Whether anyone can change their mind is something that we’ve been pondering a lot lately. Usually it’s an abstract question.
These days, it’s literally life or death.
Of course it doesn’t pay to approach a conversation with that sort of weight. How unfun. It’s not like anyone is going to be convinced of a single thing with someone looming over them, broadcasting I WILL CONVINCE YOU at them with a steely glare.
We’ve been exploring low-stakes conversations with strangers and near-strangers, just to see how it goes.
The other day, my hubby was in a rideshare. He had just been at work, one of the rare occasions where he has to be there in person. The driver turned out to be... a Fake Moon Landing Conspiracist!
Oh my goodness, I wish I were there. I missed out on the whole thing. I adore conspiracists, especially when they unabashedly hold forth on whatever is their particular brand of lunacy.
Just pause with me for a moment and imagine how funny it is, the juxtaposition of an aerospace engineer riding around in a car with a guy who believes the Moon landing was faked.
It gets better - he also believed that satellites are not real!
“You’re using GPS,” pointed out my hubby.
Most people, especially screenwriters, would imagine my hubby to be either a cold and arrogant scientist or the other kind, the wild-eyed, disheveled absent-minded professor type. On the contrary, if he didn’t have his badge on, not a soul on Earth would guess his profession. (What else would he be doing? I dunno, but I wonder about it a lot).
The magic gift that he has, and something that I could use more of, is to connect with almost anyone. Babies, dogs, neighbors, doctors, customers, interns, whoever. I’ve seen him break up fights and administer first aid. As he described the conversation, I could easily picture how it went, how he drew out this naturally skeptical man and got him to share his convictions.
His main argument for why satellites are not real? They take so long to make!
Well, sometimes, agreed my hubby. I *make* satellites. Sometimes they do take a long time, but not always.
They talked for twenty minutes, and at the end of the trip, the driver said he’ll believe in satellites, “just because of you.”
I love this. Being in the active process of using GPS on his smartphone could not convince this man that satellites exist. But talking to my husband could.
It wasn’t the “facts” of the matter, and it wasn’t something that the man could easily demonstrate to himself. It was the personal testimony of a credible individual. He didn’t believe “facts,” he believed *stories.*
Facts aren’t interesting enough on their own.
Remember a while back, I was talking about a conversation I had with someone who was alarmed by the prospect of the COVID-19 vaccine? I shared that I was excited about getting my shot, because I’ve already had COVID and I was looking forward to being able to travel again.
[When what I wanted to do was barrage her with “facts” and “information” and links and articles, for that is my nature. I’m helping!]
Well, we talk from time to time and she shared how excited she was that she’d already gotten her shot.
What happened in the couple of months that had elapsed to affect her choice? I have no idea. Was our casual conversation, where we chatted about travel, some kind of subconscious pivot point? No way of knowing. We’re not *that* close.
I suspect that when people truly change their minds, it’s almost always subconscious. More so, I think when it happens they usually convince themselves that they’ve felt this way all along. They no longer identify with the version of themselves that was going to go the other way.
There isn’t really a strong cultural narrative of courage or charisma for people who readily change their minds.
It’s one of the reasons I married my husband... Not long after we met, we got into the practice of verbally sparring over hot political and ethical issues. One of the all-time hottest of hot-button topics came up - pretend it was ‘the gold standard’ - and... after a few days, he actually conceded. He told me I had convinced him. I had no idea this was possible, for an adult to budge on this topic. It hasn’t been the last time, either.
It is vanishingly rare to meet someone who will not only change their mind on a major issue, but remember what it was like to hold both opposite opinions at different times.
This is why it’s better not to go about formally trying to convince anti-vaxx people.
...or is it?
I’m never going to let it go. I’m never going to be able to be close friends with someone and agree to not bring it up.
I’m just learning that it’s better with more finesse, with some approach other than the glowering, pompous I WILL CONVINCE YOU.
