Do you want to stay anonymous or do your prefer personal service?

As for me, it depends.

I like personal service when I choose to connect to people e.g. in the place I live. I recognize them and they recognize me back, we exchange smiles or have a small talk. I am genuinely asking whether they are fine or happy. Yes, I want to buy my books or do my shopping with a smile, welcomed by friendly faces.

On the other hand, I don’t necessarily like customized and personal service run by web agents suggesting me what I might be interested in. Sometimes, I indeed look for such recommendations, especially when I search for books. However, when I am to explore a new subject and/or I want to learn something new, I want to explore spaces far behind the horizon. I am interested to see many different points of view.

Why?

Because I firmly believe that by exploring extremes and the places in between, I am better able to clarify what I want. The wider the perspectives or points of view, the broader the horizons and the better my ability to find the middle point or the center I am interested in.  Learning about opposites makes me think for myself and inspires me to ask deep questions.

It is my choice.

For this reason I am not directly interested in finding the answers or recommendations I might like. I am much more interested in finding the information I might dislike, or even hate.  It is the difference, the dissimilarity to my common experience or knowledge that shakes my grounds so that I can build a better foundation.

Remember that we learn the most not because we find concepts similar to ours but because we are exposed to previously unseen information or go through new experience. In this way I am strongly inspired to learn new things. Surprise, shock or curiosity are the vehicles to use.

Now…

The context

Do you believe that it is you who is searching the information on the Web?
You may be surprised to learn that it might be the other way around.

You are not necessarily searching for information, but information is looking for you.
How do we know it?

Well…

First of all, you are never anonymous on the big World Wide Web. If you connect to a website your computer can be uniquely identified by its IP number. And if you
run a business with a website presence it is not difficult to find out to whom the website belongs. You often accept the cookies from other parties so that any other time you visit the same sites they can offer you a customized view.

Secondly, information is being stored all the time concerning the routes you follow on the Web. If you are often on Facebook, Linked, Tumblr, Pinterest or any other social media services it is easy to connect the dots – your login and your IP address – to know who you are.

As a result, you will see ads related to your search keywords or email topics in your open mail browser or even subjects you discuss with friends on Google chat or so.

This is what we all consciously or unconsciously accept whether we realize it or not. The consequence of this fact is profound. Whatever you write in your emails, comment on social media, write in your posts or anywhere else on the Web may stay forever in the vast valleys of the Network. Even if you remove your accounts, your communication and traffic information may be preserved for years.

This asks us to be honest and accountable for what we say, do and how we react. Please realize that all your words may stay in the “memory” of the Web for a very long time.

***

The search

There is also another consequence I want to point out.

What if you know that your search is customized according to your likes?
This certainly holds for Google.

Make a small experiment. Search in Google for a phrase which is of your interest, e.g. “holiday in Turkey”, “personal development books” or something currently in the news. Do it 3x.

1) First time do it on your computer while login in to your active social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, Google+ and alike, as well as email or other service.

2) Second time, sign off every social media. Clear all the cookies. Remove the history of searches.
Restart your browser and run your search.

3) The third time, use a different computer, possibly of somebody else. Run your search.

Are there any differences?
Well, they usually are and oftentimes they are huge.

It is not necessarily true that the information is not found when you search for it from a different computer, say, but it is the way it is presented back to you. Any search produces millions or zillions of possible answers. The ranking of the answers is customized according to specific indicators about the websites such as the popularity. More importantly, however, the answers are filtered in response to your likes, preferences (stored e.g. as the most frequent websites you visit), the likes of your friends on Facebook and so on. If you think it is impossible, I can assure you that is is algorithmically possible, and in use.

For instance, it is easy to make a profile of you by the tags, topics, news, sites or keywords – words you often use (again in social media, email, or various accounts). Every text, every post may have its own profile – even generated in the context of your search. What you then need is a similarity measure between two profiles, a measure that accounts for the overlap of the subjects and intensity (frequency) of the interest. A simple but fast-computable measure may already give satisfactory results for the first 10 returns. For sure, Google has its own strategy to achieve that.

