What I learned from my brother

I shared this note on Facebook yesterday.

It seems to have encouraged lots of people, so thought I’d share it here.

I hesitated to publish this anywhere, at first. I wrote it for myself—to get my thoughts on paper. I hadn’t been able to do that in regards to my brother until last week.

But I want people to remember Matt. And there’s no point in hiding the hard truths. Unfortunately, we all lose we people love, at some point or other—sometimes in terrible ways. What’s important isn’t that we avoid these things, but learn how to put it all into some workable perspective.

Here’s a quote to go along with the note:

There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of secondary causality – in nature or history – is governed not only by a transcendent providence but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But one should consider the price at which the comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of – but entirely by way of – every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.

David Bentley Hart

How many people have seen a ghost?

That headline is one of the questions covered in the newest installment in my Survey Says series on Medium.

I also cover time-travel, the spirit-world, visions, and belief in aliens.

Suffice it to say, this was a pretty fun survey. I’m surprised by some of the findings (25% of people have seen a ghost?), but not by the overall takeaway—that we’re a lot more superstitious than we let on.

Sure, it’s 2018. Technology is fast-improving. More of us are educated. We know more about the physical world than ever before.

But for better or worse, we often seem relatively unmoved by the most earth-shattering scientific discoveries — even ones with profound potential to enhance the quality of our own lives. Instead, we often cling to superstitious beliefs instead—because, I think, they can be easier to understand (and even easier to believe) than many “scientific” explanations for confusing things.

Anyways, click the link above to read more about my findings. Hope you enjoy!

Focus on YOU, not the UNKNOWN

We worry so much about the unknown.

About things that have never happened before, and aren’t likely to happen at all.

It’s why we spend so much on insurance. Home insurance, health insurance, car insurance, renters insurance. Disability insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, pet insurance. Even oven, microwave & fridge insurance.

Bottom line: We spend a LOT of time and a LOT of money worrying about what MIGHT happen in the future.

But at the end of the day, these things aren’t what makes the difference. What we CAN’T CONTROL might be scary, but it’s what we CAN control that has the biggest impact on our health & happiness. BY FAR.

Things like whether we exercise. Whether we go to church. Whether we slow down and take breaks. Whether we eat right, sleep enough, and stop drinking so much.

Because when you’re healthy, things make more sense. Lower stress, better decisions. And yes, while the big unknowns (cancer, a house fire, stolen identity) are scary, they aren’t what you’ll look back and regret. And ultimately, there’s really nothing you can do to protect yourself entirely. The big, bad things are going to happen, whether you like it or not.

But your daily decisions, on the other hand, are totally up to you.

I’m convinced that if we spent just 10% as much time investing in OURSELVES as we do staving off the unknown, we’d be a lot happier and healthier.

So here’s my idea: Find $200.

Review your monthly expenses on things like insurance, retirement & investment accounts. Find a way to save $200 before the end of 2018.

Then take that $200 and go buy a gym membership. Or take a dance class with your spouse. Or take a cooking class. Or a wine class. Or a Spanish class. Or just take a day off and explore museums downtown.

So many of us have so much, but I promise — it will never be enough. You’ll never “get ahead” on account of your income. You’ll never feel fulfilled by the numbers on your paystub.

What’s important is to be healthy. And I think most of us are better equipped to pursue this kind of health than we’re led to believe.

The best way to prepare for the future is to become a better, more confident person now. Not throw more money at unlikely possibilities that won’t make whatever might happen any easier, in the end.

Our Revealing Perceptions on Gender & Vice

Which gender is more likely to cheat on their spouse? To overreact? To watch pornography? To tell a lie?

These are age-old debates, of course. And we can’t answer these questions for  sure without some pretty massive empirical studies.

But ultimately, I don’t think it’s just the truth that we’re interested in. I think we’re equally as intrigued by what each gender thinks about the other—how men and women think differently about the other sex, and what that means about how we relate to each other.

That’s the subject of this week’s survey—the first in my new Survey Says series, where I use surveys & polls to reveal what we really think about big, important issues (like gender).

Methodology Notes: This survey was fielded online to a random sample of American adults. It’s controlled for age and gender, to roughly match the US general population. More on my methodology here.

Here’s how it worked.

I asked 228 American adults a host of demographic questions: age, religious affiliation, gender, race, and political views. I followed those questions with a list of 20 questions on gender & vice. Each one began like this:

  • In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And each one ended with something like this:

  • to go broke?
  • to have anxiety?
  • to overreact?
  • to view pornography?

