All posts by Julie Bowen

Peek-A-Boo

The school and research semester ended earlier this month, and then I quickly shifted into Art-A-Whirl mode, getting my work ready for my first physical art show in … a really long time. But the intellectual work I’ve been doing has been inspiring my designs, and I’m really proud of them.

One of the things I spent spare minutes doing during the semester was downloading and reading research articles. Hundreds of them. I had planned to read and do regular summaries and analyses for the blog, until it hit me that I needed to read the lot before my analyses had the kind of value that I wanted them to have.

The juxtaposition of the desire to make information about healthy relationships with ourselves and others accessible to everyone with my own standard of doing it in an informed and helpful way gave me an opportunity to think more about why pursuing a Ph.D. in social psychology is so important to me.

It seems to me that if we felt less shame about owning our imperfections, if we felt like we had better skills and tools to understand each other and communicate even when we disagree, that the world would be in a better place right now.

Even when I was young, the things that captivated me and made me want to learn always seemed just beyond what anyone else was able to understand. My fellow kindergartners communicated confusion with amazing clarity. We all have our different gifts. I realized that I had an opportunity to share the beauty of the world that I saw, and things that have great complexity have more places for beauty to hide; there is nothing in the universe more complex than the human mind.

It is my hope, this summer, to start sorting through the research articles that I have and to start with some broad reviews of different research areas. It will certainly help me start to organize the information in my head, and hopefully it will be interesting to you. Science has revealed so many interesting and helpful things about the ways we can and do interact, and I want to hear your thoughts about it!

Next Monday I have a meeting with my mentor to talk about next steps before applying to Ph.D. programs. I’m working on drafting my personal statement in preparation. I’m feeling simultaneously anxious and excited! I also wrote to a former mentor and neonatologist about working in his neurobiology lab, where he studies the effects of iron in specific regions of brain development. It would be an incredible opportunity to learn more about neurology and brain function. Social Psychology is increasingly cross-disciplinary, and I have a particular interest in how behavior is tied to brain function, so that would be an epic opportunity!

I hope you all are well, and I hope you have fun things in store this summer!

Love you all,

Research Project Introduction

I’ve been writing a lot lately, then hiding it away in the hopes that when my mind clears enough, I’ll be able to refine what I want to say. One example, less personal than some of the other things I’ve been working on, is the introduction to the research paper I’m writing for my class this semester. This is only the first draft, but I thought I’d let you take a look. It’s meant to be understandable to anyone – straight-forward, concise, and jargon-free – so if it’s not, kindly let me know. Also, I included links to all of the reference sources that I could, and where I couldn’t I linked to the abstract, in case you wanted to check out the sources.

INTRODUCTION

Attraction is the compulsion to seek the attention of a specific person usually, but not exclusively, for mating. It is a strong, inherent drive, which evidence indicates is an evolved mechanism to help us choose a partner that will provide the best combination of genes, resources, and care (Trivers, 1972). One manifestation of this is the near-universal preference that women have for a particular combination of youthful and mature male facial features as a way to identify mates that have an ideal combination of genes, youthful energy, resources and skills, as well as a caring and nurturing personality (Cunningham, Barbee, & Pike, 1990). The evolution of both short term and long term mating strategies indicates that there are often trade-offs when we seek certain parental qualities — such as physical beauty — over others, such as high-status or resources (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Thus, choosing mates is a challenging proposition.

Modern men and women still struggle to find the best balance when choosing between attractive mate and ideal parental partner. It is a search that is shifting from an in-person, physical process to one that is increasingly taking place online. Humans evolved to make mating choices in person, so making accurate assessments of physical, emotional, and economic attractiveness on an online venue is a new challenge to mate choice that is being researched (Merkle & Richardson, 2000).  One issue being investigated is how individuals rate choices for trustworthiness, interpersonal attraction, and the Big Five personality traits from various kinds of online dating profiles (Jin & Martin, 2015). What researchers are uncovering is that, in the kinds of information-poor environments where we are increasingly searching for our partners, that it is very difficult to predict with whom we will be compatible (Joel, Eastwick, & Finkel, 2017)

This difficulty is significant when approximately one-third of marriages that occurred between 2005 and 2012 began online (J. Cacioppo, S. Cacioppo, Gonzaga, Ogburn, & VanderWeele, 2013), and from 2013 to 2015, the use of online dating sites and dating apps increased approximately 36% for all age groups, and almost tripled for 18-24 year olds, according to data from the Pew Research Center (Smith & Anderson, 2016).

