Monday, October 29, 2012

Buttons and Responsibility

Coming to terms with my hot buttons

Why is this a struggle now

I sometimes have the privilege to teach Interpersonal Communication. It’s not my area of expertise, not the way Public Speaking, New Media, Rhetorical Philosophy or Spiritual Communication are. In fact, it’s not even something at which I am particularly skilled. I wouldn’t quite say that I am misanthropic. I am quite comfortable working with groups and crowds. In fact, while I am entirely introverted, if you give me an audience, I tend to ham it up. Still, I struggle with the basic interplay between two people at an emotional level. My best friendships in my life have always been primarily cerebral, spiritual and only consequentially emotional. I have better emotional communication with dogs than with human beings (but they rarely challenge me intellectually ((but I have this red dog right now who I think is smarter than me))). Part of the reason I love teaching it, however, is how much I learn from the class myself.

Right now I am preparing to teach the class in the spring. This will be different from when I’ve taught it before. First of all, it is to be taught at the junior level. Other times I’ve taught it as a sophomore or even freshman class. Secondly, technology has made great strides since last time I taught this. Moving my thinking from a bulleted Power Point epistemology to one that is more informed by thought mapping, like Prezi, has been instructive.

Finally, I’ve never taught the class as a married man. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that marriage is good for your self esteem! I came to marriage as an expert on communication, but marriage has made me question everything again. Everything that seems rock solid becomes ephemeral when you are one in spirit with someone whose reactions to life’s events are totally foreign. It makes a person question all that he or she knows. I question my faith. I question my intelligence. I question my masculinity. I question my traditions. I question my values. And most of all, I question my competence.

Somehow, before this class begins in January, I need to find a way to either find a solid intellectual place on which to stand, or to find some way to teach credibly from a place of intellectual insecurity. So, this might end up being a series of blogs. Of course, I’ve predicted that before and been wrong. My next post might well be about how awesome ice-cream is (answer=very).

Guidelines for expressing emotions. 

After four years of marriage, my wife and I have learned to push each other’s buttons and get the other one really upset. You might wonder why we would want to do that. So do I. The fact is that if you question us outside the situation, “would you say or do this or that thing?” We’d probably say “no, I know that would upset” the other one. Still, in that situation, we do or say things that we know will affect the other one. We also know what things affect us, but let ourselves get worked up over it anyway.

As I look at the text I plan to use next semester, it seems like this should be easy to overcome. The authors give some excellent guidelines for expressing emotions. They are guidelines I recognize intellectually. Each of them is backed by solid empirical research and tried and true philosophy. In the text, each of these guidelines is explained thoroughly and fully documented; it’s a good text. Here, I’ll just give you the bullet points (literally), but if you want to read it thoroughly, use the link above to check it out through your local library (interlibrary loan is great) or buy it, if you’re rich. The relevant pages are 132-141.

  • Recognize your feelings
  • Recognize the difference between feeling, talking and acting.
  • Expand your emotional vocabulary
  • Share multiple feelings
  • Accept responsibility for your feelings
  • Be mindful of the communication channel

Sweet. Good advice. I’m gonna do that. Except, it’s not all that easy.

Accept responsibility for your feelings.

Everything on that list is harder than it sounds, but the part that’s floating around right now is “accepting responsibility for your feelings.” When I was in college (undergrad) I learned to do this. I remember well sitting in Dr. Maurine Eckloff’s General Semantics class and learning how to redefine and use layers of abstraction to choose which feelings we would have as a result of things happening. I came to understand that no one could make me angry, sad, happy, etc. (Dr. Eckloff would love that “etc.”). Instead I recognized that I could choose which emotion was appropriate and useful to the particular situation and apply it, almost like a tool. That I choose my emotions was a truth that set me free. It was amazing. I was no longer controlled by my emotions. Since then, I’ve used those same tools both in classes and individual conferences to help other people get set free. I’d say I’ve gotten more thank you notes from students for help with that than anything else, but that would imply I’ve gotten thank you notes from students for something else. No one can make you feel anything!

Except . . .

