Friday, May 15, 2015

Cognition & Ally Homework

This week has been an exciting one for my family. Some bad, some good, but stressful all the same.

One of the concerns I had with The 4-Hour Workweek, is the recommendation for a low-information diet. I've certainly seen, in the past four months, how internet and social media, while they have their place, can become a time-suck.

My concern, though, is that ignorance often enables the -isms. It is a privilege to not know about what life can be like on the other side of the tracks.

Anthony de Mello tells a story about two young fish, swimming in the ocean. An old fish swims past them, and asks them "How's the water?" The young fish look at each other, and ask "What's water?"

Without awareness, without education, without understanding, we behave in passively racist ways. It takes education, awareness, practice to change from passive racism to active anti-racism. Yesterday, there was an excellent guest-post published: Homework for Those Seeking to be Allies.

I've also seen discussion of a Young Mormon Feminists group working to actively learn and deconstruct white supremacy. A similar group is being established for the Astronomy community. I would love to see similar groups for Engineering communities.

There are *elements* of a low-information diet that I agree with, that are connected to human decision-making. The science of cognition is sometimes discussed in terms of clothing:

And since I am stressing today, my own cognition for writing is reduced. I'm not sure how many blog posts I'll write next week.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


One of my favorite authors is Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit Priest who wrote books about mysticism and awareness.

When I first encountered his writings in books like One Minute Wisdom, he was synthesizing Christianity with the other mystic traditions, and it fascinated me. He adapts the stories about Buddha, Nasrullah, and Baal Shem Tov to fit his theology. In a world where we discuss culture appropriation, I'm beginning to question whether his syncretic approach is okay. Okay or not, it is part of my spiritual journey.

In Awareness, he writes about letting go of expectations of ourselves, expectations of others, and seeing reality. A month or more ago, I tweeted about a comment from this book. He writes about "I'm Okay, You're Okay," and says that if he were to write a book, he'd write "I'm an Ass, You're an Ass," because it disarms us. Chapters include (but are not limited to):

  • Listen and Unlearn
  • Good, Bad, or Lucky
  • Our Illusion About Others
  • Negative Feelings Toward Others
  • Fear--The Root of Violence
  • Change as Greed
  • Cultural Conditioning
  • Listening to Life.

Heart of the Enlightened has an entire chapter of story-meditations about Service. Here's one:
A commuter hopped on to a train at New York and told the conductor he was going to Fordham. "We don't stop at Fordham on Saturdays," said the conductor, "but I'll tell you what I'll do. As we slow down at Fordham station, I shall open the door and you jump off. Make sure you're running along with the train when you hit the ground or you'll fall flat on your face."
At Fordham the door opened and the commuter hit the ground running forward. Another conductor, seeing him, opened the door and pulled him in as the train resumed speed. "You're mighty lucky, buddy," said the conductor. "This train doesn't stop at Fordham on Saturdays!"
de Mello comments on this story:
In your own small way you can be of service to people--by getting out of their way. [p. 135]

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman have written an article, "How not to say the wrong thing," which discusses the Ring Theory of Kvetching: Comfort in, dump out.

I think this also can be applied to social justice efforts. Too often, our toxic culture teaches us to dump in, which is where bullying and harassment usually occur.

A related concept is applied to comedy, that jokes should "punch up" rather than "punch down". But instead of discussing punching, or dumping, I think we need to discuss support.

The idea of focusing ones support on the weakest and most vulnerable is not my own. It is stated by the Activist women of color who are working in that space. Similar thoughts can be traced back to Christian teachings, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me," and also to Jewish traditions that have often favored the underdog.

What I propose, just combines these two ideas, is the Ring Theory of Social Justice. Support goes in. Kvetching goes out.

Now, we sometimes need to be careful about where the center is, which direction is "in" for anti-oppression. It's very similar to Joseph Campbell's concept of a circle or sphere, whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.

We don't want to get into the Oppression Olympics. Different spaces may focus on different aspects of oppressions, like race, gender and gender identity, orientation, class, ability, and in that space it may be derailing to change the conversation to a different type of oppression.

Which circles back around to Anthony de Mello. His chapter on Service frequently reiterates the ways that when we try to help, we may inadvertently make things worse. Excuse me while I go re-read for a while.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Aftermath & Recovery

In case you missed it, I added a note to yesterday's post. If the relevance of my experience is not readily apparent to those who wish to promote gender diversity in STEM, AAUW has a report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which discusses statistics and similar experiences for 21st-Century adolescents.

I've expressed some of my discomfort with conventional White Feminism in previous posts. Some of that discomfort had to do with my originally-conservative religious leanings. Some of it had more to do with the economic and authoritarian / partriarchal background that I come from.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ripples of Doubt

I have been writing about media, leadership, and culture, and the ways in which Gaslighting and similar   are used to maintain power and control. Much of the recent conversation about Abuser Dynamics and their connection to 'isms, is owed to the black women and women of color who began that hashtag.

Yesterday's conversation with Astro/Physicists and Science Communicators brought up 2013's  conversation (Storify by Karen James). Trigger warning for sexual harrassment in the post below.

While I read and re-Tweeted from the hashtag in 2013, I didn't share my own experiences. One of the reasons I didn't share my own experiences, is that my experiences in undergraduate and graduate education and my experiences with work have been TAMER than what I grew up with.

[2:36 pm Update] In case the relevance of my experience is not readily apparent to those who wish to promote gender diversity in STEM, AAUW has a report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which discusses statistics and similar experiences for 21st-Century adolescents. [/Update]

I went into college knowing I wasn't physically attractive. Therein, lies the story.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Media and the Path to Leadership

On Friday, I discussed how words can lead to violence. In fact, this process is implicated in last month's death of Grace Rebecca Mann at the University of Mary Washington. I focus this blog more on the ethical and moral aspects of diversity & inclusion, however there are also legal implications for businesses and schools.

The issue of women in STEM has multiple parts. It involves:

  1. Media depictions of women
  2. Women in all phases of education
    • Teachers and mentors have a key role in supporting women and Under-Represented Minorities through an often-hostile process of education.
  3. Women in Academia, Business, and Industry
    • Mentorship doesn't end with graduation, and in fact sponsorship is necessary to ensure that opportunities for advancement are fairly distributed to talent.
    • The data in the three reports referenced indicate that 50% of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields leave the field within ~10-15 years of graduation. In order to retain and promote existing women, there must be a path for advancement.
  4. Women in Leadership, as business leaders, in politics, government, and academia

One of the things that my two years at an all-girl's high school gave me, is that we watched "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women" in class. We discussed societies expectations, and how imagery and media affects our thoughts and our words.

The work was recently extended in the Miss Representation film. The extended trailer below begins with media imagery that may not be safe for work, and progresses to comments from leaders like Condoleeza Rice.