Posts Tagged ‘perception’

cherishing now (and trees)

My childhood home stood on a corner. In addition to having a small lawn at its front, it had one outside the backyard fence along its left side. My mom once planted several small trees there.

A few years after she planted them, she happened to talk to a man who worked with trees. He said that one of the trees should be cut down, pointing to some kind of dark mark inside a gash and saying the tree was already dead. It looked very much alive to my mom, who argued there must be something she could do to save it.

Nope, he affirmed. It’s already dead. It just looks like it’s still alive because it takes a while to for results of death to be evident to the human eye.

My mom, whose mental illness was itself becoming more evident by the day, thought her neighbors had done it–whatever “it” was. They’d hurt the tree to hurt her.

I simply thought it was interesting.

A few months back, I walked across a courtyard and pondered grim political news I’d just read. I looked up at a tree nearest my destination and thought, This is an illusion. Read more…


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.

A mirror worth looking through

My eyes are swollen. Deep purple crescent moons prop them up.

So bruised do they look, one woman asks if I am safe at home. Others have hinted concern.

But I am safe at home, and it is more than my eyes. My tongue is so thick I stumble over words I’ve spoken confidently since I was two.

“Ugh. I hate how I look,” I whisper to my reflection in the mirror.

“What?” pipes up my five-year-old. “Why?” He drops his toys and joins me next to the mirror. 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…

Race & the willingness to see, or: “Don’t be Bob”

“Racism is dead, folks. Move on!”

“Why are we still talking about race? I’ve never once seen an act of racism. It’s only people in backwater Arkansas who still think like that.”

“I don’t see color, and neither does anyone else these days. I don’t see why some people still want to live in the 1950s when racism was actually a problem.”

"My cat doesn't see it, either. She's above that."

“My cat doesn’t see it, either. She’s above that.”

I’ve seen dozens of variations on these words in the past few days. I’d look for direct quotes, but honestly, I’d get so grumpy scanning through comments for the verbatim gems I’d end up devouring a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s instead of writing this blog. (And I don’t even eat dairy! Or added sugar!)

Aren’t I pasty white person? Yes, indeedy! But as the pasty white mama of a lovely mocha-colored cub, I’ve been inspired to research race and racism in a way I wasn’t before, back when I thought it didn’t exist save in backwater Arkansas.

Oh, yeah, I did.

Since I was told my child would experience racism someday, I’ve been a motivated race researcher. The things I learn now and teach my son about are the things he’ll be better prepared to face as he grows. A decade ago, I could afford to think whatever I wanted about race and racism. It was (mostly, Arkansas excepted) a historical artifact, not a real thing that had real impacts on real modern life.

Then I started seeing, really seeing, articles I’d glossed over before: ones addressing racial profiling prevalent today, ones discussing Hunger Games fans’ horror upon discovering a beloved character was (gasp!) black, ones discussing prevalence of racial prejudice even in 2012, and pretty much everything ever posted on PublicShaming. Examples are endless, once we start looking, but then–how many people go out looking for them, assuming racism doesn’t actually exist anymore? I surely didn’t, and see through comments such as those starting this post that many folks still stand in my old shoes.

I used to say I was color blind, before I realized being color blind was a privilege I was afforded by my skin color. It’s much harder, after all, to be color blind when you are singled out for the color of skin on a daily basis, such as for driving while black, shopping while black or simply being black in the “wrong” neighborhood. As one friend wrote about her experiences in law enforcement: Read more…

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