I write this with hope that it helps all of you.
My world changed when I started to read a little bit about human psychology. We are very hardwired to form beliefs and defend those beliefs vigorously. Things like confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance inform my opinion there. We also work subconsciously towards our own expectations, as discovered by Robert Rosenthal in 1968. We also can draw profound power from hope, as told by Richter’s rats. Human psychology appears to be recursive and amplifying — we get better at what we do, form habits, and habits are hard to break.
Now here’s the hope: Your psychology is malleable. I know that because I am, more or less, an average human, and if I am able to do something, chances are good all of us can. I pulled off some major changes in my thinking. What are some bad habits I had?
Overeating. I was 290 pounds at one time, and it was physically painful for me if I did not engage in daily overeating. I forced myself to stop the behavior, and over time that physical pain went away. I’m now about 223 pounds and it’s physically painful when I overeat. The problem wasn’t me, it was the way I thought about eating. By analyzing my daily calorie intake and bringing it below what I needed to sustain my body weight, I was able to reduce my body weight by over 23%. But I had to do that against my brain throwing me headaches and temperature fluctuations to try to keep the high calorie count coming. The subconscious mind tries very hard to assert dominance over the conscious mind when a habit is being undone. Keep this in mind when you’re reading about habits of fear below.
Arachnophobia. I was terrified of spiders, even small ones. Now I capture them so I can use them in TikTok videos about court reporting. A fear I could barely live with has become a joke to me. How did I get there? I changed my thinking about spiders. I studied them. I learned that they do not perceive us in the way we perceive them. Once I understood that spiders could not “understand” me, it was easy to not be afraid anymore. They are comparably dumb and will skitter in whatever direction they think safety is in. Who could be afraid of that? They’re much more likely to feel vibrations from your movement or breath than ever realize you are a living being. For an arachnophobe, there’s no greater release than to realize that if you stay still and calm, the chances of a spider noticing you go down to basically zero. I had to change my thinking to improve my quality of life.
Alcoholism. I could function well enough, but I had trained my body to take on so much alcohol that it would kill Mr. Snuffleupagus. Alcohol was a habit I was able to break by thinking about all the things I would lose if I didn’t get it under control. Life, liberty, and happiness were all on the line, and slowly trading away alcohol so that I could keep those things was an almost spiritual experience for me. The consequences of not working on my habit were too great to ignore.
Anxiety and low self-confidence. Here’s where Robert Rosenthal’s work came in. In order to be a voice for people, I had to expect to be that voice. If we go back to 2020, I trembled at the idea of doing any kind of presentation, content, or public conclusion beyond my very comfortable habit of blogging on Stenonymous. Now I’m accusing corporations that make millions in revenue of fraud on every channel and medium I can. I had to tell myself I could do it before I did it. There were social barriers that made me very afraid to do it. Paralyzed by an endless stream of what ifs, I rarely considered the consequence of not doing what I knew was right.
Once I did what I knew was right, a large contingent of our field came out in support. It turned out that I was not the first one to have a bad experience in court reporting. It turned out I was not alone. So many have now written privately and publicly in support. I learned we had been conditioned for so many years to believe that nothing would ever change that we did not expect it to change, and so we did not fight for positive change. Abuse thrives on silence, and we were a field so resigned to silence that when the Chief Strategy Officer of US Legal, Peter Giammanco, wrote in an email, “does it really matter if it’s legal or ethical…” on NCRA’s listserv, even our own NCRA, this organization that we fund to the tune of millions of dollars a year, was silent. It felt powerless. It felt afraid. It did nothing. If our flagship was afraid to sail, what hope would there be for any one of us? If I had not published those listserv emails, we would still be in the same position, being silently abused and resigned to our fate, overblown shortage claims killing our student pipeline. The habit of doing nothing would kill an entire industry, and to the detriment of our replacements and society as a whole.
