The Kuleshov Effect of Traveling

Movie-watching is far from a passive activity; movies are images in sequence that engage viewers in inferring causation between individual elements.

One of the most important principles in filmmaking is the Kuleshov effect. Filmmaker Lev Kuleshov once edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of man was alternated with various other shots, including a girl in a coffin, a bowl of soup, and a woman on a divan. Although the audience believed that the man’s expression was different each time, the footage of the man was the same each time.

Kuleshov used the experiment to indicate the effectiveness of film editing: not only did viewers impose their own emotional reactions onto this sequence of images, but they also imposed those reactions to the man in the footage. Today, I’d like to explain how this “Kuleshov effect” has not only manifested in the movies I watch, but also in my daily life. To do so, I’d like to tell you a story about flying from Stockholm to Budapest with a desperately stretched bladder.

With one final heave, I lug my stubborn luggage to the edge of the airstairs. As I trudged up the stairs to the plane, I started to regret chugging a liter of water at security. Getting through to Sweden’s Skavsta airport had been tough; my boarding pass proved that I had checked in a week in advance, but the airport computer systems couldn’t recognize my boarding pass, so I suffered the shaky wifi to redownload the WizzAir app in hopes that I’d find my updated boarding pass. When I finally had my boarding card in hand, I sprinted to the security line, pulled out my liter-bottle of water, and, seeing that the line was quite short and that I did not have time to finish drinking the water, I started dumping the remaining water into the trashcan. As soon as the first drops of water splashed into the trashcan, everyone in line turned to stare at me, this rude, ignorant, and tactless American. I was way too exhausted to figure out where I could properly dispose of my water, so to the horror of everyone (my bladder included), I chugged the entire liter. I stumbled through security victoriously, but felt dizzy and desperate to board the plane and use the lavatory ASAP.

 

Aboard the plane, with my bladder stretched to its limits, I had to face yet another set of challenges: finding my seat, freeing my arm of my luggage, and then maneuvering to the back of the plane to use the lavatory. To my relief, because I was one of the last to board the plane, everyone was already seated, and I was close to the back of the airplane. As I asked the couple in my row to help me shove my luggage into the overhead bin, I eyed the back of the plane. No line. Success was imminent.

 

I turned to the couple, who stood between me and the lavatory to help me put my luggage in the overhead cabin, and I quickly sputtered “thank you for helping me put up my luggage; I’m going to the lavatory really quickly so it’s up to you whether you want to sit down now or stay in the aisle so you don’t have to sit down and then get up again after 2 minutes.”

 

The woman was well-dressed, and her piercing blue eyes glared judgmentally at me as she slowly but curtly insisted — no, you can’t go there. Sit down.

As this unbudging barrier blocked my way to the lavatory, my bladder died a little more. I had no idea why this was such a big deal to her — why this inconvenience was such a big ask, why she didn’t even want to consider it. I concealed my frustration as I sat down facing my window, not wanting to make eye contact with the pretentious lady who would be the cause of my suffering throughout the flight. And given my pride, I would surely rather suffer a screaming bladder than to ask again to use the lavatory.

 

As my bladder literally seeped itself in anger, I tried to do work and sleep a little. However, all I could think about was the liter of water that begged to be released, and wasn’t released. Because of her.

 

Sometime during my half-hearted nap, I awoke because the couple was stirring and the man got up to use the lavatory. I immediately followed suit. But when I returned to my seat and scuffled back into my window seat, the well-dressed woman, whose piercing blue eyes once glared judgmentally at me, reached out her hand and said: “So sorry about earlier, my English no good, and this my first time on airplane, didn’t know somebody could be outside of their seat.”

 

“My English no good. First time on airplane. Didn’t know somebody could be outside their seat.” As I heard these words, my anger melted. She proceeded to chatter about how these plane tickets were a Christmas gift from her parents, about how she’s anxious to leave her darling children at home for the first time, about how she finally has an opportunity to wear her favorite coat… all while being completely oblivious to how paradigm-shifting this moment was for me. Still stunned about all the uncharitable and untenable qualities I had so briskly projected onto her, I smiled at this well-dressed woman, whose glimmering blue eyes expressed all the excitement I’ve ever seen about traveling.

 

If my experience of the flight was like a film, the shot of her refusing to let me go to the bathroom was now placed beside the shot in which I learned that it was her first time traveling. This new sequence of images completely changed my interpretation of her refusal: instead of interpreting her refusal as rude, I understood it to be an honest mistake; instead of attributing haughty impatience to her brief reply, I understood that it could much more generously and accurately be attributed to her nervousness in speaking English.

 

Travelling places you side by side with people whose life situations and perspectives you may never otherwise encounter. Travel thus helps you nurture empathy: it edits the film of your internal reactions to incorporate and be influenced by different ways of seeing the world.

 

 

 

why I’m still a Christian

While others’ struggles with faith have originated from their doubts about theology or the historicity of the Bible, my struggles with faith center around my efforts to understand why pursuing God should be of central importance in my life. Thus, the most important moments in my faith journey are moments when I realize something new about why God is worth pursuing. I’ve approached this question by asking two other questions:

How can an understanding of God’s love address personal suffering?

 

This answer to this question informs my approach to the second question:

What is truly unique about how the Christian faith motivates people to live the life I strive to live, which is a life full of integrity, kindness, and service?

Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize that my failure — to understand God’s deeply personal and limitless love — insidiously governs my reactions and actions, and that this failure results in self-imposed suffering which, without God, I cannot absolve myself.

