Podcast Episode #1

I have not yet done the homework to learn how to launch an official podcast. But I did just finish a first draft of my first episode.

This is a conversation with two friends of mine, both of whom I know from practicing Aikido. We got together over beer to discuss how to have better conversations.

I haven’t launched the actual podcast yet (probably on Apple Music), and there will be some additional editing. But this will give you an idea what’s in store.

Things we discussed:

  • Conversations versus arguments
  • There is a market for conflict
  • The conditions necessary for disagreement
  • Talking stick
  • Understanding the nature of the conflict
  • How practicing Aikido is like practicing conversations
  • Maslow’s hierarchy — the process of being attacked
  • Ability to interact is a skill, and it can atrophy
  • Alone time, and how important it is
  • The “I,” the “You,” and the “We.”
  • Understanding ourselves is a key to better conversations

Just for fun… here’s a screen shot of the labels I added to the recorded conversation before I edited 2+ hours down to 1h 10m.

Research and Conversations

I use an app called “Ten Percent Happier” to help me with guided meditations, and learning about meditation in general. I’ve had a regular meditation practice for years, and this app is part of the reason it sticks.  

One of the guided meditations that I came across is by a guy named Jeff Warren — one of my favorite teachers featured in the app (there are many). This particular mediation is intended to be done during a creative activity. I chose, for that activity, posting to this blog. What you read below is edited, but not much. The exercise was to “let it flow” without any editing at all.

. . .

A quote about an article from The Free Press called “The Reason There’s Been No Cure For Alzheimer’s”… talking about a prevailing theory that seems to draw all the funding, but simply is not showing any appreciable results, despite any hyped rhetoric. …   “Acknowledging that this theory may be a dead end would mean entire careers and billions of dollars have all been devoted to the wrong idea. Not only that—there is no clear path to the right one.”

I’ve always known that “following the money” is a path to the Truth behind research, but to attach it to Alzheimer’s is a real punch in the gut.  My Mom died, essentially of Alzheimer’s, in 2018. She was really “no longer with us” for 3-5 years prior to that.

In Project Management, we are taught, when making estimates, to ignore “sunk costs.” It’s almost impossible, in practice, but we can improve our estimation if we at least try to keep that idea in mind.

“Sunk Costs” are the devil in any conversation where people disagree. We all have “attachments” — a very similar idea as “sunk costs.”  If we could let go of them, we’d more easily see any truth that might be in front of us.

I want to believe in science. But science is done by scientists. And scientists are people. And people need to fund their research. And people who fund research need to justify the allocation of those funds. So they will naturally side with prevailing wisdom; popular theories. 

But when the prevailing wisdom is wrong, that’s bad — right? But we can’t just allocate funds willy-nilly anywhere, right?  That would be wrong, too.

So how to put the money where the best possible solution might be? 

Maybe that’s the wrong question. 

How often do we “know” that we’re “on the right track,” and yet we’re not? How do we know we are? Don’t we always feel like we are?  I mean, being on the wrong track feels just like being on the right track — right?

Somehow, in my mind, this idea of research is similar to the idea of a conversation. It’s all about searching for truth.

Unfortunately, doing research is so often like making a case for what you believe, rather than trying to find the Truth (capital T).

So where does the idea of trust come into play in the world of research?  I can place the need for trust in a conversation — but in research? 

We have to have people in charge of the funding of any kind of research — particularly research into health issues — who are interested in the truth, not (primarily) in making money, and definitely not in covering their asses (or assets). 

If the prevailing wisdom doesn’t seem to be working, then somebody has to be able to say “then it shouldn’t be prevailing” — and that defines where the money goes.

Having a Moment

I’ve often fantasized about being a cartoonist. I’ve tried from time to time to learn to draw cartoons. I have a couple that I draw occasionally, but I’ve never taken the time to work at the craft. Maybe this will be an inspiration. I do believe that there’s wisdom in cartoon strips. It’s a form of art that takes basic truths and makes them accessible; obvious.

Here’s a great example:

Open-Mindedness

A friend of mine recently turned me on to a site called “Free Press.” I guess it used to be called “Common Sense.”

I put those things in bigtime “air quotes” because I’m immediately suspicious. Part of my suspicion, I have to admit, is because the friend that sent me the link is very conservative, and I’m not. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

Still, I’m pleased with the degree of two-sidedness that I’ve seen in what I’ve read so far. This, speaking as a guy who purposely tries to avoid political discussions on principal. I’m more interested in the way we have conversations than in the content or outcome of the conversations themselves. That’s the flag I’m flying for now.

My friend (let’s call him Jeff) and I got into a conversation about this site, and about “sidelessness” versus “open-mindedness”. Jeff says (I’ve edited):

Ha!  

You see sidelessness and I see open-mindedness. …are sidelessness and open-mindedness synonyms? … Of course people will lean into what they think are the certainties of their life, but to be certain and still keep the door open to your mind is the way to go. Sidelessness seems anchorless to me in the end… resigned to the fact there is no “right” side to seek  But seek we must – endlessly and relentlessly.  Sidelessness seems like a destination in and of itself.

