Ellen Langer

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  • Mindfulness
  • 244 days ago

When Legality Leads to Immorality

I spend time each year in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Aside from the consistently wonderful weather, one of the differences I’ve noticed is the traffic. There are very few traffic signals and stop signs. Interestingly, there are also very few traffic accidents. You pull up to a busy intersection and, since nothing dictates what you should do, you pay attention to the other cars. There’s no red light to stop at or jump, nor stop sign at which to stop or fake a stop. You simply do what the moment dictates.

Often we don’t speed to avoid a ticket or the loss of our license. Similarly, many people don’t cheat or steal for fear of getting caught. If we had Plato or Frodo’s ring to make us invisible, what would we do? Sadly, I think a large number of us would misbehave if we knew that we could get away with it. There’s research showing that children are more likely to cheat when exams have proctors than when the honor system is in place. Instead of subtle incentives that encourage us to beat the system, what would happen if there were no system to beat?

What would happen if children early on were taught the consequences of their actions on others, rather than to behave well in order to avoid punishment? What if they were trusted to do the right thing rather than threatened. Imagine these lessons continuing into adulthood. Certainly this might make a difference for reasonably minor transgressions. My belief, though, is that even more serious infractions might also diminish and morality would take the place of the necessity for many of the laws now on the books

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  • Mindfulness
  • 306 days ago

Step into the Jungle Interview with Jason Klop

I had a great time talking with Jason about Mindfulness, and you can listen in here:

Interview with Jason Klop

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  • Mindfulness
  • 318 days ago

Mindlessly Seeking Perfection

Perfection is an illusive and unattainable goal. Since everything is always changing, what might have seemed perfect at this moment is not necessarily perfect tomorrow. More important, things look different from different perspectives, so what looks great from one view may be sadly lacking from another.

If we can’t achieve a perfect outcome, we can achieve what feels like the perfect experience. Life consists only of moments; if we make the moment matter—truly engage with it—nothing can be more perfect. How do we then achieve the felt experience of perfection? Ironically, when we put aside the pursuit of perfection, we’re more likely to experience it. An experiencing self is not self-focused, it doesn’t judge every small change. Evaluation is less likely to help us achieve perfection than it is to create stress and take us out of an experience we otherwise could be having.

So, how do we create the perfect experience? True engagement is the simple process of mindful noticing. Within such an intentional consciousness is felt perfection

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  • Appearances
  • 387 days ago

Radio Boston Interview

My Radio Boston interview of last year will be re-airing this Thanksgiving. You can tune in on 90.9FM between 3-4PM on Nov. 26th, or stream it at radioboston.org.

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  • Mindfulness
  • 483 days ago

On Being Intimidated

Who among us hasn’t at one time or the other experienced fear, humiliation, degradation at the hand of someone toward whom we were vulnerable? I was just conned out of a great deal of money by someone my colleague Josh Buckholtz, who studies psychopaths, said sounded like a quintessential member of that class. It truly scared me. It also raised the question for me of how do you get up after being thrown for the proverbial loop. It was actually much easier than most would imagine.

Gabriel Hammond and I are doing research on bullying, so the antidote was salient for me. In that work, the main idea occurred to us when we thought about what many parents might tell their children when they thought they were doing the bullying. “It’s not nice to pick on people less strong than you are.” We think this actually may increase the tendency to bully. Based on this reasoning, each instance of bullying instantiates at least the relative strength of the bully. What if young people were more appropriately told that bullying is a sign of weakness. No one who is successful and has it all together bullies. If everyone recognized this, there would be nothing in it for the bully to bully. Each attempt would be an admission of weakness.

Whether young or old, the same is true throughout our lives. Whenever we feel that we’ve just been kicked in the stomach or when someone simply tries to make us feel small, or takes advantage of us in any way, we have an alternative to feeling like a victim. No one truly strong and successful would behave that way. Recognizing it as weakness is empowering. I feel sorry for the bully, the con man, and actually even the psychopath.