The key point is this. Majority of people, when searching on the Web, do not look further than the first or second page of the results, where the results are highly influenced
by their local context. The remaining pages may actually be of high interest, as they are often for me.

The importance of each piece of information should and must be considered in the context – your preferences, networks you belong to, social media presence and so on. Be aware that what you find may only come from a narrow circle of your likes and likes of your local Web community.

Is this what you want?

As for me, I want the likes at times, yet more often than not, I want independent information. Or, at least, very different to what I know.

Become aware of the context-dependent search. You are a potential customer to all types of products and services. This comes as a natural symbiosis between you using freely the Web and the businesses that make living from their presence there. As with all media, the answers you get may be modeled towards specific interests or benefits.

The trap we get into is that we think about ourselves as individuals, creative and unpredictable. This is true about us as humans but not necessarily about us as potential customers. Any consumer understood as a statistical figure is, in his behavior and the way he makes decisions, often predictable, certainly when we average over masses. This holds also because we are firmly convinced that statistics doesn’t apply to us  ;). Well, it does.

Thanks to our reluctance to bury ourselves in the multi-page written agreements and blindly accept the “terms of use”, we don’t pay attention to the frames of the world being created for us. We slowly accept changes that otherwise would have been beyond question. As a result, the image presented to us on the Web about the world is such that it is being made to be commercially beneficial for everyone, which means – not necessarily for you as an individual. This is a subtle process and difficult to discern. But it is worth the trouble to ask to know to what the world brings us along this path.

Summary

What we read and listen to models our thoughts, ideas and concepts.
We read what we find.
We find what we search.
Therefore, how we search is important. It may determine the quality of information we find and, consequently, the model of the world we create.

There is a difference between a book recommendation you may like and learning a new subject or forming a new concept. Explore both best matches and far away answers to learn about similarities and differences. Look for various points of view to form the ideas well and refine your concepts through atypical examples. This is necessary for practising your independent thinking and increasing intelligence.

***

As an aside note, there are private search engines which claim that they don’t use algorithms to satisfy our likes. An example is  https://duckduckgo.com/
For sure there are many others.

There is also software that enables anonymity online. An example is https://www.torproject.org/.

Tor (The Onion Router) directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network (via onion-like encryption levels) to hide a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. As the Wikipedia says “Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms, back to the user.”

Be aware of your context. Search what you are looking to find. It creates your world.

***

 

Do you want to be a norm?

You want to be perfect.
Balanced. Harmonious. Spotless.

That is what you think you want. To follow the perfect dream.

You want to have a great family.
(Obviously, a great house and a car too.)
You want an easy and smooth life.
You want to make a great carrier.

That is what you think you want. To follow the standard dream.

Do you want to be a deviation?

Luckily, you are much different than the norm.
You are strange, perhaps odd, colorful and spotty.
You are a masterpiece in creation.

***

It is the differences, not the norm, that shape interest and curiosity.

They make us think.
They make us look for answers.
They make us change and grow.

What is known and explained becomes boring.
What is different and standing out becomes interesting.

Have you ever thought that the greatest inspiration comes from the parts that do not fit to a model?
These are the ugly parts, aberrations, defects, imperfections, or surprises.
Indeed, we push towards a new development because the deviation is there and demands attention.

***

Harmony and elegance are powerful. They create a comfort zone.
As much as we want it and love it, we become lazy and purposeless when we dwell there for too long.

The norm, the model, the comfort zone is a place of rejuvenation. For a short while only.

***

The parts of yourself that are elegant, polished and worked-out make a great cover.
They help you shine. Yet, they likely stand on the way to your progress.

The parts of yourself that you wish to dispose of, change or hide are the sources of great power.
The imperfections are a potential for growth and purpose.

It is where you don’t fit and how you differ from others that becomes your strength.
It is the difference that is an inspiration for change.

***

Dare to be a Deviation, not the Norm.

***

Have you ever wondered why there is a poison label warning on your toothpaste?

No? Haven’t you ever notice that?

Hmmm….

Perhaps, you can have a close look next time when you brush your teeth.

“Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or call a poison control center immediately.”

