“O, wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It would frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.”

– Robert Burns

When I look at myself in the mirror, it is always from the same perspective: standing directly in front of it, chest out, stomach in. I look pretty good that way. Reasonably trim and muscular for a man my age. But every now and then I accidently catch myself in a sideways pose. That is less pleasant. I look thick, almost apelike.

I suppose I could slim down by losing 20 pounds, but it’s easier to look at myself from a flattering angle.

We are told that being honest about ourselves is a virtue. And perhaps it is. But we also know that people that have unrealistically positive self-images are happier than people that don’t.

I have many faults. And for the most part I don’t like admitting them. I prefer to view my behavior from a perspective that is flattering, an angle that hides these blemishes from my sight.

Yes, we can learn to turn a blind eye to our shortcomings. And that can protect us from the mental self-flagellation we might otherwise endure. But making a habit of this has consequences. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “A man who lies to himself… comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anyone around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.”

And self-delusion can last only so long. Sooner or later, we will be forced to see our actions bluntly – the way others see them – and this can be painful. It can lead to anxiety and even depression.

So do we have to choose? Is life an ongoing struggle between the stress of playing blind and the pain of being forced to see? Are we locked into the tragic choice between hamartia and agnagnorisis?

AJ is one of the most brilliant marketing minds on the planet. We became acquainted almost 40 years ago when my boss at the time got into a joint venture with him.

The deal made both of them a lot of money, but it ended badly when they argued about dividing the spoils. AJ’s behavior after that was reprehensible. I was so disturbed by it that once, at an industry event, I actually challenged him to a duel. He declined.

Years later, we reconnected. I was still angry with him – but before I had a chance to bring it up, he said, very casually, “But of course I’m a hypocrite and a scoundrel.”

The moment he said that, I forgave him.

A big lesson for me. One I’m still trying to learn. 

I’ve been wondering why I like to hide my shortcomings. It’s not because I want to hide them from others. I know that’s not possible. They see them more quickly and more clearly than I can.

No, the reason I don’t admit to them is because I don’t want to give friends and colleagues an opportunity to acknowledge them. I don’t want to hear them saying, “Yes, Mark. You really are an arrogant, insensitive asshole.”

Of course, if they are already thinking that, I am not avoiding their condescension or disappointment or antipathy. I am simply making it more difficult for them to voice those feelings.

And that’s why AJ’s strategy was so brilliant. In admitting his faults, he was not evincing guilt or shame. He was only being honest about the effect his behavior had on others. And the reason he didn’t display guilt or shame is because before admitting his shortcomings, he had already faced them, and acknowledged them, and forgiven himself for them.

Another way of putting this is that guilt or shame, however justified, is a burden – one that can only be removed by the person that feels it.

Ben Franklin said that self-deception is much more common than falling victim to the deceptions of others.

So here’s the question: What are you fooling yourself about?

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“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” – John Keats

Art and Science, Beauty and Truth, Straining and Relaxation, Aristotle and Plato, Iris Murdoch and Music… in One Lesson 

I read about Plato in college. I read his work in graduate school. At the same time, I was reading Plato’s dialogues, I was also reading Aristotle, Plato’s most famous student.

There is, as you no doubt know, a big difference between Plato and Aristotle. Plato was an idealist. Aristotle was an empiricist. Plato thought like a poet. Aristotle thought like a scientist. I came away from that experience with a great admiration for Aristotle and a sympathetic disdain for Plato. And I maintained that prejudice until about 10 or 15 years ago, when I began reading about quantum physics.

I found in quantum physics the same objections I found in Plato. The theories contradicted my observed experience. Time for me was fixed and linear. Space was space – not something that could curve into itself.

I still don’t understand quantum physics. But I cannot deny that its theories – at least some of them – have been proven to be true. They have proven themselves in the development of space travel and all sorts of modern contraptions that we use on a daily basis, including cellular phones.

And now, as I approach my seventies and can feel the acceleration of time, I have to wonder whether Plato was onto something real – that his theory about how the universe works was, like Einstein’s, in some deeper-than-science way true.

For example, in The Sovereignty of Good, Iris Murdoch makes an interesting observation about beauty. She says that you cannot experience it fully with your rational mind. You need a “shift of consciousness” from your everyday way of thinking to a sort of transcendent awareness. It’s a bit like a good trip on LSD, I suppose.

