What Voices Are You Listening To?

The political divide in this country is at an extreme. There are many reasons for this, for example gerrymandering, self-selection, and social media. But one of the primary reasons has to do with the fact that the voices that we hear on a day-to-day basis are very similar to our own.

If you happen to have an opinion on some topic, and you hear that same opinion echoed back at you from your TV set, from your Twitter feed, or from discussions with your friends, that opinion is reinforced.

Conversely, if you are often confronted with opinions that differ from your own, it may cause you to reevaluate your stance, or at least to do some research to back up your viewpoint.

Listening to others can also make you a more empathic person. By hearing what someone else has experienced, or what they are afraid of, or excited about, you learn to put yourself in another’s shoes.

A different religion, political party, skin color, age, socioeconomic status — all people have stories to tell that can help define our commonalities as human beings. A willingness to consider other sides can also help to smooth over disagreements.

Sometimes it can be difficult to recruit different voices to your own social circle. It’s relatively easy to find like-minded people among your friends, family, job, and hobbies. Meeting and forming social bonds with someone different from you is not easy.

Do you have friends that don’t look, pray, or love like you? Do you read books written from viewpoints other than your own? Or watch movies or TV shows with leads that aren’t like you? What voices are you listening to?

Related questions: Who hears your voice? How can we become better listeners? What do we have in common? Why are we so antagonistic?

Do You Have Unstructured Time?

Sometimes it feels like every day is scheduled to its fullest. Every moment is spoken for, every instant efficiently organized. But is it worthwhile to have some amount of unstructured time?

It is understood that unstructured time for children is important in their development. Even if it is just for a half hour a day, recess, or unstructured play time, is a commonality in most schools.

But what about adults? Is there a value to setting aside a certain amount of time each day to do nothing? What kind of value might that be?

One theory about dreams suggest that they exist in order to allow our brains to process the events of the day. That makes a certain amount of sense, as it can be very difficult to fully understand a moment as it occurs. It is only with the passage of some time, and the opportunity to think about what happened and to put it into context, that we fully comprehend our lives.

But outside of dreams, unstructured time may provide a similar opportunity. If our brains are not focused on a particular task, they can effectively process what has happened.

Meditation has also become more popular, used by a lot of people for a number of different cognitive reasons. Whether it is concentrating on your breathing, or attempting to be fully present in the moment, many people find meditation useful for calming thoughts and making for a more peaceful day.

Does that count as unstructured time? Or is meditation a kind of structure?

Whether it is meditation, zoning out while working out at the gym, or lying in bed at night before falling asleep, we have the opportunity for unstructured time. Do you take advantage? What is the value in it? Do you have unstructured time?

Related questions: What is the value of inefficiency? What do you think about when out for a walk? Is our attention fractured? How do you set priorities? Are we too busy?

What Deserves Your Attention?

Our brains are remarkable entities. We can perform some truly amazing mental feats, like learning language, memorization, pattern matching, and reading maps (among others). One of the less heralded skills is that of providing attention.

Every waking moment, your mind is focused on a task (and sometimes more than one if you try to multi-task). How you choose to spend your time is how your attention is allocated.

In our modern world, there is fierce competition for our attention. This serves as an illustration about how valuable it is. Entire industries revolve around how to capture — and keep — your attention.

In The News

For example, let’s consider a cable news program. A typical news show features several different items for you to pay attention to. An interview might be going on, so you might be listening to the content being spoken aloud. There is likely a graphic with the guest’s name and qualifications. This sometimes also updates to a notable quote or excerpt from the interview.

In addition, there may be a news scroll across the bottom of the screen with news headlines, and there may be a “breaking news” blurb specifically designed to draw your eyes. Often included is some sort of steady information, like the current time and temperature, or the state of the stock market. Finally, there is certainly a station identifier, to let you know exactly what channel you are viewing.

Having so much information available serves several purposes. The primary purpose — say, the interview — is presumably the reason to tune in initially. The others are there to provide information that might be helpful to you, but also to keep you from giving your attention to another source.

When you are watching a program like this, your attention is primarily focused on one item. However, there is likely some small percentage of your attention on each element on the screen.

Demands Of Social Media

Have you ever noticed that when using  a social media site like Facebook or Twitter, that you mean to do a quick check, but then find that half an hour or even more has passed without you realizing it? That happens because the layout and design of these sites are carefully crafted to capture and keep your attention. Facebook wants you to keep scrolling and Netflix wants you to keep binging.

With so many different demands on our valuable attention, have you given any thought to how you spend your time? News, family, your smartphone, the local sports team, a book: what deserves our attention?

Related questions: How do you set priorities? Are we too busy? What do you get out of social media? Is our attention fractured?

Why Are Bad Words Bad?

@#$%!

We are all familiar with swear words. Whether they are taught to us by an older sibling, or a particularly mischievous kid at the playground, or you happen to overhear adults swearing, these words often fascinate us as children.

It makes sense. Children, particularly very young children, are among the most powerless members of society. They have to be fed, clothed, taken everywhere, they don’t have or make money. And yet, just by speaking a particular set of words, they can elicit a reaction from adults all around.

These words also hold some fascination, even for adults. You may or may not swear yourself, but cursing is everywhere. Certain words are bleeped on broadcast TV, sometimes with humorous effects. For example, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a recurring segment called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship“. In it, non-swear words are bleeped, with the intended effect to make seemingly innocuous speech sound dirty.

But what is it about these words that makes them bad?

$#*!

To help examine this question, let’s look at the word shit. What makes this word bad? What are the qualities that make it so offensive that it can’t be spoken in polite conversation?

Certainly it isn’t the action itself. We are all familiar with going to the bathroom — it is among those things that everybody does. There is even a children’s book called “Everybody Poops”. The concept of pooping is something that is explained to every child in every language and in every culture. It has to be, because, well, everybody poops.

So there must be a difference between the word poop and the word shit. They can’t simply be synonyms, or else why would you be able to say “poop” on broadcast TV and not be bleeped, but “shit” is censored every time?

What is the difference? Is it the context in which it is used? Is it simply that everyone agrees that it is a bad word? Would it be possible to just agree that a bad word is no longer a bad word? Why are bad words bad?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? Where do shared ideas exist? What do we have in common? What words have the most power?