Sunday, February 27, 2011

Early Inspiration Monday

Occasionally I feel like going into hibernation. There is so much creative output, writing, expression, and conversation happening every day in my life that every once in a long while I become empty. Not empty of thoughts, but empty of the desire to distribute them out to the world. I need a recharging time. So you probably won't see much here for a little while. Don't worry, though, I always come back, revitalized and ready to go again!

Here are my interesting links for the week (and most likely for the next few weeks as well). Have fun thinking through them.

Most teachers are forced to focus on preparing their students for "achievement tests", and not preparing them for life or developing their talents. This is one of the sad failures of today's modern public school system.

These bad communication habits are common. Not to say that women don't also contribute just as equally to miscommunication, but this article focuses on areas where men can improve, without disparaging the male population (which I do appreciate).

This is a great outlook on the controversial topic of eating meat. I used to want to be vegetarian, because I didn't like the cruelty behind the meat industry and I just didn't like the taste of animal products; my two long periods of vegetarianism ended due to increasing bouts of illness, unhealthy weight loss, and the realization that my husband (then beloved boyfriend) absolutely loved meat dishes. All around, it's better for me to consume meat in small quantities a few times a week.

After I read about the Language of Vagueness, I haven't been able to stop hearing it spoken wherever I enter the public environment! It's beginning to drive me a little nuts...

One of the questions running through my head recently has been this. I'd like to think that I'm mature, but how do I know? I believe Heather has addressed the topic successfully.

And last but not least, third graders can be totally awesome.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Inspiration Monday

Rather than posting tons of links on Facebook, I'm going to put all the articles, videos, and thoughts that I find online throughout the week in one blog post here. Many other blogs do this and call it Inspiration Monday. I think the idea is that the links will give you positive inspiration to head into your week with joyfully renewed vigor, but my inspiration is a little different. I can't promise that everything here will always be happy-rainbows-puppies-love-filled, but my links will hopefully cause you to think deeply, become more aware of different subjects, question the meaning of things, and perhaps even be willing to try something new. By the way, don't be surprised if you see a link here that you, the reader, either sent to me to read or posted on your own Facebook wall. I will unashamedly use your links for redistribution. In the interests of society, of course : )

Who knew that this rising band which I enjoy was a huge fan of G.K. Chesterton? I'm imagining a Chesterton-inspired CD in the future...

Women complain about men's immaturity, but maybe the real problem is that men have been robbed of the means to find their identity and become mature adults. 

On the other hand, here's one country where the the priorities of women are vastly different than in America. Who knew that this would make women happy? <--- me being sarcastic

Do you think this legendary character was the greatest father ever, or a total parent-failure?

My favorite quote from this article was, "Across the state, thousands of families are quietly pursuing their own path. Not burdening the system, not asking for a handout, not sucking up tax dollars, not filling up the youth prisons or wreaking havoc on the streets. (No, we don't have numbers on this. But do you know anybody mugged by a homeschooler?)" 

What a difference it would make in so many peoples' lives if their views of life and God were centered on this. It inspires me to do the same. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

If You Don't Feel At Home In Your House, You Might Be One Too

My family moved a lot when I was a kid. I lived in eight different places before my eighteenth birthday. Since then, I've moved six more times in five years. Rather than disliking the constant change, I've always loved it, welcoming new environments, neighborhoods, and friends. However, one of the results of frequent change in living situations has been that no physical place feels like "home" anymore.

People are always telling me that they experience a special relief, a sort of comfort or safe feeling, when they arrive "home" after a time of being away. Home for them means the building where they grew up, or at least where they lived for a long period of consecutive years. There are particular smells, sights, sounds of home. The room layout is familiar. The yard hosts a map of well-known bushes and trees. Sometimes even the surrounding area will evoke the same feeling of "home", such as a particular nearby park, favorite walk, or community. Most memories are made and remembered in the house, though. And for good reason... their loved ones, possessions, milestones, and growing experiences are associated with the house. For most people their house is their home because in it are found the things that make them happy. 

But when you move constantly, maybe your mind learns to stop attaching to a physical place. I suppose some people have the opposite reaction where they become overly attached to a place because they are afraid of losing it. At least for me, the feeling of "home" is no longer found in a location. Instead, I experience a sense of home from my family and certain possessions. 

My family is the constant in my life. Anywhere they are gives me the feeling that most people have for "home". Whether I am at their current residence, or mine, or out on the road, or anywhere, if my family is present then I am home.

