Archives for category: effective communication

Trump has been around for ages.

His buildings litter the world, his marriages were of a very public nature, his involvement with the media generated a lot of (fake?!?) reality (shows), he not only published a number of books – the most interesting, to me, being Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life, but also pretended to educate us using an university he eventually had to close amid huge controversy.

Even if he was wearing a ‘fresh figure’ in politics when he presented his bid for the American Presidency he was nevertheless the epitome of a ‘public figure’.

Nobody could pretend he wasn’t aware of how Trump was going to behave.

Yet the Republican Convention nominated him as candidate, a considerable number of people had voted for him and more than half the Americans had chosen to stay home even if he was on the ballot.

People refraining from casting a ballot is easiest to explain. The alternative wasn’t any better.
The Republicans nominating him as candidate is also relatively simple. They wanted so badly to ‘win’ that they had chosen not to consider all the implications.
Same thing goes for those who had voted for him. The majority of them are not the bigoted monsters the ‘other side’ fear them to be. They were just exasperated by what was happening to them.

What is harder to understand is what’s going on after the votes have been counted.

Remember that Trump was the known quantity here. Nothing surprising in his behavior.

What surprises me is that so many Republicans act as if they were hoping he was going to become presidential after the election, that the Democrats have not yet understood that they share the blame for Trump becoming what he is today and that so many of the public take sides instead of joining hands and mitigating the consequences of his election.

By ‘mitigating the consequences’ I don’t mean ‘impeachment’ or anything like that.

What I’m trying to say is that too many of us treat Trump as a symbol instead of a symptom.

By either admiring or hating him we allow ourselves to be divided into warring parties which no longer communicate effectively and meaningfully.

By either trying to emulate or to destroy him, or others like him, we only throw fresh fuel on an already blazing fire.

How about a little moderation?

We have learned to make, and tame, fire since humankind’s childhood.
In the last 70 years or so we have also learned to tame the atom. We are now able to build both atom bombs and power generating nuclear reactors.

How about re-learning to tame greed? For both money and power?

I’ve recently spent a few days in the Danube Delta.DSC_1146egreta mareWhen traveling on water, I was issued a ‘life-jacket’ – no picture, you all know what one looks like.

At one point, I was joking with the guide.

‘Harnessed like this, no one can do anything but wait to be rescued. It’s impossible to swim wearing such a thing.’
‘Ha!.
You thought this was meant to save your life, didn’t you?
Well, in reality its role is to keep your corpse afloat so that those looking for you wouldn’t have to dredge the river.’

I remembered the joke while reading this article.

“Apple doesn’t purposely make its terms and conditions long and boring and difficult to read. In theory it could shorten them, or summarise them, or pull out a few bullet points at the beginning to let you know if something has changed since you were last confronted with them. But if it was to do so someone could argue in court that insufficient emphasis was placed on something buried further down in the document. And Apple doesn’t want that to happen.”

People tend to treat it as if it was a ‘point’.
A theoretical concept that has been put on a table, studied from all angles, found desirable/unacceptable and which is now aggressively marketed by fervent apostles/rejected by ‘die-heart fundamentalists’.

I’m afraid it should rather be treated as a continuum.

People belonging to diverse cultures who freely decide to live together will, sooner rather than later, generate a meta-culture based mainly on intercultural mutual respect.
People belonging to diverse cultures who have to live together, without previously being asked whether they want this to happen or not, will, later rather than sooner, generate a meta-culture fusing together various cultural segments appropriated from the various cultures that were forced to coexist.
I am fascinated by the fact that both ‘extremes’ can happen simultaneously.
Individuals, usually unaware of what is going on, find ways of cooperating with members belonging to other cultures to impose/reject ‘cultural artifacts’ upon/coming from individuals belonging to other cultures.
The key of all this being a simple matter of ‘perception’.
We find it easier to cooperate with people belonging to cultures which we perceive as  ‘friendly’ and to treat with disdain those belonging to cultures which are different enough to be perceived as inferior. Hence ‘unfriendly’.

For a long time the Jewish people have written down their thoughts about the world.
At some point, about two thousands years ago, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted those ideas so new books had to be written on the same subject.
Another four centuries later the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage ( 397) determined which of those books were to be included in what is currently known as the Bible.

