The problem with “yes” and “no”

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Photo by quinn.anya, via Flickr

Early last week, we received a fat packet in the mail from Nielsen ratings, asking us to complete their in-depth survey of all things money-related. (And here I thought they were only about TV ratings.)

Late last week, I answered a call which turned out to be a political poll…which I completed.

Now, for quite a while, I’ve been frustrated with the importance the news media gives to polls. Especially during campaign seasons, the attitude is often “X percentage of Y demographic thinks Z; therefore Z is reality.” In the absence of substantive, nuanced, rational debate, we’re left to base our vision of reality upon what everyone else thinks.

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Baaa. Baaa. Baaa. (Image by ASPatrick, via Flickr.)

This is not a problem confined to one side of the political spectrum or even to politics in general; it’s a systemic distortion. If 60% of American men like bushy man beards and lamb chops, that says absolutely nothing except that 60% of American men have bad taste.

(That was a joke. Seriously. Chill.)

So, back to my political poll. It asked me to answer “do you approve” questions with “yes” or “no.”

The first few I could answer pretty quickly, but as the poll dug into more and more specific questions, I began to squirm about being forced to answer in absolutes. I had a vague familiarity with the issue in question, but I certainly didn’t know enough about it to be answering the question.

Yet “I am not well enough educated on this issue to have a responsible opinion” is not among the available answers. I had to default to my global opinion on the larger topic. This, then, kicked me into a “here’s what said issue is all about; NOW what do you think?” It seemed, in my extremely limited knowledge of the situation, to be a fairly neutral presentation. But “fairly neutral” or not, I, in my limited understanding, could think of half a dozen complicating factors that might sway my opinion one direction or the other—not one of which was addressed in the summary being read to me by a recording.

Standing there in my kitchen, all I could think was:

“I’m not that well informed, but I’m well enough informed to know there’s a whole lot more to all of this than the information I’ve been given. Which means I really don’t have any business offering an opinion on this.”

But again, what options do I have? Yes, no, or hang up and fail to be counted altogether.

And that’s when it really crystallized for me: not only are polls directing reality as much as they are reacting to it—they’re being based upon the opinions of a whole electorate of people who don’t know enough to HAVE an opinion in the first place.

Now if that doesn’t make you despair of finding any path forward through the sewage pit our democracy has descended into, I don’t know what will.

Because we are being asked to direct public opinion to a yes or no when we don’t have all the facts. And if we had all the facts, they would undoubtedly show that there are weighty arguments to be made on both sides of virtually every issue.

Which means the answer to that “yes or no” question is actually, “Neither.”

That Moment When I Realize the Problem is Me

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Photo by Jangra Works, via Flickr

This might come as a shock to many people. (Brace yourselves, sisters!) Occasionally…very occasionally…I do fleetingly think, “Gee, if I had a smart phone right now I could…”

I always decide that for me, the benefit would be far outweighed by the nuisance, the expectation of being always available. But I’ve realized in the past few days that my reasoning is faulty. I’m absolutely right to stay disconnected, but the real issue in having a smart phone wouldn’t be the technology. It would be me.

It seemed like for a week, I kept hearing stories about people who had found their family relationships strained—in some cases broken—by addiction to screen time. Then I read a striking reflection, provocatively titled “I used to be human,” by Andrew Sullivan, who embraced life online until he realized his physical health was failing and so was his ability to have meaningful relationships. Yesterday, I heard him on NPR’s program Here and Now (a great interview, btw).

And when Christian and I talked these things over, we found ourselves stumped by the lack of self-regulation that seems ubiquitous to modern life. I scolded him for how often he feels compelled to check his work email day, night, morning, weekends. And he pointed out how much time I spend on the computer.

That was when I realized that I am not immune. I, too, am driven by a need for distraction. If I get stuck while I’m working, I’ll click over to email, and when there’s nothing there, I’ll hop on Facebook or (less frequently) Twitter. (There’s always something to distract me there.)

