Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The MISH Award

Dear cafeteria staff,

Congratulations! You have just been nominated the Most Inconvenient School of Human of the year! While we’re sure you would be more than proud to accept such a recognition, we suggest you don’t get your hopes up too high as you’ll be hard pressed to beat out all those construction workers who stand in 5 of the 6 lanes available on heavily travelled roads holding cans of beer and signs that don’t seem remotely applicable to the work that isn’t going on behind the haphazardly scattered cones.

But in the spirit of optimism, we would still like to extend this gesture to you who provide us with the irreplaceable services such as the solution to the problems which are inevitably caused by our rule that you are not allowed to type your ID number into the ready and willing computer system at the front desk of the cafeteria in the event that you do not have your student identification card to be scanned as proof that you already paid 1*&^00 dollars for a meal plan. Let us take a moment to celebrate the systems they have set in place to help us under such circumstances.

When you are standing in the cafeteria 20 minutes before you have to be at work and realize that you have forgotten your wallet and therefore cannot scan your ID card to get in and eat, have no fear. They have provided us with the ingenious option of going to the conference services office where you are permitted to get a temporary ID card on which your ID number will be written so that the cafeteria attendant may THEN type it into the computer. This temporary ID may be received in exchange for that $1 bill which is comfortably situated next to your ID card in your wallet which you don’t have with you and do not have the time to retrieve as that would require you to hike down the ravine to the building you live in -whose location was chosen by last year’s winner of the Most Inconvenient School of Human Award- and then all the way back up, at which point you will have approximately 35 seconds to forage through the ill-prepared meal selection composed of highly volatile materials, eat it, and get to work. What a genius way to accommodate the rushed and frenzied lifestyle of a college student! And to top it all off, no food is allowed to leave the cafeteria at any time to see that students who haven’t the time for lunch at all cannot spend their time in class or at work eating away. Genius I tell you!

We applaud you and your tireless efforts to receive this award which have not gone unnoticed!

Best of luck to you in your endeavor!

The MISH Award Foundation

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Tally (AKA a true story about my most recent airport nightmare)

It had been a very long morning. No, a very long day. You could say it began around midnight when she’d finally finished packing 2 weeks worth of essentials- which, apparently, weighs 35 lbs.- and was now ending as she sat buckling her seatbelt on flight 745 thinking caustically to herself what a joke it is to wear seatbelts on a vehicle 5000 miles in the air which is carrying 900 lbs. of very explosive fuel and 150 very flammable passengers. What a comfort that in the even of a crash you are guaranteed to keep track of your seat. Exhausted as she was from her 2-3 hours of restless sleep, she was not too tired to smile quietly to herself upon remembering the sort of mental roulette she had played during the few hours between these points.

Upon arriving at the airport in the pitch black of 5:30 AM, she had happened upon an impeccable opportunity to really weigh out the comparative intelligence of man and machine as she battled and lost to three separate machines four times each before going to a desk to check in and see why her reservation had seemingly evaporated. 12 points to machines. Fifteen minutes later the very sweet southern lady at the desk finally wrapped her mind around the problem being presented to her. 1 point to man. 45 minutes, 3 phone calls, 12 re-explanations of the problem, 7 corrections of misunderstandings of the problem, 3 computers, and 4 employees later they had reached a conclusion: this was a very complicated problem. 1 point to each of the four employees for stating the obvious = 4 points to man. 1 point to every five minutes the desk clock proved more reliable than anyone using it = 12 points to machines. 15 points to machines for the 3 phones which all operated correctly, 3 points to man for those on the other line who answered them, and 7 points to machines for the conveyor belt which faithfully carried luggage past with out hesitating the whole time. All things considered, the count was at: man-8 machine-46.

Caught in the perplexing state of both being unable to board her airplane and knowing the presently threateningly high score of machine intelligence, she frantically took matters into her own hands. Looking down just long enough to channel all unsettled emotions into whatever cavity of the brain controls sadness, she then raised her head allowing 2 solitary tears to run from 2 hopeless eyes and said woefully, “But my only sister is getting married tonight.” Gaping mouths were the pitiful response and suddenly 3 more authority figures became accessible to solve the problem. 5 points to man for human sympathy. 10 points to machines for the 2 high-powered computers used to solve everything. 15 minutes and 6 more helpless dabs of dewy eyes later, she was holding a new boarding pass. 100 points to man for sheer theatrical brilliance. And now, sitting in her window seat after having been specifically promised one on the aisle, she looks over the final tally scrawled out on a complimentary Delta napkin and realizes that she has just rescued humanity.

