"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Importance of Manipulation

"Manipulative." Generally not a trait you want ascribed to you. It sounds evil or sinister. Like you're willing to trample over whoever you need to get what you want.

I think the word gets a bad wrap. We practice manipulation all the time. It doesn't always mean you're tricking someone into doing something they don't want to do. More often, it means you're adjusting your behaviour to what's required for the situation.

I once worked with someone who put it a very unique way. His mantra was "Just schmooze everybody. You never know when you'll need or want to work with them or when you'll need something from them. There's also no point making enemies because that will come back to bite you." It sounds reasonable doesn't it? You can't hold anything against a guy who's main philosophy is just "Be nice to everybody."

Some people say that that kind of behaviour is ingenuine, but to them I say "What is genuine?" For example, if I were to be truly genuine to myself, not paying mind to how I'm interacting with others, it's quite likely I would end up alienating everybody. I would let people know that I don't care about what they do for a living or what they're studying. I would tell my boss to their face that I don't like my job and that I'm just trying to achieve the minimum amount required to still get my paycheck. I would notify every girl I check out what I think of her looks. In short, I'd be a terrible person.

But I'm not, I consider myself a pretty nice guy. So I choose to display behaviour that's appropriate for each situation. When I was dating my last girlfriend, her mum once came to see me perform stand-up. Afterwards, she mused "You know, I've never heard you swear." I realised she was right - Around my girlfriend's whole family, I'd applied a filter to my brain which removed all profanity from the conversation. I did that because I knew they don't find swearing appropriate. I liked them and I wanted them to like me, so I complied. That's manipulation.

Recently, I tried to get into a grocery store for work and realised that my identification card had expired. Well, technically I didn't notice - the girl at the counter did. But I'd greeted her with a big smile and a joke, and even flirted a little, so she liked me enough to trust me and let me through. That's manipulation.

Check out this snippet of a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It illustrates another way that you can deliberately change your behaviour in a perfectly appropriate way to get what you want.

I can understand why the word manipulation has such a bad connotation. It makes us think of being tricked, of presenting ourselves in a way that's both false and hurtful. But that's only when it's used inappropriately. Manipulation happens every time you give your partner the puppy-dog eyes so they'll let you watch what you want on TV. Every time you change the wording of something so it doesn't sound so bad. Every time you go to a job interview. Manipulation is an acceptable, natural and even an important part of life.

Can you think of any other situations that you've manipulated? 

Friday, 26 February 2016


I was watching a talk by Australian science popularist Dr Karl. It was about Australia's future and the direction were heading at the moment. One thing Karl said in his talk stood out to me and I'm never going to forget it.

"Don't tell your kids, but on average, each generation is nine IQ points average than its predecessor."

In the context with which it was used, that statement just filled me with this amazing sense of hope. It confirmed for me that kids are indeed the future. It told me that the kids, being 9% smarter than their parents, are 9% less likely to be making the same mistakes. It told me that the things our parents say can or can't be done aren't as significant as what we say can be done. We're smarter, more educated, more open-minded... We're the answer to the problems we face today.

Of course, we have our parents to thank for getting us here in the first place. Everything we have is generally built on the things they learned and earned before us. But there comes a time (and it's much earlier than most people think) when the older people have to step aside and say "We've done everything we can. We trust you to take it from here."

I'll have to do it too. Sooner or later (most likely sooner), I'll have to admit that I'm out of touch and leave the problems of the world to those younger than me. The fact that I'm one of the last people to be born in a world without the internet already puts me at a disadvantage. People just ten years younger than me will overtake me in world knowledge and awareness before I'm even ready.

We were always told to respect our elders, and while that's very true, I think there's more to it than that. I think it's just as important to respect the youth, because they're the ones that will be there to clean up our mess.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Swing Your Arms

This is a photo from my recent trip to Singapore. We'd spent the day at Universal Studios and the Revenge of the Mummy was the last roller coaster we needed to fit in before the ride closed (which explains why the cart's only half-full). We'd been avoiding buying souvenir photos the whole trip, as they're very expensive. But when I saw this one I just had to get a copy of it.