My wife makes me happy. My wife makes me sad. My wife makes me angry. And I do the same to her. And we can do so with almost scientific predictability. When I am in that moment, and the emotion seems to hit me, I really don’t seem to have a choice. The feeling comes up. I fight it, but it’s there. Now, the pleasant feelings are no trouble. Let them come. Still, I need to find a way to get passed the angry feelings. It does help a little to recognize my “buttons,” but even though I know that these feelings are likely, right now it seems hard to take responsibility for them.

My angry buttons

  • When someone swears at me. I experimented with profanity in my youth, but have come to dislike it. I can give all kinds of theological, theoretical and philosophical reasons why it is bad. When it is directed at me, it is very hard for me to not get angry. To me, these words need to be limited to times when actual hatred needs to be expressed. When I hear them, I feel hatred directed at me. Then I get mad. 
  • When someone implies I should do more. I work more than a full-time job, teaching an overload every semester and summers, on the most time consuming committees, with a complete research agenda and service commitments. Even my “relaxing” time watching TV or reading sees my phone in my hand, answering emails from colleagues and students until late in the evening. I do this because my paycheck pays ¾ of our bills and I have to be on the ball. Still, I don’t let work interfere with household chores. I do all the cooking for our family meals. I do all the grunt work for pet care. I do my own laundry. I take care of the dishes (usually). I make the bed (which I never did when I was single). I mow the lawn. I do the grocery shopping. I plan the menus. I drop into bed exhausted at night. I don’t mind. I like work.  But I am really and truly doing all that I can. I don’t mind being reminded that the litter box needs cleaned or that there are dirty dishes in the sink. I forget stagnant details sometimes (scientifically, men don’t notice these things as a symptom of nature, not nurture or desire). When there is an implication that I am not going the extra mile or doing my part, however, I get mad.
  • When my family is criticized. This is a line no one can cross. There are families where they can attack each other, but won’t let an outsider attack. Not in mine. My mom CANNOT criticize my wife. My wife CANNOT criticize my mom. Both of them have tried and both of them have head from me about it. Everyone, clear out to cousins, are off limits. You can be honest; my mom doesn’t prioritize house cleaning; my brother doesn’t recognize his limitations; my wife doesn’t apply the same standards to herself as others but NEVER imply that these are bad things. My mom prioritizes people. My brother exceeds expectations. My wife crusades for justice beyond what it is possible to achieve. If someone criticizes them, I get mad.
  • When I am pushed away or dismissed. This is probably the hottest of the hot buttons. You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to think I’m right. You can be angry with me. All that is fine, so long as you look me in the eye and stay with me. When someone doesn’t do this, they are saying nonverbally “you are nothing” or “you don’t even exist to me.” When this happens, I get mad. 

But nothing can make me mad.

It is really hard when I look at these buttons to agree with the research. If you don’t live with someone all the time, it is easy to deny those buttons exist. When they are with you, however, and push your buttons regularly, it is every difficult to say that they didn’t “make” you angry. It is difficult to say that I choose to be angry in these situations. Maybe that difficulty is the whole point though. Maybe if I can get to the point where I can really take responsibility and say “I can choose to be angry” I can develop. I have to say though, that where I am now, it doesn’t “feel” like a choice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Society is not the Government

Coming to terms with social institutions.

It's not just governments anymore

We often hear "society needs to do something" which gets translated into "Government needs to do something." I think that is a mistake. After watching the Presidential debate which aired last Tuesday, I don't hold out much hope for the government accomplishing anything good. So should "society" just give up? I don't think so. Government is one of many social institutions. I have made a list of 100 social institutions besides government that I think are more poised and more likely to do good in the next four years than is government.

The list is alphabetical, not in order of importance.

