Book Review-How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain

It’s no secret that I love dogs. I’ve spent most of my adult life with one or more canine companions. For the last 13 years, I’ve owned my own company, and the dogs have their own airlock doggie door system to get into the office. My love for our dogs and the dogs of our friends isn’t a secret. However, Gregory Berns was able to answer a different question. Do dogs love us? How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain walks us through the journey that Berns walked to answer that question.

What is Love?

Before one can embark on a journey to discover if dogs love us back, one first must understand what love is. Or, at least, one must decide what will settle for love, since poets, philosophers, psychologists, and neurologists have been trying to answer this question. Rather than create a large definition of love with its many facets and complications, one of the researchers on the team summed it up with “Love? I’d settle for codependence.” Though, in human relations, codependence has developed a bad rap, it’s a reasonable way to approximate the relationship with dogs.

I decided to look back at the book reviews and posts that I’ve written that included the word “love” in the title or subtitle. The books that jumped to the top were The Art of Loving, The Road Less Traveled, Daring Greatly, and Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. The post Faith, Hope, and Love also surfaced prominently. In the end, the perspective that seemed to be the most relevant was that love is a choice. It’s a decision to sacrifice your needs and desires for the needs and desires of someone else. That’s what dogs seem to do when you ask them to stop chasing a squirrel to return to you – however, do they do this out of fear for the repercussions or based on their true desire to please you? That’s an interesting question that Berns tries to answer.

Ethical Considerations

Dogs have been used in research for a long time. Famously, Ivan Pavlov did research with dogs to learn that he could condition the dogs to salivate when a bell rang. He, according to Berns, however, didn’t have an affinity for dogs, they were just a part of the research. To figure out how dogs loved us, it would require a different approach. Instead of being objects used for the purposes of research, they would be active participants.

Strangely, there wasn’t a solid precedent for how to treat dogs as the primary subjects of the research. There are guidelines for how to perform research on adult humans – and even for getting parental consent for research on children – but no one had ever done an informed consent for dogs. After crossing boundaries for informed consent and animal research, the path was finally cleared to get an informed consent for family pets to be the subject of research.

The Approach

To figure out if dogs love us, the plan was to scan the dog’s brain with a fMRI. This creates an image of what is happening inside a brain by creating an electromagnetic field and then measuring the minute changes in this field that are created by the mind of the person – or, in this case, dog – inside the machine. The machine itself is very sensitive and only works if the subject is positioned correctly and remains completely still. Even for humans, this can be challenging. The machine is loud, and, for many people, it can trigger claustrophobia. Training a dog to go inside of the machine and stay still for the required period of time would prove to be challenging.

The machine itself was calibrated for humans, and a dog’s brain is different. Even getting the machine to process a canine brain was a hidden challenge that needed to be solved – but not until the dog could be trained to get in the machine.

Training

The training of the two dogs used for the initial test proceeded like normal dog training might, using praise, treats, and a clicker. The clicker is just a tool to help the dog know they’ve done something that the owner wants immediately. The dog learns that the click means a treat, so the trainer can signal when the exact behavior desired has been accomplished.

The fMRI machine had two key components that had to be conquered. The first is the tube that sometimes triggers claustrophobia in people, and the second was the “birdcage” where the head goes. As it turns out, dogs have little concern about running through tunnels, so that was the easy part. The difficult part turned out to be getting the dog to place their head in the birdcage in the same place reliably.

After making some molds that shaped to the dog’s head so that they laid their head down in the exact same spot, things became easier, but not before more than a few fMRI images didn’t turn out so well.

Dog Brain Maps

Having gotten the dogs trained well enough to get a consistent location, the images of the canine brain were forthcoming. However, no one had built the kind of comprehensive map for dogs that exists for the human brain. It was necessary to make some guesses about where things were – and to address the elephant in the middle of the brain. Or, rather, to recognize that the olfactory bulb in dogs was substantially larger than in human brains. That makes sense, given that dogs’ noses are substantially more sensitive, but it does mean that there wasn’t a one-to-one correspondence between a human brain map and a canine map.

Still, with some work, the general areas became apparent, and a picture emerged. The picture first showed that dogs had mirror neurons.

Mirror Neurons

We’ve known about mirror neurons since the work in the 1980s and 1990s with macaque monkeys. The monkey’s neurons would fire whether performing an action or watching the action be performed – even when the object of their observation wasn’t of the same species. In other words, they fired whether they were looking at a monkey doing the action or a human. The implications are profound. At some level, watching another animal perform an action causes you to think like they do.

Since the initial research, the awareness of mirror neurons has expanded to encompass mental rehearsal of actions as well as observations of others. Mirror neurons are believed to be at the heart of our ability to simulate what is in other’s minds. This is called theory of mind, and it’s the subject of the book Mindreading. The upshot of what Berns and his colleagues saw was that dogs had theory of mind for the humans that were giving them instructions.

Packs and People

Much about what people think about how to train dogs and relate to them comes from the study of wolves – called lupomorphism. The idea is that dogs and wolves are essentially the same animal separated by a bit of selective breeding. The models for how we came to adopt dogs as our constant companions isn’t clear. Cave paintings don’t show dogs helping us to hunt (apparently the picture of a dog with a duck in its mouth wasn’t painted on any walls they could find). Conversely, it’s unlikely that a wolf could have lived off the scraps that friendly humans might have provided as enticement for them to stay. If they’re not helping in the hunt, it’s unlikely that it would make sense for humans, who struggled for survival, to part with the precious food they needed. The result is an unclear picture of how our relationship with our canine companions really came to be.

However we came together, the prevailing thought is that dogs treat us like pack members. That is, we’re just a part of their pack, and they make no distinction between the humans in their world and other dogs. However, Berns et al.’s research showed something different. When exposed to the scent of dogs they knew and dogs they didn’t plus humans they knew and humans they didn’t, the pattern of neuron firing was different – very different. While the dogs showed they could recognize the difference between familiar and unfamiliar, they made a distinction between the people they knew and the dogs they knew.

Something special is happening in the mind of the dog that’s reserved just for people and speaking personally I know there’s some sort of special affinity for dogs – even if I can’t explain exactly why.

But What About Love?

It depends upon what you mean when you say love. The patterns were certainly there, that they knew what their masters wanted, and they desired to please them. The dogs were reading their masters with a level of interspecies theory of mind that no other animal has yet been discovered to possess. So, in the best approximation for a philosophical question that science can muster, the answer seems to be yes. Of course, you’ll have to make your own decision about How Dogs Love Us. For my part, I don’t need much evidence that my dogs love me – I don’t care if a scanner shows it or not. I can see it in their eyes – and they can see it in mine.

Book Review-Recovery: Freedom from Addictions

Sometimes you stumble into things, and you’re not quite sure how. I used to have book deals sent to my email and occasionally there would be a discount that made the book interesting. That was the case with Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions. I didn’t know the author, but the topic was interesting enough to buy the book and start reading.

As it turns out, the author has some level of fame. Russell Brand was apparently a comedian, big thing on MTV, and married to Katy Perry for a few years. He’s also an addict – now a recovering addict. He writes his version of the twelve steps, his story, and his perspective on the program that he needed – and that changed him.

Backstory

I wrote Why and How 12-Step Groups Work last year as a primer on the program and an attempt to help folks accept that addicts aren’t bad people, and * Anonymous groups aren’t scary. They’re places where people are connected and given the relationships and skills necessary to battle their addictions.

I share that addictions aren’t the problem, they’re the solution. The addiction is a way of coping with life that’s become out of balance and has taken control of the addict. It’s the spiral that, once it gets started, feeds on itself by distorting the world until people can’t see outside of the bubble of addiction.

Brand admits to his own disconnection with reality (and himself). As I explain in How to Be Yourself, figuring out who you are isn’t easy. From my perspective, Brand just landed in the right set of circumstances to get caught up in addiction. Starting in comedy can do that to you. When I did my study of standup comedy (see I am a Comedian for more), my research led me to an understanding of the drugs and sexual adventures of some famous comedians. Even cursory review of the news stories about comedians since that time will make it clear that it’s easy to get connected to addictive things.

What follows here is a mixture of Brand’s thoughts and my own experiences around the program that has helped so many people.

Step 1: Admitted Powerlessness

Brand’s quotes for the steps are much more colorful than mine. However, he adequately explains that the first step is admitting that your life is out of control. Most folks assume that you must admit powerlessness to the addiction, but, in truth, the admission is that what’s going on in your life isn’t working. It doesn’t technically require that you admit you’re an addict.

The idea that your life isn’t working can become a budding awareness that you’re not comfortable in the still quiet of the night. It can be that you recognize you move from one distraction to the next. It can be a faint glimmer of awareness that whatever you’re doing is gaining more control over you, or it’s there to numb some other part of you that hurts too bad to face directly.

However, whatever this thing – or, often, more than one thing – is in your life that was designed to help you cope has become your master. You depend on it to get you through the day, and that isn’t OK.

Step 2: Higher Power

It’s one thing to know you have a problem. It’s quite a different thing to believe that someone or something can “return us to sanity.” That is, there is a solution – it’s just not me. When we are self-centered and require that it’s always our way, we’re bound to have problems.

By giving it up and accepting that we’re not actually the center of the universe, we have the possibility of accepting that we don’t have to have the answers. Sometimes people get caught up on accepting the Christian view of God as their higher power, but it’s not really required. Stories in the program include sponsors telling sponsees that they can have their higher power until they discover their own – and they can make a doorknob their higher power if that makes them feel better. The point is simply that there’s a way out – not necessarily that you subscribe to a particular view. (If you’re struggling here, look at The Book of Joy, where the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss, among other things, their respective faiths.)

Step 3: Turning Over

Still a different decision is the decision to turn things over. Steps 1-3 are a progression that, from the outside, may seem simple, but most folks are used to controlling their lives. As a result, letting go of that control can be hard. So, even after you can acknowledge that you don’t have the answers and someone else does, letting go of your life isn’t easy. Brand says, “I don’t like the idea that I’m not in charge of my own destiny.” I can say that he’s not alone. We all want to believe that we’re in control of our lives. (For more, see Compelled to Control.)

Step 4: Moral Inventory

If you want to pick the step that frightens people who are new to the program, it’s going to be step 4. Making a list of the things that you’ve done wrong isn’t easy. There plenty of reasons for that, and, despite the jokes, no one has ever run out of paper. Brand lays out an effective way to get these moral lapses on paper and acknowledges that it isn’t easy. You’ll be tempted to gloss over things, justify others, and often not see the root set of issues that lead to the poor choices.

What isn’t always shared is that this is a part of the process itself. No one gets this right the first time. They don’t figure out everything wrong they’ve done, evaluate every action with clarity, or “ace” the test. That’s because step 4 isn’t a test. It’s a step. It moves you closer to where you want to be.

And, in truth, step 4 isn’t the powerful step. That is step 5.

Step 5: Tell Someone

It’s not enough to just write down the things you’ve done wrong, you’ve got to tell someone. It should be someone safe, and it should be a time when no one is rushed. The key thing that people get out of this is relief. To some degree, we’ve hidden ourselves away from others. We didn’t want other people to know the bad things we’ve done. We didn’t want them to know how evil we can be at our core.

Most of the time, the response to a step 5 with someone who has been in the program for a while isn’t surprise, rejection, or concern. The response to someone doing a step 5 is often, “Is that all?” It’s meant as a prompt to continue, but also an acknowledgement that, whatever the bad things are, they don’t make the person a bad person. In truth, most addicts have a hole in their soul that makes them believe they’re not good enough to be loved or liked. That’s not truth, but it’s the lie they believe, because they’ve never told people the whole truth about who they are.

