Why I Want to be a Feminist Ally (Secular Version)

I would like to be a feminist ally. In this post, I will explain why I use that wording, what “feminism” and “intersectionality” mean, and explain why I support it. (This is the secular version of this post. I will be making a biblical case in a later post.)

When I say, “I want to be a feminist ally”, this means I am a male who supports feminism. I say “want to be” because there are a number of complaints from feminist bloggers about male “feminists”. One such complaint is of the Nice Guy Syndrome, in which guys will be feminists to either get praise (called “cookies”) or sex, and said guys turn hostile when it is not given. In addition, it is said that not intending to be sexist is not enough, for the harm is the same. (There is an old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.) I want to *actually* be of help, and not offer some benevolent sexist paternalism.

What is feminism? One definition is that feminism is the idea that men and women are equal and the movement to achieve this equality for women. However, there is a stereotype that feminism is about man-hating, which is false. (Here is my translation of Sarah Andres’s post addressing these stereotypes; the original French is here.) What I will note is that feminism is not a monolithic movement, and that there are differing approaches how to achieve equality. (See here for more.) For the purposes of this post, “feminism” means “the movement to dismantle patriarchy (systematic disadvantaging of women in favor of men) and to empower women”. And, to aid in explaining my position in this system (and address at least one objection), I will explain “intersectionality”.

When I referred to “patriarchy” as “disadvantaging women in favor of men”, I choose a longer expression rather than use the controversial term used to describe this phenomenon: male privilege. Some dudes will object to being called “privileged” because they are poorer and there are women that are more successful than they are. This is explained by the concept of intersectionality, that talks about how we are all on a spectrum of privilege and marginalization. “Marginalized” means you face disadvantages due to certain aspects of yourself (such as being female, POC, LGBT, etc) and “privileged” means you lack those disadvantages. So, “male privilege” means there are things women face due to being female that men don’t have to face. Here is a video in which Kimberlé Crenshaw, the founder of Intersectionality Theory, explains the theory: https://youtu.be/ROwquxC_Gxc

In my case, I am privileged in being a cisman (meaning that I am a biological male who identifies as male), straight, a native English-speaker, and a native-born citizen of a core nation (in my case, USA). I am marginalized in being relatively poor (though I do not face absolute poverty), not being college-educated (though I am in school now) at the time of writing, and having grown up in an insular, controlling church (that many consider to be a cult). Other areas of note are that I have some privilege in being fairer-skinned, though it is not full white privilege in that I am mixed race, and thus my racial identity varies by country. (In USA, for example, I am considered black.) This is called “passing privilege”. Also, in Western countries (such as USA), I have Christian privilege. Due to these factors, the are women who are better off than me, because they have some privilege in areas that I lack. However, male privilege means that, even with my disadvantages, it will be easier for me to move forward since I am male. Feminists want to change the system, not to make things harder for men, but easier for women. (More on this later.)

One popular objection to feminism is that it ignores how men and women “naturally” are: men are seen as “natural” leaders and as gravitating towards certain interests, and women as “natural” followers, gravitating towards other interests, and feminists are accused of messing with it! First of all, this objection commits the Naturalistic Fallacy, which says that if something is natural, it *must* be good or moral, and immoral or bad if unnatural. In his book The Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill observes that feudalism and slavery were formerly considered “natural” and observes “unnatural generally means only uncustomary”. In addition, Mill observes that women are specifically trained to be submissive and to not seek their own desires (qte. in Encarta Reference Library Premium). Plato too addresses the nature objection in his Republic through a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. In the dialogue, Socrates says “the only difference appears to be that the male begets and the female bringd forth” (qte. in Barry, p. 16; note: today the difference is seen differently in an attempt to be trans-inclusive, but that is outside the scope of this post), and thus generally irrelevant elsewhere. Socrates is depicted as making his point that it would be absurd to, once you acknowledge a difference in natures between bald and long-haired men, you were to forbid one from being shoemakers if the other engage in the trade (ibid). Instead, Socrates argues that sameness or difference is regarded in the presence or lack of natural talent (i.e., the ability to learn something easily and then to  to do it with little instruction), not gender (pp. 16-17).

