Thoughts of a geek

17 July 2012

Narcissism or self improvement

Filed under: Me — Tags: , — qwandor @ 8:31 am

During my recent visit to New York, a couple of good friends gave me some advice on things I should work on to improve how I relate to other people, and particularly how I communicate. The 5 main points (I think), were that I should:

  1. Stop and think before saying things, particularly with regard to how direct I am. I tend to be quite direct and straightforward in what I say, and I think that this is mostly a good thing, but sometimes I can be perceived as overly confrontational, which can be unhelpful as it makes some other people (perhaps especially those I do not know so well) defensive and so hinders communication. So I guess I need to think more about politeness, while still trying to be clear. This has been pointed out to me before in a work context too, so I think it is definitely something I need to work on.
  2. Think how others will react to and feel about what I say and do. This is related to the first point, but a bit broader. This seems fairly obvious and something I already knew, but it is good to have a reminder. Part of the difficulty here is how to build an accurate mental model of how other people think, which I do not think I am very good at.
  3. Acknowledge good things (and do so first). In written discussion in particular, I often tend to ignore the parts of a comment or argument that I agree with (hey, I agree with them, so I do not have anything to say about them) or otherwise have no opinion about, and just jump straight to the bits I disagree with or want to dig further on. This is how I expect people to respond to me, and it seems inefficient to discuss some point about which I do not have anything more to contribute to the conversation, but as was recently pointed out to me on this very blog (thanks Daniel!) this puts some people off further conversation. My intent in arguing is the opposite, so this is problematic. I think the issue may be that some people assume that silence means disagreement, whereas I assume it means agreement? Anyway, apparently the solution is to start be acknowledging the parts I agree with, and I guess to thank people where appropriate. This comes back to the first point a bit again, sacrificing efficiency for politeness. This seems like a fairly straightforward solution, but getting into the habit of actually remembering to apply it is likely to take a while. If you notice me not doing this, please remind me!
  4. Accept compliments before arguing. Apparently I am bad at accepting compliments and tend to argue with them. I had not particularly noticed this myself, so will have to try to pay more attention in future. If you notice this please point it out to me.
  5. Read a book about reading people. I am not quite sure what was in mind here, and am not entirely convinced that this sort of thing can be taught well by a book. But if you have any recommendations let me know.

Do any of you who know me have any other advice to add to this list? Or have you had any useful feedback about yourself? How have you applied it? How possible is it to change how you communicate and relate to other people?

I thought a bit myself as well, and a couple of observations of myself were:

  • I used to be much better at concentrating, less distractable. Unfortunately as I have got older my ability to concentrate on a single complex task, particularly to just sit think about something, think through how to solve a problem in my head, seems to have decreased. This is unfortunate.
  • On the topic of relating to other people, I tend to assume (at least subconsciously) that people are / work like me; the problem is that they are not. As I am learning, many of them work and think in completely different ways. Relationships may be much less symmetric than I tend to assume; the other person does not necessarily feel the same way about me as I do about them, nor even about the relationship itself. This makes it difficult to model how they will react (as required for point 2 above), and generally to understand them and the motivations behind their actions.

20 September 2009

Faith, God and all that jazz

Filed under: Christianity, Me — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 11:10 pm

I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, a couple of months I guess, following a few conversations with a couple of people.

I guess I will start off with where I stand. I consider myself a Christian. Certainly I have all the obvious trappings: I go to church every Sunday, read the bible daily, go to a bible study with people from church most weeks, try to pray. I try to live my life, make decisions, from a Christian worldview. I try to be open to discussing my beliefs, ‘faith’ if you will, with others, as this is interesting, worthwhile and indeed a vital part of a Christian life (I Peter 3:15, Mark 16:15).

However, I do find it difficult to explain, and I think this largely comes down to not having a very clear idea in my own mind. On that note I would like to post a few questions, and list (my interpretations of) some people’s answers to them so far. I also include my own in some cases.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts (different answers to the questions, comments on the existing answers) and discuss further, either here or — better — in person. I have been particularly frustrated over these things over the last two or three months, and have found it difficult to talk to people, so this is an attempt to get some of my thoughts out in the hope of being able discuss them further. This is mainly aimed at Christians, but extends to anyone.

What is faith?

