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Stephen J. DUBNER: When I say that out loud, it sounds kind of terrible. It sounds like an ogre-ish thing to say.

*      *      *

Angela DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: at a time when there are so many political, socio-economic, and environmental issues to worry about, how do you decide where to invest your energy? 

DUCKWORTH: Is there some rank ordering that you’ve already come to, and like, could I just copy it?

Also: are you a thinker, a doer, or a charmer? 

DUBNER: Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart. He took a lot of heat for that. But he apparently didn’t lust, you know, out in the real world.

*      *      *

DUBNER: So, Angela, as I understand it, it is a good thing to care about important things and other people. Would you agree with that?

DUCKWORTH: Yes, Stephen. I would agree with that. 

DUBNER: Well, it’s interesting because one of the things that seems to be happening right now, especially in certain quadrants of America where people consume a lot of media and social media, is that there is an abundance of things to care about and to feel worried about, often enraged by. But what if I find it hard to care a lot about things that don’t affect me or my loved ones? 

DUCKWORTH: Personally.

DUBNER: The issues that I know are important, but maybe at a distance — so the environment, and social issues, and economic and political issues. It strikes me that everybody wants to seem, or look, as if they care a lot, and therefore put a lot of effort into acting as if they care, indicating that they care. 

DUCKWORTH: Virtue signaling.

DUBNER: Yeah, virtue signaling is a relatively new phrase. And I think a lot of people assume that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. I know it is definitely not. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s just been technologically enabled. 

DUBNER: Part of it, I’m sure, is what’s called compassion fatigue, right? People just feel like, “I’m being asked to care about a lot of things, and how do you do that?” And part of it is the difficulty of understanding the connection between “caring” and actually having an effect. So, that’s where I think the virtue signaling comes in. It’s all well and good for us to raise any kind of flag or to promote or repeat any kind of slogan— 

DUCKWORTH: But what are we doing? 

DUBNER: Yeah. One example I think about, there was a paper about hand hygiene in hospitals. Having good hand hygiene, long before there was the Covid-19 pandemic, was very well known to most people in the medical community to be a really important thing — cheap and easy way to cut down on bacterial infections. 

So, there was a study done in an Australian children’s hospital. And it was a study done of the docs to measure how often they practiced their hand hygiene —

DUCKWORTH: Washed their hands.

DUBNER: Right. And, look, I admire doctors on a personal level. These are people who have dedicated a large part of their young adult life just to learning to do this very difficult trade. So, it’s hard for me to imagine that the median doctor wouldn’t be a pretty caring person. And these are people who are working in a children’s hospital. So, I assume that they care a lot. And in their self-reported survey, the number came back at 73 percent of the time that they should have washed their hands. 

DUCKWORTH: Not 100, but, you know.  

DUBNER: Not 100. So, when I first saw that number, I thought, “Well, you know, maybe it’s just that the doctors are so honest, which is a better indicator of how much they care.” But at the same time, there were nurses who’d been deputized to spy on the doctors to measure their actual rate. And it turned out that their actual rate of hand hygiene was nine percent. 


DUBNER: So, that was the gap between how much they said they washed and how much they did wash. And plainly, these are people who care about the lives of the people they’re taking care of. And yet, they apparently didn’t care enough to actually wash their hands more than nine percent of the time. 

DUCKWORTH: So, you’re asking two questions. I think you’re asking: how can we get people to care more? But also: wow, isn’t it interesting that we spend some effort in signaling that we care? 

DUBNER: Yeah. Or maybe it’s the opposite question, which is: how can I stop pretending that I need to care?

DUCKWORTH: You want to close the gap, in any case. 

DUBNER: Yeah. Or at least choose more carefully the things that you care about, and do something about that. 

DUCKWORTH: I know the gap probably kills you, right? 

DUBNER: Yeah. Because it’s hypocrisy. And wouldn’t it be better, rather than spending that time and exercising those mechanisms which are kind of outward signals.

DUCKWORTH: Tweeting.

DUBNER: Wouldn’t it be better to try to do? Even if it’s one small thing maybe that no one will ever know about that might actually contribute to the thing that you care about, as opposed to the signaling of caring? 

DUCKWORTH: I like that way of thinking about it. And one of the things that determines what people do is how much they value it, right? Human nature is obsessed with what’s right in front of us. So, we care about what’s happening to ourselves. And then, by extension, we might care deeply about what happens to our children or our immediate loved ones and the friends that we see everyday. 

