Archive for April 26th, 2009

Breeding and weeding in the mind.

| April 26, 2009 | 2 Replies
Breeding and weeding in the mind.

Repeat any word and it starts to sound like an unknown word in a foreign language. Toaster toaster toaster toaster toaster . . . toaster? It starts to sound like a word you’ve never heard before. For me, this phenomenon seems to happen to all words except the word “no.” Whenever I hear the word “no” it resonates deep down and immediately. The word “no” never sounds alien and it always and immediately means “no.” We seem to have special power when it comes to negating. In fact, I would suggest that “no” is the engine of reason.

Now consider this: Based on introspection (a shaky foundation, I admit), it seems that we don’t directly decide what to say or do. Rather, it seems that many of our ideas and impulses somehow “rise” to our consciousness and that our main power is whether to exercise “veto-power” over them. It seems that our inner executive is not a creator, but (at most) a judge with veto-power.

The power to inhibit our own actions is central to our ability to operate at a high function. Those of us who successfully function in the world seem to be especially able to inhibit our own thoughts and actions—this allows us to delay gratification and it gives us time to consider alternate options to that first idea that popped into our heads. It is important to cultivate this power to inhibit impulses while we are young. To the extent that we are successful in developing the power to inhibit our impulses and ideas, we will grow into more disciplined and therefore more successful adults. Consider that toddlers who have sufficient discipline to wait a few minutes for two marshmallows (rather than eating one immediately) grow up to score an average of 250 points higher on the SAT. The statistics are truly shocking.

This ability to control impulses does far more allow us to score better on tests. I suspect that our ability to inhibit impulses is the basis for our sense of character coherence and our sense of personal freedom. Inhibiting our impulses (having the power to say no to thoughts and actions) allows us to steer a path among the wreckage of the ideas we reject. Saying “no” to 100 ideas that pop into our head might be the only way that we would ever have to get the opportunity “yes” to that 101st idea– that 101st idea would never occurred had we not vetoed the first 100 ideas. Did you wait to marry a highly compatible partner or did you commit to the first romantic partner who paid any attention to you? Did you take the first job offered to you or did you turn down various offers, patiently waiting for a job that was an especially good fit between your skills and the job duties? Many people who can’t wait end up paying a big price for their inability to say no.

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Consumer Report’s blind spot re human-powered lawn mowers

| April 26, 2009 | 4 Replies
Consumer Report’s blind spot re human-powered lawn mowers

The May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports evaluates more than 80 models of lawn mowers. Incredibly, the printed magazine version of the article completely omits any mention of human-powered reel lawn mowers. It doesn’t test any of them and it doesn’t even mention them, despite the fact that non-motorized push mowers are perfect for most people with small to medium sized lots. We’ve used a push mower for 15 years to cut a lot that is almost ¼ acre. Millions of people have lots that are this size or smaller.

The question in my mind is why. Why would a “consumer” magazine refuse to tell (refuse, because this is not an oversight) consumers that there are $100 lawn mowers that would be perfectly good for millions of people. Is Consumer Reports feeling market pressure to evaluate the $200 – 800 lawn mowers that its readers are used to (tractors cost up to $3,600)? Shame on them for encouraging needless sales of these noisy exhaust-spewing status symbols.

Or is Consumer Reports disoriented by the paradox of choice, striving to find the perfect mower instead of satisficing (recognizing good-but-not-perfect choices)? After all, the non-motorized push mowers I’m recommending are only good for people who consider themselves stewards of the planet, people who prefer to use no gasoline, create no noise and create no danger of spewing rocks and sticks that can cause serious injuries. Why mention that there are $100 mowers that can be sharpened repeatedly with a $15 kit and otherwise require almost no maintenance.

[caption id="attachment_6454" align="alignright" width="150" caption="image by Erich Vieth"]image by Erich Vieth[/caption]

They are capable of slicing through thick zoysia grass? Is it because those suburban readers might work up a little sweat? Not much, I assure you—even my 8-year old daughter uses ours. These person-powered lawn mowers are MUCH lighter than the mowers your grandparents used. Here are numerous additional reasons to give up on gasoline and electric lawn mowers.

In this month’s lawn mower evaluation article, Consumer Reports completely dropped the ball.

This failure by CR is one of numerous instances where we Americans need to wake up and start doing things differently. Our world is changing in hundreds of ways and we need to change with it or get left behind.

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