I visited Alderman Ford County Park in Lithia, Florida in February of 2021. There are at least two different entrances on either side of the road. The paved path between them goes underneath the road twice in a grand loop. It also crosses multiple rivers and tiny streams on wooden bridges. A long boardwalk loop complete with covered benches attaches to one side. Small side trails cut through the jungle. It’s complicated.
There are many good places to watch the river, full of whirlpools and boils. There were also turtles and cypress. I could not take every side path that day, but I had planned on returning anyways. I encountered several strange things:
This tree with an eye:
This tree with a face:
This tree with a lap:
And these scary-looking holes to Hades:
This is a poem I wrote in 2020. I imagine it roughly to the tune of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.
I wake up in the morning and it's still dark outside - yeah it's dark
But I know I've got to go to work
I climb out of bed, when I stand up my back creaks - so loud
The dog is already running around my feet
I get lost on my way to the bathroom in my own house - oh yeah
So tired I could pass out standing up
The clock is spinning ever faster but all I do is stare - at it, yeah
I can't remember what I'm supposed to do next
I need some coffee
I need some coffee
I need some coffee inside of me
I feed the dog, the cat, the iguana, hold it, I don't have a cat - no cat
Oh hell, I'll figure it out this afternoon
I put on my socks, my shoes, my coat, my purse and hat - oh yeah
I gotta go back inside to put on my shirt and pants
The keys won't open the car, oh, these are the house keys - house keys
Oh, I'm not sure this is my car
I make it safely to the drive-through, I only hit the curb twice - only twice
The employees ask me what I need
I need some coffee
I need some coffee
I need some coffee inside of me
The nice employees they help me, they tell me, they say
Sorry ma-am, this is an oil-change bay
You want the place next door
I need some coffee
I need some coffee
I need some coffee inside of me
I recently read Love Your Enemies (2019) by Arthur C. Brooks. The main premise of the book seems to be that Americans are addicted to outrage. Most of them want to quit, but can’t. When people know little more about another than their party affiliation, it is easy to assume motives and think the worst. Brooks claims we should not only tolerate our enemies, but love them and cherish the valuable insights they bring by disagreeing with us. The process of disagreeing peacefully is the best way to get to the best ideas.
This is the extent to which I agree with the book. Beyond this I run into problems:
Brooks claims that we all agree on the why, but not the what. We agree on the goals, but not on the best policies to get us there. This is what I used to believe. Then I made extra effort to reach out to people and allow them to explain themselves. Ten years later, it is now overwhelmingly clear to me that we agree on nothing.
I care about removing obstacles to progress. If an individual woman wants to go into business or politics or journalism or whatever, she should be able to because everyone should be able to. On the other hand, if she wants to be a full-time mother, she should be able to do that. I care about individual liberty. Other people don’t want individual women to have the option of pursuing full-time motherhood. It is as though they feel they are “letting the team down” when women on average make less money than men. That they personally are doing well means nothing. That other women that pursue wealth are doing well means nothing. That those who make less do so by choice means nothing. They care about group parity so much that they end up hating liberty. I care nothing about group parity. Don’t tell me we want the same things!
Another claim made by Brooks – so wildly false that I dropped the book in shock – Is that while people get angry disagreeing over politics, they do not get angry when disagreeing over ideas (page 297). He does not clearly define the difference between politics and ideas, but I gather that politics to him is about what party or candidate is in power, while ideas are ideas about policies or the underlying values behind those policies. These we certainly do disagree on, and these are what make me (and my opponents) several orders of magnitude angrier than I ever could be over who holds what office.
Holding that the term “free market” is inherently racist is an idea I cannot tolerate (and shouldn’t). The idea of Marxism is abominable to me. It makes me mad. At the same time, my opponents get mad at me when I espouse capitalist ideas. My opponents get mad at me when I state my idea that the word marriage is heterosexual by definition. My opponents get mad at me when I state my idea that men are not women (and vice versa). People I know have stopped speaking to me over this.
Another claim I found very confusing was his idea – based on the research of Johnathan Haidt – that the people on the other side aren’t evil; they simply have different moral foundations. What does the word “evil” mean, then? The word exists in the English language, so it must refer to something. I have always used it to refer to those operating on different moral foundations. This is the way everyone else uses it.
Another claim that I used to believe myself is that a kind word turns away wrath. Brooks gives an example of how he responded to a critical email that worked out well for him. In my life, things rarely go so smoothly. People will twist my words over and over when I am trying to be nice. I have even been charged with harassment for nothing more than offering my emotional support and friendship to someone going through a tough time. I only contacted her once! At this point, there is absolutely no loss if I just go ahead and insult people like they deserve.
