On The Merits Of An Empty Mind

I spend nearly all my time in my head. And while I'm there, I work very hard to keep the environment free. No useless clutter, I don't want it - I will not let it in.

Here's why: We are bombarded with information all the time. Not to mention marketing. (At times, there is no distinction.)

To some people, chugging all that up might seem like a benefit. In school they certainly tell you to memorize and memorize and memorize some more.

But when you fill your head up with crap, quite honestly you wind up constipated.

Many, many, many people are unable to communicate well, for exactly this reason. At any given moment, they are navigating tons of junk, a sea of data stored up in the attic of their minds, and they aren't sure which piece of it to pull for which audience on which occasion.

It's like they have lots of tools stored up in their garage.

Now it's true that tools can help you build a lot of different things. But if you get that hoarder mentality in your head - like you just won't let go of a single piece of anything you might need in the future - very soon your brain gets stuffed. It's uninhabitable.

And it leaves you no room to think in the moment, to be yourself, to be authentic and spontaneous and creative.

Far better, I think, is to accumulate the information you need at this specific time for this specific thing, and then dump it very soon afterward.

Leave your mind free to think big thoughts - to do creative things.

So if my two cents mean anything, I would say not to worry so much whether or not you know things. Robots are built for memorizing - not human beings. When you are human instead, and you keep a clear mind, you can research a thing from many different angles. In the end you get to make something that is totally new.

But here's the best part: You put it out into the world, and then you open up the trapdoor underneath the floorboards. All the junk you've accumulated drops out - instead of blocking your mind in the future.

This dynamic act, this process of churning, is what makes the space for new observations to come in, new connections to form in your mind, new areas of interest for you to pursue going forward.

I'll be honest: It's uncomfortable for me to step back and really observe this. It hits too close to home to lay the process out for scrutiny.

But my mind was unguarded and clear this afternoon, and the topic popped in to my brain as interesting. I've always known that I think very differently from other people, but until this moment I never actually sat down and tried to document how.

Something interesting to observe.



All opinions my own. Image via Wikipedia.

Disconnected Millennials Cannot Work

With dry sarcasm the Urban Dictionary tell us that "millennials believe themselves to be overachievers who just aren't understood by their loser bosses....the only generation in the universe to understand the concept of work life balance and to actually want to find a fulfilling career."
Of course it's wrong to oversimplify one's observations about any group, but from my own experience I do think it's fair to say that Millennials (definitions of age vary, but they're roughly 20-35 years old today) are high achievers who believe they can do more than what the workplace asks of them. They are not afraid to create bobblehead images of their bosses if they think their bosses are stupid. They will openly question idiotic time-consuming bureaucratic nonsense. Their relationships mean as much to them as their jobs do. And they think Gen Xers are way too intense: that life should not be taken too seriously generally.
Millennials also use social media in a very ordinary way, that is to say it is not an exception to their daily life but rather a constant accompaniment. According to YPulse chart below (data current as of September 8, 2015), which shows data about Millennials' use of social media, 76% use Facebook at least once a day.  
Of course all age groups use social media. But for Millennials the use of technology is what sets their generation apart. This technology is fundamentally about connecting to other people as well as access to information. Consider that as long ago as 2014, according to Nielsen, 32% of adults 18-24 years old to connect while in the bathroom and 51% of those age 25-34 take time out from work to do social networking at work.
If you want to work effectively with Millennials, you've got to respect their expertise, their positivity and their efficient and balanced approach to work. You've also got to embrace their innate adoption of social networking tools both on the job and off.
Of course, "Social networking" means more than just giving Millennials a place to put files where others can see them. It's far beyond reluctantly "letting them" use their iPhone on the side. It is about establishing social communities that are vibrant -- just as compelling, open and all-encompassing as Facebook will ever be.
If you haven't implemented one of these tools in your workplace yet -- no matter how tiny you think your business is or how minimally you think employees need it -- now is a good time to consider it, if you want to recruit and retain top talent.

RIP John McLaughlin

It was almost 1980 and my parents bought a huge, yuge, YUGE, enormous standing box of a television set that they plunked down in the living room.

I remember very vividly how I watched "Video Killed The Radio Star" -- the first music video ever shown on MTV.

I used to watch the preachers Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker with my mother.

Oh how we loved them - and Tammy Faye in particular, with the dripping mascara - because she was just so real when she cried.

It was great - she cried literally every week!

You probably never heard of The New Way Gourmet but we used to watch them too. It was a TV show that featured two California hippies, completely mellow and probably completely high, patchkeying around the kitchen.

Loved it.

I remember we used to eat in front of the TV and nobody cared. We made macaroni 'n' cheese the old-fashioned way, with Mueller's elbow noodles and butter and milk and a ton of Miller's kosher American cheese from the stack. We must have put twenty pieces of cheese in every pot of noodles we made.