I suffer because I rely on outward affirmation for inward validation and peace. My striving for others’ attention and approval leads me to engage in an exhausting and endless audition to be known, acknowledged, and deserving of others’ love. This striving stems from a belief that it is the intelligent and capable people around me whose opinions about me can create opportunities I believe to be integral to a meaningful, happy life. Thus, I absolutely fear being unseen and unappreciated, and often feel insurmountably jealous when people choose others over me. I experience this jealousy because I know that humans’ love is a zero-sum game: people are all limited in their time and capacity to love. When Person A spends time with Person B, A isn’t giving me the attention and affirmation that Person B is receiving. I also incorrectly project this onto my understanding of God’s love — I often resent seeing God “love” and “bless” others more than he “loves” and “blesses” me.

Not only does this striving for outward affirmation hurt myself, but it also strains my friendships with people whom I want to love dearly. I become jealous of the people who ARE acknowledged and well-liked, and refuse to wholeheartedly love my friends when I am consumed by my jealousy of them. And what’s worst is that I can’t stop myself from being jealous of people even though I know that my jealousy is destroying my relationships with them.

The suffering I’ve described results from two things: 1) my belief that others’ approval can provide for me emotionally and be the ultimate provider of meaningful opportunities to actualize my passions, and 2) my not internalizing the personal and limitless love offered by God.

So what have I learned about God’s love this year, and how has that changed my reliance on others’ approval?

God’s love is deeply personalized: 

  • When reading the Bible, I’ve received comfort and guidance that is very specific to how I receive love and affirmation. This has enabled me to trust that God knows my innermost thoughts and cares to speak to me in a way that helps me understand Him. Not only does God know my innermost thoughts, but he also most thoroughly knows my abilities, effort, and passions, and He desires for me to have opportunities to actualize them fully.
  • The realization that God’s love is personal helps to absolve me of my dependence on others to affirm me and provide for my future: I feel so much less anxiety knowing that my life is in the control of an all-knowing and all-powerful God, and is not solely dependent on the opinions of those around me.

God’s love is limitless

  • God’s love is NOT like humans’ love — his love for __ or __ or __ does not detract from his love for me. God loves me in the unique ways in which He knows I need to be loved, and this is absolves me of the anxiety and jealousy I suffer when I look around and see all the different ways in which God is blessing those around me. Furthermore, not only does it enable me to not resent God when he blesses others, but it also motivates me to participate in His work of extending His love towards everyone.

Before understanding God’s deeply personal and limitless love, I strived desperately towards other sources of affirmation and provision and found them to be insufficient. My belief in this love has begun to heal me from my oppressive obsession with others’ opinions of me and the jealousy that can arise from seeing others be more “loved” and more “blessed” than I am.

This healing has also informs how I tackle the next question: What is truly unique about the Christian faith in terms of its teachings and how it motivates people to live moral, admirable lives?

I think that most religions tackle the big questions in life: who are we? How do we relate to a higher being? What is a good life? Although many different religions can inspire similar actions and values, I think what is most distinct about Christianity, and what gives Christianity the most power in compelling one to live morally, is what Christianity claims to be the fundamental intrinsic motivation for those actions.

Christianity claims our complete inability to earn God’s favor, and that God’s love for us is not predicated upon our ability to do so. The more I understand about His omniscience — especially despite the parts of me that are so unlikable — the more I am absolutely floored by the fact that the one who sees the depths of my wrongdoing still chose, chooses, and will continue to choose to love me. I believe that Christian “rules” are not arbitrary restrictions but are manifestations of His love, and Christian “rules” are derived from His intimate understanding of our weaknesses and His desire to protect us and guide us to live maximally fulfilling lives.

Thus, God desires for our obedience to be a natural response to the love that he shows us. While other religions preach that one must continue behaving well to continually earn God’s favor, Christianity 1) centers around a God who wants to love us in all the ways we hope to be loved, and Christianity 2) hopes that our knowledge of Him compels an intrinsic desire to live a life full of integrity, kindness, and service, as enabled by his commands.

So, in conclusion, I am still a Christian because I’ve come to more fully realize two things:

1) God’s love powerfully addresses my personal suffering. Thus, I want and need to internalize it so deeply that it governs all my reactions and actions.

2) The Christian faith provides the most compelling motivation to live a morally upright life because it teaches that abiding by God’s commands is a natural response to God’s love, a love that I’ve only begun to understand, and will strive to better understand throughout the rest of my life.

on parenting, future, and romantic relationships

I’ve disappointed myself with how I’ve spent my break. Although I

  • went to SLO with family friends,
  • arranged a Beauty and the Beast medley for @sleightlymusical and my a cappella group’s ICCA set,
  • learned my junior recital rep,
  • had long conversations with parents about ~future~,
  • read 4 books,
  • finished my CS personal project,
  • saw lotss of friends, and
  • binge-watched some TV I’ve always wanted to watch,

I think I feel largely unfulfilled because I haven’t taken the time to thoughtfully organize all that has transpired since that last time I blogged so intently (last winter break).

But let me begin the processing now.