Step 6: Character Defects

While step 4 was focused on the things that you’ve done, step 6 is focused on the parts of you and your character that caused you to do them. Rather than looking at the top of the problem – the results – step 6 asks you to look for what was going on inside that caused you to want to behave that way.

Step 7: Replace the Defects

With the list made, the addict often finds that some of the things that led them to bad choices are parts about themselves that they like, at least a little. So, step 7 asks you to be ready to let go of what you like for the life that you’ll love. It’s a hard swap, just like moving to a new city in a new home for a “better” new job is amazing – and heart wrenching. You love what you’re going to get, but you hate to let go of what you have.

So, too, our character defects arise from a part of who we believe we are, and letting go isn’t easy.

Step 8: List of Wrongs

Between the 4th and 6th steps there’s been a lot of focus on the negative things that we’ve said or done and why. However, the focus has been on being able to expose to ourselves our true nature and that the true nature isn’t bad – it’s just done some bad things or made some bad choices. We’ve focused on integrating into the human condition and accepting that we’re all broken. Step 8 asks us to focus our thoughts differently. Instead of making it all about us – it’s all about what we’ve done to others.

The list of wrongs is designed to be sorted by person and is about what we’ve done to them – not what they may or may not have done to us. While it’s all too tempting to focus on what they did to provoke us, this step calls for us to own our part in the situation.

Step 9: Make Amends

If you’ve wronged someone, and there is a way to make amends to them in a way that isn’t harmful to them, step 9 calls us towards that action. The sticky part here – beyond the desire to run away and hide rather than apologize and make amends – is the bit about as long it won’t harm them.

There are also cases where it’s no longer possible. Consider someone who has died or someone you’ve lost touch with. In those cases, you can find alternative ways to relieve your burden of the wrong by writing them a letter and burning it, or whatever means you feel like is a way for you to let go. (If you’re struggling with a death take a look at On Death and Dying and Top Five Regrets of the Dying.)

For those whom making an amends would cause harm, you can use the same strategy. You can relieve yourself of the burden for now – and if the time ever comes that you need to address it because the circumstances have changed, you’ll be well prepared.

Step 10: Daily Inventory

Once you’ve gotten thus far, you’ve relieved yourself of the poison that you’ve built up, and now it’s important to create a pattern of living that doesn’t allow the poison to build. There will still be relapses and bad days, but the point of the final three steps – particularly step 10 – is to ensure that these incidents don’t create a change in direction in your life.

The idea is that every day you evaluate your day in the context of the wrongs you’ve done, the character defects that have revealed themselves, and the people to whom you need to make amends. By practicing this daily, there is no need for the massive efforts that took place in steps 4, 6, and 8.

Step 11: Conscious Contact

Whether you call it being centered, connected with nature, a commune with God, or anything else, there’s something to being a part of instead of apart from. Steps 1, 2, and 3 led you to getting connected to a higher power – whatever that is. Step 11 reminds you to stay connected.

Step 12: Take it To the Masses

Step 12 is the give-back step. It’s about helping others who were in the same spot as you to find their way back into connection with others. In the context of Brand’s story, it might be writing a book on Recovery. For others, it may be as simple as offering to help people when they’re struggling with addiction.

Book Review-Knowledge Management Matters: Words of Wisdom from Leading Practitioners

One of the many things that I enjoy about my life is the ability to walk from one world to another in a matter of moments. I’ve been a part of the knowledge management community for several years now. While far from all my time is spent in the community, I’ve come to know and respect many members of the community who are passionate about making the knowledge that each of us has more helpful to everyone else. That’s why I picked up Knowledge Management Matters: Words of Wisdom from Leading Practitioners. I wanted to know what they had to say about how we can better leverage what we know.

I’d count more than one of the authors as friends, and so many of the book’s conversations rang true to our prior conversations and discussions. But at the same time, the clarity that comes from writing a chapter for a book was helpful to distill conversations over the years into clarity.

Evolution of Knowledge Management

Nancy Dixon provides some evolutionary context to knowledge management. The framework she provides helps to understand the forces that are changing knowledge management. Just as one great continent doesn’t make sense until you understand how tectonic plates have been moving, it’s hard to understand the forces in knowledge management without an organizing framework.

From the relatively simplistic and formulaic solutions for information management through the ability to manage experiences and onward into an era of managing ideas, we’ve been on a journey to build systems – both technical and non-technical – to help us adapt, cope, and even flourish in a world where information and knowledge are as vital as gold was.

Coming from a technology background, I had a front row seat as our capacity to create and manage information exploded. Moore’s law is interesting until you have the flash of awareness that your first computer had 64 KB of RAM and now your phone has 64 GB of RAM. When your first hard drive was 20 or 30 MB, now what you consider to be disposable USB flash drives are at least 16 GB.

Knowledge management is the same way. We started with knowledge bases and limited full-text searching. Today, we have social network analysis and natural language processing sitting on top of our search capabilities to enhance the results we see. The mountain of explicit information has demanded – and received – better tooling, while, at the same time, we’ve recognized the need to enable tacit connections as well.

The Right, The Wrong, and the Maybe

Knowledge management made some big promises, and, in most organizations, those promises weren’t kept. Like a jilted lover, businesses started rejecting knowledge management as a waste of time and money, leading to the proclamation that knowledge management is dead. Of course, like all things, there’s some truth, some fiction, and some unavoidable lack of clarity.

Knowledge management is fundamentally an organizational change initiative. John Kotter and others in the organizational change space admit that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail. (See Leading Change and The Heart of Change). Simply based on the fact that changing the way organizations share knowledge is an organizational change initiative, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are some failures – in fact, a lot of failures. However, this message doesn’t sell well to leadership. Few leaders who are making the decision to do an organizational change initiative know of the failure rate for fear that they won’t fund the project. However, the tragedy in this is that many boards could influence their success if they knew what the risks were.

Knowledge is “squishy.” Some of it is explicit and much more is tacit. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit knowledge.) Knowledge exists in relation to everything else, and it seems like everything is always changing. As a result, the knowledge that we have one day may be completely or partially useless the next. For example, changing times made the knowledge of how to create prismatic glass for lighthouse Fresnel lenses no longer useful. As glass manufacturing changed, the knowledge no longer matched how glass was made and therefore became useless. We face similar challenges with knowledge every day. Knowledge becomes useless as some other part of the process changes.

So, while knowledge is a critical asset of an organization, and it is possible, to a certain degree, that we can manage it and encourage its use, in the end, knowledge isn’t stable and won’t be useful forever.

Best Practices

One of the topics that often arises when speaking about knowledge management is the desire to capture and replicate best practices. The idea is, of course, that if there’s a one best way of doing things then getting everyone to do it that way will generate better results. In theory, this is a great idea, but in practice, it doesn’t always work so well.

The first problem with best practices is importing them from one place to another. In the import, we face the high tariff of not invented here. Not invented here is the bias that people have towards using the good ideas of others instead of doing what they’ve done all along. In medicine, it shows up as the doctor using procedures and tools that research has shown to be ineffective, because they don’t want to trust the research more than their own experience – however flawed that may be. Doctors aren’t the only ones who believe their own experiences over the data.

Our marketing world, where claims aren’t verified or conditions aren’t clearly articulated, only exacerbates the problem of our trust that someone else’s practice is better and more effective than ours. Some believe that they’re special, and the statistics don’t apply to them or the environment, and they may be right.

All knowledge is conditional to the environment in which it operates. The same advice may be appropriate in some situations and completely disastrous in others. Consider the advice to water plants weekly. Completely appropriate for many plants. Disastrous for the cactus that expects very arid soil.

There is no best practice. There are only practices proven to work in certain circumstances – and the catch is that, in many cases, we can’t enumerate and identify what the conditions were that were critical to this success. Without that, we have little hope of finding and leveraging best practices.

The best we can do in knowledge management is articulate what has worked and what the subject matter experts believe were the salient factors and hope that the transparency creates a degree of trust that allows people to take the risk of using the practices. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more on the impact of vulnerability on trust.)

Strength of Relationships

In a world where uncertainty is king, “an organization’s ability to respond to the unpredictable is largely a function of the strength of its relationships.” That is, an organization’s adaptability is related to how well its people work together. (See The Black Swan for more on unpredictable events.) This means that effective knowledge management solutions must support, enhance, and extend relationships in the organization in a way that increases their strength. Knowledge is not, by itself, capable of protecting an organization from the storms of change. Only the people that bring life to the organization and their relationships can.

For a long time now, knowledge management professionals have known that it’s more than connecting people to content. Person-to-person connection is a huge part of how knowledge management works. The integration of social network analysis to search results indicates a growing awareness even on the content discoverability side of the power of relationships.

Story Telling

Development of stories and their power to motivate and connect people seems like an unlikely thing to cover in a book on knowledge management, but it’s critical to realize that knowledge is useful in our ability to connect with it at an emotional level. (See Wired for Story and Story Genius for more on how stories are written and how they impact us.)

The knowledge that we capture in our systems can be dry and without story. For some content, this works just fine, but for the kind of knowledge that transforms people and thereby the organization, a story – or stories – is required. Stories are constructed in a way that the reader becomes emotionally connected with the characters in the story. This connection drives the desire to find out more and creates the desire for learning that Malcolm Knowles and his colleagues say is important for adult learning. (See The Adult Learner for more.)

Communities and Participation

Communities can be an amazing thing to drive knowledge. However, this only works when the community has the kind of participation that works. Communities need to be of a certain size to work well. Too big, and they become unwieldy. Too small, and they don’t generate enough activity to sustain themselves. As a rule of thumb, only 10% of members will contribute and as little as 1% will be routinely engaged. That means that community sizes of a few hundred are an ideal minimum to keep the conversations happening.

For smaller organizations, this means that the entire organization may be in one community. For larger organizations, the challenge may be keeping the noise level low enough that people feel like the community is theirs.

Communities shouldn’t be organizationally-based but instead interest-based. There are teams and larger groupings that serve the needs to organize around “strictly business.” Communities allow for the cross-functional and cross-locational collaboration that drives innovation.

Reading Knowledge Management Matters may not move you to the inside ring of the knowledge management community. However, it may be a good first step.

Book Review-Emotion and Adaptation

Everyone feels emotions. Even those who seek to suppress their emotions through stuffing or addiction still feel them. However, most of the time, we don’t consider how our emotions come to be or how they’re threaded through our evolution. Shining a light and focusing our attention on our emotions is what Emotion and Adaptation seeks to do.

I came to this book through a very winding route. Some years ago, I read Destructive Emotions, which is a conversation including both the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Since then, I had read more of Paul Ekman’s work in Telling Lies and Cracking the Code. I’ve read much of the Dalai Lama’s work in An Appeal to the World and My Spiritual Journey. I also read Emotional Awareness, which shares some of the continuing conversations of Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama. However, it was the challenge put forth in How Emotions Are Made that caused me to dig back through my notes and to discover a comment that Dr. Ekman made to the Dalai Lama about the book Emotion and Adaptation.

The challenge is whether emotions are universally formed and have a singular physiological signature that defines them or whether emotions are the result of a set of forces that don’t cause them to end up in predictable patterns as much as they create clusters of related feelings. Where How Emotions are Made criticizes the established thinking about emotions, Emotion and Adaptation takes the long view and mostly affirms the existing thinking while indicating, in places, that what we know about emotions is incomplete.

Appraisal

At the heart of the question is how emotions are formed and Lazarus’ assertion in Emotion and Adaptation is that emotions are formed based on the appraisal of the environment. That is that emotions are our response to what we believe the impact of the situation will be to us. We’re constantly scanning the environment to assess it for threats and opportunities. These assessments – whether correct or not – become the basis for our emotions.

