Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do You Ever Feel Jealous?

Saturday, we went to the Met's Live in HD production of Otello, Verdi's version of Shakespeare's Othello.  In the opera, the evil Iago is passed over for promotion to Captain.  The position goes to Cassio.  Iago is jealous of Cassio, and resentful of Otello.  He sets out to destroy both Cassio and Otello.  Iago sparks suspicion in Otello's mind about a romance between Desdemona, Otello's wife, and Cassio.  Iago feeds the suspicion with false stories and false evidence leading Otello to murder Desdemona.

Otello is vulnerable to Iago's plot because he prefers to believe false evidence rather than build a relationship of trust with Desdemona.  He grows intensely jealous at the possibility of someone else having what he sees as his.

What is jealousy but an outward manifestation of some inner terror?

The teenagers I wrote about in the May 5 blog (What Do Teenagers Want to Know?) said, "Doesn't everyone get jealous?"  I told them to look beneath their jealousy for a fear.  The fear might be related to our self-image -- which has been challenged by our circumstances.  Iago fears that he is not good enough to be a captain. Otello fears that he isn't man enough for Desdemona.  Otello may feel insecure and undeserving of her.  In both cases, the jealous person becomes fixated on the person who challenges his self-esteem.  This turns into anger, rage, and revenge.  Otello does not engage in self-examination.  When Iago's plot is uncovered and Otello realizes he made a mistake, he stabs himself.  Again, no self-examination.

If you feel jealous of another person, find your fear.  Feelings of jealousy provide an opportunity for you to get in touch with your hopes and longings.  Your jealousy is telling you that you feel insecure and you fear that you will be unable to get what you want.  Rather than fixating on the object of your jealousy, spend your energy strengthening yourself to go after what you want.  While that sounds like more work for you, the outcome will probably be more satisfying than murderous revenge.

Do you ever feel jealous?  What is your hidden fear?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Did You Learn Anything (About Yourself) from Your (Failed) Relationships?

I recently read an obituary in the New York Times for Dr. Ethel Person (pictured below).  The obit includes this passage:

"Dr. Person long held that no relationship was a failure if you learned something about yourself from it. In that spirit she kept every husband’s name, her son Lloyd said. At her death she was officially Ethel Jane Spector Person Sherman Diamond, although she continued to use Person professionally."

One difference between Dr. Person and me is that I never added spousal names to mine - let alone three of them.  Another difference is that I don't think of my ended relationships as successes or failures.  Relationships are more like one of those alternative schools where rather than passing or failing, you drift onwards at your own speed, eventually absorbing enough lessons that they graduate you.

However, I have learned many things about myself through past relationships.  In every relationship, I learned more about where to draw my lines of acceptable/unacceptable partner behaviour and how to draw those lines.

Each relationship teaches us something different about ourselves.  I prefer to remember ex-partners in terms of what they taught me about my participation in the world - in one relationship I learned to climb, hike, canoe, and lean out of small airplanes taking pictures.  I learned that I could do more than I ever imagined I could do.

I posed the question at dinner tonight.

  • My friend Liam said that he learned that he was lovable.
  • His boyfriend said that, in retrospect, his ended relationships taught him that he has to look deeper into what people say.  He thought people said what they meant.  He even thought he said what he meant.  Now he sees that people may not say everything and it's important to respond with questions and probing.
  • My current husband added this to the conversation:  "I learned from my ended relationships that I have to put more into the relationship if it is going to go well."

Everyone in the conversation agreed that when a relationship ends, you learn a lot about your friends and how they take sides or refuse to take sides.

What did you learn about yourself from relationships that have ended?  Would you call yourself by all your former names?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's Your Philosophy of Education?

In my many years of teaching and learning, here are a few of the things I've discovered:

1. Feed Them

Most of my teaching philosophy was probably developed during my first teaching job, on a reservation 40 km north of Whistler, BC.  It was 1974.  Attendance seemed to be a suggestion at times rather than a rule.  Together with the kids that did show up, I started making soup.  I had a big pot and a one-burner hot plate.  We'd peel and slice carrots and potatoes.  We'd throw in whatever else we had -- onions, leeks, barley, fish heads - and have it simmering by 9:00 a.m.  By recess, it was ready.  The kids started showing up.  Even the high school kids who studied in another part of our building would line up at the Grade 1 door for hot soup.

2. Feed Them What They Are Hungry For

My second full-time position was in a private school in Ontario. The kids there were well fed but hungered for recognition, attention, and individualization.

3. Feed Them Your Presence and Demand Theirs

A few years later, I quit elementary school teaching and became a graduate student.  As a teaching assistant at university, I encountered young adults, suddenly free from high school, who were hungry in a new way.  They wanted a feeling of being alive.  They were hungry for experience and meaning.