A warning mandated by FDA on fluoride toothpaste labels sold in the U.S.

Oral health

So …

You buy the same brand of a toothpaste over and over again because there is little difference between them, it seems. Sometimes you test a new brand or a new variant as seen on TV, on an ad or just out of curiosity, but the positive changes do not last. You meticulously follow the advice of dentists and brush your teeth with the best fluoride protection you can have, but you still suffer from bleeding gums, sensitive teeth or cavities.

It is disappointing, isn’t it?

There is however a way out. You need to use a different kind of a toothpaste in order to improve your oral health.

My experience

Since my early childhood I have been avidly brushing my teeth. Yet, I have had problematic teeth since I have ever remembered. My both childhood and teenage years were spent on frequent dentist appointments. To have my cavities treated. I dreaded them from all my heart.

The more challenges I encountered, however, the eager I was to brush my teeth. With a true dedication. I wanted to keep my teeth healthy and I took it as seriously as possible. I was using a generous amount of toothpaste on my toothbrush, probably 2-3cm long “snakes”. I simply imitated what I saw on posters and in media as a child, that is, a toothbrush fully covered with a toothpaste. Unfortunately, the condition of my teeth has only got worse. Despite all my efforts, at the age of 13 I got mottled teeth.

I couldn’t understand it. I was eagerly following the advice of dentists (as I understood it at that time), yet my teeth were in such a poor state. I was asking professionals for advice, kept educating myself, spent time on bettering my brushing technique and used sophisticated toothpastes. Everything in vain.

I also drastically cut on eating sugar and improved my diet. I was eating vegetables, quality meat and unprocessed food. Still, my problems continued.

I was told by the dentists that the condition of my teeth was being created by my poor quality saliva or a tendency I inherited from my ancestors. Or perhaps I didn’t brush the teeth in the end, while pretending I did.

Ah ah…

Since nothing could have been done about my teeth, I felt helpless. Until four years ago. It was the first time when I closely looked at the issue of fluoride.

Fluoride is toxic

For years I have believed that fluoride was to protect my teeth from decay. How wrong was I! How strong was my conditioning!

It did not cross my mind to question the effectiveness of fluoride in a toothpaste even though my personal experience proved the contrary. Four years ago I learned, however, that the assumption about the preventive action of fluoride was disputable, at least, and disproved, at most. More importantly, I understood that fluoride was toxic.

I was shocked.

Fluoride is a general term that describes compounds containing the gas of fluorine. Sodium fluoride (NaF) or sodium monofluorophosphate (SMFP) are compounds commonly used in toothpastes, but other compounds are used as well. Water fluoridation mostly relies on fluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) or sodium fluorosilicate (Na2SiF6). Too much fluoride in the body becomes toxic, leading to fluorosis. While most dentists link it to a cosmetic defect of your teeth only and disregard any serious consequences, the picture is likely very different.

The effect of fluoride ingestion (in small amounts) is not immediate but fluoride accumulates in the parts of the body, especially in bones, teeth and pineal gland. When bones are remodeled, fluoride gets into the blood and can basically starts action on all other organs in the body. The basic action of fluoride is to disturb the functioning of cells and enzymes. All systems of the body depend on the functioning of enzymes.

Fluoride inhibits the enzymes by changing their shapes and this can lead to a damage of immune system, digestive system, impaired blood circulation, impaired functioning of thyroid, kidney, liver and brain. Since the distorted enzymes have become foreign protein they may also cause autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, asthma, or arteriosclerosis. How does this information make you feel?

A non-inclusive list of known effects of fluoride includes:

  • Damaged cells in teeth
  • Increased arthritis
  • Disrupted synthesis of collagen
  • Muscle disorders
  • Cardiological and neurological disorders
  • Adverse effects on the kidney
  • Weakening of bones, leading to an increase in hip and wrist fracture
  • Chromosomal damage and interference with DNA repair (fluoride mutates human cells)
  • Inhibited formation of antibodies; disrupted functioning of the immune system
  • Suppressive effect on the thyroid
  • Dementia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression
  • Brain fog, lowered IQ
  • Increased aging
  • Increased lead absorption

See Wikipedia and this link.

