Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perfected art of dehumanizing

We humans have perfected the art of dehumanizing people for our own ends. We modern people have perfected the art of rationalizing this, even to the point that we believe it is Good and/or Deserved.

Reality TV doesn't help, but, perhaps ironically, I think blogging does. In snippet situations--which abound in all areas of media and life these days, from text messages, to brief interactions, from hectic schedules to ideology condensed to a talking point--we can find our brief summaries of others reinforced. Blogs and other lengthier more personal interactions force us to pause and reconsider...if we let ourselves.

It's so simple to sum up another person: she's organized, he's loud, she's a christian, he's a liberal, she's scary smart, he's so nice...

We often even think of these things as compliments. But are they? Or are they oversimplified labels that in some way dehumanize the other person? Have we snapped people we know into lock boxes, never to be taken out and examined more closely? Have we missed something key to that other person?

Here's why I find that troubling: what do we value, when we value people? And are these the attributes we seek, past the surface, if they are not displayed superficially for us to easily grasp? Some may hide deeper those things which you value.

I was thinking of examples in my own life. One of my favorites is Harry. I met Harry at work when I was still wet behind the ears despite a wedding ring, college degree, and more than a few years of professional working experience. I was, at the time, probably an ideal employee: self-starting, knowledgeable and experienced enough to have and volunteer ideas, but still eager beaver loyal and desiring to please. I joined a really cool start-up, replacing Harry.

"Why are you leaving?" I asked.

"I don't really work here. It's just a contract. I'm not into the whole working for the man, staying put thing. I work, save up, and spend the rest of my time in South America climbing mountains," he said, emulating the epitome of Cool Alt Dude.

A fairly traditional gal at heart, I admired what had to be my polar opposite. I shared Harry Adventure Tales with my husband the entire week I spent being trained for my job by Harry. I was fascinated by Harry's incredibly different lifestyle and life choices. I kept trying to get to know him. Harry, however, was unimpressed by me and I accepted that. I was Normal, Average, I had no problem Working for the Man, carrying home a regular paycheck, and missing South American mountains. I had no stories of adventure.

At the end of the week, I learned Harry had recommended I be fired.

Why would he do this? He didn't want this job -- he was heading for Chile next week anyway! Wasn't he Nice? All Cool Alt Dude let it flow? Why would Harry do this to me? I'd only tried to do my best, learn everything -- was it a problem with my knowledge or performance? No. Wasn't I nice? Yes. Then why?

Harry had pigeon-holed me and it wasn't in a good way. My neat desk indicated I was Uptight. My questions to ensure I learned my job well indicated I was High Maintenance. My carefully organized files indicated I was Anal. My excitement meant I was High Strung.

The very things I cultivated carefully to be Really Really Good and that I thought were valued highly in employees -- plus, just happened to be fairly innate to me and were my techniques for doing a good job -- were somehow twisted and sounding awful coming from his mouth.

"She's not ever going to be a fit," Harry told my boss, who thankfully ignored him. My boss, much wiser than me, probably saw past the Adjectives and Perfect Dehumanizing t0 the realness of both of us and the situation. Harry resented me taking his cash cow, however innocent I was in that decision. He had a good thing going, what with being able to eat his cake and have it too.

I wasn't wrong, Harry was Cool Alt Dude with a Brown Belt in Zen, but that didn't mean he was above feeling very human in this situation. Harry wasn't wrong, I am organized, and a little high strung, but that doesn't mean I'm not human, or much more than that string of judgments.

Harry labeled me, and locked me out. As a result, neither of us gained a better picture and understanding of Who the Human was, really. We probably never would have been friends. But, we'd have each had -- especially Harry -- a better idea of a complex person, one we might never know, or even like, but that we could accept as a multi-faceted human. (Although, I hadn't yet learned that it was an option to not like another person then -- I was still trapped in the idea that I had to like everyone and had to make all of them like me, too. Not managing that was a major failure, indicating Imperfection and Something Bad in me I had to fix.) (I am, to some degree, over this, except when it comes to people I do like, who do not like me back, or who do in some ambivalent way that does not lead to the friendship I hoped for.)

I might have understood and been more thoughtful of how it worried Harry, losing this contract and putting the very Cool Alt Dude lifestyle he so valued in jeopardy. He might have understood that Id just moved over 2000 miles from home for this job, was trying to acclimate, and was desperate to succeed for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was not wanting to prove all our parents dire predictions of failure and ending up in a box under a bridge" true.

I might have grasped his Cool Alt Dude was a protection from the commitment and chaos he knew he'd have to someday deal with, but that he still fought and feared. He might have seen that my organization was compensation for my fear of chaos, and my social awkwardness of not knowing what to say or do sometimes.

But we each needed to know ourselves better, first, needed to understand and accept our own complexities, before we could see that others had more surface area than we initially saw, too.