There has to be a better way, though. Right now it’s very challenging to live in a parallel reality next to people with the potential to, you know, kill you with their breath.
The best thing I can think to say, to the few people I know who are vaccine-hesitant, is that I got it.
I had COVID-19 myself, personally. Then I got the vaccine myself, personally.
Maybe not make any pronouncements or share any opinions. Just describe my personal experience.
Look at me. Just like over a hundred million people, I got the shot and it was totally fine. Nothing happened. It took half an hour of my time, and then it was done, and for the first time in a year, I finally feel like I can relax.
Probably that’s what it takes, if we’re setting out to convince people of things. Learning to relax.
I had another iteration of a conversation I have had with several people. Someone tries to convince me that they are lazy, after I’ve gotten to know this person and have every reason to think of them as highly productive.
“You are NOT lazy,” I will say, already knowing how the conversation will go.
“I totally am,” they will say, and then proceed to argue all the reasons why they are so lazy.
There is a quote out there that goes “never argue for your limitations”
[pause to find out who said that?]
[Richard Bach: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”]
...but I don’t necessarily think that’s what people are doing when they claim to be lazy.
Something complicated is going on here.
I’ve done it myself, even though I don’t really believe in laziness as a thing that exists, and I’m not even sure what I’m trying to accomplish when I’ve said it.
There are a couple of arguments I could make in favor of my own purported ‘laziness.’
For instance, yesterday I made canned soup for dinner and just chopped up some collard greens to throw into it. I have a robot vacuum cleaner and sometimes I just brush crumbs onto the floor so the robot can get them later.
Another person who read that, knowing more details about my life, might say, Yes, but that’s farm-fresh organic collards from the community-supported agriculture collective. And you only have a robot vacuum because you’re a neat freak; I’ve seen your apartment.
It appears that “laziness” is a matter of perspective.
Chances are high that I know too much about the housekeeping and productivity habits of most of my friends.
The last person to claim to me that she is lazy - “SO lazy” - is an especially comical case. This particular person is one of the two individuals I have ever met who keeps Inbox Zero as a default. Both are basically allergic to having an email in their inbox for more than five minutes after they’ve spotted it. Same thing with having a to-do list. Anything that can’t be handled immediately feels stressful and draining to this type of person.
That is true about procrastination: it does feel stressful and draining. Yet those of us who are prone to procrastination will do it anyway. We can’t even figure out why we are tormenting ourselves by dragging out how long we will have the task breathing down our necks.
It’s a funny thing. It’s hard to tell the truth and say, “I need help! I’m stuck procrastinating on this thing and I don’t know why and I can’t seem to get started.” Yet almost anyone will claim, “I’m lazy, so lazy, no, you don’t even understand how impossibly lazy I am” even when every detail of their life is immaculate.
It seems like there are two parts to this:
One, the virtue-signaling of acknowledging a high standard - for productivity, fitness, home-making, maybe grooming, but probably not personal hygiene;
And two, also signaling an approachable and friendly level of relatability.
Because think of the alternative. What if we all were as busy and productive as our wildest dreams, or maybe even a little more so?
And what if we met, and judged each other for it?
And nobody ever had any fun because we were just chasing each other in circles with our clipboards stuffed full of checklists?
Loose thread, check. Speck of dust, check. Nope, sorry, you simply are not perfect enough to have coffee with me. And besides, I’m much too busy to consume coffee in a sitting position. I drink it iced because it works better in my hydration pack. Onward!
I’m starting to think we should flip this standard the other way.
Lounge around as the default, occasionally do something, and then brag about how hard we worked.
I’m saying this because I’m sort of mad at myself and I’m not sure what to do. I have alternating three-day weekends, and I keep trying to set aside that block of time for lounging and relaxing, yet I keep finding myself doing housework.
On Saturday I was going to read a book, and instead I found myself reorganizing my linen closet.
Why?? It’s not like anyone is coming over???
