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The Power of Positive People (nytimes.com)
295 points by Tomte 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

There’s an easy litmus test to see whether or not someone is worth further engaging with and it is this. Does the person make your life better or makes you happy? If people are constantly putting you down or not wanting to listen to you or are hard to get ahold of, these are all signs that you may have misplaced atachmments to the relationship and it’s time to get out. Going through this you may ask yourself what does this other person have going on in their life? What are you contributing to the relationship that may be of burden to others and cause them to act this way towards you. Upon addressing these questions you may then assess what you may need to change in how you interact with other people if anything or wether or not the other person is in a position at this stage of their life to to be able to participate in yours. Having been on both sides of this I’ve found approaching all relationships with humility and compassion goes a long way towards alleviating any tensions.

> are hard to get ahold of

I have a friend that is like this, he's very difficult to get a hold of through messaging/e-mail or text. When we're hanging out together, we have a great time (at least it seems like it from my point of view) but he rarely makes the effort to seek out things we could do together.

Is that an unhealthy relationship in the sense that I crave his attention/time more than he does mine? Are some people just more introverted and don't socialize as much?

I am probably that guy to a lot of people.

For me, it has nothing to do with social anxiety, disrespect, etc. It's all about how I value my time differently from others. In my world, there's no such thing as recreation or relaxation, beyond the occasional Halo game. I do everything with objectives in mind. I constantly have several thoughts and ideas floating around in my head that I have to coalesce into coherence, because one of those ideas might be worth further investigation.

When someone texts me, messages me, emails me, etc., that's a relatively small interruption but can easily throw everything off in my head when I'm in the middle of a thread of thought. It's even worse if I am trying to focus on a specific task at hand. Yeah, I'm a serious person, but I enjoy the way my mind works and have been much happier by embracing it instead of treating it as a sickness (like the public school system).

So when I get those handful of messages coming at me every day, I ignore most of them and reply later, if ever.

I know this hurts people sometimes, and I try to help them understand. Buy I've given up explaining this over and over again. My ideas and questions around writing a line encoder are more important than your cat photos or going out for lunch, or favors for things one can easily take care of on their own.

It's not that I don't love my friends and family, but I can't have their drivel constantly loop around in my head.

Dude, if you love your friends and family, why are you referring to their attempts to stay in touch as 'drivel'? That's a really negative, condescending word.

Take him at his word; he can love them and their interruptions can still be drivel. Most normal peoples’ routine text messages are.

Yes and the word drivel is a patronizing word betraying a self-importance that can lead to neediness/abasement in people that admire you, and a disgust in people that don't. Putting yourself on a pedastel is a bad practice in my opinion.

His last line '...I can't have their drivel constantly loop around in my head' is repulsive.

If someone is disgusted or offended that I am not going to treat every interaction with equal importance, they really don't have to associate with me. That's plain and simple. Am I an asshole? Well, ask different people and you'll get varying responses; I know this because when I was becoming more aware of who I am, I wanted to find out how I was perceived. Sure, a lot of people will always be nice and not say an unkind word, but I also don't think some of those people would voluntarily befriend me on an extracurricular basis if they were that disgusted by me.

Yes, my last line was undoubtedly harsh. That's certainly not how I always feel, and probably not most of the time. But it can sometimes be "drivel" because they'll know that I'm particularly engrossed with something, and they should know that I prefer solitude in those cases, yet they try to get me to spend my time on things I don't have any real interest in. Usually, I'll try to schedule a time to make them happy, but I still do not appreciate interruption when I'm busy, and I'm often going to take my time in replying to requests.

Besides, if you lived my life, you might see things this way.

I'm guessing based on his reference to the public school system treating his way of thinking like a disease that he's probably somewhere mild on the autism spectrum, so thinking about social nuances isn't his strong suit.

Assuming that's correct, I don't think its fair to characterize his thinking as repulsive when its really just a coping mechanism for dealing with his personal limitations. Its rude, yes, but its not meant to be malicious or cruel.

While I'm sure your intentions are good, I'd be careful to make unprofessional psychological diagnoses over the internet. People should find that more offensive than my relatively benign choice of words. I'm not offended by what you have to say, but it's not exactly correct.

To provide some background, I was referring to my being diagnosed with ADD back in school. I'm unsure whether I even have it since I was a fat loner kid back in school who was disinterested in being somewhere he was frequently being harassed. I don't think most grown adults would bother accomplishing much in an office where some dweeb was regularly sabotaging them. Grown ups found it easier to drug me than to discipline multiple bullies. I do think it's possible that I have ADD, but I don't think that's the underlying reason as to why I was being drugged rather than being put in an environment where I could thrive. The latter is much harder for an inefficient, dysfunctional system.

You're wrong in that I do actually think about social nuances a lot. My lightbulb is a little dim in that area, my second nature being more of a third nature with those things, but that doesn't mean I'm unaware of them at all. I acknowledge and understand why some people find me rude, and that's not evidence of autism.

As you say, I'm not a cruel person. I go out of my way to help friends when they are in need, to encourage others, to make amends when I know I've done wrong, etc. I think about other's feelings a lot because I have a lot of intense feelings myself. Sure, I'm rude, but not usually, and not to be cruel. I've never used words like "drivel" to someone's face, and usually do my best to honor people's communications or at least humor them when I'm not exactly thrilled with what they have to say. But I'm not ashamed to say that when someone texts me some viral video or whatnot, that it's an interruption not worthy of a timely response.

Some people ought to grow up, though. The fact that someone is disgusted because of a person's diction, or that the latter person thinks people say a lot of irrelevant things, shows a lack of empowerment. A person confident in themself shouldn't feel such distaste for the relatively minor shortcomings of others. I'm sure that most people find my interests to be drivel, and I'm not bothered by that in the slightest.

I do love people, for sure, but I don't require them to love me back, as would be suggested by me putting on a face and doing things to try keep their love. I think I require very little from people, and if a person can't handle me or my choice of words on Hacker News, they're free to move on.

I understand and I agree. People, especially on internet, as you can see in the comments above, are so quick to put their conditioning of words and feelings onto others, in a way where the words you say is not really coming to them in regard of your own true meaning but rather by their own meaning, their own codification of language and thinking. They become angry and come to criticism rather than listening and understanding who you are, as you are.