With time, I came to understand that.

I came to understand that I needed to open up my personal book just the right amount to not dump too much or hide too little. Leave a bit to wondering, wanting to find out. This is not a natural skill for me, like it is for some.

But in time I learned people value that more, just as I learned that workplaces appreciated organized, motivated workers, but not as much as they valued people they liked. Offices were no different from high schools or life, in that respect.

At the end of the day, you don't hear people saying, "I LOVE her, she's so detail-oriented! That's why she's the best employee!" any more than you hear people say, "I LOVE her, she's so organized! That's why we're best friends!"

You do hear, "She's so fun, I love being around her!" Fun. Kind. Thoughtful. You know the rest. You know the things you say you like about other people, and you know you need to like other people to value them.

Those adjectives are hard to come by, though, and are nearly empty compliments.

I do worry about how so much of today's world seems to encourage and reward fast summation of other people, condensing their lives into brief talking points and their humanity into 140 characters or less.

Perhaps we are active participants in our own labeling and dehumanization.

I think of my friend Cyn explaining why she's given up on adjectives and nouns in the short social media bio sections. To attempt to paraphrase her: Verbs say so much more about who I am, through what I do, instead of just labeling myself for you. Verbs can lead to questions. Verbs make you active. Adjectives and nouns coat you in amber for viewing.

What is valuable to you and why is that valuable?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Whale of a Great Slumber Party at SeaWorld

A while back I conceived of this brilliant plot whereby I would conspire to convince SeaWorld that TheMotherhood.com and I could make fantastic co-hosts for an awesome event at their San Antonio location.

Friends, I must talk a really great game because I convinced the brilliant (and occasionally omniscient) Kami Huyse and SeaWorld as well as the amazing Cooper and Emily of TheMotherhood.com that this was a very good idea.

The next thing any of us knew (ha! as if it was simply movie magic easy LOL!), we were blowing up air mattresses with some of the most fantastic women in Texas to sleep with extremely cute but a little smelly puffins.

I've felt at a cross-roads this year, more so lately, which may or may not have anything to do with a recent birthday. I don't mind getting older or even middle-aged, aside from the minor physical inconveniences (great scott, the plucking!) (the sagging elbows!) (the creaky knees!) (enough!) but the big benefit of aging is supposed to be wisdom and perspective, and I'm determined to get me some of that, especially as I watch my days end at 9:30 p.m more and more often and start considering my reminder iPhone apps and Advil as best buddies.

You don't need me to tell you that it was so incredible to spend the night at SeaWorld. You can guess how it felt to fulfill a version of my nearly 30 year "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Franweiler" fantasy. You comprehend how awesome it was to check off some cool items on my bucket list:
  • sleep with polar aquatic birds,
  • stick hand in dolphin's mouth,
  • gain approval of killer whale matriarch,
  • perfectly mimic seal,
  • make BFFs with beluga whale, and last, but not least,
  • over divine food, listen to major executive passionately talk about green initiatives.
You can imagine how much I enjoyed having the park all to us. You know those animals are amazing. Incredible. You may even know personally know how very hard it is to stay behind the blue line while beluga whales flirt with you and, like sirens, entice you to leap in their pool and frolic with them, shedding the last stressed mantles of your humanity.

But how did this add to my Ultimate Life Goal and Commitment to Meaningful?

Aside from the obvious and pat answer that everything beautiful and experiential is worthwhile (which sort of smells slightly new agey to me, a scent only two grades above Dolphin Food and Puffins Au Naturel):

Things are richer with personal connections

Beautiful settings don't hurt, either.

I always get more out of a place when I know enough about the place to ask questions beyond the pat and obvious (although I'm not above acting like a second grader and asking questions such as, "What do they think of their poop, if they deign to notice it there in the tank with them?")

But I like to get a deeper appreciation for the little things of a place and how they fit together to make the whole such a wonderful picture.

What makes me take notice is seeing a place and event through other people's eyes and being aware of the place through knowing important things about it.

These things connect me, personally. I'm engaged. That makes it matter more, which, in turn, makes it a richer experience.

Being able to share that with others only enriches it more.

I loved being able to share it with Heather, Erica, Kelly, Joy, Dwan, Colleen, Debi, Dawn, Rachel, Emily, and Kami.

Slumber parties and inside jokes

Is it feeling a little clammy in here to anyone other than me?

While Emily and I were waiting for the fabulous Suzy of SeaWorld and Kami, we were shooting the breeze when I trotted out a memory of being on a bus heading to sleep away summer camp, a time I always loved. My hair, long and straight except for the feathering around my face, blew back in the wind from the open windows. My shorts-clad legs stuck to the hot fake leather seats, which had that acrid sweet smell old bus seats always had. Beside me, my friends Brandy, Shannon, Laura and Jenny sat laughing. We were so thrilled to be together we began belting out "Don't You Want Me, Baby." We were young, excited, happy, carefree, and on our way to the best time of the summer. Who was new? Who was back? Who grew up over the past year? Who was different? Who was the same? Most importantly, which guy would be cutest and who would hook up with him?

