Monday, March 10, 2008


Due to various complications in my life, I have decided that it would probably be best for me to stop blogging.

I want to thank all of the really kind and wonderful people who have taken the time to read and comment. I've developed quite an affection for some of you and seeing your names show up next to some comments always brightens my day. I'll still be reading the blogs of the nice folks who I met here so you'll still hear from me where you are doing your writing.

Thank you and all of my best to you.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Lately, I've noticed that my strongest impulse to make blog posts seems to come within 15 or fewer minutes of a lesson starting with one of my students. In fact, as I write this, I have a lesson 10 minutes away. This seems like a pretty absurd thing to have happen as it guarantees I won't be able to finish before the student shows up, so I've wondered what this is all about.

I'm a relatively nervous and compulsive person when it comes to preparation for a task and I tend to want to have all my ducks in a row (so to speak, no actual ducks are used in my lessons though it'd be a lot cooler if they were) long before the lessons are due to start. I'm guessing the timing of my posts being started is connected with the fact that I get the preparation out of the way and find that there is still a bit of time left. The mind starts tiptoeing through the tulips of my thought fragments and trips over one that hasn't been discussed yet and I sit at the keyboard and start working.

In my experience, creativity cannot occur unless one has periods of idleness. In fact, I've noticed that a lot of my blog pieces and my Carl pieces tend to gestate while I'm standing in the shower waiting for the conditioner to penetrate my hair. The fact that I can measure my idle moments in minutes rather than in hours (or half hours even) is slightly disturbing and something I believe I should attempt to rectify sooner rather than later.

The irony is that, as a "housewife" who works freelance and part-time, it'd seem that I should have a lot of free time, but it doesn't work that way. Being female and being in the house all day is an invitation to spending more time cleaning. Also, I suffer from something I'd term "Japanese housewife syndrome". This is when your household tasks take a lot more time because of the limits of living in a culture which makes labor saving of all sorts much more difficult because there's not enough demand for it in a culture where women are expected to use their "free" time for housework.

Additionally, there's something about being in a space a lot of the time (in addition to working in it) which makes me even more compulsive about keeping it clean and tidy than I otherwise might be...and I'm already pretty compulsive. So, time is being vacuumed up in large chunks by all the myriad of "little" things I need to get done and all the piecework I do leaving only the finest dusty fragments in the corner for me to spend on creative pursuits.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Recently, I've been doing a lot of essay correction work for one of my students. This is relatively unusual as most lessons are spent actually speaking with one another rather than my staring down at a paper scribbling corrections in silence. During these corrections, it's so quiet that I can hear the clock tick.

As of late, my student's stomach has been loudly rumbling during these periods of quiet correction. While she's very embarrassed, I reassure her that it's not a problem at all and it happens to everyone. She feels obliged to tell me it's because she eats lunch just before coming over and I continue to tell her that it neither troubles nor offends me. In fact, I've become adept at ignoring all sorts of bodily noises after years in Japan including the sort which are accompanied by less than rosy odors. The human body doesn't obey the will of its owner, and this is more often so as you get older.

In an effort to hopefully make my student feel more at ease, I told her a story of an incident at my former job about 12 years ago. In addition to making textbooks, my former company made CDs of various types of content to accompany the books. For one of the books devoted to improving TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) scores, my company decided it'd save some money by making a male coworker and I do the voice acting in the recording studio.

On the surface, voice acting may not seem like much of a chore, but it's actually quite difficult. Voice actors in Japan ask for anything between 10,000-25,000 yen an hour ($97-$242) (or at least they did at that time, rates may have changed by now). In fact, I believe the woman they hired for the Japanese voice acting chores may have been on the upper end of that range. Since my coworker and I were both North American (and therefore had the "right" accent for such work in the opinions of the Japanese), had reasonably nice voices, and, most importantly of all, were only being paid 2,000 yen ($19) an hour, we were pressed into service.

The sessions were held in a ramshackle studio in the armpit areas of Shinjuku. We sweat because using the air conditioning in the small, tightly-sealed space caused too much noise and would be picked up by the mics. What's worse, certain heavy traffic nearby would shake the room and the vibrations could be heard. It was hardly the ideal set-up for recording, but I'm guessing it had the same benefit that my coworker and I did. That is, it was cheap.

