Quiz #77. "Some Pig"

Why did I fail an emotional IQ test? How did a tweet with a message from a 9-year-old help? Steve's Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz for August 1, 2020.


The right ones at the right time can make all the difference.

Spoken or written.

Heard or read.

Texted or tweeted.

Emailed or part of an emailed newsletter.

On Monday morning of this week, July 27th, as always during the pandemic, I read the Understandably newsletter from Bill Murphy Junior. Under his standard closing heading, “7 other things worth your time,” Murphy linked to an article he’d written for Inc. about how to  tell if you have emotional intelligence.

Here’s my weekend take on a few simple verbal cues that suggest people you’re talking with don’t have a lot of emotional intelligence. (Inc.com)

Always on the hunt to affirm my own intelligence (emotional or otherwise),  I clicked on the link and discovered that Murphy had highlighted 3 “toxic phrases” which were verbal cues and signs of people with low emotional intelligence.

Toxic phrase No. 1: "I know how you feel."

Toxic phrase No. 2: "Can't you just ... ?"

Toxic phrase No. 3: "How are you doing--good?”

I am sorry to say that these are all phrases I use a lot.  Indeed, as noted in Quiz #29. “These Things Happen,” my family knows that I have two key phrases, “These things happen” and “Sorry about that.”

They are my way of saying to someone who’s told me they have a problem that I am done.

Time to move on in the conversation.

The back reads, “Sorry about that.”

Murphy writes that it’s all about emotional intelligence.  

None of this is original to me. Well, maybe some of the application, but when I talk about emotional intelligence, I like to give credit to two sources: my Inc.com colleague Justin Bariso's book EQ Applied and the work of sociologists like Charles Derber.

Because when you start looking at the world through the prism I've gleaned from their work, the insights come fast and furious.

In short, there are two ways people can respond to others in a conversation. They can support the other person, by keeping the focus of the conversation on them, or they can shift the conversation, putting the focus on themselves.

By and large, people exhibiting high emotional intelligence will often use support responses. People exhibiting low emotional intelligence will often use shift responses.

I think the point here is empathy.  I’d like to think I have it, but clearly I need a little work.  When someone tells me about a problem they’re having, my first response is to try to put myself in their shoes.  (A good start,right?)  But then, I take another step--and shoot myself (and the other person) in the foot.  Now in their shoes, I tell them how I would (or have myself) solved their problem.

Sara is the one who recommended Understandably to me months ago before the start of the pandemic.  On Monday the 27th, she had read Murphy’s newsletter and she too had clicked on the emotional intelligence link.  (She passed.)  We only discovered we’d both looked at it a few days later when I brought it up.  Sara’s advice to me was clear and simple.

  • Just listen.  

  • Talk less.  

  • Ask questions.

  • Don’t make everything about all about you.

I'm working on that.

And so it was this Saturday morning, August 1st, that I took to Twitter as part of my morning read-in after another anxiety-induced, way-too-early wake-up.

I was struck by three sets of Tweets.


The first was from Murphy’s Inc. colleague, Chris Skinner.

In his Inc. article, Skinner recommended that people take the time to read the opening statement to Congress from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday, July 30th. It’s a great tale of how Bezos, the son of a teenage mother and an immigrant father, formed his company and beat the odds, constantly evolving until it finally turned a profit and became the giant corporation that it is today.

Skinner highlighted one section about Bezos and emotional intelligence.  He used the phrase a little differently than Murphy, but the central point was the same.  Under the heading, “How to use empathy,” Skinner highlighted the Bezos mission in listening to others--in the case of Amazon, the customer--learning to adapt, anticipate and satisfy the needs of the customer.

One of the key reasons Amazon became such a powerhouse is the company's relentless focus on the customer. 

"Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great," writes Bezos. "Even when they don't yet know it, customers want something better, and a constant desire to delight customers drives us to constantly invent on their behalf."

It was this focus, says Bezos, that inspired one of the company's most successful initiatives: Amazon Prime. "No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program," writes Bezos. "But it sure turns out they wanted it."

This extreme focus goes beyond what typical companies do; it's a real-life example of how to use empathy in the business world. Because if you can put yourself in the shoes of your customer, you can better understand them--and better satisfy them.

When one Twitter user called out whether the words from this opening statement were actually written by Bezos himself, Nick Denton jumped to the defense of Bezos.

