Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A False Fallacy - Argument from Bias

For quite some time I have been surprised about the remarkable popularity of a certain misconception. There are a good number of people who seem to hold the strange idea that a person who is biased is less trustworthy than a non-biased person and that a biased opinion is less credible than a non-biased opinion. Such people have essentially created a new category of logical fallacy, by which they can dismiss arguments and statements made by biased individuals. For example:

Person A: Public schools are institutions that primarily exist as a means of governmental indoctrination.

Person B: You're just saying that because you don't like governmental institutions, therefore your assertion is false.
Despite that fact that some people regard statements made by biased persons as less credible than statements made by non-biased people, the fact remains that bias itself has no bearing on the validity of an assertion or argument. In fact, I would suggest that biased individuals are more likely to present truthful, detailed and accurate cases for things than either non-biased individuals or mildly-biased individuals.

A biased person is simply one with a mental tendency or inclination towards something. For example, if one prefers chocolate ice cream to vanilla, that is a form of bias. Similarly, if one holds the opinion that, on average, men are more intelligent than women, that is another form of bias. Bias is simply an opinion that leans in one direction and not in another. However, the fact that a person is biased has absolutely no bearing on validity of their opinion. It might be true that, on average, men are more intelligent than women, yet the mere fact that a person holds such an opinion does not affect the validity of such an opinion. Completely independent of any opinions held by anyone, the statement itself is either true or false. An examination of the relevent evidence is the most rational way to determine the validity and accuracy of any assertion.

The rejection of a idea because of its source, rather than its merit, is itself a common fallacy, known as the genetic fallacy. As such, those who reject the opinions of another simply because of alleged bias are the ones who are committing the logical fallacy. Bias has no bearing on logical cohesiveness of an argument nor of the validity of the postulated supporting evidence. To dismiss an argument prima facie without considering its merits simply because the argument or its presenter appears biased is to make a common logical fallacy.

Moreover, in further consideration, it would seem that a strong bias is more likely to result in more credible and meaningful arguments in support of a given thing. One who is only slightly biased is much more likely to rely on fanciful and invalid reasoning to support their opinion than someone who is more strongly biased. For example, suppose a man recently purchased a new Ford automobile, and yet isn't fully convinced that he made the best decision. He is only slightly biased in favor of his new car. As such, if you ask him why he thinks the Ford was the best choice, he will offer whatever feeble reasons he can, such as "It's a great value for the price,” “The color is really vivid,” It gets better mileage than competing cars," yet he remains not completely internally sold on the idea that his new Ford is really superior. His rationalization hamster is working hard to justify his choice to himself and others.

However, one who is strongly biased need not construct fanciful reasons in support of his choice. The musician who has purchased a brand new 5-string bass guitar and is fully knowledgable about its merits and imperfections is able to present a solid case for why it is a better choice than other similar models. He need not embellish the facts, since the raw facts alone support his choice. He will say, “My bass was absolutely the best I could purchase for less than $1000. It has received favorable reviews from over 200 satisfied customers. It has a build-in active equalizer. There is plenty of room in between the strings, making it easy for slap bass techniques. It normally retails for $1500, yet I bought it on sale for only $700. The body of the guitar made from natural cut Alder wood helps give the tone more sparkle than other models.” He is biased in favor of his new guitar because he is utterly convinced, by the simple facts alone, that his bass guitar best meets his musical needs.

As such, whenever I seek to find out the truth about something, I always look for someone who is strongly biased in favor of it. If I were seeking to find a religion that is practical and matches reality, I wouldn’t ask a Muslim what he thought about Buddhism, since he clearly remains unconvinced of the Buddhist worldview and therefore probably won’t offer good reasons for why I should accept Buddhism. But, a dedicated Buddhist monk, the most biased person possible, would be able to best present a sound argument for why I should accept his way of seeing things, since he truly believes that Buddhism is the most truthful and meaningful religion. Likewise, if I am looking to a buy a CD by an artist I haven’t listened to before, I would go to a dedicated fan of the band and ask his opinion about which album is best, and why. He will happily explain the many merits of his favorite album, and I will be able to judge whether I would enjoy it for similar reasons or whether he likes certain aspects of the music that I don’t enjoy as much. The critic, having disliked the album after listening to it only once, simply won’t be as familiar with the material and won’t be able to offer equally well-constructed reasons, either favorable or unfavorable, for why I should or shouldn’t buy a certain album.

Similarly, it is easiest for a salesman to sell a product that truly is of superior quality. While it certainly isn’t impossible to sell a product by lying to a customer and convincing them that a product is better than it is, it is far easier to sell a product by telling the truth about it, so long as the product itself possesses sufficient merit. The second way also never results in disillusionment, product returns or angry customers, whereas utilizing deception is a sure way to harm one’s business in the long run.

Or, in another example, there are many skeptics who doubt the authenticity of the Gospels because all of the authors of the Gospels are, quite clearly, strongly biased in favor of Jesus. These people seem to think that this bias would lead the apostles to construct clever falsehoods and embellish the truth in order to convince people of Jesus’ divinity. However, it would seem to a more reasonable assumption that because the apostles were so strongly convinced of what they had seen and heard, that they would accurately report the facts, knowing that the facts alone are compelling enough to convince a person that Jesus is divine. Their willingness to die rather than recant their faith in Jesus would further support such a hypothesis. Why would a person willingly die for a lie?

In any case, regardless of whether a strongly biased person is more likely to be honest and accurate or not, it still remains quite clear that to claim that "Arguments from Bias" are intrinsically fallacious is a logical error of its own. Neither the opinion of a single person nor of a collection of people has any bearing on the truth of their claims. A prima facie rejection of an argument or claim simply because of its author’s bias is a violation of the rules of logic and a perfect example of committing the genetic fallacy. The odd idea that bias leads to untruthfulness is neither a logical nor a rational hypothesis.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Positive Thinking Need Not Be Blind

Last week, I wrote a post postulating that a person's outlook on life is the primary determinant of their experience of life. Recently, Talleyrand wrote a post voicing his opposing opinion. Rather than nitpicking over a few unsupported assertations elsewhere in his post, I'm simply going to focus on his primary contentions with such a mindset. Fundamentally, he objects to the idea that a person's outlook on life determines the quality of their life. His first objection to such a view is that magical thinking, as he calls it, necessarily entails an ignorance or denial of reality. He refers to this way of perceiving events and situations as blind optimism.

While I am a firm believer in positive thinking, I do believe that there is a major danger in ignoring reality or denying unpleasant truths. Blind optimism and blind pessmism are equally deadly. In one case, one blindly believes that nothing can or will go wrong--this unswervingly leads to taking foolish risks and crashing up against unexpected and unanticipated negative consequences. In the other case, one blindly believes that nothing can or will go right--this leads directly to hopelessness, despair and unfounded cynicism. If magical thinking truly is inescapably tied to a blindly optimistic paradigm, then Talleyrand's objection would be the silver bullet that soundly vanquishes such false hope.