The versions being circulated since were written in Latin, Hebrew, ancient Greek, Aramaic, ancient Armenian, etc.

By 1500 almost nobody but some of the priests were able to read any of them.

So Luther had decided he had to translate it. Into German.

And changed the world.

“Luther’s Bible introduced mass media, unified a nation, and set the standard for future translations.”

Since then, because modern languages are a work in progress, the Bible has been practically rewritten many times over.

Here are three versions of how Cain and Abel were born. Genesis 4:1-2.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”

King James Version

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.

English Standard Version

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”

New International Version

What next? I’ve counted 106 different versions, all written in English, on a Wikipedia page…

Luther had translated it because almost no one living in his times was able to read it by themselves.
Nowadays it seems that anybody who cares about the matter, writes their own!

I was under the impression that religion was meant to bring us together…

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Who is scattering us now?
Why are we doing this to ourselves?

DSC_0463constrast mare

“Dolma”.

A vast variety of delicious dishes and a very complex social reality hidden behind a short string of letters.

The word itself, literally meaning “something stuffed“, belongs today to the Turkish language.

Google it and you’ll be ‘served’ with a cornucopia of Greek recipes, most of them teaching you how to prepare  stuffed grape leaves…

Check its etymology and you’ll find out its “First Known Use: circa 1889“.

Common, people must have been stuffing vegetables long before that… all around the Black and Mediterranean seas… the Italians have their ‘ripieni’, the Persians have been stuffing bell peppers (dolmeh-s) for some time now,  Armenians have their tolma-s while the Greek have the ‘wider’ gemista dolmadakia being reserved, as I already mentioned, for ‘stuffed vine leaves’.

So, what had happened during the XIX-th century that made so many different people – who were living more or less together but spoke different languages, to use the same word for a dish?

Forget about etymology and consider this.
Simultaneously with ‘dolma’ becoming the ‘dominant’ word for ‘stuffed vegetables’, the dominant power in the area where this was happening, the Ottoman Empire, was crumbling.

We can discuss ad nauseam the reasons for yet another empire fading away into history, but this is not the purpose of my post.
What I’m trying to say is that most of the inhabitants would have gladly continued to coexist peacefully and share their meals – if that had been possible, of course.

Just look at the symbolism of different vegetables, stuffed with the same filling, simmering together in the same pot and becoming delicious sustenance for the various individuals gathered around the same table to ‘break bread’.

But it didn’t come to be… the various forces and agents involved in the matter – the central power trying to survive, the ‘revolutionaries’ attempting to ‘modernize’ the society, the surrounding states and empires trying to gobble up portions of ‘the Sick Man of Europe‘, each followed what they considered to be ‘their best interest’.

And this is what’s going on now…, in the same city where traders from all over the Middle East used to partake dolmades in the world’s biggest covered market – the Aleppo Souk.

160822-aleppo-0302_f99cf07c0972e0b6131bd2989932a1b0-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Injured children are carried amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following airstrikes targeting the rebel-held neighborhood of Al-Mashhad in Aleppo on July 25. BARAA AL-HALABI / AFP – Getty Images

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.

There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media, but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs.

The elections are run by the same industries that sell toothpaste on television.

Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below.

There’s very little dislike of Americans in the world, shown by repeated polls, and the dissatisfaction – that is, the hatred and the anger – they come from acceptance of American values, not a rejection of them, and recognition that they’re rejected by the U.S. government and by U.S. elites, which does lead to hatred and anger.

It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence of libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development.

Romania, which had the worst dictator in Eastern Europe, Ceausescu, he was a darling of the West. The United States and Britain loved him. He was supported until the last minute.

Free speech has been used by the Supreme Court to give immense power to the wealthiest members of our society.

As a tactic, violence is absurd. No one can compete with the Government in violence, and the resort to violence, which will surely fail, will simply frighten and alienate some who can be reached, and will further encourage the ideologists and administrators of forceful repression.

Anarchism means all sort of things to different people, but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on.

In ideal form of social control is an atomised collection of individuals focused on their own narrow concern, lacking the kinds of organisations in which they can gain information, develop and articulate their thoughts, and act constructively to achieve common ends.

Governments are not representative. They have their own power, serving segments of the population that are dominant and rich.

