A Nobel Prize in Economics… and Water Coolers

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When I was a kid, my father tried to convince me that the study of economics was fascinating. He failed. My brain shut down at the mere mention of “supply and demand.”

He will be proud to learn that, now as an adult, I’ve read a book on economics.

And that I even liked it.

Thinking Fast and Slow was written by Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel prize in Economic Sciences for his research. In the book, he says that his goal is to change the conversations we have around the water coolers at work. I’m not sure what this has to do with supply and demand, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t listening when Dad talked about it.

Kahneman spends the first half of the book, explaining that we lie to ourselves and don’t know it. He’s not suggesting that we stand around the water cooler calling each other liars, but that we challenge each other’s thinking. Help each other become aware of how we lie to ourselves.

How do we lie to ourselves?

According to Kahneman, when we’re faced with a hard question, one we don’t have a ready answer for, we often answer a different (easier) question. Then we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve answered the original (harder) question.

As I thought about it, I started noticing that he’s right. Other people definitely do that. I could give example after example.

But I don’t, do I? Of course not. Then again… Hmmm. Maybe I do.

If you read this post from a few weeks ago, you’ll see that I did it there. Or tried to. Luckily my inner voice called me on it.

And I did it again not long ago.

It happened when I learned that an acquaintance had lost her partner. He died suddenly. In the space of a few minutes.

I was sad for her. What a shock it must have been.

What would I do if it had been my own husband, I wondered.

That’s a hard question. A very hard question.

Did I answer it?

Nope, I dodged it. Or tried to.

I looked around our office and thought, “Well, it would make decluttering our office easier. All his books could go.”

Silly answer, I know.

Since then, I’ve had several conversations “around the water cooler” and have found a deeper, more honest answer. One of my sons was especially helpful in talking me down off the ledge.

I highly recommend Thinking Fast and Slow.

I absolutely loved the first half.

Unfortunately, Kahneman lost me in the second half. The part where he talks about… well, economics… supply and demand.

Sorry Dad.

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Could we have a sleepover at the library?

I love books. Libraries and bookstores make me want to veer off course and settle in. Forget camping out in the woods. I would happily roll out my sleeping bag and spend a few days indoors checking out book titles.

I didn’t always have that option, though (Not that I do now. No one’s ever invited me to a sleep over in a library or bookstore.) What I mean is that libraries and bookstores have not always been options. As a kid, I lived in a small town of a couple hundred people. It had one-room school, a church, a community center, and a general store that was also the post office and the gas station. Have you heard the joke about a town so small that someone drove through it, then stopped on the other side to ask where it was? It happened to friends of ours. True story.

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Community Center in my home town

Because there weren’t many kids my age, books became my friends. One day, I got my hands on a small black book with fine print. I climbed up a tree on my uncle’s farm and began to read… and couldn’t stop. I was mesmerized. What was the book? Greek mythology. And as an adult, I’ve enjoyed the Percy Jackson series. Not the same but loads of fun.

I saw The Wizard of Oz on TV when I was six or seven and hid behind a chair because the flying monkeys freaked me out. But later on, I loved the books. Yes books, plural. Did you know there are sixteen sequels? I read them all. Four times. I know because by this time we’d moved to a bigger town. One with a library. I’d go twice a week and come home with four or five books. Checking out books meant writing your library card number on a paper stuck in a pocket at the back of the book. My favorites had my number several times in a row: 4222 (Why do I still remember that?). In any case, I was flabbergasted that no one else wanted to read them.

When I got a little older, I decided I really should read the “classics.” Not knowing what the classics were, I wandered around the library and came across Dracula, Frankenstein, andDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Classics of a sort, and I loved them all… although I confess the first half of Dracula was a slog. I liked the second half so much, though, that I went on a streak of reading vampire stories. And yes, as an adult, I read Twilight. But only the first one.

All that to say that I love books. The best stories make me laugh and cry both. They make me think and might even scare me a little. I’m always on the lookout for more. Especially great books for young teens. If you have any to suggest, I’d love to hear.

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A few of my friends–new, old and ancient