The need to remember our dark side
I was asked recently about whether we still need remember the darker parts of
our history, such slavery and the holocaust. It made me think about what is
sometimes called 'the shadow side' of our personality, where we know there is a
part of our selves that might act in ways that we know are wrong. The fear of
such things can be seen in 'dark' and 'shadow', names that suggest things hidden
and dangerous. It is no surprise that Star Wars evoked this in its classic
hero's journey and the 'dark side of the force'.
This is what I wrote:
We all have a dark side that cares more about us and less about others. For
some this is darker, and for others it is harder to keep callous tendencies
under control. Even for the best of us, it is easy to let this control slip,
especially when we feel we are in danger.
We also can fall into obedience and conform to social influence and roles, as
shown by the experiments of Milgram, Asch, Sherif, Zimbardo and others. We do as
we think others want us to do, even if we know this is wrong. We believe that
our superiors are responsible, not us. We excuse ourselves in the moment by
telling ourselves that our actions are necessary or that the other person
‘deserves it’. And so we commit acts that we may later bitterly regret.
Remembering humanity’s darker acts is uncomfortable. It’s meant to be. It’s a
reminder of our dark side and that we must be constantly vigilant lest we slide,
ever so smoothly, into self-justified inhumanity.
Tanzanite, Ammolite, Korite and the marketing
I was on a cruise once around the Caribbean and noticed lots of places
selling Tanzanite jewellery, both on board and in the tourist shops on the
islands. I listened to the pitches, telling how beautiful and rare these gems
were, and how their version was the real thing, unlike the cheap tat you might
In other travels, this time in Canada, the heavily-promoted 'gem' was
Ammolite. I have also seen Korite, Amazonite, Csarite and Morganite in the same
context. Again, they were twinkly or shiny stones that looked nice in the
various settings available.
This got me thinking. Are there other '-ites'? A little searching says yes,
indeed. Lots. So perhaps you could add your own. Find a nice stone. Polish it up
and set in gold. Make up an -ite name (or perhaps an -ine one). And then sell
the heck out of it.
Diamonds once were little more than a geologist's curiosity. Then De Beers
cornered the key supply in South Africa and invented mandatory uses for them,
such as in the solitaire engagement ring. When the Russians turned up with
smaller stones, De Beers roped them in and invented the eternity ring. Their
'diamonds are forever' strapline, coupled with the marketing of diamonds as
exclusive and luxurious, is brilliantly persuasive and one of the most
value-creating phrases in history.
It's all in the marketing, of course, though it takes lots of money and
courage to make it work, and for every rip-roaring success there are others that
fall at the wayside. But in the end, it's all just rock.
Summarising and Criticising: Critical Skills You
May Not Realize You Need
Here are two skills that my wife, a former English teacher taught her
students as critical skills not just for passing exams but also as useful tools
Summarising is the skill of distilling the essence from a piece of writing,
extracting the key points, or 'sorting the wheat from the chaff'. In a world of
increasing information and demand for value, yet where the useful points are
hidden in reams of low-grade ramblings, the ability to summarise is much prized.
When I read any paper book or report, I mark key points with a pencil. These
often appear at the start or end of paragraphs, or perhaps are summarized by the
author in bullet points or a summary section. I can then read the book back very
quickly at any time. This is one of the methods I use for researching articles
on this website.
Criticising is evaluating what is written, deciding how good or useful the
text is. A key method in criticising is comparing it with other established
writings. If it differs from accepted wisdom, then this is a matter for concern.
Another aspect of criticism is in testing the reasoning within the work, for
example in establishing evidence and arguing logical cause and effect. In this
way, a good argument can allow an author to differ from other writers , for
example in pointing out where others are using weak evidence or where their
reasoning is invalid. Criticism can add to summarising. It is also a key skill
in changing minds.