Parental Investment 

This break, I spent a lot of time and energy practicing piano with my sister, reading with her, watching “wholesome” movies with her, cooking with her… essentially making sure that she doesn’t bum around at home. At the same time, my 18-year-old brother, who will never experience the other- and self-imposed familial obligations that I’ve perceived since my single-digit years, wakes up at noon and makes her ramen and encourages my dad to buy her Yogurtland. Sigh…at least he’s no longer bullying her…right? #emotionallabor

Practicing piano with my sister is rough. She’s pretty good for a 3rd grader, but I drill her pretty intensely on technique and I’m quite impatient and unkind. But in my defense, I treat her like I wanted to be treated as a 3rd grader — seriously, with respect to my ~*potential*~, and with confidence that I will succeed with hard work. However, I’ve been impressed with how well my sister responds. She puts up with my drills, my ridiculous illustrations, my effort to help her see more of the music than what’s on the page.

The rest of the day goes like this: we look up recipes, she makes a shopping list, and we go to Safeway to buy what we need to make a new dish. I treat her like a serious sous-chef (because many child psychologists affirm the importance not underestimating the capacity of children to mimic speech and actions so it’s v important to speak maturely and properly to them!! and yes I am the kind of person who would read these studies lol). Then, we drive to the library, where she picks out a couple books, and we head to a cafe and read together for an hour.

After taking care of her for a few days, it amuses me — and scares me — to think about what kind of mother I’d be. I think I’ve certainly experienced a very realistic lifestyle as a caretaker who is and whose child is subject to the immense pressures of the South Bay. Here, children’s academic achievements as elementary school students are just the beginning of  a lifelong striving for well-rounded intellectual, extracurricular (musical, athletic, etc) and social achievements.

I’m absolutely going to be a tiger mom. I, admittedly, veryy easily fall prey to the glories and shininess of the achievements I was able to attain before college, and I even remember resenting my parents for not pushing me harder. I see what people are able to achieve with effort, even if they lack raw ability (aka me in every academic area). And although I can question Bay Area’s hypercompetitive, narrow, and anxiety-inducing value system from afar, coming home to the rush of the packed Chinese school parking lot and to the madness of college application season (which I sense from my mom’s – church friend’s – family friend’s daughter), makes me fall into the unquestioned frenzy of ensuring that one’s children are provided with every sort of advantage, from birth until… when? An afternoon of gossip from my piano teacher forces me to confront the reality of the finesse required for parents to “perfectly” orchestrate opportunities and curate consistent happiness for their child/children, from the instruments they’re able to master to the private high schools they will attend to the scores they will receive and the perfectly polished college application they send out to the major they select and internships they attain to their eventual significant other and how successful their children will be. And time and time again, I’ve seen that when parents control too much, the relationship between parent/child(ren) thins dangerously, but if parents don’t control enough, they may be knowingly letting their child(ren) miss out on ~*some opportunity*~?!

Let’s talk about these opportunities. Although I’m very grateful for the opportunities and privileges I’ve experienced throughout my life, I’ve also become critical in reflecting on which opportunities have actually proven to be inspiring, important, influential, pivotal, and lasting.

If you want to think about the instrumental value of these opportunities (i.e. evaluating the worth of these opportunities based on the types of pre-professional success they can help one gain), I can easily say that plenty of people who have not experienced a comparable wealth of opportunities (in terms of, for example, musical opportunity) have ended up at Pomona College, are able to intern at the places I’ve worked, etc. And similarly, many people who have had greater opportunities have also not been able to get into Pomona College, intern at the places I’ve interned, etc.

But I would obviously be severely cheapening the value of these opportunities by simply assessing whether they’ve been able to help me get into Pomona or intern here or there. They’ve built my self-confidence, expanded my capacity to appreciate culture, and just enhanced my emotional and social well-being in ways that a college acceptance letter and internship offer could never measure.

But again, let’s circle back to these opportunities that parents so eagerly try to provide for their children, and the perspective that I’d like to have about the opportunities I might want to ensure for my children in the future. I don’t have too many thoughts on this, but all I can say is that I hope I’m not the kind of parent who just shoves myself into a ton of extracurriculars with the false hope that each will be very beneficial for my child. I hope that I will see intellectual/extracurricular/social opportunities as a means by which my child learns discipline and grit. And I hope that these opportunities allow them to experience the joy at working diligently with their God-given abilities.

“Career”

No break is complete without the “so…what are you doing with your life? What are you working towards?” question. Ever since I decided not to major in Computer Science, I’ve felt quite liberated, but also insecure. So when dad 1) brought up grad school, 2) asked me to explain the strategic significance of signing an management consulting internship offer, and 3) asked me how dating fits into all of this, I low-key flipped.

The advice my dad gently provided was completely reasonable. He asked what older Cognitive Science major students did with their degrees, whether I was interested in grad school, whether I would want to do management consulting after graduation, and where I wanted to live. Completely reasonable questions. But, in a frenzy of internalized doubt and frustration that I’ve never adequately explained to anyone, I completely twisted his gentle and good intentions and projected my fears onto what he was asking me to think more about. His questions exacerbated my confusion, confusion that stemmed from insecurity that has been accumulating since my first semester of college. I thought my dad was 1) disapproving my interest in trying out management consulting for 2 months, 2) doubtful of the viable future of learning cognitive science, 3) afraid that I would not be taken seriously for not having a CS degree while potentially living in the bay, 4) hesitant to allow me to try things that don’t clearly correspond to/contribute to a path towards…something (anything!), 5) critical that I hadn’t spent more time this break contacting alumni and doing research on future opportunities.

But my dad wasn’t saying any of this.

These are evolving worries that have pressed on me since I first entered college.

