Tag Archives: vulnerability

Physical empathy and channels of communication


I was relaxing on a common-room couch, when one of my friends started talking about a clapping game that she’d learned back in her home country. I’ll call it patty-cake for reduced identifiability, and call her Pepper. Another friend (let’s call her Salt) ran over and said “teach me!”, so she taught her how to play it. I was in an introspective mood, so I wondered aloud - why did I feel sad about this?

It wasn’t that I especially wanted to learn patty-cake. It wasn’t even that I expected that Pepper would refuse to teach me if I asked. The problem was that even if I got Pepper to teach me the game, it wouldn’t be the same kind of interaction that she’d had with Salt. But what was that kind of interaction, and why did we all agree that it wouldn’t have been the same if I’d been the one to ask? Continue reading

Authenticity and instant readouts

"You don't know who someone is until you see them under pressure."

Why do people say that?

There’s this idea of authenticity: you know who someone truly is by seeing them in their unguarded moments, seeing uncensored emotions, that’s when you can have a real interaction with them, that’s when you can see their true self.

This is counterintuitive to me. When I let down my guard and am my completely unfiltered self, people often find me incomprehensible. What’s more, they think I am being less authentic. When I let my social guard down and say things as soon as I think them, people say that they find it hard to relate to me and encourage me to just be myself. When I carefully filter and reframe things, and shape my behavior to get the interaction I want, I hear people say, “I can tell that you’re really being genuine with me.”

But more importantly, even when my immediate reaction to a thing does get read as authentic, it may not use all my knowledge, may not be my endorsed judgment, and may not be the most true thing I know how to say. If I think things through and filter them, I can be more truthful than if I just react without thinking about whether what I’m saying is true.

Interactions seem to be described as authentic when information transmitted has two qualities:

  1. The information is a direct measurement of the sender's internal state, and has not passed through deliberative social filters first.
  2. The information is of a kind that the receiver can automatically and unconsciously verify as meeting the first criterion.

Continue reading

The performance of pain as a political tactic

This post uses activism around factory farming as an example, but I don’t mean to criticize animal welfare activism in particular. It’s just an especially available example to me of a broader pattern. My selection of example is maybe even biased towards better causes - or causes I approve of more - since I tend to associate with people doing things I approve of. Animals on factory farms seem to suffer a lot, this can probably be changed at fairly little cost, and we should do so.

This is also not the opinion of my employer. I want to make that absolutely clear. This is my private opinion, it’s not based on the opinion of anyone else where I work as far as I know, and it’s not indicative of my employer's future actions.

The Personal

Before a recent Effective Altruist event in San Francisco, some potential participants complained about the plan to serve meat. There were two main types of arguments made against serving animal products. One was the utilitarian argument against eating meat. Factory farmed meat, so the argument goes, provides much less enjoyment to the eater than suffering to the eaten. I find this argument plausible, though difficult to judge.

The second argument was that the presence of meat would make vegans (and many people associated with the Effective Altruist movement are vegans) uncomfortable. It would make them feel unwelcome. Some said it would be offensive, it would make them feel the way a barbecue featuring roasted two-year-old human would make me feel. This complaint seemed pretty valid to me on the face of it, and presumably the organizers agreed - the food ended up being animal-free. However, something about the argument made and still makes me uneasy.

Continue reading


They’re not unfriendly - they’re afraid: People

I mentioned to a friend that I didn’t see myself as someone people particularly wanted to hang out with, and she was surprised. She’d thought of me as a cool high-status person, and therefore felt like she should wait for me to reach out to her instead of the other way around.

If enough other people feel this way towards someone who presents as high-status but doesn’t feel that confident on the inside, what they end up seeing is a bunch of people who accept their invitations, but never reciprocate. So they feel low-status, since it looks like no one affirmatively wants to hang out. Continue reading