Entries in culture (118)


Identity and Changing Your Mind

Changing minds may take as long as it took for nature to etch this structure out of rock. Sedona, Arizona. April 23, 2016.

Let’s start here: I’ve long realized the futility of religious debates between people of completely different faiths.

Discussing the nuances of interpretation when you agree on general principles works, but when two people have no foundation of religious agreement upon which to rest their elbows during a fine-points arm wrestle, you end up in full-on judo-wrangling mode.

Religion isn’t rational. That’s the point. It’s about faith. You actively choose to believe even without concrete, scientific evidence. The leap of faith is the trust and the test. Without the leap, belief holds no challenge. Without the leap, you’ll never reach the rewards.

Let’s continue here: I’d assumed otherwise general human rationality about political and social stances—the ones at least predominantly disconnected from religion. I’d assumed that, based on new information and perspectives, rational people would change their minds.

Oh so wrong.

Over the couple months I spent getting to know someone late last year—an intelligent person, by the way—I witnessed a forced, willful ignorance.

He would lash out at people who exposed him to facts, perspectives, and ideas that threatened to challenge his long-held beliefs—even when clear, objective facts disproved his thinking. If he changed his mind, he seemed to feel he would admit to having fostered a world view—and, therefore, identity—founded on ignorance or faulty information. And then he’d need an entirely new identity.

Further, his friends and family mostly seemed to share his thinking. He’d gotten it somewhere, after all. Changing his mind might require him to find all new people. Not easy—or particularly fun.

Ignorance kept his cocoon safe.

This interpersonal experience made a hopeful, optimistic, Pollyanna-ish person—me—feel horrified. And then bereft.

Without people openly willing to reconsider social and political perspectives upon exposure to new facts and experiences, change will require a monumental effort involving all age groups, all cultures, and all socioeconomic categories—and all these efforts may not pay off for generations, if ever, and only after numerous large and small setbacks along the way.

Further, when people tie their identities to certain beliefs and stances, they will always waste energy on hate, as hate bonds them with their people and solidifies their tribe.

I should know this.

After all, as I’ve noted, intolerance may have deep roots in human nature. And my study of intellectual history has taught me that people change their thinking either through a slow evolutionary process or due to a major cataclysmic event that, in most cases, affects an entire society or group.

An example of the former: At the end of “Straight Outta Compton,” a movie mostly set thirty years ago, I thought, “How far we have not come.” An example of the latter: U.S. citizens only fully realized that the world didn’t universally love them after the September 11 attacks; the mind change came nearly immediately, but only after a brutal wake-up call.

Let’s end here: I shouldn’t have felt as surprised and forlorn with disappointment as I did when I witnessed determined, willful ignorance first-hand. Yet your brain knowing something means little when your heart encounters it.

Tell me about when you last tried to change a mind.


That Time I Bought a Mattress

The first night with our new mattress, Ramona decided she preferred the old pillows. Even a dog doesn't fall for the hype, people. March 2016.

I don’t know about you people, who must buy mattresses weekly to keep the sheer volume of mattress stores in business, yet I’d only bought mattresses twice in my entire life.

My first personally purchased mattress came from IKEA in London, where I’d relocated without any furniture (or mattresses). I bought my second mattress when I moved from London to Houston (also without furniture or mattresses). Unbelievably, for reasons other than mattress purchases or use, I made this second mattress purchase nearly fifteen years ago.

I’d still not have recently purchased my third mattress if I hadn’t made the now-questionable decision to dump my old guest-room mattress, which came from a friend’s then-new wife. She no longer needed it once they married, so she’d had it in storage for a while when I moved to town. So who knows its age. I would ask her, if she and my friend hadn’t long since divorced.

When I made the decision to get rid of the old guest-room mattress, I thought buying a new mattress would cost a few hundred dollars. And I figured, without buying into the mattress-industry’s marketing-manufactured hype about purchasing a new bed set every eight years, a new mattress with all today’s vaunted mattress technology (memory foam! sleep numbers!) might feel nice in the master bedroom, with my current mattress relegated to the bedroom down the hall.

And then I went to a mattress store.

Unsurprisingly, the only other person in the store sat behind a desk in the back. Again, I call this unsurprising because I hold firm (no mattress pun intended, but I’ll just leave it there) in questioning the validity of most mattress stores. The world doesn’t need more mattress outlets than ATMs. Especially with most furniture shops and department stores also selling, you follow, mattresses. Can you say “racket?” Maybe “front?”