Lazarus believes that emotions come from a primary appraisal of the relevance of the environment to our goals. The first part of the appraisal is a filter as to whether the environment is relevant to any goal. If it is relevant, then the next step is the evaluation of whether the current environment is congruent or incongruent. That is, the environment is appraised to whether it helps move us forward in our goals or backwards. Finally, we consider how important this goal is to our self-identification.

There is a secondary appraisal that is engaged to assess attribution of the environment – whether we’ll receive credit or blame for the situation, our coping potential, and whether we expect that the situation will get better or worse.

The coping potential component of the secondary assessment is very much like willpower (see Willpower) and hope (see The Psychology of Hope). The secondary assessment isn’t an assessment of the person-environment relationship. Instead, it’s an assessment of our personal capacity. It’s about whether or not we can rise to the challenge.

Emotional Intensity

Where our assessment of the relationship between the environment and our goals drives us towards an emotion, the intensity of the emotion is created by the level of threat or opportunity with relationship to the goal and our commitment to the goal. The more committed to the goal we are, the more intense our emotions will be when there is a threat or opportunity towards it.

When we feel strong emotions, we would do well to consider how committed we are to the goal – and why we feel the goal is threatened or strengthened by the situation.

Hidden Goals

One of the key challenges that people face with their emotions is that they feel opaque. It’s not possible for most people to peer into the construction of their emotions – a point discussed at length in How Emotions Are Made. Because emotions just seem to happen, it’s difficult to even determine what caused the emotion to erupt in the first place.

When viewing emotions as the response to our assessment of the impact of the environment on our goals, it’s important to recognize that not all goals are the same for everyone. Still, some goals are universal. Survival is, generally, one such goal. The other class of goals are unique to us and our perceptions of ourselves.

Some of our personal goals are apparent in our explicit understanding of ourselves and what we want. Another set of personal goals are not explicit and are tacit things that we want but cannot articulate. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit vs. explicit.)

In seeking a better relationship with our emotions, it’s relatively easy to disassemble the factors leading to our emotional responses by evaluating the common or explicit personal goal impacted and the way that we feel that goal is impacted. While the connection we make unconsciously may be faster and richer than our conscious awareness, we can with work generally expose the components that led to the emotional reaction.

However, uncovering the cause of emotions which are driven by tacit goals is substantially harder. This is both because tacit goals are necessarily unconscious and because they don’t always make rational sense. Often, the tacit goals that provoke emotion are goals to protect ourselves – from hurts that we’ve previously felt.

Historic Hurts

There’s a bit of recursion going on to say that some of our emotions are based on previous emotions. However, there is lots of loops in nature, history, and evolution. The assessment of the environment is heavily biased towards the things that have harmed us in the past. So, at one level, we have a goal to not be harmed that is universal. In fact, Jonathan Haidt spoke of care/harm as a foundation for morality in The Righteous Mind.

At a more detailed level, we’re working to prevent the specific hurts that we’ve felt. If we’ve been hurt by someone close to us in a romantic relationship, we may find ways to protect ourselves from this pain. Sometimes, in this case, we’ll seek to isolate ourselves and to prevent intimacy. (See Intimacy Anorexia.) John Gottman’s word is “stonewalling,” which expresses the defensive nature. (See The Science of Trust.)

The fact that people respond based on their history is a fact. The question is what we do with that knowledge. Do we ignore our history and accept that there are hidden hurts that will drive us, or do we seek to acknowledge the past hurts and learn to adjust our assessments of our probability of being hurt that way again, so that we’re willing to take appropriate risks? (For more on the topic of trust, see Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)

So often, our emotions that rise to the surface like a geyser are stirred in our history of hurts that we aren’t even conscious of. We are, in many ways, still assessing the situation like a child – or younger adult – who has been harmed deeply and is positioning to prevent the hurt from happening again.

States and Traits

It’s in the processing of these hurts that we land ourselves in the murky land between emotional states – that is, our moment to moment emotions – and emotional traits – our predisposition or characteristic emotions. One can be happy or generally happy. Typically grumpy or just grumpy in the moment. How is it that these are related?

There’s an intervening stop between the state and the trait that may be helpful in enhancing our understanding. We can have an emotional state of happiness or we can have a general mood of happiness. A mood is a continuance or predisposition towards an emotion over time – but not as a permanent state of the individual. A mood then is the first extension of an emotional state over time.

Moods are like the emotional record getting stuck in a groove. The same emotions seem to keep reoccurring until someone bumps the table and causes the record to jump into a new groove. That is, someone in a mood seems to have the same emotional states more frequently than others.

Extending this across time, what if an emotional trait is simply a magnet that pulls emotional states back towards a set of states that are familiar, common, and comfortable?

If we consider this in the context of hidden hurts, we can see that sometimes the environment is assessed positively or negatively for a while until something substantial changes the assessment, and thus we get a mood. Hidden hurts, which aren’t dealt with, can keep pulling a person back to an assessment that leads them to have the same emotional states across time.

The more we can address the hidden hurts, the less pull they have to keep us in a mood or even develop an emotional trait. The more that we can help ourselves feel safe in the recognition of these hurts, the more we can help ourselves feel safe.

Startle vs. Emotion

With any definition, the challenges are always at the edges. What is an emotion and what is not? When it comes to this question, the challenge is often defining what it is to be startled. If your view is that emotions are caused by appraisal of the environment, what sort of appraisal can be made in the milliseconds between a loud noise and the resulting jump? The answer is – of course – not much. Thus, it makes sense that Lazarus might define startle as a reaction rather than an emotion.

Largely this makes sense. The startle itself doesn’t influence mood, and though it forces the reticular activating system (RAS) to turn the attention dial up to 12, it doesn’t directly seem to have an emotional component. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.) The physiological impact of adrenaline release seems to increase the tendencies for anxiety and fear – but these can easily be explained by the endocrine system without need to ascribe direct emotive qualities.

So just like moods or emotional traits aren’t necessarily emotions but rather are factors that influence emotion, so, too, are there physiological and neurological events like the startle response that are not emotions either.

Feeling Safe

Safety is an illusion. We believe that we are safe when we are only relatively safe – or unsafe. Our technology has limited the devastation that Mother Nature can unleash. We’ve found ways to reliably provide shelter and warmth for most humans. We’ve learned how to avoid food borne diseases and we eliminate harmful bacteria from our water. In many ways, our lives are safer than they have ever been – and yet we’re still not objectively, completely safe.

A car or plane crash can still into our homes, killing us. For all that matters, we don’t know that there’s not an invisible, asteroid-sized object on a collision course with Earth right now. There is no way that we can guarantee that we are actually safe. We can only say that we feel safe – or not.

Our emotions are not driven by our actual safety. Our emotions are driven by our perception of our safety. We can walk within feet of a lion and feel safe – if we’re in a zoo. It isn’t the lion itself that creates our fear. It’s the possibility that the lion might eat us. We evaluate the probability and even possibility that we might be harmed – and decide whether we should be afraid or not.

The key opportunity in Lazarus’ work is the opportunity to create the perception of safety to change the appraisals that people make and therefore their emotions. Albert Bandura’s work demonstrated that even those people with strong phobias can be relieved of the phobia through progressive introduction of safety. (See some of his work in Moral Disengagement. I covered my book review about the mechanisms and the cases.)

Adaptive and Maladaptive

One of the interesting questions that arise with emotions is whether they’re adaptive or maladaptive. That is, would most people believe that the response was proportional to the situation? In the context of our hidden hurts, this is problematic. If we recoil from a touch and get anxious, is that adaptive or maladaptive? With no history of pain, one would say that such an emotional reaction would be maladaptive. However, put in the context of someone who has been physically abused, the anxiety is a reasonable response.

A better way to view adaptive and maladaptive may be to view the response in the context of whether the response moves someone forward to their collective goals. So, is the emotion itself and the corresponding behaviors congruent with moving someone forward towards their goals or moving them further away? Adaptive behaviors move us closer to our goals and maladaptive ones move us further away. When our emotions are adaptive, they encourage adaptive behaviors.

Afflictive or Non-Afflictive

Where Western psychology uses the measurement of adaptive and maladaptive, Buddhism uses afflictive and non-afflictive. Rather than measuring the behaviors that result from the emotion, Buddhism acknowledges that the emotion itself can be helpful or harmful. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains the profound and multifaceted impact of stress on our bodies and minds (see my reviews regarding the physical impact, the psychology and neurology, and the causes and cures of stress). Nelson Mandela wrote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Resentment is a poison – an emotion that would be easily described as afflictive, because it harms you but not the other person. Conversely, caring for others seems to have positive physical and psychological benefits.

While we can’t directly control our emotions, we can look for opportunities to shape them by encouraging non-afflictive, adaptive responses and discouraging emotions that cause us emotional distress.

Emotional Distress

If you were to look through DSM-5 for diagnosis criteria for the various psychological problems that are cataloged, you’d find a common thread. That thread is the fact that the diagnostic criteria almost uniformly include some form of emotional distress. Emotional distress is the key to psychopathology. However, emotional distress in and of itself isn’t psychopathology. Even with the definition of depression, there is care taken to avoid short-term negative mood. Depression is reserved for when the feelings are persistent over a longer period of time.

Coping Skills

Your car breaks down or, more precisely, catches on fire while you’re driving it, resulting in a total loss. You’re in the position of needing to get a new car immediately. Your emotional reaction isn’t going to be positive, but it will be very different if you’ve got the money saved up to buy the new car you want with cash vs. having to accept something you don’t want and still being concerned about the car payment if you don’t have the money to replace it. The difference in how you feel has very little to do with the actual event and has more to do with your capacity to cope with it.

While this is a practical example, the same holds true for the loss of a friend when you have many friends as compared to you have few friends or you find it hard to make new friends. You’ll react differently to job loss if you feel like you’ll have no trouble finding a new position when compared to if you’re concerned that you’ll find anything – or that you won’t be able to make enough to live with what you can find.

Our emotional response is driven by our belief in ourselves and our capacity to overcome. Martin Seligman and his colleagues once believed that you could learn helplessness. However, more recent research by his colleagues teaches us that we actually learn control or the illusion of control. (See Compelled to Control for more on the illusion of control, and The Hope Circuit for learning control vs. learning helplessness.)

When we teach ourselves and others that we have more control of our world, we minimize the intensity of emotions and generally make them more positive.

The Relationship Between Cognition and Emotion

It may be apparent at this point that there is a relationship between cognition and emotion. In fact, I’ve been encouraging the thought that our cognition can shape our emotion. By subtly shifting and changing our appraisals, we can shift our emotions. We can do this by changing our goals or exposing conflicting goals that balance out the appraisal as not good in some respects and good in others. However, I’ve largely ignored the impact that emotion has on cognition.

Drive explains that time pressure focuses thinking in a way that limits the development of alternate solutions. Thinking, Fast and Slow explains how negative confirmation bias can send us into a downward spiral. Our emotion has the greatest influence on our cognition by shaping what options we’re able to consider. This is one of the reasons why having a community of supportive, authentic people can be a powerful forward force in your life.

Depression and Grief

Depression is a critical topic for today’s world. It’s moving into the position of being the world’s largest health concern. It’s been the subject of Choice Theory, Warning: Psychiatry Can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health, and scores of other books. Depression is the reaction to loss, whether that be a tangible or a psychological loss. Grief, on the other hand, is related but different in that it is focused on the activation of resources for coping with the loss. Where depression appears to just happen to someone, grief is the process of recovery.

If you were to point to one thing that we could do to relieve human suffering, it would be to help people move from a focus on the losses that they’ve experienced and towards the capacity that they have to recover. In other words, it would be moving people from depression to grief. Instead of being victims of the loss, they become reactionary to it. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

The Necessity of Emotions

While emotions may at times be unpleasant and unwanted, they’re necessary for life, happiness, and joy. In my experience, I’ve seen the severe psychological distress created by people who are not able to express their emotions, because they’ve been told that emotions are scary or unsafe. The resulting misery and sometimes catastrophic breaks in reality are tragic.

