Month: January 2016

Forming Habits

It’s hard for me to tell what is typical of me, and what is part of ‘the human experience.’ That is: it seems obvious to me that I’ve organized my life into a series of habits and routines that I could carry out in my sleep, which may be part of the reason that I’m able to function as sleep-deprived as I often do.

But, I don’t know if more people are more. . . conscious. To me, it seems like the way that people move through the world, and it’s a ‘model’ that I often use to explain the actions of others to myself. (“He probably wasn’t looking for me there, probably didn’t see me.”)

However, where I was once proud of my ability to set up routines and habits that I thought were constructive, I’m beginning to feel trapped.

Not trapped in my habits, trapped in my inability to form new habits.

Looking back, running was the last habit that I’d set up deliberately. And, perhaps some of my knee-jerk don’t-use-that-tone reactions that I have with my children.

If I’m going to continue thinking of myself as a work-in-progress authored by myself, I realized, I’m going to need to work on the authoring.

So, aside from fitness — I’m trying to get into the habit of doing strength-training every day — I’ve set up a few habits to get into. In the near future, I’d like to be a proficient fireside guitar player. Even more, I’ve decided to learn Latin.

I can sell guitar-learning as a brain-plasticity, do-it-for-the-kids kind of thing. After all, I’d like to have some campfires with them. Why not be able to do some songs.

Latin is easy for me to get: I’ve been meaning to learn another language, but I didn’t know which one. Part of living here and being in the international community, I know a ton of people who actually speak something other than English or German natively, but none of them do I know well enough to learn their language (it’s like asking someone to take you to their hometown… if they don’t invite you, you don’t go). So, I was stalled.

But, more than travel, I like obscure armchair-level scholarship. And, I like ancient Rome. Why not learn to read some texts in the original, wind up having a good base from which to learn another language? That’s what I’m doing.

Of course, I tell people I’m doing it to get the experience of learning a language as an adult, find tips to suggest to my own students. Look for opportunities to say “This is what worked for me…” And, that might be part of it, but really it’s just how I mention it to people in the hope that they’ll keep me accountable.

So, look for updates on the guitar and Latin here.

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Because you’re better…

In an unusual turn of events, I had a chance not long ago to actually discuss intercultural communication with some ESL students. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that certificates and education mean more than experience, I should be better qualified to teach that than I am English.

And yet, I ran into communication dificulties.

It wasn’t something we discussed just because I felt like discussing it. I’m working with a company that has a supplier in Portugal with whom they have… difficulties.

Deliveries are late, promises are not kept, agreements are made but, for some reason, never adhered to. In short, they would be doing business with another supplier, if they could find one.

In short, this should be a company motivated to communicate better — if only to properly intimidate their supplier into delivering on time.

And yet, in discussion of a few German and Portugese “clichés” they seemed unwilling to acknowledge that any of the points (punctuality, directness) were cultural, rather than simply the correct way to be.

That’s what gets me: even a group of people who should be able to see the logic of thinking flexibly — or pretending to — would rather stick to what’s comfortable.

The experience has me re-thinking my plan to achieve renown by being the “voice of reason” that convinces the American left to stop acting like dicks, and the American right to stop being idiots. After all, if you can’t get a group of people who should see the money at the end of the tunnel to try and see things from another point of view, how are you going to get people for whom their ideas are their identity to think differently?

Short answer: I don’t know.

If someone asked me why he or she should see things from another point of view — after all, I’m for people being allowed to do what they want — I have a few answers.

First, of course, is because you’re smarter than the people you disagree with (or you wouldn’t disagree, right?), so you shouldn’t be afraid that trying to see the other person’s perspective will make yours less valid (and, if it does, then you’re a bit smarter, right?).

More importantly, we all have things we want to change. And, in my case, if sending fifteen angry emails in eighth grade English doesn’t change things, why not try something else? Similarly, if posting memes mocking Antivaxers doesn’t make them see reason, maybe changing the tone of your communication will.

I firmly believe that we communicate for a reason (even though I’m not yet sure why I write here) and, if you aren’t writing to persuade, I suspect you’re mostly writing to confirm your superiority over others. And that’s not going to change any of the things that you say you’re upset about.

The Allure of the Pull-Up

Can you remember gym class in, say, eighth grade? Everyone was made to hang onto a freestanding pull-up bar and do “as many pull-ups as possible.” I put that last bit into quotes, because I don’t recall anybody doing any. It was like saying “jump to the moon and back as many times as possible.”

Nobody felt bad that they couldn’t do pull-ups, because nobody else could. (I should say that, due to scheduling, all of the music nerds in my high school had gym class together.)

Then, years later, I joined the National Guard and went to basic training. Fortunately, we were not required to do pull-ups to get out of basic training (you had to be able to do push-ups, and I would have lost sleep over it, if I hadn’t been exhausted every night) but there was another one of those freestanding pull-up bars.

Watching a lot of the other trainees bust out five or even ten pull-ups, I have to say that I no longer felt like I was normal in my inability.

Since then, though I’ve remained unable to perform even a single pull-up, it’s been one of the “milestones of manhood” that dangles in front of me every time I think that I’m ‘fit enough.’

I’ve run a marathon. I’ve run several half marathons. I can do more pushups now than I could in the Army. I like to think I’m ‘fit enough.’

And then, I remember that I can’t do a pull-up.

While I think about how I can get in shape for that, let me leave you with this.

In Defense of Change

We’re at that time of year again when people talk about how ridiculous it is to make New Year’s resolutions. I used to use them as a conversation topic in the beginning of January with my English courses.

After a few Januaries, I quit. The responses I got were perpetually ridiculous: “I can pick any time to change, why would I pick this time of year?” Another person made a bit of a presentation to me about how he took his kids out in the outdoors on the first of the year, and in his words* “I ask them ‘has anything changed? Do you feel different?’ That way they know that it’s a day just like any other day.”

Aside from the fact that I had several reasons not to like that particular student, he’s an idiot: regardless of how hard you work to kill it, there is a bit of magic in every new beginning. There is potential. There is a sense of What Can Be.

What he did was like following his child out on a first date and constantly saying “This is a date like any other. The person across from you is no better and no worse than any other person.” A reduction of everything to the ‘bare facts of the matter’ kills the magic of human experience.

In all the time that I heard the idea of New Year’s resolutions being mocked, very few of the people who mocked those resolutions managed to appear genuinely content with their lives. They were people — as we all are — ripe for making a change, and while it was true that they could have made the change at any point in time, but they didn’t.

Which is precisely why we need a day like New Year’s.

We can be thankful on any day of the year. And yet, it’s nice to have a day set aside on which we make the embarrassing effort to list the things for which we are thankful for.

I suppose I could write another five hundred words on why everyone should be eager to change. Suffice it to say that I like the idea of being on the way to becoming more and more my ‘best self’ or, if that seems a bit too arrogant, ‘more like myself.’

This year, I’m keeping my New Year’s resolutions modest. I’d like to meditate more (for me, that’s going to me four times a week), to work out until I can climb a tree that has no branches (like this guy, my hero as far as that goes) and be able to do pull-ups.

There are things I want to learn: to identify trees, to make basic knots, I want to work on my apps. But, experience has taught me to pick a few things this time of the year when you can easily find some people to keep you accountable, and to focus on them.

After all, I can change anytime.

* It should be clear that I’m remembering the sense of what this student said, not the exact wording. Besides, my English is bound to be better than his was.