On the level of national politics, being nice gets you destroyed. When Trump supporters were attacked and beaten by Antifa, unfairly targeted by law enforcement, and then watched their votes be overrun by proven fraud, they had every right to defend their lives and livelihoods by violence, yet they trusted the system and challenged the vote peacefully. As the process played out, Antifa attacked the capitol and Trump supporters were blamed for the violence anyways. There is truly nothing to lose anymore. Being nice didn’t stop the Nazis. Being nice didn’t stop the Japanese. Being nice didn’t stop the British. It won’t stop the Democrats either. Being nice has never worked in all of history.
Speaking of being nice, Brooks also cites psychological studies to make his case. He cites a study showing that nice people get ahead in the workplace and in romance, while meanies do not. I have heard of studies claiming exactly the opposite. He cites a study showing that faking a smile even when we don’t mean it can make us happier in the long run than frowning. I’ve heard this study many times before, but it seems to backfire for me and I have read other studies claiming that fake smiles are not the same as the real thing (physically) and that repressing emotion only makes it stronger. He cites a study that listing our blessings will make us more content. This doesn’t always work when our blessings only exist in relation to our troubles, and I have read studies showing exactly the opposite. It seems that for every study supporting one psychological phenomenon, there is an equal and opposite study supporting its inverse. I don’t believe anything coming out of psychology.
Brooks also seems to be of the mistaken impression that political strife today occurs because people do not know each other as whole persons first, but by their ideological labels first. This does not apply to my life. I not only knew people pretty well, I actually liked some of them and thought of them as friends, and I thought they knew me, but then they started to get into politics and turned against me.
It’s another useless book.
While out on errands in January 2021, I stopped at Edward Medard Conservation Park in Plant City to look around. Not having a map, I kept driving until seeing a large parking lot next to a playground. Once I got out and looked around, I saw that beyond the playground was a land of roots. I had never seen so many. The ground around was hard, smooth, and hilly. It was like something out of a movie. There were probably hundreds of angles I could have chosen to make good photographs, but the two above capture the feeling of this alien landscape.
Beyond this region was a low area of green-covered ponds and frisbee golf structures. I couldn’t imagine throwing a frisbee so close to so many ponds. Who knows what’s underneath?
Christmas lichen was plentiful. Other lichens I did not know the name of, so I had to guess based on the color. I’m probably right.
I was tempted to carve a heart into a tree and claim it was Valentine’s-Day lichen, but I didn’t want to hurt a tree just to make a joke. Trees are nice.
This area was where I also saw a cardinal and several woodpeckers, who made a constant racket. Also hearing roosters in the distance, I pressed on through the woods in that general direction and came to a road. The roadbank was made of bags! This really was an alien planet! What was it doing on Earth?
After climbing up to the road, I decided the direction of the chickens didn’t look that interesting and I went the other way, eventually reaching the road I had driven on and walking toward the park entrance. This is where I saw several interesting things:
The orange leaf was one of three on the ground that resembled nothing above. Where did they come from? Were they alien scouts disguised as leaves to throw me off the trail? I’m going to say yes. It’s the only logical explanation.
I also saw a red-backed wasp, but unlike the bug seen above, it did not hold still long enough to pose for a picture. I searched for information online, but could not identify it. Perhaps it was an alien too.
Near the park entrance is the heavily-branching, looped path leading onto the small peninsula in the lake. This peninsula has high banks from which one can observe the many inlets. These are the bird lands.
It was humid that day, but it was cool and cloudy and a slight breeze blew over the lake. This made for an enjoyable time while I watched the ducks, storks, red-winged blackbirds, anhingas, alligators, and other birds. Birds were everywhere. I had never seen so many anhingas in all my life put together. One of them surfaced right in front of me. Others were perched in trees, drying their wings.
The water was very dark and blocked all vision beyond two centimeters deep. This was one place I would not want to dip my feet into.
The parts furthest from the coast are populated almost exclusively by vultures. This is apparently where vultures come from all over the planet just to poop – a lot. It smells like a gas station bathroom.
Every tree had a vulture or two in it that would rustle their wings as I walked by, causing me to duck and raise my fists. I think they were doing it on purpose.
After spending much time roaming around every loop in the trail and just absorbing the feel of the place, I went back the way I came until passing the playground and pushing deeper into the park.
I found a set of several clearings, divided by tree-lined brooks and connected by wooden bridges. Each of them had one or two humans just sitting there. One of them had a laptop. Another had a fishing pole.
Beyond this was the boat ramp. Beyond that was the fishing pier. That was when I found more evidence of an alien invasion:
The texture of the sand here reminds me of worm poop, but I’ve never seen so much in one place like this or such big pellets. Don’t tell me it’s not aliens!
This is a poem I wrote in 2020. I imagine it to the tune of Yuve Yuve Yu by The Hu.