A more curious realization has been that there are special objects that also give me a small sense of security usually evoked by "home". They seem to be things that have been with me a long time, travel with me no matter where I move, and are a part of good memories. Here's a list of some of these things:

- A pair of black Converse shoes (currently falling apart).

- A leather journal I've had since I was fourteen.

- A small leather-bound Bible, given at high-school graduation.

- Some of my sister's artwork that she framed for me.

- My two guitars.

- Certain articles of clothing, mostly seasonal, like favorite t-shirts, a skirt, a scarf, a hat, or a coat.

- A thick plaid blanket given by a neighbor when I was ten.

- The Celtic necklace I always wear.

- My wedding ring and claddagh ring.

You could probably take most of my possessions away, as long as I had the things on this list and a few essentials (like hygiene and cooking necessaries). Yeah, I'd really miss my book collection, and the accumulation of yarn that provides hours of knitting, but the main items above are the important ones. I'm not so attached to them that I would be devastated if they were gone but it would definitely be a blow to my sense of stability. I think that this is a downfall. I don't want to be so clingy to "things". As these possessions wear out, it will be good for me to see them go, because nothing is permanent here on this earth. 

In one sense, I feel free. I'm not tied down to any particular place because of attachment there. My family is all I need to be "home", and the few special possessions help create that sense of home wherever I am. However, I'm not going to move about constantly because I do have a stable job (the vocation of my dreams), so that is a good reason to stay in one area! It feels good to move every few years, though, to experience the thrill of change. Every once in a while I'll feel The Itch that means it's time to go somewhere new; if I don't move to a new residence, I try to travel. 

There is continuity in my life right now more than ever. A stable church, a stable family, a wonderful husband, a secure source of income, and a network of friends keep me occupied and down to earth. When I ask myself what will be important to me on my deathbed, then answer is always that memories and people will be vastly superior to places and things. But there is always The Itch inside that simmers gently. When it rises up, I know that the side of me that yearns for the new ways of seeing, the unexplored, the vast world, will enter the scene again. 

I am a Traveler.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Want to Be Good... I Want to Be Good... I Want to Be Good...

It's interesting that all societies, from every culture and era, share several elemental moral beliefs. It is wrong to simply take whatever you want by stealing. Selfishness is far less desirable than self-lessness. Don't cheat your companions. It is better to be honest than a liar. Bravery is lauded, while running from danger is despised. There are more common ethics that can be found like these. While there are always minor differences in moral codes (should a man have one wife or many, is it the parents' job to raise the child or the village's, is it better to fight other people groups or live in peace, etc.) but within each civilization I believe it is safe to say that there are some ground rules of right and wrong that the vast majority of people have followed and still follow. 

Generally when a culture begins to deteriorate their moral standards head downhill. Acts of villainy go unpunished because the ones in leadership allow it (often because they are also committing crimes). Lawlessness and a lack of individual self-government become the norm. People attempt to ignore the little voice in their heads that say "that's not right". The first couple offenses are uncomfortable, with the little voice protesting against the act; after that, it gets easier, as repeated wrongdoing callouses or beats the voice into silence. 

The little voice goes by several names: the conscience, the voice of reason, the law of nature. Lewis's argument in "Mere Christianity" is that every man and women in their right mind, barring mental incapability or the occasional warped mind (such as a serial killer), has that little voice speaking to them. However... and here's the part that makes people uneasy... no matter how hard someone tries to obey the rules of right and wrong, they inevitably fail. Nobody is perfect. Even if their outward actions appear to be "good", the inward thoughts are selfish, resentful, or condescending, being flawed in some way. 

Lewis denies that this little voice can be herd instinct. He gives the example of a man drowning. If you see a man struggling in the water, your "instinct" will most likely be self-preservation and you will want to refrain from jumping in to help him; however, something deeper than that first instinct would most likely prod you to try to save him, even at personal risk. The little voice has the capability of urging us to override our primal instincts. 

Moral ethics as a social convention passed down from generation to generation is not the answer either, at least not if you are looking at ethics as merely a human invention. Lewis delves into this issue in great detail. It was a bit tough for me to understand his line of reasoning here, but what I think he was trying to say was this: If you can look at another group/person's concept of morality and say that you believe it follows more or less closely to the ideal of "right", then you are comparing them to some idea of rightness that you have in your head, one that is universal and not based on whatever that group/person "happened to approve". 