We would have to record for hours on end and we were not up to the task. Neither of us had any experience and there are certain "tricks of the trade" we weren't aware of like making sure you don't blow air out of your lips too strongly when you pronounce a "f" or a "p" sound as it'll make a strange noise on the recording. It also seemed that we never had enough "acting" skill and were both constantly told we sounded too "flat" and had to infuse our speaking about things like exchanging business cards or buying a pair of pants with more life and energy. They also expected us to time the pauses between dialogs and sentences by counting in our heads rather than offering us a watch, clock or timer, and I was always starting too fast or slow and being chastised for not waiting long enough. It was hard enough to focus on the script and not flubbing up or losing my place, not puffing out too much air on my "f's" and "p's" without having to silently count between each sentence.

After sitting in that small room for hours on end with the oxygen running out and the heat building up and being constantly criticized, it was rather difficult to build up much of an energetic vibe. Some sessions lasted 3-4 hours and we were pretty wrecked by the end of the first one. If all the various inadequacies of the soundproofing of the studio weren't enough to frustrate our progress, my coworker started to have serious empty stomach rumblings. They were so loud that the mics were clearly picking them up and we had to keep stopping and doing things over. Eventually, someone ran out and bought a bunch of bananas at a "Mom and Pop" fruit shop near the studio and he crammed a few down to try and quiet his disruptive digestive system.

After these experiences, I never wanted to set foot in a recording studio again and believe voice actors who are good at what they do deserve every yen of their high fees. Getting back to my student though, I told her this story mainly to let her know that it happens to everyone, and that it's clearly out of one's control. Even when you desperately need to stop it like in the situation we were in, there's nothing you can do.

The Dead Helping the Living

My friend Joseph over at "Tame Goes Wild" has been studying Japanese at university for the past several years. It's a staggering amount of work becoming fluent in Japanese and I really respect how hard he both tries to accomplish his goals and become a better person. He often uses his Japanese speech and presentation opportunities to discuss important social issues. He's a gentle, kind soul and I hope you'll all make his Daily Mumble a regular read. He'll inspire you to try to be a better person, too. Sometimes when things in life make me feel down and discouraged, reading about his efforts lift my spirits.

In today's post, Joseph mentioned some interesting facts about organ donation in Japan and I made a huge comment containing some information I was eventually going to get around to posting, but hadn't gotten there yet. Google sent up error messages each time I tried to send the comment (with an attractive hexadecimal code to send along so they'd know what went wrong). I figured I'd try and salvage the (potentially) lost comment and just make the post I was going to make anyway.

A very long time ago, there was a legal drama called "L.A. Law" by David E. Kelly. This is the same man who currently makes the television drama/comedy "Boston Legal" and previously made the (abysmal in my opinion) "Ally McBeal" and (brilliant, again in my opinion) "The Practice". One of the things Kelly does in a lot of his legal shows is use real life cases as fodder for the dramatic situations on his shows. One of the memorable cases on L.A. Law was about a friend of one of the attorney's on the show who needed an organ donation or she would die. She was on a waiting list, but a 50 something Japanese man was being given the next available donation because he had paid a lavish sum of money for the privilege. The attorney argued about the ethics (or lack thereof) of allowing financial capability to determine who gets organs rather than need and how this created a situation where the rich and privileged received disproportionately better care. The way this worked, by the way, was that the donor was bribed to offer their organs to the highest bidder. She lost the case and ended up paying a bribe to another donor in order to keep her friend alive despite her own disapproval of this practice and that of her colleagues.

The reason this little drama was written into the show is that this is exactly what happens when many Japanese people need organ donations. As Joseph's statistics show, a staggeringly low number of Japanese people are willing to donate organs despite the fact that a very high percentage claim to approve of them. It is clear that they approve of them as recipients, not as donors themselves and to this day it's common for Japanese people who need organs to go abroad and pay big money to get them.