Nature, Murdoch believes, is always and infinitely capable of providing this experience. But the individual is not always and infinitely capable of having it. To have it, Murdoch says, one has to “pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is.”

It’s that phrase – “the world as it really is” – that had me thinking about Plato. You may remember the dialogue where Plato explains the allegory of the cave. It’s about illusion vs. reality. The idea: Because of the limited nature of  human consciousness, we are incapable of understanding the true nature of reality. It’s as if we are trapped in a cave where we cannot see the real world outside. We see only shadowy figures reflected on the walls – and since that is the only thing we see, we believe that is all there is.

Coming back to Murdoch’s observation about beauty…

When, for example, I am studying a particular artist, I can come to understand his innovations, his historical importance, and even why his art is, by some, so greatly admired. This is a sort of understanding that is beneficial when it comes to the business of buying and selling art or for talking about an artist’s work with an interested party. But this sort of understanding gives me no help whatsoever in experiencing what is beautiful or wonderful about the art object. To have that, I must stop myself  from straining to understand it and allow myself to be absorbed by it, And this I can do only by relaxing my neocortical brain and, as Murdoch puts it, experiencing the painting in “the deepest part of my soul.”

And this takes me to a thesis I’ve been working on for quite some time and the reason I’m dragging you into this: that our knowledge of the universe and our experience of living can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation – of contraction/concentration and expansion/relaxation.

Human consciousness is capable of doing both. And both produce real benefits. Concentration gives us the means to advance ourselves and our surroundings in the tangible world, the world that Aristotle (and Newton) sought to understand. But expansion – relaxing the mind – gives us a way to know the intangible world, the subatomic world that I’m now thinking Plato was trying to understand.

Does that make sense?

Think about music. Listening to music – instrumental music – can give me this deeper and truer understanding of the world beneath the physical world without much trouble. I can listen to Bach or Beethoven or (especially) Mozart and go easily to that place that Murdoch is talking about.

I can experience what TS Eliot called “the peace… which passeth all understanding.”

I think music works best in understanding how this relaxed, “quantum” experience of truth (and beauty) works because it lacks language. Or rather because the language of music is non-verbal and therefore not cognitive. It provides a porthole through which I can slip into the “real” world of Plato and Einstein and Murdoch.

But you decide.

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“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” – Dr. Seuss

Is This Very Smart Funny? I Have No Idea… 

There’s funny and there’s very smart funny. That’s what I call it. Maybe it’s not very smart. But it seems to be smarter than me/I, so that’s what I call it.

Here is an example from the November 7 digital issue of The New Yorker. It is titled, “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.” The byline is Jonny Auping. I’ve never heard of him. But I’m pretty sure he’s very smart and very funny.

You decide…

I have a confession: I don’t know what I’m doing.

I know that I come across as someone who exudes confidence, but, even as I write this sentence, I don’t know how I’m going to wrap it up without transitioning into something that sounds emotional and self-righteous but has nothing to do with the beginning of the sentence in a country where male congressmen think they can get away with governing women’s bodies.

I don’t know how to do taxes. This year, I put my AirPods in without playing any music so that I could eavesdrop on two men in suits at a Starbucks in hopes that they might happen to be talking about how to do taxes. I ended up just sending eight hundred dollars to the Washington Monument. Also, how do you make AirPods play music? They literally aren’t connected to anything.

I don’t know how to scan a document. My washing machine has fourteen settings, but I wash everything on the “casual” setting, because it seems like the least risky one. I don’t know how to tie a tie. I just leave them tied and pull them on and off my head very carefully. I move all of my money to a completely different bank every year and call it “investing.”

I’ve forgotten whether my car has two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and it isn’t written anywhere on the car. The last time someone asked me my blood type, I said, “standard.” If I can’t pronounce a director’s name, I usually say that his film has “great mise en scène,” and if the director has two first names I say, “Its campiness was actually refreshing,” but I don’t know what either of those things mean. I also get a lot of mileage out of the word “subversive.”

I don’t get why Neil Young was good, and I don’t understand what Andy Kaufman did. I know how to make eggs, but my eggs are never very good. My girlfriend makes eggs in an identical way, but hers are always much better. They taste really subversive. I don’t know what happens to my 401(k) if it never reaches $401,000. I do know that the “B” stands for bitcoin, but I couldn’t tell you what CBD actually is.