Now, nearly thirty years later, I had the same excitement buzzing in me as I waited for the WildSide adventurers to arrive for our camp. Would the ladies I only knew online seem as familiar and friendly as they did online? Would they look like their photos? Sound like their blog posts and tweets? Were they as giddy about being in a major theme park overnight, just us, as I was? Would anyone know the book From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler if I kept referencing it? Was anyone else feeling unbearably light inside?

What I found were women even more amazing than I expected, who were very real, and kept it real, all while maintaining a wonderful spirit for adventure. Despite the risk of getting drenched, everyone hung right by Mrs. Shamu. Despite our great and knowledgeable guide Chance sharing good information, and knowing the rule about the blue line, plus being warned that "whales look sweet but are NOT furry warm cuddly creatures," we all nearly leapt in the pool with the beluga whales.

These ladies asked tough questions, and every member of the SeaWorld team from executive Dan Decker to our guide Chance, SeaWorld comm rep (and indispensable cheerful and professional help) Suzy, our camp counselor Brooke, or anyone else on hand to help us enjoy ourselves, had the answer.

SeaWorld is awesome. I love their commitment to conservation and green choices. Who doesn't love a graceful and gorgeous dolphin being friendly? There is so much to see, learn and do there.

But it's even more awesome with a well-educated guide (getting a Ph.D) who calls out "Hey Hotties!" when he wants our attention. (And we must have been like herding cats, seriously.) And at night. By ourselves. With good food. and chocolates and mocktails. Who doesn't love a good sleepover when everyone has good laugh at silly slippers and people share their stories?

WHALE DONE! Such a Duh! and yet, Life Altering

Looking mighty bottle-nosed to be a whale, but at SeaWorld, hungry aquatic animals will be whoever you want for a bucket of fish. KIDDING!

We got a copy of this book, WHALE DONE!, which discusses the techniques SeaWorld trainers use to encourage the desired behaviors the animals display during performances (and other times).

I've read the positive parenting books. I took the classes. I went to puppy kindergarten. Four times.

I want to do this, and yet, it's a struggle. I come from a completely and totally GOTcha life (read the book, you'll get it) and setting expectations and working in a WHALE DONE way is, and probably always will be, a struggle to me due to background, habit, culture, temper, and so forth.

But through this book, and events like this, I keep feeling doors and windows in my mind open.

And you know, when I go away (mommy guilt) it helps more than a little to know I will be bringing back something more than 9admittedly VERY CUTE) stuffed penguins. (Stuffed with fluff, folks, I mean, what do you think we did in the penguin encounter all night? I assure you NO AQUATIC POLAR BIRDS were harmed in the making of this spectacular event.)

To read others' take on t he event (and isn't it awesome to read different takes on the same thing? see? ENRICHING! No wonder blogs are so popular.):

Heather http://www.savingssosweet.com/2009/11/seaworld-san-antonio.html

Dwan http://mommadjane.com/walk-wild-side

Debi http://sabusykids.com and http://voices.mysanantonio.com/sabusykids

Kelly http://www.savvymoxie.com/2009/11/sleeping-at-sea-world.html

Dawn (Lettergirl) http://notgoingpostal.com/2009/11/17/lessons-from-a-seaworld-slumber-party/

Colleen http://bit.ly/wild-side and http://babypotential.typepad.com/start_here_grow_far/2009/11/introducing-some-of-texas-finest-and-funniest-mommy-bloggers.html

Special thanks to the amazing SeaWorld hosts: Brooke (our counselor), Chance (our guide), Dan (our Big Wig), Kami (our Hottie Van Hot), and Suzy (our amazing contact).

And the fun doesn't end. SeaWorld, as you might have gathered, is so much more that simply an incredible and fun destination. They offer so many resources for parents. Come check out this circle, Raising Enlightened Kids, at TheMotherHood.com., where you can "discover the stories, photos, projects, lessons and fun SeaWorld offers for families who want to add meaning and culture to their family time. Let's talk about giving back, positive relationships, conservation, animals, education, and more!"

We've had, already, a really enlightening talk with SeaWorld trainers about how to use positive methods in work and home to accentuate the positive and reach desired behaviors let me just say...afterwards my kids made it to school on time, neat, and all of us were HAPPY.

Full disclosure: I worked with SeaWorld for this event. However, this post represents nothing other than me and my own thoughts about the event, and was not in any way solicited or compensated by SeaWorld.

Friday, November 13, 2009

100 Years of Magic -- Cute Costumed Kids Included

My four year old dressed to the nines for our special night out to Disney on Ice. I thought she'd be unique, a stand-out. I thought she would garner attention in her plum fairy princess outfit.