They react, and think you are an asshole. That tells me they themselves are not willing to recognize their own cruelty and anger and pain. They are vulnerable. Rather than merely listening and saying that they are happy to know you know yourself they say things that make you seem so unknowable to yourself, since they themselves might, too, not aware of truly who they are.

That line to me is repulsive in the most literal sense. I don't want to hang out with him when I hear it. Rudeness is repulsive

I'll take that into consideration, and my choice of words wasn't very good in that regard. Often, what they interrupt me with is not drivel to them. I still stand by the notion that not every interruption is worth my timely attention, as I would not expect any of these same people to care about anything I do or say, but what you said has been duly noted.

This is me exactly - and interestingly enough, the parent post sounds like a lot of my friends.

I find text messaging and chats distracting from what I'm doing. But when I do hang out with my friends or family, they have my undivided attention and we have a great time.

> But when I do hang out with my friends or family, they have my undivided attention and we have a great time.

I believe that's how I generally am when I've carved out time to be with people, but then again, assholes probably think that, too.

The funny thing is I feel as if most people like to spread out interactions into smaller bits, whereas I like to have an occasional quality hangout with someone. I think a lot of what I'm saying, including that, comes down to how I don't really "need" other people, and that doesn't mean I don't depend on my friends for some things, but it means that I don't need to spend time around people in order to feel like they are my friends. The passage of time, for me, has very little effect on how I perceive friendships; my best friend is always going to be my best friend, even if months or years pass and we haven't spoken a word.

Cool, I’m not special validation. I like the focus on quality while present. That’s what I sell.

If I forget to tell a new partner, now... we gave a great date and then she wants to start texting intensely, and feels I’m blowing her off and has resulted in anger over being led on/brushed off.

No loss on my part, but I always forget on my first few dates after some time off and it results in disappointment or worse on their part, seemingly needlessly.

Careful out there, fellow focus junkies.

You could be missing out on a valuable life-term relationship if you aren't willing to accommodate other people's needs for some assurance.

Or he could be dodging bullets. He's probably not looking for such a relationship. If he's not willing to accommodate, than not accommodating filters out the people who need accommodating... I'd say that is pretty much working as intended.

I don't know about him, but that describes me pretty well. As I've gotten older, I've been getting much more satisfaction out of doing things other than pursuing relationships. At this point, I just don't even care anymore. Well, okay, there's always going to be a shred of me that will think "what if" with some women that come in to my life, but I realize just how uncompromising I am and how that I will never change, and that trait really isn't fair to a partner in a relationship. If someone can accommodate me while I'm able to accommodate for them, then sure.

But until that happens, I'm really just fine being who I am and not being fraudulent by acting nice to keep the favor of family and friends.

My wife and kids are constantly pushing me to call my friends and arrange hangouts with them. It is not that I am anti-social or particularly introverted.

I genuinely love my friends and love it when I hang out with them - however I just always seem to be busy doing stuff and never really realise that I haven't called any of them for many weeks. It is just not in my nature to reach out randomly to see if someone wants to hang out.

I think a lot of it is to do with how I was raised - I think it was ingrained in my psyche that it was 'rude' to call upon people and better to wait until they called you. To reach out was seeing a impolite or possibly interrupting their important work, I think. Funny how those little beliefs/lessons when you are a kid tends to follow you into adulthood.

I have friends since university that I would have completely lost if it wasn't from the effort on my side, for us to get together. At some extreme point I had one friend complaining that I was not calling her enough while she never actually did it herself.

We have a great time when we're together and I know that these friendships are very important for me and for them. At some point I just started assuming that it is part of my role in life... to be the one that makes the phone call.

My Dad once complained that my sister never called him. She pointed out that "The phone lines go both ways you know."

This. Relationships are two way streets. Humbling yourself to this fact while having compassion for where others are at and what they have going on in their life can give you the courage you may need to pick up the phone and call while alleviating the fear that they are not reaching out because they don’t appreciate or like you.

Sounds like he has some sort of social anxiety to be honest. You’ve basically just described me.

I have the same problem. I get extremely anxious whenever I am in charge of planning a social event but if one of my friends plans something I always have a great time when I attend.

As a slight variation on the same theme - just the anticipation of a social event can make me quite anxious and edgy regardless of whether I've been part of the planning.

The thing that fixes it for me is going to events with a clear group activity other than "generic socializing".

As someone who is like that: Is it possible they’re just constantly overcommitted and stretched thin?

I enjoy hanging out with my friends, but whenever I do it feels like I have to take great pains to carve the time out of my schedule, reshuffle a bunch of priorities, and try to somehow keep my head above water despite the reduced time in the day. What do them is a “Lets grab a quick drink” is to me a “What am I not getting done this week and how far behind will that put me?”

Hence I never reach out proactively. Any spare time goes to keeping the SO relationshio strong.

As someone with children and limited social engagement with other adults (other than spouse) I hold my last interaction with any adult in perpetuity. The quantity and frequency of interaction takes a back seat to quality.

Some people wait for an external trigger. If you're having a good time, meet them from time to time. Don't stress it. It's good.

One thing to consider is that social networks are naturally unequal. They have hubs and connectors and edges. Which one are you? Which one is he? I think a hub will tend to have more shallow relationships because he has so many connections and there's only so much time in the day. Someone with few connections may be much more invested in each one.

I'm not making any value judgments here I am just describing the terrain.

On the other hand, maybe he just doesn't like to be glued to a screen chatting with people all day. I freakin' hate it and have made great efforts to cut down.

No, it's just that other people have different ways to use technology. I'm very text-based, so writing a quick message fits me best. I have a friend, non-tech, very busy, very sociable, that you can only reach by calling him.

I stopped wasting time pondering those questions, just accepted the fact the way people communicate can vary vastly, and if someone is difficult to get hold of then that's how it is. Better spend my time making more contacts.

A lot of people are chiming in on 'being that person' - it's me, as well.

I find text awkward, shallow, and ultimately I spin my wheels trying to decode and write messages - the kind of enegry I specifically need for things I'm working on.

Not to mention I prefer to just wait until the next time I see somebody in person so that the interaction will actually be meaningful.

A lot of people don't consider the world of difference between in-person communication and making a small electronic object beep-and-buzz near the recipient on their behalf.