Perhaps if you can understand where emotions come from and how they form, you can remove the fear of emotions and instead harness them to help move you to a place of happiness and joy. It’s not possible to blunt out the negative feelings without blunting the joy that life can bring, and most of us can’t live without some joy. Maybe that’s why there’s Emotion and Adaptation.

Book Review-Beyond the Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth

What happens when you step out of Disneyland or Walt Disney World? You take the shuttles, monorail, or boats back to your vehicle… But what then? What happens after you’ve been to a place of magic and you come back to the “real world?” Do you bring a bit of the magic with you to nurture and spread, or do you leave it all behind with the hopes of returning real soon? Jeffrey Barnes’ vision in Beyond The Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth is for you to take the magic beyond the parks.

Barnes’ first book, The Wisdom of Walt, explains Walt Disney, his life, and his passions. It explains the man, the movies, and the parks. It highlights for us where the magic was to make it a bit easier to find and a bit easier to understand. Without diminishing the quality of the experience, he shares with us the magician’s tricks so that we can look in wonder at what shaped the story without ruining the illusion. However, Beyond is different. It’s different, because instead of confining the story to the parks, Barnes seeks to help us find a way to integrate the best of Walt and the parks and bring that to our everyday lives.

It’s Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible

“Impossible” is just a word, but it holds so much power for most of us. It’s impossible to write a book or get a patent. Except that it’s not. We know that it’s possible – we just believe it’s impossible for us. The funny thing is that it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. Disney knew that what most people believed was impossible was just hard, and he was always willing to do the hard work.

For me, writing books has become almost passé. I know that writing a book is just like writing a bunch of articles and stringing them together. I know that writing an article is like writing a bunch of summaries on topics and stringing them together. I know that no matter how much you hate writing, you can write a book if you dedicate yourself to it. I once had an English teacher tell me that I should never do anything with writing. To say my writing back then wasn’t good would be very generous. I didn’t use that as a personal mission to become good – it just happened to me naturally as one thing led to another.

Barnes explains in Beyond that The Wisdom of Walt took twenty years and 142 days to write – and the 142 days is all that mattered. 142 days is less than a half a year. What would it be like to have written a book this year? It’s not impossible. It’s just hard.

In The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler speaks of some of the incredible feats that extreme athletes are able to do. They seem almost super-human. No human could possibly do these things, but they do. And why? Well, there’s a mix of a lot of purposeful practice (see Peak) and a state of mind called flow. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman.) What we believed was impossible was – in fact – very possible. If you need something specific, the sub-four-minute mile was considered impossible. Someone who accomplished this would surely die because it was beyond human capacity. When Roger Bannister did it in 1954 – nine years after a slightly over four-minute mile run by another gentleman who maintained the record – he only got to enjoy the glory of being the fastest man for two months before someone else bested his time.

Impossible is just a word. Nothing is impossible. It’s impossible to create an amusement park that doesn’t draw in an undesirable carnival atmosphere, but Disney did it. It’s impossible to build a company, a way of life, and a culture around a mouse, but that’s exactly what happened. It’s impossible to put a man on the moon and return him safely home – except that’s what America did.

Had you asked me five years ago if I’d ever get a patent, I’d have told you it was impossible. I didn’t have any particularly deep knowledge of chemistry, mechanics, molecular engineering, or any of the other skills that I thought would warrant the issuance of a patent. However, together with my wife we devised a way to make it easier for patients to be safer in the hospital by some changes to the humble dressing that protects from infections. Three years later – yes, three years – we’ve got a patent. It was impossible – right up to the point where it wasn’t.

Walt Disney got the chance to make the impossible happen. He got the chance to change reality and you can too.

Creating Reality

Walking down Main Street, U.S.A., there are two competing thoughts. The first is, this isn’t real. It isn’t like any real place you’ve ever been – and at the same time, it harkens back to a time that we all wish was real. This thought is interrupted by the realization that, though it may be, in some ways, a front, it is also objectively real. You can see it, smell it, touch it. It must therefore be real – whatever that means.

It’s difficult to accept that Disney created lands and worlds, but we know that he did. We know that he shaped his reality around his dreams and visions. So why can’t we create our realities? I’m not suggesting that we create our own theme parks, but aren’t there small ways that you can create your reality today?

I can hear the voice inside your head (because I think it got there by way of mine) that says: “But you’re not Walt Disney.” That’s right. You didn’t go bankrupt. You didn’t have a father that never understood your art or what you were doing. You, in fact, may be more likely to succeed at creating your reality than he was.

Progression

I should be careful to add that Disney didn’t make wild, unfounded bets. He made small attempts and then progressively larger ones. He didn’t start with Snow White (his first full length animated film). He started with animated shorts and perfected the skills necessary to move to the next level. The opportunity to create (or shape) your reality isn’t a license for recklessness. It’s a license to move forward.

Barnes explains that he’s descended from General George Pickett, who led the disastrous charge at Gettysburg. His wife, Niki, is the voice of reason that helps him make slow and steady progress instead of wild charges into the unknown. That steadying force is important. Whether internally motivated or externally provided, we all need someone who can temper and help us to regulate the passion to move forward and the persistence to move through barriers.

Barriers

It’s in the way. The thing that I want is on the other side of this barrier. Getting past it seems like a frustration, a waste of time, or just plain depressing. However, sometimes the barriers are exactly what we need to develop our character in ways that allow us to reach our dreams and shape our realities.

I’m reminded that if you “help” newly-hatched sea turtles get to the ocean, you condemn them to death. They need the struggle to find their way to calibrate their sense of direction. Chicks will die if you “help” free them from their egg shell. While no one likes struggle, it’s the struggle that makes us who and what we are – and we’re better for it.

Disneyland exists, because Burbank didn’t want the carnival atmosphere they expected from Disney’s plan for a Mickey Mouse Park. The Seven Seas Lagoon exists, because the geology wouldn’t support a parking lot that was planned for the location. Instead of pictures with a sea of cars in front of the park, we have pictures with an actual, beautiful, sea in front of the park. Barriers sometimes stop you from the easy and ordinary and force you into doing something extraordinary, something worthwhile.

Doing Something Worthwhile

Simon Sinek implores leaders to Start with Why when leading others. It’s the “why” that is the purpose. Strangely, it was a quote from Jack Lindquist that made Disney’s mission make sense to me. “We are not a cure for cancer, we are not going to save the world, but if we can make people happy for a few hours for a day, then we are doing something worthwhile.” The key was that something worthwhile.

Barnes relates the story of Walt’s father (Elias) coming to see his brand new studios. Unable to help his father understand the practicality of the studio, he finally described it in terms of how it could be used for a hospital. To Walt’s dad, his drawings and his movies weren’t “practical.” Practical was a proxy for “useful.” Elias’ question seemed to be whether or not what Walt was doing was contributing to the world. While Walt spent the entire tour speaking as if the studio could be a hospital, he was telling a story that his dad could hear and understand. As the master storyteller, one couldn’t expect much else, but Elias missed the point. He missed the point not just of the studio but of his son’s legacy.

It isn’t that the Disney brothers cured cancer. However, they did change the course of human evolution. They’ve helped millions of Americans see a world that encourages us to be the best that we can be. Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point explains the power of small things that make a big difference. The streets are clean. The “cast” are friendly. The world seems just a bit safer – a bit better – inside the parks. For a moment, Guests (Disney reportedly insisted that the word “guests” was always written with a capital G) can believe in a world that’s a little bit brighter and a little bit better than it actually is.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” For Walt and Roy, the change was to make the world a bit happier, and hopefully their desire for happiness could spread.

Hard Work, Patience and Persistence.

It’s easy to think that the theme parks work on magic. However, the sobering truth is, as Lee Cockerell says, “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” Even today, operating the parks is hard work. Creating them was hard work. All the magic comes from hard work.

Walt Disney went bankrupt. He lost his first major character to Universal. He fought and struggled. He worked hard to make his visions a reality. From animated shorts to full-length films, he fought for what he believed in. A little-known fact is that most of Disney’s movies lost money on their first run in the theatres. However, he didn’t stop.

The project that became the 27,000 acres of Walt Disney World were a reality that Disney himself never got to see. He died six months before groundbreaking. Unlike other projects that Disney waited to see, this one he had run out of time for. His smoking habit had finally caught up with him. However, while he was living, he waited until his team had developed the skills to do feature length films. He waited to build Walt Disney World until he felt the timing was right. In the end, his brother and his team completed his vision for a theme park on the east coast.

The combination of hard work, patience, and perseverance is what built the experience we know today. The question for all of us is how are we going to use these same qualities to go Beyond the Wisdom of Walt?

Book Review-How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living

Had you asked me a few months ago what it meant to make an ethical decision, I would have been inclined to tell you something along the lines of “doing what’s right.” It’s a fine response but one that overlooks a problem. How do you decide when you’re between two “rights,” and you can’t do both? That’s the heart of ethics and one of the first things that How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living teaches.

I was referred to this book by a friend of mine who teaches ethics after a discussion with him about The Righteous Mind. The parallels and plays off each other are striking and powerful.

Moral Temptations and Ethical Dilemmas

The opening gate of this story is the difference between decisions that are right vs. wrong when compared to decisions that are right vs. right. Rushworth Kidder draws a quick line between moral temptations, which involve choosing between right and wrong, and those decisions where there is no wrong answer. Moral temptations may be difficult, but there’s no question about what is and is not right.

Ethical dilemmas, however, are right vs. right decisions, where there is no wrong answer, and, more importantly, you can’t choose both things. You must make a choice and when you make that choice, something must lose. (Sometimes, even choosing not to choose is, in and of itself, a choice.) Ethical dilemmas are difficult to walk through. That’s perhaps the reason why we like to believe they’re not just difficult for us, they’re difficult for everyone.

In general, morals and ethics are used as synonyms with the former being attributed more to the character of the person and ethics more frequently being used to describe the principles or framework for making decisions. They’ll be used relatively interchangeably in this review – as they are used relatively interchangeably in How Good People Make Tough Choices.

Prototypical Dilemmas

We all like to believe that our ethical issues are unique, different, and problematic. After all, if we’re struggling with it, and we’re ethical folks, other should struggle with it, too. Just because there are prototypical dilemmas doesn’t mean that everyone does not struggle, nor does it mean that there aren’t complicated variations on the four key themes that Kidder lays out:

  • Truth vs. Loyalty – Should you tell the truth or stay loyal to the person that asked you to keep it a secret?
  • Individual vs. Community – Should you look out for yourself or make decisions that are for the good of the community?
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term – Should you spend today or save for the long term?
  • Justice vs. Mercy – Should you “throw the book at them” or grant them leniency?

The choices here are difficult. If you don’t decide to always pick one over the other, you must evaluate each situation individually – and it’s not practical to pick one over the other regardless of the circumstances. Evaluating the situation in context makes us human.

Foundations of Morality

Compare this with Haidt’s foundations of morality (from The Righteous Mind) – care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression – and you’ll see some similarities and some differences. Truth vs. loyalty pits loyalty/betrayal and fairness/cheating against one another. Individual vs. community places care/harm and authority/subversion (authority over one’s own life). Short-term vs. long-term doesn’t have a good analog. Justice vs. mercy pits authority/subversion against care/harm – again, from a different perspective. Kidder provides no prototypical dilemmas for other conflicts of Haidt’s moral foundations.

