Folk Songs

Folk songs can become the sound-track of our lives in a really special way.  Mundane, every day moments because enriched, sprinkled with star dust, tinted by rainbows when a child brings a song into the moment. There’s something really special about those. I have forever burned on my mind a beautiful image of two little girls in pig-tails, holding hands and leaping off our porch steps on their way to the mailbox, singing a snatch of line from a folksong, “I got a letter this morning, ohhhh, yes! I got a letter this morning, oh, oh, yes.”

Somebody else told me about her son rolling down the car window on a trip during the start of a rain storm and singing to himself “It’s windy weather, boys!” It need not be so poignant. It can be silly and playful.  There’s a song called Scotland’s Burning that my children revised to much laughter on one long trip.  The song is here.  The lyrics are:

Scotland’s Burning, Scotland’s burning
Look out! Look out!
Fire, fire, fire fire!
Pour on water
Pour on water

On the trip, my husband passed gas and he thought nobody would notice.  Nobody could avoid noticing.  The children rapidly rolled down their windows and then started singing:

Daddy’s stinking, Daddy’s stinking!

Look out! Look out!

Pee-yoo, pee-yoo, phew, phew!!

Roll down the windows
Roll down the windows!

On other occasions, I have seen the five little ducks song such forlornly by a displaced child (it broke my heart), a mournful rendition of “It’s beans, beans, beans that make you feel so mean” to help a child cope with a disliked supper, songs used to vent or express emotions too powerful for children to explain by themselves.  I find it fascinating that there are many non-literate cultures, cultures with no written alphabet, but I know of no culture without home-grown music. Yet we are losing that gift, that precious heritage.

Folk music gives children (and adults) words and music to express their feelings over common, every day things of life. It’s a way of improving their emotional vocabulary.  Sing.

Posted in Music | 2 Responses

Collectivist vs individualist cultures

I’ve recommended this course a few times, and I have to recommend it again:
Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are
Written by: The Great Courses , David Livermore
Narrated by: Professor David Livermore
Length: 11 hrs and 59 mins
Series: The Great Courses: Better Living
Release Date:08-13-13
Publisher: The Great Courses

I got mine through Audible, and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you have any interest or possibility in working with people from other cultures or in understanding your own. I have read two of the author’s books and they are not nearly as useful.

Livermore, in conjunction with a couple other intercultural and cross cultural scholars (I believe he borrows heavily from Professor Geert Hofstede, among others), believes that we can categorize some key cultural differences in specific ways, which he calls cultural value dimensions. They are:

1. Identity—Individualist versus Collectivist
2. Authority—Low versus High Power Distance
3. Risk—Low versus High Uncertainty Avoidance
4. Achievement—Cooperative versus Competitive
5. Time—Punctuality versus Relationships
6. Communication—Direct versus Indirect
7. Lifestyle—Being versus Doing
8. Rules—Particularist versus Universalist
9. Expressiveness—Neutral versus Affective
10. Social Norms—Tight versus Loose

Regarding the individualist vs collectivist cultures, here are some of my notes, observations, random thoughts:

This is not about communism vs capitalism. Get that out of your head immediately. It’s really more about identity- do you identify more as an individual or part of a group. This difference is why in most Asian cultures (not the Philippines, but most others), the family surname is the first name. Your given name comes last. It’s why in Western cultures, your given name is first. We were visiting with a Filipino friend in his 30s or 40s I think, and we had asked him about his siblings, whom we had never met. His entire conversation switched from first person single to collective. “Our first sister,” he said, “lives in … and she works at….” He continued in the same vein, “Our second sister is over in… and our youngest sister is….” Americans wouldn’t do that. I might or might not refer to the Progeny as my daughters or our daughters, and either way would sound correct, but the Progeny themselves would not refer to ‘our sisters’ to outsiders, only among themselves or in a group where some other siblings were included. In a personal conversation they would say “My oldest sister” and perhaps, “The baby of the family is…”

