Book Recommendation: Predictably Irrational

I’d like to recommend a book that I am currently reading. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.

My fifteen-minute bus ride to and from work is my precious and scarce daily reading time, so when it comes to selecting a book, I’m a pretty demanding customer. It has to be a book that will both entertain and educate me, one that backs up it’s claims with data, but not to the point where I feel like I am reading a textbook. It needs to be well-written and, above all, it needs to provide me with a new way of examining some aspect of life.

Predictably Irrational seems to fit the bill so far. Publishers Weekly provide a synopsis below:

Irrational behavior is a part of human nature, but as MIT professor Ariely has discovered in 20 years of researching behavioral economics, people tend to behave irrationally in a predictable fashion. Drawing on psychology and economics, behavioral economics can show us why cautious people make poor decisions about sex when aroused, why patients get greater relief from a more expensive drug over its cheaper counterpart and why honest people may steal office supplies or communal food, but not money. According to Ariely, our understanding of economics, now based on the assumption of a rational subject, should, in fact, be based on our systematic, unsurprising irrationality.

Kind of like The Tipping Point with a bit more data…

Why I’m Supporting Obama

“If you switch your vote, I’m telling all of our friends that you’re the reason Obama lost a delegate in Washington,” my ex said as we walked into our district caucus. I was a delegate for Obama; my ex was an alternate.

“What? Why would you do that? This is a free country! I can vote for whomever I wish,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “But you chose to represent people who voted for Obama. Wouldn’t you feel bad if you betrayed them and voted for Hillary?”

Perhaps I would have felt bad if not for the fact that I felt pressured into voting for Obama and was still unsure of whether my heart was in it. Don’t get me wrong – I liked Obama. I liked him a lot. The problem was just that I liked Clinton an equal amount and was having trouble deciding (or, for that matter, distinguishing) between the two.

My first instinct had actually been to vote for Clinton. Afterall, she was a strong, intelligent woman and I loved her proposal for universal healthcare. She was the first woman who had ever made a run at the American Presidency and who stood a solid chance of winning. In a country where the line between flaky and bitchy is razor-thin, Clinton walked it as adeptly as one could. Our country, it sadly seems, is not yet able to handle a strong, intelligent woman, but I would not be dissuaded from supporting her simply because ignorant white men would never vote for her over McCain or because some critics felt it necessary to sling mud at her for showing emotion.

It turns out, however, that I would be dissuaded by my own pride and insecurity about needing to be reassured that I was a member of the educated elite. As David Brooks in the New York Times proclaimed, “Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer…Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer.”

My ex forwarded me the article.

Now, I shouldn’t have been so self-conscious about that. First of all, my ex had an agenda. He supported Obama and was trying to manipulate me into doing the same. Second, implying that I was uneducated was clearly a joke – I mean, I had graduated from Harvard for crying out loud. So why did I suddenly feel so uncomfortable?

I started to question myself. I was a creative person capable of broad, optimistic thinking…wasn’t I? Perhaps my support for Clinton said something about who I was. Perhaps I was really a just shrewd, tactical pessimist who couldn’t see beyond the day-to-day minutia of my life. Perhaps my acceptance to Harvard had been a mistake!

A week later, my ex and I attended our precinct caucus. To my horror and dismay, I quickly learned that votes in this archaic process were cast publicly – by a show of hands! There was no privacy of opinion here. I would have to raise my hand and pledge my allegiance in front of my entire neighborhood.

When the voting finally took place, I raised my hand for Obama. I’m not sure if it was the watchful eyes of my ex, the ridiculous fear of seeming less educated than I actually was, or the possibility that I actually did prefer Obama when it really came down to it. Thanks to the confounding variables, I guess I’ll never know.

I do know that I still really like both Clinton and Obama and that I will wholeheartedly support whoever wins the nomination (no matter what my ex or the NYT has to say). Go Dems!

Religion, Be Damned

Last week, my company brought in a facilitator to lead a day-long session on Relationship Building and Professional Networking. Sounds like a non-offensive, albeit boring, way to spend the day, right? Wrong. At first, the facilitator seemed quite amiable (perhaps a little too amiable for my liking), and he was fairly competent from what I had heard. In fact, I quite liked him at the beginning of the day’s session and was looking forward to a productive and enjoyable day. Soon, however, my hopes came crashing down.

It was mid-morning, and our facilitator was waxing about the simplicity and ease with which we could all network. “We all have plenty of opportunities to network in our everyday lives,” he said. “The key is to recognize and take advantage of them.”

I nodded politely and wondered when the sandwiches for lunch would be arriving.