In retrospection, I think that I have suffered from fluorosis from the early years. It is not only a cosmetic change of your teeth, but more importantly, a sign of toxic changes that undergo in your body. Also my sluggish thyroid and immunity problems are not surprising in this light.

Exposure to fluoride

Every day fluoride enters our lives in various ways. It goes far beyond the use of toothpaste, especially in the countries which mandate water fluoridation as in many states of the U.S. You can become over-exposed to fluoride by:

  • Drinking fluoridated water (water supply)
  • Drinking beverages made from fluoridated water; e.g. soft drinks, beer or mineral water
  • Consuming canned products and jars based on fluoridated water; e.g. canned meals or soups, or even baby food
  • Eating fruits and vegetables that were sprayed with compounds of fluoride (pesticides)
  • Taking medicines containing fluoride, such as antibiotics, anaesthetics, psychotropics, etc; see this link to inspect how many there are
  • Using teflon cookware
  • Industrial air emissions containing fluoride
  • Using fluoridated dental products
  • and of course by using toothpaste

Since we usually use toothpaste twice or three times daily, it plays a significant role in increasing fluoride levels within the body. Imagine that there is enough fluoride in a regular tube of toothpaste to kill a 10kg (22pound) child.

Do you know that fluoride has been the active toxin in rat poisons and cockroach powder?

What about young children? If you are anything like me when I was a kid, you ate your tasty bubble-gum or strawberry toothpaste on regular basis. While eating the whole tube of toothpaste is not to be expected, swallowing small amounts on daily basis is a likely scenario. So, it is possible that your children have been overexposing themselves to toxic effects of fluoride. Isn’t that worrying at least?

What about tens of years of practice when you swallow fluoride in small amounts? Remember that you are instructed not to flush your mouth after brushing so that the fluoride plays its “protective” role. How pathetic is that!

Moreover, we cannot have too much of the goodness. Majority of dental products from toothpaste to toothpicks and floss contains fluoride. With regular means of oral hygiene, we are ingesting some percentage of fluoride, a substance that is more toxic than lead.

It is not easy to once and for all either approve or disprove the use of fluoride in toothpastes or the practice of water fluoridation. The reason for that is that many publicly available studies are carried out with a dedicated aim to prove one of the points. Moreover, it is an emotional topic.

When you are doing research with the bias to prove the results you want, you tend to bias your results and see what you expect to see. In other words, you are blind to the contrary evidence and make improper comparisons. Nevertheless, there are two facts that are at least worrying to me.

1) Fluoride is a man-made byproduct of heavy industry

Some people believe public becomes ignorant about the role of fluoride because of the mass media conditioning. Fluoride is man-made. It is produced as a waste byproduct of various types of heavy industry and must be disposed of somewhere. And this is a fact.

For instance, fluorosilicic acid is liquid by-product of phosphate fertilizer manufacture but there much more going on. Hence, water fluoridation and fluoridated toothpastes come as a handy and politically correct possibility for the removal of the fluoride byproducts (which would have been a costly practice otherwise, wouldn’t it?). Even if this scenario is only a hypothesis of a mind biased by global conspiracy theories, one issue is apparent.

2) Fluoride is toxic

You can find a lot of information on the subject. Even though we are told that it is not very toxic and that small amounts are safe, why would you willingly subscribe to a daily intake of a toxic substance to your own body?

Fluoride-free

Four years ago I stopped using a fluoride-based toothpaste. It was a truly fantastic change for me. The condition of my teeth improved greatly. There is freshness of my breath that I enjoy. No cavities. No sensitive teeth. No bleeding gums. No problems.

Things have been fine for a few years now, which has never happened in the past. I brush my teeth twice daily and I use a pea-size or less of a fluoride-free toothpaste and my oral hygiene is a joy. For the last two years all my family has also become fluoride-free. (Of course, this refers to toothpaste and water only as we may be exposing ourselves to other sources of fluoride).