4. High School

Some years later, and hungry myself, I took a one-semester job in a high school.  This group seemed hungry as well, hungry for trouble - and they all seemed much bigger than me.  I couldn't feed them anything.  In fact, at one point, I left the classroom and crouched in a washroom cubicle, broken and weeping.  The department head took over and I told the principal I was leaving for the day.  Some miles down the highway, I stopped at a restaurant near the airport, the Runway CafĂ©, and thought things over.  I phoned the principal:

"I'm coming back," I said.
"After they drive you from the classroom, there's no coming back," he told me.
"I'm coming back.  I'll be there in half an hour," I said.

Strangely, after that, the class was much better.  They realized how much worse it would be for them if the department head took the class for the rest of the semester.

This was an important part of my evolving teaching philosophy.  After they drive you from the classroom, you can go back.  But it's probably wiser to find a classroom where you can teach (or nurture) effectively.

In an earlier post, I wrote about teaching in a jail school.  The young offenders were hungry for music, especially gangster music with parental advisory warnings.  With the right mix of ritalin and rap music, the students could actually get work done on their individualized programs. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why Is Public Speaking So Difficult?

"Every time someone speaks, it's bravery."

I was half-listening to the radio the other day when those words caught my ear. Since I teach public speaking, I decided to put that concept before my class.  If it's bravery to speak, I asked them, what is at stake?  What do we stand to lose by speaking up?

     "You might look stupid," someone replied.
     "What do you stand to lose by looking stupid?" I asked.

Their answers included your reputation, respect, friends, and more.  Speaking up is dangerous.  Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who spoke up for the right of girls to be educated, was shot on October 9, shot for having a voice.

"What do you stand to lose by not speaking up?"  I asked the class.  Their answers included time and money.

There is much to lose by not speaking up.  In September, many people became sick with E. coli infections from beef originating at XL Foods, an Alberta meat processing plant.  Many workers did not speak up due to fear of reprisals.  They were laid off anyway.  And their silence made others sick.  Their silence might have killed someone.

The tainted beef story involves too much silence - even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not speak up for two weeks after discovering a problem with the beef.

Does our culture encourage silence?

We each need to examine our fear of speaking on a case-by-case basis.  Are we willing to speak up when we see a dangerous workplace, incompetent workers, or bad management decisions?  Are there ways of speaking up that stress mutual goals and reduce personal risk?  Are you afraid to speak up?

"Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right."   -- Malala Yousufzai 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Are You Nursing a Grudge? Part 2

I discovered that I am nursing a grudge against an insurance company that used to insure me.  I never think about old injuries -- until the injured site receives a new blow.

New blow:  The vice president of my credit union sent me a form letter encouraging me to sign up with the credit union's insurance company.  Let's call them Credit Union Members Insurance Nightmare or CUMIN.  I get these letters about once a year and every year, I'm reminded of my old anger at CUMIN.

I had been a loyal credit union member since the 1980s.  As soon as I bought a house, I signed up with CUMIN.  I was a college professor, a single mom recovering from bad decisions, living in the north end of the downtown area. The north end had a bad reputation, but that was the east side of the north end.  My house was in a great neighbourhood in the far west corner of the north end overlooking the bay.  By "overlooking the bay," I mean that, before they built a fence, I could see a bit of water through the gap between the houses across the street.

In 1994, I had a break-in while I was out of town.  The thief stole easy-to-sell consumer items including my bicycle, computer, portable stereo, and musical instruments.  The total claim for these items was less than five thousand dollars.  How did CUMIN respond?  They replaced my stolen goods and promptly cancelled my insurance.  They wrote me a letter saying that I no longer qualified to be insured with them.  Suddenly, because I made a claim, I was no longer worthy of being insured by them.
Note:  This was my first claim ever.  What’s with that?
The thief also stole my car (not insured by CUMIN) and totalled it.  The insurer of my car replaced my car.  They did not cancel my car insurance and the cost of my insurance did not go up.
The form letter from the VP had lines like this:  “For the coverage and service you deserve, call CUMIN today.”   Really?  I did not get the coverage and service I deserved.

This year, instead of merely nursing a grudge, I decided to let the VP know that I hated his insurance company and did not want to be on that mailing list any longer.  I sent him an email actually suggesting that he stop associating his name with such a petty, mean-spirited company.  I wrote that I hoped that the company had changed and no longer routinely cancelled the home insurance of people who were targeted by a burglar.

The credit union gave me the vice president's email address and I sent it to him with a copy to customer services at CUMIN.
Then I felt ridiculous that I was writing a letter 20 years after the event had occurred.

