Whither the Type A personality?
I first studied psychological science in the 1970s, and one of the most popular ideas at that time was the Type A personality. Two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, had made the case that a certain type of person—competitive, driven, hurried, easily angered—had a much higher risk of heart attack and heart disease than did easy-going types, which they labeled Type B. The idea of Type A personality took hold in the public imagination, and it’s still heard in the common parlance today. The concept was scientifically controversial from the start, but it did provoke a lot of debate—and an explosion of research.
Nourishment for impoverished thinking
Poverty is emotionally crushing, and stigma only adds to that burden. The poor are often disparaged as lazy and incompetent—unable or unwilling to improve their own lot. Why don’t they go to school, eat more sensibly, and spend their money more wisely? In short, why don’t they make better decisions for themselves? It’s true that the poor do make poor choices, but not because of any personal failings. Poverty breeds lousy decision making. Think about it: Good decisions require attention and reasoning and mental discipline. How do you muster those powers when you are preoccupied with, well, being poor?
Mindfulness and loss: The past is the past
Imagine this scenario. You’ve purchased tickets for an outdoor music festival, featuring several of your favorite bands. The tickets are pricey—$400—but it will be an experience to remember. Then, on the morning of the festival, a major storm moves into the region, and a hard, cold rain begins to fall. It shows no sign of stopping, and you are faced with a dilemma. You could go anyway—put on your slicker and grit your teeth and suffer through a miserable day. Or you could bag it, and eat the cost. Some say the hell with it, my bad luck, but many go, and spend a dismal day being cold and resentful—just so they don’t squander the $400. But that’s irrational. Think about it.
“Precisely right. No doubt. Trust me.”
As a general rule, we tend to value confidence in other people, especially in the “experts” who help us with important decisions in life. Who wants a financial advisor who hesitates in his judgments, or a physician who waffles on every diagnosis and prescription? I want my lawyer to look me in the eye and speak with certainty about the law, and I look for consistency and self-assurance in politicians and leaders. Our decisions in these realms can have profound consequences, so we don’t want to take our cues from the wishy-washy. Fortunately, these experts are all people, and people offer us cues.
Crimes and misdemeanors: Is there a slippery slope?
Vito Corleone, the mobster at the center of The Godfather saga, begins his career as a petty criminal. A Sicilian immigrant trying to raise a family in a New York City tenement, he agrees to help out a friend, Peter Clemenza, by stashing some guns. Soon after, he joins Clemenza in burglarizing a fancy apartment, and comes home with a nice rug. One burglary leads to another, and they eventually come to the attention of the local mob boss, Don Fanucci, who wants his cut of their loot. Rather than comply, Corleone follows Fanucci home and murders him in his apartment. It’s the first of many murders that he will commit or order in his long life of crime.
Why “Occupy Wall Street” Fizzled
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street came into existence at roughly the same time, in the wake of the financial markets’ collapse, and each was an angry challenge to the country’s financial and political status quo. But there the similarity ended. The ultra-conservative Tea Party movement focused on tax cuts and smaller government, and it has never veered far from that message. It achieved consensus on these goals early on, and has succeeded in unifying adherents in its congressional caucus and elsewhere. It remains a potent force in American politics today. The liberal Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, focused on . . . well, what exactly?