What Kind of Listening Actually Helps?

The following is a paper Brant Burleson wrote that I translated from academic language into conversational English. Burleson's paper is titled, Some Distinguishing Features of More and Less Effective Messages Intended to Provide Emotional Support. Burleson is a researcher at Purdue University, studying communication and emotion, and he has discovered some very powerful facts about listening.

Burleson is perfectly capable of writing conversational English, but hasn't written his work for the layman yet. He's a researcher, and he writes for academic journals and textbooks and his language is technical, but his work is very useful, so I thought I'd make it available for us regular folks.

Burleson's research is for anyone listening to anyone, but to help shorten this piece and make it easier to read, I wrote it specifically as advice to a man about listening to his wife.

I recommend you bookmark this article or print it and save it for when you need it. Next time someone you know is troubled, you can pull it out and read it, and you'll read it with a strong desire to understand. That's a good way to learn. Okay, here it is:

What Really Helps

When your mate is having troubles and talks to you about it, some of what you do will be helpful, and some won't. Research shows clearly that many of our attempts to help someone we love fail — even when we sincerely wish to help. We often don't know how to help effectively, so it often goes badly. Helping someone is sometimes tricky and complicated, and so many things can go wrong, often we don't want to even try.

Very few of us have any formal training in listening. Very few of us have seen a competent helper in action, and we feel inept, uneducated, incompetent. Brant Burleson of Purdue University has looked at this subject thoroughly, reading the studies of others and conducting his own experiments. After a complete review of the research on the subject, Burleson can say with a fair degree of certainty that most people will find the following helpful:
  1. Your intention to help. Tell your mate you want to help. Make it clear you have a strong desire to help her. Just knowing someone wants to help makes a difference. When people are experiencing negative emotions, they aren't as good at reading your intentions as they usually are. So make it very clear you want to help, and spread that message throughout your conversation, emphasizing your sincere desire to help.
  2. Acceptance and positive regard. A desire to help someone can be interpreted as meaning, "You aren't smart enough or skilled enough to deal with it yourself." In other words, your expression of your desire to help can have the effect of making your mate feel invalidated. So this second point needs to be emphasized also — yes, make it very clear you want to help, but also make it clear you are a helper and she is the main actor in this situation. She is in control. She is the one who makes the decisions about her own life. She is the boss. This problem is hers and you are only an assistant. Convey your respect clearly and strongly. And acknowledge her strengths. With your words and tone and body language, make sure she knows you accept her, like her, feel affection for her, respect her, and recognize her competence. This is positive regard.
  3. Situation interest. Indicate clearly you care about her situation. Express concern and interest in the circumstances bothering her. This allows her to open up without feeling she is taking your time when you don't want to listen. It makes her feel welcome to talk freely about the situation, which she will find helpful because it allows her to think about it; to examine the facts and her feelings about it. When she gets an opportunity to think things through without interruption, it will lower her feelings of distress and increase her ability to resolve the problem successfully. Remember, everything written on this page is based on solid research.
  4. Empathy and understanding. Anything you express that says, "I understand what your circumstances are and I understand why you feel the way you do," will be taken well. Sincerity is important. Express your sincere appreciation for her feelings and circumstances. In other words, really try to put yourself in her situation and imagine what it would be like for you to experience those circumstances — through her eyes, not yours. And make sure you communicate your understanding carefully. Don't say things like, "I completely understand what you're feeling." Sincerity means honesty, and your expressions of understanding need to be honest. You don't know for sure you completely understand exactly what she is going through. You can't really say (and it doesn't help) that you have felt exactly what she is feeling.
  5. Make yourself available. In whatever way you can, make sure she knows you are available to her, you will listen, you are not going anywhere, and even if she's upset, you will not abandon her. Encourage her to talk, and limit your own talking to whatever will encourage her to talk more about the problem and her feelings about it.
  6. Ally. Make sure your mate knows that no matter what, you are on her side. You are in full alliance with her.
These six things (above) are appreciated by almost everyone, and will very likely help your mate handle her emotions better and deal with her circumstances better.