However, there is no necessity that one live in denial or ignorance to adopt a positive attitude towards life. It is difficult, though certainly not impossible, to embrace painful events and ruinous situations with both eyes wide open, recognizing the reality of the pain and yet not succumbing to resignation, cynicism or despair. It is blindness to foolishly believe that nothing bad will happen. Yet, it takes bold faith and courage to face suffering with a smile. It takes a transcendent perspective to realize that often trials and suffering are helpful occasions to reveals weaknesses of character and bring greater strength. It takes a lion-hearted individual to be undeterred and undaunted even in the face of torture or death. This precise attitude is one that is repeatedly encouraged by the pages of Scripture and exemplified by the apostles and countless Christian martyrs.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

I have a recent example from my own life about how positive thinking need not be blind. Last September, my apartment was robbed, and the theives stole over $2500 worth of stuff that I owned. While I could have been bitter about the whole affair, I honestly wasn't especially set back by the occurrence. Objectively, the robbery cost me a lot of money and time, as well as being a major inconvenience. However, in adopting the view advocated by Scripture, I chose to be grateful for what I still had, and to use the incident as a springboard for character-growth. Since my happiness is not rooted in my possessions, I could honestly say, "All things considered, I think the whole robbery might have been a win-win scenario." I penned those words just six days after the robbery. Positive thinking means that one must take in suffering and loss with a broad-angle perspective. When you simply realize that the very worst things that can happen to you aren't that bad, then your soul is free to embrace even the painful parts of life with joy and gratitude. Of course, my example is but a frail and pitiful one compared to someone who has truly suffered.

Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was brutally tortured for his faith, was a shining example of holiness, positive thinking, courage and faith in God. Regarding his time in chains, he writes: "It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us—so everyone was happy." What a bold and fearless statement that is! If you but read a fraction of the stories of his imprisonment and torture under the Romanian Communist regime, you will see how much he suffered, and how he consciously and willingly suffered it all. Richard Wurmbrand undeniably demonstrated positive thinking and an incredible faith in God, yet never was he in denial of the very real persecution that he endured.

To believe that everything will turn out well, one must have a clear criteria for what it means for things to turn out well. If, for everything to be good, one must continually be blessed with material wealth, bodily health and a lifestyle of comfort, then denial of reality or discontentment is certain to result. However, if one adopts a posture of humility and gratefulness, then even with nothing but dry herbs and tattered rags there can be near infinite joy. If one's affections are fixed upon the pleasures the world offers, then happiness will ever be elusive. However, if one follows Jesus' advice to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal," (Matthew 6:19) then it does not matter how little or much one has, how wealthy or poor one is, how blessed or how tortured one is. When Christ is your surpassing treasure, the promise of God given to us by Paul will never fail, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

The real question that must be asked is, "What is your foundation for happiness?" If your joy rests on that which is transitory and temporal, then your emotional state will be as chaotic as the situations and circumstances of your life. Trying to put on a smiley face with such a foundation necessitates a blind ignorance or a willful denial of that which is unpleasant. However, with a transcendent perspective that welcomes trials and suffering as opportunities for character growth, no such blindness is needed. When one values spiritual freedom, integrity, patience and perseverence more than happiness, then even disastrous incidents and cataclysmic events cannot effectively dampen one's joy. Emotional security and freedom come through valuing that which is most valuable and most intransitory. Cynical resignation, emotional numbness and denial of reality are all equally unhealthy ways to try to maintain emotional equilibrium. Only those who accept and embrace life as it is, with all its pleasures and pains, with all its ecstasy and agony, are able to maintain a consistently positive perspective while remaining fully conscious of all that is.

Therefore, while I agree with Talleyrand that blind optimism is a deadly perspective, to be avoided at all costs, I also would like to point out that blind pessism is equally deadly, since it paints the entire world as darker and more soul-crushing than it truly is. I have to wonder whether his lack of recognition that a positive perspective need not be mere blind optimism is simply a mental oversight, or whether it illustrates a blind pessism and a lack of emotional security. To deny the darkness of life or to deny the goodness in life are both forms of willful blindness. A balanced individual will always recognize and accept the good and bad in everything. A spiritually mature person is able to fully feel and experience both pain and pleasure without becoming numb to either and without becoming either overly cynical or adopting a false facade of happiness.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Being Dogmatic

For something to be of use, it must have a specific function and specific parameters. This is true of everything in life, whether a pineapple, a music CD, a word, a widget, or a human being. A word is the prime example of the necessity of definition. Imagine, for a moment, a word which has no definition. It can be used as a verb, as a noun, as an adjective, as an adverb, as a conjuntion, as a pronoun or even as a preposition. At first glance, it would appear that such a word would be universally useful. After all, a word that can be used to mean anything can be included in any or even every sentence. However, at second glance the weakness of such a word is revealed--in trying to convey everything, it is suitable to communicate nothing at all. Since this imaginary word has no standard definition, though it can used everywhere, no one can discern what it means. This example reveals that a word is only useful if it conveys a specific thing. The narrower the definition of word, the more clear it communicates the author's intent. The broader the definition of a word, the more room there is for ambiguity and confusion. The definition of a word is what limits its scope and gives it usefulness.

Much in a the same way, human beings have specific parameters. We exist in the physical world with certain bodily dimensions and functions. Likewise, our minds have the capacity to process large quantities of information, both consciously and subconsciously. Using our minds and emotions, we formulate values, beliefs, and personal preferences for and against numerous things. As humans, that which separates us from lower beings is our cognitive capacity. The fact that we can think, ponder, reflect and abstractualize is what makes us human. Those who are most developed as humans, are those who have thought about things and reached definitely conclusions about a broad array of things. While a young and inexperienced person may not especially know what his favorite sort of liquor is, what sort of qualities are desirable in a mate, or what the most reasonable metaphysical stance is, one who is well-developed knows his answer to such questions. In this manner, those who are the most developed in their humanity are those who are the most dogmatic. Those who are not very dogmatic may be human, but they certainly aren't very developed in their humanity.

Any firmly held belief is a dogma. According to the dictionary, a dogma is: something held as an established opinion; especially: a definite authoritative tenet. In this sense, all values, all beliefs about facts, and all established personal preferences are forms of dogma. If I believe that the sun truly exists, that is a piece of dogma. I will unapologetically defend my belief in the existence of the sun to anyone who disagrees. Similarly, if I hold the view that murder is wrong, that is a piece of dogma. If I especially enjoy playing bass and I adamantally dislike asparagus, those are both pieces of dogma that define me as a person.

There are two ways that a person can avoid becoming dogmatic over the course of time. The first way is to adopt a whimsical flippancy to one's stances and to alter them frequently. Such a person loves the color red one week and hates it the next. Such a person flits about, perhaps going from job to job without ever settling on one, perhaps going from lover to lover and never committing to one, or perhaps trying various hobbies but never whole-heartedly choosing one of them. Their preferences and tastes change constantly, and so their soul never becomes more defined. The main thing that defines the flippant person is the constanty of the chaos and disorder in their life.

