The Flip Side of Every Coin

I recently experienced a few significant incidences in my life.  Some of them were pretty bad, while others were very good.  This got me thinking about perception and how it can drastically alter our state of mind.

In just a few short weeks, my computer broke down, I got two new jobs, I was called in for jury duty, and a number of other incidents occurred.  Looking back on these events, I thought to myself that I had been very lucky and that things have generally turned out well.

However, this made me wonder: is it just my positive thinking that’s causing me to feel this way?  For this reason, I decided to perform a little test.  I wanted to see if I could paint the last few weeks as an awful, terrible turn of events in my past.  It was surprisingly easy to do.

The Worst Week Ever

First off, I was playing in the park with friends when it started to downpour.  Naturally, I didn’t bring my waterproof shoes and my sneakers ended up getting soaked (not to mention the rest of my body and my backpack).  When I got home, I remembered that I had brought my laptop out with me to the park in my bag.  My bag was completely soaked through, but I hoped that by some miracle my computer would still work.  However, when I checked the laptop, it was completely dead.

This meant that I had to go all the way back downtown to the computer store to see if they could fix it.  The guy told me my only real hope was to send it over to the manufacturer for repairs, which would cost me about $700.  I already have enough money issues to have to worry about, so I tried to find another repair center that could perform the same job for cheaper.  Luckily, I was able to find one, but it was still going to cost me about $500.

This particular company allows you to also save on shipping costs by sending you the packing materials you will need free of charge.  Unfortunately, doing so means waiting a little longer for the computer to be repaired.  I wanted my computer to be fixed as soon as possible, so I was tempted to send it along right away, but I decided to try to save some money and go with the free shipping option.

Of course, after I finalize the purchase and the materials are on their way is when my computer decides to start working on me.  Turns out, it was only the battery that was damaged and not the whole laptop.  I contacted the repair company and told them, and they said I wouldn’t have to pay for the original $500 fee, but I would still have to pay for the materials they shipped to me.  So I ended up having to pay for a bunch of shipping materials I didn’t even need.

On top of that, I was called into jury duty right after my employer allows me to start my new job early.  And because I was selected to sit on a jury for a 3 day trial, I am going to miss valuable time I could have spent at the job.  What could be worse?!

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Have You Heard The Gossip?

Well?  Have you heard of the Gossip?

No, I’m not talking about the rumor mill.  I’m talking about Gossip, the indie rock/punk band based in Portland, OR.  Led by Beth Ditto, the band has been around since the turn of the century and recently signed with a major label (Sony Music Entertainment).

The band has a lot of rock, punk, and pop influences, but they have their own unique style.  Here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Pop Goes the World.”

Pop Goes The World – Gossip

But I don’t write this post just to advertise Gossip.  After seeing this video, I was struck by a troubling thought (perhaps you felt the same thing): I believe it was the first time I’ve ever seen a heavyset female lead singer in any type of mainstream music video such as this one.

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What is Weird?

Consider the title of the post for a moment.

Yes, I am a philosopher, so it is kind of my job to ask questions like “What is Beauty?” and “What is Intelligence.”  Philosophers love these types of questions because everyone “knows” the answer, but no one can give a coherent definition without a ton of classifiers and exceptions.

What is Weird?

Something that is not normal? That just begs the question “What is Normal?”

Something that is unusual? A lot of Americans would consider a person who eats insects “weird,” but there are entire communities who do it.  In this sense, it is perfectly usual.

Perhaps we need to be more specific.  Maybe Weird is something that is considered “marginal” to the majority of a community at a particular time.  This seems to hit it a little closer, but this also means anything can be seen as weird depending on who’s looking at it.

And maybe that is what Weird is.  Maybe it’s just a relative thing.

But then why is so much emphasis placed on normality?  Why do most people so desperately avoid being seen as weird or odd?

I like to talk to myself to help organize my thoughts, but I would never do it in public.  That would be weird.

Most people like hugs, and a lot of people would love to offer a hug to a person in need.  Why not?  But few people would ask a stranger for a hug, or offer a hug to a stranger.  That would be weird.

I know a ton of friends who hesitate to play music they enjoy at a party, because they think others will criticize their preferences.  People would think they are weird.

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Guest Post: What a Dining Hall Tray Can Reveal About Distortions in Your Self-Image If You’re Trying to Lose Weight

The following is a guest post by Adam Appleson, author of Zen Tactics.

Have you ever been to a funhouse and seen yourself in all those funny mirrors?  One minute you’re incredibly tall and the next you’re incredibly short.  Those mirrors twist up your body image in all different kinds of ways.  Of course, you know these mirrors are meant to do that so it’s easy to dismiss the image of yourself in those funhouse mirrors as completely distorted.  But is the image you have of yourself when you look in the mirror distorted?  And what does this have to do with sabotaging your weight loss efforts?

Let’s look at a bunch of college-aged women in the dining halls of Amherst College.
A psychologist studied what happened when these women would file into the dining hall for a meal and noticed their eyes would be checking out what other women had on their dining trays to help them stay from foods they wanted to eat but feel they should not.  The psychologist called this phenomenon “tray gazing.”