As Feingold (1992) points out, there is a complicated set of both attraction and non-attraction related factors that influence mate choice. Moreover, our initial perceptions of accessible traits (e.g. physical attractiveness) influence our perceptions of non-accessible traits that take more time and effort to discover (e.g. responsibility). The more time someone has invested in another person, the less likely they are to end a relationship when unfavorable information is discovered (Feingold, 1992).

In 1968, Zajonc introduced the idea of the mere-exposure effect, whereby individuals respond to repeated exposure to a stimulus with increasing positive affect. Harmon-Jones & Allen (2001) confirmed that the mere-exposure effect does successfully increase positive affect for stimuli. Lee (2001) further concluded that uncertainty reduction could explain the increase in positive affect. The amount of time a subject is exposed to stimuli also affects the amount of positive affect a subject feels for the stimuli. (Huang & Hsieh, 2012)

These stimuli are present on dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, where people indicate they are interested in meeting someone by swiping on the profile photo they are interested in. The photo is listed only with the name and age of the individual in the photo. If the individual in the photo also selects as attractive the person that thought they were attractive, the app gives them an opportunity to have a conversation to decide if they want to meet. Thus, with the increasing usage of dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, the degree to which people seeking dates believe they can accurately assess attractiveness, and perhaps other qualities, at first glance is increasingly important. Additionally, the evidence that the amount of exposure affects how individuals feel about a stimulus has important implications for decision-making on dating sites like these.

We will seek evidence regarding the influence of the mere-exposure effect on the initial rating of male attractiveness by female subjects.  Consistent with the research on the mere-exposure effect, we hypothesize that subjects will rate the attractiveness of a photographed individual higher on a second viewing than they rated the individual on the first viewing, because the individual will seem more familiar (Zajonc, 1968).  If our hypothesis is correct, then the implication is that individuals using dating apps likely hold flawed assumptions about the value of rating attractiveness based on a single viewing, and the information influencing mate-choice-decisions provided by online dating sites like Bumble and Tinder are not reliably objective. This may have a significant impact on the way that people interact with dating apps in the future.

References

Buss, D.M. & Schmitt, D.P. (1993) Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.100.2.204

Cacioppo, J,T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G.C., Ogburn, E.L., & VanderWeele, T.J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, 25, 10135-10140. doi:10.1073/pnas.1222447110

Cunningham, M.R., Barbee, A.P., & Pike C.L. (1990). What do women want? Facialmetric assessment of multiple motives in the perception of male facial physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 61-72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.59.1.61

Feingold, A. (1992) Gender differences in mate selection preferences: A test of the parental investment model. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 125-139. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.125

Harmon-Jones, E. & Allen, J.J.B. (2001). The role of affect in the mere exposure effect: Evidence from psychophysiological and individual differences approaches. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 889-898. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167201277011

Huang, Y.-F. & Hsieh, P.-J. (2013). The mere exposure effect is modulated by selective attention but not visual awareness. Vision Research, 91, 56-61. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2013.07.017

Jin, S.V. & Martin, C. (2015). “A match made online?” The effects of user-generated online dater profile types (free-spirited versus uptight) on other users’ perception of trustworthiness, interpersonal attraction, and personality. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18, 320-327. doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0564

Joel, S., Eastwick, P.W., Finkel, E.J. (2017). Is romantic desire predictable? Machine learning applied to initial romantic attraction. Psychological Science, 28, 1478-1489. doi:10.1177/0956797617714580

Lee, A.Y. (2001). The mere exposure effect: an uncertainty reduction explanation revisited. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1255-1266. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672012710002

Merkle, E.R. & Richardson, R.A. (2000). Digital dating and virtual relating: conceptualizing computer mediated romantic relationships. Family Relations, 49, 187-192. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2000.00187.x

Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2016, February 29). Fact Tank: 5 facts about online dating. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/5-facts-about-online-dating/

Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man (pp. 136-179). Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.

