Another Week Ends: Our Dreams, Pixar and Brave Honesty, Lebron Bravery, Why Americans Apologize, Why Ryan Leaf Wants Prison, Why Women Pray More

1) The Harvard Business Review released a behavioral study on the divergent ways apologies happen […]

Ethan Richardson / 6.22.12

1) The Harvard Business Review released a behavioral study on the divergent ways apologies happen in American and Japanese sociality. It turns out not everyone apologizes in a way that implicates the apologizer as guilty (who knew?)…What’s more interesting, though, is the connection made between implied guilt and trust, that the Japanese way of apologizing without direct condemnation of personal responsibility actually allows for trust to be repaired more quickly, while the American (Western) way of the “apologizing culprit” tends to falsely distinguish sheeps from goats, making lines between those who have flaws and make mistakes from those who do not (ht JH):

In an initial survey of U.S. and Japanese undergraduates, the U.S. students were more likely to say that an apology directly implied guilt. The Japanese students were more likely to apologize even when they weren’t personally responsible for what had happened. Perhaps for this reason, they apologized a lot more—they recalled issuing an average of 11.05 apologies in the previous week, whereas U.S. students recalled just 4.51.

In a second study, we looked at the utility of apologies for repairing trust. We asked undergraduates from both countries to imagine that they were managers and showed them a video in which an applicant for an accounting job apologized for having deliberately filed an incorrect tax return for a prior client. The Japanese students were more willing than their U.S. counterparts to trust the candidate’s assertion that she wouldn’t engage in such behavior again and to offer her a job. We believe that this is owing to Americans’ inclination to associate apologies with culpability.

The finding that Americans link apologies with blame is in keeping, we’d argue, with a psychological tendency among Westerners to attribute events to individuals’ actions. Thus it makes sense that in the U.S., an apology is taken to mean “I am the one who is responsible.” It also stands to reason that in Japan—which, like many other East Asian countries, has a more group-oriented culture—apologies are heard as “It is unfortunate that this happened.” Researchers who’ve compared apologies in America and China have found a similar pattern: U.S. apologies serve to establish personal responsibility, while Chinese ones focus on the larger consequences of the transgression.

2) Michael Chabon had a great piece on dreams in the New York Review of Books, on why it is so difficult to recount something that is both utterly intimate and utterly out of your hands. With dreams, as with art, there is the need to relationally manifest its complexity in some way–and there is always the unsettling reality that you are compressing something utterly beyond, utterly too-much for you.

Dreams are effluvia, bodily information, to be shared only with intimates and doctors. At the breakfast table, in my house, an inflexible law compels all recountings of dreams to be compressed into a sentence or, better still, half a sentence, like the paraphrasings of epic films listed in TV Guide: “Rogue Samurai saves peasant village.” The recounting of a dream is—ought to be—a source of embarrassment to the dreamer, sitting there naked in fading tatters of Jungian couture. Whatever stuff dreams are made on, it isn’t words. As soon as you begin to tell a dream, as Freud reminds us, you interpolate, falsify, distort; you lie. That roseate airplane, that wide blue arc of cold water: no, it wasn’t like that, not at all. Better just to skip it, and pass the maple syrup.

In other realms of private life best-left-reserved, the Atlantic’s post on “The Right to be Forgotten” is an interesting one.

3) It seems that we can’t get enough of cognitive anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann these days, and here’s another piece from Christianity Today, on “Why Women Hear God More Than Men Do“. Rather than the token (mis)conception that women pray more than men because they are more conservatively minded, more inclined towards traditional, wholesome values, Luhrmann points to the heart of prayer in imagination, which has inseparable ties with freedom–that men are less inclined to feel freed up, to then imagine, and thus less inclined to pray. What’s interesting for us here is that imagination as an exercise of freedom, something invigorated by the good news (ht SZ):

As an anthropologist studying religious behavior, I have a different explanation: Women pray more because women are more comfortable with their imaginations, and in order to pray, you need to use your imagination.

But then these Christians did what their pastor suggested: they set out a (real) mug of hot coffee for God in the morning, and sat down with their own mug, and imagined that they were talking to God. They picked up a sandwich, walked over to the park, sat down on a bench, and imagined that God’s arm was around their shoulders, that they were talking to God as their best of friend. They stood in front of their closet and asked God what shirt they should wear that day. Most of them knew that this was artifice, at least in part, and particularly at the beginning, they were cautious about how seriously to take it. Still, they saw these practices as a technique to listen for God in their minds—to turn their attention away from the outer world and to wait patiently for thoughts that they felt might really be from God. “I try to listen to God in the little things,” one woman told me, “so that I learn to listen to him about the big ones.” After a few months, people would say that they recognized God’s voice in their minds the way they recognized a voice on the phone. “You know it’s your mom when she calls, right?” someone explained. “Well, that’s the way it is with God.”