In teaching English, my wife would welcome arguments such as whether Lady
Macbeth was evil or not, but would require the student to back up their argument
with evidence from the text. She would even test their critical resolve by
asking if Macbeth himself was so weak as to be easily led, would he ever have
become king at all. In this way, my wife's criticism of her students' criticisms
led them to become even better at critical analysis.
Working to become better at summarising and criticising can make you better
at all kinds of things. If your skills in these could be improved (and mine are
still far from perfect) then taking time to study and practice these could pay
The UK and Europe: A love-hate relationship
If you stand in America, Europe can be seen as something like the USA, only a
form of 'United States of Europe'. After all, there is a kind of Western-world
cohesion about it. They have a Union. Many use the euro currency. So why do they
seem to be constantly bickering?
The reality of Europe is better understood by looking back at its history.
For centuries, we have argued and fought with one another. Boundaries have
changed. Countries have gained and lost dominance. And old feuds simmer and
simmer. We all have stereotypes about one another, and perhaps some of them are
partly true. And yet we know we are all in Europe, and that there are many ties
that bind us, including religion, collaborations, wars (and the alliances
therein) and so on. The European Union itself came out of a desire to avoid
future conflict, yet itself is a source of endless niggles.
Europe and the EU is also a source of much political division within parties,
notably within the UK Conservative party, which has for long been split by pro-
and anti-European sentiment. This has come very much to the fore in the
referendum last Thursday about whether we should stay or leave. Other parties
were mostly for remaining, apart from the vocal right, most notably UKIP (The
United Kingdom Independence Party), which specializes in populizing fascist
views such as in demonizing immigrants, shrinking the state, increasing the
military and so on.
Interestingly, there has been a surge in love from other European countries
as they tried to persuade us to remain with them. Maybe this is because the UK
has been a net contributor to the EU. Or maybe they think we add wisdom to the
mix. Maybe. Britain has historically interfered and fought with European
countries on a number of occasions, often winning. Europe is full of countries
who think they are better than the other countries. Britain feels invulnerable,
after nearly 1000 years of not being conquered. Germans feel superior, and have
good evidence in such as their successful economy, though having lost to the UK
in World War 2 (and a few other countries, of course, but which are largely
ignored by UK historians). The French have been harried by the UK for centuries,
then embarrassed by being rescued by the UK twice in the 20th century. We have
also argued with the Dutch, Portugal, Spain and a host of other countries. It is
no surprise that our friendships can get a little strained at times.
More persuasively, everyone from President Obama to collections of business
leaders and Nobel laureates have pleaded with the UK population to remain in the
EU. This weight of opinion persuaded me, though I believe there are no easy
escape routes. Europe will continue to have its troubles. The euro will continue
to wobble. Migrants from elsewhere will continue to arrive. Internal squabbles
and bullying will not stop. Yet if we are do to anything about such issues, we
just have to keep talking with them all. Glorious isolation doesn't work in this
A curious but perhaps unsurprising source of 'leave' votes came from
traditional right-wing Labour voters. Yet this is not that surprising as this
group includes many who feel disenfranchised and abandoned by successive
governments, including the right-leaning Labour government of 1997-2010. The
result is that they seek change without thinking too hard about the effect that
change will bring. Anyone who taps their anger (as done so expertly by Donald
Trump in America) can swing this large voting bloc. It is frustrating that
people are persuaded so easily, though this site in particular should not be
The result, as much of the world knows, is that the UK public voted 52% to
leave the EU (vs. 48% to remain). The fallout has already been massive, with the
pound falling, trillions wiped off shares. Much of the commercial damage is due
to confusion. Markets do not like uncertainty and will sell what they do not
understand. David Cameron (Prime Minister) will be resigning, Jeremy Corbyn (the
Leader of the Opposition) facing mutiny and the people who led the Brexit charge
seemingly bereft of any detail about what they will do next. Scotland, who voted
'remain' will want to leave the UK and join the EU, though Spain says they will
veto this as they fear similar moves by their own independence-minded regions.
