Saturday, November 29, 2014

People of New York - more stories

On Monday, I met a self-proclaimed Grunkle. He's an incredibly cheery grand-uncle. He unconvincingly tried to get me to believe that he's 102 but he's actually 75. He said he's very happy and he attributes a large part of his happiness to his faith, as a practicing Catholic. In Manhattan, it's unusual to meet such happy people who share their smiles and silliness with strangers like me.

Last Saturday, we went to a church to pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and this one guy in his early twenties, Daniel, was so diligent and often worked alongside us but never said hello. After a long while, I introduced myself and learned that he's never been to that church before and doesn't know much about God, and his favorite religious text is Paradise Lost.  He told me about his sand-blown glass vases which he makes and sells. I asked if he enjoys being an artist, to which he replied, "It's a good thing I'm autistic, otherwise I would go crazy with the slow, precise work required to make the vases." An interesting perspective on thankfulness.

When with the Grove City students who came to serve in NYC, I also spoke with a number of homeless people on the streets of Midtown. A young bearded writer told us about his journey to New York and being homeless since he arrived. He's never been short on food; he has many warm coats to survive winter; and he has friends both in NYC and in LA; so he said one of his bigger troubles is simply finding a place to shower. He preferred to live on the streets, write, and "have all the free time in the world" than to have a desk job and no free time. I suppose we all have different values.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

People of Washington DC

I've met some more people this week... stories from Washington DC:
I was thrilled to meet three delightful Londoners who are participating in the Atlas Network think tank MBA program, but I feel awkward sharing stories about people who I'm now Facebook friends with. However, one of them instantly invited me to his birthday party which falls over my next visit to London, another bought a round for us all at the hotel bar, and the third helped me fabricate a creative story about the origins of my pocket watch necklace. Londoners are pretty much my favorite.
Zecharius is the friendliest barista I've ever met, working at Au Bon Pain. While I placed my order, he introduced himself. He proudly told me he came from Benin (West Africa), and that he's been in the states for five years. He is one year away from finishing his bachelors in civil engineering, a skill he knows he can use in any country in the world. None of his family is in the states, but he's not sure whether he will return or not once he graduates. I asked if he's always this friendly, and he said you never know who you'll meet. So true.
Ahmed is the slowest cab driver I've ever seen, frequently going under the speed limit. He's from Pakistan and works a full time job in Fairfax, but he also drives for Uber on the weekends. At the risk of being obnoxious, I kept asking him to speed up, explaining that I was going to be late for the opera. Although his English was perfect, he couldn't seem to understand the concept of speeding up. Nonetheless - with some prayer - I arrived at the Kennedy Center just before the opening number of La Boheme.
On an average week, I meet 5-10 people randomly, most of whom I will never see or talk with again, and 10-25 people in a professional capacity, most of whom I will encounter in the near future. These profiles are just a snippet of their many stories.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Humans of New York - story edition

Most days, I meet a few random New Yorkers, whether on the subway, at a coffee shop, at a food stand, or as building concierge.  There are people everywhere, and I greatly enjoy saying hello.  Here are a few people I met last week:

Shortly after midnight on a weeknight , waiting in the 59th St/Lex Ave subway station, a student named Lindale asked me if he was on the correct platform. He was reading a book about Brooker T. Washington to write a paper on him for one of his classes at Bronx Community College, where he is studying pre-med and wants to become a doctor. Most of his family is in Jamaica, where he grew up. He was waiting for the train to go to his job at a large retail store where he helps with unloading overnight deliveries. On weekends, he caddies at a golf course. He doesn't sleep much, but he has an incredible work ethic and a positive attitude. Stereotypes about today's youth are not always true.

At a fundraising event for children with mental disabilities, I met three young gals who are classmates in culinary school, all of whom are fairly boy-crazy. While I sat in the kitchen with them, they took some selfies and talked about all the hot kitchen boys, hot stockroom boys, hot boys they snapchat, hot boys they date, and hot boys they want to meet. Sometimes stereotypes are true.

In the square just outside my building, there's an Autumn outdoor food court. The pizza stand has its own stone pizza oven. There's a guy who stands there and bakes pizzas all day long. He works every day of the week, during these months, and helps to run the business. I say hello when I walk by.  He's about 30, has a short beard and long unruly hair, which he usually ties up for work. One day, using an example to make some point, I referenced that people don't consume poison knowingly. He promptly contradicted me and said it's not true, because he takes acid and loves it. I stand corrected.

