Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Symbolic (Mis)Understanding

“In this the age of concern over privacy invasion and surveillance and manipulation, people will start to realize that there is no way to avoid being manipulated by other people, governments, marketers, and the like.”

-Esther Dyson

  

 

“Hi,

I’m collecting money on behalf of victims of domestic abuse. 

Would you like to donate or do you not care about victims of domestic abuse?”

See what I did there?

I’m attempting to control the narrative

I’m trying to tell you that the reason you might choose not to donate is because you don’t care about victims of domestic abuse.

I’m trying to present you with two choices. Hand over money to me, or be branded as someone who has no sympathy towards victims of domestic abuse.

There are many reasons why a person might choose not to donate. Perhaps they don’t have the money. Perhaps they are giving to other such causes. Perhaps they don’t trust the organization that is reaching out for a donation.

But my attempting to control the “why you didn’t donate” narrative by telling you that a lack of a donation means apathy towards victims of domestic abuse is outright manipulation.

There are many symbolic acts and gestures that can mean a multitude of different things. Occasionally there are people who attempt to publicly control the narrative.

During the Vietnam War, President Nixon announced before Memorial Day that people should hang their American Flags outside their home on Memorial Day to show that they are part of the “Silent Majority” (a Nixon term used to describe non-protesters who were in support of the war in Vietnam).  

As my grandfather, a World War II veteran, went to hang his flag outside his home (an act that he would do before all federal holidays), one of his children asked him “But dad, how can you support the war in Vietnam?”. 

My grandfather looked his child in the eye and said “That *man* is not taking my flag from me. He doesn’t get to decide what my flag represents.” My grandfather then proceeded to hang his flag outside of his home. 

President Nixon had tried to control the narrative. He tried to turn the hanging of the flag into a statement of support.

He wanted people to view all the flags being placed outside as support of his administration and policies. 

This manipulation act is continuing today by all people from all across the political spectrum.  

People who are trying to control the narrative. 

People who are saying that certain symbolic actions mean something that they don’t.

If these people cared about your beliefs they’d ask you to explain yourself before casting judgement. They’d have asked why the flag was being placed outside rather than immediately seeing a flag and criticizing the homeowner for being pro-Nixon as well as being in favor of the war in Vietnam. 

Symbols mean different things to different people. Just like I cannot force my views onto others I cannot place my interpretation of symbols onto them. 

Yet there are scores of people trying to do exactly that. 

It is important to try to gauge how your words and actions will be interpreted by others and to try to choose them carefully. 

However, that doesn’t mean that you should allow yourself, your words or your actions to be manipulated.

Let the lesson here be two fold. First one should not assume they know the reason why a person is doing a specific symbolic act. Second, one should realize that by doing a symbolic act they leave themselves wide open to be misunderstood. 

Rightly or wrongly, this is the current climate that we are in.

 

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.

 

 

To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

 

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Confirmation Bias: Filling in the Gaps

“People put a lot less effort into picking apart evidence that confirms what they already believe.”

-Peter Watts

 

 

Given the current attention given to the murders, protests, police brutality and riots across the United States of America, I find it difficult to write about anything not related to this news that is dominating the headlines.

 

Why is that? Because it is best to “strike while the iron is hot”. This is what people are listening to. This is what people are hearing. Therefore this is not really the time to discuss other topics that aren’t on people’s minds.

 

On the other hand, topics like these tend to be divisive. People immediately switch to “attack mode” before they even get a chance to read what it is that they are complaining about.

 

So how can I satisfy the need to discuss something on a point whilst avoiding this very point that I need to discuss?

 

By attempting to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to discuss a point that is very relevant to the cause being protested, but I’m not going to mention any examples related to the current climate.

 

I’m going to leave that to you, the reader, to draw your own inference.

 

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s get to the “meat and potatoes” of the article. Let’s discuss something called “Confirmation Bias”.

 

Oftentimes we only see a fraction of the story. We see a single event and we are asked to build a story around the event.

 

For example: If an eyewitness were to see a 17 year old driving a Ferrari, they would then try to decipher how it is that a 17 year old is able to afford a Ferrari.

