Dear J,

Guess what – Abu Vicky is coming tonight! Mama is on maternity leave and it looks like Abu Vicky is going to be here in time for Julia after all. For a while, we were thinking Julia was going to be early.

We went to Happy Hollow Zoo last weekend. We brought your blue tricycle this time. It really wasn’t the right vehicle, but it was a long distance to walk and we thought it’d be more fun than a stroller. The wheels were plastic and the frame was rigid it shook and rattled on the trail. You must’ve gotten a fantastic massage. You spaced out a couple of times.

You can almost reach the pedals now and you tried pedaling for the first time. Of all the animals there, I think you liked the chickens best. You imitated their sounds POK POK POK PAKAAW, and when I pointed to you how one of them was standing on one foot, you started standing on one foot too.

The funniest was when you followed behind a chicken pecking, and you started bowing at the hip. Then I said “Like this” and jacked my head back and forth. You went around bowing and pecking. I said let’s go show mama! So we ran over and you yelled Mama! I said show mama what the chicken does. And you bowed and pecked. Mama cheered, and then you pecked harder… and fell over on your face. Haha.

The one thing you liked more than the chickens was the red tractor, and the man driving it with the orange helmet.

First crush... already?

First crush… already?

You have a crush on Sam, our neighbor. You seem to like older girls. First it was Myra and Natalie at school. Now, one of the first things you do when you wake up is look out your bedroom window and ask for Sam and Sydney. You ask again when we pull into the garage after school. You’re sad when you find their garage closed.

One day you heard their voices as I was unclipping you from your car seat in the garage. You tugged on my arm to take you outside, and when you saw them riding their bicycles, you bullied us to take you out in yours too. Then you made me push you to them, and you threw one arm over your seat back and stared at them. I left you to finish unloading the car. The girls felt more comfortable to approach you when I wasn’t close. They were curious about you. They asked many questions. After a while, I heard “DADDY!” and you came running — smiling and bashful. They asked too many questions.

Another day, while we were walking back from the park, you asked, “I wanna see Sam and Sydney?” I said, “If they’re outside, you can see them. If they’re not, we’ll see them another time.” 10 seconds later, you asked again, “I wanna see Sam and Sydney?” I repeated my answer again. For the next 10 minutes, you kept asking me the same question, and I gave you the same answer. One of your strategies for getting what you want when the answer isn’t what you want, is to ask the same question again. (It usually works, by the way, like when you ask Mama to give you a snack you like.) After 10 minutes of this, mama was cracking up, and I was struggling to keep it together too. After the1050th time, you said, “NO DADDY DON’T DO THAT!” I said, “But that’s the answer!” I wasn’t lying.

Everybody lies

Today’s lesson about people is everybody lies. Gender doesn’t matter. Culture doesn’t matter. Income doesn’t matter. Education doesn’t matter. Everybody cheats. BUT — by a small amount.

People think there’s good and evil, and it’s easier to think about the extremes like murder (especially when sensationalism sells news), but those are actually the minority. The most pervasive form of immorality is just little white lies, everywhere.

Dan Ariely boiled morality down into a simple but abstract experiment that offered money for getting answers correct. Almost everyone cheated a little by reporting a higher score. It didn’t matter if the punishment for cheating was more severe. It didn’t matter if the reward was greater. Gender didn’t matter. He repeated the experiment in different countries. Nothing changed the fact that the majority of people cheated by a little bit.

The mystery is: why didn’t the results change in countries with high rates of crime and corruption? Surely, there must be more dishonest people there on average?

The answer is, at a very basic level, we all try to cheat a little bit. But we cheat within our context. Whatever the baseline for honesty is, we always try to push it just a little bit further. If you don’t normally tell lies, then your boundary is pushed when you tell the occasional white lie. On the other hand, if you’re a compulsive liar, your “normal” starts at “bullshit”, and push it by telling even bigger lies.

So, if you live in a country where there’s rampant corruption, then corruption is the baseline. It’s not that people there are fundamentally more immoral. It’s just that people push dishonesty ON TOP of that baseline.

