Culture

Adam Grant in his book Originals relays a lot of useful information. I’m about halfway through the book and already have learned about the relationship between what Internet browser is used and productivity, how to better guarantee your ideas are hits, and the different factors involved with selling a novel idea to an organization.

But my favorite thing I’ve learned is this: Artistic interest drives intellectual accomplishment.

A study that looked at differences in levels of interest in the arts between Nobel Prize-winning scientists from 1901 to 2005 and their scientific peers revealed that the awarded group was dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists. The chart below illustrates this.

Additionally, Grant notes that “a representative study of thousands of Americans showed similar results for entrepreneurs and inventors. People who started businesses and contributed to patent applications were more likely than their peers to have leisure time hobbies that involved drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, and literature.”

The personality trait that most associated with an interest in the arts is called openness. This is “Openness to Experience, or openness to considering new ideas … [It] describes a person’s tendency to think abstractly. Those who are high in Openness tend to be creative, adventurous, and intellectual. They enjoy playing with ideas and discovering novel experiences. Those who are low in Openness tend to be practical, traditional, and focused on the concrete. They tend to avoid the unknown and follow traditional ways.”

This definition is from Truity, a website that allows you to take a test to measure your level of openness and four other major personality traits. If you’d like to learn about your level of openness, follow this link to take the test.

[Note: Sorry about the late post. My laptop charger isn’t working, and yesterday was busy. We’ll be back on track tomorrow.]

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I found the attached picture on Reddit a few days ago with the headline “This photo taken in Paris perfectly captures the spirit of an era.”

My first thought was that the poster was right. We live in an era characterized by a willful disconnection to many social problems. It seems like if it’s not impacting people directly, they would prefer to ignore the problem – presumably out of selfishness or a belief that they can’t do anything about it, so they shouldn’t let it be a burden.

But I think that there’s more that needs to be said. The trouble with social media is that it boils down complex issues into pithy, superficial headlines. And, let’s be honest, most of us just read the headlines. This results in taking sides without thoughtful consideration of the context or other pertinent factors and could likely be a leading cause of much of the polarization we seem to be experiencing.

Our era is characterized by much more than mere selfishness. Don’t believe me, check out reddit.com/r/wholesomememes. Here’s a taste:

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Most people are not walking around looking to one-up each other. Sure, there’s a lot of competition. But to boil down the 21st-century Western world into a unique kind of psychopathic self and technological-absorption is ridiculous.

We are complex creatures, experiencing unique realities with different values.

However, there has been some progress made that gives insight into some common themes.

At our deepest, for instance, we all want connection, a meaningful life, and to feel loved and accepted – both by ourselves and by others.

Selfishness, greed, corruption, ego trips, prejudice, and abuse have existed since the dawn of civilization.

Moses freed the slaves. Native Americans battled for territory. And tycoons built America on the backs of people with no access to education.

Never underestimate the difficulty in attempting to define an era. There are powerful stories and nuanced truths everywhere.

The story of the grass growing can be purely scientific. You can focus on the photosynthetic process and the intricacies involved with the conversion of sunlight to energy. Or it might be about values and ethics. Kentucky grass is foreign to many areas, and its use in many yards is contributing to a decrease in native prairies, which harms local wildlife. Or they can be spiritual and enchanting. The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”

Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But you can choose faith, hope, idealism, and wonder or you can choose cynicism and nihilism. Both tend to be equally correct. Right now there’s simply no way to know for sure. And secretly we all want to take the first route.

Here’s a simple reminder you can keep with you for hope when all seems to be going wrong: we tend to crave a happy ending.

Our schools are about teaching kids facts and discipline.

They don’t encourage them to think creatively.

And they don’t build character.

Curriculums, sports, and misguided cliques tend to foster people who value competition, lack a toolkit for critical thinking, and don’t know how to think seriously about what the moral thing to do is.

Schools should be asking more of kids.

Instead of turning in boxtops or cans, they should be working on a community garden, feeding and spending time with the homeless, and sharing their talents with kids in lower-income communities.

There should be lessons about what a dollar does for their neighborhood and how it’s wasted at a big corporation.

And acting out needs to be understood rather than punished.

Technology threatens the old saying that “it takes a village.”

Let’s be proactive, get grounded in the fundamentals of loving homes, and think seriously about how to raise good villagers.

 

Large companies asking for donations at the end of the checkout process is a useful nudge to get shoppers to be more generous

But a few large companies doing it just isn’t enough.

The local economy is where the biggest direct impact is made on people’s lives in the long-term.

So community leaders should start thinking about how to get local businesses to support important local causes.

In this way, people in the community who are at-need get help and whenever kids go to the store they see a society that cares.

 

Society might feel like it’s simpler than we imagine. At its core, there are a few key ingredients. For example:

  1. Clothing
  2. Food
  3. Natural resources for building and technology
  4. Entertainment
  5. Ideas
  6. Art
  7. Relationships

The devil is in the details and the values we place upon these categories. What does clothing mean to you? Is it a mere means to comfort or is it a projection of our status to the world? What is the meaning of art? Do we feel like we belong in our relationships and which relationships does that matter in? Why do we create art? What is it we connect with in movies we are entertained by? Do we just believe things about these categories that we have been told to believe by people in our immediate circles?

In some respects, the development of society is a continual over-complication. (Enter the rise of -isms.) It’s the macro-equivalent of someone with too much time on their hands.

But there’s more to this. Society is stratified. This means it’s arranged and organized. And this is really where things get tricky.

You start to see the formulation of a dominant mindset, some values or ideas battle against others, and we start to really complicate things with winners and losers.

When you break society down to its most essential elements as I did just above, you start to see that these ideas of status and authority are kind of absurd.

We’re all just human beings. We all pretty much want the same stuff.

This is a riff. I don’t know where it’s going. These are just important things to think about.

Ask yourself what the relationship between the Internet, mass communication, and industrialism has on these relationships? Who becomes the gatekeepers? Who decides who wins and loses?

I don’t have the answers yet about these things, but I invite you along.

I think there’s something to be said about the role of government in this whole thing.

Here’s something to keep in mind along the journey: politics is the movement of power. It’s the ultimate decision about authority.

With so many people and ideas, it often feels like everything has been said.

We all are human.

We all want connection.

We all want love.

We all want belonging.

We all want to feel like we as individuals and our work matter.

So we all crave a voice.

And many of us crave fame.

Fame, micro (social media influencers) and macro (folks who have to worry about paparazzi) is a good proxy for our self-worth.

 

Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work you’re passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?