America, as an individualist culture, values independence. So we put our babies in cribs and have them sleeping in their own rooms from infancy (not this American, but you probably know that. Our babies slept with us. Often, so did our toddlers and preschoolers and if I had to do it all over again I’d only keep them longer). We’ve actually raised this cultural preference to ridiculous levels, insisting it’s a medical and psychological necessity, even though in Asian cultures and others as well, children have slept with their parents or grandparents for millenia with no ill effects. We are actually the minority in this regard, but you would not know that if you read our medical literature and parenting advice literature. Collectivist cultures put a higher value on relationships, togetherness. Livermore tells the story of a conference an American organization offered to African pastors. The hosts really wanted to bless the pastors and they put them up in a wonderful hotel with all their meals covered, and every attendant was given his own room. But by the second or third day, they were all doubled up, or sometimes staying four to a room. It wasn’t a treat for these adults to have a room to themselves. It was a stressful, unpleasant experience. One of the men explained to Dr. Livermore, “I’ve never slept by myself in a room in my entire life. I don’t like it. It’s lonely.” It is hard for people from one group or the other to really understand the feelings of the other- it is so ingrained in us that we are thinking, ‘But surely, if they really had a choice, they’d rather….’ But no. Mostly, given a choice, people prefer their own customs over the long term.

I mentioned how our aggressively individualistic culture has actually turned what is only a cultural assumption into a medical and psychological necessity when it comes to sleeping arrangements in families. It happens in other cultures as well- just as an aside, whereas currently American parenting literature has a good deal to say about the benefits of kids getting dirty and playing outside in the mud, a friend with ties to another culture tells me she cannot find any corresponding advice in the literature of that other culture- it’s all about the importance of the mother keeping the children and their environment pristinely clean, and a mother in that culture who deliberately lets her kids get dirty is viewed as a very bad mother.

An example of this sort of cultural presumption is seen in psychology in the U.S. You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you haven’t, here’s a description:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top level of the pyramid is considered growth needs. The lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can influence behavior. The levels are as follows….

Self-actualization – includes morality, creativity, problem solving, etc.
Esteem – includes confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect, etc.
Belongingness – includes love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc.
Safety – includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, property, etc.
Physiological – includes air, food, water, sex, sleep, other factors towards homeostasis, etc.”

You can find images of the needs pyramid all over the internet. Here’s one.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not universal.
Honestly, this simultaneously blew my mind and didn’t. There was this explosion in my head and then, as the sparks settled it was totally obvious. Of course it’s not universal. IT’s so western that only a westerner could assume it is universal. It’s completely representative of an individualistic culture’s way of thinking. And American psychology is so weird. I should have known. I feel like somewhere, at some level, I did know. Understand, I am not anti-American, and I’m not one who thinks its useful to grovel and apologize for ones country. But what’s functional or even successful in my own country isn’t necessarily going to be the most effective and positive way of doing things in another culture.
In Maslow’s pyramid- the top level is self actualization. But if he’d been Asian, the top would be social harmony within one’s group.

Making personal choices for yourself is highly valued in individualist societies, which also tend to have a higher regard for fast decision making, and young people (and employees) taking off and doing things on their own.  But these things are not necessarily, objectively, the one best way of doing things world wide.

Collectivist cultures differ in some of these ways- the ‘locus of control’ is with the in group, social networks matter most. They would rather work from a place of building consensus and creating lasting relationships, and this works really very well for them.

This feeds the ideas I’ve been grappling with regarding cultural differences. I’ve been thinking about the way people will try to pluck one cultural attribute out of its ecosystem and graft it into their own- “I wish Americans were more like that, I wish the Filipino people were more like this, I wish we did things your way, I wish you did things our way…” But it doesn’t work very well, this trying to willfully and somewhat ignorantly push individualistic methods, goals, and values on collectivist cultures and vice versa. It’s because, at least in part, those customs and traits don’t work in isoloation. They don’t grow in isolation, they don’t sustain themselves in isolation, and they are not easily cut free of the cultural background which created and sustained them and transplanted into a culture with a totally different type of cultural ecosystem. It’s like trying to transplant a plant into a habitat where it has no natural pollinators, or no natural inhibitors. It’s either going to die a quick death or it’s going to be like Kudzu and kill off many other valuable parts of the culture.

Livermore shares information about this study of groups of American kids in the same school (or maybe the same city). They were all American kids, but some were anglo-American and some were Asian-American. I feel like they were probably first or second generation American at most, but I am not sure.

They all were given a colouring project to do, and they were given the exact same assignment. One group were told they could choose which colours to use or which activities to complete (I forget the details, but the point is the choosing and who did it), and one group were told their mothers had been consulted in advance and made the selections for them.

The thoroughly western kids did better and were less stressed when they made the choices, but the Asian American kids were happier and more confident when told their mothers had chosen for them. It wasn’t that one or the other was better, it was that one or the other matched their cultural backgrounds and expectations better.

