Monthly Archives: April 2012

Silence!

Rollins’ Week of Action committee brought a Day of Silence to campus on Friday April 20th. This day was part of an annual, nation-wide event put on by students that encourages peers to take a vow of silence in recognition of the silencing effect bullying and harassment has on the LGBT community. Week of Action leaders handed out t-shirts depicting a screaming mouth in the beginning of the week to campus members. As Dilsia Fernandez ’14 pointed out, it was a significant move on behalf of the t-shirts designers, Danielle Cameron ‘14, Sarah Mills ’13 and Jason Montgomery ‘14, to put the Day of Silence explanation on the backs of the t-shirts. Those who took the vow had to turn their backs to people to explain why they weren’t talking back, much like bullies and bystanders turned their backs on harassed LGBT members. This was my second year taking a day of silence and in all honesty, I didn’t adhere to it as well as I did last year. Still, it made me feel more isolated and overlooked than the first time around.

On my trek to get a quiet breakfast by myself, I encountered a wild talker. It’s only fitting that the first person I ran into that day was the post office’s outgoing Doc Gallup. As much as I love him (and who doesn’t?), I was hoping to avoid chatting that day. He spotted me by the Olin lawn, carrying a sign that advertised Rollins’ shipping services. He said hello. I waved. I hoped that would be the end of the interaction. It wasn’t. He said, “You’re a college student; where can I put this so other college people would…”. I turned around, lifted my hair and pointed to the back of my shirt. “Oh, day of silence. So I guess you can’t talk,” he commented.  I nodded and waved good-bye. As I walked away, he shouted “I’ve got to look that up later!”  Even though we’re silent (or as silent as we can be), Day of Silence participants manage to spread the message.

After a silent, solitary breakfast, I had to take a two hour break from my vow to attend a class at the Child Development and Student Resource Center. I resumed the vow right after and went to another psychology class. There, a very rare proposal was made; our professor offered an extension on our final project. And no one jumped on it! She asked again if we wanted the extension. A few people nodded, including my silenced self. Others stared. Maybe they didn’t trust the offer. Maybe they’re prematurely burnt out from the semester and have entered catatonic states. All I know is it was incredibly frustrating not being able to give my input. All I had to do was say one little word, “yes,” and I’d have a 2 day extension. But my eager nodding in the back row was overlooked. I had no voice in class.

As I walked to lunch, I could only nod and smile at people who acknowledged me. The overall lack of communication felt very segregating. I definitely felt like an outsider when I waited quietly in line for food and couldn’t initiate conversation. Part of the Day of Silence’s purpose is to commemorate LGBT youth that have committed suicide due to bullying and harassment, but it also recognizes the ostracizing  attitudes they endured and others continue to endure. I wondered often that day if this Day of Silence provides even a taste of how these kids feel day in and day out. Because I couldn’t talk first, I was cognizant of walking around virtually unnoticed. If someone did acknowledge me first, I was forced to keep the interaction on a superficial level. Taking part in an event like this makes you understand how it is possible to be in a room full of people and feel alone.

After lunch, I went to work at OMA. Again, I could only smile and nod to people who passed by the office. If anyone entered, I had to turn my back to them so they could read the back of my shirt. It was quite interesting explaining to a delivery person that my supervisor had left for the day (Dry-erase boards are great on days like this). I spent the better part of the day texting my co-worker, Michael Barrett ‘13, who sat two feet away from me. I had to break my vow again twice to answer phone calls. A Break the Silence event was held at 6:00 pm in Dave’s Down under. Here, the Week of Action committee provided Southern barbecue while students performed original and cover songs, followed by a speak out concerning frustrations Rollins community members experience regarding LGBT issues. It was a poignant ending to Week of Action’s most interactive and demanding event; one that makes us spend a day in another’s shoes and understand the importance of speaking out.

