Thursday, January 27, 2005

jump in, the water's great!

My economics professor is a wonderful man. No, really, he is, although Dr. Andrew Secord is the sort of humble, homely man you might not notice walking down the street. He wears somewhat conservative clothes, which he spices up with color (his purple sweater, for instance), and he has a shock of white hair still sitting healthily on his head. He has a pleasant smile and a confident way of moving. For all these reasons, you might take a look at Dr. Secord and maybe pass a smile his way, for being a fellow human being, but you might not look twice. The truly wonderful thing about this professor is what happens when he speaks. Now, his voice is a little twangy, and he’s speaking primarily about economics, so you might think—“eh, what’s so wonderful about that,”—and he doesn’t go off on grand themes like poverty or the environment or somesuch. What makes Dr. Secord’s lectures so delightful is the way he wraps economic theory up with a witty, concise view of the world as it is, and gives the recipe for happiness, besides. He’ll be talking about price floors and the minimum wage, the concerns of economists about low-productivity workers (essentially, high school dropouts) and consumer surplus, and that leads to a tangent about how strange the word ‘floor’ looks when it’s written, and oh isn’t that odd, and “sometimes you look at words like that and you get a moment when everything is beautiful and you get extremely happy! Now, moving on…” and everyone thinks, “This professor is crazy! To get happiness from the word ‘floor’, my goodness.” Or he’ll be discussing the reasons why certain classes tend towards being “low productivity workers”, and that leads him to reminisce about the shrubbery (or lack thereof) in his old high school, and how the shrubbery here is much nicer, hencethe reason why people like college.

Today, besides for commenting on shrubbery and the spelling of ‘floor’, Dr. Secord said something about how you have to take risks in academia. I forget now exactly why he got to this point, but suddenly there it was, “Unless you take a risk in your thinking, essentially you’re just memorizing, memorizing, memorizing, and you might as well go off and do…skydiving or something.” And it got me thinking about risk-taking, and how without that split-second decision to –yes, I’ll do that, I think, why not!—we get nowhere. The way I see it, life is always putting these random events in our way, and it’s up to us to make a wise decision, to grab the chance and go for it.

There’s a new book out, Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and the premise is that in the first two seconds, we have a mysterious and rapid thought process which forms conclusions before we've had a chance to rationalize or form clear thoughts. The author dismisses the term 'intuition', but there are some similarities between the 'emotional reaction' of intuition and what Gladwell feels is a rational thought process happening. I brought up this notion of the first few seconds in conversation with my dear Dad last night; we were talking about discrimination and prejudice, and the difference between pre-conditioned responses to people in other races and classes, and the intuitive feeling you might get upon meeting a person. It is interesting to roll around in your head, like a few spare marbles: when I meet a new person, how much of my first 2 seconds of opinion of them is based on what I already know about [white people, black people, old people, young people] and how much is based on what my intuitive receptors tell me about this person? [As in, fear, attraction, or pity.]

Risk-taking, I think, is what is needed in overcoming prejudices. Whether that be to a person, or to a situation, we need to be risk-takers to sense both our intuition and our pre-conditioned responses, and then judge—how worthy is that restriction? What have I got to lose by going for this, and what have I got to gain? For our preconditioning is definitely a restriction, and so is our intuition, at times. How much of intuition is preconditioned? How much of it is helpful? What sorts of situations have you been in where you wished you had followed your gut? Conversely, where have you challenged yourself to go beyond prejudice and were rewarded for it?

Take a risk: let me know what you think.

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