But as soon as you start to get to like: do you care about the kids in Oklahoma? I mean, assuming you don’t live there. Or a different continent. The more removed it is, the harder it is to care, even though at some intellectual level, we appreciate that those human lives are just as worthy as the ones that are right in front of our faces. 

DUBNER: Well, I think you’re right. But I think that is part of the problem, is that there are so many issues so many people feel compelled to be motivated about that they crowd each other out. And instead, we tweet.

There’s also some moral licensing going on there, right? If I raise my flag, or if I agree with all the slogans that I think are worthy of being slogans, does that absolve me from actually doing anything about anything? And since there are so many, it doesn’t seem very likely that I can actually do much about any of them if I’m trying to embrace all of them. 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t want to say that this doesn’t happen to me, too. Every time I go on Twitter, I think, “Oh, my gosh, here’s another thing I should be more educated about and then I should maybe do something about.” But I actually had this conversation 10 years ago with Adam Grant, who’s another psychologist. And I was asking him, “Oh, we’re both at the beginning of our careers as psychologists; is there some rank ordering that you’ve already come to with the world causes, and could I just copy it so I could figure out what I should do? Like: what’s the most important cause? What’s the second most important cause?” 

And he said something I won’t forget because I just thought it was so wise. He was like, “I’ve come to think that’s not how to make the decision. Because there are so many things that are above the threshold that you really should do what you’re interested in and what you’re good at and not worry so much about the rank ordering of importance of causes.” 

And that does, by the way, bother me when I go on Twitter — not only is there a lot of virtue signaling, people are angry at you if you don’t signal enough about the thing that they personally care about. And honestly, if you’re doing anything that’s good in this world for something worthwhile, then I think we should leave you alone, if not praise you, for doing something about something. 

DUBNER: So, pick the ones that you think you might have some special relationship with, some ability to contribute to, and contribute to them. And maybe, the others on the list, you just have to tell yourself there are other people who are going to contribute to those, and that’s not me. I’d rather do that than say aloud or even tell myself, you know, “Yeah, I’m really doing a lot to help out all 18 items on the list.” 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. You feel like there’s integrity in caring about what you care about, doing something about what you care about, and then not pretending to do a lot about a lot of other things. I think only you can give yourself that permission.

But I also think that for many people who are part of, for example, a religious community or some other social community, there is that feeling that somebody else is working on these other things. And that there’s been this division of labor, and that if you’re helping out on Saturday mornings working to give away food to people who are needy in the pandemic, that somebody else is working on the tutoring who’s part of the same community. And somebody else is working on recycling and climate change.

And I think that ought to be the way we are living in contemporary American society, that we feel like, “Look, I’m working on this, and you’re working on that. And isn’t it great that we have this diversity of interests and talents?”

What I often feel, these days, particularly, is we have the opposite of that, which is that there’s anger if you’re not working on what I want you to work on. There’s a lot of virtue signaling. And there’s not this feeling of being part of a whole, but somehow feeling polarized from the people who are in your midst, but you feel so estranged from. So, I don’t know how to get back to what you want, but I agree it’s a good place to be, and I would love to be there.  

DUBNER: I would love to be there, too. And I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t have a road map to show me. 

DUCKWORTH: But there is another thing that determines human behavior. And that’s friction. So, I think for a lot of people, going on social media and tweeting, or retweeting like you don’t even have to write anything anymore. All you have to do is retweet. It’s just one button that you have to press. And that is frictionless. And I think that is why you get a lot of virtue signaling and maybe a little less virtue. 

Because imagine the comparison between tweeting and tutoring, right? It’s like, well, tutoring, you have to do repeatedly. And when you’re with them, it’s a lot of energy, and that is actually what I would like to see more — more tutoring and less tweeting. But I think this friction thing is key. And therefore, if we want to see more virtue, we have to make it more frictionless for people to actually do something about one of the many things that there are to care about. 

DUBNER: Okay. So, that sounds totally sensible. Tutoring is, to my mind, a great example of where technology really has lowered the friction, right? Even in a pandemic, I could sit at my desk for 14 hours and tutor 28 kids each for half an hour. That’s totally viable. I don’t have to go anywhere. So, that’s a case where friction has been removed. If you extrapolate that to all the other avenues of potential care, do you think that even though that much friction has been removed, that there’s that much more tutoring and other caring activities happening?  