Deviant Lives

Last week Rollins welcomed two iconic pioneers of deviant living: Joel Salitin and Dr. Jane Goodall. Both gave amazing speeches, but what stuck with me most was that they both said things that resonated with speeches given by another professional in a completely different field whom I admire greatly. In this post I’ll note each comment and how they relate to assertions given by astrophysicist and science communicator Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Joel Salitan presented “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” on Wednesday, April 18th. His beyond organic Polyface Farm in Virginia has been featured in several books and movies such as the film Food, Inc. as an exemplary model for sustainable agriculture amidst the soul-deadening industrial food system.

From the start of his speech, Salitan emphasized a community of beings that lives within us and around us. You have more bacteria cells in you right now than you do human cells; consider that next time you buy anti-bacterial hand soap. The interconnection of all forms of life, such as from soil bacteria, to our food, to your own gut bacteria, is the core principle of ecology, and for too long the unenlightened mechanical model of production has been intruding on the natural biology of the planet’s life support systems, disrupting the community of beings of which we are all part.

Salitan’s awareness of a “community of beings” is not so different from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s cosmic perspective of humanity. When Times Magazine asked him for the most astounding fact he could share about the universe, he had this to say: The Most Astounding Fact

“So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.”

So whether it is bacteria or the universe, it is both all around us and in us.

Dr. Jane Goodall has redefined humanity’s relationship to animals as the first person to observe and report on chimps making and using tools. As a woman, the path to becoming a scientist was stacked against her, but amazing things can happen when you persevere and find people who can open doors of opportunity. Here at Rollins on Thursday, April 19th, Goodall began her speech “Making a Difference” with the story of her childhood experiences.

Apparently when she was only four years old she waited over four hours in a chicken coop to observe how a hen lays an egg. No one had been able to give a satisfactory answer as to how this  happens, so she just had to find out on her own. When four-year-old Goodall emerged from the coop, her mother could have scolded her for disappearing for so long, but instead she sat down and listened to the fascinating story of how a hen lays an egg. “What a great beginning to becoming a scientist,” Goodall said at the end of the story.

American schools are currently lagging in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the same Times Magazine Interview, Tyson commented on the importance of early childhood experiments in nourishing the seeds of curiosity. A scientist is just an adult who never grew up, someone who says, “I don’t know what that is, let’s go find out.” The problem is that many kids are prevented from experimenting because it will make a mess or break something, thus preventing the mind of a scientist from developing. However, given an enriching environment and adequate support, people can rise to new heights as Jane Goodall did.

There are a few people who have been major sources of inspiration in my life, and when I listen to their speeches, some of their themes merge into each other, even if they are experts of completely different disciplines. What has also set them apart is their ability to relate their expertise to the general public. Perhaps when striving to a certain level in something, a few basic truths can’t help but be shared.

The Attack on Happiness

When the pursuit of happiness was explained to me in my U.S. government high school class, the teacher said something to the extent that we can’t guarantee happiness, just your ability to try to get it. This may sound like an inalienable right; however, I think that the pursuit of happiness actually makes being happy impossible.

First of all, to pursue something is not to have it, so if you are pursuing happiness, you’re not happy. A quick search through the dictionary defined pursue as “to follow in order to catch or attack.” To me this seems a bit overly aggressive for happiness, and it removes its source from your own self to something that you have to chase down. It’s as if happiness is hiding under a rock somewhere, or more likely at the mall or on that A on your exam or in that pay raise you’ve been hoping for.

Looking back on some of my happiest memories, I was not chasing down anything. It was not in a new computer game or that 4.0 GPA or even in my college acceptance letter. New things can be exciting for a time, and I do feel a sense of pride or relief after achieving something, but not the bubbly human-champagne-bottle happiness that people seem to expect of me.

The new toys and accomplishments are almost good enough, just good enough that people come back for more and just inadequate enough that they need more, but its a pursuit that will never be over. This works great for an economy that depends on the constant flow of money to grow fast enough to out-run collapsing into itself, but not so much for the human psyche, and the pressure to be happy may even make us more dissatisfied.  Therefore, there’s a conflict of interests between what the economy needs and what we need in order to live fulfilling authentic lives.