We can see Socrates’ principle in action in our world. He specifically mentions that women get made fun of if a man is better at weaving and watching over saucepans and batches of cake, since those are seen as the strength of women (Barry, p. 17). In our world today, there is a stereotype that women aren’t good at math or science. However, this belief is contradicted by the existence of Hypatia and Marie Curie. One factor contributing to the existence of these stereotypes is confirmation bias, the tendency to only pay attention to ideas that confirm one’s preconceived notions. In addition, these ideas are taught to children at a young, highly impressionable age, so it is possible these norms can be implanted. (Studies of false memories show that memories can be implanted, and it is not much of a stretch to suggest that interests and desires can be implanted.) Furthermore, deviance from gender norms results in shaming: if a woman is too “uppity”, displays anger, or deviates from femininity norms, then she is called nasty names. If a man deviates from masculinity norms, he is compared to women. (It seems sexist to use terms related to women as an insult.) Sociologist Émile Durkheim observes that punishing deviance reinforces norms. So, all this means that talk of how men and women “naturally” are turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

A third point rebutting the claim about how men and women naturally are is cultural variability. Consider the village of Gapun in Papua New Guinea, where they have the custom of kros (which means “angry” in Tok Pisin). A kros is an angry rant about another’s behavior that generally includes strong language, and is generally delivered by women. In fact, men generally have their wives deliver a kros for them. For the villagers, such behavior is seen as in line with the nature of women (Cameron, pp. 32-34), whereas in the West such behavior is considered unbecoming to women and “masculine”. This supports the theory that most differences between the sexes are social, not biological.

Also, society tends to set up norms that disadvantage women. For starters, the traits and careers coded “masculine” tend to be more prestigious, and women in those fields tend to face a lot of sexism. In addition, social norms and conditioning make it more likely that a woman will take time off work for maternity reasons and thus have a gap in employment. (Note: there is a perception that feminism is hostile towards being a stay-at-home mom and having a more traditional lifestyle. It is not; feminism just argues that women should have the *choice* to be or not to be a SAHM. Feminists to pressuring women into being in the home.) Also, a lot of success comes from thinking outside the box and being creative. Thus, encouraging submission in women essentially functions to keep them down. For more, please check any feminist blog! 
Now, onto my reasons for supporting feminism. First of all, my support comes from the fact that women’s rights are human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (article 1) and article 2 indicates that the rights apply regardless of sex. Article 23 says, “Everyone has a right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work….to equal pay for equal work”. In addition, article 16 says, “Marriage should be entered into only with the full and free consent of the intending spouses”. Article 26 says that everyone has a right to an education and that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality…”.
This shows that human rights apply regardless of sex or gender identity, and thus apply to women. 

The first two articles indicate that, as human beings, women deserve the same rights as men. Articles 23 and 26 establish that women should be able to seek careers wherever they would like, and have the training to do so. (The line “favorable conditions of work” means an environment free of sexual harassment, among other things.) To say that women must be certain things because “nature” or “tradition” is a violation of human rights. 

The “full development of the human personality” brings up another aspect: the right to not just survive, but thrive. This is expressed in Maslow’s pyramid:  We need feminism so that women, too, can reach the top. This brings me back to what I said towards the beginning, about how feminists don’t want to pull men down, but to lift women up. Too many men have a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance one. They hear that women have a smaller piece of pie and jealously guard theirs, fearing they’ll lose their pie. However, a better model is an abundance one, that focuses on expanding the pie, knowing there is enough for everyone. In addition, since we are all interconnected, I cannot be all I can be unless you are all you can be, and you cannot be all you can be until I am all I can be. That means that if women are systematically disadvantaged, we all lose. We all win when everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

In summary, I hope to be truly helpful in helping women to achieve equality (called feminism), rather than a burden. Intersectionality explains where we are on the axis of privilege and marginalization, and with my having male privilege, this means that, while there may be women better off than me (due to their having privilege where I lack it), a woman in my situation would face more hurdles in life. Feminism is not contrary to nature and is, in fact, in line with human rights and the best system to contribute to human flourishing. Women’s liberation will not hurt men; in fact, we all will win with feminism. This is why I want to be a feminist ally.


