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Tag Archives: Social Connections

Hello reader,

A while back we talked about an article by a man named Jeffrey Hall. For those of you who haven’t read this, if I could summarize nineteen hundred words of absolutely unhinged free-association, I would.

Anyway so in this ARTICLE, these dudes talk about a concept which I have gone absolutely feral over: a “social diet.” In other words, the kind of social interaction people choose to ‘consume.’ They suggested that their findings quite compellingly suggested that people who had more control over their social diet (people who weren’t, uh, socially force-fed?) felt happier and more content. More nourished, if you will. In other words, if you have some ability to choose when, and how much, you interact with other people, your sense of well-being improves. I believe the actual word they used is thriving, which is a very fun choice of term for me, personally, as a closeted Aristotelian. 

We’ve talked about metaphors before. They act like convenient pocket-theories, a cognitive multitool we can deploy to explore a new idea. Let’s sink our teeth into the idea of social interaction as food. 

Suddenly, social interaction becomes not just important, but vital. Your diet influences so much more about you than we know–we’re only beginning, for example, to understand the exact role that gut bacteria play. Further, your diet is only partially under your control. So much about what kind of food is available, the quality of food you can afford, your tastes and your mealtimes, is all affected by your particular circumstances, what we call positionality, that crossroads of individual, upbringing, society, culture, and economics.

Something we also cannot forget here is time. Food takes time. So does social interaction. The connection between meals and social interaction is fundamental, and it’s something I’ve talked about before, so we won’t go into it so much today. Instead we’ll consider that time-bound aspect of food (in our metaphor) compared to modern life.

How many times have you had a quick meal because you didn’t have the time? Something just to sustain you for the rest of the workday until you could sit down and have a proper one? Isn’t that what it’s like to call a friend on your lunch break to say hi, or to send an email to a parent? Isn’t that what it’s like to get a letter?

Isn’t that part of the brutality of modern life? Having to take the things that sustain you in little, hurried bursts, glutting on something you would much rather have the time to savor? Having no time to devote to those long, lingering meals where you eat until satiety and then just a little more? We dream of friendship, of social fabric, of connection, like a starving animal dreams of food.

At the end of the first post I wrote on this topic, back in January, I asked; when we talk about wellness, all these concerned voices pipe up about meditation, hydration, diet. Why isn’t social time considered when it comes to wellness?

Because the wellness movement in the U.S. stems partially from an attempt by employers to keep their wage-slaves happy without having to shell out huge amounts of money for medical insurance and partly from a culture forming in a society where half of the population is on workplace job insurance and 8% of us just, straight up don’t have any? Because having some life outside the workplace might threaten the 100%/0% work-life balance employers want? Because social connection scares people because it has the word ‘social’ in it and reminds them of ‘socialism?’ 

Can’t think of anything. Must have just been an oversight. But let’s talk about it.

When I wrote this post in January, I had no idea that we were collectively about to embark on a gigantic, weird experiment in human social isolation. I wrote (and posted) about this article about two months before…well, You Know.

remain indoors

We feel lonely when we don’t want to be alone, when circumstances force us to be on our own. I talked about loneliness a little more on Valentine’s day this year–again, a post written before The Event.

Things are changing. Like plunging glass into cold water makes it stiff and brittle, this sudden shock of pandemic has crystallized many problems. People are asking more radical questions, discussing more dramatic changes, because we’ve already seen how much things can change in no time at all.

Food is elemental, and so is connection. Time is essential for the enjoyment of both. And so is control, the ability to determine when and for how long you are able to nourish yourself, rather than to have it determined for you. While bigger things are going on, and bigger questions and bigger demands need to be addressed first (more on that next week, I think), we cannot lose sight of the subtle problems. We were lonely before this. We are lonelier now. Starvation makes us weak and scatterbrained, even when we can eat again. Isolation does the same.

In many places, the lockdown continues. People are stuck at home, reaching out to each other through telephones and video calls and social media. Can we sustain ourselves on this alone? Maybe so. Maybe the social tools we’ve synthesized, the technology we’ve built, is enough. Who knows? The experiment is ongoing.

 

 

 

 

 

https://academic.oup.com/ct/article-abstract/27/1/21/4061217

SUP NERDS

I’m not even gonna pretend that I’ve come back permanently for any predetermined length of time.  Just keep checking; I’ll post something at some point in your life. But onward to the point!

My school has an anonymous ‘Confessions’ page.  This is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a Facebook page run by an unknown individual at the college (theories abound, but we won’t investigate them at the moment), with a link to a survey site.  Fill out an anonymous survey and the page admin reads it (anonymously) and posts it on the site without your name ever being involved.  Anyone who sees the page can post on it, write on it, read it, whatever.  Many colleges have this exciting feature.

It’s a shit show.

We can pretend otherwise, I can dress it up with fancy psychological terms, but it’s basically a shit show.  People talk about booze, bowel movements, pet peeves, relationships, and personal problems.  The audience is sympathetic to the first two and the last one.

It interests me.  First because some of the commentary is hilarious, to say nothing of the posts themselves.  The usual anonymous online dickery ensues—people passive-aggressively calling one another out anonymously for being too passive-aggressive, and so forth.

Sometimes, someone will post something that looks serious.  They’ll talk about their self-harm issues, suicidal ideation, PTSD, body image problems, etc.  And by and large the response to these is good—not a lot of people shaming, condemning, hating, lots of people encouraging, offering phone numbers and emails and websites.  My school still seems to have nice people.

The other day I read a post on there.  I don’t remember what it was about—some personal issue.  I was about to join the chorus of positive responses, but I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t know who this is.  I know who it might be, though.  It might be someone I don’t know.  It might be someone I don’t like. It might be one of the people who, were I to meet them, I would strike repeatedly with a blunt object. I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them.”

I then immediately felt uncomfortable.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt repulsed by the thought.  I replied to the post, encouraging, positive—after all, they were going through something rough.  Fast forward a few weeks.

The other day I watched Les Miserables. The film adaptation is a remarkable and striking experience.  It’s intimate in a way a stage production cannot be, and arresting in a way the novel cannot be.  The writers did a remarkable job of fine-tuning the story, and granting it an arc which seems much more plain in the film than it did in the novel.

Les Miserables, to give a quick, bare-boned sketch for those who have not seen it [SPOILERS] is the story of a convict named Jean Valjean.  He is released on parole and commits a minor theft—for which he could be returned to prison for decades.  However, the victim intercedes for him, corroborating his alibi, and enjoins upon him to “become an honest man.” Valjean, his life spared and his moment of wrongdoing revealed, is stricken with shame and uses the stolen goods to become an honest man—a very honest, wealthy man, in fact.  But he is still haunted at every turn by the constable who released him from prison, a man known as Javert.

A man is captured who resembles Valjean, and this hapless lookalike is set to be tried and sentenced in Valjean’s stead.  The disguised convict is transfixed by this moral quandary—does he give himself up, or allow the innocent man to be condemned?

But he does the right thing, regardless.  And this is a theme that repeats throughout the novel—Valjean is faced with a dilemma, to save himself or to help another, and each time he chooses to do good.  And each time it turns out better and better.

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

(if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder nerd, keep reading—otherwise, you may want to skip this paragraph; it has a distinctly nerdy flavour)

(then again, if you’re not a nerd, why are you reading this blog?)