I have had an interesting discussion here with a couple of my Korean friends here. A parent had asked a teacher for some back up in requiring a teen aged student to do some after-school tutoring in a subject the student wasn’t doing well in. The (American) teacher had refused, saying that would not be best for the student as the student needed to be making their own wise choices, and if made to take tutoring now, when they went to college they wouldn’t have the background and habit of making wise choices on their own. Both the Koreans were absolutely floored by that attitude. As it happened, the parent disagreed and insisted on the tutoring, reasoning that it wasn’t likely this one decision was going to hinder or help the student from becoming wise, and that in any case, it was not likely the student was going to gain wisdom in that semester that hadn’t been gained in the previous 11 years, so the student could either go to college with bad habits and poor knowledge in this weak area, or bad habits and at least some better understanding of the weak area, and the tutoring occurred, although less often than the parent would have liked. I agree with the parent, fwiw. But the point here is how very, very shocking the Koreans found it that an American would typically expect that much wisdom and independence of a high school student, or even value the idea that a student should be making independent decisions about when and how much to study. They couldn’t see why anybody would think it a bad thing for a parent to get involved to the point of requiring after school tutoring.

As westerners or members of individualistic cultures, generally, the idea that somebody else is going to make choices for us makes us nuts, and we assume that means it’s wrong. We make nasty cracks about adults in their 20s still living in their parents’ houses, but in many other cultures it is the norm, the respectable thing to do for children to live with their parents until marriage, and if they cannot live with their parents, then living with siblings, other relatives, or friends is valued, and not just for saving money. Living alone is not the aspiration of most in collectivist cultures, nor is there any reason why it should be.

Collectivist cultures value the idea that there are trustworthy people in schools, in families, in jobs, to make decisions for us or to help us make decisions and provide some impetus to push us in the right direction.

It’s really interesting to examine how this underlying cultural assumption exhibits itself in various ways within a culture, from how parents involve themselves in their kids’ school, to traditional stories, to weddings, to literary heroes and the story arc of dramas, even to menu choices at a restaurant, to types of restaurants.

Buffets are more popular in individualistic cultures. Set menus, where you don’t have a choice but order from a set menu for your group (the appetizer, side dish, and a couple of main dishes, and maybe even the drinks are predetermined), are more common in collectivist cultures. Because of globalization, both are available now in most developed areas, but here in Davao, buffets remain somewhat new and something of a novelty, and more often than not will be based on a foreign food menu.

We do not all do best when we make our own decisions, and it is not automatically best for all individuals to do so. If one is from a collectivist culture, being forced to make your own decisions in some circumstances actually communicates debilitating, difficult messages- you are not well loved, well cared for, supported, valued, your contributions don’t matter than much, you don’t matter much, it does not matter what you do, your superiors or parents and teachers don’t care about your success. It doesn’t automatically help people grow into independence at all. It also does not communicate respect so much as abandonment.

Letting people make their choices is not necessarily the highest good. It’s just a cultural preference. Some cultures find it stressful. It’s not always the worst thing, either, of course.

More here

And here

Posted in culture, Davao Diary | 4 Responses

Time to suck it up, buttercup

Victimhood– regardless of how ‘victimized’ somebody actually is, more often leads to terrorism and genocide.  And we’ve been pandering to, creating, nurturing, and cherishing the politics of victimhood for a very long time.

Top Khmer Rouge leader (ie, murderous tyrant) believed he was fighting for social justice.

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Random Notes On Our Last Month of School

Written back in May:

Down to the wire with the Boy, all we are currently doing is reading some short stories and essays together – about half an hour to 45 minutes in a day, and his father is reading a chapter of Proverbs with him at night (this is in addition to the schooling he has to finish for the private international Christian school where he is a part-time student.  I have a file for the things I want to read with him in my kindle.  That file is called Last Ditch.