I bought my husband a neck massager. It’s shaped sort of like a scarf. You drape it over the back of your neck and put your hands through the stirrups, and you can pull down on it to decide how much pressure. He says it’s already fixed neck problems that he’s had for years, and now he’s encouraging me to use it.
I’ve tried it: twice.
I keep finding myself sitting next to the magical neck device, setting up calendar appointments or making grocery orders or... or something. And then suddenly it’s bedtime and I haven’t done the neck massage.
Tell me, if you identify with any of this at all, do you think it’s some kind of perceived moral hazard?
That if we relax we might actually become lazy?
That we’ll fall off the tightrope and wake up to find ourselves living in complete squalor?
I asked my husband, Do men do this? Do men ever tell each other how lazy they’re being? He said yes, and he’s done it himself. Turns out this isn’t a gendered thing, it’s a ‘productive people’ thing.
I was going to tat up this lace tablecloth before you all came over, but I was being lazy and I didn’t finish.
I was going to bake 27 dozen cookies for the school fundraiser, but I was too lazy.
I’ve been trying and failing to think of something that I would consider genuinely lazy. (At least, not when someone else does it. Everything I do is obviously lazy to the extreme). I could tell you a lot of stories about hoarding and squalor, for instance, yet I know the backstories and I don’t believe laziness is implicated there. Not in the slightest.
What is lazy, exactly?
Can someone tell me? Because I’m starting to think maybe I should actually try it. At least for an hour or two on the occasional holiday weekend.
I saw something funny the other day. I got into a rideshare vehicle, and the driver had something hanging from his rearview mirror. It was: a Bitcoin.
Or rather, it was a gold-colored token or medallion in the shape of a Bitcoin icon. A “real” coin made to look like a virtual coin.
I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This solid Bitcoin was one of the single most hilarious and interesting things I’ve ever seen.
What was it saying? I couldn’t really ask this driver because he had a plexiglass divider installed between the front and back seats. Between that, both our masks, and my face shield, there wasn’t much point in idle conversation.
What was it saying?? Payment accepted in Bitcoin? I heart Bitcoin? Wish I had some Bitcoin? Buy me a coffee and I will explain the blockchain to you? Bitcoin bought this car? If I had a Bitcoin mining rig I wouldn’t have to drive a rideshare vehicle during a global pandemic?
I liked that solid Bitcoin so much I considered trying to buy one for myself as a joke. But then if anyone else saw it, they’d probably insist on talking about Bitcoin with me.
I’m not necessarily against the idea - of Bitcoin itself, mind you, not of inviting bros to lecture me about it. In fact I’ve decided to charge for that. I’m available to debate you on any subject for $10,000 an hour, and I’ll let you rant at me without responding for $25k. Why not. A girl’s gotta eat.
Will I take payment in Bitcoin? No.
I think it’s the currency of the future. That or something like it. It stands to reason that all the space colonies will take either some kind of digital payment, or scrip, whether that’s at the “company store” or whether it’s some kind of provisional territory currency. Marsbucks or Lunacoin.
Perhaps it will be more along the lines of an automatic debit to an account, such that the user is barely aware of the balance. In space there probably isn’t much to buy.
It was a strange day in rideshare world, because the Bitcoin driver dropped us off, and another financially-oriented driver picked us up an hour later.
“We” would be myself and my little gray parrot Noelle, who exists in a cash-free world of total abundance. People just come over and hand her radishes and lettuce and turn on various music playlists and build her forts, and she shrugs and enjoys. As far as she is concerned, even your shoes belong to her, so why should she apologize for destroying your shoelace tips?
Wealth is whatever you think it is.
Our return driver described himself as a trader.
“A day trader?” I asked, partly out of politeness and partly because it seemed amusing to me. Perhaps he would show me the setup he used to make trades between drop-offs.
He explained that he is not a day trader because he keeps most of his stocks for as long as ten days. “I measure time in ten minutes, ten hours, and ten days,” he told me.
I’m an investor, too, I offered.
What’s your biggest return? he asked.