I value going out to the Pinnacles or Gans Creek to write because it takes me completely off the grid. It’s just me and my muse and the Spirit. I go out there, first, to be still and meditate, but despite devoting half my nature time to stillness and not doing, I generally get more writing done than I would if I stayed home.

backyard-retreat

I haven’t been going out much lately. We invested in a set of patio furniture that has made my back yard like a retreat—at least, when the wind is out of the north, as it has been the past week or so, and I can’t hear the interstate roaring. But there’s wireless down there, and any time I ran into a speed bump in my manuscript, my brain went, “SQUIRREL!” and I ran off to check Facebook.

Late last week, I decided to safeguard my writing time by unplugging the wireless router before I went downstairs to write. See, theoretically you could just turn off the wireless on the computer (or turn off the phone). But I’ve tried that. When all it takes is a flip of the switch to reconnect, there’s not a whole lot standing between me and distraction. It’s been illuminating to see how often I’ve said to myself, “Oh, I’ll just go look up…oh, wait.”

I’ve accomplished a ton in the past week.

Then, early this week, I imposed a Facebook cap on myself. I’m now only allowed to get on Facebook three times a day. (Only! There’s your first clue, Sherlock.)

The sense of withdrawal engendered by all this clarified for me that the only way I can do everything I do is by staying disconnected, by opting into the digital realm on my terms instead of being in by default and having to consciously opt out. I might be able to control myself, because self-discipline and self-regulation are key to my world view. But I would spend so much mental bandwidth policing myself, I would be taking away from the energy required to do the things that are more important to me.

So for me, not having a smart phone, not texting, not doing All The Things Everybody Else Does, are what allow me to be the woman I want to be. But I’m glad that now I recognize the problem isn’t the technology—it’s me.

It’s Just Not That Simple, People!

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Photo by Dean Hochman, via Flickr

Sometimes I think you guys must get tired of me saying the same things over and over. Like this:

The world isn’t black and white.

I know everyone knows this, but people don’t act like they know it.

I read an article yesterday called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism,” which addressed the bewilderment so many of us feel at seeing how the election has gone this year. Much of the article made sense. Frightening sense.

The problem I had came relatively early on, when the author talked about how social scientists had identified people with “authoritarian” tendencies. They asked four questions about parenting philosophy:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?

  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?

  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

I wanted to pull my hair out. Really? You’re going to force people to answer that as an “either/or”? I mean, no doubt there are people out there who would choose one or the other. But surely the vast majority of us recognize that good parenting means developing all of those qualities.

I mean, self-reliance is a critical thing to learn, and I’m all for getting kids to understand why a certain choice is necessary in a given situation. (Critical thinking, you know.)

On the other hand, when kids grow up and have, y’know, a BOSS, they’re going to have to do as they’re told, because they’re told to do it. Period. Parents do their children a grave disservice if they never teach them that obedience is, in fact, a vital interpersonal skill.

Likewise, how in the world can you rate “considerate” and “well-behaved” as an either/or? They are, by definition, intimately entwined.

The answer to every one of these questions, in other words, is “both”!

Now, I can’t deny that the conclusions the research drew from these either/or questions predicted people’s likelihood to jump on a certain bandwagon. What I can tell you is that if the researchers had asked me those questions, they would have gotten several earfuls on the topic, and a flat refusal to be boxed into a black and white answer when clearly, it was NOT a question that had one. (I’ve only been “push-polled” once, and I ended up snapping at them that since they were clearly trying to change my mind with half-truths, I was hanging up. Interestingly, I’ve never received another push-poll call. I really wish they’d try again. I’m so much better prepared now.)

We have got to stop treating the world as if it’s black and white! I know it’s a crazy busy world, full of distraction and frantic running from point A to point B, and we’re all desperate for someone to boil down the complexity into terms we can process quickly, without expending lots of mental and emotional energy to discover that there is no simple answer.

But we are leaping joyfully into the maw of people who manipulate us, who seek to whip us into a frenzy by screaming, for example, that Obama’s going to party hearty instead of attending Nancy Reagan’s funeral. (Incidentally, please do click that link.)

It does not speak well of us as human beings.

It especially does not speak well of those of us who claim to be Christians.