I’ve always worried that “following my heart” was only something that “worked” and was “practically advantageous” when distinguishing myself on a college application. As college unfolded and I saw friends on set paths achieve more visible / universally recognizable / acknowledgeable opportunities that aligned with their interests, I panicked. Sure that I could never compete with *those* people, I strived to distinguish myself through what I’ve always done best: splitting up my time and trying to be good at everything and hoping to the liberal arts gods that this all “pays off” and that some employer will see the value in my motley combination of interests and experiences. But this was only a weak attempt at addressing the overall fear that everyone knows what they want and is actively, and successfully, working towards their respective goals.

I’m scared to apply to grad school, because although I love love love Cognitive Science, I can much more convincingly engage a job interviewer and show off my random professional skills than woo and wow an admissions officer with my transcript and GRE. I want to go to grad school because I think I was much more suited for a Masters in HCI/CogSci than an undergrad degree in CogSci/CompSci. And while I do really like research, I’ve been disappointed with some research experiences, and PhD’s take forever and I know you have to be really confident that you want it for the sake of wanting it before starting a PhD program. Another concern is that I wouldn’t want to spend my first 5 years as a “young professional” in school whereas I think I could learn more from the social and professional interactions afforded by an industry job.

My life felt like a mess after my dad talked to me — he’s right in that while a Cognitive Science degree allows me to make the most of my opportunities at a liberal arts college, it’s a really useless degree without higher education. He’s right in that I might one day be confused at why I didn’t try to get a CS degree while 1) I’m sort of interested in it and 2) could persevere through 4 more rough classes. And he’s probably right that I should take advantage of the fact that I received such a good education at a liberal arts college, and that it might be harder to go to grad school after working for a while, even though I want to work to understand what sort of a degree would complement my overall goals. As confident and excited I am by the decision to not major in CS, I looked at my transcript and felt like a completely discombobulated mess, even though with some work, I could spin all my experiences into a hopefully unconventional, but strong application for grad school, if I ever decide that I want to do it.

Romantic Relationships

I binge-watched Wongfu’s “Single by 30” (which says a lot, because I’m rarely captivated by TV/movies), and really appreciated its exploration of the complexity of intertwining friendships and romantic relationships as people get older and dating becomes more serious. It was also very refreshing to watch some of my favorite Asians / Asian Americans in the entertainment industry take the stage.

As I observe how my parents get along and reflect on how my friends’ dating relationships that have both thrived and suffered, here are some thoughts:

>> Habits in communication are important

I realize that my mom and I are both quite passive aggressive. We keep our observations and frustrations to ourselves, perhaps in attempt to save face in a certain moment or because we’ve always been told to be quick to forgive (so what’s the point of bringing something up if we feel like it’s “small” enough that we ought to “get over” it ASAP anyways?). And we never voluntarily openly apologize. We just try to slip our guilt in through a softened tone of voice or downcast look.

I’m not saying that my parents are uncommunicative about making decisions, but we as a family have just learned to let what we perceive as the “little things” in the moment slide. But as I’ve carried that habit over to some of my friendships, I’m disappointed to realize that many of my friendships have soured because of my desires to 1) not make a fuss and to 2) forgive quickly, which sometimes isn’t possible because the little things add up and by the time they’re serious, I feel awkward for being mad because the other person has no idea that I’ve been mad about for the past who knows how many months and I feel bad for being mad at them and for not addressing anything because how could they have known that I am angry? And have been angry??

Anyways — complete, open, loving honesty. I need to start practicing that in my home, with people who will 100% love me and want to make sure I become a better communicator. Complete, open, loving honesty. That’s what I’m striving to practice with friends, before I screw it up with a potential significant other.

>> You have to know what you want

In “Single by 30,” the protagonist’s mother advises him to date a girl who wants what he wants in terms of lifestyle, location, etc. It’s much more convenient to commit to a relationship between two people whose goals in terms of career/location/etc already align. This is something that mom and dad have been telling me too… of course, I’d hope that a mutual love / admiration with my significant other can be a starting point for negotiating differences, but it’s undeniable that many logistics of the relationship are easier to deal with, and that some conflict can be avoided, if both people have thought thoroughly about the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects lives they’d want to lead.

 

 

#newyearsfears

This is brilliant and a healthy way for me to sort out all the gripping fears that have unfolded through some continued reflections this break.

  1. I fear that I will again find my summer internship unfulfilling…I fear that it will be yet another disappointing experience where I am unable to contribute uniquely, meaningfully, and consistently.
  2. I fear allowing busyness, avoidance, and neglect for self-reflection to cause my ability to articulate my own feelings atrophy.
  3. I fear allowing jealousy and/or passive aggressiveness to tarnish yet another friendship.
  4. I fear going into senior year with regrets.
  5. I fear caring a ton for certain people, then being deeply hurt by them and regretting the energy and time I extended towards them.
  6. I fear romantic loneliness.
  7. I fear becoming close with someone I later realize I shouldn’t have trusted.
  8. I fear losing out on an important post-grad opportunity because of a decision I consciously made (for example, my decision to not major in CS).
  9. I fear getting bad grades (lol gotta be honest!!)
  10. I feel becoming more complacent and doubtful of my faith.
  11. I fear losing unique & beautiful parts of myself to stress and pressure from those who don’t care deeply about me.

 

I’d also like to add something else, though!! Fears that I conquered in 2016/things that I’m proud of.

  1. Did my first technical interview and learned how to sell myself at an intimidating job fair.
  2. Made my own CS personal project!!
  3. Traveled to China and Taiwan
  4. Created a sound blog, food blog, and personal website (with links to my arrangements!)
  5. Went skydiving~

 

 

Will continue these lists as I think of more.