4-H, 501(c)3’s, AAA, Academics, Acupuncturists  Alcoholics Anonymous, Artists, Beach Boys, Bible Belt, Bible Studies, Bicyclists, Black Panthers, Book Clubs, Boy Scouts, Campers, Churches, Comedians  Communes, Community Theater, Concealed Carriers, Consumer Coalitions, Cooperatives, Corporations, Cowboys, Crafts guilds  D.A.R, Dead Heads, DIY Movements, Dungeons and Dragons Players, Entrepreneurs  Faith Healers, Families, Farmers, Fishermen, Fraternities, Fundamentalists, Girl Scouts, Golfers, Google, Hackers, HAM operators, Hikers, Hippies, Holy Rollers, Hunters, Illegal Immigrants, Jesus Freaks, Jews, Journalism, Kennel Clubs, Little league, Mafias, Markets, Martial Arts, Media Conglomerates, Media Pirates, Militias, Musicians, Native Nations, Nebraska Corn Huskers, Neighborhood Watch, Nerds, NGO’s, Ninjas, Nudists, Nursing Homes, Open Source, Outlaw Bikers, PAC’s, Parents, Parrot Heads, Pirates, Pop Warner Football, Private Partnerships, Professional Sports, Protest Movements, Reality Television, Rednecks, Rick Rollers, Rifle Associations, Roller Derbies, Scene Kids, Schools, Service Organizations, Sluts, Soccer Moms, Social Networks, Sole Proprietorship  Sororities, Survivalists  Tea Party, Teachers, Thespians  Think Tanks, Trekkies, Truthers, Unions, Wiki's, Yuppies, Zealots.

So don't give up.

Okay, give up. Give up on government working in your interests or solving your problems. Still, there are problems that we cannot solve as individuals and can only solve if we work together. Working together, however, does not mean working with the government.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Speech Teacher's Sermon In the Classroom