 

If the eyewitness comes from an area that is affluent and kids get fancy things from their parents, they would conclude that this 17 year old is another such example.

 

If the eyewitness comes from a place where people who drive Ferraris are affiliated with the world of organized crime, they would conclude that this 17 year old is affiliated with organized crime.

 

It is important to recognize where the facts end and the speculation begins. The fact that this teenager was driving the Ferrari is not subject to debate. That is a fact. How he obtained it, whether through his own fortune, whether through crime, whether through a gift is merely speculation at this point.

 

In the 1990 ALCS, star pitcher Roger Clemens was ejected from the game by the umpire, who did not like the way that Clemens was speaking to him.

 

The broadcaster, a former player himself, called out the umpire for being unfair. That Clemens, whilst emotional, did not do anything to warrant being ejected. Later in the broadcast, a former umpire said that the umpire was right, and Clemens no doubt must have said something so egregious that it warranted ejection.

 

Both parties knew there was arguing on the part of Clemens.

Neither party knew exactly what was said by Clemens.

Yet each, with their confirmation bias, filled in the gap in the story based upon their own background, and therefore arrived at their own conclusion.

 

A conclusion made not based upon fact, but based upon the assumptions of events that surrounded the facts.

 

A conclusion that neither had a license to make, given the lack of information.

 

Video of the entire event can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQoEA6GpPA

Ejection at the 8:00 min mark

Former Umpire interview at 13:00 min mark

 

All too often people confuse their speculation and assumptions with facts. Most of the news stories that we hear are pieces of facts, glued together with speculation.

 

Speculation that is borne out of bias.

 

Bias that is created based upon our own experiences, or the experiences of the one relaying the story to us.

 

If nothing else, we need to use this time for us to work on separating fact from assumption. We should also try to discover how and why we are having these assumptions.

Are these assumptions justified or are they not justified?

Even if they are justified, does that make them correct, or are you just playing the odds (e.g. the odds make my conclusion more likely than an alternative theory)?

 

And if they aren’t justified, what can we do to prevent unjustified assumptions from happening in the future?

 

In the case of Roger Clements vs. the umpire. I’m proud to admit I cannot say whether the umpire was justified in his actions or whether he overstepped his authority.

 

I can say I don’t know because I don’t know what was said.

 

I can envision a scenario where the umpire went too far and I can envision a scenario where the umpire was justified.

 

It isn’t very fashionable to say nowadays, but it is perfectly ok to recognize the possibility of two very different scenarios.

 

It is also commendable to say that you don’t have an opinion because you are missing necessary pieces of information.

 

And if you still find yourself jumping to conclusions despite the lack of evidence, ask yourself the following:

 

Am I being fair to all parties by arriving at my conclusion?

 

What is causing me to reach this conclusion?

 

Am I ok with the fact that I am arriving at conclusions despite the lack of factual data?

 

And finally;

 

If I am not ok with arriving at these conclusions, what will I do to prevent this from happening to the future?

 

 

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.

To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here

Follow Yisroel on Facebook Here

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Corona Virus: Lessons from a Bridge Disaster

“The hardest decisions in life are not between good and bad or right and wrong, but between two goods or two rights.  

-Joe Andrew

 


 

Since before I started writing these articles, I’ve had a document on my Google Drive titled “Article Ideas”. Anytime an idea for an article would enter into my brain, I’d head over to this document and add my idea to it. This would ensure that I wouldn’t forget my idea.

The following is an article on an idea that has been buried inside this document for quite some time. In my opinion, there is no better time than the present to discuss it.

The topic? The bridge collapse at Florida International University in 2018.

There are two very important lessons from this incident.

First, it took two years and millions of dollars to build this bridge, yet it didn’t even last a week. It came crashing down in a matter of seconds. This is no different than with relationships and reputations. They can take years to build, yet they can be destroyed in a matter of moments.

While this is a very important lesson in its own right, it is the second lesson which I believe is extremely apt in our current environment.

One of the theories as to why the bridge collapsed is that there was a design flaw with the bridge.

The architects wanted to design the bridge one way, but the people who were in charge of the traffic patterns told the engineers that they should move a support pillar 11 feet in order to better assist the traffic under the bridge.

So the support pillars were moved. How important can 11 feet be?