Well, I bought Tesla at $42...
Yes, but over what span of time? he asked.
Okay, that’s a good one. I’ve made, depending on the week, about 1500% interest on that one purchase. But he’s right, it did take me longer than ten days.
What is most instructive about this conversation is the context. Here we are, driving up the road, one rideshare driver in the front and one middle-aged office professional in the back. Both thinking that we have any inkling of finance or macroeconomic trends. Meanwhile passing through one of the most expensive zip codes in Southern California, a place where the dog walkers probably out-earn both of us.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that so many rideshare drivers have vocal opinions about the stock market, or cryptocurrency, or various entrepreneurial ventures, or real estate. With a low bar to entry, people show up from a wide variety of backgrounds with a broad spectrum of goals.
I try to collect tips from them to pass on to other drivers.
For instance, I was talking to a kid with an interest in real estate investing. I pointed out that if I drove as much as he did, I’d be taking notes on the neighborhoods I passed through and checking out comps. “That’s a great idea,” he said, seeming surprised. I told him the other thing I would do is try to pick the brains of his passengers.
I told this driver - a Russian immigrant who has lived in a dozen cities - that I’d met another driver who traveled from state to state, driving to pay her expenses. Seems fun.
The reason my driver was so interested in the stock market is that, he told me, under communism, anyone who tried to buy stocks would go to jail. Wow! He came here 17 years ago because he was so interested in the workings of capitalism.
Under communism, no jazz either, he said.
I wondered what these two drivers would have to talk about if they met, which is unlikely to happen since they are both drivers. Crypto or stonks? Both? How much of each?
I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. I like to be aware of what’s going on in pop culture.
I also consider the chatter of random people such as cab drivers, baristas, and hairdressers to be a strong indicator of trends. One of those is investing. When almost any person of almost any professional background starts expounding on the virtues of a particular investment vehicle, it’s probably getting kinda overvalued. You think?
If you care for the opinion of a random blogger such as myself, I’ve got all my new money in cash, waiting for the downturn. Eleven years of a bull market, I ask of you. Am I putting any of my money in Bitcoin? Call me when the transaction costs are down to a dollar and we’ll talk.
OMG OMG OMG OMG
We just got our COVID-19 vaccines!!!!!!
We got our first dose, second dose will be in three weeks. We got the Pfizer one. It was free of charge.
Did it hurt? No
Do we feel weird? No
What was it like?
We found out at work that our industry was added to the list of essential workers. Immediately we went to book our appointments. We could have gotten them right up the street, a 20-minute walk, but we would have had to wait a month longer. The soonest we could get appointments was a week out, at the big hospital three towns over.
Some of our coworkers were able to get their shots later that same day. It depends on where you live and how far you’re willing to drive. Those who were enduring a two-hour commute when we were all working on-site have found themselves luckier to live near medical centers with a shorter wait time.
We were pretty wound up. All week we kept looking over at each other and going, “Shots on Friday!”
We woke up like an hour earlier than we needed to. I already had my clothes laid out and my purse ready by the door.
As we were going down the stairs to get our ride share, one of our neighbors suddenly opened a door and I almost crashed into him. No mask, of course. I had this mix of feelings: BOO mixed with ‘where is your mask’ mixed with ‘do not knock over elderly man’ mixed with ‘oh, yeah, this is one of three neighbors I actually like.’
None of this was visible on my face, fortunately.
“We’re getting our shots today!” I exclaimed, to explain why we were running down the stairs. “We’re excited!”
“Oh GOOD,” he called.
We told our ride share driver, We’re getting our shots today!
“Oh, that’s good,” he said.
It’s about 25 minutes away. We chattered away, remembering how funny our April Fool’s Day event was yesterday.
We got to the big hospital complex and had no idea where to go. Most of this type of COVID activity has been outdoors. It took us about five minutes of wandering around to finally find where to go, a covered driveway area with roped-off lines and folding tables.
