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Human nature vs Human culture

2014/07/24 - Author: Marco Neves

I was reading a post on startup mentoring and come across the expression “it’s not human nature”. The same idea is often expressed in slightly different term – unnatural, against nature, against human nature, etc – but this is more often a sign that human culture is so impregnated in us that we can’t tell the difference between culture and nature.

In this specific case the author was talking about how helping others without expecting anything in return is not human nature. Hell, I don’t know what is human nature – maybe we don’t even have one.

But where I come from, helping others without expecting anything in return is common practice. But that’s the only way a small village of an hundred people will survive for generations. First everyone knows everyone. Hell, people know every single person in most of the villages around. And if they don’t help the others, who will?

The people who need help are not the guy in a suit who lives across the street that you saw twice in the last year, and to whom you almost had to say hello once, because he almost got in the lift at the metro station with you.

In a small village the people who needs help are the same people you grow up with, the people who worked with you half of the time, the people you say  good morning and good night to most days, the people you stop almost always to talk with, even if the only news to tell are about the people who got sick or who needs someone to help in the fields, or about the state of the fields, what needs seeded, what needs planted, what needs work, what needs harvesting…

But in the end, that’s what human nature is about. The relationships with people. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, it’s human nature to relate to others. But when you grow in a city, even when you move to a city after living in the country, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the importance of money, and ROI and into the fear of the others, into the fear if the neighbors that you don’t really know.

But we don’t learn how to talk, how to eat, how to dress by ourselves. We do that by relating to others, but seeing them, hearing them, touching them (maybe this is cultural, some cultures seem to touch a lot more than others, but it’s undeniable that babies calm down way faster in the comfort of an embrace of a caring person than alone by themselves).

Human nature? I really don’t know, but it seems to me that every fireman who runs into a house in fire because there is someone inside, every donation to charity, every time we help someone in need seems to show that helping others without expecting anything in return is not really   uncommon for humans.

And mentoring was never an exception to this. In a time when most people as troubles feeding their own family, the tonality who took someone else’s kid and teach him his skills, was helping the kid as much as he would help his own.

But the 20th century did bring us the economicist view of the world where what doesn’t generate a profit is not worth doing and it will still take same take for that minimizer view of the world and specially if human nature to be washed out – let’s hope that not by something worse.

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Breaking the law or not

2014/04/11 - Author: Marco Neves

“Every Time You Break the Law You Pay, and Every Time You Obey the Law You Pay.”

It’s not only breaking the law or not that have a price. For most people mor important than breaking the law that have a price. It’s more about your own principles, your core believes than it is about the law.

Breaking a law you don’t believe in have an implied risk, but the price you pay is only significant if you are caught while in violation. But if you break a law you believe in, even if you’re never caught, you’ll pay an heavy price anyway – guilt and remorse often stay with you for a long time, live in those cases you believe you did something really bad.

So, which rules, which laws, do you break without care, and which you pay the price of not breaking them?

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Know yourself

2012/12/12 - Author: Marco Neves

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles;
if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one;
if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

the art of war –  Sun Tzu

If you’re at war, knowing your enemy is important, bung yourself is equally important.

But at times like ours, where there are no real open enemies, most problems in our individual lives come from incomplete knowledge of ourselves.

Know yourself is important in war, and even more crucial in peace. It’s by knowing yourself that you find what makes you happy, what gives you pleasure to run to, how you would like to live, who you would like to be with…

Only by knowing yourself you can find out what you need and what you have to give.

Most of the time we associate who we are, what we do and where we are with ourselves. We think about those things as if they were our identity, but would we stop to exist if we changed all of that?

Everyone have abilities that could be used in other places, to jobs/tasks completely distinct from those they identify with. And a name is just a name. A rose by any other name would still smell the same.

It’s always ok to present yourself in a way people would remember you – in some cases in a way people expect you to present yourself.

But you don’t have to present yourself to you following any rigid set of rules. Your name and what you do may be a good way to get you in other people minds, but that doesn’t mean you have to build all your identity around those temporary concepts.

Ask yourself… Who are you? What makes you smile? What makes you run? Where do you take your time – what do you like to do quietly, without rushing? Where do you relax? How do you relax?

Ask yourself… What wouldn’t you tell anyone about you? What would you like everyone to know about you?

Ask yourself… What did you learn about yourself today?