Whenever evaluating multiple models with one another their strengths and limitations become more apparent. Kidder’s pragmatic focus on the dilemmas he most often sees is a great focusing lens to ensure we’re working on the areas of ethical dilemmas that are most likely to appear. Haidt’s framework allows us to address those areas where Kidder’s approach doesn’t supply ample direction.

Cheating

Despite Kidder’s focus on right vs. right decisions, he stops off at moral temptations and, in particular, the research around cheating. There’s some research here, particularly by Professor McCabe, that has some tales to tell. The future career plans for the lowest incidence of confessed (yes, confessed) cheaters was education – at 57%. Cheating, the students felt, was a victimless crime and wasn’t important. These are the kinds of rationalizations that Bandura warned us of in Moral Disengagement (see my reviews of the Mechanisms and the Cases from the book).

Some of the more challenging findings – as if that weren’t enough – are that, the longer students stay in school, the more willing they are to contemplate cheating; that cheating is higher in families of affluence; and that playing sports reduces a student’s moral reasoning. Perhaps more troubling is the 80% of teens who believe themselves prepared to make ethical decisions, while 61% of them admitted to lying to their parents or guardians and nearly 50% said it was OK.

In 1993, this led Professor Leming, then of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, to write, “There can be little debate that the character of youth is an increasingly serious problem for the United States.” No doubt – but what can be done about it? First, we need to understand how moral reasoning develops.

Six Stages of Moral Judgement

Lawrence Kohlberg studied boys in the 1950s and developed his now famous six stages of moral judgement, which fell into three main categories:

  • Pre-conventional
    • Stage 1: Fear of punishment and respect for authority
    • Stage 2: A sense of equal exchange and fairness
  • Conventional
    • Stage 3: Understanding of stereotypical good behavior
    • Stage 4: Generalized moral system
  • Post-conventional/Principled
    • Stage 5: Social contract that requires obedience to shared laws
    • Stage 6: Personal commitment to universal moral principles

These stages were the evolution of moral judgement observed in boys but are generalized to be the way that humans evolve our sense of morality.

Ethics, Laws, and Civil Disobedience

While the previous definition of ethics as right vs. right decisions is useful in the context of separating them from moral temptations, it does little to explain its ethos. Instead, Kidder quotes John Fletcher Moulton’s definition for manners – which he translates to ethics – is “obedience to the unenforceable.” That is, it’s what you do when no one is looking, because it’s what you decide is right – not because of fear of getting caught. Ethics is then a virtue or characteristic of a person that defies situational boundaries. However, we can’t ignore Kurt Lewin’s famous equation that behavior is a function of both person and environment, and therefore we can’t take environment completely out of the equation. We can only strive to further minimize its impact.

One way that societies have attempted to improve our compliance to ethical standards is to codify them into law. In effect, it’s saying these ethical precepts are so critical that we’re going to mandate it. Laws capture – at some level imprecisely – the ethical standards that the community holds dear. For instance, the ethical standard to do no harm shows up as laws against murder and violent crimes.

What happens, however, when the laws themselves are unjust? What if they unfairly penalize some group or run counter to the ethical standards that they are designed to uphold? In these times, the need for civil disobedience arises. Civil disobedience in any form should not be taken lightly, and anyone who is so moved to take this course of action to help correct an unjust law must be willing to accept the consequences of their disobedience lest they fall into simply being lawless.

The Role of Trust

The role of trust in societies is best expressed in Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order. This work addresses the full measure of how trust impacts societies and how the focus of trust shapes the ethical considerations for the society. However, in short, you can see the breakdown of social order and ethical thinking when you find bribery and corruption. In countries where bribery is known to be a common and accepted practice, we see struggling.

When people can no longer trust their fellow man, the government, or anyone else, they stop trying to look out for the greater good and instead fall back to looking out only for themselves and their immediate family, closing off a huge swath of potential ethical thinking options. They’ll narrow their level of concern and take community “off-the-table.”

Uneven Values

We sometimes throw around the word “values” without being precise about what we mean. We sometimes speak of foundational values – like those Haidt discusses in The Righteous Mind – or what Kidder calls “intrinsic values” and enumerates as truth, respect, fairness, responsibility, and compassion. Alternatively, there are instrumental values like diligence, competitiveness, etc. Another way to think about this might be to think of instrumental values as means and intrinsic values as ends. (See my review of Flow for a deeper discussion on means vs. ends.)

Looking at two different personality profiles, we find Reiss’ 16 Basic Motivators and Strengths Finder as exposing instrumental values that people can hold. Reiss’ list is power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility (see The Normal Personality and Who Am I?). Strengths Finder 2.0 has achiever, activator, adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition, connectedness, consistency, context, deliberative, developer, discipline, empathy, focus, futuristic, harmony, ideation, includer, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility, restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo.

From Kidder’s point of view, the intrinsic values are immutable ends for which some of the instrumental values can be means to get to. When we’re describing values and how they fuel our ethical dilemmas, we must establish what sorts of values we’re talking about.

Codes of Conduct

Codes of conduct establish social norms. That is, they are like laws in that they codify ethical standards – typically with much less, but still some, chance for punishment for violation of them. Most frequently, violation of standards of a code of conduct are grounds for expulsion from the group. For employers, this means employee termination, and for civic groups, it means a revoked membership. Also, where laws are designed to be inherently enforceable, codes of conduct are expressed as a broad standard that is less prescriptive and more directional.

Creating a code of conduct that is sufficiently broad to accept differences and simultaneously defines the core values of a group is challenging. Kidder highlights The Ten Commandments, The Boy Scout Law, the West Point Honor Code, the Rotary Four-Way Test, The Minnesota Principles, McDonnel-Douglas Code of Ethics, and BD Values as models of different codes of conduct.

The Trilemma

If there are only two choices – left or right – then you have a dilemma. However, what if you could discover a third option that can preserve both the left and the right – at least substantially more than deciding to go left-or-right? “Trilemmas,” as they’re coined by Ambassador Harlan Cleveland, are a transformation from a very hard problem to just a reasonably hard problem.

They’re not compromises but are instead new ways forward that allow for both sides to get a measure of what they want.

The Methods of Evaluation

Kidder also explains that there are three fundamental ways of analyzing an ethical dilemma:

  • Ends-Based – Whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
  • Rule-Based – What is our obligation in this situation.
  • Care-Based – Do to others what you would like them to do to you.

These three perspectives can be used to evaluate every ethical dilemma. While these three approaches may not always agree, they occasionally will. When they don’t, it is useful to evaluate them and see if a coherent response emerges by walking through the evaluative process.

The Checklist

As if the prototypical dilemmas and methods of evaluation were not enough, Ridder provides a roadmap in his nine-step process:

  • Recognize that there is a moral (ethical) issue – Identify that there needs to be a resolution.
  • Determine the actor – Identify the person with the dilemma. Is it mine or someone else’s?
  • Gather the relevant facts – What do we need to know about this to fully understand the situation?
  • Test for right vs. wrong issues – Is this a “simple” case of wrongdoing that breaks the law or regulations? Might it smell bad or be embarrassing if on the front page of the newspaper – or would it be something that you mother wouldn’t do? In these cases, it’s probably a moral temptation, not an ethical dilemma.
  • Test for right vs. right paradigms – Does this fall into one of the prototypical dilemmas? If not, can we identify which values are in play?
  • Apply the resolution principles – Use the methods of evaluation above to better understand the implications of the decision.
  • Investigate the “trilemma” options – Is there a middle road that is better than either of the individual paths?
  • Make the decision – At some point, a decision must be made.
  • Revisit and reflect on the decision – Learn from the decision about yourself and the environment, so that, next time, the decision is easier.

Even with checklist in hand, we’ve got to be aware of the forces that seek to unravel the ethical decisions that we want to make.

The Destructive Force of Individualism

As a society, particularly in America, we have a love affair with the idea of the rugged individualist. We don’t want to accept that, for the entire history of the human race, we’ve worked together, and our reliance on one another has allow us to be so successful. (See No Two Alike for more about how our cooperation has allowed us to become the creature with the most biomass on the planet.) Our Kids, Robert Putnam’s exploration about why not all children succeed, exposes the truth that our successful children have support and can rely on others. Children with fewer people and resources to rely on don’t fare as well.

No matter where you fall on the issue of religion or spirituality, you must acknowledge that every form of religion on the planet has a set of common values including care for others. (See Spiritual Evolution for a Christian perspective on our need to care for others and The Book of Joy for a discussion of how values appear across religions.) Sometimes, this concern for others is expressed differently, like Brené Brown’s discussions of the need for connection in Daring Greatly and Harriet Learner in The Dance of Connection. Lerner in particular raises the issue of being right or being in a relationship. (This was also addressed in The Titleless Leader.) The need for relationship and the desire to be right in our own individuality is at the heart of the destruction of ethical decision-making.

Ethics is about how we navigate this world with other people. When you’re an individual and you need no one else (or, rather, you believe you need no one else), you can operate in a moral vacuum. If you’re the only one that matters, you have no need for ethics, because ethics isn’t about you – it’s about you in relationship with others. In this framework, it’s no wonder that our ethical decision-making is under assault.

The Negative Effects of Affluence

Though there are still painful gaps between those humans who have the most resources and those who have the least, we are all – in general – much better off than we were a century ago. (See the discussion in Our Kids for details.) The problem with this affluence is that we no longer behave as “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (a line from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus at The Statue of Liberty). Instead, we drive in our personal cars to our lonesome houses, where we have fewer intimate connections, and we seek to go it alone. (See Bowling Alone for the unraveling of social connections.)

The Greatest Generation agrees: “I believe we’re being victimized by our affluence. We don’t appreciate things because you don’t work for them.” In short, we’ve bought into the lie that we don’t need other people. We can go it alone – and that means we have no need for ethics.

The Counteracting Force of Purpose

Red Goldfish makes a well-reasoned and passionate plea for corporate leaders to understand that increasingly more consumers are demanding products from companies with a mission. It’s no longer enough to make a good product for a reasonable price, you must also have some sort of benefit to society. Simon Sinek encourages leaders to Start with Why to get people behind a purpose. This seems even more important today, when employment markets are tight, employers seeking to retain their employees for fear they won’t be able to hire replacements.

In some ways, our affluence has given us the capacity to live out our values by choosing our work more carefully. We can choose to find part-time roles that sustain our financial needs and give more of our time to philanthropic endeavors. While this is now becoming possible (or emerging), it struggles against the weight of the individualistic tendencies.

Moral Resolve and Technological Advancement

Alone Together explains the changes that are happening in our society and how technology is racing ahead of our society’s capacity to adapt. While we feel connected through the always-on, instant-messaging world in which we live, we feel less connected. Sherry Turkle explains that we’re exposing ourselves and our children to technology in ways that we’ve not had the opportunity to test. We have no way of knowing the long-term impacts. We make this choice in the interests of rapid improvement.

Two engineers working at the Chernobyl plant created the greatest ecological disaster known to man. A drunk captain steered the Exxon Valdez into some rocks in Prince William Sound, impacting 1,300 miles of coastline. Onel de Guzman created an estimated $5.5 billion dollars in global damage with a computer virus that became known as “I Love You.”

Our technology allows us general affluence and creates powerful benefits for mankind, but, simultaneously, it creates opportunities for the mistakes of a few – or, more frequently, just one – to cause havoc on a global scale. Perhaps our ethics and morality aren’t declining. Perhaps our need for moral and ethical thinking is on a sharp rise, and our capacity isn’t keeping up. In any case, it’s becoming harder for good people to make hard choices well. However, there is a way to learn How Good People Make Tough Choices – if you’re able to make the time.

Book Review-A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives

Individually, compassion and courage make sense. Compassion is the awareness of the suffering of others and the desire to minimize it. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the willingness to overcome it. Putting these together, we discover a subtle fear in being compassionate and what can be done to develop the courage to do so. That’s what A Fearless Heart is about – developing the courage to be compassionate in the face of circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that make that difficult.

