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grocery store sages

In April, I wrote about coming to understand people as processes, not fixed states. My reflections were inspired, in part, by former NYU professor Neil Postman, my favorite teacher yet on the art of perspectiving.

His lessons have been especially helpful at the grocery store the last few months. At the heavier end of my weight scale, I’ve gotten a lot of commentary about what’s in my basket. “Oh, that’s a lot of chips!” someone will exclaim. “Do you know where the greens are?” another will ask.

The first couple of times I got comments like these, I laughed aloud. I didn’t really get where these comments were coming from, but thought it was so funny that strangers thought I’d value their ill informed assessments.

The third or fourth time, I still chuckled quietly, but I was curious. What was going on, that 150-pound me got no grocery cart comments, ever, but that 200-pound me averages one a week?

Thanks to Neil Postman, the answer became clear virtually as soon as I began asking the question. These grocery store commenters were making snap judgments based on limited data. They were looking at me and seeing not a process but a fixed state; instead of seeing this moment as one frame of a very lengthy movie, they saw the moment and confused it for the movie.

After I figured this out, I kept laughing. How absurd, for these folks to think they know a person based on a frame’s data, and then to stage a mini-intervention!

Things that can be seen in a single grocery store visit: the shopper’s current weight; top layer of contents of cart

Things that cannot be seen in a single grocery store visit (non-comprehensive list): the shopper’s weight for the rest of their lifetime; the eighteen pounds of greens below the chips; grief; stress; childhood trauma that has enduring impacts into adulthood; the 30-60 minutes someone walks/does yoga/bounces on a trampoline daily; the 2-3 cups of greens eaten with virtually every meal, most of which are Paleo; the non-Paleo beer consumed for months to take the edge off pain; the 2.5 hours spent in traffic daily moving to and away from a desk job; etc.

Apart from offering me a chance to laugh, these grocery store sages have given me another gift. They’ve reminded me to remain aware of my own human propensity to confuse a frame for the entire film.

Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” I’m definitely not catching all my judgments, but I’m getting better by the day.

This was especially clear about two weeks ago, when I sat reading in a coffee shop. One particular sentence in the book I was reading, Kelly Brogan’s A Mind of Your Own, practically jumped off the page at me.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking at someone I love and assuming–with some bemusement–certain inspirations for certain behaviors. Brogan’s sentence revealed a whole different set of possible explanations, whapping me on the head with a reminder how little of that personal film I can see. From 1,000 frames, I’ve been filling in the millions I cannot see. I have not been doing so with nuance, instead using broad strokes.

As the pounds slide off me now, having set aside the beer and added meditation+, I’m sure I still have weeks to months of grocery store sage commentary ahead. I’ll keep laughing, naturally; that comes easily.

I’ll also aim to use their words as a reminder. I’m making judgments, too, and the grocery store sages’ words can be my ongoing call to not confuse my own limited perception with reality.

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Not a fixed state

This morning, I read an article on business “culture.” Its author wrote about this in a way that demands quotation marks be placed around the word. Is “culture” really some fixed thing, perceived and experienced the same way by everyone?

As I read, I imagined the author conversing with Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, authors of the 1969 book Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The book is less about teaching than assumptions, and specifically learning to explore and challenges one’s own assumptions, including those shaped by a specific language. One of my favorite passages is about “the mind”:

Even the words “the mind” are subtly metaphoric. Think of those words for a moment. Why the mind? Why a noun? Why a “thing”? As John Dewey and Arthur Bentley observed, we would come much closer to actuality if we spoke of “minding” (as a process) than of “the mind” (as a thing).

With that passage in mind (ahem), I chuckled at the idea of “a culture.” Why does English treat it as a thing, not a process? It’s dynamic and evolving, shaped by many factors and influences, not a point in time! It seems more apt, then, to think of “culturing” than of “culture.” Every day, through countless acts and interchanges, the people who participate in a company or community are shaping it. They might be said to be “culturing,” rather than “impacting ‘the’ culture.”

I have no answers to these questions, but I do love reflecting upon them. Before last month, I’d never really considered how language shaped my world instead of simply helping me describe it. Now, I see dozens of examples of this shaping every day. It’s fun exploring these questions I didn’t even realize were questions a few weeks ago.

If this isn’t enough for you to mull over, here’s a parting consideration I’d do well to hold in mind keep minding: “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” This is important because judgment can make us “behave in response to our judgments rather than that which is being judged” and because: “People and things are processes. Judgments convert them into fixed states.”

I’m not a fixed state. Are you?

This 4/4/17 post transferred from L2SP 6/3/17

Weekend Coffee Share: Caught up in now

If we were meeting for drinks, I’d tell you over sparkling water that I don’t have much new to say.