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2012/12/10 - Author: Marco Neves

We watch the world through our senses – mostly our eyes if we can see, but not exclusively – but it is our brain that see it, after filtering it to better fit in our image of reality.

We have bias – things we believe to be true, behaviors we think are universal, expectations people – specific or in general.

Our mind does the best it can to make the world around us fit with our view of the world, by applying what we believe over everything we see, ignoring as much as possible that contradicts that view and getting our attention to anything that enhances that view.

A lie repeated enough becames  true.” doesn’t mean that the true will change just because someone decides to repeat a lie as if it was a mantra. It means that if we hear the same “fact” from a few sources we start to believe it and after that it is a lot harder for us to see anything that says that we are wrong than anything proving us right.

And that is what bias are. Things we believe to be true, and that have an impact on our perception of the world.

Bias are not restricted to some subjects or types of information. Bias are not restricted to some groups of people and do go away with education. Even our behaviors and our interpretation of others behaviors are altered by bias.

Even our abilities are influenced by bias. If you believe that a subject is really hard to understand, you’ll not try as hard to understand it as if you thought it was really easy.

If you think a guy is a playboy you’ll see every time he talks with a girl as a flirt or a pickup attempt, but if you think that a guy is gay you would see the same conversations as normal.

If you think a brand is expensive, you’ll notice more the price differences if a product of that brand is more pricey that a concurrent product, but you’ll notice more the superior characteristics of the concurrent if it is cheaper.

Bias influence our decisions on a very large degree. We are more likely to buy a car from a more expensive brand if we believe that brand to be more reliable than the alternative brand (even if in the end both cars are made in the same factory using the same pieces).

Most of us today tend to believe in statistics and think they are serious, we were made believe that averages tell a story. However, more than 80% of all published statistics lays or misrepresentations of the facts (this was just made up – it’s a common joke in the internet, but not completely inaccurate). Most statistics published in the mainstream internet and in the traditional media are not really representative of the reality – averages (the common published metrics), median and modes often tell different stories, and often we see averages being used as if they were the modes, when they are two completely different things.

Often, and this is probably the most common problem with statistics, the sample used is too small to be really indicative of any true reality – statistics based in interviews of a hundred persons is only representative of a small universe – and sometimes it is even hard to understand which universe. One person goes to a shopping and asks people how much they usually drink – and found out that in average people drink 4 beers each day.  A second person tries to reproduce the study and ask the same question to the same amount of people – and finds out that in average each person drinks 1 glass of wine per day. What was never published is that on of them made the interviews before a game in the club in one of the sides of the shopping, while the other made the interviews after service in the church in the other side.

Even in small universes is easy to get biased statistics. Imagine that you are in college and want to make some statistics about the students of your college – let’s say you want to find out how much do your colleagues read. Most likely you’ll try to interview the people you know better, and if you spend a lot of time in the library you’ll try to interview people next to it, but if you go often to the bar next to the college, you’ll try to interview people there. Can you imagine how that will make a difference in the results?

But, more important, can you see what’s the most important part on the previous examples? More than anything else, they show my own bias – that people who go to bars read less and people who read more go less to bars – and that football fans drink more beer while religious people drink more wine. In the end, if you are aware of your own bias, if you manage to notice them, they tell a lot more about you than they say about anyone else.

But, the important thing about statistics is that we get them in a daily bases and those statistics create bias in our mind. And we even apply those bias to statistics we see. We end believing easily in statistics that confirm our bias than in statistics that contradict them.

And that’s why bias are most of the time self-reinforcing entities, entities that we are not fully aware of, and that make a huge difference in our lives.

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The Super Hero

2012/12/06 - Author: Marco Neves

Disney did bring us the Charming Princes with their Happily ever after, and Marvel bombarded us with the super heroes. Ok, it’s not true that Disney and Marvel have the exclusive on Charming Princes and Super Heroes, they are just two of the biggest companies in that business in the last century.

The super hero is someone with a very special ability, something that (s)he was born with, or something that (s)he got later on live. The super hero may be someone from a different planet, the result of a experience gone… not exactly wrong, but at least unexpectedly or someone with very special technology. The super hero always have special abilities, always can do something more than everyone else around them. Most of the time the super hero tries to remain anonymous – everyone is not to be trusted with the identity of the protector, so that the super power is not abused.