“Think about how many people you know from your church,” he went on. I sat up. I did not know anyone from my church. In fact, being a Jew (and a secular Jew, at that), it turned out I did not even have a church. “Church is a great place to network. And if you don’t go…” Okay, good! Whew. He was acknowledging that some people were not Christian or religious. “- you should start, if for nothing more than the networking it provides.”

I blinked. This couldn’t be serious. Didn’t he just violate about eight company policies and/or federal anti-discrimination laws with that statement? I looked around the room, mouth open in shock, expecting looks of horror on my coworkers’ faces. My coworkers, however, were sitting perfectly still, nodding occasionally so as to look interested. No one had even registered the innuendo, despite its utter lack of subtlety. When a statement confirms something one already believes or does, people are far less likely to immediately realize how it can be presumptuous and condescending for those who don’t, as I suspected was the case with my Christian coworkers.

“I am NOT a Christian!” I wanted to shout at this facilitator. “How dare you assume everyone is Christian by default! How on earth could you know what my religious views are, or if I even have any?”

I did not shout, however. What I did do, though, was decide to make his job surprisingly difficult by asking inane questions and debating innocuous points throughout the rest of the day. (“Being genuine helps build better relationships? Oh? Do you have any data to back that up [you lunatic]?” – I left the lunatic part out, but bolded it in my brain.) I will add that the day proved remarkably more entertaining from that moment on.

Perhaps now would be a good time to tell you that my new favorite pastime, if you could even call it a pastime, has been taking on religious extremism and general ignorance, one crazy Bible-thumper at a time. I’m passionately agnostic (which is very much the same as saying that I am decidedly undecided) and currently regard the scientific method as the only path to true enlightenment. If someone can prove something to me, one way or another, I welcome it. Until then, I’m skeptical.

I’ve been active for some time on a particular message board – how that came to be is a story for another post – and have recently discovered the acute joys of taking snarky and well-articulated jabs at some of its fanatical members who would hold others to the same arbitrary moral codes that they impose upon themselves. Now, I have no problem with people living their own lives in whatever loony manner they see fit. What irks me, though, is when people deign to control the free will of others by judging them against religious codes to which not everyone subscribes. My philosophy? Everyone has the right to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on that right for others. Laws should only exist to protect people from infringing on others’ right to freedom (i.e. I can’t legislate who you marry since it does not directly impact me, but I can legislate that you don’t steal from me since it obviously does impact me). I guess, at heart, I may be more of a libertarian than I previously thought.

I wasn’t always so anti-religion. In fact, as my best friend declares, I used to be a Zionist. I admit, there was a time in my life when I wanted to grow up, marry an Israeli soldier, and breed lots and lots of Israeli children. (I am not Israeli, so this grand plan would have also involved moving halfway around the world.) However, I’ve since grown up and, I’d like to think, matured. Rather than disliking specific religions, I now dislike the institution of religion and thus, dislike all religions – and all religious fanatics – equally.

How very egalitarian!

Welcome!

This is my first blog, so I’m not exactly sure how to begin. Okay, so that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve started about five other blogs before, but none have gotten past three posts, so I really don’t count them. This blog, though, is going to stick.

I’ve decided to try the whole blogging thing again for a few reasons. First, a good friend (and ex) has decided to create a blog empire (this will be explained in greater depth in coming posts) and, with my being an aspiring writer, I felt compelled to participate. He’s even reserved Spot #4 for me on his site, Million Blog List (http://www.millionbloglist.com/). I am truly the envy of every blogger in Singapore right now.

The second reason I have started blogging again has to do with my ambitions of being a writer. The closest I’ve come to being a published author thus far is when I wrote a dating guide in college. (While entertaining, Hooking Up: The College Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships is not about to get me reviewed in the New York Times anytime soon.) Thus, until I write my first real novel, blogging seems like a good way to keep my skills from gathering too much dust.

Finally, I’ve decided to blog so that my friends, family, random strangers, and, most importantly, my son, have a record of what the early years of being a new, young, and career-focused parent were like. Being a 25-year old, cynical, well-educated, Type A perfectionist who dislikes tardiness, messiness, confusion, and delay and who is raising a two-year old son with her ex, I typically find myself in some not-so-typical situations. (The other day, I actually heard myself utter the words, “If you flush your doggie down the toilet, you won’t have her anymore,” and had to wonder what had happened to my life.) Anyway, in short, I think my life will provide some interesting fodder to blog about – and I hope you agree! So, read on and enjoy. Feedback and comments welcome, of course. Just please be kind – I’m an ESFJ and don’t handle criticism well. (Kidding.) (Sort of.)

Oh, and the title for this blog was inspired by one of my son’s Thomas the Train DVDs. As you will see, Thomas has also become an – unfortunately – large theme in my life.

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