Friday, February 27, 2009

Fear of Aggression

My kickboxing instructor asked me to punch her. She wouldn’t punch back. She's training for a big fight and needs to get used to being hit.

I don’t know if I can.

Why am I kickboxing anyway? For a few years, my husband has been suggesting kickboxing whenever I lament my large “slavic thighs”. Joking about my thigh genes being passed down for thousands of years to the women of my family, I have the legs of my mom and grandmother. They are the last hold out for my fat deposits, so I need to work them.

My instructor has started to talk to me about competition. An exhibition could eventually lead to sparing against other women. I hold back telling myself that I’m in it for the exercise.

During my third class I took her up on the offer to release my frustrations on the bag. Until that moment, I was just going through the physical motions. “What’s bothering you?” she yelled. With the thought of an annoying situation in my life, I really wailed on that leather bag. The sensation was scary. I’m afraid I’ll lose myself down the long dark tunnel of this aggressive world.

My instructor has a fourth degree black belt. She tells the story of the guy who came up to her with a knife one night. He said “Give me your bag.” She tried to warn him by saying “Don’t mess with me.” He decided to repeat “Give me your bag.” So she tossed it high in the air. When he went to grab it, she punched him hard, caught the bag, and took off. The thought of that kind of power hasn’t left my mind since I heard the story.

Imagine having such control and confidence.

So what’s it going to be? Can I really fight someone? Will I slip into this world and not recognize myself?

I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I must be alive.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

True or False?

One day in high school honors geometry our teacher, Dr. Sahagian, wrote a premise on the board and asked the class to vote if it was true or false. I raised my hand for “true” and then the entire class voted “false”. The teacher pressed me several times to change my vote. He called on the brightest students in the class to justify their opinions. Although placed in the most advanced classes, I knew math wasn’t my strength. My answer made sense and felt right. I held firm.

I was right.

I embraced the truth in opposition to the entire class. When my teacher and classmates expressed admiration, I didn’t understand the fuss. Everyone said they would have changed their answer when faced with such opposition. I couldn’t imagine agreeing to a falsehood in order to be part of a group.

We don’t recognize defining moments in our life while they are occurring.

As a philosophy major in college, I reveled in my Introduction to Logic textbook by Irving M. Copi. Today I continue to hold the book in my hands reading my meticulous answers with deep-rooted satisfaction. I stated the converses of propositions, constructed definitions by genus and difference, and classified arguments as deductive or inductive. My natural inclination for geometry stemmed from an ability to think logically and dissect arguments.

These days I blog. I’m obviously blogging now. I take pride in accuracy when writing. When reading other blogs and comments, I notice that people are often confused about truth. This week a friend pointed me to an article with a valid argument resulting in a false conclusion. A beginning student of logic could have diagrammed the statements and known, but the article was heralded around the internet with acclaim. The blog sounded cutting-edge and often that’s all that counts.

Beyond the simplicity of dissecting arguments to prove their falsehood, we can “disagree in belief” or “disagree in attitude”. People may have a disagreement in belief as to whether or not something has happened. But even if they agree something has actually happened, they can disagree about their attitude toward it. A writer can choose a word with exactly the same descriptive meaning but with an opposite emotive meaning. One may describe it in language that expresses approval while the other disapproval. A disagreement in attitude is not easy to settle. People use persuasion and rhetoric to attempt to change people’s attitudes.

Recently a committee accused me of writing “several errors” in a post on another blog. Since I reported using the exact words of the presenter, the disagreement is not in belief. With a predetermined opposition to the presenter, they may have thought of arguments against him or felt that he was not properly answering their questions. This is their attitude toward the speaker rather than the facts.

Since I worked for the same organization as the presenter 15 years ago, they believe I have a predetermined attitude. I did however represent the facts without attitude or emotive language.

Hopefully people will see their attempt to discredit me for what it is. In the meantime, let’s all stick to the facts.

We all know I’ll stand up for the truth and won’t back down.

Overcoming Shyness

When I was younger, especially as a teenager in high school and college, I would never participate in group discussions. I’d spend my time squirming in my sit wishing I had the courage to raise my hand. When in social situations, I would nod and smile but never speak first. One fellow student in high school gave me the rhyming nickname “Snotty Cotte” because I never spoke to people. After he spent some time getting to know me, he admitted he was wrong. I was terribly shy, not standoffish.

