The Hidden “You” in You

There is a lot of fascinating work being done about how our minds work and how memories are formed, stored and recalled. I am full of admiration for those neuroscientists and claim no real ability to understand their science, but a fascination with what they claim those processes can do.

That said, I cannot figure out how I remember certain things from my earlier days other than that those memories/thoughts obviously struck me at the time as very interesting and worth remembering. Maybe there is a file drawer somewhere in the brain for such moments?

One of the courses I took at Harvard, which was then regarded as a “gut,” was the introductory course in Sociology taught by George Homans in the early 1950s.

What I learned in that course has been of great value to me in my career in law, investment banking and government because it gave me insights into how to get into other people’s heads and think like them. I have repeatedly found that ability -often very hard to achieve–essential to solving misunderstandings.

Two particular stories stand out among my memories.

At the end of the course, Homans said: “As you go out and on into life I plead with you to forget all the interesting and valuable things you learned in this course, particularly when it comes to being a parent.

If you think too much about what you learned here, you may be forever asking yourselves if you are crazy or if other people are. Remember, by definition we are all somewhere on the many continua of human behavior, including the abnormal. That does not mean that any of you are actually abnormal in the conventional meaning of that term. In fact if you were actually abnormal, you probably would not be sitting here now. So use your new knowledge carefully.

And, when it comes to your families, remember ONLY one thing. Just LOVE them. That will assure you will be a successful parent!

Unthinking love is for family. Thinking shrewdly is for the rest of life.”

After four children, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren, plus a lot of negotiations in business, finance and government, I have concluded that Homans was absolutely right.

It is a rare academic who has the wisdom to proffer such profound advice.

He also told a related anecdote about his time studying in Vienna in the early 1930s. The famous Sigmund Freud was still practicing his analysis. Homans wrangled an invitation to meet the great man.

On the day of the meeting he took a streetcar downtown to Freud’s office. A lady got on the street car, with some difficulty because the little boy with her had both his fists clenched. He wouldn’t/couldn’t hold on to anything. She struggled to keep him safe on the rocking street car.

Homans thought that was odd behavior and quite interesting.

His interview with Freud went well and Freud asked whether he saw any interesting behavior lately. Naturally the little boy with the clenched fists immediately came to mind and he asked Freud what he thought that was all about.

Freud stroked his beard and thought for several minutes and finally asked, “Was that little boy you?”

Homans laughed and told Freud he thought it was a shrewd question, but no it was not him. Freud said to always beware of shadows in life.

Therein lies the hidden ME in me, which I think has served me well now for quite a spell.

Now all you have to do is find your hidden YOU.


The Role of Hammers in Life

We all discover hammers early in life, sometimes to our parent’s distress.

Hammers are, of course, used to drive nails mainly into wood to hold things together. They are used to bang things into place, break windows in emergencies and deliver a well-focused punch to some resisting object. People also hammer points home in arguments. In Japan the nail [person or issue] that stands up cries out to be hammered down.

We are taught to respect and be careful of the hammer because if it is misused, it can be quite dangerous.

One wonders when the hammer, as we know it, was first invented. Obviously, it was preceded by almost any hard object used to bang on or break some other hard object. One hopes the genius who figured how to combine all the elements into the modern hammer made out like a Steve Jobs in his/her day.

The value of a hammer, and what it can do, has been an interesting question for quite a long time. Generally, the use of the hammer is seen as just one small step in more extensive undertakings, and therefore it is not singled out for any special recognition or value.

Some years ago, a small specialty chemical company in Massachusetts built a new plant which was having trouble getting started after its completion. The managers hemmed, hawed, and fussed to no avail. Then the CEO had the idea to call in an MIT professor he knew to take a look. The Professor drove out to the plant about an hour away. He then walked around the plant for a half hour scrutinizing all its steps and pipes and then asked for a ladder and a hammer. They were supplied. He carefully put the ladder up against one particular pipe, climbed half way up the ladder, and sharply struck the hammer once on that pipe. Immediately there was a loud gurgling noise, which he told the managers indicated the plant was finally working. Then he went back to MIT.

About 10 days later the CEO received his bill which simply said “For services: $10,000.” The CEO thought that was pretty steep, so he consulted his board for advice. They suggested that he request itemization.

The professor immediately complied. “Services rendered: $5 for the hit with hammer, $9,995 for knowing where to hit.”

The bill was promptly paid.

So much for taking hammers for granted. Without the hammer, the $9,995 of knowledge would have been worthless!