The conflict between Valjean and Javert is not one of good vs. evil, morality and immorality—for Valjean and Javert are both potent forces for good in the world (even more so in the novel).  My brother likes to complain that Javert is one of the irritating paladins, the lawman who sticks to the letter of the law and seeks to bring all to salvation through enforcement of his code.  But my response is that Valjean is also a crusader, a paladin, but with his code being one of pure good.  He desires only to help everyone and be as good and honest a man as he can (while protecting his daughter).  And in this clash between Good and Law it is (in the end) the Good that wins out—for Good can adapt and change to whatever form it finds itself in, but when Javert finds himself in a scenario for which no law has been written, he self-destructs in a moment of existential crisis.

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

We watch throughout the (film/operetta/novel) as Valjean helps people.  Some of them deserve it.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them wish to do him harm. Some of them want to bang his daughter.  He helps them all indiscriminately, because that is how he rolls.  He doesn’t make judgments about who he helps and who he doesn’t.  Homey don’t play that.

And when I watched Les Miserables the other day, my intuition about that pesky train of thought came clearer.  “I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them. It might be someone I don’t like.”

But it doesn’t matter. There are people I don’t like.  There are people I don’t know.  There are people who I want to strike repeatedly with a spoon.  But they’re people. They’re human, as most people are. The ones that aren’t human (a) kill people and eat them or (b) think they’re a macaque.  Hitler liked to talk to children, hold dinner parties, and dick around with oil paints.  The people I don’t like are people too.  And I don’t dislike people all the way through—how could I?? You can’t dislike everything about a person! We share the same basic, fundamental needs and wants.  That’s how empathy works, understanding how your desires are similar to the desires of others.

In real life, there are people I would throttle with a mink stole or beat with a spoon.

But in real life, if they came to me for help, or told me about a problem, one that was life-threatening and miserable, then no, I would not hit them with a spoon.  I might lecture them, loudly and repeatedly, but I would do it while helping them, while directing them to the nearest counselor or tying on a tourniquet. And a couple of you know that’s true, so don’t scoff at me. Nerd.

No human being deserves absolute condemnation—and that’s why I think this article is amazing. It’s about a revolutionary new approach to school discipline being implemented in Washington—not yelling at troubled children. It sounds so obvious when I sneer at it like that, but GUESS WHAT, our school system today pretty much consists of doing just that. And, funny thing, turns out when you give troubled children a safe, supportive, caring, stable environment, THEY DO PRETTY WELL.  And not just in terms of grades—socially, psychologically, emotionally—across the board, better.  “Problem children” improve, become nicer.  Formerly ‘delinquent’ children, ‘troublemakers,’ stop lashing out.

Prison systems in Norway are the most humane in the world.  Guess where some of the world’s highest rehabilitation rates are for criminals? Did you guess America? Not quite, but thanks for playing—the answer’s NORWAY.

Now, I’m not Jean Valjean.  For one thing, I’m not French.  And I can’t sing.

But what I can do is do good.  And do better.

I’m not proud of the thought that came to me some weeks ago as I sat before an anonymous confession page, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It led me to a (slightly) deeper understanding of myself, and now I’ve inflicted it upon all you lot as well.

So I suppose the moral of this story, this little blog post about doing-good-no-matter-what, the moral of this story is READ LES MISERABLES.  YES, YOU.  It’s magnificent.

COMING UP NEXT TIME, an EXCITING RANT about why IGNORANCE IS NOT IMMORAL.

LATER NERDS.

The other day I was engaged in conversation with some female friends of mine.

This is in itself not remarkable; as most of my friends can attest, I do tend to engage in conversation.

But, as we were talking, we suddenly ended up on the subject of ‘the wingman.’  And I was hit by an unexpected request—to explain exactly what it is that ‘the wingman’ does.

Well.

The concept of a ‘wingman’ might not seem to be the most politically correct one.  It gives to the dating scene a bizarre, military overtone that indicates that all steps taken lead up to a single, obvious objective.  There are also ways in which it overlaps with pickup culture, a place I don’t want to spend more time in than I have to.

But, there was the question.  What does a wingman do? What is the difference between a good and a bad wingman?

So setting aside connotations and complications, and looking at the term right now, let’s give this question an answer IN THE FORM OF A BRIEF GUIDE.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WINGMAN.

[also the title of a lesser-known book series by Diane Duane]

Let’s start with basics.

What is a wingman?
Despite the overtly patriarchal terminology, a wingman can actually be a gender-neutral term.  It is not often utilized as such (and so an argument can be made over actual usage vs. actual meaning, etc.).   A wingman is any reasonably intelligent entity who will accompany you through the process of getting to know another person, whether romantically or platonically.

So.

What is the purpose of the wingman?

To put it in the broadest possible sense, the purpose of the wingman is to manufacture synchronicity.   Or, in English, to make convenient things happen.

Breaking Circles:

Human beings are social creatures.  We form social or conversation circles by habit—you can observe this at any party, at any gathering.  Breaking into these circles is a simple thing—nowhere near as hard as you think—but the wingman’s purpose, in part, is to facilitate that.

The wingman does the heavy lifting of initiating social contact and then quietly bows out, letting their comrade swoop into the opening, whether subtly or obviously.  You may have had this moment in one context or another—asking a friend to “go talk to that person for me so I can come talk to them too.”   This is traditionally one of the purposes of the wingman because, to just about any person on the planet, there is nothing more terrifying than the person you are crushing on.

In other words…

Manufacturing Coincidences:

The wingman’s job is also to make things happen.  If there is an obstacle, the wingman will help overcome it, in a way that is highly contrived but ends up seeming completely accidental.  [#sprezzatura]

This is where the line between wingman and good friend can get blurry; the differentiating element is the shared objective: facilitating some social goal.  For example, if you happen to be really good at playing the harpsichord, good wingmen might take it upon themselves to find a location wherein your harpsichord skills can really shine.

The wingman’s purpose can be likened to stage lighting; to make you look good from whatever angle, at whatever time.  To make sure the audience knows when you’ve entered, and that you’re the star.

Except that the wingman has a final, crucial role that is far more active than a spotlight.

Get Your Lazy A** Out There:

Did you spot that perfect 10? The drop-dead gorgeous human being that makes your knees knock? The most fascinating person you’ve ever seen?

Feel that temptation to flee under the nearest carpet? The jelly in your spinal chord?

The wingman’s job now is to CRUSH THAT and get you back in the game.  To provide the push to go talk to the cute person in the corner.  To remind you that you are actually a sexy beast with a wingman close behind to save you from any awkward situations.

And that, [I hope] is a brief, but accurate explanation of the ‘wingman’ concept.

This isn’t intended to be a guide in a prescriptive sense.  This isn’t what you should do…this is probably just what you already do.

I hope this answers your questions…and if you have further questions, well, there’s a comments section for a reason!

 

Today’s SPAZZY subject,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

What is religion?

I’ve asked this question before, and the answer depends on who you ask.  As usual.

However, because it makes my arguments easier, we’re going to talk about religion as a moral and spiritual force.

What is the purpose of religion? In this definition, the purpose of religion is to provide man with a way to communicate with the spiritual, and to establish a system of ethics by which man interacts with the world.

What does this mean?  This means that religion provides us with a way to understand our spirituality, and grants a certain responsibility and purpose to our being-in-the-world.  In this context, everyone has a religion, and this fact is something I will maintain fiercely against all comers.

Something I say in conversation as a joke, but mean perfectly seriously: “I have my own religion, of which I am the only member.”  But for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll focus on the latter, so that we can begin to talk about religious intolerance.

So what is religious intolerance?

