This post is decently interesting and fun although I can't really understand where it's going? I see the connections between the ideas the author is making but overall the post feels rather meandering.
Aside: I hate to be a grammarian but the paragraph with four em dashes across two sentences really did my head in. Generally I expect them to set off parentheticals and I had no clue if I was supposed to place the parentheses across the sentences.
It meanders and I love it.
The author mentions that he tends to take initiative even when ideas are only half baked, and you can see it in his post. It feels rough and loose, like the ideas haven't been polished to perfection yet. There is no grand claim here.
I appreciate that all of the answers aren't served up on a silver platter and we're left to do with these theories what we will. It's raw and refreshing and I find it very engaging.
It's so odd. I was left with the feeling that I just stumbled on a few rough nuggets of pretty interesting advice. I really enjoyed reading this article and shall refer back to it, but it could almost be extended to a small book if the author would polish and deepen it.
Love it too - this article gives me Thirty Flights of Loving vibes.
I wish the post was on a wiki. Imagine what masterpiece the HN crowd would come up with when it was done!
Very meta... someone should do it :)
Post is generated by AI.
The McDonald's idea is brilliant.
When no one wants to make a suggestion, propose the worst possible one you can come up with. People will race to improve it because, while they don't know what they want, they know it's not THAT.
Plus their idea can't be worse than mine. So I've stolen all the embarrassment and disdain for myself.
And that, friend, is Cunningham's Law in action.
That was my first thought too. It also seems reminiscent of how auctioneers will start the bidding at a price far below the reserve price, just to get people started.
> When no one wants to make a suggestion, propose the worst possible one you can come up with.
And watch in horror when everyone agrees to it because nobody cares as much as you do.
"Write the whole thing in 1960s-era COBOL? Eh, fine, no problem. Good idea, bhntr3."
>I can't really understand where it's going?
Same here. That's why I find it interesting. Some half baked ideas that feel accurate and useful. No big theory about life. Perfect blog post.
I thought we were getting punked by an AI generated article again
If you like this line of thinking, I would suggest reading "Games People Play"  (also can find the original research paper if you look around for it).
Basic premise is how we fall into transactional games in social settings (talking about weather, sports, etc) and acknowledging that can help break out of that into more interesting conversation.
Just bought the book based off your recommendation, thanks a lot for that.
I was curious to read something along the lines of thinking the OP was musing on, but couldn't phrase it in a way that would help me find it. And neither did i suspect that it was an actual thing people wrote about, as opposed to just me having some random thoughts and wishing someone wrote about those. Reading the description of that book makes me believe that you absolutely nailed it with that recommendation.
I discovered Games People Play in 2017, and found it to be a fascinating exploration of how people communicate. I still refer to it.
I don't have much info on this, but I brought it up to my mom who mentioned that the book had a period of popularity before my time, but had apparently been debunked as too rudimentary. I'm convinced that the framework is still relevant despite that, although I typically trust my mom's intuition on people's behind the scenes incentives -- she's proven to have theories about people that take months to play out but end up playing out.
> she's proven to have theories about people that take months to play out but end up playing out.
All mothers have that - but they're different theories...
Wow. I read this at around 16 in 1983 and it made a huge impression on me then. It helped me really understand a few things about myself, as I always felt very socially out of it... Time to re-read!!
I second “Games People Play”. It’s a very enjoyable read and it has a lot of real insight.
> If so, then why was the waitress not disturbed? It is not the cockroach, but the inability of those people to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach, that disturbed the group. I realized that, it is not the shouting of my father or my boss or my wife that disturbs me, it’s my inability to manage my reaction to the words around me.
This sounds like a reference to stoic philosophy (of which I am not a fan), but I mean, don’t phobias exist, and don’t degrees of intensity exist so that it’s actually impossible to resist a trigger?
I personally used to be really scared of roaches, too, and I got over it not because I learned to control the fear itself, but because I thought about roaches differently (something along the lines of considering them weak). There is no controlling that fear because fear in this context is intense—I still get jerky sometimes when a cockroach shows up by surprise, or when there’s more than one of them, or worst of all, when they actually fly. I can usually avoid making a scene when there’s room to run somewhere else or if there’s an insect spray nearby, but stuck in a room with these triggers? I might go insane.