That's my friends and I taking up the front row. I'm on the left with the Living End t-shirt, Jason's in the middle and Jerida's on the right. It's a hilarious photo of course. The looks of unbridled excitement, surprise and fear on both of my friends' faces is amazing. But as well as being hilarious, I found the photo very intriguing. It was interesting to me that while they were shouting and laughing in the dark, I was sitting there quietly tensed, tucking myself in and just staring. That intrigue turned into deep thought. Why did I react so differently?

It seems pretty clear that when I get scared, I make myself as small as possible. No sudden movements. Keep my hands an feet inside at all times, just in case I touch something in the dark that I didn't expect and it gives me a fright. If I freeze, maybe the thing that's scaring us will relax and leave us alone. I was certainly enjoying the ride, don't get me wrong. But the way I handle fear seems very different to the others.

The next thing I realised is that I don't like that about myself. Look anywhere you want in the animal or human kingdom. Those who scrunch themselves up at the appearance of danger are usually those at the bottom of the pecking order. It's the gorillas that bang their chests and roar the loudest that become the leaders of the pack. In the one year that I played football, the coaches always told us that the players that run straight into a pack head first will usually be the ones the least hurt. The ones that hesitate for fear will be the ones who get injured.

So I made a resolution right then to swing my arms more. To open my body up and challenge anything or anyone that threatens me. When I hear I loud noise, I won't jump and shrink back, I'll turn and lean towards it. When I'm scared of getting hit, I'll let go of the handlebar, reach up and embrace it. I'll get the most out of my tiny frame and make it as big as possible. Because as Jerida said:

"Only you can take a simple snapshot from a ride and turn it into a life-changing realisation."

Friday, 19 February 2016

An Amusing Lesson On Sales and Body Language

I went to Singapore for six days over January/February. I went with members of the Buttercup Gang, the first time I'd been overseas with anyone but my family. As is bound to happen when you go on holiday with friends, sometimes some people want to do things which others don't. So one day, I found myself in a shopping mall, looking through clothing stores and I was bored out of my mind. I was also very tired from a lack of sleep, so I thought I'd let the others do their thing while I went outside to find a seat.

Once outside, I looked left and right for some kind of couch or bench, but couldn't find one. Just next to me, in the middle of the walkway, was a big fixture saying "Orogold" on all four sides. A tall, pretty Singaporean girl dressed in business attire was standing there. She caught my eye and handed me a small white-and gold sachet.
'Would you like a sample of moisturiser sir?' she asked in her accented but fluent English.
'Sure, thanks,' I said taking it.
'Where are you from?'
'Australia,' I replied, having forgotten I was the only white person in the building.
'Oh great! Are you just on holiday?'
'Yeah, just a holiday.'
'For how long?'
'Six days.'
'That's great,' she said. 'Now, do you know what the big deal is about this cream?'
'No,' I said, wanting to add something like "because I don't really care." But she clearly did care, so I didn't want to make her feel bad.
'Okay, let me show you quickly. Come over here.' She turned back to the stand in the middle of the corridor and motioned me to follow her, sitting down on a leather stool which had a twin right across from it. I sat down in the second one.

Now a few years ago, I spent some time as a door-to-door salesman. I learned a lot about sales techniques, or how to influence someone to trust you and buy from you. This lady had gotten under my guard by offering me a free sample. Then she engaged me in conversation, asking about me. I, of course, was on an overseas holiday and was very excited about it. Being able to talk about it to someone would naturally endear me to them, and it did. Even though I knew she just wanted to sell me something in which I wasn't at all interested, when she motioned me to follow her, I found myself thinking "Sure, why not?"

However, I wasn't completely full of praise for her. I had to question the thought process behind her choice of target. Why me? I'm an Aussie bloke, wearing dirty sandshoes, tatty shorts and a tshirt I got at a Cold Chisel concert. I hadn't shaven since the day before my trip, so I had short stray hairs dotted all over my cheeks. I'm probably more likely to work at a cattle station than to use facial cream. So why on Earth did she think I'd be a good person to tray and sell the stuff to? I don't look like I've ever used a beauty product in my life!