Zajonc, R.B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monographs,9(2, Pt. 2).

Love you all,

Questions

What sorts of things do you wonder about?

There are definitely things that don’t interest me, but I’m curious about more things than not. Most particularly, I feel compelled to understand why people think/feel/do what they do. Thinking of questions is easy. Actually asking the questions makes me feel vulnerable about feeling ignorant, feeling too insignificant to deserve an answer to something that someone might consider personal, feeling like I can’t find the right words to ask what I really want to know.

That said, my curiosity is often stronger than any fear I may feel, so then I ask my questions anyway; but, amazingly, I do have a filter and I keep things to myself more often than some people might guess. Those thoughts usually end up on paper, stored away while I distract myself by musing why I’m so interested in the answers.

  • What did you wish people understood about you without having to ask?
  • Who knows you best in the world? What do they understand about you better than anyone else? What makes the way you interact so natural to you?
  • Who do you know best in the world? What is it they know/do/understand that no one else does? Is there anything you wish they knew/did/understood better?
  • How do the friends that you value most complement you?
  • What about other people makes you feel the most uncomfortable?
  • Is there a friendship from your past that you miss? What do you miss about it? Why is that friendship in the past?
  • Are there any unique, must-have characteristics you look for in a friend?
  • Is there a trait that you believe it’s important to have that you personally have to work hard to cultivate?
  • Do you believe in regret?
  • Which of your five senses do you believe you could live without?
  • What have you learned that has changed your life?
  • What do you struggle with that you wish came more easily to you?
  • Do you think the work you do is an accurate reflection of who you are? Has it always been?
  • Do you have any guilty pleasures? Do they truly make you feel guilty?
  • How do you define/identify love?
  • What was your most surprising/painful/amazing experience with love?
  • Is there anything you wish you had told someone but didn’t/couldn’t?
  • Do you resent or are particularly frustrated by any of the sacrifices you’ve had to make in life?
  • What is the thing you’re most proud of having made/done?
  • In what ways do you hold yourself back?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?
  • What question don’t you want me to ask?

What are the questions that live in your mind? Are there questions you wonder about that you’re too scared to ask?  What are some questions you’ve been asking yourself? Are there questions that people (or even you, yourself) balk at answering, or even hearing?

I hope that you all are doing well, and have something to look forward to!

Love you all,

Digging Into The Science

Is That Real Science?
My primary intellectual interest is in Social Psychology and related fields. In case that explanation alone isn’t enough to express why I want to do article discussion posts – to talk about our ideas and feelings, and how we’re the same and different, and special and insane – I want to share that one goal is to challenge ourselves to think about something we may not have given a lot of thought to before. Also, to have us all thinking about the same thing, to evoke our unique perspectives and apply them together to learn things and expand our views in a way that is impossible alone. I think that’s the whole point of there being more than one of us on this planet.

Often, the articles that I’ll choose for article discussions will come from peer reviewed journals. That means that before an article is accepted or published, it is reviewed by rival scholars in the field who are both familiar with the research techniques being used, and the topic being examined. So, for the reviewers, though they are generally anonymous, it is in their best interest to be honest and fair in their assessment of the article – for better or worse – because no one wants to stake their professional reputation with the journals (that are likely also considering some of their articles for publication) by unfairly or inaccurately judging the work of a colleague.

Even with the high standards to which social scientists are held by their peers, for some hard science devotees, a critical question remains:

Can you really call Psychology research – science?

When discussing History, or one of the other soft social sciences, the debate can be pretty murky because social sciences deal with the subject of people, and the study of something so varied and complicated rarely results in any one single right answer. Psychology, at least, has the distinction of being grounded in the function of the physical structures of the brain, which are increasingly being illuminated by Neurology, which is more concrete than domains like personality. But, unlike Physics, there is a wider and more uncertain range within which any behavior studied in the Social Sciences can be called predictable or measurable. You, perhaps, have a different word for that, one I’ve heard is: terrifying.