Well you're a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey livin' in a zoo
Well you're a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey yes it's true
Well a monkey sees me drinking and what a monkey sees a monkey's gonna do
Well a monkey's gonna find a way to get out, gonna find a way to get himself a brew - find himself a brew
Hey monkey, what's up?
You better put down that cup
Well you're a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey screamin' night and day
Well you're a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey always wants to play
Well you've been a drinkin', stealin', wreckin', climbin', fightin' that's all I'm gonna say
Well I think it's well past your welcome now; I'd wish you'd go away - wish you'd go away
Hey monkey, shut up!
Give me back my cup!
Hey monkey, shut up!
Better clean this mess right up!
A while ago I read Them, the thought-provoking 2018 book by Senator Ben Sasse. It is a book on political polarization in the United States. The main point seems to be that our policy differences are only part of what makes us who we are and that too many of us have allowed party to become dominant, pushing away those in the other party without even listening to them. People support parties the way they support sports teams. Furthermore, voices in the media keep us divided on purpose because outrage is big business. It sells ad time. They will also seek out the rare nut on the fringe to represent a whole group, giving false impressions.
Sasse claims that all this partisanship is just a symptom of a deeper problem: We are so lonely we can’t think straight. Normal human relationships are so strained and people are so desperate to belong to something that they will join groups defined only by being against other groups. They are bound not by love, but by shared hate.
Sasse claims that to feel whole, people must be connected to other people, must be rooted to a place, and must have meaningful work. All of these things are being changed and disrupted by the digital revolution.
People move much more often than they used to, losing all feeling of allegiance to a place and sometimes losing any friends they made. Because they know they might move again – and because anybody else might move – they don’t even put in the effort to forge permanent friendships. People become expendable.
With the ubiquity of smartphones, people are easily distracted. The moment an interaction turns a bit boring, people withdraw into the digital world. They may be connecting with others in cyberspace, but this is superficial and ultimately unsatisfying. No effort is put in to maintain a conversation because so many other conversations are waiting to be had almost immediately.
Because of the demands and luxuries of the modern world, our brains are being trained to have shorter attention spans and poorer memories. There is even a phenomenon called pornography-induced erectile dysfunction, meaning that some men have become so acclimated to easy pornography that they can no longer be aroused by real women.
Note: Speaking from my experience, I am surprised how many people can’t go anywhere without a speaking GPS and how few people are able to give directions. They can’t even get from the workplace back home without them. I’ve never used the things. Whatever happened to maps?
Sasse suggests several solutions. He says to invest in tough relationships, to have a home base to return to even if living elsewhere for a few years, and to create a small group of people that promise to keep contact no matter where life takes them. His group commits to meet once a year. Most importantly, join clubs or other groups that define the members as something other than political party. See people by their other roles in society than their party affiliation.
The book is pretty good. It is well-written. The message seems to make sense, except of course that there is no point telling the individual all this when those around him/her haven’t read the book. I’ve always had trouble both making and keeping friends and many of my friendships stay very superficial.
More importantly, politics can’t simply be swept under the rug. Just because someone might be an excellent biking partner, grocer, cobbler, cook, brother, or father in no way protects them from my wrath if I find out that they actually support a political party that terrorizes people into submission to their narrow, ill-informed vision of how life should be. Politics is simply war by other means. Because government is by definition the use of force – and because it involves itself in every aspect of human life, there is nothing more defining or revealing of someone’s heart than their political affiliation. Nothing is more important. Only religion – which deals with the next world as well as this one – could be argued to be more important. It is absolutely impossible to be friends with people that actually wish you harm. Sasse assumes that our current political climate is a symptom of our social problems, but I think that it is mostly the other way around; our social problems are a symptom of our current political climate. Maybe it’s both.
I visited Lithia Spring Park in Lithia, Florida in January 2021. I was searching online for places to write about for one of my father’s business projects. The information I had was very limited. I knew only that there was swimming and that the address was on Donnelly Road in Valrico.
This turned out to be very false. The address I had was for Lithia Springs Nature Preserve, a completely wild area of the Florida jungle with no maintained trails.
On the other side of Alafia River, about a mile or so away, was Lithia Springs Conservation Park at the end of Lithia Springs Road in Lithia. This is where the fun was hiding.
I walked around and looked at the canoe launch, playground, and picnic tables before finding the main spring. It was closed to swimming due to some virus from China they were unreasonably afraid of spreading. What’s next? Will we have to remain indoors forever just in case of lightning strikes? What was the real reason they had fenced off the spring? Could this be the spring of immortality? Did they want to keep all that immortality for themselves?
I could see the water bubbling up. I could see the greenish water flowing south out of the giant pool. I could see countless fish moving lazily. Unfortunately, I could not get close enough for my camera to see.
