Why I’m Here (Updated)

In my second post, I explained why I started my blog. I have decided to do an updated post because there are other things I’ve thought about that I would like visitors to this blog and to my Twitter homepage to know. However, I am going to keep the old post up, which you can view here, though most stuff there will be repeated in this post.

Why does this blog exist? First of all, the name: it comes from Jeremy Beahan of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast. “Before you identify yourself as a Republican or a Democrat; before you identify as a Christian or a Jew; before you identify as anything, identify yourself — think of your primary identity as a seeker oftruth.Put that first above anything else. Then whatever is worthy should follow that.” Previous to this quote in the podcast Beahan said it’s important that we have the courage to seek opposing viewpoints; to listen to the other side. Thus, I hope this blog won’t be a liberal, conservative, or libertarian blog; it won’t be a Christian blog; it will be a blog for all seekers of truth — black, white; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu; conservative, liberal, libertarian; cisgendered and straight as well as LGBTQIAP+. 

To share whatever I have that may help someone, that they may connect to. A little over a year ago I joined Twitter to connect with people beyond my bubble, to see alternative perspectives, to break the shell of provincialism.

People have called me smart for much of my life, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. However I think I need to share what I do have. The Quran says “Whoever is given knowledge is given indeed abundant wealth.”(Surah 2:269) and “O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge.”(20:114). The Bible says “If you seek it[wisdom] as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”(Prov. 2:4-5, NIV)

Here are a few hadith(sayings of Muhammad): “Go back to your people and teach them.”(Bukhari 3:25); “Let him who is present impart knowledge to him who is absent.”(Bukhari 3:37); “Knowledge is only maintained through teaching.”(Bukhari 3:10). The idea of knowledge being wealth and the imperatives to share it reminds me of Psalms 72, in which Solomon prayed for wealth and power to be a voice to the voiceless. Like in the parable of the talents(Mt.25:14-30) I see a good mind as a gift, a trust. The two servants who used their talents were told “Well done thou good and faithful servant”(Mt. 25:21, 23); whereas the one who buried his talent was told “Thou wicked and slothful servant”(Mt. 25:26). 1 Peter 4:10 says “Each one of you should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its many forms.”

I mentioned above my reasons for getting a Twitter account. As I mentioned in other posts, I grew up in an insular Evangelical/Fundamentalist environment. Around age 18 I began to question my upbringing and wonder if there’s more than just my bubble. Plato’s Cave became a good friend, as it was the only way I could verbalize my sentiments. )That’s where my profile pic comes from.) In the Bible Jesus interacted with a variety of people, choosing for apostles a tax collector (basically a collaborator with the Roman occupation) and a Zealot (a group that wanted an armed revolt against Rome). The Epistle of Diognetus says, “Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.”

I also seek to build bridges of understanding between peoples and resist tribalism and provincialism. The Bible says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”(Matthew 5:9) and “For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.”(Ephesians 2:14‭-‬16). Furthermore, it says, “Strive for peace and promote it!”(Psalms 34:14b). The Qur’an says, “O mankind! We made you from a male and a female into nations and tribes so that you may know each other.”(Surah 49:13) I’m here to help break down these walls and to help us to know each other. The us vs them mentalities are one of my pet peeves. There is so much more to the world than our little bubbles; it’s more beneficial for all that we transcend our provincialism and tribalism.

Due to having grown up in a controlling environment (and having wondered whether or not to label my experiences as abusive), I also want this to be a safe place for abuse victims/survivors; particularly for spiritual abuse, but also for all other abuse as well. I’ve learned a bit about this subject not talked about much in Evangelicalism and have found various online spaces helpful in sorting things out. I want this to be such a place (for people regardless of where they are on the political spectrum); it’s a way of expressing gratitude.

Since I have questioned my upbringing and had times of doubt, I also want this blog to be a safe place for doubters, a place where we can ask honest questions. In my Twitter bio I quote Michel de Montaigne, a 16th century French essayist: “Que sais-je?”, meaning “What do I know?” I say this as a rejection of dogmatism (like what I was raised with) and a willingness to learn from others. The 17th century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacoub urged people to submit their beliefs to a thorough examination. The Bible says, “But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.”(1 Thessalonians 5:21) and “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.”(1 Corinthians 13:9‭-‬10). It was through wrestling with God that Jacob becomes Israel, and after Job has honestly expressed his doubts and feelings, God tells Jon’s friends, who had said pious clichés, “You have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.(Job 42:7). In her book Allah, Liberty, and Love Irshad Manji writes, “Faith doesn’t forbid exploration. It’s dogma that does. Dogma, by definition, is threatened by questions, while Faith welcomes questions because it trusts that God, being magisterial, can handle them.”

