If you’re 30% through your life, you’re likely 90% through your best relationships. Some really great visuals in this one – how many books you might read, how many times you might go swimming – and then it comes to this:

I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood. Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the 10 days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.

Damn.

How to talk to anyone: the experts’ guide

There’s a phrase I like to use: “The roof is an introduction”, which means that if you’re in the same place, you always have something in common. Remember that most people in any room feel uncomfortable. If we can be aware of that, and think, “What can I do to make other people feel comfortable with me?” that’s not just a great strategy for socialising – it’s a kindness.

How to talk to anyone: the experts’ guide

Carolyn Hax: A friend with seemingly everything still has time for fine whine

Classic Hax. You have to be pretty open-minded and self-aware to be able to sympathize with those who appear to be (and may objectively be) more fortunate than you are.

Or she’s genuinely unhappy. It can, of course, happen amid gaudy equity, lovely kids, an attentive spouse, a flexible career, stable finances and ambitious travel; just because these have societal value doesn’t mean they’re valuable to her.

And just because the decisions were “very-thought-out” doesn’t mean they were the right ones for her. If a person’s baseline understanding of herself is a degree or two off, then her choices can lead her, over the years, hundreds of miles off-course.

Carolyn Hax: A friend with seemingly everything still has time for fine whine

I re-read Crucial Conversations, a book I’d read for a previous job years and years ago. It’s proven its worth many times over. It’s all about creating safety when you need to hold people accountable, or have other awkward conversations where your counterpart’s defenses (and your own!) are going to be on high alert.

I read Russ Roberts’ book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, and it’s certainly the most heavily dog-eared book I’ve read in the last couple months. It’s slighter in hindsight, but still got some good stuff out of it. Smith is best known for the more macro-level, distant, impersonal view on economics in The Wealth of Nations. This books relies on Smith’s lesser-known A Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explores the more intimate, direct relationships between individuals.

What I like is its undercurrent of humility and courtesy, for one, and the idea of ripple effects that go beyond us. There’s the idea of the “impartial spectator” in here – a hypothetical (and likely impossible) imagined outsider, an objective witness we can turn to to evaluate what we do. Of course, we’re delusional and biased and self-obsesssed. The principle stands, though, and the community around us helps to shape this hypothetical ideal that we imagine.

Virtuous behavior is like passable writing vs. great writing. At a basic level, there is grammar and syntax. There’s broad agreement on many of those details. But there’s a special something that goes beyond the basic requirements. Along the same lines, no one individual really decides what proper grammar is, and how a language works. But many people, making many small decisions every day, spread and sustain behaviors that add up to something bigger on the scale of family, office, neighborhood, nation, culture. And it’s that big-picture thinking that (hopefully) motivates us to “be lovely even when we can get away with not being lovely”. Going along with that are some healthy warnings about our obessions with powerful people, and about hubris when it comes to societal engineering.

Some other parts I like? Smith on keeping it simple:

What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

Smith on praise we haven’t earned…

To us they [his praises] should be more mortifying than any censure, and should perpetually call to our minds, the most humbling of all reflections, the reflection of what we ought to be, but what we are not.

Or as Roberts phrases it, “Undeserved praise is a repimand – a reminder of what I could be.”

There’s another great section that talks about how gadgets are seductive. Roberts says, “We often care more about the elegance of the device than for what it can achieve.” Smith’s line here made me think about the tech and especially the #EDC community:

How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences.

Smith on why friendship is so valuable when you’re grieving – we see our pain through their eyes, and see it’s not so bad:

We are immediately put in mind of the light in which he will view our situation, and we begin to view it ourselves in the same light; for the effect of sympathy is instantaneous.

Roberts on caring on a smaller scale than save-the-world dreams:

Maybe, just maybe, your best way of making the world a better place is to be a really superlative husband or mom or neighbor. […] We forget that being good at our work helps others and makes the world a better place, too.

And a lovely bit of rabbinic wisdom:

It is not up to you to finish the work. But you are not free to desist from it.

A similar, more energetic book along the same lines is Sarah Bakewell’s very excellent How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.

I and a few dozen folks I work with read Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. Good stuff. The assessment results tell me that my top strengths/themes are: Restorative®, Intellection®, Ideation®, Input®, and Relator®. Basically, I like fixing things; stockpiling ideas and connecting them; and sticking with people I’m close with. Sounds pretty fair, and there’s much more depth on each of those in the book and in their online thingy. At the very least, it explains why I love my job as much as I do. Also has some good ideas to invest in those strengths for TrueUltimatePower®. I was a bit skeptical, but it’s worth a read!