If you think I'm wagging a finger or criticizing the Japanese, you'd be wrong. While the imbalance is obvious (they're receiving and not giving), there are cultural reasons for their reluctance to donate organs and, despite cases where people can pay for the organs they get abroad, I'm sure that there are far more cases where people die in need of organs. In the end, they only harm themselves, and it's not really about fault but about belief systems which they have grown up with and a medical system which gives power to the families rather than respecting the wishes of the deceased.

My husband and I have discussed the topic of organ donation many, many times with students as there's a lesson on it in one of the textbooks both of us use (Impact Issues) about the topic. There's a cultural reason for the Japanese not donating organs (likely based in Buddhism according to my students). They do not believe the body should be cut into after death and feel the removal of any parts inhibits their ability to reach heaven. As it was explained to me, they have to cross a river after death and not being intact makes it hard to do so. In fact, I recall a gruesome murder case awhile back where a little girl was murdered and her hands were cut off by the killer and the comment the mother made to the paper was something like 'how can my little girl get to heaven without her hands?'

While Japanese people are not religious, they can be superstitious and also become more spiritually minded as they get older (as do most people). They may not exactly believe in their faiths, but they figure it's better to be safe than sorry, especially about the afterlife. They're not the only ones who feel this way. Some people who are raised as Christians and abandon their faith will still baptize their children "just in case". The fears and ideas you are indoctrinated in can be very strong and it's something all cultures share, not just the Japanese.

The other problem is that organ donation doesn't only come down to what the person who died wanted. If an individual signs up for organ donation and his family decides they don't want him to donate his organs, they can cancel his request, so even open-minded, "fearless" people who go against the grain of their cultural beliefs can be trumped out of making donations after death by a family who is uncomfortable with the idea of organ donation. Given cultural notions about cutting up the body after death, I have to imagine that most families would opt not to allow for donations.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Temporary Shuffle

When I first started working full-time at my former company (a Japanese office job that involved textbook making as well as teaching via correspondence), I was informed through indirect channels that the president had a policy with the foreign employees which was essentially "three years and you're out." At the time, I thought this was a plan built around the idea that they'd have to pay us more if we stayed around too long or a frivolous desire for fresh blood. To this day, I can't be sure that that wasn't the case, but something I learned about working in Japan awhile back has made me reconsider my original thinking.

The lion's share of Japanese employees can be roughly divided into two categories. First, there are salaried employees who have all the benefits that one would expect. They get twice yearly bonuses, salary raises each year, the possibility to be promoted, health insurance payments are subsidized by the company, and there is the possibility of a company pension and a housing allowance. Salaried workers are also hard to fire and have better job security. On the down side, they often live the classic life of the overworked in Japan and work overtime, particularly if they are male. These days, overtime is often paid though most employees generally don't claim all the hours they work and are in fact told not to claim more than a certain amount of overtime hours no matter how much they work.

The other class of workers are "temporary" workers. In the U.S., a temp. usually means a person who is relatively short-term and whose work at a particular location is measured in months. In Japan, it essentially means a contract employee who works according to the terms of a one-year contract which may or may not be renewed at the end of the year. The hope tends to be that the employee will renew though rather than they won't be renewed. Of course, at times, the contract employees don't make it past a probationary period, but the same sometimes happens with salaried workers who don't work out.

In contrast to salaried workers, contract (or "temporary") workers don't get a company pension, their insurance isn't augmented in many cases, and usually don't get bonuses or tend to get smaller or less frequent ones. I've never known one to get subsidized housing or company housing. Generally speaking, a lot of contract employees are female and single or married and working to augment the family income until they decide to have children. That's not to say there are no male contract workers, but just the vast majority are female. The benefits of being a contract employee are that every hour must be paid so there's no unpaid overtime and the hourly wages tend to be a bit higher than salaried workers when you don't factor in bonus payments. Also, the responsibilities of such employees are often spelled out in their contracts so work can't be heaped on them in some cases.

Something I learned within the last year or so about contract employees, of which I was one at my former company, is that there is a law in Japan which says that such employees can only serve three years at their current position and then, by law, must be offered a chance to be a salaried worker. Of course, the companies can simply not renew the contracts of such workers after the third year, but generally, they would prefer to keep experienced workers. You can see why I started to question my conclusions about the "three years and you're out" rule for foreign employees at my former company. It's possible they were trying to adhere to the law in this regard.