Like all my other habits, anxiety was broken by thought. I decided that if NCRA retaliated against me for releasing the emails, the organization would be effectively killing itself. Who is going to support a nonprofit that attacks its own member for exposing corporate misconduct? If US Legal or Giammanco did anything, they’d be calling infinitely more attention to my work. Sure, there are now some people in the field that don’t like me. But they do not like me because I am helping others or because they do not yet understand me. That is a flaw in their thinking, not mine. As I said in a related video, I see two futures. One where I am wholly correct in my assertion that the shortage has been exaggerated and exacerbated by these big companies or one where there really is nothing we can do and shortage will defeat us. All the available data points to the former, and the latter is basically a guarantee that our profession will not exist in ten years. The morons at the top of the USL totem pole made this an easy choice for me. Thanks, Rick.
So much of what we do and who we are is habit. Our minds will seek ways to justify our habits so that we do not suffer from an identity crisis. After all, if one embraces this idea of psychological malleability, does it not open the door to the idea that core beliefs, such as sexual preference or religion, may also be changed without consequence? I bypass this identity crisis by deciding to change what I need to change in order to accomplish my goals, learn more, be a better person, and nothing more. Again, look to Richter’s rats and the power of hope. If you use God to tap into hope, then God makes you powerful. In my case, there is a loyalty to altruism that survived my religious days. I was able to tap into that, see that I could not help anyone in my previous state of being, laden with fear and exhausted from my own bad habits, and began taking actions that would help the largest number of people possible. The idea that I can help people gives me hope. What does hope make me? Now I get to share: Anyone can do this. Anyone can be powerful.
There are still plenty of bad habits I will have to work through. But the main idea is that humans are problem-solving machines, so when we really sit and analyze the root of a problem, we find solutions. Look at me. Problems that I had for 10 or 15 years evaporated largely over the course of six months as if they had never existed because I willed it to be so. Now that I know that such a thing is possible, how could I not share it with the world? How could I leave my fellow court reporters in fear? I’m not the only one to come to such a realization. Steno Imperium just released an article about fear. Max Curry’s 2020 presentation at Stenopalooza was all about letting go of fear. We know we are afraid.
The message has not reached everyone in the industry yet. Love and support each other to the extent practicable to overcome this fear. Support systems generate hope, and hope is a huge booster to survival. For those who insist on living in fear or perpetuating it, such as Stenograph’s Anir Dutta, so convinced that we are his Kodak that he’d kill Stenograph to support his habit of fear, we have only one message: Step back, reassess, and see that what we are saying has a far stronger basis in reality than your fear. I promise to do the same always. Together, we will get the industry wherever it’s going.
Alternatively, proponents of fear can stand in my way. But just remember that there are enough court reporters in the business to give NCRA something like $3 million a year. Standing against them means running the risk they’ll start funding me and then I’ll have to kick ass all day every day instead of just doing so when my full-time job permits. I’ve already got a proven track record of defending them with the donations that have come through and my own cash. “Here’s a guy so committed he put a thousand dollars of his own money down just to help stenographers find their voice.” It’s going to be an easy choice for them. The only way to stop that kind of outcome is to accept that stenography is here to stay and get serious about funding it and recruiting for it instead of cuddling up with the disgraceful and opportunistic digital reporting propaganda outfit, STTI.
We know that speech recognition is not as good as claimed. 25 to 80% accuracy depending on who’s speaking. We’ve also got information that says 40% of AI startups show no AI in their products and tech startups that say they are AI can expect 50% more funding. This isn’t the future, this is an ill-advised attempted to garner funding for something that has over an 80% chance of failure.
Stenograph is now trying to sell garbage to a customer base that is increasingly aware of that fact and there’s a guy on the playing field with a moral conviction to explain it to them in simple terms. Stenograph is relying on a retirement cliff that has been fraudulently exaggerated by STTI, US Legal, Veritext, and possibly others. The perpetrators of the fraud don’t actually care if Stenograph fails. They’d use it to bolster the fraud — “oh look, the leading manufacturer went under.” Not a desirable position for the company, but also not one that I put it in. So when the cards fall in exactly the way I am predicting, it’s not my problem. And if I’m wrong? Even better.
Think about it. Stenograph’s in the same boat I was. Lots of habits and a choice to make.