On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll answer a question on whether disabled kids be kept out of the public eye. The question was inspired by this story of a waiter who refused to serve a table of customers due to their unpleasant remarks about a five-year-old child with Down’s Syndrome at another table. The child was not being loud or disruptive, and he was known and liked by the waiter. The people at the other table reportedly said that “special needs kids should be kept in special places.”
OY. I’m not a fan of mainstreaming disabled children in schools, except on a case-by-case basis, when everyone benefits thereby. However, the idea that disabled children ought to be kept away from normal children just flabbergasts me.
It’s simply a fact that some people in this world of ours suffer from mental and/or physical disabilities. Even otherwise normal people suffer from disabilities on occasion — not just injuries and illness, but the effects of aging too.
Disabled people are morally entitled to live their lives, pursuing their values to the best of their ability — just like everyone else. That means they’ll be out in the world, where children might see and/or interact with them. Hence, parents should speak to their children about disabilities, including how to interact with disabled people in a morally decent way. That’s an important part of a child’s moral education — if you don’t want little Johnny to push Grandma down the stairs because she was walking too slowly for his tastes, that is.
The moral education required here isn’t rocket science. Disabled people should be treated with civility and respect — just like everyone else. They might merit the effort of a bit of kindness, such as holding open a door or speaking slowly — just like everyone else. Of course, disabled people can be rude or disruptive or offensive or bothersome too. That’s pretty standard behavior for normal people too, albeit with less excuse. The sensible response is not to demand that disabled people be hidden from sight, but rather to put some distance between yourself and the bothersome person. See? Not rocket science!
The Tea Party Patriots left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that they called again this evening. I’ve never signed up for anything from them, and I have no idea how they got my mobile number. Yet for many months now, I’ve gotten periodic robo-calls from them.
Every time this happens, I make repeated requests — through all available means of communication — to be removed from their call list. They’ve never responded, and they have obviously not removed my mobile number from their call list.
I don’t have any way to block them on my iPhone (as I would on my landline), and them calling my cellphone is particularly bothersome. Any suggestions for what to do to make it stop?
Even if that’s not possible, I’m happy to spread the word that the Tea Party Patriots seems to be run by a bunch of jerkwads without the slightest clue about basic manners.
Here’s my latest email to them… not that I expect it to do any good:
You left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that you called again this evening. Every time this happens, I’ve contacted you through multiple channels with clear requests to be removed from your call list. You have never responded, and you have obviously not removed my mobile number from your call list.
THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.
So, for the upteeth time, I ask that you remove my cell number — [redacted] — from your call list! I am sick and tired of these intrusive and unwelcome calls from you: it’s harassment.
Until you respond, and confirm that you’ve removed my phone number, I will continue to publicly shame you for being such rude jerkwads. I’ve already posted something to Facebook, and I’m writing a blog post now.
Oh, and you owe me — and probably a whole lot of other people — a BIG FAT APOLOGY.
I’d be nicer about it… except that I’ve already written about ten such emails, all of which have been ignored. *sigh*
A few days ago, I was riding my horse in our neighborhood arena while a father was attempting to teach his son to ride a bike in the grass. The father would push the son forward on the bike, and the son was supposed to pedal. However, even from a distance, I could tell that the son was getting scared and freezing. Instead of pedaling, he’d put his feet down into the grass and come to stop. The father had an excellent opportunity to talk to his son about overcoming fears.
Alas, that’s not what happened. Even from a distance, I could hear the father yell to his son in frustration, “If you’d only pedaled when I told you!” and “Why aren’t you listening to me?” Obviously, that didn’t help the boy pedal any better!
The father was making a very serious mistake in taking his son’s failure personally. He was seeing it as a failure to obey, rather than focusing on the son’s actual problem — namely, the difficulty of overcoming fears. As a result, the son was not only deprived of useful help about managing those fears, but also burdened with feelings of guilt too. Even worse, the father was telling the son that the son’s own judgment (including his fears) were not nearly as important as obeying the father’s commands. Oy.
Happily though, the father seemed to muster some better control over himself after that burst of anger. He stopped yelling, and the tension seemed to ease. Hopefully, he realized his error. Hopefully, he’ll stop himself sooner next time.
I’m not immune from the error of atttemping to dictate others — whether children, animals, co-workers, friends, or husband. I suspect that I’m not alone in that! So here are a few suggestions, which you can take or leave:
When you find yourself growing frustrated by the fact that other people aren’t doing what you’ve told them to do, remind yourself that they’re not likely attempting to spite you. Perhaps you didn’t give clear instructions. Perhaps you’ve asked too much of them. Perhaps they saw problems with your plan that you missed. Perhaps their goals don’t mesh well with yours.