Barry, Vincent. Philosopy: A Text with Readings. 1980. Wadsworth, Inc.

Cameron, Deborah. The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages? 2007. Oxford University Press

Encarta Reference Library Premium. 2005. Microsoft


Is Political Correctness Xenophobic, Homophobic, Racist, and Jingoistic? How I Changed My Views

In this past year, my views on political correctness have become more nuanced. In my first post “Meet Me”, I list political correctness on the list of things I don’t like. In this post, I will explain how I saw PC, why I saw it as problematic, points made that caused me to change somewhat, and mention where I am now.

Previously, for years, I assumed that political correctness led to xenophobia, tribalism, jingoism, war, torture, homophobia, religious fanaticism, and white supremacy. I also thought PC was the death of critical thinking, tolerance, global citizenship, human rights, and world peace. Perhaps it’s proponents were not maliciously pushing for these vices, but I thought that these things were the natural consequences of political correctness. Based on the rhetoric of PC-supporters, I realize this is highly counter-intuitive for them. Now, I will explain how I reached those conclusions.

I was raised in an insular, Fundamentalist church that was basically the Religious Right, and, as usual, opposed political correctness and believed Christians were persecuted. (They talked about “Biblical Correctness” [TM].) I picked up that, by “political correctness”, folks meant that one was trying to avoid being offensive and hurting other people’s feelings. While it was commonly thrown against liberals and seen as an attack on [Real, True] Christianity [TM] and an attempt to attack Biblical Values [TM], I noticed that Fundamentalists and others on the Right got offended *a lot*. So, I just labeled that “PC” as well.

I will share some examples of things that offend the Right: saying America isn’t a Christian nation or that Jesus isn’t the Only Way to God, same-sex displays of affection, any depictions of LGBT-people where minors may be present, belief that climate change is human-caused (some call this  “treason”), criticizing America (“if you don’t like it here, then leave), not saluting the flag, refusing to whitewash American history, pacifism, comparing Gitmo soldiers to Nazis, speaking languages other than English, John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, and identifying as a citizen of Planet Earth or the world before being an American. In addition, white supremacists are offended by interracial couples.

In my personal experience, the church I was raised in forbade college, because they feared we’d be brainwashed by antichrist professors (who were believed to constitute about 90% of professors) and come out as binge-drinking atheists who flouted fundamentalist sex rules. We were given the scenario of going to college, losing our faith while there (based on a statistic that is much-feared among white Evangelicals), call our families, and hurt them by saying that we no longer believe as they do. Also, I have long wanted to live in different countries. I talked to the leaders of this church about going abroad, and, while I was told I would be released when God supposedly approved, I would not be released then. I was told to avoid narcissistically abandoning everyone by running off elsewhere and thus hurting people. I also encountered people who got offended by skepticism of the conspiracy theories preached at church. (The conspiracy theories were a bit xenophobic.)

Later, I heard a quote popular among PC supporters that “political correctness is just treating other people with respect”. For me, that was an argument *against* PC, for “respect”, to me based on my experiences, was something demanded by ego-maniacal control-freaks, abusers, and bullies. (After all, some folks think you are disrespecting them if you merely disagree with them.) Thus, I took this to mean that PC was about abandoning individuality, autonomy, and critical thinking and letting someone else control you.

