I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday, called Invisibilia, and the show focused on a unique attempt to counter Islamic Extremism, which was to run an American Idol type reality show in Somalia. If you don’t have time to read the 40 minute podcast, you can read about it here. If you don’t have time for either, the gist of this was that there was a plan supported by the U.N fight extremism by impacting the emotional landscape of the country. The government at the time was unstable but had recently replaced the far more extreme Al-Shabab government that had previously held Mogadishu. So things were better, but delicate. Previously Al Shabab had forbit music, even at weddings, and went so far as to kill many important Somalian musicians and poets.
Hearing this story brought a number of thoughts to my head. One was how pop culture might be used to transform a culture in a positive way. In my last post I talked about the harms of excessive moral outrage exacerbated by social media, which polarizes and brings more instability to a culture. Here was an attempt to do the opposite. It might seem surprising but some of the advantages that American Idol has are:
democratic voting process
a panel of judges that are both men and women
one mean/tough judge, that increases the joy of the contestant when the mean judge soften to approve the contestant
It may not seem like much, but when you think about the just act of getting into the habit of voting, and getting a say in an outcome, seeing authority that is both mean and women, and a nation of people watching and sharing in the joy of a contestant who has overcome a number of hurdles. Well maybe it’s the upper the country needs to continue to stem the tide against extremism.
Of course this also made me think how easy it is to erode culture with western culture, and that’s an entire other conversation, but the good thing here is that they not only made it about music, but also included a poetry, as part of the competition, which is big in Somali culture. At the very least they were trying to adapt their idea to fit Somali values and traditions.
These are of course only seeds, and real change will happen slowly. As the article says:
Which brings us to this question: Did this reality show actually change reality in any way?
It would be impossible to make the case that Somalia is a completely different country now. It isn’t.
But there is at least one undeniable change since 2013. Music is back in the streets. Brought back, slowly and painfully, through a complicated combination of political strategy and personal courage.
Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story and wanted to share it.
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.
One 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.
Well if you thought the last post was about abortion or birth control, then you’ll think this one is about me being pregnant. Life is strange. 🙂
In my last post about how we make plans and goals I mentioned that one of the things we have to decide about our goals may have to be how realistic they actually are and this relates to expectations. Lowering our expectations may make it easier to achieve our goals, but we may not then know how far we could have gone, while having expectations too high may leave one with feelings of disappointment. Of course, as I also mentioned before, there may be other variables that we cannot predict that might lead one to not meet our goals, but very often we internalize our failures and can chastise ourselves for setting our sights too high.
My thinking about expectations was once again inspired by a podcast I listen to called Invisibilia on NPR. In one episode titled “How to Become Batman” we hear the story of Daniel Kish who had both of his eyes remove due to a disease at 13 months, but can “see”. He uses echolocation by making clicking noises. As a result, he is able to ride his back in traffic, hike, cook, walk around and has an amazing ability to know the distances objects are from him through
his echolocation technique. In his story he tells us about a kid from elementary school who joined his school from a school for the blind, and unlike Daniel this kid was helpless and had to be led around everywhere. Daniel had developed his echolocation technique early and was already quite independent at a young age. Daniel believes that one of the reasons that blind people can’t see is because nobody expects the too. That if we raised our expectations that many blind children could develop this echolocation technique. Daniel teaches children whose parents are interested but he says it’s a challenge because as Daniel says it takes a lot of trial and error and can get, well, bloody. The point is that higher expectations are the best path to reaching higher heights. Students who have high expectations for their students generally get students who do perform at a higher level, even if they don’t meet those expectations. If you try to get an A in a class, you will generally do better in that class than any student who comes into the class just hoping they pass. People often talk about self-fulfilling prophecies and this is a large part is how astrology works and how people come to validate the predictions of psychics is because once an idea is planted we often want it to become true and it does. Students who say to me “they can’t do science” generally perform poorly.
Having high expectations has its downside however. Having high expectations as a professor I think are good, but good pedagogy is also guiding the students towards a path that will reach those higher heights. Without it, students can disengage quickly and not progress at all. And of course feelings of disappointment, feelings that you did or will not meet the expectations of another can be a source of depression and anxiety. How many times have we had high expectations in a movie only to be disappointed that it wasn’t all that good, whereas a movie we had low expectations for we are often pleased or pleasantly surprised when the movie is as good or better than we expected? A good portion of our country feel that there is nothing we can do about criminals and so the best thing we can do is get a gun, in contrast to those who know that the murder rate can be smaller and that there is nothing wrong with having expectations that we as a society can reduce the rate of violent crime. Given perhaps our propensity to focus on the negative, it is no small wonder that we often learn in life to lower our expectations or even develop apathy or pessimism as a way of avoiding grief, heartache, or anxiety. Apathy in this case, to me, is an attempt to have no expectations, whereas pessimism is to always expect the negative outcome. Personally I feel that apathy eventually leaves us to become emotionless, taking all the joy out of life at the expense just so we can avoid grief. Pessimism, in my opinion, is almost worse because when the expectation is for things to be negative they generally are, and you are unlikely to ever be pleasantly surprise. In fact many pessimistic people eventually turn into people that can find the bad in every good situation. So while some can take it to extremes, there is at least a reason why we often lower our expectations in one situation or another.
