Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"I wonder as I wander"
sounds like a melancholy sound
a mourning and a longing
"banishing the thoughts of day."
Thoughts of previous poets surround me
seclude me
surround me
evade me
"There is no peace for the wicked."

(The Greeks and Romans knew of this—
even their deities could not stop fighting.)

I fear it's my fault--
I chose to study the words of
"the grand old poets
whose distant footsteps echo
down the corridors of time"

Those bards sublime
wrote songs of praise.
The word-smithies in their
dark and Sun-starved dens,
closed from the
world of everyday men.

Their sounds and their songs
once I held to my heart,
repeating the phrases,
self-enchanting with metres
and achieving life's bliss with a word.
Or a phrase of words
In beautiful harmony
"Like the song of a lark"
Or the "rushing of a mighty wind."

Whatever those sounds may be.
The words are now fake to me
bloated with pretense,
smitten with pride;
Not things I want in my sight.

Who speaks my fancy now?
What will thrill my heart until I
can hardly stand it?

"Come, read to me some poem,
some simple, heartfelt lay
to soothe this restless feeling
and banish the thoughts of day"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Expectations

Expectations. They can be motivating high-jump bars, poles to estrange a relationship, or bats that we beat ourselves up with.

They can motivate the person you expect things from to achieve more. It can be equivalent to believing in them, seeing their potential, and not letting them get away with things.

Ethel Catherwood of Canada, winner of a gold medal in the women's high jump event at the VIIIth Summer Olympic Games / d'or au saut en hauteur femmes, lors des VIIIe Jeux Olympiques d'été

Expectations can also be harmful. When you expect unrealistic things of people, you set them up to fail. When you don't share your expectations with someone, but expect him or her to do it anyway, you are lighting the torch that will set your relationship aflame.

Your own unrealized expectations can contribute to feelings of worthlessness.

Expectations (ones you know and lurking ones you didn't know you had) can make you feel disappointment.

I think the expectations we don't realize we have are the sneakiest and hardest to combat. All throughout high school I expected myself to ace every test, nail every exam. There was anxiety and sleepless nights before the test, tenseness during the test, sometimes dread waiting for the grade, and either disappointment in myself or a sigh of relief when they were graded and handed back. In that way, expectation plagued me—I didn't usually celebrate my grades, but I feared not making them.

The Expectation Monster bit the hardest when I crossed the stage at the senior award ceremony. I had received several awards—including the science award—but as I sat there I tasted bitter disappointment. I had gotten exactly what I hoped for (the expectations I knew about)—these awards evidenced that. But I still felt disappointment. I expected it to feel more victorious, more exciting. But the papers clutched in my hand didn't really mean that much to me, in the long run, and I wondered what it was that I had really wanted all those years...

I crossed the stage, 4th person in my high school because of my GPA. I thought back over the last four years. Was it worth it? I wasn't sure. And I still felt that this was somehow empty, that I had sacrificed too much along the way to my expectations, only to feel that my expectations of the returns of those sacrifices weren't what I had hoped.

Thinking back on that now helps me feel motivated to search out the expectations I have for myself and for people around me. Then I can consciously decide if they are good to keep (such as expecting the person standing next to me on the bus to try to not fall on me), or if life would be better without them (such as expecting my husband to do the dishes the way I was taught how to do them).

Discovering your hidden expectations and weighing their effect can help you be happier—either because you decide to let them go or because you know what it is you're striving for.

But on the other hand, the high expectations others had of me helped me see what I could do, or at least have the courage to try to achieve things that required a lot of effort, willpower, and belief in myself—belief that I sometimes needed to borrow from others (my parents, my teachers, and sometimes my peer group) as I tried to measure up.

high expectations

One short example of that was when my friends thought I would do well as a representative of the 7th (or 8th?) grade class in student government. I wouldn't have put myself out there to run if it hadn't been for their encouraging words, and I applied myself to the responsibilities involved because I knew they had faith in me to do a good job and bring up the important issues. And I enjoyed the great opportunity in the student government because of other people's expectations of me.

Have you had someone who helped you achieve more because he or she had high expectations of you?

What are some expectations you have of other people that you haven't told them?

Have you found out that you had hidden expectations that sabotaged your happiness, either in a friendship or with life in general?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Hiding

Why do we hide?

I remember in school trying to sink down in my chair when I didn't know the answer to a question.

Making eye contact—if people can see you and you can see them, hiding is hard. When you don't want to be discovered, you try to make it so the other person can't see your eyes, the connectors, the acknowledgement that you know they can see you. That you accept that they—those eyes—can see you. You put your head down, hide your head (is there a name for this scientifically or in the world of sociology or psychology?).

