Thursday, September 30, 2004

My little sister and her fiance - isn't she beautiful?

Social Interaction

So, recently, I've been totally craving social interaction. I think it has something to do with the fact that most of the close friends I had out here in State College recently moved away. Last week, I flew out to Utah to visit my little sister, and for about an hour or two, I talked to the man sitting next to me on the plane. (Which is something I rarely do.) Anyway, he was a retired Engineering professor at Utah State. I thought we would talk about engineering a lot, since I am also an engineer, but we ended up actually having a really interesting conversation about our culture, and about how our society functions compared to other societies around the world. It made me really want to travel more. It would be really interesting to see other cultures more up-close, instead of having to hear it second hand. A group of my friends is planning a trip to Spain next summer. I'm really excited to go, and to see these people whom I haven't seen in a while, although I think I would rather go to Italy or Prague or somewhere else. Spain is really cool, I'm sure, but there are so many places I want to go, and I only have so much time and money, so I'd like to prioritize my travels a little better. But I wasn't the one who made the initial plans, and I'm really grateful for those who did, so I'm going to make the best of the trip. Maybe I can convince one of them to go to Italy with me after we're done in Spain.

The Tipping Point

I recently finished a book called The Tipping Point. It's all about how epidemics start, and has a lot of pretty fascinating insights into how the human mind works, and how our decision-making processes are influenced by outside factors.

Reading about mavens made me wish I were more aware of my purchases. (Mavens are people who are obsessed with getting a good deal.) I wish I always knew how to get a good deal on everything I buy, and how to buy the best product for the best price. I think I just believe too much that time is precious, and if I spend too much time researching a purchase just to get a slightly lower price, it’s not even really worth the effort. I definitely could put more effort into it than I currently do, though. (Well, sometimes I wonder how much I actually believe that time is precious, since I spend so much of it on things that are not that important. What I do with my free time has a strong indication of my priorities. That’s definitely something I should think about more and try to correct.)

Human character is so fascinating. I was totally mystified by some of the ways people behaved in different situations presented in the book. The Tipping Point changed the way I think about my interactions with other people. It kind of created a debate within myself as to whether I should change the way I interact with others. According to the book, a person’s decision-making process is significantly affected by outside factors, such as other facial expressions, whether something is bouncing up and down or side to side, and so on. So, should I take advantage of this knowledge, and use these tricks when I am trying to persuade somebody or teach a person something that I want them to know and understand? Or is that deceitful? Does the end justify the means? It would be easy to justify using my new understanding to influence people. There are outside influences all around us, many of which we don’t even notice or acknowledge. By better understanding how people’s minds work, it could be argued that I am simply using all of my resources, or that I am simply trying to counteract the negative influences that may be present, but not noticed. It could possibly help me to start a positive epidemic. Despite this, I still think I would feel somewhat dishonest and manipulative if I intentionally tried to influence somebody’s decision by changing the environment to one that would, according to the studies, induce them to decide the way I want them to. I’ve always believed in trusting people to make the best decision on their own, and that my only role should be to insure that they have all of the information, or possibly to provide for them a point of view that maybe they hadn’t seen before. (This is what I believe, anyway. Whether or not I actually practice these beliefs, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much of my opinions and information I should share before letting the person make their own decision. I wish there were some way to always know. Maybe there is, and I just haven’t picked up on it yet.) I believe in complete honesty too much to knowingly sway a person’s decision by factors that should not logically influence them. I want people to act on their honest convictions and beliefs. Charity isn’t a kind act or deed, but rather the driving force behind these acts. That can’t be falsified.

There are some factors that I don’t think are deceitful, that may still influence a person’s behavior (I’m mainly talking about my own now). The “broken window” theory showed that small problems, if neglected, can cause a negative epidemic. The theory states that if one window is left broken for long enough, then everyone else will think it’s okay to leave their windows broken, and before long, problems like that are neglected. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think that this theory can be applied to a personality traits and personal habits as well. I have so many small habits and tendencies that I too often let slide, since they’re small. But if they’re ignored, they can lead to more and more tendencies, and make it so much harder to correct all of them. I definitely need to look more closely at myself, be completely honest in my evaluation of myself (this is probably the hardest part for me), and make sure that I am always working on correcting any flaw I see, no matter how small. Maybe I can reach my own tipping point this way. I think this works in reverse as well. Culturing positive habits can result in tremendous changes. When I think about times when I felt like I was progressing the most spiritually and emotionally, these times always occur when I develop a new, positive habit. And every time, I thought the habit was only small, and somewhat insignificant.

The portion of the book that surprised me the most were the studies about teen smoking, and how much impact a parent has in whether or not a child will smoke. According to the studies, the parental influence was almost non-existent. I’ve always believed that parents play the primary role in shaping a child’s behavior. I still believe that, actually. But the studies did raise some interesting thoughts as to how to go about having the largest positive influence on a child. I wonder if there have been studies done showing the effect of the presence of religion in a home on how a child behaves in certain situations. Kids are obviously highly influenced by their peers, as I’m sure I was (and probably still am). So, how do I go about making sure that they retain the things that I’ll try so hard to teach them? It requires instilling in them a desire to do what’s right. If they really believe and love to do the things that I’ve taught them, they will be able to better withstand peer pressures. Understanding that the happiness found by doing the right thing outweighs the thrill or excitement of rebellion can help them to resist temptation. However, I’m still not sure exactly how to instill that in them. I think it just takes a lot of faith. Prophets are constantly telling us what to do to strengthen our families. It just requires believing that they’re inspired, and that, regardless of what studies might say, practicing the things that they teach really will have a positive influence on my family. I guess they’re the things that increase the ‘stickiness factor’ of the message. I think also that recognizing the importance of context can have an impact. By making my home a happy and loving place, that context that we are all so sensitive to will make a difference. (It seems like I’m always finding religious ideas in everything I read. Maybe it’s because I wish I lived the gospel better than I do, so I try to find new insights into how I can do that.)

I wonder where I rank in the diffusion model. I definitely don’t think I’m an innovator. I like trying new things, but they’re usually just new to me, and not to the whole world. Maybe I’m in the ‘early majority’ category? Maybe late majority? I don’t know. It probably depends on what the new idea or product is. That’s something to think about. I love learning new things about myself.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Thoughts on Reading

So, the Penn State campus is huge. I park out by the stadium, and it takes me about 30 minutes to walk from my car to my class, which is on the opposite end of campus. There are busses available that loop around campus, but the weather's great this time of year, so I wanted to take advantage of it while it's still not too cold, so I walk. Anyway, I realized that my mind wanders a lot during my 30 minute stroll, so I started bringing along a book to read. I've been trying really hard lately to control my thoughts and to make sure that my mind is always actively engaged, so I thought that reading a book would be a good idea. I've already finished 2 books in about a week and a half. (Both of which were excellent.) Anyway, I noticed that on the days that I read, I concentrate a lot better on my classes and it's so much easier to focus my mind. It's really pretty amazing.