Is the Long Island Medium For Real?

I’ve been watching TLC’s the Long Island Medium, an enthusiastic middle-aged lady who “talks to the dead.” Theresa Caputo does paid readings in her home, and also approaches strangers in restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, etc. and passes on messages from their relatives and friends, who she says are present nearby. Here’s a typical interaction.

“There’s a young male that passed – a brother or a husband?”
“A close friend.”
“Is there a picture of him standing like this? Arms like this?”
“I was just mimicking him to my mom the other day – the picture like that.”
“He asks that you use the word admiring instead of mimicking!”
[laughter from both parties]
“What’s in the month of September?”
“That’s the month he passed.”
“And you did not get to say goodbye to him?”
“No, that’s right.”

And so on. . .

She’s generally accurate, and sometimes interestingly so, for example correctly asking a man if his wedding ring used to be his dad’s, which isn’t such a common thing. But sometimes she’s off the mark, for example asking about the significance of the number 27, which the client can’t associate anything with, or else making a vague comment (“Something about the chest area?”) which the client then gloms onto (“He had a heart attack!”).

I haven’t considered that this is real – for one thing, I don’t believe in an afterlife, and for another, I can’t imagine a system where a ghost could, say, pop over to a private board meeting, and pop back to tell Theresa to sell her Google stock. But what I do wonder is if she believes it herself.

My answer is yes. I think she’s very intuitive, picking up on facial expressions, reactions, and environmental cues. (Three people who look alike working at a bakery? Yep it’s a family business. And yep, it uses family recipes. An obese woman whose mom died? Yep, it was heart disease.) And I think she has always been intuitive, and she interpreted her own mostly correct guessing as messages from the other side. She has several times mentioned seeing ghosts as a child, and not realizing it wasn’t a common thing, and when she talks about this she is so earnest that I really do believe her.

She could be taking us all for a ride, but I’m using my own powers of intuition to say she’s legit – in her own mind at least. What do you think?

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How to Choose a Christmas Gift

I just posted about The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Negotiation — that you and the other party can create value by finding things that are relatively easy for you to give up and relatively valuable for them to have. For example I could find a teenager and trade an edit of their college application essay for an afternoon of running errands — I’m a fast editor and they have plenty of time.

The same lesson applies to finding meaningful gifts. If the person you’re buying for is short on cash, then you could simply imagine all the things they would like to have but can’t buy and pick one of the list, or just buy them a giftcard. But if your giftee can buy themselves whatever they really want, then consider what you have that’s special that would make the other person happy and that they would have trouble getting on their own.

For example, when my mother wanted to put in wood floors, I researched all the different options from laminate to a variety of real woods, and made her an organized binder of info. In an office secret santa event, a coworker who was married to a La Mer employee gave a jar of their moisturizer that was probably worth $100, but that she had gotten very cheaply.

Finding a way to combine your personal skills or resources to meet one of your giftee’s desires will make the best kind of gift. Maybe you are crafty and can knit a unique hat. If you can cook, and the giftee can’t, cook them dinner. If you know a lot about art, give them a personalized tour of a museum. If you’re a fashion expert, buy them a shirt that they wouldn’t have thought to choose but that perfectly matches their wardrobe.

The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Negotiation

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned in the last few years about negotiation from reading, talking to great negotiators, and negotiating with coworkers and bosses on small issues (getting things done) and big ones (salary). Negotiation is not about winning, putting one over on someone, or fooling the other party. If you’re trying to convince someone of something, that’s not negotiation. Negotiation only happens with both sides have something to negotiate with, and in the end, both sides should be happy with what they got in the deal.

In a great negotiation, both sides will look for things that they can offer that will benefit their counterpart more than it will hurt them. For example, if you’re negotiating salary, maybe the employer can’t pay you any extra, but they can offer you access to high level managers in another area of business that you’re interested in. Or maybe they can give you more vacation time without seriously impacting your work.

If you can find things that are more valuable to one side to have than the other side to give up, you’ve created value, and stopped negotiation from being a zero sum game. A negotiation will go better if there are good feelings on both sides – then you can genuinely explore possibilities for coming to a deal. But looking for value can work even in a hostile situation — just watch Sons of Anarchy’s rival gangs work out deals.