Newsletter for 22 Oct 2022
In this newsletter, I share what I'm reading and watching during the week. I may also touch on current events. I'll try to show how the books, videos, and events tie in with ideas in the Bene Homini space.
This has been a busy week elsewhere, so in this newsletter, I cover two books and one video:
- Invent & Wander (pp. 133–145)
- The STAR Interview (Ch. 4)
- Harvard negotiator explains how to argue
Debt: The First 5,000 Years will return next week.
Books I'm Reading
Note that I'm not giving links to the books. However, you should be able to find them at your favorite bookseller, given the title and the author I mentioned in the text.
Invent & Wander
Jeff Bezos opens his 2015 letter to shareholders talking about how the big winners pay for the big bets. If we assume that one in ten bets pays off, but pays off a hundred times, then we're still ahead. The average payoff is still ten times the bet. Of course, if we could select just the winners ahead of time, we could increase our payout by a factor of ten. But, of course, we can't know the winners until after the fact.
Let's take a tangent. I promise it's related.
The United States has government programs to help people and businesses. Admittedly, the safety net isn't as strong or tightly woven as in other "developed" countries, but it does exist. Fortunately, neither major political party is serious about destroying it, even if they talk about modifying it once in a while.
The parties do differ in what they emphasize.
One focuses on eliminating fraud, ensuring only those who deserve help get it. But this means that someone needing help might look fraudulent. When in doubt, we want to deny an application if it could be fraud because we want to eliminate fraud.
The other focuses on ensuring no one is left needing help and unable to get it. Someone who doesn't need help might look eligible. When in doubt, we want to approve an application if it might be from someone who needs help because we want to eliminate the need.
The core group of people needing help will get help in either case. The decision to allow fraud or deny aid impacts those on the boundary.
Trying to eliminate waste and fraud is like removing the bets that won't pay off. Trying to make sure everyone who needs help can get it, even if some people who don't need it get support as well, is like letting some bets fail to make sure you can find all the bets that won't fail.
When we help people, we can't know if they are going to take advantage of us or not. But if we let our fear get to us, we won't be able to help anyone. So instead, we can look to local organizations to help mitigate that fear. Just as a business or a venture capital firm does due diligence on business bets, we can work with experts in our communities to understand how we can do the most good. Depending on your approach, you might support food pantries open to anyone who shows up, ensuring everyone has food. Or you might help a local shelter that screens people staying there, ensuring everyone is safe.
Either way, be willing to let some bets fail because that's better than not making any bets. Bets that aren't made can't pay off.
The STAR Interview
This week, I read the fourth chapter: Action. It opens with a quote from Gandhi, "Action expresses priorities." Priorities show values. And values guide our thought processes.
When talking about what someone did in a given situation, we must remember that they are rational people. They are looking at their situation and making what appears to be the best decision given their values. Therefore, we want to put ourselves in their shoes, see the problem from their point of view, and see what values and thought processes would lead to the action being the best option.
This isn't about figuring out if someone was right or wrong. It's about understanding why they made the decision they made. If we wish they had made a different decision, we need to look at the context and figure out what needs to change.
For example, if we want fewer people immigrating to the United States, we need to understand why they want to come to the US before making a meaningful change. No one wants to leave their loved ones behind, but if the only option to support them is to go, that might seem the best option. So if it's because of economic opportunities, like better-paying jobs that let them support their family back home, we might want to find ways to help them have better-paying jobs without having to immigrate to the US.
YouTube Video I've Enjoyed
It's possible, even if difficult, to discuss any topic without getting emotional. It's easy for us to get emotional if we feel attacked, which can happen if we think we must protect ourselves. This can come from things like tribalism and identity. Emotions tend to blind us to ways we can find common ground.
But if we can take our identity out of the discussion—somehow make the discussion not about us but some idea—then it's easier to find that common ground we want.
We also need to listen to the other side. This isn't about agreeing with them but hearing what they're saying. What are their values? What are your values? Do you share common values, even if you don't share all the same values? Finding common values can help find common ground. If they have different values, why do they have different values? Diving into the differences by asking questions can help us understand each other better: asking "why" rather than rejecting the difference can show us another perspective.
If we can understand the other point of view, then we've achieved some of the empathy that we're looking for. Empathy isn't something that comes out of nowhere. It's not a feeling or a gut reaction. Sometimes, it takes some effort to achieve. But it's what can help heal the divide in today's society.