My happy memories that stand out have been times when I was with a friend or friends who have earned my trust to the point where I can let down my outer persona. I was not jumping for joy, I was not achieving something that can go on my résumé, and I was not buying anything. I may have bought food, but that’s the one exception.

Instead of pursuing happiness as if it is something outside of us, I think instead we ought to cultivate happiness as something within and between us.

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

To everyone who first thought “42,” you have my respect. Still, lets see if we can find out what the meaning of everything is, which includes both life and the universe.

Step one to creating meaning: have more than one thing.

There is no intrinsic meaning to any single thing in particular. It just is what it is, and that’s it. If you want meaning then it helps to exist in a context of other people and things.

Step two: interact

“Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.”
-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Even solid objects are the sum total of the interactions of all of their particles, making matter a type of action. The significance of something depends on the effect it has in its context, and since you can be both the observer and the participant, you can both interpret and create meaning for yourself and others. I think that connection is really what we want in life, to be active participants in the lives of people we care about and the world around us. However, issues arise when we act without enough understanding, but to acquire such understanding usually requires some trial and error.

Meaning is then created through a web of relationship; however, when we try to conceive of the meaning of everything, there is nothing else for everything to interact with.

Many religions often create their own meaning for everything by inserting other realms of existence or supernatural beings for the rest of the universe to relate to. Such philosophies can provide comfort for people against a meaningless world and give them a greater context for their actions. They can also minimize conflict by giving a code of conduct that relates to the mystical.

Another way to minimize conflict without the supernatural is to simply focus on everything as one. Since there is only one everything, there is no more interaction, and thus no more potential for conflict.

Breasts are best: the story behind the titilation

Just for fun, I though I’d type up my speculations on why the female chest transfixes Western culture. This isn’t about breast size –that needs its own article –just breasts in general.

Cultural institutions play a huge role. People are brought up in a social environment that idolizes female breasts via multiple mediums, passing the fascination on to the next generation and reinforcing it throughout life. I can’t even buy groceries without seeing scantly clad models showing off their assets on magazine covers, which seems a bit overkill to me. I’m just trying to buy food.

The law of supply and demand may also be at play. Since the visual availability of bosoms is in relatively short supply in our daily lives, when such conditions are altered people are captured by this rare opportunity, kind of like binge drinking (I imagine). In a culture where topless women are a normal sight, perhaps in the tropics somewhere, the basis for breast fetishes would collapse because of the flooded market.

The sex drive is a pretty obvious mechanism. Also, the simple act of touching, whether it involves breasts or not, has been shown to promote positive interpersonal effects if done between two people who trust each other enough given the body parts being touched.

However, I think that the most interesting element at play is the neurobiology of human development. As soon as babies are born and most likely before, they have developed the brain structures for implicit, or emotional, memory. The circuits responsible for explicit (recall) memory do not develop for another few years. After birth the nipple replaces the umbilical chord as the primary source of nourishment. Holding babies, in which their head is usually against your chest or such as while breast-feeding, has also been shown to promote healthy brain development. It’s no accident that the word bosom can mean both bust and protection. Thus, the female chest is responsible for the oldest and virtually universal human emotional memory of nourishment, care, and safety, even though we can’t recall being breast-fed.

Given their sacred beginnings from the deepest recesses of our emotional memory, breasts have probably earned some respect in society.

Introverts United

Big talk in small groups instead of small talk in big groups.

Around the beginning of the Fall 2011 semester, some friends and I started the cultural organization Introverts United.

When talking about the club to other people I usually get one of two general responses. The first is that the other person is highly interested and wants to know what we do. The second and more common response is a look of confusion coupled with relatively mocking questions or comments. After all, why would a bunch of introverts be gathering in a group?

As the president of Introverts United, I declared it as cultural organization under the Office of Multicultural Affairs from its beginning, along side over a dozen of its sister orgs such as Voices for Women, the Interfaith Club, Black Student Union, and the Multi-Ethnic Student Society (MESS). Our position as a cultural organization helps legitimize introverts as a recognizable class of people facing discrimination in a society that is designed for and over-values the traits of extroversion.