The words in that opening statement may not have been written by Bezos, but, for him, they were the right words.  They spoke for him, from him.  They were him.  

The right words at the right time.  

That’s no small thing.

SECOND TWEET: “Take some fucking words out!”

And yet, I was struck by a second Tweet in my Saturday morning reading.

As noted in Quiz #11. The F-Word, brevity is one of my fatal flaws--and this line repeated by Meghan O’Rourke on the passing of the famous New York magazine editor John Homan just made me laugh out loud--especially in light of the opening statement from Bezos.

That opening statement from Bezos was a whopping 4,540 words.  Nearly two times longer than the opening statement from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

THIRD TWEET: “Depressing don’t read.”

And then there was this third Tweet of the morning from Michael Jimenez. I am not sure how or why it turned up in my Twitter feed, but it made my day.

If you haven't read Charlotte’s Webb as an adult, you should.  It’s really a great moral lesson about sacrifice, not putting yourself first and, yes, empathy. On the surface, it’s the story of a spider, Charlotte, who saves a pig, Wilbur, from slaughter by spinning webs which spell out words above the pig's pen. The pig is hailed as special, carted off to state fairs and saved from slaughter. In the end, it's a story of sacrifice and taking a closer look at what really matters in life.

Here is what E.B White writes in describing how the farmer and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerman, react the first time a spider web is spotted above Wilbur's pen:

"What's unusual about the pig?" asked Mrs. Zuckerman, who was beginning to recover from her scare.  "Well, I don't really know yet," said Mr. Zuckerman.  "But we have received a sign, Edith--a mysterious sign.  A miracle has happened on this farm.  There is a large spider's web in the doorway of the barn cellar, right over the pigpen, and when Lurvy went to feed the pig this morning, he noticed the web because it was foggy, and you know how a spider's web looks very distinct in a fog.  And right in the middle of the web there were the words 'Some Pig.'  The words were woven right into the web.  They were actually part of the web, Edith.  I know, because I have been down there and seen them.  It says, 'Some Pig,' just as clear as clear can be.  There can be no mistake about it.  A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig."

"Well," said Mrs. Zuckerman, "It seems to me you're a little off.  It seems to me we have no ordinary spider."

"Oh, no," said Zuckerman.  " It's the pig that's unusual.  It says so right in the middle of the web."

"Maybe so," said Mrs. Zuckerman.  "Just the same, I intend to have a look at that spider."

"It's just a common grey spider," said Zuckerman.

They got up, and together they walked down to Wilbur's yard. "You see, Edith? It's just a common grey spider."

Of course, Charlotte dies in the end and I’m sorry (though not surprised) that the 9-year-old in that Tweet found it depressing.

Even in the darkest days, E.B. Webb’s closing line of Charlotte’s Webb always rings true.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.  Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.  She was in a class by herself.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.


The right ones at the right times can make all the difference.

Spoken or written.

Thanks for reading.

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What did NOT happen?

A. Will made dinner for Sara and me on Friday night, July 31st.  He made home-made pizza using a new pizza stone after the first one he got as a left-over giveaway cracked;

B. After dinner, Sara and I sat on the back deck with the Northeast heat wave finally broken.  Happy the dog was so happy to be outside with us that she made her way into my lap. At 55 pounds, she’s not a lap dog, but she was, well, happy;

C. In my Saturday phone call this morning with my siblings, my sister Ginny told me how she and her husband Larry had gone to a local cat shelter to walk a cat in a cat stroller during the pandemic;

D. In that phone call, Ginny told me that she and Larry had watched “Palm Springs” on my recommendation. They did not like it;

E. I have only heard from one reader, Nicole, a camp friend of Sara’s, who emailed me directly to let me know that she had laughed out loud when she’d watched “Homemade” on Netflix which I had recommended in Quiz #74. “Turd.”  Nicole said she appreciated my not giving away the punch line in one of the funnier moments from “Homemade,” a series of 17 short films made “at home” during the pandemic.

Want the answer (and a few more pictures)?

Answer #76. “Some Pig.”

If you’re a subscriber, the answer will be sent to you as a separate email when the question is published.

Want more?

Here’s the next quiz in the series: Quiz #78. A Broken Promise.

Here’s the previous quiz in the series: Quiz #76. Before Now After.

Here’s the first quiz in the series: Quiz #1. Stella and Social Distancing, March 13, 2020

Here is an archive of all the quizzes.

The quiz is explained here: Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz.

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