Another category of actions you can take that will very often help is to tell her you recognize the legitimacy of her reactions to the situation. We can break this category into five separate kinds of legitimacy:
  1. Make sure she knows you think her feelings and actions are reasonable and perfectly understandable. Express your genuine feelings that her response is legitimate.
  2. Let her know you think her feelings are normal and fit the situation.
  3. Let her know you appreciate how difficult her situation is.
  4. Let her know you sincerely believe she is not at fault (in areas where she is blaming herself unjustly).
  5. Make sure she knows it's okay with you she's expressing her upset. In other words, do not ever give her the impression she shouldn't be crying or appearing upset. Let her know expressing her distressed feelings is understandable and you fully allow it.
What will make this sincere is putting yourself in her shoes. Imagine what it must be like for her. Imagine what it would be like for you if you were in her shoes. This is the key to empathy. And that means completely in her shoes. With her perspective on things. With her values. With her past experiences. Imagine what you would feel like if this event happened to you but you were experiencing it from her point of view, not yours.

Another category of helpful communication is encouraging your mate to go into more detail about the circumstances and her feelings. There are six ways to do that:
  1. Say things that let her know you are interested in hearing her story.
  2. Say things that let her know you want to hear about her feelings and reactions to the situation.
  3. Ask open-ended questions about her feelings and reactions.
  4. Tell her what you guess she must be feeling, but tell her you're guessing and ask her about it.
  5. When she describes her feelings, tell her what you heard. "So that made you angry, huh?"
  6. Make sure you acknowledge her statements and say things (and use your body language) to encourage her to elaborate.
Most people will find it helpful if you encourage them to talk about their feelings, but one study indicated some people prefer you let them decide whether they want to talk about it or not. It is fairly safe to ask open-ended questions about the circumstances, and of course, encourage her to tell her story. But make sure this doesn't come across as an interrogation.

Giving Advice

Sometimes you might have something to say that will help your mate actually solve the problem she's distressed about. And sometimes giving information or advice is greatly appreciated, but sometimes it isn't.

Information and advice is risky for two reasons: First, she'll only think it's helpful if the information is relevant and she considers the source of the information to be an expert on the problem. If she feels the advice might truly be effective and if it's something she could really do (and not some "ideal" action she could not conceivably do), there is a chance she'll find it helpful.

Second, even if you meet those requirements, your advice can still backfire if it carries the implied message, "You are inept." Don't make her feel wrong and don't be domineering. If you come across too controlling, she will feel you are taking away her autonomy. Both of these are considered by most people to be distinctly unhelpful, even making things worse.

Here are a few more things that sometimes help and sometimes don't help:
  1. Reassurance: Saying, "Everything will work out."
  2. Statements you have no way of knowing: "The worst is over." "Things are getting better."
  3. Trying to make your mate see things more positively: "Well, look on the bright side…"
  4. Trying to distract her from thinking about it.
Because these are sometimes helpful and sometimes not helpful, it is probably best to avoid them altogether. You have plenty of definitely helpful things you can do.