Extremely important, as the lack of support in key areas  led to the structure collapsing.

This type of situation repeats itself in many different ways.

It is one thing when you have two experts in the same field who have conflicting views, but it is an entirely different thing when you have two experts in different fields who argue.

In the case of the bridge, the architects were focused on the health and safety of the bridge. The traffic people were concerned with ensuring that traffic was operating at its optimum possible level.

The traffic people aren’t at fault for trying to make sure the bridge isn’t blocking traffic. That’s their job.

It was incumbent on the decision makers to realize that they should put greater weight in the words of the architects over the suggestions from the traffic department.

As parents, we need to enable our children with the tools to realize that opinions are coming from people with different backgrounds, and more importantly, with different focal points.

Sometimes one needs to find a compromise while other times there may not even be room for a compromise.

That will mean making the choice that is harmful in one area, to avoid greater harm in another area.

In retrospect, the traffic considerations were miniscule in comparison to the safety concerns of the bridge.

But it shouldn’t have needed to wait until a tragedy occurred to realize that the safety and structural integrity of the bridge should have been top priority.

This situation is starting to repeat itself right now.

There are many experts in many different fields who are giving their opinion as to how people (and communities) should proceed during the current Covid-19 crisis.

All of these experts are giving very valid points to their reasoning.

You have people talking about mental health, about economics, about schooling, about health, about the environment, about constitutional rights, just to name a few.

It can all be very confusing, especially considering that many of these experts contradict each other.

My advice: Remember the bridge.

Imagine that you are the person who was responsible for the bridge and you were called to explain your decision making process. Would you prefer to say that you chose the option that made the bridge the most structurally safe or would you prefer to say that you chose the option that helped create the least amount of traffic?

How can this be explained to children on a more basic level?

Children should ask themselves: “Which choice would be easier to explain to mom and dad, even if things go wrong?”

And parents, you need to ask yourselves the following before making decisions: “Which choice would be easier to explain to my children, even if things go wrong?”

These times are not simple. Many of these choices are difficult choices with very real and difficult consequences.

Which consequence (or even potential consequence) are you ready to justify to your child, and which will embarrass you in retrospect?

 

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.

To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here

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Monday, April 20, 2020

The Isolation Roller Coaster

“Life is a roller coaster. There are ups; there are downs. There are hills; there are valleys, peaks, and so on.”
-Martin Landau





We are currently living in a very interesting and difficult time.

Each one of us is dealing with our own personal challenges, while many of us are also living with other people who are each dealing with their own individual and unique challenges.

The lack of schooling coupled with social isolation is presenting parents with a challenge like none other they have ever faced.

A challenge that is really without precedent.

While some see obstacles, others see opportunities.

There are huge opportunities to teach our children both the school subjects they are currently missing, as well as important life lessons.

These lessons just need to be presented in a way that the child will accept it.

This is exactly why I love the concept of bridging.

Bridging is where we find a life lesson within a story, video or event, we identify it, discuss it, and find other examples of this life lesson within other contexts.

Recently, my kids and I discovered a very important life lesson while watching videos of roller coasters.

Most roller coasters start with an incline. The people on the coaster are in a seat which gets lifted up the incline via a chain or a motor. Nearly all of the roller coasters that we’ve seen have a staircase next to the track on this initial incline.

One of my sons asked me why all the coasters have this staircase.

The answer to this basic question is an important life lesson.

Despite the fact that we don’t want something to go wrong, despite the fact that we do all within our power to make sure that nothing goes wrong, we still need to have a contingency plan in effect should something go wrong.

Things break.

Things don’t go as planned.

Are we prepared in case of failure?

Then we bridged to different examples.

A tight-rope walker uses a net, despite the fact that he has no intention of falling.

Then we shifted the focus of this lesson to be more inclusive.

We discussed how one shouldn’t leave things for the last minute, lest something go awry.

All this from watching roller coasters in action.

So my message to the parents who have now been given the role of teacher, is to find life lessons within your daily routine. Point out these important life lessons and work with your children on bridging these lessons into their lives.

From a roller coaster one can learn about physics, kinetic energy and gravity.

But they can also learn that proper planning means planning for things going wrong.