The conclusion that the women screamed because they’re not in control is not only lazy and prejudiced, it’s also an arrogant epistemological claim on something that the author doesn’t actually know, which is whether the fear or disgust of roaches is simply more intense for other people.
Sounds like you’re agreeing with Epictetus
“It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”
In your case the cockroach didn’t change, you found a different way to frame the cockroach. In turn you react to it differently.
I agree with Epictetus purely because I can’t change what happened to me, but I can make decisions about how to respond to what happened.
I originally had a hard time with this idea because people have used this “your response is your responsibility” excuse when being unkind to me, but the thing is, this mode of thinking doesn’t mean no one can hurt you and no one should be accountable for being unkind. It just means at the end of the day, you won’t benefit from dwelling on it and practicing seeking solutions instead is purely beneficial.
Once I separated the idea from the strict context of responses to what people did to me but anything the world could throw at me, be it bad weather or getting a great sleep or being given a gift or tripping myself down stairs, I realized it’s quite easy to apply and think about. It made a lot more sense without the loaded emotional, interpersonal context overlaid.
I figured I’d externalize this in case it helps anyone else, not trying to over-explain simple concepts to people :)
This struck a chord with me. As a baseline, I irrationally feel like people can't stand me, but when I get pissed about something fall into what can only be described as resentment-spiral. The prospect of making up and moving on doesn't outweigh the resentment, and I just spiral down more.
Rationally I understand that me feeling bad and being resentful only has a negative effect on the situation and other people, but it's hard to break out of the spiral.
TL;DR What you wrote helped me out. Thanks.
I haven’t read Epictetus and I can’t tell exactly what he meant by that proverb, but the nuance that I can only react to cockroaches differently under conditions perfect to me must not be lost. That nuance is what’s lacking in the article and his judgmental explanation for the causality of the women's reactions.
In their heart of hearts everyone knows that is just BS. It's garbage we say because we'd rather ignore how hard it is to be human and how lacking our search for answers is. In your heart of hearts, you know if something major happened to someone you care about you'd never bring up that tripe. If your daughter got raped, you would never say "sweety it's not the fact that you got raped, it's how you react to it that matters."
Just curious, why aren’t you a fan of stoicism? If you don’t mind sharing some thoughts on it I’d appreciate it. I’ve been exploring it and I enjoy reading various takes on it. I’m not married to the philosophy and looking for a battle by any means.
It raises way too many questions about where to draw the line for the concepts of control (as in the above example), detachment, and what is natural, and I don’t like inherently ambiguous worldviews because they become way too prone to highly subjective interpretation (especially true for stoicism when you try to apply it to the context of political and moral questions) and they create too many discussions that aren’t worth having (or, are only worth having with better-stated claims/philosophies that emerge from a mental model of the world that corresponds with what science confirms).
I think it helps to see stoicism not as A philosophy in the modern understanding as something akin to a religion/worldview you have to buy into wholesale. It's more a practical guide how to live with many great ideas and some that are outdated/unrealistic. Engage with the ideas on their terms as 2000 year old thoughts and see how they do or do not serve you.
Thanks, that's all interesting to think about.
My experience with stoicism so far has been fairly different, but it might be because I'm cherry picking things I like. One thing I have enjoyed about it though is how objective it seems rather than subjective. I have a feeling if I delve more into modern stoicism I'll find more of what you're talking about.
> concepts of control
This one seems to me to be something like:
1. Anything external is out of your control 2. Anything internal is in the realm of possibility to control if you're healthy and willing 3. Having the faculties to control yourself is a gift/incredibly fortunate, and to hone that ability is very virtuous
If you lack control it's either because a) you're unable to due to some affliction like mental disability or sickness (not lacking virtue) or b) you don't practice enough (lacking virtue). I suppose there's room for a c) both a and b, too. This is where you're right - this becomes very subjective. There's a blurry, blurry line between hard, limiting disabilities and resolvable illness. I would say though that each of us can only do our best, and believe others are also doing their best. To split hairs on why people act the way they do would be pointless. Instead we should focus on supporting them to do better if they evidently need the help.
