About women harassment

It seems like I have to spell this out to you. So here we go.

Women street harassment is a thing. Women go out on the streets and they get harassed. I am sure no one will challenge this statement, right? Now, what most people (mostly men) don’t know is that harassment is not only rape, or calling someone names, or inappropriate touching. No no no… Harassment can come in several different flavors, sometimes even unintentionally. And this is the hard part because, since the harasser has nothing but good intentions, and did nothing wrong explicitly, you will be the feminist bitch to bring it up and be mad about it. Well, I am not a feminist bitch, I will just be honest because some things have got to stop.

Men think that it is ok to approach women they don’t know, talk, flirt and, if she seems receptive, ask them out. It sounds ok… if you are at a bar, or a party! But *not* if you are in the bus, or subway, or airplane, or hotel, or doctor’s office waiting room. You have no idea how annoying it is to realize that that person with whom you were having a perfectly harmless conversation has ulterior motives and was actually hitting on you. We start believing that people are never nice just for the sake of being nice, which means that, if you are nice back, you’d be receptive to his asking for your phone number in about 5 minutes. So what do we do? We stay serious, we don’t engage on any conversation, we look anywhere but other people’s faces. And it sucks, because suddenly you realize that you walk around with a constant angry face, you choose not to sit next to unknown guys, you pretend you don’t speak the language and hide the book you were reading, you don’t do *anything*, absolutely nothing!!, that can be a conversation starter (unfortunately we have to sneeze sometimes…). It is sad that all these self-preserving acts come naturally for most women. This means that, at one point or another, every one of us found ourselves in a weird situation with a guy, and it happened so often that the person who came to talk to you had an agenda, that we just stop listening, even to the poor people that have no agenda at all, and are actually just being nice.

So, men of the world, I am sure that you sometimes have the best of intentions. You’re both just sitting there doing nothing, so what’s the harm in talking? But before engaging, ask yourself this: if the person sitting next to you was another guy, would you ask him the time or comment on the weather? If the answer is no, it is better to keep your mouth shut.

Sobre corrupção

Já que corrupção é o assunto do momento, eu acho que a gente devia começar a esclarecer umas coisas. Eu andei lendo sobre o esquema da Petrobrás (a Folha tem um infográfico explicativo muito didático) e perguntando pra algumas pessoas que trabalham em empreiteiras pra saber direitinho como o esquema funciona. A gente tem que se informar, né? Também li alguns estudos sobre corrupção de acadêmicos da área de gerenciamento e psicologia social [1]. Aqui vão minhas conclusões preliminares sobre o assunto.

Quando esses escândalos de corrupção ocorrem, a reação imediata das pessoas que estão “do lado de fora” é de querer apontar os culpados, e puni-los por isso. A idéia por trás disso é que existe uma meia dúzia de pessoas mal intencionadas, gananciosas e mesquinhas que estão burlando o sistema para benefício próprio. Se livrar dessas pessoas, portanto, iria garantir que não haverá mais corrupção. Muito prático, né? Só que as coisas não são bem assim. Acho que a gente já está crescidinho o suficiente pra entender que não tem dessa de pessoas boas e pessoas más, vilões e mocinhos.

Atos corruptos não são cometidos por pessoas imorais ou com algum desvio de comportamento, mas por pessoas como eu e você (assumindo que você não tem um desvio de comportamento…). Pessoas que vão colocar o filho de castigo se ele pegar alguma coisa do coleguinha da escola sem pedir, que vão achar um absurdo o prefeito daquela cidadezinha que desviou dinheiro pra comprar uma fazenda e que não vão sair de um restaurante sem pagar. Então o que leva uma pessoa que tem bons valores morais a cometer atos de corrupção? Pra mim, esse é o cerne da questão. Se entendermos direitinho como as pessoas são levadas a cometer atos ilícitos, temos uma chance de resolver o problema antes dele começar, de prevenir ao invés de remediar. Nós sabemos algumas coisinhas sobre isso já, felizmente.