Unless you are married to the idea of a black-and-white world, we must admit uncertainty in everything – most particularly in perception – even of something we think of as being concrete. I would even go so far as to argue that Physics theory itself (compared to experimental data, which is always a little fuzzier than theorists would wish)  is less clear and concrete than a hard-science-enthusiast might be willing to concede (such as is being revealed by the difficulties of confirming the details of the Standard Theory of Particle Physics). Science, of any form, is always struggling to discover what it doesn’t know it doesn’t know, and the degree to which what we know and don’t know is interconnected. You know, easy stuff.

So, then, I assert that the only standard to which “Science” can be measured is by its commitment to the principles of the scientific method, including a willingness to change or abandon your hypothesis when the data indicates it is necessary.

I will ask you to evaluate for yourself the degree to which any research adheres to the Scientific Method; but perhaps it goes without saying, that I believe Psychology, along with the other Social Sciences, hold themselves up to the same scientific standards as those in the hard sciences. We can never know anything perfectly – even Newtonian physics breaks down at the atomic level – but in the Social Sciences we can still get results that are both replicable as well as practical and applicable in a broader population. In short, you can reprove the results, and get good real-world information that people can use to make their lives better; and if we don’t discover all of the hidden secrets of the universe today, well, then there’s always tomorrow.

Getting off my soapbox …

WHERE DO YOU FIND ARTICLES?
The places that I most commonly look for research articles, particularly when I am not affiliated with a university – as I haven’t been for …  a while – are JSTOR and Google Scholar.

JSTOR is an online repository of Social Science research articles from a large number of academic journals. Universities pay big money to obtain full access for their community. But recently, JSTOR has made it possible for anyone not affiliated with a university to get access to a significant portion of their library. In general, that means you’re limited to three articles every two weeks, and you can’t download them, but, that’s a much better deal than you’d get from the journal publishers, who might charge around $30 to download (or just read) a single article. They also have a pretty reasonable subscription program, for more serious unaffiliated scholars, with less restricted access for about $100 per year.

Google Scholar is a special branch of the Google search engine that only searches for peer-reviewed articles. Not every article will have free access, and some only give access to the abstract on the publisher’s website, but for a more general search, Google Scholar is perfect because there isn’t a restriction to the number of free articles that you can access or download when you find them.

If you can get an article citation, many universities still have physical copies of many journals, and access to the libraries and their photocopiers is generally not restricted to the university community. It’s definitely worth exploring.

Our First Journal Article

 I first started writing this post two weeks ago, and have pondered what would make the most exciting article to suggest for discussion. The first article I ended up posting, though very thought provoking, was not a peer-reviewed journal article, so I didn’t want to post it here.

During the last week, the Psychology Research Methods class that I’m sitting in on started to delve into peer-reviewed research articles. Since it’s been a long time since I’ve had a university’s library resources at my disposal … I might have gone a little … I was going to say “overboard,” but really, if there are that many articles that I haven’t read, I think it just means I’m behind in my reading. But, I found a lot. I’m so excited. But, I’m still sorting through it all and couldn’t pick just one, yet.

So, instead of my choosing an article, I’m going to encourage you to explore Google Scholar and JSTOR and find an article about something you find interesting.

Next time, I’ll write a little about the fun articles I’ve been finding, I’ll tell you what I know about digesting peer reviewed research efficiently, and I’ll talk a little about how to evaluate – even within peer-reviewed research – which articles have the most impact in the field, and if that means anything about the value you may or may not take away from an article.

The last thing I’ll ask you to think about as you search for and read your article(s) is, even if the work you’re reading is very specific in scope, imagine how the skill researchers have and continue to develop in doing their work makes them increasingly capable of nuanced and significant discovery. Even if you’re reading about research that does not have immediate or obvious practical applications (think: transistors), can you imagine how it might inspire others to imagine things that never occurred to them before (think: pretty much everything in our world today)?