About your question: The problem of deciding if a relationship is 'unhealthy' is very open-ended and rough. I can never arrive at a binary answer, and the topic does make me sad. Attention is hard to gauge and manage. You have some great specific questions though, like Does he crave attention in the same way, Why doesn't he like messaging, etc. You two should find a way to talk about it. That's what I'd do.

All I know for sure is that relying on electronic communication can have weird and annoying effects on friendships where neither person quite realises there's a problem.

I have dealt with a few relationships exactly like this, my best friend for years was like this, and I had to just give up . Some people are socially awkward, or have weird hang ups, and you should afford more lenience in those cases maybe. But I have noticed that some seem to actually get satisfaction from the power of being wanted that way. Like pleasure from 'leaving you on read'. When I was younger in my late teens early twenties this was mostly experienced with new romantic interests acting cool or trying to make themselves a rare commodity, but when that happens in a plutonic relationship I wont even bother with the person..

I tend to let other people initiate. It isn't because I don't want attention. It's more complicated than that.

I will suggest that instead of guessing or asking internet strangers to guess, you would be better off just asking your friend a few questions.

Some people are just busy. Some people just don't do text messages or don't check their email regularly. Some people have social anxiety.

Etc. Etc.

There can be lots of obstacles to making a connection that have nothing to do with the other person just not liking you. Only you can decide if you are getting enough out of it to keep at it.

I am not a professional therapist, but he sounds like a person with anxiety, probably of the Anxious-Avoidant type.

I am optimistic that once there is a basic understanding and respect of each person's needs and bounds, almost every relationship can be made to work.

My wife is very socially anxious and its very hard for other people to get in touch with her out of the blue. But she loves them dearly. I wouldn't take it too personally if you enjoy your time together. It's probably not out of disrespect.

Some of the people who have contributed the most to making my life better have been the most frustrating people to be around or communicate with. I have an amazingly brilliant friend who is incredibly miserly and has a really harsh world view. He makes my life better because I am challenged by him and he won't let me comfortably stick to the beliefs I already have. If he thinks they are dumb, he'll tell me just that (usually in a pretty crabby way), and quite often he is right. He has been right and insightful enough that when he clashes with my point of view, that is solid evidence to me that I ought to re-think why I have the viewpoint that I have and perhaps update it.

I just think some people are surly, miserly, cheerless, grouches and that is just their way in life. If you respond by shutting them out because it's inconvenient for your short-term feelings, you might miss out on an amazing person who just happens to live life differently.

Once I started to see miserly behavior as "just another way of life" that some people like and some people don't, it really opened my eyes to many more people around me.

In this sense, I think it's very shallow to ask "do they make my life better" (which will almost surely be biased by whatever short term comforts or simple, manageable friendship you want) or "do they make me happy" (sometimes the best thing for us is something that shocks our system, upsets our worldview, challenges us in a non-trivial way, and we might have to endure receiving that in thorny, grumpy packaging).

Obviously there is a limit. With my friend, I know that grumpiness is his way of life. He doesn't mean gruff or callous things to be taken as insults, even though most shallow social interaction he has with people, especially if they don't know him, might come off that way. If I thought he sincerely was putting me down or insulting me purely for the sake of inflicting pain or something, then yeah, I would not want that in my life.

Overall I guess I am just saying I think it's much more complicated than the heuristic you describe. If I followed that heuristic, it would be a lot like indulging confirmation bias and surrounding myself only with people who reinforce the stuff I already think or do. I might miss out on great relationship where a healthy antagonism is a first-order component of the interaction, and it stretches my boundaries.

Miserly is highly correlated with controlling. I appreciate your ability to consider your friend's point of view but you may at some point in the future decide that they are just an incredible asshole.

These two sentences don’t seem connected or related. Are you trying to say that all miserly people are controlling? Or that as a general rule you choose to stay away from miserly people because there is a greater chance they are controlling?

My whole comment was about how outwardly miserly behavior can still manifest from someone who really is a good, interesting, worthwhile person. So I don’t understand your “asshole” comment. That seems like you’re jumping straight for the nuclear option instead of allowing the possibility that among the population of generally good people, some are nice and warm, some are crabby and prefer to skip social pleasantries or otherwise come off as cold.

Maybe if you unpack the connection between your first sentence and your conclusion more it would help me understand.

I'm very similar, and most of my life I have hidden my more sad, negative side. It makes me feel genuinely better that people like you exist. Because half the reason we are so miserable is because we know we are miserable, it's intricately attached to our identity, decoupling it from all our reasoning to see the brighter side of life isn't a switch that can be instantly flipped, and it requires trust between people who won't judge us for not having the energy to fake a smile when we can't.

The power of positive thinking can be destructive if it has been automated. Negative thinking can be the same way - it can be automated, although from my experience, my negative thinking usually helps me see flaws in my own reasoning to such excess that I don't feel I'm at risk for it being automated without being able to reason myself out of whatever is automatic.

I'm glad you are thoughtful enough (and that's not meant as a back handed compliment, abstractly positive thinking and negative thinking function the same way, they just interact with different components of self-social systems) to see things in less simplified ways. I have one friend who is like you, and it's constantly a struggle to override my belief system that they are sick of me. But that's the automatic thinking spiral I get stuck in. And I would think most people who are cynical like that think similarly, because that's what we are used to. Emotional vampires, black holes, draining. All those pejoratives affect our self perspective.

We don't know how people will judge us. It's nice that people are willing to speak from another perspective. Positive thinking, from when I've experienced it, can feel very group think, like, everything will fall apart if you stop thinking that way. That is such a suppressive ideology to me, it feels dangerous, and I'm not comfortable simply allowing myself to be one directionally convinced into thinking that way. It doesn't take my perspective into account.

So in the end, I find, the people who can handle interacting with me and staying positive have very strong minds, both intellectually and emotionally. And they demonstrate that there is a brighter side to life that doesn't imply we're all going to jump off a cliff because it's fun, and not see the ground coming. Sometimes bad things happen in life. It can't all be controlled by attitude. There are real things that happen in life that affect emotions. Forcing oneself to pretend everything is fine is suicidal.

I'm not used to being happy. It makes me uncomfortable often. That doesn't mean I fear it. It just means I have to be very careful in experiencing the emotion. Sadness too. Sadness over things that make you sad shouldn't be suppressed, nor should it be attached to people like 'those people made me sad'. That's just going to hurt a person in the long run, because sadness is an awareness. You need sadness to know happiness. Suppressing emotions leads to convoluted reasoning, missed connections, insight and clarity into one's own circumstances, real things.