Religious intolerance is what happens when religion’s dictates clash with reality.  Any ethical objection to an action based wholly or in part on religious teaching is religious intolerance, if we want to be irritatingly technical about it, but we tend to think of it as less problematic if it doesn’t clash with our own personal norms.  For example, you don’t see murderers gathering in large numbers to protest the religious intolerance they face every day, because even they share sufficient cultural context with us to agree that murder, by and large, is generally a bad thing that people do.  

Also, just like Aristotle, I’m preaching to a choir…so if you’re not of the impression that murder is by and large a bad thing that people do, you should maybe stop reading and go back to 4chan.

SO RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE, THEN, is when people don’t feel that they can tolerate an action due to the dictates of their religion.  This is more or less caused by what we refer to as COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, which is that feeling in your brain when you really want to date two guys at the same time or when you try to think of a round square object that is both white and orange at the same time.

[For extra fun with cognitive dissonance, try this: imagine a four-dimensional object.  It’s just like a three-dimensional object, except in addition to height, width, and depth, it has a fourth dimension that is just as perpendicular to all of those as they are to each other. It’s a weird, uncomfortable mental sensation, isn’t it?]

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is what happens when two beliefs clash.  In the simplest of cases these beliefs are polar opposites, like this:

“Thou shalt not kill.”

“I believe I just saw Jeff shoot Tim in the face. That is killing.”

The two belief systems (Killing is wrong; someone just killed) clash, and in the clash they produce cognitive dissonance and then a resolution that is usually semi-logical (Ergo; Jeff just did something wrong).

The logic point is something I want to emphasize, because when we’re yelling at people we want to make this clear.

EVERYONE MAKES SENSE INSIDE THEIR OWN HEAD.  Even crazy people follow their own zany logic; what makes them crazy, by and large, is that they’re a minority.   I follow my own zany logic; at times this makes people look at me oddly and ask if I was just talking to an inanimate object.  And I was, and his name is Phil.

So, shifting gears here and talking about intolerance in general.  What is intolerance?

The best way to define it, in my humble opinion, is as an inability to allow behaviors to proceed unopposed.

So loony religious types will not allow nontraditional marriages to occur in their country, assuming that it will pollute everyone with its terrible, terrible horribleness.

Rabid atheist types will not let even the faintest hint of religion escape their ravenous rationalism, lest everyone suddenly burst into gospel music and flee to the hills before the oncoming flood.

Why do we think this is problematic?

Because here in AMERICA, we tend to think that people’s actions should be unrestricted.

And, you know, also in other countries, where other stuff happens.

But these are systems of morality.  By definition they are meant to stand for what is right and what is wrong.

So how can systems of morality be wrong?

Well, because they are inflexible.  By and large, the moral systems that drive more problematic forms of intolerance tend to be eager to give us a hard-and-fast ruling.  In philosophical terms (HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS) they are DEONTOLOGICAL.

HOLY SH*T.

THAT’S A HUGE WORD.

SLOW DOWN.

Quick definition, for those lucky few of you who haven’t come across this term.

Something deontological is rule-based. Actions are judged on whether or not they conform to a system of rules, and based on that they are assigned a value.  An example of a deontological system is a legal code, where, for example it doesn’t matter why you do something—as long as you don’t break any laws, it’s not wrong for you to do it.

 

But though most legal and religious systems are DEONTOLOGICAL, we don’t actually tend to function that way.  Life is rarely convenient enough to fit into a system of hard and fast rules. Lying is a great example.  We obviously think there is a spectrum of lies—that telling someone you killed their parents is a different sort of lie from saying you’ve got homework to do and won’t be going to the party (when the actual reason is you don’t like the people that are throwing the party).

What separates the two? Well, motive, for one.  In one example, you’re telling someone you killed their parents because…well, I actually can’t imagine why.  You’re a sick bastard, whoever you are.  But your motive is probably to cause them pain, because it’s difficult to imagine a situation where that would turn out well (though I’ll explore that in a second).

In the other situation, you’re trying to spare someone’s feelings by not telling them you hate their friends and want to stab them in the eyes.  It’s a delicate balance to strike.

But what if you were telling someone that you killed their parents to help them? If, for example, their parents had actually been killed by a giant death monster that was hiding in the other room and you were trying to get them to chase you so that you could lead them out of the house and into safety?  Well then, we might say that the ends justify the means—which, our legal systems notwithstanding, tends to be more often the way we look at the world.

A system of ethics that looks at the intended end of an action rather than the means is called a TELEOLOGICAL system.  Telos is Greek, or some sh*t like that, and it is basically the end or good—essentially, it’s whatever you’re trying to accomplish with your actions.

SUDDENLY, ARISTOTLE.

Sup.

ARISTOTLE’S ETHICAL SYSTEM IS TELEOLOGICAL.   It’s more guidelines than actual rules, and in fact he recognizes that “it is a hard task to be good,” because “in every case it is a task to find the median.” [1109a24, if you want to whip out your Nicomachean Ethics and follow along].

So where moral decisions are involved, then, we don’t actually often follow hard and fast rules, because doing so tends to drive us pretty reliably right back into the stone ages and seems to make us act in a way that is creepy and robotic.  Ethical systems should have flexibility, right?  We are only human, and we err.

SPEAKING OF MAKING HORRIBLE MISTAKES,

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE IS A THING.

And I’ll be addressing it in a later post, now that I’ve laid some groundwork, but I think that’s enough information to spew for now.

And for now, if you are a person who would condemn others for their creed, their body, or their love, I’ll just suggest that you look at the ends of your actions.

Is your condemnation done for their sake?

Do you think of them and their feelings?

If not…maybe you should.

Because all people are people too.

And on a more high-level blog post summary:  Think about your own personal system of ethics.  Do you have hard and fast rules? Or do you just make sh*t up as you go along?  Reflection is the key to making sure you’re at least coherent in your ethical protestations.

The phrase ‘communicative style’ gets thrown at me a lot.   It’s a psychological term, and a linguistic term, and it is a perfectly legitimate phrase, but it also occasionally gets used in a way reminiscent of a conversational flashbang grenade, startling and distracting while confusion is slipped in.

So what is a communicative style?

It’s talked about a lot in “RELATIONSHIP ADVICE” areas.  Somewhere between psychology and life counseling is the dark heart of relationship counseling, and in there people talk about this a lot, saying a lot of rubbish about making sure to “know your communicative style.”

BASICALLY

COMMUNICATIVE STYLE is the way in which a person shares information through language.  Each individual has their own communicative style.  In a sense, it overlaps with the linguistic term IDIOLECT, which is a person’s unique dialect—because we all have our own unique way of talking, blah blah blah.

OBVIOUSLY, though, we don’t all have completely mutually exclusive unique dialects, because OTHERWISE WE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE, and you would just be reading gibberish.  Which raises the question of WHY ARE YOU READING GIBBERISH? YOU HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR TIME.

NOT THAT MY BLOG ISN’T GIBBERISH ON THE BEST OF DAYS

BUT ANWYAY I DIGRESS

 

The idea is that you should know the way you talk, and know what you mean when you say things.  In other words, in an ideal world everyone would possess a certain degree of metalinguistic awareness, which in English means that you know the way you talk.  Think about the myriad subtleties of meaning that can be attached to just a word, like ‘best friend.’ [Ted, say I’m your best friend!]   Or ‘relationship.’