  • Blind belief, in the absence of evidence — obviously, I find this an unsatisfactory definition. There needs to be some way to discriminate between things in which you should have faith and things in which you should not.
  • Belief that something is a certain way, or that something will happen, based on past experience and testimony (direct or indirect) of people whom I trust. ‘Faith’ then is very closely related to ‘trust’, perhaps even the same thing. This is my current working definition, but some people I have talked to find it unsatisfactory. I do not really understand why; apparently it is insufficient in some way?

What is the basis of Christian faith?

  • The Bible — this requires first an argument for the historical accuracy of the bible, and then trust in the people whose witness is recorded in it (for example in the gospels). This is difficult due to the lack of a personal relationship, so it becomes a rather indirect thing.
  • Other people’s testimony — friends, family. Again this comes down to accepting what people say based on personal trust in them, which in turn comes from knowing them, observing their words and actions and judging their trustworthiness from that.
  • Supernatural experience — some sort of experience beyond the usual which provokes or confirms a belief in the God conceived by Christianity and described in the Bible. Some people certainly describe such an experience, to greater or lesser extent, or even it being a regular thing.

How does God talk to you?

  • The written word of the Bible is God talking to you — but, it is hardly personal then.
  • While reading the Bible — how?
  • Through other people — He sends people to say things to you, and so what they say is in a sense God talking to you. But then, how does He tell them what to say?
  • Just talking directly to you — again, how? What does this mean, how is it experienced?

How do you know that God is talking to you, and how do you know what He is saying?

  • You hear distinct words
  • It is more of a general feeling of some sort — but then how do you know that it is from God?
  • A ‘prompting’, you just think of doing something — but we often think of doing things. How is this ‘prompt’ different? ‘Prompting’ is a vague term. Perhaps this is the same as or similar to the previous answer.

What does it mean to ‘believe’?

  • A belief is a theorem (in the sense used in mathematics). That is, a statement is ‘believed’ if it there is a proof for it. I know that Peirce’s law holds in classical logic because I can write a proof using only the axioms of that logic, so I can say “I believe that Peirce’s law holds in classical logic”. Nothing can be believed beyond what can be proven, so belief is limited to the formalisms of mathematics. This does not include any of the sciences, as even physics is just a matter of attempting to find a consistent model which fits observed phenomena; no proof is possible as physical laws are only guesses which happen to match reality in a few observations.
  • A belief is a working assumption. I ‘believe’ that the sun will rise tomorrow insofar as I assume it will based on past experience, and so I base my decisions and plans on that assumption. Beliefs then are not certain, cannot be proven, but are necessary for decision-making and, well, life.

Note that the first and last questions are of definition, so it is more a matter of how you choose to define faith and belief than any intrinsic reality. Consistent and agreed-upon definitions are, however, vital to any meaningful communication.

1 May 2009


Filed under: Me — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 9:58 pm

So there is (or was, I have missed it because I am too slow at writing) a meme going around Facebook called ’25 things’, where people write 25 things about themselves in a note, and then abuse the tagging system to tag 25 friends who are then supposed to do the same thing. Some people’s things were inane, some interesting, and some quite revealing. Anyway, I am following suit, in case anybody cares to read. Except, I am not writing 25 things, because there seems no good reason for such arbitrary targets.

Comments are welcome of course (appreciated, even). Though maybe it is best to comment in person.

The following things have been written over a period of a few months (I started writing this in January 2009), so my apologies that it is a bit disjointed, and that some points overlap others. My moods have varied a bit over that time too, as happens. Anyway, the things written below were how I thought or felt at some point in the past, and may or may not still be true.

9 January 2008

Interesting post about geek communication

Filed under: Computers, Links — Tags: , — qwandor @ 8:16 pm

I recently came across this blog post summarising a talk by Michael Schwern at BarCampBlock about communication among geeks and between geeks and others. I recommend it to all, geek or otherwise, as it makes some interesting points about how geeks tend to communicate. One point I found interesting was about ‘tact filters’:

Most non-geeks have outbound tact filters: they filter what they want to say and add polite noise as it passes through. Geeks have inbound tact filters: they take bare communication with no politeness and just wrap it in assumed politeness as they interpret it.

When non-geeks talk, geeks think the polite sounds they make are redundant.

When geeks talk, non-geeks just think they’re being incredibly rude.

Do you think that this is true, and had you already realised it? What do you think of the rest of the article?

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