Moving along, I did come across this view of the green river and this small fish observation pool:
I imagined the first explorers to this area hacking their way through the jungle until coming across a river as green as the vegetation around it. It was beautiful. With all the vivid greens, blues, and whites and the fact that water seemed to bubble up from nowhere, this struck me as a magical place. The enormous torrents of pale moss hanging off the trees and swinging in the breeze contrasting the green leaves only seemed to confirm this. They reminded me of tinsel-draped Christmas trees. I half-expected gnomes to pop out of their holes and start singing.
The trail was caught between the Alafia River and a smaller stream that progressively got closer and closer until they merged. I ran along the banks of the Alafia and took several videos. Gone was any trace of green from the spring. It had been diluted and overwhelmed by tannins.
As I took my videos, I heard giggling behind me. Were these the singing gnomes? I turned, but could see no one from my vantage point.
All along the banks were tiny castles. Is this where the singing gnomes live?
Eventually the two streams merged and I had to go back to the trail to cross the bridge. Further along, the trail split a few times and I did not have time to explore the whole preserve. In at least one place, the trail terminated at a gate leading to CDD property. Beyond were mansions – homes of the grand kings of Lithia? Or homes of the singing gnomes?
Nearby were mounds of white sand scattered around. At first, I thought they were oversize anthills, but I found no holes and no ants. Was this where the singing gnomes lived?
I finally returned the way I came and saw nothing of interest. Here are some videos I took:
Points To Ponder:
“It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them.” – Proverbs 25:2
2019 and 2020 were rough years for me, but I have big plans for 2021 and 2022. If all goes well, I will have four non-fiction books published by this time next year. One will be on politics. Two will be on philosophy. One will be a memoir of the three years I lived with my grandfather and all the funny things he said. With those out of the way, I will then be able to focus on the fiction. I have rethought the Champion Of The Cosmos series such that I believe I might be able to start posting episodes as early as the end of 2022.
In other news, I have removed Terror Of The Fun Sponge and The Gorilla With Twenty-Four Heads from Amazon. For many reasons, they were problematic for the branding of my future projects. The Nathaniel Series is not the direction I want to go in.
I have also posted several new posts to my other blogs, The Understanding Project and Flora And Fauna Of The Universe, and I continue to aid my father with Tampa Bay Hidden Treasures and his other projects. Wish me luck!
A while ago I read Mindwise (2014), written by Nicholas Epley. The subtitle is: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want. I bought and read it, hoping to learn how it is that certain misunderstandings occur so that I might help prevent some of them or at least better fix them afterwards. Unfortunately, the book explains absolutely nothing. It does not at all cover why misunderstandings happen, it only shows evidence that they happen – sometimes even without us realizing it. The only advice given is near the end of the book and can be summed up extremely well by this quote on page 174: “If you want to know, ask rather than guess.”
Of course the way to know what someone is thinking and better understand them is to ask! That goes without saying and is what I always try first. Without some sort of communication at the beginning, how am I to know that there is even an issue to discuss? My problem is that people often will not explain their positions to me or else they explain them in so incoherent a way that I can make no sense of them. I read the book in order to learn how to avoid and/or fix misunderstandings that occur during conversation, not the unfounded assumptions that occur because no conversation is even attempted. Never have I been so angry at an author before for wasting my time.
There are many other things wrong with this book too: There is supporting evidence that is explained poorly, issues that are approached backwards, and hints of strange biases. It might be the worst-written non-fiction book I’ve ever read (I have read some fiction that is much worse).
Explaining Things Poorly:
It was reported that people are better able to discern emotional states from audial stimulus than visual, the evidence being a comparison between those listening to a tape of someone talking and those watching a video without sound. What is not mentioned is that by far the best way to know of someone’s emotional state (other than them directly telling you) is to know the situation they are in – and this can be known from what they are saying. Unless one is a good lip-reader, this information will not come from a video. The experiment as described is not even remotely a fair comparison, as it would be if the language of the speaker was unknown to the listener. Is this the way they actually did it?
It was reported that when shown statistics from two imaginary countries and asked which they would rather live in if their socioeconomic strata was chosen at random, liberals tended to choose the more egalitarian country and conservatives tended to choose the less egalitarian country. The point of the passage in the book was to show that while stereotypes often have a bit of truth to them, there is actually very little difference (barely measurable) between groups. What confuses me is why anybody at all would ever choose the less egalitarian one. That the results were anything other than 100% of liberals and conservatives choosing their best chance not to be poverty-stricken bewilders me. I must have missed something.
Could it be that there was more to the experiment than that? Could it be that the less egalitarian country also had more economic freedom? Perhaps it had a better climate or lower crime rates. This was never mentioned.
