people and it’s probably why we’ve been fighting for it throughout history.  Unfortunately, equality is the enemy of the powerful so the ruling class usually doesn’t take so well such things.  Fortunately for the rest of us, they’re on borrowed time.