Dealing with criticism & what makes us happy

On Gretchen’s Happiness blog there’s a post about how to deal with criticism. Inspired by Gretchen’s own honesty about how not-so-good she is at dealing with criticism, I’ve decided to publish her advice here and comment on it with my own thoughts.

1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you formulate your retorts.

This is very, very hard. When the pulse quickens, blood rushes to your head, the eyes sting, it’s almost a super-human effort to really listen. Only way to deal with this is to use rule no. 4.

2. Don’t be defensive. This is the toughest step for me. With my writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I’m eager to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. Along the same lines…

When the criticism is on the personal level, I find it almost impossible not to be defensive. I’m hurt! But professional criticism in a friendly environment I think I’ve learnt to handle. And I even like it when my sister-in-law criticises my English, because I strive for perfection and she helps me!

3. Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic. Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it just isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective.

Here I also try to use strategy no. 4.

4. Delay your reaction. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. A friend told me that she has a rule for herself: when she’s upset about something that happened at her children’s school, she won’t let herself do anything about it for three days – and usually she decides that no action is better than action.

This is the only thing I can say with certainty that I’ve become better at over the years. Sleep on it! I never send off an angry e-mail the day I write it, always chew on it at least for a day, sometimes weeks. I can proudly say that quite a few angry e-mails have found their way to the trash – where they belonged!

5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings and motives. Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

I try to do this, I really do. But sometimes I find that people don’t believe that I am being honest. And then I really don’t know what to do?

6. Admit your mistakes. This is extremely effective and disarming. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true. Difficult, but true. Admitting mistakes is the first step, then…

I think I’ve become better at this too. But I have also had some bad experiences with it. In the workplace, if you take the blame one time too often (having made a mistake jointly with others) – just to ward off lots of hassle and to be nice to your colleagues, thinking they might take the blame another time – you actually might end up being fired!

7. Explain what you’ve learned. If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it. That, itself, usually mollifies critics.

This is very true. But sometimes it can lead to the most awful self-righteousness from the other party. And then you want to criticise them…

8. Enjoy the fun of failure. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high opens you to criticism. I tell myself to Enjoy the fun of failure to try to re-frame failure and criticism as part of the fun. Otherwise, my dread of criticism can paralyze me.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried this tack. Maybe it’s due to a lack of humour. Must try it next time.

A fantastic book on the subject of happiness
A fantastic book on the subject of happiness

As mentioned I found this on a blog dedicated to the search for happiness. You might not know this, but the whole subject of happiness, how we perceive it and how to achieve it interests me a lot – so much that I even read books about it, not only blogs. The book here on the left is practically my bible. And it’s not “psycho-babble”. He gives no advice about what to do to get happier. He tells us about how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future and that is mind-boggling!

Daniel Gilbert is a good example of something I learned while I worked in the music industry. One must separate the (wo)man from the message! Sometimes I’d be giddy for days because I would get to meet an artist, whose music I adored. And I’d be DISAPPOINTED, because the artist(s) turned out to be a first class a……  Other times I’d been dreading a concert because I found the artist bad or just plain old boring. And had a fantastic time, because the person(s) turned out to be ever so nice/funny/intelligent/sexy or all of those things…

I haven’t met Daniel Gilbert, but I’ve seen clips with him on TED and he’s really quite annoying to listen to – it’s something with his swear-words and jokes I can’t handle. But try to listen to what he’s actually saying and ignore his persona. And then go buy the book! This particular video is quite long, but I PROMISE you that it’s SO worthwhile to see it through to the end, where he talks about terrorism and our response to it (the clip is from 2005). There are quite a few videos on TED about Happiness. Find them here.

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Voices of reason

There might be more than good cause for hand-wringing, exaggerations and “loud” statements over the state of things in Palestine. But I believe that the mellow and calm voice of reason is the one that will get us places. Listen to this woman, Syria’s first lady (read about her here first):

She says the most important things within the first 2-3 minutes if you’re too busy to watch the whole interview.

Ezra Klein points to another voice of reason, Anthony Cordesman. He ends the article published through Centre for Strategic and International Studies like this:

As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.

