Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Group 2 Case Study

Brian Heller
Brooke Farber
Julie Morcate
Daniela Composto

It’s not over till it’s over

For Sharon Montgomery, the shock she felt on the morning of November 5, 2008 has still not worn off. The headline read, “McCAIN DEFEATS OBAMA, COUNTRY AND WORLD IN SHOCK!” and Sharon had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Every national poll had Obama leading, some by as much as 10 points just days before the election. Even McCain’s most vocal supporters were showing signs of doubt. Sharon could not think of one person she had spoken with that said they were going to vote for John McCain this year. The economy was miserable, the unemployment rate was at one of the highest points in years, foreclosures of homes were rampant, and McCain described the economy as fundamentally sound. Obama had a plan for the economy, he had a plan for the middle class, and except for Bill O’Reilly, every media personality supported him. The election was not predicted to even be close; so what happened?

This story is obviously false, but it is being used to relate to the election of 1948, where there were very similar circumstances. Just to give a little bit of background as to what the conditions of that period were like, WWII had ended and the country was looking forward to the return of economic prosperity. When that did not immediately happen, current President Harry Truman was taking the blame and criticism for the country's hardships. In general, people were tired of government controls such as price restrictions and rationing, which were associated with the Truman administration and the Democratic Party (Hughes).

Imagine waking up in Chicago on Nov 3, 1948, the day after the presidential election, and picking up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune, then reading the headline Dewey Defeats Truman. If that were the case, you would probably not have been surprised, since Dewey had been favored in all national polls by as much as 15 points prior to the election. In fact, most polling had ceased weeks before the presidential election because the election was going to be such a landslide in Dewey’s favor. The background of this historic presidential election was that it featured two prominent candidates, although there was a third named Strom Thurmond who won some electoral votes. Incumbent president and Democratic nominee Harry S. Truman had succeeded President Franklin D. Roosevelt after he died less than three months after beginning his fourth term as president. Republican nominee and New York governor Thomas E. Dewey was Truman’s opponent as well as the heavy favorite to win the election. As mentioned above, national polls as well as the news media were convinced that the election was over before the votes were counted and this led to what is now called one of the greatest elections upsets in American history.

Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence Theory “focuses on the idea that individuals fear social isolation and monitor their social environments for evidence of the extent to which their opinions match the trends of dominant opinion.”(McDonald, etc.) If an individual fears that his or her opinion is losing ground or not in the majority, he or she is less likely to voice any honest feelings and opinions in public. Eventually, the theory explains that only the hardcore types will continue to speak out and voice their true opinions in public while the rest of the supporters will stay silent.

One of the most famous photographs linked to the 1948 presidential election was taken on November 3, 1948. This was the day that the results were official and Truman proudly held up his copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune, with the front page claiming Dewey the winner.

Research after the election has supported that Truman supporters were not giving accurate responses to pollsters because they felt like Truman was going to lose and they were not comfortable voicing their opinion. In fact, as many as 1 in 7 voters had not even made up their mind with two weeks until Election Day. Of the 1 in 7 that made their decision later in the election, three quarters of them were have said to vote for Truman. Because of the fact that national polls were not even being taken at that point, the public as well as the media were convinced the election was going to take an inevitable course of Dewey being elected the next president.

Politics has always been an area where so many of us are not comfortable about expressing our true feelings. One reason may be that it is something we consider very private in our lives and another reason may be we know how passionate people are about their beliefs and for most of us, it is an argument we would rather not get into. In any case, the media will always play a role in our perception of the candidates. What would have happened in 1948 if Truman voters stayed home because they felt hopeless for their candidate? Would our country be the way it is today? The Spiral of Silence is just a theory but many aspects of it seem evident in this election.

Audience questions-

1. Do you do your own research before voting or do you base your decision on the opinion from someone politically knowledgeable that you trust?

2. If the candidate that you were going to vote for was obviously not the popular choice, would you feel comfortable engaging in a debate with a group of supporters of the more popular candidate or would you be more likely to keep quiet?

3. If you believed that your candidate had no chance to win, what would be the longest line you would be willing to stand in to place your vote?