They looked us up by medical number and handed us each a clipboard, where we filled in our names, birthdates, and medical numbers again. There was a handout explaining about the vaccine.
After we got the clipboards, we were directed to stand in the holding area, which was really the paved part of the driveway. There were at least a dozen other people there. We were maybe 15 minutes early.
They saw us early!
We went together, since we’re married and we had the same time slot. I took his picture while he got his injection, and he returned the favor.
I chatted with the nurses. I told them that it was the anniversary of when I got COVID. They commiserated with me about what it was like to get sick in March 2020, when there weren’t really any treatments and they weren’t really admitting anyone to the hospital. “They weren’t even doing steroids then, were they?” I thanked them for being there and helping us get these vaccines.
“This is going to change our lives so much, thank you!”
I have to admit that I had poor expectations of what the shot itself would be like. I’ve had problems with needle phobia and needle reaction since I was a little kid. Forty years of wigging out whenever I had to get a shot or have blood drawn. Even three years ago, when I went to get the flu shot, I had to put my head between my knees afterward.
I also had strong expectations of how my immune system would react, since I’m a COVID survivor. One of our good friends had both his shots, and he felt cruddy for two days afterward. Never mind that he’s pushing 70 and carrying a lot of extra weight... I felt like, that will definitely be me. If there are side effects, of course I will get them all.
It’s weird to know something intellectually, and yet also have an emotional setting about a physical sensation. Like, my brain knows that this is the best thing I could ask for, a millionaire privilege, and that this is a very exciting milestone. Yet the reptilian part of my brain is jibbering and crouching in some unlighted cave.
I feel totally fine. Like, not even sore.
The injection itself was a peculiar sensation. I’ve had tons of vaccines, including hepatitis A and B through an old job. I swear I could feel it “squirting” in. Clearly that vial was not empty.
Something happened after I started training in martial arts a few years ago. I lost my needle reaction. I’ve had a few injections, including at least three flu shots, and I’ve had at least a dozen vials of my blood drawn. Nothing. I don’t get dizzy or shaky any more, I don’t have to put my head down, I can just get up from the chair and walk off like it was nothing.
I’m guessing that maybe there is something about martial arts training that affects heart rate variability or the vagus nerve in some way. Something about my baseline anxiety level has permanently changed.
After we got our shots, we were sent to a waiting room where we were supposed to sit for 15 minutes before leaving. A nurse sat at a desk keeping an eye on everyone. The chairs were all spaced in a diagonal grid, six feet apart. We had our time stamps written on our forms, so we could count the 15 minutes.
We sat there reading a couple of news articles, and then we left. It was fine.
We crossed the street to a little pond where we ate our anti-Dementor chocolate bar and did some bird watching. WE SAW A GRACKLE! [haha, Cornell Ornithology Lab, there are too grackles in California!] And I got video to prove it.
Now we’re chillaxing on the couch. No strenuous workouts today, just in case. Later we’re going to get takeout and celebrate Shot Day with some cake.
How about you? All fifty states have plans to open immunization for everyone 16 and up. Do you need help setting up your appointment or did you get yours already? Are you going to help someone else figure out next steps?
Let’s do this. Let’s fight coronavirus together and put an end to the pandemic.
Shot Day for all!
I’m a serial offender. I love doing pranks on April Fool’s Day. This isn’t the first time I’ve pranked people at my work, and I suppose it won’t be the last.
One year, my GM called me in and asked me to do a special April Fool’s Day issue of the company newsletter. I put on the front page that we were relocating to Arkansas. I figured everyone would take one look, snort or possibly guffaw, and say:
“Yeah, right. Good one.”
Instead, people were calling their spouses, checking real estate listings, and looking up the performance of the local school district. I heard that someone wound up in tears.
That was when I realized that different professions have their own special style of humor, jokes that fly and jokes that don’t fly.
For instance, security guards like jokes about eating your lunch or helping themselves to a donut. Finance people are game for jokes in the classic question/answer format, especially if they involve numerals, like “What did zero say to eight?” Engineers like t-shirts on which the joke is a mathematical formula.