Also what bothered me is that people don’t assume liberals care more about equality because it is a stereotype, but because that is often part of the definition of liberal. Could I have misunderstood? Were these cultural or foreign-policy liberals that then fit the stereotype of also being economic liberals? If you are going to throw around terms like conservative and liberal, it would help to define them.
Another thing about stereotypes the author seemed to miss is that they are often not known from unfounded prejudice or personal experience, but from having read reports from sociologists. That people might think blacks or whites to be a certain way could simply mean that they are educated.
Another thing reported as having some sort of meaning was that people often assume that God believes the same way they do. This was mentioned in the larger context of claiming that people are quite overconfident in their ability to “read minds,” knowing what others are thinking and knowing whether another being even has a mind. However, it should not be surprising that people assume God agrees with them. The opposite should be surprising. If by “God,” people mean an infallible, omniscient being, then such a being always has the “right” beliefs. What beliefs do people have themselves? The beliefs that they believe to be right – by definition. Thus, whatever one’s set of beliefs and how they came by them, they must believe that they and God have the same beliefs. It is impossible for it to be otherwise. To say that God has a different belief than oneself is to say that one is wrong, and to say one is wrong is to say that one actually believes something other than what one believes, which is a contradiction. Am I missing something that should have been included in the text?
I also have questions about the three-truck experiment. When asked to hand the small truck by someone who could not see the smallest of three toy trucks from their vantage point, requiring people to reason that they must want the medium-sized truck, was it always made clear to people that the other person shouldn’t have any knowledge of the hidden truck? Where did the people enter the room from? How were they introduced? Could it be that children reaching for the wrong truck were not actually any worse at “putting themselves in others’ shoes,” but worse at understanding language and had assumed the other person lived there and had set the whole wall up? How many people verbally asked about the hidden truck before handing any of them over? How many asked why the other person couldn’t reach it themselves and became suspicious? Were the askers looking in the direction of the wall and possibly giving visual cues which truck they wanted? How many people might have assumed that any small truck would do and the smaller, the better? How many reasoned that if it was the wrong truck to give, they would be corrected and no long-term harm would come of it? I’m not sure that anything has been proven here.
Approaching It Backwards:
Other times, the author was not only confusing, but maddeningly deceptive. In one place, he accused people of assuming that intent matches action, meaning that when one’s actions are observed, people generally assume they meant to do it. After giving several examples of this assumption being wrong, including the assumption that people stayed in New Orleans during the hurricane because they were foolish rather than too poor to afford transportation or lodging elsewhere, I realized that the problem is not that intent does not match action, but that an action can be matched by more than one intent. The problem is that people wrongly assume one intent is in play when it is another, but nobody is wrong to think that people mean to do what they do. The author plays word games worthy of a great comedian to prove his absurd case and make the reader feel stupid.
After going on and on about how taking the other person’s perspective does little good in understanding them, which came as a great surprise to me, near the end of the book the author then springs the suggestion that we not “take perspective,” but “get perspective.” Again with the wordplay! How is one supposed to “get” without “taking?” What he finally explained was that the best way to know what someone is thinking or feeling is to ask. Of course it is!! How else is one supposed to take a perspective without first asking questions and listening? It goes without saying! Did he really think that his readers were so stupid that they were hoping to “put themselves in the others’ shoes” without first finding out where those shoes were, what they were made of, how many there were, and if they even had shoes? All along I had been wondering why the perspective-taking tactic was faring so poorly in the experiments done and at the very end of the book I find that it was because they weren’t even doing the most basic, foundational part of perspective-taking!! This is like wondering why your car won’t start when you are still sitting on the couch and haven’t even put your keys in it! At that moment I wanted to reach through the pages back in time and strangle Epley as he typed into his computer. I would have done it too, if not for physics.
Then there are all the strange offhand comments that peppered the pages that kept distracting me and making me wonder if the author was a total crackpot.
On page 25, he suggests that nobody but a trained evolutionary psychologist knows that symmetry is attractive. This might have been true at one time, but the word has been out for decades now. In fact, this commonly-cited dogma is beginning to be questioned by recent studies.
On page 62, he suggests that those who see evidence of purpose and intelligence in nature, inferring the existence of a deity, are spotting a mind where none exists, thus stating directly that there is no God. Epley isn’t just skeptical of claims of God’s intervention, thinking people often read too much into random events (I’m with him there), he’s a full-blown atheist!