I remember at the age of five travelling on a trolley car with my mother past a group of women on a picket line at a textile plant, seeing them being viciously beaten by security people. So that kind of thing stayed with me.

State formation has been a brutal project, with many hideous consequences. But the results exist, and their pernicious aspects should be overcome.

In the literal sense, there has been no relevant evolution since the trek from Africa. But there has been substantial progress towards higher standards of rights, justice and freedom – along with all too many illustrations of how remote is the goal of a decent society.

If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does, he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees.

Occupying armies have responsibilities, not rights. Their primary responsibility is to withdraw as quickly and expeditiously as possible, in a manner determined by the occupied population.

It’s dangerous when people are willing to give up their privacy.

The doctrine that everything is fine as long as the population is quiet, that applies in the Middle East, applies in Central America, it applies in the United States.

In the United States, we can do almost anything we want. It’s not like Egypt, where you’re going to get murdered by the security forces.

Not all his ideas sound as outlandish as some want us to believe, do they?

“It is a very difficult decision for all parents because we live in a society that values profit over public health.”

“It’s more like listening to what other mothers were saying…
There was a … huge amount of evidence that it was harmful. Even if there weren’t ways that we could scientifically prove it, it was just talking from one mother to another.”

“Doctors do not do their own research, they are heavily brain-washed when they end school  with this idea that it is all good and then they do not question it much themselves”.

“A beautiful child went to have a vaccine and came back and a week later he had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick and now is autistic”

vaccine sceptic island

Well, the scope of this post goes way beyond the dispute between the vaxxers and the skeptics.

As a matter of fact, at face value all the four quotes I started with are spot on.

Most autistic children living in the so called civilized world have been immunized before having been diagnosed, both the doctors and the anti-vaxxers have been ‘brain-washed’ by their peers into holding to their current beliefs while very few of them have conducted any independent scientific research into the matter and yes, we do seem to live in a society which values profit over public health.

What next?

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York was coined by Shakespeare and put into print in Richard III, 1594. The ‘sun of York’ wasn’t of course a comment on Yorkshire weather but on King Richard. In this play Shakespeare presents an account of Richard’s character that, until the late 20th century, largely formed the popular opinion of him as a malevolent, deformed schemer. Historians now view that representation as a dramatic plot device – necessary for the villainous role that Shakespeare had allocated him. It isn’t consistent with what is now known of Richard III, who in many ways showed himself to be an enlightened and forward-looking monarch. The discovery of Richard’s skeleton under a car park in Leicester has provided precise evidence of the extent of his deformity. While being somewhat curved Richard’s spinal deformity has now been shown to have been exaggerated and deliberately faked in some portraits.

Living matter is a ‘particular case’ of  ‘ordinary matter’. It’s composed of the very same kind of atoms and its ‘living character’ is provided by the particular manner in which those atoms relate to each other. Otherwise said, the living matter is ordinary matter organized in a particular manner.
Furthermore, this ‘particular’ manner of organization’ has been honed through eons of ‘evolution‘.

Living matter depends on being able to perform two things.
It has to ‘Differentiate’ and to ‘Communicate’.

Each organism, no matter how simple or how complex, has to be able to keep its ‘inside’ separate from its ‘outside’ and to be able to ‘decide’, according to its own rules/needs, what goes in and what goes out.
A previously living individual organism dies the very moment when it can no longer fulfill any of these two conditions.

All organisms which live by exactly the same ‘rules’ belong to the same species and need to be able to communicate those rules across successive generations. As soon as the organisms belonging to one species  fail to do so that species becomes extinct.
A special observation must be made about the fact that the species whose organisms have found ways to communicate directly among the members of the same generation tend to be ‘sturdier’ that those whose members communicate exclusively with their successors.
For instance bacteria which have ‘learned’ to transmit to their ‘kin’ information about how to survive when ‘intoxicated’ with antibiotics have it easier that those who cannot do such a thing.

Human being are a ‘special case’ in the animal kingdom, just as ‘living matter’ is a special case of ‘ordinary matter’.
We are both animals and something else than that.

We’ve taken differentiation and communication to the next level. We perform them ‘on purpose’.
We have become ‘aware’ of what we are capable of.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose (some of) the criteria we use when differentiating.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose what to communicate of what we know.