Of course, with the advent of "personal truth" in our current era, morals are all about  what the individual feels is "right" for him/herself, as long as it doesn't infringe on anyone else's personal feelings or beliefs. This sounds gracious, even respectable, on the surface... dig a little deeper, though, and it becomes "what is right for me may be wrong for you, but that's okay because right is only true if you want it to be". And when you start thinking that way it throws all logic out the window; with the dismissal of logic comes the advent of relativism, "might makes right", and ultimately chaos in the social order. This goes all the way back to the founding of Sophism where Protagoras states, "Man is the measure of all things". 

In summary, every human has a basic code of morals embedded into their deepest self. We generally try to do right and avoid wrong. But we all break those moral codes in our thoughts and deeds every day. I believe that this means people have an intense desire to be "good". Yet we cannot live up to the standard of "good" we find in our hearts. 

What can we do about this?

I think it has already been done for us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If You Own a Cell Phone or Computer, I Hope You Read This

Nobody wants to be told that they are living in the Dark Ages. Technology has become so prevalent in our culture that if a person doesn't have a television set, a computer, and a cell phone (at the very least), then they are considered to be "backwards" or "behind the times". What are the pros and cons of technology?

All our technological advancements have created a society of "ambient intimacy", as anthropologist Amber Case says**. We are still living physically separate from the world in our homes, with our individual jobs, families, and possessions, but our lives are intricately intertwined with each other by the connections technology allows. Besides calling on the telephone, I have many other options now when I want to immediately connect with someone: texting, Skype, online chat, email or message, Twitter, and networking sites like Facebook. This feeling of always being "available" can be overwhelming as the phone buzzes or computer beeps constantly when more and more people attempt to establish a connection with you. Each interaction, whether face to face or separated by thousands of miles, requires energy for response and communication. For a person who is naturally social, the increase of dialogue venues may be beneficial, even stimulating; for someone who is more introverted, the stream of social intercourse may be stifling. 

There are many effects and repercussions when people are connected so intimately through technology. People can be simultaneously more private and more open with each other. Instead of talking to someone by devising an immediate verbal response as they are present in the room with you, a person can calculate their response by writing, giving each phrase extra thought before they click "send". This can produce either more honesty or more masks, as people have the advantage of hiding behind the distance, formulating concisely detailed or short vague answers, and taking as much time as they need before replying. Also, technology-based communication lacks the important information of body language and facial expressions that are key to most interactions. 

In my mind, the increase of communication ability is a mixed bag. On the good side, people who I normally would have very little chance to see due to distance now feel almost magically close. A quick text or a Skype call, and we are able to have hours of conversation that makes the separation of the miles easier to bear. Of course nothing really compares to being humanly close, giving a hug in greeting, sitting next to each other, and hearing real laughter not processed through electronic air. But if this is not an option then technology provides a way of bridging the gap between far-away friends or family. 

On the other hand, however, more technology can be a distraction. This doesn't mean only with communication machines, like cell phones and computers, but also with the technology that distracts us from real life. Computers do a good job of this already with their allure of the internet; I won't even bother to explain how the internet can suck us in for wasted hours at a time, since anyone who has access to a computer already knows this. Video games too, whether hand-held or regular game systems, do their part of entertaining countless millions of all ages while keeping them inert and away from the real world. Television programs themselves reduce people to passive consumers of images. Technology can have the adverse effect of isolating individuals as they become self-absorbed in their own worlds. 

It takes discipline to keep oneself from falling captive to these things, because they are just that: things. Technology in moderation is not a bad thing; who doesn't mind a movie or a morning of cartoons or an hour surfing the web? It has the capability of providing mankind with great connectivity across the globe, as proved by the current crisis in Egypt and their government's attempted shut-down of the citizens' challenging voices. Technology has the wonderful power of information, knowledge, and potential for education. Yet it also can drag us into a dark place of amusement addiction and lies, whether by media or a person hiding in the anonymity of cyberspace.

Tomorrow I'll write more about the impact of other devices such as musical and literary advances in technology. I'll also talk more about its effect on the entertainment industry in more detail.  

** For more information on how technology is affecting us, I highly recommend you watch Amber Case's TED talk called "We Are All Cyborgs Now". It is only eight minutes long, and well worth it to hear her describe both the positive and negative results of humans becoming connected by technology.

Also, read this article about making sure technology doesn't overtake your life. It has lots of good advice that I am hoping to implement for myself.