Short stories, two each by the same author.  The criteria is I have to have access to them- either they are already on my Kindle or in a book I have here, or they are free online.  When I began I had only two stories and authors in mind to begin – Chesterton and Tolstoy’s What Men Live By because Marvin Olasky of World Magazine says it’s Tolstoy’s best.  Another criteria is that it does have to be a fairly *short* short story.  I won’t use one that will take more than 45 minutes for me to read alous, and I prefer 30 or fewer.  Obviously, then, our selections are really somewhat random, although, as with all good stories, there is a curious cross pollination, a glimmering web of connections and relationships. Sandwiched between the two short stories I have an article or two on literature or life (Good Life and Good Literature is the theme of this short, off the cuff course).   Here are our readings:

Shakespeare and Literature Tickle the Brain (to be honest, I think we read a different article but it was about this same study)

What Men Live By, by Tolstoy (real priorities)

The Oracle of the Dog, by G.K. Chesterton (Men will believe in anything when they cease to believe in God)

Every Trip is a Quest (except for when it’s not), from the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

How and Why to Become a Lifelong Learner | The Art of Manliness website

Ben Franklin’s Virtue of Frugality (Art of Manliness website)

The Arrow of Heaven, by G. K. Chesterton (the same judgement for rich or poor)

Three Questions, by Tolstoy- (how to use one’s time- “Remember then: there is only one time that is important–
Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!””)

Leaf by Niggle, by JRR Tolkien (not quite finished, but so much good stuff, doing what you are called to, using your time well, preparing for the future (i.e. Heaven).  Also, I have to share this:

My son.  He’s going over the bit we read yesterday for me to help me find my place, but he left out something I thought was important.
Me: The journey. He’s going on a journey he’s known he had to take for a while, now, right?
Oh, That Boy: It’s Tolkien. There is *always* a journey in a Tolkien story. ———
He’s not wrong.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Reading Tips  (The Art of Manliness website)

There were others, these were the notes I could find at the time.  I enjoyed reading short stories with him in the morning before school.  I don’t know if he enjoyed it, but I certainly did.
I miss him.


Posted in Books, Uncategorized | 3 Responses

Read in August

I read fewer books in August than I have previous months of this year for a couple reasons.
I tried to read more nonfiction, and nonfiction slows me down.
I started volunteering at the high school every day. I work in the library and supervise the study halls, which are mostly in the library. To get there in good time, I need to be walking out the door with the Cherub at 11 a.m. with our lunches packed and my backpack organized with the lunches, a water bottle, a pull-up and change of clothes for the Cherub just in case, diaper wipes an umbrella, my notebook, change for transportation in case I get it, crochet, and a couple handkerchiefs and/or hand towels, plus, sometimes, a change of shirt for me. More often, I wear a cotton t-shirt under whatever I am wearing and take it off when I get to school.

Then we walk. If we are lucky, I can flag a trike after walking for about ten minutes, and I am only sweating enough to use one handkerchief to wipe off my face and neck and one hand towel to pat my hair dry, and we’ll pay 15 to 20 pesos for the ride (.30 to .40 cents). If we are not lucky, we walk all the way. I open up the umbrella for portable shade which drops the temperature from being fried like an egg on an overhot skillet with a blowtorch to finish off the top down to being steadily and aggressively poached. The humidity here is no joke. It takes 20-25 minutes, including a harrowing couple of minutes on a curve with no side-walk so we are in the road and it is a very, very busy road and yesterday a motorcycle came too close for comfort twice. We’ll avoid the water buffalo poop on the sidewalk and the Cherub won’t stomp in a puddle or two or three and splash me with muddy water, if we’re lucky. When I arrive at the school I will have a face like a tomato (No exaggeration, I took a selfie once and posted it and the next week at church a ten year old asked me what was wrong with my face in that picture, why was it redder than a tomato? I-love-children-they-are-so-honest). The sweat is unspeakable. Tropical climates are killer. My hair will be soaked all the way through. The t-shirt I am wearing under my light cotton top is drenched. I look like I’ve been hosed off with something greasy. The Cherub, who has poor circulation and never sweats and is normally cold will be warm to the touch. I take her to the teacher’s lounge and we go in the bathroom, where the air con doesn’t reach, and I take off that wet t-shirt, splash my face, wipe myself down with a diaper-wipe and then the face towel and get dressed again, then I drink 16 ounces of water in a gulp and refill my thermos, and then we go to the library, which is deliciously air conditioned because of the books, and I stay there for the next 4 hours enduring the steady resentment of the majority of the students, with a half hour to 40 minute break when my husband comes and keeps an eye on things while I take the Cherub back to the teacher’s lounge and feed her, and myself if there is time, and take us both to the bathroom and rehydrate.

I could catch a cab after about two blocks, when I am only moderately sweaty, and I can catch a cab pretty much every time, but that costs closer to .80 cents, and occasionally a dollar, for a very, very short ride and it’s hard for me to justify that.