We should also listen to what intelligent people on “the other side” have to say. Here is an interview with Bernard-Henri Levy and here’s one with Israeli soldier and history scholar Michael Oren. With all respect for these two scholars, I think they both grossly underestimate how much Hamas and therefore all the militants in the Middle East gain from this and how much this will harm Israel and then the rest of us in the long run and, no less, how much harm it does to the remaining moderate Arab countries, just as Mrs. Al-Assad says in the interview at the top of this page.

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The Frost & the Rat

This morning it was the MOST unpleasant weather. It was freezing cold and a thick icy fog covered the land. Yukkk! Poor Dane had his beloved football cancelled (icy pitch) and then of course he was dressed all wrong for selling cakes at the farmer’s market.

Blueberry muffins, carrot/orange cake, Cornish Fairings.
Blueberry muffins, carrot/orange cake, Cornish Fairings.

We had plans to go up to London to visit British Museum to see some mummies (Dane has taken a keen interest in all things Egyptian lately), but it was so horrible outside that we just nipped down to Marks & Spencers for some emergency food and to the hobby store for some paraphernalia for making a RAT. Dane had seen this done on one of his favourite programmes on TV, SMART. Dane presents his creation in the below two videos.

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenelabeet/3185122177/[/flickrvideo] [flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenelabeet/3185950008/[/flickrvideo]

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Life as a busy bee and a crippling cold

have kept me from blogging. No running away from the busy bee, but must extend working day at other end! On Sunday I read a very thought provoking article in The Sunday Times, which they’ve been kind enough to publish online. It’s by another of the paper’s excellent writers, Bryan Apleyard and it’s about the possibility of actually proving the existence of an afterlife!

I guess that when someone close to you die or is close to dying, and when you yourself feel mortality creeping up on you, these things become important. I don’t particularly want to “go to Heaven”, but am no fan of the idea of just disappearing without a trace. I always wonder what atheists tell their children when someone close dies? “Your best friend got run over by a car and now he’s nothing.” It may be that I’m just a coward, but I could never say that!

Something along these lines is also this TED talk by a neuro scientist. You’ll have to bear with her absolutely horrible accent and just listen to what she actually says and the humour with which she says it. 

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Humanity

A Nigerian man speaks of humanity so your trust in your fellow man is renewed. Much needed!

A few quotes:

His mother: Anything a man can do, I can fix.

Also his mother: Oh these Americans! We gave them a language, why don’t they use it?

Prisoners on death row in Nigeria: “Take that Spidey!” – being taught English by a 14-year old boy from a Spiderman comic.

(Don’t know where the extra picture came from, but can’t figure out how to remove it…)

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Good bye old friend

Last night a very dear old friend of mine died in a traffic accident. Hilmer Hassig. To you English-speakers the name probably means nothing, but to all Danes with a love of music, the name is also a sound. The sound of a guitar, so completely its own. Before I met Hilmer, guitar solos to me were just the sound of musical bragging, only slightly less annoying than drum solos. But Hilmer’s solos were different. He didn’t show off. He showed us a little bit of his soul – the soul he otherwise liked to pretend he didn’t have. His guitar playing was melodious, but never honeyed, deeply original, but always respectful of the song and always, always innovative.

We met almost 30 years ago through a mutual friend. We came from totally different worlds, but had music as a common denominator. Over the next decade we “made music together”. I.e. he made the music and I/we (the record company) did all the easy bits – like trying to stretch the hardly existing funds, getting an acceptable album cover together, trying to plead with him about his infamous 8 hour snare drum sound checks etc. etc. On a night which should have been triumphant, Loveshop (Hilmer & Jens) were angry with me (it was always money) and I didn’t get to share their moment, when they got a Danish Grammy Award for that year’s best pop album. But a few weeks later they did something that has only happened to me that one time in all my years in the music bizz. They came and apologised. And gave me their Grammy. It has had pride of place wherever I’ve lived and still has. Not because it’s a Grammy, but because of the unique circumstances under which it was given to me.