Man: 113
Machine: 56

It was all worth it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sometimes "Can't"s are better than "Can"s

There is a time in everyone’s life at which point they must accept that there are certain things for which they simply were not made to do. In fact, I believe there are several of these moments beginning with obvious realizations such as “I am five feet tall, therefore, I shall never be a basket ball player or be cast as the giant in “Jack and the Bean Stock” unless all of the other actors are under seven.” But later one is led to make less obvious but still not so difficult realizations about their own incapacities such as, “I don’t enjoy mathematics in the least, therefore, I should never be able to support myself in professions such as accounting because I should be far too miserable to continue showing up to the office.’ I think these levels of self assessment are nearly always reached, however, there is a next step which we are not all lucky enough to remember because it requires a much more intentional approach than mere natural observations.

I have been meditating lately on the innumerable things I want. Over the years I’ve acquired an interest in so many different things that it has been very complicated to decide what to do. Each of the things I’m interested in require focused attention to become skilled at them but since I have never been able to narrow this long list of interests down, I have found myself dabbling in any one or several of them at a time without ever really learning one of them well. And so I have arrived at that far more difficult third stage of assessing ones own inabilities and such and so far the result of this period of meditation has been three lists. One list of the things I can do well but do not enjoy at all which can be immediately eliminated from my future, a second list of things I enjoy immensely but simply don’t have enough natural aptitude for, and a third- which is by far the shortest- that lists the handful of things which I both enjoy profoundly and have a sort of intrinsic capability for. (I once knew a friend who called this the “x-factor” referring to a natural gifting or capability). In my mind it makes the most sense to focus my endeavors for the future on these things because I still have boundless room to grow in those few areas.

Strange as it may sound, I have never been so relieved to discover that I am not good enough at so many things at once. It is a good feeling to know one’s own capabilities and limitations even when the limitations are by far the greater majority. And with these limitations in mind, I can at last rule out some options for my future. So the world will be pleased to know that I have officially resigned my hopes of becoming a murderer, scavenger, or taxidermist.

(…just seeing if you would finish reading this… ;)

Friday, June 27, 2008

"So much for that..."

There is a common occurrence in the life of a casual writer which I like to call a “so much for that” moment. At such times aspiring authors begin with a fresh idea having all the enthusiasm in the world only to discover that this idea was not meant to be seen through to completion.

This is one of those times.

As somewhat of an amateur writer I was riveted with the initial idea for this short story, though I quickly discovered that it really couldn’t go anywhere. For that reason, I suspect I shall never finish it and have been forced to respond by simply sitting back from my keyboard and sighing, “Well, so much for that.”

But because I like the idea I began with and have access to the internet I can at least give myself credit here for having though of something clever in the first place even though I lack the creative energy to complete it.

The idea is that i- or, rather, the narrator- am describing having not been born. By this I don’t mean being in the womb but actually not existing yet. You might like to call it the “twinkle-in-the-eye” stage of humanity. As something of a draft title I’ve been calling this permanently incomplete story “Before I Was”. Anyway, this is the introductory paragraph:

“Caught in that inconceivable space between “unthought-of” and “I am”, I watched or rather seemed to know, the happenings of the family which would soon be my own. How soon I could not know, but the very vapor of my awareness was cause enough to tell that my coming was certain. There was no anxiousness, no discomfort, no impatience in that immeasurable time when time itself went unknown and unmeasured, but I was sure that I should love to be. All was peaceful patience for me as I considered the comings and goings I would one day take part in, but regardless, I could not help but dread my own gestation. There was no telling what it would be like before having experienced it oneself, but it sounded frightfully drawn out. Although, I reconsidered in my immaterial self, to experience anything must be lovely."