The thing is, many of these offensive and hurtful things are guaranteed as human rights in international documents. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically says the right to marry is not limited by race, nationality, or religion. Article 18 says we have the right to freedom of religion, conscience, and belief, including the right to change our minds. Thus, young Fundamentalists have a right to abandon their parents beliefs. Freedom of expression and opinion, mentioned in Article 19, give the right to not salute the flag, to criticize one’s country and government, to oppose war, etc.

I also came to see some of these offensive things as good. For example, my going overseas is good, in that I can experience another culture and learn about it, rather than relying on stereotypes and sometimes downright xenophobia. It is common to tell people, “It is not about you”; however, at least in USA, this principle is not applied to groups. In fact, “It’s not about you” often means “It’s about the tribe” and it is considered selfish to be concerned about those outside the tribe. People’s feelings about that do not make it untrue, and do not make xenophobia okay.

However, there is no right of protection from offensive material or from having one’s feelings hurt. Since these things are arbitrary and vary from person to person, and sometimes include things that are explicitly guaranteed as human rights, I came to see that offense is caused by people’s being overly sensitive and that requiring people to be responsible for others’ feelings is oppressive and stifles free thought, forces people into cookie-cutter molds, starts wars, encourages hate among nations, keeps LGBT people on the closet, and would have kept black people going to “separate-yet-equal” facilities. (Note: I am part African-American.) Thus, I came to agree with Irshad Manji that part of the price of liberty is the possibility that someone will say or do something you find offensive. (More on that below.)

However, in the course of interacting with people on social media, I have come to see the other side of the discussion. First, the most shocking claim by a PC-supporter is that political correctness is about *challenging* unjust systems, regardless of how people feel. That struck me as if she had said, “Man bites dog”, because it was so counter-intuitive. People explained that there is more than one way to define respect: there is 1)”respect mah authoritah”, and 2)”treat me as a person”, and that, in the quote that “PC is treating others with respect”, meaning 2) is meant. Furthermore, I was told there are two meanings to “offensive”: 1)upsetting, and 2)harmful. It was explained to me that when PCers object to offensive material, they mean the latter, and are not trying to protect people from “hurt feelings”. When I was working on my English 102 paper on free speech, I read that many PC-supporters had been bullied, and thus concerns about censorship were not as personal. I noticed this in that people brought up concerns about harassment when I expressed support for free speech absolutism over political correctness, and in the stereotype that PC-opponents just want social taboos against slur use to be lifted.

Another person brought up Irshad Manji, who is a major influence on my views. My interlocutor explained that, though Manji leans towards free speech absolutism, she has never endorsed harassment or bullying. (Note: she opposes these things.) Manji supports the right to offend so that people could question dogma. In her case, when there were protests and riots in response to how Islam was depicted, Manji (a reformist Muslim of South Asian descent, born in Uganda, an immigrant and former refugee, and a lesbian) explained to her fellow Muslims that part of the price of living in a free society is that someone may do something to offend you. I realized it was an important lesson that Fundamentalist Christians needed to learn as well. This highly influenced my views.

Now, I realize that PC-advocates are not people with cake lives who, despite their idealism, are out of touch with the Real World. I realize, like Descartes said, that they drive their thoughts on different ways that I do and don’t consider the same things that I do. It took me a while, but I was finally able to acknowledge that they do have good points, that there *are* multiple meanings to terms like “offense” and “respect”, and that, in their definitions, they have noble goals. Nevertheless, I am still wary of norms about concern for others’ feelings, that this can be used by abusers to gaslight their victims. I remain unconvinced that opponents of PC are motivated by a desire to use slurs or to bully marginalized people, and that such claims gloss over good points raised. On the other hand, I no longer believe that PCers are hypersensitive snowflakes who can’t handle disagreement, and I think they have points that must be considered and concerns that must be addressed.