But the super heroes of this world only exist on Marvel comics, not in every corner of our cities. The heroes of our cities don’t have special powers, most of them are people like you and me, trying to live their lives, and making the lives of those around them a bit better. The heroes of our world are the firemen who jump out of the bed at anytime to help put out a fire, the anonymous person on their way to work that sees a child getting in front of a car and runs to save the kid, the… the normal person that looks around and finds someone who needs help and do it just because it feels right.

The culture of the “super hero” may give us the idea that it takes super powers to save the world, but the world will always be saved by ordinary people with ordinary powers, except, maybe, for their willpower.

Don’t wait for the super hero, get out and do your part. Don’t be a hero, but be as helpful when that is asked of you.

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Your feelings

2012/12/03 - Author: Marco Neves

Did you ever felt like beating someone? Did you ever felt like crying because of something someone else did? Did you ever tough that someone else has the responsible for the way of was feeling? Did you ever felt like there was nothing you could do but feel sad? Did you ever… felt like your feeling were someone else’s to change?

Those around us can have a huge impact on our live. And the closer they are to us, emotionally, more power over our lives they have. But your feelings are your own, and nobody, but you, can change the way you feel. No person, no matter how important you may think (s)he is for you have any power over your feelings, unless you allow it.

No feeling is shared by two person. Even two lovers (as in two people deeply in love with each other) don’t share a feeling. They may be both in love with the other person, but the love the first feels for the second is not the same love the second feels for the first. They may have similar and symmetric feelings, but still different feelings.

Yes, even the positive feelings, like happiness, love or friendship are your own, even when you see them as part of a shared relationship, those feelings are yours. But is not with those feelings that it is most critical that we understand that my feelings are mine only, and that your feelings are only yours.

Love doesn’t imply love, friendship doesn’t imply friendship. Feelings are not symmetric, even when they are truly reciprocated.  But, most important, the way you feel in the sequence of someone else’ actions are not those actions, and are not a direct and unavoidable consequence of those actions.

Even if the actions in questions are a direct critic at your person, most likely those critics may say more about the other person that about you. But the way you feel about those critics will say more about you that about the other person.

You can’t avoid that someone who doesn’t like you skin color call you on it, but that doesn’t say anything about you. You know that you’re not your skin color, but you also got to know that the other person is just a racist you unworthy of your time and attention. But if you get enraged and start a fight, that speaks for you, that speaks about your ability to self control.

You may see your flirty boyfriend/girlfriend as the source of your jealousy, but the true source is your insecurity, your expectations  of being the only object of his/her attention. You may see him/her as untrustworthy, but you expecting him/her to be someone that (s)he is not doesn’t help.

Maybe you can’t change the way your boss treats you, maybe (s)he will keep calling you incompetent, instead of pointing you what are the errors in your work and helping you improve, but that’s her/his fault. But you can always do your best, you can always ask what you can do to improve it, you can always learn as much as you can. And not let the way (s)he treats you influence the way you feel.

But, the most important thing you can do about your feelings is start to look at them from a different perspective. Stop looking at your feelings as something that starts outside of you and think about them as something that starts and ends inside of you. And feelings, when unattended build up, grow inside of us and become harder and harder to ignore and understand. If we keep ignoring our feelings they will grow, they will get stronger and will keep asking for our attention.

Emotions, when they are small, when we feel them first, are most of the time easy to associate with their source. But as they get stronger, the only thing we can see are those feelings and the external causes for them, that we can’t change or control. The external sources for our feelings is a trick of your mind, of our ego, that don’t want to be blamed for anything. But even then, if you look deeply under your feelings you may still be able to see why you feel the way you do.

But when your emotions are born, it’s most of the time easy to remember what was in your mind when those emotions started to show. Stop it at that point and try to understand what you’re really thinking.

Most of the time emotions, negative emotions, like jealousy, sadness or anger usually start from expectations or fear.  Expectations, negotiated or, most of the time, assumed – just because something is seen as normal in the society doesn’t mean that it can be assumed and that is automatically applies to everyone. But, still, we assume them. But still, we expect everything to go according with our expectations, but still we get jealous, angry, sad if something we don’t want happens, if someone does something we expected would not happen.

And we project those feeling in that person, and expect that person to fix our feelings, and forget that those feelings are not their to fix. They are our. Our to fix, our to understand and, most of all, our to own.

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What should you do?

2012/11/26 - Author: Marco Neves

Sometimes we look around lost without knowing what to do. To do lists sometime help, but not all the time. When we really feel lost long to do lists don’t help – short to do list lists may help, but long linst don’t.