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the problem here is that not much can happen in this “twinkle-in-the-eye” stage of life (or maybe “pre-life”?) but I had some vague ideas such as the first impression of ones mother…?:

“In my indistinct self I could distinctly make out her lips all full of smiles saved up for me. I discerned her eyes- they were bright with shimmers and wondered if one of them might be myself. And in some way yet unknown to me I overheard her voice. I supposed you would call such a voice “warm” -for though I couldn’t say with any certainty that I understood the idea of warmth (or, for that matter, “say” anything at all), some sensation of thought affirmed to me that anything which sounded so comfortable must be warm.
“You know,” mother was saying, “I don’t think we’ll ever stop hoping for a little boy.”
Boy? I considered. A boy did she say? I hadn’t any idea what “boy” was but it certainly didn’t sound like me. It seemed unlikely however, that I should know better than my own mother. Or perhaps there had been some mistake and this mother was supposed to have a boy and belong to someone else. Oh my, they must be mistaken! But could such a mistake be corrected?”

Anyway, I’m obviously never going to take this anywhere so I’m posting it in full expectation that if anyone even makes it to the end of this blog they will respond by promptly switching off their computer and saying, “Well, so much for that.”

And I give you full permission to do so….

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Here's to hearts

Curse you, anxiety.

It is so inconvenient that every bodily response to stress is exactly what will be least helpful under the circumstances. What about the human biology is convinced that an unbelievable rise in blood pressure will be useful when your mind is full to capacity?

Useless, useless, useless….

The last thing I need when trying to clear my head of chaos is the deafening sound of my own accelerated heart rate. Though it wouldn’t be surprising that my heart purposefully takes advantage of any small reason to test itself since this is likely the most exercise it gets all year. …sad but true… and, despite such frustrations, our hearts really don’t ever get the recognition they deserve.

Dear heart,
My sincerest apologies for overlooking you. I really am most grateful for the mechanism that you are and would be frightfully disappointed if you were to seek employment elsewhere. All the same, I find it most thoughtless of you to race out of control when I most need to concentrate or am pressed for time to escape something fearful or unable to find the words to impress someone by whom I am most impressed. Consequently, I am formally appealing to you to take greater caution in doing what you do best.
Yours ect.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Welcome... my REAL first blog.

This, I am proud to announce, is the very first of many actual blogs to be recorded in this space which bears my name as author and it is a great relief. My interpersonal communications class- and, consequently, my entire freshman year of college- has now been completed and I am free to use this region of virtual existence as I please.

I have considered before the possibility of creating a blog, but never pursued it. I suppose I felt it a little conceited to assume that anyone would want to read anything I think and say just because I said it in the form of a blog, but as it was required to use one for that class I think I won’t let this opportunity go to waste now that I’ve got it all set up.

I’m home for the summer. And I’ve never earned a break more in my life. But, as everyone here’s still in work or school all day and I haven’t found a job yet, the amount of time left to my disposal is overwhelming. My art box which, after an entire school year in hibernation, was probably considering writing a will when I finally opened it 5 days ago and I don’t think I’ve ever sharpened pencils so many times in one week. It’s a good feeling and one I’ve been missing to have no place to walk in my bedroom because of the unending heaps of paper and erasers and various tools that would destroy the carpet if accidentally stepped on. I even broke out my guitar (Cedric) and old sheet music to brush up. I’m not getting far yet, but I’ve got time, that’s for sure.

Today I drew, played, sang, cooked, read and slept. That’s about all. I certainly believe I’ve earned the relaxation, but I don’t know how anyone could live their whole life that way. Especially not by themselves. I really can’t wait to start working and doing things that have purpose beyond filling up my day. Such as writing a blog that I already know no one will read. But then, I don’t think I’m really writing this for anyone else. I think it’s me that needs to project my thoughts into something else. Like a pensive. Just to relieve the growing tension in my mind. And so, in that respect, I suppose I’ve served my purpose here.
Good night.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Red Herring: our favorite fallacy

I believe that of all the logical fallacies this is the one with which I am most familiar. I spent a period of time last year studying them because I was curious and I had a class that wasn’t teaching me much for a period of time so I would read about it. The reason this particular fallacy is so distinguished to me is that it is more common in our universe than any of the others. Alright, that wasn’t in the book I read, but if I ever were to write a book about logic (which I am seriously considering- the world needs it!) I would mention that I am convinced of this fact.