What Doesn't Help

Now we get to things fairly certain to be unhelpful. When you violate one of the three rules below, you have a good chance of making your mate feel worse than she already feels:
  1. Don't say (verbally or nonverbally) her feelings or the way she's expressing her feelings are wrong.
  2. Don't indicate she should stop doing what she's doing (pacing back and forth, wringing her hands, etc.).
  3. Never try to stop her expression of emotion. Don't tell her to calm down, for example.
Let's go into more detail about exactly what Burleson found to be counterproductive. Violate any of the rules below and it will probably make things worse when your mate is talking to you about a problem. Follow the rules below and you'll be a better, more helpful listener:
  1. Don't tell her she's overreacting or blowing things out of proportion. Don't minimize what she's feeling.
  2. If she's upset about a problem with a person, don't insult or put that person down.
  3. Don't tell her she has no right to be upset about what happened because it's her fault it happened.
  4. Don't imply that the reason she's in this mess is that she's incompetent.
  5. Don't indicate that expressing her negative feelings makes her problem worse. This is a form of rejecting her feelings and doesn't help.
  6. Don't make her think her emotions are uncalled for because her problem is so small. Don't say her upset is unnecessary because the problem is so easy to solve. This is another form of rejecting her feelings and saying her feelings are not legitimate.
  7. Never tell her how she should think or feel about her situation.
  8. Don't tell her to forget about her problem.
  9. Never tell her to ignore her feelings.
  10. Don't tell her to think about happier things.
  11. Don't spend very much time (if any) on your feelings about the situation, or about something similar that happened to you.
  12. Beware of being too involved to the point of intrusiveness. Don't be overly doting or overly concerned. It is possible to take your care and concern too far, and when you do, it ceases to be helpful and can even be harmful when it crosses the line into trying to control or persuade her to do what you think is best, or making her feel like a "poor little thing" which is a way of implying she's incapable dealing with it.
In other words, completely avoid criticism of any kind about anyone or anything when someone is troubled. It isn't helpful.

Why Does This Help?

Burleson thinks one of the main reasons good listening helps a person feel less upset is it gives your mate a chance to think about her situation differently. There are basically two ways to help someone with a problem: Actually help her solve the problem, or help her interpret her problem differently (so the problem, even though it hasn't changed, becomes less upsetting because of the new interpretation).

By following the 12 rules outlined above, your mate is able to talk openly about the problem and her feelings about it, making it easier for her to think about it (because you aren't interrupting, you're making her feel okay about talking about it, you're not trying to control her expression, etc.).

Because you're listening, as she struggles to tell you about her situation and her feelings about it, she understands the situation better. She's able to start making sense of it.

As she thinks about it without any persuasive efforts on your part, she can begin to change her mind about some of the conclusions she originally jumped to. She begins to change how she interprets her situation. When she changes her interpretation, her feelings will change.

As she calms down, her thoughts become even more rational and practical, and her understanding of her problem improves even more, and her understanding evolves toward something more constructive than her first take on it.

The kind of conversation that really helps has three main characteristics:
  1. Safe environment. You make a safe place to talk. You let her know you accept and have affection for her, and that you care about her, and that your intentions are good. You encourage her expressions of her feelings and then encourage her to go into detail about them, never invalidating any of her feelings, always helping her know it is safe for her to speak honestly. And you keep the environment conducive to communication by minimizing interruptions and distractions.
  2. Encourage feelings. You encourage her to talk about her emotions. You keep an ear out for any expressions of emotions she has about the problem, and then follow up on every one of them, helping those feelings come out in the open and inviting her to express the emotions in detail — not for any therapeutic-venting purposes (which research has shown to be ineffective), but to help her learn what her real feelings are about the situation. You ask questions about the problem and her feelings and the way she is interpreting the situation, and you assure her it is okay to talk about her feelings.
  3. Get the whole story. You encourage her to talk at length. Most conversations are two-way, with each person taking a turn, more or less equally. But you can help a person more by helping her get a longer turn, asking good questions, and then more questions about the answers she gave you. You let her know you want to hear the full story — you don't want her to make a long story short. You encourage her to go on. You don't interrupt. You don't let the conversation get sidetracked by you talking too much. You avoid giving advice. You avoid evaluating the situation or interpreting it for her, because that stops her from talking. You try to extend the narration, not cut it off.
Sometimes you can help your mate deal with the problem itself, but that best comes after she has had time to fully express it and after she asks you for advice. Then you can help through brainstorming or discussing possible solutions to the problem and alternatives and the consequences, actually taking some actions that help, etc. Any information and opinions you have about the problem should always be given in a way that never makes her feel wrong or "not enough." Never communicate advice in a way that comes across as commanding, domineering, or holier-than-thou.

