Thanks to modern science, there are a number of effective — yet obvious — strategies to smart parenting. But last year, a group of researchers at MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania found that one of the best things parents can do for their children is to have frequent back-and-forth exchanges with them.
The findings suggest that doing this at an early age (typically between ages 4 to 6) will help develop, foster and improve what is perhaps one of the most important skills that contribute to success in life: Communication.
What’s more, a number of studies have supported the idea that children with stronger communication skills are more likely to have healthier relationships, longer marriages, higher self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life.
.. We talk to our kids all the time — both directly and indirectly. “Sit here.” “Hurry, we’re going to be late.” “Great job!” “No, don’t do that.” “Alexa, read us a bedtime story.” The secret, however, is to have back-and-forth conversations.
For the study, researchers evaluated 36 children using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the differences in how the brain responds to different conversational styles.
They found that the Broca’s area, a region of the brain that focuses on speech production and language processing, was much more active in children who engaged in more back-and-forth conversations. Children who had more activation in that region of the brain scored higher in tests of language, grammar and verbal reasoning skills.
“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children,” John Gabrieli, the senior author of the study, told MIT News. “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
.. Back in 1995, a landmark study found that children from higher-income families appeared to have much greater language and communication abilities, and it was thought to be correlated with the fact that those children were exposed to about 30 million more words during the first years of life, compared to children of lower-income families.
But findings from this recent study suggest that the “30 million word gap” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“The conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status,” Gabrielli said. “Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking.”
The point isn’t to have deep philosophical conversations with your children, but to instead carry conversations that require back-and-froth dialogue.
It’s not difficult to make that leap, and they’ll benefit in significant ways in the long run; interactive conversations help improve communication skills as a whole, and that’s a necessity for success in any future career. When it comes to your child’s success, maybe talk isn’t so cheap after all.
Usually an essay begins with an argument, for me. Not a linear argument, in the sense of a line of reasoning, but an argument as in two people or groups shouting at each other, but in my head. The dumber the disagreement, the more I want to kind of explode it and discover what it covers up, find better language for what life is really like. In this case, the disagreement was narcissism is the opposite of human—i.e., a total lack of warmth, empathy, “human” feeling—versus narcissism is everybody. Usually, what’s next is scene, where the language of the essay gets discovered, and the idea. Often an editor helps to lay bare the structure that will let the idea happen, rather than being told to the reader.
But in this book, at least in its final version, I wasn’t working in scenes but rather channeling kinds of Internet and academic language that aren’t really my own, and kind of sculpting that language like material. So there is so much telling, summary, which is painful for me to read. There wasn’t a reasonable progression of ideas, but on one axis, a progression of kinds of language, and then on the other, a slow panning out from the trapped, limited perspective of fearful, solitary, listicle-fueled diagnosis to a broader view, and poetry.
.. The word narcissism was everywhere—this diagnosis of everyone’s ex, condemnation of the personal-essay trend, fear of the coming selfie apocalypse.
.. I had been wondering why people who seem evil to us, or who break up with us or just disagree with us entirely, can begin to seem “empty” and “fake” and uncanny, even inhuman. And as a nonfiction writer, and a reader, I’m always puzzling over the mysteries of ethos, when and why we trust and distrust whom we do, in life and in writing.
.. I suspect some of the things we condemn as narcissistic in others might be more accurately defined as how everyone has to perform—in capitalism, or online—doing things formerly considered vain, things we feel guilty or anxious about.
.. Like the journalist she writes about, and the murderer, too, the narcissist is bad because he fakes an “I,” rather than being an “I,” he charms you rather than being genuinely interested in you.
.. Arguably, nonfiction writers always fake an “I,” even if we don’t use the word, creating ethos, so the reader trusts the text. Maybe anyone who writes does, any Facebook poster does. But an “I” can feel generous or self-absorbed, to the reader, and so can a more “objective” voice. Maybe the ease with which we dismiss one another as narcissists these days is partly a symptom of how much it’s changed, and speeded up, the way that we determine how and when to trust writers, now that almost everyone’s writing publicly all day long online.
.. This question of when we trust texts is related, in my mind at least, to this everyday problem of when and why we judge others as so self-absorbed as to be beyond empathy, and to write them off or turn away from them. Of course, sometimes we have to separate from people. Sometimes maybe even judge others as selfish. But if we believe that, on the whole, others are becoming more selfish and self-absorbed than ever before, how willing would we be to trust each other enough to work on the great injustices, the inequality and environmental catastrophes of our time? Is the well-being of future humans even worth fighting for, if all millennials are assholes?
.. Your various chapters, as I read them, follow a surprising, slyly circular design—you often start with an observation that looks true, even self-evident, and then complicate it, such that the opposite of that initial observation is ultimately just as compelling, maybe even more true. How did you arrive at that shape? Did you see that circular design as echoing the way narcissism operates, or perhaps is said to operate?
.. And fear of narcissism. “He didn’t ask me a single question about myself. What a narcissist.” This is René Girard’s idea, that narcissism and fear of narcissism mirror each other.
.. People started dropping the word casually into conversation when they were around me, as if they were worried I thought they were one, and so they wanted to show me they knew what the word meant. I started wanting to exorcise this fear, so I think, I hope, the circular design lets the reader alternately suspect others and herself and me of the disorder until she’s just exhausted and stops worrying so much. Anyone who would pick up a book with this title is probably worrying too much.
.. E. M. Cioran’s great phrase—“thinking against oneself.” The Selfishness of Others is always thinking against, or away from, something you just wrote. I’m remembering a complex sequence early on that at once recognizes and deflects what you call your “personal stake” in the topic.