Instead of stewing over their failure to obey, consider how you might be genuinely helpful. You might want to ask them if they want help. You might want to clarify your instructions. You might want to just keep your mouth shut.
Whatever the circumstances, acting like a petty tyrant is always the wrong answer. Nothing alienates rational thinkers — young and old — more quickly.
As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be speaking on the concept of “Moral Amplifiers” at ATLOSCon in less than two weeks. (Yes, you can still register… and you should too!) Here, again, is the abstract of my talk:
Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character — such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? Diana Hsieh will argue that such qualities are best understood as “moral amplifiers,” because their moral worth wholly depends how they’re used. She will explain why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.
When I introduce people to the concept of “moral amplifiers,” people often want examples thereof. (Yay!) My standard go-to examples are persistence and ambition. Everyone sees that these qualities are often beneficial, but they’re not always so. Plus, I love to use Lance Armstrong as an example of ambition gone wrong.
Interestingly, the list of moral amplifiers is really quite long — because most of the qualities that people think of as virtues are, in fact, moral amplifiers rather than virtues. Here’s the list of moral amplifiers that I created — based on lists of virtues such as this one — when preparing my proposal for ATLOSCon:
Clearly, I’m not going to run out of material in my talk! I plan to pick just a few of these to discuss, as I have some theory related to Aristotle’s and Ayn Rand’s differing conceptions of virtue that I wish to cover too. I’ll explain how Ayn Rand’s conception of virtue is really something quite distinct from traditional conceptions of virtue — and how those differences represent a major advance in thinking about ethics.
Here’s a story from the article that illustrates the power of such value-connections with strangers:
In the book, Banaji writes that Kaplan once had a terrible kitchen accident. “She was washing a big crystal bowl in her kitchen,” Banaji says. “It slipped and it cut her hand quite severely.” The gash went from Kaplan’s palm to her wrist. She raced over to Yale-New Haven Hospital. Pretty much the first thing she told the ER doctor was that she was a quilter. She was worried about her hand. The doctor reassured her and started to stitch her up. He was doing a perfectly competent job, she says.
But at this moment someone spotted Kaplan. It was a student, who was a volunteer at the hospital. “The student saw her, recognized her, and said, ‘Professor Kaplan, what are you doing here?’ ” Banaji says. The ER doctor froze. He looked at Kaplan. He asked the bleeding young woman if she was a Yale faculty member. Kaplan told him she was. Everything changed in an instant. The hospital tracked down the best-known hand specialist in New England. They brought in a whole team of doctors. They operated for hours and tried to save practically every last nerve.
Banaji says she and Kaplan asked themselves later why the doctor had not called in the specialist right away. “Somehow,” Banaji says, “it must be that the doctor was not moved, did not feel compelled by the quilter story in the same way as he was compelled by a two-word phrase, ‘Yale professor.’”
Kaplan told Banaji that she was able to go back to quilting, but that she still occasionally feels a twinge in the hand. And it made her wonder what might have happened if she hadn’t received the best treatment.
Basically, the authors argue that much prejudice in the modern society is not the product of overt hatred, but rather patterns of favoritism. The article explains:
The insidious thing about favoritism is that it doesn’t feel icky in any way, Banaji says. We feel like a great friend when we give a buddy a foot in the door to a job interview at our workplace. We feel like good parents when we arrange a class trip for our daughter’s class to our place of work. We feel like generous people when we give our neighbors extra tickets to a sports game or a show.
In each case, however, Banaji, Greenwald and DiTomaso might argue, we strengthen existing patterns of advantage and disadvantage because our friends, neighbors and children’s classmates are overwhelmingly likely to share our own racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. When we help someone from one of these in-groups, we don’t stop to ask: Whom are we not helping?
Now, I don’t think that such forms of benevolence should be regarded as “biased” or “wrong” in any way. People should exercise their benevolence and charity on causes and people that matter to them! However, I’d add that people should think hard about the importance of their values, as some make a better basis for generosity than others.
The fact that someone lives near your childhood home, for example, doesn’t reveal anything special about that person. That the person is a friend of a friend is more instructive, provided that you choose your friends well. Similarly, if you want to be a decent doctor, you don’t ignore the patient when she tells you that her hand function really matters to her, but then pull out all the stops when you learn that she’s a Yale professor.
That being said, for a person to deliberately aim to help worthy but “underserved” people is not altruism. By doing that, your generosity gets more bang for the buck — and that might easily outweigh any tenuous value-connection. Personally, that’s how I tend to direct my non-activist charitable dollars: I don’t give to causes that everyone posts about on Facebook, but rather to the less-popular cases in which help is desperately needed.