> create too many discussions that aren’t worth having
This has seemed to be something that's resented by a lot of classic stoics. Take Marcus Aurelius in Mediations here:
"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one." - 10.16
"Be not a man of superfluous words or superfluous deeds." - 3.5
"[I’m grateful to the gods…] that when I had my heart set on philosophy, I did not fall into the hands of a sophist nor sat alone writing, *nor untangled syllogisms* (emphasis mine) nor preoccupied myself with celestial phenomena." - 1.17
Mind you, Marcus (to my knowledge) never self-identified as a stoic, though he was surrounded by and taught by stoics and his philosophy seems to pound on the 4 cardinal virtues relentlessly.
Here, Epictetus alludes to the futility of certain trivial diversions in philosophical debate:
"[...] What Nature is, and how she administers the universe, and whether she really exists or not, these are questions about which there is no need to go on to bother ourselves." - Fragment
"Be mostly silent; or speak merely what is needful, and in few words." - Enchiridion, 33
I think the problem of trivial diversion, specifically when it comes to subjectivity, is a widespread problem in philosophy and not necessarily specific to stoicism. I do think that debating subjective interpretations without some common good in sight or at hand is contrary to stoic philosophy.
Maybe what you're saying is undeniable evidence of the subjectivity being a problem, though. I certainly can't argue that, and I know others struggle with that too. It could be that I'm just taking what I like and silently rejecting the rest. I think this is why what many stoics did in taking what made sense from other schools of thought, purely because it seemed truthful, is still wise today. Many stoics weren't even opposed to slavery for example - it's clearly a product of a different time. I'm not sure that I'd ever identify as a stoic either, but I do enjoy a lot of what it has to offer so far. It's fascinating to see how much we're like people from 2000 years ago, too.
Not the person you replied to, but I started out liking stoicism and then realised it was pretty much just solipsism-lite. I think it's ok, even good, to actually care about real-world outcomes sometimes. The stoics say that you should care about whether you acted virtuously rather than whether your actions lead to a good outcome, but if you don't care about outcomes then the definition of virtuous actions must surely be baseless. If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?
I see you point but I think you miss something. Stocism was based on the idea that a human being is always part of a society and as such they have sn obligation to work as good citizens.
Therefore no, even if something more effective than wine had been available at the time, I do not think "taking drugs to feel happy/satisfied/virtuous" would be advisable.
Being virtuous was "being a virtuous citizen"; no matter if you were a slave or an Emperor. If anything they tried to teach you not to care about the conditions you were in (rich, poor, young, old...) and focus on the outcomes only.
( I do not consider myself an expert, but I mantain a small page about Stoicism: https://www.pa-mar.net/Lifestyle/Stoicism.html )
> If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?
Not as far as I understand it. Virtue is fairly objective, and doing that for your own sake wouldn't be virtuous. Classical stoics believe humans are a social animal, and truly virtuous behaviour is pro-social.
> The stoics say that you should care about whether you acted virtuously rather than whether your actions lead to a good outcome
I'm not sure I understand this, but I doubt that's your fault. All I can think is that if your actions lead to a bad outcome, ultimately you didn't act virtuously - even if the intent was there. There's a sort of tricky spot in the philosophy which I don't fully understand yet though. Take Cato the Younger for example. His virtue and integrity stats were so buffed that he brought ruin to himself and those close to him, and history seems a little torn about it. Was it virtuous to stick to his guns and end up dead, or was that actually foolish and ultimately not virtuous because it served no one around him? I don't fully understand the classic or modern stoic take on this kind of situation.
However I do think in most cases that if your actions have bad (bad as in Stoic Objective Bad) outcomes then you didn't act virtuously. I suppose if it couldn't have been anticipated, then maybe you did.
Interesting - my take is the complete opposite. I see it as though Stoicism describes the ideal human as quite selfless and pro-social.
> I think it's ok, even good, to actually care about real-world outcomes sometimes.
I believe this is actually all that matters in stoicism, since real-world outcomes are all that matter to the people around you. I could be wrong - I've just read a couple translated books and listened to some podcasts at this point.
I don't think stoicism rules out using utilitarianism as a basis for virtue. It's not contrary to either utilitarianism nor stoicism to say that if you act in a way that good things are likely to happen, you shouldn't beat yourself up because a freak bad thing happened.
> If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?
Are there any? Perhaps the tenets of Stoicisim depend on there being no such drugs.
I have an only barely related story involving McDonalds and social behavior, but if he can meander, so can I, right?
