What To Read This Weekend: Steal Like an Artist, Test Your Empathy Quotient, and Raise an Orchid Child


laplante c aristotle greek philosopher as a young man reading at his desk What To Read This Weekend: Steal Like an Artist, Test Your Empathy Quotient, and Raise an Orchid Child Hi everyone! Here are this week’s picks of the best of the Web, from a cerebral introvert’s perspective:

1.  The Science of Success: This is not just this week’s pick, but really one of the most important and illuminating pieces I’ve read in the last year. In this Atlantic magazine article, author David Dobbs explains a bold new theory of genetics — that “most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care.” Many introverted children appear to have orchid genes…read on.

2. How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me): Smart, idiosyncratic advice from writer and artist Austin Kleon.

3. The Science of Empathy: Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (Sascha’s first cousin) explains the science of empathy, and how its absence begets cruelty. As a nice bonus, you can take a quiz to assess your own empathy levels.

Have a great weekend!


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  1. Susan on 02.04.2011 at 12:03 (Reply)

    Thanks for posting this. The Atlantic article was a great read!

  2. Susan Cain on 02.04.2011 at 12:10 (Reply)

    You’re welcome! David Dobbs, author of the Atlantic article, is coming out with a book on the topic in a year or two…

  3. Christy on 02.04.2011 at 14:30 (Reply)

    Simon Baron-Cohen I know (not personally, but through his books), but who’s Sascha?

  4. Christy on 02.04.2011 at 15:00 (Reply)

    “How To Steal Like An Artist” was a great article. Excellent bits of advice.
    My favorite piece of advice was “Write what you like.” I am very much against the universal truth of the write-what-you-know cliche. It may work well for some people, but it need not be applied to every person in every situation who wants to write. If we all wrote only what we knew, we’d get, as you say, boring stories. There would be no fantasy, no science fiction, little historical fiction, little crime drama. It seems to say, “Your imagination and writing talent aren’t good enough. Only dull reality is.”
    I do write what I like and what I want to read. And then, the funny thing is that as I write what I like, I end up writing what I know. The things I know come creeping in. But they’re not the typical “write-what-you-know” things. People who say that usually mean you should write a story about the social milieu in which you find yourself, like the characters Anne Shirley and Josephine March both being something of a flop at writing until they write tales directly based on their own lives and towns. I *can’t* write that sort of thing. It always feels very false and plastic, like a caricature. When I write what I know, it’s what I’ve studied and learned. I sit down to write a science fiction book, and it becomes filled with the psychology and theology I have studied in school and the human interactions I have studied in the people around me and in books and movies.
    “Write what you know” is very constricting. It’s only a tiny part of the wide world of writing.

  5. Susan Cain on 02.04.2011 at 19:46 (Reply)

    Christy, what do you write? Now you have me very curious. Please share!

  6. Susan Cain on 02.04.2011 at 19:49 (Reply)

    P.S. Sascha Baron-Cohen is the comedian who plays Borat, etc. But I just realized that I was wrong — they’re first cousins, not brothers.

  7. Christy on 02.04.2011 at 20:25 (Reply)

    I write science fiction with a strongly psychological and Christian theological bent. I take plots I already know, from the Bible, from Shakespeare, from fairy tales, and rework them into science fiction, and then do a lot of psychological analysis with the characters. Someday, when I feel up to self-promotion, I will get published…someday.

  8. Grace on 03.04.2011 at 02:16 (Reply)

    Susan, you link to the Dobbs article appears to be broken, but thanks for the information.

  9. Susan Cain on 03.04.2011 at 12:26 (Reply)

    Christy, don’t wait! In the age of social media, self-promotion is much easier to do, introvert-style. See: http://mackcollier.com/why-introverts-love-social-media/

  10. Susan Cain on 03.04.2011 at 12:26 (Reply)

    Grace, thx much for letting me know. The link should be fixed now.

  11. Kristen on 04.04.2011 at 00:44 (Reply)

    The Atlantic article was fascinating. Now the true challenge presents itself - how do we as sensitive people raise children who are sensitive to become orchids without becoming hypervigilant about controlling every experience they encounter to ensure they are getting the love and support they need? I could see it leading to perfectionism and harsh self judgement with regards to parenting skills. Any thoughts on this?

  12. Susan Cain on 04.04.2011 at 14:37 (Reply)

    Kristen, this is a GREAT question. So great that I’m going to devote a whole blogpost to it. Stay tuned, and thx.

  13. David Dobbs on 05.04.2011 at 03:27 (Reply)

    Susan, thanks for linking to my article on “Orchid Children,” which I’m now expanding into a book. (Pub date, written in chalk: 2013. It’s a complicated project.)

    I wanted to address Kristen’s question, above, which asks how to do right by orchid children — that is, more sensitive children — without overcontrolling. No one knows that answer for certain, for the research is still early. But I’d offer this:

    The data supporting the idea that more sensitive, “vulnerable” people do worse than others do in bad conditions but *better* in good conditions is based mainly on studies of adverse conditions — and show repeatedly that the mere LACK of bad, really trying conditions is enough to let orchids fare better than others do. In other words, they tend to thrive under even ‘pretty good’ conditions, and don’t require extraordinary care; you needn’t build the best, most carefully climate-controlled greenhouse ever made; a safe but stimulating environment will likely serve splendidly. For parenting, this means doing the right thing most of the time, not all the time, and providing a good environment, not necessarily a great one, to make the most of a child’s high responsiveness to experience.

    If that’s the case, then super-parenting isn’t needed. Bettelheim’s “good enough parenting” will do just fine.


    David Dobbs

  14. David Dobbs on 05.04.2011 at 03:36 (Reply)

    PS: I would add, regarding how to parent sensitive children, that if you’ve guarded against the most harsh experiences that can affect a child, it probably makes more sense to focus on providing lots of small, positive things than on being hypervigilant about protecting the child from every bump, insult, or troubling challenge. And anxious hypervigilance sends a message that the world is perhaps too dangerous to handle. Small expressions of support and confidence and reassurance send the message that though the world can brings trouble, we’re almost always up for it, and will recover from all but — and sometimes even those too — the most serious setbacks or injuries or insults. I think the pscyhotherapeutic notion of ‘mirroring’ is handy to think of here. It’s the idea of reflecting to the child an attitude about how the world works. (It has another meaning to, reflecting an image of the child, but I’m concerned with this other.) What’s good mirroring? Best example offered to me was, Your house burns down. All is lost, but no one hurt. Your stuff’s gone. You’re out sitting on the curb with the family watching the firefighters douse the last of the steaming rubble. And instead of freaking out, You put your arm around the kid and say, “It’s okay.” Because it will.

  15. Kristen on 06.04.2011 at 00:44 (Reply)

    Glad to help, looking forward to the post!

  16. Kristen on 06.04.2011 at 00:45 (Reply)

    Thanks David, I can breathe a little sigh of relief!

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