The second way to avoid becoming dogmatic is to refuse to define oneself, out of timidity. Such a person is afraid to choose a religion, because such a choice necessarily entails a rejection of all other religions. Such a person is afraid to marry one person, because such a choice leaves him no longer free to marry another. Such a person doesn't choose a favorite color, since that would imply the existence of many other, wonderful, non-favorite colors. Since every choice involves a necessary and inseparable rejection of all other available options, the timid person avoids formulating fixed values and beliefs. This person values openmindedness and tolerance above personal development.

While openmindedness and tolerance are almost never practiced by those who pride themselves on such traits, it remains that neither openmindedness, nor tolerance are traits worth pursuing. A person who is truly openminded has quite nearly stripped himself of his humanity. A person who is insufficiently dogmatic demonstrates an utter apathy towards all that exists and towards all that is done. A truly openminded person will say, "I care not whether he commits murder." A truly openminded person will say, "I don't care whether you give me chocolate or vanilla." A truly openminded person will say, "I do not care whether she commits adultery." Thankfully, there are very few people who are truly openminded. Those who typically describe themselves as openminded and tolerant, are neither especially openminded nor are they especially tolerant. They are often quite dogmatic, themselves.

To be dogmatic is simply to believe fully in what one believes, whatever that may be. There is certainly right dogma and wrong dogma, but their is nothing intrinsically harmful about being dogmatic. On the contrary, there is something quite worthy and respectable about being dogmatic. To be dogmatic is simply to be assertive in one's beliefs. If one is opposed to murder, such a stance is of no value unless one is quite dogmatic about it. The only humane stance to adopt is, "I believe that murder is always wrong, and nothing will change my mind on the matter." Similarly, the sufficiently developed man will also be unafraid to say, "That man is a murderer, and therefore is worthy of death, because he has wrongfully killed someone. None shall convince me otherwise." Not only that, but a person's dogma will always lead him to being a judgmental sort of person. His dogma itself approves of certain actions and condenms others. Even those who preach against "closemindedness" and "judgmentalism" are quite closeminded and judgmental. The man who says, "There is nothing wrong with homosexuality," and, "It is wrong and unjust to call homosexuality a sin," is quite as closeminded and judgmental as the man who condemns homosexuality, because he is precisely as dogmatic. One man is dogmatically for homosexuality and the other man is dogmatically against it. One man is intolerant of those who judge homosexuals and the other is intolerant of those who practice homosexuality. Now, it may be that one of the men is right in his dogma and the other isn't, but it certainly can't be said that either is less dogmatic. Anyone who is even remotely human is quite dogmatic about a good number of things.

In order to be more fully human, and more defined as a human, every person must pursue dogmatism. That is, every single person should continually seek to more clearly define precisely what he believes, and seek to hold his beliefs with more and more certainty. Let each man be thoroughly convinced in his own mind, that his position is the right one. Ideally, let his position actually be the right one. Each man should be not easily swayed in his beliefs, since they should rest soundly on a great deal of evidence and experience. Each man should be prepared to give a defense for anything that he firmly stands for, and should live in accordance with his own doctrines. Our beliefs, values and preferences are what defines us, as human beings.

All people are religious beings, including the sort that are religious in an irreligious sort of way. Let our spirituality be something that is clearly defined and our practice of it be practical and definite. All people are philosophizing beings, including the sort that are philosophical in an unphilosophical sort of way. Let out philosophies be well thought-out, mentally rehearsed and firmly believed. All people are moral beings, including the sort that are moral in the most immoral sorts of ways. Let our code of ethics have a sharpness and consistency that is worthy of being respected and followed. All people are aesthetic beings, including the sort that appreciates aesthetics in a very unaesthetic manner. Let our artistic tastes and preference be refined and specific. The dogmatic individual is the most developed one, for he knows who he is, what he believes, what he loves, and what he hates.

To say that one likes all wines is simply to reveal a lack of a developed palette, but to say that one possess a keen fondness for merlot and a sharp distaste for chardonnay displays a preference that is more complete. To say that one loves all types of women is merely to say that one hasn't figured out which sort he likes best. To say that all religions are good and have their place is to reveal a lack of knowledge of religion or an unwillingness to define oneself, whereas the fanatically religious individual knows exactly what he believes. To say that one likes doing everything simply means that one hasn't discovered which things he especially enjoys or dislikes, whereas to state with certainty that one loves playing basketball and driving fast cars is to reveal a more complete personality. As humans, we are defined both by that which we like and that which we dislike, by that which we firmly believe and by that which we highly doubt, by that which we passionately love and that which we fervently hate.

If there is one thing that all people should aim value for, it is a deeper dogmatism. Let us be dogmatic in everything. Let us be right in everything. Let us ensure that whatever beliefs we hold align with reality and yield good fruit. Once that is done, let us hold those beliefs with unshakable certitude. Those who are firmly dogmatic and well-developed in their selection of dogma are capable of enjoying life the most and making the most impact on the world. Just like a word, no human can be very great or effective unless he is sufficiently defined.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Proper Priorities of a Man

In response to my post on unbalanced priorities being relationship killers, a commenter asked:

In a marriage, though, ought not your relationship be your highest priority? And once you have children, shouldn't the children be the highest priority?
While a seemingly simple question, I actually think that her question is quite profound. What should a person's priorities be? Is there a difference between the ideal priorities for a man and for a woman? These questions have been percolating in my head for the past week, and I've even found it helpful to think through what I've read about priorities from other authors. In particular, I think that John Eldredge, David Deida, and Steve Pavlina have a fairly good grasp on how a man should organize his priorities. While short-term priorities are quite malleable and perhaps change every hour, a person's long-term priorities should be stable and fixed. Every person who lives life with intentionality and direction must be clear on their priorities and must operate on the basis of them.

For a man, his list of priorities, where applicable, should be:

1. Love God
Given that we were created by God to bring Him glory, our chief duty in life, as human beings, is to love God whole-heartedly, to enjoy Him completely and to bring glory to Him with our words and actions. Jesus Christ succinctly expressed such a priority when he was asked what the greatest commandment is. "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." A man who has his priorities straight will live his life in accordance with God's will and align himself with the divine. He willingly submits to God's authority in every area of his life and sets all his priorities based on God's.

2. Take Care of Yourself
In order for a man to be successful in any endeavor he untertakes, he must have adequate resources. Proper self-care is a non-negotiable prerequisite for productivity, personal and spiritual growth, relational success, and financial freedom. Even in order to love others, a man must have time, energy and resources that he can utilize. A man must take adequately care of himself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. When he allows any of these areas to stagnate, his energy is diminished and his potential impact is greatly limited.