But what drove these women to behave in such a manner and why can tray gazing be dangerous?  As it turns out, each woman thought the others were thinner, exercised more, and were more obsessed with their body image than they were themselves.  In fact, there were no real differences among the women.  What made this distortion in self-image dangerous is that about one-third of the women who held this belief engaged in induced vomiting or purges.  This habit is the pre-cursor to life-threatening eating disorders such as bulimia.  Even more interesting, the women’s diets became more extreme the more erroneous their assumptions about the other women’s attitudes were.

But how can a bunch of incredibly smart and talented young women make such bad judgment calls?
As it turns out, it has to do with something we all do on a daily basis – social comparison.  The women tended to focus on the most attractive women (think supermodel) rather than the normal or true average.  The result was they ended up viewing the extreme end of the bell curve as the norm.

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5 Monkeys Experiment

You may have heard of the “5 monkeys experiment.”  It is called by several different names: the 5 monkey experiment, the monkeys in a cage experiment, the monkeys and social control experiment, etc.  It is a cleverly designed experiment, though ethically questionable, which tests the influence of groupthink and tradition.  The following video is an animated retelling of the experiment and its results.

WARNING: The following video may contain shocking or disturbing images (mainly just at the end). Viewer discretion is advised.

5 Monkeys Experiment

The experiment is extremely telling and says a lot about how we come to believe what we are told, even without a full explanation for why.

The Problem with the Experiment

If you are familiar with the 5 monkeys experiment, you may wonder just where it comes from.  Who conducted this research, where, and when?

In truth, many people have searched unsuccessfully for the true source of the research (including me!).  The 5 monkeys experiment is widely cited; however, no source is ever given.  The experiment is sometimes misattributed to Harry Harlow, who did indeed perform controversial studies on monkeys; however, no accurate source has been listed.

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Guest Post: Depression’s Indecisions

The following is a guest post by Daniel Bousho, author of Depression Help.

Depression has an uncanny way of disguising itself, very often making its appearance in the form of often-considered simple character flaws.  Clinically, depression is diagnosed against a few indices – it’s a fairly clear cut thing.  But many people are routinely depressed below the level of a clinical diagnosis.  Often these people don’t realize that sitting at the center of their emotional issue is depression.  A good example of mistaking depression for a character flaw is extreme indecisiveness.

What makes the situation of indecisiveness critical, is that the family support group surrounding the depressed person may reject the notion of depression, and simply expect that the depressed person incapable of rendering a decision.  It’s simply part of their personality, so there is no reason for concern.  In fact, sometimes the indecisiveness is viewed as a “quaint” character flaw.  However, indecisiveness can indicate an internal struggle within the person revolving around deeper issues of self- criticism and self-worth.

Arron Beck, in his seminal work “Depression, Causes and Treatment” found indecisiveness in fully half of mildly depressed patients, and in severely depressed patients, nearly eighty percent reported extreme indecisiveness.  While it is certainly possible to be indecisive about a number of things in life, it’s worth noting the relationship between indecision and depression to try and discover a deeper link between the two.

If a person simply can’t decide which color to paint a room because they may be developing a clash with furniture choices, or if they think a pantsuit with stripes may flatter them better than a solid one but aren’t sure, they are probably not in depressions grip.  If, however, they find themselves literally paralyzed by the same notions, unable to render a decision to the point of physical discomfort then they may be in a situation requiring further intervention.

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Germs are Your Friend

At my school, there have been a number of “outbreaks” that have thrown everyone into a frenzy.  Most notably, there was the “swine flu” and the “norovirus.”

The swine flu came first and gave the whole school a big scare.  Posters were put up around the campus about hand-washing and proper ways to stay healthy, security guards and receptionists were no longer allowed to touch students’ ID cards, hand sanitizers were strategically placed in just about every corner of the school, and anyone diagnosed with any sort of flu-like symptoms were immediately quarantined and sent home.

Similarly, when the norovirus started to circulate, it caused another great scare.  This caused the administration to force buffet dining areas to be completely hands-free.  This meant that students were no longer allowed to cut or toast their own bread, make their own salads, or do anything else that involved picking out food with or without utensils.  Only servers with gloves were allowed to touch anything.

Naturally, I’m not saying the administration was wrong to be vigilant about contagious illnesses; however, some of the policy changes that came about due to these two outbreaks have caused difficulty in regards to my job as a desk receptionist as well as inconvenience in my ability to enjoy my meals.  The whole situation has caused me to think more about how we handle and react to illness.

Not to insist that my choices have necessarily been the cause, but it is true that I have not fallen ill with anything more than a minor cold in the past three years following my decision to turn down every and any form of medicine or drug.  As a disclaimer, it is true that, though I tended to come down with something more serious at least once per year, I have always been a pretty healthy person.

My ultimate goal is not to promote or criticize any specific lifestyle, but to merely offer a new way to think about illness.

