Archive for the 'media' Category

Adulation, love, and nurturing a child

February 15, 2015

I was interested in a comment David Brooks made on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, on the topic of Brian Williams and the futile pursuit of fulfillment through obtaining adulation.

Adulation may be a form of love, both as it is produced and as it is received, but I don’t think it includes a reciprocal vector of love in return — although I am not sure how public figures feel about their audiences, for all I know they do produce love in our direction.  I thought the issue bore some consideration because I think feeling fulfilled in love has a lot to do with the love one is giving out.  Certainly it is pleasant to be loved, but to love another, to produce an outflow of love, I think actually settles one’s yearning more.  And I don’t mean because it could be judged “morally superior” to love another, rather than to seek love, I think it is more fundamental than that, kind of like a “physics of love.”  Loving someone else is satisfying.

My example is the need I had to nurture a child.  I had always wanted to be a mother, to have a baby, and when events made that unlikely, we adopted.  I really didn’t think about whether the child would love me back, I just had all this maternal energy that needed to be gainfully employed, kind of like the breast milk that comes in after a birth even when the child dies.

Some self-help organizations also advocate service as a component of improving emotional outlook and contentment; kind of like priming a pump, it produces flow in a direction that seems to be needed, they seem to have found.

So I can imagine that adulation could be unsatisfying if it does not include a component of love in the other direction.  Not that public figures, unlike God, can be expected to love millions of individuals, but maybe that speaks to whether adulating other human beings is beneficial to anyone in the long run.

Losing one’s voice

December 7, 2014

I wrote a reply to a comment to a Ross Douthat column last night, in which I expressed my sense that if we put aside what we really perceive in order to be accepted and in order to make progress towards a goal such as having a media perch from which to influence others, we lose access to what we really perceive in the process.

I didn’t actually express it that way, I said that people who think that way probably don’t have a helpful message to convey.

The two ideas get at the same issue, namely that what we have to bring to the party — our contribution to the “stone soup” we are making, as it were — comes from deep in ourselves, and if we’ve lost our ability to locate that deep source, during the process of accommodating others and horsetrading in order to advance in our careers, we will in effect have lost our train of thought when it becomes our turn to speak.

I went through a stage of thinking that maybe a person who has done what it takes to have an influential perch could collaborate with someone who has instead cultivated the ability to locate that deep source, and who can listen and hear, but I came to think that’s a flawed model, too.

People who do what it takes and have what it takes to have an influential perch internalize the value of excluding outsiders, for instance, they won’t actually collaborate when the time comes.  They have their “reasons,” and to them they seem unassailable, but win, lose, or draw on whether the reasons make sense, they are an obstacle to collaboration, and that’s the thing:  when push comes to shove, will you do it?  A “no” is a “no,” however it is dressed up.

But I also came to think that it is no mistake in the workings of the universe that people who have a more helpful message don’t have access to a more influential perch (through collaboration or through anything else).  If I ask “What would the lesson be if they don’t?” it becomes clearer that the “message” such people have to convey is not a substantive content but something else, a “something” that gets communicated through a different process, a more one-on-one process, not through expression to a large group en masse from a media perch.  Transformation comes from transformed individuals, and that happens, it seems to me, from their personal experience of others and their personal experience of their own life events.

Maybe it’s a little like turning over the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle before one gets started — we are each a puzzle piece who needs to be individually “turned over.”

I will say a couple more things on the issue of why I think the mixed model of “do what it takes to get a perch and then use it in a different way” doesn’t work.  On the issue of why they don’t actually want to collaborate when the time comes, I think the person with the perch has adopted in general the values of the context of their perch, whether or not they realize it, and those values interfere.  An example of that might be found in a positive regard for passing judgment on others.  And on the issue of locating their own voice, I think in some ways it is just a matter that they are really out of practice;  if one is not allowed to think that way, in order to gain and maintain one’s perch, of course one will get out of practice.

What do I think would happen if a person with a perch located their true voice?  I don’t know, I am waiting to see that.  And I have no idea whether to the extent that voice was gained, to that same extent the perch would be lost.  I think it would take a willingness to be open to that possibility and I think such a willingness is antithetical to the patterns of behavior and belief the person has developed in order to gain the perch, and probably at odds with whatever drove the person to be willing to put aside accessing their true voice to begin with.


November 19, 2013

I am deaf in one ear.  It’s a conduction loss.  My parents’ hearing loss is/was a nerve loss.  And while they eventually conceded they don’t/didn’t hear so well, they have belonged to the school of thought that everybody is mumbling.

I will note that even standing face to face with them, everything has had to be said (loudly) at least twice, for years.

But my mother has noted two exceptions to the “everybody’s mumbling” claim:  Hari Sreenivasan and Kwame Holman on the PBS NewsHour.  She says she can understand every word they say.