4) Have you heard of the Fundamental Attribution Error? Count on social psychologists to find new ways of saying humans beings are bad, good at seeing the bad in others, and wired against seeing the bad in themselves. Thus says Forbes Magazine about Silicon Valley companies, and the implications it has on, yes, imagination and ingenuity (ht TB).

In the field of social psychology, there’s a concept known as the “fundamental attribution error.” Believe it or not, it has a lot to do with Silicon Valley and tech companies. Basically, it says that all humans (including you and me) are born biased to over-value the importance of personal characteristics in driving others’ outcomes, but under-value the situational factors in driving others’ outcomes.

Yet, when we explain our own achievements in life, we are biased to over-value our personal characteristics as explaining our successes while also over-valuing our situation factors in explaining our failures.

…In Silicon Valley, this type of thinking is so prevalent, you could say the “fundamental attribution error” has become “groupthink.” Everyone believes that the sun rises and sets on their pillow case.

Similarly a very interesting report on Ryan Leaf, the recently incarcerated Chargers quarterback who just had his court sentencing for one of his series of burglary charges, once again linked to his painkiller addiction. He has had a rough go of it, and some Leaf quotes during his sentencing show that the 1998 First Round Draft Pick isn’t heading for a quick turnaround—but there certainly is an awareness that rock bottom brings; where the ability for “fundamental attribution error” is no longer possible (ht BM),

“I’m lazy, and dishonest and selfish. These were behaviors I had before my addiction kicked in.”

“Five to 10 years of Ryan-free drama for my family, this community — particularly for this nation — would be pure bliss for people.”

5) A great interview over at the A/V Club of Pixar creatives Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian, the minds and hearts behind Brave, which comes out today. The entire interview is worth the read; they talk a lot about what makes storytelling so powerful, what makes Pixar characters so powerfully honest. Also, being a Pixar film with a lot of firsts (First Pixar Princess Film, First Pixar Historical Film, First Pixar Female Director)–there’s been a lot of pressure to make the film something that it wasn’t at its heart.  It seems that at its heart, it is a film about what bravery means–and the answers for the makers of the movie aren’t achieving supernatural firsts–it seeks to say that to be brave is to be honest:

AVC: You mentioned making Merida inspirational. That isn’t necessarily on most people’s lists for a children’s-movie character. How important is that factor?

MA: The one thing I love about telling stories is, we spend our whole lives going in and out of being better or worse, in our own character. But in a movie, the character transforms into the best they’re going to be. So you take a whole life, what we live, that we have to constantly work at, and we shove it down into 80 minutes so we can see what this person goes through. We can see the human condition at high speed. That creates more intensity and more stakes in the story, but what we get out of that is like [claps], “That person overcame everything, and boy, that’s inspirational. That’s what I’m going to do.” It empowers us.

KS: I think we found it important to tell a story that was grounded in something true. Real relationships. Because maybe people out there are inspired by people with superpowers, or things that are really fantastical, but we wanted to create a hero who was real. Her skills, those were not given to her by magic…She’s a real kid. A real person. A real teen. Which also means that she makes big old mistakes and screws things up. She’s actually not aspirational or inspirational for a good amount of the movie. She’s just kind of making a mess of things. And it’s about finding that true bravery in her heart that gets her to be somebody that you root for, but you actually can see her as someone you want to be more like by the end. If we’ve done our job.


6) Speaking of bravery by way of honesty, a new look at the LeBron James hate train, post-ring. Here’s a great article from Grantland, which calls for a hater reality check. It’s the needed coming-to-grips the casual basketball fan needs to see; namely, that LeBron—the myth and not the man—is the monster of our own making:

Professional athletes have learned to say that the forces of media-crafted public perception do not penetrate their psyche. However, it would be impossible to ignore the snowballing post-‘Decision’ effect on LeBron James and the Miami Heat as they have transitioned into being the NBA’s universally accepted villains. We tune in to root against them, hoping to catch the most blatant choke because it will provide the negative reinforcement we need that prevents us from visualizing them as champions. Even I’ll admit that watching LeBron James dominate the 2012 NBA playoffs started out as pretty annoying, but that’s because I have only really been watching with the intent to discredit his contribution to his team’s performance and his historical legacy.

LeBron is no longer just a basketball player or even a ‘larger-than-life personal brand that was created to sell shoes to international markets’ that some players were fortunate enough to be in the late 1990s. He’s turned into a grudge that is so old we have forgotten why we are so passionate about perpetuating the hatred. Whether it is a regular-season game against the Bobcats or a Game 7 against the Celtics, we are programmed to tune in as if we are gathering evidence for a case against ‘greatness.’ What are we even protecting by not wanting LeBron to be considered ‘great’? Probably just a defense mechanism for the NBA memories of our youth… For the first time in his career, I feel empathetic while watching LeBron James because he is playing with the vulnerability of someone who has been excessively cyberbullied. I usually hate watching the Heat, but LeBron has finally shown us that he is tired, drained, and on the brink of a complete physical breakdown.