DUCKWORTH: I do think that when you take friction out of a process, people will do more. And a lot of great volunteer organizations work that way, right? You want people to donate things? Make it one click, not two clicks. You want people to tutor? Make it possible that they don’t have to set up things on their own. And in any case, it’s always going to be hard to make virtue as frictionless as virtue signaling. 

I mean, even Ben Franklin had this anecdote in his autobiography. He was like, “Fill a wheelbarrow with piles of paper, and walk around the neighborhood so that people think you’re an industrious person.” Like, that’s easier than actually being industrious. 

DUBNER: You know, Maimonides, the Jewish scholar from a million years ago, who was also an M.D., wrote what turned out to be a famous list of charitable priorities, like the best and worst forms and so on. And Maimonides’s advice was to be anonymous. And it’s funny, I’ve had a conversation about this with some people who are wildly philanthropic and who do put their names on buildings. And one of them made a counterargument that I found very compelling. 

This was Steven Spielberg, who’s a really smart guy and very philanthropic. And he said, “Yeah, you know, my rabbi told me that when I give, you know, $10 million or $20 million here and there, that you’re supposed to not put your name on it. But I thought, ‘Look, my name has some leverage.’ And if I can give money, and then have the name attached and make other people like me think, ‘Oh, I should also give money, then I’m going to do it.’ And I thought, ‘What’s better: that I look humble or that I get more money raised for a cause that I care about?’” And I thought that was a fantastic argument. I really think he did out-Maimonides Maimonides. 

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I need to read you this email that I got recently. It’s got a quote in it from the green card for A.A. I’m not even sure what a green card is, but the quote is, “Just for today, I will do somebody a good turn, and not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count.” And when I read this, I thought, there’s something very powerful about a virtue without virtue signaling and maybe something which feeds the soul. And I love this idea of secret good deeds. 

I used to teach this big undergraduate lecture course and one of the homework assignments was to do a secret good deed. And you were encouraged to stick around to watch, if you could, to see the person receive the good deed. Like, you could leave a ridiculous tip, for example. Or you could pay people’s parking meters that were going to expire. So, I love the idea of virtue in the absence of virtue signaling. 

And to that benefactor who said, like, “Oh, I’m actually going to do more good when I put my name on it.” I don’t know. You walk by a building and has all the donors, when you see in that big font, next to the major corporations and the well-established philanthropic foundations, “Anonymous,” I honestly have to say that inspires me more than anything. I think like, “Wow, who was that person who gave without asking anything?” And that makes me want to give more than seeing anyone’s name next to it.

DUBNER: You know, it strikes me that caring — I think I’ve come to the conclusion — is a borderline empty act. 

DUCKWORTH: Because it doesn’t have action. 

DUBNER: Yeah, it’s an intention, but an intention without action is what? 

DUCKWORTH: I think virtue signaling in the absence of virtue is not only a poor substitute, but almost dangerous, because I think people can kid themselves that a long day of signaling how virtuous you are on Twitter is the same thing as actually being virtuous. 

DUBNER: Do you think that Twitter maybe needs to invoke a higher barrier to participation? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, I did have this idea that you had to earn your tweets. So, if you want to tell people what to do about education, go volunteer in education. If you want to tell people what to do about the environment, then you should be working in some way — I mean, do something. I think that would be great. You’d earn your time at the megaphone. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think it’s a reasonable idea. 

DUBNER: I actually really like that idea. Can you please go make that happen? Maybe by Monday. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I’m going to look for the button to press to make that happen.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: When Angela was growing up, her father used to obsess over a question about personality and success — today, Stephen and Angela decide to tackle it together. 

DUBNER: What works for me works for me. What works for you works for you. 

DUCKWORTH: Que sera sera. 

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I have been wondering about a question my dad inspired. As you know, I lost my dad recently, but I’ll never forget he once said — actually, he often said — that the world has thinkers, doers, and charmers. And it’s rare that people are more than one of these things. And I wondered, which are you? Are you a thinker, a doer, or a charmer? 

DUBNER: So, first of all, I like having a question inspired by your dad. It’s a nice tribute. I’m curious, what was the context when he said the world has this? Is this in a pep talk about what you’re going to do with your life? 