On page 63, he lists a bunch of questions philosophers debate, such as whether animals and unborn fetuses have feelings. Hidden among the sensible examples is the question: “Are corporations persons, with rights to free speech that must be protected?” Who is out there claiming corporations are persons? They are persons in a limited legal sense having to do with ownership (which is what the recent court cases were all about), but nobody suggests that they are actual persons. Corporations have a right to free speech not because they are persons (though they are made up of multiple persons), but because the government is prohibited from regulating speech in the first place, whether the speakers are persons or not. The important issue is that the listeners are persons and they have a right to gather as much information from as many sources as possible. Since this is something only those on the far left make a big deal of, grossly misunderstanding the legal issues involved, I began to wonder if the book was nothing but socialist propaganda.
On page 65, he asks, “How was it possible for California residents to vote, in the very same election, to treat gay people less humanely by denying them the right to marry but to treat animals more like people by requiring farmers to house their pigs in more humane conditions?” The ignorance of why people oppose gay marriage was overwhelming to me. He has obviously not followed his own advice to ask conservatives what they think, but has tried to figure it out from afar. On second thought, it isn’t possible to be that dense. It is only the most intellectually dishonest hard-core leftists that even frame the issue this way, making me wonder if it was time to throw the book in the trash.
On page 165, he suggests that belief in microexpressions – brief flashes of our true emotional state before our conscious control takes over – is an egocentric illusion. Why egocentric? I only believed in microexpressions because I had been told from what I thought were reliable sources that they existed, in spite of my ego hoping that I had more body-control and body-awareness than that. I’m confused.
On page 168, he suggests that BP CEO Tony Hayward would never have made the comments he did if he had considered the perspective of all those affected by the oil spill. He is called “World’s Dumbest” and accused of making a “let-them-eat-cake” apology. Why? Is there more to his words not mentioned in the book? I can’t for the life of me see a thing wrong with them. What am I missing? Does the author just hate the rich?
It is little things like these that yank me right out of reading and get me wondering about the biases of the author.
The Good Parts:
After I finished throwing my tantrum, I remembered that the book was not only for me, but for the multitude of people out there who cut off ties with those they disagree with and aren’t interested in the slightest in having their sacred beliefs challenged. Those are the people that need to read it. It has some good parts.
The book suggests making your positions clear even when it might hurt you. For example, admitting a mistake could be used against you in court, but not admitting one could be worse. A quote from page 183 explains:
“In fact, this program actually reduced overall liability costs by roughly 60 percent. The bigger problem had been requiring patients to imagine what their doctors were thinking, or having to sue to find out, rather than just allowing doctors to explain how a mistake happened.”
There is also much in the book relevant to misunderstandings between ethnicities and political parties, as these quotes from page 132 and 133 show:
“The sad fact is that real partisanship increases partly because of imagined partisanship on the other side.”
“When groups are defined by their differences, people think they have less in common with people of other races or faiths or genders than they actually do and, as a result, avoid even talking with them. When groups are defined by their differences, the minds we imagine in others may be more extreme than the minds that actually encounter.”
Overall, the book has an important message worth reading for somebody.
Humans Are Stupid:
I also learned of many, new, interesting reasons to believe humans are stupid. If the studies are right, people are a jumble of preposterous contradictions. If the studies are wrong, it makes me wonder why scientists (all people) so easily jump to conclusions. Either way, people are idiots. Maybe we are better off not understanding them.
Allegedly, people are good at knowing how the average person thinks of them, but very bad at knowing how individual people think of them. This cannot be! The general reputation is simply the average of all the individual reputations. One cannot know the former without first knowing the latter.
Allegedly, even flattery known to be insincere works a little bit. Is there no backlash effect?
Allegedly, those tapping out a tune actually expect others to recognize it, even though they should know that timing alone without pitch, volume, and other differences should never be enough to identify it.
Allegedly, people consistently rate others as having both less emotion and less self-control than they do. Aren’t those attributes usually thought of as opposed?
Allegedly, when asked to choose which of two faces is more attractive, and the asked why they chose the face that they didn’t, only 27% of people catch the switch!
All these studies and more are used as evidence that we don’t know ourselves (or others) very well at all, which begs the question: Why bother asking people what they think and feel then? This undermines the main message of the book.
Most alarmingly of all, doctors used to believe that infants could not feel pain – even doing surgery without anesthesia and arguing with a straight face that crying was just a reflex. This is the most inexplicable and disturbing by far. Since I know that I feel pain, and that other adults appear to react the way I do and are designed the way I am, the default is to assume all adults feel pain. The burden of proof is on those claiming otherwise. Taking the argument one step further, it is highly probable that children and animals also feel pain, but not sponges, trees, stones, and robots. While it is possible for any of these assumptions to be wrong, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I can’t believe for one moment that there was ever a time in the history of any country that any serious professional ever actually believed babies to be pain-free. Even after looking it up and confirming it, I still can’t believe it.
I returned yet again to Little Manatee River State Park at the very end of December 2020. It had changed yet again!
