Thursday, November 13, 2014

Aporcupine Apineapple

I am an Aporcupine. In other words, I am not a porcupine. I am also an Apineapple. The list goes on.



When I started out as a wet behind the ears Actuary, the team I was in developed insurance products. We designed cover for events like death, disability, severe illness and retrenchment. Designing these products meant taking whatever we knew about the risks we were trying to manage and working with a 'Modelling team' to get this knowledge into a form that computers could understand. The person who ran these sessions was very keen on distilling whatever we were trying to do into the simplest possible form. One of the core ideas he used to push on us was to speak in positives. Don't talk about what something is not. If you want to design something which works well, talk about what it is. If there are too many exceptions, it means you haven't got to the core of what something is.

It turns out this sort of way of deep cleansing complicated thought is also a good way to approach a happy life. Tessa, a friend of mine, pointed out this Tim Minchin clip. I hadn't come across him before, but a lot of the talk resonated with me. In it he points to our tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff and implores us to rather define ourselves by what we love.


I don't think this means we shouldn't look for better ways to do things. It is just an alternative approach to defining a problem. If you believe that peoples underlying intentions are not malicious, and I do, then when you disagree with them it may be worth spending more time trying to find the bits of what they are saying that resonate with you. It is also easier to motivate yourself. People don't really change their minds that easily, it is a long, slow, drip-drip experience. Particularly with ideas that matter. So debates are probably best framed by asking questions, not to trip the person up, but to find what is going on. We are also more likely to make progress when we don't feel like we are being attacked.

This doesn't mean your BS detector won't be flashing red. I think we all have our own flavour of rubbish that we feed ourselves in order to fill the gaps where our story doesn't make sense. It is why the human mind is powerful. We don't unemotionally look at every situation afresh. Our world view is biased by our experiences, memories and motivations - we fill in some of the outlines and our mind magically colours in the rest. I think that is why it is important to define yourself by what is important to you, not what makes you angry or what you disagree with.

If I tell my mind I am not a porcupine... it gives very little information, and none that is useful.
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