How do you decide to trust someone?

How do you know when to trust someone? How do you decide? Here are my thoughts – please comment if you know something I don’t.

(Perhaps I should file this under the bleeding obvious but sometimes the obvious bears repeating. This is also a way of asking for your deeper insights.)

  • Watch how they treat those with less power, e.g. wait staff or shop assistants.
  • Take note if they enjoy putting others down. Not just frustration, not just poor social skills, but actively building themselves up by pulling others down – this could be immaturity or something more dangerous, but it’s not healthy. And if they seem to enjoy being nasty, even in the most witty and charming way, take it as a warning sign. (Actually, especially if they’re witty and charming about it.)
  • You don’t really know someone until you say no to them. (An unsourced bit of wisdom.)
  • Give them time. Toxic personalities can seem wonderful for a while (charm is one characteristic of a psychopath) but they usually wear thin in time. Full-blown narcissists take around 2.5 hours to lose their charm, on average* – others may keep their appeal for longer. If you’re in a close relationship with the person (e.g. romantic or family relationship) it’s hard to be objective, and so you may still fall for the facade, even after you’ve seen the disturbing truth behind it, and even when you’ve been warned.
  • Gut feeling. I wouldn’t rely on this alone and it depends how much opportunity you’ve had to train your unconscious mind through observing and experiencing people being trustworthy and untrustworthy. Personally, my intuition occasionally gives me a warning (and I’ve suffered for ignoring it). I take this as a warning not to put myself in a vulnerable position, rather than as a final judgment.

Final comments:

  • Someone may be honest but not trustworthy – e.g. careless, unreliable or lacking in empathy. They may make a good friend, but know their limits and be willing to say no (nicely but directly).
  • Completely untrustworthy people are rare. While being cautious, give plenty of space to let good people into your life.

*The 2.5 hours comes from an article I remember reading about a psychological study. My imperfect memory + most studies never being replicated => take this with a grain of salt.

An “Awww” moment from Malaysia

“I don’t want the whole world to know.”

Hey, here’s an idea – let’s put it on YouTube!

But seriously, even though it’s Malaysian government feel-good propaganda, glossing over the country’s institutionalized racism, it’s a sweet video.

(It won’t be obvious to some, but he’s ethnic Chinese, and she’s Malay. There’s a lot of historical and ongoing prejudice, but hopefully it’s on the way out.)

Focus First: Facebook and Email in Their Place

The distractions

I love social media, and I’m connected with lots of smart, interesting people. I enjoy the interactions and I like that they make me think (and feel). Some of these people I count as real friends – not just Facebook friends. But needless to say, Facebook is an enormous time suck – even looking at intelligent, insightful posts is no comparison to working on my goals, creating, and carrying through on my vision. 

I’m also somewhat addicted to email. Like a laboratory pigeon pecking at a lever hoping for a reward, like a gambler putting dollar in the machine, part of my brain is hoping for the reward: the news, interesting tidbit, opportunity or idea that occasionally comes in email form. But whether or not I act on it now it’s a distraction from anything else. Once I open an email in the morning, the ideas are in my head, pushing aside my work, my top priorities, the things most important to me, which become much more difficult to focus on. Perhaps you find the same thing. The solution? The single best thing I’ve done for my productivity in the 10 years: I ignore my email until afternoon, giving email its own focused time later in the day.

I have one more morning distraction: an idea pops into my head, I look it up online and start reading. I may tell myself it’ll be a 5 minute search, but I’m a compulsive reader and it’s always more. And though there’s always something valuable to read on the web, generally it won’t change my life or world the way that meeting my commitments and exercising my vision will do.

All of these distractions have value, but they mean making a passive choice to not do something else. The alternative that works powerfully for me is to make an active choice, to defer these things and give myself time now for what’s important. I hold myself to this commitment by making it publicly – on Facebook, here on this blog, and/or to those close to me in real life. This is the commitment:

The commitment

Between now and the end of February, 2014:

  • Email only between 3pm and 9pm each day, other than than the starred messages view, or searching for a work-related email. (I use an email filters to add stars to emails from colleagues and family – anything else can wait a few hours. A search shortcut in my browser lets me search directly, without seeing other emails that could distract me.)
  • Facebook only between 3pm and 9pm each day. (I also use this time for other things, so I might miss Facebook altogether most days, which is great. If I want to share something outside the 3-9pm window, I’ll use the share on Facebook bookmarklet or add it to my-do list for later. It goes without saying that I don’t have Facebook notifications or email notifications on my phone – I don’t even have the app installed.)
  • No Facebook stream or checking the Facebook notification icon from Monday to Thursday. That means I can only check my own page, private messages and events, and only during the allowed times. From Friday to Sunday I may check what I wish between 3pm and 9pm. 
  • No internet searches or reading web articles before 1pm, Monday to Friday, unless it’s related to something I’m working on.

