Let Them Be Bored

When you read (or hear) a really good story, you find yourself stepping out of your own life and into the life of the story.  You see the story through their eyes, minds, and hearts. You experience it in your own inner life.  Being able to do that is the sort of skill one needs to see another point of view, to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, to imagine from a wider perspective than one’s one immediate experience.

People who don’t do this, whether because they won’t or can’t, lack something, a warmth, an ability to emphasize. They tend to be more rigid and inflexible in their thinking.  They are also often rather boring, as their interests are limited,  sometimes severely.  There’s something missing- curiosity, perhaps, the ability or willingness to be interested in something wider than their own immediate lives and amusements.

When you are curious, you want to know, so you explore further.  If you are not curious, you are apathetic and apathy deadens mind and soul.

Children are born naturally curious. They have a wide interest in the world.  We do something to squelch it and they are not better and more interesting people because of it. We allow them to feed that healthy, nourishing sense of curiosity with the artificial substitute of entertainment- largely screen time.  They spend their time scrolling through multiple screens, being spectators, amused, entertained, seldom having to actively think about or wonder about anything themselves. We fear boredom when it is in those moments between wondering, thinking about something, and not having the answer immediately at our fingertips, that discoveries are made, as unanswered curiosity provokes the wonderer to do something about it, to think, ponder, explore, discover.

Creativity is born of boredom, of the space we give ourselves to be bored rather than entertained.

Removing the electronics, or limiting them, is a big step toward restoring that bright, healthy sense of curiosity that makes us doers and makers rather than consumers and takers.  It’s a good start.

City living also contributes toward our weak attention spans.

“A study from the University of London, for example, found that members of the remote cattle-herding Himba tribe in Namibia, who spend their lives in the open bush, had greater attention spans and a greater sense of contentment than urbanized Britons and, when those same tribe members moved into urban centres, their attention spans and levels of contentment dropped to match their British counterparts. Dr. Karina Linnell, who led the study, was “staggered” by how superior the rural Himba were. She told the BBC that these profound differences were “a function of how we live our lives.”

“Photos of nature will increase your sense of affection and playfulness. A quick trip into the woods, known as “forest bathing” in Japan, reduces cortisol levels and boosts the immune system. Whether rich or poor, students perform better with access to green space. And a simple view of greenery can insulate us from stress and increase our resilience to adversity. Time in nature even boosts, in a very concrete way, our ability to smell, see, and hear. The data piles up.” (The Benefits of Solitude by Michael Harris)

Go to the beach, a park, a lake, a garden.  Put some greenery in around your house or apartment. Get a fish tank and put a comfortable chair nearby for observation.  Leave the electronics behind.


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Real STEM Studies

In an article in The American Biology Teacher, Ann Haley McKenzie wrote:
“My son is taking biology this year. He is learning about observation through note taking, lectures, and answering questions at the end of the section review. I am not amused. No anoles are lapping water off the side of the enclosure for him to observe nor can he marvel as they grab at crickets to eat headfirst. No decaying logs are resting in aquaria for him to watch over the course of the school year as different pill bugs roll up and encircle a clump of wood. The classroom walls are barren of aquaria filled with schooling fish. No time is devoted to observing the plants that do not hang from the ceiling. Desert and bog terrariums are missing so observations about varying plant species and specific adaptations cannot be made. What’s my point? How can the essence of biology be taught if observation in not at the heart and foundation of everything we do?”
McKenzie goes on to say that,
“Making a thorough observation should be the first entry in the portfolio for any biology course at the high school or college level. Students should be able to demonstrate that they are capable of producing a thorough observation of some biological phenomena before exiting a biology course.”
Observation is a key to studying biology. (Wonder and Order, by Beth Pinkney)

Edwin Way Teale, one of our greatest naturalists:

 You make progress in exploring this world on two legs: interest and knowledge. If you are interested but don’t know what to look for, you are like a one-legged man and hobble along getting only half the fun you might. Even the commonest cricket or katydid, if you learn enough of its life and habits, becomes intensely interesting.

The Boys’ Book of Insects by Edwin Way Teale


You want more ‘STEM?’ Toss the screens. Take the kids outside.  Look at things. be curious. Be observant. Wonder about what you see. Marvel at it. Delight it.  Muck about in the mud and water and sand and trees.  Climb, jump, throw, dig, roll.  Let them skin their knees and scratch their faces and get splinters that have to be pulled out tweezers and let them lift heavy rocks and pry things out of the mud and get absolutely filthy.


Let them throw things in puddles and notice on their own what floats and what sinks, and what displaces the most water (I.E. makes the most satisfactory splash).   Watch ants on an anthill and squirrels in the trees and notice.  Once you’ve built up a large colletion of memories, of personal observations and experiences and questions, break out some books.  But never lose the willingness to get out and get dirty.

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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.

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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

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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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