Tag Archives: Blogging

Understanding Empathy

One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.

Suspension of Disbelief
To Open Up And Believe

Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.


The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


Cramps For Gramps

OK, so I’m not actually a grandfather though, at 73, I believe I’m old enough to be a great grandfather. Alas, I am but a father . . . and an adoptive one at that. My children are 19 and 16 and, although they are growing more and more independent, my youngest still has two years of high school remaining and my oldest wasn’t ready to attend college the past year and is only now taking six units at our local junior college. She kinda had to be coerced into doing that.

I bring this up in part because I’m feeling the inexorable acceleration of my physical and mental decline as I age. I’m thankful I notice it and, truth to tell, there are times I’m not sure I know what’s truly happening. I often say I’m unclear as to whether my memory is going, or I just don’t give a shit anymore, which means I find it far more difficult to pay attention to those things I don’t give a shit about.

Being stuck almost exclusively in the house during this pandemic presents its own challenges as well, and I’m pretty sure it’s adding to the pressure I feel to keep up with my kids and help them as best I can. At the same time, I have come to realize we really don’t have enough retirement savings to generate the income we require . . . at least not while the kids are here consuming large quantities of food, etc.

My oldest was working part-time for a while and she would have been able to reduce the burden somewhat, but when they decided she could no longer work remotely, she knew that wouldn’t fly at the time due to my and my wife’s ages, as well as our underlying conditions. This was especially true at the time it happened because there was a great deal of uncertainty then regarding how COVID-19 was transmitted, as well as resistance to the actions that would mitigate some of the risk, e.g. social distancing, wearing of masks, etc.

Truth to tell, there are times when I find myself understanding, somewhat viscerally, why some men “give up” and die after retirement. My situation is considerably different than most men who have reached my age, and the need to be there for my girls is a powerful motivator. Still, the angst and conflict sometimes wear me down.

Ouch!

To top it off, there are lots of physical consequences to aging I don’t believe most people even consider until they’re older. One of those is leg cramps. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the majority of adults over the age of 60 experience leg cramps at least once every two months. I’ve been experiencing them for years and have found that increasing the amount of potassium in my diet seems to keep them partially at bay. The easiest way for me to get that supplemental potassium is by eating bananas.

Unfortunately, the night before last reminded me I must not be eating enough of them. Normal leg craps—at least for me—happen mostly in the anterior muscles of my lower leg (looking at an anatomy chart, I believe the muscle involved is the Tibialis anterior, but don’t hold me to it.) This time was very different.

I awoke to the realization I was having a cramp, but it manifested itself by pulling my left big toe completely back so it was nearly vertical with relationship to the plane of my foot. It was painful and took nearly five minutes to slowly push it back to horizontal, where it belonged. I hope to never experience that particular form of cramp again as long as I live, though I have no confidence that will be the case.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with my blogging was to share my experiences of aging. I haven’t checked the stats lately, but a decade ago there were very few bloggers as old as I am and it seemed I had the opportunity to share something that is both universal (in that we all age, unless we die young) and specific (in that it’s happening to me.) I hope I’ve done that, regardless of whether or not many people read what I write. I’ll continue doing so because it’s somewhat cathartic for me, it’s a way to leave behind some proof I actually existed, and it’s helping me in writing my memoirs, which I hope to finish sometime next year (though it may have to wait until my youngest finishes high school.)


Thread Embed (Test)

WordPress just added some new functionality to their platform, which is where you’re reading this right now. Now I can insert one tweet from a thread and there’s a command to “unroll,” which imports the remainder of the thread. With this test I uploaded the first of five and all were imported easily with the “unroll” button. I’ll have to try one where I first upload a tweet from the middle (or the end; maybe and the end) and see how well it works from there.

===================

I joined Twitter in March of 2008. Back then I was studying social media as a method for my organization (the Space Shuttle Main Engine team at Rocketdyne) to communicate more effectively. NASA was already using it for the teams that were preparing the orbiter for its . . . /1

next flight, and it was def saving them money and time. I never tried to get followers; they just followed naturally, esp since there were so few users at the time. When I retired in May of 2010, my use of Twitter changed and for a while I didn’t use it at all. Cue . . . /2

the election of the dipshit-in-chief. Everything changed for me. I wouldn’t say all my posts were political, but surely a majority. I’d like to see for myself, but a week ago—after 12 years—my account was suspended. My ~2700 followers gone. Everything . . . gone. I . . . /3

wasn’t even told what I did or said to have received such a harsh punishment, with absolutely no recourse other than a chance to send a short note defending I don’t know what. Perfectly legal, yet anathema to our way of life in the U.S. So . . . this is my feeble return . . . /4

to #Resist here on Twitter. I could use some followers (God! It pains me to even ask) and I will follow back if you’re not a Trump supporter. TIA! /fin

Originally tweeted by Izzy Wladovsky (@retreado) on 23 June 2020.