At the end of February, I will reassess, either keeping these guidelines or adjusting them. I’ll report back in a later blog post.

I’m looking forward to getting awesome things done with this increased focus.

What works for you?

Let me know your focus secrets, by commenting here or where I’ve shared the link on social media.

The changing meanings of marriage

Traditional marriage is a diverse and wondrous thing – in terms of ceremonies, day-to-day arrangements, how decisions are made, even how many people are in the marriage. The “traditional marriage” as a norm is a relatively recent arrangement, and isn’t a clear norm in religious texts.

The idea that marriages must be registered with a government is also not universal or traditional – common law marriage being the obvious exception. An obvious answer to all the fuss is to say that the government has nothing to do with the word “marriage”. Leave these decisions to civil society. If a religious institution will only marry straight couples, then gay couples can go somewhere more inclusive and be married there. 

As for tradition and history, brutal traditions around the world have been banned, from slavery and genital mutilation to foot-binding. Blatant discrimination is less extreme but no more defensible. However, an open exploration of marriage and its changing meanings is good thinking fodder for current debates. Here’s a good exploration on Australian radio: Marriage, Australian style – Rear Vision – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Audio and transcript available. Program summary:

Debate over same-sex marriage is nothing new. Just who can marry and the circumstances under which they can later divorce has been contested territory for as long as the institution of matrimony has been with us. 

The same

“If people in straight relationships feel that my song mirrors theirs, enough to play it at their wedding, then aren’t our experiences the same? Isn’t my experience of love as good and as valid as theirs? And, if so, then why can’t I get married too?… I’ve had the honour of singing at four of my friends’ weddings. I was flattered to be asked each time and humbled to be part of the celebration. I wrote a song years ago called Now I Love Someone which is a great wedding song. I was touched. I’m not sure if any of them knew I’d written it about a woman.”

So says singer Holly Throsby.

I’m about as conventional as it gets, in my personal orientation – and that is entirely irrelevant to my judgement of people like Holly Throsby. I have no vested interest in who she loves, other than to wish them happiness. Discriminatory laws against loving the “wrong” kind of person are absurd and offensive – and so last century.

Why is this even an issue? What regressive forces maintain fear and discrimination in this day and age? What will take before we no longer need to even say “GLBTI,” and can just say “people”?

Loomio – collaborative online decision-making

Loomio is a user-friendly tool for group decision-making.

Creating a world where it’s easy for anyone to participate in decisions that affect them.

Loomio.org appears to be an intelligently thought through approach to the thorny problem of online group democracy. It’s discussed in Can Social Software Change the World? Loomio Just Might – worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

“The key,” says Benjamin Knight, one of the members of the core team developing Loomio, “is building shared understanding before a decision is reached by the group.” He adds, “That means that when you get to the outcome, it’s not that everyone has to agree to the outcome, they just have to agree that its the best outcome the group can reach at that time.”

Murder is a “moral” act… so we need to question our moral impulses

Edit: Some friends on Facebook interpreted this post as saying that we’d be better off with no morals. No one is saying that here. I propose that we need a very small set of well considered morals, and a lot more ability to communicate, to negotiate. and to accept difference. Some argued that we need better morals rather than no morals (which is a straw man argument – no one has argued for no morals). I see that argument but I disagree, Morals regarding sexual orientation, or how a woman dresses or who she talks to, are best abandoned, and do not need anything to replace them other than mutual respect between us. 

I’ve edited the title to hopefully make it clearer that I’m questioning the moral impulses that arise from our monkey brains, rather than proposing that morals be entirely abandoned.)

Most murders and many wars stem from moral outrage and judgement* – primitive instincts that derive from a hodgepodge of causes.  Steven Pinker, psychologist, cognitive scientist who has written on why violence has declined) says that we’d be better off with less morality in the world.

  • I realize that could be a controversial claim, but motives for murder in Australia, for example, generally relate to a personal conflict rather than killing during a robbery, for example. 