You truly want to help your mate, and if you do the things that work and avoid the things that don't, you will help her. Your mate will become less upset and she will be able to figure out good solutions to her problems. You may not get any glory because she probably won't even notice how skillfully you've helped her, but you will know in your heart you've done some good, and that is reward enough.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.

American Oil Independence

When significant competition happens in the fuel market, one of two things will happen — either gas prices will go down, or the producers of alcohol fuels will get our money, and that money will go into our own economy.

Americans have an enterprising and innovative culture. Especially when there is profit to be made, this enterprising, innovating culture expresses itself with zeal. We're also an idealistic culture and express our zeal when there is some good to be done for the planet. So once the fuel market is open, Americans will go into overdrive finding ways to make fuels ever cleaner and cheaper, which will force gas prices lower and lower in order to compete.

And if fuel prices rise, as they have lately, what will happen? Domestic producers of ethanol and methanol will work overtime to provide us with less expensive fuels, whether those fuels come from algae or municipal waste or corn stover or sugar beets or whatever. Whole industries will be scrambling as fast as they can to make and deliver fuels that cost less than gas.

What happens now (with our lack of competition at the pump) when fuel prices rise? Do our enterprising, innovating industries kick it into gear and scramble to do anything? No. There is nothing for them to do. Our cars can't burn their fuel. They stand by, completely helpless as more than a billion dollars a day floods out of our economy to foreign nations to pay for transportation fuel.

When we have fuels freely competing at the pump, we will see the dawning of a new day. We will see the beginning of the end of oil's strategic status. And we will have a new birth of American independence.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Burning E85 Without a Conversion Kit (in a Non-Flex-Fuel Vehicle)

Most cars may be already capable of burning ethanol. This first part is a letter by John Kolak:

I thought about this a lot, and realized I will never be in a position financially to buy a new vehicle to enjoy flex fuel, but I found out there are flex fuel conversion kits.

Forgive me if I got these links from you. Once I started searching, I learned so much from so many sources, that I have forgotten whether you provided the initial idea, or if I found out about kits elsewhere.

This technology is all so new that there is a lack of reviews from the mainstream sources we normally trust for our auto technology news, but White Lightening seems to be the main kit out there with the best reputation and lowest price. It also seems the developer is well-connected with the real world in Brazil's flex fuel auto program.

Of course, I also noted with interest your post yesterday about regular non-flex fuel cars sometimes also getting better fuel economy. The main reason I've always been told that I cannot use ethanol in my car is because fuel system plastics and rubbers have to be chosen for alcohol resistance and because the oxygen content of alcohol puts it beyond the ability of fuel injection computers to compensate, and if you have a carburetor, there's nothing at all you can do unless you rejet to run exclusively on ethanol, though I did find your video link to Henry Ford's flex fuel Model T very interesting with its manually-controlled and adjustable variable mixture carburetor jet and manually-controlled distributor advance.

White Lightening solves the mixture issue by adding an auxiliary circuit board that increases the fuel injector pulse so it stays open longer. Then the car's onboard computer is able to reduce the flow when regular gasoline is used. They say this only works on modern cars with an OBD II compliant ECU computer. Their website says that they encourage questions, so I wrote them a letter to ask about their experience with rubbers and plastics, and also whether the car's OBD II ECU is capable of advancing the timing, or whether we are essentially running alcohol on a gasoline ignition advance curve. After seeing their website encourage questions, I was very disappointed to receive no response.

But the issue of rubbers and plastics, and potential engine damage by ethanol in non-flex fuel cars is thoroughly addressed in this web page at Ohio Bio Systems.