The irony of Introverts United is one of its strong points; however, I have still had to clear up stereotypes and misconceptions about introverts many times.

The first and most common is that introverts are shy. These are two different concepts, although they can look the same to an outsider. Introversion is a fuzzy and complicated thing to define, but it can perhaps be best understood by what energizes and what drains a person’s energy. For an introvert, it costs energy to socially interact with someone, although there are varying degrees and exceptions, and they recharge while they have time alone. Everyone embodies both introvert and extrovert characteristics, but people are usually oriented more strongly towards one or the other.

Shyness, on the other hand, is the fear of negative social judgment and is inherently uncomfortable. Both introversion and shyness can limit social interaction, the difference is that introvert is overwhelmed and the shy person is anxious. A person can be both shy and introverted, of course, but they are not the same thing. Bill Gates is a good example of an introvert that is not shy. Shyness and extroversion can also overlap.

Another common misconception is that introverts and antisocial or asocial, whereas introverts are simply differently social. People who are oriented towards introversion tend to prefer smaller groups of people and more meaningful conversation: big talk in small groups instead of small talk in big groups. As a result, the common notion of the social scene simply may not that interesting to an introvert.

There is much more to be said about introversion, but I’ll cover those in future posts.

Diverse Diversity: The analysis behind the buzz-word

Diversity is everywhere, and any system needs to be diverse to be resilient enough if it is to survive for long.

In my major of environmental studies, we call it biodiversity, and there are several different levels. The broadest is ecosystem diversity. Next is species diversity (often used synonymously with biodiversity), which is one way of measuring the resilience of an ecosystem. The next is genetic diversity, which measures the strength of a particular species.

In the study of agriculture, a subset of environmental studies, a field planted with many species is called polycultural and is much more environmentally friendly than monocultural farms that deplete water and soil fertility and require chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

If you were studying people, instead of using the term polycultural, you would use multicultural, such as at my workstudy at the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). So, if agricultural crops got together and formed educational institutions and wanted to promote diversity to stave off the many harms of monoculturalism, they would form an Office of Polycultural Affairs (OPA).

The list goes on. There are diversified diets, diversified profiles (stocks), and diversified economies. The reason “too big to fail” is such a bad situation is the same reason for the Irish potato famine: a lack of diversity. If one sector of a non-diverse system fails –whether in agriculture or economics –you’re in trouble.

In urban planning, diversity is known as mixed usage, such as here at Rollins where there are housing, recreational, and dining areas all within walking distance.

The human immune system is also very diverse and way too complicated for me to comment on it any further.

“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability,” said creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson during his 2006 TED talk on education.

So, diversity in its many varieties is essential to the resilience of the natural world, the strength of our institutions, and the richness of our lives; and the one office that actively promotes it on campus every day is under-funded and housed in a condemned building.

The Unspoken Dark Side

During Intersession I took a course called “Mind in the Machine,” which examined intelligent non-human entities in films. Whenever talking about intelligent robots (or intelligent aliens) the fear that they will take over the world always seems to pop up. This anxiety over non-human intelligence I think sheds light on an unspoken darkness in our own collective human nature.

It’s interesting that people automatically assume that something free and more intelligent than us will seek to dominate us. We don’t get that impression when talking about intelligent humans. I doubt that people were intimidated by Einstein just because he was intelligent, and he was not trying to dominate the world just because he was smarter than others.

Perhaps we fear that when faced with a civilization more powerful than we are, that civilization will treat us as we have treated weaker civilizations. Any society that stood in our way has not faired too well, and by now the idea that the most powerful being dominates the hierarchy may just be second nature to us. So, when we simply insert a more powerful entity into the preexisting societal framework governed by domineering values, we automatically assume that they will do what we have done when we were in their place. Thus we fear that we are creating technology in our own image, and we don’t like what we see.