We live in a web of interconnection, and sometimes we can’t discern something’s significance because it’s so broad that it takes a long time to understand. So, be patient with yourselves as you read, and be patient with the researchers. We’re here to do our best, make mistakes, be compassionate, to get excited and inspire each other to make the most of what we share in this world. The most important tool we have to accomplish all of that is words, words, words, and our mutual striving to share and understand them.


I don’t think this is what Shakespeare intended when Hamlet spoke words, words, words.

I’d love, love for you to comment about what article(s) you find!!

Love you all,

Comfort With Discomfort

There will be many times I will ask you to consider your boundaries and the value of stepping into discomfort, to be brave in challenging yourself to experience something more fully and to shift perspective away from “black & white” or “good & bad” to something more complex. We often equate “good” with the things that we expected, are familiar or wanted, and “bad” with the opposite. And, though I am just as guilty of that as anyone – like you, I have waded through enough of both to understand the latter helps us to grow and the former serves to reinforce our comfort zone.

It is, therefore, with some amount of irony that I chose the article I’m suggesting for our first article discussion because, at its core, it’s about the damage that being comfortable with discomfort can cause in society.

The difference between the two forms of “comfort with discomfort” is who benefits from the discomfort.  Challenging yourself to grow beyond your present self into your future self may certainly benefit others, but ultimately it all benefits you. Asking one person to bear the cost of another’s convenience or desire is something different.

ARTICLE
Loofbourow, L. (2018, January 25). The female price of male pleasure. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from http://theweek.com/articles/749978/female-price-male-pleasure

When a woman says “I’m uncomfortable” and leaves a sexual encounter in tears, then, maybe she’s not being a fragile flower with no tolerance for discomfort. And maybe we could stand to think a little harder about the biological realities a lot of women deal with, because unfortunately, painful sex isn’t the exceptional outlier we like to pretend it is. It’s pretty damn common.

QUESTIONS
Let’s discuss! Here are some questions I thought of. I’d love to hear your questions in the comments!

  1. Does this article hit home for you?
  2. What do you agree with?
  3. What do you disagree with?
  4. Did the author leave anything out?
  5. What is your take-away quote from the article? or What from the article do you wish you could automatically make others understand?
  6. How can we deconstruct the problem? What are some “what can I do” solutions?

N.B. I do vet the comments before they are posted, and trolling – anything that is written with the assumption that anyone is stupid, or less-than, or any other form of ugliness or hatred – will be deleted without apology. If you are genuinely curious, open to self-questioning, and are just looking for more information, but aren’t sure whether your perspective will be perceived as trolling, the best advice I can give is, first, to ask a question rather than make a statement and, second,  ask yourself if that question depends on an assumption being true. If there is an underlying assumption that is something other than all people are worthy and equal, then I’d ask you to dig deeper and start with a question that has a universally valid premise.

DISCUSSION
For me, core argument of the article was that good women and men, alike, have been acculturated to believe that when work must be done to bridge a gap between male needs and female needs, that the costs will be primarily paid by women. The main example used to illustrate that point was the recent story about Aziz Ansari, asking us to imagine why the woman who brought her story to light – even if you believe she could have made a different decision – what could explain why a woman  in that position might believe the path she chose was the only real option she had in the situation.

Honestly, I cried when I was reading the article. Even though the number of people I’ve dated is a pretty small sample size, I think it’s remarkable that I can’t say I’ve ever dated a guy that didn’t, at some point, make me feel like my hesitation or refusal to do something he wanted must mean that I didn’t deserve to be treated as well as before, or that I wasn’t worth the same investment of energy as before.

I’m not talking about poor choices about men, either. If you know me, and know my husband or any of the guys I dated before him, then you know that even the worst choice of partners that I’ve ever made was considered by the majority of people that knew him as being a decent guy, certainly fun and personable, if not kind and considerate.  Furthermore, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t describe my husband as a great guy. And yet, although I haven’t run the numbers, I wouldn’t be shocked if there wasn’t a statistically significant difference in the number of times sex has led to my having an orgasm compared to my partners, and yet, I feel like the consensus of the world around me is – “well, female orgasms are just so …. tricky. Be grateful you’ve had any.” So, to read an article that so emphatically suggested that wasn’t just my problem, and to suggest that the dirty secret behind the perpetuation of this behavior is not the salty-man-whores of the world, but that both good men and women buy into a double standard of social and behavioral expectations; further, to suggest that women are allowed to question why we asked to bear that burden? In many ways, I cried tears of both relief and fear.

