Dave Cortright

Working (15+ years of experience)
76Joined Dec 2018


I am a professional coach, with additional experience in crisis counseling (Crisis Text Line), compassionate listening(7 Cups),  peer mentoring (NAMI), and design consulting. I am passionate about helping others, and by guiding them to find their true calling, I amplify my impact on improving the world.

I have been a serious philanthropist since 2004 and an effective altruist since 2017. I support environmental and animal welfare causes, as well as EA capacity building (through my coaching) and global mental health. I am a member of the International Coaching Foundation (ICF).


Topic Contributions

Nobody says you should like everyone. No one says you should agree with everyone either, even those who are high-profile in the community. 

It sounds to me like this boils down to beware of logical fallacies, especially ad hominem. Don't criticize people; criticize ideas. Here are a couple of tactical things that have helped me:

  • Pretend that a different person (e.g. one for whom you have positive regard) was making the same point.
  • Distill their main points down to neutral tone language (I haven't tried it, but ChatGPT or other LLMs might be a good tool to do this).

Regarding the complaints you listed—wrong focus, sloppy thinking, irritating tone,  mediocre performance—I'm a big fan of leadership by filling the vacuum. If you see something that could be improved and no one else is stepping up,  maybe it's time for you to step up and take a stab at it. It might not be perfect, but it will be better than doing nothing about it.

I very much want this not to be true, but I suspect that if the Time editorial staff has done their due diligence, the odds of that are low. Thus it needs to be said:

Anyone who was publicly proclaiming to care about long-termism but then secretly ignoring the broken step that was SBF—effectively trading ethics and morality for money and power—is not only a hypocrite but has done far more damage to EA than their lifetime contributions could ever offset.

I have argued previously that conflating the actions of a person with the values of a group is a fallacy. However, when a subset of that group—especially ones in leadership roles—conspires to bury unseemly information, it starts to look like the whole group is specious, tainted, and untrustworthy.

I look forward to the independent investigation report. But as resilient as I've been to the SBF implosion thus far, this is making me seriously reconsider how closely I want to associate with EA.

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Betteridge's law of headlines is an adage that states: 

Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist who wrote about it in 2009, although the principle is much older. It is based on the assumption that if the publishers were confident that the answer was yes, they would have presented it as an assertion; by presenting it as a question, they are not accountable for whether it is correct or not. The adage does not apply to questions that are more open-ended than strict yes–no questions.

This is more adjacent than relevant, but the sentiment reminded me of this bit of wisdom…

Don't scar on the first cut

from Rework by Jason Fried

The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. "Someone's wearing shorts!? We need a dress code!" No, you don't. You just need to tell John not to wear shorts again.

Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishments for the misdeeds of an individual.

This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy—one scar—at a time.

So don't scar on the first cut. Don't create a policy because one person did something wrong once. Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again.

FWIW, I've been shopping around a "peer support group" (PSG) program pilot for the past year that I think will address depression, anxiety and lonliness. I've been talking to Roscoe from StrongMinds, who says they are planning a trial of a modified version of their current group interpersonal therapy (IPT-G) intervention. If anyone wants to talk further about this, please DM me. davecort@pm.me

1. Many People Hate Being Criticized

☝️ This is the foundational issue that needs to be addressed. We need to shift the attitude of the entire community to completely decouple criticism of an idea or action from criticism of the person. We must never criticize people. But we can (and as @Ozzie Gooen points out, we must) criticize an idea or action.

This requires a shift on both sides. The criticizer needs to focus on the idea and even go as far as to validate the person for any positive attributes they are bringing to the situation (creativity, courage, grit…). But the person also needs to learn to not take criticism personally.

I'd welcome any thoughts on how we as a community could foster such a change.

Maybe I overcomplexifyed things in my previous response. If they have caused harm, or appear to have, I think the next step is to make that known to them plainly, but in a nonjudgmental way. Then be open and curious to their response. We can't go through all the scenarios here, but if someone is defiant about it, doesn't take ownership, doesn't make amends… then we can exclude them from future participation in the community.

So yes, there is judgment taking place, but it is against the metric of harm and whether they are doing their best to minimize it.

Thanks again for engaging. This is helping me clarify my stance.

I appreciate the thoughtful response, Toby. The problem with judgment in this scenario is that it presumes complete knowledge of all the factors at play in that situation. There are a lot of scenarios that could account for what was seen. Perhaps that person…

  • doesn't know how to swim and doesn't know the pond is shallow and of no risk.
  • once saw their sibling drown when they were a child and is frozen reliving the trauma of that incident.
  • is impaired—sight, hearing, developmentally…—in a way where they cannot fully grasp the nature of the situation.
  • chose to call emergency services because they believed that was the best way they could intervene.
  • knows the boy has a painful and fatal condition and has chosen to end his life rather than continue to suffer.

Ultimately, what happened happened and we cannot change that. The question is, " How will we live together moving forward?" If we suspect someone is not minimizing harm in their actions, I believe we need to have a conversation with them focusing on the harm and suffering caused to us or others: “I" and "they" statements rather than "you."(If we are speaking for others, it's very important that we are truly representing their experience.) Coming at someone from an accusatory, judgmental stance does not set a tone for a constructive, healthy ongoing relationship. In fact, many people will get defensive, dig in and even push back. 

[It's worth noting there is another person in this story: the observer. Are they a trustworthy reporter? Do they have all the facts? Why did they also choose to only observe and not act?]

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