Monday, January 30, 2012

Letters to a young man 8

Hello my friend. Words can’t adequately describe how busy I’ve been of late, and I feel that it’s time I write you back, if only to say a few things and to let you know that I’ve gotten your letters. I won’t address all that you’ve written me specifically, but I want to say a few things about what you wrote. For one thing, I’m impressed with your development. The main thing that strikes me is that you are increasingly willing to take risks and to experiment. A man your age should be doing just that. As life throws rejection and surprise at you, you can pause a moment to reflect and learn, then go forth. From what you’ve written me, this is exactly what you’re doing, and this is the age to do it. Remember,

“The greater part of goodness is the will to be good.” –Seneca

I think of this saying often. How lucky we are to have this wisdom preserved for us. I know that you may find your struggles to be fruitless at times, even meaningless. I do not think that it can be any other way. A man must face this and not give up, for it is this kind of challenge that leads a man to integrate his difficulties into his whole, to fully learn from the experience. Only then will he have no need to ruminate about it further.

As a man gets older, he has to reevaluate his earlier self, his decisions and path, everything that has made him who he is. This can be an uncomfortable thing, but it is necessary if you are to leave unprofitable ways behind you, moving forward to be the grown man that you will one day become. I’ve been engaged in this process a lot of late. It is painful to look honestly upon so many mistakes. And yet, almost as soon as the pain appears it dissipates, and this is part of maturity. Letting go of the mistakes, knowing that you alone are in control of your current and future decisions, and being resolved that the old ways have no more use for you; and also being able to see how there was no other way but for you to have made the mistake.

When a tree grows, it may grow a branch too low to the ground; it does not lose all of the other branches because this low branch fails.

This way, this process, can’t be faked, and it can’t be skipped. Life will be an endless loop of repeated failures and miseries until a man takes self-reflection seriously. No man is perfect. No man can count on the Goddess of Fortune, she always has her day, and she is a fickle bitch; but, show me a man that is steadfast, and true to himself, a man that applies himself to his betterment, to being good, and I will be looking upon a happy and contented man.

Apply every effort to taking an honest look at yourself. This skill, above all others will be the difference maker in your life. It will always be with you.

Farewell for now, my young friend.

My book on stoicism.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Good Reads: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Get this book. Don't wait, do it now. Trust me, you won't look at yourself, your world, or the decisions you make the same ever again. While I haven't finished this book, it's already had a profound impact on me. Some of the concepts are familiar to me as I've read some of Kahneman's research, but some are new. Kahneman is a giant in psychology and has the rare distinction of having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. He's one of the pioneers who realized (stumbled upon?) the fact that most agents in economic decision-making are anything but rational.

If I may give the crux of the story of Thinking, Fast and Slow, it is this: Your brain has two systems, System 1, and System 2. System 1 is generally automatic [think deciding if a girl is attractive.] So much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is automatic and System 1, and Kahneman illustrates this quite vividly. System 2 is more focused and concentrated thinking [think multiplying 24 x 17] and generally raises one's blood pressure and dialates one's pupils. One of the most fascinating things to me is how lazy our minds are. That's not meant as a criticism, much of the laziness of our minds is evolutionarily advantageous. Perhaps efficient is a better adjective. Yet, with the shortcuts come errors, and we make so many of them. One that I find particularly fascinating is that, when presented with a difficult problem to solve, System 1 will sometimes solve an easier problem and yet convince itself that it solved the more difficult one. And we do this so often that it's disquieting.

The more tired or depleted we are, the harder it is to engage System 2 in critical thinking. System 1 is happy to take over and go with its best guess. Sometimes, in fact often, this is fine. You don't need to think critically in many situations. Yet, in other situations, it can be disastrous.

Here are quotes:

"This is a pure System 1 response. She reacted to the threat before she recognized it."

"The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works."

"They were primed to find flaws, and this is exactly what they found."

"We must be inclined to believe it because it has been repeated so often, but let's think it through again."

"Evaluating people as attractive or not is a basic assessment. You do that automatically whether or not you want to, and it influences you."

This book is humbling. I can easily see applications for what I'm learning in many areas of my life. Look for it in your local library or bookstore or you can buy it from Amazon by clicking the image below. Happy reading.