DUCKWORTH: Actually, my dad used to like to give pep talks about what I was going to do with my life. Usually, he was talking about how to make your way in the world. So, my dad spent most of his career at DuPont, specifically in the automotive refinishing department, so car paint, or actually, car paint after you get into a fender bender. And he worshiped the C.E.O. of DuPont, this guy named Ed Woolard. And just after delivering this fortune cookie, “the world has thinkers, doers, and charmers,” he would always say, “Ed Woolard is all three.”

DUBNER: So, when you asked the question, my first thought wasn’t about me, or which of those I am, if any. It was actually about this parallel that I think about writing and writers. So, when I was a younger man and wanted to be a writer, you can’t necessarily just go to a publisher and say, “I would like to write a book. Give me money and a room of my own.” And you couldn’t really do that even with magazines and newspapers. I mean, you could try, but it was hard. So, I became an editor, because there are a lot more editing jobs than there are writing jobs. 

DUCKWORTH: That is not intuitive, because you would think that there’s so much writing to edit, but then you only need one editor for 10 writers, or something. 

DUBNER: Well, it’s the “jobs” part that makes it real. In other words, in the magazine world, editors are usually actual salaried jobs, which I was interested in. I wanted to be on the inside of something. Whereas in magazines at least, a whole lot of the writing was freelance. But even in a place like The New York Times, where there are many writers — there are also many, many editors.

But I was an editor at The New York Times Magazine, and there were maybe 10 of us who would edit the articles every week. And, your job was essentially to come up with a good story, and find the right writer, and assign it, and then help them to completion. And I realized after I’d been doing it for a few years that there were some writers, often very well-known, who were super good in one area that was important and often really bad in another. So, there were very well-known writers whose actual writing was terrible, but they were really smart. 

DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, and what did they do well? 

DUBNER: Well, there were a lot of things they could do well. They could be great reporters, great researchers, maybe. Maybe they were great thinkers or analysts. So, I came to think of the ideal writer as being all three of the following — you’re very good at reporting or research; you’re very good at analysis, or ideas, or thinking — that would be the second category — and then, the third category is the actual writing, like I said. There were some people who were very, very good writers, who weren’t very good thinkers, and they were sloppy reporters. So, you’re always looking for that holy grail of the people that did them all.  

DUCKWORTH: And they were rare.  

DUBNER: They were so rare. I mean, I could barely name one hand’s worth, really. It’s that hard. And so, when I hear your father’s question, I have two initial opposite reactions. One is, yes, it’s a lot like writing, and no one is all three. But then, when I hear the question put to me the way your father put it to you, or the way you’re putting it to me, I’m thinking, “Well, of course, I want to be all three,” right? You want to have all those arrows in your quiver, because they serve different functions.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, absolutely. And the idea that they’re all three good things and that it can be a rare thing to have all three. One of the articles I read that I’ll never, ever forget is very short. It was about who is an outlier in performance. And it was written by William Shockley, who won the Nobel Prize in physics. So, he did an analysis of the people in his lab. I think this was in the 1940s. And he counted up the number of scientific publications different scientists in his lab had earned. Some of them had earned zero publications. In fact, I think that might have been the most common number. 

The person in his lab who had published the most in four years, I think the number was like 12 articles. And that was the true outlier there. And his explanation for this was that to be a successful scientist — but fill in the blank, Stephen: journalist, writer, whatever — that you need multiple skills. First, you have to have a good idea. Then, you have to figure out how to test your idea. Then, you have to be able to design the study. Then, you have to be able to carry out the study. Then, you need to analyze the data. Then, you need to write it up. Then, you need to get rejected because, of course, it won’t get accepted. And then, you need to write it up again. 

And the idea that the total package of things that anybody needs to do to do something really well is not one thing, but many things — and here’s the kicker. Here’s what I will never forget about this amazing article, is that if these multiple components are uncorrelated, if having a good idea is very different from being able to write it up, then you will mathematically get a very skewed distribution, where a handful of people in a large population will be great and everyone else will be okay.  

DUBNER: Yeah. So, let me just ask you to unpack this triumvirate a little bit, of charm, thinking, and doing. Is there any way in which you see them as being in conflict with one another? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, you know, my dad was not referencing the academic literature on individual differences when he said this offhand as I was growing up. But I can map it onto some ideas in psychology. Let’s take thinking and doing as just two of the three that could be in tension with each other. 