These lessons about life aren’t exclusive to roller coasters, they can be seen everywhere.

So for all of you parents out there making lesson plans (or even daily plans) for your children during this time of isolation, include important life lessons into your curriculum.

Don’t just say the lesson with words. Let them see the lesson in practice and then continue the lesson by bridging it into their own lives.

Your children might not learn the same amount of studies as they would have had they been at school during this time, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come out of all of this more educated.


Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.

To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Virus: Seize the Opportunity

“It's surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”
-Barbara Kingsolver





A few years ago I had the privilege of going away on vacation with a number of people in my family.

After a long day of traveling and sightseeing, we sat outside our cabins joking, snacking and playing games. My mother turned to us and asked about herself “We’ve had a long day today and have a long day tomorrow, so why am I up now?”

I turned to her and responded “Because these are the parts of the trip that we end up remembering most”.

She smiled, agreed, and joined us for a few games of Boggle.

Sure we remember the sights and the attractions, but we also remember the interactions we had with our family members. Such as spending time with them, communicating with them and bonding with them.

I’m sharing this story to make a point.

While many are viewing the current Corona Virus situation as a tremendous difficulty (me included) many children are viewing this a vacation and bonus time with parents.

Parents have the power, more so than ever, to create lasting memories and lessons for their child.

What type of lessons and memories are you giving your child now?

Are you showing them that you are approachable or are you showing them they are annoying you anytime they open their mouths?

Are you participating in their learning and entertainment or are you asking them to make their own arrangements?

Every now and then, there is an open door, the ability for parents to connect with their child.

This is one of those times.

Where some see difficulties others see opportunities.

Seize this opportunity to connect with your child.

Years from now they won’t remember this time as the period where they couldn’t do things, they’ll remember it as the time their parents showed interest in them, spent time with them, and created lifelong memories with them.


Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here
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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Why Ask Why?

“I think that probably the most important thing about our education was that it taught us to question even those things we thought we knew.” 
–Thabo Mbeki





**This article will be slightly different than my other articles. It is written in more of a rambling style. Combining two important, yet very different points.**

Growing up in America I was inundated with many catchy slogans for products that companies were trying to get me to buy.

“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t”

“Just Do It”

“They’re Grrrrrreat!”

But there is one slogan that stuck with me, ironically enough, it was for an item that I was too young to purchase.

“Why ask why?”

This was the slogan for a new product from Budweiser known as Bud Dry.

Unfortunately, too many people are following this slogan, and for all the wrong reasons.

Let me explain what I mean.

If there is a controversial issue and I state my side on it, people will automatically assume they know why I side the way I do. They won’t even give me the ability to explain myself.

If we want our children to be able to properly express themselves, we need to allow them to explain their “why” before we proceed in the dialog. 

Just because the twitterverse doesn’t allow them to explain the “why” before they need to defend themselves from their decision doesn’t mean that we need to act similarly.

There is actually a specific reason why I am discussing this, and it is on a topic that I've been meaning to discuss for a long time.

I recently expressed to someone that I am against laws (such as the recent one in Alabama) which ruled that some people who’ve been convicted of sexual abuse of a minor need to receive chemical castration as part of their parole.

Immediately I was accused of being soft on crime, showing too much mercy on the abusers and not caring about victims.

It was assumed that I was against this due to claims of “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Actually, I’m against this for an entirely different reason.

Contrary to popular belief, not every person who sexually abuses a child is a pedophile.

To clarify, there are people who sexually abuse a child despite the fact that
they are not sexually attracted to a child.

These sick individuals will continue to wreak havoc, chemical castration or not.

The reason why I am against chemical castration is because it will give society a false sense of security (e.g. He can be trusted, he has been chemically castrated) when the danger level has not decreased in the slightest.

In summary, there are a few lessons to learn from this episode:
1. Follow the old Enron motto of “Ask Why” and not Bud Dry “Why Ask Why?”. Give your children and others a chance to explain themselves before engaging in a debate.
2. Don’t assume that you know why a person has taken one side over another in a debate.
3. Pedophilia (i.e. the sexual desire for a child) is not the only reason why people sexually abuse children. To put in place an intervention that only solves those who abuse due to a sexual attraction is incomplete.