A primeira coisa que devemos ter em mente é o contexto. As pessoas tomam decisões em um determinado momento, com uma quantidade finita de informação e muitas vezes sob pressão para atingir um objetivo imediato. As decisões são tomadas sem muita reflexão, sem tempo para analisar a situação como um todo, o que torna tudo muito mais difícil. Naquele momento crucial de decidir se pagamos a propina ou não, se contamos com uma venda ainda não consolidada ou não, se falamos pro cliente que aquela ação vai absolutamente subir ou não, pensamos numa escala pequena. Se não quebrarmos “um pouquinho” a regra, talvez ficaremos sem emprego, talvez muitas pessoas ficarão sem emprego, talvez a empresa não vai cumprir a meta… nesse momento, dadas as consequências, quebrar “um pouquinho” a regra é um mal necessário. Mesmo que, no fundo, no fundo, você saiba que está fazendo algo ilegal. A gente tem uma coisa que chama auto-preservação psicológica, que protege o nosso ego e que nem sempre é muito boa. Ela é responável pela racionalização de atos ilícitos, aquele pensamento de que “foi a coisa certa a se fazer no momento”.

Podemos fazer um exercício pra ver como isso tudo funciona. Vamos usar o esquema da Petrobrás que todo mundo já sabe direitinho como funciona a essa altura. Vamos nos colocar no lugar de cada uma das pessoas e ver como elas podem ter racionalizado suas ações [2]:

– José, diretor da Petrobrás. José foi indicado pelo partido X para ser o novo diretor da Petrobrás. No momento da indicação, ele ficou muito feliz e orgulhoso do bom trabalho que fez durante sua carreira para merecer uma diretoria tão importante. Ele comemorou com um churrasco com sua família e amigos do partido X. Ele foi alertado que terá que seguir “sugestões” do partido X de vez em quando, mas ele confia que seus amigos são profissionais competentes e vão indicar boas empresas. Além do mais, é uma maneira de conseguir verba pro próprio partido que o ajudou a conseguir essa posição importante. Se não for assim, a empresa nunca vai doar tanto dinheiro pra um partido, porque elas são gananciosas e más. E partidos precisam de dinheiro para campanhas. José pensa estar ajudando a todos.

– Carlos, amigo de José do partido X. Carlos apoiou a indicação de José pra diretoria da Petrobrás porque José é uma pessoa de confiança e competente. Carlos se preocupa em conseguir verba pro seu partido para eleger mais pessoas e aprovar projetos que ele concorda que serão bons pra sociedade. Como as empresas não vão doar tanto dinheiro pra campanhas políticas, Carlos pode usar a influência de José na contratação para obras na Petrobrás e forçar um pouquinho esse pagamento. Tudo pro bem da sociedade. O dinheiro não fará falta pras empresas.

– Eduardo, dono da empresa Y. Eduardo abriu sua empresa ainda jovem, e está orgulhoso de como ela cresceu. Decide entrar finalmente na concorrência pra uma obra importante com a Petrobrás. Durante uma reunião, uma propina é sutilmente sugerida e Eduardo acha um absurdo, a princípio. Depois de algumas licitações perdidas, ele percebe que se não pagar a propina como todas as outras empresas têm feito, nunca conseguirá obras importantes. Um contrato com a Petrobrás é realmente algo grande pra se ter no portifólio da sua empresa. Eduardo faz as contas e vê que valerá a pena pagar a propina nesse momento e que esse contrato pode abrir portas pra sua empresa. Eduardo entra no esquema.