4. Why or why not do you believe national election polls accurately predict the feelings of the public?

5. Why do you believe national election polls are either fair or unfair to candidates and the public?

6. The Spiral of Silence theory says that only the hardcore supporters will voice their honest opinion in public; do you agree?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One of my many families

The movie “Garden State” not only addresses issues within families, friendships and young love, but also shows a young man’s quest for independence, self-worth, and the meaning of his past, all while finding himself along the way. The short clip I’ve included shows the protagonist, Andrew Largeman, emotionless and numb at his mother’s funeral.

Although I couldn’t find clips of any of the scenes I wanted to include, here are two excerpts from the movie that address family:

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
Sam: I still feel at home in my house.
Andrew: You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

Mr. Largeman: I'm sure you can find lots of things in your life...that you can be angry about. But what I do not understand is why you're so angry at me. All I ever wanted was for everyone to be happy again. That's all I ever wanted.
Andrew: When were we all ever happy, Dad? You always say that, but when was that? When was this time that we were all so happy? 'Cause I don't have it in my memory. Maybe if I did, I could help steer us back there. But I just...You know, you and I need to work on being okay...if that's not in the cards for us.
Mr. Largeman: Well, we might have a shot at it...if you can forgive yourself for what you did.
Andrew: What I did. What I did. Okay, let's-let's do it. Okay, we're here, right? Let's do it! I'm gonna forgive myself for what I did. Are you ready?

Just like the college-aged character Zach Braff plays, I am going through the part of life where I’m trying to negotiate my family’s expectations and my journey toward independence and self-sufficiency. I have to completely reconsider my family from the perspective of where I am now in life: the stage in between leaving my mother’s nest and starting a nest of my own, alone at first and hopefully with a partner and children somewhere down the line. After all, as an independent college student, although I don’t have my own permanent residence, I no longer consider my mother’s house to be my home. Still, when I think of my immediate family, the people who live in and pass through my mother’s household come to mind. These characters include my mother Mary, her boyfriend Larry (the actual owner of the house), my brothers Michael (28, electrician, lives in Philly), Justin (21, also lives in Philly, Sports Medicine major at Temple University) and Charles (11, has autism, lives with his father in South Jersey), and my sister Laura (13, the most normal out of all of us, lives with our mother).

The unique thing about my family is how scattered we are. Because we siblings all have different fathers and stretch across a great range of ages, we are constantly passing through disparate areas in life and don’t often catch each other in person. We have all had to adapt and adjust to new homes/schools/lives multiple times. For example, my only full brother, Justin, and I have lived in five different houses before going away to college. As such, it is a rare and special occasion when all of my mother’s children gather under one roof—it happens maybe twice a year ever since my brother Mike got kicked out 10 years ago. It doesn’t help that my mother hardly ever cooks, so we don’t really have a particular time and event to be home for (part of our birthday present each year is getting our favorite meal prepared for us. See why I appreciate Daly’s so much?). For all of these reasons, the most recent time my family was all together was a Sunday afternoon in late September when I brought a bunch of my foreign exchange friends over for a barbeque dinner. Not only was my immediate family there, but so were my grandmother, my niece Azour, and Justin’s girlfriend, Mary Kate.

I participated in but more often observed the dialogue with my family over the course of the day. My family stuck to the same place settings for the most part: my two older brothers sat at the table in the middle of the deck, dead center in front of the TV (which had an Eagles game on); my grandmother sat between the international kids and the table where my brothers sat; Larry stood by the grill the whole time; and my mom, my sister and I walked in and out of the kitchen, making sure everyone had drinks and appetizers. The dialogue was different in every setting; however, one thing I noticed was that everybody avoided talking about politics, most likely out of politeness and the fear of offending any hosts or guests. Sitting next to my brothers, I heard lots of arguments about football, whether or not the Phillies were going to make it to the World Series, recent parties or events in Philly and Atlantic City they attended, and food. The two “used humor as a way to bring amusement or enjoyment to their relationship” (Campbell Eichhorn 297). My grandmother, an avid football fan, chipped into their conversation to introduce historical figures and make shrewd prediction of the Eagles’ upcoming season. These three used their words to express dissatisfaction with each other’s predictions and analyses (all in a friendly manner, of course). When the boys were speaking about other topics, my grandmother leaned over to talk to the international kids about their pasts, their home countries, their studies, and what they like about this country so far. This dialogue lent itself to the Uncertainty Reduction Theory easily, because they were all participating in the opportunity to get to know each other better through self-disclosure (Campbell Eichhorn 165). My mom, my sister and I talked about my troubled love life, my classes so far, what work has been like for my mom, and my little sister’s first month as an 8th grader. Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory can be applied to the context of our conversation because we were all attempting to present ourselves in manners that were pleasing to us and acceptable to the others. We fused all three cores of communication: we used our words to illustrate our thoughts on one another’s decisions, daily activities and difficulties, meanwhile exerting body language, paralanguage and proxemics to express our emotions of affection, disappointment, empathy, irritation, disparity, and many more emotions (as most deep female conversations tend to include). I attempted to provide social support for my little sister as best as I could (Campbell Eichhorn 297). Throughout the day, my family’s dialogue incorporated a variety of words, thoughts and emotions.

