Sunday, April 26, 2015

One is the Most Compassionate Number

There was a huge earthquake in Nepal. More than 2,100 people are dead. Two days ago they were alive. Today they are dead. Want to know what I did when I heard the news? Well, first I finished my coffee. Later I went running and got some lunch. I had a strong craving for ice cream that afternoon, so I went to the grocery store and bought some. I ate the ice cream while watching Doctor Who. I edited about seven pages of a paper. I changed back into my pajamas in the early afternoon. I finished up Monday's homework.

Want to know what I didn't do? I did not cry over the loss of more than 2,000 friends, parents, children, and siblings. I didn't think about all the people who are now homeless. I didn't make a donation to any relief efforts. I didn't spend time poring over news stories and researching ways that I could help.

Did your Saturday look similar to mine? It probably did. But why is that? Why can't we bring ourselves to care about 2,100 people? I like to think that I'm a fairly compassionate person. You're probably compassionate, too. You have at least one cause that you care for deeply, right? When a friend needs you, you're there immediately. Yet we don't react on behalf of 2,100 people.

The reason is because of that number: 2,100. It's called statistical numbing, and it's been engrained in the human brain for a very long time. We mentally brush aside large numbers. If you hear a story about a little girl whose life is in danger, you'll donate $11 to help her. If you hear about eight children whose lives are in danger, you'll donate $5. Mathematically, that makes absolutely no sense. Even I know that, and I'm bad at math. Logically, we should want to multiply that $11 by 8 when we hear about those kids. But maybe numbers just seem less human to us than stories.

So here's what we should do. Ignore the number. Pretend the number doesn't exist. Focus on the story. A seven year old child stands in the middle of a pile of rubble. It's dangerous for her to be there. She's surrounded by nails, splintered wood, broken glass. She's going to get hurt. You know she is. But there's no mother to take her away from this. Her mother is somewhere under that pile. And that child is sobbing. Where's Mommy? Who's going to take care of this baby now? Who's going to hold this little girl? Get that image in your head. Hold on to it. It's painful, but hold on to it. And only when it's fully taken root inside of you, multiply that child's mommy by 2,100.

Now do you want to do something? Me too. Most of us won't be able to do much to help, but we can support the relief efforts monetarily. is supporting Nepal right now. So are many others, but make sure you check out to make sure you're donating to a legitimate nonprofit. And if you can only spare $5, then there's $5 more for rebuilding. Have nothing? Tweet a link to a nonprofit.

I believe that prayers are powerful, and if you do too, pray for those friends and siblings and parents.

Our brains want to get in the way of our compassion. We won't let our brains win.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Am a Theatre Artist

I am a theatre artist. And I've noticed that in the past couple of years I've lost a lot of confidence. Now, I haven't lost any confidence that theatre is what I want to *do*, but I have lost confidence in the way that I *say* that to other people. I've actually started to dread the "What are you studying...and what do you want to do with that?" conversation, because so many years of fake smiles, so many years of "do you want to be a teacher, then?", so many exclamations of "but you're so quiet!", and so many jokes about becoming a waitress, majoring in hobbies, and hints that I'll change my mind or that I should get a degree in "something that I can use" have chipped away at my desire to talk about my career plans with people who aren't artists.
So, here is my real resolution for 2015. I will quit caring about other people's reactions. I will stop skirting around that conversation just to avoid judgement. I am a theatre artist. I am pursuing acting. Yes, acting. We can talk about why I think acting is important later, but for now, know that I am in fact pursuing it. I am not going to teach acting, not to high school students, not to college students, not to children. (Well, maybe as a volunteer thing at some point, but teaching theatre will not be my career.) I have utmost respect and admiration for theatre instructors and for teachers in general, and to treat their career choice as a consolation prize for people who didn't "make it" is an insult to a group of very hard-working and intelligent people who have earned their place in the academic field. I will not do theatre "on the side." I will not "keep it up as a hobby." I have wanted to make acting my job since I was fourteen, and that hasn't changed.
Will I fail? Maybe. It happens. Does that scare me to death? Duh. But I'd rather try and fail than fail by avoiding my desired career because it got difficult to talk about during Thanksgiving.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ways to Know that You're Dating a Woman, Not a Girl

1) She's at least eighteen years old.




...That's basically it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Open Letter to the Girl Who Wrote "Nice Guy"

For context, read "An Open Letter to the Girl Who Let the Nice Guy Go" first, then read the rest of this post. The original post was first published in June of this year, but I only recently saw it on my facebook newsfeed. This is my reaction to the letter. 


Dear Writer, 

I can see that your letter comes from a good place, that you are probably writing on behalf of your friends. You've probably seen some wonderful guys get ignored, and I can see that this frustrates you. As a woman, I too have experienced the frustration of being ignored. Perhaps you have too. I applaud you for questioning the minefield of dating, because it truly is a minefield, and trying to navigate it brings up all sorts of difficulties and heartbreaks. 