We hide our faces to keep from showing what we think are imperfections—surface ones and ones beneath the skin.

During the underground railroad, and the hunting of people in Nazi Germany, they hid for safety.


you feel intimidated or unimportant
you don't want to disabuse people of misconceptions
you're playing (it's fun to be found)
you don't want people to see your weaknesses
you don't want people to remember you in your worst state.

In the scriptures, sometimes the wicked would wish that the mountains came down and covered them rather than meet the Savior, the Savior they didn't accept when they most needed to.

Because we're not sure who we are, and our courage wanes: Sound the Bugle (Bryan Adams)

To protect ourselves; To not hurt others
To escape from (or retreat to) the past.

Do we hide because we're dying to be found?

Afraid of what being found would mean?

How about you? What are some reasons you can think of for hiding?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Like My Neighbors I Am

our world...
quiet places, undisturbed stillness
working in my element
I improve my corner of the world,
making it liveable for others

By Pudelek (Marcin Szala) (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I weave invisible walls to protect me and mine.

I like to curl up in a nest that I've made.

I like the night hours because things are still and less busy and noisy.

I don't like to be disturbed in my home.

So like my neighbors.

They close doors behind them to shut others out.

They protect their children with walls—seen and unseen.

They block the world out with ear buds, trying to make a corner their own.

They scurry to their jobs, working to make the world a better place for others.

We like dark, quiet, undisturbed boxes.

We spend long periods of time waiting for something to come along.

We avoid sunlight, and awake from our droning stupor in the early morning and evening hours.

In moments when people scare me, in my fear I might seem unattractive, even vicious.

But I am so like them—Why be afraid?

Because they don't see how alike we are. 

My neighbors—so similar to myself—try to kill me. 

So I hide.

—Hairy Wolf Spider
By Thomas Shahan from USA (Eye Arrangement of a Hogna Wolf Spider) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Preparation

I got interviewed for a radio bit a few months ago. It was really cool—I got to go into the studio, wear the cool headphones, talk into a huge fluffy-looking microphone. I went without too much preparation. The interview was only a few minutes long, and it was about an article I had written, and about people I had interviewed. I thought it wouldn't be too hard.

I was in for some discomfort. My interviewer asked me (before the interview) what I wanted to talk about. I didn't know exactly. The things he wanted to hear about (what it's like teaching abroad, history of Kazakhstan, or more about what it's like to live abroad) I didn't necessarily know much about. I was stuck giving some generalizations and shortened versions of stories I remember them telling me. I left feeling like I didn't convey much when it could have been a fun interview.

Preparation would have made that encounter much less painful. It's not fun to be unprepared. Let's not even talk about how lame it is to sound dumb as soon as sounds come out of your mouth. And to appear like you're not really conveying what you want to. Yup, preparation would have made that go better.

Preparation is running things through beforehand. Figuring out what your purpose is. Planning out what you will say. I learned (again) that I'm not good at doing that on the fly. I needed more preparation before I slipped in front of the microphone.

Doctrine & Covenants 36:30 "but if ye are prepared ye shall not fear."

But preparation can take many forms. Preparing for an exam could mean hours of sitting with a textbook and notes spread out in front of you. Or it could mean talking with classmates about the course material. Preparing for giving a speech in front of a crowd could mean some time giving your speech to a mirror. Preparing for an interview could mean running through potential questions or getting more familiar with the background of the topic you're going to focus on.

That's where I messed up—I didn't anticipate being asked questions about current events in Kazakhstan, or the pros and cons of different teaching methods, though those were both loosely related to the topic at hand. I wasn't prepared to give my opinion on the feature story I wrote—I was only ready to give a report on it.

So while I did prepare, I didn't prepare correctly for the ordeal (yes, I would consider it an ordeal) ahead of me. It stands to reason that different kinds of performance demand different kinds of preparation—but sometimes we just can't know what kind of preparation is required until we've performed that particular kind of task before. That's a good reason to try new things and at least get your feet wet in several different activities—you'll have a better idea of what kind of preparation you need before doing that again.

But my lack of preparation, in this case, was more than an instance of the wrong preparation. It was also a lack of confidence. And forgiveness.

Sometimes you can't prepare for all the possibilities. In that case, building your courage and stepping forward might be the best kind of preparation you can do. Learning to go with things as they come is another kind of preparation. And not beating yourself up about what happens, the mistakes you WILL make. The scripture doesn't say "If ye are prepared ye shall not mess up"; it says "ye shall not FEAR." And one thing I fear is the bite of self-criticism that comes after not living up to my endlessly high expectations (like doing an excellent job on my first-ever radio interview). How easy that should be to overcome (it is, after all, my thoughts)—yet how intrenched it is. In that case, I think a great preparation for future performance is to forgive yourself for mistakes or "failures" in past performances. Resolve to be kind to yourself after doing something new, or something you know is hard for you. Then you will be prepared, and not give yourself more need to fear.