Not everyone is prepared for satire.
My most recent prank didn’t work out too well. I filked the Tom Lehrer song “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” changing the lyrics to be about COVID-19. “We Will All Cough Together When We Cough.” The very next day, unbeknownst to me, I contracted the virus. What I learned was: Do not taunt coronavirus.
This time, I thought, I’m new here. I haven’t had my first work anniversary yet. Either this will be a great way to make friends and make an impression with my dazzling leadership and presentation skills...
Or it will turn into a massive fireball and I’ll get written up and jeopardize my chances of ever getting a security clearance.
At least I can’t get deported. *shrug*
I took the liberty of inviting everyone in my subdivision to an event that I called the Emerging Topics Colloquium. I claimed that it was sponsored by the Amalgamated Cold Fusion Corporation, which people are already referring to as ACFC.
I figured that the invitation would speak for itself. I carefully avoided using the phrase “April Fool’s Day” at any point.
Then I hand-selected everyone I knew well enough to suppose that they 1. had a sense of humor, 2. would be willing to give a public presentation, and 3. could keep a straight face while spouting pure pseudoscience.
I told my boss. The first thing he said was “Be careful.”
It’s true, there’s a fine line between hosting a morale-boosting lunchtime event and being seen to be endorsing pseudoscience under the company name.
I didn’t ask anybody to vet their material in advance. For all I knew, each individual presentation would be its own special menace, from proselytizing for a cult, to advertising for multi-level-marketed “nutritional” “supplements,” to attacking a rival’s research.
There are some lessons here in a bunch of things. Comedy. Ideation. Social trust.
What I did was to leave the invitation as wide-open as possible.
I was thinking maybe you could do a 1-5 minute presentation. Can you talk about pseudoscience with a straight face?
I made some pretty good guesses. One of the people, someone I barely know, made several slides complete with animation. If this person ever asks me for a favor I will drop everything and make it happen.
A few people either turned down my pitch or begged off at the last minute, saying they were too busy. They all attended and I bet they’re kicking themselves now.
YOU COULD HAVE BEEN A LEGEND
Part of what differentiates a comedian from an average person is that we don’t think about ourselves, we think about how funny the idea is. Wait until you hear this one! The explosive laughter that will be generated is worth the price of personal emotional risk.
Laughter is like a magic spell. When people laugh, they bond. They’ve shared something that makes them feel like family. Perhaps better than family. The joke has the capacity to expand, including more people and more material.
In fact I guarantee that after my pseudoscience event, the people who attended are going to be cracking jokes about man-sized shrimp and the Bermuda Rhombus for weeks, possibly years.
Something else about my event is that it involved more than comedy. It was a demonstration of the ideation process. What these two disciplines have in common is the premise of YES, AND. Take one idea and build on it. All ideas welcome.
One of the best things about the colloquium was the Q&A between topics. Not only the presenters, but also the audience, were absolutely killing it in keeping a straight face. Meanwhile the chat was lit up and emoticons occasionally floated into view, laughing faces and applause hands.
Another great thing was that almost by magic, some of the presentations referred to one another. We had two separate ‘Flat Earth’ illustrations, for instance. Since this was the inaugural event, it can be anticipated that next year’s topics will hark back to some of these inside jokes.
For of course there’s going to be a next year. My fondest hope is that this event will continue to expand in scale, perhaps one day incorporating props and costumes.
Even better, what if one of the pseudoscience ideas actually sparked a legit idea in someone? What if one of these ridiculous fake inventions transmogrified into a real one? What if some patents came out of all this?
I could see my silly little idea turning into something quite funny, an industry-wide invitational where perhaps some of the brightest minds in engineering and aerospace competed to crack each other up.
Here I am at the center of it all, blundering buffoon, willing to risk it all for a prank and a good laugh. That’s how I prank myself time after time.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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