BOTTOM LINE: I have an inquisitive personality, have many interests, and am an intellectual. For me learning new things is fun. I want to share that; my experiences, my journey, my story, my studying, reflections — maybe it will be of help to someone; I hope to make connections, to develop a community in which we can learn, grow, connect, etc. Also psychology shows that sharing what we learn helps us to learn.
For more please see my post Meet Me.

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Girlfriend to the Rescue

After her jog in the park, Diana Knight changed her outfit from sneakers and a jogging suit into a blouse, skirt, and loafers. Suddenly, as she grabbed her jacket, she received a message that her boyfriend was being held hostage. On the street, a man made a vulgar comment and grabbed her posterior; she kicked him in the stomach. 

Once she arrived at the destination, she knocked out a few guards with tranquilizers. She freed her boyfriend, then BANG! Shots were fired. Diana knocked over the assailant and jumped on his chest. Her boyfriend then kissed her cheek and she hugged him.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields; photo by Sarah Potter. 

An Unusual Romantic Encounter

Businesswoman Regina Jacobsen gave a presentation at Nick Wright’s college. Nick cut hearts out of the bread as he made a PB & J sandwich. Suddenly, he dropped his sandwich and Regina stepped on it while stopping to greet Nick. He said, “Hey, Regina! Your boots look nice on you!”

Regina looked down and raised her foot upon seeing the sandwich, stuck to her boot. Nick removed the sandwich and Regina said, “I am so sorry…especially with the heart!”

He pointed to the heart and smiled. They leaned forward to kiss amid cheers and toasts.

This is a postfor Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Kelvin M. Knight.

Halfway Around the World

Steve Freeman’s plane touched down in Bangkok, Thailand. He grabbed his carry-on bag, then grabbed his luggage from inside the airport, and met his contact, Sarawut. They greeted. Sarawut suggested, “Let’s stop by a temple and release a bird tomorrow, ok?” Steve agreed.

The next day they released a bird at a temple. Steve watched the bird fly away and a cat vainly try to catch it. The scene caused Steve to reflect on his own life: he related to the caged bird. He remembered his upbringing back in USA: he remembered the restrictive cult he was raised in, how he lacked opportunities, and felt like he was going nowhere. He remembered encounters that gave him the courage, like the bird, to leave the cage. Thus, he smiled at the bird. “Fly on, my friend”, he said.

Steve related to a monk’s describing the Noble Truths of Buddhism. “Association with what is disliked is painful, disassociation with what is liked is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.” The monk went on to identify cravings as the cause of suffering. Steve found himself identifying with these statementts.

Afterwards, Sarawut and Steve went shopping in the floating market.

This is a post for Sunday Photo Fiction; also the source of the photo.

The Vision

Mike finally reached the top of the mountain, where he cried out, “Is there anyone up there? I am at a loss! My life is wasted! What should I do!?”

He thought of the lost years supporting a leader claiming to for God, the trauma of that controlling environment. Mike wept. Suddenly, in a vision, he saw flowers growing at his feet. A dove flew by, singing. He saw people abandoning weapons. He saw himself in a room among a group of people. Mike asked, “Was that You, God?” A gentle breeze blew.

Mike confidently left the mountain.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields; photo by Danny Bowman.

Book Review: “The Power of Mindful Learning”, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, chapter 1

After a year after writing the introduction to this book, I am ready to proceed (especially after having just taken English 101 and 102). So, here it is:

“Whether it is learning to play baseball, drive, or teach, the advice is the same: practice the basics until they become second nature. I think this is the wrong way to start” (Langer, p. 10).

This is the thesis of this chapter. Langer then cites examples that question the effectiveness of the basics, even questioning the very concept of the basics. She acknowledges why teachers teach the basics, but suggests mindful learning based on awareness of context and appreciation of uncertainty as better teaching methods. She cites two examples to contrast mindless and mindful approaches to learning. She then cites personal examples and research to support her claim that mindful approaches are better. After mentioning the role gender plays, she introduces the concept  “sideways learning” in contrast to both top-down (lecture) and bottom-up (experimenting) approaches to learning (pp. 22-23). She describes sidewaya learning as “learning a subject or skill with an openness to novelty and actively noticing differences, contexts, and perspectives” (p. 23). She uses piano playing as an illustration of the concept, mentions an experiment showing how a text can teach mindfully, and concludes with a hypothetical example of performimg CPR (involving the differences between infants, 50 lb children, and adults) to illustrate the importance of mindful techniques. She concludes the chapter with the question, “Which way would you want to learn the [CPR] lesson? How should we teach it?” (p. 31). 