The second frame has a video showing a tear-down of a non-flex fuel Chevy Tahoe owned by an ethanol industry executive who ran it on E85 for over 100,000 miles. The video interviews the technician who did the tear-down and discusses the various components of the engine and fuel system as the camera shows them. No ethanol related damage was found, and the plastic parts actually looked better than the the ones in gasoline cars. The additional frames analyzes and compares the part numbers in flex fuel vehicles and their corresponding non-flex fuel versions and finds that in some cases 100% of the part numbers are the same, and at most in other cases only 3 or 4% of the part numbers are different. And even in these cases, in some years and models, the part numbers are the same, but then different in a different year.

So I might try asking a White Lightening vendor the same questions the manufacturer would not answer for me. E85 is still 400 miles away for me, but E20 has just arrived in town, so I might take a chance and see if my car will tolerate it. I hope it doesn't cost me in damage and repairs to my plastic and rubber components. My 1998 Hyundai Accent owners manual says my car can use gasohol, but I'm sure that's only talking about the lower ethanol content gasohol 91 and 95 octanes that were available at that time. Plus I'm a little worried that plastic and rubber in an older car like mine might be more prone to breakdown than in a newer car.

All for now,


. . . 

The letter below is a response to John Kolak's article, On Using Ethanol Fuels In Unmodified Vehicles. The letter was written by Marc Rauch, the Executive Vice President and Co-Publisher of The Auto Channel:

Hi John -

I just finished reading your article on the Open Fuel Standard website and I wanted to add my personal experiences to your compendium of information.

For a few years, whenever I would rent a car or get a new vehicle from a manufacturer to test drive and review, I would manually fill the tank with a blend of regular gasoline (e10) and e85, if e85 was available to me. Depending upon how much fuel I needed to fill the tank, sometimes the blend would give me only about 30-40% ethanol, and sometimes I might have 60-80% ethanol. I did this with almost every make and model vehicle you can think of, and almost none of them were "flex-fuel" vehicles. I did this specifically to see what, if anything, would happen.

Other than the "check engine" light illuminating in some instances, I never encountered a starting, driving or acceleration problem. Knowing that the "check engine" light illuminated merely because the cars' sensors detected something different, I knew that there was no problem with the vehicle. Often, if the test drive or rental period was long enough, and I had the need to fill the tank again — and only had access to regular gasoline — the check engine light would go off, confirming that there was no problem with the engine.

Of course, because the test or rental period was of rather short duration, I knew that my experiments were not really conclusive since I wasn't able to witness what ill effects, if any, might occur from longer, more sustained usage.

With this in mind, about a year and a half ago I purchased a used 2002 Ford Taurus non-flex-fuel sedan to be able to go all out on my test of e85. Because I've never had a situation in which my tank was completely empty, I've never had the opportunity to fill the Taurus fully with e85. However, I've run the vehicle on virtually all other blend levels. Similar to the short duration tests, I have run the Taurus on straight e10 gasoline to as high as 65-80%. Keep in mind that because even e85 might contain only about 70% ethanol (according to the label on the pump), it's hard to really get a blend that's much higher than 80%.

When I bought the vehicle, my friend David Blume — perhaps the world's leading expert on ethanol production and use — sent me one of the conversion kits that he endorses and sells for use on non-flex fuel fuel-injector vehicles. The purpose was for me to test the device and to maximize my vehicle's ability to handle e85. To date I have not installed the device. I've been waiting to push the car to the point where it screams "I can't take any more ethanol." That point is nowhere in sight. This isn't to say that the device is not necessary, it's to illustrate just how well an un-modified non-flex fuel vehicle can perform with e85.

Long before I purchased the Taurus, David and his associates alerted me to the need to transition into using a lot of e85, rather than going cold-turkey and make the immediate shift. The reason, they explained, is that the ethanol will loosen (and clean) the deposits left by the gasoline and that the gunk could clog the system. Because of this, I did transition to high ethanol blends through the first 3 or 4 fill-ups. I don't know if I would have experienced any problems if I didn't heed the advice, but I have not had any fuel line clogs.