Maybe that's why it still bothered me - because I never spoke up.  I felt victimized by the burglar and then again by the insurance company.

The next day, the letter to the vice president bounced back.  I won't resend it.

Injustices occur all the time.  Part of existence seems to involve knowing when to dig your heels in and make sure you are heard, and when to suck it up and move on -- when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, and when to walk away.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's Thanksgiving - Am I Grateful?

It is Thanksgiving here in Canada.  I wrote this article of Thanksgiving Day reflections in 1998.  It is mostly still true today.

I'm thankful for being born in Canada in the latter half of the 20th century.  Because of this luck of my birth, I don't worry about being arrested, detained, and murdered solely because of my race or religion.  In Canada, we have a sense of connectedness -- we are all Canadians regardless of where we originate.  I am mindful that in other countries people live in fear of genocidal slaughter from their neighbours.

I'm thankful for being born in Canada in the latter half of the 20th century.  Had I been born even 10 years earlier my career, relationship, and reproductive choices would have been more narrow.  If I had been born 30 years earlier, I may have been discouraged from getting an education.  My friend's mother had to return a university scholarship because, in the 1940s, her family believed it would be wasted on a woman.

I'm very thankful for being born in a time when women are recognized as legal caregivers for their children.  I had a bicycle accident in 1960.  I was eight years old and living in Montreal.  My mother took me to the Emergency Department of a nearby hospital, but the doctors would not stitch up my bleeding and swollen lips until we could get my father's permission.  We sat in the waiting room for four hours until my father was located and could come to the hospital to sign the forms.  Any mother would rage at the senselessness of this.  Now, I can make choices, own property, and give consent in issues affecting myself and my child.  Nonetheless, I see no women in any of the trade apprenticeship courses that I teach.  I see that shelters are still full of women, but board rooms are not.

As a working person, I'm thankful for being born in Canada in the latter half of the 20th century.  I'm grateful to the workers who protested inequality and injustice, who fought the six-day, 60-hour work week, who fought for healthy and safe workplaces --  often against the police who were sent to break strikes.  Every worker in Canada has benefitted from the struggle and sacrifice of the early union members.  I'm aware that these struggles are not over.

I'm grateful for the connectivity made possible by modern technology, technology that did not exist until recently.  Through the almost-free Hamilton-Wentworth Community Network, I am able to connect to the Internet and have the wisdom of millions of people available to me.  They provide answers to questions simply out of their interest, generosity, and desire to make contact with others.  My friend, Sheila, lives on an island on the coast of  British Columbia.  Along with many other injuries, her spousal unit suffered vocal chord damage in a motorcycle accident.  He could only talk in a quiet, raspy voice.  This was affecting his confidence and self-esteem.  Sheila found a vocal chord web site in California and posted a message describing the problem.  The next day she received a phone call from a man in San Francisco telling her that a doctor in Vancouver had a new method of repairing the vocal chord injuries which she had described.  She was able to contact the doctor and schedule an appointment within 24 hours of posting her initial inquiry.

I'm thankful that I can experience this feeling of connectedness here in Canada in the closing years of this century.  At the bottom of my e-mail messages, I include a quote from Mitchell Kapur of the Electronic Freedom Foundation.  He says, "Unless the awareness of interconnectedness can stir compassion, it is of little use."  I hope our connectedness will help move humanity away from the hatred and prejudice of earlier times, and closer to compassion for one another.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How Do You Know You Are You?

On July 5, my blog "What's Your (Secret) Identity?" looked at our process of building an identity.  I am now wondering about identity dissolution.  When parts of our identity are threatened by criticism from others, we often become defensive.  When we lose jobs or relationships that contribute to our identity, we are likely to become depressed.  Ideally, we are able to redefine ourselves and find other activities, new relationships, or new roles to fill the void.

Is your identity also your hopes and dreams?  I think so.

Writer's block can be depressing partly because it challenges the identity of a writer.
Not making a team is devastating partly because it challenges the identity of a young athlete.

Look back into a transient depression you may have had.  Was it caused by a temporary loss of identity?

I recall, in Grade 7, not being chosen for the team of library helpers.  I fell to the hall floor, leaned on my locker, and cried tears of sadness and disbelief.  That memory is strong for me because I saw myself as a lover of books and an excellent reader.  How could the library teacher not see this?  To function, I had to create an identity for myself that was not 100% dependent on the cooperation of the universe.  This took many years.

When I taught Grade 2, I would pose questions for my classes of seven-year-olds.  Their answers would form entries in their journals.  I asked, "How do you know you're you?"

The  #1 answer:  "I know I'm me because I'm wearing my shoes."

How do you know you're you?

Whose shoes are you wearing?

Can you feel your being dance from ear to ear regardless of changes in your circumstances?