Olhando assim, de pertinho, não parece que eles estão fazendo algo de muito errado. Olhando de longe, como estamos vendo nas notícias, tudo é um grande absurdo, uma roubalheira, imoral, e todos esses adjetivos. A lição que tiramos disso é que atos errados não parecem tão errados num nível micro. Se cada uma dessas pessoas tivesse uma noção do tamanho do esquema pro qual estão contribuindo, como estamos vendo hoje nas notícias, talvez tomariam uma decisão diferente. Mas elas não tem. Nem eu e nem você, se estivéssemos no lugar

Claro que meus personagens fictícios são só os personagens principais. Mas um esquema desse tamanho não se faz com uma pessoa em uma empresa ou instituição. É necessário haver o apoio, ou pelo menos consentimento, de muitos e muitos outros. O que leva à segunda coisa que sabemos sobre comportamento humano: comportamento de grupo e obediência. Se você é uma pessoa dentro de uma instituição, e percebe que algo de errado está sendo feito, você tem duas opções: aponta o erro e arrisca perder seu emprego ou fica calado e vê se alguém vai falar alguma coisa. Como a maioria das pessoas escolhe a segunda opção, o silêncio coletivo te faz pensar que talvez a coisa não seja tão errada assim. E tudo passa a ser ok e você pensa “bom, então é assim que as coisas funcionam por aqui, tudo bem”. E se tudo que você tem que fazer é assinar um papel ou jogar uns números numa planilha ou fazer uma transferência bancária, a sua sensação de responsabilidade em um esquema de corrupção é perto de zero. Afinal de contas, você está apenas seguindo ordens. Na verdade, eu acho que a maioria de pessoas num esquema de corrupção, senão todas, não pensam conscientemente que estão sendo corruptas ou fazendo algo errado (o que não impede que elas paguem pelos seus atos, claro).

E aí? Como fazer pra prevenir essa situação? Ficou difícil agora né? Pois é…
Com certeza existem pessoas trabalhando em coisas que podem ser aplicadas a essas situações. A gente tem que prestar atenção, se informar, e juntar os dois mundos da teoria e da prática pra uma solução de verdade.

[1] A propósito, muito pouca coisa disponível online… Não sei se é por causa de direitos autorais ou se realmente existem poucos estudos sobre o assunto.

[2] A situação descrita é altamente hipotética e serve simplesmente como um exemplo exagerado para fins didáticos.

About corruption

Since corruption seems to be the hip topic, I thought it would be good to clarify a few things. I have been reading about the Petrobras scandal (Folha, a Brazilian newspaper, has a nice info-graphic about it, in Portuguese, sorry…) and asking a few people I know who work in companies to find out exactly how these schemes come about. We must inform ourselves, right? I also read a few papers about corruption from management and psychology academics [1]. Here’s my two cents on the subject.

When corruptions scandals erupt, “outside” people’s immediate reaction is to point the guilty ones, and punish them for that. The underlying idea is that there exists half a dozen of “bad apples”, who are greedy and evil and who cheat the system for their own benefit. Getting rid of these people would guarantee the end of corruption. Practical, right? But wrong. We are all grown ups, and we know very well that there is no such thing as the good guy and the bad guy.

Corrupt actions are not committed by immoral or unethical people, but by people like me and you (assuming you have a sense of moral and ethics…). People who will ground their kids for taking materials from school, that will be outraged by politicians’ money laundering and who will always pay their bills. So how come otherwise moral people end up so corrupt? For me this is the ultimate question. If we understand how people are led to commit illegal acts, we have a chance of solving the problem before it starts, preventing instead of treating. Fortunately, we know already a thing or two about that.

The first thing we should keep in mind is that it is all about context. At the point of the decision making, people have limited information and are usually under pressure to solve an immediate problem. Decisions are made without a lot of reflection, with no time to analyse the situation as a whole, which makes the matter that much harder. At that moment when we need to decide whether to bribe or not, to count with that sales or not, to sell a bad product to a client or not, we think small. If we don’t bend the rules just a little bit, maybe we’ll be without a job, maybe many people will be without jobs, maybe the company will not reach its goal… at that moment, given the consequences, bending the rules is a necessary evil. Even if, deep deep down, you know this is something illegal. We have a thing called psychological self-preservation that does wonders for that and protects our egos. It is responsible for our rationalization, at the time of the decision making and afterwards, that we made the right choice given the conditions.