She took out a separate bottle of the cream she'd just given me, talking about the benefits of Orogold's high-quality formula while rubbing it into the back of my hand. It was all stuff that went over my head, but I think she claimed at one point that one of the ingredients was actual gold, and that for some reason that's a good thing. She was in hard-sell mode - having brought me over to the stand, she had assumed that I was now interested in buying her product and was no longer hiding her real purpose. She finished rubbing the cream in my hand and told me to give it a feel. I did, and it felt weird. I'm sure other people are used to having their skin feel slippery, but I much prefer the natural grip of good ol' naked skin.

'And this would go great with another product we have,' she said, saving me from having to think of something to say that sounded genuine. She grabbed a tall, thin bottle of what looked like gold glitter and squeezed a bit of it onto her fingers. She took my arm and turned it so the underside was facing up, then she started rubbing it in. As she rubbed, little balls started gathering on my skin. It looked like the cream was congealing and falling away as she rubbed it. Was I supposed to be impressed by that?
'See, I can tell you haven't been taking care of that area because of all the dead skin there,' she said.
I caught myself before I did anything embarrassing like yank my arm away and smash all her bottles of cream before she could hurt anyone else. Dead skin is natural, it's okay if you lose it (I reminded myself). But it still felt weird knowing that this lady had just removed a layer of my skin and that she expected me to be impressed. She held up both of my arms and compared the skin tones. The one with the product was much lighter than the one without. Great, and now I'd lost my Aussie tan as well.

As well as learning a few sales techniques, I developed developed a keen interest in body language which still survives to today. Over 70% of communication comes from body language and gives it gives a FAR better idea of what a person is thinking or feeling than just listening to the words they say. For example, if you want to know if someone's really that interested in talking to you, the best place to look is their feet. If a person wants to escape, you'll generally see at least one of their feet pointed toward an exit. Other indicators are their legs (if they're sitting down) or their torso. At this point I noticed that her entire body was pointing directly at me - her face, her chest and her crossed legs. She was leaning slightly forward, which is another indication of interest. Me... I was the complete opposite. I was leaning on the glass counter with my elbows, my whole body turned away from the stand and pointing down the corridor toward the food court.I would shift around a bit when she wanted to try another product on me, but my knees and feet were still pointing in another direction. As she was the professional, I'm not sure how she didn't notice this. But then, that fact that I was there in the first place was a mystery.

'Now, you'd normally combine this product with this one,' she said, taking out a third bottle. 'This does such-and-such while the other one such-and-suches. Which one of these amazed you the most?'
Good question. If she'd asked if any of them had amazed me, that would have been very risky. I could easily say no and she'd come off looking stupid. But to say which one amazed me, I'm building up one of the products in my own mind - essentially starting to sell myself on it.
'That one,' I said, pointing at the bottle she'd used to rip my arm off. It had certainly amazed me. 'Great, so this one amazed you?' she asked again with passion.
'Yes,' I confirmed.
'Excellent.' She got out a big folder and turned to a page which had a picture of the product in question. 'Here's the product that you said amazed you,' she said pointing to the picture. There was a list of the product's benefits listed underneath and some scarily high-looking numbers to the side. She talked for a very long time about more of the benefits of having this product in my life. I'm not even sure how she could think of that much to say about a facial cream. Maybe she really could see that I wasn't keen and was trying to build up some more excitement.

I kept wondering what my friends would say when they came out of the store behind me and saw me talking to the Singapore equivalent of the Avon lady. I imagined how comical it would look to them and whether they'd step in and pull me out of there or just point and laugh. Then I saw the lady's eyes flicker to a point past my shoulder and look uncomprehendingly at something behind me. "Point and laugh I guess," I thought without turning around.