And we consider this behaviour as being ‘rational’.

Some of us are so aware of what is going on that are constantly warning us about the limited nature of our rationality.
They say that our rationality is in fact ‘bounded‘ and that we should give up pretending that we are maximizing/optimizing anything since, in reality, all that we do is adopt/defend the first solution that seems good enough for our self-imposed goals/criteria.

Yet so few of us yield to this kind of warnings and continue to purposefully use ‘communication tricks’ in order to establish their version of the reality. Just as the Bard had done in his days.

Let me go back to what humans are in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom and extend the analogy with the difference between living matter and ordinary matter.
I’ve already mentioned that species whose members are ‘more generous’ communicators are better survivors than those whose members communicate less.
Now please imagine what would happen if a few bacteria, otherwise able to ‘share’ their ‘knowledge’ with their brethren, learn how to ‘crack’ a certain antibiotic but choose to keep that to themselves.

The ‘optimists’ among us would say that those bacteria will eventually give birth to a new species of ‘super-bugs’
The pessimists would observe that their small number dramatically increases their chances of being ‘cooked’ to death in an autoclave or ‘dissolved’ by the next swab with bactericide before having any chance at multiplying themselves into eternity.
Meanwhile the cynics/realists among us would start studying how to convince more bacteria to stop contributing to the shared pool of information about how to beat their common enemy, the antibiotic. And, probably, the best way to do it would be to inform the other bacteria that some of them are holding up information. If the bacteria would behave like so many of us currently do all of them would stop all information sharing. To our delight, of course.

Let’s take a step closer to the end of this post and try to evaluate what would happen if those few bacteria would choose to share false information about how to deal with antibiotics. Purposefully, in their attempt at becoming ‘dominant’.

A very ‘rational’ attempt, according to some of us…

‘Alternate reality’, anyone?

No matter what opinion each of us entertains about ‘alternate reality’, fact is that none of us is able to grasp all relevant aspects of even the most basic concepts.

Growing under a communist regime I had learned, very quickly, to keep my mouth shut.

Like all authoritarian regimes, communism eventually crumbled.
Mostly under the pressure that had been built from within and which could not be accurately measured, simply because people were conditioned to keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays technology makes it possible for some of us to ‘look’ ‘beyond’ what most understand by ‘freedom of expression’.

… anxiety and action shouldn’t be based only on what could happen in theory as much as what’s likely to happen in practice — and how much it will affect you.

Some people are afraid of sharks. While the prospect of being eaten by a giant fish is vivid and terrifying, it’s also unlikely, old chum. In fact, the drive to the beach is far more dangerous than the swim once you get there.

Likewise, avoid getting hacked. But more important, start taking action on the bigger risk: The stuff publicly posted on social sites.

Alternate meaning of ‘freedom of expression’?

‘You are free to express yourself and I am free to use whatever information you have chosen to share’!

Actually it makes a lot of sense.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that my son comes home and tells us he is going to marry someone.
Twenty short years ago my wife would have phoned her best friend and told her about it. In two days the news would had traveled around and feed back would had poured in, specially if we were living in a small community. We would had been informed about all past indiscretions attributed to our son’s intended spouse, as long as any had ever surfaced.
Nowadays, being technological savvy, my wife would google the name first, even before phoning her best friend – if she wasn’t already privy of ‘enough’ indiscretions, of course.

Would it make any sense to blame the public authorities who do the same thing? Or the private agents who, in their attempt to fulfill their jobs, use whatever information is publicly available about each of us?
My question should have a special meaning for those of you who live in democratic countries – where the public authorities execute whatever mandate you have entrusted them with, and under an economic regime governed by the (more or less) free market – meaning that all ‘private’ agents need at least some support from their stakeholders (yes, that’s you!) in order to remain economically viable.

I’ll come back to this subject.

Meanwhile you can learn more about it by reading the article that spurred my rantings:

“Anything you post can and will be used against you”

Just click on the title.

Just found this in my FB feed:

“Why is it that good people are always so far away?”

A few days ago I came across “On God: An Uncommon Conversation” between Norman Mailer and J. Michael Lennon.

Reading it made me wonder.
Most of us are aware that there is no way of knowing God, or his will, and, simultaneously, most of us are absolutely sure about the Devil and his intentions.