The red herring fallacy may take many forms, but the goal is the same: distract the other person from the actual problem at hand. This fallacy got its name from the historical use of red herring fish (or maybe it was just a part of the fish? I don’t remember the details) in shark hunting. Fishermen would employ the fish to distract and lead sharks away from noticing the trap/net/whatever they used to catch and kill them so that they wouldn’t see it coming and could be caught. Now in the context of arguments, the person applying this fallacy usually doesn’t actually trap the other because they are already working against a logical resolution, but the main idea is to inhibit the progress of the other person’s argument by throwing out something completely unrelated to the issue at hand.

The interesting thing is that in order to use this fallacy one must nearly always employ another fallacy because the other person will only be drawn off their point if given a reason to. For example, I’ve noticed that the absolute most commonly used fallacy in this case (as far as my experience proves) is the “appeal to pity” or more specifically, “appeal to emotion”. For instance, if I accuse my friend of lying to me and want to work it out so we know what actually happened and they respond by accusing me of being unreliable, they are trying to make me upset by the attack (appeal to emotion) to distract me from the original problem of mistrust (red herring), that is a red herring fallacy by means of appeal to emotion. I think that spells it out pretty obviously.

The point is that this happens to me and everyone I know multiple times a day. It irritates me to no end that no one realizes how irrational it all is that they can’t just take care of one problem at a time. Because most of the time the accusation being used to distract is entirely valid and should be addressed, but not in that context. No one will ever get anywhere by throwing accusations back and forth like some kind of senseless, angry game of blame-tennis.
That’s all.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Class Connections

Something I’ve noticed since the start of this course is that a great deal of my analyzing
of literature and film consists of interpersonal principles that I had no names for until we studied them. I’ve been picking away at two literary-critique-type writing assignments and it seems to me that every good literature paper must contain some form or element of philosophy and interpersonal communication principles; philosophy to sort out aspects of truth and ethics, and interpersonal communication principles to discern behavior patterns caused by good and bad communication methods. Because that’s what literature’s for isn’t it? I mean, it is for entertainment in part, but to such a great degree we use stories as a scope through which to view the world or ideas or questions we cannot answer without a controlled example. I suppose it does a great deal of other things too, but for the sake of argument… the point is that I like having my classes connect to each other. Not terribly philosophical, but there you have it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Movie Project

I’ve really enjoyed watching our class give these presentations. It is so interesting to demonstrate the communicational principles we’ve been learning through film. I was really curious what everyone was going to use because I don’t think anybody remembered to post their decisions in their blogs like we were supposed to. It seemed to me that in the course of watching the presentations we are learning a lot about what each other has learned in the past few months because everyone chooses something that they understand well to teach about. There are a lot of things I totally forgot about discussing earlier in the semester that people have talked about and it is working like the most painless review method I’ve ever used. I think this will be really helpful.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Demand-Withdraw Pattern

Over this last weekend my sister and I watched a whole season of a random tv show we found on the internet. You may be surprised to hear that, as uninteresting as that sounds, we actually had a blast. One of our favorite things to do together is watch things and make fun of them. we often spend the entire time we watch a movie tearing it apart in every area from the cast to the story to the script and then leave the theatre having a serious conversation about how much it impacted us. People who don’t know us well are often confused by this- which we don’t blame them for. But we can’t help mocking things. It’s just a part of how our relationship/family operates. I’m sure I could center an entire communicational study on that dynamic alone- and I suspect I’ll devote an entire blog to it before long- but that isn’t the purpose of this one.

The point is that we were making fun, as usual, of a certain episode about a journalist who was writing a column on an author of multiple “how to pick up women” sorts of books. Needless to say the interviews were already hilarious without our supplementary commentary, but I began to notice as we were jeering at the author’s method of insulting women to make them want you I had heard this principle before. Our text book called it the “demand-withdraw pattern” which we saw demonstrated in “The Tao of Steven.” I found it interesting to look at the differences in these two pop culture applications of it. In the movie we watched in class Steven says to appear disinterested, be excellent in the woman’s presence, and then retreat. This fictional writer demonstrated his technique by telling a girl walking by with a pastry, “You know, that is so awesome that you’re not at all concerned about what that doughnut’s gonna do to your hips,” and then ignoring her until she’d practically thrown herself in his arms. Obviously both of these examples are extremely exaggerated and unrealistic, but I did find it funny that the common element was the “retreat” or “withdraw” which causes greater demand.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Picture Worth at Least 2 Paragraphs...

