Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovering little bits of yourself where you might not expect

One of my favorite things to do is read someone's Google chat status and respond. It's one of the reasons I don't sign up for Facebook. If I get so distracted by the emoticons, pop culture reference jokes and especially articles that my friends post sporadically, how would I ever filter "status updates"?

Well, one of my great friends posted this David Brooks story about how our brain works and our mind acquires its values and VALUES in The New Yorker and it blew me away, in large part because I'm geekily interested in neuroscience and evolutionary neurophysiology and behaviorism. But also just because I felt like I saw bits of myself on The New Yorker website.

There were so many passages that caused me to stop and think (the sign of great writing).

• Human beings are overconfidence machines. Paul J. H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave questionnaires to more than two thousand executives in order to measure how much they knew about their industries. Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct. In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong. Ninety-nine per cent of the respondents overestimated their success.

• Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was right. Joining a group that meets just once a month produces the same increase in happiness as doubling your income. According to research by Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, and others, the daily activities most closely associated with happiness are social—having sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with friends.

• People generally overestimate how distinct their own lives are, so the commonalities seemed to them a series of miracles. The coincidences gave their relationship an aura of destiny.

Those are three of my favorite points, but the passage that inspired me comes toward the end when someone explains the river of knowledge. "I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. ..."

The quote continues and the additional explanation and context is illuminating.

Perhaps this is just me finding joy in an article that comes from experts who seem to be validating the choices I've made and who reinforce my spending hours trying to get my students to see beyond the SAT-over-preparation to impress the "right" colleges for the hopes of a lucrative and successful career. But I don't think so.

The most important lesson I feel like I've learned as an adult it to become comfortable with who I am and to be smart enough to recognize that I am not entirely sure of who that is anyway. And I dig that this article aligns with my values of enjoying people more than anything else.

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