Believe it or not, no adults in my close family are married. My mother is single, my father and all of my siblings’ fathers are single, the woman my dad left in order to marry my mom (my sister Gabby’s mother, Carmen) is single, and the two siblings I have that are of the appropriate age to marry are both single. My mother, however, has been living with her boyfriend for six years, and since they are not married simply for financial reasons, I’m going to make the leap and label them as a total marriage under Cuber and Harroff’s definition. My mom and Larry are inseparable. Both of them work long hours during the day, but they make sure they start and end each day in each other’s company. In fact, they spend every waking moment of their time off from work together, not only in the day-to-day but also on vacations, on weekends, and on holidays. One of their favorite things to do is eat dinner and watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” together, which is ironically the example our text uses to portray the aspects of conflict in the Sustaining Relationships chapter (Campbell Eichhorn 193). My mom’s conflict management style has been avoidance as a fallback option. Her first attempt is usually collaborative or integrative—“often described as a productive means of managing conflict because it requires open and ongoing communication” (Campbell Eichhorn 201)—but when it doesn’t go well, she’ll just physically leave the room or the house to prevent the argument from going any further. The most typical conflict that I see my mom and Larry engage in concerns my brother, Charles. Charles only comes to visit every Sunday and on occasion holidays since he lives with his father and goes to school in NJ. While my mother is fiercely and tragically protective of her often misunderstood son, Larry is zealously protective of his house and his material belongings. As Charles has autism, he tends to not comprehend or remember certain rules of Larry’s house, including no jumping, running, or yelling (which he loves to do and is allowed to do in every other location he knows), and no eating in any rooms other than the kitchen. Larry freaks out whenever Charles disobeys these rules, and my mom in turn snaps at Larry for frightening Charles. Then Larry defends himself on the grounds that it’s his house and his scare tactics might actually help Charles learn the rules (if only my mother would allow him to try) until my mom feels threatened and ultimately leaves the room/house. Despite the fact that the two of them have tried many times to talk out the issue, they can never seem to compromise or agree on a plan of action. Inevitably, the environment on Sundays in my household is rather tense.

All in all, while my family does have a unique wholeness to it, we do not have so much interdependence as most typical families do, and we only partake in calibration on holidays—which makes for quite eventful holidays (Campbell Eichhorn 298). Still, we do our best to support each other and take care of each others’ needs. “And let’s face it, self-esteem is a psychological state of self-belief bolstered initially by one’s parents and communities” (Sweeney 252, from “Maiden USA”).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cleaning House