I think it’s easy to imagine why I would feel relief. But the fear? Maybe you understand that too. Fear that there’s a limit to how much “good” you’re allowed to have without paying for it the way someone else chooses, not giving a second thought about subjugating your needs or wants. Fear that standing up for your needs will result in poorer net treatment. Fear that you’ll have to give up all of the comforts of relationships to escape the burdens of “minding the gap.” Fear because you’ve repeatedly felt all of those consequences of standing up for yourself, and then some. Our brains aren’t wired for isolation (Banks, 2016), but when we aren’t collectively comfortable with discomfort, discomfort turns into a threat to which we retaliate by isolating the source of our discomfort; pushing it away.

I’m not sure the attitudes this article outlines are the best approach to solving the problems we’re facing as a society. I’ll leave it to you to decide how those attitudes contribute to the causes of those problems. But, again, I’m curious to read your thoughts about this article, your answers to the questions I had, and what your own questions are!

Love you all,

The Conversations We Don’t Have

This month I’ve been contemplating the impact the last year has made on everyone around me. Not to ignore the possibility that I have just taken on a particularly pessimistic view, but it seems like most of the people I know have been struggling, in one way or another, more than I have ever known them to be before.

Me being me, all I feel I can do is step back and try to understand if there’s anything I can do to make it better. It’s a double edged sword, because though I feel busy with my thoughts and I feel control by distancing myself from the rawness of all the emotions, ultimately I just feel isolated, wondering whether I have any real ability to understand the minds and actions of others, especially when few people seem to be interested in talking about the questions I want to ask.

I’ve always been the most curious about people from whom I could learn the most. I don’t just mean people that got better grades than I did – but people who thought of questions that didn’t occur to me, people to saw and traveled paths that I didn’t see, people who understood the value of something that I didn’t, people who felt strength in a situation where I felt lost; It has always been the people who saw the world in a different way than I did who have always been the most precious to me.

People who were different were the ones who helped me to see what I didn’t know that I didn’t know. They were the ones who helped me to expand the lens through which I viewed the world. They were the ones who helped me better understand the value of things I wasn’t familiar with, or how to handle situations that terrified me. Even when they weren’t kind about our differences, our interactions have helped me to become wiser and stronger. And I hope that I have, in any small way, been able to reciprocate that.

However, we are still being sold a message that similarity is a sign of value and character, and it feels like we’re still buying it. One person who was extremely dear to me once told me they were scared that if they weren’t as smart as me that they felt like they were just one conversation away from being discovered that they weren’t what I thought, no matter how aggressively I tried to explain otherwise. Ultimately, they chose to leave rather than confront that. Ignoring that the kind of “smart” that is valued (whether intellectual, or financial, or technical, or creative) typically represents a very narrow slice of what intelligence actually incorporates, my own hypothesis is that our time has become so precious, in our pursuit to survive in the Western world, that we (feel like?) we have very little time and, thus, feel very little justification to spend time with anyone that doesn’t make us feel comfortable, even if it’s unintentional.

I have become increasingly convinced that the most helpful thing I can do is to shake the cage – whether metaphorically or physically – to help people take a step out of their comfort zone and have a hard conversation with someone they love.

If it makes us too uncomfortable to have a hard conversation with someone we love (or like), how do we have a productive, compassionate, difficult conversation with someone that we don’t? 

Isn’t that what this last year has been all about?

We need to reach out and practice compassion, and patience (with ourselves as much as with others) in conversations with people who love us. We need to practice compassion and patience when people approach us with those conversations.

Maybe you all do this! Maybe I’m the only one stuck. As much as I haven’t been enjoying this feeling, I think I could bear it if I knew that it was just me, and that I was the only one that needed to grow. I recently acquired a new tool to help me, and though it’s silly, it helps.