In the nearly 18 months, I have driven the vehicle a little less than 25,000 miles  —  enough time and enough miles to make a more enlightened evaluation. I can report that the results are what they were in the short-term evaluations: my car runs fine, as good  —  I think  —  as any 10 year-old car should run. And I have noticed no difference in how the vehicle runs regardless of how much ethanol I use.

At an early stage I did have an interesting experience with Meineke. After watching one of their TV commercials about bringing your car in for a free test if the engine light goes on, I brought the Taurus in for the free check-up. After the test was completed the service manager told me that my O2 sensor had gone out and that it needed replacing (for a cost of about $200). I knew the light was on because I was using e85, I just wanted to see if the test system could discern the reason.

I declined the O2 replacement and told the service manager why I thought the engine light was illuminated. He reacted as if I was speaking Martian; not comprehending what I was saying about using ethanol in a gasoline-optimized engine. He argued a bit with me and warned that if I didn't get the O2 sensor replaced that I was driving an illegal vehicle. For the heck of it, I went through a couple of fill-up cycles where I only used e10 gasoline. As expected, the light went off. I brought the vehicle back into the same shop and told them that I had been experiencing an intermittent check-engine light, although the light wasn't on at that moment. They put the test through what I assume was the same computer test and told me that the vehicle was okay (with no mention of an O2 sensor problem).

Incidentally, I have to tell you that I have never experienced the huge mpg reduction that is typically cited by both ethanol critics and advocates. In my experience I lose only 5-10%. Considering that the e85 costs less 15-30% less than regular gasoline I still get a respectable net savings. Earlier today, May 12, 2012, when I drove past one of the Shell stations that I use to get my e85, I noticed that e85 was selling for just under one dollar less than premium gasoline. That represents nearly 25% savings per gallon.

In closing, I will admit that there is one major drawback to using ethanol, but fortunately it's not my problem, it's the oil companies' problem: They make less money!

Thanks for your time. I hope that this case study helps your efforts.

Sincerely yours,

Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

There were some comments on the articles above that I think are worth noting too:

Comment number one: When my wife & I visit relatives in North Dakota we always fill up with E-85. Our car is a 1996 Chevy Lumina...Not a flex fuel car. We do not notice any difference in performance or mileage. Our visits don't last long enough to really get much more than 1 or 2 fill ups during those visits, so the alcohol percentage doesn't get up to 85% for very long. It does save us about a dollar per gallon for fuel.

Comment number two: Modern OBD-2 vehicles should automatically adjust for up to E35 without any running issues. I have tried this with Honda, VW, Jeep, Subaru & Chevrolet vehicles from 02+ (First year of ethanol blending). I experience < 5-10% drop in mileage.

I have also used a plug in conversion kit to run E85. While it does drive flawlessly around town, I was not satisfied with its fueling under hard acceleration. The engine does not receive the additional ~30% fuel that is required, and tends to run around 15% lean. For long periods of time and lead footing, this could lead to engine failure. For 99% of your drive, it's a cheap & easy way to convert to E85. Shame the boxes can't change the timing to really get the most out of E85.

Freedom through choice at the pumps!

Comment number three: John, I too have used E30 in both a 1997 Ford and a 2007 Volvo without any problems whatsoever. My mileage change is negligible.

I converted my Volvo using a Fuel Flex International kit(White Lightning is apparently out of business) made specifically for the car. I have been using E85 exclusively for the past 2500 miles. I did have to adjust the kit so that the car's fuel would not "run lean". It now works perfectly. I do have access to E 85 in my local community. I notice a 10-20% drop in mileage since I have been running exclusive E85.

I have been running E85 since the conversion for a few reasons. One, the potential security of our country by supporting Americans and creating jobs. Secondly, the E85 has less pollutants as it is vegetable based. Lastly, our national security by not having to buy as much oil from the Middle Eastern countries which do not like the US. Oh yeah, it is cheaper as well.