I stumbled across this picture on the internet on accident and I really had to think about it. I was reminded of our recent class discussions about non-verbal communication. So much is said and understood by our visual perceptions. Things like paralanguage which can be distinguished by inflection are largely reinforced by facial expressions and posture. The same thing may be said by two people but if one of them rolls their eyes it takes on a whole different meaning.

I suppose, in this sense, this picture doesn’t really sum up non-verbal communication quite right, as much more is taken in by the eyes than spoken by them. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the eyes to be replaced by ears than lips. But if the Bible was correct in saying (and I would like to believe it always is) that our eyes are the windows to our souls, it follows that they can communicate a great deal about the very core of our being. I could go on, but if a picture is really worth a thousand words I don’t have the energy to arrange them all just now, so here is the picture available for your own reflections.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Honesty is a curious thing. If lying by omission is still a lie then nearly every conversation could be considered dishonest. It is impossible to relate every single individual detail of every day to anyone in order to avoid lying by excluding truths, which is why I believe that in most cases when someone says, “I just want you to be honest with me,” what they really want is for you to be direct.

Lately I’ve found and unexpected virtue in directness. Being an extremely non-confrontational person, I avoid conflict at almost any and all costs. I hate being the one to call people out on things and it has gotten me in to trouble more than once. Because I value maintaining the relationship above being assertive about a problem, I often end up making all sorts of excuses for other people’s behavior in order not to sound condescending or angry. The problem is that no relationship can realistically be maintained without addressing conflicts or saying what we think at some point. Getting too caught up in sugar-coating your opinions or the facts about a situation forces you to do a lot of back-peddling when you finally decide to be direct. I’ve been increasingly reassured that as I approach things directly it never seems to produce the disastrous effects I imagined. Thus far it hasn’t resulted in the destruction of friendships but rather the swiftest resolves I’ve ever experienced. It is hard to explain how difficult it is for me to be direct or why, but I’m beginning to see it as one of the most valuable interpersonal skills I’ve ever intentionally developed. Because speaking the truth absolutely is an acquired skill. Well, maybe not for some people. But speaking the truth in love, I am certain is not a mechanism that anyone was born skilled with. Employing the cold hardness of truth and the warm attentiveness of love seems so difficult and conflicting. So are these two factors mutually exclusive? I would say not. But there is great difficulty balancing them all the same. There are those who find no trouble telling the truth about their thoughts, but they are far from doing so with love. I find, as may be guessed from how I’ve described myself above, that my difficulty lies in the opposite that I know only how to apply love and not truth. The reality is that we cannot depend upon sweet and encouraging words to make corrections. I find my few reproaches I have the nerve to give are shockingly ineffective because I vaguely refer to the problem at hand then lather it all up with gentile encouragements and compliments and the purpose is never served. We must train our lips to be just and kind.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Minor Conflicts

So much a bout a conversation can be destroyed by differences in how we expect people to communicate. I have this friend that I get along extremely well with, but we are still getting to know each other. The other day we had our first really extended conversation and I realized afterwards that I must have done nearly 80% of the talking. As I considered why, it occurred to me that almost every thing he had said to me was a question. It made me start to think and I believe that perhaps the way he is used to getting to know someone is by asking each other questions- which would make sense. Except that I am used to the less direct approach which is a sort of system of turn-taking-self-disclosure. As one person tells about themselves, the other, in response, tells about their related experiences. I don’t think that either method is necessarily superior. They are both different and effective when both parties are using the same one, but in this case it probably appeared as if I was only interested in hearing the sound of my own voice. He continued to ask me questions- more than likely expecting me to ask him questions back- but instead I kept answering them expecting him to respond with his own opinion on the question. This hasn’t resulted in any kind of fight or anything like that(at least not yet) but it does make me wonder if I just sounded like I was dominating the conversation because I didn’t care to hear his thoughts. It’s crazy to think that even such a small conflict in conversational styles as that can cause a communicational problem.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saving Face