3. Pursue Your Mission
While no two men have quite the same mission, and while a man's mission may change at various points in his life, all men are naturally missional. Every man has a mission that compels him to act and to make a unique contribution to the world. To the degree that a man knows his mission, he is able to pursue it. To the degree that a man is willing to passionately invest himself in fulfilling his mission, he is able to make a lasting impact on the world and on other peoples' lives. A man must know his mission and wholeheartedly pursue it.

4. Love Your Woman
Fewer people can have as profound an effect on a man's life as his wife does. When a man chooses a good woman to marry, continually guides and nurtures her, and offers her his unbridled love, she will gladly manage his household, encourage his pursuits and support him both practically and emotionally. When a man neglects his wife, she will turn into a nagging shrew who undermines his authority and hinders his mission. A man must love his woman and take good care of her, much in the same way that he must dedicate energy to proper self-care. When he offers her his love and strength, she will flourish and offer him every blessing she can.

5. Love Your Family
Unlike most other relationships a man has, familial bonds are much deeper and more enduring than other human relationships. A man's best friend may not always be his best friend, but his brother will always be his brother and his daughter will always be his daughter. It is always wise for a man to develop and maintain rich and rewarding relationships with everyone in his family, especially with his family of origin and his own family.

6. Love Your Friends
The life of a man is incomplete without quality friendships that have been consciously created. A man's friends are the people he enjoys spending time with, and who challenge him to live up to his potential. Walking alongside a few quality men is a rewarding experience and an indispensible aid in pursuing personal growth. A wise man always knows that he needs other men who inspire him and call him out when he loses his edge or begins heading down a dangerous path. Similarly, such a man will also seek to enrich the lives of his friends by offering his presence, by helping them in times of need, and by exhorting them to live to their fullest potential.

This list is a universal list of priorities that a man should adopt. For each of those priorities that is applicable to a man's life, they should always be prioritized in the order listed. If there is a priority that is not applicable to a man's life (for example, if he does not have a woman), then in the short-term it is quite reasonable to simply remove it from the list. In the long-term, however, it is vital for most men to live life in such a way that all of these elements are applicable. A man who does not know God and who is not adequately developed in his spirituality has not yet attained the ideal balance in his life. A well-developed and balanced man is always a spiritual man with an appreciation for sublime beauty and a mystical perception of God and his ways. A man who is lacking in friends and a solid social network may be living according to his priorities, but he is not living a balanced and complete life. A man who has not learned how to love and appreciate a woman, and who has not learned how to develop a rich relationship with her, is not living a full and balanced life.

Additionally, while I have presented these priorities as a list, in order of precendence, I want to be clear in saying that it is not a sort of checklist. It is not a chronological list, wherein you move down the list, checking off each thing, one by one. Instead, all of the priorities must co-exist together in a particular proportion. It is a recipe for a balanced life. If any necessary element is excluded, either intentionally or by neglect, a man's life is incomplete and imbalanced. Of the applicable elements, then, it is crucial that each priority have its place. If a man spends time with God, pursues his mission, loves his wife and his family, and yet neglects to rest his body sufficiently through sleep and his mind through relaxing, then his day is unbalanced. If a week goes by and a man has not dedicated energy to pursuing his mission, then even if he spent time on all of the other elements, his week is unbalanced. All of the applicable priorities must be a regular part of a man's life. Neglecting even one of them, for a period of time, may cause problems.

Let's return to the question that was originally asked. Should a married man's romantic relationship be the highest priority in his life? Not at all! For his sake and for the sake of his wife and family, he must place higher priority on his spiritual standing before God, on developing his own character and living with integrity, and in passionately pursuing his purpose. If he does put his romantic relationship ahead of any of those things, his unbalanced living will cause every area of his life to deteriorate, including his marriage. A woman needs to know that her man is someone to be respected, who will not compromise his values or his mission in life. Similarly, a man's children should never be the highest priority in his life either. Children need to know that their father is dedicated to following God, to pursuing his mission and to loving his wife. They need to know that his world does not revolve around them. A man is best able to love the people in his life by maintaining healthy priorities in every aspect of life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dull or Interesting - A Lifestyle Choice

Recently I was reading a post by Butterfly Squash concerning the search for a future wife. In the post she lists the top ten things to avoid. The seventh thing on the list was one that especially got me thinking.

7. Dull. She doesn’t bother to cultivate her intellect, has no interesting hobbies, and is incurious. She is a poor partner in conversation. She seems nice enough, but you find her boring. If you think she’s boring now, wait until you’ve shared a home with her for 15 years.
This got me thinking about different people I know and what makes each of them dull or interesting. While it might seem that being interesting is primarily related to one's intelligence, I don't think that intelligence is the primary factor which determines whether a person is dull or interesting. I have friends of all sorts. Some of them are smart, but not very interesting. Some of them are of average intelligence, but really entertaining. Some of them are pretty dumb, and are mind-numbingly banal. Some of them aren't the smartest, but always have fascinating things to say. Some of them are quite intelligent and ever-scintillating in the way they converse. It's quite a broad spectrum. It would seem, then, that intelligence is not strongly correlated with being interesting.

What, then, distinguishes those who are interesting from those who are not? I have noticed that those who are interesting often have fascinating thoughts about life, random little tidbits that they picked up recently, or insights about various aspects of life. Also, those who are interesting are often good communicators. They know how to speak, how to tell stories, and how to engage people with their words. In other words, there are primarily two factors that determine how interesting a person is. To be interesting, one must be a skilled communicator, and must have something of interest to communicate. Both of these are vital. Without the ability to convey information in a interesting manner, even entertaining stories, thoughts or facts, will come across as boring. Alternately, without interesting material to convey, there exists no substance to what one communicates.

Are either of these factors innate traits? No. Having interesting material to share is primarily a matter of having a mind full of fresh thoughts and experiences. The mind is like a river. It is most vibrant and alive when it has both a source and an outlet. When the mind is constantly innundated with new things and has an outlet to share new insights and thoughts, there is an endless supply of interesting things to discuss. Without a source, the mind has only its own resources to depend upon, which eventually become exhausted. Without an outlet, there is little incentive to retain interesting material. The mind that is missing either of these things will surely become stagnant. However, when one has both an outlet and a source, the mind cannot help but be full of fresh thoughts and ideas. It is therefore vital, for any person who wishes to be engaging and interesting, to continually seek sources of inspiration and outlets for creative expression, especially verbally. Having interesting things to share is simply a matter of choosing to have an active mind.

Similarly, being a skilled communicator is not simply something that is innate and hardwired into a person. While some people may have more of a propensity to communicate than others, the skillset is always something that is learned and developed. Learning to phrase things in captivating and memorable ways is something that is learned with practice. Holding people's attention, either in a group or individually, is a matter of knowing what entertains or intrigues people, and learning to deliver entertaining material in a scintillating manner. Excellent communicators are those who study the methods and techniques of other skilled communicators and who are very intentional about how they choose to express themselves. Every sentence is worded and delivered in a carefully-crafted way. Every word is specifically selected. Every pause is there by design. Communicating well is a skill that is developed by those who exercise their minds and teach themselves to be effective and engaging communicators.