I feel neutral talking to you, but I feel better in general knowing most of humanity isn't on a collision course to remove half of it's emotional reasoning away.

This approach also allows for the reality that not all "positive" people are necessarily optimists. There's room for all kinds of valid perspectives in this world, and if you limit yourself to people who are engaged in a constant exercise of blowing rose-scented smoke up your butt (extremely common in the US, particularly places dominated by techno-utopian types...), you're missing out. People who make your life better don't always have to be saying happy things to you.

There are few things worse than people who are surrounded with a thick layer of "positive thinkers", who never deliver bad news or critical thinking. It's a fast track to delusion.

Sometimes you're depressed or lazy or for whatever reason consistently doing unproductive or annoying things. In this case, good friends might make you feel bad about yourself in the course of helping you improve your life. Not everything can be judged by how it makes you feel.

This is an excellent caveat to the OP's post, which is good general advice. In my mid-20s, I was working 3rd shift, and a lot of hours, while my then and current GF was working a lot of hours on 1st shift. We had lived together for 5+ years by this point, but I was extremely discontent with life (as background, we had a great friendship that turned into an amazing relationship before the stress began to take its toll). Through a combination of always feeling like a zombie, feeling disconnected, lack of communication, just generally feeling terrible about life, and her being the closest to me, I became convinced that my unhappiness stemmed from our relationship, rather than my own immaturity meeting and external factors. Probably important to note that during this time I never lost respect, love, or admiration; I just questioned our compatibility.

Thankfully, I took time to question my conclusions, and I received some good advice from a good friends. I took some big steps forward in understanding my self and my relationship, changed jobs (no more 3rd shift), and the level of communication shot through the roof. Some years later, I wouldn't say we have a perfect relationship, but it's more perfect than I thought possible. There are still outside stresses, but we're steadying forces in each other's lives.

Definitely don't stick around people who make you feel terrible - or any kind of net negative, but many times when we're making these calculations, we're not in our most centered states, so be careful to make sure that the friend in question is the source of displeasure, rather than yourself/external factors.

It’s quite basic to see where you’re coming from; quite limited to convince yourself it’s sufficient or even consistent.

You’re conception overlooks the value in systematic considerations that build-in humility and compassion independent of judgement and measurements of interpersonal compatibility. I’m talking about the basis for some of the most critical elements of a functional society, like morals and other insistutions which defend and bring dignity to people who may be disabled, ugly, foreign, poor, uneducated, etc.

Humility and compassion can and must extend beyond your doorstep. This does not require you to be forced with disgust, discomfort, offense or anything of the like. But maybe it requires a basic concern for people as a whole and an appreciation for the deep complexities that bring your experiences to life, and for some people a walk in others shoes seems to be one of the only paths.

The idea is “humility and compassion” optimized on a systemic level, and not subject to the whims and follies of individual judgement and interpersonal emotion. This is the justification for morals. Be careful to not mistake morals for fairness, for fairness is subject to the aforementioned weaknesses.

It’s impossible for me to agree more. Hence why I was cautious to extend the principle to all relationships. Once we look at ourselves we are free to extrapolate about systems greater than ourselves. I felt it prudent to post as the article was fairly basic and yet somehow missed the point. The aforementioned principles which you so aptly describe are part of the foundation by which a solid moral compass may be constructed. That these principles as basic as they are, are not known or employed by more is truly a tragedy. Thank you for your articulate illustration which in its critique provides greater understanding of subtle nuances that, from the looks of how this tread is evolving, will surely be of service to others.

I don't understand your reply, or the comment you're replying to -- if it's not too much trouble, could you rephrase this?

This sounds interesting, but I don't understand. If it's not too much trouble, could you simplify and rephrase this?

succinctly put. a simple insight that can take years to figure out.

Thanks! It did.

When you suffer from depression or just have a miserable life that feels like a very cruel and direct rejection from others. I'd suggest to complement that with "can you make the person life better or make the person happier?"

I can tell from your comments in this thread that you are exactly the opposite of a mean/cruel person, so this is a good example of what you said yourself: that even trying to be nice with others you might still come across like all the opposite.

Of course your point is still equally or more important, as it becomes harder to help others when you can't even make a good life for yourself. But giving can be many times life changing for others.

Funny, I've done a lot of good for other people while failing to make a good life for myself. Part of that is due to lack of reciprocity: Often, people I did things for didn't do anything for me in exchange, in part due to toxic sexism in many cases.

That’s an immature perspective. Actually, that’s not the most important litmus test; it’s whether you trust them completely to make good decisions with your life, kids if present and all your worldly life in their hands should you be incapacitated and that they can keep things together. Being insanely happy or at least content is a bonus.. but their job isn’t to make you happy, that’s your job. Another common antipattern: NRE lasts a year or two, so those new turnips expecting infatuation to sustain things and be “totally perfect” after their giant wedding is also a recipe for disaster.

"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with" -- Jim Rohn.

It's not literally true, but it's a great way of thinking about who you surround yourself with and the subtle ways they influence you.

I know I tend to pick up aspects of the people I spend a lot of time with. When we used to visit our family in Queens I'd come back talking like someone from Queens. When I had a boss who would badmouth the company a lot, I found myself also having a negative opinion of the company. Cynical friends made me cynical.

My boss now is a ray of sunshine. Just a delightful and decent human being, and I am a better person for being around him. I can only hope some of my positive characteristics rub off on others.

I'm a widower, and one of the ways that loss has changed me is that I am much more cognizant of, and grateful for, the other familial and platonic relationships in my life. I wouldn't be getting out of bed every day if not for my kids, family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I am surrounded by love and support.

I certainly have bad days, but I would not be where I am without the relationships in my life, and I absolutely believe in the power of those positive people to have a positive impact on me.

> I certainly have bad days, but I would not be where I am without the relationships in my life, and I absolutely believe in the power of those positive people to have a positive impact on me.

Your first quote is something that stuck with me. And yes, looking back it's probably true!

Also, you sound like the kind of person that would spread the positivity to others around them, so keep it up, you're awesome!

> Also, you sound like the kind of person that would spread the positivity to others around them

Well, I wasn't always, but I'm trying to be now! :)

> The goal of the quiz is not to dump your less healthy friends, but to identify the people in your life who score the highest and to spend more time with them.