Occasionally the lady asked me questions, the answers to which made her more and more incredulous.
'How often do you shower?'
'Once a day.' That was a bit of an exaggeration.
'Only once a day?'
'Um... Yeah?'
'At what time of day?'
'Usually in the morning. After I wake up.'
'Okay, so what you should do after your shower is take a dab of this cream and a dab of that cream and rub them in one after the other...'
'How often do you wash your hands?'
'Just... after I go to the toilet.' She visibly cringed at the use of the word "toilet".
'So, you only wash your hands after you go to the gents?'
'Yeah, when else would I do it?'
'Let me show you something.' She got out a large ceramic bowl and another bottle of cream. 'Rub that into your hands for about 30 seconds,' she instructed while squeezing some of the cream into my hands. I did as I was told, then she held the bowl under my hands and started to spray them lightly with a water bottle. To my surprise, the water that ran off my hands and into the bowl was a many shades darker than the water that came out of the bottle. Clearly it had been too long since I'd been to the gents.
'What do you think?' asked the lady, trying to gauge my reaction.
'Yeah... that's black,' I replied. This is where all those years of playing poker came in handy. I had to hide the fact that for the first time, I was genuinely impressed.
*Later still*
'What do you use to clean your face?'
'Um... water?'
She paused for a long time.
'Warm water?' I offered pathetically.
'Okay, you need more than warm water. Water washes away the oil on the surface of your skin, but it doesn't get into the pores and clean them out. That's why you've got little bits of acne all over your face.' She pointed out certain spots on my forehead and cheeks. I was amazed at the woman's gall. She wanted money from me and now she was pointing out my imperfections? By then I realised - of course she'd do that. If she'd done that to any other person, they would have gotten embarrassed and self-conscious. They'd give anything in that moment to look prettier. Then they'd be shown a product that would clear their face up properly and they'd jump on the chance. It's what my bosses used to call "Problem and Solution". Point out a problem the potential customer is having. Then provide the solution. Keep a look out on TV, you'll see it on a lot of ads for household products.

Finally, she turned back to the folder and started talking about prices and I realised with a sigh that those numbers I'd seen earlier were the actual prices. The cheapest thing on the page was about 220 Singapore dollars. That's equal to 220 AUD, 156 USD, 140 EUR and 109 GBP.
'Michael, if I were to give you a good deal, Do you think you'd like to take some of these products back home to Australia?'
That was probably my best opportunity to leave. I could have just said "No I wouldn't" and went to join my friends, who'd gone to the food court. But I'd been there for so long and taken so much of her valuable time that I wanted to at least let her think that a sale was possible.
'It would have to be a very good deal, because that's awfully expensive,' I challenged. The lady lunged for a calculator, smelling blood. She did some calculations and came up with a figure of $214 for three bottles of different product. To be honest, I couldn't remember which product did what, even at the time.
'Yeah, I'm afraid that's still too much,' I said. I started to fidget in my chair in a way that showed I intended to leave.
'Well let me show you something.'
*sigh* Here we go. She went back to the calculator.
'If you spend (an amount of money) each month on facials and spa treatments, that adds up to over a thousand dollars by the end of the year,' she said, showing me the calculator. 'These bottles will last you a whole year and you only have to pay $200.'
I considered this girl to be a very good sales person, but had one very big, fatal flaw - she had no idea how to gauge her audience. I'd just revealed that I shower once a day, use only water to wash my face and use the word "toilet" instead of "gents". I can not understand how she could have gotten the idea that I've ever gotten a facial, let alone a spa treatment. Worse still, she implied that I do it regularly.
'Nevertheless, I'll have to pass.' I tried again.
'Okay Michael, how about this. This is a very real deal that we only give on special occasions. I'll add in a bottle of this crap (paraphrased) and you get to keep all these other products. Do you know how much they would normally retail for all together?'
'Nope,' I shrugged.
'A million dollars.'
Now it was my turn to pause. A million dollars? Was there something I'd missed with the exchange rate? Would it end up being something like $500 Australian?
'I'm joking Michael!' she laughed and brushed her hand on my knee. I see, now she was bringing out the big guns - she was flirting with me. That may sound funny, but any good door-to-door sales person will tell you that successfully flirting with a customer is one of the most effective things you can do to get a sale out of them. It's scary isn't it?
'Yeah, I know,' I said, reverting back to that poker face, trying to act like it was obvious.
'No, this would all normally retail for $900. I can give it to you for $201. Do you have a girlfriend?'
'Oh why not? A handsome man like you...'
Me? the guy on whom you pointed out all the acne earlier?
'I guess they don't go for the rugged Aussie look,' I said defensively.
'Never mind then. This is a very good deal. We don't offer it to many people.'
Sure sure.
'What do you say?'
I decided to try a different approach.
'Okay, I've budgeted for $750 on this trip. I'll have to wait until the last day of my trip and if I have enough left over, I'll take it.'
'Oh, I'm afraid I won't be here after today. I'm the only one who can authorise this offer.
She still had a few tricks up her sleeve. That one was called "Fear of Missing Out". Pretty self-explanatory - if you think you have to act now or you'll miss out, you're much likelier to act now. There's also the fact that as a general rule, no one ever comes back. As a sales person myself, I saw plenty of people who would say "Let me bring it up to my husband", or "When the next paycheck comes in, I'll give you a call". They're clearly just excuses. Even in the rare case that the customer genuinely intends to come back, something always gets in the way. This lady knew that if I left now, that would be a sale lost.
'If you want to take advantage of this great deal, you'll have to take it today.'
'Then I'm afraid the answer is no,' I said firmly. At that point, for the first time, I saw her visibly slump. She'd realised she was defeated - that she'd spent 45 minutes with someone and wouldn't get a penny to show for it - and her body language changed completely. In order to save face, she played along with my story of coming back at the end of the trip.
'Here's what I'll do for you Michael,' she said with disappointment in her voice. 'I'll give you my contact details within the company. If you want to come back, contact me directly so I can ensure you get the good deal.'
'I will, thank you,' I said also playing along.

