Tag Archives: Learning

Talking to Strangers may be enjoyed best by having the author talk to you

True confession: I somehow got subscribed to Audible for a whole year before questioning the money that was being deducted from my bank account. When I figured it out, I had eleven credits to use. I’m too cheap to just let them go, so I scanned the available titles, downloaded eleven books in a half hour and cancelled the subscription.

To wring value out of my lax bookkeeping, I had to create a new habit in order to listen to my library of audio books. Because not listening to them would be almost as wasteful as not downloading them.

Talking to StrangersFortunately, a twenty-hour drive from Texas to Wisconsin was on the calendar. Thus, I found myself listening this past week to Malcolm Gadwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know.

Was it better than coronavirus coverage on National Public Radio? Infinitely. Was it better than listening to the same old songs on Sirius’ ’80s on 8? By far.

Those twenty hours didn’t exactly fly by (mostly because I’m too old to ignore the inevitable aches and pains that accumulate by sitting in one position for so long), but they did go quickly, and I learned a lot of useful facts along the way.

For example, do you think CIA spies must be very good at spotting liars? Well, they’re not.

Do you think suicide is the result of depression? Well, yes, but not only that.

Do you know why binge drinking is a major factor in campus rapes? You might have your suspicions, but Gadwell spells it out for you.

Then he ties all these conclusions about the challenges of talking to strangers in a professionally wrapped package that explains why encounters between white cops and black people have the potential for going terribly, terribly wrong.

Using sociological and psychological research, Gadwell challenges commonly held views all while telling a fascinating story. I already knew I liked his approach, having read his books The Tipping Point, Blink and David and Goliath. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, you’ll probably remember some of the research and facts he shares. His stories stick with you. (And I can’t emphasize too much: even if you don’t care about horrors brought to light by Black Lives Matters, you’ll understand the liars, alcoholics and suicide victims in your life a lot better.)

Hearing Gadwell make his points in his own voice elevates the experience even more. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll also hear the voices of people he interviewed—scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. Plus, there’s a theme song! The audio book is so much more than any standard audio book.

If you have a curious mind and want to fill it with something other than noise, try Gadwell’s audio book. Whether you’re a stranger, or just strange enough to have a bunch of Audible credits to spend and a long drive ahead of you, you might agree with my suggestion.

Lesson 1 in your presidential election primer: Watch Romney tonight

“Do your duty, and leave the rest to heaven.”

~ Pierre Corneille

I invoke this quote from Pierre Corneille, a French playwright, to compel you to believe it is your duty to watch Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech tonight at the Republican National Convention.

If it was already on your evening schedule, this post is not for you.

But if you didn’t even know the Republicans were meeting this week, or you didn’t know Romney was speaking tonight or you don’t know who Mitt Romney is, please reconsider your decision to watch “Project Runway” or enjoy Thirsty Thursday specials at the local watering hole. (I will, however, permit you to tape Heidi Klum & company — that’s what I’m doing — or watch Romney while imbibing — I might be doing that, too.)

Mitt Romney is the Republicans’ candidate for president. A six-word resumé for him would be this: High-powered businessman, former governor, multi-millionaire, Mormon. The back story: Romney, who battled it out in the most exciting Republican primary elections in ages, is running against Democrat Barack Obama, who is attempting to secure a second term as president. The election is in 67 short days on Nov. 6.

I completely understand why you think your vote doesn’t matter or why you might believe all politicians are greedy and deceitful or why politics is more boring than watching paint dry.

But I think voting is a privilege and a duty of being an American, and if you’re going to vote, you really ought to be informed. A lot of other campaigns may be boring and not worth watching (such as the one for village clerk or state representative), but determining who the man who becomes president of the United States is important.

Who is in charge might not make any difference in the country’s direction, but I’m with Corneille: Do your duty, and leave the rest to heaven.

I am not here promoting either candidate, only that a citizen’s minimum effort in electing a president should include:

  1. Watching Romney’s speech.
  2. Watching Obama’s speech next Thursday.
  3. Watching at least part of one presidential debate.
  4. Voting on Nov. 6.

This is not too much to ask in return for the American infrastructure and freedoms you enjoy every day.

To conclude today’s lesson, I will invoke another Corneille quote:

“All evils are equal when they are extreme.”

~ Pierre Corneille

Failure is not an end … but fear of failure can end things

Thirty years ago, I was learning to drive.

Aug. 2, 1982

Dear Diary,

After our trip to California, I had to start behind-the-wheel right away. The first day I went, I was dressed in loose Chic jeans, an old shirt of Mom’s and my hair wasn’t curled or anything — it was straight and in barrettes. I didn’t look good at all and you’ll never guess who I had the unfortune of having it with: [name deleted to protect the innocent — for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll call him Reeve], Mr. Perfect — almost tall, beautiful hair, a super athlete and rich.

I couldn’t even drive.

The next day, I curled my hair and looked halfway decent but of course I couldn’t make any conversation, I was just so nervous.

Anyone else remember Chic jeans? Misfortune, anyone? Right around that time, I bought some skin-tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans — those were a lot more fashionable. At least in Wadena.

Mr. Polloch, the instructor tried making conversation with us while we were driving but I couldn’t talk and drive at the same time. Reeve could though. Just from listening I learned that Reeve went to France by himself and visited an old friend. That French people smell. French movies are very expensive, and that he went on a bike trip while he was there. I learned that he has a cabin on Pine Lake, eats Cheerios for breakfast and has a huge boat. Lots more, too, but some I don’t remember and some is trivial.

Like “Cheerios for breakfast” isn’t trivial?

One Friday, I had to take a test. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast. I passed though, with an 81. Reeve got a 92 or 94 (he can even drive!).

Some lessons need to be learned over and over again. For me, it’s not driving I need to learn (while my Beloved thinks I drive like an old lady, I will point out the only real accident in which I’ve been involved was caused by someone else –Dad, I’m not counting the garage door).

No, the lesson I can’t seem to get through my head is that learning oftentimes means not knowing what to do and sometimes means failing.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

It’s a serious character defect that I fear failure so much it paralyzes me.

I’ve spent the past week formatting my memoir for publication, and I’ve learned more about Microsoft Word and e-publications than I have time (or you’d have interest) to recount. I’ve spent weeks (months? some might say years?) fidgeting in my seat and dragging my feet and (and other metaphors for procrastinating), thinking I could figure out self-publishing by reading about it.

Nope, it requires experiential learning. Just like learning to drive.