On different ways to scan the environment

In these past days I have been noticing two extremes of a range, in the way people scan the outside world. These will be my thoughts and observations, even if I can easily guess that this has been analysed before by other people and quite likely by domain experts. If you have sources related to this topic, please leave a comment!

I first thought that the extremes of this range could be similar to the prey and predator schemas of scanning the world, but I realised I know way too little about it, so I will not use those labels. I will use instead the terms “constant scanner” and “optional scanner”.

The constant scanners tend to check the environment (which can be the landscape, the email inbox, the task list, the servers in the network, the news…) quite often, with both the fear of having missed out an incoming problem, and of not being sure to look for the right signals for the problem. The constant scanners tend to be suspicious and look at things under multiple angles, and are reluctant to classify a signal without cross-checking multiple signals/information sources. They tend to be alarmed by small deviations from the usual data flow, as they are afraid it is a sign of a problem that can grow large if not addressed in time. They tend to assume they missed a sign, and try to get better at observing.

On the other end of the range, the optional scanners tend to classify signals and issues once and for ever, check the environment when they decide it is time for it, and address problems when they grow beyond a certain size. They tend to expect the environment to send signals in their own language, i.e. that they don’t have to interpret or fill up with further information. They are often complaining that the signals from the environment are not clear enough for them to act, and tend to hold the environment responsible.

There is of course the whole set of nuances between those two, and the same person can fluctuate along the range, depending on time or on the activity.

I find myself very often near the constant scanner extreme, and I realise I spend a lot of time trying to notice incoming issues even outside my own area of responsibility, mostly because I wish to spare other people the burden of a problem grown too big, and therefore I lend them with pride and even joy my sharpened attention to details. But sometimes I feel like the dog that barks to warn about the incoming storm, and is asked to stop: I know I am not 100% sure it will be a life-threatening storm, but I would never forgive myself for not barking for a really serious event. I wish this could be seen as a positive skill, that allows others to focus on their activities, knowing that I’m keeping a vigilant eye on the surroundings, and would warn them in time.

That’s it for now. I look forward for your comments and for links for further reading!

Unusual books at the library

I regularly visit the libraries around my place and I’m delighted to find rather unusual books. Some of them can be put in the category “oddly specific”:

You can see a guide on how to use concrete for decorative art projects, a guide on how to keep piranhas in an aquarium, and a very thorough manual on how to build different kinds of chicken stalls. Not pictured here are books on goat keeping, beekeeping (with focus on beehives in the city), and very encouraging “My first ducks” guides! I absolutely love the practical approach of this type of books, it is so encouraging for me, as I need a lot of information before even starting to dream about a new project.

Another category of books that bears strong surprises is the cooking category. Among the most varied cuisines and traditions, there are over-the-top celebrations of food like “Sauerkraut Powerkraut”, absolutely innovative proposals like “Köstliche Insekten” (“Tasty Insects”), and half-serious ones like “Die Bier-Diät”:

Not pictured was a shelf of pro-veganism books with an anti-veganism book among them. I appreciated how more than one voice was represented, and by having a look at the anti-veganism book, I think it contained reasonable objections and encouraged critical thinking. That’s why I keep looking for thought-provoking books, and am glad that librarians fill the shelves with such a refreshing selection 🙂

Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!

vs.

  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on happinessishereblog.com, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new  awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

Find the differences #3: taking sides

I was talking with a good friend about comfort zones, and the discussion got heated (each of us sort of got kicked out of their comfort zone 😀 ). I later thought at how we talked, and found two sentences I want to compare in this post:

  1. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something”
  2. “It’s common that people disagree with you about something, but when this happens between us, I try my best to understand your points and discuss fairly”

The first form of the sentence is the one I hear most often. What hurts me is that it is not clear if the person means that it happens with anyone, including your closest friends, partner(s), and family. I can’t resign to that!

Source: tumblr

The first sentence implies the side taken by the other person, so if it is a person close to me, they probably imply they are on my side. There are times when the other person sides with you, and some where they disagree so deeply that they can’t – and I really need to know it. Guessing would be dangerous, or unneccessarily cautious!

I see “taking sides” as deciding whether to fight someone else’s opinion, or to examine it together. I assume that parents are always on their children’s side: I mean, they try their best to examine the children’s opinions in a clear but calm fashion, rather than fighting them like dogs’ bad habits (or horse vices). I am horrified at the thought of children (of any age) not having parents “on their side”, therefore having to prepare for a mental war with them, where they actually could lose.

It is not yet about the positions about a topic – it is a promise that the discussion will not turn into a lawyer’s outwitting challenge. Both parts promise not to exploit the other’s weaknesses in speech, emotions, and coherence. I am aware that it is not the default for the majority of people I meet randomly in the city, but I want it to be a clear agreement with the people I consider close to me. To put it in positive terms: we agree on sharing our ideas in a safe environment, where issues and divergences are discussed with respect and honesty.

(Thinking about it further, it is really difficult to “be on the same side” of a person with deeply different opinions on many topics, and that makes me think that it’s unlikely that this person will ever be among my close friends; anyway, I try to extend safe discussing habits to all discussions.)