But now, I see these things, including my view, as a double-edged sword, and that perhaps both PC and anti-PC are needed, as Hegelian philosophy says, “Truth is not found in the thesis or the antithesis, but in the emerging synthesis that reconciles the two.” One way is to go back to basic moral principles (which I plan to do a post on), but for now, I will say that morality exists due to our being social, and this should guide how we approach this subject. Without morality, we would be in a dog eat dog world, so we agree that certain things are wrong. We should have a goal of human flourishing, of thriving, and of promoting good relations. Thus, maliciously offending, just to assert dominance, is problematic and should be critiqued. On the other hand, abuse victimd should be given space to vent, even if what they say is offensive. The right to question dogma (including religious dogma) should be protected, and folks should be allowed intellectual honesty, as that helps us to do better. It is a moral imperative to encourage good relations among nations.

In summary, I have come to have an adjusted view on political correctness through conversations with others in which terms like “respect” and “offense” were alternatively defined. I came to see some points, while clinging to my view that free speech restrictions should be minimal. I think that free speech absolutists need to address the concerns about harassment, bullying, and racism, and PCers need to address concerns that their system can occasion those very things as well as that it can lead to stifling discussion and dogmatism. Perhaps that is best accomplished by a Hegelian approach and by asking what best leads to human flourishing.

The New Year: A Sociological Perspective and Personal Thoughts

In a few days, all over the world, people will be celebrating the start of the new year. In this post, I will be sharing thoughts for the new year. I will explain rituals from a sociological perspective, apply the insights to New Year’s celebrations, and show how it applies to us, both personally and socially, while addressing religion and power structures in that application.

I will start by saying that, technically, January 1 is just another day, and labeling it as the start of the year is arbitrary. (In fact, other calendars have their New Years on different days: the Jewish New Year [Rosh Hashanah] is in the early fall, the lunar  Year in East Asian calendars is on the second new moon after the winter solstice, the Iranian, Kurdish, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i New Year occurs on the vernal equinox, and the Muslim New Year goes back through all the seasons*.) However, the tendency to designate such dates fulfills sociological functions.

Originally, the calendar helped farmers to know when to plant their crops. Nowadays, it allows us to determine our ages, make appointments, and remember important events. This brings us to another function: to set aside dates for specific purposes, popularly called “holidays”. In sociology, a school of thought called “symbolic interactionism” focuses on symbols and rituals, and how people in a society or social group interact to give meaning to said symbols and rituals. In our discussion, holidays are an example of dates assigned meaning. There is another school of thought called structural functionalism, which discusses how different parts of society work together to contribute to the functioning of the society and meeting the needs of the society’s members. Holidays function to encourage solidarity, reinforce social values, allow an outlet for various sentiments, and remember historical events important for the identity of the social group.

These holidays are some of the few remaining rituals in the modern world. The importance of rituals is discussed by The School of Life in their video “HISTORY OF IDEAS — Ritual”. At the 8:21-8:45 mark, the speaker says, “Even in the hands of religions rituals have been guardians of important states of mind that would otherwise be crushed or neglected. A book of poetry is in the end a hushed object in a noisy world, whereas a ritual protects emotions to which we are sincerely inclined but without a degree of fabrication and structure we might be too distracted and undisciplined to take time for.” Around the 12:20 mark, the speaker observes that what we once did in ritual we now do privately, but that our gestures are more vulnerable to half-heartedness and forgetfulness, and suggests that rituals remain useful in our journey to be sane and kind.

So, what does this mean for New Year’s Day? Well, internationally, January 1 has been designated the start of a new year, and this is tied to a desire to start over, to change course, an idea that religion appeals to as well. One expression of this is making resolutions. Through these, we express a desire to do things differently, to change course. This desire is best expressed in the Ecuadorian tradition of Año Viejo (lierally, “old year”), the custom on New Year’s Eve of burning effigies made of old clothes and newspaper that symbolize the anger, regrets, failures, sins, disappointments, mistakes, etc., of the past year and allow for the hope and resolutions of the coming one. This symbolizes most dramatically the general desire to leave behind the old pain and to look forward with hope and start anew.