They say, “Fake it till you make it,” but I don’t know who “they” are. My friend said that “they” are the band Third Eye Blind. He might be messing with me, though. It sounds like a Third Eye Blind lyric, but when I tried to Shazam it my friend said that’s not how Shazam works. How does Shazam work? Do I need to Shazam my AirPods?

So, as you can see, I’m in a little over my head. Nevertheless, I’ve always wholeheartedly believed that the American people value transparency above all else. That’s why I’m announcing my candidacy for President. Together, we will go on this journey of learning what the Iowa caucus is.

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7 Reasons to Believe Things Are Getting Better 

1. Innovations in Prosthetics: People that have above-the-knee leg amputations can now walk more easily, thanks to new technologies developed by researchers from ETH Zurich and the Universities of Belgrade and Freiburg.

The innovation is a prosthetic leg with sensors at the knee and sole, along with electrodes implanted into the residual nerves of the thigh. After 3 months of training, users reported much improvement in walking, significantly fewer missteps, and, surprisingly, a marked reduction in phantom pain, a common problem with amputations.

2. No Checkout Shopping: A new technology is being rolled out in supermarkets that will make shopping easier and quicker. It’s a portable gizmo that lets supermarket customers scan items as they drop them in their cart.

In addition to making shopping easier and quicker, the technology will reduce personnel costs as well as the cost of theft – and that should eventually reduce the cost of shopping. It will also provide greater retailer-collected consumer data, which could make marketing decisions easier.

3. Success in Treating the Ebola Virus: In a recent clinical trial, REGN-EB3, a triple-antibody cocktail made by pharmaceutical company Regeneron, reduced the mortality rate for Ebola virus victims that received the drug early. The new drug was derived from a human Ebola survivor whose immune system had been able to fight off infection from the Zaire strain.

REGN-EB3 is made up of three antibodies that glom onto the virus, preventing it from replicating inside the host’s body and triggering the host’s immune system to kill the infected cells.

4. Developing Countries Are Planting Trees: On July 29, 2019, Ethiopia smashed the world record for tree planting, with 350 million trees in 12 hours. Two weeks later, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh almost surpassed that record, planting 220 million trees in 24 hours.

5. US Crime and Murder Rates Are Down: Crime rates declined last year in the USA’s 30 largest cities, according to researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

* The 2018 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to have declined by 8% from 2017.

* Overall crime is estimated to have declined slightly, falling by 3.5%.

* The violent crime rate is estimated to have declined by 4%.

Some cities – e.g., Chicago and Baltimore – are still struggling with violence, though the 2018 murder rates in those two cities dropped by nearly 12% and 9.1%, respectively. “This is further evidence that anyone who claimed we were experiencing a ‘crime wave’ in America was just plain wrong,” said Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

6. 3D Printing of Human Organs: Back in 2002, scientists at Wake Forest University 3D-printed the first kidney capable of filtering blood and producing urine. In 2010, Organovo, a San Diego-based bioprinting outfit, created the first blood vessel. And today, San Francisco-based 3D tissue printing company Prellis Biologics is achieving record speeds in its pursuit of printed human tissue with viable capillaries.

If successful, these breakthroughs could forever end our shortage of donor organs.

7. Japan Is Rebuilding Fukushima: Japan is now working to revamp the Fukushima nuclear meltdown zone to once again produce electricity – a but this time, they’re using solar and wind power. Eleven solar plants and 10 wind farms are expected to be producing about 600 megawatts of electricity by March of 2024. That’s enough power for about 114,000 average American homes.

Interestingly, the plants will be located on the 143 square miles of land that was designated a “dead zone” as a result of the Fukushima disaster.

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In most areas of commerce, subscription services are required to notify their customers about renewal charges before they are done. And even where they aren’t required, notification is a good idea because it reduces chargebacks and improves the integrity of the relationship.

But to minimize refunds and maximize good will, renewal notifications should be upbeat and benefit-oriented.

Here’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about…

A Renewal Notice From Medium.com:

Hi there,

You’re an annual Medium member, which means you’re getting unlimited, year-round access to some of the best writing out there, by some of the sharpest thinkers on the globe. And at $50 a year, you’re saving $10 compared to our monthly membership option. (That’s two to eight coffees, depending on your feelings about coffee.)