Cleaning house is never an easy thing for us and our loved ones to go through. We've all had to deal with this within our families, friendships, work relationships, and romantic relationships. My most recent experience with this was my break-up with Steve, a boy I had been with for nearly two years (my longest and deepest relationship). When I saw the comedian Hal Sparks Friday night, he pointed out something brilliant that I think completely captures the essence of what went wrong in my and Steve’s relationship. He started out saying that he was never going to get married. There was a collective sad “aww” from the audience, but then he went on to explain. To paraphrase, Hal believes that when you’re living with someone, you have to come up with a new reason to love each other every single day; otherwise you could just pack a bag and leave. On the other hand, when you’re married, even if you’re dissatisfied you won’t leave simply because of all the effort it would take: you’d have to move, hire a lawyer, go through court, figure out how to divide your possessions (what is half a house?), etc. While this is a pessimistic view of relationships, it applies to my situation with Steve. This past summer things just became a little too off between us; we were bored together, we didn’t really get excited over seeing each other, and in fact, we didn’t even see each other much. Our relationship became more of a habit than a passionate exchange, almost as if we were married and stuck together. I tried to fix things, but Steve didn’t reciprocate. I found out later he had been dwelling on something that had happened a year ago and he didn’t want to tell me about it, but with all of his thoughts and energy on that occurrence, how could he possibly help make the present better? I realized that, “what we got on our hands is a dead shark” (Annie Hall). The thing is, Steve thought that he had all the time in the world and could just neglect me while he worked things out in his own mind; he even told me after we broke up that he took me and our relationship for granted. However, as I am the kind of person who doesn’t let anything negative or oppressive stay in my life for long, I realized it was time to clean house.

Of course, plenty of thought went into my realization, and it took time. I went through the intrapsychic phase: “The individual begins to consider the costs and rewards of the relationship…during this phase, the leaver spends considerable time contemplating whether the relationship is worth saving” (Campbell Eichhorn 247). I gradually became aware that I was not getting much of a return on my investment, trust or comfort in this relationship. There was a disparity in my and Steve’s level of commitment. When I started feeling this way, I tried to work through the conflicts and communicate with Steve to show him what I needed and what was missing in our relationship. Rather than having a big fight or argument over it, we spoke about each little point separately and on multiple different occasions over the course of the summer months. I’m not sure whether or not this was the “best” way to go about it, but it didn’t work: Steve did nothing to change and took no responsibility to keep the bond alive, even though I kept trying. Our goals and similarities had always been alike in some ways and completely opposite in other ways, so that did not have much of an effect on my decision. On the other hand, as for our attraction, I began to see that I was still with him not so much because I felt in love with him anymore, but more out of habit and a fear of what loneliness might feel like. Although I have wonderful friends, I couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to not have Steve there for me; so it’s not so much that I was afraid of being alone per say, but rather that I didn’t know what to expect—I feared the unknown.

Finally, I decided to break up with him. I did this a week after I moved back in to school, when our proximity changed and it became more of a hassle to see each other (even though we happily arranged our lives around each other freshman year, this time around my attitude changed—I felt like it would’ve been an aggravation to fit him into my schedule). Then came the dyadic phase: “This often emotionally exhaustive phase is characterized by long talks and rationalizations of how the partnership ‘got to this place.’ During this phase, the other partner may make attempts to reconcile the relationship and to illustrate the costs of withdrawing. This phase typically continues until someone admits, ‘I have had enough’” (Campbell Eichhorn 247). It’s eerie how right-on the text is here. After I told him I was leaving him, Steve and I had a terribly taxing two-hour-long conversation that day, and then three weeks later (after he calmed down enough) we had an incredibly emotional five-hour-long conversation. Those were the only two times we saw each other, but we continued to have an email correspondence for nearly two months.

As we discussed in class, sometimes a relationship might be terminated more because of a conflict of dialectics than a conflict of interests. In my case, this is true: Steve’s needs were not cohesive with mine anymore, and we struggled and failed to find a way to compromise. For example, I was always the one that arranged things to do together, and I was always the leader. Steve never wanted to be the one to take me out, or plan a fun event for the two of us, even something as simple as a picnic in a park; instead, he was content to be a homebody all throughout the summer, the one season of the year I am eager and able to do lots of things. Essentially, as someone in class said, “If I feel like I’m always the doer, it becomes really hard to maintain that relationship.”

I attempted to demonstrate through my favorite band’s music and poetry the phases our relationship went through. To represent the beginning, I chose Animal Collective’s “The Purple Bottle.”

I couldn’t find a music video of the song in its original form, but this video shows one of the lead singers playing acoustic guitar along with his wife playing the keyboard. This song is about the first stages of falling in love. If you’d like to hear the song in the original version - the singing is not as crazy - here it is.

To represent the middle, after we self-disclosed, bonded, and started feeling like any day spent away from each other was a wasted day, I chose “Grass.”

To represent the end of our relationship, when we were still together but things weren’t going well, I chose “Banshee Beat.” I found a video that shows the lyrics for better comprehension.