When first introduced to the principle of “saving face”, I believe nearly everyone realized that they had somehow understood it all along but never knew it had a name. It is a very familiar situation for people to find themselves in. Until we discussed it in class, however, it had never occurred to me that saving face for someone else is often equally as motivated by an often unacknowledged need to save face for yourself. Just the other day a friend of mine was moaning over her ankle which she had jammed earlier that day. (I haven’t asked anyone’s permission to tell stories about them so I’m avoiding the use of names) Another friend of mine heard that she was upset about it and came to help by elevating it saying this is often something that helps. My first friend agreed, but when the second friend left a little while later and my injured friend’s boyfriend offered to keep holing her leg up for her she immediately said, “Oh, no don’t! That made it ten times worse I was just saying it felt better so she wouldn’t feel bad.” At this point I considered that because she is such a sweet girl, she not only wanted to save face for our friend by making her think she had helped, but she was also saving face for herself because she is always so sweet to everyone that she wouldn’t want to appear unconcerned with other’s feelings by not saving face for them. Even in our American culture which places such great emphasis on the individual, it is frowned upon for you not to spare another person some embarrassment. But where the difference is between our culture’s approach to saving face and another culture that is less individualistic (at least in my personal theory), is that we seem to think it’s alright to tell others about a person’s mistake when they are no longer there. For instance, my friend spared another girl the embarrassment of knowing she was making matters worse while she was still in the room, but after she left she told us what had really happened. This makes me wonder if collectivist cultures would be more likely to continue saving face for that person even in their absence. That is something I would like to find out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Communication: Indirect and Imperfect

There are reasons why we cannot ever say exactly what we mean. We all want people to say what they mean and we want others to know exactly what we mean when we speak to them. I believe it can be agreed that this is a universal desire- to understand and be understood. But in all the centuries of humanity we have never perfected the craft and there are a lot of causes. For starters, language is comprised of words which are only symbols to represent other things- they are not the actual thoughts or feelings we are trying to express. Therefore, as symbols are not interpreted the same by all individuals, there is nearly no way to be sure our thoughts are getting across.

But there are other more delicate reasons why we cannot to say what we mean. This entire blog is the result of a train of thought set off by a conversation I observed between my friend and her boyfriend last night. It was her birthday and we were all going out to dinner to celebrate. On the way her boyfriend called and said he didn’t think he was coming. In a matter of minutes they were in a full fledged fight and she yelled, “Fine! Just stay at home! I don’t want you to come so don’t!” but we all knew it was of vital importance to her that he showed up. After several phone calls of varying levels of frustration, he ended up at dinner. Everything had blown over and we were having a laugh about the whole thing when he asked in exasperation, “Why don’t girls ever just say what they mean?! Why do you say you don’t want me to come when you do?” to which my friend answered, “I told you that I always mean the opposite of what I say.” But that isn’t what she meant either. “Why can’t you just tell me what you want?” he asked again. It occurred to me just then that in such situations it is impossible to say what you want because what she actually wanted was for him to decide on his own that he wanted to be with her- not because she or any other outside force had made him feel obligated to. By telling him, that would have made it impossible for him to do so.

It is an interesting thing to me how many situations there must be like this in which we don’t realize the real problem. Communicational errors in many cases can be corrected but what can we do about the delicate ones like this? I’m not sure there is much to be done about them.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Identity Scripts

In our discussions of scripts I’ve been trying for some time to identify what activities have been “scripted” to me and my siblings by our parents. I was sure that we must have had something like that growing up but I could never think of anything until I realized that I was only searching for affirmative commands- for instance, “this family respects tradition”. I was looking for things that they told us we are to do, but as I considered further, I realized that most of my family’s scripts are in the form of things that we do not do. My parents most often taught us these things indirectly, but they are all things like “We do not tell lies” or “this family never mistreats other people” and other such motherly “don’ts” that children hear all the time but not necessarily delivered with the same fervor as that of my mom and dad. To be honest, the only real script I can think of that wasn’t in the “we don’t do this” form is “We are Christians” –which it seems was the one from which all other scripts stemmed. That is the real reason that we don’t skip church or lie or break the law or treat adults disrespectfully or hurt our siblings or do any of those other untouchable things. “We are to be a good reflection of the God who saved us.” So I suppose it all really boils down to that. Poor things would have saved themselves a lot of breath if they’d just said that all along… ;)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cultural Context

