Friday, December 16, 2011

Invisible Scars

In his book ‘Invisible,’* artist turned author Hugues De Montalembert, who tragically lost his sight when a burglar threw paint remover in his face, describes a scene that unfolded with a Paris Taxi cab driver. During a Paris trip in a taxi-cab, the Cambodian driver extended his sympathy towards Montalembert for his obvious handicap. The author thanked him for his concern, but remarked that there were “people much more wounded than me.” A moment of silence ensued, before the cabbie opened up and confessed that his wife and children had been slaughtered right before his eyes in Cambodia. “So there he was,” Montalembert writes, “driving his cab in Paris with this huge wound that nobody could see.”

This story illustrates a principle that is very active in our everyday lives, and one we should all try to remember more often: Our perceptions of the world, especially those involving judgments or assessments of others, are limited by what we don't know about them. A primary contributor to many of the problems we face in this world is that everyone is limited by their own perception, and thus blinded by what we cannot see.

We float about our daily lives, bumping into our fellow human beings along the way, relating to each other like pinballs - reacting according to what we encounter on the surface. We all have a tendency to get lost in our own little world, dealing with all the problems and little dramas in our own lives. Amidst this, we tend to forget that others have their own issues that they are dealing with, and that these issues can impact the choices they make or the way they behave. We take in a fraction of a percent of the knowledge about other individuals, yet we turn around and use this sliver of a perspective to make rash judgments that we then hold in the utmost confidence. From the people we judge on news or TV shows to those we interact with in our day-to-day lives, we are all guilty of making surface judgments about others.

Not every taxi-cab driver has had his wife and children slaughtered in a genocide, but every single one of us is the product of our inherent biological quirks interacting against our life experiences, and you rarely see even so much as a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes material that makes the person. We all carry our own scars and woes, our own hidden stressors, and it is usually these hidden issues and underlying insecurities that drive the ugliest behavior we see in others. Perhaps the rude man you ran into at the grocery store just received a foreclosure notice. Maybe the woman who cut in front of you in line is worried about losing her job if she's late getting back from her break. Perhaps the driver who just cut you off is working two jobs to make ends meet and is caving under the stress. Perhaps the ex-convict who was re-arrested for committing another crime had filled out a thousand job applications and could not find a single employer who would give him a chance, and so he regressed back to the only way he knew to make a living.

With every person and in every situation, there are always angles we cannot see. It's a reminder to be a little more patient, a little more compassionate, and perhaps a little more understanding and less judgmental when others do upsetting things or get on our nerves. Nobody wakes up in the morning with a desire to be evil or means spirited; each of us is merely doing our best to manage the unique struggles we each face according the mental and environmental resources we have available. It’s good to remember this when you end up on the receiving end of someone's less-than-desirable behavior. There are always underlying stressors and hidden motivations residing under the surface. So always keep in mind that your perspective is limited - don't let your view of the world be blinded, or your empathy for others dampened, by ignoring the things you cannot see.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Learning Physics While Skateboarding

A cleaver study by psychologist Michale McBeath of Arizona state University, found that skateboarders are better than college students at answering physics questions related to slope. When give the problem of predicting which ball reached the bottom first on two slopes, one with a steeper incline, then a flat spot in the middle, then another steeper incline, verses a slope with s steady decline and not flat spots, more experienced skateboarders recruited from a skateboarding park got this counter intuitive problem correct (61%) than did college students (27%). The correct answer is that the ball on the slope with the long flat area will reach the bottom first, because it's slightly incline on the other two sections makes up for the level area.

So how does this experiment pertain to you kid? We found it interesting because it shows that intuition about complicated mathematical concepts really does come from experience learned through a child's interaction with the physical world. Weather it be skateboarding, riding bikes, playing sports, or simply getting outside in nature, a child's core intelligence is strengthened through physical activity and interaction with the natural world. So send your kids outside so that they can study physics!