Byron put up with me nicely. I give him extra credit, in fact, for staying unflapped even after I barked over his greeting that I wouldn’t buy anything at all that night, not whatsoever, and that I wouldn’t even make a decision or hint at one. Get that, Byron? Back off, Byron.

Aside: I hate to have someone sell to me. Yet I sell to people. Let’s not muse on what a psychoanalyst would say.

I learned that unless I wanted what effectively would feel like a cot, I needed to spend four figures.

And lest I think a four-figure mattress top-of-the-line when it comes to mattresses, Byron walked me to a showpiece that cost a solid five figures. Actually, I think the thing topped out with all bells and whistles at about $17,000.

Seventeen. Thousand. Dollars.

In other words, buying a mattress may require the same investment as a buying a decent used car.

Now, everyone with whom I have shared my shock—including Byron—wants to tell me that I spend eight hours a day on a mattress, so what seems like an unreasonable expense actually makes sense.

Clever. The mattress store people got to you, didn’t they?

Let’s dissect this fallacy:

  • The vast majority of mattresses that ranked above the quality level of camping cots felt much the same after a brief prone period. The only difference came from the increasing awkwardness of lying there, work-clothes-clad, on half a dozen mattresses in succession while a Polo-shirted salesperson stood nearby. Paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for one mattress over another above the cot level seems crazy, by this measure.
  • I will sleep for the majority of the eight hours I may spend on this mattress each day. While sleeping, I lose consciousness. Therefore, these eight hours don’t compose time spent fully aware of the amazing experience of lying on a ridiculously expensive, automobile-level investment. In a car, I can at least with full consciousness (one would hope) experience the joy of driving.
  • The majority of the human race across the globe sleeps on pallets on hard surfaces such as, yes, the ground. This includes the Japanese, who traditionally sleep on mats on the floor. Note that research often lauds the Japanese for having one of the healthiest cultures on the planet.
  • Lest you argue that, majority-of-humans and Japanese aside, sleeping on volumes of fabric, polymers, foam, springs, and what-have-you feels better, some studies indicate that sleeping on the ground reduces pain and discomfort. Further, no reliable science has found that mattresses improve health and wellness.
  • Further, experts say that humans sit too much, and have equated sitting and smoking. Sleeping in one of these new-fangled beds that crunches the body into a slightly more horizontal seated position for a lot of extra money seems ill-advised.

After much griping and incredulity spread far and wide to friends, coworkers, and even a couple strangers at a business event, I bought a mattress. My purchase-experience takeaways:

  • For a long stretch before and after the purchase, buying a mattress will cause emotional distress.
  • You will not feel excited by the major-capital-expense purchase of a new mattress, unlike how you might feel after acquiring a new-to-you car.
  • Shock, awe, and begging may get you a few concessions and a freebie or two from the salesperson, who wants to avoid post-traumatic-stress disorder from dealing with your mattress-purchasing psychological fallout.

I wish I had more heartening advice.

How transpired your last mattress-purchase?


Race Relations: Better Today—or Worse?

A fight between black and white that had little to do with race relations. Sometimes, sports are our most diverse arenas. November 21, 2014. Houston, Texas.

As regular readers know, I have a group of friends—all of whom have blogs—that bands together for one post per month on a round-robin topic.

This month’s subject, posed by Will Pora, confounded more than a few of us:

Have we gotten closer to or further from racial equality?


The topic arrived at a pertinent time. Numerous recent world events have highlighted extreme tensions between nationalities, government systems, ethnicities, races, and religions.

Do I need to enumerate them?

Black deaths in the United States at the hands of law enforcement, none of which resulted in indictments. Murder of French journalists at the hands of Muslim extremists. North Korea accused of hacking Sony due to concerns about a film’s depiction of Kim Jong Un.

And race relations in the United States seem to have received heightened attention—or perhaps I’ve only grown more attuned to the discussion due to musing on Will’s prompt. In recent weeks, the following items hit my radar:

We may feel race relations have grown worse due to the increasing attention to tensions in the news today.

Yet I’ll stand with President Obama in feeling that the coverage of these events—and the resulting broad outcry of indignation and outrage—shows willingness to bear witness to the ugly aspects of our society that we’d rather not face.