I am not going to go over the content in detail (even summarizing it will make this post very long), so I am going to address a few concepts, and discuss their application. I will discuss obedience to authority, the value of doubt, sideways learning, and how they relate to feminism, religion, and language learning. 

When Langer questions the existence of the concept of the basics, writing, “Perhaps one could say that for everyone there are certain basics, but there is no such thing as the basics” (p. 15, emphasis Langer’s). Langer suggests that it may appear easier to teach one set of basics because “the teacher needs to know less, a single routine little room for disagreement and hence may foster obedience to authority” (p. 15).  In my Fundamentalist upbringing, obedience to authority was highly valued, and rebellion was viewed heinously, being seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). In my view, obedience to authority is a questionable value: after all, obedient participants in the Milgram experiments were willing to apply an electric shock at a dangerously high voltage level when told to do so. In addition, obedience to authority may make it easier for abusers to get access to victims, and to gaslight, shame, silence, and control them. Also, it may make it harder for people to speak out against said abuse. Furthermore, Nazi war criminals defended themselves with, “I was just following orders”, a defense rejected by the courts. To expand on that, social progress has often come about through disobedience to authority, and we are the beneficiaries of that today.

Now, to the value of doubt and sideways learning. Concerning the former, Langer writes, “The rationale for this change in approaches [to mindful learning] is based on the belief that experts at anything become expert in part by varying those same basics. The rest of us, taught not to question, take them for granted…. The key to this new way of teaching is based on an appreciation of both the conditional, or context-dependent, nature of the world and the value of uncertainty. Teaching skills and facts in a conditional way sets the stage for doubt and an awareness of how different situations may call for subtle differences in what we bring to them” (pp. 15-16). I gave the definition of sideways learning above. The bottom line is to think in different ways and to say, “There’s a box? What box?” Langer mentions experiments involving a pilot study (pp. 18-19), a game called smack-it ball (similar to squasj but with a small racket that fits like a baseball mit is worn on both hands, p. 21), and a piano study (pp. 26-27). In each study, the group given mindful instructions to vary their technique, use previously learned material and/or experiences, and to think in creative ways outperformed the control group, enjoyed the activity more, and had a better grasp on the material.

The smack-it ball experiment was done to study gender differences. Langer writes, “In general, young girls are taught to be ‘good little girls’ which translates into ‘do what you’re told’. To be a ‘real boy’, on the other hand, implicitly means to be independent of authority and ‘don’t listen to all you are told’…. Our hypothesis was that motivation to be a good girl would lead to taking in information in a mindless way. Similarly, being a bit rebellious was expected to result in conditional or mindful learning” (p. 21). They told some players, “One way to hold the ball is…”, and other players, “This is how you hold the ball.” After practice, the researchers replaced the ball with a heavier one that required different body movements. The boys performed the same regardless of instructions or the ball. The girls who received instructions in an absolute way performed worse with the heavier ball, but those who had received conditional instructions performed as well as the boys regardless of the ball used (p. 22). Langer also suggests that is why girls have a harder time in math in high school. They excel in grade school, but the do-as-you’re-told doesn’t help at higher math levels, since numbers need to be seen in new ways. 

I was skeptical of the claim that boys are urged to be rebellious, as that’s not my experience, but that is another topic. Anyway, this betrays an aspect of sexism and one more reason why we still need feminism. Being a guy, I will not harp on this (I would rather hand the mic to women), but I will say the following: guys, we need to stand up for women’s right to dissent and to speak up, and not call her names. We need to consider her viewpoints and examine her conclusions and their implications. Also, we need to train people of all gender identities to question dogma, to look at alternate ways of doing things, and to consider multiple perspectives. 

Now, to talk about religion: first, in Fundamentalism, obedience to authority is highly valued, and rebellion is seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). For me, that meant that rebellion was punishable by a whipping (not with the hand), threats of hellfire and brimstone, and allusions to Korah (Num. 16). People at church thought that if you didn’t choose one of the options those in authority presented, you were in rebellion. 

