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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 20-November-16

Why do rockers treat women with respect?

I had an interesting conversation with my daughter today, who's long been into rock and metal music. She commented about how she always felt safe at heavy metal clubs, and how those big, tattooed, pierced men would universally treat her with respect. This contrasted sharply with the hounding she got at conventional clubs, where she got quickly and constantly surrounded by men who tried to press themselves on her.

We mused about why this would be, and concluded that there are several factors, including.

  • No anonymity: The rockers form a stable group where people mostly know one another. So a person cannot turn up and not be noticed. Also, within the group if you do wrong, there is no place to hide.
  • Differential values: The group is a minority, and so differentiate themselves from the majority in several ways, including wanting in-group equality within the group and a desire to protect their own.
  • Shared vulnerability: While rockers may look scary, many have experienced tough times and know what it is like to be a victim, so they seek to create a safe space in which members can be non-victims. 
  • Extended identity: Identity factors that include supporting those who are vulnerable extend beyond the group setting. Hence rockers are likely to help women and other vulnerable people in everyday settings. This also helps them confound stereotypes about them that suggest they are unpleasant and uncaring, and so feel good about being decent people.

Of course there can be variations and not all rockers are saints, but in my daughter's experience she has never had any problems in rock and metal clubs over a number of years, unlike elsewhere.

So, next time you see a person dressed in leather, with piercings, Mohican haircuts, and tattoos, smile at them and give them a hug!

Sunday 20-November-16

Stepping up to the mark. Can Donald Trump do it?

I predicted as much last week. Donald Trump is now the US President elect. Breaking the odds and the polls, he's pressed the right buttons and awoken a disillusioned majority. Just as Barack Obama got people to vote who might not normally do so, so also has Donald Trump called out a different demographic.

Beyond the analysis of why, the next question is 'What will he do?' The doom-mongers are predicting terrible things. But then predictions do not always turn out as expected, as we have seen. It seemed an outside chance that Donald Trump would become president, but he did. It now seems an outside chance that he will be a great president. Maybe he will.

The critical question now, is 'Will he step up to the mark'. Even as the election was taking place, the UK's version of The Apprentice is under way. It is run by Lord Alan Sugar, who has already expanded into politics and sits in the higher parliamentary chamber. In this reality show, aspiring business people are set a series of challenging tasks where they have to both show leadership and collaborate with those who compete against them. There is no hiding place for those who sit back, nor is there a place for bullies who cannot get the real buy-in of others.

A fascinating aspect of this and other reality shows (my guilty pleasure is The X Factor) is watching how some people step up to the mark, who learn, grow and develop. These people swallow their pride, listen to the experts and work hard to become better at everything they do. Those who believe they know it all or who major on blaming others fall by the wayside.

So will Donald Trump step up to the mark?

Will he collaborate rather than just dictate? Will he be fair rather than vindictive? Will he lead the people rather than just trying to manage? Only time will tell. Reality participants, of who he has seen more than a few, are difficult to forecast. People who seem ebullient wilt under pressure. People who claim to be expert demonstrate a marked lack of expertise. People who seem nice can turn really bitchy. And then quiet people can step to the fore. Aggressive people rein themselves in. A few such people step up to the mark and show themselves to be true and capable leaders.

Can Donald Trump do this? Or will he blow it? He has the potential to commit political suicide. He also has the potential to get a lot of people killed. Pre-judging achieves nothing. Only his actions will prove this particular pudding.

He has confounded us once. Perhaps he will confound us again. I dearly hope so.

Sunday 06-November-16

We're on the brink of a precipice and might just jump

It's a momentous time in politics, which means it's serious for all of us. The American presidential elections are upon us (well, they've been piled on us for quite some time). Here in the UK we are also dukeing it out on our white clifftops as we try to leave Europe and the world stands by, baffled. It seems we are no longer in Kansas, and may soon be transported to the strange land of Oz.

If Donald Trump gets to be president or the UK continues it's midair plunge (following the pound into the abyss), we'll be living in a new world of goodness-knows-what. If you believe the press, it's all going to end in tears. In either case, I suspect problems appearing that nobody really saw, broken promises and real hardship. Worst of all, it could presage an age of division, and perhaps even a slide into war. After years of greater acceptance of one another, we seem to have flipped to the other end of the spectrum. Or at least around half of us have done so. Or have we? It may well be that those who seem so angry have had their frustrations festering for years, only to be given voice in Trump and Brexit. The whole of society seems to have polarized, with each side hating the other and flinging mud and vitriol rather than calmly discussing realistic policies.

