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Two questions

What are the effects of our own behavior?

How should we behave if we care about the answer?

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3 Comments

  1. Trinifar says:

    What are the effects of our own behavior?

    Mostly we don’t and can’t know much about the effects of our behavior except sometimes in the short-range and short-term. O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a brilliant example.

    How should we behave if we care about the answer?

    Attentiveness, attentiveness, attentiveness. Feel how your feet touch the ground with each step.

    [Apologies for the mysticism, but with such open-ended questions it seems the best way to get started.]

    January 7, 2008 @ 4:42 am

  2. etbnc says:

    First, thanks for initiating a conversation, Trinifar.

    As you say, it’s easier for us to see the consequences of our behaviors in the short term than over a long term. Since your writing often takes a long-term view, and since my writing here typically reflects a longer view also, I can understand that interpretation.

    In this case, however, I was thinking about acute, immediate, short-term consequences when I posted those two questions. In fact I first submitted them as a comment at another web site, where they were mostly overlooked and ignored in an exchange of self-righteous snowballs thrown from the tips of colliding icebergs. I felt sufficiently inspired by them to paste them here, where they can be further ignored over the course of the Internet’s long tail.

    (That’s an attempt at self-conscious ironic humor. No, really! Cuz, ya know, this web site is all about being hip. Oy. )

    Anyway, at the time I felt those questions really got to the heart of … something. Many of the combatants at the other web site truly seemed oblivious to the harm they inflicted upon each other. They seemed astounded that their words and their behaviors could create harmful effects. Sadly, some combatants seemed well aware of the harm they inflicted, but they didn’t seem to care. Both of those strike me as deeply dysfunctional behavior problems. Hence my comment there, and now here.

    As a more beneficial response, I’d say your emphasis on attentiveness is most wise. Some call it mindfulness, I call it paying attention, by any name I’d say it’s a helpful and beneficial behavior.

    If we pay attention to the difficulty of predicting longer term consequences, it seems to me we quickly arrive at the Precautionary Principle: It’s dangerous to mess with things we don’t properly understand.

    In engineering school I learned about feedback in control systems. It was important for a control system to include feedback, to “close the loop”. Systems that did not incorporate feedback tended to be unstable and out of control. Sometimes we referred to our fellow students who seemed wild, reckless, and out-of-control by saying, “Look out! That guy is operating open loop.”

    I look around at a lot of personal interactions and I want to warn folks, “Look out! Those guys are operating open loop!”

    Have you seen that, too?

    January 14, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  3. Trinifar says:

    My background is also in engineering so, yes, I see that too — sometimes in myself! When we just keep adding energy to a system (even a conversion) it can quickly spiral out of control: escalate, escalate, escalate. Not much good comes from that.

    I like your use of the term mindfulness. One part of that, to me, is about being able to maintain awareness of the context of an activity in addition to the activity itself. Continuing the example of a discussion and your (beautiful) metaphor of the coliding icebergs, it’s easy to focus only on the tips of icebergs crushing each other — that’s where the action is, where the energy is being released, it draws our attention.

    I think we require training to be mindful of the wider context, the hidden parts of the bergs. We could all use more of that. The Center for Nonviolent Communication was created by Marshall Rosenberg for just that purpose. His premise is that our culture teaches us to use violent (i.e. harsh) language rather than effective communication. I think the Buddhist notion of mindfulness and the training that comes with simple forms of meditation is quite effective too.

    January 16, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

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