20 “vices” like that. You get the picture.

Finally, the answer options for these questions included:

  • a male
  • a female
  • both genders equally likely

Now, a more entrepreneurial analyst might have said to leave off the third option and force respondents to pick either male or female. That way, we’re sure to get interesting findings.

But I decided this wouldn’t be fair. “Both genders equally likely” is a totally fair opinion—it’s not required someone believe one gender is more likely than the other for every one of these vices. So while forcing respondents to pick either male or female might have yielded more “scandalous” findings, it’s simply not a responsible way to ask that question.

And besides, I find the third answer option as interesting as the other two. It’s the “easy way out,” sure, but given the media’s inflammatory rhetoric surrounding gender in recent years, seeing that become the most popular answer option could put a damper on that unnecessarily divisive perspective.

Two quick notes.

  1. I’m titling this report Gender & Vice, but close readers will note that not every item in this instrument is a “vice.” Namely, I asked which gender is more likely to donate a kidney (obviously not a vice) and help a stranger to serve as foils for flatliners (that is, a quality control).
  2. My sample size here is a bit small. That’s for two reasons. First, this is my first post in this series, and I want to be sure my approach is sound and well-received before dropping more funds into this project. Second, I noticed some clear trends emerging after about 150 responses that I doubt would change, no matter how many respondents I added. I’ll explain more on this later.

Next, some key findings.

Some interesting findings here.

By and large, respondents were most likely to pick “both genders equally likely” across all the vices. This option outsized the sum of male plus female answers for every vice included in the survey except for to have anxiety, to overreact, to kiss and tell, to watch pornography, and to get lost.

In addition, comparing the answers of male respondents with female respondents reveals some interesting—even funny—differences in how each gender perceives the other. While I was tempted to say males appear to be more self-deprecating than females (they were more likely to pick themselves for many of these vices), it’s possible I inadvertently picked vices that males are more likely to see in themselves (I am a male, after all), and that females would be just as likely to pick themselves for other vices I didn’t include here. After all, females were more likely to pick themselves for a few of these vices.

Finally, there are some “groups” of vices here that definitely trend one gender over the other. For example, males were chosen significantly more often than females for vices having to do with relationships and sex (i.e. viewing pornography). Females were chosen significantly more often than males for vices having to do with emotions (i.e. overreacting and having anxiety). I’ll dive into this below.

Some detailed findings.

I know, I know—I’m long-winded. The charts below are what you really came here to see. So have at it!

To make these easier to view, I’ve separated these topline findings into three different charts—one that shows vices that skew neither male nor female, another that shows vices that skew male, and another that shows vices that skew female.

Figure 1: Vices that Skew Neither Male nor Female
These vices showed no large differences between the genders (again, this is what gender was chosen as more likely by the aggregate of all respondents—it has nothing to do, yet, with the genders of the survey respondents).
Figure 2: Vices that Skew Male
Here, we see those vices that respondents were more likely to say males were more likely to do. For some of these, both genders equally likely is by far the most popular answer, though males are still significantly more likely to be chosen than females.

Again, this is the aggregate answers of all respondents, and has nothing to do (yet) with the respondents’ genders.

Figure 3: Vices that Skew Female
Here, you’ll notice the list is a bit smaller. Simply put, respondents as a whole are less likely to answer that females are more likely to do these vices. But the first two rows above show some large, and definitely significant, differences in favor of females.

Cutting the data by gender.

At the beginning of the survey, I asked the following question:

  • With which of the following genders do you identify?

Answer options were male and female. By design (I controlled for gender), the survey sample is roughly half male (47.8%), half female (52.2%). When cutting the data by respondent gender, each segment has more than 100 responses.

This segmentation is what excited me most about this survey. Frankly, I’m not terribly surprised by anything shown in the graphs above. But what follows in the graphs below is definitely interesting.

Note that I’ve only included graphs where there are big differences between males’ and females’ answers. If you don’t see one of the questions in this section, it’s because males and females agree with each other (therefore, the difference between the two genders’ answers is not worth pointing out).

As you view the charts below, remember that each question began identically: In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And note that the Y-axis is respondents’ genders, and the legend (at bottom) are respondents’ answers.