I can only speculate as to the motivation behind such a law. If I had to guess, I'd think it has to do with making sure people who are good and well-suited to a job have security and are rewarded for their efforts to apply themselves to a job. While I'm generally cynical about the laws made to protect employees, I can't see how this one necessarily benefits employers since they view contract employees as being cheaper to employ than salaried workers. In fact, one of my students recently told me that she was concerned because her type of work was almost entirely populated by this class of worker and she was afraid that, as a rare salaried employee working as support staff, she'd be forced to take a different job or accept a change in her status which would carry a lower wage and none of the benefits she currently enjoys.

More recently, I've learned that companies are finding loopholes in this law. They are circumventing the nature of it by shuffling contract employees to different sections. Apparently, the law only says that you must be offered a salaried position only if you're staying on for a fourth year in the same position. If this sounds like a bit of a sneaky way of avoiding hiring people on in better positions, I regret to say that it gets even worse. Some companies are not satisfied to shuffle such workers to avoid offering them better jobs in accord with the law. They weasel out of compliance by leaving the employees in the same position doing the same job, but rename the section so it appears as though they have been transferred.

Apparently, there has been a court case recently which directly relates to the attempts on the part of some companies to get around the law and Canon has been on the hot seat for having done this. It's relatively rare though that an employee stands up for his or her rights though so I doubt that any sort of precedent will be set even if Canon should lose. Also, the truth is that a lot of contract workers prefer to stay where they are and refuse salaried positions when they are offered. This is probably because the biggest benefit of being such a worker as compared to a salaried worker is that you can walk away with far less guilt and with no sense of "betrayal" of company loyalty as such loyalty is not expected from them.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Better Late Than Never (RSS)

The Google Reader RSS interface

As late as 1974, my paternal grandfather still had a black and white television. He told me that he thought color was bad for your eyes and he didn’t think anyone needed a color T.V. I remember thinking that he was stuck in his ways and old-fashioned. I felt he was just reluctant to move with the times, even when technology was much improved. I’m not sure that he every had a color T.V., but I didn’t visit my grandparents to watch television anyway. He was a kind and wonderful man who I loved and still miss to this day.

Fast forward to the present where I have inherited my grandfather’s attitude except that my stubbornness applies to cell phones. I have a land line which my husband and I forked over about $500 for the privilege of owning when we first came to Japan and it serves us quite sufficiently. While there are times when it seems it wouldn’t be bad to have a cell phone, it seems like a pointless luxury and an invitation to have our privacy invaded more frequently. Frankly, I don’t want to be accessible all the time.

One of the dubious benefits of age appears to be that you make the transition to wanting the best of what is currently available to being satisfied with what merely works at a level which meets you most basic needs. I’m not sure when this tends to occur for most people, but it hit me around 35 or so. I guess that the loss of desire to acquire new items for the sake of new functionality which you technically do not need but rather simply want is one of the reasons why the target demographic for most advertisers is so young.

Around the same time that I lost nearly all of my materialistic impulses, I also seem to have stopped enjoying upgrading my computer for the sake of having the newest thing with the shiniest operating system. I also stopped enjoying tweaking the interface and buying new software. If what I have installed is working, I’m content to leave well enough alone now. I used to actually look forward to backing up all my data, wiping out the hard drive and installing a nice, fresh, new system and apps any time I experienced some instability. Now, I approach the thought with dread over the time it’d take and having to dig out all my installation discs.

Because of this reluctance, I’ve avoided switching from using bookmarks for web sites to using RSS. For those who are even further behind than I (all 2 or 3 of you), I’ll mention that RSS is a way of tracking when sites update so that you don’t have to load a web page every day just in case they updated. An RSS reader will notify you when sites update and you can either read them in whole or part inside the reader or go to the site yourself.