Focus on the primary goal

November 2, 2013

I get taken in by a group’s claims about what they are doing, just as, apparently, many other people do, at least in the contexts of charitable giving and health insurance.  In the latter two situations, we as an even larger group are willing to talk about a norm that requires a certain percent of the money taken in from donations or premiums to go to charitable works or health care, and not be diverted to the more private benefit of those administering the enterprises.  We can see that money diverted for salaries or travel is not going to building schools or paying providers.

I think we see that less well in other contexts.  I think group formation is so important to most of us that we don’t even realize when we are putting our need for exclusive social ties and positive emotional reinforcement above the purported goal of the group, its reason for existing.  I see that in the context of government, I see that in the context of the media.  “Insiders/outsiders” becomes the paramount driving force of behavior (which, of course, is a very dualistic way of seeing things).

Now, of course, some amount of social cohesion is necessary for a group if it is to persist and be able to continue in its work at all.  But that’s also true in the charity and insurance cases:  some amount of administrative expense is needed and appropriate.  It’s when that gets out of balance that we call foul, and I think we don’t even see the fouls in groups we are less suspicious about or in forms that are more difficult to see.

What I see often when a group is not meeting its goals is that they are pouring too much of their collective energy into strengthening their personal ties and benefits (could be benefits to their careers or social status or sense of self-worth and not to their bank accounts) and not enough into the goal of the organization, like governing on behalf of the common good or publishing on behalf of the audience.

Well, they can do that, it’s their choice, and maybe it serves a need that is more important in some way than the avowed, wider and more public goal of the group, in the great scheme of things.  Maybe their development as human beings is more important, maybe they need to go through this kind of behavior in order to learn something, maybe our world is more like a classroom.

We can damage the environment.  We can damage the economy.  We can cause a lot of damage for a lot of selfish reasons, including reasons driving us of which we are unaware.  We can have insufficient willingness to put our own benefit aside and see what serves.  I think people with more understanding than I, like Socrates and Jesus, got too caught up in trying to change people and keep them from this dynamic.  I think that narrowed their own options.  I think sometimes the better option is detachment.  If people want to soil their nests, and it’s the best they can do, maybe, in fact, that’s what serves the greatest good and all we can do is watch at this point.

There is a concept of attracting people to a new approach to life rather than recruiting them to it.  That orientation, among other things, assures that the people are ready and willing when they come to it.  Spending time on unwilling people is not helpful, and when we do, our own energy is diverted in just the same way as it is in the cases I mentioned earlier — it goes for someone’s personal pleasure, and that just doesn’t serve the greater good, their greater good, or mine, from what I can see.

Syria coverage

September 1, 2013

I am annoyed enough by the media coverage of what, if anything, we should do in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, to write something about it here.

The issue, I think, is a difficult one, and it seems to me that the media is cleverly trying to sidestep the real difficulties with the substance of the matter by focusing on President Obama’s words about a red line and such;  the implication seems to me to be that if President Obama hadn’t said those words, we wouldn’t be faced with a difficult issue.  Reminds me of children trying to hide from fire in a closet or under a bed.

But I gather that a lot of people find it much more to their liking to cover political jockeying than to grapple with difficult issues.

In writing, from an accepted source

August 28, 2013

Recently I gave my paper copy of the article “What’s Wrong With Me?” by Meghan O’Rourke in the August 26th issue of The New Yorker magazine to a friend of mine.  Some of what O’Rourke describes my friend had described to me years ago, including symptoms whose difficulty to tolerate is compounded by their difficulty to explain to others without causing further problems for the sufferer.

My friend loved it, brought it to work with her to show a staff member who is also in that same boat, showed it to the boss, the staff member to her husband, and on and on.

It’s a big hit.

I think part of it is the author’s ability to observe so accurately what goes on within her and then to communicate that to the reader.

My friend works with scientists and educators at a very high level, in an elite science research facility.  To persuade people in that context of what it is like to experience autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease, one needs not only an article with accurate content and articulate presentation, but it really helps if it is published in a magazine recognized by the audience as a good source.

I gave my friend the article thinking it would be helpful to her to read of other people coping with similar unusual symptoms.  I am glad that it turns out to be of help to so many other people.

After the storm

August 18, 2012

I wrote a belated comment on the PBS NewsHour website about the selection of the presidential debate moderators, including their own (retired) Jim Lehrer.  In it I said something to the effect that I was looking for, in the debates themselves, evidence that the performers had beforehand stepped outside the details of their respective roles to touch base with the theme that they are their for the benefit of the American people, and that I wanted to see this attitude reflected in deeds as well as the usual words.

The note that I think I would like to hear them hit behind the scenes, and hear its reverberations in the performances on camera, is similar to what we in this country seem to feel after a large but not devastating snowstorm or hurricane has moved through our neighborhood.  (We probably feel it too after devastating storms and after events like what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but I don’t think we need that much trauma to get to the note I’m after.)  We come out of our houses, like bears coming out of hibernation, and actually connect with one another.  It could be because we are forced to by the loss of electricity or the need to clean up debris or remove snow, but as we do, we communicate with each other in ways we don’t usually do in our daily routines.  We remember our common humanity, our connection to one another just as fellow human beings.  We are reminded that we’re all in this together.