We can try an exercise to see how this works. Let’s use the Petrobras scheme since it is in vogue. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of each player and think how they could have rationalized their actions [2]:

– Jose, Petrobras director. Jose was nominated by party X to be the new director of Petrobras. He was very happy and proud of himself and all his hard work that led him to be trusted with such an important position. He celebrated in a barbecue with his family and friends from party X. His friends warned him that he should follow some “suggestions” every now and then, but Jose trusts his friends and he knows they will suggest good companies for the job. On top of that, it’s a way for Jose to pay back to the party who nominated him, helping them get money for campaigns. If it weren’t like this, the companies would never give so much for electoral campaigns because they are greedy and evil. And political parties need the money. Jose is only helping.

– Carlos, friend of Jose and member of party X. Carlos supported the nomination of Jose for Petrobras’ board of directors because the former trusts the latter. Carlos is worried about getting funding for campaigns so that his party has more representatives in the government and can approve more laws which he deems are good for the people. Since companies do not donate a lot for electoral campaigns, he can use the influence of Jose when hiring them for Petrobras’ jobs to give it a little push. All for the good of society. The companies can surely afford it.

– Eduardo, owner of company Y. Eduardo opened his own company as a young entrepreneur and is very proud of how it has been growing. He decides to enter the competition to win a contract with Petrobras. During a meeting, there is a subtle mention of a bribe to get the contract and Eduardo is outraged at first. After losing all the contracts in a few years, he realises that the only way of getting in is accepting the bribe. A Petrobras contract is really something to have on your company’s portfolio. Eduardo does the math and see it will be worth it. Eduardo is in.

Looking so closely, it does not seem they are doing anything wrong. Looking from far, as we see today on the news, it is outrageous, unethical, immoral, and all the proper adjectives. What we learn from this is that wrong-doings might not look so wrong from up-close. If any of these people had an idea of the size of the scheme, as we are seeing it today, maybe they would make a different choice. But they didn’t. And neither would have me or you, if we were in their shoes.

Of course that my fictional characters are just the protagonists of the whole story. A scheme such as that does not maintain itself with only a handful of people in an organization. Many others must support, or at least consent with, the whole thing. This leads to the second thing we know about human behaviour: group loyalty and obedience. If you are a person inside an institution and you realise there is something wrong going on, you have basically two choices: speak up and risk your job or stay quiet and hope someone else will say something. Since most people choose the second option, the collective silence makes you think that  maybe it was not so wrong to begin with. Everything becomes ok and you just think “well, that’s how things are done around here then, very well”. And if all you have to do is sign a paper, put some numbers on a spreadsheet or transfer some money, your sense of responsibility in a great corruption scheme is minimal. After all, you are only following orders. Actually, my guess is that most people in those schemes, if not all, are not conscious of the fact that they are corrupt or doing something wrong (which should not keep them from being punished, or course).

Well… how to prevent this? The problem is much harder now, right? Yeah…
I am sure there are people working on things which could be applied to this situation. We need to pay attention, inform ourselves, and bring the worlds of theory and practice together for a solution.

[1] By the way, not many things available online… I don’t know if it is because of copyright issues or if there are not many studies about corruption.

[2] The described situation is highly hypothetical and serves the purpose of being an exaggerated example for making a point.

About confirmation bias

It’s been a long time since I don’t write here. The year has started with my new job and the many many paper deadlines. It has kept me busy enough not to follow the news a lot, which is generally a good thing, because seeing what is happening in the world is usually a source of depression and disappointment for me.

Nevertheless I am Brazilian, and the latest protests in the country could not have passed by unnoticed. Specially because my parents, the most apolitical people I know, participated on it.