Perhaps you know the terror and awkwardness of meeting someone and having nothing to say. An awful silence fills the space. All your inadequacies flitter through your mind paralyzing any confidence to start a conversation. Knowing that my silence gave people a terrible impression only left me feeling more inadequate.

Lately, I think most of the people in my life would be surprised to learn that I was shy. Several people have described me as outgoing, and I admit that I schmooze my way around town. What happened?

As I grew to hate meetings, conferences, and clubs, I started to notice when these social situations weren’t painful. One time in particular at a youth leadership training, I observed how everyone was nervous. One fellow smiled and asked me a question. When I answered, a conversation followed and eventually others joined in the discussion. Relief spread across our faces because we were no longer in a scary situation filled with nervous glances. We were all put at ease and made great progress together that day.

I had paid careful attention. I knew that one simple question had completely changed the situation. Everyone had been just as nervous and uncomfortable then felt relief to get past these jitters. I marveled at the thought, “I should do that.” What if I was the person who started the conversation and improved the situation? But really, I didn’t think I had the confidence or energy to make it happen.

For a couple of years, I silently observed interactions. More and more I noticed how a simple gesture or question made introductory situations better. Eventually I had enough confidence to find something to say to the people next to me in groups at school, home, seminars, trainings or church.

Now I blurt out questions or comments. Sometimes I really have to think about an introductory topic, but I realized we are all the same. No matter the wealth or religion or occupation, underneath, most people want to connect, even if just to pass the time while waiting.

Many people don’t enjoy small talk or the dreaded cocktail conversations, but with some effort, the conversations can become more meaningful. The art of conversation can carry people beyond the trite.

Underneath I’m still shy and nervous but to all the world, I’m talking.

My Blog's Wordle.net

Click on the image to go to the Wordle Gallery:

Wordle: Trying Not To BNeg

I like that people, always, and care are the largest and therefore most frequent words.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Do I Care?

Last week I wondered. Why do I care about the historic preservation of a building? Why do I care if the affordable housing community is built? Why do I care that there are homeless people living on our streets? None of these outcomes will change my life directly.

Most of the time, it’s not easy to care. When you really care, you take action. For these types of issues, you are often in the minority. Others may care but not enough to take action. If you act, you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.

Even if you do find like-minded supporters for certain issues, it’s still not easy. If you stick your neck out, the repercussions from a loud and angry crowd of NIMBYs can be devastating. When they resort to personal attacks or try to discredit you, caring can be painful. People tell me you have to be thick-skinned.

Nothing new here to those with any experience with campaigns or NIMBYs. But when it happens to you, it feels like the first time. It is new. When taken on a personal level, aggressive emails and public complaints feel like you are being bullied. Standing up to a bully takes strength. People tend to shy away from confrontation so the bullies, and NIMBYs, win.

Last Sunday I visited a church. The minister preached about what Jesus could have done with his life. He could have continued to heal all day or preach nonstop, but his ultimate actions resulted in a movement, Christianity. She talked about how two thousand years later we have many people preaching to others, healing in hospitals, and working for nonprofit institutions.

I’d never thought about my nonprofit career as a fulfillment of Jesus’ mission. Throughout my teen years whenever I prayed in church for guidance in my life, the message was always so clear and loud. You must help other people. I could never escape it.

When I decided to “stay home with the kids”, I swore I would not go back to nonprofit work. I have.

Along the way I spent all my free time volunteering to make my little corner of the world better – the schools, the scouts, the church, and the community. I can’t help myself.

Last week, I reported on a meeting where one side of an issue presented their response to the other side. Unbeknownst to me, many didn’t want that information out in the community. The person who made the presentation said my writing was accurate, but his opponents are trying to discredit my integrity and ability. That’s tough to bear since it’s not been done in public, nor in a way I can respond.

So, the minister’s words were comforting to me.

Rest assured that this experience does not make me think that I’m on some type of Christian mission when I volunteer or work. I wouldn’t be so bold or ignorant. I acknowledge two sides to every issue and portray both evenly. My training as a Philosophy major forced me to accurately portray arguments then analyze their strengths. Sometimes this meant admitting that the argument against my belief was stronger.

A force … a strength … pushes me each day and keeps me going, even when it is not in my best self-interest. This much is sure. Where it comes from may not be certain.

Love and caring does extend beyond personal interests. Why do you care?