At this moments there is only one thing you really can (and must) do. Stop for a bit and ask yourself: “What is the thing I would really like to be doing?”

Sometime this question may result in dangerous answers (vengeance, hate and obsession are dangerous advisers) but whenever the answer doesn’t result in harming yourself or other, go ahead and do it.

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Under planing

2012/11/25 - Author: Marco Neves

There are two main problems you can have related with planing, over planing and under planing.

In this post, I would like to start by the simplest one, and most of the time the one that is simpler to solve, the one that you can find tricks and tools to make it more visible and less problematic.

Under planing implies planing really very little or nothing, as usually it doesn’t take a lot of planing to be able to have a acceptable money and energy flowing in your life – assuming you have a job, which nonexistence can make things a bit more trickier.

If you have an income source that is enough to pay for your bills and your food you are already better than most people, and with just a bit of planing you can get past the under planing boundary.

You have to plan to get out of bed early enough to get to work at the expected time, you need to pay all your bills before starting spending money in things that you don’t depend on, you need to sleep at least the minimum amount of time that allow you to do your job properly.

An under planner will do the opposite of this. You are under planing if you spend more money than you make, if you start spending money before you pay for your bills, if you constantly under sleep because you spend the nights in bars or watching meaningless tv shows or doing other purposeless things. You are under planing when you wait until the last minute to prepare your luggage and get ready to make a trip. You are under planing when you start to get ready when you are almost late for an appointment.

Under planing is common among the youth because… well, because they don’t know better, or if they do know better they don’t know how important it is for their future.

Youth, parents and planing is, however, the topic of a different post.

What about you, do you under plan often? On which areas of your life?

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The Madmen

2012/11/23 - Author: Marco Neves

I would like to start by quoting  Kahlil Gibran:

How I Became A Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

by  Kahlil Gibran, in The Madman, His Parables and Poems (1918)

We all use masks. We have to. We were taught this way since we are really small – you shouldn’t say that, you should be polite, don’t run so much. But it is not just when we are small that we are told to use masks. It’s also when we are made fun of because we tell other what we think, it’s when we are made fun of because we use that extravagant shirt we like, it’s when we are looked strangely because we decide that shorts are the thing we want to wear to work.

We all are different, the problem is that we are also social animals, we like to interact with other people, but we also feel more comfortable around people that look more like us – we were taught that people who look different are not trustable.

Those are our mask, and the masks we impose on others.

Maybe we don’t want to take out all of our mask at once, that would surprise everyone too much, and would probably push away everyone who is around us and that don’t really care deeply about us, and those who really care about us would be scared and think we got completely crazy – well, to a point that would be true, but not the whole true.

But, maybe, we want to start taking some of the masks, finding those who get us together with people we care less about and start taking those, those masks that are not that important to our functional life – to our interactions with our friends, our family, our work. Before taking out some masks you may need to change parts of your life – if you work in a company that wants you to wear a suit and you don’t like that, most likely changing company will be required. Some changes may force you to get out slowly, first to those more open-minded friends, then to that special family member that is more eccentric, then… then you finally will get the courage to come out to your close family and tell them… and even then it may not go as well as you expect, other times it will go way better.

Taking out masks will change some of the people around you – but those are the people who were with you because of the masks – and sometimes those people are between those you care about more, sometimes those people are the ones you most wanted to take the masks for – a close friend you love, and that you lose because (s)he doesn’t have similar feeling for you, the relative who always told you to follow your dreams, and didn’t like where your dreams took you, the love of your life who doesn’t understand that money is not all in your life, the casual lover who doesn’t want to be exclusive with you, or the other who doesn’t understand that (s)he is not all you need. Taking masks will make you feel free, but it most likely will also cause you pain.

Life, however, will fulfill the void left if you are true to yourself and to her.

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Types of Tasks

2012/11/22 - Author: Marco Neves

Almost everything you may need or want to do belong to one of the following categories:

  • Practical Issues
  • Enjoying life
  • Small projects
  • Big Projects

The Practical Issues are those things that we all need to do in order to keep our lives going. Paying bills, buying food, cooking, cleaning, replacing damaged cloths (and to some point buying new) are part of this category.

The tasks in this category should be done as soon as possible, so that we can free our time and our minds  for other, more interesting tasks.

Enjoying life is the main reason for everything else – and also the most difficult category to define – what I enjoy is not the same that you enjoy, even if we may enjoy some of the same things.

