Friday reads – April 2, 2021

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Thought for today: Connecting the dots

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs

From the professor’s desk:

As humans, we like to think that life is linear, and that everything that happens to us is a step in a journey that goes upward and onward. We want our lives to make sense, to have meaning. This quote from Steve Jobs offers us a lot of insights to unpack.

Most of us “connect the dots” as we look backwards over our lives: we tell ourselves, this thing led to that, which led to this other thing. For example, if I hadn’t accepted that job, I wouldn’t have met so-and-so, and we wouldn’t have become a couple; or, if I hadn’t moved to this city, I wouldn’t have lived in this neighborhood, where I made lifelong friends.

Looking backward, we can see the fork in the road, the choices we made, and the consequences of those choices.

How A Stepping-stone Role Can Help You Make Your Career Change |  Careershifters

It’s important to realize that we are trying to impose order on events that might not have been orderly. We want our lives to have structure; it makes us feel more secure to think that “things happen for a reason.” Randomness is frightening. The idea that the major events in our lives could be meaningless is terrifying.

At the time I accepted my position at WMU, I had another offer. I compared the two schools, the salaries they were offering, the locations, and I decided that I would be happier and more successful at WMU than at the other school. And I AM happy here. But I also tell myself that I wouldn’t have liked living in that other city, that I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities at that other school, that I made the better choice. The truth is, I don’t know how things would have turned out if I’d gone the other direction.

The second part of the quote is also worth a deeper examination. Will the dots “somehow connect” in the future? I think “somehow” is a problematic word here. Whatever choices we make, our minds will impose a pattern on them, and create the connection.

Bottom line: Life is messy and often random. We impose order on the randomness, because it makes us feel more secure, like we’re not adrift on a big, turbulent sea. If we cultivate security and peace within ourselves, we’ll be less disturbed by the randomness of life.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: This is real life

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“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin…..But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” ~Alfred Souza~

From the professor’s desk:

I often hear students refer to life after college as “the real world.” It’s tempting to think of periods in our lives as interludes from reality, knowing that things will change at some point in the near (or far) future. But we need to be careful of a phenomenon known as “destination addiction.”

Destination addiction is the idea that happiness is a future time and place, when we have completed some accomplishment we have set for ourselves. If you are preoccupied with the idea that your life will be better after you lose 20 pounds, or find love, or get promoted at work, you may be suffering from destination addiction.

And yes, I mean “suffering.”

Pin on Sad Girl Images

Destination addiction prevents us from being happy today, from being “in the moment,” from finding the good in the time and place we’re in. It leads to regrets about not valuing certain periods in our life, while we were experiencing them.

My mother just passed away. The last couple of weeks were tough on our family, as her dying process ran its course. She was in hospital at first, then moved to a hospice house, where she declined a little more every day. We were all with her when the end came, and I’m so glad my family could be together for that important moment. It’s been very hard, but at the same time, I tried to savor every moment with my family, and those last moments with my mom, even when she was no longer conscious. I held her hand, kissed her, and told her “I love you” a million times, even when I wasn’t sure she could hear or understand me.

All of my family members were giving up something to be there – we were away from our jobs, our friends, and everything “normal” to us. It would have been easy to think of this time as an “interlude,” after which things would return to normal. But they won’t. There’s a new normal now, one where my mother isn’t physically present. We have to be resilient, and adjust. This is life now. This is real. We can’t put it off till “the grieving process is over,” because it may never be.

Life doesn’t begin after your life changes. It’s ongoing. Enter the world with determination to truly experience every moment, even the tough ones, and resist the temptation to think that there’s no happiness, no good, to be had today.

This is real life, now, this moment.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: Leave the eyelash girl alone!

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From the professor’s desk:

I recently saw a post on social media where the writer was asking for advice on how to handle a situation at work.  The receptionist in her office (who is a coworker, not a subordinate), tends to wear heavy false eyelashes that look very “fake,” and in the eyes of the writer, are most unflattering.  The writer was asking, how do I tell her that she looks bad, without hurting her feelings too much?

Image result for heavy false eyelashes bad

My advice was:  Don’t say anything.  It’s not your place to correct this woman.  She’s not hurting anyone.  The lashes make her feel pretty.  The end.

This situation has stayed with me.  We sometimes think we are correcting someone “for their own good” – but is it really “good?”  If someone feels confident wearing something, if it makes them feel important and beautiful, who am I to tell them they’re wrong?  I might not choose the bohemian shawls and beads a friend wears, or the odd eyeglasses a coworker has chosen, but those are their choices, so who am I to criticize?

I think we need to extend this to people who like to put their Christmas decorations up early, or fill their homes with knick-knacks, or wear nothing but green … who are they hurting?  If it makes them happy, that’s enough.  Put up your Santas in July, be your bad self.  Fill your world with joy, in whatever form it takes for you.

And leave the eyelash girl alone.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: Develop a new habit

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From the professor’s desk:

Most of us want to develop better habits. Perhaps you want to pay better attention to your calendar, or to pay your bills on a schedule, or to floss every day. Maybe you’d like to call a loved one more frequently. I’d certainly like to improve my housekeeping habits (I confess I’m a bit messy).

