Monthly Archives: October 2017

With Regards to Suffering

I read an article on Quartz by Karen Weese this morning that helped me reflect on society’s biases—as well as my own—around how people react with such a range of behaviors and whether that is primarily caused by the individuals themselves or their circumstances. In short, the idea is that when people behave differently than we would, it is not the individual that we should be skeptical of, but their context. I remain hopeful in mankind and I try to find opportunities to explain irrational behavior in terms that don’t condemn. Behavioral economics supports me in this and it drives us to better understand, and even predict behavior based on the things we can understand: context. Two applications from the article are noteworthy. In particular the second applies to my profession directly.

Poverty’s inherent lack of resources and time significantly but temporarily diminishes intelligence, making it hard for just about anyone to thrive. Skeptical? Read the article. Poverty is hard.

Job and situational stresses (particularly WWII bomber pilots) reduce mental bandwidth, which makes it hard to reliably execute even common tasks. In creating software for higher education classrooms, this means that we need to remember that our users aren’t focusing on us, the tool, but on their assignments. We can’t expect everyone to read and explore and emotionally invest in what we build because they’re already invested in other things. Know your place.

It’s too easy to write people off and explain away their failures or our differences on intelligence, race, political party or gender. Anyone can do that. If you want to talk about intelligence and diversity, invest actual time yourself in understanding where people are coming from and how little they may need to care about what you care about. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “we must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Loving Your Fate

I was reminded this morning of the tragic burning of Edison’s labs and his aloof response, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again … We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.” I’d heard the story before but what I didn’t know was that Thomas carried a coin carrying the latin phrase “amor fati” or love of fate. Clearly he had learned to embrace the machinations of the world that were outside of his control. Completely independent, I was struck yesterday by the haunting duet Come What May from the movie Moulin Rouge. From the lyrical word choice alone, it is clear that these two lovers face their fate daunted but determined.

There are so many things that we cannot control, and perhaps the greater portion of those we sometimes believe that we can. I am reminded today that not only should I NOT waste effort, but recede and embrace the reality that is happening before me. Although driven for greater realms, embrace the present, there is so much to do here.