Quora Saturday: Exploring philosophy, weird side effects, emotion, mute leaders, and more emotions

October 8, 2016 by Joshua
in Quora

Continuing my Saturday series on posting my answers to questions from Quora, here are my next questions answered:

Q: What is the best way to explore philosophy?

A: I approach philosophy for the love of knowledge and to improve my life—not academically, to write papers or teach others, so my answer will differ from theirs.

I found the best way is to take on life’s big challenges—like to figure out your values, try to decide what a “good life” means to you and how to improve yours, to consider the results of your actions on others, and such—then to find who has tackled these problems before, after you’ve worked at them.

I read more Aristotle following this approach than I did in college and it meant more to me because I was interested in his views on my challenges, to pick one example.

This way you aren’t just reading them out of some abstract interest, but for your life.

Q: What has been a weird side effect of your education?

A: A PhD in physics from an Ivy League school means I can do anything, no matter how stupid, and no one thinks I’m stupid.

It’s an incredible freedom and source of security in an area where many seem insecure.

Q: Do you show emotions easily?

A: You’re always emotional, not only when you’re angry or excited

People often look at someone acting with intense emotions — like when they’re excited, angry, enraged, passionate, etc — and say that they are “emotional” at times like that.

They misunderstand emotions. Understanding emotions is one of the most important parts of self-awareness and therefore leadership of yourself and others.

Emotions motivate you. As long as you’re awake you feel motivation. Everyone is always emotional all the time.

Calmness is an emotion. Just because you aren’t running around yelling or losing control doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling emotions. You could just as well call someone serenely under control and relaxing emotional. They’re feeling contentedness or calmness or something like that.

Why is this distinction important?

Some people think of emotions as bad or something that means you’ve lost control. Looking at them that way leads people to avoid emotions — they try to act like they don’t have them. Or they hide them.

People like that are like a chef who thinks cooking means fire, and an out-of-control fire at that, and are afraid of it. Or an athlete who thinks sports are only full on sprints risking injury. They don’t see nuances and are unable to finesse.

If you want to lead yourself or others — if you want to avoid being reactionary and easily manipulated — you want to influence emotions, whether yours or anyone else’s. Treating them with fear and anxiety and associating them with loss of control makes it harder to learn to use them. You become ineffective. You fear exactly what you need to control.

Some other powerful emotions, for your consideration

If you thought anger, rage, and excitement were signs of someone being “emotional,” consider the following emotions. Consider that they can be just as intense and powerful as any other when used by an effective leader in the right circumstances. If you don’t think someone showing them is feeling emotions, think again. If you want to lead, you’re working with a half-empty toolbox.

  • Calmness
  • Satisfaction
  • Happiness
  • Serenity
  • Curiosity
  • Laziness
  • Boredom
  • Fatigue
  • Melancholy
  • Contentedness


(That’s from this post from my blog: You’re always emotional, not only when you’re angry or excited. Another relevant one is: We all feel emotions all the time)

Q: Can someone who is mute be a leader?

A: Though not mute, Helen Keller was a deaf and blind leader who continues to inspire people today. Her Wikipedia page documents tremendous success:

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, is now a museum and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”. Her birthday on June 27 is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth.

A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism, antimilitarism, and other similar causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015.


Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragette, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller traveled to over 40 countries with Sullivan, making several trips to Japan and becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Keller met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Keller and Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed-over in the popular mind.

To me, her success starting from a “near complete lack of language” tells me someone who couldn’t speak could achieve on her scale, especially today, when the internet distributes writing so effectively. Not being able to speak creates big challenges, but overcoming challenges is often what makes people into leaders.

Q: I am driven by my emotions. That means I cannot write on days where I am feeling bad (which is nearly everyday). How do I force myself to write?

A: I’ve found writing every day and taking the choice out of the process helps. I’ve written a blog post every day since January 2011. Here they are: Joshua Spodek’s Archives. In case you didn’t guess, I didn’t feel like writing every day for the past 5+ years. I still did it.

People say, “You must have a lot of discipline to keep it up.” They have it backward. It’s not that I had extra discipline that made it possible. Doing it daily developed the discipline. It’s like a weight-lifter. They don’t start with strong muscles that make it possible to work out. They started with weak muscles. Working out makes them strong.

Instead of saying your lack of emotional control prevents you from writing, I suggest you see writing as something that can develop emotional skills, control, and strength.

You might also check out my writings on sidchas—Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activities—which emerged partly from writing.

Once, when I told someone how I exercise daily, he asked, “You don’t exercise when you’re really tired or busy, right?”

I said “Especially when I’m tired and busy. Those are the times when you develop the most.”

Everyone is driven by emotions. Every one of the seven billion or so people on the planet, every human who has ever lived, is driven by emotions. They are our motivations. Instead of capitulating to feelings of lethargy or not feeling like writing as excuses not to write, you can use writing to develop your emotional skills.

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