But this will not be yet another text on the political situation in Brazil, no no. We have plenty of that. What is most interesting, for me at least, is to observe people and their reaction. Since the elections in November I realised how irrational this opinion business can get. People immersed in the situation do not seem to realize it, but they do get really closed-minded and irrational when they decide on an opinion, no matter how rational they think their opinion might be. Everybody thinks “I cannot believe they can’t see it clearly like I do!”. But there is the paradox right there: *everybody* thinks that, no matter how different their “clear” thoughts are. And since a discussion between irrationals is a lot of work, they group together with people of the same opinion. They refuse to see (or listen, or try to understand) the “others”, and suddenly everyone around them agree, which makes them think they are even “more right”. That is the pitfall…

This phenomenon is crystal clear on social networks. There are extremist posts pro-government, with many likes and supportive comments. There are also extremist posts against government, with many likes and supportive comments. Why don’t these people talk? I am sure they are all intelligent and reasonable, and they can both find the strong and weak points of each side (or a third and better side). But they just don’t. On a failed attempt to make two opposing party relatives talk during the elections last year, I ended up as being the one bringing adversity, trying to turn them against each other. I honestly just wanted to see the beliefs questioned and put to test. (Something at which political debates failed horribly).

Confirmation bias is a real thing, but it’s a shame to see it preventing a discussion which could be otherwise very fruitful and informative.

About happiness

This has been a recurring theme in the past few weeks on my random walk on the internet (maybe not so random). It started with an article on the BBC Travel about the cities to visit in the happiest countries in the world, which led me to this report: http://unsdsn.org/files/2013/09/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf

It is a nice report, and I wish I had time to read it all, but the first chapter alone gives a nice overview of the document. It you’re curious, here are the top 10:

1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. Switzerland
4. Netherlands
5. Sweden
6. Canada
7. Finland
8. Austria o/
9. Iceland
10. Australia

This is interesting, because whenever I say I come from Brazil, people imagine that I come from a place where everybody is going to the beach and dancing and smiling all the time. And we are advertised as very happy people… And you’d think that countries that have the sun and wonderful beaches would have the happiest people, right? But it’s just the opposite. Nine out of the top 10 countries do not have wonderful beaches, on the contrary. Lots of them have a harsh winter and are sometimes labelled as places with high suicide rates because of the winter depression. So how did this happen??

After reading and watching videos on the subject here and there, I found out that we tend to overrate how happy we will be because of something (or how sad as well). So you might think that winning the lottery will make you the happiest person on Earth when, in fact, studies suggest that it doesn’t. Or you might think that becoming paraplegic will make you miserable for the rest of your life, but studies also suggest the contrary. This happens because we have a tendency to adapt to whatever situation life brings us, it is called hedonic treadmill. There is a very interesting TEDTalk on that. Actually, the experiment the guy mentions towards the end of the talk, reminded me of another very interesting TEDTalk about how we are actually less happy when we can choose over lots of options. This is a curious effect, that haunted me as I was a kid. Turns out I was really bad at choosing stuff, really simple stuff, like new shoes. I would rummage over and over again which shoes would be better for me, or what I liked the most, without ever being able to decide. I remember even feeling a bit nauseous in a few situations. And after deciding on something, I would sometimes regret it. I guess the message of the second video is exactly this: if you have too many choices, the choosing process is so stressful that you cannot really enjoy the thing you chose. And there will always be that mean little voice in the back of your head: “what if I exchange?”. This is what happens when there’s too much space for freedom. When you make a choice and you’re supposed to keep it, our adaptation thing kicks in, and you feel happy with what you got. This reminds me of the Indian arranged weddings… At the time, I could not really wrap my head around the whole concept. How is it that you can have a good life with someone your parents chose for you?? What if you don’t like this person (divorce is not really an option)? Well, they learn to like each other. They adapt, and they are just as happy as someone who dated 20 people before settling down (maybe happier!).