One of the things I’ve considered, following the health craze, is how we label germs and bacteria.  These things are spoken about as though they should be avoided at all costs.  Of course, here at Search For Balance, nothing in this world can be considered to be inherently bad.  In other words, there is a problem with the way we talk about germs.

You’ve probably heard someone tell another about spiders.  It may have been you being told that, though many people dislike them, spiders are important for keeping other insects from killing flowers and gardens.  They may seem gross or unpleasant at first, but that’s not the whole story.

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Just Walk on By

I just finished reading the short story “Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples.  It is a memoir about Staples’ early college years, learning about how his race and physicality instill fear in others.

I especially enjoyed Staples’ story because I identify with it a lot.  I try not to let my perceived race impact the way I interact with society; however, because of my skin color, people sometimes perceive me as a threat.  Like Staples, I did not realize this until I moved away from home, into a big city.  For me, the city was Boston.

In my post, Men Can Be Feminists, I briefly mention that, because I am a man, I can walk down a street alone without worrying about being harassed by strangers.  However, my brown skin allows me an added sense of security.  It is also true that I sometimes intimidate passersby with my appearance.

I recall one instance in which an older white man veered off the sidewalk when he saw me approach from the other direction.  He chose to walk on the side of the street rather than share the sidewalk with me.  Granted, it was late at night and there was no one else around.  In his mind, he probably thought he was just playing it safe.

For me, I am not necessarily upset that strangers will misjudge me based on my appearance.  This happens all the time, to everyone, and is largely unavoidable.  However, I am saddened by the fact that we live in such a world that one must be so vigilant in order to protect him/herself from violence.

Just like a woman who wants to be free to wear a skirt in public without being harassed for it, I wish I could walk down the street without feeling the need to give others space or whistle classical music in order to demonstrate my innocence.   Nevertheless, this is the world in which we live.  And as I mention in my post on privileges, everyone can be a victim of prejudice in some way.

Brent Staples is an author and editorial writer for the New York Times.  His books include An American Love Story and Parallel Time: Growing up In Black and White.  Staples is a graduate of Widener University and the University of Chicago.
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Video: Schools Kill Creativity

I just watched an amazing video on TED.com that I had to share with you all.  In this TED talk, Ken Robinson discusses how the current education system around the world seems to squelch creativity more than encourage it.  Ken is both incredibly informative and incredibly funny, so you shouldn’t have any trouble watching the whole thing trough.

Ken Robinson – Schools Kill Creativity

I don’t know if there is really much more to say.  Ken pretty much says it all here.

The video touches on many of the issues I raise in my articles.  Most notably A Call for Education Reform and Creativity – Why to do What You Like.  The issue of education is one that is very important to me, but I also feel it is one that is greatly overlooked.

In light of this, I thought I’d share a personal story.  I have a great interest in the circus arts, in fact I have a whole other blog about it; however, I never realized this love I had for physical performance until a few years ago.  This is because, when I was younger, my parents and teachers told to stop any time I tried to climb a tree or perform any other type of stunt because they thought I would hurt myself.

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Subliminal Learning

I love that it is finally spring!  At last I can spend some quality time outside.  In fact, I am currently outside writing this post.

Not that I haven’t been going outside all winter, but it makes a difference when you don’t have to change what you were wearing inside to go outside (ie. add an extra three layers).

While I’ve been soaking up the sun, as it were, I noticed something that shocked me.  And since I’m not sure of the actual marketing or psychological term for it, I’ll just call it subliminal learning.

What happened as I was sitting in a cafe overlooking a park (and incidentally, an intersection) was I saw a row of cars lined up, waiting for a light to change green.  As I sat, I noticed that on the grill of each car was a company logo for the car’s manufacturer.  I thought it might be fun to see if I could recognize the logos and match them with the company they represent.

As I began to play the game, I surprised myself.  Ford, Nissan, Lexus, Chevrolet… I was brilliant at it!  I hardly missed a single brand.

And naturally, the psychologist that I am had to step back and analyze what just happened.  How was it that I was so good at this game?  I never owned, purchased, or shopped for a car.  The only company I really grew up with was Toyota, since that was the only brand my parents owned.  I don’t even watch very much television.

However, regardless of my ignorance of automobiles, I can tell you, just by looking at the company’s logo, its name and probably a few models they sell.  I attribute this knowledge to subliminal learning.

Subliminal learning is when one is taught to make a particular association without conscious thought.  This is very similar to basic conditioning theories in psychology; however, I think of subliminal learning as a broader term.  Subliminal learning encompasses conditioning, but also brand loyalty and other similar effects.  “Brand loyalty” is a marketing term which refers to a customer preferring one brand of a product over others.  This is often achieved using vague and generalized assertions or without the customer’s awareness at all.

In my case, I did not gain a sense of loyalty to any particular company, but I’ve learned the differences between them.  This was done with television commercials, word of mouth, and other ads (magazines, billboards, t-shirts, etc.).  Often times people have preconceived notions about companies or products, yet they are unable to say just when or where they learned the information.  This, I would argue, is due to subliminal learning.

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