This is about respect, and how I arrived at my principles. It's not about you. It isn't an allegory about what an awful person you are. Read it with that in mind.
My first non-shitty job out of college was working for a homeless shelter. It was a shitty job -- but it was the first job where it was important that I do it right. One of the first things I discover is that there are people no one wants to work with. Dual diagnosis clients. Clients with personality disorders. Clients who are actively in the middle of addiction relapses.
Because there's no one else deciding what I do there -- I'm not going to go into why, but let's just agree that that's true -- I decide that the clients that no one wants to deal with are my main problem. Some of them are actually pretty awful people. A couple of guys who had been in for aggravated assault on their partners. Another guy who threatened me with a knife. A couple sex offenders.
So I check the stats. And I find out that these guys aren't the majority of our clients, but they're the majority of shelter days we spend. When they're not sheltered -- when they're off their meds or whatever -- they're inflicting a huge amount of cost and misery on everyone else.
They're also the hardest cases. And it's easy to write them off, because they're not "working the program" or they're huge assholes whom it's impossible to work with, or they deserve whatever awful situation that they're in. All of these things are, from time to time, true. But at the end of the day, if they don't end up in a more stable position -- and I'm not talking about a good position, just a position where they're not literally taking up room in an emergency room -- they're going to die in misery, having cost the state a couple million bucks.
And that's nuts. This is where the low-hanging fruit is: the very small number of cases which you have to improve, however incrementally, to save an enormous amount of time and money and effort. And also to alleviate the misery they cause for everyone else.
It's, like, ten, twelve guys, and like three million bucks each of lifetime costs. At which point it doesn't actually matter whether they're an asshole or gotten what they deserve or whatever. Stabilizing just one of these clients would pay (indirectly) twelve times the yearly operating cost of the shelter, or some insane multiplier of my shitty $20k-range salary. ($11/hr; I'm not sure what that works out to and am not doing the math now.)
Okay, so, personality and addiction disorders.
They're all interesting and different, but one thing that most of them have in common is black-and-white thinking. You're either their best friend or their worst enemy, with nothing in between. That's hard. How are you supposed to stop the thing that's fucking up their life and the lives of anyone around them, when you can't even really call them out for it? I didn't have a good way to go about it at first.
I failed a lot.
When I succeeded, it was for three reasons: (a) unconditional honesty about what I was going to do and why I was going to do it, even when I was doing something seriously adverse to their interests, and (b) stateless, grudge-free helpfulness and fairness, and (c) making it clear that, in exchange for honesty and fairness, you had to reciprocate with other people, but you didn't have to reciprocate with me.
Clients could scream all they wanted at me. They just had to not do it to everyone else. And if I needed them to do something affirmative to stop making someone else miserable, I'd just explain what it is I needed and... usually, i'd get it. Because, again, although some of these clients were criminals and all of them were hard to deal with, they're still people.
That doesn't mean that I never had to kick people out in the cold, or that I never shouted, or that I never slipped up out of anger, or that I never complained about people in private. It just means that I always treated unfairness, intentional dishonesty dishonesty, and abuse of authority as "never" events.
Because the stakes with the people I had the hardest time with were so high. Three million dollars in lifetime costs, most of it costing the public. What am I going to do, throw that away on a cathartic shouting match? Or, if I do, what am I going to do, feel justified about it? I could burn down an elementary school and cost the state less.
Back to why I think this is important. Two reasons:
(1) I didn't grow up poor. But I did grow up in an impoverished, very conservative place, and spent most of my young adulthood there. There was a huge amount of low-hanging fruit available: things which could be done to improve other peoples' lives, and which required very little actual work. But none of that work could be done without the consent of people who deeply disagreed with me.
The past eighteen months in Silicon Valley? This is the first time in my life where I can say any random thing which I actually believe, and expect it to be agreed with. And it's not like I was hiding my cards all of the time: people knew exactly who I was, and what I believed. But the cost of entry, in terms of doing anything useful, was starting out with an almost-irrebuttable presumption that people's worldviews come from somewhere, and they are entitled to some minimum level of respect.
What that respect meant is that when my clients broke their glasses, I could rely on the Mormon bishop -- who was an opthamlogist -- to fix them for free. When the shelter didn't have room, I could rely on the Catholics to take them them in.
So, here's the lesson I learned: every time I fail to treat someone who is willing to do good for a third party with respect, even if I think the reason they are willing to do good is eccentric or wrong, I am spending someone else's credit for my own catharsis.
I don't get to do that.
(2) I can talk to people I agree with. Talking to people I agree with does me no good. Why should I be treated as an authority by people in my own in-group when I'm not actually hurt by ... basically anything?
But the people I disagree with on a lot of subjects? In order to double the population that believes any given thing, here's all that has to happen*: everybody has to convince one person of whatever the more-correct thing is. That's simple. And it has huge impact, on the timescale of social change.
Athena and I went to San Mateo College for the viewing event and got their early enough to snag a good spot. Unfortunately, the clouds from earlier in the day decided to hand around the easter horizon, blocking our view of the moon. By 7:30 it was clear we weren't going to see the moon for quite some time, so we went over to the observatory.
The observatory was crammed with people, so we gave up on it. A few people had telescopes set up in a patio, so we got to see Saturn, and about then Athena started to get tired. "Let's stop by the spot where we started on our way back," I told here, "we'll give the moon one last chance."
Halfway there, we heard a big cheer from the crowd - the moon had finally made it above those stubborn clouds! We ran over and finally got a look a the dark, blood-fringed moon.
Fun night. But I have to say, there' are too many geeks in the Bay Area. Every time I try to take my kids to some geeky thing, it's mobbed with people. It's really a tragedy :)
I wonder if it would work for Google...
Me: "Okay. Did you know, that the ancient Greeks, who were very smart and invented things like philosophy and democracy, never managed to invent pizza?"
Me: "That's right, thousands of years of culture and not one of them got to enjoy a delicious slice."
Athena: "Okay, thank you for the story about pizza."
Me: "You're welcome."
Athena: "For more videos about the history of pizza, please go to pizza dot com."
There's a big difference between U.S. fuel inputs (e.g. coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, solar, wind, etc.) and end-use energy consumption (e.g. residential, industrial, transportation). This wastage occurs because no process for generating and distributing energy is 100% efficient. But you probably would have guessed that more than 39% of energy made it to end-users.
This loss through inefficiency is known as 'rejected energy' -- and it's a ripe target for innovation. Improving this percentage (even a little) would yield significant cost and environmental benefits. Remember: the energy is being produced -- it's just dissipating before we can use it..
Originally published in August, 2013, the article below references a 2012 chart that was just recently updated by here: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/images/energy/us/Energy_US_2014.png
As you can see, the ratio of rejected to consumable energy hasn't budged in recent years (and actually increased in the last two years).
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