.. a complex sequence early on that at once recognizes and deflects what you call your “personal stake” in the topic. As you remark—“I’m an essayist; I write the word I all day long, and I’m nervous when I do. More than anything, I don’t want you to think me self-absorbed. So I will try to take up the topic of the narcissism epidemic objectively. If using the word I turns out to be a symptom of narcissism, you won’t hear from me again.”
.. I was joking! But yeah, the experiment was initially to outlaw use of the “I” for most of the book, and then have it turn into memoir, to kind of investigate why we read memoir, what we want from writing about the “I.” The last third was memoir, in the original draft. Anyway, yes, to take on this topic is probably grandiose, if that’s what you’re saying. It was supposed to be an even smaller book than it is, and my editors persuaded me this was too much.
.. I tried to keep a sense of an uncanny “I” moving under the text, without ever using the word, but it’s not really “me,” it’s fraudulent. At least until the last few pages. For example I’ve never had a boyfriend who I feared was a narcissist.
.. There is so much scholarship on the history of psychology and narcissism, and even in my reading I only skimmed the surface.
.. what do you think is our most dangerous misconception when we talk about narcissism?
.. One way to view narcissism is that the diagnosis is a symptom of a privileged portion of civilization—those of us who have time to go to therapy and sit online reading how to diagnose others—turning on itself, “thinking against itself,” maybe, but kind of blaming the problem always on someone else.
.. We’re called upon to curate our lives, share them, focus on ourselves and self-brand and compete for money and stay mentally healthy and say positive affirmations to raise our self-esteem, and then narcissism is the word we use to condemn others who do exactly these things.
.. And because the word names a lack of empathy, using it can create a certain narcissism of decency, I think, where we fetishize our own empathy. It feels new, but it’s also the oldest problem of the self. It’s tragic or it’s comic. Shakespeare was obsessed with it and David Foster Wallace exhausted it, to the extent that there was probably no need to write about it.
“I have something I need to talk about and I’m afraid you’re going to judge me,” he said. He told me that he had been thinking about women he had slept with and that he felt terrible about some of the encounters.
“I didn’t rape anyone or anything like that, but I think I made them pretty uncomfortable.”
I’m a psychotherapist who works largely with men in New York City. Before last fall, I can’t remember hearing a statement like that — a voluntary admission of coercive or manipulative behavior with women. The #MeToo era has changed my work. If therapy has a reputation for navel gazing, this powerful moment has joined men in the room, forcing them to engage with topics that they would have earlier avoided.
.. But I am also heartened by the private work that men are doing in therapy and how it can help us understand the relationship between what has been called “toxic masculinity” and the reservoirs of shame that fuel these behaviors.
.. I began to feel the effect in my work not long after the stories about Harvey Weinstein broke, with a noticeable uptick after a report on the comedian Aziz Ansari. Though the accusations against famous men were in one sense far from the people I saw, they were relevant to the questions they often brought to therapy. Why did they so misunderstand the women in their lives? Why were they often being accused of hurting them?
.. He’d been experimenting with approaching women in a more “dominant” and assertive way, since he’d heard that’s what women wanted. He had made an aggressive move on a prospective date and was told that his approach was creepy.
.. he had been so focused on performing for dates that he wasn’t really connecting to them, unable to accurately read his date’s reactions.
.. appear either flat and emotionless or superficially engaged but hiding behind impenetrable niceness.
.. Most men have spent little time with their feelings and have very limited vocabulary to describe what is going on in their hearts.
.. has done such a good job of disconnecting from his feelings that he can’t ever really tell if he’s had a good time on a date.
.. Almost always, the men I work with notice a tight tension in their chests and stomachs — anxiety. They often admit that they feel this tension most of the time.
.. underneath the anxiety that is always humming along are layers of shame. Shame at having feelings at all, shame because they believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, shame that they are not men, they are just boys.
.. Shame is the emotional weapon that allows patriarchal behaviors to flourish. The fear of being emasculated leads men to rationalize awful behavior. This kind of toxic shame is in direct contradiction with the healthy shame that we all need to feel in order to acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility.
.. still a 15-year-old boy craving the approval of his peers: “I actually don’t even like the sex that much, but there’s something satisfying about adding a notch in the belt. I imagine other guys would be impressed if they knew.”
.. In their efforts to manage the feeling of shame, some men numb themselves. Others sink under it and slip into depression or chronic underachievement. And others take the pain that they feel and project it back out into the world with violent words and deeds.
.. They begin to heal when we can both embrace them and hold them accountable.
.. “I want you to know that I respect the courage it takes to acknowledge something like that and to share it with me, but I also don’t want you to numb yourself out, because then you’ll just forget about this and move on,” I said.
.. He began to cry and then sob. Waves of sadness emerged as he imagined the hurt that he caused these women. As the tears subsided and we began to process it, more tears came, this time tears of relief — that he’s not a monster, that he’s capable of remorse and empathy.
.. He had been desperate to boost his self-esteem through sexual conquests. He ultimately put his own pleasure before someone else’s discomfort, behavior that was forged in moments in which he had felt worthless
.. He had been thinking about one of the women he had told me about. He reached out, they met for coffee and he apologized.
Spirituality is primarily about human transformation in this life, not just salvation in a future realm. While Western Christianity lost much of this emphasis, and became rather practical and often superficial, the Eastern church taught theosis or divinization as the very real process of growing in union and likeness with God in this world.  This is one of the many losses Christianity experienced in the Great Schism of 1054, when the popes of East and West mutually excommunicated one another.
.. Pope John Paul II was acknowledging that the Western church had largely lost its foundational belief in divinization, and in the practical order had even denied its possibility. Instead, we were just “sinners in the hands of an angry God” and even “totally depraved.” No wonder humans suffer from such lack of self-esteem today. We haven’t told them the central and foundational Good News! I believe this is the source of a lot of the anger and disillusionment with Christianity today.