Coming to terms with Public Speaking

And seeing the multitudes, Public Speaking Professor went up into the classroom and when his LCD projector had warmed up he opened his mouth and taught them saying:
Blessed are the poor in preconceptions: for theirs is the Kingdom of Learning 
Blessed are they that weep: for they express pathos
Blessed are the moral: for they express ethos
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after valid sources: For they shall find them in the library. 
Blessed are the respectful: for they shall obtain the respect of their audience 
Blessed are the pure in citation: for they shall see A’s. 
Blessed are the syllogism-makers: For their logic shall result in an A. 
Blessed are ye when your classmates and even your professor shall revile you and persecute you and make all manner of rebuttals against you for your argument’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for you have found a topic worth discussing. 
Ye are the makers of speeches, yet if the speech lacks valid sources, wherewith shall it be spoken. It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be given a “D” and even erased from your hard-drive. 
Ye are the movers of minds. A great movement does not begin standing still. Nor does action happen within a bushel basket; but occurs when it is out in the open. So let your floor movements include the whole room, that you may make eye contact with everyone and not have your body hidden by a podium. 
Think not that I come to destroy Aristotle or Cicero, but to apply them. For verily I say unto you as long as people express themselves in language, Arrangement and Artistic Proof will not pass away. Whosoever shall say that contemporary technology negates classical rhetoric shall be the least among great speakers: but whosoever uses contemporary media to apply them, shall be called the new Martin Luther King Jr. 
For I say unto you, that except your public speaking exceed the eloquence of the politicians on CSPAN, you shall not obtain a better grade in my class than a “C.” 
You have heard it said from Dale Carnegie “Begin thy speech with a joke for it shall set thee and thy audience at ease.” Yet I say unto you, that this is a bastardization of Cicero and that the Narratio of a speech need not be humorous, but should move the emotions of thy audience where thou wilt. Therefore if thou speakest of painful subjects use not inappropriate humor. In so doing you will alienate and anger thy audience and you cannot move them. 
It hath been said, “whosoever copieth from one source committeth plagiarism, but whosoever copieth from many sources doeth research.” Yet I say unto you, whether from one source or from many, unless a student cite aloud the sources, plagiarism is committed and he shall be cast out of school. 
Again, you have heard it said “Alcohol and tobacco kill, whereas marijuana hurts no one.” Yet I say unto you that this is a non-sequitor and the student who says such shall be as guilty of fallacy as the student who compares the politician to Hitler. 
Ye have heard it said: “expose the other side’s hypocrisy, and thou needst not defend thine own arguments.” Yet I say unto you, an accusation of others is not a defense of thyself.” Instead put forward the goodness of thine own arguments and let thy enemy’s argument fail against it. 
Ye have heard it said that when you rise up to speak, thou shouldst be thyself. Yet I say unto you, unless one improves ones delivery, appearance and style, thy speech shall not be seen as important by thine audience and they shall not be moved. 
Take heed that ye do not give a speech without including other’s ideas: otherwise ye shall seem a mere opinionated buffoon. 
Therefore when thou speakest find valid sources who share your beliefs. That way when others argue, they argue not with you, but with the great knowledge and wisdom of those you cite. 
And when thou speakest, be not bound to thy podium. For the human eye is attracted to movement and thou shalt keep thy audience’s attention better if thou walkest about during thy speech. 
So when thou speakest, speak not as one who has not arrangement, but rather speak like this 
Begin with an Exordium that states thy thesis and explains thy credibility
Next give a Narratio which builds in emotion
Preview thy main points in thy Partito
Then explain each of these points in detail, citing sources throughout thy Confirmatio.
Explain what other points of view are common and why you do not hold them in thy Refutatio.
End with a call to the audience to move their minds in thy Peroratio
Moreover, when thou speakest do not as the failing students do and write the speech the night before it is due. Rather, prepare in advance and practice outloud, for when one practices in private, one shall receive one’s reward in public. 
Wait not until thy senior year to take Public Speaking. For you shall need to give presentations in thy major classes and shall do poorly in thy attempts. 
The greatest connection thou makest is in thy eye contact. Yet if thou readest thy speech how will you look at your audience! 
No speech can have two theses. Either one point will be made and not the other or neither one point will be made nor the other. One cannot speak on both the history and rules of baseball. 
Therefore I say unto you, take no thought about thy embarrassment in front of an audience. For I tell you the truth, even great speakers are nervous when coming before an audience. But I tell you the truth, even Abraham Lincoln in giving the Gettysburg Address felt fear as he stood before his auditors. Yet, who among you does a good job at what does not worry you? Instead, focus on moving thy audience and with or without nervousness, they shall be moved. 
Therefore, do not worry about worrying. Sufficient is the worry you will have before thy audience. 
Judge not the other students’ speeches, for thou art not yet qualified to tell them if their job is good or bad. Yet, if thou hast simple ideas for improvement, discuss them in class that all may be edified. 
Give not a speech which is not well researched, neither give a speech is unrehearsed. For the validity of thy argument and thine own morality shall be called into question. 
Ask if you do not understand the assignment. Read the textbooks and other ancillary materials. For your Professor is judged by the number of students who continue to graduation after this class and has no desire to see you fail. 
Therefore, in all things, the way you would like to see a speech given, give that kind of speech.
Unless thou believest that thy audience would be better for having heard your speech than if they did not, thou hast not chosen a good enough topic. 
Beware of bad advice that comes to us from people not trained in oral rhetoric. For although many mean well, many will tell you to do things that are not conducive to good presentations. Instead, see my lectures as a model for thine own speech, for if thou speakest as I speak, thou wilt get at least a “B.” 
Not everyone who stands before an audience is a public speaker. Only the one who follows all five canons of Invention, Style, Arrangement, Memory and Delivery can truly be said to give a speech. 
Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will give unto that person good grades. Then if at some point the GPA droppeth due to life’s difficulties, the student will remain in good academic standing. But whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall be a student who receives low grades. Then if at some point the GPA droppeth due to life’s difficulties, that student shall be suspended for failure to make academic progress. Such a student shall have no college degree, but must still pay back the student loan.
And it came to pass, when the Speech Professor had ended these sayings, the students were astonished at his doctrine. For he spoke as one who’d actually studied the subject, and not as a writer of self-help books.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

“The Bible says it. I believe it. That’s all there is to it.”—Except it’s not all there is to it.

I, like most people, probably, eschew labels. I think people should be free, including free to do things that I see as wrong. I think we have a responsibility to the poor which includes saying that if a person won’t work, he or she shouldn’t eat. That puts me in opposite corners with both leanings. I was raised in the “Christian Church and Churches of Christ” tradition, which has fought for a long time not to have a label, and has, therefore, ended up with a long one. Because of that tradition, if you accept Jesus and I have any say in what happens next, it will involve water. Still, I can’t comfortably lump myself in with that group because I think if you get shot while learning about baptism, you go to Heaven. Nowadays, I go to a church where people speak in tongues, and do so myself, but I don’t like to be called a “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” since I feel like that lumps me in with people who think we go to Heaven in shifts (some go in the Rapture, and come back, others don’t get to go until after the millennium) or spend too much time yelling at the Devil instead for talking to God. I believe the Bible is the literal, inspired word of God, but I don’t really like being called a “fundamentalist.” Those guys blow up buildings, don’t they? I prefer to learn from people with whom I disagree.