So what does this have to do with the countries there?? I am not sure actually… If we tend to adapt to all situations, what is it about the happiest countries in the world? I can think of two things: (1) quality of life and (2) the need to cooperate to survive.

If you look at the full happiness ranking of the countries, you will notice some relation between quality of life and happiness (not all of the time, of course). In the top ten countries, people don’t have to worry about mobility, health issues, education, security, and this makes an enormous difference on one’s life. I can tell by personal experience. You don’t see poor people begging for money, mothers with sick kids in every block or families living in shacks that are about to fall down. I think this affects us. So I would guess it’s one of the reasons why people in wealthier countries are happier. Not because of the money, but because of social security.

The second thing is more subtle. When winter comes, there’s no such thing as someone living on the streets. They will die if nobody gives them shelter, for sure. So there is a social responsibility of taking care of others, just because, if they don’t, the consequences are too tragic. And as this TEDTalk* suggests, we are happier when we are helping others than we are when helping ourselves.

A third thing just came to my mind. In these countries the seasons of the year are really noticeable. There’s a huge change in temperature the whole year, and as one season comes and the other goes away, we are remembered what is good about each one, and we can enjoy each season’s particularity. I came from a tropical country, but I was never so happy to see the sun as I am in summer here in Austria. After three months of cold, you really appreciate the first rays of warm light again. In Brazil, the sun is shinning the whole year, so you don’t really pay attention to that… It becomes normal and it is no more a source of happiness.

I think the bottom line to all these things is that happiness comes from our actions, and not our stuff. We learn to enjoy everything we choose, so don’t worry too much about choosing. Just be nice to people, smile and they will smile back. And meditate, one of the sources of happiness 🙂

* In the end of this TEDTalk, the guy advertises one of the most interesting charity campaigns I have ever seen. You should check it out too: http://www.donorschoose.org/

About researchers and politicians

These days I’ve been thinking a lot about politics… I realized this is a problem around the world, and politicians are usually seen by non-politicians as bad people. Non-politicians usually think that politicians are greedy, selfish, lazy and that, in the end, they are not interested in helping society whatsoever. Of course most non-politicians have their exceptions, that one or two politicians that they really believe in, and if they are not doing enough, it’s because the system does not let him. I started thinking if it was possible that so many people in politics really did not care about doing some good for society. I mean, this should be their main motivation for getting a job there in the first place, no? So what happens??

There is an interesting experiment in psychology called the Milgram experiment, where some people, test subjects, are told to give electric shocks on another person if they do not memorize some words correctly. Although the learning person is already screaming in pain, most participants do not stop giving the shocks, since they were told so. At a first analysis, the results of this experiment seem quite disturbing… How can people be so mean? It was just a stupid experiment, they could have stopped once they realized the other person was in pain, right? Well… not really. I mean, yes, they could have stopped, but a deeper (and less sad) analysis of the whole thing takes into account the environment in which this test subject was. And you have to keep in mind that you might just as well be one of the people that continues to give shocks.
Yes, yes… but what does this have to do with the politicians?

The point is that, it’s very easy to judge from the outside. “He should have done this, he shouldn’t have voted for that, he shouldn’t have accepted that money, how can he be so unethical??” But we don’t really know the point of view of somebody who is on the inside. It is actually easier to follow the rules as they are posed then to try to fight them… Even if you think that they are wrong.

As I thought about this, I realized that it happens to me, and most researchers and PhD students I know. We are all very aware of the way universities decide which people to hire: they check our publication list. Of course they don’t read all of them, and I doubt if they actually read the titles carefully… They check how many there are and in which conferences/journals they were published. There is a huge discussion on whether this is the right thing to do, and most researchers I know, young or old, agree that this is not a very good system, and the relevance of the publications should be taken into account, no matter where they are published. But as we go into this academia field, we are pulled by the current and we believe the only way to survive is publishing… So we become one of those people that try to publish no matter what. We behave as if we accept the system, even though we disagree with it. And we think: “but what can *I* do? I am just a PhD student…” Everyone knows that it’s up to us to end this journal industry and to change how we are evaluated, but who’s brave enough to start this? If this person is alone (or only a few), she’ll certainly perish… It’s a high risk to take. So no one takes it, and we are swallowed by the system, just like the politicians we so much condemn. 