I've been listening to the commentary of late that tries to explain Trump and populism. I've even had a go or two myself. Brexit was described as a vote-off between those who had everything to lose and those who had nothing to lose. It's probably similar in the USA. Some have gained. And some have lost their jobs or just stagnated. The great American Dream that hard work leads to success has palpably failed for many people. And, as has often been reported, the 1% are getting richer while the middle classes are contracting and the working classes just hanging on with their fingernails.

Migration is often quoted as a cause of woes, and it may be for some, yet this has been a complaint for hundreds of years and seems a symptom more than a root cause. It may also be a trigger, as in the Brexit vote. Globalization has also had its effects, as the open world has led towards a flattening and equalization of economies. There is far more to go, but the effects of a free market is that money flows to where it works best, including cheap work markets. Liberalization is a paradox that seeks fairness in equality of all people, yet when people who have nothing get something, those who had little before feel they are paying for this. Concern for the environment and the longer future also collides with those who are just struggling to get by today.

Will we jump? I suspect we may. Even if we do not, the problems that led to this suicidal tendency will not go away.

Sunday 30-October-16

Control, Corruption or Culture, a Common Political Choice

Before 2001, Kabul in Afghanistan was run by the Taliban using a system of strong control, with religious police enforcing a strict zero tolerance policy. Women in particular had a raw deal, held in a subservient, uneducated, covered-up role. Yet everyone was equal in their poverty and crime was low.

After the Western liberation, the Taliban fled and a local government wad set up with as much support for true democracy as possible. And yet corruption set in, big time, even in hopefully uncorrupt organizations such as the army. For example, there are many 'ghost' soldiers who do not exist, yet their salaries are still drawn (and kept by those in the chain of command).

Corruption is an uneven system, leading to a few very rich and many poor and fearful people. Corruption begets corruption. Its methods include bribery, blackmail and violence. It sucks you in and never lets you leave.

It is the same in many other countries, where the choice seems to be either a strict system of control or unfettered corruption. Even in those places we call free are not perfect, with a mostly uncorrupt legislature and moderate levels of corruption.

Perhaps it is an indictment of the human condition. Unfettered, our deceptive skills come to the fore as we major on selfish mores and protecting our gene pool. Yet suppressed, we are so much less than we could be. Is there no hope for us?

Building a balanced nation is a difficult task, as other post-liberation experiences have shown. You can't just set up elections and hope for the best. We need uncorruptible governmental bodies, or at least ones where corruption is low enough to sustain sufficiently fair control. One way this happens is with separation of powers, for example between law-making and law-bringing bodies. No one person, nor a small elite, can have ultimate power which ultimately corrupts.

A powerful force for moderation is a culture that mandates fairness, in which the unfairness of corruption or absolute rule would lead to outcry and popular revolt. Culture is rooted in belief and is hard to shift, which is one reason why regime change is so fraught. You can change leaders quickly, but widespread belief in how the world works and what is right is much harder.

Culture is the third way. It is a major determinant of how we behave. It shapes whether we are corrupt or not and can override selfish tendencies. It transfers control from government to society as the system of social approval and punishment acts as a powerful distributed control system.

Culture is spread through actions, symbols and everyday talk. It can be seen in the stories we tell, about others and ourselves. It embodies trust and what this means to people. It is the most powerful and yet least understood force for political change.

Sunday 23-October-16

I lost the sense of beauty and then found it again. Here's how.

I once wrote a blog, titled ‘I have studied myself cynical’. I felt I had lost a lot of the wonder I once had. I started as a graduate engineer and then gained four post-graduate qualifications, as well as reading non-stop for fifty years or so. And as I knew more, I seemed to appreciate less.

So, as an engineer, I thought ‘this is an interesting problem’ and (paradoxically) studied it more. In brief, I found it was related to two things.

It firstly is about the familiar and the strange. When we are young, many things are unfamiliar, and so we gaze at even the simplest thing in wonder. Familiar things are safe, but boring. They do not grab our attention. They have little ‘wow’. Strange things can be scary, so we ignore them or pretend they are familiar.

So one thing I did to increase the strange in my life was to travel more. I also sought to deliberately meet people from different backgrounds, and listen to their stories.

In addition, it is about perception. In creating familiar understanding, we simplify and force-fit the world to our fixed mental models. It is in how we interpret and create meaning that beauty is perceived.

So I decided to learn to see beauty where I had been seeing familiar. For this, I took up photography. This aligned with my travels and added the dimension of looking creatively at everything in front of me.

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken on my travels: Dave's Photos

Sunday 09-October-16

Why do I get sad when TV series end?

I got asked this recently. This is what I wrote...

Same reason you got sad/emotional when you left high school. And when somebody dies. It’s about attachment and loss.