As I continue through this course I’ve been noticing more and more how often I confuse the notes I’ve taken in anthropology class with the notes I’ve taken in interpersonal communications. It is so interesting to me how incredibly interwoven these two subjects are. Anthropology is a shockingly broad field of study and so, for the sake of simplicity, is broken into four major categories- one of which is entirely dedicated to anthropological linguistics. I thought at first that someone must have over-estimated the influence of culture on language and vice versa until I thought harder about the fact that every culture in the entire world uses some means of communication which is not only effected but molded and structured by its cultural context.

In studying this section on perception I began to think about how every other factor aside from culture was also affected by culture. The culture of your social class often effects how developed your cognitive abilities are based on the level and quality of education you’ve received. This also affects what roles we play in society or as a member of a family because a much lower class family may depend more upon the income of the children than an upper or middle class family. Also the culture affects how people in your social class are treated which is a form of the generalized other that changes our views of ourselves. Therefore, all other elements are formed by culture.

Learning things like this is a great deal of why I want so badly to go into anthropology.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hiden Fingerprints

The section on attribution was of particular interest to me. After reading about the self-serving bias the term seemed to linger in my mind as I went about my business with friends throughout the evening and I began to notice that people seem always to think or at least profess themselves to be a great deal more humble than they are. This is not necessarily a problem of pride in most cases. But out of what I would expect must be fulfillment of the expectation of society (which is to speak more lowly of yourself than you might otherwise) we nearly never say anything too positive about ourselves. However, as I remember it, of all the conversations I’ve had with fellow students about having failed classes or tests- and there have been many- I can hardly recall one in which the person confessed the blame for it to be their own. I myself almost without exception avoid attributing my failures on my own irresponsibility or inadequacy. It seems to me that in many senses this shows a much healthier self-image than is usually expressed.

It is an interesting thing to me that if we all seem to have this built-in sense of self-worth we feel the need to counter-act it. It is understandable that an over-developed version of this would be seen as a threat because every form of evil seems ultimately to stem back to selfishness (for what truly ungodly act was ever motivated by anything but self-gratification?) which is the inevitable byproduct of an overgrown self-esteem. In fact, you might call selfishness self-adoration in its full grown form. So this, we may understand is worth preventing. But we know that the opposite, self-distain, when full grown is only pride as well because you are still preoccupied with yourself just in a negative light. This can be equally as destructive but in entirely different ways.

So where is the balance? Lord knows we’re nowhere near understanding that. But we can be sure that He also is the only one who can set our hearts right. On that, at least, we can rely. But , in the meantime, I suppose that if we are of such great value to Him, it is not so unbelievable that he should place in our hearts some sort of mechanism which tells us we are worth more than what a few failures may say about us- for whether we know God’s love or not, we bear his finger prints.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Personality Test

I have no idea how many versions of personality and temperament tests there are in circulation these days, but apparently the one most recently declared to be current and reliable is the “NEO 5-factor inventory profile”. After having completed it as a class assignment we interpreted the results and I found my scores to be as follows:

Neuroticism (or rather, “emotionality”): Average
Extroversion: Average
Openness to Experience: Very High
Agreeableness: Very High
Conscientiousness (organization/drivenness): Very Low

At first I was surprised at some of these, but the longer I looked at them and began to understand the meanings of the actual character traits in question, the more I felt like this was perhaps the most precise analysis I’ve ever found. One of the most important things we discussed about the results was that you have got to keep in mind that you are not defined by one specific characteristic, but each of them interacts with the others to create your individual personality. For instance, I could look at these and see myself as someone extremely open to new experiences. If that was all I looked at though, I would expect myself to be extremely rash and spontaneous and constantly trying anything just for the sake of saying I did. However, I only scored average on extroversion which is the highest I’ve ever scored in that area. I already know I am introverted and need to consistently have time by myself in order to mentally recharge. I also scored high in agreeableness and am, therefore, very careful of other people’s feelings and opinions. Having combined these, it makes a lot more sense to me that my introversion and need for harmony doesn’t cancel out my love for new experiences or vice versa.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A small problem

