Warning: This post is long and related only tangentially to the main themes of this blog; I mainly wrote it to organize my thoughts on some issues I’ve been pondering the last couple weeks. However, if psychology, social theory, gender differences and self-improvement are interesting to you, you may enjoy it.
I haven’t done a Saturday Musings post in quite some time, but I’m having a bit of a Seinfeld episode moment, 3 or 4 things that appeared separate have blended themselves in to the same issue. So let’s see if I can tell you what George, Elaine and Jerry were up to the past couple weeks without confusing you.
The first plot thread in our Seinfeld episode is the book I talked about in this space a few days ago, Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. The book points out 6 characteristics that will be key to developing a mind that will work in a “less information oriented world”. The one that stood out to me, initially, as the least likely to be a true virtue of the man of the future was empathy. The more I think about it though, the more I like the concept, here’s why. The information age drove us to a more and more impersonal, fact-driven world. People are more important today as numbers and parts of a whole then they are as individuals. I think, as Pink does, that we’ve swung too far in one direction and we’ll start swinging back. As this shift occurs, empathy may well be as important as analytical skills were during the information age.
The second plot thread relates to my constant quest to know and understand both myself and my relative strengths and weaknesses in achieving my goals (see my New Year’s Resolution posts). Naturally, as I read Pink’s book I found myself trying to find ways to measure myself against his stated traits, including empathy. When I got to empathy, I followed his advice and did some follow up reading. One of the authors Pink recommends reading is Simon Baron-Cohen. Baron-Cohen agrees with Pink about the criticality of empathy, but he dosen’t use the empathy term much, instead he refers to the “female brain”. (In fact, he has quite the discussion on the difference in ability to empathize of men and women)
The third plot thread comes from the Secret Agent L project. I’ve noticed several posts on her facebook and blog about the targeting of males because they don’t seem to be involved as women in her project. She’s always looking for ways to get men more actively involved.
So, we’re done with the last ad break in this episode of Seinfeld, let’s start putting together the plot lines. When I looked at these disparate stories together I came to two conclusions. One is some advice for men in regards to the Secret Agent L project. One is some advice for Secret Agent L in regards to men.
Men, we don’t empathize well and we’re going to have to learn to be effective in Pink’s world of the new mind. So, let’s pull out our systematic minds and decide what we need to do about this… PRACTICE. It’s what we did when we needed to get good at baseball and it’s what we did when we needed to get good at algebra, so why shouldn’t it work here? What better way to practice empathy then to imagine what random act of kindness will do the most good? Secret Agent L has made an appeal that we should be involved in her project, but perhaps it’s us that need her project!
Now, to Agent L. Go easy on us men. You have clearly mastered empathy in ways that 99% of men aren’t even capable of. You and most of your female super agents are masters of 19th century English literature and we read at a 5th grade level when it comes to empathy. How can you break it down for us? What if you come up with the “what” for one of your missions and challenged us to come up with the “where” and “when”? What if you challenged us to come up with ways to apply our own unique skills within the confines of the project? For example, I could print out note cards with how to virus-proof a computer and hand them out randomly (as someone in technology, I am always being asked to solve that more systematic / less empathetic problem). What if (as able bodied young men) we anonymously shoveled the walks of people in our neighborhood who can’t do it as easily and left one of your cards instead of having to craft a fancy gift? These kinds of baby steps would help us systematic 5th graders work our way up to the empathetic masterpieces like this one.
P.S. Like most of the good Seinfeld episode posts, there’s a joke that underlies the entire plot. That joke is: why, after all I’ve said about men and the necessity of being able to empathize effectively, did I take such a systematic (as opposed to empathetic) approach to this post? That’s one for me to ponder about myself.