So even though we know that higher expectations out of ourselves or others, lead to better results than lower expectations, why do we not always set our sights higher? I have discussed before the conflict we all face between security and risk, and I believe this is part of that same conflict. Lowering expectations can give us a better sense of security and in the end might would lead to on average more happiness. High expectations on the other hand are a risk, but more often yield better results, even when we don’t meet those expectations. Just recently I saw a very interesting short video shown below that asks the question, “Should we be pursuing happiness?” Maybe happiness is overrated, maybe it’s not what really drives us. In the video he talks about great scientists and artists who are ready to suffer for their work. I have seen
myself some of the finest minds in my field spend little time with their spouse or children for the sake of discovering something new. In the video Zizek talks about scientists who, even knowing they could die from radiation poisoning, still worked with radioactive materials because they set their sights on discovering something important. Sometimes greatness comes at the expense of even their very lives. I’m not saying we are all destined to be great, and I am not trying to imply that there isn’t value to happiness. I think that some balance is part of good emotional health, and a clear mind, and we would likely be even more productive if we strove for a little more balance in life, but once again we see the value of risk and how it constantly pushes ourselves and society to become more.
So what is the answer to dealing with the disappointment of not meeting those expectations? It seems that most advice, and indeed I had even trouble finding any positive quotations about expectations are to not have expectations or to lower them. My feeling is that if we are to maintain high expectations and avoid the pitfalls associated with them then it is a focus on the process. To focus on where you’ve started and where you are now, as opposed to where you aren’t. Try to remember that few people with lofty goals ever meet them, and very often getting close is still pretty amazing, because what you’ve learned along the way, not only a specific sense, but likely other important values like perseverance and courage will serve you well as you change directions or perhaps continue down the path you are on. Likely there are plenty of things to be happy about and proud of even when you fall short. In the end I feel there is more shame in stagnation over progress, unless you already in a utopia, but I haven’t met anybody like that before. Happy New Year all! Don’t be afraid of being bold with your resolutions.
I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately. There are times when I feel I have made it too big a part of my life. While I tend to be positive about this new age we live in, as I’ve written before, there are times when I feel like I might not be made for it because it can get very draining. I see too much of the compassionless banter in comments sections or Facebook threads; story after story of tragedy, injustice, or prejudice. Then there are times when I miss it. There are people I have good conversations with over the internet. There are moments where I laugh, and there are plenty of moments when I learn something valuable, something important, and something that will make me a better person. I think about my many friends, some who I have known in person and live far away from, and I can still keep in touch and follow their lives to a certain extent. I care and wonder about them often and the internet gives me ways of staying in touch that would be harder without it. Some friends, I have never even met in real life, yet all of who I enjoy learning from, getting to know better, and some who have become as close as any other friend in my life, always provide me with an enriching experience. In some ways I feel like my life would be less for not having met them and am thankful I have this thing called the internet that has such long arms that I can reach across the world and hold on to people that seem amazing to me and when they reach back I know it’s the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
I’ve been listening to a podcast on NPR called Invisibilia and one episode on there is looking at how computers have changed our lives and how they might change our lives in the future. What’s interesting is that you find many people who have zero problem with the way computers and related technology (smart phones, tablets, Google glasses) have become a regular part of our lives and have made us better humans. They are ready for the future and all the wonders it will bring. One gentleman named Thad Sturner believes that in time humans will have interfaced with computers so completely that eventually we will all become essentially cybernetic. Those that have lived more “integrated” lives claim that the technology has made them better in every way, from how well they do their job to more meaningful face to face interactions with other humans.
Still of course there are those who have a not so favorable view of it. It can be addictive like anything else, and often not in a healthy way. The validation we often get when we post things on-line through likes and comments can often give us a dopamine release but doesn’t necessarily help us really solve problems we might have or understand issues that make us upset. A study of Chinese tweets found that anger was the most common emotion expressed over social media, and the anonymity of the internet can cause many people to let out cruelty that they would never let out in a face to face situation. However that anonymity can also allow people to participate in discussions and express themselves in positive ways, that they may be too shy to do face to face, or because of societal pressures that prevent them from expressing themselves in ways that they would wish.
Rather than spend a lot of time posting all the research about how social media and the internet has or can change us, what’s clear is that academically a lot of people are studying it. People find adverse effects and positive effects. It seems to me that most of what gets posted are negative impacts of technology or that our choices are between using technology and dealing with the consequences or backing away from it because it is seen as an unhealthy source of stress, shame, or anger. But perhaps the time has come where we shouldn’t be trying to fight technology. Our children are going to be immersed in this world, and while there is no doubt that developmentally children need time away from the screen, they are still going to be using smart phones, and tablets, and computers regularly in their lives. So what they really need from parents, teachers, and society is the simple acceptance of this fact and need to be taught what are the harmful and beneficial behaviors in this new world of the internet and social media. They need to learn about better ways to communicate through this medium. They need to be reminded that technology is always a tool to be used as a means to end, and not the end itself. As a tool, the internet, computers, social media have a vast variety of uses some good and some bad; some enhancing our functions, some suppressing or adversely shaping our functions. As parents of this next generation we must help our keeps be effective navigators in this digital world, not just literate in finding information and surfing the web, but navigating the emotions, the attitudes, the pitfalls, and the advantages of this world. Just like being aware of cognitive biases helps us perceive the world in a better way. Being more aware of the impacts of computers in our lives will help us utilize the technology better. I would support modern research about the interaction between humans, computers, and social media being used to design a curricula to be taught to school children. Perhaps around middle school. I think it’s become that important.
I had recently reblogged a couple of good ethics posts about robots and artificial intelligence and what challenges our future holds. This era is coming sooner or later and so it’s time we gave up the fight against these technologies and start using them in a more moral and impactful way. I say this not in any kind of judgment either, but rather as one who struggles with this myself. We need to gain the literacy and positive ethics with this technology so that as new technology develops with the potential to be more world changing, that we can don’t find ourselves behind the curve as we seem to be today on the more negative aspects.
I for one am making a vow that I am going to work to use technology in a way that enhances me and my world instead of diminishing me and my world.