In my case, I went with Google Reader because I’m too lazy to look anywhere else and my sister told me that’s what she used. It’s pretty easy to set up, but quite time consuming initially. Once you've subscribed to all the sites you want to track, you're set and it's going to end up saving you time. It's mainly useful for someone who reads sites which are sporadically updated rather than someone who reads big ticket sites that are updated faithfully every day. In other words, it's custom made for someone who follows a lot of personal blogs like me.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Vegetarianism and Eggplants

That looks like a lot more cheese than it really was.

When you live in a rural area, seasonal food means food that is in season in your area or in areas not too far from you. Living in a metropolitan area, where you have far greater access to food from all over the world, means that you see food that is in season someplace else on the globe. If I see a ton of cheap avocados, it means they're in season in Mexico or Puerto Rico, not Japan.

I'm not sure where most of the eggplants in Tokyo are coming from, but recent shopping trips would seem to indicate that they're in season somewhere. They're cheaper than usual and plentiful. To be honest, I'm not a serious eggplant fan, though I do enjoy them on occasion and in moderation. The only vegetarian lasagna I ever made (for a friend who didn't eat meat) was made with eggplant and it turned out extremely well.

This particular friend worked several "busy seasons" as a temp. at my former office and was one of the few people aside from myself who brought her own lunch. She likely had little choice because vegetarian options are painfully limited in Japan. Even when you ask and are told there's no meat in something, there is often some sort of meat in it. It seems that the question is often interpreted by the Japanese to mean, "are there big hunks of meat in it". They'll tell you there's no meat in the dish if it's something which has minced meat in small quantities or meat broth. The notion of being a vegetarian is relatively alien in Japan. I do several lessons where I talk about food with students and the idea of giving up meat sounds incredibly odd to them. Invariably, they see the option as being one based in health benefits rather than ecological ones or philosophical beliefs.

A rare site in Tokyo, a vegan restaurant. It's not so rare as it once was, but it's still pretty rare.

Getting back to this former co-worker though, it was often the case that I'd ask this particular friend what she'd brought for lunch and one day she said "aubergine stew". Since my second language was not French (it was Spanish) and Americans rarely say "aubergine", I asked what that was to which my (Australian) boss replied that it was what snooty people called "eggplant." He was just kidding, of course. She wasn't the least bit snooty, and fortunately was a good sport.

All those bags full of eggplants in the shops and some serious boredom with my usual lunchtime options inspired me to pick up a bag of small ones and try to put them to use. The result is something which is pretty simple and I mainly mention it in my blog to inspire others to consider enjoying the same thing, not because it's an uncommon combination.

This recipe has the virtue of being very cheap and fast. I had an hour before a lesson and watched the clock while I made it. The "hard part" takes about 6 minutes with a further 5 minutes or so in the toaster oven.

Open-face Eggplant Sandwich:
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste (I used 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
  • olive oil as needed for frying
  • 1/2 tomato (sliced)
  • cheese as desired (Japanese natural "mixed" cheese is fine)
  • French bread (or any other type of crusty bread)
Slice the eggplant into about 8-10 discs of about 1/2 inch (or a bit less). Place the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic into a small bag (or a shallow bowl) and mix. Place the eggplant slices in the bag and shake to coat. They should be a bit moist and the flour will stick, but if they are dry, you may need to give them a rinse and shake off the excess water to get the flour mixture to adhere to them. Heat a small skillet over medium flame and add about a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Fry the eggplant slices in the oil until they are browned on one side then turn them over and brown the other side. You may need to add more olive oil to the pan when you turn over the eggplant as it will absorb the oil.

While the eggplant is cooking, cut off a 5 inch section of French bread and slice it in half length-wise. Trim the top and bottom if necessary to make them sit flatter on the toaster oven tray. If the bread is tilted, the cheese will run off as it melts.
Place the bread slices on the tray and put 4 or 5 cooked slices of eggplant on each piece. Top with slices of tomato. Season the tomato with salt then sprinkle the tops with cheese. It's tidier if you heap the cheese in the center so that it doesn't melt off the edges when you toast it. Toast (or broil) the sandwich until the cheese melts.