I already wrote about having lost my fear. And I told you–granted, in a post, but you’ve told me you read those–about my son’s sixth birthday party.

What I can tell you above and beyond that is how surprisingly exhausted I am today. Half the people attending yesterday’s party were friends and parents from Li’l D’s new school, which made it hard to feel at ease for at least the first hour. My very first interaction was with another mother telling me she doesn’t believe in spoiling kids. She eyeballed the bounce house we’d rented as she said this, her implications hanging heavy in the air between us. Read more…

The “reasonable person” delusion

Law school introduced me to the idea of the “reasonable person.” TheFreeDictionary explains this idea as follows:

A phrase frequently used in tort and Criminal Law to denote a hypothetical person in society who exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct and who serves as a comparative standard for determining liability.

I wish I could say I questioned the idea of a “reasonable person” at the time, but I didn’t. I was too caught up in my enchantment with the notion of a clean, easy standard applicable to human actions or actors to even want to question it. Nice and objective, right? I thought so then.

Nearly a decade post graduation, I shudder at the very sight of the words “reasonable person.”

prof deb

For starters, Read more…

I AM NOT YOU

I subscribe to several hundred blogs.

Some of the bloggers I follow are work-at-home moms. Others are work-at-home dads.

Many of these blogs are by moms and dads working outside the home. Some have kids with special needs; others have kids who are physically and neurally “typical.” Still others of the blogs I follow are written by folks who have no kids; some never want to have kids.

I follow a handful of teens, as well as some college students. I follow others whose age and parental experiences are totally unknown to me, because they choose to focus on one part of their experience: their faith, their crafts, their hardships with a specific aspect of their lives, like mental illness or being gay within hostile communities.

Apart from the fact we are all human with the same physiological needs, the bloggers I follow have just one thing in common: Read more…

Breastfeeding, judgment and–finally–joyous mothering

Time spent regretting is time not spent making now better. I know this, but knowing doesn’t always magically deflect all pangs when I recall certain things. For example, it still pains me that I shirked most responsibility for wrongdoings when I was younger, leaving punishment to fall on my younger siblings.

Haven't changed a bit since then

Haven’t changed a bit

I choke up when I remember my high school graduation night. I spent the evening with my boyfriend and his family, not once considering that my mom might want to celebrate with me. I arrived home to find a table full of party food and a celebratory banner, but not a single person still awake to celebrate with me. My mom had spent money she didn’t have to celebrate me, and I hadn’t even bothered to show up. Nineteen years later, I still ache when I remember.

Bitterest of all is my remorse for all the joyous moments I failed to note the first two months of my son’s life. I sometimes saw his sweet face and appreciated it for what it was, but far more often I saw it and sobbed at what I could not do right for him: breastfeed.

As we were preparing for our release from the hospital, a lactation consultant stated ominously, “He’s losing too much weight. If you don’t get him eating soon, you’re going to have a serious problem.”

“Okay. So how do I get him to eat? What’s the plan?”

“Keep trying.”

“That’s not a plan. You’re telling me I’m going to have a problem, but you’re not giving me tools to fix it. That’s a problem.”

“Well . . . you can come back to our clinic if things aren’t working out.”

That was it. That was my guidance as I brought home a child the hospital recognized was barely eating.

I tried, and tried, and kept trying. I bawled as I told my visiting just-younger sister, “I’m a terrible mom. I can’t make him breastfeed. I’m failing.”

They saw the bigger picture that I couldn't

They saw the bigger picture that I couldn’t

Gently, my sister would try coaxing me to see that there is more to motherhood than simply feeding a child. She pointed to my love and loving care, but I could not hear her. Neither could I hear my son’s father, my partner, who shared my sister’s sentiment and added that all would be well as long as we got food into our son somehow. Between finger, spoon and syringe feeding, we did manage to get breast milk into him. We just weren’t doing it right. Specifically, I wasn’t doing it right.

I would never have judged another mother, but I judged myself hard. I wasn’t alone, either. I desperately sought practical guidance from breastfeeding forums, where some mothers responded with kind, encouraging words, but many others said things like:

  • I judge bottle feeders. And formula feeders? Even worse. I am doing it right. I am a better mom.
  • You’re using bottles? You’re poisoning your child with that plastic filth? Shame on you.
  • Women who don’t breastfeed just aren’t as motivated as me. They’re lazy.

These cold, hurtful statements so bluntly put–and abundant in almost every forum thread I visited–affirmed my conviction that I was a failure. The cheers of assent from the peanut gallery made this even easier to believe. It didn’t matter what my partner said, or my sister, or my friends. They were supposed to be nice to me. It was their job to tell me I was doing it right. Only forum strangers could be trusted to give it to me like it really was. Never mind that, like the hospital lactation consultant, they seldom gave one bit of constructive assistance.

Read more…

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