July 2010 Archives

I really do believe that you don't have to die to get your reward from being a good person, you live it every day. In the Bible, which we read every day under threats of being whacked with a ruler by Sister Mary Joseph (yes, that was her real name, I didn't make it up). I learned that there are three cardinal virtues and the greatest of these is charity, which Sister Mary Joseph told us had a broader meaning, which was "love". And that must be true because she was a nun. 

The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris...

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I managed to get all the way through to my Ph.D. without ever taking a Philosophy class because well, because I hate subjects like that, but I did go to one philosophy lecture once because one of my colleagues was giving it and he happened to be a philosophy professor so he couldn't get out of it. It even turned out he liked that stuff. Go figure.

The one point I remember from his lecture was the "Principle of Charitable Interpretation" which states that if there is more than one way to interpret something someone says, we should choose the one that puts the speaker in the best possible light.

Most of us do the exact opposite of that. Not only don't we show charity towards other people, we don't share it towards ourselves also. Often, I'll be in a meeting and someone will make a comment that I think is rude or kind of a put-down. Maybe, 

"Well, not everyone with a Ph.D. is brilliant. There are plenty of dumb people with Ph.D.'s"
"How did you get a job as a consultant?"

Let's take the second comment. I hear that one a lot. I used to take it as questioning my qualifications for being hired, or whether I was worth my fee. I would then get offended. Then I started taking it as an honest request for information and told the person something like,

"I had the Project Director as a student ten years ago and when she was looking for a statistician, she remembered I did that sort of work. I mean, seriously, how many statisticians does the average social worker know? So, she called me and we talked about her project and what her needs were and eventually they offered me a contract."

What I realized is that many people, even if they have what I would think are pretty good jobs, at least think about working for themselves at some time, maybe on those days the boss rubbed them the wrong way, and they are sincerely interested in how one gets started getting clients as a consultant.

Actually, I have not met plenty of dumb people with Ph.D.'s. I have met plenty who aren't brilliant but I can't say I have met any who are dumb. Obnoxious, yes. With less common sense than the average house plant, occasionally. But dumb, no.

I have never heard that comment made by someone who actually had a Ph.D. and so, hence, probably knew a more than usual number of other people who did also. Who I have heard say things like that are people who either:
a) started a Ph.D. but did not finish it, usually because they had family responsibilities or health problems that made it necessary for them to quit school, or 

b) don't have any education past high school.

 Erich thinks most problems have something to do with low self-esteem and in this case I think he is right. I think folks who make those kind of comments feel a little self-concious about their own education. 

Their comments don't really have a thing to do with me personally. In fact, very few things anyone says or does are directed at you because most people are thinking about themselves almost all of the time. The right response when someone asks you a question when they are looking for information is to answer the best you can.

The correct response to the comments like the one about education is to just make a non-commital noise like "Mmmm."

That's one thing they do teach you in doctoral programs in psychology. How to make a lot of responses without really saying anything, like

"Is that so?"

It's supposed to get your patients to continue speaking without feeling judged.

How does all of this reward you? Because you don't spend the next hour or day or week worrying that Joe thinks you're dumb, unqualified or not worth your fee. You don't get mad at Joe and try to get even. You simply give Joe an answer, or the benefit of the doubt, and then you have a cup of tea.

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My youngest daughter and I don't have a lot in common, probably because she's 12 and I'll be 52 in a couple of weeks. (When I told my mother I was pregnant, her first reaction was, "Don't you know better than that at your age?" )

So ....  my daughter and I were pleased when a new TV show came out that we both liked. It's called Huge and is about a summer camp for teenagers who want to lose weight. It's based on a book for teenagers and has a lot of the usual teenage things - a boy likes a girl and doesn't know how to tell her. A girl thinks her parents don't love her because she doesn't fit the image they want. A woman's father left when she was young and she hasn't ever been able to talk to her parents about it.

One of the actors in the show is over 300 pounds. When he was interviewed for a New York Times article, (http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/huge ) he said that he had always been overweight, and he did go to a weight loss camp once. He said,

"... the problem doesn't go away but you can open up and be a teenager instead of a fat teenager."

That's probably what I like about the show - the lesson that people are more than the stereotypes we have about them. What my daughter likes is mostly the stories about girls who like boys but can't get their attention, girls who are trying to stand up for themselves. The writing on the show is good.

So, you might imagine my surprise the day after the first episode when one of the comments on Twitter was 

"this show is about some fat-### teens trying to get it on."

This is the sort of comment you see on-line all of the time. A thousand times a day, if you you had time to look. It's the sort of comment people make to one another and, more often, about one another behind their back. 

Why? Why do we have to tear down successful people? Why do we have to point out the faults in others? 

Regardless of the reasons, I wonder if people who do that realize how it makes THEM look. Maybe some people laughed with the person who wrote that remark. My first thought was, 

"You must be a mean, bitter, little man that you feel the need to put down some people who are trying to produce something good for families."

Seriously, what was that man trying to accomplish?  My guess is he's a teenager, too. He's not a successful actor like these people (hey, at least they have a series), he's not a writer for a TV show. Not having accomplished anything like the people on this show he tries to make himself appear better by tearing them down, "Ha, ha you're fat."

 Not only does his behavior show a "huge" lack of generosity, but when I got to thinking about the people I respect and admire in life, very seldom are they engaged in cheap shots like this. They're the type of people who want to build others up, not tear them down. When they have a criticism it is the constructive kind, they sincerely intend to set you right. 

As for twitter-man and the rest like him, his lack of generosity doesn't make him seem bigger, cooler, tougher.

Instead, he just looks like a loser.