The pigs had been very active since I was gone. It seemed like every part of the soil had been overturned:
There was also more Spanish moss in the mossy area than I ever remember seeing before:
Somebody dropped a bunch of their feathers in the middle of the path. It was now a feather area:
Another area had a very noisy set of trees. They squeaked, banged, clicked, and creaked in the breeze to an absurdly comic and surreal extent like nothing I had ever heard. It was a noise area:
Then there was a stump with bracket fungi on it. This is nothing unusual. What was unusual is that the brackets were fuzzy on the top and smooth on the bottom. They were upside-down! I had never seen anything like it!
Here is some other stuff I saw the same day:
A while ago I read Difficult Conversations (1999), written by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. I had hoped it would help me to have more productive negotiations and reduce the misunderstandings and strife that seems ubiquitous in my life. What I found was that I am already following most of the authors’ advice very well and that this advice is utterly useless unless all parties involved in the conversation are doing it.
The basic ideas in the book are as follows:
One: None of us knows all the relevant facts and we each bring our own baggage to every situation. Oftentimes, the conflict is not between two opposing viewpoints, but between two incomplete and complimentary viewpoints. The most important thing we can do is listen. To get to the bottom of things, have a “learning conversation.”
Two: Most people are too quick to assign harmful intent to another’s actions or words. In most cases, people do not intend to hurt us. Instead, they have made a mistake or else we have misunderstood. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Three: Problems exist in a complex matrix of causation. In order to best understand the source of problems and ensure they do not happen again, one has to look at every contributing action (and inaction). It is counterproductive to assign blame too soon. Much of the time, there is no reason to assign blame ever.
Four: It is not enough that everyone has the opportunity to tell their version of events; they must also express their feelings and have them acknowledged.
Five: It is not enough to acknowledge everyone’s feelings about the events in question, they must also have reassurance that how they see themselves will remain unchanged. For example, one is more likely to admit to a mistake when told that even really good employees such as themselves make mistakes sometimes.
All of this sounds pretty good and I have done all this instinctively for much of my life. Unfortunately, no one else does it and so I inevitably lose my patience and give people what they want when they have made it abundantly clear that all they want to do is fight.
Also, I have some concerns about the details:
There are example conversations throughout the book of what to say and what not to say. Of course, the ones where the protagonist says the “right” thing always work out because the authors control both sides of these imaginary conversations. They tell what to avoid saying to avoid misunderstanding, but what they tell us to say instead could also lead to misunderstanding! I can imagine things going wrong in so many ways. My experience is that humans are endlessly clever at distorting my obvious meanings into truly absurd caricatures of what I said.
The authors say to repeat back what someone has said, paraphrasing it, so that they can correct you if you have misunderstood, but some of the examples they use can also sound like attacks – and they can become frustrated if you paraphrase it wrong. The authors also say that expressing our feelings without passing judgment on the other person will avoid putting them on defense, but I know that expressing feelings alone can still put someone on defense.
Speaking of feelings, if I ever responded to a complaint by talking about the complainer’s feelings – as the authors coach us to do in their imaginary example conversations – nine times out of ten the other person would think I was changing the subject. If anyone did it to me, I would think the same, and I would then think I was being accused of being oversensitive. Don’t you dare tell me I sound frustrated when the real issue is your lousy service! Just listen to my complaint and then fix the problem! If I am misjudging the situation, then you may certainly enlighten me with objective facts; I will listen. Just don’t change the subject by talking about my feelings!
The authors suggest asking open questions rather than narrow ones in order to get more information. They have obviously never tested this on real humans. Asking a question that is too vague will get no meaningful response whatsoever. The other person won’t know where to begin. As far as they are concerned, their position is already obvious; that’s why the conversation is difficult! By asking very specific questions, it gives them information about why I’m not seeing it the way they do. That way they can correct me.
Furthermore, the examples of open questions they suggest to use in chapter twelve sound a lot like the examples of “easing-in” they told us not to engage in in chapter ten. Easing-in is when someone asks a question in order to make a point, often an accusation or a judgment. The authors claim it comes across as an attempt to hide the intent to accuse. However, I have always seen the intent as so obvious that I never thought there was any attempt to hide anything.
Finally, the authors suggest not to defend ourselves too soon in the conversation. I worry that my silence will be seen as tacit admission of guilt. While rare, this has happened to me before.
I only wish the real world were as easy as the difficult conversations in this book.
The time finally came for me to return to Florida in October 2020, but first I had to visit my friend in New Hampshire. He took me up Uncanoonuc Mountain for a view of Manchester, but this is all we could see:
From there, I drove to Chambersburg Pennsylvania, only to wake up the next morning to fog so thick I was afraid to get on the highway. It had followed me! While fog is common in the part of Rhode Island I was in, it is not common in New Hampshire, and the chances of encountering it twice on the same trip at points so distant from each other are tiny. It could not be a coincidence! The fog must be alive! Was I to be its dinner?