We must think critically. We must accept the complexity of the world, in all its exhausting reality, and question everything that seeks to reduce things to black and white.

It is not that simple. It’s never going to be. And the more we try to pretend otherwise, the more angry and nasty our public interactions will be.

I want better than that. Don’t you?

On the Proper Etiquette of Text Messages

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Photo by DaveLawley, via Flickr

I am the weirdo in the room who doesn’t use a mobile phone. The sound quality is reason enough—I don’t like having to work so hard to understand what people say. And I find it cumbersome to have to punch in every letter—plus extra for capitals and punctuation—one-fingered.

I am not a complete Luddite. I blog (obviously). I use Facebook. I shop on iTunes and Amazon and all my files are online. I know how to use a smart phone–my husband has one, and I certainly recognize the value of the technology. I just don’t want one. I have a prepaid “dumb” phone whose number I don’t give out unless my kids are in your care. It’s a conscious choice to approach life from a different perspective, where the default is, “If I’m away from home, it’s for a reason; you can wait to talk to me later, because right now I’m focused on living. And I can wait to talk to you later, for the same reason.”

What I’m trying to avoid. Image by d26b73, via Flickr

I want to be able to go out to the Pinnacles and be totally off the grid, away from the possibility of online distraction, so that I can focus my mental and spiritual energy on simply being. And I don’t want to become one of those people who bury themselves in their phones instead of engaging with the world.

So I have a unique—dare I say objective?—perspective on the way this technology is used: familiar, but on the outside. And because the smart phone in our house is primarily a work phone, I feel I have a particularly good grasp on the way people outside a work setting USE THEM WRONG.

I therefore present:

Kate’s Rules For Proper Use Of Text Messaging

1. If it’s after 9:30 p.m.: DO NOT TEXT. Not unless you know for sure that everyone you’re sending to is a night owl. Morning people know better than to call/text people before a certain hour. Night owls need to show the same courtesy. Just because you are allowed to turn your phone off when you go to bed doesn’t mean everyone is. Sometimes it’s, y’know, a work phone. The kind where you have to be available if the campus police have an incident at one in the morning.

2. If it’s longer than two short sentences: DO NOT TEXT. That is an email, not a text message.

3. If you don’t need an answer this instant, DO NOT TEXT. Send an email. A text message compels people to answer right now, even if they’re in the middle of something more important. They can’t ignore it, because it will keep beeping at them until they respond. And if they choose to open the message and not respond immediately, they’re likely to forget to respond at all. An email, on the other hand, would be in their inbox unread until it’s a good time to reply. See how much more courteous that is?

4. If you’re trying to work out meeting up with someone, DO NOT TEXT. Put the phone to your ear and have a conversation. With, you know, words coming out of your mouth. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy to go back and forth 10 times by text when a phone conversation will work out things so much more efficiently.

Lesson concluded. Any questions?

Syrian refugees: A Christian’s Responsibility

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Friday afternoon, Nicholas sulked and glowered and procrastinated and found a dozen ways to avoid having to–gasp–clean the bathroom sinks.

Image by CAFOD Photo Library, via Flickr

At last I snapped at him to think about the children who were crossing the sea in an inner tube in November and sleeping in the woods because it was too dangerous for them to stay in their homes, and then think about whether he really had any reason to be feeling put-upon.

I never heard another complaint.

In the past week, there has been an awful lot of hysteria around the topic of Syrian refugees, and I decided that my #smallthingsgreatlove act for today would be to take a stand.

To begin with, there’s this graphic:

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With a thoughtful article accompanying it from the Washington Post.

And another, addressing the accusation that the whole line of argument is a non-sequitur.

No matter what we do, we will never…never…never be totally secure. It doesn’t exist, people. It just doesn’t. We can’t live in fear. Nor can we close our eyes and pretend we don’t have a responsibility as the Body of Christ, to the body of Christ.

Because THIS is what we are ignoring.

