Monthly Archives: December 2011

Becoming an Expert

There’s good news for those who want to excel in their work and leisure-time activities.  A number of studies over the years have shown that “talent” is a myth, and that anyone who will practice, practice, practice, can become an expert virtuoso in any pursuit.  Those who say, “I’m not good at ——” (fill in the blank) bring a negative attitude to the task and they have simply not practiced enough.

[Note: If you comment on this posting and the HBR article, relating them to your own experiences, you’ll receive 5 extra-credit points in whatever course of mine you are registered. It is your responsibility to call my attention to your comment. Click on the “Comments” link below (it might say “No Comments” if you are the first one).]

These studies looked at a wide range of pursuits from music to sports to chess to, and to the professions that require “expert” knowledge such as medicine and law.  They could find no direct correlation to age, I.Q., gender, and several other variables for most pursuits.  In athletic pursuits, researchers have found that age, body size, and gender significant, but only because the body is the principal tool an athlete uses.  For most other pursuits, it’s the mind that counts, and its capacities can always be improved (barring brain injury or other mental incapacity) through focused and frequent practice over time.

Here’s an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review on the “Making of an Expert” (appears in a new window or tab):  HBR Article

New Studies on Binge Drinking

According to the Washington Post, 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States is by people age 12 to 20, and most of that is in the form of a “binge”–consuming five or six drinks (beers, shots) within two hours.

It seems to even be a regular thing that people that age (and even into the later college years) consider “blackout” drinking (consuming so much you retain no memory while you are drunk) or even “passout” drinking–consuming so much you lose consciousness–to be good sport.

Both seem to be seen as games, even here at SOU.

The trouble is, younger brains are even more susceptible than those of older adults to serious and permanent damage as a result of such drinking.

By the way, that old idea that you have brain cells to spare–that we only use 10% of them and if some are wiped out by drinking it’s no great loss–that’s nonsense! As a neurologist.

Here’s a shortened link to the Washington Post article:

If you don’t drink now, don’t start. If you do and you think you need help stopping, there is a solution. If you’re interested, let me know.

What People Do

What People Do ImageHere’s a little intellectual exercise that won’t earn you any points toward your GPA, and it certainly won’t earn you any money.

Take one of those yellow legal pads of paper and begin to create a list of “things that people do.”  That seems simple enough, but it will take you some time before you actually have drained from your head all the things you can think of.

Be careful to include both good and bad things, and after each item indicate in parentheses at what level the thing takes place: at the personal, family, institutional, church, state, national, or global levels.

If you are really interested in this exercise, you might consider creating your list on a computer spreadsheet like Excel. If you do, you will be able to sort the list in a variety of revealing ways.

In addition to the level at which the thing takes place, you could add another column on frequency or probability–how often does the thing happen or is likely to happen, and at what levels? For instance, if you were to sort the list alphabetically, war would end up near the bottom. But if you were to sort the list in order of frequency or probability, surely war would end up much higher on the list.

If you added a fourth column, somehow placing each item in some kind of category such as violence, you would certainly have to place war in that category, but you’d also have to place spousal abuse and schoolyard bullying, and  whole lot of other things.  Use the computer to sort the list on violence and see how far up the whole list it appears.

You could add two more columns if you wished.  One would be to record a simple binary state: is the thing good or bad? Don’t be afraid to make value judgments here–it’s your list.  The other new column would also be binary: past or present–that is, was the item of human activity confined to the past or does it still take place today?

This all sounds like quite a project, but since there’s no academic credit to earn, there’s also no due date.  Give it a shot. You might discover a number of very interesting things about the world.

How to Protest Without Making Things Worse

Protest signThere are many people, at Southern Oregon University and elsewhere, who would say that I’m about the  last person to consult on how to successfully interact with other people.  Some  days it seems as though I’ve been issued a punch card with only so many spaces to be punched each time I annoy or offend someone.  I’ve used up all my punches on many an occasion.

Nevertheless, SOU is, after all, a place of learning and I’ve learned a few things over the years on how to get my point across without pissing people off.

Here’s a few of those things.

1. Assume the person or persons with whom you vexed have the best of intentions in spite of your disapproval of his, her, or their actions.

2. Assume whomever you disagree with has carefully considered other options and has tried hard to make the best decision.

3. Make sure you know what you are talking about when you address the issues at hand, and that the supposed problem you wish to protest might not exist anymore, or has in some other way been addressed.

4. Do not do anything to deliberately piss people off.  It may feel good at the time, and there are some spectacular examples of how direct civil disobedience has worked in the past.  In reality, however, such cases are rare.  If you keep assumptions #1 and #2 in mind, you will find that a simple letter, or a respectfully-phrased petition, will do more good than picket signs and bullhorns.

5. Carefully consider that those in positions of power might suspect that student protesters where organized and egged-on by a department or by a specific member of the faculty.  Such suspicions can serve no useful purpose. It can, however, create a corrosive relationship between faculty members, academic departments, and the upper administration.

6. Keep in mind something the (Liberal) novelist Wallace Stegner once wrote: “Radicals are people who take a bad situation and make it worse.”

Well, with some of you, I may have just used up today’s punch card.  So be it.  I won’t be the first time.