Both genders think males are more likely to curse in front of their kids. Males are significantly more likely than females to think this.
This is, to me, the most interesting graph in this set. While more than half of both genders think both genders are equally likely to give up their kidney, each gender is significantly more likely to choose their own gender when asked this question.
While both genders are likely to say females are more likely than males to have anxiety, females are far more likely to pick their own gender for this question. Indeed, this is one of just two questions where the majority of at least one gender picked either male or female, and not both genders equally likely.
Approximately the same percent of each gender says males are more likely to be annoying. But males are significantly more likely than females to say that females are more likely to be annoying.
Both genders are considerably more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to overeat. Interesting…
Males are far more likely to pick themselves as more likely to cheat in school. Note that almost no females selected their own gender for this one.
Females are significantly less likely to pick males as more likely to help a stranger. Even males are just as likely to pick females as to pick themselves.
While both genders are equally likely to pick males as more likely to tell a lie, males are far more likely than females to say females are more likely to lie. Almost no females, on the other hand, are likely to pick their own gender here.
Males are far more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to spend all day watching TV. In other words, might we say men are admittedly lazier than women? I wish I’d asked about laziness.
While males are definitely seen as the gender more likely to cheat on their partner, males are considerably more likely than females to pick females here.

In conclusion…

As I said before, I don’t find any of the topline figures too surprising, and even the cut by gender isn’t a paradigm shifter. I’m not surprised that more of these vices skew male (which, again, may have to do with the kinds of vices I picked). I’m not surprised that both genders equally likely is, by far, the most frequently selected option.

That last point is, indeed, the major finding here—we’re less “gendered” in our perspective of things than I think many social commentators would have us believe. All but a small handful of these vices (plus the two virtues) are seen equally applicable to both males and females.

But remember—this is a survey. It’s people’s stated answers to questions, and doesn’t necessarily reflect subconscious beliefs that influence the way they act in the real world.

For example, I run willingness to pay surveys for companies all the time. A consistent finding is that survey respondents exhibit a higher willingness to pay in a survey than they exhibit in real life (than, that is, their willingness to actually take out their wallet).

When surveying about contentious issues (like gender), these subconscious beliefs are especially important to keep in mind. Many of us are conditioned from a young age to say or think certain things (like, for example, that men and women are equal), and we’ll reflect that training in a survey. But whether we’ve actually internalized these ideals such that we behave in accord with them is a different question—one to keep in mind whenever you’re looking at data like this.

(^That’s me being honest about the value of survey data like this—definitely valuable, but not the final word. Always pair your interpretation of survey data with your intuition and “secondary” research about the topic at hand.)

Facts don’t matter (in a way)

Facts don’t speak for themselves.

Whenever anyone says they are “fact-checking” something, don’t believe it’s automatically an impartial truth test.

It’s typically just another way of advancing a particular perspective, or a way of avoiding the complicated nuances behind the topic at hand.

I think our modern, technical age encourages us to be too precise–too binary–in how we think about the world. We’re encouraged, I think, to pretend we have all the answers, and to never stop at “it’s complicated.”

But the fact is, some things are complicated. And some “facts” are, indeed, disputable.

Having a clean, black-and-white way to understand the world is appealing, but it’s the furthest thing from reality. And frankly, those who purport some super-simple framework for putting everything in perspective are often less sure of themselves than they’d have you believe.

Mostly, what matters is the general framework you use to think about the world. Not the “facts” that you think support your positions.

Because who’s to say what facts matter the most?

That’s the real question. And there’s no easy answer.

An exciting announcement!

I’m finally starting a regular publication.

After several years of updating this blog somewhat irregularly, I’ve thought long and hard about how to combine the best of my skills into something interesting and marketable. Something, I hope, people will enjoy coming back to read every time I publish a new post.

What is it?

It’s called Survey Says. A bi-weekly blog series, featuring findings from public opinion surveys designed, fielded and analyzed by yours truly.

Fact is, I’m a survey research guru. You may even say I wrote the book. I consult on survey projects for some of the world’s biggest brands. My company, PeopleFish, fields dozens of surveys per month for clients all over the world.

So I’m putting my skills to use in a new, creative way. Beginning this Friday, I’m going to design, program, field and analyze one public opinion survey every two weeks, asking questions about interesting topics in a fair and balanced way.

My ultimate goal: To reveal our true feelings about big, important issues. Things like gender and race, education and politics, religion and relationships.

What will it look like?