What will happen next? Who knows. There has been a public petition calling
for parliamentary discussion about a new referendum that has gained over 3
million signatories in a few days. If we continue the Brexit course, then we'll
likely get a more right wing government. They will try to negotiate with Europe
for a new trade deal, but will be punished for disloyalty and as a lesson to
others who may want to leave.
What a mess!
Designing online trust
Most of us have interacted online with other people, companies and websites.
In doing so one of the early questions we wonder is whether the other side can
be trusted. Whether we do or not has a great deal to do with how the website and
interactions are designed for trust.
So how do we trust?
First, we trust people who are
including keeping promises on time and being competent, so they can deliver on
their promises. To design for reliability, it is important to manage
expectations, telling people what you will deliver, then always delivering, on
time, on budget, and to specification.
We also need honesty in forming trust, so we look for truthfulness. This can
be a problem when a site isi rying to sell us something as we may well suspect
exaggeration of good points and concealment of bad points. The site should never
knowingly mislead customers, as a betrayed customer gets angry, tells others,
and never returns.
The third leg of trust is care. We trust those who seem to care about us,
('do no harm') and the more helpful
Care as a component of trust is often forgotten, yet this has huge potential for
building trust. A site can show care with simple, good design that is
attractive, lets readers easily find what they need, and provides them with
quality information. Offering helpful tips and otherwise giving without asking
is likewise likely to make them feel good when they think of you.
And here are a few more things you can do with your site to build trust:
- Include photos and full details about your products, as well as easy
- Show photos of your people, smiling and looking good.
- Allow reviews and star rating of your products.
- Provide multiple ways for readers to contact you, such as email, phone
and online chat.
- Respond quickly and sympathetically to all communications.
- Don't be defensive about criticism. Ask for more information.
The bottom line is to keep thinking about trust. Everything you do can build
or destroy it -- and destruction is very easy, and can have devastating
consequences. Figure out what trust you need and act accordingly. Do not expect
blind loyalty -- web users are largely cynical about all the trickery that they
see every day. Also do not 'wing it' with 'that will do' type tweaks. Think hard
about trust and design for it, and, if you truly understand it, you will be far
more likely to get the powerful trust that you need.
Where will Bernie's votes go? The strange,
strange US Presidential elections may get stranger still
The US Presidential elections this year have already been a humdinger. Donald
Trump has confounded traditional Republicans by coming from the back to snatch
the nomination. And the Democrats have had themselves a pretty good race, with
socialist Bernie Sanders giving front-runner Hillary Clinton a darned good run
for her money. So it looks like, short of any catastrophic revelations, that it
will be Trump vs. Clinton.
A sensible conclusion is that Hillary will trounce Donald. Surely, there
can't be that number of Americans who would vote for a President Trump. Yet the
strangeness of this year's election could lead to not only lots of Republicans
voting for Hillary, but also lots of Democrats voting for Donald.
Support for Donald Trump within the establishment Republican party has been
slow, with a number of high-profile figures saying they will not vote for him.
I've also got personal friends who always vote Republican but who are terrified
at the thought of him becoming president. Many of these Republican
traditionalists and thinkers will surely not vote for Trump and may well vote
for Hillary as a protest or direct opposition to someone who they feel has
hi-jacked their nomination process.
Yet there is a global populist fire
raging, that has stirred up elections around the world. From the
recently-elected Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to the machinations of
Syriza in Greece to the rise of UKIP in the UK, people are voting in their
masses against traditional politicians and for outsiders and new parties who
'tell it like it is' and seem to be anti-corruption. In America, Trump has
played this card very well, giving voice to many blue-collar workers who have
felt abandoned and betrayed by Washington. And on the other side of the fence,
Bernie Sanders, a self-confessed socialist, has raised the hopes of many
Democrats for a more honest government (while quietly ignoring the cost of many
of his proposed reforms, of course).
So where will Bernie's votes go?
