Rag Doll Physics and You

What’s perhaps most disturbing about the 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s death was its familiarity.

When I first watched the video of 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s accident, I was struck—not by the gruesome or graphic nature of the clip—but by its familiarity. Like many gamers, I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Countless times:

Life doesn’t have a reset button. But, when videographers and reporters depict events in a similar fashion—showing only the incident and none of the aftermath—the mind tends to catalog the event in abstraction. Without the sense of finality or consequence, significance is lost.

Those sensitive to violence will have more trouble letting go of what they just saw: for them, the image shocks them and significance isn’t as likely lost. But, for others used to violence and realistic depictions of violence, it’s more likely to be stored as another datapoint for how a human body can crumble at speed.

In discussing this with my friend, Ben Edwards, he remarked how age groups have responded with stark contrast: on average, people tend to be increasingly upset in correlation with age. And it makes sense: the younger you are, the greater chance you’ve been exposed to abstracted violence. The older you are, the greater chance you’ve either experienced real violence or none at all.

I’m not claiming that familiarity with violence is the problem here; but, rather, in presenting violence in the same cut-away shot as a video game does reduces its meaning and impact. And, while I understand that the “money shot” is in those critical albeit violent moments, the media should take note to craft a story that does not shy away from the aftermath of the incident. The Huffington Post has an appropriate feature.

How we remember what we’ve seen is more important than what we’ve seen. And, in order to distinguish real events from virtual events, we need to be mindful: how we frame violence changes the way it’s absorbed. A viewer need not have to review or watch the aftermath of a violent event. But, it’s important that we frame the violence appropriately so we can make sense of it, remembering that the victim often doesn’t get a reset button. Or, if you’re not going to frame it properly, don’t show it at all.

Deconstructing Robin Hood

Robin Hood ArrowThis world needs a new Robin Hood.

The Robin Hood you’re familiar with stole from the rich to give to the poor. But really, it sets the wrong precedent: the poor become accustomed to rescue, and the rich become irritated with a maverick whose sole mission is to bridge the wealth gap while waiting for an absent and benevolent king.

Machiavellian economics aside, this is just stupid.

The peasants have more ability than they realize, and in many cases it takes a Robin Hood-type character to shift the paradigm. But, Robin Hood himself falls short of becoming a real hero in failing to bridge the real communication and economic gap. Hood and his band of merry men do little in their activities other than to apply band-aids and irritate the wound, providing little more than hope and brief relief to a struggling population while fostering resentment in another.

What they’re missing is empowerment.

Recently, new not-for-profits (and not-just-for-profits) have begun to address these problems both domestically and abroad. These organizations don’t support impoverished people and groups with handouts, but rather makes strides to shift the paradigm and teach people how to help themselves.

Two favorites are Kiva and the Acumen Fund, both of which take capital and invest it in populations that most financial institutions won’t touch due to perceived risk. The results of their efforts have been staggering and encouraging, and I urge you to learn more about what they’re doing.

There’s also Robin Hood Foundation, which takes aims at causes of poverty, but their branding choice does what they do a little bit of disservice: you don’t want to be Robin Hood. But if not him, who?

What we really need is a new character; or, perhaps, a new character metaphor. Robin Hood just isn’t sufficient or sustainable, nor can this type of change be appropriately epitomized by just one man or woman.

I’m open to suggestions.

Going Down?

Don’t ever ask, “what do you do?” without an exit strategy.

Done right, an elevator pitch effectively communicates occupation and value. Done wrong, it inflicts great amounts of boring and anxiety. Generally, people suck at elevator pitches. Here’s how to avoid getting stuck between floors.

(By the way, they call it an “elevator pitch” because the “pitch” should be about as long as an elevator ride. Living in New York City, I can assure you both elevator rides and elevator pitches feel much longer than they actually are. My friends will note that I just signed a one-year lease on a walk-up.)

  1. Don’t ask the question.
    Find an alternative. My favorite: “What’s your story?” If they look like the droning type, append, “in 10 words or less… and make it interesting.” It gives your new acquaintance the opportunity to avoid their poorly-rehearsed pitch.
  2. Don’t try to network.
    Sure, you went to a networking event to, well, network; but really, your career counselor gave you bad advice. Approach people, even at networking events, as you would a stranger in a bar or at a book signing. Tell a story or a joke, ask what they thought of some recent news, or just make some funny faces. Your stranger will become a friendly, see value in you socially, and tell you what they do without all the sales bullshit (because they too think it sounds like bullshit). Then, if they know how to help you, they’ll do it without prompting. And hell, you might even like them as a person.
  3. Don’t take the bait.
    It’s better to be interesting and vague than boring and specific.

    Your response to, “What do you do?” should be succinct: 10 – 15 words, tops. Your goal is to get your questioner to show genuine interest in what you do and not just wait their turn. If what you say isn’t interesting to them, just stop talking about what you do and talk about something else. If they are interested, they’ll let you know and get more out of you than you ever could from a canned response. Additionally, your conversation partner will likely follow the same format.

    (By the way, I run a music company that teaches private, in-home lessons.)

  4. Interrupt and segue.
    Without prompting, warning, or permission, your newest contact has launched into an elevator pitch. Let her finish her first sentence, and then stop her. Quickly and politely. Ask how her company’s different than competitors. Or, how she likes her job. Or, ask anything that should be contained in an elevator pitch. Then, exchange business cards and move on. If her goal is to sell you on a service or product without asking anything about you, she’ll take solace that you’ve taken her information with a promise to check it out and follow up.

A skilled communicator articulates the information you want to hear without you having to ask, converting elevator pitches into relevant conversations. Unskilled communicators hand you a verbal pamphlet.

Learn to say, “No, thank you.”