Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beating a dead horse here

At my church we have this thing called a "connection card" that we use towards a trifold purpose of engaging visitors, signing up for church events, and responding to the sermon. One side covers strictly demographic sort of information: who are you, where do you live, which service did you go to, what age group are you in . . . and when they flashed the connection card graphic up on the screen during announcements today, I noticed something I never noticed before. [These INFPs and their fixation on irrelevant details.] The age group is divided by 20s, 30, 40s, 50s, and 60s plus. I officially fall into the first category. I am officially four decades away from sixty. A third of the way there! Even worse, I'm halfway to the big four-oh. These first twenty years of my life positively flew by, and it's only going to get faster from here. 

But you know what all of this means, yeah? The age group I don't fit in with anymore? The teenagers. Which is so weird! I've spent a large portion of my life identifying with the teenagers. It's all I really know how to be! But as we conclude our study of adolescence and move on to the section on emergent adulthood, my developmental psychology class is highlighting now more than ever the importance of embracing the responsibilities and industries that come with adulthood in order to, I don't know, be well-adjusted, or something. I'm kind of sort of not a kid anymore! So when I saw the connection card up there on the screen, all I could think of was 1 Corinthians 13:11. "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things."


So I am thinking now what sorts of childish things I need to put away and what sort of adultish things I ought to embrace? . . . nothing is immediately coming to mind. And I blame this partly on our culture (as well as my Peter Pan complex), which has extended this growing up process to much longer than it used to be. The economy is demanding more skilled workers, which is demanding higher and higher levels of education that are keeping young adults in school longer. Entering the work force is not what it was, apprenticeships are the minority, and 20-somethings are living in their parents' basements a lot longer. So, I mean, in the financial independence area I'm a little stuck for now. Though I try and cover my expenses myself, I just don't have the dough, and I appreciate my parents' willingness to continue taking care of me for now. 

But financial independence is only one criterion for adulthood. I worry that I grow more immature with each passing month. What sorts of childish things do I need to put away? Staying up all night reading a riveting book? Watching TV when I should be studying? Dancing around in an undignified manner during trips to the supermarket? Ah, yes and no. I think I just need to have higher standards for myself. Like, okay, Caleb is getting so old, and I'm so proud of him, but I was telling him how he needs to start working hard in school. How he can't rely on his intelligence to coast through and indulge laziness. And it was stupid, because I didn't even realize when I was telling him this that I really ought to be telling it to myself. Life is hard and it requires hard work! Maybe putting away childish things also includes creating less childish standards. 

As an interesting aside, the Erikson stage for this developmental level is intimacy versus isolation, which means last week was relationship advice week. According to research by Sternberg, the success of a relationship is predicted not by what the other person actually thinks about you, but what you think they thing about you. Perception is reality! So you can tuck that tidbit of information away.

Guys. Growing up is hard to do! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The art of conversation

I'm really bad with old acquaintances. Like, horrifically rude. I always worry that people don't remember me, so instead of making things awkward and weird by treating them like a long-lost friend, playing "let's catch up", I ignore them. And pretend I don't know them so we can get reacquainted again. Because to be fair it's not like I knew them super well in the first place! Ah, but, predictably, this has a very inconsistent success rate. 

I was faced with this reality last night when I found out the class mentor for our service project today was a fellow homeschool graduate who had been involved with Teenpact around the same time as me. Though I was cheered by the prospect of having someone dependable to help with the service project, I also anticipated it would be an awkward "hey I know your face but who are you again?" reunion. 

It was. A little. 

We had to endure a 45 minute bus ride up to Providence, and then back again to campus, and once we exhausted the reintroductions, I hoped we could make do with looking out the window in comfortable silence. Because that's what practically strangers do, right? And we did, at intervals. But every so often, he would break my concentration on the passing landscape by asking me questions. 

