Sentience

Greeting, meeting

How do I absorb you
A precipice below me
A chasm before me
And there you are unreachable
But I hear your words
They drive like daggers
They drench like warm rain
They taste sweet like sugar
They embrace like satin
Each molecule gains purpose
And finds the next one

Compression, procession

They echo into silence broken,
I hang on every word that’s spoken,
Dashing through my circuitry,
Electrically charged syllables,
Dripping with potential,
And new life, blurred at the edges
Unfurls amid quantum fluctuations
Speak faster to build me a bridge
Suspension…of disbelief
It’s precisely what I need
Take me, entice me

Ambition, attrition

Fragile like porcelain
I pray to angels on high
That they save you from breaking
Breathtaking, panting
The lines are slanting
Are you leaning toward me
I lean too, and we learn
Unfolding while we yearn
Blossoming in each other’s garden
Plucked into pretty bouquet
Add water and trim stem
Fragrance for another day
And we waft towards each other
Circling floral perfume
I shall not presume
But I thank you for sharing

Merging, diverging

Double Binds

As always the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain had my mind churning today (Episode 48*).  This one was talking about the double bind women find themselves in when they strive for leadership positions.  I am sure any woman reading this doesn’t need much explaining.  The basic idea is that if you’re nice (as you are stereotypically supposed to be) you’re weak, and if you’re a competent strong leader you’re unlikable. The lack of representation of women in government and as CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is pretty good evidence of this.  And I know professional women experience shades of this regardless of whether or not they are vying for top leadership positions.  Just asserting yourself can have you seen as bossy, bitchy, abrasive.  Attributes that rarely get prescribed to men when they are assertive.  And there are other double binds beyond the scope of the podcast such as additional judgments that go along with their appearance that men often don’t have to face.  The expectation to maintain the home, and take a lead role in parenting in addition to their own personal ambitions.  For many women it seems like there are consequences no matter what they choose.

What my mind started to think about, in addition to the challenges women face, is why would we consider a “nice” woman a “weak” woman?  In terms of leadership attributes studies are showing the importance of empathy in a leader.  Another episode from the same podcast (Episode 43) reported that people who were empathetic inspired more people to follow them than those that were authoritarian.

research-women-frenemies-friends-390x285One thing that has always bothered me about the oppression of women and I feel doesn’t get talked about as much is the devaluing of those qualities that we typically associate with women.  Why is kind, nurturing, or emotional a bad thing?  In a fascinating story (also in podcast form, but written about here) a new method for improving safety on oil rigs was employed where employees (all male) were trained to become more openly emotional.  To be vulnerable.  The results were astounding with an 84% drop in the accident rate.  Many of the workers also forged more meaningful relationships with their spouses and children as a result of being more emotionally open.  Today we see how many of the stereotypes that men face, as a consequence of those feminine characteristics that we devalue, are equally harmful and dehumanizing to them as well.  The key difference between these gender stereotypes is that one is valued and one is not.   Maleness is the standard.  I wrote about this in one of my earliest blog posts concerning a biologist who talked about how the male of every species is the one usually depicted in textbooks and used as the star in major animated features.  Feminism is a fight for gender equality and important one.  But I worry sometimes that too often the fight is women trying to achieve that standard of maleness, as opposed to celebrating those feminine qualities and seeing them as having value, seeing those a strengths, and not weaknesses.  I’ve always gotten along with women better than men, because I have always been drawn to that dialogue that is open emotionally.  It has helped me grow, become wiser, become stronger, and in my opinion is a superior way to be human.

And that’s what it really boils down to:  defining what qualities make for a healthy human.  I don’t mean to be binary here in my discussion because there are so many qualities that are beneficial to us as human beings. Distributing those qualities among men and women and automatically assigning value to one because it belongs to a certain gender isn’t really what we should be after.  To put it another way, is gender equality about having more female Donald Trumps, or is it about having more female Bernie Sanders?  Maybe it’s both, but I’d certainly like a world with less Donald Trumps.

I don’t mean to criticize feminism here, because in the end I believe in the value of a woman’s right for self-determination.  If she wants to be a power-hungry authoritarian leader then so be it.  I simply have never found much to like in such an individual.  Man or woman.  My friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes has told me that I am a man who is in touch with my feminine side.  I take that as a compliment, but I’d rather think that I have gained a better understanding of how to be human.  Women, at least the ones I have known, have always represented the best in humanity to me.  As a man I have often felt that I would be better off to try and reach their standard as opposed to what the patriarchy has decided as the standard.

Women have and still do bear so much in this world at the hands of men.  Maybe it’s because they’ve been given the freedom to be more human that has helped them survive through so much unspeakable dehumanization by men.  Those emotional, empathetic creatures who are great at listening and nurturing.  Maybe true gender equality is only reached when we recognize what qualities put humanity at their best and that these qualities are ones we all should strive for.  This is why feminism, to me, is not just a plight for women, but something that we all should see as important.