I really don't like the idea of trying to rank my friends like this. Not everything in the world needs to be quantified.

Not everything needs to be quantified, but at the very least this sparks the intention to be mindful of how you interact with others, and how you allow them to interact with you.

I share your opposition to quantification for things that are so deeply human, but without a number scale or strict ranking, I suspect that if we asked ourselves whom among our group of friends we seek out for support and uplift there would some that immediately come to mind.

The goal is to know who those people are and spend more time around them. In a way I think this is the opposite of quantification.

My Myspace top 8 from 2006 begs to differ.

The article started with about author's experience hanging out with some really positive people, and somehow made a conclusion about needing to hang out more with happy people (happy != positive). Then goes on to describe various benefits of having close friendships or social circles that you can depend on, and basically used dependable friend and happy friend interchangeably.

Although, despite being such a poorly written article, I do agree that having a group of close friends who you can depend on for good and bad times is huge for our mental health and happiness.

Yeah - maybe it's just the lingo of "positive" people, or maybe I haven't met enough "negative" people (lucky!?), but the (happy != positive) angle should have been explored a little bit.

The best friends in my life are not the same friends that have always been easy / happy / positive. But it is the people that I've known through tough times that I rely on now. It's all too easy to step away from people when one or the other is in a tough spot and this article runs the risk of encouraging that behavior. By my reading anyhow

It's way too easy these days to identify some undesirable behaviour in a relationship and instantly jump to the conclusion that they must be abusive or toxic, despite the fact that many people have their ups and downs. Throwing an abandonment issue or two their way by ditching them at the first tough moment is hardly going to uplift them, and if you care enough about them maybe what's needed is some stronger boundaries while that stuff is going on.

You'll never nourish such a deep, loving friendship if you're expecting your friends to be basically perfect: happy, easy-going, not giving you any trouble. Going through some tough shit together can really strengthen that bond and open you up to a kind of positivity and happiness you'll never get from those who simply wear it as a mask.

I gravitate toward people who like gallows humor: make fun of the organization and management. It's "positive" to us, we have a good 'ol time. Human nature is really F'd up in a Dilbert-esque way in the work world in such a way it begs to be lampooned. "Positive" is relative.

One of the most entertaining forums I read is for a perennially under-performing football club. It's real no holds barred stuff, as much about themselves as anything else, for wasting their money season after season and never learning. By contrast forums where the vibe is to 'support the team' are dull and even oppressive.

Could inspire a book: "The Joy of Sucking"

fwiw, and this is going to sound incredibly cliché,

One thing I've found is that - people you're in relationships or freindships, of whatever kind, with - they put out a mix of positivity, negativity, whatever -

The only way to master the problem of people 'lifting you up' or 'bringing you down' is to own your own moods, and not ride the whimsy of positivity or negativity that other people are putting out towards you - then you can see other people's negativity for what it is - it might be their problems projected, their interactions with the world gone wrong, who knows - and you can help them - or choose not to.

There is negativity in the world, not negative people - you can avoid it, even successfully, but to be comfortable with it and navigate it well - that's a whole other world.

If you're not in a stable place emotionally, the advice in this article might apply, and I hope things get better for you.

All I know is I love my friends, including the one's who are hopelsss at being in any way encouraging. I see it as my problem and my job to be OK with them. And I think a lot of people share that attitude.

Pardon the rant. The topic got me worked up a bit.

Very well put, thank you!

There is an underlying utilitarian vision of life in the main article, that really twist me in the wrong way. Not everything is a market interaction and real friendship are a bit more complicated than that.

Thank you! It seems you've done a lot of work to arrive where you are now. And it probably wasn't easy either. I see the world like this as well and it is great to read about like minded people!

There is plenty of evidence supporting the idea that social connection leads to better health outcomes, and not just for older people. Modern living, especially in countries like the US, where many people move, live far away from each other, depend on social media to satisfy social impulses, and tend towards individualism and non-communal living, makes it harder to find meaningful social connection for many people, even urban dwellers, and can't be ruled out as a contributor to sub-par physical health and mental well-being.

The worst thing about so many of these "positive people" is that their comments are meaningless and their opinions carry no weight. If everyone and everything everyone's doing is "great", "great" has become synonymous with "average","typical" and "unremarkable".

I don't view myself as a "negative person", although I've been repeatedly diagnosed as such by "positive people" for pointing out truths that they would have preferred to ignore indefinitely. At the end-of-the-day, these "positive people" make up the bulk of humanity and the universe is constantly ridding itself of them through the natural consequences of their actions.

I think you are going about this all the wrong way. You seem to think that most people who use positive words are just putting up a facade and using these words for the sake of using them.

Consider the co-worker who acknowledges hard work you do, and appreciates you for your effort. This acknowledgement gives this you a sense of accomplishment, which in turn makes you feel happier and better.

Consider the neighbor who offers help when he notices you have a problem with your car, or gives you advice that helps you solve your problem easier.

Consider the person who recognizes that you have a disability or health defect, and chooses to help you and provide you with positive reinforcement to help you focus on progress and feel better about your situation.

I think the article, and the notion of "positive people," is more than just throwing a word around. It's about people who add weight and meaning to their words through thoughtful consideration and genuine compassion.

There will be no progress if the crap you just made is considered "awesome"...

Who said that it had to be considered "awesome"? And why dont you educate us on what qualifies as a mechanism for progress?

you said it: "most people who use positive words"

I don't educate people that are not ready to be educated!

Start with The Courage to be Disliked - @stewart recommended it this weekend.


Indeed; if everything is special/important/priority/good, then nothing is special/important/priority/good. Words have meaning dually by the set of things they name and the set of things they don't.

Also they tend to downvote comments that do carry weight, so from this perspecitve, they are not that positive after all.

positive != bullshit

Exactly. It is possible can assess the same situation and emphasize either the negatives or the positives and be honest in both cases.

I enjoyed learning about moais, but the Blue Zone quiz at the end of the article was a complete non-sequitir for me.

I like the simple litmus test that wizardforhire mentioned (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17544755). Another one I like is WaitButWhy's "Traffic Test":

"The Traffic Test is passed when I’m finishing up a hangout with someone and one of us is driving the other back home or back to their car, and I find myself rooting for traffic. That’s how much I’m enjoying the time with them."