Hilmer taught me lots and humbly I believe I taught him a bit too. Just not about the same things…

Not very long ago we became Facebook friends and Hilmer sweetly asked me if I’d share a cup of coffee one day – it had been more than a year, maybe two since we last met. He hadn’t heard that I don’t live in the country any more. I’m sorry that we never got to share that cup of coffee.

It’s unbearable that he’s not here any longer. But as a friend wrote on Facebook, the all stars band up there in Heaven just keeps getting better and better.

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Scatterbrain

I’ve always been a Scatterbrain. My memory is lousy, I have to write everything down and often I forget even that. My mind is always jumping ahead of the current situation – that’s super sometimes, but often it’s more than a little distracting. Today, when I was supposed to do two other things, I stumbled over an article…

I swear, I read the whole thing and my mind almost didn’t jump. I remember where it jumped to along the way, because due to the theme of the article, I made it my business to take note of my mind-jumps.

I was visiting this blog, which is a bi-product of some homework I’ve done for my course at uni. The blogger linked to the article in an ambiguous way, which made me click it. And once I’d seen the headline, I just had to read it. The fact that it’s in one of my all time favourite magazines, The Atlantic, of course made it even more palatable. The writer is Nicolas Carr. He has a blog, which after a cursory glance looks interesting, but demanding. The article is called Is Google Making us Stupid?

Here’s a few excerpts:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

But every new technology has had an effect on our brain, as noted by Socrates:

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

In the end paragraph he returns to Kubrick’s 2001, which he quoted in the opening paragraph:

Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

I don’t have such a gloomy view of my own thinking as Nicolas Carr. I acknowledge the disadvantages, but think that there must be some great advantages in being able to think “multilaterally” rather than “unilaterally”?

Back to where my mind jumped: At one point it jumped to a piece of Internet lore, which I’ve returned to many times: The Last Lecture by Randy Pauch, a university professor, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, gave a farewell lecture about grasping life’s opportunities, even in the face of death:

If any of you have not yet sat through it, you really must. He has a wonderful lecture for us all. It has been viewed 7 1/2 million times on Youtube! Why did my mind jump to that in the middle of this article? I don’t know!

Also, at the mention of Socrates, I though about something I’ve recently read by Aristotle (don’t worry, it was in connection with an essay for uni): “A speech (or document or whatever) consists of three things, the speaker, the subject which is treated in the speech, and the hearer to whom the speech is addressed” – logos, pathos & ethos. I thought of that because isn’t it so, that sometimes, you’re just very, very far from being “the intended audience” of a text – it’s either above you, beneath you or entirely irrelevant to you! When I read stuff like that I get distracted very easily… I’m afraid it happens rather frequently with academic papers for my courses. Sometimes I even think they don’t want me to read it. And certainly not to enjoy reading it.

And twice I suddenly remembered what it was, I’d set out to do, when I settled at the computer. Wrote it down – must do it when I’ve finished this post ;-)

And in the middle of the article I jumped to read about the writer. I knew I’d looked him up before, but had forgotten. I don’t think that’s something Google has done to my brain. I’m afraid I was like that years before the Internet entered my life (and that was in 1995, if anybody wants to know…).

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Economy for dummies

Here’s something every television station should broadcast. An easy-to-understand explanation of the credit crisis:

This talented guy is up there with BBC’s Robert Peston when it comes to educate the masses on these complicated matters. As almost always with things economic, it was Marginal Revolution with the pointer.

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It would be funny, if…

The Times yesterday (paper, not online) had a run-down of some of the Sarah Palin videos on the web. There’s the Saturday Night Live version of the VP debate. The “maverick-ing” is to die for.

Then there’s a “trailer” for the film “Don’t cry for me Alaska”. Actually, I don’t find it that funny, but judge for yourself. I think this one about John McCain’s age is better.

On Huffington Post (a liberal online news site) there’s a clip from a talkshow with Alec Baldwin. I really don’t like Alec Baldwin as an actor – I think he seriously lacks talent. But as an impersonator he does pretty well. See him wink and charm as Sarah Palin here. And if you didn’t see the debate and have doubts whether she’d really do that, look here. I saw the debate myself – she really did wink more than once. And for good measure you also get one of her many mavericks here.