For example, I grew up in Malaysia, where everyone is expected to bribe at their driving tests. The question driving schools ask is, “How do you want to take care of it?” and they even quote the “standard” amount. It’s so common that people think of it as a tax or administration fee. And because it’s so common, people continue to pay because they become afraid they’ll be flunked for being the rebel.

So, people stopped thinking it was dishonest. That becomes the new baseline, and our “fudge factor” cheating-boundary-pushing happens on top of that.

(I didn’t pay the bribe by the way. I also wasn’t failed, thankfully.)

The trouble is because we keep trying to push the line. And in some places, it goes unchecked. Everyone cheats by just a little, the line keeps moving little by little… unchecked… until one day, the line is nowhere near where we started. Little lies committed by each person can snowball into catastrophes like Enron, or the Subprime Mortgage Crisis that kick-started the recession in 2008.

The magic here is we humans are very creative. We do not think we are dishonest. We just allow ourselves some wiggle room to act a little dishonestly, because we can rationalize it. We are creative enough to make up stories to convince ourselves it’s okay. And we believe them.

Because of that, Dan Ariely discovered the one factor that greatly influenced dishonesty was: Creativity. Creative people are more dishonest, because they are better at telling themselves stories about why they’re not being dishonest.

“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself as a liar.” – Mark Twain

Incidentally, this is why Kimi always ends up in the most comfortable spots in our home, even when we threaten to kill her each time. You never have to wonder where she is. You’ll often find her under a sunbeam, on top of a blanket, which is on top of a fluffy pillow, on top of a bed, on top of a carpeted floor. In comparison, the dog I had growing up slept outside in a kennel. Of course, when we notice, we’ll chase her off to the floor. And she’ll be good for a while. But then she’ll cheat a little. And a little more. Back up the bed, then on the pillow. This is probably why “smarter” animals are naughtier.

Speaking of animals, you love the 3 little pigs and you’re always talking about the big bad wolf. Mama says don’t worry ain’t no wolf gonna touch my baby while mama bear is here.

And a peculiar thing happened while we were at the dog park last week. I didn’t notice it until mama mentioned it. 3 men entered the park. 1 guy in a straw hat. 1 guy in a blue sweatshirt. I noticed the guy in the blue sweatshirt bring in a bowl and ball; I assumed it was for his dog. Your mom kept looking because she thought something was fishy. She noticed they didn’t have a dog, but thought they might be with girl who can in after them with a dog. She kept looking still and saw the straw hat guy sit in a chair in the corner throwing the ball, while blue sweatshirt guy fetched. “With his mouth?” I asked. No with his hands. Eh, free country. What I found interesting was that there were 3 people involved.

Updates about life at home

You’ve been waking me up every morning, usually bringing something with you from my bathroom like moisturizer or toothpaste.

You also like helping mama make pancakes in the morning. She sits you with a pot to mix. You stir very slowly. But you’ll yell at mama to hurry and bake it in the oven.

You are particular about how you want to play. Daddy play trucks with me! Daddy use the orange truck Joshua use the Red Firetruck! Daddy use orange truck in the kitchen!

I think I might be pregnant. At least, my body might think I am. I’ve been getting cranky and tired… even after sleeping lots. I’m wondering if your mom’s pregnancy hormones are affecting me somehow. Or if it’s at all possible.

In any case, Julia will be here soon! You’re excited to be a big brother. The other day you were teaching mama how to take care of your brown baby doll. Mama was cradling it on one hand. And after a while you asked her to switch to the other ‘leche’ because it was still hungry. You made her change its diapers 3 times, because it made many kaka.

I’m curious about what she’ll look like. And I think you’ll be alright. Kimi on the other hand…



P.S. We have a new trick for getting you to sleep. Since you have a strong sense of ownership now, we exploit Loss Aversion to persuade you. You say, “I wanna sleep next to mama.” We tell you we have to sleep in our beds. Especially with Julia coming, we need this established. You test your options, “I wanna sleep on the couch?” And then I say, “Your bed is comfortable. If you don’t want to sleep in your bed, daddy will sleep in it!” I’ve never seen you hop off the couch so fast, yell, “NO!!!” and say, “I WANT TO SLEEP IN MY BED?”

Then you ask, “Daddy throw you in it?”

Okay, ready, set, go! Up and down and into sleep you go.