But now I have to address the sentiments of your letter that bothered me, the attitudes that are pervasive in our culture. These attitudes may spring from a place of good intentions, but ultimately they hurt women. Your open letter is full of genuine concern, but beneath the surface, some problematic outlooks lurk. 

First, you begin by lamenting the women who consistently date men who treat them like dirt. And then you said this: 

So you tried to push the nice guy away. When he wouldn't go away, you pushed harder. Still, he didn't give up and every time you pushed harder, he pulled you in even more. He ignored your fears and forced you to grow; He fought for your passions when you were too busy writing them off. He forgot your wants and focused on everything you needed. Then you walked away because he was too nice. 

This may come as a surprise, but she probably walked away for reasons other than him being "too nice." Let's talk about consent for a minute. We usually talk about consent in terms of sex, but no means no whether or not the situation involves sex. You're asking for a commitment that goes far beyond sex. The "nice guy" here wants an emotional commitment. He wants her heart, her time, her trust. He wants what she clearly isn't ready to give to him yet, and he's not respecting her "no." In fact, he's willing to "pull [her] in," "ignore [her] fears," "force [her] to grow." Words like pull, ignore, force, and forget your wants, should send up a giant, bright red flag. If we were discussing sex, it would. But we're discussing something even more important than sex. That's not to diminish the importance of sexual consent but to highlight the importance of emotional consent as well. Her mind, her heart, and her soul are all more important than her body, and the "nice guy" wants her to give all of those things to him on his own terms, not hers. The first paragraphs in your open letter reveal that this hypothetical woman has probably been hurt by the men in her life. And yet the "nice guy" thinks that she should be ready to date him because he's nice. It's not just about him. It's about her too, and whether or not she is ready to be in a relationship with him. He can't force an emotional bond with her. No does not mean please ignore what I want. No does not mean you know what I need better than I do. No not mean pull me in further when I push away. No does not mean maybe or keep asking or I'm playing hard to get. No means no. That's it. The end. 

"Wait," the nice guy may be thinking, "but why is she saying no to me but not the jerk?" Well, if somebody is hurting her, if he's abusive in any way, be that physically, emotionally, or sexually, then Nice Guy should do something about it. He should encourage her to get help. Call the authorities if she's unable to get help on her own. But he does not get to decide that a relationship with him is what she needs to heal. He may offer support, but he should not force her into a relationship. A "nice guy" coercing her into an emotional bond is the last thing she needs, especially if the aforementioned jerks have toyed with her emotions in the past. 

This letter assumes that women owe men. Hollywood has been perpetuating that idea for many years. But it's time that we call out these attitudes so that we can put a stop to them. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Covenant House

"Oh please please please snow," I muttered while staring out the window. We'd had a light snowfall already, and it wasn't sticking, but because this is Texas I was holding on to hope that my classes might still be cancelled. It's the benefit of living in places like Texas and Tennessee. When you don't get much snow, the tiniest bit of it will shut everything down and give you a day to read books and watch Netflix. Or finish that paper on Russian theatre. I had the news turned on. They kept talking about the dropping temperatures, because again, we panic about that stuff over here. Nothing about school cancellations, though.

"Come on, snow!" I whispered. I was getting irritated. And then I looked at the TV, and I forgot about school for just a minute. On the screen, a group of women were setting up a table of hot food. The camera panned over to a group of homeless men. They lined the sidewalk, huddled up against a building, bundled into sleeping bags, hats, and earmuffs. It wasn't enough. How could it be enough? And then it struck me: I'm sitting here praying for the exact thing that can only make their lives worse right now. Suddenly avoiding my classes didn't seem so important.

I enjoy winter, but I realize that everything I love about winter involves avoiding it. I like the giant sweaters, the time spent in front of a fireplace, and wrapping up in a blanket while I enjoy the aforementioned books and Netflix. If I didn't have food, shelter, and heat, winter would be a nightmare.

And for many people under the age of twenty one, winter is a nightmare. Think of the last time you felt truly cold, when the wind crept under all the layers and cut into your skin, when you shivered violently as your body desperately tried to get warm again. That moment might have been this morning, but how long did it last? Long enough to get your car warmed up? Long enough for you to dig your keys out of your bag and get into your house? What if it didn't end? Can you imagine spending an entire night feeling that way? For homeless teens, these nights aren't just cold. They're dangerous.

That's why Covenant House, an organization supporting homeless teenagers, is so important. It's more than a shelter. Yes, it does provide shelter and warm beds, but it also provides job training, help for mothers, and so much more. I only found out about Covenant House a month or so ago, but it's clear that they provide a lifesaving work. And if you, like me, don't have a lot of extra cash lying around, there are ways you can help that won't cost you any money, although donations are always helpful as well. For now, why not take a look at the website and just get to know the organization a bit? It may inspire you to make a difference.

