Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Over at Salon, Lauren Frey Daisley relates how a personal experiment went for her in "My Month of No Snark." She decided to see whether being nicer to people would improve her mood generally, so she lived by the following rules for a month:
I cannot say or write anything that could be construed as not nice. [She later acknowledges that, "When it concerns real human strife, it's ultimately not nice to just be polite." --ed]Her results surprised her and are interesting to consider:
I do not have to school other people on being kind.
I am allowed to tease in a good-natured way.
... Without the ability to vent, I had only two options: to let something relatively stupid eat away at me -- or to just let it go. So I tried that. What did it matter if a stranger thought my marriage was challenged because of my first name? Giving his weird, offhand theory any stock would be as productive as stepping on a crack in the sidewalk and worrying it would hurt my mom. So I decided there was something to the old preteen-teen mantra: Whatever.I don't think it's accurate to say, "What you do changes how you think," but I think Daisley has shown us something with her experiment, and the key to seeing exactly what this is is to consider a point she raises in passing and a realization that came to her at the end of her experiment. First, the point:
Instead of me denying my true thoughts, I stopped giving the unproductive ones much weight. Adding credence to the theory that changing what you do changes how you think, unkind thoughts just dissipated in a matter of days...
Maybe I've had too many years of therapy, or maybe we've all had too many years of Oprah and the imperative to "get it all out."And now, the realization:
One thing that hadn't occurred to me: Buddy didn't mean anything at all by what he said. It was a harmless attempt at conversation, maybe even a touching way of reaching out. Either way, why waste energy assuming ill intent? Haven't we all said something stupid and realized it sounded insulting? If we stop lashing out against perceived insults and stop subtly eroding our friendships -- or even kind relations with strangers -- by giving so much attention to the things that bug us, quality of life inches incrementally but noticeably closer to excellent.In other words, Daisley's snarkiness was a manifestation of a mental habit she had fallen into -- of indulging in her immediate emotional reaction to the people around her and simply spewing out whatever came to her mind without introspection. I am sure that even the basic question, "Is this really worth my attention?" was left unasked.
Daisley's article shows the value, in terms of improving one's emotional state, one's ability to evaluate others, and the quality of one's relationships, of not just immediately venting negative emotions. Absent her usual outlet, she instead confronted what it was about so many little things that used to bug her and, in the process, discovered that most of them weren't worth her time.
To the extent that her actions changed how she thought, I think it was because her actions both mimicked what a more deliberate person might have done, and caused her to start doing some of these things absent her usual alternative. She thus started enjoying some of the benefits of acting more deliberately. Perhaps the key to getting the most out of trying on such aphoristic advice as, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," is to conceptualize what putting it into practice accomplishes.
----- In Other News -----
I like the fact that there's an ad campaign, "in which inspiring poems (or parts thereof) are read by famous people for the Union Bank of Switzerland under the unifying title: Thoughts that Transcend Time."
One point Paul Graham made in the essay I linked to yesterday was, "I think the way to 'solve' the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you." Motivationally, yes. A to-do list will get you only so far. To-do lists have their place, but they have to be prepared correctly to really be effective.
I enjoyed this quote about formal and informal levels of usage from the preface of my Paper Tiger version of Norman Foerster and J. M. Steadman's Writing and Thinking: "Or, to use the words of Professor Harold W. Bentley, the authors have tried not to let the 'virtue of tolerance' be carried 'so far that it leads to the vice of slovenliness.'" (For those who might be interested in the book, the Paper Tiger site hosts a review by Jean Moroney.)