Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What do we mean when we talk about being happy?

Hubs and I ocassionally hit relational white water when we're talking about the future. Some of it has to do with different views on the pursuit of "security." I may naturally place a higher value on that elusive commodity than he does. Leaving my old life behind (and becoming a new mom of sorts!) has increased that greatly. Getting older, too. In my twenties, I didn't have a problem moving away from parents and striking off on adventures; now I just want to settle down and make sure everyone's OK.

Yet I've just married a guy who is counting the days until we can head for the open road. I'm confident we'll be able to chart a reasonable, mutually respectful and satisifying course in time. But am grateful we still have a couple of years to figure it out.

A recent article in The Atlantic Magazine on How Happiness Changes with Age may be relevant:
"Social psychologists describe this change as a consequence of a gradual shifting from promotion motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly. Everyone, of course, has both motivations. But the relative amounts of each differ from person to person, and can shift with experience as we age."
"In a recent set of studies, psychologists Cassie Mogliner, Sepandar Kamvar, and Jennifer Aaker looked for evidence of how our sense of happiness changes with age by analyzing twelve million personal blogs. Specifically, they were interested in seeing what kinds of emotions the bloggers mentioned when they talked about feeling 'happy.'

"They found that younger bloggers described experiences of happiness as being times when they felt excited, ecstatic, or elated -- they way you feel when you are anticipating the joys the future will bring - like finding love, getting ahead at work, or moving to a new town.

"Older bloggers were more inclined to describe happy experiences as moments of feeling peaceful, relaxed, calm, or relieved - they way you feel when you are getting along with your spouse, staying healthy, and able to make your mortgage payments. This kind of happiness is less about what lies ahead, and more about being content in your current circumstances."
My husband jokes that when he turned 40 he started counting backwards. That makes him the younger of the two of us, now! Maybe in this sense he is.

The Atlantic also mentions differing motivation structures for what we want from our jobs.
  • Those with more "promotion motivation," often younger, are looking for jobs where they can develop their skills. They will choose work environments that will help them grow and offer increasing responsibility. 
  • Those with more "prevention motivation," often older, are more concerned about job security and flexible work schedules.
It's pretty easy for me to see the shift in my own life. Just this weekend I was explaining to Hubs that I'd joined C.P., my previous ministry, and moved to Colorado, not because it was the only kind of ministry I'd want to be part of, but because it was an ideal place to find the kind of development and advancement opportunities I was seeking. I loved being in the middle of things, working at the hub of the wheel. The other ministries I was looking couldn't really provide that. And now? I miss it, but don't need it as much. So when I was looking for a new place on the ministry org chart, what I wanted was a team that was healthy and mature and would give me a fairly long leash. My criteria had changed.

C. is in a different place entirely. He's trying to start a new career. So he looks at it much the way I did when I was in my twenties. In the context of marriage, I think both of us may be tempted to look down on the other because we're in a different place on these things. Even as I hope he won't think of me as an old lady, I need to commit to not treating him as if there's something childish about his perspective and values.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Becoming an expert learner... by leveraging ignorance

Getting ready for another ethnography project - a week-long training session with a group of folks preparing to launch a new life and work in a European city. Heading over there at the end of July. The friend and colleague I'm working with came up with a clever acronym we may use to organize the training... and maybe his rewrite of a 1995 manual, Exploring the Land.

DELVE: A model to learn about the peoples of your city

D: Discover (background work)
E: Explore (go out and make observations)
L: Learn (get into conversations, ask questions, delve into deeper issues)
V: Verify (pool what you get, study it, and confirm it with others)
E: Express (share what you found with stakeholders and supporters)

Like it?

As we launch the first part of D: Discover, I'm a little impatient. I'm sure there's a lot of info out there and want to make sure we learn all we can before we dive into field work. And I'm a little insecure: I've never been to the new host city, except for hanging out in the airport in transit to Africa or Asia, and I know very little about it. On the other hand, I've done this kind of work in a lot of places and am at least as comfortable in the role of a learner as in the role of an expert. Guess I've been doing this long enough that I'm becoming an expert learner.

Maybe that's why, in building bridges with people, I find myself alternating between volunteering information to show I'm savvy, and asking big, open-ended questions as if the other person knows everything and I know nothing.

All things considered, I think leveraging my ignorance works better than leveraging my knowledge. Probably because there's much more of it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

School Days, Status Report

Just finished my eighth seminary class - out of 20 - for an M.A. in Intercultural Studies. Looks like I still have that 4.0, too. That may be a sign I'm putting too much into these classes. They have been rather easy, I admit. And my professional skills and experience serve me quite well in such a context. But it's still a time commitment. The school recommends planning to put in 10 hours a week per class, and that's about what it takes.