Philanthropy in Motion (PIM) Model Foundation 2016: Presentation of $10,000 Checks

This is the impromptu speech I delivered during the presentation of $10,000 checks to both Education in Sight and XiXi Garden.

“First off, we want to thank you, Andrew, for being a great source of information throughout this entire process. Your dedication to EIS not only shows in how much EIS has grown since 2012, but also in your willingness to make time to speak with us, even when it was very inconvenient for you. (to group) I wanted to share that Andrew was actually going through airport security when the due diligence team called him to learn more about EIS, and that he was embarking on one of the first trips through which Chinese students have the opportunity to serve abroad. (to Andrew, co-founder of Education in Sight) We also really appreciate your taking the time to get up at 4 am to answer more of our questions after we voted for EIS to be one of the four finalist organizations. You were really charismatic and engaging, even at 4 am in the morning!

Overall, we have been very inspired to learn about the connection between vision and education, and by your well-researched and proven plan for EIS’s expansion. You provided substantial and convincing answers to each of our questions, which goes to show all the thought you and other EIS leaders have put into every detail of your operations. We’re also excited to see how many solid partnerships you have, and how many more you will have in the coming years.

We were also very impressed by the fact that you collected a lot of information about the current Program Manager’s experiences this past year, and used that information to create a thorough, month-by-month plan for the Program Manager’s responsibilities moving forward. We’re excited to be a small part of helping EIS implement a plan to achieve a more comprehensive and sustainable impact, which is the kind of impact our Model Foundation’s vision states that we seek to support.

When we asked you what would happen if we weren’t able to fully fund the ~$13,000 Program Manager salary (because we had a lot of other organizations that were also interested in our funding), your answer was really memorable. You mentioned that it could be an option to just hire a Program Manager for just 6 months, but that it was not ideal. You then mentioned that if there were really no other sources of funding, because no other foundations are generally willing to fund an organization’s capacity building costs, that you would be willing to pay out for it of your own pocket. Your response really demonstrated 1) how urgently EIS needed the Program Manager to move forward in its expansion, 2) the confidence you had in the well-researched business model of your social enterprise, and 3) your eagerness to reach the goals you’ve set for EIS in one year, two years, and five years.

We really wanted to fund the Program Manager salary in full, to help him/her achieve the relationship building that is essential for the continuation of EIS’s time-sensitive work, and the continuation of the partnerships between EIS and other organizations / government bureaus. But I wanted to say that we also really wanted to support the work of XiXi Garden, which is the first organization to provide comprehensive sex education for children in China. (to Hua XueMei, founder of XiXi Garden) As a student from the US, I relied on my peers to help me understand the complete dearth of sex education in China, and the immense need for children to empower and protect themselves with this knowledge that I’ve always taken for granted. As a Model Foundation, we wanted to recognize the social pushback that XiXi must combat as it reaches out to schools and other stakeholders, and we recognize that the community activities and PR that XiXi requested funding for are urgently needed — not only for educating children and their families, but also for beginning to fundamentally change the larger social attitude around sex education. We are so excited to see the future of XiXi’s endeavors and how a change in attitude would lay the foundations for other organizations to either partner with you, or even implement their own ideas for providing children with comprehensive sex education.

(to all) At the end, the allocation proposal that we agreed upon reflects our sincere belief that we have allocated the funds in a way that maximizes the impact of both organizations, and our confidence and excitement in the endeavors of both organizations. After the long intense and exhausting deliberation, I felt a lot of ownership and responsibility over the money Philanthropy in Motion had fundraised — the $20,000 we collectively had the opportunity to allocate. This is definitely the first time I’ve ever felt so much social responsibility for a sum of money before, and moving forward, I want to apply the same attitude towards all the resources and privileges I have, and always use them in well-informed in meaningful ways.”

emotional labor

to summarize a FANTASTIC article I recently read:

Ages ago, I read this fantastic piece about practical things men can do to support feminism. Almost every item on the list really resonated with my experience, and this was one of the most resonant:

2. Do 50% (or more) of emotional support work in your intimate relationships and friendships.

Recognize that women are disproportionately responsible for emotional labour and that being responsible for this takes away time and energy from things they find fulfilling.

We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”

This, in turn, spawned this great Metafilter thread in which people discuss their experiences with emotional labor. And, that, finally, led to this Ask Metafilter thread, which addresses the very question I initially meant to address: what is emotional labor and how do you know if you’re doing your fair share of it?

# Partnered Life

  • Am I checking in with my partner to see if they had a rough day?
    • If so, am I stepping up to make their life easier in other ways (cooking, cleaning, etc.)?
  • Am I open and clear about my wants, and not forcing my partner to guess/drag it out of me?
  • Am I contributing constructively to planning of meals, events, trips, etc?
  • Am I actively trying to make my presence feel safe for my partner?
  • Do I try to do nice things for my partner without being asked?
  • Do I take care of my own administrative life (paperwork, bills) without needing to be repeatedly reminded?
  • Am I supportive of my partner’s decisions, big and small?
  • Am I respectful and validating of my partner’s emotions?
  • Am I vocally grateful when my partner goes out of their way to do something nice for me?
  • Am I nice to my partner’s family [if that’s a thing they want]?

# Friend Groups

  • Do I work to coordinate peoples’ schedules so that we can have a nice picnic/party/board game night/etc.?
  • When planning an event, am I conscious of possible interpersonal conflicts?
  • When planning an event, do I take into account different peoples’ preferences for food, beverages, music, etc., so that no one feels excluded?
  • Do I actually have everything prepared in advance for an event I’m hosting, or at least clearly and fairly delegated?
  • If there is an imbalance of emotional or physical labor occurring, am I willing to risk social awkwardness to improve the lot of those negatively affected?