I ate at McDonald’s and saw ducks in the brook out back. At ten it was still no less foggy, but I had to go. Just one mile out of town were blue skies.
I stopped in North Carolina without incident. The next day, I took a photo of this butterfly at a rest stop in Georgia:
Being absolutely sick of driving, I stopped in northern Florida for the night. The next day, I found that the fog had caught up with me again!!! It got worse and worse as I drove west on 10 until I reached the 75 junction. Then it gradually got better and better as I drove south.
Finally, I got to my parents’ house. No more fog. A couple days later, I took a walk around the neighborhood and saw a lot of flowers:
Part of a tree had fallen down revealing its insides. It looked as though it had started to…send roots into itself?????
I also saw two skinks and many types of birds. Many more flowers were not photographed. The sun was bright and the breeze was blowing. The fog had been banished!
Points To Ponder:
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.” – The Eleventh Doctor, Vincent and The Doctor, Doctor Who
Sticks and stones can hurt. Words can hurt too. Being told that your words hurt and that this justifies using sticks and stones on you to keep you quiet hurts the most. Suppressing offensive speech almost always does more harm than allowing it.
Sometime in 2020 I held a brushfire. My friend came over for marshmallows, hot dogs, and beer. Once the sun was good and down a couple of deer ran across the yard right near us. It was a good time during what was a rough year.
Weeks later I had a fire by myself during daylight. When it was put out, I found blue smoke:
Points To Ponder:
“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, and aliment, without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” – James Madison
A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down and a spoonful of silliness makes the workday go better.
Last summer, my nephews came to visit me in Rhode Island and they played soccer on the porch in pouring rain and lightning. They were completely unmanageable. A bit later there was small hail. This was the second time I had seen hail. The first was in New Hampshire in the late eighties. Interesting.
Later that same day, we saw a rainbow:
Still later that same day, we saw a whole family of turkeys walk right across the yard. A row of little turkeys followed the adult. After that, we were playing hide-and-seek and I got stung by a wasp. A giant wasp nest was in the hedge near where I had previously found a bird nest. It was a wild day in the middle of a wild year.
Weeks later, I visited my nephews in New Hampshire and took a photo of this creek surrounded by flowers:
Points To Ponder:
“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” – Jesus, Matthew 19:14, NLT
This past summer, I trimmed the hedge around the yard and exposed a bird nest:
The birds never came back ☹
The twenty-first century will one day be remembered as the age when men were free to appropriate the cultural dress codes of women and enter women’s bathrooms and locker rooms at will, yet white children could not darken their skins to transition into a black person on Halloween.
After living in the same house for 106 years, my grandfather died in 2020. I was tasked with helping to sort through the stuff in the house and the barn/garage. Apparently, my grandparents never threw anything away. It was like visiting a museum! Many things were either garbage or commonplace items, but there were also more than a few objects of interest, some of them quite old.
The model barn shown above was under the basement stairs and nobody knows why it exists. There were also a collection of several gas lamps, including one that had been converted to electricity. There were two towel racks of the kind that stick to the wall and splay out. There was a butter churn that I never saw before it was sold, but I am told it was the kind with crank and paddles and it was glass.
Also in the basement was a tabletop grain mill. There was a “demagnetizer.” When he was alive, my grandfather showed me how it would suck a long bolt through it and spit it out the other side.
In the storeroom was what appeared to be a model of a Victorian “fainting couch.” Only later did we find a note indicating that it was once used as a doll couch. There was also a doll in an old carriage.
Paintings found in every room in the house were painted by my mother. Most of them were of birds or landscapes. There were so many, we had to get rid of some of them.
My grandparents also had quite the collection of china sets that they never used, fancy glassware, and fancy candles, such as this snail:
In the barn were cobbling tools. My grandmother used to make clothes for the family, but no one remembers anybody making shoes. There were also milk bottles, potatoe sacks, and nail kegs from companies no one has ever heard of. There were two old metal trash cans. There was a collection of old doors in the slowly-collapsing shed.
There were railroad spikes. There was a railroad lock on the bracket of a shelf in the barn that nobody had ever been able to find a key for. My grandfather did used to work as the guy who put the crossing bar up and down, but this lock was already there when his parents bought the place.
The barn used to be a schoolhouse and we found a single desk hidden in the corner. It appears that when placed in a row and bolted to the floor, the kids would sit on the chair part of the one in back and use the desk part of the one in front. No wonder pigtails were pulled!
Then there were the numerous tools, such as the post digger, and the pitchfork, and the wheelbarrow I used to take rides in as a kid. Look at all this cool stuff!
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.