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Education

The following is a bit of a development of my response to a blog post. (Oh, man, I can't remember who wrote it or where it was...). [In searching for the article I responded to, I came across this blog post, which, although it may have ulterior motives, shares some of the same feelings I had at high school graduation.]

I remember graduating from high school, looking at my GPA and thinking "Was this really worth all the tears, and not hanging out with friends in order to stay on top of the honors classes?" And I don't have clear-cut answers.

I might write a blog post about this, but it seems like it's a balance between learning conventionally and not fettering yourself with convention. It's learning how to be self-directed in your discovery, but also not taking so few structured classes that you can't function in the world.

One way I keep running into this wall is that I want to graduate, but I want to take classes that are interesting to me—that I love, have a passion for. And the university keeps trying to guilt me into leaving. They say I should power through the required classes and get out of here—that my spot is taking the spot of someone else who would love to be here.

And that's true. But if we all sacrifice the education we want (with the extra, non-required classes) to move so someone else can have the spot, does anyone really get a full education?

Similarly from outside sources—the champions are the people who take 20 credits a semester and don't have a life outside of schoolwork. I hear people say "now, that person really values education." But do they? Is it ok for me to have a different idea about what education means? Does it matter that other people don't recognize what I've learned as valuable? I don't think it should. But that's harder to put into practice than it is to decide.

What about different learning styles?

On Gratification

instant gratification
letting yourself enjoy something
accepting gifts or help, or blessings from Heavenly Father
denying yourself pleasure, relief from pain, or something else arbitrarily.

Gratification has a bad connotation. How about enjoying? Relaxing? We accept those more, but do we really accept that it's okay to relax?

I certainly don't think that this applies to everything, but I have seen that some people just can't relax. They may believe that it's good to relax, but they just can't do it. For me, t seems that there's always something productive that we could be doing instead. But what does that even mean? Do I want to produce so much that I am squeezed dry? Or that i can't take in  a moment or relax and enjoy watching people for an evening? Productivity and the obsession with it is going to kill my sense of softness for the world, and my sense of wonder and joy—enjoy. With joy?

....any relation to gratitude? I think so...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Recent Brutal Event in the United Kingdom

I heard about the terrible actions of two men who attacked another man on the street, hacking at him with butcher knives...I heard the attackers said this was to show what happens in their country every day.

I say "I heard" for both of these because I don't want to look it up. I know there is footage of the attack, and I don't want to see it. My imagination is giving me enough pain as it is. Even with just knowing basic facts, I am left wondering why. Why in the world would those two men do this, choose to attack a random man on the street in such a brutal way? Why are they so callous? How did they get to that point of callousness and anti-empathy? I want to understand why someone would do this, in large measure because I don't want it to happen again.

While I think full responsibility for this action falls on the two perpetrators (acknowledging that I don't have the facts, so I can't really know that), there might be some conditions that led to them taking such a violent course of action, and that is something we can change.

My initial reaction to the attacker's "message" (that this happens in his country every day) was to make me want to not talk about the event, because that would give more attention to the deed and perhaps in some ways justify the act. That was my initial reaction, but I think there is more we can learn here by looking at what happened critically, and not taking this man's word at face value. There is SO much more that could be going on here.

Examining their supposed cause for a moment: why would they, of all things, choose to attack a man in the UK to show that their country was violent? They might have felt that this would grab the attention of the world (in that they would probably be right). But why would they want the attention of the world? Maybe they thought it would get them help faster. I don't think they thought that one through, because people hearing about this will think of their own fixes for this problem, and an unorganized and from-all-sides approach will probably be more chaotic than helpful.

A pause for a moment. I wonder if their perception of the violence in their country is skewed. It is possible that they had an inaccurate view of how things have happened in their country. And I wonder why they thought such violence would help their country be less violent.

Their words seem to bring with them an accusation: something saying "You haven't been paying attention. There is violence in ____, and YOU are the one that needs to fix it." Who knows, maybe there is some justification to thinking the world should be concerned with the violence going on in other nations. But why did they think the UK (or the world at large) should specifically do something about it?

Their words also seem to demand an immediate response, a quick fix. Interesting that they want to fix violence with an equally violent call to arms (if you can call what they did that...which I really don't think we can), yet they seem to be asking for peace, and peace doesn't happen overnight. True peace in a community has to start deep down, and get hold of the hearts of the people. Peace is built on trust, respect, and caring about the people around you.