If you’d like to see various interpretations of Animal Collective’s complex lyrics, here’s a website that's great for helping you gain a better understanding of them.

I also am including a scene from “Across the Universe” to represent the difficulties Steve and I went through after I decided to break up with him.

This clip shows the disintegration of Sadie’s and JoJo’s relationship, and while it’s a lot more glorious and dramatic, I can relate to it in terms of my break-up with Steve. We went through so much during the two months following the day I actually left him: the dyadic phase, the social phase, and ultimately the grave dressing phase all occurred (Campbell Eichhorn 247). Although we only saw each other twice afterwards, we emailed each other often, which only caused a lot of heartache and anger. I finally cleaned my house, though: I haven’t spoken to him or really felt like I miss him in over two weeks now.

I want to end this blog on a hopeful note, though. Here’s a poem I think captures the essence of a truly healthy loving relationship, one that I hope to find myself in someday. The narrator speaks of his lover in adoring terms, even perceiving her faults to be endearing traits.

“Love Poem” by John Frederick Nims

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers' terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apoplectic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love's unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Combining the Personal with the Professional

I have spent way too much time in my life working. Technically, my full-time job is being a student, even though I am paying for my education instead of being paid. This is an interesting job because we tend to be professional with our professors, but we tend to be personal with our “co-workers,” our classmates. I could go on forever about this lifelong job I’ve embraced, but in this blog I’m going to talk about my more official jobs—the ones I have been paid to do. Not counting my job as an unpaid and under-appreciated babysitter to my younger siblings, I starting working at the age of 14. I started out working as a cashier at Burger King, then I moved on to become a hostess at On the Border, and finally I ended up as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse, where I have been working for the past two years.

On more than one occasion, my job as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse Inn has led me to give criticism to my fellow hostesses. One girl in particular—I’ll call her Sonya for the sake of convenience, even though that’s not her name—that I worked with often made many mistakes, almost every night. These mistakes can include miscalculating or misprinting checks, seating guests at the wrong tables, giving the cooks and servers the wrong messages, etc. Although many of my co-workers have brought these issues up with our manager, Sonya is just so polite and sweet to our guests that our manager never wanted to fire her. Meanwhile, I am left behind to try to correct her mistakes. I use certain communication strategies based on a consideration of her listening style when I give her criticism. I realized she is a people-oriented listener because with every new encounter, Sonya “seek[s] common interests with the speaker and [is] highly responsive…[she is] interested in the speaker’s feelings and emotions ” (Campbell Eichhorn 136). Additionally, I thought about how she often falls into common listening misbehaviors: she monopolizes conversations because her favorite thing to talk about is her life and the people in her life to anyone who will listen. Also, she partakes in a form of ambushing—while she does not, like most ambushers, “listen for information that they can use to attack the speaker,” she is, in fact, guilty of the next aspect of ambushing: “often ambushers interrupt the speaker. They do not allow the speaker to complete his thought and jump to conclusions. Ambushers make assumptions and get ahead of the speaker by finishing his sentences” (Campbell Eichhorn 141), and Sonya definitely looks for opportunities to interrupt the speaker, vaguely connecting whatever the speaker was saying to a story about herself or her friend, etc. Her ultimate aim in every conversation seems to be just to start talking about people she knows. With all of this in mind, I keep my criticism of her brief so she cannot seize control of the conversation while I am trying to teach her something; also, I use person-friendly language with her so as to not hurt her feelings and to appeal to her people-oriented sensitivity. She receives all of the criticism well enough, technically; she usually provides feedback, listens attentively (ears, self, eyes and heart, as the Chinese character demonstrates), and walks away comprehending what I’ve criticized and what I recommend her to do better in. Still, it does not always sink in—either that, or Sonya is a creature of habit, and does not know how to break a bad one easily.

I get along fine with my co-workers. My mother is a server in this restaurant, and our relationship is great. Another server is my friend Nick, who got me and my mom our jobs there. Since I’ve been at school, our relationship has boiled down to just talking at work; sometimes this is a bit awkward because it’s hard to pick up where we left off if we haven’t seen each other in months, and often we end up just small-talking. All of the other servers I communicate easily with, because I relate to each of them in one aspect or another. As for my supervisor, the manager, I get along well with him, too: when we’re not busy working, we talk about current global issues (he’s European and speaks six languages), my studies, literature, or relationship issues. In fact, he has even taken my mom and me out for brunches and joined us for family barbecues. Consequently, my manager has gotten to know us well both at work and outside of work, so he trusts both of us with any and every task we feel capable of handling.