Ever wonder about what a Maverick really is? Here’s the answer from m-w.com:

Samuel A. Maverick † 1870 American pioneer who did not brand his calves

1. an unbranded range animal ; especially : a motherless calf

2. an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

Several of these links are called something with tinyurl.com. Ever wondered what that is? Well, it’s a kind of shortcut you can use, when you want to direct people to a website with a very long URL. Anybody can use it. See Wikipedia’s explanation here.

Here’s Obama’s latest TV ads. And here’s McCain’s. If you watch the “Dangerous” ad on McCain’s site, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the quote is somewhat out of context. Here’s from Huffington Post:

The issue stems from a remark the Illinois Democrat made in August 2007, in Nashua, New Hampshire. Speaking to supporters, the Senator called for an increase of U.S. troops in that war zone because, without the influx, operations were being limited to air raids that resulted in many preventable civilian deaths.

“Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban,” Obama said, “so we’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages, and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”

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Ministry of Food

Last night, before I settled down to watch the vice-presidential debate, I watched the first of a new series of programmes with Jamie Oliver. I don’t know if it’s become less trendy to like Jamie Oliver, but I actually like him more and more. His life could be easy – very easy. But he’s chosen to rant (his own expression) and thus to make enemies, because lots of people hate ranting. (I do a bit of ranting myself, so know what he’s talking about). He rants about food obviously. But his concern is a country where people have forgotten how to cook. They don’t know what real food tastes like and they certainly don’t know how to shop for it, prepare it, even eat it!

He visited a couple of single mums on welfare. One of them had her children eating out of Styrofoam boxes on the kitchen floor – who needs a dining table, when there are no real meals? – her 4-year old daughter had never tasted a home cooked meal in her life. Jamie took a look in her fridge. The vegetable drawers were filled to the brim with – chocolate bars! And there was not a trace of any vegetables, any fruit, any kind of real food in the house.

That’s what he’s determined to change. He wants all of us who can cook to take it upon us to teach other people to cook. He’s even put it into a system. Read about it on his Ministry of Food homepage.

I want to teach some people to cook. I want to take part in this. I’m often surprised at what people have – and maybe even more at what they have not – in their fridges and kitchen cupboards. And at what’s considered “a meal”. When Dane tells me what some of the other children have in their lunch boxes, I’m genuinely shocked. It’s cheese dippers, white sandwich bread with square slices of “ham”, so-called yoghurt (15-25% sugar), rarely fruit and certainly no veg.

I know it’s quite unlikely that any of my readers 1) can’t cook 2) want to learn 3) live near here. But – if that were the case, please drop me a line and we’ll set up a date for a cookery class with a nice meal at the tail end.

If you live far away or just can’t be bothered to have me as a teacher, but still want to improve your cooking skills, I can only once more recommend the excellent Videojug, where you can learn to cook a wide variety of lovely meals. Bring you laptop into the kitchen – and cook!

Btw. what kind of food do you think Sarah Palin cooks for her family?

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Are we saved by the bell?

Oh my, a lot of water under the bridge since my last post. It’s certainly a fast-moving world we live in! Reading it now I can see that my previous post could sound like I am like those “staunch Republicans” who weren’t in favour of any intervention at all. But I am, just didn’t like Paulson’s original plan. I still don’t love the plan, but then, who does? There  was a great quote in the New York Times the other day from a Texan Republican. He said that voting for the plan would be voting yes to “the slippery slope to socialism”. HA! That’s so funny!

Here’s the article and here’s the full quote:

Early in the House debate, Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said he intended to vote against the package, which he said would put the nation on “the slippery slope to socialism.” He said that he was afraid that it ultimately would not work, leaving the taxpayers responsible for “the mother of all debt.”

Today the Congress has luckily come to their senses and they’ve voted yes. So maybe all the Wall Street hysterics can calm down a little and realise that our society can’t really function if we can’t borrow money from each other. I thought those guys coveted Capitalism! But it’s probably only when the money flows into their pockets. Isn’t it funny how the state is always supposed to bail out banks in trouble? Who’s ever heard of banks easing the terms or lowering the rent a little to help out the state in a pinch?

