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Of Seinfeld, coddled minds, & 2021 “words”

By: thetonic | @TheTonic

Greetings from Hawaii (Mike) and Los Angeles (Alec),

We’re the founders of The Tonic and we’re excited to be sending you our first official newsletter!

Again, thanks for signing up. Here’s what we want to share with you this week.

Tim Ferriss interviewed Jerry Seinfeld on episode #485 of his podcast. As self-proclaimed creatives and lovers of the TV sitcom, Seinfeld, we really enjoyed Jerry’s advice about writing, discipline, and knowing when to quit. Perhaps our favorite thing Jerry said when talking about the discipline of writing for his routines (he argues that stand-up comedy is really just writing), “The mind is infinite in wisdom. The brain is a stupid little dog that is easily trained.”

(Speaking of sitcoms, if you love The Office [like us], then check out Andy Greene’s, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s — it’s a fascinating breakdown of what went on behind the scenes of this show)

In The Coddling of The American Mind (a book that I have destroyed with too many sandy beach reads), Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt present fascinating research explaining how our culture of “safetyism”, fragility, and screen-time has contributed to rising rates of depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior, and even suicide, specifically in iGen (people born 1995-2012).

Here were a few of our takeaways from this book…

Maybe we should let toddlers play with sharp things. The book references Alison Gopnik’s famous article on The Wall Street Journal, aptly titled, Should We Let Toddlers Play With Saws and Knives? It makes a persuasive argument that children are less fragile than we might think.

There’s been a cultural shift in the definition of “safety” and “trauma”. As Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, explains, the idea of “emotional safety” leads many iGen’ers to believe that “one should be safe not just from car accidents and sexual assault but from people who disagree with you.” This idea does not cultivate resilience in young people, but rather a belief that one can be “injured” by other people’s opinions.

Relating the previous ideas to university culture, the authors explain some problematic implications: “Provoking uncomfortable thoughts is an essential part of a professor’s role, but professors now have reason to worry that provocative educational exercises and lines of questioning could spell the end of their reputations and even careers.”

There’s some harrowing new research that indicates a connection between screen time and depression in young people: “When kids use screens for two hours of their leisure time per day or less, there is no elevated risk of depression. But above two hours per day, the risks grow larger with each additional hour of screen time. Conversely, kids who spend more time off screens, especially if they are engaged in non-screen activities, are at a lower risk for depression and suicidal thinking.”

But there is hope. We were most encouraged by the work being done over at Let Grow, an organization that believes “today’s kids are smarter, safer and stronger than our culture gives them credit for.” They provide a lot of practical advice for parents who want to raise their kids outside the reach of safetyism. This article is a great place to start: Second Thoughts on Keeping Kids Safe by Never Letting Them Out of Our Sight — and the Enduring Myth of Stranger Danger.

Here are a few articles we enjoyed this week…

SpaceX’s 2nd Starship test flight ends with another kaboom by AP News

Why humans have evolved to drink milk by FUTURE

No, Vitamin C won’t cure your cold by Vox

To Be Happier at Work, Find Your ‘Window of Tolerance’ by Forge

10,000 Steps A Day? How Many You Really Need To Boost Longevity by NPR

In 2017, John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, gave a commencement speech at his son’s middle-school graduation. We thought this excerpt was beautiful (if you watch it on YouTube, this starts at 10:26)…

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope that you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Challenge of the Week is to pick a word for 2021. My (Mike’s) CrossFit coach told me she chose the word “surrender.” According to Tim Ferriss’s podcast, he chose the word “mischievous” and his guest, Kevin Rose, chose the word “patience.” The word you choose indicates something that you want to work on for the year. It’s not a new year’s resolution so much as it is a theme.

So… what’s your word? Think about it, write it down, and let us know!

(By the way, Mike’s word is “calmness” and Alec’s word is “antifragile”)

Until next week!

Mike & Alec

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