The Lost Art of Moderation

You’ve probably heard of the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the ’60s and ’70s, Walter Mischel — a psychologist at Stanford University — put one preschooler at a time at a desk on which he had placed a bell and a couple marshmallows or other treats equally tough for a kid to resist.

“The researcher told each child that he had to leave, but that when he returned, she could eat both marshmallows,” wrote Michael Bourne in a January 2014 New York Times Magazine article. “If she wanted one marshmallow before then, however, she could ring the bell and eat one, but not both.”

Once alone, the children stared at the marshmallows, or sniffed them, or buried their faces in their hands while they pined, or ate the marshmallows like all that is good depended on their digestion. The study, which discerned differences between people who delay gratification and people who don’t, points to an important truth: We are not unlike preschoolers who are left alone with marshmallows.

We have urges, desires, interests, instincts. We want stuff, like to flirt with or date somebody. Some of us are inclined to get or do what we want as soon as we want to get or do it. Few of us consider this: like for the preschoolers who agreed to wait 15 minutes because it meant two marshmallows instead of one, there are good reasons to delay action, even if what you want’s within your reach.

But we resist it because moderation is a lost art.

Continue reading “The Lost Art of Moderation”

The Lost Art of Conversation

You know what’s weird?

I’ll tell you.

I answered the phone at work once, the way I do…

Tampa Bay Times!”

What’s supposed to happen next is standard procedure: the person who dialed my desk explains why he or she called. But this day, my greeting didn’t elicitan explanation. Instead, it elicited silence. Awkward silence.

So I broke it: “…um, is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes,” the woman said.

Then the woman stopped talking. So I spoke again:

“…um, can you tell me what it is that I can do for you?”

“Yes,” she said. Then she stopped talking again. Continue reading “The Lost Art of Conversation”