I tracked my friends down in the food court and they laughed at the situation in which I'd somehow found myself. I explained how it had happened and what went done and they in turn showed me some photos they'd sneakily snapped to commemorate the hilarious occasion.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Getting Along

I tend to dislike people who are adamant that their opinion is the right one. It doesn't matter what the opinion is, whether it's as small as which train to catch across town, or as big and obvious as gender equality. In this case, it's religion that has caught my attention.

I'm starting to notice something which makes me quite happy. There are very prominent atheist leaders in the world, as of course there are leaders in every religion. And what I've noticed is that they all seem to be quite respectful of each other.

On Friday, prominent intellectual atheist and author of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins suffered a stroke. It was luckily only a minor one and he's expected to make a full recovery. But naturally, the moment the Independent in England tweeted of the stoke, comments underneath erupted into a fiery shouting match over whether God exists.

Then, later that day, the Church of England tweeted that they were praying for Dawkins, and that's when SHIT WENT DOWN. It was retweeted almost 2000 times, with people calling it sarcastic, insensitive, a display of being holier-than-thou or sometimes just "trolling". The church defended its actions, saying that it was a "genuine tweet offering prayer for a public person who was unwell."

I admit that I saw some potential smugness in it. The church must have known what would happen if they publicised their concern for him. But then I saw a news article - one from late last year - in which Dawkins himself defended the Church of England's right to air religious-themed ads before movies at the cinema. The big-three cinema chains in England all banned the ad under its policy of not airing anything relating to religious or political beliefs. They worry that doing so might offend the public. But upon seeing the ad for himself, Dawkins tweeted "If anyone is offended by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended."

Dawkins later removed the tweet when he was convinced that it was more a matter of commercial judgment than a quashing of beliefs, but the fact remains that he didn't let his own personal beliefs get in the way of what he saw as right or wrong. He showed respect to the people that I imagine he sees as misguided rather than evil. And that convinced me that it was the exact same thing that the Church was doing back for him. A man was sick. A man who had done a lot of damage to them, but nevertheless a human being. The church genuinely cared for his well-being. The people at the top of a belief system will generally do that.