As such, interesting people are simply those who choose to pursue being interesting. Dullness is a sign of mental laziness or poor mental priorities (school often dulls ones mental faculties through its rigorous and tedious system of regurgitation). Interestingness is a sign of mental diligence and a passion about knowing interesting things, thinking new thoughts and sharing them with others. In this way, being interesting is a lifestyle choice, rather than something that is innate and unchangable. Just like the pursuit of physical fitness is possible for all people, the sharpening of one's mind and wits is achievable through regular effort. Just as one becomes less physically fit by neglecting exercise, one become dull by neglecting mental exercise. An active mind is a necessary prerequisite of being an interesting person. Having sources that stimulate your thoughts and various outlets to communicate your experiences and ideas are absolutely indispensable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Reflection of Your Soul

For quite a while, I have been fascinated by the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. A self-fulfilling prophecy is something that comes to pass by virtue of a person believing in the validity of the prophecy. Because of belief in whatever has been prophesied, a person acts in such a way that the prophecy is fully realized. Another interesting psychological phenomenon is the confirmation bias, whereby a person tends to notice information that supports a given theory or hypothesis that they have. When you combine these two concepts, you find there there is a very real and exceedingly powerful psychological and sociological impact to one's beliefs. Whatever a person believes begins to come true because they believe it, and they find their view reinforced by the information that they observe after having begun to adopt a certain perspective.

For quite some time now, I have pondered the implications of such a realization. Is it really true that a person's beliefs about any given area of life profoundly impacts the way they act in response to such beliefs? Is it really true that a person often finds strong evidence in support of their current theory of life? Is it really true that one's actions actually instigate and perpetuate that which is believed to be true? In looking at reality and the way people view their world, I have come to this realization:

A person's experience of life is primarily determined by the way they view life.

I have seen this at play numerous times in my own life and countless times in the lives of others. Very frequently I find that my expectations for the day, when I arise in the morning, become true. When I wake up and think, "Today is going to be very refreshing and enjoyable," by the end of the day, I find myself quite refreshed and content. When I wake up and think, "Today is going to be a very productive day," I find that I am able to accomplish even more than I usually would. Yesterday, I woke up with a headache and thought, "I'm probably going to feel awful all day," and sure enough, my headache persisted throughout the day and even sapped my energy before evening. I felt awful enough that I almost canceled my evening activities.

Similarly, I've seen how much my beliefs have impacted my success in dating, job hunting, and playing music. For a while, after reading too many cynical opinions about modern American girls, I began to believe that there weren't any quality girls worth dating. Because of that mindset, I went on far fewer dates, and even those dates that I did go on didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. However, when a friend pointed out the truth to me that, "There are plenty of great girls to date," I began pursuing girls more assertively and quickly found out that he was right. Work projects are exactly the same. Sometimes, when given a task, I think to myself, "This project is going to take a TON of work." When I hold that mindset, I feel little motivation to put serious effort into accomplishing the task, and my belief that the task is difficult ensures that it takes longer than it otherwise would. But, when I tell myself, "This project should be easy, it will just take a couple hours of effort," I can even complete challenging projects in short amounts of time. Many times, it's even the same project that first seems insurmountable and then is accomplished with minimal effort when I change my mindset.

In this manner, nearly every mindset that one has, so long as there is any degree of truth in it (and even in some cases when there isn't), is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. Wisely is it written in the pages of Scripture, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled." One's experience of the world is largely determined by one's beliefs about the world. To the cynic, there is an endless supply of things to be cynical about. To the adventurous soul, everything is an adventure. To the bored, everything seem boring. To the comedic, anything can be made into a joke. To the wise, wisdom can be gleaned anywhere. To the foolish, wisdom is of no use. To those who admire beauty, there is beauty all around. To those who believe in determinism, freewill is more elusive than leprechauns. To the religious, God is omnipresent. To the atheist, god is nonexistent. To the philosopher, everything is worth pondering. To the common man, life isn't worth overthinking. And on and on it goes...

But, as mentioned above, one's views on life don't end in one's brain. They actually affect one's life and the world around. As such, there is another principle we can derive from this concept:

Nearly every aspect of a person's life is a reflection of their soul.

Since one's view about life inform their decision making process, and since most beliefs about life tend to be self-fulfilling, we see that almost every single part of a person's life is a direct result of choices they've made, which is directly influenced by how they view the world. The outward trappings of a person's life reflect the condition of that person's soul. Everything says something about you. What do the clothes she wears convey about her body image? What do his 70-hour workweeks say about what he most values? Why is she with a different guy, everytime I see her? Why is he so adamantly opposed to religion? What do her manipulative ways of treating people say about her perception of people? Why does he drive a beat-up old car? Of course, the externals never tell the whole story, but they often reveal more than people realize. Those who are good at reading people know how much a person's body language and eye contact testify to their perception of themself and of their perceived social relation to others. Similarly, you can learn a lot about a person by knowing where they live, who their friends are, what books they read and why they work where they do. There is always an internal reason for every external part of a person's life.

Moving to the more personal level, I find that this it often helps me to ask myself why certain people or things are the way the are in my life. Why do I choose not to have health insurance? Because I'd rather take tough blows when they occur rather than constantly be paying money to big corporations. Why do I spend time with my siblings so often? Because I highly value my familial relationships and genuinely enjoy spending time with my family. Why do I skip breakfast and typically only eat two meals a day? Because I prefer to sleep in and I'd rather save money on food, especially since I'm not very economical about my eating habits. Why don't I change my eating habits to be more economical? Because I prefer to spend my time on artistic endeavors and social activities, and therefore I'm willing to spend more for convenience. Why do I write blogs? Because I love to think about various issues, formulate specific stances on them and share my opinions with others.

Occasionally, I like to ask myself a series of such semi-random questions to see why certain aspects of my life are they way they are. When I realize that everything I eat, everywhere I go, everything I own, everyone I spend time with and even everything I think are all a reflection of my soul, then I can use my external life as a starting point for analyzing my internal beliefs and views. Whenever I find an area of life that isn't quite the way I want it to be, I take action. If I have a belief that is hindering me or limiting my effectiveness in any given area (such as in my dating life, or with my work projects, as mentioned above), I stop to analyze my thinking in order to see how my present beliefs are holding me back. Similarly, when I see issues in other people's external lives, I always know that there are beliefs they hold beneath the surface that are manifesting those issues. Alternately, when there is something in my life that is going really well, it's quite helpful to ask myself, "What belief is causing this aspect of my life to flourish?" Likewise, when I see some trait I admire in another person, I instantly realize that I can develop a similar trait by adopting a similar view.