The Wall and the message

Last weekend I went to Roger Waters’ concert “The Wall”. For those that don’t know (and I explain this because an American colleague didn’t know Roger Waters and “have heard somewhere” about Pink Floyd), Roger Waters was part of a very cool rock band called Pink Floyd. “The Wall” is the title of one of their albums, from 1979. It includes the very famous song “We don’t need no education… Hey, teacher, leave the kids alone!”. Anyway, the whole album is pretty good, although I don’t have the habit of listening to this kind of music. It is so good that, 30 years after its release, this guy decides to do a world tour on it and the concerts were almost sold out everywhere.

I read that at the time it was an album that told the story of a character, called Pink, and his psychological problems, relationship difficulties and isolation. There is even a (quite disturbing) movie about it. But this more recent tour focuses mostly on other issues, such as war and capitalism. And it really makes an impression. It was interesting the stream of feelings I had during the show, how overwhelming it was. I don’t think I had ever felt this before during a concert. So here’s me trying to explain to myself why it was so exciting and disturbing at the same time.

First of all I should note what happened before the concert. One of my friends from Brazil was visiting Vienna for a few days and we met to catch up. It was very nice. I was very happy to see how well he’s doing. At some point he mentioned how I was in Brazil in April and hadn’t told anyone, which is true… I don’t know for sure why I did this. In any case, it was wrong. This made me a bit sad and disappointed at myself.
I was also reasonably stressed because after the concert I had to help my sister with a test and pack my bags to leave to Istanbul for a conference the next day. But I was willing to go to the concert and have a good time.

From the first 30 seconds we knew it was going to be amazing, with fireworks, props and visual effects (just take a look at the opening). It was super cool.

At some point, the huge round screen in the middle of the stage started showing faces of people followed by their information. They were all people that had died in wars and conflicts around the world. I started noticing that the deaths were all more or less recent, all in the years 2000 and something. This touched me. You see, I think I am a pacifist, and every time I see these conflicts on TV (Syria, Libya, Egypt, Palestine/Israel, etc.), I think: “Why are these people fighting? Don’t they realize that there are people dying?”. For me, the suffering of losing loved ones and destroying your home should be stronger that any political fight. So seeing those pictures made me very sad. My eyes even watered.

One of the people showed, and for whom Roger Waters made a special tribute, was a brazilian called Jean Charles. This guy died in 2005 in one of London’s underground stations, shot by police officers. I remember the news at the time, but I never fully understood what had happened. At the concert, Waters mentioned how he was cowardly killed, shot in the head even after the cops had caught him and put him on the ground. I didn’t know about this, and if you think about it, it was complete non-sense. This made me… angry? Disappointed? Frustrated? I cannot find a word actually…

Then there was intermission and I calmed down.

On the second part there was strong criticism to capitalism and this whole culture of profit and exploitation. At this point I started thinking how things could have turned out like this. How can people seem so heartless? How can they not see the damage of their decisions? And I thought about this and I saw images of soldiers reuniting with their kids and injured people in the concert and this made me cry. I think it’s very disturbing to realize how people can cause so much damage without noticing it. And I am afraid of being/becoming such people. And every time I think about this, I just want to do something that would change the world and make a big difference. But I am more and more convinced that a big difference requires lots of people doing the right thing. So I’ll do my part and do the right thing (as I gradually find out what the right things are… people that know should make a list).
Let’s just hope I don’t become comfortably numb.