Part of the reason I don’t like to be called a Fundamentalist is that it tends to be the Fundamentalists who also make the above statement about the Bible. “The Bible says it, and that’s all there is to it.” The implication is that there is no room for meditation, contemplation, or even understanding. The relationship between me and God becomes purely mechanistic, like the relationship between me the writers of the operating manual for my toaster.

There are so many problems with this point of view I don’t even know where to start. First of all, it doesn’t work. I could get all into Aristotelian discussions of ethos or Ciceronian discussions of government or Locke’s discussion of when we break social contracts, but I won’t. Let’s look at contemporary business literature. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People, habits 2 (Begin with the end in mind), 3 (put first things first) and 5 (Seek to understand) would all be banished if we looked at the world this way. We wouldn’t know what the end is. We wouldn’t know what things are to be put first (all things seem to be equal). Most importantly, we wouldn’t be able to understand. We know that in businesses where critical thinking is squelched, the business breaks down. We know that in countries where there is no right of dissent corruption persists. Study after study has shown that in families where rules are made without explanation the children are worse off than if they’d grown up without rules. “The Bible says it and that’s enough for me” attitude is one that would inculcate habits of ineffective people. I don’t think that’s what God wants.

Secondly, it ruins relationships with God. For most of us, God doesn’t speak to us in audible voices. It can happen; I’m sure. There are about five people I trust who have heard the audible voice of God. There are bunches more who I don’t know well enough to trust. God’s never spoken to me in an audible voice, and I don’t think he often does to others. Still, God speaks to us and we speak to him, we have a conversation. At least we should. Relationships aren’t built around giving arbitrary information. Relationships are built around giving and receiving information around the asking of questions. That’s how we come to know each other’s hearts, by asking “why?” It is the question that I feel God asking me as I make my requests known unto Him. Me: “God, I need a new car.” Him: “Why?” Of course, God knows why I want a new car. He wants a relationship with me, and He wants to search my heart with me, so He asks. God: “Thou shalt not steal.” Me: “Why?” Over time, He answers. That is what God wants from us. He wants a relationship. He doesn’t want automatons programmed to obey. He wants friends who grow to love Him as we learn more about Him. That’s what relationship is. That’s what love is. If I were to sum up what loving someone really is, it would be asking that person “why?”

The worst problem with this is that the Word of God disagrees with it. One of my favorite verses in the bible is Daniel 10:12 when an angel appears to Daniel and tells him “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” God wants us to try to understand. Isaiah 1:18 tells us what the rest of the book will be about saying “come let us reason together.” God doesn’t lay down the law. He invites us to talk about the law together.

But didn’t God lay down the law? On stone tablets no less. Sure, but look carefully at that story. You’ll find that they weren’t originally given that way. In Exodus 20, God spoke in an audible voice and gave the 10 Commandments orally. When that happened, the people freaked out. They didn’t want a real relationship with a real God. They basically told Moses “We’ll have a relationship with you. You have one with God.” So then Moses went and got the stone tablets. God would have, and did, explained “why” for each of these things, but people didn’t want to get to know God.

So, God had to be sneaky. Maybe you could argue that from Moses’ protégé, Joshua, to Samuel, God sort of did have an “I said it you do it” relationship with His people, but I think if we look at examples like Gideon’s fleece throwing, we’d see that this isn’t really the case. God wanted to be questioned. He didn’t want to be rebelled against, but He wanted to explain Himself. Once we hit Samuel (assuming Samuel wrote Judges), it is like the floodgates are open. Not only do we start getting historical books written that show what happens when one does and doesn’t follow God’s suggestions, thus explaining why. We also get outright philosophy being written, explaining the reasons behind the commands. The Psalms (mostly written by Samuel’s protégé, David) and then Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (both mostly written by David’s son, Solomon) are not lists of do’s and don’ts at all. They are explanations as to why what was already written. 

They were the answers to questions put to God.

It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that the Bible is sometimes wrong. That’s not what I’m claiming either. I also don’t think that one should rebel against authority simply because it is authority. What I am saying is that what God wants from us is a relationship. He wants obedience, but not blind obedience. He wants to explain Himself to us. He wants us to come to know Him.

Note: When I sat down to write this blog, it was going to be about undocumented immigration. That’s sure not where this went.