For me a small group of people who like to discuss the meaning of life, the universe and everything, good food, the internet (the usefulness of it and building it) and books are four of the most enjoyable things.

Some people I know enjoys bars, others football, some computer games, others board games, some like to paint, other love music, some people love cats, others prefer dogs – and most people belong to several groups and enjoy doing several different things.

But enjoyable tasks don’t exist only on your personal live – you can most likely also find things that you would like to do, tasks that you would enjoy in your workplace, in college, in whatever your main occupation may be, you may find tasks that you want to do, something that you feel that need to be improved.

Maybe that task is not in your to do list, most likely it is not in any to do list. But most of the time that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, and better yet, even have fun while doing it.

Small projects and Big projects are two different categories because they mean different levels of commitment, different amounts of time, different levels of faith and generate different levels of expectation that you may need to keep under control.

Projects, however, big or small, are mostly lists of tasks, that need to be completed to complete the projects. Most of the time projects are also the result of an idea that we expect will improve our live, the live of those around us or the society in general in some way.

The problem with projects is that if you are the kind of person who is always getting new ideas, you may end with dozens of projects you are working on, you can get to a point where you are always starting new projects and rarely finishing them – and that is one of the worst things to your faith.

Juggling with a lot of projects without ever finishing any of them means that you can get the small increment in self-confidence (faith in your self) that comes from progression, but you don’t get the amazing boost in your own faith that comes from finishing, from completion.

Also, more projects mean more options to choose from every time you want to start a task, and often more options to choose from result in more doubts about whether the chosen task was the best option or not – I’ll talk about this in a future post.

Also, more projects mean more work in parallel, which means more time to finish each project and that results in less live testing. Less testing mean that we don’t really know if our ideas work in the real world or only in our heads, only in our dreams. Means that we don’t know if it works for others as we expect it to work, or as it work for us.

Sometimes we fall out of love with some of the projects we used to work on. That happens more when we keep starting new projects without finishing the current ones, but it can happen anyway, even if we have just one project we work on. When that happen, instead of keeping that project on the list of things you may work on, kick it out, transfer it to your idea box , if you think you may someday want to get back to it – or that someone may want to pick it up.

The same goes for your new ideas. If you already have more than a couple of projects you are working on, make sure that you can add a new one before starting working on it. And if you think that you don’t have time to work on everything you already have in your hands, don’t add a new project to that list. Adding it to your idea box instead is probably a good idea.

If you really want to start this project before finishing one of the projects you are currently working on, pick one of those open projects and move it to your idea box.

Careful, however. If you keep starting new projects and moving started projects to your idea box, you will never finish any of them, and that get you in the same place as having a lot of open projects you don’t have time to work on.

But, even when you have a limited list of projects you are working on, how do you choose between them, how do you balance the things you do for fun with projects that you expect to help improve your life, projects you are expected to work on – if the time frame you are planing is your work time – with the tasks you want to do?

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2012/11/20 - Author: Marco Neves

Our brain loves them and most of the time we go with it. Labels make it easier for our brain to make the most obnoxious choices without any evidence to support them but the labels and general bias related with those labels.

Categorizing everything is a mostly automatic process for our brain but if on one hand it allow us to decide faster with very little information, it also let us assume with very little evidence.

Everyone have bias, and when labeling others those bias are one of the first things that show up on the labels we use.

There are several problems with labeling people.

The first of those problems is assignment. We assign labels, most of the time, based on our perception of the other people, and perception doesn’t always match with reality. It rarely does, I would even say.

The second problem is that people are not static uni-functional tools/objects. People not only have multiple sides to their personalities, they also change with time as well as with their interactions with other people.

The third problem with labeling people is related with our bias. Our brain takes more attention to anything that confirms what we already believe in than to everything that denies it. And that means that the label we assign to people tend to stick, be very hard to remove or change.

And that also means that we tend to justify a lot more than we should with those labels. “joking around as always”, “do you always have to be so critic”, “stop being a pussy”…

But, the real question, I guess, is: Can we avoid labeling people and accept them with all they are? Can we at least avoid the single label?

Maybe it is too hard to you – as it is for everyone else – to not label everyone, but you can at least keep vigilant and when you understand that you did it, try to find other, more appropriate labels for that person – and with that make it a bit more difficult for your automatic brain to classify everything that person says or does as a consequence of that single label.

Can you do that?

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