As a part of identity development we form attachments to people, things, places and so on in our lives. Our sense of identity is not just about us, but the connections and attachments we make. This is who we are.

When you meet people, you may tell them about your job, family and so on. These are attachment items. So also are TV series, which are produced specifically to cause attachment, so you keep watching them (and the adverts, of course). Key aspects that causes attachment include:

  • Characters that you like (and even some you don’t).
  • A storyline into which you project yourself.
  • Tensions and excitement that you don’t have in your life, but which you can sense vicariously.

See more of the theory of attachment at:  Attachment Theory


When attachments are broken, you feel a sense of loss, like a hole in your identity where the formerly-attached item is missing. This can tip you into a grief cycle, where you go through stages such as denial, anger and trying to find a way back.

Loss is not all bad. It reminds us of good times. It brings us together. There is also an odd pleasure in it as we experience deep emotion which can be better than flat boredom. This is one reason why TV series kill off major characters now and again.

Loss also makes us seek replacements, such as getting a dog when our children all leave home. In TV series, we tend to look for replacement watching, often of similar types of series. This is how, for example, when a person gets hooked (=attached) on a superhero series, they end up watching lots of such series.

See more about grief at: The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle


Sunday 02-October-16

The polarisation of society and a way back to moderation

Have you noticed that politics has got rather fractious of late? Politicians are taking extreme views and refusing to work with one another. Little real work gets done amid the fruitless cat fights, which contributes further to electorate contempt. And not content with that, in-party schisms are commonplace, often as ever-more radical wings rip away at the traditional body as toleration gives way to right or left extreme ideals.

The electorate, too, split and raucous, see opposition politicians and their supporters as bad and even evil, rather than wrong or misguided.

This intolerance is also seen in society and religion and may even be visible in terrorism and consequent reactions. The internet, too, is bound up in this malaise. Anonymity and remoteness enabled extreme views to be expressed without fear of recrimination. Indeed, the simple buzz of power that trolls get from being nasty reflects the baser potential of our nature. Social media has also encouraged more extreme views in the shock-horror of gossip. In the search for affirmation, we band together into online tribes where we stroke one another's egos and attack out-group others lest we, too, are castigated for not being true enough to friends and tribal values.

Polarization is a classic us-vs-them tactic, where taking an extreme position casts those who do not do likewise at the other extreme, making them clearly 'not us'. This extreme psychological distance enables us demonize and dehumanize them, reducing them to faceless 'things', such that we can harshly criticize them, unfettered by common decency and social values that constrain our interaction with humans.

In other words, polarization is an easy short cut for the lazy and thoughtless who need approval more than reason. It is also the refuge of the insecure, who find the complexity of the real world too much to handle.

Polarization can also be seen in the distribution of wealth, at least in the 'western world', where there has been a gradual return to elitism with the 'one percent' super-rich, more people struggling to get by, and a general collapse of the middle classes. Where once a booming middle class with enough wealth for some luxuries was an aspirational possibility for many, now it has been eroded to the point where markers of affluence, for example home ownership, are becoming more and more of a distant possibility.

When you take away hope, you get hopelessness. While many resign themselves to this fate, others are rebelling and may yet become a powerful political force who represent the have-nots, and who will powerfully confront the minority haves. For a long time the political right have fooled many with emotional appeals and empty promises that play to their fears, yet there also is a rising anger that may yet find a voice of its own. It is this voice that many are hearing and following in the new populist rebellions against traditional elitist government. Yet this replaces one extreme with another and is likely simply to perpetuate see-saw politics.

The pressures of an ever-faster life leads steadily from moderate positions to the easier extremes where we only have to look in one direction. Yet that polarized position brings new dangers. In a moderate society you can trust most people, even those who are not like you, to be civil and kind. But when things polarize, you see enemies at the gate and even inside the citadel. Where the defining emotion of moderation is love, fear rules the polarized.

So how do we get back? How do we create a kinder, more considerate society. The hardest first step is to stop fearing others, which leads to hating less. Yes, when you extend your hand to those who you have reviled, they may well try to bite it. But then moderation is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage and conviction to face critics from all quarters without slipping back into more extreme places. It comes from appreciating and accepting others, even as they attack you. It means being strong while also being kind.

Many of us know and prefer moderation, even as the world polarizes around us. We consider kindness and civil society a great thing. Yet our fears hold us back as we paralyze into the silent majority. But if we are to avoid an extreme world that is driven from the political right or the left, then we can no longer be silent. The middle must reinvigorate. Reason and humanity must be brought back into the mainstream. It will happen, of course. The nature of society is more of a pendulum than a final slide to one end or the other. Good leaders will appear, even as despair sets in. All it takes is that thoughtful and civil people come out of their bunkers and talk. It means standing up for a balanced society that does the best for all while realizing that nobody can get everything, and certainly not at the expense of others.