With two more classes this year, I'm on track to reach the half-way point in December ... after working on it for three years. At this rate, the degree will take a total of six years. The prospect of not finishing until December 2016 is a bit discouraging, I admit. I did my Bachelor's in four, didn't I? On the other hand, it's clear to me I'm getting more out of these classes than someone would if they stayed on campus and did the whole Master's in two years. It's also less strain on me, my family, and our bank accounts for me to do this program one class at a time. Of the four of us, I'm the one whose degree is the least "necessary," so I feel the need to scrutinize the situation each term to see if it seems wise to take another class. I'm grateful that so far the answer is yes.

If all four of us finish our programs and graduate in a few years, there's going to be a lot to celebrate!

Hubs: M.Div (chaplaincy)
Expected graduation date: May 2015

#1 Son: High school diploma
Expected graduation date: June 2015

#1 Daughter: Bachelor's degree (psychology?)
Expected graduation date: May 2016

Marti: M.A. (intercultural studies)
Expected graduation date: December 2016

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What shocks us in culture shock? The situations we encounter, or our own reactions to them?

"Westerners in developing countries learn many things about themselves they might never have discovered had they remained at home. The smoothly functioning wheels of Western civilization protect us from many of the grating encounters that are so common abroad and that so acutely test our character and spiritual resources.

"…So much has been written about “culture shock” and the need to adapt to foreign customs, food, concepts of hygiene, and viewpoints generally that few missionaries get to the field without a thorough indoctrination to the culture of the country to which they are going.

"They have learned, in theory at least, that the key to a successful ministry will lie in their ability to assimilate that culture and to free themselves from the attitudes and prejudices of their own. They have been warned about the inevitable feelings of superiority, paternalism, disdain, impatience, and frustration that they are sure to experience and to which they may have previously considered themselves immune. Finally, they have been told that the course of their entire missionary career will ultimately depend on one thing: their day-by-day, step-by-step walk with God.

"Such preparation is necessary and helpful. In spite of it, I suspect that most missionaries during their first few years feel as we did – that they have really botched things up. Intensifying this feeling are friends back home who insist on setting them on a pedestal and making long excuses for their mistakes.

"…It’s not the situations we encounter in this place that are so unexpected, it’s our reaction to them."

Thomas Hale, in Don't Let The Goats Eat the Loquat Trees

See also a 2009 post: Culture Shock? We Don't Have It!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Adjusting to a New Normal - Family Life

Mother's Day approacheth. The first one I've encountered since taking on a maternal role, even a hyphenated one. As a new step-mother to teens, I'm a backup assistant parent at best. But I work at home and my husband has a busy and unpredictable schedule, one that seldom allows him to keep any consistent family commitments. So I'm also a default housewife. That's added plenty of chauffeuring and planning and shopping and cooking and cleaning to my life, especially during the weeks D. is with us. Yes, I know, I have it much easier than most "real" moms. And I'm still able to get my work done and keep up with my grad school classes.

This combination, though, leaves little or no margin for any interests of my own. I've virtually stopped reading and writing for pleasure (both lifelong habits), and I seem to have given up maintaining my friendships or developing new ones as well, a significant loss. My husband is just as surprised as I am to see those things go, and worried. He didn't want to see our marriage cost me like this, and he wonders how much my wounds are self-inflicted. I'm not sure, myself. It's good to stop and remember that even though the wife, stepmother, and housekeeper roles are the newest ones I've taken on, I made the decision myself not to quit my job or drop out of school (and not to sacrifice family life to make ongoing spiritual or relational commitments at this time, as much as I mess them). If my plate is too full, I can take responsibility for that and not treat it as something that was done =to= me.

It's also been a relief just to let go of what expectations I can and accept the new normal. While it lasts. There will be another new normal after D. leaves for college, after C. finishes seminary, and we'll probably be moving away in a few years. While this is a challenging season, it's also a gift. We haven't lost any parents yet. We still have the kids around. In years to come that is going to change.

The depth of my cross-cultural know-how and experience has been very helpful. I know what it is to lay down my identity, to become, at best 75% of who I thought I was, and maybe much less to start with. But to discover, with surprise, ways to become a new person who may even fit into the new culture at nearly that 75% level - in time, a 150%, bi-cultural person. Joining a family seems much like moving to a new country.