Everyone has a story.  You'll never know what you'll get when you start a conversation, but you'll likely find something really interesting.

How to Change Someone's Mind

"When people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other. When you refute a person’s argument, does she generally change her mind and agree with you? Of course not, because the argument you defeated was not the cause of her position; it was made up after the judgment was already made." - Jon Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

Haidt's research has substantial implications for persuasion, evangelism, and why debates tend not to change anyone's minds or positions. People don't abandon their beliefs because they're persuaded by overwhelming facts and statistical analysis, but they may be moved by heart-warming stories or significant life experiences. They will never be interested in adopting your opinion unless they trust you and believe that you care for them or unless you involve their heart in making the decision. I'm not saying it's easy, merely that the easier methods are quite ineffective.

Far too often, people debate with each other merely to prove themselves right or for the sake of arguing.  Very rarely do people debate or engage in discussion to gain a deeper understanding or to further develop their own positions.  Humility is so noticeably absent from arguments.  People don't expect to learn anything in a debate, but they do expect to change the other person.  Who is this mysterious other person everyone thinks they're changing?  The quality of discourse will continue to decline until humility becomes a dominant characteristic in such discussions and debates.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Take No For An Answer

Most people stop at no. Maybe they're following social constructs; maybe they're trying to follow rules and not cause trouble; maybe they're embarrassed to keep asking.

As a toddler, when I just began to speak, I gave myself a nickname, "I do". I wanted to do everything, and I thought I could do it myself. Throughout my childhood, my mom regularly told me that "I could do whatever I set my mind to." In a way, it became more true because she constantly reinforced it in my mind. I'm very grateful to her for that.

The other day, I called Flight Hub, a travel agency which attempted to scam me. I booked a flight for work and then realized much later that one leg of the trip was booked for the wrong month and wrong day, mysteriously. So I called and talked with the customer service representative, who didn't know what to do, and just told me to pay the $250+ change fees. Then I spoke with the manager and discussed the situation with him. After blatantly refusing to accept his statements that there was nothing he would do for me since it was "my fault", I kept asking. And then suddenly he offered me a full and complete refund. Clearly he didn't mean what he said.

And a couple weeks ago, I requested a meeting with my building's management to discuss the roof hours. The hours were 11am-8:30pm, which is absurdly short, and I told them that the tenants would like them extended. They said the hours won't change. I replied that they didn't understand my request, which was for a meeting to talk about the hours. After the third email, they agreed to a meeting and shortly thereafter changed the hours to 10am-10pm. I've learned that no doesn't actually mean no.

I think of it this way: people don't want to bother giving you want you ask for. But they will if it's easier to give it to you than ignore you. If you think no means no, you will miss out on so many opportunities. They may respond well if you respectfully refuse to accept no as an answer.

There's a common principle in parenting that says parents must be perfectly consistent. If not, children will quickly recognize that their parents don't say what they mean. Sadly, most parents will change their answer if their kids put up a fuss or have a temper tantrum, and the kids learn that fussing can get them whatever they want. Then the parents wonder why their children are so demanding. While my parents were incredibly good at following this principle, I learned that society is not.

You'd be surprised what you can accomplish when the realm of possible envelopes what was formerly the realm of impossibility.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The cupcake gods are smiling

Around 8:30pm on Sunday, I spotted a bakery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. So, naturally, I walked over and opened the door. I saw a lady behind the counter, and our conversation began as follows:
Me: Oh, are you closed?
Her: Yes.
Me: Okay. It looks like a lovely place.
Her: Wait, do you want a free cupcake?
Me: Uh, yes please.
I walk in, and she ducks into the kitchen.
Me: I mean, I'm happy to pay for it.
Her: No, it's for free. But it's chocolate cake and chocolate icing, is that okay?
Me: Haha, yes that's fine. Thank you!
And I walk out with the cupcake. Score!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

If I had an extra day in the week....

When I feel like I have no spare time, the list grows of all the things I want to do. Watch those TED talks I downloaded yesterday; finish the fiction book I'm in the middle of (Portrait of Dorian Gray); text those three friends I left hanging this week; reach out to that contact about the new part-time opportunity he offered me; draft the speech I want to give in July; plan my upcoming vacation to London; continue cleaning my room; write some new thoughts here... the list is ever-growing. But when I have time, I make mediocre progress on those objectives. It's harder to manage time when there's more of it. As much as I would wish for an extra day in the week, it wouldn't be the solution. Time constraints are magic for productivity boosts.