MAGA? Yeah, Right!

Over the last few years I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook, with Twitter fairly close behind. My goal on both is to attempt to inform, entertain, and educate others on things I think are important, like politics, the economy, society, religion, and numerous other things I think are valuable to be informed about.

I will freely admit to being highly partisan; in these perilous times I would suggest it’s impossible not to be, given the stakes . . . our freedom, the lives of immigrant children, western democracy.

This blog, however, has remained a place for me to share my thoughts about what’s particularly important to me. Yet I seem to have had trouble filling this location with much content, considering how long I’ve been blogging and how (relatively) few pieces I’ve actually published. This is especially true in light of the fact I frequently post to FB more than a dozen times on any given day; more if there’s a lot going on, less if I’m busy elsewhere.

I’m changing that. In fact, I’ve been changing it for the past couple of weeks. For most of the last year and a half I have been concentrating on my position as Business Manager for Quantellia, LLC and not paying any attention to this blog. I’m not posting as many as four times a day and, actually, believe I will be posting even more frequently. Most of these will be fairly short, but I will still write some longer posts, especially since I’m gathering my thoughts for a book.


So, here’s a meme—actually, I prefer to think of it as a work of art—I encountered on Facebook. The person who posted it where I found it pointed out how the artist used the shadow of the child’s hand to create an Adolphian mustache on the Tangerine Tyrant. It’s him, dontcha think?


Ode To A (Writer’s) Blockhead

Here I sit, broken hearted

Tried to blog, but couldn’t get started.

So I sit here in the parking lot, devoid of useful thought. Funny how that works. When my muse chooses to breath some life into my aging brain, I can go on and on. Unfortunately, most times I sit here, incapable of doing more than some light blathering. Maybe tomorrow.


Just A Little Reminder To Me

Sometimes I forget the work I’ve done. I mean . . . it’s over, lessons learned have been internalized and generalized . . . time to move on to something else, right? So I move on. My entire career has consisted of learning, sharing, and moving on. I’ve known people who held onto their knowledge like a life vest, scared silly for anyone to even know precisely what they do or how they do it. In my corporate experience there’s a phrase that perfectly embodies that kind of attitude: “Knowledge is Power.”

I’ve never agree with that concept. In fact, when I was doing Knowledge Management work for Rocketdyne, I used to say “If knowledge is power, then knowledge shared is power squared.” Unfortunately, becoming a sharing and learning organization requires a major cultural change and — especially in aerospace and other conservative industries — change is difficult to effect; certainly not within a short window of time.

At any rate, I was looking at the blog and web sites I am an admin for and realized I had written a couple of blog posts for a local business that was a client of mine for a very short while. I thought I would share it, only because I want to preserve as much of my work as possible. I want this in large part because almost everything I did at Rocketdyne is the intellectual property of the organizations that were the mother ship for Rocketdyne in the over two decades I was there.

I have a few presentations I did that are on SlideShare, but they don’t come close to the amount of content I produced over that time, and that includes a couple of years worth of monthly newsletters that were researched, written, and published almost entirely on my own. I even did the graphics for them. As I said, I don’t own them and, frankly, they were written for my colleagues and much of it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to anyone outside the organization. Nevertheless, it’s a bit sobering to know you did a lot of work you cannot now take credit for . . . at least not easily. What follows is the blog post I wrote for Choice 1 Cleaners.


Your Tortured Garments

Red Wine Stain on White Blouse

Oops!

Many things in this world are a lot more complex than first meets the eye. Dry cleaning happens to be one of them. Actually, when it comes to today’s garments, any kind of cleaning is far more complex than one might imagine. This isn’t true of all garments, but it is true of garments in general.

Take, for instance, the variability in both materials and the things that stain them. There are basic differences, e.g. fabrics are made out of plant-based (cotton, linen), animal-based (silk, wool, leather), or synthetic (polyester, acrylic, nylon) materials. Stains come in different varieties as well; they’re either plant, animal, or synthetic. Proper cleaning requires an appreciation of the science involved when trying to remove those stains without harming the fabric.

In addition to the variations in material and the things that stain them, consideration needs to be given to the method of construction and the existence of adornments or embellishments, such as pearls, beads, chains, etc. Each of these creates different challenges that need to be addressed before the garments they’re attached to can be safely cleaned. Some require gauze to be hand-stitched over them in case they come loose. Some designer clothing can contain materials that need four to six different treatments to be thoroughly cleaned.