I plan to design, program, field and analyze one survey every two weeks. I’ll spend the first of these two weeks designing and fielding, and the second week analyzing and writing an in-depth post about the findings.

If time allows, I want to accompany each post with a podcast episode (finally giving some reason for my hitherto-confused podcast to exist).

Interesting. What’s in it for me?

Simply put, people who read my posts on these surveys (i.e. you) will be better informed people. You’ll have a better sense of what the public actually believes about big, important issues. You won’t rely so much on half-baked, mainstream media commentary to understand how the world thinks.

Instead, you’ll have the news straight from the horses mouth. You’ll learn from the people what the people really think. And if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that a well-designed survey will yield surprising things about the general public—things you may never have guessed had you used mainstream commentary as your guide.


So there we have it. Check back on Friday for the first post—I’m pretty excited about this week’s topic! If you’d like to get notifications about new posts via email, sign up below.

Subscribe to the Survey Says Mailing List

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Some quotes I live by

I’ve had these quotes posted on my Facebook profile for a long time. Some of them for more than 10 years.

The state of wisdom is when man has no longer any concern about understanding truths and goods, but about willing and living them; for this is to be wise.

Emanuel Swedenborg

Every voluntary mortification of the egocentricity which is ‘contrary to nature’ is a dynamic destruction of death and a triumph for the life of the person.

Christos Yannaras

Fire and water do not mix, neither can you mix judgment of others with the desire to repent. If a man commits a sin before you at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment, because the judgment of God is hidden from men. It has happened that men have sinned greatly in the open but have done greater deeds in secret, so that those who would disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes.

St. John Climacus

A man who is wrathful with us is a sick man; we must apply a plaster to his heart – love; we must treat him kindly, speak to him gently, lovingly. And if there is not deeply-rooted malice against us within him, but only a temporary fit of anger, you will see how his heart, or his malice, will melt away through your kindness and love – how good will conquer evil. A Christian must always be kind, gracious, and wise in order to conquer evil by good.

St. John of Kronstadt

Truth be told, there is no remotely plausible reason–apart from a preference for our own presuppositions over those of other peoples–why the convictions of an African polyglot and philosopher, whose pastoral and social labors oblige him to be engaged immediately in the concrete reality of hundreds of lives, should command less rational assent from us than the small, unproven, doctrinaire certitudes of persons who spend their lives in supermarkets and before television screens and immured in the sterile, hallucinatory seclusion of their own private studies.

David Bentley Hart

Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them.

Immanuel Kant

Christians need to abandon talk about ‘redeeming the culture’, ‘advancing the kingdom’, and ‘changing the world’. Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care – again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.

James Davison Hunter

What distinguishes civilized man from a barbarian must be acquired by every individual anew.

Ludwig von Mises

It is an act of love, not aggression, to bring another to see and affirm deep truths about God and human destiny.

R.R. Reno

Facebook’s problem

The problem with Facebook these days is you don’t know what to expect anymore when you open your newsfeed.

Silly memes, serious essays about life events, cute photos of your friends kids, links to random articles, etc.

Then people don’t know what to post anymore, so they post less often. That is, people who think twice before posting. Not everyone is like that, unfortunately. Yet it’s precisely these unfortunate posts that, then, make up an increasing portion of what you see on Facebook.

But you have to keep checking Facebook all day, because it is very likely to be the only way you learn about your old roommate’s cancer diagnosis, or your church closing on Sunday morning due to a power outage, or the time of your kid’s next soccer game, or your great aunt’s untimely death (posted right there under that meme of nude Kim Kardashian).

It’s become one big trash forum.

But it’s precisely by lumping everything together like this that Facebook finds ways to get more content in front of us. If we get one very serious, informative post every few days (like the news of your great aunt’s untimely death), we’ll put up with the trash. We may even click on the trash every so often, which helps fund the effort to find better ways of keeping us hooked.

Now, whether it’s bad to be “hooked” on Facebook is a very personal determination. But based on what I see from people who post and scroll the most often, I’d literally bet it’s bad for most people most of the time. And really bad for some people pretty much all of the time.

Think about whether that’s you — whether you’re hooked on Facebook, or social media generally, and how that’s affected you. Whether you know, somewhere inside you, that you should probably, definitely, be doing something else right now.

(More of my thoughts on Facebook here.)

My new course: How to Run a Market Research Survey

You have a product idea, but will it sell? Is it something people want? How much would they pay?