This is expressed in a number of religions; in this post, I will discuss it from Jewish and Christian perspectives. (My apologies to readers who practice other religions; I am not knowledgeable enough. Please feel free to leave a comment below to add your thoughts.) Years back I listened to a Jewish podcast called Spiritual Truths in an Outrageous World, hosted by David Sacks. In one episode (I can’t remember which one), Sacks told the story of an encounter between a Jew and a Christian on an airplane, and the subject turned to Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The Jew explained that the Hebrew is better translated as “With a beginning…”, meaning you can always have a new beginning. (Years later, this conversation and idea saved the Christian from suicide.)

Christianity mentions that a Christian becomes “a new creature in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17), and that the old man is dead, and we are new in Christ (Col. 3). On the one hand, there is the notion of having died to the elemental spirits of the world (Col. 2:20), but on the other, to “put to death” that which belongs to the old nature (Col. 3:5). These are linked in 2 Pet. 1:5 to add “excellence” (that is, character development) to our “faith”.

Now, I realize that I likely have readers who aren’t Christian. I think these passages in general discuss the idea of looking forward, of being a better human being, and that is what I want to convey. This is an expression of general human sentiments, and expressed in resolutions.

Now, to the social aspects, and the dark side of New Year’s Day. A major reason January 1 is the international New Year is due to the dominance of European and European-descended societies since 1492. This legacy includes vices such as imperialism and colonialism, which has resulted in a majority of core nations’ being Western and to such societies being advantaged over others (though there is change with the rise of Asian nations). While many of us in the West would like to go forward and forget this, we must reckon with this. We may want to deal with history as a multihyphenated line “where the past ended at some definite point and the present started from scratch, and there is nothing but rupture in between” (Şafak, p. 165). A perhaps more accurate view of history would be that of a cycle with “the past incarnated in the present and [where] the present birthed the future” (ibid). In these quotes, Şafak was comparing Turkish and Armenian views respectively in reference to the Armenian Genocide. 

However, this is applicable to Western society; one example of this applicability is in American race relations. Many white Americans have a multihyphenated line view of history, in which one line ended in 1865 with the abolition of slavery and another in the 1960’s with the abolition of segregation, and even the assumption that racism is dead in USA. With this mindset, many whites think that black people need to just get over slavery, as it ended 150 years ago.

However, a cycle view is more common among African-Americans. From their viewpoint, though slavery was abolished in 1865, the effects continue to this day, and black people continue to face disadvantages in society. In short, we are haunted by the ghost of slavery. The challege issued is what future are we going to birth, and to fight for a future of greater equality for everyone.

This concept is reflected in the Bible, when it records the praise of the living creatures, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come” (Rev. 4:8). I heard from a rabbi (I don’t remember which one) that God’s Holiest Name (that Jews don’t even pronounce) is a combination of the past, present, and future tenses of the Hebrew word for the verb “to be”. This shows, he explained, God’s involvement in our past, present, and future. This reflects how history affects us, and the need for awareness of how our present actions affect the future.

This all also applies to our personal lives. While we often want to forget our pasts, what we have been through affects our present lives. Sometimes we have trauma from our pasts. This helps us to be aware of where we are now, and help us to make decisions that will birth a good future. So, as we go into the next year, to go forward in hope, we may have to confront our past, not only the previous year but sometimes things from years back. (That may mean therapy or counseling.) In my case, I wonder how my experiences can be used to help others (which is one reason I started this blog), and ask about my hopes and wishes, and how I can benefit others. Where am i going?

That is the question for us all? Where are we going this year? What kind of life do we want? What can we do? I think the best thing is to take it one day at a time, as Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11, KJV). Each day take little steps, as little things add up. 

