Posts tagged ‘responsibility’

May 25, 2009

The calm after the storm

I really have a hard time not only comprehending how quickly the last few months have past, but how different that person looking ahead from a few months ago is. I am now for the first time in the paradoxal situation of looking forward to studying for my exams, because of how simple that is – you don’t make arrangements or intricate schedules or  negotiate with the books, you just goddamn sit down and study from them. Too many things have happened recently, most of them demanding that I put them down of paper, but it simply didn’t feel right to do it yet. But now it feels right.

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November 29, 2008

dealing with the Curse of Knowledge

I have to stop myself from quoting Ben Parker’s famous line about power and responsibility, but I can’t stop thinking about the frightening change, and its consenquences, happening in my head after reading a certain book or two.

There is nothing special about my case. The same could happen to you. The same will happen to you, after you read a certain book or two.

In my case, it happened with Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick. Gladwell examines why social change can happen so suddenly (crime in New York in the 90s dropping suddenly, why teens smoke more and more, how an unknown book became a huge hit etc.), and the Heath brothers explore what makes an idea stick in our heads (whether it’s from advertising, education, humanitarian work etc.) and how we can shape an idea that will be as sticky as possible.

After reading these two books, I’ve had one of those moments where you’ve just been given loads of amazing data, connected in an extremely meaningful way, along with several insights which challenge you, no, force you  to both change your oppinions and form new ones about important things and issues you didn’t even know existed or didn’t deem important. You basically can’t stop yourself, once you read these two books in a two day period, so that it’s all bundled up really tightly. You can feel all that knowledge being integrated into the way you perceive the world, make decisions and act them out. And, there’s that ever growing thirst for more. Because now you’re even more keenly aware of how much you really don’t know how this world and you in it works.

The reason I mentioned Uncle Ben there in the beginning is because once you’ve read those books, you gain a big insight into how easily we humans can be influenced. Seemingly irrelevant things can significantly change our behavior, things that we would never in a million years accept could influence us so much; and once you know what some of those things are, you also realize that you have a new responsibility – you know how to use those things, and you know what effect they have on people. You also know that often you’re safe from consequences because they’ll rationalize it all away, since we all believe that we’re completely in charge of our choices and our destiny (even though so many people are into astrology… you know, just in case).

So, once you know all this, you have to really (re)define your ethical values and boundries, especially when you want to do something which will influence a lot of other people, and especially when you know that they’ll think that it was their idea to do what you said all along. Before, you sort of dimly accepted that it was fair, because you thought everyone more or less knows the rules of the game. Now, you know you’ve learned some new rules which a lot of people don’t know about. So what becomes fair now?

In addition to all of this, as I said I’m now keenly (not to say desperately) interested in finding out what other things are influencing my behavior. I think that once you know them, you can adjust your strategy in dealing with them, and reclaim a bit more ground in your internal struggle for control over your actions and your life. As Steven Pressfield quotes Dalai Lama in his excellent War of Art (which I’ll also write about) “The enemy is a very good teacher”.

In closing, a big thank you to Jonathan Davis from Combat Consulting and Ryan Holiday for recomending these books on their blogs.

September 17, 2008

dog shit and responsibility

One of the easiest ways for me to start a conversation with the taxi driver is to comment on the weather, which is quite often bad (either too hot or too cold) and at times completely unpredictable (too hot, then suddenly too cold). I always do that with the following sentence (very loosely translated, so it looses the punch it has in Serbian) “Our weather is just like (i.e. as bad as) our country.” They never fail to smile and agree with me, for most people here share the more or less same view:

Serbia is a country where things just don’t work.

It’s a big meme here, really. Whether you’re standing for hours in a long queue, arguing with the clerk at the post office, paying ridiculous amounts for essential every-day food & necessities (a pair of Nike sneakers which is $40 in America is around $160 here) or watching the politicians throwing black-magic-ish curses at their opponents (I’m not kidding), you’re bound to sigh disappointedly and say something like the following: “I’m not surprised in the least; it’s just the sort of thing to expect in a country like Serbia”.

Now there are people who are really struggling to survive, working long hours for minimal wages (the average salary here is officially around 400 euros (a bit more than $600) per month, which in itself is insufficient for anything resembling a  normal life, and in reality a lot of people are working for as low as half of that). I feel that I have no right to say anything about their being frustrated, because I am lucky to be in a way better financial situation than them.

However, what does tick me off is that this meme has become a sort of a national, general excuse for avoiding all kinds of responsibility: “When everything’s falling apart, why should I play fair and, say, not use my connections to enroll my kid in this high-school or university? Or not scream irritably at someone in the queue, because they would also scream at me?” In addition, we almost enjoy looking at ourselves as the victims, as if there’s something cool about living in a country which always seems to be not so much on the verge of breakdown as generally half-broken.

I think the worst part is that we apply the same way of thinking to things which depend almost solely on our own behavior. For instance, recently in parks they’ve put a few containers with recycled paper-bags for scooping your dog’s number two. I’ve rarely seen anyone use it, and I myself never got around to using it. It took a sense of shame, after having some lady on the street criticize me for not picking it up, to get me thinking. Yes, I don’t want to step on a piece of dog shit, or see children catch some disease or something. Yes, I know there’s practically no effort or time required for doing it. But why then haven’t I seen almost anyone use the bags? Ok, so I’ve heard that they are used more often in another park, so whether or not that’s true, let me rephrase the question: Why hadn’t I, the person whose main interests and activities revolve around motivating and teaching people how to basically be better, more responsible persons, started using them?

Thinking about it, I came back to that meme: It’s simply easier to not change your behavior when it seems that no one else is changing their own. And since there’s no law requiring us to clean our dogs’ mess, and thus no fine for misbehavior, there’s even less incentive to try to scoop. If anyone asked me why I’m not scooping, I think that I wouldn’t even try thinking of a good excuse – I’d simply revert to the meme.

This is something which depends solely on one’s personal beliefs and behavior. However, through behaving in a certain way, we also set a new standard toward which others may aspire. From simple things like scooping dog poo we can slowly move toward more complex and difficult ones, and slowly, step by step, we can increase the overall “average level” of responsibility that each one of us has.

So, I decided not to wait for a law, more public shame or something else to influence me to change my behavior. I’ve decided to start cleaning up shit, both my dog’s and my own.  It’s time to put some effort into becoming a more responsible citizen and setting a positive example for other people, because I feel that these things are something that our country desperately needs. Some things are changed by laws and some are a consequence of a strong economy, but, as I said, there are also things which rely solely on our own sense of responsibility. Our country may not be as economically developed or as well-organized as some other countries, but I’ll be damned if our citizens can’t be as personally responsible as theirs.