Rest easy – your membership automatically renews for another year on [DATE] for $50 on the credit card ending in XXXX. No clicks required.

If you’d like to update your credit card information, go to your Settings page under ‘Payment info’. No charge will be made to your card until the renewal date. To switch to a monthly subscription, reply to this email.

If you’d like to cancel your subscription, go to your  Settings page under ‘Membership’ by [DATE].

For any questions or concerns, visit our  Help Center or reply to this email.

It probably goes without saying, but we are thrilled you’re a member. At Medium, we’ve created an ad-free experience for readers, so nothing gets in the way of a good story. We also pay thousands of writers to do their best, most ambitious work. That’s a rare combination – thanks for reading.

The Medium team

 

 

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“He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both.” – Francis Bacon

Book Review: How to Elevate Your Life by Robert Glazer 

I swear – almost everything I read these days in the self-improvement genre seems to be a knock off of advice I was giving 20 years ago.

Self-improvement is one of the first ideas I promoted in Early to Rise. And like just about everything I’ve ever written, it was based on what I’d learned from my own experience. My advice was to focus your efforts on four areas of your life: your health, your wealth, your intellectual development, and your social relationships.

In How to Elevate Your Life, Robert Glazer covers the same general territory in a slightly different way.

The secret to “elevating” your life, Glazer says, is not to do more things but to “build capacity.”And he breaks that down into these four categories: 

  1. Your Spiritual capacity– understanding your desires and values
  2. Your Intellectual capacity – thinking, planning, and solving problems efficiently
  3. Your Physical capacity – improving your health and fitness
  4. Your Emotional capacity – dealing with challenging situations and getting the most out of your relationships

The Spiritual You 

You can begin to develop your spiritual capacity, Glazer says, by thinking about the things that energize and depress you, and the values you cherish. (Independence? Achievement? Passion? Connection? Money? Status?). From that, you develop a core purpose.

If you’re struggling to come up with your core purpose, he suggests an exercise I wrote about way back when: writing your own obituary – what you would want people to say about you after you die.

 

The Intellectual You 

The key to building intellectual capacity, Glazer says, is a “growth mindset – i.e., “embracing the factthat it’s never too late to learn new skills and that mistakes and failures are simply part of the process.” He points out that “The growth mindset is vital to your efforts to expand your intellectual capacity, but it’s not something you can cultivate on your own.” So he recommends finding mentors and coaches to help you develop the skills you are seeking.

I wrote about this many times, arguing that it takes 1,000 hours to become competent at a complex skill and 5,000 hours to master it. (I did this years before Anders Ericsson and Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea.) My thought was – and is – that you can reduce those hours by as much as half by having an experienced teacher, trainer, or mentor.

As I’ve done in countless essays, Glazer also recommends routines: “Routines are important because they help you make a habit of being productive,” he says. “That’s crucial when it comes to achieving long-term goals like learning a language or writing a book.”

And his final recommendation is actually the first bit of advice I gave in Early to Rise (hence the name): “The best time [to work on your long-term goals] is in the morning. It’s as simple as waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual and using this extra time for quiet, focused work. Once this habit has been consolidated, you can start adding extra minutes to your routine. What, for example, would happen if you got up a full hour before your family and used the time to meditate, work out, and jot down ideas for your book?”

 

Build Your Physical Capacity

“Physical capacity,” Glazer says, “is about more than just being able to run a marathon. When your body is in poor shape, your brain also suffers: You’re more easily distracted, less resilient, and more likely to be knocked back by stress and setbacks. That means it’s time to start looking after your health.”

His formula for improving your physical health includes eating well, sleeping well, and managing stress.

* Eating: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t have recognized as food.”

* Sleeping: 6 to 8 hours

* Managing stress: Take short breaks throughout the day.

I agree with (and have written about) all three of the above. But Glazer’s formula also includes…

* Embracing competition: “Competition shouldn’t be about crushing your opponents and winning at all costs,” he says. “What it really means is going the extra mile and challenging yourself to become better. Whether it’s intellectual or physical competition, it will push you to build your capacity.”

My view is that embracing competition isn’t right for everyone. It’s good for people that shy away from competing. But for those that enjoy it, I advise them to embrace cooperation instead.

