One of the surest ways to start a conflict with someone is to start talking about politics with them. Taxation, state secrecy, police powers, welfare, immigration, traffic laws, healthcare, voting rights, industry regulations, minimum wage, tariffs, separation of Church and state, etc… these are all wonderful topics that can ruin a friendship in just one night. Yet why do political conversations seem to raise the stakes so high that even good friends can become bitter rivals? What is it about politics that makes it only a safe topic to talk about if two people share exactly the same political views as each other?
Well, I could do a well researched piece into this and talk about the neuroscience, but I’m eager to simply finish my blog entry to watch some TV so instead, I’m going to write about something I remember hearing on the History of England Podcast where the people were arguing with the kings repeatedly over the issue of the laws always changing. This struck me as odd because I’ve always lived in an era when the laws seem to be changing all the time. It never occurred to me that there might have been a time, indeed centuries, where the laws hardly changed at all, and that these state of affairs was seen as the ideal.
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It’s a new year, and with all these jokes about having 2020 vision I find myself thinking about how I would benefit from working on my own vision for 2020. Not that I need glasses, well, not yet at least, but I mean working on my mental 2020 vision, or more commonly called empathy. Empathy is a complex set of skills and abilities allowing a person to make accurate guesses about what other people know, don’t know, desire, loathe, and how they’re likely to react to specific news. Generally speaking, people are not bad at empathy, however, considering just how mentally taxing empathy can be, it is commonplace that we get things wrong when attempting to understand how other people think.
One thing I used to get wrong was that I used to assume everyone valued honesty as much I do. It seemed rather ridiculous to me that anyone would lie. Certainly, lie to teachers and bullies if you must, but why on Earth to anyone you work with, want to be friends with, or live with? I mean, it just never made good sense to me. If you want to get along with people, to live and work co-operatively together, then you should just tell the truth to each other. That way you can both plan your days, and indeed even your lives, to be as productive and stress free as possible. But as soon as someone starts lying or withholding information it becomes difficult, nigh impossible to plan even your day, much less your life with other people. With the wrong information, you will inevitably make the wrong decisions no matter how well organised you are.
But was it their failure to be honest or my failure to understand why they preferred to lie? Was I not standing in their proverbial shoes for sufficient mileage to appreciate where they were coming from?
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One of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate. While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.
The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival. There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain. The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years. They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them. Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life. Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions. There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt. However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading →