Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tell all the truth: A poem by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth's superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two sides of a person: A case of John Nash

Recently, I took out the DVD of the movie "The Beautiful Mind" and watched half of the movie. I also watched the entire series of John Nash's life story in the PBS documentary entitled "A Brilliant Madness". Although both the film and the documentary celebrated Nash as a brilliant mathematician and a mental illness patient, there is still a part of Nash that was silent. That is, those who suffered through his behaviors, his mental illness, and his ill treatments throughout his life. And this is what I mean by "two sides of a person". My question is "why we glorify a person's intellectual genius and ignore, for the most part, those who suffer through the person's acts?"

Fortunately, I found a paper by Kim (2005) in the journal Pastoral Psychology. The paper title is "John Nash: The Sufferings of Those who Loved Him". The paper talked about many people in Nash's life that have tremendously suffered before, during, and after his mental illness. After all, there are always two sides of a person.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Zen Shorts: A Heavy Load

Another life lessons from Zen Shorts, a children book with beautiful watercolor illustrations by Jon J. Muth. I wish I can practice what the older monk told the younger monk.

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

Compassion: Common grounds among faiths

I read two different articles but I find the same truth between them on how to live peacefully among our differences. One article is a recent Op-Ed piece by the 14th Dalai Lama on how to create mutual understanding among different faiths. The other article is an interview with Mohsin Hamid, the author of a novel entitled "The Reluctant Fundamentalist". It is about why some Pakistanis join terrorist networks. Here are some of the things that I learn and I believe these lessons can be applied in many contexts such as a workplace, a community, a classroom, among others:
  • Open communication and honest interactions with others is a healthy process towards creating a mutual understanding
  • Respect, appreciation of others, open mindedness are key qualities that lead to peaceful coexistence
  • Everyone needs comfortable space to allow them to be themselves and to create a sense of belonging

Here are some of the quotes from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

"I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us."

"Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions."

Here are some quotes from Hamid's interview with NPR:

"A type of terrorists is a phenomenon of globalization. It is about two cultures touching each other and in the process of touching each other, generating this anger."

"You have people who come from one culture, live in another, enter a state of turmoil and then lash out. It is not just a Pakistani man who has come to America, it is a Pakistani-American man who can't stand being Pakistani-American any longer."

"More interaction between the two cultures, not less, is the key to a happier existence for those who might feel drawn by different loyalties."

"If we make a comfortable space for people to be Pakistani-American and similarly for people in Pakistan, who aren't Pakistani-American, to be comfortable having American cultural exposure--you know, wearing jeans, listening to rock music, etc.-- then we create a kind of safe space.

But as soon as we start saying that Pakistanis in America are suspect, then we start shutting down this positive space. So I think that this suspicion actually feeds off itself and sets in motion a kind of dangerous exclusion that leads to people like this feeling they have to choose one side or the other.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Workplace stress and well-being

What are the consequences of workplace stress? It turns out to be plenty. According to the recent article in the NYTimes, here are some of the physical and mental effects:
  • Higher risks for heart problems
  • Higher risks for depression
So, what are some of the causes of workplace stress?
  • Design of employee's job
  • Health of organization
  • Quality of leadership
What is an advice to bosses? According to Robert Sutton, a management professor at Stanford University and an author of The No Asshole Rule, said that a boss should strike a balance between humanity and performance. I like this advice although it is good in theory but challenging to manage in practice.

What is an advice to workers? According to this article, workers should focus on managing their own negative emotions. This advice implies that workers are powerless which makes me sad.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Jeff Zucker was quoted as saying "At the end of the day, the viewers voted." And they didn't like Conan as the host of the Tonight Show.

Conan O'Brien: In my opinion, I don't think that's fair or accurate. But he's entitled to his opinion. I think for anyone to say that the results were in after six months-- that doesn't ring true to me.

Conan O'Brien's 60 minutes interview with Steve Kroft

Will amazing things happen to kind people?

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.

Conan O'Brien's Farewell Speech, The Tonight Show

Books on Well-Being and Happiness

  • Bok, D. (2010). The politics of happiness: What government can learn from the new research on well-being. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Diener, E., Kahneman, D., & Helliwell, J. (2010). International differences in well-being. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Rath, T., & Harter, J. K. (2010). Wellbeing: The five essential elements. New York, NY: Gallup Press.
  • Sirgy, M.J. (2002). The psychology of quality of life. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

GDP: A Misleading Measure of Prosperity

Here is a post from the NYTimes criticizing GDP as an inaccurate measure of well-being/prosperity. I am going to pick out a few interesting writings from this article. The full text of this article is available here:

This article raises several fundamental questions:
  • Is growth and development the same thing?
  • Is it valid to use GDP, a measure of economic output, to measure well-being?
  • What are the best indicators beyond GDP?
  • What is the goal of a society?
  • How do we create measures on alteration of climate system, loss of species, consequences of man-made disasters (the recent oil spill in the gulf comes to mind)?
  • How to measure social and emotional lives?