The Leader-Member Exchange theory states that the relationship between superiors and subordinates will not be the same for every worker. This is true especially in my workplace, because individual servers and hostesses have different relationships with the manager and the owners. I have a very good relationship with my superiors and can often get away with things that others might not be able to. I can use this theory to improve my role on the job by rectifying the system. In other words, I should try to make sure my fellow subordinates are getting treated as well as I am, rather than unfairly perpetuating favoritism. My satisfaction and overall comfort—even my self-esteem and sense of affiliation, as Maslow points out—might increase if I make the work environment better for everyone. My personal life would also reap the benefits of this because I would feel more productive and more aware of my role as a good employee at my part-time job, which would lead to my feeling better about my capabilities as a worker in general.

As for the EQ test, my score was 132: “much higher than average.” The questions were straightforward, and I feel that my results were accurate because I am very much a friendly, curious, easily captivated and passionate person. The text under my score stated, “You are able to express your feelings clearly in appropriate situations…You deal effectively with stress, interact with others and communicate adequately…You are able to motivate yourself, find the energy and the strength necessary to complete what you need to do to reach your goals. You are one of the resilient people who bounce back after major drawbacks, survive hardship without bitterness, and still manage to empathize with others. These skills will certainly bring you long-term benefits such as stronger relationships, better health and personal happiness.” My score directly relates to my ability to give and take criticism because it shows how adaptable and people-centered I am. I don’t take criticism personally; maybe if I were more egotistical, or less adaptable, then I would take criticism to heart. As I am now, I still know I have a lot to learn, so I appreciate constructive criticism. Also, I tend to see the best in everybody, and I couldn’t hold a grudge to save my life.

What’s interesting is despite everything I just said, when asked to fill in the blank, when I am criticized I feel ____, the first word that came to my mind was disappointed. All the words I’ve used up until this point have been positive, but I must admit that my initial response to criticism is none of those things. Although I do get over criticism more quickly than most people I know, that is just the ultimate outcome—the initial outcome when I receive criticism is I feel disappointed. I hold myself to high standards and put my whole heart into everything I do, so whenever I do something poorly, make mistakes, and get criticized, I do feel bad for a little while. However, if I didn’t, that would mean that I don’t care too much about doing my best, which of course is not true; so, as always, there's a flip side to everything.

It took me awhile to come up with a poem, book, or song to relate to this passage, but I finally thought of one. "Taxman," written by George Harrison and performed by the Beatles, is a brilliant, wry and funny perspective on the reality of living, working and getting your hard-earned money taken away by government taxes. Here's a link to listening to the song for free: Taxman.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Communication Audit

I asked a few different friends about their perceptions of me, my verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and the topics I normally feel comfortable discussing. One friend in particular, Jenn, talked to me at length about everything. After reflecting, I spent too long creating a mind map that doesn’t look half as nice as Josh Chave’s.

I tried to find shapes to color in that relate to the topic in some way, and I fashioned them bigger or smaller depending on the amount I know about that topic. For example, I’m abysmally uninformed when it comes to pop culture (hence the small can in grey), but I have done a decent amount of researching politics today (the four-way arrows demonstrate the breadth and extension of this election) (here's the most recent article I read). I still have plenty to learn, however, and I left white space in the section to designate that. As for the subdivision “Education,” Jenn pointed out that we share our experiences with each other of our classes and professors, even though we don’t have the same classes for the most part and therefore cannot really know much about the topic. This is an example of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory because we’re communicating to increase predictability (Campbell Eichhorn 65). Cultural awareness and world view are the main motivators of my curiosities, and they shape my subjectivity (Campbell Eichhorn 62). I colored in less than half of that section, because how could anyone possibly know everything about the world? As for “The Human Condition,” Jenn helped me distinguish between the aspects which simply require life experience to discuss (i.e. the possibility of utopia), the features that are debatable (i.e. the human urge for divinity), and the facets which require book smarts (i.e. the lack of minority writers in our literary canon and how this reflects our society). I illustrated that while I appreciate a good amount, I still have so much to explore. Of course, what I discuss and how I talk about it differ with each person. The textbook authors label this context (Campbell Eichhorn 63), but I have always called it using discretion. We all must be aware that what we say and how we say it should change depending on who we are speaking with.