Because, as was once pointed out to me in a vain attempt to change the subject, any sustained interpersonal contact is a relationship.  A relationship is, esentially, the interaction between any two things that relate to each other.  So you have a relationship with your friends, with your best friends [TED], with your parents, your barista…etc.  But obviously when you’re talking about a RELATIONSHIP, you’re probably not talking about your barista (all that caffeine fries the frontal lobe and short-term memory anyway).

ANYWAY.

IN A RELATIONSHIP between you and ANYONE, an understanding of communicative style is IMPORTANT—knowing how you talk.

FOR EXAMPLE.

In the U.S., we crazy American-speaking people tend to ask permission in a way that is rather assumptive.  “I’m gonna do X, want to come with?” In contrast, in Japan, the method of asking permission is much more subtle and negative, something that has been described more as “do you want to not do X?”

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF COMMUNICATIVE STYLE might be how you talk about DISLIKING things.  Do you use passive voice? Do you soften it with hedge words? “This isn’t my favorite thing.” “This does not please me,” etc? Or do you just say straight out, “I don’t like this?” Do you make a strong claim? “This sucks!”  Understanding how you talk about things—especially your feelings—is key to understanding your own communicative style.  Which is key.

You see, the thing about a communicative style is that if you can’t communicate, it’s not an effective communicative style.  So if you’re talking to someone and trying to communicate, and they’re not getting the message, that’s a failure of communication, and if you want to get the word across, it’s on you to phase shift and try another tack.  I’m sure we’ve all had moments like this—it happens quite often.

There is a tendency to talk about “failures of communication” as if they were third-party things.  Something due to a “failure of communication” is an unavoidable accident in these viewpoints—an event we can try to avoid, but in vain.

Is this my viewpoint? Well…yes and no.

Remember that language cannot take place in a vacuum.  There is no communication unless there is interaction.  And if I’m talking to someone and trying to advance a point, it’s on me to make sure that point gets across.  As an agent in a conversation, it is my role to communicate clearly.

So what is communicative style?

Communicative style is how you convey information.  It is a continuum, separated by degrees of subtlety.  It is a mechanism that should be ever-changing, sliding back and forth from direct to indirect as needed to get your point across.  It should be in constant flux, because language is in a constant flux.  In communicative style we find many useful tools—from subtle social cues to blisteringly obvious come-ons—and also many harmful habits—like passive-aggressiveness and mixed signals.

“So what’s the point of this blog post?”  You might ask.  And good thing you did, because I almost forgot to include one.

How much were you thinking about this before the post? How often do you think about the way you communicate with others?  This is a two-page post that can’t even begin to capture the infinite subtleties of interpersonal relations.  But in the days and weeks to come, we’ll explore this subject further, simultaneously investigating the wonders of psychology and anthropology and also letting me subtly vent about my deepest interests.  So think about your communicative style. It’s unique.  No one else expresses their feelings in the same way you do.  Think about that.

Think about the people you talk to.  Your friends, and your enemies.  The people you kinda like, but wish they would go away.  The people you really like; like, like like.  The people who write sentences like that last one.  What are you saying to them when you’re communicating with them?  What are they hearing? The two are not necessarily the same thing.  And that’s something to chew on.  That’s metalinguistic awareness.

What does it mean to know somebody?

How well can you know somebody?

No, seriously, think about it.  How well do you know everyone in your life?  Think of the person you consider your best friend.  Or people, if you’re one of those wierdos who has more than one best friend.

What’s their favorite color?  What was their fondest childhood memory? What were their first words?  What do they think about the fact that blue is a more soothing color than red?  Do they care about golf? Does anyone? How many instruments can they play?  Would they save a bug if they saw it drowning in a puddle?  What do they think about when they’re putting on their socks?

The point isn’t really whether or not you can answer any of the above questions or even all of them.  The point isn’t raw informative content—that’s something we get far too much of as it is in our society.

The point is, no matter whether or not you can answer the above questions, there are always more informational questions that can be asked.  Even if you spend every day with a person who continually talks about themselves, to really, completely ‘know’ somebody in an empirical sense, you would have to rehash every minute of their existence with them—which would be impossible, because only about five people in the world can remember every minute of their existence.

So we can’t really know anyone, not on a purely informational level.  Does that stop us from assuming we do? Not in the slightest.  Think about the people in your social circle.  If you’re like me, your social circle trades stories and jokes about one another, tell stories of highly complex behaviors that usually surprise no one.  If we can’t know people, speaking from the point of view of raw information, then how can we talk about them with such confidence?

One answer is in face or persona.  We all present a certain fragment of our self to the world, intentionally or not.  We give certain impressions, say things that might not perfectly mesh up with our beliefs.  We create a rapid sketch of ourselves in any social interaction, a rough web of details—what we look like, how we feel today, how we talk and the way we respond to people.  But these sketches don’t exist in a vacuum.

From the very first instant of your interaction with a person, you create your own sketch based on your impressions of them.  What they’re wearing.  What they look like.  How they talk.  How they carry themselves.  How easily they express emotional states, and how quickly they pick up on yours.  All of these details that you don’t even consciously process go into your first impression.  A few are rejected and some are confirmed in the second impression.  And though you may not interact much with the person after that, when you think about them or talk about them you are making judgments based (in part) upon the impression of them that you have both constructed.

Does this mean that we are eternally alone, wandering a cold empty void speaking to figments of our imagination, shadows of strangers that we can never know?

Fortunately not.

Because regardless of how well you know a person, unless you are a sociopath or otherwise devoid of empathy you are capable of forging an emotional connection with someone.

What does that mean?  ‘Emotional connection’ is a phrase lots of people throw around.  But what does it really signify? Can I even create a description of an emotional connection?

Well, I’m gonna try.

To make an emotional connection with a person means, among other things, that you give them your undivided attention.  Now, this is certainly not the only thing you have to do, but it is a key point.  Put down the cell phone, stop swordfighting, close the browser, whatever, and make sure they know that they are the center of your focus.  There will be a notable shift in the tone of the conversation when you engage with someone in this way—when you lean forward and listen intently without distraction.  Don’t stare glassy-eyed at them—that becomes creepy after a while.  And don’t just look at them and zone out—people can usually tell when that happens, even if it’s only on an unconscious level.

Pretend they’re a very interesting television show, and you’re trying to watch it on a small laptop, so you have to lean in to hear the sound.

All right, now that you’re only paying attention to them, observe them.  Not in a creepy way.  Stop it.  What is their facial expression?  How are they holding themselves?  How energetic do they seem to be?  Don’t bother trying to make judgments or interpretations of these things at first.  Just observe them.  The ability to interpret them will come with practice.  Or that’s what I hear, anyway.  I’m still waiting, myself.

Listen to what they’re saying.  What’s the informative content of the sentence? How are they expressing that information? Are there any oddities in their discourse?  Again, don’t try to judge, just listen, and I mean really listen.

And most importantly, don’t think about any of this.  These are guidelines to get you into an emotional connection, a process that should take about as long as it takes you to look up.  Once that conversation starts, throw all of this shit out the window and just be there.  Listen to them.  Ask them how they’re feeling.  Presumably you have an interest in them as a person, so learn about them as a person.

Get to know everyone all over again every day, because no matter how well you know them, there’s always something more.  

Sup internet.

So here’s something that confuses me: People who get upset about artists.

As in, people who get upset when they find out that Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s terrible, he should be severely remonstrated with (being dead is no excuse for intolerance).  But (a) he’s dead, and (b) it doesn’t matter.  He’s hailed as one of the world’s greatest children’s writers.  His books are fantastic, and I think most of my peer group grew up with them, as has been the case with children for decades.