 

Build Your Emotional Capacity

 Relationships matter, Glazer says. And he’s right. Countless studies say so. Relationships are one of the main factors that affect mental health, physical health, and even longevity.

He recommends creating two lists: a list of five of your “good” relationships, and a list of five of your “bad” relationships. “Make sure to include close friends and family,” he says. “No one gets a free pass.”

Glazer correctly defines good relationships as those that add value to your life. But he defines bad relationships as those that are “problematic or drain your energy” – and that’s not always true. My relationship with my trainer, for example, can be problematic at times, and it certainly drains my energy. But it unquestionably adds value to my life.

That objection notwithstanding, I like what he says here:

“Reach out and connect with or make plans this week with everyone on the first list and take a small step back from the other five. There is no need to actively ‘break up’ with these people; you need to just remove some of your limited but valuable energy from these relationships. Push back returning a call or email by a few days, and don’t ask someone to make plans you don’t really want to make. Stop saying, ‘We should catch up,’ if you don’t mean it!”

Bottom line: How to Elevate Your Life is a good and helpful book. But if you’ve been a long-time reader of what I’ve been writing for the past 20 years, you already know a lot more about self-improvement than what you’ll learn from Robert Glazer.

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“We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin

 A Letter to Friends and Family From Someone That Writes for a Living

I know what you think. That I’m self-centered and antisocial. That when we’re all together, I just sit there, saying nothing. That my attention is always elsewhere. That I’m not paying attention to the conversation.

This may be a result of being a writer – of having writing deadlines almost every day. I live with an urgent need for input – stories, facts, and conversations that could help invent and illustrate the ideas I’m going to be advocating in one of my essays, blog posts, or books.

Here’s what I want you to know. I amlistening. But I’m listening in a way that is more like auditing. I’m listening and trying to understand what is important or memorable about the conversation. I’m listening the way a person might listen to a panel discussion, knowing that later on – in a week or a month or a year – he would have to summarize it, touching on the most interesting nuances.

I’m looking at you, in particular, and I’m paying attention to your body language. And I’m hearing every word you are saying. I am paying attention because I find you interesting. And because I love you. I am not only hearing what you say, I’m thinking about why you are saying it. I’m thinking about how you became the person you are. I am comparing what you are saying to what you’ve said before. I’m noticing your tone of voice. I’m trying to feel your pain. And I’m also searching for answers.

Yes, there are moments when I slip away. You can see that in my eyes. But I’m not going away from you. I’m actually taking mental notes because I want to remember what you said.

From your perspective, I am always turning inward. But writing for me is a way of reaching out. It’s where and how I can say everything I would have said if I weren’t so bent on recording what everyone else is saying.

Writing is in some ways harder than speaking. It takes more thought and a more ruthless approach to feeling. Most of all, it takes time, because our early drafts are almost always unsatisfactory. They don’t convey our best thoughts or our true feelings.

Since the output takes longer, the input must too, because we need lots of details to work on. And that kind of input usually involves listening without talking.

So that’s what’s happening when you think I’m not paying attention to you.

But here’s the thing: I’m jealous of you. I see you having those good conversations, and they look like fun. There was a time in my life when I had such conversations, and they were not just fun. They were deeply felt and empathetic. I’d like to have them again.

I would. But I’m 69 and I’m still writing. I’ve still got deadlines. And my “final” deadline is getting closer, so I’m working hard to get it all done before that fateful day. In the meantime, or afterwards, you can find out exactly how much I took from your conversations and what my thoughts and feelings were by simply reading what I’ve written.

I know. I hear you. You already know me. You don’t need to read me too.

But the person you know is more than the person that is so bad at social conversation. He’s also the person that is writing this letter. He is a person that cares about you and what you have to say and wants to take some time to think about it before responding.

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Feeling Gloomy About the Future?

Here Are 1O Bits of Good News 

The news media understands that bad news sells better than good. So it’s not surprising that if you allow yourself more than, say, 30 minutes a day reading newspapers or on social media, you’ll develop a very pessimistic view of the future.

Whenever I’m feeling that way, I spend an hour or two searching for good news. And guess what? There’s plenty of it.

