Doc Carney

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What People Do

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

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.