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Tag Archives: Art

On Being a Softie

Suspension of Disbelief

To Open Up And Believe

The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

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This is NOT Your Grandparent’s Brain

The Divided Brain

Beancounters on the left and ne'er-do-wells on the right. Is this accurate?

This morning I came across this picture – actually a drawing – in Facebook that purported to characterize the two hemispheres of the human brain. As long as I can remember we’ve been told the left hemisphere is the seat of rationality and the right the seat of emotion and artistic endeavor.

I shared the picture on my Timeline, along with my observation that the left depicted “bean counters” and the right “ne’er-do-wells”. It was a light-hearted attempt at defining the so-called characteristics of each hemisphere.

However, I soon received somewhat of an admonition that all this was a fallacy, accompanied by a link to a wonderful animation (set to a lecture by the psychologist Iain McGilchrist) from the folks at RSAnimate, and I wanted to share it.

If I understand McGilchrist’s description of the brain’s activities, I believe the left side can be seen as the analytical part and the right can be seen as the synthetic (in the sense of synthesis; not man-made or chemical) part of how we see the world.

As one who considers himself a Systems Thinker and, especially, on a blog entitled Systems Savvy, this makes a great deal of sense to me, though I must admit I was in thrall to the belief that our left and right hemispheres were more like the graphic and less like the video. I, therefore, share them both and am curious to see if anyone will take the time to watch the video and tell me what they think. Have at it!


TED, Alain de Botton, and Atheism 2.0

Atheists Proselytizing

Atheists Proselytizing

I recently was pointed to a wonderful TED Talk, which I’m sharing here, that brilliantly addresses an issue I have struggled with for years. This issue can best be understood in several concepts that Alain discusses in this talk, which I’ll leave you to in a moment. I’ll come back to this, and other, issues regarding faith, religion, morality, ethics, community, etc. in later posts no doubt.

I have what I think is a very simple, very open attitude toward religion or, more accurately (because religion is an entirely different animal from . . .), faith and how we should exercise it ourselves and respect it in others. What you believe in terms of a higher power is really none of my business and should in no way affect my relationship with you. It seems to me that how we live our lives, not what we say we believe or have faith in, is the most important discriminator in how well we can work together in pursuit of common goals. The only thing that can botch any chance of our having a relationship is if you insist that your belief is superior and, therefore, I must accept it to be truly worthy. Pull that on me and I become stone deaf.

A respected Law Professor of mine once said if he had to choose between someone without what he would consider the “right” politics, but who was nevertheless a good person, and one who had the “right” politics, but was lacking in the humanity department, he would always choose the former. I believe we can replace the word “politics” with “religion” and it is equally true. I am far more interested in how you treat other people and your relationships, whether business or personal, than I am in what you believe in.

Getting back to the video, Alain addresses his concept of atheists better understanding the good things religion has inspired people to create and bringing into our lives. He points out how community, art, and music – among other things – are lacking amongst atheists – as a group; and I think he’s right. As a group, I believe ethics and rational morality play a big role in how we see the world. I often say that if the only thing making you a good person is your fear of being punished in an afterlife, you really need to think about your priorities. For me, being a good person and living an ethical, honest life is reward in and of itself. However, we have few ways (I have none) of enjoying community in how we view our place in the cosmos . . . because there aren’t any.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. Check it out. It’s excellent on the subject. I plan on watching it again soon.


But, I Thought you Meant . . .

Why do some people seem to think that language can be treated like art . . . always? Language, of course, frequently finds its expression in art; witness poetry, musical lyrics, etc., but it is not – by itself – a pure art form. Language exists, surely in the context of business and economics, philosophy and religion, as an endeavor of some precision in communication and, dare I use the word, collaboration. People can’t share what they know, or work together on a project for which the outcome they seek is collectively desirous, without having the ability to communicate absent misunderstanding or, at the very least, with a minimum of misunderstanding.

Mathematics is a form of language. Imagine if someone argued that an expression might be used sort of willy-nilly, depending on how one was feeling at the moment. Imagine someone saying, when confronted with the misuse of a mathematical expression, “well, you know what I meant.” Yet, people do this with language all the time. As for my real peeve here, it seems I am often accused of being too “lawyer-like” when I insist on the accurate use of words. I just don’t understand this. Why do people think dictionaries or thesauri exist? For entertainment purposes?

I am not here talking about the incorrect use of “to”, “too”, and “two” or “your” and “you’re”, maddening as those may be. I am more interested in the misuse of synonyms, especially when there are crucial differences – subtle as they may be – between one word and another. There’s a reason those words exists and it is directly related to those differences. For instance, let’s look at the differences between the words “lucky”, “privileged”, and “promising” – all three synonymous according to Merriam-Webster online. “Lucky” means “having good luck”. It could easily refer to one instance, however small the result, or an entire lifetime. “Privileged” means having or enjoying a special capability or position based either on happenstance (which would be lucky) or through hard work and successful endeavors. “Promising” means one might become privileged at some point, or successful, but there is no guarantee and it looks to the future, not some result of the past. Both “privileged” and “promising” may contain elements of luck, but they aren’t proper substitutes for the word “lucky”. They are somewhat imprecise synonyms for it.

Now, lest I be accused of a level of curmudgeonliness far exceeding that I am actually guilty of, I am merely attempting to point out how cavalier some can be with language and, when they’re called on it, how adamant I have found some to be in defending what is, in my opinion, an indefensible position. Call me a member of the language police if you will, but I like as much precision in my discussions as possible.

PS – This post was “incited” by a conversation with my wife; a conversation that recurs every now and again 🙂 Do you think I’m too sensitive? Do you think I used the word “incited” improperly; that I should have used “instigated” or “stimulated” or maybe even “inspired”? Just wondering.


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