Here’s a sample of what I discovered after rolling out of bed on the wrong side this morning:

  1. The number of cigarettes being smoked in the UK fell by nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2018. This means that 1.4 billion fewer cigarettes are being smoked every year.
  2. For the first time, humans have achieved direct brain-to-brain communication through non-invasive electroencephalographs (EEGs). The “BrainNet” system achieved over 80%accuracy.
  3. Saudi Arabia, traditionally one of the world’s most misogynistic countries, has granted women the right to travel overseas without male permission. Women can also now register births, marriages, and divorces; be issued official family documents, and be guardians to minor children.
  4. Engineers from MIT accidentally developed a material 10 times blacker than anything in existence. And in case you’re wondering, it may actually have a practical use. As pointed out by Brian Wardle, one of the developers, “There are optical and space-science applications for very black materials, and of course, artists have been interested in black, going back well before the Renaissance.”
  5. The poverty rate in the United States has reached its lowest point since 2001. There were 1.4 million fewer people living in poverty in 2018 than in 2017.
  6. Starting next summer in San Diego, Uber Eats will be delivering dinner for two via drone.
  7. California has done away with private prisons. This is a major victory for criminal justice reform because it removes the profit motive from incarceration.
  8. A year ago, Chile began a campaign to ban plastic straws. Since then, 200 million fewer plastic straws have been delivered to shops and restaurants.
  9. MediView XR recently raised $4.5 million to further develop its Extended Reality Surgical Navigation system. The system gives surgeons a form of “x-ray vision” when conducting cancer ablations and biopsies.
  10. The Chinese city of Handa has deployed a team of traffic robots to help police with road patrol, vehicle management, and accident warnings.
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What I Learned About Love 

Once a month, I spend an hour talking to BK about success in life and business.

He usually begins the conversation with a question about some business-related issue he’s been thinking about. It’s always a good, nuanced question that sparks the ensuing discussion. In our first few sessions, he did most of the asking and I was the guy with the answers.

During our most recent phone call, we touched on many topics – including the history of The Agora and my newly baked theory on how ingrained personality traits determine the potential and contributions of individual employees. And then somehow – I can’t remember how it happened – the conversation turned to love. Or rather the expression of love.

BK mentioned a book I had not read called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman.

I am habitually suspicious of popular books on marital relationships. Most of them are simplistic or downright idiotic. So I braced myself to be disappointed.

BK summarized the book’s argument thusly:

Loving someone and making them feel loved are two different things. To make someone feel loved, you must understand the sort of thing that feels like love to him/her. Generally speaking, there are five ways to demonstrate that:

Words of Affirmation– Using words to build up the other person. “Thanks for taking out the garbage.” Not – “It’s about time you took out the garbage. The flies were going to carry it out for you.”

  1. Gifts – A gift says, “He was thinking about me. Look what he got for me.”
  2. Acts of Service– Doing something for your spouse that you know he/she would like. Cooking a meal, washing dishes, vacuuming floors are all acts of service.
  3. Quality Time– Which means giving your spouse your undivided attention. Taking a walk together or sitting on the couch with the TV off. Talking and listening.
  4. Physical Touch– Holding hands, hugging, kissing, sexual intercourse are all physical expressions of love.

Of these five, Chapman posits, everyone has a primary love language that speaks more deeply to him/her than all the others. Discovering each other’s language and speaking it regularly is the best way for two people to keep love alive.

My immediate response to this: “This is silly.” But then BK asked, “Which one do you respond to? Which one feels most like love?”

And that sort of shocked me. Because there was an answer – a definite answer – and it came to me directly from the deepest part of my emotional brain.

“I respond to Words of Affirmation,” I said.

“And what about K?” he asked.

I knew the answer to that, too. I knew in some very clear and certain way that K’s answer would be “Acts of Service.”

I thanked BK for the insight. I admitted I’d never even thought about the possibility that feeling loved is different for different people. I actually felt embarrassed, because I’ve spent a fair amount of my thinking life on the subject of love and this was completely new to me.

I thought about the ways I express love to K, and they covered the range except for one: Acts of Service. And I thought about the ways K shows her love to me. Service is a big part of it, but she’s frugal in the Affirmation department.

So that was something else to think about – the fact that we are each parsimonious with the one thing we want for ourselves. And is that an ironic accident or a subconscious decision?

I should pause here to say that if all this sounds only too obvious to you, you will understand how I felt. Here I was, a year away from my 70th birthday, learning something I should have learned in high school.