The double-edged nature of external manifestation means that we always must be very careful to guard our thoughts and to guard our hearts. Certain beliefs and mindsets are extremely destructive to the soul. Certain beliefs and mindsets are life-giving and inspiring. Just as with judging people, it is wise to determine the worth of an idea or belief by its fruits. Wholesome views and beliefs always yield positive results in one's life. Detrimental views harms ourselves and others. We must continually be on our guard against toxic ideologies, and we must continually seek to graft nourishing viewpoints into our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." That the issues of life spring from the heart is not merely a poetic use of metaphor, it is the simple, practical truth. Whatever is in your heart becomes part of your world. Your experience of life is primarily dependent on the condition of your heart. The various aspects of your life are a reflection of your soul.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Game Is Universally Useful

While the primary purpose of learning Game is to increase one's skills at attracting desirable romantic partners, the benefits of Game certainly don't stop there. Game is an extremely broad body of knowledge that entails nearly every single aspect of social dynamics and practical psychology. In my own experience, I have found that the increased social skills acquired from learning Game have improved nearly all of my personal interactions. Several other bloggers have noted similar things.

The increased social awareness that comes from learning about social and relational dynamics enhances one's ability to read individuals and figure out how a group is socially structured. While in prior years, I never would have even considered the idea of social hierarchies, now I can easily determine who are the leaders and who are the followers in any group. I can quickly determine how each person perceives themselves in relation to the group, and how much influence they have over the others in the group. Being able to quickly and easily read groups is extremely helpful in determining how to interact with the group as a whole and with individual people. Understanding the various relationships within a group enables one to more easily make friends and gain group acceptance. Even beyond that, understanding group dynamics enables one to become highly respected as a leader in the group. Although, the benefits of understanding group dynamics hardly stop there. Chuck Ross has written an interesting blog on how his understanding of group dynamics directly impacts his job as a server.

Personal relationships are also enhanced by one's increased ability to read body language, tonal cues, unspoken messages, verbal subtexts and other non-verbal components of communication. This makes it much easier to entertain, fascinate, engage, attract or comfort people you relate to. The increased ability to read individuals is one of the benefits of learning Game that I have most enjoyed. Learning how much people enjoy teasing and verbal banter has made me a much more playful person. Last week I took my little sister to dinner for her 15th birthday. While we did have serious conversations about a broad array of topics, she definitely had a lot of fun trying to keep up with my constant teasing. I teased her so much, and reframed so many of her self-aggrandizing comments that eventually she said, "You're mean!" I quickly replied, "You wouldn't be enjoying yourself so completely if I weren't." With a smile on her face she said, "I know." Even a year ago, I would have interpretted the, "You're mean!" comment as one that meant that I had overstepped the line and begun to offend. Now, given my ability to better read people and know how they're feeling, I knew that she found my constant teasing extremely fun and engaging. This is just one example of many I could give on how being able to read people better enhances all of my personal relationships with my friends, with my family, and at work.

Assertiveness is another valuable trait that is much developed by learning Game. As a person learns to take their own desires seriously and act in a way that commands respect from others, conflict and arguments are more quickly dealt with or defused and overall life satisfaction rises. Rather than fearing the emotional state of others, an assertive person does what is reasonable, expects other people to be reasonable and refuses to shy away from a direct and unapologetic dealing with situations that arise. This has benefitted me a lot as I have learned to be unafraid to state my opinions, desires, and make bold requests whenever I want to. My assertiveness even helps lead others to be more assertive in their interactions. When I had dinner with my little sister last week, she ordered a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. Upon eating the first couple of bites she remarked, "This sandwich is pretty crappy. I expected it to be better." I told her, "This is a nice restaurant. If the sandwich doesn't meet your standards then send it back and have them get you something else." A couple minutes later the waiter came by and she did exactly that, ordering a salad instead. She then told me, "I've never sent anything back at a restaurant before." Acting assertively and expecting other people to be reasonable inspires others to be more assertive. Last week, I read an excellent blog by Krauser on five ways he practices being more assertive in his interactions.

Another side effect of the pursuit of developing the masculine virtues advocated by Game is the way I view my relationship to the world and to others. In the past, I've always seen myself as being superior to or lesser than other people. Rather than being a consciously developed view, it was always subconsciously lurking beneath the surface. In learning what true confidence looks like, I have found that real confidence is always accompanied by an attitude of humility. In practicing confidence by "faking it until you make it," I learned that confidence is an attitude that is partially born out of realistic self-assessment, and partially born out of a realistic assessment of the world and its various challenges. I discovered that confidence rests in knowing oneself, continually developing one's character, and a deep contentment with who one is. As an unexpected side effect, I have gained a greater appreciation for various sorts of people and the different strengths they manifest. One who is truly confident recognizes the things that make him similar to others and also the things that set him apart. He eventually comes to see himself as quite ordinary and yet quite unique and special. Every man is my peer, whether he has numerous educational credientals, whether he is the President of a Fortune 500 company, or whether he is simply a janitor. Since I am an adult, even my parents are my peers.

These are but a few examples of how Game is useful even outside of the realm of romantic relationships. Cultivating the virtues that are central to Game will benefit every single relationship and social interaction that you engage in. As your inner mindset changes, so your outward world begins to reflect those inner changes. As you become more adept at interacting with groups, reading individuals, acting assertively and living with confidence, you quickly discover that social interactions are easier to navigate and more enjoyable than ever before. Game is universally useful!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Relationship Killers: Unbalanced Priorities

It's an occurence that most of us can relate to. A close friend, after being single for a while, gets into a romantic relationship. Suddenly, the friend becomes a bit more scarce. You see him much less frequently than you used to. He becomes more flaky with his commitments. Then, eventually, the relationship bites the dust, and your friend is mostly back to his normal self. I've seen this precise pattern happen quite a number of times. Recently, this is what happened to a close friend of mine. While excitement about a new relationship is a good thing, overinvestment and poor priorities are very harmful.

There are several major problems with spending too much time with a new romantic partner. First of all, it demonstrates that your priorities aren't properly aligned. The most valuable resource that human beings have is time. Your priorities in life are most vividly shown by how you choose to spend your time. When you spend excessive amounts of time with a romantic partner it communicates the message that your new lover is the most important and valued part of your life. This is communicated to your lover, to your family, to your friends and to yourself. This goes against a cardinal rule of relationships. Overinvestness, like neediness, is unattractive. It signals to others that you aren't satisfied enough with your own life, and that your normal activities aren't exciting and engaging enough.

Silas' Relationship Maxim #1: A romantic relationship is just a part of your life, it should never be your life.

Second, when your priorities are not properly aligned, your other relationships and pursuits tend to suffer. When you overinvest yourself in a relationship, you have insufficient remaining time for your friends, for your family, for your spiritual journey, and for your creative pursuits or hobbies. Friendships will suffer because your actions demonstrate that you don't value your friends as much as they thought you did. Your spirituality begins to decline because you simply don't have enough remaining time to make God a priority. Creative output is diminished substantially, since all creative pursuits take regular time commitment. Given that time is as limited as it is, every hour that you spend doing one thing is an hour that you can't spend doing anything else. Some things can be reasonably cut, but there are many things in life that must remain priorities.

