Monday, February 25, 2013

Questions

I was watching the HBO special Talking Funny where a bunch of really successful comedians sit down and talk about their philosophy of comedy and why they do what they do. Ricky Gervais presented a very stubborn approach to the topic. From his comments, you get the sense that he doesn't want to do anything in comedy if the only reason for doing it is to make other people laugh. He wants to write jokes and bits that come from within him, and if he's fortunate enough then enough people will like it and he can become successful.

As I was reading this, I picked through my twitter feed and my blog comments. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I produce that people respond to. Selfishly I want to produce things that people either enjoy or find insightful in some way. I want people to be able to make use of whatever content I end up using (maybe that's not selfish, maybe it's just trying to avoid wasted effort). In the last couple of months I've spent a lot of time paying attention to what kinds of things people respond to and engage with on twitter and on here.

I have noticed a trend that actually goes back a long ways. The things that I produce that I have the most confidence in, and the things that I produce that get the most feedback are questions. Sometimes I ask a question that drives me crazy and lots of people respond to it because it's exactly what they were thinking, and they also want to know the answer. This used to be the only way I could talk about the bible. I would present a scripture passage and then ask a question and then walk away. That's where I have confidence as a content creator.

I have noticed a problem with this. I don't get the same response from answers as I do from questions. When I write about lessons I've learned, or things that I think people should know, I get less response than when I just ask questions. I also have less confidence in what I'm writing. I second guess myself because it sounds preachy or declarative. I don't feel good about giving answers.

This is a problem. Some of the questions I ask have been overwhelmingly popular. The most popular thing I've ever written continues to be the post What do normal people talk about. When I even think about writing a follow-up post though, I am filled with a sense of failure. Whatever I write in response to that question, it doesn't carry the same weight as the question. It will never garner as much attention.

I think we've become obsessed with questions and sick of answers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Life Lesson from Euchre

Life doesn't always turn out how you envision it. When you're a kid, you have a lot of ideas about what the world will be like. You start thinking about who your spouse will be, you imagine what kind of job you might have, you think about what it will be like to have a job. When you're a kid, you have so little information about the world that anything seems possible. I remember when I was a kid I wanted to be a hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some people in my life told me I probably wasn't big enough to be a hockey player. I didn't really understand what they meant being a kid and all. I just wanted to wear the blue sweater and have people look up to me like I looked up to Doug Gilmour.

When you get older, you get more information. You learn that the average NHL player is six feet tall and weighs two hundred pounds, and you learn that those guys start playing when they're five and they never stop. The world develops reality and you start matching your skills with the things that you might do. Hopefully you end up with a winning combination.

I live in the second stage most of the time. When people talk about possible career paths to me, I usually scoff because of this "information" that I have. I don't usually tell them that I'm scoffing, but It's down there sometimes. Maybe you do this too. Maybe the reality of the world around you has finally gotten to you.

My family plays Euchre a lot. It's a pretty simple game (once you understand the order of the cards...). You get your hand and you go around the table to see who chooses what suit will become the strongest. Usually you want to pick a suit that you have lots of good cards in. If you know the right information you can play a mathematically solid game of euchre, but that's no fun. You're just following the rules. Sometimes I like to choose the strongest suit even if it doesn't seem like a good idea, and even if I have poor cards. You never know what will happen in a hand of Euchre and that's my philosophy on the game. I want to see the most interesting hands play out. I want to see some ways of winning that don't just involve holding all the highest cards.

There's a life lesson here. All my scoffing might make me sort of happy or sort of successful, but scoffing won't bring any surprises. There will be no moments in my life where I say "I never could have imagined this" if I just play it safe. The same goes for anyone. Sometimes we make strange choices. Making those strange choices opens up a whole realm of possibilities that we never could have imagined.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Fixing" Mental Health

Yesterday was "Bell Let's Talk" day where Bell Canada offered to donate 5 cents for every text, long distance call, and tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. It was intended to get people to talk about mental health issues, and also to raise some money for mental health initiatives while giving Bell some good publicity.

I tweeted something with the hashtag in the morning, mostly just to raise 5 cents. A friend sent me a text message later asking about the initiative. She said that she thought it was a good idea, but at the same time she didn't see anyone talking about mental health issues. We started talking a little bit about it and ended up in an interesting place.

One of the issues with mental health is that people feel like they can't talk about it without judgement or teasing. There's a "stigma" attached to it (which is a way of saying there is all this baggage attached to talking about it). If we could figure out how to get rid of this stigma then they might be more comfortable with seeking help and talking to other people about their struggles.

I wanted a simple answer to the solution. I wanted her to tell me that I should do A, and then the problem would be fixed. I wanted to ask everyone how they are doing and try and figure out who was suffering and extract the information from them.  This is not the path she recommended.

She said that people who are not suffering from mental illness need to create an environment where people who are suffering feel comfortable sharing. This is not a simple task. It will require careful attention to our language and our attitudes. It is a holistic approach to the problem and not a one issue fix. This is why it is probably the correct solution.

"We're very complicated beings" she said

"True" I replied