In defense of “What do you do?”.

A friend recently posted this video:

The gyst of it is that the small talk question ‘What do you do’ fails to address the individual qualities of the person, and is instead an attempt to put people in boxes.

I concede that there are some problems with the question ‘What would you do’ – mainly that it can be an awkward question for people who don’t work – eg. people who are stay at home parents or unemployed. The question carries an implication that working has higher intrinsic value that these other occupations.

To address this – I prefer to ask the question ‘What do you do during the day?’ – this is a bit more open to possibilities outside work.

But I don’t think the small talk question is entirely without merit, especially if it’s reasonable to assume that they do in fact work fulltime.

I think the suggestion that the question is boring or irrelevant discounts how a big a part of our life work is, for those of us (the majority) who work full time.

We spend third of a waking week at work. I think it’s only natural that’d we’d want to talk about it. That might be because we need to let of steam, or because we take pride in what we do.

I think the suggestion that it’s wrong that work might be the largest priority in one’s life is either naive or cynical. I agree that work shouldn’t necessarily be the biggest priority in our lives – (and I think that attitude is a cultural throwback from the baby boomer generation). But for many is a major priority, and they shouldn’t be see as ‘less in tune’ or similar because they prioritise their work, and not say, writing poetry.

I think it implies that one can’t make the world a better place through their fulltime work, or being paid somehow discounts the value of what you’re doing for the world. I think if you look at the vast majority of the developments in the last century, that have improved our lives – technology, medicine, science have come from people  going to work everyday.

But ok – not every person who works fulltime is doing one of these jobs. For many people working is a means to achieving their top priorities – providing for their families or travelling for example.

In any case, their working week still makes up a large chunk of their life, and warrants attention.

Personally – I like telling people about what I do, (though I think for many people web development is probably interesting for about one minute max), and I also enjoy learning about what other people do.

I don’t think ‘What do you do’ is the only small talk question we should ask – and indeed, perhaps it’s a symptom of a lack of creativity – but let’s err on the side of not dismissing people for valuing work.

There’s another reason that work related small talk questions are good – because they’re safe. Sure asking someone what the craziest thing they’ve ever done is, or what their hopes and dreams are might be more interesting, but someone who you’ve just met might not feel comfortable sharing that with you. Asking about more neutral topics allows both parties to get comfortable with each other before getting more personal.

Here are some other small talk questions that also work:

  • What do you do after work?
  • What do you do on the weekends?
  • Are you watching any TV shows at the moment?
  • Do you write or make music or anything?
  • What do you usually eat?

 

 

Stop sharing your outrage about Brian Tamaki.

It started like this – a tweet by New Zealand journalist appears on my Twitter newsfeed:

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If you don’t know, Brian Tamaki is a relatively fundamentalist preacher in New Zealand who follows the ‘megachurch’ model of collecting donations from his parishioners and living a lavish style.

From context, we can see that he’s said something offensive, and here we go we’ve got a reaction going from people outraged by it.

Let’s look at Brian Tamiki’s twitter:

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Who does he sound like? Rich, has a large following,  says hateful things, believes there’s a media conspiracy against him?

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And it looks like he’s a fan too!

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I would argue that a huge part of Donald Trump’s success was that he would say controversial things – which would then get air time, and he grew in popularity.

I would say the best way to combat this kind of hate speech is to not give it the air of attention. 

Let’s think about it – what’s actually wrong with what Brian Tamaki, or Donald Trump said? It disrespects people? It encourages hate?

Ultimately it comes down to words hurt. 

If that’s the case – then repeating those words further perpetuates the hurt. It reminds me of a joke – where a man walks in to a bar holding some dog shit and says ‘Look what I almost stepped in!’.

What seems to happen is that some hateful person says some hateful thing – people see that – get outraged, and repeat the hateful thing to express their opposition to it – more people see it and they become outraged!

This twitter flurry does highlight the pervasive spread of hate though:

Step 1. Someone initially says something hateful (hate).
Step 2. People respond with outrage. (outrage).
Step 3. People like myself respond with outrage to the outrage. (meta-outrage).
Step 4. No doubt there’s somebody out there annoyed that I’m complaining about this. (hyper-meta-outrage).

And in the end we’re all feeling agitated. Ffs.

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If I were a girl, how would I dress?

As a fun thought experiment, I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I were a girl.

Firstly, I imagine that if I were a girl I’d have big boobs, but this is probably more  a projection of my own preferences, and my own assessment of my attractiveness, than any serious consideration of my genetic make up.

One way we can assess both male and female dress sense would be to put it on a scale of ‘low effort’ to ‘high effort’. Here we can fairly objectively define effort as some kind of function of time and money – time including time spent grooming and applying making, time spent picking out clothes, observing fashion (for example watching fashion shows), spent shopping and talking to friends about fashion or clothing choices, and money including money spent on clothing, grooming products and make up, or haircuts.

Here we could fit all people on this scale, and for both men and women, it would fit some kind of bell shaped standard distribution.

The men’s bell curve would be lower down the scale than the women’s, as well as being  narrower than the women’s.

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If we generalise and consider what the general grooming and dress habits of what we imagine the average man to be like, it would be something like:

  • Shave 2-5 times a week using disposable razor and aerosol shaving cream from the super market.
  • Shampoos hair 1-2 times a week.
  • Hair cut 4-10 times a year at $20 a pop.
  • Combs hair in the morning, perhaps applies product.
  • Buys clothes four times a year, from mid-low end stores.

There are some deviations on this average, that we would still consider the guy to be a ‘fairly average’ guy.

For example he perhaps:

  • Applies cologne every day.
  • Uses moisturisers and face creams.
  • Uses double edge/speciality shaving gear.
  • Has his hair coloured.
  • Doesn’t shave and has a beard.
  • Shaves his legs.
  • Waxes his chest.
  • Buys expensive suits.

The ‘average woman’ on the other hand has a much broader range what we’d consider normal grooming activity.

Now I should offer the immediate caveat here that my not being woman means I could be totally wrong about frequency of some of these activities.

For example she perhaps:

  • Shampoos her hair 2-5 times a week.
  • Applies make up everyday or not at all.
  • Plucks her eyebrows not at all/fortnightly/sees a beautician to have them threaded.
  • Shaves her legs 2-3 times a week.
  • Shaves her armpits 2-3 time a week.
  • Has her hair cut/done 4-6 times a year at $100-200 a pop
  • Owns sensible shoes, or several pairs of $300 shoes
  • Buys clothes from op shops, or regularly spends $150+ on dresses, etc.

The important thing to highlight here, is that women are more likely to spend both more money, and more time on grooming.

At the same time there’s a wider range of what’s socially conventional in terms of female grooming habits.

For example, a woman can, or can not, wear eye makeup and lipstick, and remain in the realm of ‘socially conventional’. Whereas a guy using those grooming techniques makes him socially unconventional.

There’s also a wider range of clothing woman can wear – for example in an office women can wear dresses, skirt and blouse, a pant suit, pants and a blouse, pants and a skivvy and these are all conventional office attire. The shoes can be high heeled, flat, open, closed or boots.

The wider range of acceptable office attire might lead to more time being spent on a wardrobe and choosing outfits.

Men’s office attire is a lot more limited – it tends to be black or grey pants, and collared long sleeve or short sleeve shirt, and perhaps a tie. The shoes tend to be black dress shoes, or sneakers can be acceptable depending on the office. Unless it’s a very casual office, open shoes are out.

There seems to be a higher minimum standard of grooming for women, for them to remain in the socially acceptable range. For example, while I know plenty of women who don’t shave their underarms, this is seen as socially unconventional and will draw remarks. The same goes for shaving legs.

The best analogy for men – would be beards – which are seen as a little unconventional, though have been very popular in the last decade, and a more seen as a matter of preference than social convention.

So if we were to transmute my current grooming habits to a woman’s – it makes sense that there would be corresponding increase in the effort spent on grooming.

There are specific questions to ask – Would I wear eye make up? Would I spend $200 on a hair cut?

Regarding eye make up – I imagine I would! Given that I notice other woman’s eye make up already, and generally think it looks attractive and fun, I imagine if I would probably experiment with it.

On the other hand, it does seem like a lot of effort, often it seems that I don’t have enough time in the morning anyway – I’m not sure I’d have the inclination to do it every morning.

 

What I swipe left to.

On Tinder, the assessment about whether you swipe left (don’t like), or right (like) on a profile – is often made in a matter of seconds, if that. (I would love to see that statistics for how long it takes men to swipe vs women).

Here are a few things that will make me more inclined to swipe left:

  • No picture of themself. 
    I assume that they’re not attractive, or they don’t think they’re attractive, or they don’t want others to know that they’re on Tinder, all which are unattractive qualities (the last being – they’re not playing fairly).
  • Smoking cigarettes in the pictures.
    Nuff said.
  • Pictures of just kids. 
    I get that you love your kids and want us to know that – but Tinder is a dating site – prominent pictures of your kids is creepy. A picture of you and your kid is ok.
  • ‘Not DTF’. 
    I think reflects a cynical attitude toward all potential mates. I get that you might receive several ‘DTF?’ messages – but I’m not one of them. Putting ‘Not DTF’ in your profile suggests to me that you’re going to be quite suspicious and untrusting, and that’s not what I’m looking for.
  • ‘I prefer tall guys’. 
    I’m a tall guy myself, but this line seems incredibly insensitive.
  • The dog or flower wreath snapchat filter. 
    I can’t stand them. I don’t know what it is.
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  • All MySpace angle pictures. 
    This is a common technique used by larger women to make their photos look attractive, despite their size.
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    It indicates a lack of confidence – I’d rather see you rock your body no matter what size it is. I’m much more likely to swipe right on a large girl that has a full body photo,  than one who has just MySpace angles.
  • No profile blurb. 
    It tells me that you think that your pictures are the solely enough to attract a mate (which is likely true), but this seems self centered to me.

 

So that’s some things that will likely make me want to swipe left, here’s what will get an instant right swipe or super like from me.

  • Mentioning liking puns or bad jokes in profile blurb.

Why you shouldn’t take Facebook unfriending too seriously.

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Facebook ‘Friend’ status is a funny thing. Because it’s so black and white – either you have friend status, or you don’t, it can’t accurately reflect the nuances of a relationship between two people.

For example, ‘I’m a little annoyed at Suzy, I think I’ll spend less time with her for while’ can’t be accurately captured by a simple Friends/Not-Friends on Facebook.

On the face of it, moving from Friends, to Not-Friends on Facebook (ie. Unfriending someone) – can be taken to mean ‘I don’t want to be [real life] friends with you at all’, or otherwise cause great offense.

I argue this response draws too much meaning from what’s a very limited interaction on social media.

But the fear of causing offense does exist, and I think it can prevent people from unfriending people they are otherwise sick of, for fear of permanently burning a bridge.

I think it’s good to take a break from people on social media, for one’s own mental health – and that shouldn’t cause great offense.

The rise of social media means that in our social interactions have more, very clear, data points, Friend status on Facebook, whether they like your posts on Instagram, how soon they reply to your messages, etc. We use these additional data points to assess the feelings people have for each other. Perhaps we can make the argument that social relationships are simply more complex and nuanced than they used to be, or if not more nuanced, then at least more explicitly nuanced.

Someone unfriending you does suggest that they’ve made a conscious decision to do so – so it is an insight into something they’re thinking – and perhaps it’s just one social signal we can use to calibrate our social interactions. An unfriend could be an as simple signal as ‘We haven’t talked in a while, so next time we do talk, we’ll have to make an effort if we want to be friends.’.

I would encourage unfriending – in line with my philosophy of quit-what’s-bothering-you  – unfriending actually allows us to be a bit more communicative about our relationships, so long as an unfriend isn’t taken to mean ‘I don’t want to have anything do with you ever.’.

 

The ‘If you don’t go to university now, you’ll never go’ fallacy.

Fotolia_52154419_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgI think people of my generation – (children of baby boomers) have a suffered a fallacy regarding university education, that has been pushed on to us by our parents.

The fallacy is the idea that one must go to university immediately out of highschool, and failure to do otherwise is indicative of low social status or a character flaw.

For my, and the generation ten years younger than me, university often treated as a rite of passage, a place where one discovers themselves, more than it is treated as an objective career move.

As a result, you have a situation where a lot of students are going to university, without having a plan for what they’re going to do when they finish.

A lot of people have the attitude – ‘I’ll graduate, then do my OE, and then get a job’. I think – ‘why not just skip straight to the OE?’.

In my opinion – this is a very expensive, and not very effective, rite of passage.

I think it is far more effective, for one to discover themselves while working and travelling. Working a hospitality job, or menial labour job, while living away from home, provides the opportunities to discover oneself – paying rent, working with new people, making new friends, partying etc.

Similarly, travel provides a lot of opportunities for personal growth. Learning to deal with unfamiliar situations, seeing the world and assessing what your values are, meeting people of different cultures, and of course, partying.

I think the attitude arises from the baby boomer generation where careers tended to be a lot more single tracked and long term. One would start a profession and stick with it for life.

Career paths are no longer so static, and it’s now much more normal to switch career track mid-life.

I think also for the baby boomer generation, a university degree held much more social value. These days – with any reasonably intelligent person going to university, a university degree is no longer an indication of notable intelligence – it’s just surprising if an apparently educated person doesn’t have a university degree, but not a mark against them.

My advice, for teenagers considering their next steps after finishing high school, or their parents, is to consider your options. Don’t accept university as the default – because it’s an expensive choice. At approximately $10,000 for a year’s university education in New Zealand, that $10,000 could spent spending the year travelling.

Consider instead – working full time and saving money, moving to Australia and working seasonal work there, taking a one year TESOL course and then the following years teaching English overseas. There’s a wide range of alternative options.

Of course, this advice doesn’t apply to everyone – some young people are particularly motivated and have a clear direction – and I don’t mean to stifle their progress.

But for the others of us who want to experience life first – there’s plenty of time to decide what you want to do for a career – and you’d going to discover that simply by experiencing life – and you don’t university to do that.

How ok is it to be a Negative Nancy?

I recently had this conversation with a friend.

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This conversation highlights why it’s a good idea to not to be a Negative Nancy.

Being negative can be a drain on your friends, and make interactions with you seem unpleasant, or like work.

Generally, the reason we like friends, is because they’re fun to be around and they make us feel good.

 But there’s the rub – sometimes we feel bad, and at those times, we want to complain to a sympathetic ear. Sometimes complaining, and being reassured that your complaints are valid, are the therapy you need to accept the condition, and begin getting over it.

I am firmly in the ‘yes, do complain’ camp.  The alternative is bottling up your complaint, and then becoming frustrated that you’re frustrated at that thing! This can be very isolating, were one starts feeling alone in their struggles – not being aware that other people may be experiencing the same thing if the complaint is about a common thing (a person or a workplace for example), or have experienced that thing before.

I think there’s a cultural norm that stigmatises certain emotions. Emotions like jealousy and anger for example, are seen as bad, and reflecting a character flow of the person experiencing them. Sadness on the other hand, is seen as an acceptable emotion that we’re sympathetic towards. This stigma then makes it reasonable to not express certain emotions, for fear of appearing unattractive.

But of course, there’s a difference between occasionally venting to your friends as troubles crop up,  and being someone whose fulltime occupation is finding things to gripe about.

To provide a general answer to ‘should I complain or not?’ As noted in the conversation above – it tends to be better not to complain to people you’ve just met – it’s better to just lead with a positive impression.

With friends,  I would suggest that you be a well-rounded person. Its ok to complain to your friends, if you also, at other times tell them about things that are going well, or funny stories that happened etc.

On this point, telling your friends what’s going wrong can actually be quite refreshing, if you are otherwise giving an impression of a perfect life. If you complain to your friends about something that’s going wrong, so long as you’re sincere, it can help provide some relatable humility.

As can happen in life, when things go wrong, everything goes wrong. So it’s reasonable that at some stages of your life, all you do is complain about what’s going wrong now.

I would suggest that this is ok, so long as the stage eventually ends, you start seeing the light, and you can be that positive person again.

 

 

 

Three times I wished I’d quit.

Further to this previous post I wrote, here are three examples that come to mind, when I think of ‘times I wish I’d quit’.

A philosophy paper in my third year of university.

The paper was some kind of ethics paper. In practise it was a lot about semantics. In retrospect I can appreciate the point it was making more now, at the time I found it frustrating.

The reason I regret not dropping the paper is because what it entailed not doing. The reason I was doing the paper, was in order to complete my degree that year. But I didn’t have a plan for the year following completing. My alterative plan was to do a student exchange and complete my degree overseas. By not quitting I removed that clear objective, and lost focus in my life in general.

A group project at university.

In the final year of my computer science degree, I was involved with a group project producing an Android application. I wasn’t in a good space at the time of starting the project, and didn’t get into what I think was a particularly good group. About one quarter of the year through, I had a fall out with another member about a coding issue, and it lead to a clique against me, where I was seen as doing more harm than good. At this point I could have withdrawn the paper, but I kept in it. Ultimately I burned out, and stopped contributing. At the end of the year the project was a bug riddled disaster (but not my code!), and it was my only C grade of the degree.

My first job early on. 

My first ‘real job’ out of university, I was put on a performance management within six months of starting. The reasons stated were ‘being disorganised’ and ‘asking too many questions without seeking to solve problems myself first’.

Despite being promised that the PIP wouldn’t interfere with my pay review mid year – that’s exactly what happened.

I’d promised myself that if I didn’t get a payrise at mid year, I’d find a new job. But the Team Leader promised an interim pay review at the end of the year (which happened), and advice others gave me that I should stick around for a year.

I regret second guessing myself, and my advice for anyone in a similar situation is that there isn’t really any coming back from performance management – even if they trust you, you’ll end up resenting them for it.

The problem with looking any past decisions and thinking ‘I wish I’d … instead’, is that you can suffer a ‘smooth sailing fallacy’, where the alternative path is seen as problem free. Chances are, any path you take is going to pathed with bumps and challenges. That said – there are some paths I’ve taken (certain papers at university for example) that have been relatively smooth sailing, and generally a success story.

To counter-balance these examples here’s an example of a time that I’d quit, and wish I had:

Looking for work in Australia.

When I was 19, I moved to Australia with $500 in my pocket. The money was all gone within a week, I left the last ~$150 in someone’s car I’d hitchhiked with.

I was staying in Northern NSW, and going to ‘doof’ (outdoor dance parties) every weekend, and otherwise surviving on soup kitchens.

I took a trip north to Queensland to look for work picking fruit there. I made it as far north as Bundaberg, before attempting to head inland to Gayndah, where there was orange picking work.

For two afternoons (I was sleeping in heavily), I tried hitch hiking, with no success. On the third day, I packed up and hitched back to NSW, where at least there were soup kitchens.

I wished I’d stuck with the hitchhiking, it would have prolonged my stay in Australia, and possibly have drastically altered the life path I took.

Is it time for New Zealand to recognise its own genocide?

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This week Germany made headlines by joining the small list of countries of countries that recognise the Armenian Genocide. 

New Zealand does not currently recognise the event as a genocide.

Without delving into the debate about whether or not New Zealand should recognise the Armenian Genocide, it’s prompted me to think about one particular unsavoury event in New Zealand’s history.

In 1835 a group of 900 Maori from the Taranaki region hijacked a shipped, sailed to the Chatham Islands, where they enslaved the Moriori inhabitants and killed the others. After the invasion the Moriori were prohibited to marry or have kids with each other. Only 101 Moriori out of a population of about 2,000 were left alive by 1862.

This history is summarised in the Wikipedia page on the Moriori, which largely references New Zealand historian Michael King’s book Moriori. 

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It’s hard to see how this systemic eradication of a people could not be considered genocide.

When I was a child growing up in the 90s, a common narrative espoused by Pakeha who disagreed with Treaty of Waitangi settlements, was ‘So what we took the land from the Maori- they in turn took it from the Moriori!’. This narrative is based on a myth that the Moriori were a separate people that occupied New Zealand as a whole, before the Maori arrived, instead of the reality, that the Moriori were one distinct Polynesian group that existed simultaneously .  The abstract for this paper has more details. 

The counter narrative by progressives was ‘That’s a myth! The Maori were the first here!’ – which is true – but in my experience, it neglected to acknowledge that the Moriori genocide did happen, or that even the Moriori were a real people. I was not taught about it at school; it wasn’t until I read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel as an adult that I become aware that the Moriori genocide was a real event.

At this point one might ask – ‘Why dredge up the past and cause ill feelings?’ or suggest that mentioning the Moriori is a tactic to create political division between Pakeha and Maori.

Certainly, the Moriori Genocide shouldn’t be used for cynical political point scoring, nor should it be used to heap blame or unrecoverable guilt on a particular group of people. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that all humans are capable of atrocities, of which there are numerous examples throughout history and spanning globe, right back to prehistoric massacres.

Giving a ‘free pass’ to a political minority or explaining things away with ‘cultural context’, I think is a symptom of what’s becoming known as the ‘regressive left‘, whereby regressive attitudes are fostered under the pretext of tolerance or multiculturalism.

Acknowledging these events shouldn’t be about score-keeping. I’d even suggest that we should consider that it’s not practical to try ‘even the scales’. But acknowledging these events helps us understand we’ve got to the progressive society we live in, and helps us understand the range of human capability.

We should acknowledge what happened, as truthfully and factually as possible and without an emotive agenda. A good start would be calling it what it is – a genocide – and talking about it along with other significant parts of New Zealand history – Gallipoli, the Treaty of Waitangi, the Land Wars, the Springbok tour, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, etc.

Group organising – it seems more effective to message people individually.

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Social media and communication technologies like Facebook allow you conveniently organise social events in a centralised manner. You can create a group chat, or a Facebook group, to organise an event. For example to get together to play some board games, or do some group activity.

However, I wonder if, for getting initial buy-in at least, whether it’s more effective to contact potential participants individually at first. The argument is that in a group conversation, it’s easier for individual members to not say either yes or no. If you contact them individually, you’re likely to get an explicit reply.

What do you think, does this resonate with your experience?