I don't know how to process what they did, and I certainly don't think I'll understand them quickly. I just hope we can be the kind of world where if people ask for help in less sensational ways, we'll help them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Do We Want to Die Like Dogs?

I read this blog post today, and quite frankly it troubled me.


It says that a lady had to go all the way to Switzerland to have the kind of death she wanted—an assisted suicide. And the author felt that that was unfair because the lady couldn't die with her family and friends around her—something, the author argues, even a dog is entitled to.

But my question is—why did that lady feel that it was time to die? Are we really so convinced that once we are "drooling and in diapers" that we are useless? That is troubling to me.

Do we value human life so little as to say that once we no longer work as a polished cog in the system that we no longer deserve to live? Is our value defined in our usefulness? And is usefulness defined only as being able to function independently of each other?

I was talking with a friend the other day whose 90-something father is living with him and his family. He said that it has been a great thing for their home to have his father there. He implied that it can be a lot of work to care for him in his declining years, but he said the sweetness of having him there far outweighs the inconveniences his presence brings. This makes me wonder how much the cry for dignity in death is really a cry to not be bothered by caring for the aging. And that's not meant as an accusation—I'm really trying to work this out. Someone can live with dignity even if they are regressing in some abilities. You can treat people with dignity and respect them even as you're changing their diapers—it just comes down to continuing to value them and their presence. Treating someone with dignity and valuing their life will lead to dignity in death, when that comes. And that demands that we define human value apart from productivity, ability to work, coherence, and measurable contributions. Even if someone is unable to take care of himself or herself, that persons still matters, and the service those around him or her are able to render will help them feel more love and positivity in their lives, even with, or perhaps because of, the difficulty it brings.

Are we losing the chance to connect with people by serving them if we make them feel that their "usefulness" ends when their ability to make it to the toilet in time terminates? Or when their ability to recognize family members fades? Or when their mental acuity with business regresses to the math ability of a 6-year-old? Or when pain makes them about ready to pass out?

But wait, that wasn't the question. The question was if it's ok to help someone die quickly and painlessly if they ask for it, and so far I have been making some of my observations from the perspective and feelings of a relative or friend of an ailing person. That may seem skewed because the discussion of euthanasia nearly always assumes that deciding to euthanize someone that doesn't want to die is equivalent to murder. But hear me out. If all of my family members don't want to be around me and treat me as if I'm a waste of space, I am much more likely to feel a great lack of purpose in my life. And similarly, if my friend feels that her grandpa is useless and shouldn't be here because he drools and is only coherent a fourth of the time, she will most likely feel that way about herself—that her value lies in being coherent and able to keep her saliva in her mouth. Our attitudes about the usefulness and value of those around us do matter. And giving the option to kill yourself as a means to escape embarrassment, pain, or big life changes (such as getting older), seems to encourage people to evaluate themselves on productivity and not as much on true value.

This brings me to a personal example, one I'm still trying to work out. After my grandma died, my grandpa rapidly started having one medical problem after another. One particular month, he went from being able to walk and converse with people to losing the ability to walk and only being able to get a few articles of sense from his mouth at a time. It was obviously very frustrating to him, and it hurt us to see him struggling so much with not feeling right. At one point my dad told him I was going to come and see him, and he said he didn't want me to see him in this state. I didn't know that until I was already on the way, so I went ahead and saw him. It was hard to see him like that, but I also reassured him that he was still important to me and I still loved him—I knew that his mind wasn't truly reflected in what he said. He cried when he heard my voice (he was having a hard time opening his eyes that day), and grabbed my hand and we talked. He told me stories from when he was a kid, and seemed to enjoy it.

But still I wonder—Should I have respected his wishes for me not to see him? It was clear to us (family) even when it wasn't to him that he wasn't likely to get better, so not seeing him would mean not seeing him for the rest of his life. And he said that he didn't want me to see him like that when he was having a hard time communicating, so was that really what he meant to say? Was what I was able to tell him able to outweigh his embarrassment at his granddaughter seeing him in such a strange mental state? On a related note, should an ailing person's desire to die be honored, or should we consider it a passing thing, or a result of self-consciousness or shame at regressing to dependency again?

At low points in recovery stories, some people say that they just wanted to die. If they had been vocal about that at the time, would they have made it to recovery?

After reading arguments on some sides of this issue (there seem to be many, and none of them strictly simple), I've come up with some thoughts.