I think in the end it was confusing because it was a concert. And I should watch it, sing the songs and feel good, like it was in Paul McCartney’s. Except it was not like this. I watched it, thought about life, got sad and disappointed in the world and wanted to change it. Well, I guess if half of the people there had the same feeling and are willing to do something about this, it was the most successful concert of all times.

A plea for information

Socrates said once that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. At the present moment I say that the unexamined opinion is not worth giving. I will explain why.

A few weeks ago something interesting happened in Brazil. Something unexpected and that I never thought I would see: people protesting. They were protesting initially against raises in transportation costs, then against the world cup costs, then against corruption, then against the low quality of life, then against… well, against everything you could protest. Initially I thought that this was good. Finally people were noticing the absurdity in Brazil’s politics, how much is left undone for stupid reasons, how many problems could have been solved so far and how corruption and private interests get in the way of social development. I thought people had noticed that things could be much much better, so they went to the streets to protest, and as a way of relieving all the frustration. So far so good. I think this is ok, it is a legitimate way of showing the government that we are not happy with the way things are, for a long time now.

But (there’s always a but)…
People in general like very much to “go with the flow”, and with social networks now this is easier than ever. I have four examples.

A few posts ago I mentioned a problem that happened in Brazil with the financial assistance for the poor. A rumor was spread that this assistance would be over and in one weekend thousands of people went desperate to the bank in hope to get their last payment. As soon as a person gets such information, they don’t even think it can be fake, they don’t suspect it and don’t search a reliable source. Instead, they share with all their friends… who do the same. And before you know there are thousands of people desperate for a fake reason. This is very very serious.

For a long time I have been puzzled why public education is so bad in Brazil. I decided to send an e-mail to a few people I know that are teachers in public schools. I thought they were the best people to tell me what was indeed the problem. Well… only one of them replied, and she told me what I did not expect. She said that infra-structure is not really a problem. That the city hall had enough money for materials and such. Teachers just needed to present a project stating that they needed these or those books, games, etc. and the city hall would provide it to them. She didn’t even mention the teachers’ salary. But she could not pin point the problem for me. So in April I went to Brazil and I spent a day in a public school. My conclusion was the the problem was *not* infra-structure, or the teachers’ salary, but it was much harder and serious. (Maybe I’ll write a post explaining my point of view in the future…). The point is: there are many many people that think the problem of public education is lack of investment, either for paying personal or for buying material for the kids. Why do they think that? Because that’s what everybody thinks! And everybody cannot be wrong, right? Wrong.

In the midst of frustration and protests, there are many people worried that a law project, called PEC37, will be approved. They say it’s the “impunity PEC”, that it is very bad for us and we should also protest against its approval. I have even received e-mails asking for my signature against this thing, so I decided to find out what the hell it is. I read a quick explanation on a news paper (it seemed unbiased), then I read the article that would be changed on the constitution and I read the proposal, that states how this article is changed and why. Honestly? I don’t think I understood 20% of it. And I am wondering now how many people can be such experts that they really understand and strongly oppose this change. How did this come to be?? Well, somebody decided they were against it, maybe this person actually know about it and this is their opinion. And then they shared, it came to the media, and more people shared, and now everybody is fighting against this that they don’t really understand.

Remember those e-mail chains you got saying that you’d get a penny for each reply or that somebody was missing? Have you ever wondered how many of those were true?? I looked for more information on some of them, and I never got a single one that was real.

My brother in law argues that the same is happening with the protests. If you go in Facebook now, it is almost annoying the amount of messages of people giving their opinions on PEC37, on the health system, on the protests, on the police… etc. But are these really their opinion? Or are they sharing things because all their friends say the same? I think it’s time to stop sharing and start thinking. We are people with lives and jobs and families, it is not likely that within a few hours we can decide what we think on such difficult subjects. Opinions require information, a lot of information, and time.

I leave my plea for people in Brazil to reflect and find out why they are so unhappy. Then, use this energy to study and propose solutions. Then you protest for this, and not against everything else.