What I forgot was that "costume" is the preferred style for the four year old girl crowd.

Instead of being the one, my daughter was one among many. Princesses (all of them, including Pocahontas), fairies, Minnie Mouses, and any and all Disney characters pranced in mini-form around Reliant Stadium.

My daughter had, in her ineffable way, tapped into the collective four year old dress-up girl consciousness.

As we passed these costumed sprites (and fairies, and princesses, and mice), my eyes met the other parents' eyes in a flash of commonality: we were parents with This Sort of girl child, and we were That Sort of parent, who was willing to let our girls dress up to go out, even if it was in costume. Whether we had anything else in common was irrelevant; on that point, we met and connected. Our girls had donned costumes for this special event. In my case, both of my girls did, in their own ways.

The thing about my little girls donning costumes is that very rarely are they donning a character. The costume, for them, is an extension of their own character. Persistence, my four year old, was very much herself last night. She just happened to be wearing a multi-hued wispy fairy outfit.

My kids are very imaginative and like most kids, they do enjoy imagination and role-playing games. Sometimes they use props or costumes to further the playacting, but so often, costumes are an end in and of themselves. They are something fun to wear.

And when did we stop doing that, grown-ups?

Upon deeper thought, though, maybe we haven't -- it's simply more subtle. I was wearing a deep purple cardigan over a lavender shirt, with jeans, and ballet flats. I dressed it up a bit with a big multi-toned purple necklace, with huge brooch-like dangling charm. I wore matching purple crystal earrings. What, in the end, was so different between my outfit and my daughter's? Other than hers was largely chiffon-esque and mine was cotton and denim.

The point was, we both put on costumes of a sort to reflect something we were feeling about the night and the event: we felt it was special. Something to do a little something extra for, via our clothing.

And Disney on Ice was special! Before the event, I joked that as someone who couldn't ice skate on kids' style double blades while clutching the railing, I was always going to be impressed by people who could glide on a thin blade on slippery ice.

These skaters glide, dip, fly in the air, hop on and off props, and all in all, tell an entertaining story, all while amazing us with athletic grace on the ice.

What's great about Disney on Ice, and one reason I think it works even for tots, is that it spins out different short tales, tied by very thin thread, with frequent changes to keep interest and attention. It also includes visually interesting costumes -- read: lots of sparkle -- and characters the kids know. Plus, it ends with small "fireworks" display.

The show began with Mickey and the gang, as usual. It then spun into some other snippets, most notably to my four year old, the big Princess sequence. She got to see Belle and Beast, and then every major Disney princess skated out with her Prince. They did duets and also big ensemble numbers. I loved the nostalgic wrap up of the first half with a grand ensemble of It's a Small World. The performance had the different music and dance styles, costumes from each country, and lighted floats. The second half included a big Pinocchio number, which my seven year old enjoyed.

It was a good time -- a special family outing time.

In my last post, I included details about going, coupon/savings information, and so forth. If you are thinking about going, I encourage you to just do it! I've seen a few Disney on Ice shows and really like this one best so far. It's on in Houston through the weekend.

Big thanks to MomCentral, Feld Entertainment, and Disney for a good time for our family. I only take offers like this for events I think are a fit for our family. I do receive tickets as a gift, but they only ask that we enjoy ourselves and let them know if we liked it, or if we write about it. There is no deal, requirement to go to the event, or exchange of services. That I've written about it -- and glowingly -- is simply a factor of "we like this event, we enjoyed ourselves, and it was a good time for our family." But I think the photos of my happy kids show that!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This is a sincere promo post about Disney on Ice

Don't roll your eyes at me -- I come bearing coupons!

So listen, my kids are MAJOR fans of Disney on Ice (any one, they aren't picky) and frankly Disney ought to hire them to promote the show because honestly nobody else does a better job. Right now a bunch of parents we know are either cursing my name or buying tickets to the show (although, upon reflection, it's not mutually exclusive lol).

The kids are currently hoppier than a grasshopper in a field of clover and more excited than for Halloween because tomorrow we are going to see Disney on Ice's 100 Years of Magic.

I am really glad it is tomorrow because I told them a week ago that we were going and it's been a chorus of "are we there yet?" ever since. And we're excited about it too because it IS a great and entertaining show. I can't ice skate in simple clothes clutching a wall so to watch these athletes glide around in elaborate costumes wows me every time.

I'll be back later with photos and stories (you may comment on the cuteness of the kids) but in the meantime I wanted to tell you tomorrow is opening night and if you want to go, there's a coupon code. Here are the details:

Use code: MOM**
Get 4 tickets for $44 weekday or $4 off on weekends
You can buy tickets at ticketmaster <-- that link also has date, time and location details