There is something to be said for starting marriage before tackling parenting. I can see the wisdom in waiting a while. Yet marrying into motherhood, and with kids not yet full-grown, also has its benefits, and it's good to stop and reflect on them. For example it's much easier for me to enjoy and relate to D. as a real person than as an extension of myself, as so many parents do. Things are simpler, cleaner, than if he were my biological child. We're "family," but I can be a friend in a way that his parents cannot, not yet... even if the complex, intimate connection he has with them is not something I can experience.

A sincere affection for D. has grown up within me. I desire to do anything I can for him, to enjoy and protect and provide for him, to cheer him on. I don't feel anxious or need to pressure him to turn into a certain kind of person. I want him to be who he is, to become who he needs to become. I actually find it easier to give him my loyalty and expect the best from him than I do with his father, my husband -- whom I can't seem to avoid treating as "an extension of myself," a man whose values, preferences, and choices feel like a threat when they clash with my own.

So how are we celebrating mother's day weekend? By sending D. back to his mom for the next couple weeks. It's appropriate that he be there for mother's day, and it will be nice to have a breather, after. This two-week period included the adjustment to D's recent decision to stop eating meat. It's been hard enough budgeting, shopping, and cooking for our conflicting needs and preferences without this additional restriction, and I did not take the change very well. I think I'm OK with it now. When D. returns, we'll have a few weeks of getting up at 5am to get him to water polo practice (after which, thankfully, he'll be on summer schedule, which runs a bit later. Practice will be on the other side of town then, but he plans to bike it when he can).

It's a relief to be traveling on my birthday (coming up on four years in a row). In the same way, it's a relief not to have the kids around on mother's day. Dispels ambiguity. I don't need to think about the day being about me in any way. I can look forward to a good chat with my mom, probably touch base with my stepmom as well - I have a new appreciation! - and enjoy a day with my mother-in-law.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Gender-neutral language

Maybe you heard about the legislation signed by the governor of Washington State requiring the revision of all existing laws to use gender-neutral language. Apparently the process has been going on for some time, and 3000 laws have been revised... going back to 1854. Florida and Minnesota have already completely revised their laws in this way. About half of all US states have made some move of this type.

Among the terms previously revised were fireman, policeman, clergyman, and ombudsman. The banned words catching the headlines now include fisherman, freshman, journeyman, signalman, and penmanship. A dispensation was granted for a few rank-and-role-related terms the military uses, and the term "manhole" is also permitted because no reasonable replacement could be found.

Some of the suggested terms are graceful, others, less so: fisherman becomes fisher, freshmen are first-year students (or first-year legislators?), journeymen are journey-level workers, signalmen are signal operators, and penmanship becomes handwriting (for those rare occasions one writes by hand, I guess). Just as chairmen are now chairs, ombudsman are now ombuds (moves that still sound odd to my ear).

I'm not opposed to language evolution, including an intentional move to use more inclusive terms. As a writer, editor, and student, I'm accustomed to looking for wording that is more accurate or respectful, even if it takes more space or takes some extra effort to avoid clunkiness. (It can be done!) I wonder what the price tag will be, though. Do we care enough about the benefits of these changes to make them, er, mandates? Today it's rewriting laws, reportedly a six-year task for Washington's 40-person code commission. Is that as far as it goes, or will we accept legislation that requires such changes be made across the board?  

Perhaps changes will be allowed to unfold more naturally and voluntarily (if indeed they do catch on) in other public contexts -- lest our public schools, say, divert too much scarce money and manpower (oops!) to retraining staff, rewriting software, and revising and reprinting any documents that refer to their high school or college freshmen. And what about the business sector? Will Fisherman's Friend and Fisherman's Wharf be working on name changes? Maybe they already are.

Recent news reports -- the conservative ones with some snarkiness -- note one industry that has recognized what some consider a potentially offensive term, and they areworking to replace it:
The residential real estate industry is even jumping on the PC bandwagon: the term “master bedroom” is being phased out, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. In its place, builders are beginning to use the term “owner’s suite” or “owner’s bedroom” to describe the largest bedroom in a home. A survey found that six out of 10 major Washington, D.C.-area home builders are making the change on their floor plans. The reason? “Master” is seen by some as offensive on two fronts: gender, where it apparently sounds masculine, and, race, where it supposedly conjures images of a slave-master. Not to be picky, but I’d think that those who find “master” to be racist would find “owner” offensive as well.
What do you think? How do you look at this issue, or this legislation?