He’s a great writer.  His books are awesome. Full stop.  Maybe he was an asshole in person.  Maybe he ate kittens.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care because he’s dead, and because his books don’t eat kittens.

Forsaking Dahl because he was anti-Semitic is slightly akin to avoiding Beethoven because he was deaf.  Neither fact has any bearing on the quality of their art, which has become a pillar of culture.

We seem to expect that our artists should meet some higher standard.  We tie their music, their books, their paintings to them, to their value as a person, and what they do as a person affects the value of their art.  Well, guess what.  If I vomit on the floor, that mess is pretty much unaffected when I go and run over poodles with my ATV.  If I spray-paint a rock in an aesthetically pleasing way, the paint isn’t going to magically peel off or become ugly when I take a baseball bat to a Galapagos tortoise.

The actual artistic value of a piece of artwork remains unchanged regardless of what the artist does.  Adolf Hitler’s paintings are still unimpressive and only moderately talented despite the man’s murderous tendencies (though if he had had training and encouragement perhaps he would have become one of the greats rather than becoming a manic dictator).

Now, there are many artists I would like to meet in person, for whatever reason.  Because I want to know how they did what they did.  Because they seem like they’d be interesting people.  For whatever reason.  And there is a certain intuitive sense to the idea that you can get to know a person through their art.   And I believe it’s true in a way.

But not completely true.

Certainly there is a deep, wild, magnificent wonder in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.   It’s possible that we could even conduct a long conversation on the subject of the numinous and the uncanny (though I’ll freely admit that my Otto is not up to snuff, a little goes a long way).    But Lovecraft was by all accounts creepy, introverted, curmudgeonly, racist, and depressive, so the difficulty of such a conversation would be getting him to talk to me in the first place.   But that doesn’t really matter, because when I read his writing, regardless of how he is (was?) as a person, we’re on the same page.  And that page isn’t “dark-skinned people are creepy and diabolical,” or “I hate my life.”  That page is “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS SCARY SH*T IS.”

And that’s the important connection.   Because I’m not going to have a conversation with the guy, I’m going to read his book.  I’m not going to give him money because I support his deviant tendencies, I’m going to give him money because I like his book.   

SUBJECT CHANGE.

NOW THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, though perhaps fewer today than in past decades, who say that art cannot be morally judged.  It’s art, man, and its purpose is to lift up the human spirit and blah blah blah djedouhferouwarghrl WHATEVER.

I believe those people are wrong.  Just like many things in life, art is judged on multiple axes.

NO NOT THOSE KIND OF AXES GOD DAMMIT INTERNET I’M TRYING TO BE SERIOUS

A piece of art can inspire immensely strong emotional reactions.  However, it’s entirely possible that those reactions are OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

I suppose it comes down to the role of the artist.  What does the artist do? The artist communicates with his/her/its/Uds public, and grants to them an inspiration relevant to the presence of the numinous in their lives.  Or so I’ve heard.  IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ENGLISH, the artist makes things that elicit an emotional response from their audience.

Now, an emotional response is different from a moral response.  When someone gets punched, it elicits an emotional response and a moral response.  Disconnects between these two are where we get the “I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s hilarious” reaction.  Among other things.

Which means of course that you can judge everything morally.  Which is of course an entirely different discussion from whether or not you should, but still. 

Now there ARE people who DO judge everything morally.  We refer to these people as ‘uptight.’

Similarly, there are people who judge nothing morally.  We call these people ‘sociopaths.’

And THAT’S a brief rant on the subject of ART.

Coming up NEXT WEEK, a brief rant on the subject of THE POWER OF LANGUAGE.

But for now I leave you with a last piece of artwork to contemplate.

Farewell for now, INTERNETS.

AVE, LECTOR.

One last serious post for a few days.   And this one’s a humdinger.

Today we’re going to talk about dominating behavior.

Now, before we get started, it’s important to nail down exactly what I mean by that, and to lay out the vein in which we will proceed.  I know that when I say ‘dominating behavior,’ the thoughts of some of you might move in a kinky direction, but you would be mistaken.  I am not writing a book review of 50 Shades of Grey. If that’s your deal, go to Tumblr.  You’ll find links to much higher-quality stuff.    Although admittedly not on my Tumblr.  I am still inexperienced in the ways of the Tumbling.

But enough deferral of the unpleasant. Let’s set this out.

When I refer to ‘dominating,’ I’m referring to a learned behavior pattern.  It can be acquired from a young age through interactions with an authority figure, usually one who demonstrates similar behaviors, and essentially becomes the standard peer-to-peer interaction.  Were we to make such crude value judgments, we might say it is what happens when someone learns how to relate to other people incorrectly.

But that’s not the purpose of this post.    This is not a rant.  Well, it is, but not an angry one.  There is enough anger on the internet.  What I provide is a catalogue.

Not even that, for a catalogue is supposed to be absolute.  What I provide is a field guide.  Things I have seen. Things I know.  I show them to you, internets, that you may incorporate my observations into your own, if you so wish, and perhaps that may do a little good, no matter which side of this subject you are on.

For there are not merely two sides.

These are behaviors that everyone demonstrates to a varying degree, and with a varying degree of consciousness.  Their presence is not a harbinger of evil.  My beliefs on evil in human form are rather more subtle and deserve a longer post later, but this subject hardly enters in.

This is a habit, as has been said, and changing it is as difficult as speaking another language.  Changing it can be unsettling, can be challenging, can be frightening, even.  Letting go of such long-learned patterns can be incredibly hard.  But it can be done.  You can break it.

Breaking free of these dominating personalities can be a task of years.  Sometimes it can be a task of days.  Never is it a simple thing. But again, it can be done.  You can get away.

And raising this subject is not an easy thing.   Oftentimes it is the hardest part.  But, again, that too can be done.

But enough.  Let’s get to the task at hand: A description of the problem, and four symptoms.  Keep in mind that what I provide is an impression, a reaction generated in me by the world.  It is not at all condoned, certified, or official.  If you think you can refute, clarify, or expand upon it, then by all means, comment.  Email me.   Text me.  Tie a letter to a piece of gourmet cheese and throw it through (or at) my window.

Dominating or controlling behavior is, in a sense, a relationship strategy.  Much like affection and intimacy, it is directed toward sustaining a relationship on some level, be it filial, parental, or romantic.  However, this behavior leads to an unhealthy imbalance, with one individual striving always to be dominant, to be the better of the two people relating, to hold the moral high ground.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep the target there, to preserve the relationship by any means possible.

This is a learned pattern, I want to emphasize, twice, and frequently an unconscious/emotional pattern.  Individuals are usually not conscious of it, even while they propagate it.  This is how it spreads—because it’s so insidious, and so very, infuriatingly effective at sustaining unhealthy relationships.  Unhealthy, I should add, to both sides.

(1)

Let’s start with humor, because it’s the easiest place to start.  More specifically, teasing.  Now, we’ve all been in this situation: someone does something silly.  Not on purpose.  They drop a glass and make a strange face, fall off a balance beam, mispronounce a word.  What’s the focus of humor in this situation?  Obviously the action, right? The silly thing, the thing that’s out of the ordinary?

Not in this case.

In this example, the humor comes at the expense of the person, a direct conflation of the person’s strange action with the strangeness of the person themselves.  In other words, the opposite of what I mentioned in my previous post on Self-Worth.  Their specific failure becomes their personal failure, letting the dominant individual in the room elevate themselves.  They have no such flaws, and would never do such a silly thing.  The value and self-esteem of the one being mocked is thus chipped away, and the instinctive reaction is defensive–at which point the battle has already been lost.  The teaser can feel superior, and will continue to unless derailed.