# Third Party Relationships (Familial & Otherwise)

  • Do I remember to make phone calls and visits to people I care about and want to have relationships with?
  • Do I remember to send cards to people I care about?
  • Do I send thank you notes to people to acknowledge their emotional labor for me?
  • Am I actively sensitive to and supportive of people who are experiencing a difficult time (death of spouse/child/pet, etc.)?

# Other

  • Do I pause to observe the context (my partner’s body language or current activity, what’s been happening today, etc.) before I involve my partner in something me-focused? (Whether that’s a request or a touch or whatever.)
  • Am I taking responsibility for my own reminders by putting things in a calendar app or whatever reminds me to do things?
  • Am I aware of all the unseen work involved in things like meal preparation, and am I educating myself so that I can share the work?
  • Am I difficult as hell to work with and expect everyone to work around it because I present as male?

Women are expected to do a lot of these sorts of things in relationships and friendships, and men are not. It may well be that men are on average objectively worse at them than women are, but that’s only because they’ve never been held responsible for these things and therefore haven’t developed the skill. Most men have gone their whole lives hearing that women are “naturally” suited for these things and men are “naturally” not, so why bother working on it? Gender essentialism doesn’t exactly foster a growth mindset, and many people don’t realize that things like communication skills and empathy can actually be improved to begin with.

After reading these articles and threads, I started to understand my frustrations with my male friends, roommates, and partners much better, because these imbalances have touched every single relationship I’ve ever had with a man. Male partners have consistently ignored glaring issues in the relationship so that I had to be the one to start the difficult conversation every single time, even though they supposedly had as much of a stake in the relationship as I did. Male roommates have made me beg and plead and send reminder texts to do even the most basic household management tasks. Male friends have tried to use me as a therapist, or drawn me into worrying about their physical health with them while refusing to see a doctor even though they had insurance.

YES.

This article perfectly captures why I find 90% of guys my age (and honestly guys in general) so immature and why interactions with them can be so laborious. This article also makes me really appreciate males who do acknowledge and initiate emotional labor, although that appreciation can also reflect differences in expectations regarding the division of emotional labor men and women are expected to have.

To add my personal reflections to this important topic:

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home. 

Emotional labor is the burden I carry when my brother emotionally abuses everyone in my family, then dramatically slams his bedroom door, gleeful that he won some argument and can continue playing his stupid video games, while all he really accomplished was carelessly creating emotional wreckage and tension for everyone else to deal with. Meanwhile, I’m just coming home from some class or rehearsal, and I feel the immediate need to console my mother, struggle to explain my brother’s petty perspective, and act as the cultural and emotional bridge between my brother and the rest of my family.

Emotional labor is imposing, upon my 6th grade self, the responsibility to drop my work and take care of my sister and clean the house as soon as my parents step out for a church event or meeting, while I walk by my brother who is too damn busy playing computer games all night to even pick up the home phone when someone calls in the middle of my helping my sister take a bath. I’m not complaining that I have to take responsibility for my sister. After all, I am the older sister, but I know that my brother, regardless of his age or ability, would never even think to take on any sort of familial responsibility for himself. Nor would anyone think to ask him to do so, if I’m around. But care-taking takes practice. Feeding a fussy 2 year-old, cleaning up after she “baby burps” (aka throws up all over you before you’re about to go out to meet friends, making sure a baby doesn’t fall down the stairs, and spending an hour a day holding and desperately trying to sooth a 25-pound child to sleep are not innate to me because I am a female. These tasks simply take hours of practice and a sense of duty to one’s family. Both of which all males can, and should, develop.

Emotional labor is overhearing my mother beg her sister-in-law to not get a divorce because she “needs” to maintain the safest possible environment for her two children to grow up in, even though my uncle is the perhaps the most misogynistic, selfish, arrogant, and calculating person I’ve ever met. It breaks my heart to admit that my mother is correct, that for the good of my aunt’s children, she should try to “make the marriage work and forgive him.” But my mother is only correct, and her advice is only “practical” and perhaps worth following, because our society strips so much power from women that they have to remain physically and emotionally dependent on their husbands, as disgusting as it feels for me to call a man a husband if he is so irresponsible and dismissive of his own wife.

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home,
and are perpetuated by others we interact with. 

Emotional labor is when a male classmate asks his girl friends to figure out cute ways to hang out with his love interests, or dating anniversary plans for his girlfriend. Although we often find it fun to giggle about the cute plans we make for you to have a fun night with your love interest / girlfriend, stop leaving it all up to us. Go figure out whether she wants to be asked out in public or in private, what flowers she likes, and what restaurant she’d be excited to eat at.

Emotional labor is when my friend group wants to go out, and the guys claim that they “would be happy doing anything” but complain as soon as we do something I didn’t know they wouldn’t be interested in. Because they didn’t bother to be involved in planning the outing in the first place…

Emotional labor is the responsibility I’ve learned to just impose upon myself in keeping up relationships with guys. It’s absolutely tiring, and as much as I care about my guy friends and would hate to fall out of their lives, they really should start investing at least half the effort I put into setting up Skype calls, sending birthday wishes, etc.