It's the people at the bottom of the system you have to watch out for. They're the ones that will start shouting matches and hurl vitriol. They're the ones that don't give any respect for another's point of view. They generally shout these points of view in very unhelpful and uneducated ways. Let me demonstrate.

I consider both of these people to be very small-minded and I hope they can take lessons from the people they hold as the champions of their belief. Dawkins knows just as well as the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Chief Arvol Longhorse that the only reason they hold their beliefs to be true is due to their individual circumstances in life. They know that disrespecting the other makes them even worse. The only way to move forward is to get along.

I'll leave with this conversation because I got a real thrill from seeing someone actually intelligent take down a shouter. Enjoy!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Trump Isn't the Problem

Much has been made of Donald Trump's seemingly-inexplicable rise to popularity. Every time I'm in public and his name is mentioned, it's followed by a series of exasperated huffs and curse words. He's described as evil to a level that hasn't been achieved since Hitler - and that is not hyperbole. In his one year running for President, he's come up with such gems as "Ban all Muslims from entering America", "Cut entire EPA & Dept. of Education budgets" and "Climate change is a hoax".

But why single Trump out? These opinions aren't unique to him. People who say he's the problem with the world are failing to see the bigger picture. Let me explain.

Have you ever tried to convince someone of you're opinion? It's practically impossible. You think you're making sense and your opponent is being idiotic or stubborn. Your opponent sees it entirely the other way. At worst, you both give up in a huff and complain to your spouse about the moron you just encountered. At best, you completely annihilate them, hitting them with such perfectly-crafted logic that they actually can't think of anything to respond with. They'll just resent you and keep opposing you just to save face.

So how do history's greatest speakers amass such a following? How do they come out with such radical ideas and end up changing the world? I think the answer is that they're not new ideas. They're things we already feel or believe. When Rosa Parks made her stand on that bus, nobody saw it and said"Hm, maybe we've been looking at our society all wrong." Instead, half of America said "Yes! I'm with her!" and the other half said "These black people don't know their place." The act forced everyone to articulate what they already believed and take up arms over it.

That brings us back to Trump. Once we accept that theory, we accept that Trump isn't making the world an evil place. He's simply creating an environment where people who already have those beliefs can speak up about them. He's a problem, but he isn't the problem. The real problem is the half of America that already believes that Muslims are a threat to their way of life or the half that thinks that having more guns will stop gun violence. The reason we've focused on Trump is that he's another one of those people, but with money and power. Take him out of the picture, and someone else will eventually take his place. If he does become President, I'll be laying the blame on his myriad of supporters, not on him. My solution is to keep educating the masses. Those that believe that being gay is an affront to nature or that man can't have an effect on the environment are unlikely to change their minds about it now. But we can teach their children, who can get the idea a bit better. Their children will be better off again and so on. Social change is a much slower process than we'd like it to be, but it happens. Just try to limit the damage in the meantime.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Stay Tuned...

Sorry for the lack of content. I just came back from a trip to Singapore and also had to deal with the death of a relative. While you wait, please enjoy this photo which shows my reaction upon seeing a bicycle made out of glow sticks.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Question of the Month: Love Lost

This month brings a very special Question of the Month. This month, we're combining with Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out as he hosts a bloghop of his own: Lost and Found, the Valentines Edition.

Arlee and I are asking... "When have you lost or found love?"

Well, I've talked about the story of how I came to date my very close friend Jerida. But I never really talked about our breakup. When people asked why the breakup happened, I couldn't really give them a reason. I'd always settle for something lame like "We.. I don't know, just... thought it was best." That's 95% true, but only Jerida, her family and our close circle of friends know the other 5% of the story: There was another girl involved.

Woah, stop! don't go jumping to conclusions. I never cheated on her. That will always remain in my mind one of the lowest things a person can do. But I was guilty of wrongdoing. Let me explain.

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