All you need to do is talk, then do. Find moderate others. Discuss the situation. Then find things you can do. Even small things, like helping the local community or supporting new businesses. And when you are ready to step further, then look for leaders who can promote moderation, and go help them.

Sunday 25-September-16

A shoe negotiation, and how to turn happy customers into irritated ones

Recently, my wife decided to return a pair of Merrill trainers to the store after the upper started coming away from the sole. The shoes were just over a year old, but they had a two year guarantee, so we headed for the Cardiff Cotswolds store.

We got in, presented shoes and receipt and were told to choose a replacement pair. After trying on a number of shoes, my wife found a pair that felt right. We took them to the counter, which is where things got interesting.

The assistant looked a bit sheepish and called the manager, who explained that due to the wear on the shoe, he could only offer 50% of the original price towards a new pair of shoes. How fascinating, i thought. Time for some negotiation.

I pointed out that our expectations had already been set, and that anything less than a replacement would be disappointing. He reiterated his point, saying the wear was excessive. I asked if the shoes were designed to last one year, and noted that the problem was not about sole wear but upper detatchment. I then paused, letting silence increase the tension the manager was clearly feeling.

Then he cracked, saying that as we had been promised a replacement, we would not have to pay extra. I thanked him for this good customer service.

Then something extraordinary happened. He told us that because we had gained this advantage, it would go on our record and be taken into account in the future. Amazing! In one swoop we went from delighted customers to insulted, appalled and never going there again. I was so shocked, I lost track and just muttered about not taking advantage.

He then scanned the replacement and was surprised to find it cost only 60℅ of the original shoes. Now it was his turn to be embarrassed as he asked if we wanted more expensive shoes. No, my wife said, these were fine.

And we left. Not delighted, as we should have been, but puzzled and more than a little irritated.

Sunday 18-September-16

Collectible pins and the selling of holidays

It was recently a significant anniversary for my wife and I, so we did a big 'bucket list' tour across Canada, including a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train and a short cruise up to Alaska.

On checking in for the train we were each given a rather nice enameled pin in the shape of a maple leaf, the Rocky Mountaineer logo and the year. I am seldom enthused by cheap giveaways and quickly bin them. But this pin was of good quality, so I kept mine. My wife put hers on her hat.

This says a lot for spending on quality giveaways. If you want people to keep and display them, they should be attractive, stylush and robust. Anything with your name on it should reflect the message you want to send, and in particular about the quality of your offering.

Then on the cruise, we were given another pin each, this time with 'Holland America' and 'Alaska' on it. And it struck me, this is more than about brand quality -- it's about collectibles.

People love to collect things. Even if there is little intrinsic value, the pleasure of possession, the anticipation of collecting a set, and the opportunity to chat and compare with other collectors makes collecting a joy for many. And the exclusivity of only getting this pin on this trip adds much scarcity kudos.

The bottom line for the vacation companies is that customers are now significantly more encouraged to go on more holidays in order to t more pins.

I'd guess that the return on the cost of these pins would be tremendous. There is also potential for the companies to encourage this, for example by facilitating collector conversation and by using the pins for some kind of exclusive club membership.

Sunday 11-September-16

Hopeless, zoos and the down-and-out

I was recently in Canada, and noticed in several cities that, while many seemed affluent and happy, there was also a very visible underclass of homeless people, with many begging on the streets. Mostly men, and many old. It must be such a sad existence.

We went to the zoo in Toronto and the aquarium in Vancouver, where it struck me that animals there also seemed trapped and hopeless. People in the cities that we saw begging or just loitering often did so on the same bit of pavement, hemmed in by an invisible cage. Sometimes they rocked or made repeated pointless movements, much like the zoo animals.

They knew their neighbours and perhaps regular passers-by, some of who might give regular donations. Generous as this is, I wondered if these contributions acted as an anchor, keeping the recipient hopefully in the same place. In the same way, zoo keepers formed odd bonds with their charges, even teaching them to do tricks for their dinner. As families laughed and clapped, I wondered what the animals made of it all.

Cities can be zoos, too, with mutual voyeurism a passive sport. Citizens can't help ogling one another's lives, and might vaguely wonder what it is like to be a stockbroker, taxi driver or beggar.

Me? I wondered, gave a bit, and guiltily got on with my holiday.

Sunday 07-August-16

Tanzanite, Ammolite, Korite and the marketing of gemstones

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 get elsewhere.

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.

Kryptonite, anyone?



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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