You should respect your boss

Not because she’s right; not because you like her; not because she can fire you, but merely because she’s your boss.

Maybe it’s because college campuses tend to be liberal bastions, and liberals score low on respect for authority as a moral foundation; they’re more likely to define themselves by their opposition to power. Or maybe it’s because western, rich, and democratic societies value individual autonomy over group cohesion.

Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed an appalling lack of respect for authority on our campus, and I’m guessing it’s not much different on other campuses. Of course, people in power need to be held accountable, but I’m not noticing anything egregious.

The solution is simple, but it does require you to give up much of your ego.

The teams that win the most

I think the teams that win the most are the same teams that respond positively to the following question: “In general, can you trust your teammates and coaches?”

All the tactics and strategic planning are secondary, by far, to the issue of trust.

Cheating on finals

If it’s art, students will find ways to do more of it.

If it’s work, students will find ways to do less of it.

You can force students to complete their work, but you can’t force them to learn, or grow, or change.

Students will do their art, regardless of what you tell them.

Is Instagram recording your conversations?

The theory is that your phone is listening to you so that social media apps can show you ads targeted to what you talk about, but I don’t think that should bother you, because what’s already happening might be worse.

If you have social media accounts at all, or a credit card, or regularly use Google, then tech companies know way more about you than some conversations could divulge. They have so much data on us that they can predict when a woman is pregnant before she knows herself. They can predict when a couple is going to get divorced. They can predict disease, and the list goes on.

Algorithms are frighteningly intelligent. Once they know you they begin to show you advertisements and other content that modify your behavior without your knowing. If an algorithm determines that you’re 70% likely to get a divorce, it might show you an ad for a divorce attorney that makes it 80% likely you’ll get a divorce. We already know that Google alters its search results based on the person searching, but in the future we might see news articles change their content based on the politics of the person reading.

It’s subtle, and it’s supposed to be, but once you realize the implications it’s terrifying. It’s the slow, invisible loss of human freedom.

William Gibson predicted this in his 1984 science fiction novel Neuromancer, which was adapted into the blockbuster film The Matrix, and if you haven’t seen the film I think you should. It’s on Netflix:

Every time Donald Trump tweets

People respond. Responding takes very little courage.

Some people respond in agreement, but it’s not that Donald Trump’s tweet changed their minds about something; it’s that their worldview already agreed with whatever Donald Trump tweeted, or that he can do no wrong.

Some people respond in disagreement, not because they thought really hard about whatever was tweeted, but because they don’t like Donald Trump, and anything he tweets obviously needs a rebuttal.

And the country becomes just a little more divided.

Hearts and minds can be changed digitally, but that doesn’t make it the best way do it, or even a good one. Hearts and minds are best changed face-to-face, but that takes courage.

Maybe the best solution is for Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Kevin Systrom, and the rest to hold a joint press conference tomorrow saying something to the effect of, “Sorry everyone, this whole social media thing didn’t work the way we planned it. We’re going to shut it all down and start over.”

Becoming famous

The Muse does not care if you become famous; the Muse just wants your Work to be made.

I put “Work” in capital letters to distinguish it from other, lesser forms of work: homework, e-mailing, washing dishes. All necessary work, but not the Work.

You may have missed the Muse asking for your work, being busy with Netflix and organic chemistry as you were, but she’s been there a long time, and she’s not going away.

When asked for the most worthwhile investment he’s ever made, the writer Steve Pressfield responded, “I believe in investing in your heart. That’s all I do, really. I’m a servant of the Muse. All my money is on her.”


Whose job is it to care about our students?

On Monday there was a University Senate meeting to discuss competing plans on how to reorganize academics at Fredonia. It’s a hot-topic issue–the meeting lasted for 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Before I went in to listen I saw a student-athlete, a biology major, sitting in the lobby of the Science Center writing an essay. I tried to explain what the meeting was about, and how serious it was for the future of academics.

She smiled: “Do you think they could make it any easier?”

It turns out that students don’t care about university affairs–whether or not they should is someone else’s debate–but they do really want help.

“Have empathy for our students,” isn’t listed in anyone’s job description, but it’s there if you want it.

Bed, not boys

I think people make poor relationship choices when they’re stressed.

One of the easiest ways to relieve stress is to sleep more.

Put your phone down. Go to bed.

More than your fair share

There’s an idea in business called the “80-20 Rule,” that in any given company 80 percent of the value is created by 20 percent of the people. It’s more of a rule of thumb, but it’s held up in any company I’ve worked for: a few people do a ton of work; everyone else does what they’re told.

This flies in the face of the typical classroom group project, in which everyone does their “fair share.”

There is no fair share outside of the well-intentioned classroom walls. The people who do more than their fair share get promoted, make more money, and are generally happier than the people waiting to be told what to do.

I think you have a problem if you’re not finding yourself doing more than your fair share of the work, frustrating as it may be.

It’s WEIRD to move off-campus



This is an unusual combination of human traits, and yet, they describe most college students. It turns out that college students in the U.S. are a statistical outlier in relation to the rest of the world.

WEIRD people value autonomy and independence above all else, and so it’s not unusual to see college freshmen demand a single room. It’s not unusual for a sophomore to move off-campus, where she can have more space to herself. Here in the U.S. we value our personal rights and freedom, and we get annoyed when we have to share them with others.

There are obvious upsides to this that us western, educated people understand, but the downsides are somewhat hidden. For instance, higher education research shows that students who feel disconnected from others are less likely to graduate. For instance, rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in the U.S. are at all-time highs. For instance, last year the U.K. actually appointed a “Minister of Loneliness,” to address epidemic levels of that feeling, which we know to be a major public health concern akin to smoking.

This would all be bizarre to a multi-generation family living in a remote Indian village. And even though gender inequality might be rampant–which the Westerner shames them for–their valuing community over autonomy helps them evade the Westerner’s loneliness and anxiety.

Indeed, every moral system has trade-offs.

[h/t to Jonathan Haidt]