Monday, December 1, 2014

If We Treated Everybody the Way We Treat Artists

I am a theatre artist. I'm a theatre artist suffering from a huge case of Impostor Syndrome, but I am theatre artist. Recently I started wondering what it would sound like if we treated everybody the way we treat artists. All of the following are based on things that have been said to me or about me. 

  • I want to be a high school teacher.
  • Hey, you know what you could do? You could teach middle school! 
  • Well yeah, if that's where the jobs are, but I really want to teach high school. 
  • Or elementary school! 
  • I'm not actually great with kids... 
  • You can be a coach. 
  • I'm not athletic. I just want to teach high school. 
  • And that's it? 
  • Yes. 
  • Oh. 

  • Look, you should at least minor in education. You can totally still do your business administration thing on the side. 

  • Your work can't be that hard. You're a math major, right? 

  • What's your major? 
  • Engineering. 
  • Oh, so you want to be a teacher?
  • Actually, I want to be an engineer. 
  • Really? 

  • She got a degree in biology. I think she's going to get a Master's in something she can use. 

  • Psychology is a hobby, not a career. 

  • He's probably really full of himself. All architects are. 

  • Are you still doing that dentistry thing?
  • Yes. 
  • What do you want to do with that? 
  • Uh...dentistry. 
  • Huh. You dating anyone yet? 
  • Nope. Pass the mashed potatoes. 

And finally...

  • I gave up sociology when I converted to Christianity. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I'm (Still) Writing About Introversion

Last week I ran across this article several times on facebook, and you should totally read it. It's about some of the problems that extroverts face, and it has a lot of points that introverts may not have previously considered. For example, I hadn't realized that while I can't stand it when people assume that I'm sad all the time, many extroverts can't stand the pressure to act happy all the time. And the fact that many people perceive extroverts as shallow is really unfair. An extrovert can contemplate deep subjects. And I can look like I'm deep in thought while remembering that I'm out of shampoo. So yes, do read that article and others like it. If you don't know much about the extroverted personality, go ahead and do some research on it and its unique set of challenges. While you're at it, look up ambiversion too, because those guys aren't super represented right now. (Ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.)

But I do have to admit that there was something about the piece that bothered me. Not the list itself. No, that list needs to be read, shared, and discussed. That list is important. But the opening paragraph made me feel uneasy.

Here it is:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of articles exclaiming, “How To Take Care of An Introvert” or “10 Things Everyone Should Understand About Introverts” and while I have no real problem with introverts and introversion, my issue is with the fact that people of the internet seem to have romanticized introversion in a way that turns any possible social impediments a person might have into desirable quirky traits. Not only this, but extroverts are suddenly the bad guys for not understanding introverts or mistreating introverts, etc, etc. As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I’m pretty sick and tired of people assuming that introverts are the only people who have got it hard. Really, seriously? Are we really going to play this game? Now you look here, mister. Extroverts may not seem as delicate or may not seem as complex and diverse, but extroverts have a whole different category of BS they have to deal with too. It’s not easy out there for anyone.

And on facebook, I've seen a certain level of annoyance over the posts about introverts. Now perhaps I feel a little uneasy simply because I'm one of the ones writing those posts. But I honestly think it goes deeper than that. 

Specifically, the part that claims that we have "romanticized" introversion and the part that equates my personality with "possible social impediments" really bother me. Introversion isn't about social impediments, and this paragraph reveals that our culture still doesn't quite understand what introversion is. (Introverts are people who have the most energy when they are by themselves or in small groups. Extroverts are people who have the most energy when they are with larger groups.) 

So yes, we do talk about introversion a lot. I talk about introversion a lot. But because of all of the annoyance and irritation over these posts that I have seen others express, I thought that I might take a moment to explain myself. 

Please understand that I'm not saying that extroverts shouldn't write these posts, that they shouldn't express examples of their own difficulties. On the contrary. I ask that you please keep writing them, because honestly, as an introvert, I may not always understand some misconceptions that you continue to face. I am, however, going to address the sentiment of annoyance and (occasionally) outright hostility that I've seen against all the posts about introversion, and I do want to explain why we are still, after all of this time, writing about it. 


So why do introverts suddenly have such a big voice on the internet? Why are we still talking about it? 
I'm not sure how exactly this whole thing got started, but I think we can at least partly thank/blame Susan Cain for this. She wrote a really fantastic book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. And while a few other authors have written about the subject (I have a stack of those books on my shelf right now), Susan Cain's book gained a significant amount of popularity. And as a result, introverts have taken on a new level of interest in their own personalities and have exhibited a desire to talk about it more publicly than they have in the past. 