I have this problem that whenever I am telling a story or explaining something I want everyone to know exactly what I mean. To a large degree, I think this is because I tend view everything that happens through the scope of what it feels like. The English language is not the most accommodating to explain less-than-concrete things, so I find it takes a great deal more words for me to tell a story than it does for a lot of other people. The problem here is that most people don’t feel it necessary to know every miniscule detail of the situation before they can catch the weight of what it meant to me. Very small pieces of background information, to me, are necessary particulars which set the stage for my frame of mind at the time of the actual occurrence I am explaining. However, the majority of people in the world see this as an unnecessary information overload. For this reason, it seems that by trying to communicate perfectly I over-communicate and cause people to feel talked down to by re-explaining things five different ways. Over time, I have become conscious of this problem and now make great efforts to correct it. Whenever I write a story or a letter I now find myself in this endless mind-battle trying to decide which elements are needed to get my thoughts across and which are useful only to me. It is an exhausting struggle, but the truth is it is equally as exhausting when I do write or say anything in the all-elements-included sort of way I feel so drawn to. In that light, it is to my own benefit as well for me to learn how to abbreviate, but it is a difficult process when I genuinely feel that every word is important. It’s a funny thing to think about because by attempting to achieve perfect communication I often cause miscommunication. I am trying to say “this is exactly what happened” but am being perceived as saying “you’re too thick to understand this unless I’m extremely clear and specific” or “I am incapable of brevity”.
...This is only one of many reminders to me that flawless communication is impossible.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Works of Intricacy

I once read a description by an ancient philosopher of the delicate balance of needs that is created in human interaction. He said that it is like a colony of porcupines living in the arctic. They need to stay huddled close together to keep warm enough to survive, but if they move too close, they wound each other with their spines. I found this idea in a book by a linguist named Deborah Tannen about conversational styles. It was being used as a depiction of the dichotomy of two conflicting but irrevocable human needs which are the need for involvement, and the need for independence. We were created to function as members of families and societies and cultures, and yet we are equally as intended by God to be individuals (this book was not written from a Christian perspective, but the work of God is apparent in any such principle). Ever since my discovery of it, I have been enthralled by observing the tension created by this conflict at work within us -because every accommodation that is made for either of these needs necessarily breaches the comfort of the other need. Dr. Tannen describes this tension to be the cause of the majority of miscommunications in the perception of what is “polite” because you may be polite to someone by showing involvement with them, or by respecting their independence. Based off of which type of politeness is expected, you may be perceived as rude. I hear this principle proving itself in ordinary stories from myself or others multiple times every single day. It is such a delicate balance and, therefore, is nearly impossible to find. The more I notice it the more I begin to remember how incredibly intricate is the work of our impossibly wondrous God. Why in heavens name would he put so much detail into the minute interchanges of words and glances which do not effect his over-all plan? I believe that creation could have got along just fine without all the details of unimportant things like this. But we were made in the image of God. The God. The I am. Could we possibly have expected our design to be simple with such a model? It would be absurd.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An introduction...

I am a small person. Not shockingly so, like Thumbelina, or to such an extreme that demands attention wherever I go. It does not have a crippling effect on my life as it might on others who are by far smaller than is accommodated for by modern society (though I rarely if ever remove objects from my top shelves or cabinets as that necessitates the use of 12 inch salad tongs to reach them). But a curious fact about being five feet tall is how unusually familiar one becomes with the shape of the underside of the chins of people over 5’9”. I have spent a great deal of conversations with such people merely puzzling over whether there is a name for this particular region of the human head. I would invent a title for it myself, however my thought process never quite makes it to that point before I am reminded by the silence of the nearly-six-feet-tall speaker before me that I am in a conversation and am now expected to respond. These moments nearly always result in a cacophony of guilty and frenzied thoughts trying to settle upon a reply which would not entirely give away the fact that I have not been listening. I honestly do feel guilty for ignoring people solely out of the distraction created by differences in size. You know, it never quite feels right to blame my inattentiveness on my height, but I can think of no better explanation.