The real price of a gallon of gas when you take all things considered is estimated to be (in early 2000 dollars) between $5-$15/gallon when you potentially subtract tax benefits to oil companies and what we pay to keep our troops in the Middle East to protect our oil interests. Read "Energy Victory" by Robert Zubrin for other important information.

We need Fuel choice now and then can use whatever fuel is the best. Options are important whether it is cellulosic ethanol, methanol, butanol or anything else or a combination of all of them.

I think these two articles by Robert Zubrin are relevant here. He discovered that cars are already designed for flex fuel cars, including having the software installed in the onboard computer, but the software is disabled. Check it out:

Methanol Wins

The following paper from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also interesting: It's about using "intermediate blends" of ethanol. Apparently normal fuel injector computers handle up to half ethanol before the car starts running poorly (if it is going to run poorly at all). What happens is that the injector automatically adds more fuel if the fuel is partly alcohol, and most cars can do up to 50% E85 with no problems. Every little bit makes a difference. Anyway, here's the link to the PDF file: Effects of Intermediate Ethanol Blends.

Marc Rauch at the American Coalition for Ethanol Conference

The video below is a speech by Marc J. Rauch, the Executive Vice President and Co-Publisher of The Auto Channel. His talk is very relaxed, but he makes a lot of good points about alcohol fuels. He is an expert on the internal combustion engine and he makes some surprising observations about flex fuel vehicles. The video is 43 minutes long.

If you liked that, here's part two (below), which is 18 minutes long.

What Went Wrong in the 60s?

The fifties seem almost idyllic to many of us. There was order in the world. People were almost universally courteous to each other. People dressed neatly. Men wore suits and hats. Women wore skirts and dresses. People didn’t curse. Couples didn’t divorce. Children had both parents raising them. Families sat down and ate their meals together. Being overweight was rare. It was a simpler, less frantic, less stressful time. It’s easy to look back on these times with envy.

But all that peace and order came with a heavy price: Socially-sanctioned repression. Women and minorities were kept in their place. Conformity was highly valued and enforced. Problems were swept under the rug. Television, radio, and newspapers were strongly censored. The prevailing consensus morality was imposed on everyone.

Of course, these are all sweeping generalizations, and generalizations usually have exceptions. But you get the idea. There was a strong social repression. But sometimes this repression was good because bad stuff was repressed.

Specifically, impulses driven by biological desire were repressed when they conflicted with society’s values. This is generally a good thing. Traditional social values are usually put in place for practical reasons. For example, if you don’t allow young people to have sex unless they’re married, you have fewer single moms, fewer fatherless children (which causes the mother to work, which makes her absent too, which means the kids partly raise themselves).

For another example, unrestrained expressions of anger were repressed. And if you don’t allow people to express their anger freely, you have less violence, fewer battered wives and children, etc. I know about the theory of “bottling up anger” and how that supposedly leads to explosions of temper, but it isn’t true (read more about the venting theory here).

These impulses — to have sex out of wedlock or beat someone when you’re angry — might be termed “biological values.” The body has its own values: Sex, food, comfort, violence when angry, etc. Social values often override or repress these biological values. And social values usually should override biological values when the two are in conflict. Social values are often more important, more valuable, or have better long-term consequences.

But there is also a value we could call “higher” than social values. Let’s call it “intellectual” value. This value can be described as a combination of these words: reality, fact, honesty, truth, actuality, authenticity, and freedom.

The classic illustration of this value is when Copernicus said the sun is at the center of the universe, not the earth, and then later when Galileo confirmed with his telescopes that the earth is revolving around the sun.

This truth — this actuality — was in conflict with the social order. The facts seemed to conflict with the Christian Bible, considered the core of the West’s system of social values. People were afraid the social order would unravel if Galileo’s findings were accepted by large numbers of the population.