About the resentment: The school had a change in directors this year and some new policies have been implemented for study hall, and none of them are popular, and since I am the face of the enforcement, I am in the direct line of the resentment. I was told I’d be able to read while I worked there, and I tried that the first week, but I really can only do some light skimming because the resentment is a constant distraction as it takes the form of various requests to flout the rules, attempt to surreptitiously break the rules, and so on. It’s honestly not very fun, and I am not getting paid and so I don’t know how long I’ll be willing to keep this up. The funny thing is, I like the kids. I like the kids a lot. They are amusing, interesting, adorable, intriguing. I understand their resentment, but it’s misplaced and burdensome and I do not love all the new rules any better than they do, in fact, in a couple instances I find the rules misguided. So there we are. Less reading.

But on the plus side, a wider selection of books, that, um, I don’t have time to read.

What I read:

Culture Shock! Korea– interesting but since it was published in the 90s (this edition I linked to is newer)), a lot of things have changed.

D.E. Stevenson’s Listening Valley– I really love Stevenson. She writes sweet romances, but she wrotes mostly of home and heart and makes me think. This one has been published in Kindle, which is nice. For a long time it was hard to find any of her books. She’s in a class with Goudge, Miss Read, and Janice Holt Giles. Also, learned a new word:
‘I was a thrawn little devil. I don’t know why.’
“He would not know of the queer thrawn streak which runs right through the British character–the dogged streak, which does not permit the Briton to admit the possibility of defeat.”

John Scalsi’s Collapsing Empire– Scalsi badly wants an editor who will actually edit him. He also needs to work on his characters. They are not real people. They act in ways that real people do not act. He is pandering so hard to the gender is a social construct crowd that to anybody else it’s like his characters are just silly cardboard stereotypes of things the gender is a social construct group wishes were true, but are not. It’s a shame, because he’s not without talent. From time to time I’d find myself reaching a place where I could enjoy the story, he seemed to be in his groove, and then suddenly, he’d push the ejection button and break the story with something ridiculous, like a three to five page long internal soliloquy a main character has with herself while she is in the middle of a private, one on one, politically tense meeting with the most powerful contender for her position, somebody who has attempted to assassinate her and one fraught with potention mis-steps, and this super powerful killer supposedly just sits there twiddling her thumbs while her would-be victim is in a brown study for half an hour. Nothing in the internal monolog of the main character was important to the story, either, it was just a heavy handed political message to the readers and vanity preening. He also ends the book abruptly, churlishly expecting his readers to buy the next 10-12 in the series before they get a completed story. Sequels are one thing, but sequels which don’t solve any part of a plot at all are basically theft and disdain for the reader in my opinion.

Two more Flavia de Luce mysteries- these remain delightful and amusing.

Developing a Worldview Approach to Biblical Integration by Martha McCullough, Amazon doesn’t have this, they have a similar, longer book she wrote. I like what I’ve read of her work. She kind of reminds me of Ruth Beechick, although she is writing for private Christian schools more than homeschools.

A Patricia Wentworth mystery, Lonesome Road

Stranger in a STrange Land by Heinlein. I’ll review this elsewhere but I was disappointed.

The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett- I was disappointed. I found it hard to get into, that puns were a substitute for plot, and there really wasn’t any ‘there’ there, and I wondered if it was me or the book. I think it’s a bit of both. I was relived to discover this was only the second book in the series. That explained a lot.

The Last Dragonslayer by Fforde, this is the first of Jasper Fforde’s first juvenile series. I like it, it was fun, quirky, and amusing.

100 Days of Real Food– not really worth the time. Maybe if you’re totally new to the idea this would be helpful. I found it lightweight and learned nothing new. And this was not her fault, but I find that American recipes are currently essentially useless to me. I don’t have access to many of the same foods, or to the majority of cooking methods. If it’s not made on the stove top or in a rice cooker or possibly wrapped in foil and put in a very, very, very tiny toaster oven, I can’t do it. Nor am I interested in turning on any heat source in my kitchen for more than about fifteen minutes, so ‘simmer an hour’ is right out.

Started by did not finish yet:
Eternity in their Hearts, a reread
How to Read Literature Like a Professor- there’s one chapter I really like. The rest, so far, isn’t that useful.
Lilith by George MacDonald
A Meaningful World, by Wiker
Victory of REason
Proust and the Squid

Posted in Books, Davao Diary | Leave a comment

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