To sum up, rituals are started as people ascribe meaning to symbols and objects through their interactions with each other. These symbols, such as dates, serve to communicate values, remember significant events, attend to important states of mind, and allow for expressions of emotions. In particular, New Year’s Day serves to provide a chance for people to pause, take stock of their lives,  think of where they are going, and start anew, which is an idea expressed in religion as well. However, in our desire to leave the old behind and to start anew, we need to remember that the past continues to have an impact today, and the present influences the future.

Towards the end of the movie Rudolf’s Shiny New Year, as Father Time puts a crown on the head of the baby New Year, he proclaims the year 19-Wonderful. So, my wish is that for you, dear readers, the next year may be the year 20-Wonderful! May you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Happy New year, everyone! 

*Note: all seasons refer to the seasons on the Northern hemisphere.


All scripture quotatiins, unless otherwise noted are from the New English Translation  (NET).

Scriptures marked KJV are from the King James Version. 

Şafak, Elif. 2007. The Bastard of Istanbul. Penguin Books.

BOOK REVIEW: The Power of Mindful Learning, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, Chapter 2

Finally, I am getting around to the next post in my series! You can read the Introduction and Chapter 1 as well. Now, onto the post!

In the introduction to the book, Dr. Langer references seven myths that “undermine true learning…stifle our creativity, silence our questions, and diminish our self-esteem” (p. 2). In this post, I am going over chapter 2, which addresses myth #2, “Paying attention means focusing on one thing at a time.” In this post, I will summarize Dr. Langer’s case, discuss a couple of her studies, give applications concerning religion and language learning, describe my own experience, and evaluate Langer’s argument.

Langer contends that, instead of focusing on one thing at a time, “the most effective way to pay attention is to look for the novelty within the stimulus situation” (p. 43). She starts by exploring the conventional meaning of “distraction” (wandering focus, p. 35) and suggesting an alternative definition of “otherwise attracted” (p. 36). She observes that there are many situations in which we have no problems paying attention (such as computer games, p. 37) and asks about times in which we have difficulty, “What is so attractive about the alternative stimulus? What can we learn from that attraction? Can we add the attractive elements to the stimulus to which we want to attend?” (p. 36). She uses studies in perception and the experiences of meditators to show the near impossibility of “holding an image still” (which is  general meaning of “paying attention”, pp. 37-39). She concludes, “People naturally seek novelty in play  have no difficulty paying attention in those situations” (p. 39) and “The idea that to pay attention means to act like a motionless camera is so ingrained in us that when we do pay attention successfully we are usually unintentionally changing the context or finding novel features in the subject” (p. 40). She backs this up with two studies (discussed below) that show the influence of mindfulness in paying attention (pp. 40-42).

Langer concludes by applying these principles to ADHD. She starts by describing ADHD’s symptoms,  effects, theories of the cause, and the usual methods of treatment. She then turns to mindful approaches and describes situations in which increased attention was observed: the absence of toys, the presence of game format, listening to rock music, and color stimuli (pp. 45-46). She tells of an experiment she participated in involving a poster with fourteen landmarks, and the task was to remember where the landmarks were. There were three groups: a sit-still group, a feet-shuffle group, and a move-around group. The move-around group performed best, and the sit-still group worst (pp. 47-48). However, when the study was repeated in a Montessori school (where movement is expected), the findings were reversed (p. 48). Langer concludes, “The studies suggest that mindfully varying perspective helps us to pay attention” (p. 48) and ends by summarizing the chapter’s findings (p. 49).

Now, to discuss the two studies on novelty I previously referenced: one study involved a computer task and the other short stories. In the computer study, an image appeared on the computer screen and participants were supposed to click a button when it disappeared (the reaction time was measured). They were divided into three groups: one group was to “just pay attention” and hit the button, another was to “outline the target”, and a third was to think of the shapes in different ways and to notice differemt things about each one” (pp. 40-41). The mindful group outperformed the other two groups and found the task easier. There was no observable difference bewteen the outline group and the pay attention group (p. 41).