I'd say that there are likely quite a few Democrats who like the populist
message, and who, perhaps even to their own surprise, would be rather attracted
to Donald Trump's non-traditional-Republican rhetoric. To add to this, Hillary
has already lost some large segments that should have liked her, such as younger
women. And these cynical Democratic Hillary-dislikers might just, like the
anti-Trump Republicans, vote for the other side rather than for her. A lot may
hinge on what Bernie asks of them when he (finally) concedes.
And don't forget Trump's mastery of persuasion. He wrote 'The Art of the
Deal' long ago and has been honing his persuasive skills ever since. He seems to
say awful things, but, perhaps not so remarkably, they have worked for him.
Expect him to change his tone soon as he woos swing voters and Democrats who are
not so taken with Hillary.
So, while Hillary may pick up a good number of anti-Trump Republican
electors, Trump may pick up populist-liking and anti-Hillary Democrats. And
given Trump's added expertise in manipulative politics, the race could be closer
than one might imagine.
Strange bedfellows: The idealists and the thugs
You could perhaps be forgiven for thinking idealists who seek some kind of
perfection are pretty much polar opposite to thugs who gain pleasure from wanton
harm. Yet there are times when they end up in the same bed.
A recent example is ISIS (or whatever you call it). On one hand, they are
religious idealists, seeking purity in their beliefs. And, on the other hand,
they seem to revel in atrocities. What is it that makes people seek perfection
yet resort to aggressive means? Is it about the end justifying the means?
It's not just terrorists who seek perfection through aggression. Try arguing
with any fundamentalist and you'll likely find they quickly become angry when
you contradict their beliefs. Anger is often a consequence of fear, as the
'fight or flight' response takes the fight route. When we are angry, we
effectively say 'Do as I want or I will harm you.' Christian history is littered
with wars, from the Crusades onwards, in which God is always on our side.
One of the telling aspects of the strange marriage of idealism and thuggery
can be seen in the degrading of recruitment strategies. At one time, they sought
true idealists, but when these started running out, they accepted those with
lesser religious ideals and just a greater desire to fight. The truth of the
human condition here is that there are more thugs than idealists. Thugs also
make useful front-line cannon fodder, allowing the elite idealists to stand back
Idealism and thuggery also appears in many organisations. You can see it in
politics, where ideals of equality easily turn into bully-boy tactics that just
seek compliance. It appears in business, where nice ideas of customer- and
employee-friendly companies get waylaid by the pressures of sales targets and
Those who survive with their idealism intact often seem to keep things small,
are very careful who they allow to join their peaceful group, and deal quickly
with any nascent aggression. Their senior people understand the dangers of
Machiavellian thuggery that, while achieving short-term goals will destroy
longer-term ideals. They build robust cultures that both ensure the organisation
survives and also that it does so without compromising core values.
How to be intimidating. Or not.
I recently had a conversation about intimidation with a person who was
concerned that they were scaring others, even when they tried not to do so. Here
are some of the thoughts that came out of that very interesting conversation.
Intimidating others means engendering fear, often with the purpose of
coercing them into doing something they do not want to do. We can also do this
accidentally or deliberately - the bottom line is that the other person feels a
degree of fear as a result of their encounter with us.
Ways we can intimidate others include:
- Staring at them, particularly without blinking.
- Getting too close to them,
entering their 'personal space'.
- Speaking aggressively, even about other people.
- Moving jerkily or suddenly, especially when you are close or when actions
simulate harm (eg. chopping motion or with fist).
- Behaving erratically and
unpredictably, so they do not know what you will say or do next.
The ease with which we can accidentally intimidate suggests that we might reflect on how
we act around others. Maybe we don't mean to be intimidating, yet it's
possible we sometimes are, though without really noticing it. Paradoxically,
when are act in intimidating ways, it is often a response to feeling intimidated
ourselves. We sense aggression and meet fire with fire, escalating our
aggressive stance. This can be overt and deliberate, but is often subtle and not
noticed, even by us. Yet even small changes in how we act can make others
A way to monitor this is to watch how other people react around you. Do they look alarmed? Do they back
away? Do they give you space? Do they avoid you altogether? If so, try to see
yourself through their eyes and decide consciously how you want them to respond
to you, and consequently how you need to act around them.