Emotional labor is when boys think it’s cool to act mysterious about their emotions, forcing me to put in the effort to coax their struggles out of them. Sure, I understand that I’m very fortunate to have the social capital / the friends who have encouraged me to reflect upon and articulate my reactions to my experiences, but the mentality that it’s cool to be aloof and to be difficult to maintain a friendship with… that mentality has got to go.

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home,
are perpetuated by others we interact with,
and will influence every area of women’s personal and professional lives.

Emotional labor is trying to be a proactive and effective leader in a group and being eager to advocate for making certain decisions, only to (again) be disappointedly tasked with administrative tasks and maintaining / restoring relationships among the group or with key players outside of the group.

Emotional labor is being seen as bossy, aggressive, or emotional,
whereas my male counterparts as seen as effective, passionate, and charismatic.

Emotional labor is when my mom advised me, from a young age, not to aspire to become a doctor or a lawyer, because I will one day have to “give it all up” to care for my children. There’s a Chinese saying that roughly translates to: “Men’s greatest fear is to enter the wrong career; women’s greater fear is to marry the wrong man.” My parents immigrated to the US because of a job opportunity my dad had through HP, and all of my parents’ friends’ families are composed of a husband who works in tech and a wife who gave up her career as soon as she had children. So back to my mom’s advice — because the professional road towards being a doctor or lawyer is long, and because as a woman, my greatest failure would be to not find the right husband, I should be more concerned about putting myself in situations in which I can meet the right guy in my 20’s than to pursue a career I’d toil so hard after and have to give up as soon as I have children (it seems like having children at the “right age” in the “right stage of my life” is a more sure guarantee of happiness and a sign of excellent planning and foresight than immersing myself in a meaningful career).

But I don’t blame my mom for her seemingly misogynistic advice.

My mom gave up everything to take care of my siblings and me, and would only give me this advice if she’s confident that it will bring me (and my future family) the greatest happiness. (Isn’t interesting to think about how a woman’s identity and success is tied to the well-being of her future family, while a man’s identity and success are not?)

My mom believes so much in the division of emotional labor our society preaches that refusing to care for my future family almost seems like a slap in the face to her and her sacrifices.

Will I follow her advice, stop fighting a seemingly unbreakable system and its expectations, and perhaps perpetuate these perspectives about emotional labor along the way? What can I do to honor my mother’s sacrifices while being entirely cognizant of my actions and the perspectives they may perpetuate?

Making women disproportionately responsible for emotional labor, and normalizing the imbalance of emotional labor with men and women of all ages, disempowers women and restrains us from devoting our invaluable energies to pursuing what we ought to be free to do. It’s high time those who want to call themselves responsible and mature men take a look at their thoughts and actions, and take on the emotional labor that the women in their lives have always done for them.

 

 

 

The Necessity of the Humanities for Americans’ Collective Flourishing

 

“Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses and de-emphasize the humanities.[1]” The balance between promoting a narrow STEM education versus a well-rounded liberal arts education is an subject of contestation involving Americans of all educational, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds. On one side, language of measurement and progress champions STEM disciplines: college rankings vie for Americans’ attention by rating institutions of higher education on quantifiable measures such as student loan debt, earnings after graduation, and other metrics of income security that are best achieved with an undergraduate STEM degree. Policies direct support to technical training, which equals survival in a society defined by technology and shaped by global competition. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, at least 15 states offer some type of premium for certain high-demand STEM degrees. States, frustrated by soaring tuition costs, crushing student loan debt, and a lack of skilled workers in science and technology, have begun rewarding colleges for “churning out students educated in fields seen as important to the economy.[2]” Given the belief that one’s education and training should align with the needs of the job market, policy-makers along the political spectrum have portrayed the humanities and liberal arts education as irrelevant and expendable luxuries.

However, every exaltation of STEM that ignores the value of the humanities is met with arguments warning Americans of their narrow obsession with STEM education. Supporters of a broader liberal arts education point out that the very “progress” that STEM supporters pursue reveals the importance of the humanities. The humanities foster creativity and empathy, which are necessities for individuals’ competitiveness in a capitalistic society, and for their capacity to contribute to society as a whole. Those who value the liberal arts argue that a combination of skills drawn from both the humanities and STEM is necessary in designing and delivering holistic solutions for complex world issues.

Interestingly, supporters of a narrow STEM education and supporters of a liberal arts education both reference the value of education in light of its usefulness for an individual’s contribution in a capitalistic society. A well-rounded education undeniably develops individuals’ intellectual capabilities and empowers them with job opportunities and social mobility, but neither side references America’s original intent in founding institutions of education: to require Americans to frequently recur to foundational principles so that they can best guard the unalienable rights of everyone in a democratic society. When Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott rhetorically asks, “is it really a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?[3]” he overlooks the foundational purpose of American education: to help Americans thrive as interdependent members of society.

Scott’s overlooking, which reflects that of many Americans, can be attributed to the disintegration of civic education during the post-Civil War evolution of American political thought. A crucial ideological shift occurred at the end of the Civil War, from which the Union emerged as the cruel victor over the South and proved that ultimately, mass, force, and accident trumped human excellence, character, and persuasion in determining success. The Civil War fundamentally changed America’s character through a newfound faith in and ambition to understand massive forces; before 1865, American institutions depended ideologically upon using reason and choice to combat accident and force, but the Civil War proved that no progress of the human mind could contribute a sufficient command over cruel circumstances, such as those evident in the war. Shifts in American political thought — shifts that subjected Americans to the accident and force that Americans once strived to be free from — influenced Americans’ conception of human rights, obsession with math and science, pastlessness, and fear of reflection.