Steven Pinker is professor of psychology at Harvard, and the author of:

among his other books.

A successful local food hub – what it takes

A local food story – an apparent success story – is Mad River Food Hub. The Co.Exist article is a nice long read, but for those like me who want to get to the nub, here are the highlights.

After a long intro about unprofitable and failing farmers’ markets, we get to local food hubs, and the hope that a system of local “food hubs” can make local food work by processing and bundling foods and delivering them to us. Wonderful idea – but like farmers markets, most food hubs are not thriving.

The only way farmers are going to make more money is by getting more value out of their products.

It comes down to this:

How do you “value-add”? “Through processing. Through delaying the availability of a product until you can get a higher price–storage. By getting your product to places that you haven’t had it in the past–distribution. And by running your business better–incubation.”

That’s Robin Morris, the brains behind the Mad River Food Hub. But even with these value-adds, Morris couldn’t make the numbers work for a profitable – economically sustainable – food hub, until he did the numbers for meat. Meat is a year-round business, with potential for significant value-add from processing and curing, products selling for up to $24/lb for dry-cured prosciutto.

Now, meat raises ethical issues, especially if you’re vegetarian. Personally, since I know people will continue to eat meat, I’m happy to see any move away from massive factory farms which cause enormous suffering. There’s no guarantee that local artisans will treat animals less cruelly, but at least there’s a likelihood of free range and organic products, which can be a significant improvement.

Back to the article – a key takeaway is that Morris approached his hub with a tough business sense, to make the hub and its food food producers profitable. The hub invested heavily in facilities so that its food-producing entrepreneurs didn’t have to – the hub is an incubator, allowing local food entrepreneurs access to the (expensive) infrastructure for launching their business, in exchange for a cut of the sales.

Finding a niche for the hub has also been key – the hub doesn’t compete at cut-throat price points to sell to institutional clients such as cafeterias. Of course – a small or mid-sized operation could never compete on price, and could only profitably supply an unusually understanding institution that committed to supporting ethical food.

In making this work, Robin Morris’s business sense and careful thinking about numbers and scale are crucial:

Cutting out the middleman to get more of the customer’s money into the hands of the farmer may sound great in a TED talk, but the reality is that there is no way to challenge the economies of scale of industrial food production, which is propped up by subsidies, kickbacks, and money-saving environmental shortcuts…

As a result, businesses are growing that otherwise would have no hope, and Mad River Food Hub operates without grants. The hub produces salamis, soups and “Rookie’s Root Beer” among products, and also packs and distributes farm produce. This approach makes local food possible. 

Says a soup maker, the first anchor client of the hub:

Just to fit out a place like this and meet USDA regulations? Let’s say $250,000… Easily. This allowed me to skip that gray area where I’d take on a lot of debt to ramp up and expand, and basically gamble that I could meet all the monthly payments.

This soup maker is also a CSA farmer, using the hub to pack and distribute produce. He sees the power of the infrastructure to make CSA usable and attractive:

The share shows up at work, it’s boxed, it’s got their name on it, and they walk out the door with it. The potential is really big… if I can drop it off on their doorstep, they sign right up.

This takes local food beyond the eco-nuts, those of us who go out of our way and pay extra to support it. With its efficiencies and its distribution system, it might just make for local food that is actually sustainable – because driving miles out of your way to pick up your organic veggies certainly isn’t.

See How To Build A Local Food System, To Make Local Food Actually Work | Co.Exist.

More reading on local food: Locally Deliciousbuy from Amazon or read on Appropedia.

Dehumanization studies

This talk by David Livingstone Smith (Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England in Maine) scratches the surface of an important, disturbing topic, and at 11:32 he points out an important omission in our study of history and war:

if we really do care about humanity and decency and peace, we should treat dehumanization with the same seriousness that we treated cholera and smallpox. We should devote resources to studying it. We should devote resources to disarming it. But the fact is, to the best of my knowledge and I know quite a bit about this, there is nowhere in the world where there is a center, where there is a department where there is a government agency, where there is an NGO specifically devoted to the study of dehumanization… If we want our future to be less hideous than our past… then this has got to change – it’s time we took dehumanization seriously.

I’m aware of many places for the study of the Holocaust and other genocides, as well as centers for peace and conflict studies – these could no doubt offer great insight. But to specifically study the psychological phenomena behind the atrocities we want to end, that would be a great step towards peace.