Isn’t this ‘inconsistent’, to say the least?

The musing about the ‘good people’ shed a new light upon the object of my wonder.

Bad is a lot easier to recognize that good.
There is nothing remarkable in putting on your old loafers and going for a stroll.
Now try to imagine how would it be if you had to walk, even for a short distance, with a pebble in one of those loafers. Or, God forbid, with a sharp pain in one of your knees.

Our ability to pinpoint the sources of discomfort and to identify (potential) danger did a tremendous job.
We survived.

We are so good at it that right now we are on top of the world.
Precisely because ever since we became aware of what was going on around us we have striven to keep danger, and discomfort, as far away  from us as possible at any given moment.

Unfortunately, by concentrating on identifying evil, we are slowly loosing our ability to see the good.

In a sense we have brought upon ourselves a certain ‘tolerance‘ to ‘good’. By successfully driving so much of the ‘bad’ away from our lives we have become unable to recognize the good moments in our lives.

Simultaneously we have developed a ‘reverse tolerance‘ for bad.
We have grown so adept at identifying it that we see it almost everywhere.

Because we are culturally conditioned to presume that ‘different’ is bad.

As I mentioned before, our ability to identify danger is what kept us alive. I won’t delve into how our brains are hard-wired to run/shoot first and ask questions later. You can read ‘all about it’ over the Internet.
Here is an as good place to start as many others.

“Officers need to build confidence with hand-on techniques

Taking what they admit is a controversial position, the authors argue that officers today may be too quick to use control tools like CEWs or OC, instead of applying hands-on tactics to subdue some unarmed subjects. The researchers say they were “struck by several incidents…that might have easily been addressed [successfully] by going hands-on” instead of resorting quickly to a less-lethal or deadly weapon.

 Sometimes unarmed “rowdy” people need to be “grabbed and secured,” even though they may fight in response, Selby writes. “Officers should be expected not to treat every assault as a life-and-death situation….

 “Over-reliance on TASER or pepper spray has its own set of dangers. Officers who do not practice fighting…risk being surprised by physicality, over-powered or out-maneuvered by those they confront… [T]hose who practice their physical skills are mentally and physically [better] prepared.”” (Force Science News, #314, II. 8 “key findings from new study on killing of unarmed suspects)

Can we do anything about this?

Of course.

Remember the old loafers at the top of my post?
(Almost) None of us trows away a good pair of shoes when they get dirty, right? It makes a hell of a lot more sense to grab a rag and ‘polish’ them, isn’t it?
Also, when judging a person, we’d better ‘examine’ him from top to bottom before passing a ‘sentence’ to the tune of ‘his shoes are dirty, hence I’ll discard him right away’.

And, above all, we need to remember that while ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, goodness is, simply put, the absence of ‘bad’.

So, theoretically, none of them really exists.
Beauty doesn’t exist because we cannot fully agree upon it while nothing is absolutely free of ‘bad’. Hence nothing absolutely good has ever seen the light of day.

It seems that a better definition for a ‘good’ person would be somebody who behaves in such a manner as to be accepted by those around him.

Yeah, I know, I just opened a fresh can of worms… when in Rome…

What if one happens to live on an island run by pirates?

Well… soon enough the pirates will become so obnoxious to the rest of the world that the island will be conquered by the first powerful enough nation which happened to be pushed to the limit of its tolerance. Or, if that doesn’t happen, at some point, the ruling pirates will jump at each others throats.
That’s why all totalitarian regimes, including the communist ones, have failed.
The totalitarians tend to believe that only they are good and that all the rest are bad.

And totalitarian regimes usually start when an authoritarian leader convinces a critical mass of the people that:

  • their ideas right/good
  • all the rest are bad
  • so bad, in fact, that all means are acceptable while fighting ‘the evil.

Even if at first the authoritarian seems almost harmless the very logic of the system – more and more intolerance – leads all authoritarian regimes towards more and more intransigence. Meaning that the forces employed to maintain the regime become more and more adept at identifying ‘evil’, until the pressure eventually cranked up in the process blows open the entire social structure.

The sooner enough members of a given society discover that most of them are in fact ‘more good than evil’, the sooner the authoritarian would be dictators loose traction and things can return to normal.

 

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