Note that it's very important to salt the tomato before adding the cheese or it'll taste rather bland and it doesn't work quite so well if you salt the cheese when the sandwich is done. Also, the topping for this sandwich is very soft so it's extremely important to use some good bread with heft and firmness.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

(Quite) A Few Words for the Haymakers

For several years, I was part of an on-line (Usenet) community for a particular on-line multiplayer game. I started off as an outsider in an established community of players and gradually became better known. I went from being a little fish in a little pond to being a big fish in a little pond. On the surface, the attention and “status” (irrelevant and meaningless as it may have been) were rewarding. My posts and ideas got plenty of replies, people wanted to give me things in games and play in games with me. I also made a very treasured friend who I regularly keep in touch with to this day (about 7 years after we met in this group).

The flip-side to all of this attention and “celebrity” status was that for every 10 people who were happy to talk to you and liked you, there was a person who decided he or she had a problem with you. In the case of this particular Usenet community, there was a woman who felt that, as the high-ranking female of a group mainly comprised of males, my rising “status” was a threat to her position as queen bee. There was also a man who grew quietly and increasingly offended because I never responded to his particular posts and took to responding to me in a passive aggressive manner at every turn in retaliation for the slight he imagined was at work. The truth was that there were a lot of people I never replied to since the group was very active and not every topic thread interested me or was something about which I felt compelled to comment. And there were some other folks who loved nothing more than to take what I said and pretend I said something else or implied something I did not so that they’d have an excuse to attack me and my position.

The last group of people were the most maddening because they were so persistent in their efforts to argue with distortions of my posts rather than what was actually said. Such folks were expert at taking things out of context and setting up straw men so they could conveniently knock them down. They could argue for weeks if you gave them the attention they wanted. As time went by, I found myself having to killfile (that is, set my reader software so I didn’t even see these people’s posts) more and more to avoid these people. The problem with being a big fish in a little pond was that it made you a juicier target for aspiring little fish.

The problem for me at the time was that I needed this group as a social outlet. I was working in almost complete isolation much of the time in a job which was very repetitive for long stretches of time. I was also at a point where all of my friends had already left Japan and my lack of time and small number of coworkers made it virtually impossible to expand my social network. I was likely addicted to the group and found it very hard to walk away despite the increasing amount of frustration I felt over the drama and personal and unprovoked attacks.

The thing that finally set me free was that I had lost interest in the game and I had an intense aversion to hanging around the group when I had nothing to say about the topic the group was formed around. I had witnessed a lot of people who hung around making pointless (and often witless and boring) contributions because they couldn’t leave and vowed not to become one of them. I walked away and I did it without making any big proclamations about my departure as I didn’t want to invite people to beg me to stay (as it was something I’d seen others do and detested as well). I actually felt withdrawal for awhile, but I got over it and, as time went by, I felt better about not being in a social dynamic full of people with issues that they were acting out on by projecting their fantasies, illusions, aggressions and imagination on me (and other prominent group members).

Why am I writing about this here? If it hasn’t become obvious already, it’s because I’ve discovered that the problems I experienced in the Usenet community are little different from those in blog communities. It seems pandemic in all tendrils of the beast that is the internet that there will be people who can’t help but be competitive, argumentative, or delight in nothing more than arguing with distortions of what you say rather than what you actually say. Apparently, I was at the center of some brouhaha that I missed entirely because I hadn’t been reading various blogs lately (and I never do trackbacks). At the heart of this was a controversy over the Charisma Man post and a lot of people either never read what I said or had a complete inability to read what I said. Somehow, a complex post was distilled down into some distorted conclusions. One big conclusion some people seemed to make was that the post was omindirectional and pasted the "Charisma Man" label on any male who was dating or interested in Japanese women when it certainly was not (and it was made clear in more ways than one in the post but, hey, why read what I said when you can get upset about something I didn't say). Apparently, some felt my writing was an indication that Western women were bitter that Western men in Japan didn’t want them. The irony is, of course, that the whole concept of a “Charisma Man” (which I didn’t invent and predates my post by decades) is that these are men Western women find unappealing. They wouldn’t want them if they offered themselves. It also apparently got simplified into my saying that men who wanted to practice Japanese or date Japanese girls were tagged as “Charisma Men”.