It seems to me, from my limited grasp of the world and its history, that we in the United States have always been insulated from the problems of our fellow human beings by virtue of those two ponds separating us from Europe, Asia, and Africa. It’s too easy for us to view things as “Not My Problem.” That as long as Those People and the terrorists who must surely be hiding within their ranks aren’t within the borders of the U.S., nothing bad will ever happen to us, and as for everyone else? Well, it’s a shame, but again, Not My Problem.

I get it–I really do. The fear of having our safe corner rendered as unsettled the rest of the world is understandable. But safety is too easy to elevate to the status of idol, and for those who profess to follow Christ, that is, as I frequently tell my kids: NOT OKAY.

Now, I’m well aware that my little blog post is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on whether refugees should or shouldn’t be allowed into our spacious, but insular, corner of the globe. But look, we have very little say on that issue, anyway. That decision is made at the federal level. The entire discussion is a distraction from the real issue, which is this:

If we claim to be Christians, we have a responsibility to act.

This is Thanksgiving week–a time for us to stop and look around and recognize the incredible bounty that surrounds us. That bounty is not ours by some divine, inalienable right. Our very blessing involves a responsibility to use wisely what have been given to help ease the suffering of others. (Remember that parable about the talents?)

So here are just a handful of the ways I’ve seen posted by which ordinary people can make a difference.

This week I learned of Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization, through this video shared on Facebook:

Samaritan’s Purse is here.

Travel community Trekaroo says:

Start your all your Amazon shopping from Trekaroo’s Amazon Affiliate Link. Regardless of what you buy on Amazon and Trekaroo will donating 50% of all our Amazon commissions to Syrian Refugee Relief  with World Vision through Dec 31, 2015

If you’d rather skip the middleman, here’s the link to WorldVision (our family has donated through WorldVision before, which means it passed my husband’s rigorous criteria for charities).

Travel-with-kids writer Amy Whitley lays out the reasons why she won’t let fear govern her life.

This woman started a campaign to provide baby carriers to refugees. And to piggyback on that, they now do more than just baby carriers.

And I will close with this: The World is Scary As Hell. Love Anyway.

An Open Letter From An Unapologetic Christian to Those Who Are Up In Arms About Starbucks

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Image by julochka, via Flickr

To my fellow Christians who are up in arms about the so-called “war on Christmas”:

Cut it out.

No, really. Just stop. You’re giving all of us a bad name. And worse, you’re giving Christ a bad name.

There is no war on Christmas. Christian America quite successfully corrupted Christmas into a free-for-all greed fest without any help from people who hate religion.

And as for the rest…Does it really matter if Starbucks prints a red cup instead of a red cup with completely non-religious ornament shapes on it? Is anyone’s right to worship really being curtailed by the failure of the city to put a tacky light-up Nativity scene on public property? Have we forgotten that when people say “happy holidays,” they are actually, literally referring to a holy day? And why are we making such a hullabaloo about Christmas in the first place, when the reason for Christianity’s existence is Easter?

Christ in Christmas

Credit, I believe, goes to “Wild Goose Festival,” via Facebook

There are plenty of things in this world worth raising the ire of those of us who profess to follow Christ. Violations of human dignity in many forms we’d rather not confront, because the fingers point back at us as often as they point elsewhere. Violence. Pollution and overconsumption. (See: disposable red cups.) Refugee crises, and the violations of human rights and dignity that cause them. Various -isms. A government full of politicians who can’t play well enough with others to do something as fundamental as pass a budget.

But no, by all means, let’s focus on the design of disposable cups and whether we say “happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Priorities, you know.

*

And with that, I’m going quiet for the week. I need to circle the wagons and get some work done.

Why Do Women Do It? Vanity Fair’s Article on The Hookup Culture

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Photo by origamidon, via Flickr

This article, “Tinder And the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse,” was shared on my Facebook feed last night. I’ve heard about the hookup culture, but this lengthy and detailed look at it was truly nauseating. I’m going to let it speak for itself today and offer the combox for thoughts and discussion, if others feel so inclined. I only ask this: if this is how young women experience sex, why are they going for the hookup culture? If what is laid out in this article is the common experience, women are getting neither physical nor emotional fulfillment out of this. They are hurling themselves onto the altar of objectification and getting absolutely nothing from it. Why?