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Entries in culture (118)

Friday
Sep192014

Friday Links #2: Reading to Get You Thinking

Assorted periodicals in my living room. October 11, 2014.

I started this little experiment in spreading good writing in last Friday’s post, two weeks ago.

I’ll admit: I’ve had too much going on to read as much as usual in recent days, so I’ve only mustered a short link list below. I know I need to rectify this gap. After all, my brain needs feeding.

Without further ado, I’ve listed the thought-provoking items I’ve read since my last Friday edition:

Don’t forget that I’d like you to share your chewy reads, too.

What have you read recently that I should read?

Monday
Sep152014

The Challenges of Sharing Your “Gifts”

Regrettably, I didn’t save the blog entry that triggered musings leading to this post about sharing our gifts. (If I find it again, I’ll rectify the sin of omission.)

The entry posited that each person should share his particular talents or gifts, as our individual strengths would then complement each other and improve the world.

I agree.

But.

How do you define your gifts?

After all, everyone struggles to see himself clearly. Personally, I feel a little egotistical calling something that I can do a “gift.” I may have worked pretty hard at it—which makes it a skill, not a talent. Or perhaps I believe I perform a certain activity with proficiency, but not extraordinarily well enough to feel I have something important to share.

And maybe no one else would consider what I consider a gift my particular strong point. Maybe I don’t even particularly excel at something—and yet I completely miss that fact.

Or perhaps I kick tail at a particular activity—something others would value highly—but it bores me?

A bookkeeper once told me that she didn’t want to volunteer doing what she labored at all day in the office. Instead, she wanted to build houses or feed the hungry. Yet I knew from personal experience with the nonprofit in question that having help with bookkeeping and clerical tasks would have helped its operations immensely. And she didn’t know a thing about carpentry.

Wouldn’t this person better serve the nonprofit by using her actual gifts—even if doing so feels like more of the same?

Further, we all have many gifts. Perhaps I don’t particularly value one of my talents—if I could define any of them in the first place—yet someone else considers it highly useful. If someone else values a particular skill of mine highly, does her estimation weigh more than my own?

How do you define and share your gifts?

P.S.—As with a previous post, I wrote this topic in tandem with Will Pora, who planned to post on the same topic one day later. Check out his blog, why don’cha.

Thursday
Sep112014

Human Nature and Intolerance

Try as I might, I can’t eradicate my fear that intolerance has permanent roots in human nature.

I want to believe otherwise. I want to believe that we can love more easily than we can hate. I want to believe that the violent and frightening clashes seen across the globe today over race, religion, class, culture, and often all combined result simply from some awful trend that we can reverse if we put our shoulders into it.

When did we tip from peace and tolerance into extremism and fear and loathing? Never. A historical review didn’t turn up such a utopia. Not fifty years ago. Not last century. Not at the beginning of recorded time. Sumerians and ancient Egyptians wrote of dynasties, slavery, and warfare.

Researching, I found calls for tolerance throughout history—and few signs that they worked. Instead, I found a melancholy-inducing survey from Time Magazine highlighting intolerance in the United States. I found a historical review noting that people frequently couch intolerance in the language of “protecting values” and “preserving culture.” (Sound familiar?)

I found a psychological analysis of adolescents that addresses how open-minded children turn into hateful young adults. The need for acceptance during a stage of increasingly intense insecurity causes intolerance for differences. I’d venture that insecurity begets fear that begets anger and hate in adults just as often.

And I found a thought-provoking article showing that I, too, foster intolerance. I can’t tolerate hate. I can’t tolerate small-mindedness. I can’t tolerate willful ignorance. These traits make me angry.

I can’t tolerate what we often mean by “intolerance.”

And in this vein, if no other, I’ll stay intolerant.

What I wish for the world, for all of us in it today and for the generations to come? I wish for a world grown more loving, more thoughtful, more understanding. I wish for a world in which all of us had gained perspective. A world in which my current intolerance no longer has basis.

Yet after long, deep, hard thought, I have very little hope.

All I can do: Work as a force of one to eradicate hate and intolerance and spread love and understanding. Perhaps I can convince one or two other people to join me. Can I end intolerance worldwide? No.

Yet infusing even the smallest amount of love into the world has to prove better than doing nothing. And it’s the best any of us can do.

Can we separate human nature and intolerance?