So, there is some evidence that people who are inclined to really deliberate about: is this the right course of action? What are the pros? What are the cons? What are the probabilities? Those people tend not to be doers, the kind of, “Okay, I’m executing — how am I going to do this?” So, this idea that you could be more of a thinker or more of a doer does map onto some modern research by psychologists. And so, I do think it can be rare even just to have those two things — to be an excellent thinker and an excellent doer.  

DUBNER: But the way you describe it, you make them sound in tension. But they’re not necessarily in tension, because it’s sequential. 

DUCKWORTH: You’re right, Stephen. Because they’re sequential, first you do some deliberating, then you do some acting. First, you do some thinking, then you do some doing. You can, in theory, be great at both. And obviously, the world has some people who do this. But you can imagine that you would have a preference to spend more of your time doing one or the other. There is a bit of a crowd-out. 

DUBNER: So, I think if those were three animals and we’re trying to pick the one that doesn’t quite fit to me, it’s plainly charm — maybe just because that word has some negative connotation. But I do want to give them all equal consideration. Your original question was: which are you? Or which are you the most of?

I think for me, I’m inconsistent. I think it varies a lot from domain to domain. In my family life, then when I’m in my work mode, I think I’m pretty different. But if I had to prioritize what I want to be, or what I maybe see myself as, I would say, definitely doer, number one. Because I believe that thoughts without action are just thoughts. And that goes both ways, positive thoughts and negative thoughts. 

You know, Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart. He took a lot of heat for that. But apparently didn’t lust out in the real world. Many of our religious traditions teach that an evil thought is really just an evil thought. And if you don’t act on it, it’s not a big deal. And I do subscribe to that. 

So, I would put doing number one. I would put thinking number two, because thoughts and ideas are incredibly valuable. And I would say even if you don’t act on them yourself, if you have a good idea or a good thought, someone else can act on it and develop it. And then, I’d put charm third, because charm is useful for sure. But charm in service of poor ideas, or charm without action, is just charm for charm’s sake. It’s skipping dinner and going to the souffle. 

I was trying to think of people who are great at thinking and/or doing and who are totally charmless. And that’s not a short list. In fact, I would argue that a lot of the tycoons of the modern era, from tech firms and people like Elon Musk — he’s not much of a charmer, but my goodness, the amount of doing and thinking.  

DUCKWORTH: But I want to challenge you, Stephen, by giving you the exact opposite rank ordering that you gave. 

DUBNER: So, you’re going to start with charm.

DUCKWORTH: I’m going to start with charm. But, look, I didn’t actually talk about this enough with my dad, right? What did he really mean? If he means by charm, like how we relate to other people, if he meant being a gracious person, a grateful person, an empathic person, a socially-intelligent person, then I would say absolutely that goes to number one. And when I give that much more expansive list of things that are all things interpersonal, does that change your rank ordering?  

DUBNER: I mean, yes. And look, a word is just the name of something. And we all interpret that name differently. Like I said, the word “charm” for me seems to carry a bit of a pejorative. But then, I think of Richard Feynman, the physicist, always loved to talk about how knowing the name of something is useless if you don’t know how it actually works. 

And a lot of people can name things or political processes or things like that, but they have no idea what they’re really talking about. Now, he was arrogant, himself. Although, I think he was incredibly charming and super smart, not so much of a doer, really, interestingly, Feynman. I mean, obviously, he helped build the atomic bomb, but he was junior on that. 

DUCKWORTH: There was that. But, as a theoretical physicist, I don’t think his job was primarily charming or doing.

DUBNER: Yeah. He also hated teaching. He hated mentoring. All those things that academics and professors do. And I think he didn’t care so much about most other people.  

DUCKWORTH: Okay, but this is why I put, again, charm — heart. I sometimes call these strength of heart, mind, and will. 

DUBNER: But when you call it heart, that to me, has a totally different connotation from charm, because that sounds a little bit more on the grit end of things. Heart, like I am going to push myself so hard. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s not what I meant. I meant heart as in caring. 

DUBNER: Well, look, I will say this. You’re putting charm at the top of the list or heart or whatever you want to call it. I will say this about you: there is no one more charming in the world than you. 

DUCKWORTH: Thank you so super much. 

DUBNER: You’re welcome. But I will say this also. If you were only 53 percent as charming as you are, I wouldn’t like you any less. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s not true. 

DUBNER: I don’t like you because you’re charming. I like you because you’re interesting. You are a doer. You push to challenge ideas. And that’s not charming. In fact, pushing is often the opposite of charming. When I think of charming, I think of getting along, smiling along, and so on.  