So tell me, please! Am I the only one who struggles to have hard conversations with people? Do people avoid you when you want to talk about difficult topics (things they aren’t interested in, are scared of, or things they don’t believe they have power to change), or is it just me?

From where I’m sitting, all I can figure is that we’re being told that being unable to solve a far-away problem removes our agency, and if we don’t have power to change something – in ourselves or in others – then there’s no point in discussing it. I believe, however, that the only agency that matters is our ability to broach difficult topics and have genuine conversations, whether or not they have concrete outcomes, with the people we care about. I think the greatest power we have to change anything (and everything) is to get the people who love us on our side, and to show others that we’re not so different, and that we’re all worth loving, and that love isn’t always easy – in fact, that love – platonic, romantic, fraternal – is always hard as hell at one point or another, and it’s still worth it.

Am I wrong?

What do you wish you could ask someone and get an honest (compassionate) answer? What would happen if you tried? Do you think spreading this message can help change their reaction? Do you wish it could?

Does anyone try to have conversations with you that you don’t want to have? Do you avoid them? Why? Do you have a sense of the impact that has on the other person? Is there a cost to avoiding the conversation? Do you think you understand the true cost? Is the price worth it?

Love you all,

Dr King: The Lesson of Loving One Another

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’ve had any real claim to struggle and suffering in my life. Like many people that grew up in dysfunction and poverty, I didn’t have an idyllic childhood, and I never felt like I fit in. But, let’s be real. I’m super white. I have blonde-ish hair. I’m a girl. As long as I was willing to be vulnerable, people were always willing to help me. Although I deeply resent the superficiality of it it, I deeply appreciate the advantage; it’s helped me a great deal and I don’t know that there’s any other appropriate response than – gratitude.

So, it’s with a great deal of humility that I suggest that I have something to contribute on the day we use to celebrate the legacy of Dr. ML King.

Because of and despite both the positive and negative aspects of my life, it has been one of my life’s goals to understand the nature of human interaction and love. There are few people in history that have demonstrated the power of love more than Dr. King.

Love is the critical ingredient in making something that’s good for one of us, good for all of us.

But what Dr. King also showed, better than most, is that loving can be crazy-hard; and that the love that challenges us is the love we have the deepest responsibility to pursue. It’s easy to pursue selfish love; it’s much harder to look at the bigger picture and believe in the power of love that we give away, especially when we don’t have faith that it will grow and come back.

That sounds exactly as irritating and frustrating to me as it does to anyone else. I tend to see the world around me in a big-picture way. It’s always felt more comfortable to navigate my feelings in the abstract than in concrete one-on-one terms. What I’ve come to realize in the past few years, and this year in particular, is how important and difficult it can be to love your neighbor. But, what I’ve come to question is whether, in our inability to love our neighbors, we must face our own immaturity in love.

When I say neighbor, I don’t just mean the greasy guy next door that doesn’t ever wear shirts, throws beer cans into your yard, and shoots bottle rockets at your roof. Yeah. You don’t have to like him, but showing that person genuine human compassion and understanding isn’t about giving someone something they haven’t earned, but creating an emotional environment that makes Life better. It’s what gives you the wherewithal to create positive change. But, by neighbor, I also mean someone that you genuinely like, but struggle to understand; or someone that you love, but struggle to like. I hope I’m not the only one that rationally thinks that shouldn’t be hard, but feels like the struggle is suck-tastic.

So, I have a challenge for us. I created ten Thank You cards to show gratitude to (ten different) people in our lives. Some of them are things it’s easy to be grateful for, some aren’t. They’re meant to be colored – both as a meditation and as a way to show you’ve invested effort and time – then they’re meant to be given away. Anonymously or not. But, even if you can’t bring yourself to give them away, write names on all ten and spend some time in your awareness that these ten things and those ten people deserve acknowledgement and gratitude, even if it’s silent and even when it’s hard. In the end, confronting those difficult feelings is what makes us strong and whole, and I think that’s worth fighting for, even if and especially when others benefit, too.

Thanks and Gratitude Cards
Thanks and Gratitude Envelopes
(download links)

Which is the card that’s going to be the easiest to give away? Which is going to be the hardest? Who is the person in your life that’s the easiest to love, and why? Who’s the hardest? Why? What do you think could change if you loved that person better (the way they needed to be loved). What do you fear might happen if you did?