I feel comfortable talking about 9/10 of these subjects because they are what interest me most. Although I don’t know much within the tenth topic—General Media, Pop Culture, and Miscellaneous Items—I feel comfortable in a discussion because my mannerisms save me. My friends mentioned that I am a good listener, and this is what translates to being able to uphold a conversation about something I’m unfamiliar with. My friends claimed that I never seem cornered or stumped by any topic. What they may not realize is that I use selection (Campbell Eichhorn 116) when listening—I focus on something that I do know about or relate to in my companion’s speech, and when he or she is done speaking, I’ll emphasize that thing in my response. Additionally, I try to ask the right questions about things I’m unfamiliar with until I get a sense of them.

Unintentionally, my friends’ descriptions of my nonverbal communication highlighted some of the nine forms. Kinesics is the primary one, of course. My friends said that while I seem cultured and smart, I also use my physical appearance (Campbell Eichhorn 96) and body language to give off the impression of being approachable, warm, and capable of befriending everybody. This goes back to Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Model: I shape others’ impressions of me through my friendly image and positive convincing behaviors. I am definitely one who is “always working to convince others to accept the impressions [I] desire.” A second aspect of my nonverbal communication is that I don’t at all filter my facial communication (Campbell Eichhorn 90) in intimate settings. My friends can tell when I don’t like an idea: I purse my lips, cock my head to one side like a puppy, and pull faces, which may include but are not limited to disbelief, disgust, annoyance, confusion, anger, or indifference. My friends also said that I make a lot of eye contact while listening and speaking fluently, but when I’m thinking hard, I look up and away from them. In terms of silence, I tend to take pauses frequently to gather my thoughts, to decide how to properly phrase an idea, and/or for dramatic effect. The only thing my friends did not agree on is my use hand gestures. Some said I use them often, and exaggeratedly; others said I hardly use them, and not excessively. As for proxemics, my American close friends and I all keep a good distance. A funny contrast to this is the way our French friends behave: they get really close when speaking one-on-one. To us, that is clearly defined as an invasion of our comfort zone (Campbell Eichhorn 94), but to them it’s normal.

I’ve rarely been to the doctor because I don’t have any disorders or vaccinations to keep up with, so I don’t have any fear or anxiety over doctors. I haven’t had a cavity since pre-school, so again, no trauma when it comes to dentists. I’m comfortable with authority figures. I’m familiar with special needs people because my little brother has autism. However, one situation that I get anxious over whenever I think about it is how to motivate kids to read. I want to be an English teacher, but one of my biggest fears is that I’m going to have a roomful of students that despise reading, and I won’t know how to motivate them to feel differently about books. I imagine when the time comes I’ll go through all four stages of anxiety: anticipatory, confrontational, adaptation, and release. Although I intend to stick to the Protocol of assertive communication—having a dual perspective, sending clear nonverbal messages, and using a confident voice and convincing body language—this has not completely worked in the past.

What I’m referring to is my failed attempts to get my 13-year-old sister to read. One of the biggest frustrations in my life is the fact that I, JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer have all failed to change her attitude. Because of this experience, I feel anxious about having a roomful of students who either don't like to read, don't feel motivated to, or like to but don't have the guts to be that one kid in class who enjoys the subject (which my group will discuss later—our theory is called “The Spiral of Silence” and explains the reasons behind such a silence). I have read the inspirational "To Sir With Love" and it actually added to my anxiety. I would like to think that I will be able to take control of the class and encourage them to want to learn like the author did, but I really won’t know until the time comes. Until then, I can adjust my nonverbal and various communication channels to better tune into the mindset of people (like my sister) who don’t enjoy reading. I can take extra time to listen to my little sister’s reasons for why she doesn’t like reading, and practice the dual perspective to try to reach out to her (Campbell Eichhorn 133). I can utilize discriminate, appreciative, comprehensive, evaluative, and empathetic listening to better understand where she’s coming from, and then offer non-confrontational suggestions that appeal to her interests. In the past, I engaged in monopolizing or defensive listening (Campbell Eichhorn 140-141) when talking to my sister about her lack of motivation for reading. I would get upset at her for having a different point of view (monopolizing), and to make up for my failed attempt to motivate her, I’d try to save face (defensive listening). I’ll be aware of these common listening misbehaviors next time I speak to her, and I’ll make an effort to avoid them.