Friday
Sep052014

Friday Links: Reading to Get You Thinking

Assorted reading materials on my coffee table. October 11, 2014.

Let’s try something new.

I read everything I encounter: Magazines, books, packaging, direct mail. Flyers stuffed in my fence by landscapers.

Sometimes I have to consciously stop myself: “Wait. Why read the fine print about the return policies for a men’s shaving club? Quit that right now.”

Often, what I ingest and mentally masticate gets regurgitated in essay form on this site. You readers help me shape my thinking. (I love you for it, too.)

So I’ve decided to share links to the great things I’ve read over the past two weeks each Friday. I only do two Friday posts a month, so it shouldn’t overwhelm anyone—just periodically give you a resource for great reading.

Don’t worry:

I’ll spare you links to text on packaging. And the fine print on advertising. Also, I may still write whole posts about the contents of one or more of the links I post. Yet I figure good, chewy writing should get spread as far and wide as possible, even the texts that don’t prompt me to write an article in response.

And therefore, here, in list form, I’ve listed the thought-provoking things I’ve read over the last few weeks:

My biweekly list will likely get longer, as I’ll remember in future to bookmark the great reads I encounter.

What have you read recently that I should read?

Wednesday
Sep032014

Don’t Forget the Small Data

Mailboxes in a general store on Martha's Vineyard. November 2014.

So much flies at us that we miss the vast majority of it.

Zip, zing, swish: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Google+, LinkedIn, e-mail, family and friend and colleague interruptions, text messages, advertisements, meetings to cover data-filled PowerPoint presentations, reports covering dozens of pages. Spreadsheets spanning dozens of tabs.

Heck, even regular mail. Telephone calls.

Far too easily can the wrong piece of information distract us—especially if it loudly and proudly bashes into our consciousness. Far too easily can we miss the important stuff—especially if it flies a little outside our normal fields of vision.

When feeling overwhelmed with information and unsure of where to look or what to trust, it helps to stanch the flood, quiet the cacophony, and think through how we can really get to the crux. Sometimes, as with so many things in life (including leadership and business savvy), the quieter, less obvious sources prove the most valuable:

Fiction

You prefer nonfiction? Fiction seems frivolous?

Think again.

As I’ve said before, fiction often has more truth than nonfiction. If you want to understand a culture, a place, a way of life, a different manner of thinking, and alternative perspectives, you couldn’t do better than to read stories written by people who live it, breathe it, and think it—especially if they’ve written them for a native audience.

Through reading stories written by people for their people, you’ll learn more about your subjects than you will conducting surveys and interviews, trying to decipher Twitter feeds, and reading sociology studies. In stories told to their peers, people don’t filter, they don’t sugar-coat, they don’t over-analyze, they don’t simplify. You’ll get the raw, real, straightforward insight you need.

History

Yes, it repeats. Maybe not in exactly the same way, but something happening today has happened before today in one incarnation or another.

Take a deep breath. Step back from the puzzle. See its bigger pattern. Find similar historical examples. Craft case studies. See learning lessons.

Develop game plans.

Principles

In my series of screeds about education, I wrote that I would rather hire someone taught the principles of a subject and given training in critical thinking and knowledge acquisition than I would hire someone with a technical skill that, given today’s constantly evolving workplace, will quickly grow obsolete.

When unsure of a course of action, go back to the basics: Review the fundamental principles of the area of business in question and determine how to apply them to your situation.

For example, FrogDog does strategic branding and marketing. Although the tactics may evolve over time—including all the social media and digital advertising I mentioned earlier in this post—the principles of marketing, of what convinces people to do something or to think about something differently, have stayed the same for decades, if not centuries. Perhaps we apply the principles via newfangled methods, but what we apply hasn’t changed all that much.

We’ve grown overly mesmerized by the idea of “big data”—the massive amounts of information collected from myriad sources that we can’t yet figure out how to crunch. Even if we could determine how to crunch it, we could analyze gazillions of bits in umpteen ways and still get nowhere, unsure with how to interpret what pops forward and stymied by what to do with our findings.

Don’t forget: The small data has worth, too. Maybe even greater worth than the bigger, more voluminous kind.

What information sources have you overlooked?

P.S.—William Pora suggested the topic for this post. You can find his blog here and his Twitter feed here. I’d recommend following both.

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