Love you all,

Unpacking Emotions

I’m going to read your mind. Let’s ignore, momentarily, how impressive that is – especially since I can’t even read your face right now – because this is important.

I have a sense that. very recently, you’ve had so many options in some facet of your life that you didn’t know how to begin sorting it out.

I wanted to make sure we could all imagine being in the same boat when I told you that I’ve had so many ideas for this blog for so long, that I’ve spend the last week spinning my wheels to try and sort out where I wanted to start.

Cue: Radio Silence.

But, it seems to me that’s as good a place to start as any; maybe even the most important place. Where better to begin than the place that feels the most confusing and chaotic. I always find it’s more helpful to wade through a mental mess by talking it out.

Here’s where I’m going to admit something that I’ve only ever told my two best friends in high school, though the people who’ve lived with me have kindly pretended not to notice: I talk to myself. Not just muttering and rambling, either. Full on conversations with fully-realized-yet-not-really-there people. If I’m not careful, I spend my whole day that way, trying to sort out some preoccupation of mine. I think it’s my way of trying to see beyond the limitations of whatever lens I have to look at an issue; some inherent optimism that there’s a solution, even if I can’t see it.

Some of the people in my inventory of imagined characters include: “Ivan,” who is brilliant, logical, condescending, and irascible. He’s a jackass, but I like him a lot. I understand him. “Alexander,” also brilliant, but believes it’s more important to be kind than to reinforce your view. I love him and hate him at exactly the same time, mostly because when I’m imagining him, I’d much rather be screaming and kicking than feeling empathy and compassion. There are others that don’t have names. But, what’s common between them all is that they have very specific points of view that I can use to separate myself from something that might be emotionally overwhelming and analyze it in very specific ways, in a rational manner. At least, as rationally as possible, given said emotional overload.

Here’s an example.

If someone is making me insanely frustrated, usually (but not always) I can reason out that blowing up at them is not going to solve anything. My conversation with Ivan usually makes me feel, first, like I’m justified in feeling what I’m feeling and allows me to be present with it, and it also makes me glad I’m not as mean as Ivan would be about it. My conversation with Alexander makes me think about what external forces could explain the behavior. It helps me consider ways not to take it personally, which is helpful, but it also forces me to acknowledge that we all get to be imperfect, and bad behavior isn’t (usually) about poor character. Usually, at that point, I’m tired of being rational, and I’ll invent someone to gossip with about Ivan and Alexander, and then we make up inappropriate lyrics to loud Beethoven music and sometimes go outside to draw lewd things in sidewalk chalk that I blame on “uncivilized children.”

I’m going to keep this conversation short-ish today, but I’m curious – how is it that you begin to dig out from something that’s confusing and bothering you? What works best? Does it feel crazy to you? Any less crazy than the things you’re preoccupied with? At what point do you start to ask yourself if feeling crazy is better than stuffing things down? Does everyone get to that point? Why or why not?

Free Printable: Weekly Calendar

It’s a new year. For me, this year is one of change. I’m transitioning from being a stay-at-home mom and professional artist for the last nine years to working toward getting accepted to a Ph.D. program in Social Psychology.

My undergraduate degree is in History (Medieval Europe) with a minor in Anthropology (Archaeology), and my master’s work was in Curriculum & Instruction (Social Studies Education, and Gifted Education & Talent Development). Although my Master’s work was heavy in developmental and educational psychology, I still have some work to do to be a strong candidate, which means classes and working as a research assistant in the Social Interaction Lab at the University of Minnesota.

Hence, my need for a weekly planning sheet. I wanted it to be fun. You might think it’s irreverent, but on the off chance you need a free weekly planner sheet, here it is:

The standard caveats apply: not for commercial use, profit, electronic or physical redistribution, not to be altered to remove the copyright, and not for lining birdcages or litter boxes. Reuse and recycle responsibly – origami and paper hats are encouraged.

What features do you like to have on your weekly planning sheets?

Enjoy!