However, I do think religion should be approached with a sideways learning approach. (Since I am a Christian, I am telling this from a Christian perspective, and am open to perspectives from other religions.) Evangelicals tend to see themselves as following the Bible, but often approach the Bible mindlessly. I discovered this when I read texts from outside my sect (JW literature, Jewish writings, Catholic materials, etc.) and saw Bible passages presented in ways that I had never seen before, and never would have seen otherwise. This shows that there are multiple perspectives to the Bible. A midrash says that there are seventy facets to the Torah. So, when reading the Bible, we should read it from multiple perspectives and consider out of the box interpretations. We should also consider critiques from critics of the Bible, in order to enhance our understanding. I think that a mindful approach will make religion more just. 

Now, for foreign languages. Learning a language involves vocabulary and grammar. I think it is an idea to learn words related to topics of interest,, and to learn grammar so that these topics can be discussed with someone in the language. Vocabulary related to topics that one is not interested in will also have to be learned. A mindful approach may be to learn the vocabulary to express how one is not interested in this topic. Thus, learners should vary the material that they are learning. 

To conclude, Langer shows the insufficiency of the “learn the basics” approach and introduces us to sideways learning. I showed how these are relevant to feminism, religion, and language learning.

The Benefits of Studying Abroad

This post is based on a speech I gave in my public speaking class. I tried to make a YouTube video, but the sound was too quiet. However, I would like to share the contents, so here it is. Note: the speech was part of a college class, and given to American college students. Thus, it is Americentric, and I apologize to my readers outside USA. (Seriously, I am trying to not be Americentric.) So, for those of you outside USA, I am interested in your thoughts as well. Please leave a comment below on how this applies or differs from the situation in the country where you live.

This post is about the benefits of studying abroad, defined by the International Institute of Education  (IIE) as “US citizens and permanent residents who earn academic credit at their home institution for study in another country” (Kronholz, J. F.; Osborn, D. S.; p. 70). I will go over the social, personal, and professional benefits of studying abroad, and address the concerns of safety and affordability.

I will start with the social benefits. First of all, it can serve as good PR for USA, in an era in American foreign policy is highly unpopular and anti-American propaganda rampant. Another benefit is a broadened perspective, which makes one a more informed citizen. Sanford J. Ungar mentioned that when he was president of Goucher College in Baltimore  (back in 2001), he observed that study abroad alumni were able to see their country more clearly. (This reminds me of the old saying, “He does not know England who has only England seen.”) In addition, Ungar observed increased tolerance and, at times, increased cooperation among the differing social, ethnic, and religious groups of which study abroad participants are members. (Ungar, S. J.)

There are personal benefits to studying abroad as well. At Goucher, Ungar observed that participants had a better sense of self and a stronger personality. In a study conducted on study abroad participants conducted at a Southeastern public research university, Kronholz and Osborn noticed that the participants reported a clarification of their values, interests, skills, and, in some cases, their career goals (p. 77). Kronholz and Osborn cite other studies that note increased self-confidence, global competency, independence, open-mindedness, and general personal development and well-being among those who studied abroad (p. 71).

Furthermore, there are professional benefits of studying abroad. But before I address these, I will address John Ross’s article “Overseas Study Brings Little Career Benefit” from The Australian. Ross mentions a study conducted by Gregory Wolniak of NYU’s Centre for Research on Higher Education Outcomes. Dr. Wolniak found no discernible career benefits to studying abroad that could not be chalked up to discipline, majors, or institutions. (To conduct the study, Wolniak had analyzed a 2002 Education Longitudinal Study that involved 15,000 Americans from their mid-teens to their late 20’s. The study focused on 4,000 participants who had finished three follow-up surveys, gotten their degrees, and were employed full time.)

Now, for the other side: there are a number of career benefits mentioned in the article “Study Abroad Increases Professional Job Prospects” by Isabel Eva Bohrer. First of all, those who studied abroad, on average, started at $6000 mpre that those who didn’t, and 2/3 of the former found their first job within six months of graduation. In addition, 90% of those who studied abroad were admitted to their first or second grad school choice.

Bohrer’s post observes that many of the social and personal benefits I previously mentioned are valuable to employers. One such benefit is global competency. With the globalization of our world, employers are beginning to value things like foreign language proficiency, cultural understanding, international knowledge, and cross-cultural communication. In fact, according to Ungar, 65% of Fortune 1000 executives list global awareness as “essential” or “very important”.

