Find the differences #2: the meaning of my actions vs. their effect

I was wondering today about the difference between what my actions represent for me (their meaning), in comparison to the effect they generated on others. I thought of two sentences that illustrate these perspectives:

  1. I have done an action that I find meaningful and good
  2. I have done an action that produced a particular response from the other person

I started thinking at what kind of messages were given to me by my parents and my teachers. I got a lot of instructions on how to do things as everyone does in my culture/environment; I was raised to be a good citizen and a person of pleasant company. I find it quite natural that the ultimate goal was to make me well integrated in a society that is composed by many other people, so that I would go along well. Early education tends to make these (arbitrary) rules so deeply rooted within oneself, that one’s choices feel personal instead of coming from a superior authority.

Anyway, none of these rules were clearly oriented on their effect on other people; they were more oriented on how I should feel when doing something, and how others should react (that sounds very similar, but the goals are different). More insidiously, they tended to say that others should all react the same way to my good deeds.

I have rarely experienced the conflict of doing something that I felt right, while noticing a negative response from the other side; I hope it’s not because I removed these cases from my memory, but more because I was able to stop as soon as I felt the other person’s uneasiness. To find other examples of this, I think of the kind of parenting that puts children’s obedience and submission before their well-being. As if it doesn’t matter how the child learns – the focus is on respecting the rule. I have always shivered when seeing it in action, and I am glad that other people feel the same. Of course there are degrees both in the feeling of being right, and on the impact of the action, but I find it important for me that I keep my mind open to any reaction, and therefore to re-examine my actions.

Another conflict is when I do something that makes me feel uneasy, and others respond positively to it. Let’s take the example of smalltalk. In my education and in my corner of the world, smalltalk is customary when in company of others. I spend a lot of time getting used to chat like that (probably with more effort than average) and I have been usually considered pleasant company. However, that meant that I wasn’t feeling “myself” when being that sociable. Now, I have found enough friends that are fine with my silences and my way of talking, so that we all feel sincerely good when we are together.

I came to the conclusion that it’s possible to have all combinations of the two sentences above and their opposites, but the one I want to pursue is the one that makes both me and others feel good. I also think that this applies to animals (like in these stories about cats). I want to keep examining what I do and spot all remaining “I do something I don’t like, but others like it” and “I do something I feel right, but others don’t feel OK” – especially by discussing with my friends about their reactions.

I’m curious of your thoughts about this, please share them in the comments!

VareseSunset
Sunset over Sacro Monte (Varese, Italy) – own work
Advertisements

Encouraging independence in children – some thoughts

montessori-von-anfang-an-ein-praxishandbuch-fuer-die-ersten-drei-jahre-des-kindes-978-3-451-34559-3-46208
I was reading another chapter from Montessori vom Anfang an, and was impressed by the authors’ observation that children need to learn independence very early on, but parents often find it hard to let them go – with unhappy results for both parts.

I stopped reading for a while and searched backwards in the text for how many times this concept was brought up. My impression was that children grow up so fast that parents have little time to get used to a given relationship with them. Children are born so helpless and dependent from their parents, then they learn to speak, move around, use objects, take decisions, interact with others: they change so fast! My heart understand parents who remember vividly their kids as babies and miss dearly those months. It must be so difficult to accept that your children will walk progressively away of your protecting arms, and there is no way to completely save them from suffering.

I must say that this is one big reason why I don’t feel ready to have children. I am afraid that I won’t let them grow as fast as they need; or worse, that I won’t see my bias. With children in kindergarten I have hope to become a good teacher, because I can treat them as people, like I try to do with everyone, but with that extra responsibility of my role. I am afraid to become a mum and become over-protective: “my children come first, no matter what”. Or, on the opposite, I am afraid to treat my child in a way that I find fair, but that others (that child included) don’t find affectionate enough.

Big thoughts… they make me worry quite a bit, but I am also glad that I think about these topics. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments!

Respect and communication without pressure: a horse’s owner perspective

I was discussing with a friend of mine over this post from Beautiful Mustang’s blog.We both understood that:

  • this horse reacts badly to pressure: putting even more pressure creates dangerous situations
  • lowering the communication down to whispers allows an efficient information flow

This makes me think of some non-Newtonian fluids, that react to pressure in a similar way: they are liquid and flowing at low pressures, but become solid when pressure rises. If you need them to flow, you have no alternative other than keep pressure low.

The parallel stops here, because fluids are inanimate and lack decision making processes – it is clear that the person that is using them for a given task has complete control over the situation. With a living creature there can be a divergence of goals and opinions, that create pressure from both sides. I absolutely refuse to increase the pressure until the other side surrenders; it’s a strategy that breaks objects, and scars animals and people for a very long time. I embrace the idea of perceiving when my pressure is creating resistance on the other side, and I aim to make the conscious decision to lower the pressure in order to let the other side come back to a flowing, more relaxed state.

We further reflected on the fact that this one can be a case of respecting an introverted being. I think it is even more: it is a case of respecting another opinion. Not just introverts deserve less pressure than others; everyone would benefit from being treated in a non-coercive way.