I remember those times as good times. For better or for worse, TV was my connection to the world. There was no Internet or social media, and what I saw on that screen was a kind of schooling.

We were a politically interested family. Not politically active - because as a Holocaust-surviving family we feared what the authorities might do to people who demonstrated about anything in public. But certainly politically interested, in the sense that we talked about politics all the time, we devoured the news about current events and we watched Sunday morning talk shows in particular most religiously.

It was in that context that I watched The McLaughlin Group avidly. With the death of John McLaughlin, may he rest in peace, I am jolted back into the Sundays of my childhood, watching that amazing show. I remember Eleanor Clift sparring with Patrick Buchanan, and marveling at their incredible ability to think on their feet while marshaling a ton of knowledge. The diversity of views. The deliberately staccato manner in which McLaughlin, interrogated his panel. The good humor with which they went back and forth. And the agreement to disagree at the end, collegially.

What a different world we live in today. I read yesterday that two journalists I deeply respect, Sean Hannity of Fox News and Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal, got into a war of words, and the words got pretty nasty.

I don't remember the prime-time journalists of yesteryear descending to such a level. They took sides, sure - but they weren't so ideologically biased that their minds seemed literally closed.

You see this trend - like a hardening of the mind - not just among conservatives, and not just among liberals, but even among those who are considered the "regular," "mainstream" media, a.k.a. the "MSM."

I don't think it's just me that has noticed it. Not at all - for as the AP reported in April 2016, only 6% of Americans have "a lot of confidence in the media." (The source is a study by "the Media Insight Project," funded jointly by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute.)

When you combine Americans' overwhelming distrust of the media with their record-low mistrust of the government (Pew Research Center), and the increasingly "politically correct" tilt of our colleges and universities, the result is that ordinary citizens have no reliable information sources to turn to anymore. This makes them ripe targets for radicalization and disinformation -- by anyone with an Internet connection and a keyboard -- whether that person is part of the formal institutions of knowledge dissemination or not.

So I feel very upset at the passing of John McLaughlin. Now there are no more Sundays in front of the talk shows, the programs I could trust to teach me how to think, and how to be a citizen.

In the absence of facts we can believe without question --

With the loss of experts whose rationality we trust --

We now live in a world where your facts, not just your guess, is as good as mine.


All opinions my own. Screenshot of The McLaughlin Group via YouTube.

A Different Kind of Data

It was a weekend afternoon, bright daylight and we are walking in the park together. It isn't after midnight. I'm not by myself.

There are groups of teenage guys hanging out, because it's a weekend afternoon and that's what teenage guys do, they hang out and toss a football around.

I have my headphones on as usual and as usual am deeply immersed in whatever it is that I am reading on my phone. I have the music on as well.

It occurs to me on this sunny day that I feel very much at peace. What a luxury it is to have a few moments to relax and smell the roses.

And we have walked for awhile. It's been about two hours now and we're in a wooded area. Secluded from view.

I become aware, suddenly, that I am in trouble.

It hits me very quickly and before I can even articulate what it is I reach out for my husband's hand.

"I feel it too," he says, almost whispering.

I had a very strong feeling that somebody was considering very carefully how they would knock him to the ground and attack me.

My mind went back to news reports I'd read of similar situations.

But it wasn't like we could just run, and it felt a sudden move could set off an attack in and of itself.

I was afraid to look around too explicitly but I had to look at where the danger might be coming from, and this proved at once impossible and terrifying.

The lyrics from Billy Idol's song "White Wedding" started playing in my head. "There is nothing sure in this world, there is nothing pure in this world..."

My hands were shaking as I realized just how vulnerable I was - we were.

Quietly, subtly, I took out my phone and dialed 9-1-1 and left it hanging there, ready for me to press "Send."

My entire body was covered in fear.

We had long past the maybe nothing is happening stage of this two hour walk. In a popular wooded recreational area. From which any other female seemed strangely absent today.

Afterward some people reacted instinctively, with a "Thank G-d you're alright." Others were more skeptical: "You're a little too old for that, aren't you?" And "In broad daylight?"

As far as I could tell, reactions depended on what people qualified as "data."

But here's the problem - and it's a dangerous one - that most people unfortunately fall for: The average person tends to discount their gut feelings as unreliable.

My advice is not to do that. Your body will often warn you when a friend is not a friend; when a date is not safe; when a family friend is nothing but; when a colleague at work represents danger.

In every sphere of life, criminals prey on our dis-inclination to trust our basic instincts as valid data.

Of course this doesn't mean that we can save ourselves from danger "naturally" - of course not, not at all. There is a Jewish prayer we say when G-d saves us, and I went home and Googled it on my iPhone and said it with great intensity.

But He gives us an inner compass nevertheless. It is data, and we should listen to it -- combined with other things we know from experience and research.

There is objective truth to be found. We should use all available tools to find it.


All opinions my own. Photo by Pat Pilon via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Search This Blog