Then there is the fourth lesson.

We can do things because it makes us feel good, or we can do them because it is what is needed.

For many people the idea of castrating a child molester feels good. Just look at all the comments online when mentioning a child molester. “Kill him”, “Beat him up with a baseball bat” (and more colorful ideas that I won’t mention here). These things are not said as an idea to help make communities safer, rather they are said because it makes the person offering these creative punishments feel better.

Unfortunately, doing something because it makes us feel good or feel safer doesn’t actually mean it makes us safer. Often it can do the exact opposite by giving people a false sense of security.

When doing an intervention of any kind, be truthful with yourself. Ask yourself if you are doing it for the sake of the other person/society or because it will make you feel good/safer.

If it is for the sake of another person or society, go ahead and intervene. Otherwise, the intervention might not be a good choice, despite the feeling it will give you.


Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ignoring the Optics

“In a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness.”
– Robert Griffin III




I sit here typing, not knowing whether I should be saying what is on my mind.

Perhaps I am a hypocrite?

I tell my children that they don’t need to say everything that is on their mind, yet here I am, expressing a thought that I’m not sure I should be expressing.

In some of my earlier articles I've discussed the Law of Unintended Consequences, the idea that with every purposeful act, there will be outcomes that are non intended or unforeseen.

So here goes, here is what I’m wondering whether or not I can say this:

The unintended consequence of political correctness is killing young developing minds.

The idea that one needs to make sure that they don’t insult anyone is suffocating people of this era.

For generations healthy parents were teaching their children to ignore the optics and choose the best option for themselves.

“Hire the best person, regardless of what people say.”

“Don’t not be friends with ‘Kenny’ simply because ‘Jack’ won’t like it.”

“If you like that shirt, wear it! Why should you not wear it just because "Fred" will laugh?”

Now people are scared of making a choice that might make them appear racist or sexist.

Many people from all ages are figuratively walking on eggshells, worrying how a decision or verbal statement might be wrongly interpreted.

Here is a story to illustrate my concern: 

A number of years ago in the United Kingdom there was a report about how members of a certain ethic community in a certain town were abusing the children of their town.

The police were notified from the beginning that there are victims making allegations of abuse, yet the police refused to respond.

Because the police were worried about being branded as racists.

So they did nothing.

Which only empowered the abusers.

Which caused more children to become victims.

Political correctness should mean that we treat all people with equal respect. It should not lead to a reality where criminals and others who are a danger to society are ignored because it will skew the statistics.

It should also not lead to a society where we are more concerned about potential reactions than we are concerned about what is best for oneself and one’s family.

So how does this translate to children?

With many children this is causing them to choose the choice that they believe others want them to make, and not the choice that they want to make.

They will choose to make their parents or friends happy at the expense of their own happiness.

They will sacrifice their own want in order to avoid being given criticism for beliefs that they really don’t have.

They are scared to use their voice to express their opinion, simply because they’ve witnessed what happens to others who have attempted to voice theirs.

Sadly, this reality has also opened them up to be manipulated by people who prey on this type of undue caution. (e.g. “Will you sign my petition asking the governor to pardon this person, or are you racist against people of this ethnic background?).

The goal should be for children to feel safe enough to express their true thoughts and feelings and they should be comfortable enough to choose their own personal wants.

The goal should NOT be that one needs to be so cautious of other people’s feelings that it completely stifles oneself.

So what can parents do?

Two suggestions:

First, teach them about Hanlon’s razor. That is the concept which says: Never attribute to malice that which can adequately explained by stupidity.

The second lesson is not taught through mere verbal education, it is taught through modelling proper behavior.

If children see that their parents aren’t so quick to view every insult and slight as vindictive, perhaps they won't either.

If they see their mother and father aren’t focused on how their neighbors perceive them, perhaps the child won’t be concerned as to how their classmates view them.

The change needs to come from the home.

The change needs to come from us, and that first and foremost means we need to change.

If we model bravery, they can be brave.

If we model a healthy ignorance to the optics, they can too.

However,  if we show them that we care about what others think about us, no amount of words in the dictionary will be able to convince them that they should behave differently.


Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com

Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here
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