(from https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/02/pick-life-partner-part-2.html)

Kind of unrelated directly to the article, but in reference to many comments - can't recommend these two books enough: The Charisma Myth and How to make friends and influence people (I know, maybe not the best title).

Those two books completely changed my life. They helped me become more confident, less socially anxious and be able to connect with people in a much deeper way than I was capable of before.

The first time I tried reading the How to make friends book, I couldn't really fully make sense of it or enjoy it (in fact I was offended that someone gave to me as a gift). It took reading the Charisma book and a lot of practice (yes, just reading these books won't help you, you'll need to put in a lot of work) to get to the point where the other book was helpful.

Hey as I don't have too much free time would you mind to recommend which book I should read first?

Definitely the Charisma book first. Helps with basic stuff, like dealing with anxiety and learning to be able to just be present in social situations. After you've gotten better at those things the How to make friends book becomes a lot more useful.

Slightly related, it's amazing how shared space influences well being. With people out of sync, it's hard to do anything deeply. In place where everybody is focused, it gets a lot easier (a library for instance).

This works at the more macro level too. Someone was talking about moving to SF from the Midwest and being amazed by all the fit, beautiful young professionals walking around. Yes, it’s true that driven, disciplined people are more likely to be somewhere like SF or NYC, but the subconscious adherence to your new home’s social norms is a huge factor.

We want to fit in. In a library, that means heads down. In a fit city, that means being fit. In Texas (my home), that often means lots of beer drinking and dining out, which leads to not fit.

The power of positive people is the same. If you roll in a cynical circle, your cynicism will be applauded, and your optimism ridiculed, and you’ll find yourself altogether more cynical.

Around 22 years old, I realized that location / social circle are two of my greatest levers for influencing my behavior, and I’ve been extremely careful about where I’m willing to position myself ever since.

About the library effect, it was more a distraction-remover and motivational reminder than a desire to fit. Everyone is concentrated, I'm going back to concentration. If some were slacking off, I'd be tempted to relax. Also it favors everything that help your goal. Like the low noise for instance.

This is an opinion article basing its conclusion on a collection of anecdotes. I'm not sure it meets the usual standard of "true" or "researched at all". I wish fewer op-eds got posted to HN.

> I wish fewer op-eds got posted to HN

It's important to know what beliefs are circulating. They can have an impact regardless of truth value.

There are other communities for that, and, I can read the newspaper itself. This is Hacker News.

There's a simple hack toward being more positive: When you make a joke, ensure that you're the victim, not someone else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngwOuLzQiHE

It's a simple change, but very hard to do consistently.

You don't have to go that far. Consider this insight from Chris Rock, who said: Joke about what people do, not what they are.

That came up in this discussion where he, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais and Louis CK talk about comedy and their techniques, etc. It's really interesting.


This goes much further than just jokes. It's better to never to say someone is an asshole. As if it's an immutable part of their character. It's almost always better to say someone is acting like an asshole. Or in more extreme cases someone often acts like an asshole.

This leaves room for improvement/reevaluation and it's actually far more accurate in almost all cases.

People, when being told that they're being an asshole, often don't make distinction. "You called me an asshole!"

"I did not say you are an asshole. I said you're acting like one right now."

Yeah, it just doesn't work. Then you argue about whether you called somebody an asshole, and you're on the defensive (even though the other person was a jerk).

I think what _may_ work is "don't be a jerk" or "stop being a jerk".

A slightly off-topic insight I came upon recently was from the civil rights movement: don't call people racist, because it backs them into a corner they can't get out of.

It's better to debate them on their choices so they can find their own way towards a more enlightened and equitable worldview.

I've also come to realize that this may partially explain why conservatives I know have been reluctant to engage in political discussion in these times. They're being backed into having to defend fundamentally indefensible positions.

Rather than forcing them to opt out, maybe it would be more productive to provide them an avenue out by engaging them in a more positive way. I'm still trying to figure out what that is, however.

People aren't monoliths. Instead of getting all het up about the pieces they are doing wrong, it helps to engage the pieces they are doing right and encourage more of that while occasionally raising an eyebrow at the more questionable stuff.

Of course, this works best over time, assumes that it isn't a downright abusive situation where you can't really afford to not take a stand, etc.

I was with you up until this:

> I've also come to realize that this may partially explain why conservatives I know have been reluctant to engage in political discussion in these times. They're being backed into having to defend fundamentally indefensible positions.

Maybe conservatives aren't getting into political discussions with you because you consider their positions indefensible. Have you ever considered that maybe conservatives are right about some things or do you monolithically support everything labeled 'liberal'?

I'm going to reserve my right to answer here, at least in specifics. There are so many indefensible things happening to people and the planet (among a great many other things) right now, that I'm concerned we're slipping past conservatism into nationalism, authoritarianism and dystopia.

I have liberal leanings but am from the so-called red state of Idaho. I try to hear out my friends, family and neighbors because their context doesn't always match mine.

>A slightly off-topic insight I came upon recently was from the civil rights movement: don't call people racist, because it backs them into a corner they can't get out of. >It's better to debate them on their choices so they can find their own way towards a more enlightened and equitable worldview.

Whether this is possible is very dependent on what exactly is meant by the massively overloaded "racist"/"sexist"/"bigot" terms. These terms are sometimes apt, but quite often these days, they are deployed against facts, in which case it's not possible to reason someone out of the position.

>I've also come to realize that this may partially explain why conservatives I know have been reluctant to engage in political discussion in these times.

No, the main reason for this is that holding certain positions is dangerous in some bubbles. See: James Damore, Lindsay Shepherd, Eric Weinstein, or Charles Murray.

>engaging them in a more positive way. I'm still trying to figure out what that is, however.

Pinker has some thoughts on that:


I've also come to realize that this may partially explain why conservatives I know have been reluctant to engage in political discussion in these times. They're being backed into having to defend fundamentally indefensible positions.

Something I saw happen recently, was a conservative making positive ("the way things are") statements, and being treated as if he'd made normative ("the way things should be") statements. And being attacked for things he hadn't said, and pressured to defend positions he didn't hold, and effectively called a liar for trying to point out the miscommunication.

My experience with self deprecating humor is that it only works well when the audience has sufficient context to get why it is funny. Otherwise it just comes across as poor self esteem and signals that you really are the loser you are claiming to be.