I’m forced to wonder if I’m starting to see a repeat of my past from my Usenet days and it’s not something I’m keen to put up with. If there are bloggers out there who read my blog and have nothing better to do than invent some sort of adversarial drama to draw attention to themselves or to drum up content when they have nothing of their own to say, then I’m not sure that I want to be the focus of their distortion and projections. Perhaps all these folks who have nothing to post about and feel the need to piggyback on my content and make hay by pretending I’m saying something I’m not should reconsider whether they have anything unique and meaningful to offer as bloggers.

Make the World a Better Place (and you a better person)

Before any of my readers are mislead into thinking this is going to be a list of well-worn "dos" and "don'ts", let me say that that's not the way my mind works. I don't think people need hear more about giving money to the poor, meals to the elderly, or to pick up trash. There are more than enough public service announcements and non-profit agencies encouraging such acts. My suggestions are about improving you and by association, making the world a better one that you will be happier living in.

1. Mind you own business.

When you see that fat guy chowing down on a piece of cake, remember that what he eats has nothing to do with you. When you see that woman wearing lot of makeup and tight dresses, remember that her fashion sense has nothing to do with you. Either as part of "human nature", self-centeredness, or as part of our socialization, we make a myriad of little judgments of strangers everyday. With a glance, we size them up, judge their choices, and reach conclusions. When challenged about how it's our business, we invent an elaborate chain of connections that smugly allow us to conclude that their behavior harms us because it harms society as a whole as a way of justifying our stance.

When we do this, we trivialize people and distill them into mere results of their choices rather than see them as people who, like us and those we love, have multi-faceted characters, feelings, and needs. In doing so, we are attempting to elevate ourselves and diminish them. We're also appointing ourselves the authority on what is right, best, or acceptable. The actions of others don't lead back to you unless they are acting upon you. You wouldn't want someone doing this to you, so try hard not to do it to them. When you catch yourself doing this, try to stop yourself in mid-judge and break this pattern.

2. Don't act out of selfishness (or anger at the selfishness of others).

Most of the acts of discourtesy that one experiences in public spaces are the result of one person acting selfishly in a competitive situation and then the other retaliating. From pushing for a seat on the subway to stealing a parking space to rushing to get in front of someone who is about to get in line before you, these acts are putting your needs before the needs of someone else. It's taking away from them because you've decided you're more entitled. Sometimes, that entitlement is justified by fatigue, frustration, or the idea that 'everyone does it'. If you don't do it, then that's one less 'everyone' who does it.

When someone does one of these things to you, try not to be hostile as it serves no purpose other than to prove that you cannot control your emotions and are taking the low road in a power struggle you feel you have just lost. You're not going to "teach someone a lesson" and have them stop doing it in the future. People who do these things know what they're doing (just as you do when you do it) and it makes them feel smaller inside and they put up an angry defensive posture. Even in a victory of scoring that last parking space in front of the shop, that person feels defensive knowing that their pettiness may invite a confrontation. Remember that not acting on your frustration is a bigger battle won over your temper and worse impulses, than winning some petty one-off competition for a social benefit.

3. Don't consume or talk about entertainment that feeds off the misery of others.

Everyone complains about celebrity gossip and reality T.V. Both of these types of "entertainment" are offered by the bottom feeders of media who hope to draw in an audience of bored people filling their lives with empty information about the lives of famous folks. This type of content takes little creativity to produce, contains no deep, high, or subtle messages or stories, and panders to a need to judge others in order to feel better about someone else. Some of them are the equivalent of bread and circuses. Anything you consume which has a voyeuristic element reflects an emptiness in your life which you're trying to fill with the more exciting or titillating lives of others.

If you want these things to go away, avoid consuming them at all costs and don't complain about them. When you complain about them, you are giving them free publicity and driving interest up for such content. In fact, complaining about the excessive coverage of the celebrity of the moment tends to drive folks to that coverage to see what you're on about.