The reason I go with the open-mindedness (I think) is that we should fear no questions for what we perceive our certainties to be. The most dangerous folks to Society at the moment are those who refuse to entertain any questions about their own certainties. Dangerous to have answers that are allergic to any questions. 

Jeff

(to which I respond…)

I agree with everything you said, and yet I still prefer sidelessness over open-mindness as a moniker.  Both are imperfect. Sidelessness is not a destination, BTW — it’s a starting point. I agree that we must “side” — endlessly and relentlessly, as you say. As I’ve said many times, life is a series of essay questions, but the tests are usually multiple-choice.  

The reason I cringe at “open-mindedness” is because I don’t think people are open-minded by default. Certainly not at the start of a conversation.  I’ll tell you why I say that. It goes like this…

Let’s say I’m mediating a discussion (this happens a lot at work). We introduce a subject. I say “is there anything someone could say that might sway you from your position?” (or something like that).

Usually, the answer is some form of “yes, but I dare you” on the surface, and “I doubt it” just under the surface. We tease that out, and ultimately arrive at “so, your mind is essentially closed — at least on this particular subject, for the moment.”

They say “NO!” (nobody likes to be labeled as “close-minded”)

I say “but you just told me that you’ve given this subject a great deal of thought, and there’s probably nothing that could convince you. That sounds to me like a closed mind.”  It’s not saying “I refuse to change my mind” (true close-mindedness), but it’s effectively pretty close to the same thing, because we identify with our thoughts. Changing our minds means giving up a piece of ourselves, and we’re wired against that.

To me, true “open-mindedness” means “I’m not attached to any particular outcome. Let’s start from scratch and see where this leads.”  And, even then, once it actually does lead somewhere, we’re back at being less open-minded again.  The point point to thinking, after all, is to avoid having to think about that particular thing anymore.

This sometimes becomes an interesting discussion, and sometimes we can end up agreeing that we’re not as “open” as we like to think we are. For me, that’s an open door, not a closed one.

I think we inherit most of our bigger beliefs on subjects — politics and religion, in particular — and we’ve made up our minds on most subjects before we’ve really considered any recent information. Most of our energy is spent trying to interpret the information in such a way that it supports our pre-existing beliefs, rather than examining the information and discovering what it causes us to believe.  There’s considerable research on this, BTW, centered mostly around confirmation bias.

So we have to “endlessly and relentlessly” combat this natural tendency if we are to even begin to approach any kind of objective truth(s).  Furthermore, we can’t do that in a conversation without some level of trust in each other — some assurance that we won’t be belittled for changing our minds; some idea that the other guy isn’t the enemy. Without trust, we just dig in.

So. Expect to see clippings from the Free Press (no air quotes) coming in the future…

Alabama Astronaut

I’m posting today about one of the more interesting people I’ve barely met in my life — Abe Partridge. I met him as he rolled through Roanoke, Virginia on his way to or from somewhere — touring, as he does. He played a wonderful concert of his original music to a small but incredibly appreciative gathering at the Third Street Coffeehouse. Abe’s ability to deliver a story through a song and between songs is exceptional — something worth experiencing. He doesn’t fit the usual Nashville mold in any way, and would probably consider that a complement. But he has Nashville insiders taking note. When questioned how this could be within the great Nashville music machine, Grace Pettis, another recent performer at Third Street, said “sometimes it’s just undeniable.”

But this post isn’t so much about music. Not directly, at least. That’s not what made me think I should be posting about it today.

What I’m posting about today is a podcast that Abe Partridge stars in, called the “Alabama Astronaut.” I have not listened to all episodes yet, but the fact that the very first episode, “Foreword,” ends with the following words makes it perfect to share in this blog, because it embodies the spirit of “understanding on purpose” perfectly.

Ferrill Gibbs says: “It’s one thing to podcast… about folks… whom you’ve never met; never intend to meet. It is another thing entirely to go shake their hands; to sit down with them; to have lunch with them; to look them in the eye and try to understand them.”

Believing

I’m still reading Monica Guzman’s “I Never Though Of It That Way.” Just wanted to post a note about a new idea — for me.

Guzman makes a distinction between asking yourself two questions which usually signal whether you’re open to a new idea.

Question 1: “Can I believe this?”

Question 2: “Do I have to believe this?”

Both questions are ways to approach ideas we don’t like. The first one helps us approach them with uncertainty and interest. The second is more resistant.

Nobody likes to think of themselves as “close minded.“ But, I think the fact is that most of us are close minded about many things.

I have asked people in conversation “what do you think the chances are that I could say something to change your mind, even just a little?” Often, I get some version of “pretty slim.”

So I say: “so your mind is closed on this subject?”

And they say: “oh, I’m not close minded! I just don’t think you can change my mind.”

And yet, I think maybe I already have. If even just a little.