Habits develop through time and repetition, yet often, we make a vow to “do better,” and never take action beyond that. If repeated action is the key, then we need to identify an action, and do it regularly – just like brushing our teeth. Most of us would never say “I’ll brush my teeth next month, or whenever I get around to it, or whenever I feel inspired to do it.” We also know better than to say “I brushed my teeth today, so I won’t have to do it again tomorrow.”

Is there something you do so regularly that you don’t even think about it? For example, do you ever leave the house, get halfway to work, and then wonder if you locked the door? You probably DID lock it, but you were on “autopilot” and didn’t give it much thought. That’s what habits can do for us – help us to do the right thing as a matter of course.

Distinctive brain pattern helps habits form | MIT News | Massachusetts  Institute of Technology

Life habits are one thing – but can we develop THOUGHT habits? Yes, we can, through the same process: deliberate, repeated action. We can treat others with dignity, act inclusively, and interrupt stereotypes by remembering to do these things every day, every time – especially when it’s hard. Especially when we’re tired or frustrated.

Let’s work at being better citizens of the world, and living positively in community with those around us, by developing habits of the mind and heart.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: The social construct of race, and why it’s in the news

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From the professor’s desk:

If you’re a royal watcher (or even if you’re not), you’re most likely aware of the recent television special where Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka Harry and Meghan. During the interview, the couple mentioned that some members of the royal family had been concerned about how dark their children’s complexions might be.

Some royal watchers believe the family was concerned about the composition of the “royal bloodline.” Others attribute a more benevolent motive, and believe the family is concerned about how the children might be perceived by the community around them.

“Mixed” children are more readily accepted in American culture these days than they used to be (even when I was a child), but there are enduring stigmas as well. It’s helpful to remember that “race” is a socially constructed idea.

Racial inclusion and racial diversity: How they compare and diverge across  cities | Urban Institute

Think back to the early 20th century, when immigration to the U.S. was at a peak. Did you know there was a time when Jews weren’t considered “white?” When Italians weren’t considered “white?” Are you aware of the “one drop rule,” which meant that a person was considered “black” if there was one person of color in their ancestry? All of these attitudes point to the idea that race is a social construct. Whiteness (or blackness) is a social status, as much as it is a skin tone.

The concerns surrounding Harry and Meghan’s marriage, and their children, emphasize the social construction of race. Meghan is considered “black” by most of her culture, despite the light tone of her skin. Baby Archie has “white” skin, but has a black grandparent (Meghan’s mother), so by some cultural standards he would be considered “black” or “mixed.” The question is, where does this end?

I encourage my students (and all of us) to be aware of social constructs and cultural mores, and to open our eyes to what’s happening around us every day. Our cultural attitudes about race aren’t about biology, they’re about social status, the way we classify one another, and create communities based on those classifications.

Let’s do better.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: What happens when we “categorize” people?

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From the professor’s desk:

Our brains sort and categorize the things we see in our environment – it’s the way cognition works. As we move through the world, we sort stimuli into categories like “tree, house, car, person,” as a shortcut to making sense of our world. This process helps to protect us (remember, most unconscious processes are designed for our preservation). We have categories for “dangers,” so we know what to avoid.

We also categorize people: woman, man, child, black, white, tall, short, slender, overweight, young, old … and by a million other traits. Many of these traits are socially constructed (what does it mean to be “short?”), and the associations we connect with them are socially constructed too (“fat is unattractive”). Is this type of categorization useful?

Using Stereotypes to Prepare for Interviews

In class, we talk about the stereotyping process, which consists of the following steps: (1) observe a person, (2) categorize that person, (3) recall generalizations about that category of person, and (4) assume those generalizations apply to the individual you’re observing. We talk about how the first two steps are unconscious, but the last two can be interrupted if we increase our awareness of what our brains are doing.

Let’s keep all this at the forefront of our minds as we move through the world today. First, it’s a natural process, not a character flaw, to categorize people. Second, our brains are trying to protect us (actually, it’s a little gland in the brain called the amygdala that triggers a fear response). And third, we can work at being a little more aware of when we’re recalling generalizations and applying them to individuals. This will help us to interrupt the stereotyping process, and to break the cycle.

Dr. Hamel

Thought for today: Anachronistic feminism

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From the professor’s desk:

Image result for lizzie bennet

We’re quick to judge historical figures by today’s cultural standards.  Many of us struggle with the “founding fathers'” attitudes toward slavery, the role of women, and other aspects of social life – but we must remember, they were men of their time.  Similarly, we like to think of literary figures such as Lizzie Bennet or Jo March as early “feminists.”  While these characters pushed against the societal constraints imposed on women, they were still limited to operating within the social mores of the time.  We see early glimpses of feminism, but not feminism as we understand it today.

Image result for jo march

It’s important to consider this idea of “person of their time” when reflecting on the behaviors and accomplishments of those who came before us, especially when they’re family members.  Let’s be especially careful not to blame our mothers and grandmothers for not “breaking out” of traditional roles, when they were living under social constraints that are hard for us to understand today.

If you’ve watched “Mad Men,” that was the era when I grew up.  Single women couldn’t apply for credit cards, and married women couldn’t apply without their husband’s permission.  Career choices were limited to roles like nurse, secretary, teacher – and you were expected to give up your job when you married.  A married man was shamed if his wife “had to” work.  It wasn’t that long ago.

We’ve made great strides, and there’s more work to do.  Let’s honor the challenges faced by those who came before us.  We stand on their shoulders when we enjoy our rights and privileges today.

Dr. Hamel