Similarly, don't get your jollies from reading about the stupidity, misfortune or carelessness of others. Enjoying mean-spirited humor like the Darwin Awards or making fun of others for actions you think are "stupid" reflects your insecurity and anger. You should be feeding your needs to improve your self-esteem in ways which are lasting and positive rather than doing so at the expense of others.

4. Stop justifying your bigotry.

No one believes he or she is a bigot because bigots are "bad" people. People believe their belief that all Americans are rude or all Christians are intolerant fanatics are justified by the behavior they read about. If you read a story by way of Digg about how a little boy was denied access to a Christmas party because he didn't believe in Jesus and smugly shake your head as you reinforce your certainty that Christians are hypocrites, you've entered the bigot club. The very essence of prejudice is using anecdotal or isolated experiences to justify a negative set belief and not allowing other anecdotes or a vast array of contrary information to dissuade you, or worse yet, to form an opinion based on anecdotes without looking deeper into the situation. Thousands of Christians may be doing missionary or charity work and express tolerance, but their behavior is off the radar for those who are determined to justify their prejudices.

What's more, it's not OK to hate a group of people just because they aren't oppressed. Hate is hate and it's bad for you and it's bad for your relationship with the world. It also infects all your interactions with people and warps your digestion of information. You're encouraging yourself to become a person with a highly-distorted world-view just to prop up your bigotry. You won't even know it, but you'll end up being one of those people no one wants to interact with and who makes others uncomfortable. The world could use fewer of these sorts of folks, don't you think? Why not start with not becoming one yourself.

5. Use honesty wisely and kindly.

There are always going to be times when we can't be honest because it could be detrimental to our jobs or our relationships. Honesty isn't a license to be a jerk or to abandon the white lies that smooth over social encounters and being honest all the time doesn't make you "strong" or prove your ego is durable enough to withstand the disapproval of others in the face of your blunt honesty. Honesty which serves your desires and in no way helps the object of your candor makes you insensitive and rude. If you go to dinner and the hostess's cooking isn't to your liking, you don't tell her you didn't like it. Unless you have a close relationship with her where such candor is acceptable, you offer a white lie to spare her feelings. This sort of lie does no damage to you and it protects her from damage. That is not to say you should pretend you loved the food either, but rather that you be gracious for the social opportunity and the effort.

On the other hand, sometimes people lie even when they seriously don't want to do something or like something. They are asked to do tasks they don't want to do, but pretend it's not a problem for them to do it. They fill themselves with anxiety or get mad at having even been asked to do such things and often ultimately build resentment toward the person who put them in that position. Be honest when it means something to you even if it's difficult for you to do so. If you don't, you misshape the relationships around you and mislead others in terms of their expectations of you.

6. Know when to care and when it's best not to.

It's interesting how many people make a big deal out of their latte not having enough foam or too much foam. They get worked up and charge up to the counter to complain. There's this tiny little insignificant thing which they use an excuse to spread negativity to another person. Sometimes they'll even go so far as to get people in trouble with their bosses because some small thing doesn't suit them. This is the life in nations where ordinary citizens live the life of kings and queens in past centuries. Whims must be anticipated and the smallest of expectations must be met, or there is hell to pay.

Getting worked up about such minutiae is not only harmful to the object of your ire as it starts to build up a hostile resentment toward the customer that will be transferred to other customers and sets off a chain reaction of negativity, but is also bad for the angry party. Every time you invest thought and energy into being angry about tiny little things that don't go your way, you reinforce a pathway in your mind to being angry about such small things. It's one thing to get upset by people treating you poorly or very shoddy work when you pay for a service of goods, but it's quite another to get worked up over small things which are accidents or simply not a reflection of the way you personally believe things should be.

Ask yourself what sort of world we'd live in if everyone followed my advice above. While not everyone will, it has to start with someone and, if not you, then who? If you want to live in a world with people who behave in a more civilized fashion, the changes need to start with you.

If anyone thinks I'm elevating myself as being high-minded and above everyone in giving out this advice, please keep in mind that there's not one point on this list that I don't struggle with myself. I'm not perfect, and I know I never will be, but I do believe we can all live in a better world if we try to fight our worst thoughts and impulses. That's really all we can ask of ourselves.