I like the suggestion someone else made to basically joke about life, not about people. (my words, not theirs, but that's what it sounded like to me)

Also, sometimes making fun of yourself seems to signal to other people that they should also make fun of you.

The dangerous part of it is when people start to think that you are what you joke about and when you start to sort-of-believe your own jokes. You may know you don't mean it, but they dont and may end up believing it anyway. And if you repeat variations of "I am stupid" often enough, your confidence may go down. Is likely, even.

At some point, is it not humility nor positive anymore, it is just negative.

Yes, people like it when you insult yourself. Still, if the relationship requires you to take down and insult yourself regularly, it is not worth it. I mean it.

I had that verbal tick where you automatically take down yourself or underplay own achievement and in retrospective, it costed me a lot. It took a lot of effort to get rid of it and I am still not fully there yet. People like it, they laugh and are friendlier and nicer to you. But they do end up believing you are less capable, then you are, respect you less, your word matters less in things that matter.

Dont do it as a habit.

Like most things, don't do it too often or people might think you have a problem or will consider you as the clown. It can backfire.

why do i even bother with HN comments?

OP: "gives an anecdote about how the article is wrong or incomplete"

REPLY: "gives an anecdote about how the OP is wrong or incomplete"

REPLY-REPLY: "gives an anecdote about how the REPLY is wrong or incomplete"

repeat adnauseum on every comment chain for ever and ever.

That's what's called a discussion. People make arguments, corrections to other's arguments, and counter-arguments.

I can absolutely understand why people don't like discussions.

Usually people don't have them to learn - they have them to teach.

If two people like that are having a discussion, it's truly an pointless activity.

>Usually people don't have them to learn - they have them to teach.

Doesn't matter IMO.

Both sides are still getting something out of it. Even if they just try to "teach" and think they already know everything, they also get to hear the argument of the other side, and think counterarguments -- thus improving their argument too.

In other words, even if they stick to their a priori beliefs no matter what, they at least learn to defend and define them better, because of having to deal with the other side.

Besides, a discussion is not just something to "learn" from. It's also entertaining on its own, a way to express yourself, hone your thoughts and so on. Learning from the discussion is not required for those things.

Not everything has to have an end goal, or "improve" us.

> If two people like that are having a discussion, it's truly an pointless activity.

Some points I can see and am able to articulate:

1. Being exposed to opposing viewpoints is valuable even if your goals don't consciously include learning from them. Pointless to the individual because rationally they won't further their goal? Perhaps. Pointless to society as a whole? I would argue no.

2. Non-participants exposed to such a discussion can learn from all sides, even if the individuals actually doing the discussion gain absolutely nothing, and there are orders of magnitude more non-participants than participants. So even a small impact can be far-reaching.

I try to teach when I'm in a discussion, and I learn a lot from them. Both from trying to teach and from hearing other viewpoints. In fact I tend to actively try to seek out and befriend people who disagree with me, specifically to learn more. It's easy enough for me at least to make friends with a bunch of clones of myself, and while that's not a bad thing I think perspective is important. And you get that from discussing things with people who disagree.

I don't think that teaching vs learning is mutually exclusive, and while intent matters I don't believe you can have a (non-repeat) discussion without learning something.

It kind of frightens me how much emphasis has been put into creating social bubbles where no one disagrees. Especially online where it's so easy to do. (I want to emphasize that I am not criticizing having people around to support you.)

Am guilty of this quite often.

Nerds like to divide reality into finer and finer resolution.


I think that the post you replied to was perfectly reasonable in its tone, and amazingly tame by HN standards. Could you clarify on what you took issue with?

well I'm sorry

Why would you need to tell jokes that victimize anyone? Sounds like a very narrow sense of humor...

If you study humor you find that nothing is funny and every joke is actually mean. I’ll look for these laughter studies but iirc the conclusions are that people laugh as a form of group identification. Laughter serves as a social signal in the same way affirmative or roger does over a radio. As in, I have received the information you have transmitted and correctly understand the intended message. As social groups become more specialized or valuable, it becomes more important to the groups survival to weed out those who are not of the proper pre-requisites. Academia is a perfect example of this, and what I find most fascinating is the etymology of the word barbarian. The word coming from an onomatopoeia of what athians thought foreignors sounded like when attempting to speak greek. I can just imagine eletist Greeks making fun of people behind their back as a form of social solidarity.

Your understanding of jokes reads like it's literally insane, as if an alien was trying to understand humor. How could you possibly believe this? These unknown "studies" you refer to are clearly bunk. Anyone can disprove it in 10 seconds of looking at a list of jokes. This idea of jokes is not a fact by any stretch of the imagination.

Your retelling of "barbarian" etymology is also wrong. Apparently ancient greeks thought other people's languages sounded like "bar bar" to them. It's not what foreigners sounded like trying to speak their own language, which wouldn't really even make sense.

"The Greeks used the term barbarian for all non-Greek-speaking peoples, including the Egyptians, Persians, Medes and Phoenicians, emphasizing their otherness, because the language they spoke sounded to Greeks like gibberish represented by the sounds "bar..bar..;" this is how they came to the word βάρβαρος"


What that wiki article fails to mention is that it was not other languages that were Bar bar but rather these other peoples accents when they attempted to speak attic greek which gave them away as being “not from Athens”. Which is why and how it was extended to all the other greek provinces as well. As an amateur attic speaker who enjoys reading texts in their original typography as well as modern interpretations I can absolutely see how the sing song nature of attic could provide difficulties to others.

This is not the original study I was looking for but similar results.


As for insane, I fail to comprehend. In the spirit of good fun on hn I challenge you to provide us with 10 jokes so that we may debate their merits appropriately.

What's your source for this version of the etymology? Either Wikipedia is wrong or your version is. Either is possible but one is much more likely.

It seems patently obvious that some jokes are mean and some jokes are not. But it's highly subjective given varying contexts. A "mean" joke about someone at a roast might be considered a kindness by all involved. You could still call it "mean" but you might be the only one that thinks so.

Here's some (mostly boring) jokes. Let's see if you can point out the the meanness in each of them.

"Q: What do chemists' dogs do with their bones? A: They barium!"

"Q: What did the cat say when the mouse got away? A: You've got to be kitten me!"

"Q. What did the ocean say to the sailboat? A. Nothing, it just waved."