DUCKWORTH: Right, look, there’s lots of research suggesting that people who have interpersonal skills and sensibilities are not always the same people who are really great at thinking and judgment, decision making, etc. And then finally, there is this doing category, like the strengths of will, holding yourself to a high standard. 

I mean, at least we can say this: that anything — being a writer, being a scientist, being a human — it’s complex. And I think just the plurality of these things is maybe the take home lesson, that if you tried to become a great person by only one area of character, to me, it’s a surefire way to not become a great person. 

DUBNER: You know, hearing you say that, I realize that I probably have veered more away from charm and trying to be likable or liked. I grew up in an environment where I was a very obedient kid and very pleasant — 


DUBNER: It was very important to me and to others around me to be, you know, kind, considerate. But, I would say over the last 10, 20 years, I have enjoyed more and tried more to be more thinker and doer than charmer. 

DUCKWORTH: But you can be all of them, right? Can’t you just leave your charm level at whatever it was and then work on these other things? 

DUBNER: Well, I definitely am having a hard time with that. If you asked the people who work with me, they would tell you that I will sometimes say things that don’t feel super charming if I get frustrated, or — 

DUCKWORTH: Right, like when you’re giving negative feedback, you’re like, “This is not good.”

DUBNER: And that’s because I’ve just reached this decision, very gradually, I would say, that I care more about the end result than I care about being liked. I think people like me, on average, maybe a little bit less now than a decade or two ago. But I’m more satisfied by being more of a doer. It’s been a little bit of a tradeoff for me. 

But I so appreciate that you asked this question that made me think about it, because when I say that out loud, it sounds terrible. I’m okay being liked less by people. It sounds like an ogre-ish thing to say. So, maybe I’ll try to bring a little bit of charm back into the salad. 

DUCKWORTH: I really don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, but I think you’re right that, say somebody gives you a piece of work that you have to edit or that you have to air, and it’s just not good enough for you. You can deliver that criticism really directly, unequivocally, and quick. And then you go on to do the next great thing at the expense of this other person’s feelings. 

So, I can see why you can conceive of this as a zero-sum game. But I do look at the people who are really great at what they do. And they often have reached this other level where they can communicate all of the same information in almost as little time — 

DUBNER: Without leaving people feeling like they just had their fingers slammed in a window. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I mean, look, I try to do that. I’m sure I woefully underperform.

DUBNER: I used to be like that. And now I’m more like: did you really think that was good? So, I don’t know. What works for me works for me. What works for you works for you. 

DUCKWORTH: Que sera, sera. 

DUBNER: But I can tell you this. If the people that I worked with could trade me for you on the charm dimension, no contest. They are buying Angie and selling Dubner all the way.  

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio and People I (Mostly) Admire. This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now, here is a fact-check of today’s conversations.

During the conversation about virtue signaling, Angela says that in Ben Franklin’s autobiography, he encouraged his readers to fill a wheelbarrow and walk around the neighborhood to appear to be an industrious person. Her recollection is pretty accurate. In his book, Franklin discusses trying to appear credible as a tradesman while paying off his debt to a printing house. He writes, “I sometimes brought home the paper I purchased at the stores thro’ the streets on a wheelbarrow. Thus being esteemed an industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought.” 

Later on, Angela reads a quote about anonymous good deeds from what she refers to as an Alcoholics Anonymous green card, but admits that she does not actually know what the card does or represents. Angela was reading from a “just for today card” which A.A. members are encouraged to carry for inspiration and strength. In addition to the quote about virtuous deeds, the card also includes several similar phrases including: “just for today, I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires;” “just for today, I will have a quiet half hour all by myself, and relax;” and “just for today, I will be unafraid.” That’s it for the fact-check.

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No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, James Foster, and Corinne Wallace. Thanks also to our intern Emma Tyrell for her help with this episode. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for us, please share it with Also, if you heard Stephen or Angela drop a reference to a person or a study that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we provide links to the major references that you heard here today. Thanks for listening! 

DUCKWORTH: This particular question, I literally think we could talk about forever.

DUBNER: “Literally” forever? 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, God. I’ve been hanging out with my teenage daughters so much. They once said, like, “I literally jumped out of my skin and jumped into it again.” And I was like, “I’m going to kill myself. Literally.”

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