We obviously have trouble sustaining that note.  We go back to hibernating and business-as-usual all too soon and easily.  I’m not entirely sure why we shift back.  I wish we wouldn’t.

Anyway, the moderator choice came to my more focused attention after I read an article in the NYTimes about its reception.  The implication of the criticisms put me in mind of issues talked about in relation to Queen Elizabeth II of England and her lengthy reign.  But I’m also not sure what the answer is here, either.   In situations like this, where we end up sort of stuck, with no obvious good options, I usually look to the underlying structure and where changes might be more easily made in places other than where we’re stuck.  With regard to the debates, I guess I’m wondering whether, given all the social media and websites and technology, there’s some room for other activities by other journalists who are also good at the incisive question, the keeping the conversation on track, the showing us a different facet of the same politician we have seen so many times on his or her own terms.  I don’t know, but maybe this situation can give rise to a creative response that enhances the democratic campaign process for all of us.


March 18, 2012

I wrote a lovely post on the possible relationship of erotomania to the story of Cinderella and to the perception of being the beloved child of God.  And when I tried to save the draft, it disappeared, except for the categories and tags.

[The “networking” got into the essay because I mentioned how encountering those goats at the res had reminded me of the saying that sometimes the circus really is in town and the hoof beats are those of zebra and not a horse, which then spawned an observation that there were 17 swans on the res today and a musing on how they do their social networking.  I was trying to figure out how to discern between delusion and low-probability events.]

Disparate discipline

March 7, 2012

I was watching a segment on the PBS NewsHour this evening about disparate discipline of African-American and Latino students in school, and I was frustrated by the level of the discourse.

There is plenty of middle ground between traditional methods of discipline and full-scale intervention with the entire family.  There is plenty of middle ground between “dressing a student down and telling him to behavior better” and not addressing the disruptive behavior.  And there are alternative methods of handling discipline that actually are more effective with some students than direct confrontation and exhortation.

On the last, I would point out that working with a student to identify triggers, identify early warning signs of anger, of strategies to deescalate anger — all this stuff is quite doable and quite effective.  Sometimes disruptive behavior masks anxiety (plenty of kids would rather be labeled discipline problems than ask for help and admit to anxiety when they don’t know what to do), other times, as the NewsHour segment indicated, academic struggling is an underlying issue.  In some of these cases the students who are disrupting do much better when they are given a road map.  And sometimes the teacher’s or administrator’s “instinctive” approach to discipline is like throwing water on an electrical fire.

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result — I think that’s applicable to the way school discipline is often handled.

As for the disparate treatment of African-American and Latino students, the numbers may be new but I have a hard time believing that nobody knew this was going on — I certainly did.  One of the issues not always addressed is how students are guided to think about themselves — some are discouraged by teachers and administrators from being thought of as being full-fledged learners in the school and instead are given signals to pursue other roles, for instance.

Anyway, I was disappointed by the segment.  I am sure more information is easily available than was presented by people who seemed to be quite removed from actual classroom management in lower education.  I would also suggest that both the policy discourse and teacher and administrator training take a page from what is known about the variety of school management, behavior management, and emotional drivers involved in dealing with student behavior, from contexts like therapeutic schools.


March 3, 2012

In addition to introducing me to the work of Robert Graves, my high school Latin teacher introduced me to the discipline and approach(es) of anthropology (I think he was getting a master’s degree in it at the time).

I used to try to apply anthropological analysis to classical and medieval law and history.  I liked it the way it allowed me to make sense of things that hadn’t looked sensible before — like finding that there were patterns in succession to the Visigothic throne, that “morbus gothorum” did not do justice to what was going on (it was part of, and the impetus for, my original dissertation topic, which I chickened out of, in favor of one that had originality built into it but for which I didn’t have much enthusiasm — that one had to do with 14th-century dower in England, and I wrote a paper on Livy’s telling of the story of Lucretia and the validity of coerced consent in Roman law, instead).

I was thinking this morning about the Republican race for president, about conservative thinking on moral decay and strengthening the family, and about the factor of religion in the primaries.  One of the things that passed through my mind was how Mormonism, I think, sees itself as trying to make good on Christianity’s promise, and how its sometime embrace of polygamy might fit into whatever project of reform it is engaged in.  From another angle, I was thinking about kinship groups other than the nuclear family and the roles they sometimes play in social and economic networks.

So, what came out of this mixture of thoughts was the idea that maybe our insistence in our current culture of relying on a nuclear family is a point at which we might intervene when we try to identify what’s not working in our society and how to address those ills.  I forget why we came to live as nuclear families either in fact or in terms of an ideal that then influences our expectations.

Maybe work is already done in this regard, about what might be a more natural living arrangement for groups of people of different generations, genders, abilities to contribute to the unit either through caretaking or through bringing in resources like income, in our current society.  If it is, maybe we could please hear more about it in those places in the media in which we hear what the psychologists, sociologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and other favorites are doing.