"Q. What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car? A. 'Robin, get in the car.'"

"Q. What do you get when you cross-breed a shark and a cow? A. I have no idea but I wouldn’t try milking it."

"My new thesaurus is terrible. Not only that, but it’s also terrible."

> every joke is actually mean

What is a cow's favorite form of entertainment?

Going to the moo-vies.

This is perpetuating a harmful stereotype of bovine culture. You should be ashamed.

You miss the real problem: The cow is a placeholder for whichever category of persons the listener most fears.

I'd love to hear a joke that doesn't (even implicitly) victimize anyone. I suspect that even if you found one, someone else could find an interpretation that victimizes someone.

A chicken walks into a library, walks up to the circulation desk and says "Bok." The librarian is confused and looks around, the chicken says "Bok" again.

The librarian asks "You, want a book?" The chicken replies "Bok."

The librarian grabs a book from the return pile and hands it to the chicken. The chicken puts it under its wing and walks away.

The next day the same chicken comes back in and says "Bok. Bok."

The librarian looks at the chicken and says "So, you want two books?"

The chicken says "Bok. Bok." The librarian hands the chicken two books and the chicken puts them under its wing and walks away.

On the third day the librarian decides to follow the chicken to see what it is doing.

The chicken comes in and says "Bok. Bok. Bok."

The librarian asks "So you want three books?"

The chicken says "Bok. Bok. Bok."

The librarian hands the chicken three books and the chicken puts them under its wing and walks away. This time the librarian follows the chicken over fields and valleys, through a forest to a large pond. In the middle of the pond is a frog on a lily pad.

The chicken takes one book from under its wing and throws it to the frog. The frog catches it, looks at the cover and says "Readit. Readit. Readit."

I'm medically handicapped. I sometimes go through periods where I struggle with neurological impairment.

During one such period, I complained to my son that putting my damn shoes on had become the hardest part of my day. He said "Shoes! How the fuck do they work?"

I died laughing and snickered about it for weeks. Some acquaintance had recently been a jerk to me about something I had said that they didn't get and had given me the pity treatment instead of laughing with me (not at me). My son's joke sympathized with my frustration without pissing on me and it was very, very welcome.

The is an expression in my language for "loving humor". I cant translate the jokes to English easily, but basically it is sort of similar to Chuck Norris jokes - those jokes make Chuck Norris cool. Sort of, it makes people laugh while makes target look more human and makes them like target.

Like, when you joke about someone and that person adopts a joke and brags about it afterwards, because what your joke make visible about him is what he likes about himself.

Basically, you will not joke about things that make target inferior, lesser, outsider or something like that. Your joke will extrapolate what target likes about himself, people like about him and he/she is not vulnerable or insecure about.

Heisenberg gets pulled over. Cop: "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?" H: "No, but I know exactly where I am!"

Jokes are often used by victims of opression as a way of relieving their pain and expressing their greivances.

Sometimes the most tactful way to communicate a terrible truth to someone who who is unwilling to confront it is to make them laugh about it.

Dave Chappelle - Police Brutality (2000)


> I suspect that even if you found one, someone else could find an interpretation that victimizes someone.

What about surreal humor? I guess you could say it victimizes the world as we 'know' it?

Being the butt of a joke and being a victim are not equivalent. Hence the distinction of "punching up" versus "punching down".

Of course it's really easy to get mixed about and think you're punching up when you're really punching sideways or slightly downwards (ie at your fellow, yet different, plebs).

Also, "up" and "down" exist relative to a coordinate system which may be implicit in your culture, but rotated in an adjacent culture.

"Up" generally refers to the more powerful, while "down" refers to the less powerful. I don't know what scale of culture you're referring to - if you're just pointing out that power is not fungible/transferable across subcultures, I had attempted to account for that in my original comment ("sideways").

You can’t be serious? What is this - stand up for amateurs or HN? Oh well...

Q. What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A. A nervous wreck.

Q. What do you call a snowman in July? A. A puddle.

Hear about the new restaurant called Karma? There is no menu - you only get what you deserve.


>There's a simple hack toward being more positive: When you make a joke, ensure that you're the victim, not someone else.

Doesn't that just make you less offensive to others?

Still doesn't say anything about you being more positive - in fact, making yourself the butt of your jokes could mean you're self-deprecating or depressive.

> Doesn't that just make you less offensive to others?

No. Where I work we talk a lot of smack to each other. This doesn't go on behind peoples' backs - we prefer that the victim be there to hear it. But about 20% of the time, the "victim" is also the speaker - it's self-directed smack.

When we were interviewing this guy to join our team, I mentioned this behavior, and asked if he was going to be able to put up with that environment. The thought for a moment, and then said "It sounds like you trust each other." He was exactly right. It's because we trust each other that we can tease each other - knowing that the sender wasn't speaking in malice, and knowing that the receiver won't take it the wrong way.

So much of a well-functioning team depends on trust.

it's all fun until somebody says the wrong thing to the wrong person and HR gets involved and hashtags go viral and then there's a huge blow up about why all of this behavior was tolerated for so long and who was responsible for tolerating it.

>it's all fun until somebody says the wrong thing to the wrong person

The message from this onwards though is "fuck that person".

Was listening to Barry Humphries (dame edna everidge etc) the other week on some radio programme. One of his lines was that he'd been lucky to have been born with the gift of being able to laugh at other people's misfortunes.

This reminds me of the parenting advice that the best thing you can do for a child is cause them to have a positive peer group. Pretty much everyone knows this intuitively, which is why "good school districts" and private schools command such hefty premiums.

True especially of social media.

Jordan Peterson has some good advice on this (not sure if he is liked around here). "Be Friends With Those Who Want Best For You" and "Be careful who you share good news with".

Some friends don't want you to try to succeed, because they are not trying. They would rather see you fail and say "see, that's what happens. That's why i don't try, as it just fails anyway". Its hard to tell such friends, good news. It makes them feel bad about themselves.

Some interesting talk about Peterson here. (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16188789)

I think in general he has some fans here. And those that aren't fans have pretty rational critiques of his appeal, without just devolving into pure partisan bias.

Personally I liked his talks on Youtube from Harvard, but didn't enjoy his book. It was like he was trying to cash in with a "Chicken Soup for The Soul" knockoff. It's not terrible, but not worthy of a philosopher and too geared to the mass market.

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