Now, while I do have to acknowledge that extroverts can be pretty fantastic ("No, you don't get it. Some of my best friends are extroverts, okay?"), and I absolutely understand that each personality type has its own list of difficulties, I'm not going to stop writing about introversion.  

Because while extroverts do have struggles, the fact is that extroversion is seen as normal. It's seen a sign of mental health while its opposite is seen as a sign of neuroticism (See the OCEAN personality test). I'm not exaggerating, either. Introversion was literally almost included in the DSM as a sign of a mental disorder. A mental disorder. This was in 2010, by the way. We define introversion by its lack of extroverted traits and not the other way around.  We assume that extroverts make better leaders than introverts. Extroversion is the default. Any deviation from the default is odd. Introversion is often seen as a defect. Introverts are told, sometimes even directly, that they must change their personalities. 

Lexus thinks that introversion is a pathology that needs a cure. 

And sometimes people of faith assume that God Himself is an extrovert. From this sermon about Christmas.

According to Richard Haverson, just by virtue of my being introvert, I am a failure as a Christian. How do you think this makes me feel?

Speaking of faith and introversion, the aforementioned book by Susan Cain points out that there is an extroverted bias in evangelical Christianity. She quotes a certain evangelical requirement for church leadership:

Like HBS, evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly. "The priest must extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player," reads an ad for a position as an associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. "If the first letter isn't an E [for extrovert]," he tells them, "think twice...I'm sure our Lord was [an extrovert]." 

Wait, how is that okay? Why do these particular Christians think that it's perfectly fine to discriminate in such a way against introverts? How do you think people would have reacted if they had advertised for the opposite?

This whole "introversion as an illness" trope exists everywhere.  Even Google defines introversion as "a shy, reticent person" when in fact, one can be an outgoing introvert. My psychology textbook in college went so far as to claim that introverts don't like fun. My psychology. Textbook. As in a vetted academic text that was edited several times before publication. That is not okay. Sigmund Freud himself decided that introversion is a prelude to narcissism. He thought that introversion was the result of sexual repression because he's Freud and so of course he did. And this nonsense is everywhere. 

The structure of American offices? Built for extroverts.
Our entire educational system? Built for extroverts.
Television? Idealizes the extrovert personality.
The job market? Favors extroverts.

So take just a minute to step into an introvert's shoes. You have been told (sometimes literally) throughout your entire life that you will be a better person if you just acted more extroverted. You have been seen as a project or a trophy. Your personality, part of the very essence of who you are, has been de-emphasized and sometimes demonized. Psychology textbooks and dictionaries have said that there is something wrong with you. You live in a world that just is not built for you. You've been made to feel that you are not normal. You have been called selfish for turning down social engagements because you needed time to recharge.

And then somebody writes a book that makes you sigh in relief. Somebody else publishes an article that expresses everything you've been going through for years. Suddenly, you realize that you are, in fact, normal. You see that you are not strange and that at least a third of the population is experiencing the same thing that you are. You can talk to other people about this! Not only are you allowed to acknowledge that your personality is not a defect, you are now even allowed to like your personality. You have the chance to actually celebrate the parts of you that people have tried to make you hide for so long. Wouldn't you hold on to that chance for dear life? Wouldn't you relish that newfound freedom? Wouldn't you celebrate?

I'm going to give a somewhat clumsy comparison. When I was in eighth grade I realized that all of the other girls my age were straightening their hair. Straight hair was the norm. Curls and waves had to be dealt with and taken away. In college I decided that I actually liked my curls and that I wasn't going to straighten them anymore. Does that mean that I have some sort of bias against straight hair? Of course not! It just means that I appreciated this aspect of myself. That's all. It's also like when I say that I'm proud to be a woman. Does that mean I have something against men? Nope.

When we write posts about introverts and introversion, when we dedicate pinterest boards to the subject, when we talk about it on tumblr or share it on facebook, we are not trying to attack extroverts, claim superiority, or say that introverts are the only ones with problems. No, we are just trying to celebrate our newfound freedom to be proud of or even okay with our own personalities. It's a freedom that we didn't have for a very, very long time. 

So, to my dear extroverts and ambiverts: I'm listening. I want to know what you are going through. I want to hear about the biases that have been used against you. I want to understand the times when people have given you problems because of your personalities. Please tell me. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Share it on facebook. Talk to me about it face to face. Understand that I appreciate you for exactly who you are. But please, please try to understand why I have to keep writing about introversion as well.

Likewise, the extroverts in my life 
have significantly contribute to my healing...
Extroverts who have learned how to gently 
draw out the opinions of introverts 
and who give us the space to think quietly
are truly God's grace to us. 
-Adam S. McHugh-