On a related subject a friend posted a great video on Facebook the other day – it’s Sarah Palin explaining the bailout plan. It’s hilariously funny. If you can decipher what she’s actually saying (or what she means for that matter), please post it in a comment. On Supreme Court decisions, here’s her first answer. And here’s her answer after a couple of days of intense rehearsals. Impressive. But is it coherent?

A kind person has made a 10 minute version of last night’s vice-presidential debate with extra emphasis on all the gaffes. See it here. We’ve recorded the whole thing and when I’ve finished this post, I’ll go watch it with my husband. Better than any movie! But – before we get carried away I’ve found a very useful site. About.com has apparently taken over Urban Legends. That doesn’t make the site any less great. I WARMLY recommend it whenever you hear something or read something that has a bit of a false ring to it – or if it’s just too good to be true. Anyway, they’ve collected all the stories floating around the web about Sarah Palin and tells us which ones are true and which ones aren’t.

And now I need to go sit in the sofa. I’m so full! Made pizza tonight and ate too much. Also made a nice carrot cake. Will I find room for it?

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American television

 I’m often a bit behind in reading The Sunday Times. It is not always that you can devote an entire Sunday to the devouring of The Times. So this morning while I was having breakfast, I read the Culture section. After an interesting article about Baz Luhrmann‘s new film Australia (see trailer here), I got to the previously mentioned AA Gill commenting on British and American television. If you’re interested, you can read the bit about British television yourself here, but I’ll quote his bit about American television. I really wish I could have written it that way myself – we often thought and discussed along those lines while we were there:

 

I have spent the past fortnight in America, immersed, or submerged, in rolling news. There is something numbly comforting about the repetitious lapping of CNN. They say that, after the initial gagging and panic, drowning is quite a pleasant way to go, and that’s rather like watching Fox News — as you drift into unconsciousness, other people’s lives flash before your eyes. The rolling news channels give you the impression of being constantly informed while actually telling you very little. The world sidles past like a great river, and you never have to get wet. Disasters and basketball matches, comic animals and those strangely misshapen commentators all float away with equal inconsequence.

I was reminded again of two strange truths about American broadcasting. One is the astonishing number and variety of snake-oil medicinal commercials, not just advertising patent medicines but whole new diseases. Medical care is one of the main broken bones of contention in the coming American election, but nobody has actually pointed out that getting the halt, the flatulent, the palsied, the breathless and the hypochondriacs to pay for television is a very weird way of financing the entertainment and gaiety of a nation.

 

Brilliant powers of observation!

In a couple of hours I fly with boring Sterling to Copenhagen. Btw. if you’re NOT in Denmark, but want to fly there, Lastminute.com is always, ALWAYS, cheaper with the Sterling tickets than Sterling themselves. This particular ticket (out Thursday and back Sunday) I got for £100, whereas Sterling wanted £300. Don’t even mention SAS

Am going to participate in a 90th birthday celebration in the family. It really is something, isn’t it, to reach 90 and still have all your faculties?

So, see you on Monday…

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Double standards

I was recently enlightened on a new blog on The Times’ page. It’s called Alpha Mummy and it’s full of good stuff. Some pretty clever writers who do a lot of reading, off line and online.

Here’s on the double standards women political candidates are subjected to. It’s the Tonight Show again. I’m afraid I find him very, very funny. He must have some fantastic researches to always find just that clipping that gives his current victim away. And the fact that he always lets them give themselves away. He just sits there, leering…

Here’s an entirely different post about influential and infamous women from ancient times till now. If I tell you that both Lucrezia Borgia and Carla Bruni are mentioned, will you click through?

And here’s an article written by an American Republican woman in The Times, which more or less answers the question I asked a couple of days ago. What are the not-so-religious etc. Republicans going to vote now? The sad answer probably is: They are not. Since they can’t bring themselves to vote for Mr. Obama, they’ll just stay home and do nothing. And if McCain/Palin win, they can sit on their high horses and say that they didn’t vote for them. No, but they didn’t vote against them either.

On the day – may it never come – when Mrs. Palin is president of the United States and wreaks havoc of all the remaining things we love about America, what will these people say in their defense?

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