An alternative version is one wherein dominance itself becomes a running gag.  The physical, emotional, or financial superiority of one party (or inversely the dependence or weakness of the other) is trumpeted seemingly in jest, but always with the undercurrent of a reminder.  It’s not wholly a joke: you’re supposed to remember who’s in charge.  There is a class of athlete that engages in this frequently, utilizing it to place themselves in charge of their social situation, but it need not be simple physical strength or martial prowess that is touted.  Financial power, social superiority, even (in immature adults and teenagers mostly) something as simple as the lack or possession of a driver’s license.

In both these situations, these actions are disguised as humorous.  Hidden behind the cloak of a joke, these barbs belittle their target and continually remind them of their dependence—a dependence that is sometimes wholly imaginary, but can become wholly real with prolonged exposure.

Moving on.

(2)

Obviously, we couldn’t talk about domination without control.

Be it financially based, socially grounded, control of a means of transportation, or some fourth thing I haven’t even thought of, this particular aspect of control is one that the would-be dominant uses to their utmost advantage.  It is both carrot and stick in one, a reminder of the dominant’s higher moral ground and simultaneously their higher standing.  Selfless self-aggrandizement.  It will be randomly withheld to emphasize that it is given only on the sufferance of the one who controls it, and often its acceptance will come with invisible strings attached, and only with a laundry list of conditions that must be met.  Favors will be asked at some later date, and if they are not,  the deed itself will often become a weapon, an “I did this for you.”

In extreme situations, such as where one individual in the relationship pays the majority of rent or owns a car that both share, the threat of removal (and thus the ruin entire of the other’s independence) may in itself become a bludgeon to enforce compliance.

(3)

Next in this parade of unpleasant things is the idea of ‘doing just enough.’

When the situation comes to a head, when the ‘weaker’ of the two parties either recognizes the situation or rebels unconsciously, a final and subtle method of maintaining control is compliance.   The dominant caves in, often following a confrontation, and cedes control without relinquishing the moral high ground.  Victory is granted—but a conditional, partial victory.  A good deed may be done.  For a little while, the ‘weaker’ individual might get their way…but the old habits die hard.  Often, the ‘victory’ will fall through in bits and pieces, fragments too small to be seen as objectionable, until soon enough things have returned almost precisely to where they stood before.

(4)

Finally, we have volatility.

No one questions Cesare Borgia.  Even the slightest hint of an attack, even an imagined one, brings on a furious response, goading and jabbing until the ‘weaker’ individual ends up in a debate that slides rapidly toward the exchange of personal insults.  And never is the high ground ceded by the dominant.

Always they were the one attacked, a fact repeated so often that they might even come to believe it.   This deliberately brittle calm quells and crushes any potential objections, dissuading the contentious through fear or simple unwillingness to endure the seemingly endless, endlessly tiresome stream of rage.

Laid out here, these things seem obvious, clunky, easy to spot.  In real life they’re not so easy to pick out.  Laid out here, it seems incredulous that anyone would ever fall for such an assault.  Outside of the internet, (and even on it), people fall prey to these things all the time.  Pickup artists, in particular utilize some of these strategies, generating an unconscious desire to please and to prove self-worth.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction, to want to disprove those who doubt and belittle us.

Now that I’ve laid out this cavalcade of the distasteful for you, one might well ask where I’ve seen these things.  The answer I can give is the world.  Growing up, I had no concept of such things, and coming out into the light over the last few years has been…educational.  Seeing these behaviors perpetrated and reinforced across the social landscape has also been a source of almost unending frustration—a reaction that my father shares—and so I create things like this list, like my post on self-worth.  Rather than fume out my anger into increasingly impressionistic poetry, I create blog posts with ideas that (theoretically) can blunt or wholly turn the barbs of the would-be dominant personality.  I try to send shout-outs to the world that such things are not normal, that subtle currents underlie the surface of human interactions.  Some of them are riptides.  And like riptides, they’re easy to see if you know they exist.

Of course, the same might also be said of psychological disorders, which is why the DSM-IV should never be used as light bedtime reading.  And it’s entirely possible that I see these things only because I’m looking for them.  I don’t myself subscribe to this possibility, mostly because I’ve seen these cycles play out too perfectly.

I suppose at this point I should offer some kind of advice, suggestions on how to deal with this.  I haven’t got much.

But first and foremost: Be strong in yourself.  Your sense of worth as a human being is the first thing the would-be controller will attack, and for this reason their prey is often found amid the insecure and the uncertain. It is on this sort of behavior, too, that the ‘pick-up artist’ relies, securing subtle dominance over a situation by manipulating the feelings of emotionally unstable individuals.  Against this sort of behavior a well-adjusted emotional center is both sword and shield, for this sort of thing generates an instinctive feeling of wrongness.  Such things are unhealthy.

Second:  Cut loose.  The dominant seeks always to preserve the relationship, because tied into the relationship is their dominance and (subtly) their own sense of self-worth.  The moment they realize you cannot be controlled is the moment they lose interest, or at least lose enthusiasm.  The solution: find a way out.  Live your own life.  If it’s a romantic relationship…think twice.  And steel yourself. And then think about it again.

Third: Don’t let it get to you.  Sustain your own confidence and self-assurance through any means possible.  Find friends, retreat to family, find a strong social group to support you, but do not become dependent upon anyone. The more secure you feel in yourself, of yourself, on your own, the less their barbs will find any hold to draw you out.

And this is just general advice for dealing with annoying people: don’t rise to it.

Also, one final point which I will not end this post without.

Imagine for a moment that this is the only way you know to relate to people.  That the only way you can feel secure with someone is if they are so enmeshed and entangled in a web of your weaving that they will never leave, regardless of how they feel toward you.  Imagine for a moment that the only way you know to form a relationship is with anger and fear and control, lashing out preemptively to keep the world from striking to the heart of you, beating down anything that might force you to face yourself.

What’s the point of this point?  Simple.  There are no bad guys here.  This self-perpetrating cycle is one of uncertainty and sorrow, not one of anger or malevolence.  Understand that, if you understand nothing else.

And now I’m out of words to say.

So that’s my take on this.  Does it strike you as right or wrong? Does this post strike you as right or wrong?  I’d be interested to hear your reaction, internet.  TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK.    Am I delusional? Well, I know I am, but ON THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE?  More to the point, are my delusions incorrect?  If so, why?  Use your anonymity: What advice to you have on this topic, reader?

Also, DANNNNG these last few posts have been FAR TOO SERIOUS.  I think it’s time for something more relaxed. Which brings me to my very last piece of advice, and this is just general advice:

There’s never a wrong time to be happy.  Enjoy life.  Carpe Diem.

…if someone says #YOLO I will literally beat them down with a crateful of Ke$ha albums. We’ll run down the list.

Some Citations and Further Resources to Investigate On This Topic:

http://www.drirene.com/control.htm

http://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Behaviors/subtle_control.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healthy-connections/201007/help-my-controlling-behavior-is-ruining-relationships

http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/docs/Controlling%20Behavior%20List.pdf

http://www.positive-parenting-ally.com/controlling-behavior.html

Some Music and Links to Brighten Up Your Day Again After This Terribly Depressing Subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKdNDepvh7Y

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/science/space/curiosity-rover-lands-safely-on-mars.html?_r=1&hp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MejbOFk7H6c&feature=related

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/westboro-baptist-church-protest_n_1745260.html

http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/most-adorable-pictures-on-the-internet

http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/wed-august-1-2012-john-grunsfeld

This blog post was inspired by a two-sentence exchange from a pair of nine-year old girls I overheard at the side of a pool.  The older girl asked the younger if she wanted to race.  The younger girl said “No. You’ll win.”

