Empathy and compassion

With emotional empathy, you actually experience a weaker degree of what somebody else feels. Researchers in recent years have been able to show that empathic responses of pain occur in the same area of the brain where real pain is experienced.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2017/12/against-empathy/

It seems obvious to me that being empathic is helpful since it suggests where to direct one’s compassion. However, is it necessary to be empathic in order to be compassionate?

Without compassion is empathy beneficial? Without compassion might empathy actually be harmful?

Why is my mission creating better conversations to spread understanding and compassion?


Reading for ‘hunh’

But if you only remember six things after reading this article, it should be the following truths about reading:

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2021/08/remember-books/

Those six points are right near the top, too. It’s a great article about reading. —about a certain kind of reading. I’m not certain what to call the type of reading, but for today “reading to learn” will do as a label. Well, there’s another type of reading which I’ll call “reading for ‘hunh‘”.

There’s deep value in a ‘hunh’. When you find one, you can be sure you have just learned something. I spend a lot of time every day reading for ‘hunh’. I cast a wide net and then haul the contents up onto the fishing boat deck. I shuffle through the contents in muck boots; you don’t want to get this arbitrary stuff really on you. Using a squee-gee I push some of it around in an only vaguely interested fashion. I’m not super-focused. I’m paying attention for sharp edges but I’m not expecting any particular outcome. If I find a ‘hunh’ it’s just that; no more and no less than something simply interesting for the time it’s in my realm of awareness. And then I drop it back on the deck. Soon enough I wash it all overboard.

What kind of reading is that?


Gateway to possibility

Why is play so powerful? Johnson explains that “humans — and other organisms — evolved neural mechanisms that promote learning when they have experiences that confound their expectations. When the world surprises us with something, our brains are wired to pay attention.”

And the whole point of play is to be surprised. The unknown factor is part of what entertains us. Play is a gateway to possibility.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2017/08/value-play-driver-innovation/

Have you seen the movie, Inception? There are a pile of mind-bending perspective shifts in there… something like a dolly-zoom, a long music descent, a rotating set that obliterates our sense of reality as the actors fall to the ceiling, that look on their face, M C Escher learns to use modern CGI for a city street scene . . . you get the idea.

unknown factor
gateway to possibility…

My understanding of what play is, and why we’re drawn to it, has fundamentally shifted.


I over-complicate things

Hanlon’s Razor teaches us not to assume the worst intention in the actions of others. Understanding Hanlon’s Razor helps us see the world in a more positive light, stop negative assumptions, and improve relationships.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2017/04/mental-model-hanlons-razor/

And there’s a rather long, (by Internet blog standards,) article after that opening paragraph. I read it. It resonates with me. It has heuristics and suggestions, points and counterpoints. There are some memorable quotes, including some famous Army General’s way of using the razor to categorize officers based on their combinations of traits.

But, being well aware of my title, I could just take the entire article and train of thoughts and teaching and simplify it to a pithy two-sentence reminder:

Don’t assume the worst intention in the actions of others. Instead, see the world in a more positive light.



But there’s a message all of our readers should appreciate: Blog posts are not enough to generate the deep fluency you need to truly understand or get better at something. We offer a starting point, not an end point.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2017/02/on-shallowness/

First off, I totally read that as, “to generate the deep lunacy …” which is probably closer to the truth than I’d like to admit for my own blog if one tries to just read it. Second, this is so meta. I’m writing a blog post about a blog post that is referring to the other posts on that same blog.

I’ve said this sort of thing before, but it bears repeating: On this blog, I’m showing my process of reflection. I would get the exact same benefit if I did all this writing, and pressed delete instead of publish. (With the notable exception that I do also use my blog as an archive to re-find things.) But I make no claim that simply reading this blog will do anything for you. “Look! Here are my footprints, stumbles, side tracks and snow angels in the woods.” Maybe you can see some art, or some fun, or whatever. But the whole point of having it out there for you to read is to encourage you to do your own reflection.


This is click bait

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) influenced some of the more prominent minds in the world. His writings and lessons traverse time and discipline. Schopenhauer confronted similar problems with media to the ones we face.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2017/01/schopenhauer-dangers-clickbate/

The scale of Philosophy—just “western” Philosophy alone, even—is mind boggling. Who thought what, at which point in their career. Who influenced whom. Who’s work is now considered bunk, and which is bunk but still necessary to understand some other piece. What is in which language, and then which translation of that should one choose. If so-and-so had an influence on other-person, in what way? …did they build upon, tear down and correct, or push farther the influencer’s work?

At one point, I had deluded myself into attempting a systematic survey of Philosophy. ahahhahaahhaahahhaahahahahahhahaaa. Silly human.

But this small-ish article from Farnam Street led me to actually wonder about some of Schopenhauer’s essays. And I’ve ended up with an English translation of his On Reading and Books now sitting on my read-next table.


Grunt work

It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2015/08/schopenhauer-on-reading/

That’s a tiny taste from a delightful and sublime collection of thoughts on reading and books. Which will serve perfectly as an on-ramp to Schopenhauer’s actual essay, On Reading and Books. Which, furthermore, is even linked as a modern PDF from that same page. Wonders never cease.



The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.

~ David Foster Wallace, from https://fs.blog/2017/01/most-respectful-interpretation/


As usual, therein lies a collection of thoughts nicely arranged into a constellation. I sometimes repeat the phrase, “assume positive intent,” to myself and to others as a caution against defaulting without thinking. It seems a base part of our nature—although the ancient benefits seem obvious it’s still only anecdotal evidence—that I default to defense. “Dead last” seems aptly named from the historical perspective, and “first” feels like we’re missing a catchy adjective. (“first fatality” maybe?) What might be called “herd middle” simply feels like the right choice most often. But that’s still defensive; Don’t stand out means blend in means wait and see means be cautious means they’re out to get me.

Boundaries? Yes, please. Rights and safety? Yes, and yes. But if the vast majority of us are really just like me… how great would it be if we assumed positive intent? …or, well, maybe we could do that at least half the time?


Generous listening

Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability— a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.

~ Krista Tippett from, https://fs.blog/2017/01/krista-tippett-listening-questions/

I haven’t [yet] read her book, but I’m in total agreement with this statement.

I’ve had several conversations where I’ve had, literally, no clue where we were going to go. If I try to worry about that… if I try to think ahead to come up with a destination… it never works out well. The urge to do that comes from my fear of being heard as a silly idiot; I’m the host, I should know how this is going to work out. But each time I manage to rise above that fear, good things happen. Sometimes even great things.