“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek”: The day Martin Luther King was punched twice by a Nazi

Brad Pierce's Blog

According to Ron Rosenbaum interviewing MLK biographer Taylor Branch about his “battle to prevent Dr. King’s profoundly considered theory of nonviolence from being relegated to history, and not recognized for its relevance to the issues America and the world faces today”

King’s practice, Branch says, was complex and radical and has been often misunderstood. Some of his closest supporters had their doubts about King’s own commitment to nonviolence—whether it was “personal” or just an abstraction for him.

During a meeting of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a man rose up from the audience, leapt onto the stage and smashed King in the face. Punched him hard. And then punched him again.

After the first punch, Branch recounts, King just dropped his hands and stood there, allowed the assailant (who turned out to be a member of the American Nazi Party) to punch him again. And when King’s associates tried…

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Making the best of a bad interruption

According to Edwin Bliss

Amount of time spent on a project is not what counts: it’s the amount of uninterrupted time.

and

One of the most prolific of modern novelists was […] Georges Simeon. [His] method was to cut himself off completely from the outside world while working on a book: no phone calls, no visitors, no newspaper, no mail; living, as he said, ‘like a monk’. After about eleven days of total immersion in his writing he would emerge with another best-selling novel.

Few of us would carry concentration to that extreme – but what if we did, who knows what we might accomplish.

Stephen B. Jenkins wrote an excellent article (with a boring title) called “Concerning Interruptions” on the huge cost of interruptions to the productivity of computer programmers and gave practical advice on how to reduce that cost. (Strongly recommended read.)

For the historical context, a good source is Christine Rosen’s “The Myth of Multitasking“.

Making the best of a bad interruption

On longer time scales, when you must drop something for a while, it’s important, before doing so, to leave behind enough context for yourself to swap it back in. Write down some organized notes about where you were, what still needed to be done, etc. Keeping a log can be a big help, too, but it’s not a substitute for a high-level summary before suspending the task.

(For programming in particular, when you consider that you will need to revisit most computer code someday in the future, this is also a selfish reason to build a legacy of great comments and documentation.)

A good mental model for suspending a task is to leave behind the sort of information that you would need to hand it off to another person to finish.

Pretend that you are handing off the task to another person and you will be going away on a long vacation and unavailable to answer further questions, because when you come back to the task you will effectively be that other person.

Swapping in a new context is very expensive. Saving your state well when you suspend is actually much, much cheaper overall, assuming that you’ll need to come back to the task eventually.

This is one reason it’s important to write your to-do list at the end of the working day, instead of waiting until the start of the next working day.

“Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship.”

According to Kare Anderson in “What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life

A few years ago, DisneyWorld executives were wondering what most captured the attention of toddlers and infants at their theme park and hotels in Orlando, Florida. So they hired me and a cultural anthropologist to observe them as they passed by all the costumed cast members, animated creatures, twirling rides, sweet-smelling snacks, and colorful toys. But after a couple of hours of close observation, we realized that what most captured the young children’s attention wasn’t Disney-conjured magic. Instead it was their parents’ cell phones, especially when the parents were using them.

Those kids clearly understood what held their parents’ attention — and they wanted it too. Cell phones were enticing action centers of their world as they observed it. When parents were using their phones, they were not paying complete attention to their children.

Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship. It is impossible to communicate, much less bond, with someone who can’t or won’t focus on you. At the same time, we often fail to realize how what we focus on comes to control our thoughts, our actions, and indeed, our very lives.

Don’t confuse what your priorities should be with what your priorities are.

Your priorities are objectively measurable by how many resources you invest in them, such as, money, effort, attention, thought, creativity, planning, concentration, pain, care and time.

Changing your priorities means reallocating your resources.

Self-discipline is congruence between your priorities and your deepest needs.

Of course, we all know how hard it can be to invest short-term pain for long-term gain. As I write here

A key to happiness is doing what you don’t enjoy. (That is, doing cheerfully and promptly what must be done but is not pleasant.)

But don’t underestimate the challenge of achieving awareness of your deepest needs.

It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else

Cognitive capacity is a scarce resource. The struggle of poverty drains it away like a regressive tax. According to Sendhil Mullainathan

Our results suggest that when you’re poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin. That’s not to say that poor people are less intelligent than others. What we show is that the same person experiencing poverty suffers a cognitive deficit as opposed to when they’re not experiencing poverty. It’s also wrong to suggest that someone’s cognitive capacity has gotten smaller because they’re poor. In fact, what happens is that your effective capacity gets smaller, because you have all these other things on your mind, you have less mind to give to everything else.

Imagine you’re sitting in front of a computer, and it’s just incredibly slow. But then you realize that it’s working in the background to play a huge video that’s downloading. It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else, so it seems slow to you. I think that’s the heart of what we’re trying to say.

But what if the poor are only the most outrageous example of such societal intelligence wasting? Which video is your own, more fortunate, brain downloading right now? What could you achieve if you could just kill that background process somehow?

Update: Shalom in the comments gave another great example of misfortune forcibly taking over your mental resources.

People with severe health problems in the family are also hard-pressed to concentrate on constructive activities.

See also “How multitasking messes with your brain” and “Keep thinking, think of it everyday“.

Aside: How can we break out of the consensus trance and stop brooding cuckoo eggs?

Distinguishing to-do lists from could-do lists

Following up to “Don’t write your to-do list at the start of the day, write it at the end of the day“, “You are never going to get caught up“, and “What’s the #1 thing you should be doing right now?“.

To keep yourself focused on your current #1 priority, it’s useful to allow an outlet for ideas and anxieties that bubble up to your consciousness while working on your current #1.

Keep a “could-do” list nearby, and add items to it as they occur to you. For example, you could use the notepad on a mobile phone — in meetings, on walks, at dinner. It only takes a few moments, and after the idea is safely stored away, you can forget about it for a while and continue to attend to the main event.

Don’t confuse this with your “to-do list”, which is a short list of commitments that you’re going to do in the next 24 hours.

Your “could-do list” is the ore you pan for “to-do” gold.

Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things

According to Steve Jobs (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Brick walls

According to Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

So that was a bit of a setback. But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail. The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.

Aside: According to Leon Lukaszewicz in “On the Beginnings of Computer Development in Poland

Our job, although very stimulating, was poorly paid. It was quite easy to obtain a salary twice as high in industry and also be alloted a flat, which in those days of the acute housing problem mattered a great deal. We turned to [mathematician] Professor [Kazimierz] Kuratowski [the director of the Institute of Mathematics in Warsaw] with our grievances. He answered that “low salaries are a severe but necessary test of a genuine dedication to science of young research workers. If the salaries were high, what sort of people would we get here?” His arguments were not entirely convincing for us, but of course no one quit the Institute we adored. It should also be added that, some time later, some of us, already “tested,” were allotted the flats we and our families had dreamt about.