Humanists say that a speedy and painless death is more humane than a prolonged and painful one. In this publication, it says that a speedy release from pain and emotional suffering of those related to the person being euthanized is more merciful and outweighs the emotional pain inflicted on those suffering a loss of a loved one from suicide.

Is avoidance pain the object of life (or death)? is a course of action justified based solely on the fact that it causes less pain or curtails the amount of pain suffered?

Another argument is that if the person is terminally ill and really wants to die, euthanasia is a good solution: it's a painless and quick alternative to treatments that could prolong the pain. But it seems that that argument alone ignores the fact that this alternative is rather permanent—you can't un-kill a person, at least not medically. And once someone's been euthanized, their life is over, and they won't be there anymore—the pain is gone, but so is the person. Do we fear pain so much that we choose death over it? I don't want to minimize the suffering some people go through—but I do want to point out that avoiding pain can't really be the purpose of life (sorry, hedonists).

It comes down to why you believe we're on earth, and what life is for. But there still seems to be a wide range of possible interpretations. . . . Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dove Video Conversation

Something interesting happened today (as it does sometimes).

Yesternight I was browsing Facebook and came across this video. I actually thought it was going to be about the unreliability of face sketches for actually identifying criminals or finding lost people. It wasn't. Anyway, I was intrigued, so I watched it. 

I thought it was good. It was far from being wholly scientific (the artist could have tried to make the sketches of the women describing themselves less attractive than the sketches done from people describing someone else), but I didn't worry too much about that—this wasn't posing as a research experiment—it was obviously trying to be sentimental, not scientific. I wasn't sure how to take the presence of the man as the "interpreter" of the descriptions. I'm not sure why that would matter, but that was an initial reaction I had. I also had some reservations because it was produced by a corporation, and they must have ulterior motives, and I couldn't see what they were getting at, besides having a message about beauty...which is related, but seems to be more of a public relations move. I liked the message in it that we can be our worst critics at times.  

After quickly considering my response to the video, I decided it was positive enough to pass the message along. I reposted it without voicing my reservations about its origins or the subjectivity of the "experiment" and the portrayal of its results.

Later I was browsing Facebook (again) and came across a post that linked to a blog post talking about how the video above made them a little angry. Reflecting on my own reservations about the video, I clicked on the link. 

After figuring out that you have to hover your cursor over the words to make them not light grey and therefore readable, I read it. And I found that this person's argument against the videos was interesting. But I disagree on several points. I'll detail my differences below. 

But first, I should say that I'm glad that this person spoke up and voiced concern about the message of the video. That is, after all, what gave me the idea to voice mine in this post. 

Now for some things that didn't quite sit right with me. This will be in more thought clusters than an actual polished argument because I want to get this out and hear what people have to say rather than polish it until it's perfect but no longer being talked about.

This blog post imposes a lot of messages on the Dove video—that it's telling the audience what beauty is, enforcing the stereotypes, etc. 

My response: It's a short video, and I think the most salient message is that women are hard on themselves, too quick to see and amplify what they see as the negatives about themselves. And trying to convey too many messages may make it hard to effectively communicate any of them. Instead of being mad they didn't get all the messages exactly right, I think it would be good to congratulate them on the ones they did get right, and then encourage them to continue working to get down to encouraging women to be happy with who they are, and try to be their best selves. 

On a related note, the blog post says that this reinforces and doesn't challenge the culturally acceptable forms of beauty—the blonde hair, blue-eyed motif. 

My response: What if this is not supposed to be just a message about the literal? What I saw when I watched it was women who described themselves negatively and then came away seeing that they were overly harsh on themselves. 

The message about beauty was taken very literally. The blog post concluded that the focus on outward beauty was an indication that Dove advocates beauty as the number one quality for women. 

My response: Even though the message seemed to be mostly about physical beauty, a woman they spent a long time on was the one who said that one sketch looked "closed off" while the other looked "open and friendly." While they were based on pictures, are those strictly physical features?

The video did focus on physical beauty, but look at the origin of the message. Dove is a company that sells beauty products—it's in their interest to promote physical beauty. I think we could take more positive things from messages like these if we took corporations as participants in the conversation, rather than the sole disseminator of messages. Then we would be free to converse with them about it, including creating our own videos or media to respond, rather than trying to convince them to portray what we want them to. (I do think corporations need to be responsible in the messages they convey, but in this case I don't think they meant to be racist or say that beauty was the only good thing about a woman). And it started a discussion, right? It helped at least a few of us give ourselves some credit—It helped lift the burden, helping at least some women (I know of a few who reposted or liked the video) be less critical of themselves...and all with such a short video length. I think that's great. 