Another poem:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn’t make any sense."


Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Identity

Here are the go-to details about my background: I was born and raised in Camden County, NJ, but as a sophomore in high school I moved with my mom and a few siblings to Bucks County, PA. My mother is a waitress and has remarried twice in my lifetime; she left my dad when I was 3. My father, who works for a law firm, is a Cuban refugee and a Vietnam war veteran. My siblings: Michael is 28 and an electrician who wants to completely cover his body in tattoos by 2010; Gabrielle, 26, whose heart is as big as Texas, lives in Baltimore and teaches art in a middle school there; Justin, 21, a TKE brother who just transferred from Drexel to Temple, has changed his major from Engineering to Biology to Psychology to Sports Medicine; Laura, 13, is a mathematical genius who lives with our mom but likes her dad and our old home in NJ better; Charles, 11, has autism and still doesn't talk to or associate with us much, even though he's been going to a good school for children with autism since he was about 4.

In class Sept. 15, when everyone saw my teany bottle, the words volunteered to describe me were pretty accurate. I got health-conscious, into organic foods, different, trend-setter, always thirsty, vegetarian, likes going to the gym. I also have never been vaccinated, and I'm a proponent of alternative medicine, alternative lifestyles, breaking the mold, and ultimately just thinking outside the box.

I am a Cuban German Polish Chinese African American with a French first name, a Spanish last name, and a tendency toward English language and literature. I am fascinated with Eastern culture, religion and art, and I want to travel to every country in South America and play soccer with the locals. And my all-time favorite book is by the brilliant Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky.

As you may be able to tell, I am very global-minded. My biggest goal in life is to travel, and I have already been to and fallen in love with many places (San Juan, Miami, Charleston, London, and the mountains of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho); but I worry all the time about where in the world I’d be the most happy. I can list the places I know I want to visit—but where could I settle down and finally feel at peace? Should I follow my heart, which longs to help people in Sudan, the Philippines, or Ecuador, where I already sponsor a little girl living in the slums of Quito? Should I satisfy my soul, which yearns to go to India or China to learn the arts of yoga, meditation, divinity and spirituality? Should I listen to my mind, which thirsts for the great thinkers and writers of Great Britain, France, Spain or Russia? And what of my taste for the exotic?—I could seek treasures in Turkey, Morocco, Egypt or Nepal, even though I wouldn’t understand a word of their native tongues. What about my historical and mythological cravings, which would be sated in Greece, Italy, or what was once ancient Mesopotamia or Persia? Then there’s my blood to think of—I could trace my ancestry from Cuba to Spain and Ellis Island to Poland and Germany. Finally, I could stay here, the country that will always be my home, known for welcoming immigrants of all sorts, from all the countries I just listed and all the corners of the Earth? I have so much to offer here, so much work that could be done to improve our communities and educational systems, and develop the youth of the generations yet to come…

Ultimately, this is what I know will never change about me: I have a nagging curiosity that I doubt I'll ever be able to satiate. I love experiencing new things and learning more about people and the earth and the universe. I constantly look to the future, and I have a terrible memory. I'm an Aquarius, with a ton of Capricorn (six Planets) mixed up in there to ground me, a pinch of Aries (Rising), and a touch of Gemini (Moon). I love my friends more than they know. I feel at home in any old book store, in any campground in the mountains, any deserted beach, under soft blankets, deep in the woods, with animals, in/on the ocean, jumping and playing in the rain, and surrounded by deep thinkers.

Oh, and on a side note: as a huge fan of Heroes and great poetry, after Monday night's new season premiere of Heroes, I can't get over how perfect this poem is. I've always loved Yeats and this poem, and I was just blown away by how perfectly it applies to the direction the show is taking:

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?