Pseudoinefficacy: We are willing to help one person, but less willing when there are multitudes we cannot help
Compelling 2015 research by Paul Slovic and others shows that we are often likely to help a person in need, but we are much less likely to help that person when our attention is simultaneously directed toward other people that we are unable to help. The fact that there are multitudes in need dampens our willingness to help a person we are most assuredly in a position to help.
Here is the summary of the research:
In a great many situations where we are asked to aid persons whose lives are endangered, we are not able to help everyone. What are the emotional and motivational consequences of “not helping all”? In a series of experiments, we demonstrate that negative affect arising from children that could not be helped decreases the warm glow of positive feeling associated with aiding the children who can be helped. This demotivation from the children outside of our reach may be a form of “pseudoinefficacy” that is non-rational. We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help.
Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.
Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.
Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.
At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.
ALAIN de BOTTON: We marry the wrong person because we fail to focus on excellence in resolving conflict
Alain de Botton has written an extremely insightful article at the NYT on why we marry the wrong person.
What do we traditionally look for: During a perfectly romantic date, we propose marriage as an attempt to bottle up romance forever. Or we act Machiavellian, seeking to find someone for strategic advantages. There’s nothing bad about any of this, but it leaves out a critically important area of concern.
Alain de Botton urges that we not overlook that we are all dysfunctional, and that dysfunction often is left unexplored until after the vows are uttered.
We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?” Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.
For instance, we tend to seek those things that traditionally make us happy, but many of those things are things from our dysfunctional childhoods:
What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.
The happily ever after trope goes something like this: Love, marriage, children, happiness. However, that is not what the statistics show. “Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting.” The source of this sad passage is “Decades of Studies Show What Happens to Marriages After Having Kids,” in Fortune Magazine. The statistics show that having children drives a married couple apart more than it brings them more closely together:
The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.
Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.
As a person who is divorced and dating, it was with special interest that I read Eric Barker’s latest on “5 Shortcuts To Bonding Deeply With A Romantic Partner.” These shortcuts appear to be legit and powerful, maybe too powerful. Thus, one should be cautioned to not use these shortcuts on the wrong person or you might end up in a long-term relationship with the wrong person (I’m thinking of two things in particular: the task of staring into each others’ eyes for an extended period and a list of personal topics that, it is claimed, will rocket the relationship forward).
One of my biggest take-aways, though was this:
John Gottman, the #1 guy on making relationships work, says 69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year. Via The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:
Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.
The above finding would seem to be a warning to choose one’s potential partner exceedingly carefully because most of the conflicts of a relationship will remain conflicts for the entire relationship. On the other hand, I sometimes think and laugh at this episode of Seinfeld.
Barker’s advice, which he carefully compiles from many other sources, is something I will have at the ready, appreciating its power to send two people spiraling off into the wrong direction together. One the other hand, these suggestions might serve as a tempting dose of jet fuel for what is already a good match.
A good friend of mine named Tom was an excellent parent – his son was a really cool kid. When I was about to adopt my first child I asked him what advice he had for raising children. He said, “Listen to them. Listen actively. Everything else will follow from that.”
After having raised two children, I find that to be excellent advice. Eric Barker has published a post on the power of listening. He calls it, “How To Be Loved By Everyone: 6 Powerful Secrets,” which is not a good title, because I consider it self destructive to try to be loved by everyone. But I agree with the content of the post, which centers on improving relationships by active listening. Here are Barker’s take-aways:
Be a detective. You need to be interested. The best way to do that is to play detective and be curious.
How little can you say? Ask questions. Paraphrase to make sure you understand. Past that, just shut up.
Can you summarize to their approval? If you paraphrase what they said and they reply, “Exactly” — you win.
Don’t try to fix them.
Be Socrates. Help them find their own solution. People remember their own ideas best.
Monitor body language. Eye contact and open postures are good. Touch their elbow to help create a bond.
Review the common mistakes we all make. And then don’t do them.
Listen and people will listen back. In fact, they’ll do more than that. They will come to trust and love you.
He ends with this quote by David Augsburger:
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Good article by Seth Borkowski. Points to the frailty of all relationships.
However, watching “Annie Hall” after my relationship ended was unexpectedly different because I felt as if I had grown with Alvy. I felt comfortable with my understanding of the madness and the irresistibly addictive nature of relationships. With that understanding, I discovered the closure I had been searching for. Of course, it wasn’t entirely satisfying.
Why shouldn’t you attend your child’s organized sporting events? It’s a form of helicopter parenting:
Compared to other parts of our children’s lives, sports are bizarrely parent-centric. We don’t gather in the back of algebra class and watch students solve quadratic equations. In music and dance and theater, we don’t attend every single practice, lesson and rehearsal. We just show up for an occasional performance, keep our mouths shut and applaud like crazy when it’s over.
So, here’s a better idea, especially for the legions of paunchy, stressed-out, middle-aged souls out there. Let’s banish parents from youth fields, courts, and diamonds, and let’s arrange for moms and dads to play soccer, softball, basketball, whatever, themselves when their children have a game.
Our kids would get more freedom, we parents would get more exercise, and all of us would remember why we love sports.