Third, while it might not happen initially, eventually your emotions will trouble you. When you are neglecting relationships that you should be nurturing or neglecting things that you know you should be doing, it catches up to you. Soon, you feel less like yourself. Your life isn't the same, and it begins to bother you. Your self-image begins to nose-dive. Good habits begin to erode and disappear. It isn't a good place to be.

Any one of these three issues has the potential to be a relationship-killer. Overinvesting yourself in a relationship may cause your lover to lose attraction for you. Pressure from friends and family (who love and miss you) will begin to affect the relationship. Negative emotions will profoundly impact your own enthusiasm about the relationship. Yet, the combination of these three factors is positively lethal. For that reason, it is always crucially important to keep a close eye on your priorities, whether you're in a relationship or not. Healthy relationships can only be formed by two people who have proper priorities. Healthy relationships can only grow stronger and more satisfying if proper priorities are consistently maintained.

For that reason, I think that the priorities of a person in a relationship can serve as a useful metric in determining the health and direction of that relationship. Proper priorities strengthen and reinforce a relationship, while unbalanced priorities hasten its demise.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Little Pineapple

Once there lived a little pineapple. He lived in an exotic land on a small plantation which was surrounded by towering trees and bushes of all sorts. The little pineapple was always well cared for and was about as happy as he could be. Every day he had plenty of time to lounge in the sun. Refreshing well water was brought to him every morning by a man wearing a large straw hat. He lived with many other pineapples, and every afternoon all the pineapples would talk amongst themselves about what life would be like once they were all fully grown. They would blissfully talk for hours about their future aspirations.

"I want to be juicy and yellow," remarked one pineapple. "I want to be the best-looking pineapple," remarked a nearly-grown pineapple. "I want to be tangy and delicious," declared another one. The little pineapple always happily joined in imagining the future with the other pineapples and gleefully cried, "I want to be tall and tasty!" All the pineapples would talk like this for hours until the sun finally began to set, at which point they would slowly begin to fall asleep, one by one. Every day of the week, they would do the same thing, and every morning when they awoke, each pineapple would find that he or she had grown a little bit larger and juicier.

One day, when the little pineapple and his friends were fully grown, a tall man with a shaggy grey beard came out and walked among the rows of pineapple plants. At each plant, he stooped down and examined the fruit. Some of the pineapples he plucked from the plant and gently placed in the large wicker basket that he was carrying. Others, he passed by and left them to grow a little longer. As the little pineapple watched the man slowly work up and down the rows, he couldn't help but think to himself, "I hope he picks me!" The man was finally in the same row as the little pineapple and moving slowly down the row. The little pineapple was filled with anticipation and excitement, increasingly so with each step the man took. Finally, the man knelt down by the little pineapple's plant and looked him over. Sure enough, the man plucked the little pineapple from his plant and placed him in the large wicker basket.

The little pineapple was overjoyed! He had never been chosen for anything before, but now a new exciting adventure was about to unfold! The pineapples in the basket began to talk amongst themselves in energetic, high-pitched voices. "I can't believe I was chosen!" "Who is that man?" "Where do you suppose we are going?" "What will happen to the others?" They talked so animatedly that the next few hours flew by and they were quite oblivious to whatever was happening outside the basket. When they pineapples had finally finished discussing their journey into the unknown, a couple of them looked around in time to see the man with the grey beard carrying them off of a strange moving platform and into a small building. They were put in a small windowless room and left alone. All of the pineapples felt quite worn out by this time, so they quickly drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, the pineapples were woken up earlier than usual by a burly bald fellow. He picked up the basket and took them out of the building. Carefully, the burly fellow reached into the basket and took out a pineapple. Then he grabbed another. The little pineapple was next. He was gingerly taken and placed in a crate that was leaning at an angle, along with his other pineapple friends. Beneath the crate was a little red sign with some letters and numbers on it. All around the crate were numerous other crates and boxes with all sorts of other unusual fruits. Once the burly fellow had finished placing all the pineapples in their new crate, he took the empty wicker basket and left. The little pineapple looked around him at all the neighboring fruits and said, "I'm a pineapple, what are you?" Each fruit responded differently. A long, yellow one said, "I'm a banana." A bright green one said, "I'm an apple." A tiny, purple one said, "I'm a grape." A round, orange one said, "I'm an orange." Each of the other fruits also responded in kind. The little pineapple was surprised and delighted! He never knew that there were so many different sorts of fruit.

"What is this place?" the little pineapple asked, to no one in particular. A huge, striped, green watermelon who looked like he had been there some time replied, "This is a fruit stand. People come here and look us over. They buy whichever fruits they like best." All of the pineapples were quite excited by such a possibility. "I'm sure I'll be chosen quickly, since I'm so yellow and juicy," said one of the pineapples. "They're going to choose me first, since I'm the best-looking pineapple" said another of the pineapples. Still another happily cried, "I may not be the first chosen, but I will delight whoever chooses me, since I'm so tangy and delicious." Finally, the little pineapple (who wasn't quite so little anymore) cried, "They will be sure to choose me, since I am so tall and tasty."

And so it was, not long after the sun arose, that people began to visit the fruit stand. Some people bought a bunch of bananas. Others bought some apples. Some people moved from crate to crate and selected a few different fruits. One woman came over to the pineapples and began to look through them. All of the pineapples were excited! After examining a couple of them she took the particularly good-looking one and left. "I could be next," thought the little pineapple. As the day went on, many people came and went and numerous fruits were purchased. Two more pineapples were selected from the crate, but the little pineapple wasn't one of them. By this point, the little pineapple wasn't feeling quite as excited about this whole affair. He began to say to himself things like, "Maybe being tall and tasty isn't what I should be aiming for," and "Maybe I don't really want to be a pineapple." In the late afternoon, a few more people came by the fruit stand and bought other fruits, but then no-one else came to the fruit stand. Finally, as the sun began to set, the burly fellow came out with a large blue thing and placed it across all the crates of fruit.

The little pineapple wasn't ready to go to sleep yet and so he talked with one of the apples for a bit. The apple, who had come from a far away place by boat, regaled the little pineapple with all sorts of stories about fascinating lands and odd creatures. One sort of creature that the apple mentioned especially interested the little pineapple. The apple told him about a strange creature called a "kangaroo" that was tall, yellow and liked to hop a lot. Filled with curiosity, the little pineapple wanted to know more about this kangaroo. "I haven't actually seen one before, but I've heard that they have pointy ears, and some of them have pouches in front, to carry little kangaroos," continued the apple. After talking together for a while longer, both the apple and the little pineapple fell asleep.