Here’s another example: Many dogs are waiting to be adopted, but large black dogs often languish for months or years longer than others. Personally, I don’t care much about the color of my dog, although I’m passionate about rescue. So why not look for that fabulous large black dog that others have overlooked? That seems like a win-win to me!
Back to the NPR article… the book definitely looks interesting to me, as I want to think more deeply about issues of charity and generosity. (I expect that I’ll disagree with aspects of it, of course.) The book is Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. It’s available in hardcover or
Lately, I’ve been thinking about people’s expectations for their lives. Unfortunately, many people are burdened by problems, frustrations, and feelings of alienation. They live with too little joy and too much pain. Many don’t even notice it, because it’s been such a constant in their lives for years or even decades.
So for 2013, try asking yourself: If I could magically change something about my life, what would that be? Be willing to think of anything that would make you happier. Then, spend some time mulling over how you might make that happen — or at least how you might improve that area of your life. Give yourself some time to stew on it. Be willing to consider radical changes. Be willing to experiment.
Happiness is not a gift that some lucky people are given by the mysterious forces of the universe. It’s an achievement… an ongoing achievement. Now’s the time to get to work to make 2013 fabulous!
Back in January, the internet was agog over the report that a pastor objected to the 18% gratuity added to her bill for being part of a large party by writing on the receipt, “I give God 10% why do you get 18?”
The proper answer, of course, is provided by Grumpy Cat:
Your waitress offers you a genuine service, in exchange for your tip… God, not so much.
[Chelsea Welch's co-worker [at an Applebee's in the St. Louis area] had waited on a large party hosted by Pastor Alois Bell of the World Deliverance Ministries Church in Granite City, Ill. As is common at many restaurants, an 18 percent tip was automatically added to the bill.
Pastor Bell crossed out the automatic tip and wrote “0″ on the receipt, along with this message: “I give God 10% why do you get 18?”
Welch, who did not wait on Pastor Bell’s table took a photo of the bill and uploaded it to Reddit where it soon went viral. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical,” Welch told TheConsumerist. “I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.”
Bell, who did not see the humor in this, complained to the restaurant’s manager. Bell told The Smoking Gun she did not expect her signature to be all over the Internet.
Applebee’s confirms that Welch was fired. In a statement, the company says:
“Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.”
Pastor Bell told The Smoking Gun she is sorry for what happened and points out that she left a $6.29 cash tip on the table.
“My heart is really broken,” she told them. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and my ministry.”
As this story makes clear, the waitress didn’t intend for anyone to be able to identify the pastor in question, and she took measures to prevent that identification. Alas, the power of the internet was too great. Also, the waitress reports that the pastor “contacted her Applebee’s location, demanding that everyone be fired, from the servers involved to the managers.” (That’s a quote from the article, not from the waitress.)
On the one hand, I understand why Applebee’s fired the server who posted the receipt. The restaurant wants its customers to feel secure in their privacy while on premises, particularly in their dealings with their employees, particularly in their financial transactions.
Nonetheless, in this age of social media, people’s expectations of privacy must change… or they will get burned. If you’re in public, your antics might be broadcast far and wide across the internet for other people’s amusement. Then, if you act petulant and bossy about that, as this pastor seemed to do, you’ll be lambasted even more.
Ultimately, a person needs to be responsible for his own privacy. That requires thinking in advance about what he wishes to keep private or not. That requires attention to what he says and does in view or earshot of other people. That requires being selective about what he emails or posts online. That requires providing appropriate context for public actions if he wants to avoid being misjudged.
A rational person does not broadcast his private activities to the world, then blame others for taking notice.
I don’t have words to properly express my feelings about yesterday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, so I’ll let Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard speak for me:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the explosions in Boston and to their families and loved ones. Kudos to the first responders and others who are helping the victims and hunting the perpetrators. May justice be swift and decisive.
The stories of people helping the many confused, frightened, hungry, cold, and stranded runners are heartening, yet also somehow awful. It’s heartening to see ordinary people fight such evil with benevolence. Such people are not willing to allow the bombing to victimize any more people than necessary, and that’s so very good of them. Yet the bombing was not a natural disaster, but a vicious attack against innocent people. Such kindness should not be necessary, and that’s what makes it so awful too.
It’s really the most natural reaction: when we see a friend, colleague, family member, or acquaintance who has visibly lost weight, we love to say to them, “You’ve lost weight! You look great!”
These statements are usually made with the best of intentions. We are genuinely happy for them, we want to show them that their hard work and sacrifices are being noticed and deserve to be acknowledged. But I want to say something that may seem controversial: we should all think twice before acknowledging or praising someone’s visible weight loss.
First, we don’t always know how or why that person lost the weight for which we are commending them.