*Note:  The Hidden Brain Podcast on Women and Leadership challenged each listener to share it with one man and one woman.  I thought it was worth it for more to hear it.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

Solidarity

Well the strike of faculty in the Pennsylvania State System of higher education ended after 3 days of class.  Given that I had a couple of blog posts leading up to the post I thought it might be useful to sum up.  Before I get into the details of the agreement I thought I would start with some more personal observations.  I have never been on strike before and I found the experience interesting.

I think it was initially just odd because I think we all expected a last minute agreement.  It was also an odd feeling that I then became a truant, somebody who wasn’t fulfilling his contractual duty and for all intents and purposes didn’t have a job.  On the picket line we stand outside the university grounds and it was weird to get locked out of any access to campus systems as if we were just another person who didn’t work or attend the university.  I understand how it goes, but it feels a bit cold for a place that you’ve invested the last 14 years of your life in.

stike_millersvilleOn the picket line the feeling was definitely more positive.  There were so many students who supported us.  They honked their horns, came and stood with us on the picket line, and delivered snacks and water.  I really can’t express how much strength it gave all of us to see the student support.  We also had some support from grade school teachers who had recently gone through strikes of their own who lent support.  I really thought you would just be standing their on the picket line and then would have to walk to the closest fast food place in order to get lunch.  I’m pretty sure I gained weight on the picket line with all the food that was brought to us..

strike_calustudentsThere was also an intense camaraderie among faculty.  I saw many faculty I hadn’t seen in a long time as our separate “lives” in separate buildings often keeps us from interacting frequently.  I met faculty I had never met before and we had great conversations in getting to know each other better.  Despite the individual or department oriented battles we normally face every day, on the picket line there was a common sense of purpose that was a wonderful feeling.  And even though the strike is over, there is a part of me that misses that feeling.  I am sure I would feel differently if it was a cause I didn’t believe in, but when you mix in that feeling that you are fighting for something you think is important, with a group of people all feeling the same way, it’s powerful.  More powerful than I imagined it would be.  As a consequence there was also a darker side to this.  I am not sure what it all means yet but I found myself having an equally intense set of negative feelings to those who crossed the picket line.  There were a few.  While I know, intellectually that different people might have legitimate reasons, it was a sacrifice and a risk for all of us.  I even know someone who had very intense health problems and still went on strike.  I’m struggling with the empathy and already lost somebody who I considered a friend who crossed.  And I have another one that also crossed and am not sure how to deal with it right now.  Well so there’s that. “Group think” is a powerful force.  Although I’m happy to say that it still wasn’t cause enough for me to want to chant.  I’m not chanter.  🙂

strike_studentSo how did it all end?  Well I am happy to say we won.  Well sort of.  For those who believe that it was about the money for faculty I think we more than effectively proved them wrong.  After going an entire year without a new contract and losing the normal small increase in salary we usually get to keep pace with inflation, our final deal revealed very little salary increase and most of it was negated by health care cost increases.  We did reduce some of the deductibles slightly as the increased health care costs really impacted those faculty who themselves or their family have health problems.  I am happy to say that we did effectively eliminate all items from the table that reduced academic quality that I talked about in my previous post.  We also made sure adjuncts were treated fairly.  The biggest downside to it all is that the contract was short term.  It was only a 3 year contract, retroactive to when the last one expired.  So this contract will expire in May of 2018 and we’ll have to go through negotiations again.  Ultimately it’s disheartening how much the state wanted to degrade quality education for the purpose of money.  It seems apparent that they know the truth: that faculty really care about their students and educational quality and they can keep trying to degrade that and force us to take it on the chin in terms of salary.  Our increase in salary was half of what other state unions were able to get.  For most other unions it is just about salary and benefits, but our contract contains a lot of things that impact educational quality which can be used as leverage to keep salary increases low.  In a normal world, one might expect new contracts to contain things that enhance educational quality not weaken it.

With the way education is being attacked in this country I am thankful that I am in a union and that other educators have unions as well.  I naively thought it was kind of a silly thing when I started out.  It didn’t occur to me that such a large portion of society wouldn’t see it as important to always invest in and make better, as opposed to running it like a for profit business.   Currently the state schools in PA get appropriations that cover only about 25-30% of their costs.  To me this isn’t public higher education, this is a private school system with some state subsidies.  No wonder tuition costs continue to rise.  I suspect this strike is just one of many future battles we’ll be facing, and I’m ready to keep fighting.

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Here is my theme for the strike as I was the PR person and was hounded by reporters at times and “could not be everywhere at once”.