This is just a quick note to record a notable change in perspective I’ve had recently about initiating conversations. Previously, this is something I would not usually do, even around people I already knew. This lead to a lot of situations with awkward silence, for example if I was standing around with someone waiting for something.

My reasoning process was something along the lines of, “they must not want to talk, or otherwise they would say something”. Since I didn’t want to annoy them, I didn’t say anything. Recently, however, I have been going out of my way to start conversations in such situations. To my surprise, most people do not seem annoyed at all, in fact they seem genuinely pleased.

This stark contrast with my expectation and the reality makes me curious what was mistaken about my previous viewpoint, and how I came to adopt such a perspective in the first place. In retrospect, the obvious objection to my reasoning is that the other person could well be thinking the same thing as me. Perhaps they would even prefer to talk, but dislike the act of initiating; if one accepts this perspective then the initiator is even doing a favour by saying something—exactly the reverse of my previous view.

What could have caused me to get things backwards? It’s not as if there is a lot of conventional wisdom saying you shouldn’t initiate; the closest thing I can think of is feminists complaining about men overzealously initiating women (typically in a dating context). I have to wonder if this was a case where I didn’t want to do something so I rationalized a reason against doing it.

Leaving my head

The TED website hosts a large collection of inspiring talks on many different topics. The talk on how schools kill creativity is particularly fantastic; both funny and insightful, and is in fact the most-watched TED talk to date. During it Ken Robinson makes the following remark:

There’s something curious about professors in my experience — not all of them, but typically — they live in their heads.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this describes me perfectly. (Although I am a graduate student rather than a professor.)

This behaviour has both its strengths and weaknesses. For example, I have almost never felt lonely in my life, despite being alone a good portion of the time. Perhaps this is because by living in my head I am able to keep myself company. Indeed, my modus operandi when thinking about something could be described as a “conversation” with myself in which I try to make arguments for both sides of an issue.

However, like all human emotions, loneliness undoubtedly exists for a reason. In this case, it seems to be a trigger to make friends, which in turn improves one’s well-being. Without loneliness one has less short-term pain, but also less motivation to seek out ultimately beneficial connections.

In my case, I never gave much thought to the downsides, or even viewed them with a kind of perverse pride; the “cost of doing business” as it were. In short, I didn’t make much of an effort to ameliorate the absent-mindedness; in fact, I thought such traits were essentially unchangeable.

Early this year I decided to make a conscious effort to get out of my head. There were multiple reasons, but one is that almost every job I do involves interacting with other people in some way, so I figure that becoming more empathetic will actually improve the quality of my work.

How does one go about venturing out of their head? Well, I am still learning that. One step I’m taking is to learn—and remember!—the names of people I recognize from somewhere. I haven’t had a 100% success rate, but I’m already much better than I was previously, when I would be likely to forget someone’s name before my conversation with them had finished. Additionally, I will not ignore the fact that yes, I have a body, and to this end will pay more attention to things like exercise, diet, and appearance.

First post

So I took the plunge and decided to start up a blog, primarily as a way practising writing, something I’ve always enjoyed but never made a habit out of. I read a fair number of blogs, but to be honest I wouldn’t miss most of them if they shut down. I’ve found a few which consistently produce high-quality content; here are three of my favourites:

  • Paul Graham – A fantastic collection of essays. I like Graham’s writing style more than anyone else I’ve ever read, and don’t understand why the clear, matter-of-fact style that he employs isn’t very commonly used. Many of his essays are about entrepreneurship, which I am not especially interested in, yet I still find his writing engaging.
  • Scott Adams – Best known as the creator of Dilbert, his blog is a constant source of unique ideas. As a compulsive thinker who loves kicking around new ideas I look forward to reading his near-daily posts.
  • Eric Raymond – An open-source software advocate with an extremely strong ego. The unusual part about that is he actually has the accomplishments to back it up. He writes about a diverse number of things, and his writing is usually interesting even when I don’t care much about the topic.

My intention when starting this blog was to only write about things of interest to me. I had thought that this would necessitate being boring to everyone except in the case where a common interest is shared. Judging from the above list, in the optimal case that’s not actually true.