I tested the Five Love Languages hypothesis the next morning by doing something for K that I wouldn’t normally have done. It was a small action. A modest gesture. And sure enough, she was taken by it. She even mentioned it later to her sister in front of me.

“Gee,” I thought. “This is powerful! I ‘ve got to do more of it more often.”

But… and this is a big “but.” If you think about the complexities of any relationship – parent/child, husband/wife, brother/sister, and friendships – you can readily see that keeping the relationship balanced and healthy requires more than simply making the other person feel loved. Other skills are involved. You have to know how to stand up for yourself. You have to know how to have a civil disagreement and how to compromise.

So, yes, I am going to practice this new skill because I want K to feel loved. But I’m also going to practice the other relationship skills because… well, because love is complicated.

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An Extremely Stupid Essay About Language 

The latest from the language police: We are no longer allowed to say “committed suicide.”

Dictonary.com has published many insanely dumb essays proscribing language before, but this has to be one of the dumbest. The title: “What Are the Right Words to Use When Talking About Suicide.”

To save you some pain, I’ve highlighted the most ridiculous sentences:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2016 suicide became the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 10–34 and the fourth leading cause for those 35–54
This issue has been highlighted by the suicide deaths of several high-profile people in recent years, like designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain, and musician Chester Bennington.

When someone dies by suicide, it’s typical to hear the phrase committed suicide. Recently, though, that expression has come under fire for victim-blaming and reinforcing the stigma surrounding mental illness…

Suicide is the “intentional taking of one’s own life.” Evidenced in the mid-1600s, suicide is formed from the Latin sui, “of oneself,” and –cide, a combining form meaning “killing,” seen in other such words as homicide or insecticide.

Because suicide is usually seen as a deliberate act, many feel that it’s logical to describe it as something a person commits (i.e., “does, performs, perpetrates”). The issue, though, is that when we use the word commit to describe suicide, it implies that a choice was made in the same way that one might choose to commit a crime or a sin. However, those who die by suicide usually do not feel as though they have a choice.

Many who die by suicide struggle with mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. Others may be victims of trauma or facing major life stressors – such as physical or sexual abuse, homelessness, legal problems, loss of a loved one, persecution, and rejection – that make them feel as though suicide is the only way to stop their suffering. Describing someone as having committed suicide makes it sound like they perpetrated a crime on themselves, when, in reality, they were a victim.

Nonetheless, committed remains the main term used by most people and the media to describe the act of suicide. When the father of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim died in an apparent suicide in March 2019, it was widely reported that he “committed suicide.” Similar language was used when two students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting died in March. This is in spite of the fact that an alliance of prominent mental health and media organizations advise journalists against the phrase committed suicide when reporting on suicide deaths….

The recommended terminology to use when discussing suicide is died by suicide, according to Dr. Daniel J. Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.Suicide is often stigmatized a being a choice or selfish act, and saying that someone “committed suicide” can reinforce those ideas. Neutral phrasing strips away some of the blame and shame that is too often associated with these losses.

This is important not only for changing the way people talk about mental health, but also for encouraging those suffering from suicidal ideation – or thinking about, considering, or planning suicide – to be more open with their struggles and seek help. Research shows that mental health stigma indeed can play a major role in preventing people from seeking treatment.

Changing our language may not seem significant, but the way we discuss suicide and mental health issues matters more than ever. A study published in April 2019 showed that the suicide rate in boys aged 10–17 jumped significantly in the month after the 2017 debut of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a show which not only frequently discusses suicide but also depicts a teen dying by suicide.

Moreover, US veterans are 22 percent more likely than non-veterans to die by suicide, over 40 percent of non-binary youth self-report that they have attempted suicide, and suicide rates are rising for many other groups across the US too.

It is essential to reach out to those who are at risk and advocate for better treatment options and increased access to mental healthcare. It is also important to do everything we can to replace the stigma surrounding suicide with a culture – and language – of honesty and support.

Replacing committed suicide to died by suicide is a small change that can have a big impact.

And if all this is not enough to have you thinking of committing suicide, the article began with a trigger warning:

Warning: This article deals with the sensitive topic of suicide. If you (or someone you know) need support, call the toll-free, 24/7  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to 741741 for free, which offers 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line.

For an antidote to this sort of craziness, I recommend The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

 

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