In the short story study, adults on a train were asked to read short stories and divided into three categories of groups. In one category, participants were told to vary 3-6 aspects of each story, read it from different perspectives, change the endings, etc.; in another category, participants were told to focus on three or six  aspects of the stories; lastly, one category was told to just read the stories. They were all told they would be questioned afterwards (pp. 41-42). The result was that the mindful groups remembered more of the stories. Langer comcludes, “Varying the target of our attention, whether a visual object or an idea, apparently improves our memory of it” (p. 42).

Now, onto the applications in religion and language learning. First of all, religion. Langer herself references the difficulty of focusing in meditation (p. 39), and I personally know the difficulty of focusing in prayer, as do many others. I will offer suggestions based on Langer’s findings. First of all, for the liturgically-minded, I suggest reflection on the meanings of the prescribed prayers, and to view them from different perspectives. There is talk that the lectionary tells the story of God’s narrative of redemption and His work in redemption. I would suggest looking into how the liturgy reflects that narrative, how that works in the world and your personal life. Ask,”What is my role in God’s story?” I would also urge reflection the scriptures used in the lectionary. My advice is similar for those who don’t use liturgy (as I was raised). In this case, prayers are more spontaneous. I would suggest reflecting on the Names of God, as they reveal His character, and how they apply in your life and the world. I  would also suggest looking at scripture in a different way,  reflecting on differing perspectives, and using that in prayers. I would urge everyone (whether or not they use liturgy) to look at the world and reflect on how God may be working in it. In addition, I also recommend, since prayer is talking to God, to make prayers out of your wandering thoughts. (Since I am a Christian, I wrote this from a Christian perspective. I know a little about Judaism and have read that there is a narrative of God’s working in the world and our partnering with him there as well. I guess the applicability is there as well. For other religions, I am not knowledgeable enough to comment. However, I hope that all the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., who may be  this will find transferable aspects to make it applicable. For those in Eastern religions, does any of this apply to meditation?)

Now, to discuss language learning. First of all, I will discuss how varying the image helps with vocabulary. One way (for those more advanced) is to think of various sentences in which new words can be used, or googling them to see images of what they represent or memes involving them. An easier method is tying the foreign word to a word in one’s native language. For example, consider север (syevir), the Russian word for “north”, which resembles the word “severe”. We could say that it is severely cold in the North Pole. As for grammar, when it comes to learning a new point of grammar, think of various ways new things can now be expressed. Describe personally relevant things that require that grammar. 

I personally love this chapter, since I have, since childhood, often been told, sometimes angrily, to focus and/or to pay attention. (I was even, on occasion, spanked for unfocusedness, such as when my mind wandered while I spoke in tongues.) At the time, all I had was what Langer describes as “holding the image still” (p. 38). One comment of Langer’s I particularly like is as follows: “Since we are so successful most of the day at paying attention, perhaps we should look for the situations in which we find it difficult, rather than blame the problem on a lack of character or a mental deficient” (p. 37). This sticks out to me because it shows practically that there is a “how” to paying attention, that there is a better way. The prospect of passing on the message to others who have beat themselves up over an inability to pay attention sp that they, too, can find a better way makes it my pleasure to review this chapter.

Now, to evaluate Langer’s claims. I find, based on her research and experiences, as well as my own experiences, her claims to be valid amd helpful. I appreciate her out of the box perspective. However, Langer acknowledges that more research is needed (p. 49). Nevertheless, I think that what she says will help us all.

In conclusion, Langer claims to pay attention, we should “vary the image” instead of “holding the picture still”, and supports that with her research and experience. Her studies show that a mindful approach is more effective in maintaining attention, and this has application for subjects such as religion and language learning. In addition, my own experience supports her claims, which I find overall to be valid. I hppe that readers will find these ideas as helpful as I have found them.

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.