Friday, August 22, 2014

Niceness

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person. - Dave Barry

Love and Death

In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different. In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace: passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). But there is passion in both cases. It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie. One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day. But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film. A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far. Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts. But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

The future is open. Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided. We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed. We can make something different of our relationships. There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why. Love is between two particular people in their particularity. We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities. If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.” But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t. This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity. And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities. Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Todd May writing in the New York Times

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Joy of Third Place

Is third better than second place? It seems so in the Olympics. Psychologists at Cornell University say their research shows bronze-medal winners are generally happier than silver medalists. When you come in second, you focus on what you might have done differently to win. Come in third and you’re happy just to get a medal.

The phenomenon of "what if" reasoning (knows as Counterfactual thinking) leads us to imagine how things could have been different rather than on what actually has happened. The bronze winners generally think “what if” I hadn’t won anything and realize how fortunate they are to be on the podium at all. But for the silver medalist, “what if” means pondering the little things that might have turned silver to gold.

It seems counterfactual thinking plays out, not just in games, but in every day life. If a student misses making an "A" by one point, having a "B" is no longer so good.

"Would I be happier today if only I had married someone else?" “What if I had attended a different school or majored in something else?” “Suppose I had selected a different profession?”

When you find yourself the silver medalist in life, do you puzzle over what you might have done until you “what if” yourself into dissatisfaction? Do you get stuck thinking about what almost happened?

Miss a flight by five minutes and you are frustrated. But not as much if there’s no way you could make the flight. It's like the football team losing in the final seconds of play. If the team had gotten blown out, then the team can more easily put it behind them and move on. But when victory was so close, you can always think of little things you might have done differently to affect the outcome. 

It's worth noting that keeping first place has its pitfalls as well. Research shows the first runner in a long-distance race puts in three times more effort maintaining that position than the runner-up. Their conclusion?  When you do find yourself in  you are in first place, it’s more productive to focus on the struggle with one’s self rather than the pace of the other runners.

Stephen Goforth

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Out or In

People who are not busy exploring the world are busy building their egos.
Arvinder Kang

If you go to bed angry

If you go to sleep after a fight with someone, you may “preserve” those emotions. That’s the finding of researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Scientists showed images (some positive, some negative) to more than 100 people and checked 12 hours later to see which pictures stuck with them. There was a different response depending on whether the person had slept during the 12 hour break or not. Sleeping seemed to protect the emotional response. You can read the details in The Journal of Neuroscience. Other studies also support the idea that sleep enhances emotional memories. If you have trouble sleeping after an upsetting day, it could be your mind’s way of trying to avoid storing that memory. In any case, these findings explain the value of the Bible verse that says, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).

Stephen Goforth

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nasal Spelunking

We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of the things we’re not. Friends come and go, and changing candidates is as easy as changing socks. But siblings and presidents are ours, for better or worse, and there’s not much we can do about it once they’ve been born or elected. When the experience we are having is not the experience we want to be having, our first reaction is to go out and have a different one, which is why we return unsatisfactory rental cares, check out of bad hotels, and stop hanging around with people who pick their noses in public. It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience, which is why we love the clunker in the driveway, the shabby cabin that’s been in the family for years, and Uncle Sheldon despite his predilection for nasal spelunking.

Daniel Gilbert
Stumbling on Happiness

Monday, August 18, 2014

A daily habit

People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing--that's why we recommend it daily. - Zig Ziglar

Spiritual Matters

There is a strong tendency to suppose that there is no more reason to listen to one man than another in spiritual matters, because the subjects considered are notoriously incapable of proof. The proper conclusion to be drawn, however, is the precise opposite of this. It is because the subjects are incapable of proof that we need to avail ourselves of superior wisdom whenever we can find it.

D. Elton Trueblood
Philosophy of Religion

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Path

The path to holiness lies through questioning everything. – M. Scott Peck

Happiness vs Growth

You stop to visit a friend to find her five year old is running around in diapers. Your friend explains, “That’s the way he likes it and as long as he’s happy, then it's all right with me.” You’d probably say to yourself, if not out loud, “That’s not love. Love works to see children grow up and take on responsibility as they are able.”

If I love you, I can’t just be looking out for what makes you happy. When happiness and growth collide, real love chooses growth. If there's someone in your life and you are wondering if he or she really loves you, ask yourself this question: Is this person seeking what’s in your best interest? Even when you don’t fully understand why they are doing what they are doing? Is this person willing to sacrifice your favor in order to see you grow?

Stephen Goforth

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Solo Performance

A mountain of studies has shown that face-to-face brainstorming and teamwork often lead to inferior decisionmaking. That’s because social dynamics lead groups astray; they coalesce around the loudest extrovert’s most confidently asserted idea, no matter how daft it might be.

What works better? “Virtual” collaboration—with team members cogitating on solutions alone, in private, before getting together to talk them over. As Susan Cain (who write Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) discovered, researchers have found that groups working in this fashion generate better ideas and solve problems more adroitly. To really get the best out of people, have them work alone first, then network later.

Sounds like the way people collaborate on the Internet, doesn’t it? With texting, chat, status updates, comment threads, and email, you hash over ideas and thoughts with a pause between each utterance, giving crucial time for reflection. Plus, you can do so in private.

(The) overall the irony here is pretty gorgeous. It suggests we’ve been thinking about the social web the wrong way. We generally assume that it has unleashed an unruly explosion of disclosure, a constant high school of blather. But what it has really done is made our culture more introverted—and productively so. Now if we could just get some doors on those cubicles.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Silence

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Respect and Risk

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

ee cummings

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Present with a Twist

Because time is such a slippery concept, we tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, thus our imagined tomorrows inevitably look like slightly twisted versions of today. The reality of the moment is so palpable and powerful that it holds imagination in a tight orbit from which it never fully escapes… we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now.

Daniel Gilbert
Stumbling on Happiness

Monday, August 11, 2014

Yesterday's Tools

Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's jobs with yesterday's tools. - Marshall McLuhan