"The G.D.P. ... has not only failed to capture the well-being of a 21st-century society but has also skewed global political objectives toward the single-minded pursuit of economic growth"

"With easy access to national information, Hoenig told me optimistically, Americans might soon be able “to shift the debate from opinions to more evidence-based discussions to ideally a discussion about what solutions are and are not working.”

"Those involved with the self-defined indicators movement ... argue that achieving a sustainable economy, and a sustainable society, may prove impossible without new ways to evaluate national progress"

Another good question is where did GDP come from?

"G.D.P. — the antecedents of which were developed in the early 1930s by an economist named Simon Kuznets at the federal government’s request"

Do you want to be a high-GDP person or a low-GDP person? This is my adaptation from the article:

High-GDP person's life:
  • Has a long commute to work
  • Drives an automobile that gets poor gas mileage, forcing her to spend a lot on fuel.
  • Replaces her car every few years due to the morning traffic and its stresses
  • Has problems with her cardiovascular health due to stress. She treats the conditions with expensive pharmaceuticals and medical procedures
  • Gets in shape by joining a member-only gym club
  • Overall, high-GDP person works hard and spends money. She loves going to bars and restaurants, likes her flat-screen televisions and adores her big house, which she keeps at 71 degrees year round and protects with a state-of-the-art security system. High-GDP family pays for a sitter (for their kids) and a nursing home (for their aging parents).
  • Employs a full-time housekeeper because they do not have much time
Low-GDP person's life:
  • Busy with cooking, cleaning, and home care
  • Walks to work
  • Grows vegetable in the garden instead of buying pre-wash salad mix from a grocery store
  • Read books borrowed from a public library instead of buying them
  • Gets in shape by running in the neighborhood
So from an economic point of view, a high-GDP person is more valuable to a country's economy. But the important question is "Does she have a better life?"

Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in Economics said "Americans would have had a much clearer picture of our progress over the past decade if we had focused on median income rather than G.D.P. per capita, which is distorted by top earners and corporate profits. When you have increasing inequality, median and average behave differently. Real median household income has actually dipped since 2000. But G.D.P. per capita, he noted, has gone up."

"Stiglitz and his fellow academics ultimately concluded that assessing a population’s quality of life will require metrics from at least seven categories: health, education, environment, employment, material well-being, interpersonal connectedness and political engagement. They also decided that any nation that was serious about progress should start measuring its equity — that is, the distribution of material wealth and other social goods — as well as its economic and environmental sustainability."

“You might say, If we have unemployment, don’t worry, we’ll just compensate the person. But that doesn’t fully compensate them. Stiglitz pointed to the work of the Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who served on the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission, which suggests that losing a job can have repercussions that affect a person’s social connections (one main driver of human happiness, regardless of country) for many years afterward."

Putnam from Princeton said “damage to this country’s social fabric from this economic crisis must have been huge, huge, huge. And yet, he noted, we have plenty of numbers about the economic consequences but none of the numbers about the social consequences.

Here is his argument that is very interesting: “People will get sick and die, because they don’t know their neighbors,” Putnam told me. “And the health effects of social isolation are of the same magnitude as people smoking. If we can care about people smoking, because that reduces their life expectancy, then why not think about social isolation too?”

Here is a list of new measures proposed in various countries:
  • Canadian index of well-being
  • State of the USA
  • United Nations' Human Development Index
Here is a list of people who have been working/supporting new measures of well-being:
  • Alex Michalos, Canada
  • Chris Hoenig, State of the USA
  • Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (a.k.a. The Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commision)
  • Daniel Kahneman on Emotional well-being
  • Angus Deaton, collaborative work with Kahneman
Here is a short list of articles by Deaton and Kahneman:

What is wealth?

While I was pondering on the question of "How should we think of wealth?", I came across writings by Professor Uwe E. Reinhardt from Princeton. Very interesting arguments. Here are a few that resonate with me.

"Human happiness or well being are the manifestation of wealth."

"Financial measures of wealth are always, at best, a very crude approximation of what we really try to measure."

"Measuring the economic welfare produced by a nation's economy in a given year simply by the one-dimensional index GDP is about as sensible as picking a mate from a group of candidates merely after seeing their feet. There is some information there, but not a whole lot."

"Properly defined, wealth is a summary of the future human happiness that a nation should be able to derived from the collection of land, structures, accumulated knowledge and human capital within its borders."

"The foundation of our nation's wealth turns out to be--you might never have guessed it--our mothers, our teachers in elementary and high school, and our government. ..... All of them play such an important (but uncelebrated) role in the formation of the nations' human capital--the ultimate source of any modern nation's wealth. Your Princeton (replace Princeton with any name of higher educational institution, my word) professors, for example, merely help you build some more on this human capital. We are not its chief creators."

Prof. Uwe E. Reinhart.
His writing is available on his web site

Making sense of life experiences

"I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of the Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good. So that's what I wish for all of you--the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over."
Conan O'Brien's Speech to the Harvard Class of 2000

Grieving process

"We tend to understand grief as a predictable five-stage process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance." However, "One of the most consistent findings is that bereavement is not a one-dimensional experience. It's not the same for everyone and there do not appear to be specific stages that everyone must go through. Rather, bereaved people show different patterns or trajectories of grief reactions over time."