I may have said this before, mentioned it before, etc., but there’s something about American culture that really bothers me.

Well, I say American culture. I really mean Western culture.  Actually, it’s not even necessarily Western culture any more.

It’s an idea.  It’s a way of looking at things. And I rather strongly despise it.  As in, table-flipping levels of dislike.

But perhaps I should tell you what the heck I’m talking about.

When a kid learns something new, what do we tell them? Usually we call them a ‘good student.’  We say they’re a ‘great learner.’ Tell them that they’re awesome, and we can tell that because they learned that new thing so easily.  We bolster their self-esteem as a result of completing a task.  We affirm their worth as a human being each time they do something right, because it helps to build their self-esteem, right?  Well, not quite.

Kids are clever.

Invert it.

When a kid can’t learn something.  When someone doesn’t finish a task.  When someone does something wrong.  What’s the obvious implication in the inversion of this system?

Simple enough: The inversion of the system states simply that if you do something wrong, your value as a human being is diminished.  If you failed to learn, it’s because you’re a bad student.  If you failed a test, it’s because of your personal failings.

This is why people are ashamed of bad grades.  It’s why people don’t ask every question they have in class. It’s why there is a taboo against seeing a therapist, against ‘getting help,’ because getting help implies needing help which implies weakness (i.e. being unable to deal with it on your own).

Now this is by no means an all-encompassing cultural construct on the same level as gender roles or the concept of hugging.  But it is nonetheless a pervasive, unconscious force lurking under the surface of our society—affecting our actions far more than others’ perceptions of us.

Tying one’s self-image to failure is a well-documented phenomenon.  These people are often described as self-defeating, for they create excuse after excuse to explain their lack of success and then are unsurprised when nothing happens—because that’s just what they predicted in the first place. Their goals are far-reaching and not unreasonable, but are kept out of range by exterior forces.  The things they try to achieve are never quite possible, not right yet, but if they just had this much more money, this much more time, they could possibly pull it off, turn their life around, become famous, etc.  It can be frustrating to hear.

But again, invert it, and we can see the flip side of this: people who tie their self-image to success.  Just as much of a problem, but not, perhaps, as wildly condemned as the self-defeating person.  Because at least these people get stuff done, right?

They do, but that’s because they can’t afford to do anything else.  Just as the self-defeating individual can feel alienated from their self-image if they begin to succeed—if they are no longer a victim, according to some theories—so these people can crumble if they fail.  One failure is like a missile crashing into their armor, opening up a hole for all the world to see.  They can’t admit defeat, because to do so is to admit that they are fallible, and to put that into words gives it power.

These two sides are not mutually exclusive.  To a certain degree, everyone possesses these traits.  We all minimize our failures, because they link back to our worth as a person.  We’ve all made an excuse to avoid something we were scared of doing.

These two poles of behavior first came to my notice several years ago, but I never really paid attention until after my first year of college. Until I could see these forces at play not only in the people around me, but in myself, in the classes that went well and the classes that went not quite so well.  When I re-learned this stuff near or after the end of spring semester, I had a bit of a stare-into-space revelatory moment, because it’s always nice to crystallize your vague intuitions into hyperbole.

How does this tie back into the little exchange above?

Well, what’s the point of competition?  To win? No.  Watch the Olympics.  The reporters ask athletes about ‘defending’ their titles or ‘crushing’ the competition, and the athletes just don’t care.  They understand that the point of competition is to better yourself through the joy and drive of measuring your own skill against another.  This is why people compete.

The boost of good feeling we get from winning, that little outburst of “I’m awesome,” that bit of vanity, that exists to impel us towards competition.  The goal of vanity, in a sense, is to drive us onward to achieve things, so that we can feel good about ourselves and our achievements. As Montaigne rightly suggests (but never says in an easily-quotable form) in his aptly-named essay, (Of Vanity)—were we to be fully introspective, we would flounder beneath the weight of our own inadequacy.  Vanity exists to shield us from ourselves and spur us on to greater deeds than introspection.

In that little exchange, though, competition is not worth the trouble if victory is not assured.  The point of the competition is not competition itself, but victory—vanity, in a sense, has turned back upon itself, discouraging competition to preserve self-esteem.  The cycle has reversed, and rather than run the risk of success and great failure, the speaker will accept a little loss instead.

Which also ties into the concept of people with “low-self-esteem” who are self-defeating.  They don’t have low self-esteem.  Their self-esteem is just as high as anyone else.  It’s just that they defend it differently.

Rather than be praised and risk being criticized, they do not strive.  Rather than race and risk losing, they do not race at all.  Their sense of self is so strongly conflated with their achievements that to risk losing a race is to risk losing their self.

Which is all of course not a conscious truth. That is to say, it’s not a truth of which an individual must necessarily be cognizant of.  It’s not one of those ‘unconscious’ truths in a Freudian sense, either.  It is an emotional truth, a distinction I am making right now because I disagree with Freud on a lot of things. FREUUUUUUUD. *shakes fist*

So.

Knowing this, I’ve decided to disintegrate this cultural force.  I’ve decided to turn the force of a thousand raging suns against it and put it in a blender, add some fruit and berries, and turn the resulting creamy drink into a giant smoothie of self-empowerment.  There’s plenty for everyone.

My academic success is not me as a person.  Rather, I expect myself to do well because I know as a person that I can do well at such things.

Asking a question in class doesn’t mean you’re a mindless, gibbering idiot who wasn’t paying attention.  It means that you need help and aren’t afraid to ask for it.

If I can’t learn a thing, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad student.  It means that I haven’t learned it yet. That just means I need to work harder.

And seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re a raving lunatic.  See above.

We are an action-oriented society.  Show us what you’ve done, show us what’s happened to you, and we’ll tell you who you are.  You are your successes and failures—your college application, your resume, your curriculum vitae, your criminal record.

Well, I reject that, thanks very much.

People are more than the sum of their actions.  As Churchill says, “success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”  That saying is only tangentially related, but I wanted to work it in anyway.

When I want to do something, I’m going to do it—which is to say, I will unleash every force in my power to see it done, throw everything possible at it to ensure its achievement.  But if it doesn’t happen, that won’t stop me either; that just means it’s time to roll on and thunder down into the next task.  And that links into my next personal belief…

Because once you hit age eighteen, there’s nothing any human being alive can do to dictate the course of your actions.   And I passed age eighteen long ago.

(that makes it sound like I’m a crotchety old man, don’t it?)

Because all other people can do is scare you, if you let them, and being scared of something isn’t a reason not to do it.  There’s a line dividing fear from intuition, and it’s a differentiation I learned to make sometime in the last semester of my life.  (my life is divided into semesters now, by the way).

And most likely this blog post will meet with resounding ‘absoutelys’ from the people I know, because I’m probably the last one in my social group to get on this bus, but that doesn’t matter, because even if you’re the last one on the bus, you’re still on the bus.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to Narnia, you’re still partying hard with Aslan.   Don’t be ashamed of being the last one to get it.  Don’t worry about how you look to other people.  And don’t be afraid of failure.  As someone famous who was probably Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed ten thousand times.  I have successfully found ten thousand ways that did not work.”

