2018-04-02 conceptsrelationships

Deep relationships

Hey all -

Way too long this time, I know. Got carried away.

+ what I learned or rediscovered recently

* Deep relationships

Andras forwarded a really interesting NPR episode that came out a couple weeks ago called, “Guys, We Have A Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men.

I think the word “loneliness” is loaded with a ton of baggage, so maybe a better way to frame it is as “a lack of deep relationships.” I have a couple of thoughts here.

First, defined in this way, you can have one close friend and not be lonely. You can have a ton of “friends” and still be lonely. This seems much more intuitively correct.

Second, deep relationships are hard, and things which are hard are generally rare. It’s hard to get out of the house, leave what is comfortable and go meet strangers. On top of that, we’ve all had times where we meet new people, have a lot in common - and yet, nothing “deeper” materializes. And on top of that, strengthening and maintaining a relationship takes a lot of work. Without investment of time or effort, relationships atrophy. Deep relationships should necessarily be uncommon.

And yet, to varying degrees, we have or have had some close and deep relationships, so they’re definitely possible. I think “varying” is the key word - our level of closeness with others is highly variable in magnitude and over time. So my third point is that quality relationships are inherently cyclical.

The NPR episode also got me thinking about how to develop deep relationships. I noticed mine at least have two consistent features:

  1. Highly similar preferences, interests, habits, aspirations and/or backgrounds
  2. Vulnerability: being transparent, honest, candid & direct - all of which enable trust

Without (1), it’s hard to express passion or enthusiasm about anything together, despite best intentions. Without (2), you can never really expose the things in (1). Almost all romantic relationships (nowadays at least) have these, but they’re more rare in platonic friendships.

While I’ve found those important for strengthening relationships, there are also two key logistical things around getting and keeping relationships. The first is fairly self-evident: you actually have to go out and find people who satisfy having “highly similar preferences, etc.” - so that part is a numbers game. Second, you have to maintain these connections, so that requires an investment of time and energy, no matter how similar and vulnerable you are.

The last thing I want to point out is the drawback of being highly similar. If we want deep relationships, we will naturally create echochambers. We’ll select for people who believe the same things we do, which is good for our self-esteem and ego, but bad for trying to get better at anything. What that tells me is that we actually have to have acquaintances with whom we not only disagree, but whom we probably don’t even like, in order to keep ourselves challenged.


+ here’s something I wrote

Peddling all my recent writing in one fell swoop.

* Postmodernism in a flat world

I kept bothering all my friends for a long while to read this essay, titled “Perl, the first postmodern computer language.

They reluctantly did (or didn’t), so I generously offered even more reading - in the form of my writing about the essay. A meta-essay I guess.

My basic point is this: we used to live in a world where you could get away with telling people stuff, and as long as you were confident or pedigreed enough, they’d believe you. This was modernism.

Now in the knowledge age, information and disinformation have become the norm, which means people don’t just believe you anymore - unless you show your work. They want to see your process, your thinking, your mistakes and your flaws. This is postmodernism - and we can see it in interior design (exposed ductwork), writing (candid, self-deprecating styles), brands (down-to-earth, lifestyle) and - curve ball - even demagogues like Donald Trump[1].

So my contrarian take is that, in a world seemingly dominated by cold and mechanical Silicon Valley algorithms, people and relationships will actually prevail. It’ll be those who focus on long-term reputation, trust, admitting their flaws and being transparent.


* Heuristics don’t apply to the tails

Statistical distributions (a concept I’ll include in this newsletter eventually) are a mental model that seem to be applicable to almost everything.

In this essay, I argue that there are times when we should use rules of thumb (ie. “heuristics”), and times when we shouldn’t (e.g. “don’t judge a book by its cover”).

Of course the real question is: which times? My thesis: if you can (1) estimate what the underlying distribution is and (2) where the event in question lies on that distribution, you can figure out whether or not heuristics apply.


* Your beliefs aren’t up to you

This is probably a more controversial one (so I slipped it in at the end, because who really reads the whole newsletter anyway).

It’s somewhat provocative because it’s written explicitly to have you questioning things you are quite sure of, and those things form the core of your identity, and generally it’s annoying when people question that.

Thanks for reading,

Alex


[1] I know that Donald Trump is not particularly trustworthy, but it’s undeniable that he says (tweets, really) exactly what he’s thinking. Contrast that with Hillary Clinton who could not shake a reputation of being elitist, disconnected and untrustworthy.