Back around 1990 I was working in a (then industrial) part of Hong Kong called Tsuen Wan. I would regularly go to McDonalds for lunch around 11:30 in order to watch an amazing crowd behavior. Above the McDonalds was a large elementary school. At noon sharp they would break for lunch and huge numbers of little kids would come down and crowd into the restaurant to order lunch. Almost 100% of these kids ordered exactly the same thing: a Filet 'o Fish.
I remember this McDonalds having a very long row of those diagonal slots where hamburgers were slid down and stacked up: except for one slot, they were all pre-filled with Filet 'o Fish sandwiches in preparation for the onslaught.
The story about how the Filet-o-Fish came to be and why it's still being sold even though in most places it's their worst selling item is quite interesting. https://www.rd.com/article/why-mcdonalds-sells-filet-o-fish/
Here it's the opposite. The cowburgers are pronto. The fish burgers take forever. I asked why this is so, puzzled why the healthier alternative is saddled with the time penalty.
Freshness, she said. The fish burgers have the shortest shelf life so they make each one to order.
That's the price I pay for not eating next to a large elementary school in Hong Kong at lunch time.
I don't know if this is still true, but I was grateful for inadvertently benefiting from Catholic Lent period in the US, because McD would have Filet-o-Fish for $1 on Fridays. Less unhealthy opportunity to indulge in what usually costs $4 (?).
Suggesting McDonalds is only half the insight - and contextual, anyway. Instead, give an arbitrary binary choice. "Would you like tacos or sushi?" will often elicit (1) a choice or (2) a third option ("I kind of want a burger"), which is now the default.
A binary choice gets you to a default.
If you can't decide between two options then take out a coin. Heads you get a burger, tails you get tacos. Flip the coin. If you feel even a tinge of regret or disappointment over the result, then go with the other option. Being faced with a specific concrete option can make it easier to rank it compared to alternatives.
I learned of this idea from a TED talk many years ago.
Whenever you're called on to make up your mind, and you're hampered by not having any, the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find, is simply by spinning a penny. No - not so that chance shall decide the affair while you're passively standing there moping; but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you're hoping. -- Piet Hein, "A Psychological Tip"
Hah, interesting. I knew it from Frasier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=173&v=pPYiCw9HHXo&feature=yo...
It's a great technique. I've been doing it since the 90s. Also to break others out of indecision.
But side note: I've found TED really disappointing. For a good talk save yourself the time and read the 5 sentences above. Most aren't that good.
Anyone take issue with that?
I think TED talks used to be better. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but I really enjoyed TED talks in the past. Martin Rees talking cosmology, Richard Dawkins talking about why the universe seems so strange, James Flynn talking about the Flynn effect, Barry Schwartz talking about the paradox of choice etc are enjoyable to me even today. There are many others, but I've not enjoyed as many in the recent years.
> I've found TED really disappointing
This suggests a consistency of quality among TED talks that I hadn't noticed before.
I like some and not others.
This is one of my favourites. The last time I linked to it on HN nobody liked it but I didn't feel rejected. I felt special.
I agree. I feel many talks are selling their books, adding a lot of fluff around the core point and making it a TED Talk. Would be great to have a blog that's entirely TLDW of Ted Talks
Great ones are great but there is the most incredible amount of dross.
I do this and it works. I had thought it was my own idea but now you've got me wondering if I heard it from somewhere, possibly the TED talk you're referring to.
Hahah, I used to do something very similar as a kid, and my parents called me out on it. Having narrowed down my options, I'd announce out loud "I am going to have x". If I felt disappointed at that point, I'd revise it and have the other thing instead.
Oh..! Interesting, but I think there are very different outcomes with leaning on either (1) "earnest A or earnest B" vs (2) "bad C" (McDonalds Theory)...
The McDonalds Theory doesn't attempt to control or guide the decision. It maximally liberates others to shape it. It invites serendipity, from the POV of the prompter. It doesn't assume the poser of the question has any special knowledge or expertise with which they wish to shape the choice landscape.
But "A or B" can very easily (and perhaps unintentionally) guide and take control of the choice. Its usage can easily become a "dark pattern" that collapses the possibility space onto one of two known trajectories (from the perspective of the prompter).
If you WANT to take control, then "A or B" is great. But if you want to lazily invite collaborative ideas from the minds of others with the least effort or skill, then McDonalds Theory is much much better imho.
To show my cards, I've realized I air toward the latter in my community organizing and facilitation work. Frankly, I believe we're all more likely to learn more about the world through McDonalds Theory framing, instead of getting stuck in local minima of "only what we can imagine" as leaders/supporters :)
This stuff is all very relevant to facilitation practices! It's neat stuff to think through, so thanks for the opportunity to work through it out loud :)
This is how I've learned to negotiate with my 2 and 3 year olds when they are being intractable and rebellious. They don't like the idea of whatever I'm offering them for some reason, but getting them to admit they want "grapes" more than "apples" is enough of a concession that it makes a kind of consensus.
Somewhat nearby. My 2 year old not going to sleep. I say “come sleep with papa”, her default “no with mummy”. And she goes to sleep straight. Ha ha. Good till the trick works.
> negotiate with my 2 and 3 year olds when they are being intractable and rebellious
No thanks. It's better say "eat your apples" than to allow them to be disrespectful to their parents.
I like to say "eat it or I'll beat you purple", loudly and in a crowded restaurant. Then my son and I laugh about it later. A routine we started when he was 4- or 5-years-old after we both watched an old episode of Gunsmoke, "Harper's Blood", where a dying mother enjoined the father to strictly discipline their two boys, worried that one of them might grow up to be like her grandfather, whom she reveals to have been an infamous, murderous outlaw. After the mother dies the erstwhile gentle father steels himself, promising his sons that if they ever disobey him or get into any mischief he'll beat them purple.
obedience is not the same as respect. a child who is merely obedient will only follow the rules when there is a plausible means of enforcement.
granting children a small slice of agency isn’t disrespect
Inorite? Never negotiate with terrorists /s
I've heard of the McDonald's theory many years ago and I do somewhat agree that it works. But I'm not so sure that Seinfield for conversation-starting works in a similar way. I was an immigrant in the US from Asia. Even though that was almost 25 years ago and I've lived in the US for far longer than in Asia now, I'm still not familiar with Seinfield; and that's the case for many other immigrants friends I know as well.
But take that idea further, I'm not even talking about Seinfield in particular. Let's say we use any subject-X for this purpose of conversation-starting. I'm not a natural conversationist, and most conversations with acquaintances or strangers often end in awkward silences after a sentence or two. I've had great conversations sure, but usually it's because they happen to touch on very specific topics that I really am interested in. In other words, I don't really buy this whole idea that all you need to do is to start with a topic common enough, and the conversation flows. It just hasn't been my experience.
I can’t find it now, but somewhere I read about the FORD method, and it always worked: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. I keep trying until something hits. At professional gatherings, I usually do a sequence of ODRF: what do you do? What would you do if you won the 100mil lottery? What do you do do fun? What does your family hope fo you?
Reading over the above, I now realize how much I agree with the author’s thesis: good icebreakers use both commonality and creative prompts.
Not sure how Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is received on HN, but a point that always stuck with me is: People like to talk about themselves.
With many of my friend groups, suggesting McDonalds results in us eating at McDonalds.
That's because your friends are awesome.
i think there needs to be the threat that it might potentially end up being the option to spark the conversation.
i sincerely would like to eat mcdonald’s but since it’s not considered a serious option, they just laugh and the stalemate continues
It's never actually about the food until the decision has already been made.
On so many levels.
People who turn their noses up at McDonald's were spoiled as kids
Funny, as a kid I felt the opposite. Getting to eat McDonalds, or fastfood at all, was a rare treat because it was expensive. On road trips, my parents packed cold soggy sandwiches for me and my brothers. These days though, I associate McDonalds with 'no other option' and don't care for the food at all (probably because I never developed much of a taste for it in the first place?)
We might be related.
No, I just don't want to feel like crap after I eat.
I'd wager thats more closely related to your diet.
Especially right now. It's 2 for $5, including Big Macs.
A little secret you can do is maximize the a-la carte menu. I will get a cheeseburger, no ketchup no mustard, add shredded lettuce, add mac sauce.
tada! you got a single patty big mac for $1.30ish. but if you're feeling cheap and this deal isn't happening anymore, you can do the same with mcdoubles.
Some friends all got motorcycles around the same time. One suggested we should start calling ourselves Cheesy Rider. He thought he was joking - using the McDonald's Theory to spur us to come up with a better name.
We've been Cheesy Rider ever since. I laser-cut matching cheese-themed license plate frames, so we're stuck with it forever.
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