This video could be watched to mean something more significant than just a messages about physical appearance—physical appearance could be the vehicle for conveying a deeper message about how we view ourselves. It's easier to convey a message using physical representations for unphysical realities: a cave for our psyche, a tree for a family, beauty for our intellectual or emotional self. We could see the outcome of this sketching exercise as an encouragement to treat ourselves more kindly and focus more on the things about ourselves that make us happy, rather than seeing the negative so much that it skews our perception of the great people we are. 

It might be the analytical part of me, and I realize that this is subjective, but I wanted to respond to that blog post and point out some additional possibilities. I like when things raise discussion, and I think this—how women perceive themselves and the issue of media messages—are worthy topics to discuss.

Speaking of which, there are a couple things I want hear your opinion on. What do you think of them having a man interpret the descriptions the women gave? Do you think it would have been different if it had been a woman drawing?

Did anything about this video strike you as off? What did you like about the video?

What about this speaks to people? Why has it gone viral (over 4 million views in 3 days)?

Do you find it patronizing? Encouraging?

Do you think it's sending intentional subliminal messages?

That is, what do you say in this conversation?

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on Constancy

These are, as the title suggests, more thoughts on constancy.

So what? Why does it matter that in order to change we need constancy?

Well, it doesn’t really matter unless we want change.

Change in ourselves
Change in the world
Change in those around us.

Used under CC license. Photo By tonynetone.
G.K. Chesterton has some words on constancy.
"Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, that high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own point of view) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favourite colour every day, he would get on slowly. But if he altered his favourite colour every day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red or yellow, his work would be thrown away: there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner." (in Orthodoxy).

A dog that doesn’t know how you will act will nearly always act violently—either out of fear or out of an attempt to impose order.

When you act the same way around a dog for an extended period of time, it becomes your friend. If you do specific things often enough and follow it up with reinforcement, we call that training a dog. And that constancy allows for progression, for growth, both of the relationship between trainer and dog and in the dog's and trainer's personal understanding, patience, and success. 


Repetition. Repetition can be boring. It's fun to try different things. Why don't we do that—try a bunch of different things all the time?

I had a professor who said that people who always say "Been there, done that," the ones don't want to repeat what they've already done, will not get far in life. That seems counterintuitive at first blush, but it does make sense. If you never do the same thing twice, you won’t be good at anything. How many times did you have to play the piano before you could play even one song decently?

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by amoraleda
"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always be what you've always been."

So what about that? Constancy, in the sense of always doing the same thing, yields stagnation in this quote. We need to establish what we're being constant in. Or to. If you're being constant in coming home and kicking off your shoes and parking your posterior on the couch in front of the TV, and constantly remain there for the next 7 hours, it's likely what will change about you is that your mind will fall passive and your girth will grow larger. What do you have to be constant to in order for it to cause (ironically) change, change you want?

Coming back to Chesterton, we need to be constant to an idea, to knowledge, to a code. The man who wanted to paint the earth blue was constant to that idea, but not in his individual actions. One day he would paint grass, the other lions, the next sidewalks, until the whole earth was blue. He was constant in working toward a goal.
Like Ellis said in her comment on the last post, love is worth being constant in. Why do people yearn to have these simple words repeated to them: “I love you.”? That's a kind of constancy and repetition that can encourage growth in a relationship if other things are also constant—kindness, respect, interest, common goals. 

Wouldn’t the repetition be bothersome? Especially if it’s always the same person that says it? It seems like the things that are most worth being constant in are the things that are most important. We need to be reminded of our core, the reason we're living and doing day to day.

Yet it’s not often overdone or annoying; instead it’s reassuring. Call it constancy. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Self-made Man

I came across this picture on Skoticus's blog the other day. It's entitled "Self-made man." 
It made me think. Is it really possible to be a self-made man (or woman)?

I realize it's not usually meant to mean that the person literally did it all alone—no one is that self-absorbed—but it does seem to be disingenuous to have so much focus on the person being made. There are a lot of forces at work there, after all.

How would the sculpture get started if it didn't at least have a chisel and hammer lain by it?
How would the entrepreneur be successful at selling his idea if people didn't buy it? If there was nothing to sell?

There can be no leaders in a vacuum—by definition, leaders lead people.  And those people are free to do as they will...and choose to give their attention or money—to give power—to their leader (whether a business leader, governmental leader, or leader in other contexts). Leaders are nothing without those they lead.

On the other hand, "self-made" people get places either because they preservere and knuckle down and do hard things and hope for a better future.

So what proportion is it from self-made to others-made?

Whatever the answer, I think it's great when people recognize their strengths and are grateful for them, and when they recognize that they've been helped along the way by other people.