To finish with a picture, here is Leah, the whispering horse:

Source: Beautiful Mustang’s blog

6th Winter School of Ethics and Neuroscience

I just came home after the last session of this Winter School, organised by the Berlin School of Mind and Brain. As I am not a neuroscientist nor a philosopher, I feared I would end up understanding as much as this:

… while I actually  managed to follow all discussions quite well 🙂

I attended the philosophical track, that consisted of presentations and discussion around morals and ethics from various angles: philosophical, emotional, cultural and neurological. I find especially interesting to map a lot of connections among these domains. It was sometimes hard to accept that our moral views can be influenced in ways and extents we can’t imagine, but even if I feel that my convinctions are somewhat not as bomb-proof as before, I prefer to be aware of their weaknesses – just like knowing the potential shortcomings of computer programming made me trust them less, but in a more informed way.

I plan to write down a summary of the contents of each session and some of my comments in separate posts. Stay tuned! I will be happy to continue discussing about those themes in the comments.

Book recommendation – “South Pole Epic” by Daniel Burton

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I am too impatient to review it!

I knew about Daniel‘s expedition from the Wikipedia page about South Pole biking expeditions, when I was looking for references for my previous post about Antarctic expeditions. We (I and my bike-addicted boyfriend) subsequently read a bit of his blog and had to buy his book:

24938010

We started reading it and were initially puzzled by the choice of third-person narrative. I was moreover not that happy with the occasional bumpiness of sentences, and the simple choice of words. But the epic of the adventure captivated us fully,  and made these choices look minor.

The main difference that I noticed from Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen’s narratives is the un-heroism of the protagonist. Of course this is also due to the fact that the three former explorers lead huge teams of people, had any sort of communication difficulties, were on uncharted land most of the time, and missed one hundred years of progress in technology and materials. Daniel’s epic is on another dimension. It is a personal challenge on an Antarctica where he follows ski, truck and snowcat tracks, and is able to use a satellite phone and connect to the Internet every day.

What I like most about this book is the apparent draft-like flow of words. Some could find it “unfinished”, but that’s what makes it more personal, closer to what actually happened. All the moments when Daniel has issues with his bike or with the insidious terrain (crevasses, sastrugi, katabatic wind, soft snow, whiteout…) are told with the knowledge of that very moment, not with the serenity of who knows how the adventure will develop. Many times he loses hope that he will make it, and he tells it quite simply. He mentions a lot of little details that make the reader understand that he is a man like many others, but with a great goal, determination and preparation. It makes me feel like meeting him in person and listening to his recollection of the adventure, with ordinary words, with occasional irregularities in the narrative, with emotion and affection.

I also liked that the first half of the book is about the preparation of this bike trip, from the first ideas that popped up in his mind to the economic difficulties, the support of his family, the endless logistics, the technical details of the bike and clothing. It makes it useful to someone who would like to repeat his feat, there or elsewhere with similar climate.

Definitely a book that I recommend! You can read his blog for excerpts of his adventure.

From the kitchen: baking with sourdough

Hello all, let me introduce you my experiments around sourdough in my weekly cooking post!

Two weeks ago I went shopping and the baking dry yeast was out of stock, so I decided to try a package of dry sourdough. I baked a bread with half of the package and put the rest in a big glass jar with some water and flour. As expected, it bubbled and grew and developed a nice sour, fruity flavour. (The bread was very good, but I will focus on the sourdough culture.)

This is how it looks today:

pasta-madre-refresh-1.JPG

I took this picture after adding a small amount of mature sourdough (around 20g) to a small glass of lukewarm water and an equivalent small glass of flour. I mixed them well, so that the mixture reached a fluid consistency. I read that such watery mixture is the one that is more ready to use, but also more prone to go bad; but as I monitor it every day, and bake once or twice a week, it is not a big risk.

Sourdough maintenance is an art, that however starts very simply. What I gleaned from the Internet and books (especially Das Brotbackbuch n.1) is that you need to periodically “refresh” the sourdough with new water and flour, i.e. food, otherwise the micro-organisms start developing unwanted acidic and alcoholig compounds, that are unsuitable for baking. What I do after four or five days is to take a small amount of the mature sourdough and put it in a new container, with fresh water and flour. With the rest of it I bake my bread. I find it a very convenient arrangement, because I obtain a good amount of sourdough for my baking necessities, while at the same time I reboot the culture every few days.

Baking with sourdough has been a wonderful discovery. The bread gets a fruity, slightly sour flavour that I really love, plus a lovely fine texture of bubbles in the crumb:

DSCN5465.JPG

and a crispy crust:

DSCN5470.JPG

I hope this inspires you to try baking with sourdough!

 

Book recommendation – Calligraphie arabe vivante

I have started to post more regularly about the various topics that interest me, and Friday  is book recommendation day!

51r84gfp5ll-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Today I wish to present Hassan Massoudy‘s “Calligraphie arabe vivante”, a book that I got to know from another book, “La goutte d’or” by Michel Tournier. In Tournier’s novel, the young protagonist Idriss meets a master calligrapher, who teaches him Arabic calligraphy and its abstract, powerful grace. In the post-scriptum, Tournier thanked Massoudy for introducing him to calligraphy, “a traditional art where beauty is weaved to truth and wisdom” (personal translation from French). The citation pointed to Calligraphie arabe vivante. Without hesitation, I bought the book and got fascinated by the plasticity of Arabic writing – sometimes elegantly round, sometimes hatched and mechanical, even expressionist. I am amazed at how much additional information and force can be integrated in the shapes that build up actual words – and how, by not understanding the words as such, I am exposed only to their art.

71-606x1024

You can see many more Massoudy’s creations on his personal website. If you want a high-quality photo book with a great selection of calligraphy works and detailed explanations of traditional techniques, I totally recommend this book!

(Picture credits: islamic-arts.org)