When we bring awful facts to light, rather than sweep them away in horror and embarrassment, we encourage dialogue. And dialogue means progress. When we stay silent, we perpetuate ignorance. Bringing issues into a public forum incites change—even if it means conflagration in the short term.

I’ve written about interpersonal tension on this site before, specifically in my posts about misunderstandings and my post about radio’s evidence of inequality.

And I hope the strife of today proves an inflection point into a better future.

None of us grow without struggle and discomfort. People do not like change. Groups grow more dysfunctional during change before they emerge improved.

Yet real change happens incrementally. Today’s troubles won’t make tomorrow perfect. We have very, very far to go. As Pew Research Center found in the summer of 2013, race equality will prove a work in progress for a long time.

Further, cascading disparities in racial socioeconomics, education, demographics, health care, and more have grown endemic—so much so that they’ve become culture and subculture. These divisions won’t erase quickly or easily.

Keep striving, my friends. We have work to do.

And on the broader question, about tension in the world increasing or decreasing, I’ve written most pointedly on the topic in my post about human nature and intolerance. I still stand by that article’s points.

Significant progress on race relations won’t make for a world without tension. Peace on earth has never existed—and likely never will. (As much as I love the notion.)

What do you think?

Have we grown closer to or further from racial equality?

P.S.—Want to see how my blog friends answered Will’s question?


Friday Links #5: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted awesome reads splayed on my coffee table. October 2014.

Ready to get the Friday great-reads party started?

Without further ado (because I don't believe you read the introductory text, anyway), the below bullets list the outstanding writing I’ve read these past couple weeks:

  • The mind picture created by researchers completely recreating an era long past and immersing in it people who would have considered that time their prime of life—and the results of their experiment—completely captivated me. (And gave me hope as well.) Is age just a mindset, after all?
  • Once sentimental about physical things, I shed them now without compunction. Well, when I remember to clean out my closets and cabinets and drawers, I do. Marie Kondo’s system of extreme “thing” dispatching and intensive home organization inspired me. Now just to find the time—and the dumpster—to purge all my accumulated stuff.
  • Positive thinking can only get you so far, because envisioning drains you of the drive and energy you need to achieve your vision. Better, Gabriele Oettingen found, to daydream an objective, consider the obstacles to realizing it, and develop plans through which to surmount them.
  • Ah, asking for salary increases. Interesting that in 1931 Walter Benjamin provided sound advice on the topic that people still haven’t learned nearly a century later. How many times have employees come into my office just as Benjamin’s Herr Zauderer did? Take heed, folks. Take heed.
  • Should I call Richard Rodriguez’s piece in T Magazine, “Naked in a Digital Age,” an essay or a collection of musings? Either way, it captivated me—and will you—through evoking a complementary string of meandering thoughts about age and culture and fashion and beauty and community.

What have you read recently that I should read?


Spend Less Time with Your Kids: They're More Resilient than Your Marriage

From my outsider status as a never-married woman with no children—caveat and full disclosure—I’ve pointed out that the state of parenting today makes me not want to parent. Sure, I could do it my own way, and I would if I did. Even still, observation from the outside more than intimidates—it frightens.

Recently, while watching another marriage crumble and after talking with someone struggling through the wobbliness of marriage after decades spent focusing on nothing but the children, I mused that individuals—children and youths especially—have resilience that marriages do not.

Though we like to believe marriage a firm, lasting, and irrevocable bond, we know otherwise. Researchers have debunked popular statistics about divorce percentages, yet even without real numbers, we all have seen the marriages among us crumble.

Marriages are fragile.

Children will always have more resilience than marriages—and a little less doting may do them good. (We’ve all heard the criticism of “helicopter parents” and the “everyone wins” culture.) A kid won’t wither because his parents spend a little less time and attention on him in favor of focusing on each other—especially if it means their marriage grows ever stronger as a result.

And lest you argue that adults already have less time for parenting than ever—a common guilt, with few parents feeling they spend enough time for their children—let me point to studies showing that people spend more time actively engaged with their children than they have in the past. Fathers have nearly tripled their kid time since 1965, according to research from Pew Research. The same Pew study found that today’s mothers spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s—and more mothers work today (full- and part-time) than they did back then.

Perhaps we could redirect some of today’s extra focus on the children toward nurturing the marriage—which, I’d think, would only help with parenting well and in harmony and with raising healthy, happy kids who see the value and treasure of a positive and loving romantic partnership.

But what does someone spouseless and childless know?

What do you think?