Magic Penny

It was years ago now when I heard the song for the first time. I was in a grade school choir room, and the song was our next learning. It was an odd song. It was about giving something away and getting more. The first part of the lyrics of this Malvina Reynolds song begin:

“Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

“It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.”

Most things in life, if you give it away you have less. However, this magic penny – and, more importantly, love – is something you get more of the more you give away. I’ve mentioned before (see The Art of Loving) that there are three Greek words for the word we call “love” in the English language: eros, romantic love; philos, or brotherly love; and agape, which is God’s love or global love. I’ve also mentioned that agape and compassion are essentially the same thing. (See The Book of Joy.) So, what we have in this little song is the truism that, when you demonstrate your compassion for others, you become more compassionate – not less.

In the zero-sum game that most of us live with daily (if someone else wins, then we lose), it’s hard to understand how compassion begets compassion and how our worlds are enriched when we enrich the lives of others. The more that we live our lives for others, the more we get out of it for ourselves.

The Paradox of Happiness

I’ve mentioned before the two goddesses of wisdom (Lakshmi) and wealth (Sarawati). If you pursue wealth, it will run from you; but if you pursue wisdom, wealth will be attracted to you. (I covered the story in my review of The Heretic’s Guide to Management.) A similar thing happens with happiness. When we stop worrying about our own happiness, and we’re focused instead on the needs and happiness of others, we find that happiness comes our way.

Hedonistic happiness is a treadmill requiring increasingly greater amounts of pleasure to feed the same level of happiness (see Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this). However, value-based happiness driven by our love (compassion) for our fellow man becomes an enduring characteristic of joy. To become happy, we then need to not worry about our happiness and instead focus on the happiness of others.

The Pit of Loneliness

If happiness defines one side of a continuum, loneliness sits on the opposite side. Loneliness is a painful form of suffering where we feel separate and apart from the others that we share this planet with. (See Loneliness for more.) Our compassion for one another helps to bridge the gap that loneliness creates by connecting us.

Empathy means that I understand this about you. Compassion, as mentioned above, is awareness of another’s suffering and the desire to minimize it. Thus, empathy connects us through understanding, and compassion connects us through action. Empathy’s near enemy (explained momentarily) is sympathy. Sympathy is based in understanding but separates by pity. Instead of being, I understand this about you, it’s an understanding that you don’t want to be where the other person is. (See Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more.)

Near Enemies

Near enemies is the idea that there are two concepts where one is bad but seems to be the same as a virtuous one. The two seem similar but really operate very differently. A Fearless Heart claims that the near enemy of compassion is pity, but I would refine this, as stated above, to say that sympathy is the near enemy of empathy, and pity leads to sympathy instead. Because I believe that compassion is built on empathy, this is a distinction of degree. Fundamentally, I believe that the presence of pity prevents the connection necessary for true compassion.

Near enemies are responsible for people not desiring a desirable state. Compassion is confused with submissiveness, weakness, or sentimentality. People fear compassion, because compassion isn’t seen as innate part of all of us (see Spiritual Evolution) or as a necessary trait.

Fear of Compassion

On some level, it’s difficult to conceive of someone who would be afraid of compassion. At another, it’s all too easy to see subtle forms of fear in our ability to give and receive compassion. Whether it’s an aversion to feeling indebted to someone else or the queasy feeling that we’re not enough if we need someone else’s compassion, we realize that there are times that both giving and receiving compassion can be difficult.

Paul Gilbert was the first to schematize fear of compassion, defining it as three different categories of fear: fear of compassion for others, from others, and to oneself. He defined this in more detail by articulating statements that we could rate how much we identify each.

  • Compassion for others:
    • People will take advantage of me if I am too compassionate and forgiving.
    • If I am too compassionate, others will become dependent on me.
      • I can’t tolerate others’ distress.
    • People should help themselves rather than waiting for others to help them.
    • There are some people in life who don’t deserve compassion.
  • Fear of compassion from others:
    • I am afraid that if I need other people to be kind they will not be so.
    • I worry that people are only kind and compassionate when they want something from me.
    • If I think someone is being kind and caring toward me, I put up a barrier.
  • Fear of compassion for oneself:
    • I fear that if I develop compassion for myself, I will become someone I don’t want to be.
    • I fear that if I am more self-compassionate, I will become weak.
    • I fear that if I start to feel compassion for myself, I will be overcome with sadness and grief.

Just because you’re afraid of compassion doesn’t make it any less the right approach. By identifying what the fears are, it’s possible to make them smaller.

Teaching Fishing

The cliché is you should teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish. Teaching him can feed him for a lifetime and giving him a fish feeds him for a day. However, this is substantially easier to say than it is to do in many cases. Compassion is a place where our best and highest work creates solutions for the other person that allows them to be self-sustaining in the future and not need any additional help to relieve their own suffering.

This aspect of helping people be more self-sufficient is both critical and often lacking. People who have psychological issues are often prescribed drugs that they’ll be on all their lives, making them dependent and never fully healing. (See Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more on the problems with these prescriptions.) Even counselors and psychologists who try to resolve problems with their patients often fail. (See The Heart and Soul of Change and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more about effective and ineffective counseling.)

A different approach to psychology – and helping people to thrive – is what has been called “positive psychology.” It’s a movement founded by Martin Seligman and one he continues to champion today. Instead of focusing on deficits and gaps, positive psychology helps the patient to see that they already possess the things they need to be happy and to thrive. (See Martin Seligman’s book Flourish and Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity for more.) As we’re helping others, we should simultaneously be helping them to see the capacities they have within themselves. (See Motivational Interviewing for some more ideas on how to affirm people in their strengths.)

The Only Way Out Is Through

There’s a belief that people who are calm are in control of their emotions. The belief is that they can keep them at bay and constrain them even in the toughest times. This is a false belief. Emotions that are repressed and denied have a way of oozing their way to the surface and causing havoc. It’s a truer statement to say that people who are good at controlling their emotions just have a better awareness and acceptance of their emotions.

It’s not possible for the rational self (the rider in the elephant-rider-path model discussed in The Happiness Hypothesis) to restrain the emotions permanently. However, with a better relationship – driven by acceptance – there will be fewer times when the emotions will fight to have control. It’s acceptance of the emotions that are being felt, that our rationality can properly assess that we’re not in much real danger – and therefore dramatic actions are not called for.

It can be true that we’re threatened, but, to some degree, we choose what is a threat and what is a challenge to be overcome.

Challenging the Threat

There are two key components of ego-resiliency – which is a goal that everyone has. One of those is the ability to perceive difficulty as a challenge rather than a threat. Instead of looking at the lack of knowledge to do something, you can view it as an opportunity to learn or a challenge to be able to demonstrate that you can do things.

It’s cliché to describe problems as opportunities, but that really is the case. Edison’s work to find the incandescent lightbulb is similarly cliché, but in it rings a bit of truth. Edison’s work wasn’t always a commercial success. From his first patent for a voting machine to his extensive work trying to find alternative sources for natural rubber, it wasn’t that Edison was uniquely gifted to never fail. His unique gift was in his perspective that the things that he faced were challenges and not threats.

Adversity and the Rubber Ball

The other component to ego-resiliency and effective recovery from hardship is the capacity to bounce back from adversity. The agrarian saying is, “If the horse throws you off, get back on.” It’s simple to say, but harder to do – both physically in case of a horse and proverbially in the face of adversity causing a defeat. However, for the most part failure isn’t fatal.

What that means is that, though we may get knocked down and feel like we’re losing or failing, it isn’t permanent. The ability to recognize that the problems aren’t persistent – that they’re temporary and not pervasive – but are localized to one or a few small areas of our life can allow us to understand that adversity can get us down, it just can’t keep us down.

Vulnerability

There’s a bit of vulnerability in accepting that we’re going to get knocked down from time to time. There’s a bit of acceptance in our imperfect and often frail nature to know that we aren’t invincible. While we all intuitively know we’re not perfect, and we’re going to die, and vulnerability is a cloak that we’ll always wear, we seek to deny it from ourselves and from others.

The paradox of vulnerability is that to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we must feel safe – we may not need to be safe, we just need to feel it. To admit our vulnerability, we must accept ourselves non-judgmentally. To be vulnerable with others, we’ve got to trust that they don’t intend us harm. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more.)

Self-Pity

Like anything, there can be too much of a good thing. Being vulnerable often leads to humility. (See Humilitas for more.) However, if we don’t non-judgmentally accept our vulnerability, we may find ourselves in the pit of self-pity. We may discover that we’re self-absorbed with only our limitations and our faults. We become so focused on ourselves that we can’t see that others have vulnerabilities too.

Self-pity is a form of self-absorption, where our fear and lack of self-compassion have limited our view of the outside world. It’s natural and normal that our focus is pulled towards intense and immediate threats; however, it’s not natural when those threats aren’t real and when they persistently prevent us from seeing the real world. (See The Anatomy of Peace for boxes that distort our perspective.)

Dysfunctional Relationships

It takes two to tango, they say. Relationships necessarily involve two people. While we may believe that we’re the root cause of everything that is wrong in a relationship or lament our poor decision-making that led us to be a part of a dysfunctional relationship, the reality is that one or even a few bad decisions does not poor judgement make. Every relationship has its dysfunction. The real question is what your role is in removing the dysfunction, either by changing your responses or exiting the relationship.

More than any other aspect of our world, relationships is key. Research supports our need for social connection, intimacy, and closeness – and in many areas of the world, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain and build connections. Having self-pity because we don’t have enough relationships or have too many dysfunctional relationships doesn’t help us.

Checking In

Whether it’s alone in a room or with a group of people, one way to be present and shape the future of your relationships with others – and with yourself – is to perform a check-in process. The process is simple but often overlooked. Whatever specific approach you take to get there, checking in has two goals. The first goal is to acknowledge your reality, including your thoughts and feelings, whether they seem reasonable or not. The second goal is to recognize your desire for the conversation, for the relationship, or for yourself.

The process of checking in helps you to reach clarity about where you really are and where you really want to go. Collectively, this makes finding the path between the two much easier to find even if the path itself isn’t easy. If the path doesn’t seem easy, maybe you need A Fearless Heart to guide you.

Book Review-Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Is happiness a skill? Most folks are looking for happiness – like searching for the lost city of Atlantis or the fountain of youth. However, few people look at happiness as a skill that can be cultivated. However, that’s the central idea behind Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. Matthieu Ricard is a scientist turned Buddhist scholar who believes that happiness isn’t something that you find, but it’s something that you develop.

Wiring in Happiness

Ricard isn’t the only one who believes that happiness comes from changing the patterns of our thoughts. It’s not that our external circumstances don’t matter when it comes to happiness, it’s just that it matters much less than we believe. We’ve heard stories of the lottery winners who, after a short time of happiness, return to their normal sense of happiness – or, rather, being unhappy. While we can’t change the circumstances around us, as much as we might like to, we can change our responses to the circumstances.

It was 2007 when a flight out of LaGuardia was cancelled, causing me to route through Regan National in Washington, DC. I mentioned that experience in my review of Stumbling on Happiness. I’m far from being able to say that I’ve got it all figured out, but, in that post, I share how different responses to a flight being cancelled could lead to anger and frustration or gratitude for the opportunity to read a book about happiness.

It wasn’t the external circumstances that changed – both passengers faced the same problem of a cancelled flight – but the responses are very different.

Rick Hansen in Hardwiring Happiness believes that it’s possible to change the way we think and thereby develop more happiness. It might be more accurate to say that Hansen encourages us to savor the happiness that we do have and remain grateful, so that we can be happier with our everyday life.