Rather than trust your gut, get hard answers to these questions (and others) from real people in your target market.

My new course at Highbrow will teach you exactly how to run an online market research survey for any product or service idea—a survey that empowers you with data-driven insights about how to turn your idea into a real business concept that consumers (and investors) will love.

I had fun putting this together, and I like Highbrow’s model. It’s free for first-time Highbrow users, so give it a try!

This is designed for anyone with a startup or product/service idea they’d like to bring to market. But in particular, it’s going to be especially valuable for startups trying to woo investors. Because like it or not, investors are going to want to see figures—your target market’s demand, willingness to pay, use of substitute products, etc.

More thoughts on fractional reserve banking

I haven’t written about this, or economics generally, in a while. Left my graduate program 18 months ago, and have been too busy with a new house, new kids, and my business to do much reading on economics.

But a post in this Facebook group got me going. So here’s a string of thoughts I’ve had on fractional reserve banking over the past year.


The only difference between a deposits box, or a “full-reserve” account, and a bank account in a FRB is in degree of risk they assume.

If I give my cash to a fractional reserve bank, they assume some risk by guaranteeing me withdrawal-on-demand because, of course, they are lending out my cash to others and don’t actually have everyone’s cash on hand at all times.

If I give my cash to a full reserve bank, they assume some risks by guaranteeing withdrawal-on-demand because, of course, they can’t actually guarantee that — they have no idea what the future holds.

(Neither, of course, does the fractional reserve bank know what the future holds.)

Fractional reserve banks are just businesses, managing risk. Depositors are customers who take a gamble with the banks’ guarantee. Of course, a fractional reserve bank may (though not necessarily) be more likely to “default” on withdrawal demands, but a full-reserve bank can’t 100% guarantee full redemption, either.

What if, for example, they are robbed? Were they wrong to ever guarantee full redemption, knowing theft was a possibility? What if they even made decisions that increased the known likelihood of their vault’s being robbed, even if only slightly? Does this make their guarantee fraudulent (or more fraudulent)?

Critics call fractional reserve banking fraudulent because it’s “a claim by multiple parties to each use a present resource differently.” That description of fractional reserve banking is accurate, but there’s no fraud. For how is that different than any health insurance plan, whereby members claim the benefits of their plan and solicit/secure services on account of the plan’s guarantee to pay a provider after services rendered, while members (and providers) know full-well that the insurer cannot technically cover everyone’s possible claims at any possible time?

Another perspective (of the same argument): How is the risk assumed by a fractional reserve bank different, except only in degree, than that assumed by a full-reserve bank who moves their vault to a less-secure location (to, say, cut down on costs)? Or than that assumed by a full-reserve bank who moves their vault to a known fault line, where an earthquake is far more likely to cause damage to physical deposits (cash, buillon)?

Neither form of bank can absolutely guarantee withdrawal-on-demand any more than any business can guarantee that, if you pay, they’ll send your product.

It’s just a matter of degrees of risk. That’s how I think about full vs. fractional banking after many years of considering the issue. Please correct me if any of my analogies are not appropriate.

I grant that in a full-reserve system does not entail, like in a fractional reserve system, “a claim by multiple parties to each use a present resource differently.” But a full-reserve system is, in the context of making payments against full-reserve deposit accounts, no more a “guarantee” than drawing on funds at a bank that willingly and knowingly does not have sufficient funds on hand to honor every withdrawal request. Vendors are still taking the risk that your bank, against which your checking card is pulling, will actually transfer funds. And you are still assuming, when writing a check and expecting that to be sufficient enough for a vendor to let you walk out the door with product, that a full-reserve bank will honor their guarantees. There’s still a third-party involved here, such that the “claims” being laid are not on the funds (critics’ “present resource”) whatsoever, but against the guarantees made by a given bank (of any type).

A personal anecdote that also helps illustrate my point: One of my clients has more open POs (in terms of dollar amount) than my company could possibly honor, should they demand all their services be rendered at the same time (this is very unlikely, knowing their model and their history with us). Yet we’ve guaranteed, technically, that we will honor any requests for services at any time. They, in turn, guarantee their vendors certain timelines, and accept payment from those vendors in advance of us actually performing the contracted service. This has a similar “inflationary” effect on the economy as that inherent in a fractional reserve system.

Should I not be making this guarantee to my client? Is it fraudulent for me to do so? I think not. And I think fractional reserve banks are making the exact same “guarantee.”

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