There are many fluoride-free toothpastes available on the market that you can buy in health food shops, pharmacies or online. You only need to look for them specifically. Examples include Euthymol, Kingfisher, Aloe Dent, Green People, Druide, Tom’s of Maine or Weleda. There are however many more choices available. I spent a few months to find a toothpaste I like. Currently, my two favorite choices are Aloe Dent and Green People.

SLS-free

What I recommend is to use a toothpaste which is also free from SLS, sodium lauryl sulphate. This chemical compound is a foaming agent used to clean garage doors, floors or cars, for instance. BUT … it’s also commonly found in hygiene products such as shampoos, body washes, soaps, and shaving creams. Read your labels.

Sodium lauryl sulphate is a toxin to our skin and often causes irritation. Canker sores or bleeding gums are one of the known side effects of using a SLS toothpaste. In addition, SLS can weaken the enamel.

By the way, if you wonder why SLS is used in hygienic products, the answer is simple. It’s a very cheap foaming agent, hence the costs can be reduced greatly. Since we expect that our hygiene products must produce a foaming effect or otherwise they do not clean well (brain conditioning), we are offered a cheap solution to meet our expectations.

Aloe Dent and Green People are both fluoride-free and SLS-free toothpastes. They are my favorite now, although I have a slight preference towards Aloe Dent.

Test it!

I realize that the arguments against fluoride presented in the materials available on the Web may not sound logical to you. You may see them as exaggerated and produced by maniacs, especially if your teeth are in a reasonably good state. Perhaps you were blessed by nature with strong teeth. It does not matter though.

What does matter is your personal experience, doesn’t it? There is nothing more convincing than that.

  • Are you happy with the freshness of the breath you have? 
  • Are you happy with the condition of your gums? 
  • Do you have clarity in your mind or foggy thoughts? 

If you suffer from bleeding gums, dental cavities or poor health, you may have fluorosis. Give it a thought.

I encourage you to test the approach and switch to a fluoride-free and SLS-free toothpaste for a few months. In addition, cut on soda, beer and sugar (to prevent acid forming from sugar being metabolized by bacteria; tooth decay is caused by acids in your mouth). If possible, drink fluoride-free water. Remove fluoride intake from your life and monitor carefully your well-being in the coming months.

Does it sound good to you? See and feel for yourself. It is a simple experiment. I bet you will join the fluoride-free camp ;).

I wish you a great hunt for a refreshing fluoride-free, SLS-free toothpaste. Feel good indeed.

Resources

I will likely write more on the general aspects of fluoride in the future. The subject is very important.

There are multiple sources and articles which suggest that the belief in fluoride preventing dental caries is ungrounded. Moreover, the usage of fluoride is harmful to your own well-being. You can easily find the information on the Web. Please study the material presented at the Fluoride-Free website or Fluoride Action Network. See also this link or that one.

Please have a look at two blogs dedicated to the danger of fluoride. They report some of the health problems caused by fluoride:

Two important books of interest are: The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson and The Case Against Fluoride by Paul Connett, James Beck and H. Spedding Micklem. They are worth reading.

***

active_listening

If there is one thing to make you an effective communicator, it is active listening

This is a sequel to this post on active listening.

In active listening, the magic happens because you shift your attention from yourself to the other person.

You listen with the intention to understand. It is not an intellectual understanding only, but a deep understanding of the person as a whole. You simply make an effort to think and feel like the other person, at least with respect to the issues presented or discussed. You accept the other person by who (s)he is. By doing so, you create the space in which the person can relax and become at integrity with oneself.

There is no judgement, no criticism and no advice.

Setting-up the stage

There are two planes of operation in active listening: setting-up the stage and caring for the message. In this post we focus on how to improve the first plane.  The basic steps of setting-up the stage are:

  1. Acknowledge distractions
  2. Set-up the intention
  3. Keep eye contact
  4. Build rapport
  5. Raise curiosity and maintain interest
  6. Give full attention

Distractions

Before we can actually practice active listening, first we need to become aware of numerous distractions that are on the way. You may need to overcome some in order to create conditions that support you in active listening. Example distractions include:

  • Environment: too noisy, too dark/too bright, uncomfortable chairs, disturbing textures, …
  • Mood or health: bad mood, sleepy, hungry, emotionally aroused, feeling pain, …
  • Poor eye contact: the other person moves eyes away
  • Internal self-talk: a stream of thoughts
  • Unresistable urge to tell own message
  • The message: too boring, too long, too far fetching, …
  • Delivery of the message: accent, use of language, way of explaining,
  • Defense mechanism for e.g. criticism
  • etc

Just by becoming aware what is in our environment and how we feel, we can recognize the distractions and acknowledge them. It is not necessary that all the distractions are solved, although it helps enormously, of course.You may just simply notice things along the line “I’m a bit angry after this email. I’ll be back to it at the end of the day. … Oops, I’m hungry… These curtains are really ugly…. I hear voices on the street. ….I’ll buy something to eat and move to another table… Hmmm, I am a bit cold.  I will take a tea….” Note that this process can be very fast, in a matter of seconds.

This paying attention to distractions is important because we bring them from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. In doing so, your conscious mind recognizes the distractions and can now focus more freely on listening without perturbations of hidden processes.

Intention

Setting up the intention for active listening is to align your subconscious and conscious mind to support each other. You simply decide to be present in the moment, every single moment. A 15-20 second (or minutes before if possible) of quieting and calming the mind is an essential practice here.

Eye contact

Eye contact is important as it practically reflects whether you are interested in the conversation or not.

Rapport

Perhaps, rapport is the mystical word here. Rapport basically means a harmonious relation, when two or more people are on the same wavelength or ‘in sync’. Some people create rapport at ease, others need more practice. The goal of rapport is to build trust. Hence it is crucial.

The good news is that you can create rapport consciously. The two main techniques are mirroring and finding similarities.

Mirroring. In the first approach you mirror the person’s outside. That is, you match breathing pattern, voice (speed and pitch) and body language (sitting, posture, gestures, face expressions). You do it in a gentle way to reflect the general pattern about the person, not every detail. For instance you may choose to speak faster or modulate the tone of your voice if the person speaks fast and with a high pitch. You may choose to lean to one side and cross the legs if this is what the person does.

All the changes you apply are in a small degree from your natural being, not the exact neither extreme copy of the other person. The reason is that you want it be as natural as possible as you need to maintain it. You can only do it consciously if this is a small step for you. Gentleness is the key here.

Why is it important to mirror the body language? The key here is that our physiology,our body language supports us in creating specific feelings. When you mirror the physiology of the other person, you can perceive some of the feelings and better understand what is going on for her or him. In addition, the person is subconsciously more able to relate to you. See the exercise below.

Finding similarities. In the second approach to building rapport, first you spend the time to find either common interests or common experiences. The common interests can be things such as golf, fashion, computer games, quilting, cooking, dogs, etc. The common experiences include specific hardships or fun experiences, living in a foreign country, studying art, learning to ride a horse, etc. The key is to find something that evokes strong emotions. They help us connect and facilitate the creation of the platform of understanding.

If you really want to learn more, observe people who are powerfully engaged in a conversation. Observe rapport in practice and take the learning points on stage.

Curiosity and interest

The next step is to arise your own curiosity. Just forget everything you knowand see the person or hear the issues as if for the first time. You are on a discovery journey. If you are curious to learn about the other person, rapport comes more naturally.

Full attention

Make a decision to give your attention fully. In doing so, your internal dialog should be killed. If this is not the case, there is a simple trick that can help you. Please keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. If you maintain this set-up of your tongue, you will notice that internal dialog disappears. If there is however a moment you catch yourself busy with your internal dialog, acknowledge that and return to listening. Please say to the other “I’m sorry, I’ve lost my concentration. Can you repeat what you’ve just said?” The key is to be curious and interested. If you do that, your focus will naturally follow.

Finally, truly engage in listening. Start simple and make one change at a time. You will experience the magic. No doubt.

***

Exercise

If you don’t believe that your body posture and gestures induce feelings just try to get into this position:  stand up, feet close to each other, head down, look down, shoulders down and towards chest, slouch, arms down and palms pressing against each other.

What are the feelings that accompany this posture? Keep this posture and generate the feeling of true happiness. How easy is it?

***

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***