Healthy Mind

What Daniel Gilbert called a psychological immune system (in Stumbling on Happiness), Ricard would call a healthy mind. Instead of resisting the negative circumstances, Ricard encourages us to have our thoughts be healthy all the time. It’s not an antibody that your immune system releases in response to an attack, but is instead a natural part of daily living.

A healthy mind is free from troublesome internal conflicts. A healthy mind apprehends reality clearly – for the most part – and adapts quickly when a gap is discovered between perception and reality. The way that the person perceives themselves is also grounded in the way that they actually act. They aren’t always “minding the gap” between who they say they are and the way they actually behave. There’s a sense of peace that the way that they live their life is the way they want to be.

The Illusion of Control

Much of the reason why people aren’t happy is because they believe in the illusion of control. Those people afflicted with depression can apprehend the fact that they have no control more readily than the optimists among us who continue to believe that they have control even when they have none. (See The Hope Circuit for more on this.) The illusion of control helps us cling onto hope even when the chances are very slim. Snyder in The Psychology of Hope explained that there are two components to hope – willpower and waypower. Waypower is basically the belief that you know how to affect change. (Willpower has a more or less classical definition; you can find out more about this in the book titled Willpower.)

The illusion of control may give us hope – but, as Miller explains in Compelled to Control, it’s all too easy for us to believe that we have control of other people. The result is dysfunctional relationships that aren’t helpful in leading us towards happiness.

Pleasure and Joy

I read in Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life that many people know what trust is until you ask them to define it. When you do, you’ll invariably hear a definition of trustworthy and not a definition of trust. I believe a similar thing happens when you ask someone to define joy. Rarely would someone respond with a clear definition to this question. Even in The Book of Joy, definitions for joy are hard to come by. What is most frequently shared for joy is something shallower, more incidental, and fickle – pleasure. Pleasure may not have the lasting value that joy has, but it’s much easier to articulate.

Where pleasure is about the moment, joy is about the enduring characteristics of a person or situation. That’s great but how do you develop joy? Ricard explains that joy is the outward expression of the happiness that a person feels inside. It is happiness radiated on to others.

Integrated Self Image

We are quite literally and figuratively the center of our universes. We see everything from our eyes and construct reality through our senses. Our brain is designed to make leaps of inference. (This is the System 1 of Daniel Kahneman’s systems model in Thinking, Fast and Slow.) We’re designed to jump to conclusions. We use everything that we “know” to guide our predictions about what will happen next. The ability for us to predict what will be next is a remarkable feat of evolutionary engineering.

Evolution even equipped us with tools to help us adjust our prediction failures – to refine the efficacy. Jokes, it seems, are designed to test our predictive capacity. Laughter is the response to a failure to correctly predict – at least in a comedy club. (See Inside Jokes for more.) However, the correction mechanisms for our predictive capacity are hampered by the ego’s defenses and our need to be perceived as perfect to the outside world. (See Change or Die for more on our ego defenses.)

When we see ourselves in a distorted way – by failing to accept all of ourselves – we perceive the world in a distorted way. If we’re looking through ourselves through wavy lenses, we see the rest of the world in the same way. As a result, it’s critical that we learn how to see ourselves clearly so that we can see the world clearly. We won’t really end up with a perfect perception of the world – but at least we can work without any core distortions that are hard to find – and fix.

Constructing Happiness

If happiness is a skill, then how do we develop it? In other words, how do we construct happiness. The answer is a sort of side-step. I mentioned in my review of The Heretic’s Guide to Management that A Philosopher’s Notes spoke of two Hindu goddesses:

Lakshmi is the traditional Goddess of Wealth. The problem is, if you go straight after her (by constantly chasing the bling) she’ll tend to avoid you. Saraswati’s the Goddess of Knowledge. If you go after her (by pursuing self-knowledge, wisdom and all that goodness), an interesting thing happens. Apparently, Lakshmi’s a jealous Goddess. If she sees you flirting with Saraswati she’ll chase after you.

It turns out that happiness may be naturally attracted to wisdom in the same way that wealth is attracted to knowledge. Happiness has relatively consistently been related positively to age – you’re happier as you get older. There’s a peak in our 70s – when our bodies tend to start failing to a greater degree.

A different way of thinking about this, and the approach that Ricard takes is that if a wise man can be happy, then happiness must be possible. In other words, he solves the belief that happiness – sustained happiness – is unattainable. If there are wise men who were previously not happy but now are, then our ability to reach happiness is a measure of our willingness to pursue the wisdom that leads to it.

Obtaining wisdom is not necessarily a straight path either. However, it is a known path. It’s one that people have pursued for centuries. Hard work and dedicated practice can make anything possible – even wisdom and happiness. (See Peak for more on how to reach the pinnacle of any endeavor.)

Emotional Regulation

From the outside looking in, it appears that people who are happiest have overcome their negative emotions and have controlled their emotions into a channel of only positive experiences. However, this view is not correct – at least for those that I know. It’s more accurate to say that the people who I know who are the happiest are more in touch and in alignment with their emotions. They’re not transcending their emotions as much as they’re accepting and shaping them – what Ricard calls regulating them. Daniel Goleman – who wrote the foreword for Ricard – would likely agree, as this aligns with his beliefs about the development of Emotional Intelligence.

Looking at Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model from The Happiness Hypothesis, it’s not that the rider has usurped control from the elephant, rather that the elephant and rider have developed the kind of relationship that the elephant accepts the gentle hand of the rider even when it would have other ideas. That is the person is so integrated in their thoughts and feelings that they play together rather than as separate ideas.

Lisa Feldman Barrett argues in How Emotions Are Made that the separation that we’ve created between emotional areas of the brain and non-emotional areas are fiction and that we find that the neural circuitry that drives our thoughts is interconnected with the circuitry associated with emotion. Ricard notes, “The traditional languages of Buddhism have no word for emotion as such. That may be because according to Buddhism all types of mental activity, including rational thought, are associated with some kind of feeling, be it one of pleasure, pain, or indifference.” In short, our emotions may not be separable from our thoughts.

It’s more accurate to say that those who have happiness haven’t learned to transcend their emotions but rather have come to find a way of accepting them as a part of themselves.

Controlling but Not Repressing

Another way to think about this process is the idea of controlling emotions without repressing them. In the practice of meditation, we learn to accept our feelings and then gently guide our thoughts back to the object of meditation. The same approach is useful with our emotions.

When we gently recognize our emotions without reaction or judgement, we create a space where they can develop completely. Allowing them to develop completely doesn’t mean acting on them, it only means that they’re not shunned, judged, or repressed. Emotions, like thoughts, are subject to the Zeigarnik effect. That is, incomplete thoughts or emotions are given greater weight in our minds. (See The Science of Trust for more on the Zeigarnik effect.) So, repressing an emotion may drive it underground, but it will also strengthen it at the same time.

When we repress emotions, we believe they are shameful or that we shouldn’t be having them. This judgement separates the ability to control our emotions from repressing them. Acceptance is necessary for us to work with our emotions, rather than trying to repress them.

Loneliness and Depression

The striking statement “Fifteen percent of Americans report experiencing an intense feeling of loneliness once a week” captures part of the problem with trying to develop happiness. That statement is a scary contrast to the happiness that Ricard is speaking about. In my review of Loneliness, I explained that loneliness has nothing to do with being alone. It’s about feeling alone and disconnected. We cannot completely quiet our yearning to be with other people. It’s wired into our very being. (See Spiritual Evolution for more.) However, curing loneliness isn’t as easy as placing someone in a room full of people. It’s much harder for people to develop the trust necessary to be really seen and understood so that they can be vulnerable and thereby in a real relationship with others. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on this.)

Accompanying loneliness at the other end of the happiness continuum is depression. It’s clinically recognized and too often medicated. Depression is like trying to fill a tub when the drain is open. It’s like having all the energy sucked out of you. It drains away your happiness. While there are chemical and clinical causes for which treatment is essential, there are also interesting perspectives, including Dr. Glasser’s, who suggests in Choice Theory that we may have more choices to make than we realize even when it comes to depression.

If depression is a choice, then perhaps happiness is a choice too. Perhaps to be happy, we must choose to do the things that we know will lead to happiness. One of those might be to read about Happiness.

Book Review-Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

Complications impact every aspect of our life. We believe that we’ve got life all figured out, but then come the pesky complications to our orderly, perfect world. Atul Gawande speaks about medical complications in Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science while simultaneously exposing the inner struggle that surgeons – and, indeed, anyone who provides care to another person – must struggle with. I’ve reviewed two of Gawande’s more recent books The Checklist Manifesto and Being Mortal – both are good and different from each other. They’re the reason I picked up Complications.

Imperfect Science

We’re wired by our nature to crave understanding of our world. We want to believe that we have it all figured out – or at least, if we don’t have it all figured out, someone else does. Someone else who will tell us the answers to the questions that we don’t even understand yet. In this yearning, we’re willing to overlook what we know to be reality.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. (See commentary about the research on NPR.) Let that sink in for a second. Heart disease and cancer are more likely to cause death, but nothing else. Given our concern for healthcare-associated infections, it’s interesting to me that the researchers didn’t include healthcare-associated infections in their list. Though they may be unwanted, they’re not considered 100% preventable and thus didn’t make the list – though they would add about 100,000 more deaths and move the needle from 250,000 deaths to 350,000 every year, all based on medical error.

However, most of us don’t think of this when we go to the doctor to ask them to evaluate our condition, adjust our medicines, or operate on us. We don’t consider that the chances are good that there will be some sort of an error if we stay in a hospital – whether inconsequential or not, it’s likely to be there. Gawande pushed for a solution to some of these errors in The Checklist Manifesto and made a compelling case that aviation doesn’t suffer from the same failure rates as medicine. Terri and I wrote a chapter in Information Overload that speaks to the unmanageable level of information that nurses must cope with.

The problem is that we speak of medicine as a practice and rarely pause to think that this means everyone is practicing. They’re practicing becoming good, but they aren’t good to start. (See Peak for more on how to become the best at anything.) Medicine isn’t nearly as much science as we’d all like it to be. The complexity of human systems and how to best support people isn’t always easy.

Systems

Just as we pass over practice and rarely pause to consider that it means no one has mastered it, we similarly toss out the word “system” in medicine like it’s well understood. We have the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the nervous system, and more. As we zoom into any one of those systems, there are a set of loops that keep the system running. Some of those are internal, and some of those are provided by outside systems. For instance, the nervous system relies upon the circulatory system to provide the neurons with glucose and oxygen. These, of course, come from the pulmonary systems and digestive systems. Technically, glucose is managed by the endocrine system, which is, in turn, fed by the digestive system.

I think you see the point. Even if you were to fully understand one of the systems, which would be a feat in and of itself, it’s unrealistic to expect that anyone would fully understand every system – and the interaction between the systems. There’s great discussion on the fundamentals of systems in Thinking in Systems and more unsolvable problems, called “wicked problems,” in Dialogue Mapping due to inherent instability in systems. We do a lot of writing about how systems are unknowable and uncontrollable – but we still expect that they are both knowable and controllable. (Something that is covered in more detail in The Black Swan and Antifragile.)

Systems are a simplification (which we are as humans prone to do). They allow us to manage the fact that we can’t everything in our head to be able to simulate everything. We use our understanding to create schemas which allow us to simplify our thinking into ways that (hopefully) we can manage. (See The Art of Explanation for more on schemas)

Rational Decisions and Irrational Intuition

Gary Klein’s work with firefighters helped me see that everything we know isn’t rational and explicit. Instead, we have intuition that is developed from seeing things and making models in our thinking. (See Sources of Power and Seeing What Others Don’t for more on his work.) Works like The Paradox of Choice and Lost Knowledge helped me to realize that teasing out some tacit knowledge is difficult and potentially disruptive to the professional that has the knowledge.

However, converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge dramatically increases the usefulness. Codifying what is and isn’t best practice through research and validation makes it possible to leverage the hard work and learning of a few and allow it to apply to the many. It was 2001 when the research was published for a study that I supported. The Diabetes Advantage Program, as it was called, was a grand experiment to see if a set of agreed-upon standards could inform the care of patients in a primary care setting. (The research published as “A Systematic Approach to Risk Stratification and Intervention Within a Managed Care Environment Improves Diabetes Outcomes and Patient Satisfaction”.) My responsibility was to take the protocols that were finally agreed upon and put them into a system that would identify opportunities for improvements in care for the primary care physicians to choose whether to implement or not. The system created a pretty report with model orders that the physician could accept or reject. The nurse typically made recommendations on the report before handing it to the physician, and, after appropriate consideration, they often signed it, allowing the nurse to complete the required orders.

The project was successful. I believe a large part of this was striking the right balance between physician intuition and systematic support to help the physicians make the right decisions based on the available research.

Accepting Input

Strangely enough, there’s a central paradox as it comes to physicians. They must acknowledge that they’re sometimes wrong – and simultaneously be confident that every decision they make is the right one. On the one hand, they know that they are just as fallible as anyone else. On the other hand, they must behave as if they know the right path forward. President Truman famously said, “Give me a one-handed economist.” Dealing with uncertainty is never fun, and, when it comes to medicine, there’s always uncertainty.

The problem is that the patients and their families want – or perhaps need – to feel like they’re doing the right thing. That means that the physician must appear confident even when they’re not. You might be protesting, but sometimes they give options, and they don’t know which way to go. Even then, they must appear confident in the diagnosis or possible diagnosis and the list of options they put on the table.

Gawande’s next book, The Checklist Manifesto, speaks of the power gradient that exists in healthcare, with the physician leading and the rest of the team following. More importantly, he explains how the humble checklist and a prior agreement about how things will work are designed to subtly shift the balance of power back to a more neutral state where physicians – and particularly surgeons – are still in power but not so much that the rest of the team can’t verify and even question the course being charted.

Beyond the land of questioning what is currently going on and what is about to happen is a place where a physician can accept input about the case, alternatives, and their performance. The morbidity and mortality conferences that are regularly held in most acute care settings are designed to gently remind physicians of the mistakes that are made and what can be done to mitigate them in the future. This is feedback from peers that isn’t intended to be done in a shaming way. Its design is to create the expectation that you’ll accept feedback – and somehow remain confident at the same time.

Great Idea, But You Go First

There are other conflicts in the medical system. We know that, in general, the more experienced physicians have better outcomes. We also know that to get that experience they must have the chance to practice – thus some people must accept the care of relative novices so that they can learn. There are, of course, protections built into the system so that these less experienced physicians are guided, mentored, trained, and supported by more experienced physicians. However, it’s not the same, and everyone knows it. When your loved ones go into the operating room, do you want the 20-year old veteran or the resident? Most would say they want the experience.

That’s the rub in this conflict. We know that to improve overall, we need to get more and better practice. However, when it comes to our loved ones, we get a bit squeamish. How would we feel if they make a mistake and there are consequences – including death – that could have been prevented?

Eliminating Humans

We know that human beings are finicky creatures. We have systematic biases that prevent us from seeing things clearly. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow and Predictably Irrational for more about our biases and their predictability.) For instance, Willpower explains that, if you are up for parole, you want a hearing in the morning instead of the afternoon, because it doubles your chances for parole. It shouldn’t matter whether your case is in the morning or the afternoon; after all, the facts are the same. However, somehow it does. Judges – who are prided on their ability to be impartial – feel and act differently in the morning than in the afternoon.

So, if humans are the problem, why not eliminate the humans? As my above story illustrated, I don’t believe that’s the answer. Instead, I believe the answer lies in supporting the humans with systems designed to identify for the physician what may be wrong or what may be indicated by best research.

EKGs are a frequently-used test to assess heart functioning. It works by measuring the electrical currents that drive the heart. It’s the familiar bobbing line that we all expect to see thanks to television medial dramas. It’s also very difficult to read. However, with practice experts can tell a healthy heart rhythm from one that is a signal for danger. The problem is that, even nearly 30 years ago, computers could do it better. Fed with enough data about what was right and what was wrong, a computer better identified issues than a top cardiologist – by 20 percent.

Even with nearly 30 years since the publication of the study and new research supporting that computers can evaluate various data sets, including EKGs, with better detection accuracy, they’re rarely used. Even devices that can continuously monitor patients and devices designed for patients to purchase themselves (e.g. Kardia) aren’t in widespread use.

We’re resistant to the idea that computers can do our jobs better than we can – even when there’s evidence that this is the case. We can’t accept that we’re turning our fate over to a machine – and we shouldn’t. However, at the same time, it’s foolish to not leverage the tools that we must improve our own performance. Instead of eliminating the humans, perhaps we can find strategies that allow the humans to focus on the things that are more consistent with our unique capacities that machines currently cannot – and may never – do. “Doctors,” comments Gawande, “can be stubborn about changing the way we do things.” The stubbornness can be an asset to fend off new fads and have the confidence to keep doing what works – but it can have tragic consequences when it prevents us from moving forward.

We Know So Little

Gawande moves from topic to topic like a gazelle, quickly explaining using stories how we don’t understand pain or vomiting before moving on to more ethical issues like the degree of control that a patient should have in their care. In all of it, there’s the clear sense that we know so little. We can only see into the forest as far as our flashlight will shine. We may get stronger and stronger flashlights in terms of technology, but, fundamentally, we will always only see so far.

Behind every certainty, there seems to lurk complications. Behind every diagnosis of a cause of death is an autopsy to contradict. (In 40% of cases, research says.) In life and medicine, it seems like we should be prepared for Complications. Maybe reading a surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science can help.

Book Review-Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

I’ve known for some time now that it’s better to be lucky than smart. The organizations and people that are successful are more frequently the result of luck than intelligence or skill. So, then the key question when you’re looking to compete is the one answered in Clayton Christensen’s title Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. The unfortunate thing is that there aren’t any easy answers.

Jobs to Be Done

The kernel at the core of Competing Against Luck is the thing Christensen has been working on for a while. Back in The Innovator’s DNA, he spoke about how consumers hire products to do jobs for them – to solve problems that they don’t want to have to solve for themselves, or at least not have to solve them over and over again. One story includes why people buy milkshakes, and the split between two different answers. The first answer is for the morning commute, to have something that will stick with people during their drive and through the morning. The second answer is as a way to say yes to a child to one thing – instead of having to say no to everything.

This example presents a problem, because the morning commuter wants a shake that lasts longer. It’s thicker, so it should be served through a smaller straw, and thus take longer to finish. (See Nudge for simple and unconscious ways to change the outcomes without people noticing.) However, the parent wants the shake they buy their child to be done as soon as possible, so they can move on with the next thing on their task list. The product is the same, but the job that the product is being hired to do is different.

Cheap Labor

One of the interesting things that happens when this “jobs to be done” theory is applied to innovation is that, frequently, the disruptor – the innovator – in the market enters the playing field at a significant disadvantage. Their products are technically inferior to the historical products – but much cheaper. This allows many people to try them out and allows the disruptor to develop more robust product offerings.

Even Khan Academy, which was started by Sal Khan to help his young cousin, was “cheaper and crappier” than the educational videos already online – but it allowed students to learn at their own pace, and that made the difference. The disruptors are those in the market who can focus on the aspects of the product that are essential and do it at a price that the market can bear.

Hiring for a Different Job

An important point when considering a potential innovation is whether it solves the same problem as the existing players in the market. For instance, Airbnb competes not just with hotels but also with not going on the trip or staying with friends or relatives. Uber competes not just with taxi and limousine services but also with public transportation and asking a friend to give you a lift.

The beauty of innovations is that they can help to redefine a category in ways that broaden the potential market. These changes are natural as the market evolves. Magical numbers happen in the market where utilization takes off. VCRs and DVD players – for instance – both started to take off in popularity when the mean price point for them hit around $200. Suddenly, they became viable alternatives to going out to the movies a few times a year. The same is true for high definition televisions. Once they became “affordable,” they changed how people started to think about where and when to buy them.

Needs and Behaviors

Behaviors aren’t explained by needs. There’s a stunning gap between what people say they want and are willing to spend money on and what they will part with money for. There’s a disconnect between the emotional brain that makes the buying decisions and the rational brain that answers survey questions. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more.) It seems what people will actually do is shaped by their perception of how OK the solution is – and how powerfully they feel the need.

Everett Rogers discovered that there are many factors for the rate of diffusion (or adoption) of an innovation with Iowa farmers as explained in The Diffusion of Innovations. He found that some people were willing to adopt very early, where others needed more social evidence that the innovation worked. So just having a need isn’t sufficient to cause a change in behavior. It takes a sufficiently large motivation to break the inertia of continuing to do the same thing.

Indicators and Causality

As Nassim Taleb points out in The Black Swan and Antifragile, causality and correlation are different things. Competing Against Luck quotes Nate Silver from The Signal and the Noise in his clarification about correlation and causation. It turns out that neither ice cream sales nor forest fires cause the other. It just so happens that they’re both correlated with warm weather.

Sometimes the key metric, the one that leads to the results, isn’t the one that you’d expect. (See How to Measure Anything for more on leading indicators.) Batting average isn’t – it turns out – the best way to measure offensive success in baseball – on-base percentage is. When looking for innovations, we need to consider whether we’re measuring our results against the right yardstick.

Ethnography

Christensen is effectively advocating for ethnography. He’s saying that someone needs to get to the point that they understand the culture of the target audience so well that they can see the product the people need – that they never even realized they needed. (See The Ethnographic Interview.) Sometimes, you can’t listen to what they’re saying. You must look for ways to experience the situation with them to learn more. (See Creative Confidence for more.)

It’s possible to do market research with the illusion of truth in quantitative numbers. However, to truly understand the nature of the situation, you need the qualitative answers. It’s only through these answers that you can see the struggles that are washed away by statistics and averaging. Qualitative answers give you a palpable feel for the people you’re studying as potential customers. It’s in this feel that you can often find the best insights.

Peace of Mind

If you stare deeply into the data about innovations, a strange thought starts to emerge. Peace of mind is a necessity in today’s world. It’s not a luxury upgrade. If you think about successful products, whatever they are, they’re likely selling peace of mind. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups.) Peace of mind is so hard to come by in today’s world, we often find ourselves seeking it out – and craving the relief it provides.

Peace of mind takes many forms. Some of the peace of mind can be conveyed by the brand, and some of the peace of mind is conveyed in how completely the solution solves the job for which the item was hired for.

Commanders Intent

The armed forces, and particularly the Army, has been known for its command and control attitude. Great plans are created and assumed to be how things need to happen. However, there’s an old army saying that “no plan survives engagement with the enemy.” That’s why orders now come with a specific “commander’s intent” component. That is, in addition to the specific details of the mission, the commander’s goal is clearly articulated, so that the army soldier can find a way to meet the intent, even if the specific plans are thwarted. This commander’s intent is key to soldiers operating in the uncertain world of today.

Luck and Timing

Much of luck, I believe, is timing. The market must be in the right spot for the right idea. We can try to time the market, outthink it, or outsmart it; but, in the end, it’s luck and, particularly, the right timing that drive a lot of success in business.

While I appreciate Christensen’s title, I’m not sure that there’s much specific to offer in the way of Competing Against Luck – unless you expect that your behaviors are going to bring you better luck. Still, trying to learn how to compete is better than not.