In order to get your garments truly clean – as clean as you expect them to be – we need to test spots as well, many of which you aren’t aware exist. For instance, sweat, alcohol, and perfume stains may not show up for a while. Your skin’s oils may leave stains you don’t notice either. However, when we clean your clothes we will discover them.

Rest assured, no matter how difficult the challenge, our mission is to clean your garments so they look and feel brand new. We can’t do much about the effects of time, but we can do an awfully good job removing the things that get on your clothing and render it stained and dirty. We pride ourselves on being the best and we think you’ll agree we are!


The Consequences of NOT Seeing Systems

Senge on Seeing Systems

Want to understand Systems better? Check out Peter Senge, Russell Ackoff, W. Edwards Deming, or just search Google for some info

When I first started this blog, one of my goals was to bring a systems perspective to my posts. Circumstance made that goal a bit difficult at times, and my interests are a bit too eclectic for me to stay in a single lane, but it is a perspective I feel most comfortable with and believe is useful in understanding the world and human society and relationships.

It’s long been clear to me that many people haven’t the faintest idea how systems work and how not understanding the interplay of their aggregate parts makes it virtually impossible to make quality, informed decisions.

In order for democracy to be spread and actually implemented in ways that are meaningful to ordinary people (who are often really afterthoughts to our institutions and those who lead them) I am convinced we need to become not merely critical thinkers, but also “systems thinkers”, i.e. we need to learn how to “see” systems. We, meaning “the people”, need to recognize how all things are parts of systems and that smaller systems are parts of other, more encompassing systems. Whether closely or remotely, we need to recognize how things are related to each other, such that we can appreciate the ways in which they affect and sometimes transform each other.

When this happens without our fully (or even partially) understanding these effects, we call them “unintended consequences.” However, these generally come about not because we failed to appreciate their possibility, but because we didn’t even see how they were related. It is our ignorance — in the non-pejorative sense — that’s causing us harm, because we just don’t see the subtle interplay of forces or the way they interact with each other. I plan on continuing to touch on this subject, as well as the other things that interest me. Stay tuned!


Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck

Since I don’t have anywhere near as much time to write as I used to (now that I’m back working) I thought I would start sharing some of my favorite writers and posts. Here’s one from Dave Winer that he posted on the 25th anniversary of the Web. Dave knows of what he speaks, having been one of the earliest bloggers and developers. Here’s a piece from yesterday, August 23, 2016.  

~ Rick

nuttyBars

Perhaps not many people will see the connection between today being the first day Gawker is gone, it being the 25th Anniversary of the Web, and the message all Facebook users were greeted with this morning.

  1. Gawker is gone because Peter Thiel financed its murder-by-lawyer. It’s legal to do this in the US, but until now as far as I know, no one has crossed this line. Now that the line has been crossed, it’s fair to assume it will become standard practice for billionaires like Thiel to finance lawsuits until the publication loses and has to sell itself to pay the judgment.
  2. It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Web because 25 years ago a generous visionary named Tim Berners-Lee invented something that would benefit humanity more than it would benefit him. And many other visionaries saw it, and because it was open, were able to build anything they could imagine using it as a basis. And they did, making something like Facebook possible.
  3. Facebook is a silo for web writing. And while it would be easy for them to create paths for ideas to flow in and out of Facebook, at very low cost, and they have the features already developed, and use them internally, they refuse to share them with users. I suppose we could just explain this as they’re a very large tech company and that’s what tech companies do, but they also have the chutzpah to pretend to support the open web. They have been happy to accept its bounty and have done nothing to return what they’ve taken from the commons to the commons.
  4. And finally, remember Peter Thiel, the guy who thinks his wealth entitles him to shut down publications he doesn’t like, not only did he make billions from Facebook stock, he’s still on the board of Facebook. Zuckerberg has had plenty of time to ask him to leave, or to fire him, and he hasn’t done it. Again, you could just shrug it off and say Zuck is like Thiel, but he’s extra special in that he wants you to believe he appreciates the gift of the open web, as he strangles it.

Source: Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck


Celebrating Over a Decade of Blogging

Haven’t had the time – or the inclination – to address it, but this past Tuesday marked my eight year anniversary as a blogger on WordPress. Since I had been blogging at The Cranky Curmudgeon on Blogger since July of 2004 prior to moving over here, I guess that means I’ve been blogging for over eleven and a half years.

While I’ve always attempted to be somewhat relevant, I’ve never even considered being commercial, which should be quite evident given the rank amateur effort I’ve stood up. I know WP tacks on advertisements to my blog, though that might have gone away now that I’ve purchased their premium pack. I never saw them, so I’m not sure if they’re still there or not.

At any rate, I begin my 70th orbit around the Sun a little later this year. I’m hopeful I’ve got at least another decade of blogging to do; maybe even some seriously focused writing as well. We’ll see how that goes.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.


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