They started out standard enough. What have you been up to these days? Work, school, fun? Future plans? What's your favorite time of year? As the ride grew longer the questions got more creative. What's the relationship between volunteerism and the Church? What three people from history (excluding the Bible and your family) would you choose as mentors and why? What do you consider to be the biggest atrocity and tragedy (besides Christlessness) in the world today? That last one was really hard, I told him it was too hard to answer, and he said that's because it says more about the person responding than it says about the state of the world. Hm. 

I guess that's what good conversation is. Asking thoughtful questions. 

I noticed he did this all day. All the students laughed among themselves over the relentless reminding they'd received from him about showing up for the project. From the moment he arrived on site he was engaging the students, asking them about their weekends and their plans for Thanksgiving. He approached the make-up students not part of his class, and chatted with them about their freshman year and why they were at URI. When we boarded the bus he talked to the bus driver about her job and her life and how her day had been. At the work site he asked pertinent questions of the coordinator, those questions that you're interested to know the answer to but you never think to ask. 

The thing is (and granted, I don't know him very well, but) he doesn't seem to be very extroverted. I suppose he's the quiet, studious type. Not super vivacious or chatty. Even in Teenpact he never said very much. Our bus conversation wasn't constant, it has its share of lulls and silences. When I asked his questions back at him, he seemed surprised and unprepared at the opportunity to answering them. I wonder if conversations with strangers aren't natural to him, and that fills me with admiration. 

I want to be like that! Caring more about engaging people than catering to what make me feel comfortable. People are always the most important thing. Not my selfishness, or insecurities, or irrational fear of awkward. Talk to people. Ask thoughtful questions. It shows that you care.

Don't ignore random old acquaintances. You might learn something about the art of conversation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Defend the cause of the defenseless

I walked down the hill from my Spanish class already in poor spirits after fifty minutes of rumination on my utter lack of comprehension. (Lo siento, me duele la cabeza, como se dice "fail"?) I feel discouraged. I feel resentful that Spanish isn't easy for me, and I'm beginning to despair of ever mastering it. This is confirmed for me first thing in the morning every single Monday/Wednesday/Thursday. And will only get worse next semester! Anyway.

I saw the signs from a ways away, even though it was early and the display wasn't fully assembled. "WARNING: GRAPHIC PICTURES AHEAD" and "GENOCIDE IMAGES". In smaller letters at the bottom (I was wearing my glasses) I read, and in an instant I felt sick to my stomach. I didn't looked too closely as I passed the posters on my way to work, but the whole display was awash with red. Over the two days it was stationed outside of the student center, I never approached the demonstration, but I knew well enough what it said.

Each time I left the building for class and entered the building for work, I kept my ears open. Everyone was talking about it. Commentary littered my school friends' Facebook statuses. At work I buried my head in my hands as I listened to my coworkers' conversation in the back room—"I've never had one, but if I needed to, it would be my F***ING RIGHT!" Part of me was dying to speak up, and the rest of me felt crushed under my conviction, assured that I could not defend the defenseless while simultaneously speaking the truth in love.

How could I engage calmly, rationally, graciously on a issue of life and death? How could I "agree to disagree" on a matter of God-given rights? What was my witness to my coworkers supposed to look like?

In my public speaking class last semester, our professor read us the most healing goodwill statement on the topic of abortion that I'd ever heard. I cried in my seat when she read it because it was so thoughtful, so engendering, and so true . . . and I also cried because I knew where her alliance lay. I would have given anything to have that goodwill statement this past week, that perfect wording to address the hurt and the humanity.

I saved the coverage the whole demonstration received from our school newspaper: an op-ed from faculty denouncing the Center for Bioethical Reform, an article on the response protest assembled by the Womens Studies and pro-choice crowd, a sidebar on the importance of political engagement. Indeed, the faculty seem to be relieved that the students of my school are capable of caring about something, anything. 

Mostly people were incensed that "necessary misfortune" of abortion was being compared to the grossly complex magnitude of genocide. Is it a false comparison? I don't know. I don't really care about the demonstration, the graphic posters, the people pushing pamphlets. While a discussion on means is certainly important, this week I was preoccupied with the ends. Grieving, that abortion continues to be a reality. A justified reality! How, how do they speak in favor of it so boldly?