When morning came, the little pineapple woke up before any of the other fruits, and thought to himself, "Maybe I want to be more like a kangaroo. I'm already tall and yellow, so I just need to learn to hop." However, the little pineapple wasn't completely convinced that it was a good idea to try to be kangaroo. The little pineapple wanted to know what the other pineapples would say about his newfound aspiration. When the burly fellow came and removed the big blue thing that was covering the crates of fruit, several of the other pineapples woke up. Unsure of himself, the little pineapple hesitantly said to the others, "I have decided that I want to be a kangaroo." While a day ago, all of the pineapples were quite happy to be pineapples, now some of them weren't quite so enthused about being pineapples. One of the pineapples, who now felt wiser and more intelligent than he had ever felt before replied, "Well, you can be whatever you want to be." Another pineapple chimed in, "If that's what makes you happy, then go for it." Still another said, "You're free to do as you please."

Now the little pineapple felt that he was on the right track. "Today," he thought, "I am going to try my best to be like a kangaroo." Soon, people started to come by the fruit stand. A bunch of them bought some of the newly-arrived grapes. Several people picked out peaches and bananas. As a young man passed by the crate of pineapples, the little pineapple thought to himself, "Now is my chance to get noticed." With that thought in his mind, he steeled himself and tried to hop. To his dismay, he wasn't able to move much at all. The young man passed by the pineapples without even giving them a second glance. A little bit later a mother with two little children came over to the pineapples. The little pineapple mustered his energy and tried to hop again. Success! He managed to hop a couple of inches into the air, just far enough to fall off the crate. For less than a second (though it seemed much longer), the little pineapple felt the strangest sensation and then, with a dull thump, he hit the ground. Although he didn't feel nearly as well as he wanted, the little pineapple thought to himself, "There! Now that I've managed to hop, I'm certain I'll be picked." But the mother, thinking that one of her children had knocked the pineapple onto the ground, hurriedly put the little pineapple back in the crate, said some words to her child which I won't repeat, and hastily grabbed another pineapple before scurrying away from the crate.

Though the little pineapple had managed to accomplish his goal of being more like a kangaroo, his tumble had an unexpected side effect. Now, there was a big brown bruise on his side. Throughout the remainer of the day, people came and went, and a few more of them bought pineapples. A couple of the people even picked up the little pineapple and examined him. But, upon seeing the bruise on his side, they quickly put him back in the crate and chose another pineapple instead. By the end of the day, over half of the pineapples were gone, and the little pineapple still hadn't been chosen yet. When the fruit stand closed in the evening, the little pineapple was feeling quite discouraged and disappointed. He asked the other pineapples, "Why has nobody chosen me?" But the other pineapples were too timid to have opinions of their own, so they just said things like, "That's just how it goes," "Maybe you'll be chosen tomorrow," and "Someone will be sure to want you." None of these answers were especially helpful, so the unhappy little pineapple asked the apple, "I acted just like a kangaroo today, I even hopped, and yet nobody chose me. Why?" But, the apple was reminded of another story from his past, and began to launch into tale after tale which were completely unrelated to the little pineapple's question. Frustrated and feeling quite alone, the little pineapple spend quite a while trying to figure it out by himself, before falling asleep from exhaustion.

Through the next few days, the little pineapple gave up the idea of trying to hop, and just sat there hoping that someone would recognize that he was still a perfectly good and delicious pineapple. Eventually, all of the other pineapples had been chosen by various people, and yet the little pineapple remained in the crate. Because of the brown bruise on his side, no-one seemed willing to take him home. A couple of days later, when the burly fellow brought another basket full of pineapples and put them in the crate, he also took the little pineapple and put a bright orange thing on him. The bright orange thing had some strange black markings on it, which the little pineapple could not figure out. Because he had the orange thing on him, more people examined the little pineapple, but still there was nobody who chose the little pineapple. With each passing day, the little pineapple became more depressed and discouraged, and with each passing day he looked a bit less lively and yellow. After several more days, the burly fellow took the little pineapple and placed him in a huge rectangular metal thing, which was dark and smelly. There the little pineapple thought of all his other pineapple friends, and he missed them. He imagined them all being happily enjoyed by the people who had chosen them. His last thoughts were, "Oh, how I wish I had been content to be a pineapple, rather than trying to be a kangaroo!" So, the black lid was placed over the top of the huge rectangular thing, and the little pineapple was never seen or heard from again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Contract Quoting - The "Fickle" Fee

One of the advantages of intentionally working part-time is the added flexibility gained by having several extra hours every week. Occasionally, I will use that spare time to do a little bit of contract work for various companies. I enjoy independent contract work because it pays very well and it gives me a bit of work variety. Since my job skills are more than sufficient to meet any task I undertake, there are really only two challenges that I continually confront in taking on contract jobs. The first challenge is establishing excellent rapport with my clients and establishing a solid reputation in the eyes of potential clients. The second challenge is accurately quoting the tasks I undertake, so that I can maximize both value provided to the client and monetary profit.

The first challenge usually isn't too difficult. The second one, however, requires a delicate balance. Ideally, my rates should properly correspond to the task at hand. When I properly evaluate a task, I earn nearly exactly my target rate, while still leaving a little margin for additional customization, if desired by my client. If I underestimate a task, then the client receives no additional value, but my profitability begins to sink. Since my tasks vary a fair bit, it can be challenging to accurately estimate the amount of work it will take to perform the given assignment. Just today, I was struck by a realization that will greatly simplify my quoting process.

Generally, when I perform a task for a male client, the desired result is clearly understood by the client and easily communicated to me with a minimal amount of clarification and dialogue. Most men know exactly what they are looking for and can quickly describe exactly how they want it. However, as I was working on a task for a female client, I discovered that even with work-related tasks and projects, women can be quite capricious in their desires. The project that initially consisted of a request for one custom database query soon expanded into a request for two separate queries. Once both had been finished, she added several new criteria and field format requirements which had never been part of the initial request, nor part of the revised request. If I were billing on a hourly rate, this would be of no concern, but given the fixed price of the project contract, every new addition cut into my profitability.

Based on this experience, and my knowledge of human nature, I have decided to factor something else into my quoting process. From now on, I will now add a "fickle" fee to my contracts. I will take my base estimate and add a 30-50% markup, as a fickle fee, based on the following criteria. If the client is female, the fickle fee automatically applies unless she has consistently demonstrated a pronouced level of decisiveness and clarity of communication. If the client is male, the fickle fee is automatically waived unless he has demonstrated an inability to be decisive or to clearly communicate his requirements. By assuming that female clients will generally be capricious, and by generally assuming that male clients will be clear and direct, my quoting process should much more accurately match the amount of work I actually have to perform. It's by no coincidence that my work experience matches the truths Game teaches about the female nature.

By charging a fickle fee, I won't be as quickly frustrated by those whose desires and needs change quickly and without warning. That will result in a great synergy with my other contracting challenge: establishing and maintaining excellent rapport with my clients. It's hard to always respond well to people who make your work more challenging and complicated. By expecting women to be fickle, even at managerial and directorial levels, I will reduce my stress, increase my profitability and increase the accuracy of my quoting.