A one-man circus is a lonely thing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Letter is Dead?

I posted this short essay exploring the ramifications of the death of letter writing on communication. It's on my other blog because it seemed to fit better with the theme of that blog (Digital Discussions). Check it out!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Geology Generating Power Guilt

Okay, I know the 'g's in the title of the post don't actually form an alliteration. But they create a nice visual alliteration, so it's still kind of cool. And relevant to what I'm going to write about.

I'm in a geology class, a general class at a large university. We've learned about how different rocks are formed and such, and it's been really cool. But I realized that lately I've been walking out of class feeling guilty. That made me stop and try to figure out why. And I realized—it's because we've moved from talking about how things happen in the Earth to how we humans use those resources...or exploit them, or whatever.

It got kind of heated (energetic?) in my class when we talked about energy—wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, nuclear power, and  fossil fuels. There's really no way to discuss the impact these things have on the environment and not feel at least a little guilty or defensive, and at a loss about what to do. All of those sources have negative things about them; None are completely "clean."

My professor said, "When you use a natural resource, you have to pay the price." What price? Mining coal: underground fires, blacklung. Wind: dead birds, ugly, noisy. Nuclear: radioactive waste. Oil: emission of greenhouse gasses. .

Don't mention the word "extinct" or "damaged ecosystems": those will get some people going for a really long time.

So we should all feel really guilty about hurting this delicate planet and we should go back to only using the things we can get for ourselves out in the forest. Right? Pause that discussion while we look at the lessons before and after the natural resources lecture.

Lecture: Natural disasters.
Here are some things jotted down in my notes.

Talking about groundwater
Landslides: Huascarán Peru. Covered nearly the whole town—only the buildings on high ground remain.

During section on hydrologic cycle
Hurricanes: Galveston, 1900. The water rose 18 feet. Killed 6,000 people. Pretty much leveled the whole place.

Unit on igneous rock formation
Volcanoes: Mt St Helens, Toba super eruption induced 10 year volcanic winter (ash in the sky covered the surface of the Earth from the Sun enough to make it seem like winter).

And these even sometimes trigger one of the other ones: earthquakes can set off volcanoes and cause fires; hurricanes naturally cause flooding; flooding can saturate the ground and cause landslides.

Nature is teaming up on itself. Can we still pity it? Do we need to mitigate the damage nature does to itself? (Assuming that we even can do something—there's very little we can do sometimes). But nature is still here, even after all the explosions and ice crashing through its landscapes. Some of these ecosystems were permanently changed. And many individual life forms died.

So where does our concern with offsetting the "delicate balance" come from? If nature does terrible things to itself, why are we concerned with what we do? I thought of a few possibilities.

–We are afraid of being responsible for something. We hate the feeling of looking at destruction and feeling in our gut "I caused this." We want to fix it. Or take it all back. Or we want to deflect blame: some people would prefer to tell people what they're doing wrong, and then when bad things happen, they can say "I told you so."

–We see that things are good only if they stay the same, if they don't change too drastically. We see the death of certain animals in a certain area bad. Even though thousands of species died off when a cloud covered the Earth for many years. Could it be that our preoccupation with keeping things the way they are actually hurts species in the long run?

–We are individualistic, and that may make us short-sighted. We value each human life, so natural disasters are awful for us because they kill a lot of individuals. Yet in nature, while balance is usually the goal, it usually doesn't happen perfectly all the time. And things keep moving forward after mass wasting events occur: animals continue to eat, live, have offspring. So what's the long-term? We measure differently than nature...but does nature even measure?

–I think this one is interesting—we recognize responsibility. We see that we can do better, and that the things we do have consequences not only for ourselves but for the places in which we live.

It is awful that we're not doing better at making our energy consumption cleaner and less pollutive than it is.

So what's the deal here?  Nature is able to get through the natural disasters, and is pretty resilient. How is it different when we do things that change how things work?

Well, we don't really know what we're doing, and we can't control or foresee the effects of our actions. We get emotionally involved. We want to live without having an impact on the ecosystems around us.

I don't know if those things are bad or what we need to do, but I think it's interesting all the guilting involved. There are some things we can change, but some things aren't completely up to us...so we maybe need to look at what we can do. And stop making Geol 101 students feel terrible about turning on a light.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Creating Our Own Cages?

I’m writing a feature article right now. Well, maybe not right now. I’m actually taking a break to write something related, but not the actual article. I don’t think what I have to write fits in the realm of the magazine I’m writing for (it’s too cynical-sounding. I think), so I’ll write what I think here.

Algorithms: we’re trapped in them. Google’s algorithm gives you results based on what results you’ve liked in the past, what sites you regularly visit… It’s great because it helps filter the results for the stuff that’s most likely to interest you.