To be non-intimidating, just do the reverse of intimidating action. For
- Look warmly at them, but not for too long.
- Give them space and act respectfully.
- Listen attentively and act in kindly ways.
- Be positive about other people.
- Move smoothly and naturally. Keep hands open.
Who moved my table? Nobody, but I should have!
Last weekend I was helping out with 'Bee Friendly Monmouthshire' a local
voluntary group that is working to increase awareness and action in protecting
pollinators, including butterflies, moths, hoverflies and, of course bees.
There's around 260 varieties of wild bees in the UK and without them, farmers
would have to spend about £1.8B in artificial pollination, yet the pressures of
survival means they are still planting monocultures that limit pollinator feed,
cutting undergrowth where pollinators live and using poisons that kill
pollinators as well as pests.
But enough of that. Much of my work with BfM is in persuasive wording, but
last weekend I was just manning a stall at a country house nearby which was
opening its gardens to the public as a part of the
National Gardens Scheme.
The situation was that there was a set of tables selling various things just
next to the house, snagging visitors as they came to see the gardens. Near me
was a range of plant stalls, selling flowers and vegetable seedlings at quite
reasonable prices. I put my table a little away from them at what I thought was
a nice angle, in a curve nearer the front door of the house. People like bees, I
though. They'll come to see me as they walk in and not be distracted by the
I was quite wrong. I was not the bee. They were. The real attraction for
people coming to visit the gardens was the cheap plants. Not some guy in the
corner going on about bees.
What I should have done was to move my table up next to the plant stalls, so
as the visitors moved down the line, they ended up with me. But somehow I didn't
do this. Why? Because of embarrassment and pride. If I'd moved my table, I would
have to admit that I was wrong. Even if no words were exchanged with the other
stallholders, they would know -- I would be admitting to having been wrong.
Darn that pride. It stops us doing the right thing so often. Next time, I'll
swallow it. Really.
As, Bs and the Three Secrets of a Successful Life
I recently answered a question on Quora that asked 'My teacher said B
students will work for the A students. Is this true?'. I felt for the
student, whose situation I did not know. I also felt for the teacher -- I've
been there and motivating students can be a hugely frustrating task.
Here is my answer to the question. Yes, I know it's not quite the answer
asked. I was trying to answer the real question underneath:
What your teacher is probably really saying is that the students who are
getting Bs but who are capable of getting As are showing a tendency to be lazy.
Life is generally not kind to those who are lazy, and indeed they do tend to end
up working for people who are more diligent.
The secret of success is often described as 'hard work and luck', which
pretty much describes my life. I worked my socks off, had my fair share of luck
and retired from 'real' work at 58, although five years later I'm still as busy
as I've every been.
I've heard a number of successful people say that the harder they work, the
luckier they get, which suggests that what people call luck is not random
chance, but being able to see opportunities and then grasping them with both
hands. It also suggests that successful people are grateful for the
opportunities that they have had -- and as gratitude is closely linked with
happiness, this explains how you can be both successful and happy (and
relatively few people have both).
So what does this mean for you?
School is about opportunity. Take it, while you can. Grasp it with both hands
and see it as a fabulous chance to build a great future. Work hard, because
every hour invested now will likely pay you back hugely in the future.
If, after this, you get a B, then be grateful, because otherwise you would
probably have got a C or D. If you get an A, be grateful too, then seek the
step-up opportunities that this gives you. Even if you get a C or whatever, you
can still feel good because you have done your best. Look for strengths in other
subjects, because we all have different talents. Do not give up because failure
only happens when you stop trying.
Work hard. Grasp opportunities. Be grateful. It's the secret of a successful
Another great article! I loved the last paragraph. Will
add it to my quote list.
-- Ivan M.
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