[invert this]

If something is what you really want, you should be pursuing it with all force and guile.  Effort should be going into it constantly, instead of being deferred by environmental factors.  People, wild dogs, money, and hurricanes should all fall into the category of “things that are not reasons to not do this.”  And if you don’t really want it, for some reason, even an unconscious one, don’t waste time and effort trying to persuade anyone else that you do.  Especially not yourself.

So it comes down to the corny stuff, once again, at the end of the blog post.  And I suppose this is the message I seek to beam out into the universe, radiating it in all directions like a great big beacon of glowy white warmth-light shiny things.

Do what you want.

No power in the ‘Verse can stop you. 

[there’s never a bad place for Ok Go]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgq0Okdr6DE

…and I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care what other people do beyond a certain point.  If you’re not in my face, and if you’re not telling me what to do—if you’re not attacking me and mine, or dictating my actions, well then, I really, honestly, truly don’t give a leaping **** what you’re doing with your free time.  If it makes you happy and doesn’t kill people, then go wild.  Listen to One Direction, if you must.

Teachers like students who admit what they don’t know.

Bosses like employees who ask questions.

I like people who don’t hide themselves.

And I like chocolate milk.

…and that’s all.   ‘Till next time, Internet.

😀

 

CHECK OUT THIS BLOG, IS COOL.

http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/2012/06/reality-problem-with-complementarianism.html

First question:  What do you think?

I like this.

Why?

Because.  The end.

…Oh, all right, that wasn’t helpful, I admit it.  So here’s why.  List of reasons.  First off, a good definition of feminism (though I am not sure if it should be called ‘feminism’ so much as ‘the practice of being a decent person who cares for the opinions of others as regards their own life and well-being’).  And as my friends know, there’s nothing that gets me more enthused than a REALLY SOLID DEFINITION.

What we have here, in case you couldn’t be bothered to read the URL, is a rousing discussion of the failings of ‘complementarianism,’ an incredibly long word that I am totally adding to my daily vocabulary.   But what does it mean?

Well, to quote, it is the view that “men and women should have different roles to fulfill in the church and the home; men lead and make decisions, and women submit and nurture.”

ALLOW ME A MOMENT TO RESTRAIN MYSELF

Let’s set aside all the surface-level debate (such as the fact that most of the women I know would very casually remove the face of whoever asked them to ‘submit’ anything other than an application for an internship) and look at the overarching structure of the problem here.

The issue is not that this idea exists.  This idea drives successful relationships.

(Lesser-known, more optimistic version of Rule 34: If you can imagine it, somewhere, someone has built a happy relationship upon it).

(this rule is modified by the Fight Club Corollary: Relationship-Rule-34 does not apply to legitimately abusive relationships.  Do not confuse abusive relationships with ones like in the movie Mr. And Mrs. Smith)

(end parenthetical aside)

The ISSUE is, as with all other creeds, as with all other ideas and perceptions, that certain people think it is the ONLY WAY.  Now.  This is not not unsurprising: as G.K. Chesterton (who is HIGHLY ENTERTAINING) says: “no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error.”  The point of communication is, it can be argued, to arrive at the truth—or, more accurately, to convince the other people that the truth you believe in is actually correct.

And so we have the obvious problem, because it is a very easy step (and sometimes an unconscious one) to go from communicating your perception of truth* to attempting to enforce it in the lives of other people, and this is precisely where humanity begins to clash in religion, in politics, in sociocultural issues, in gender roles, and even on the most basic level of connection between two people.

It can be such a well-intentioned slip—and so simple.  After all, if you know you are correct, really feel it in your heart, then obviously it is one’s duty, one’s simple human role, to communicate this truth to the world, so that all may share in it, and the harmony of the heavens shall reflect the peace of the temporal realm, and all mankind shall lift their voices in joyous unison, etc., etc.

Here is where I shall VERY SUBTLY shift this over to my larger point: the issue of OPEN-MINDEDNESS contrasted with TOLERANCE.

You might say “well, sir, clearly you are inebriated, tolerance and open-mindedness are one and the same, sir.”  If you do say such, then, I assure you, I am quite in my right mind, and I must say you are quite a gentleman—I can tell because you say ‘sir’ so often.

BUT NO, open-mindedness is not the same thing as tolerance.  In fact, ‘tolerance’ is not a term I am fond of, now that I reflect on it.  To be ‘tolerant’ of something implies that you have even the faintest right to deny its existence.

There are many people who are ‘tolerant’ who are not open-minded.  Tolerance is the ability to endure the revelation that other peoples’ minds function differently, and the self-control necessary to not fire off a nuclear salvo of sacerdotalism or what-have-you the instant something someone says contradicts your own personal beliefs in the slightest.  Tolerance is the ability to engage in a discussion about your favorite kind of dog without launching into a rant about The Corrupting Influence Of Judeo-Christian Religion In Western Society.

Admittedly, there are lots of people who aren’t wholly tolerant, even according to this rather facetious (but only ‘rather’) description.   But an even larger cross-section can be referred to as not being open-minded.

What is open-mindedness? What on earth am I trying to say? Put plainly, WHAT THE HELL AM I TALKING ABOUT?

In the simplest possible terms, ‘open-mindedness’ can be defined as the quality of neuroplasticity, the mechanism by which we can recognize and reconcile an error in our belief systems, the mechanism by which, rather than continuing to obganiate and perpetuate our views, we reassess and alter our thoughts, words and actions to reflect the truer point of view that we recognize.

…okay, so that wasn’t very simple. Oops.

PUT SIMPLY, it is the ability to listen.  Really listen.  A lot of people can detect vibrations propagated by rapid motion of air along human vocal chords, but how many of them listen to every word?   Not in the way you listen to the complaints of an irritating younger sibling or endure the barking of a dog, but really listen, evaluate each word for its cognitive-emotional content, and calculate your response and actions based upon that information.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHANGE YOUR WORLDVIEW?

What does it take?

What would someone have to say to completely alter the way you view them?

What would someone have to say to completely alter the way you treat them?

Do the last two questions have the same answer? If so, why? If not…why?

TOLERANCE is the ability to endure the presence of other worldviews.  OPEN-MINDEDNESS** is the ability to incorporate them into your own, to recognize the points where your actions and creed might be too harsh, where you might hold to it too vehemently.   To possess the former is, I would argue, far easier than to hold the latter.  And once one is open-minded, well, I would say, mere ‘tolerance’ is no longer even possible.

So that’s my rant for the week.  Conclusion?  Moral?  Is there a message, hidden here? Yes, and I’ll make it as OBVIOUS AS POSSIBLE.

BE OPEN MINDED.  The mere fact that an individual’s worldview does not mesh with your own does not signify wrongness.***  TOLERANCE is not enough.  Don’t base your warm, fuzzy feeling of superiority on TOLERANCE.  American society TOLERATED a certain population for many years after the Civil War was over.  We TOLERATE another one now, though the degree to which we tolerate them may shift in Wisconsin with the new legislation against visiting rights.

Don’t merely TOLERATE, INTEGRATE.

*Chesterton would likely laugh at the idea of a ‘perception of truth’ just as much as the idea of an ‘aspect of truth,’ but luckily for me I am actually correct in this matter and need not concern myself with such things.

** “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.” –Chesterton

*** “Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities, we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more important than anything else in him.” –Chesterton

P.S. THIS POST.  ALL THE WINNING. http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/2012/05/of-sewing-and-sexism.html