For example, my friend Anna has Lupus, and at one point, she rapidly lost 30 pounds in a couple months. She was constantly getting positive affirmations about how great she looked and to keep up the good work. For a number of reasons, Anna chose to keep her diagnosis confidential (to most people). So, she was caught between two worlds: one in which she had to reveal why she was losing weight, and another where she just had to grin and bear it.
Anna said, “Every time I heard those words, it was like a punch in the stomach. It not only made me feel disgusted about my body, but it also put me in a position where I wanted to share my diagnosis with people, just to shut them up.”
My cousin’s professor faced a similar dilemma when she returned to the university from summer break, having lost a visible amount of weight. She was greeted with the same seemingly positive affirmations. What no one realized was, her mother had died weeks before. Her weight loss was a result of stress.
The smiles and the effusive praise offered to these two women were in direct opposition to the pain that caused the weight loss to begin with.
And even when someone isn’t dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, like a death in the family, or a terminal disease, we don’t know how someone arrives at his/her weight loss.
Obesity is undoubtedly very common in our culture, and as people have packed on the pounds, the view that low body weight means good health seems to have taken hold in a very strong way. Yes, that’s been a change in the culture, as these 1950s weight gain ads for women show.
Yet the fact is that being underweight is often a sign of health problems — or it’s a risk factor for death if a person becomes ill, because their body lacks reserves (muscle or fat) for survival. I’m not making that up, as various studies (such as this one) show that being underweight is associated with increased mortality.
My point here is not to extol obesity or anything, since that comes with its own practical difficulties and health concerns. Rather, my point is that we (me included) need to reject the now-standard assumption in our culture that a thinner person is a better person — healthier, sexier, happier, whatever. Often, weight loss is for the best… but not always!
Is it right or wrong to condemn people for being obese? Obviously, obese and morbidly obese people have made mistakes in their lives. Are they morally culpable for those mistakes? How should other people judge their characters? If I see an obese person on the street, should I infer that he is lazy and unmotivated? Should I refuse to hire an obese person because I suspect he won’t work as hard as a non-obese person? Is obesity a moral failing – or are there other considerations?
My Answer, In Brief: Given that weight is not a good metric for health and that obesity has many causes, for a person to assume that obese people must be morally or psychologically weak is empirically false and morally unjust. If you notice that in yourself, fight it!
Via Vital Objectives, our own Christian Wernstedt shared the link to the podcast on Facebook, with the following remarks, which I agree with wholeheartedly:
This audio clip has has a good discussion on what one should keep in mind when judging weight problems in both oneself and in other people.
As a coach/practitioner I would add that helping people getting rid of excess fat is one of the most difficult issues to deal with because it takes time and effort to achieve in a *sustainable* and *healthful* way, but is very simple to do in a shortsighted and harmful way.
You want to lose fat and pose for before and after pictures? Tape worms, starvation or HCG would do the trick!
But…the body stores fat for reasons which often add up to the life serving option versus the alternatives.
Therefore, simplistically and narrowly targeting the fat storage process (my fancy way of saying “fad diet” or “60 day detox”), and you might, for instance, each time you do this, functionally age your hormonal profile and ultimately end up buying the loss of 10 pounds today for being awarded the body comp of an ostrich later.
Alas, I’ve lived that. The main reason why my thyroid gave up the ghost, I think, was that I was fasting too often for too long in an effort to lose a few more pounds. The result was months of mental and physical disability, followed by years of health problems, plus 30 pounds of weight gain. Lesson learned.
I don’t fault Armstrong for doping, nor for lying about that to a quasi-governmental agency. However, if he sued people for millions for telling the truth about his doping… well, that’s remarkably sleazy. Even if he felt backed into a corner, that’s no excuse for abusing the law in order to intimidate people into silence.
However, after watching this video montage of his denials of doping, I couldn’t be so forgiving.
The basic problem is that he’s such a skilled and credible liar. That makes him worse than a bugling, incompetent liar. How so?
By the time that the skilled liar’s deceptions are finally exposed, he has zero credibility left. Given that he was so believable for so long, how can anyone trust him now? He might just be spinning a new web of lies. That seems like the most likely scenario, in fact. By lying effectively for so long, the skilled liar has utterly destroyed his character. He had to make a slew of ever-worse compromises in order to protect his lies from discovery, including maligning the good people who’ve discovered the truth about him. In Lance’s case, he sued people for defamation for telling the truth about him, which is even worse.
The abysmal liar is likely to get caught early. That’s to his benefit, in fact. He experiences the harms done by his lies early and often. His moral character has not been eroded over the course of years, so he’s more likely to be able to redeem himself.
Basically, skill in making yourself persuasive or believable to others is exactly the kind of moral amplifier that I’ll discuss at ATLOSCon in May. That skill helps a good person do better… and it helps a bad person do worse.