The Weekender, November 13, 2020


On Tuesday, I had a couple of weird mistakes in the story. The more significant of the two came at the end — I somehow sent an email without the last sentences included. That’s fixed now; the subject of the story “told the BBC that he made sure that each of his bus, train, and plane trips were near-fully booked and the trips would have happened anyway. And, per Cox, he could have — but didn’t — buy carbon offsets for about £4, and still come out ahead.” 

The less significant error, though, prompted a lot of emails. I said that “the English city of Sheffield is in the center of the UK, a bit west of Manchester.” The entire population of England emailed me to tell me that, no, Sheffield is a bit east of Manchester. You all are right, of course; it’s east. It’s also a mistake I’m not surprised I made.

I tend to flip east/west often. And when it comes to right/left, I have to pause to make sure I think it through to get the direction correct. It’s a weird mental block, one I can’t really explain. It’s not a major issue — taking a momentary pause while giving someone directions, for example, is probably a good thing, not a bad one. And yes, it pops up every once in a while on the newsletter. So, thank you for calling it out — I won’t notice otherwise.

That’s the general rule for errors in newsletters, by the way. I write, I do a few edits, but once it’s out the door, it’s out of mind, too. Email me about them and I’ll (probably) fix them at some point.

On another note, today is both Friday the 13th and World Kindness Day. I hope you choose to ignore the former, as it’s meaningless, and celebrate the latter — and celebrate it every other day, too, because kindness is important. Somewhat accidentally, I tried to make kindness a theme this week, as you’ll see below.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: When Kids Didn’t Trust Santa. Saying you’ll do something nice may not be enough. Sometimes, you actually have to show your good deed. Even if you’re Santa.

TuesdayA Long Way to Save a Few Quid. Okay, this isn’t a story about kindness at all. It’s a story about … a really odd hobby that resulted in an unnecessary, but ultimately profitable (by a very small amount) trip from the UK to Germany.

Wednesday: The Man Who Dropped Candy from the Skies: Wednesday was Veterans’ Day, a moment to thank those who put their own lives on the line to protect others. The tricky part of noting Veterans’ Day, though, is that I didn’t want to highlight or glorify war. This story does a great job of showing empathy and kindness.

ThursdayMr. Rogers Shares a Pool. The kindness tie-in is obvious; it’s about Fred Rogers. As today is Friday the 13th, you should also read “How Mr. Rogers Made Friday the 13th Less Scary,” from my archives.

And some other things you should check out:

1) “The Empathy Exams” (The Believer, 35 minutes, February 2014). The first paragraph sets it up: “y job title is Medical Actor, which means I play sick. I get paid by the hour. Medical students guess my maladies. I’m called a Standardized Patient, which means I act toward the norms of my disorders. I’m standardized-lingo SP for short. I’m fluent in the symptoms of preeclampsia and asthma and appendicitis. I play a mom whose baby has blue lips.” But the story really isn’t about the diagnosis. It’s about the med students’ bedside manner:

Once the fifteen-minute encounter has finished, the medical student leaves the room and I fill out an evaluation of his/her performance. The first part is a checklist: which crucial pieces of information did he/she manage to elicit? Which ones did he/she leave uncovered? The second part of the evaluation covers affect. Checklist item 31 is generally acknowledged as the most important category: “Voiced empathy for my situation/problem.” We are instructed about the importance of this first word, voiced. It’s not enough for someone to have a sympathetic manner or use a caring tone of voice. The students have to say the right words to get credit for compassion.

Read the whole thing.

2) “On Kindness” (Matter, 20 minutes, November 2014). This isn’t the easiest thing to read; it’s a son writing to his mom, ailing from breast cancer, to thank her for teaching him the importance of kindness and how to be kind. It’s a beautiful story but again, not necessarily a feel-good one.

3) “How to be Kind in a Crisis” (, 5 minutes, May 2020). I know the founders of this wonderful organization; they, maybe uniquely, are invested in the science behind kindness — how to encourage it, why it matters, etc. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, they shared this, and it’s a good checklist to have in your pocket.

And a bonus: “What Makes Sand Soft?” (New York Times, 5 minutes, November 2020). This has nothing to do with kindness. But it’s by the author of xkcd and it’s surprising — there’s no easy answer to the question posed by the title.

Have a great weekend!