The social value system and its repressive power — which had played such an important role in restraining the unbridled expression of “lower” biological values — were employed to repress a “higher” intellectual value: The honest admission of a fact.

Most of us would agree that this was wrong, although we might not have been able to explain exactly what was wrong with it.

When social values try to keep women in the home against their will, it is also wrong. Many women do not honestly want to spend their whole life at home, but want to pursue their goals and engage with the world. They want the freedom to choose their own path and to authentically explore their potentials.

We can see now that women should have the right to do this because they’re human beings and it’s only fair that they have rights equal to men. If it upturns society’s values, so be it. The intellectual value is more important and should trump social values when the two conflict.

But that doesn’t mean social values are no longer important, and this is the fundamental mistake of the 60s. Because nobody made the distinction in “levels of values” back then, and since obviously all this social repression was repressing good stuff like honesty, truth, and authenticity, the rebellious youth of the 60s concluded that social values were wrong and should be rejected. Social repression should be stopped. That’s how a lot of people felt at the time.

And what happened? Unrestrained biological values were allowed to flood in. People were having sex out of wedlock. Children were being born not knowing who their father was, much less having a father help raise them. Violence and discourtesy became more commonplace. People carelessly indulged in drug abuse, drunkenness, and other forms of potentially destructive biological pleasures that disrupted social order. A kind of vulgarity began to express itself, and even though we can see something is wrong with that, without the three distinctions between biological values, social values, and intellectual values, it’s hard to put your finger on it.

In correctly acknowledging that intellectual values are more important and should override social values, the rebellious youth of the 60s accidentally allowed even lower values (biological values) to override higher values (social values), simply because of a lack of clarity about the distinctions between the three values.

In rejecting social domination of intellectual value, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. They simultaneously rejected the social domination of biological values, unleashing hell.

But now we can take these distinctions and rebel with more precision, understanding which values should rightly and justly override which values, and if we do this, we can usher in the era those rebellious youngsters dreamed of and make their highest vision a reality in the 21st century.


I didn’t invent these distinctions. I got them from Robert Pirsig’s excellent book, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

To see a good illustration of these principles, watch the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You’ll see a rebellion against social values for the sake of biological and intellectual values without distinguishing between them, making the inevitable result — a wretched and overindulgent lifestyle. The movie is based on a true story. The two main characters leave a path of destruction and confusion in their wake.

Another similar illustration can be seen in the movie, The Doors. Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison, who didn’t make the distinction between the three kinds of values, and left a similar path of destruction and confusion in his wake.

Jim Morrison is a good example because he was both creative (freedom is an intellectual value) and self-destructive (by the uncontrolled gratification of biological values).

You can read a good illustration of an intellectual value successfully and justifiably overriding a social value in modern times by reading the story of Woineshet Zebene.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

We Don't Have a Free Market in Transportation Fuel

When thinking about the "mandate issue" (wanting to preserve a free market and not encumber it with government regulation) on the open fuel standard, it is important to realize that right now petroleum does not exist in a free market.

Some oil production operations produce oil for much cheaper than others, so they could sell theirs on the market at a price lower than anyone else, and thus gain a larger market share.

But they don't. They all sell barrels of oil for the same exorbitant price. Why?

Because they can sell every drop they have at top dollar.

Why? Because OPEC keeps oil artificially scarce. OPEC is large enough and keeps oil scarce enough that all the oil that becomes available on the world market is snatched up. There is no competition. It's an unprecedented (and illegally-created) seller's market.

But OPEC's price-fixing, economy-devastating scheme (and its destructive effects) can be bypassed with the simple introduction of an Open Fuel Standard bill in Congress. With the passing of the bill, cars would become a platform upon which different fuels would compete against petroleum in a free market.

Prices for fuel would quickly drop, and the economy — no longer dragged down by the crushing, encumbering, onerous fuel prices — would boom.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.