Tagged: 2006

Beach Stones

beach stones josie iselin margaret carruthers harry n abrams 2006Beach Stones, photography by Josie Iselin, text by Margaret W. Carruthers, 5/5

Great photography and informative descriptions make for a book that is as beautiful as it is interesting.

Why I read it: a random library find.

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The Five Languages of Apology

five languages of apology chapman thomas thomson gale 2007The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, 4/5

Making and receiving apologies has always seemed like a fairly natural part of human interaction to me, so I’ve never given the topic much thought.  However, I was recently very confused to be told plaintively by someone that “so-and-so has never apologized to me in twenty years!”  What was so confusing about this comment?  Well “so-and-so” had recently made an unexpected and unsolicited apology to me!  Was I to believe this same person had purposefully withheld all apologies from someone else, or was there some other communication issue at play?

It turns out that different people have different expectations when it comes to what makes a sincere apology.  According to this book, if one or more of the five “languages” of apology is lacking, the whole effort can fail to register with the recipient as a sincere apology, no matter how genuine it was intended to be.

  1. Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.”
  2. Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”
  3. Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
  4. Genuinely Repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
  5. Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

I feel that the use of the word “languages” to describe these five aspects is a too-obvious effort to tie this book in with Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, but it is undeniably helpful to know what shortcomings could cause an apology to ring untrue.  While the main focus of the book is on how to make sure your apology meets the intended recipient’s subconscious criteria, it is also interesting to understand that just because an apology doesn’t cover the aspect that is most important to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is insincere.

Another very interesting point the authors make is that, while forgiveness is a decision, trust is an emotion (213).  You can choose to forgive someone, but trust should be earned.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what someone has done, making light of their bad actions, or going back to the way things were, but it does mean giving your relationship with them a chance to heal and grow.

Why I read it: my sister recommended it and I’m always interested in learning to be a better communicator.

The Starfish and the Spider

starfish and spider ori brafman rod a beckstromThe Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, 3/5

Using real-life examples, Brafman and Beckstrom explore the contrasting characteristics of centralized and decentralized organizations.  The term “centralized” is associated with traditional for-profit businesses, which usually have hierarchical organization, official headquarters and utilize the top-down method of decision making. In contrast, “decentralized” entities are idealogy- and community-driven, featuring resiliently chaotic structures and utilizing bottom-up decision making.

The souped-up magazine article cum research paper style is very popular for books of this genre and for good reason–it is entertaining and easy to read.  This book is no exception and has the added benefit of being on an interesting and relevant topic.  However, I feel that the authors spent rather too much time describing the obvious and comparing apples with oranges; it seems clear from the examples that centralized and decentralized organizations have very different functions and goals, so it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time comparing them (the MPAA doesn’t aspire to be The Pirate Bay and vice versa).  A small portion of the book was spent more usefully, in my opinion, analyzing the conflict between these two styles of organization, and near the end of the book, the authors finally look at what aspects of decentralization can be successfully employed by more traditional businesses.

[Why I read it: my dad wanted to know what I thought about it before reading it himself.]

Stumbling on Happiness

stumbling on happiness daniel gilbertStumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, 2/5

This lightweight, unsatisfying book, written for an audience that can most charitably be described as extremely credulous, undemanding and allergic to anything requiring mental rigour, is a great example of what I hate about pop science.  Alternating between a tone of forced humour and relentless summarization of psychological studies in the style of a college research paper, Gilbert gleefully explores humankind’s failings when it comes to remembering past events and predicting future ones (especially with regard to their impact on future happiness).  For no apparent reason, he seems to consider psychological subjects’ reports of their current feelings as almost infallibly reliable (though the concept of “current” could itself be the topic of discussion), while devaluing reports of remembered and predicted happiness.  In the book, he doesn’t explore the methodology of most of the studies he cites, so you are forced to take it on trust that the studies are reliable, in addition to trusting his own interpretation of the results.  Many of the examples he uses seem open to other, conflicting interpretations, which he does not acknowledge or explain.  Gilbert’s final conclusion, that we should consult the current feelings of people who are having experiences we hope to have in the future, in order to find out their real potential to make us happy or unhappy, is as unsatisfying as it is impractical.

It is understandable that some simplification and ambiguity is necessary when writing on a complex topic for the average audience, but I feel that Gilbert oversimplifies to the point of ridiculousness.  I have no doubt that, in conversation, he would be convincing, enlightening and entertaining, but a book is not a conversation; if something seems wrong or raises questions, I have very little recourse (since I am not a psychology expert).  Ironically, the experience of reading this book made me very unhappy, which proves some of Gilbert’s points, I guess.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, the average reader would likely enjoy it and even learn some interesting psychological stuff.  But for anyone who likes to think or is looking for helpful advice, this book has not a shred of value compared to the mind-blowing excellence that is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

[Why I read it: The title caught my eye in the thrift store and I was impressed by the writer’s Harvard credentials and the quote on the cover.]