Some peopleare concerned about safety. Well, the Forum on Education Abroad conducted a study on this. To do the study, they examined the 2014 insurance claims from two international providers, which included 147,000 insured students, 10% of whom filed claims. They then compared it to the mortality rate at 157 US campuses. The results were 29.4 per 100,000 deaths stateside and 13.5 deaths abroad. However, due to the lack of availability of the nonfatal injury rate stateside, this was mot included in the study. Nevertheless, this is evidence that studying anroad is safe. (Fischer, K., p. 1)

Finally, I will address financial concerns. Students eligible for the Pell Grant may also be eligible for the Gilman International Scholarship, and those studying languages deemed “critical” by the US State Department  (such as Chinese, Arabic, and Russian) may be eligible for an additional stipend. Furthermore, study abroad students may be eligible for grants from other countries, and can even save money by applying directly to a program, rather than going through their home institutions (Ungar). In short, study abroad may be the same price as, or even cheaper, than study at an American campus. 

To sum up, studying abroad has many personal and social benefits that are attractive to potential employers. In addition, it is safe and affordable. Well, I need to start on my own study abroad program, so have a good day/evening/etc., everyone!

Sources:

Bohrer, Isabel Eva; “Study Abroad Increases Professional Job Prospects”; transitionsabroad.com (link to article above); updated by Transitions Abroad November 2016

Fischer, Karin; “Why Studying Abroad Is Safer Than You May Think”, Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 62, Issue 28; 25 Mar. 2016

Kronholz, Julia F., Osborn, Debra S.; “The Impact of Study Abroad Experiences on Vocational Identity Among College Students”, Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, vol. XXXVII; April 2016

Ross, John; “Overseas Study Brings Little Career Benefit”, The Australian; 22 Apr. 2015

Ungar, Sanford J.; “The Study Abroad Solution: How to Open the American Mind”, Foreign Affairs, vol. 95, Issue 2; March-April 2016

My Thoughts on “Art Makes You Smart”

This post is a school assignment that I would like to share.

At the end of the New York Times’s post “Do We Need Art in Our Lives” there are a number of questions about their post “Art Makes You Smart”. I was reflecting on these questions and would like to share my thoughts. The questions cover the impact Art has in on us, our personal experiences viewing art, and whether or not Art should be part of every child’s education. 

Does art make us smarter or expose us to new ways of seeing the world? The original post presents a case for the affirmative. I actually have recently started a psychology course, so I have a new understanding of the terms and their relevance. However, I have a few questions, such as, “Was this a double-blind study?” (double-blind means tbat neither the participants nor the reseachers with whom they interact knew exactly what they were studying), and while this one study is fascinating, I would lile to know whether or not the results would be repeated elsewhere, especially across cultures. One hypothesis I can pose in support of the theory of which the original art argued in favor is that art exposes us to new ways of seeing the world because artistic expression is a human factor but varies across cultures. Thus, by esposure to these works of art, you get a viee into the culture or cultures that influenced the artist.

Concerning whether or not we need art in our lives; well, I say not exactly. We will nlt keel over dead without exposure to art; however, we also have needs that are beyond survival needs, that make surviving worthwhile. Art can play a role in that, but it is not mandatory. That brings up whether or not art matters. In light of my statement on needs that make survival worthwhile, the answer is “Absolutely”. So, while art is a small component to higher level needs, it nevertheless has a role.

Personally, I have never been to art museums and I rarely look at artwork. A couple of my language learning books have works of art from the cultures in which the languages are spoken, and there are exercises asking the learner to describe his or her thoughts on the work of art in the language being learned. For me, I think the artists were talented, and enjoyed some of the work, but I don’t think it had a major influence on me. For years I didn’t consider myself artistic. However, I am impressed with East Asian calligraphy, and their painting, and I read that artists in East Asian countries get started with calligraphy. Then I heard that aboriginal Australians believe that everyone is artistic, and upon reflection, came to agree. This is due to the fact that, as mentioned above, artistic expression varies across cultures, and that means that even if a person is not good at artistic expression in his or her own culture, perhaps a form of artistic expression elsewhere will be their niche.

This last part is one reason I say that art should be part of every child’s education. It helps all children to find their unique way of expressing themselves, and, to be more well-rounded. Even if the kids don’t grow up to be artists, they will still be able to appreciate this aspect of the human condition, and thus tend to be more tolerant of artistic types, who tend to get looked down on in American society.