Go figure. No need to get out of your comfort zone. This phenomenon of being given what you want, what you expect, what agrees with you, has been called something—the
echo chamber. I would also like to call it our self-induced and regulated cage. I, for example, was stuck using just a handful of websites all the time—Facebook, Gmail, and Google if I ever needed to search for something. I restricted what I saw to what I already had discovered. Yep, we keep ourselves from the world by caging ourselves in with seeking people and facts that match up with what we already know. 

How are we supposed to learn more about the world if we only look for what we already know? If we don’t go out of our way to search for people who disagree with us? Sure, we have the Internet with all of its resources; they help us find out all sorts of ways to support what we know. But do we know how to use those resources to cause dissonance? With so many groups and people we can find that are like us, will we even think to look for ways to expand our minds by talking with people with different worldviews?

I think a great way to challenge those worldviews we’ve never really second-guessed is to travel. Yes, travel. See the world! Better yet—see the people of the world! Not just through the Internet—actually going somewhere you haven’t been and being surrounded by people who were raised differently from you, who might even speak a different language . . . it’s then that you can really see how many ways there are to look at the world, and maybe to examine your beliefs. It's then that you can appreciate some of your beliefs even more, and adjust the ones that weren’t completely founded. But even travelling places doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to truly expose yourself to how other people think. No, for that you need to actually talk to people.

I was talking with two of my friends, Scott and Kirsten, about their most recent undertaking—teaching middle and high school students in Kazakhstan. Yes, you read that right, Kazakhstan. Kind of random? Ya. Great opportunity? They definitely say so. One thing that really struck me when I was talking to them was the things they really missed, such as being able to talk with people. The official language in Kazakhstan is Kazakh, but most things are also in Russian. Kirsten said that it’s sad the loss of connection you have when you don’t have the ability to ask someone in the store to help you identify which carton says “milk” or to compliment someone at the store on her cute outfit. She realizes how much she wants to connect with the people around her, now that she’s not as freely able to do so. Yet she wrote on her blog that she sees so many similarities between her Provo students and her Kazakh students...people are people wherever you go. 

Another thing Scott and Kirsten mentioned was that since there are few people who speak English, their pool for friends is much smaller than it was in their former home of Provo. As a result, they are friends with people in Kazakhstan they wouldn't normally be friends with. What they have in common with these new people is language, but they aren't necessarily alike in other ways—such as nation of birth, and how they see the world and approach problems . . . 

There’s a lot that they said that made me think, but I should really get back to writing the actual article now . . . I’ve taken a long enough break.

What are other ways we can “randomize” our connections with others, and our self-directed learning online? I think figuring that out is important in approaching life-long learning, as well as truly learning right now. 

And what better way to get out of cage than break out via plane? Sounds pretty spectacular to me. :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Constancy

So I was reading a book, and came across this:

“And whatever each man believed in he hammered at steadily, without skepticism: and there was a time when the Established Church might have fallen, and the House of Lords nearly fell. It was because Radicals were wise enough to be constant and consistent; it was because Radicals were wise enough to be Conservative.” —G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Conservative. Conservative radicals. Radical conservatives. Radical.

How interesting—their radicalism changed the world because their radicalism did not change. What an intriguing idea—only constancy can bring about change.

William Wilberforce knew it; he worked tirelessly for over a decade to bring about a stop to the slave trade. He tried different tactics to do it, but the main driving force, what gave him power, and the end goal was always the same: end the suffering of those involved in the slave trade. Period.

“But,” one (minorly annoying) critic may say, “Wilberforce changed his approach a million times!” (at this natural break I would point out that this minorly annoying critic was exaggerating. Ignoring me, the critic would continue) “How can you call that constant?”

To that I say this: he never changed his purpose. And he never changed who he was. He got to be a better version of himself, and he did get sick along the way, but he didn’t change who he was—his ideals, and his desire to stop the evil he could from being practiced. In the movie about him, Amazing Grace, he said, “I didn’t change! I never change!” And it’s true. If you attach your purpose and goals to eternal truths, you won’t need to change them. You will most certainly have to change yourself.

The most nefariously evil villans are the ones who are bent on one specific evil scheme.

Constantly changing your goals, or worse yet, the ideals and purpose on which your goals are based, makes it hard to plug at hard problems long enough to be able to actually change things in a permanent way.

So what? Why does it matter that in order to change we need constancy?

Well, it doesn’t really matter unless we want change. What's worth being constant enough and changing yourself? And being dedicated enough to a cause, deep enough to plug forward until it's accomplished?