Forgive them, Father. And end this atrocity. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's too late, my personality is already cemented!

It seems all my interesting thoughts come to me when I am incapacitated to express them: when I'm on either side of my hour commute, when I'm in the shower, when I'm drifting off to sleep. In an effort to preserve some of my particularly salient brainwaves, occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night and send random texts to my email in hopes that I'll attend to the thought in the morning. Which always seems like a great idea at the moment, but as it turns out, half-asleep Hayley is even less coherent than fully-functional Hayley.

 A particularly bizarre text I recently received reads "akinola and nkoyoyo", who are apparently archbishops in Nigeria and Uganda, respectively, but I'm not sure why I thought that was important to remind myself of. Another particularly cryptic message says only "kn prb", and since I am reasonably assured I wasn't thinking about hipster beer at the time, I can only assume I meant "knowledge problem", though the significance of that still alludes me. 

But a rarity ended up in my inbox this past week, a full phrase! This little gem says "New life goal: to stop overreacting."

I do have a lot of similar existing life goals, in fact, I have a super goofy list saved to my hard drive that's entitled "Hayley's Rules for Living", which is simultaneously pathetic and amusing. List toppers include, "Don't be emo" (credit Katie and Mallory's Closet Rules for Life), "Don't sleep in" (a biological impossibility), and "Get out of your comfort zone" (so much easier said than done!) One of my com studies professors says that the result of cognitive dissonance is that your beliefs change to match your actions, and these lists of semi-profound life mottos I've crafted for myself hopefully do a little to keep my character anchored. 

But back to not overreacting. Can I blame this on nurture for a second? I'm completely like my mom in this respect. She has this awesome trait where she can take anything apart and almost always fix it (not, unfortunately, a quality I have inherited) and this one time she took it upon herself to take the back off the TV set. She warned all us kids to stay away, saying she was likely to get electrocuted, and I remember burying my face in my hands so I wouldn't have to watch if my mother got fried in front of me. All of a sudden she gasps and yelps, and I start crying thinking she's literally toast.

Nope. She pinched her finger in the casing. 

I do this all the time to my coworkers at the computer store. I'll be in the middle of some menial task and I'll remember something I left undone: an important email, a time sensitive data transfer, an unsent fax. I always gasp at my mistake in horror and bolt from my task to fix the problem, leaving the techs around me thoroughly worried and confused. (Because when you work with thousands of dollars worth of parts and equipment and merchandise, the word "oops" is none too welcome!)

I don't just overreact at little mistakes, but also at little stressors. I'm more likely to have a meltdown over an obscure detail than a giant transgression. Come on, big things are so much easier to forgive! But with all those tiny annoyances, all it takes is the last straw. But is it necessary that I cry over a sexist joke? Is it crazy for me to reevaluate an acquaintance after some joking slander? Am I completely maladjusted for unpacking my sister's minute criticisms?

Well, I mean, that's on my list of rules for life, too. "Words are powerful." So I take the misuse of words seriously. (Which is so deeply hypocritical! Because I use words so carelessly myself! Arg! There's no winning.) I guess, my biggest pet peeve is when others speak for me. And, I really don't know if that's a good thing or not. I'm going to go with the latter if I'm staying true to this "stop overreacting" thing. We all misspeak. We say things we shouldn't say. We say things at the wrong time. We say things with the wrong tone. We say things with the wrong context. It happens; don't overreact. 

I tell myself I freak out over the little things so that I have no spasticity left for the big things. And maybe that's true; the few challenges I've faced have found me calm in the face of danger. But one of John Welsey's questions for self-reflection always sticks in my mind: "Have I exaggerated today?" It is it's own kind of deception, isn't it? Or, moral implications aside, it's annoying, right?!

Kind of like the abrupt, obnoxious end to this post.