Structural Stupidity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to have better conversations, mainly spurred on by a book I’m reading: “I Never Thought Of It That Way,” by Monica Guzman.

Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head collection of “Truths” I think I’ve collected in the past few months. As always, subject to change…

  • A conversation is an exchange of ideas, and a productive one requires that both parties are interested in exchanging ideas in both directions.
  • An argument, in contrast, is when each side wants to be right, and wants to prove the other side wrong.
  • Critical elements for a real conversation are mutual trust and respect.
  • Social media is a terrible place to have real conversations. Best to disengage altogether. Social media encourages “structural stupidity.”

Here’s a Braver Angels podcast in which “structural stupidity” is discussed.

Obamacare

I posted the following piece (minus a few edits) on Facebook in 2012. Facebook reminded me of it today. It seems I was ahead of my time 10 years ago — or at least foreshadowing this web site.

. . .

There are lots of things about Affordable Care to dislike — among them, the ramrod tactics and legislative slight-of-hand used to get it through. The argument that any expansion of government bureaucracy  can lead to lower overall costs should make even the most staunch liberal blush. 

But then, I don’t believe any conservative argument that “the market” can provide “affordable healthcare for all,” either. Markets care about stockholders — period.  Nor do I even believe that conservatives generally agree in that supposedly universal goal.

I don’t know if heading down this path will be a positive in the long run. Neither does anyone else. 

What I do know is that Obama has done something significant that he said he would do. I know that his opponents won’t congratulate him on being effective, yet they would have wasted no time in labeling him as ineffective and weak if the ruling had gone differently. Probably still will anyway. One more reason I wouldn’t want that job (for those of you wondering).

Imagine that, by some miracle, both parties agree to some small extent a few years from now that the Affordable Care Act turned out to be a winner in some minor way.  Will Republicans still be calling it Obamacare?

I feel very strongly that we, as a nation, must somehow kick our cultural addiction to being on the winning team, especially on the most important issues.  We must learn to respect people who thoughtfully change their opinions, rather than labeling them as flip-floppers. We must learn to listen. We must stop letting politicians double-talk. In fact, we must stop forcing them to. We must somehow demand and help create a system in which “reaching across the aisle” doesn’t get your hand stabbed.

News flash: being wrong feels exactly like being right — until you’re found out, or you learn something, or both. So stop taking sides and listen. Winning isn’t everything. In the end, it isn’t anything. Neither is losing. Work for the truth, and assume you don’t already have it in the bag.

Be the Idiot

It’s my own personal observation, and source of sadness, that so much of today’s conversations are about convincing someone (including ourselves?) that we are NOT idiots.

I’ve been in some sort of engineering profession for most of my life. However, I was a high school teacher for four years. During those years, I learned a few things about myself — one of which was that I like working with peers.

As a high school teacher, you don’t work with peers, for the most part. Most of every day is spent either by yourself, preparing lessons and grading papers, or in front of a classroom of students. In either case, you are expected, and paid, to be the smartest person in the room; the expert.

While being the smartest person in the room is satisfying and gratifying, I find that it gets old very quickly. I prefer NOT to be the smartest person in the room. I like being around people that are smarter than I am. That’s what makes me extend myself and learn.

That in mind, this video came across my feed this morning. I’m a fan of Simon Sinek.

Love + Work

I just finished a book by Marcus Buckingham, titled “Love + Work.” I didn’t really want to read it. I kinda had to, because my wife “thought I would like it.”

I started by speed-reading it — which usually means I read the first paragraph of each chapter, the first line of each paragraph, and then the last paragraph of each chapter. If something stands out or looks interesting, I slow down and dig in.

But I quickly slowed down and backed up to start pretty much over. OK, so I skimmed some of the stories, but still, I have to admit that the book caught my attention.

You see, I was brought up to look at all the things I need to improve upon about myself, and improve them. This makes for a well-rounded person. Perhaps it also makes for someone who has a lot of tools for resiliency; someone who is at least somewhat prepared for just about anything.

It makes sense that my parents would raise me this way. They grew up in Nazi Germany, and ended their short childhoods as refugees during the war, emigrating to the United States in their late teens.

The problem with this approach to life — of always focusing on the things you don’t do well — is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever be really awesome at anything.

For that, you need to focus on the things that you love. Hence, this book.

The author talks about looking for the three indicators of “Love” — that is, activities you love. They are (I’m quizzing myself now): Instinct (things you do instinctively); Flow (things that cause you to lose track of time), and; Mastery (things that you pick up relatively easily).

This isn’t another “Follow Your Bliss” book. There are plenty of times in the book where the author acknowledges the fuzzy edges of rules, or puts idealistic concepts into perspective. For instance, this book is the first time I’ve ever seen in print the concept that I came up with independently about 20 years ago — that even the best jobs are made up out of only 20% things you like. The other 80% is stuff you do so that you can do the 20%.

So why am I posting on this particular blog about this particular book? Because of a quote in the epilogue: “One of the biggest changes you can make in the world is how you choose to see and understand others.”

The end.