Before the Civil War, political thinkers observed that nature revealed truths about Americans’ interdependence, but after 1865, thinkers observed truths about nature that undermined Americans’ interdependence. Marx observed that nature was characterized by a ceaseless struggle between unalterable forces of violence and disorder, and that the antagonism between and among classes was dictated by cold calculation and massive, impersonal forces that individuals could neither understand nor control. Americans realized that their rational choice was powerless over physical and historical forces that determined their destiny, but that they could choose to leverage math and science to progress along the trajectory of existing forces.

Through the mathematical and scientific study of natural forces, social darwinism changed the terms on which Americans derived individual rights and thus the terms on which Americans related to other Americans. Darwin, like Marx, concluded that because all of nature engaged in a lifelong struggle for survival, nature preached that it is natural, or right by nature, for everyone to be concerned primarily with their self-preservation. Survival was deemed the highest moral pursuit, and thus, every individual derived his or her rights from his or her fundamental right to survival. This newly defined moral pursuit made Americans vulnerable to the lure of sudden wealth, because self-interested economic gain was now amoral and within the boundaries of one’s individual rights. As the nation’s new ideologies betrayed its foundational democratic ideals, the greed, disunity, and private ambition that the Antifederalists prophesied became lasting concerns.

Additionally, social darwinism’s mantra of “survival of the fittest” applied its observations of evolution in nature to evolution in American society as well, convincing Americans that even though they could not change nature’s forces, these forces were propelling society into a future that was undeniably better than the past. The language of and pressure to progress inherently abandoned a faith in the past and silenced the need for reflection. The intellectual progress that capacitated these shifts in American political thinking were self-perpetuating; if Americans believed that they were continually deepening their knowledge of nature through math and science, then the farther they moved away from foundational democratic ideals, the closer they believed they were to “real” natural truths.

Gilman’s theory that great progress could only be achieved by competition, quantification and optimization encouraged a veneration of machines and mechanics that altered the conception of valuable work. Before the Civil War, work consisted of the intellectual activity instrumental to the progress of individuals and of society. After 1865, valuable work consisted of a labor force undergoing technical training to operate machines and optimize processes to secure America’s competitiveness in a global society subject to economic forces beyond its control.

Furthermore, the national moral malaise following the Civil War further deterred Americans from reflecting upon and seeing value in the past. Americans sought normalcy after the traumatic moral contestation of the Civil War, and thus, any belief that permitted them to avoid considering America’s intellectual positioning became very desirable. Social darwinism taught that government did not operate under an obligation to supervise its constituents, and thus Americans apathetically submitted to an impersonal government that threatened democracy This apathetic submission was a direct threat to the democracy that the Antifederalists advocated for, in which the debate over ideologies stemmed from a faith in public persuasion. Again, this pastlessness was self-perpetuating; the stronger the sentiment of pastlessness, the stronger the striving for progress, which was believed to expedite Americans’ movement away from the moral mess of the Civil War.

Because democracy was no longer a matter of individual choice but was dependent on external, unalterable forces, there was no purpose to promoting disciplines that educated individuals to become better citizens. Shifts in American political thinking, which influenced and were influenced by the worship of measurement and calculation, immediate capitalistic gain for survival, and “progress,” prompted an intellectual change in educational priorities that venerated certain disciplines and pedagogies and devalued others.

The emphasis on survival in an economy of rising mechanical industries stressed the purpose of learning specific skills that directly translated to maximum capitalistic gain for the individual and for society. STEM education and technical training were promoted because advancements in math and science advanced society’s understanding of the forces they were subject to. In addition, Americans applied their obsessive adherence to objective measures to evaluating the productivity of education. Instead of encouraging individuals to ask questions and develop as the independent thinkers that Thoreau believed could combat unjust governance and that Tocqueville believed could combat the tyranny of the majority, new pedagogy centered around superficial metrics of learning outcomes that prioritized measurable growth, which was more easily evaluated in STEM fields. The focus on quantification plagued test-driven, anemic educational practices for all fields, forcing fascinating epiphanies of human life to become bland classroom exercises in information accumulation and regurgitation.

The promotion of STEM content and pedagogy conducive for STEM content, coupled with sentiments of pastlessness and the assumed value of “progress,” further devalued the “irrelevant” humanities education. Language of pastlessness and progress promoted a disdain of the past and discouraged reflection; under social darwinism, there was no need to reflect upon forces that one could not control, especially because there was nothing positive to glean from the past and because forces progressed regardless of one’s reflection or action. Thus, not only were the humanities less useful than STEM in preparing individuals for a capitalistic society, but they were also unable to help Americans improve themselves and improve society through reason and choice. In addition, because nature now provided a simple answer for how Americans should relate to each other, tools that powerful for explaining social forces and for understanding Americans’ relationships with each other became obsolete.

Americans in a post Civil War era were immersed in a political thinking dictated by measurement and progress instead of the continued self-scrutiny that America was founded upon. Consequently, Americans lost an awareness of three previously recognized democratic truths: that Americans’ interior lives are the source of liberation and flourishing, that Americans need to be recognized by other Americans, and that democratic freedom requires a governing body that protects Americans’ rights on a large scale. The decline in democratic ideals was perpetuated by the decline in disciplines that fostered an introspection necessary for its restoration. However, the neglected humanities still have the potential to restore an understanding and collective practice of true democracy, because they hone American’s understanding of themselves, of others, and of the relationships between themselves and others.

The humanities hone an individual’s ability to engage responsibly in a polity where everyone recognizes the importance of protecting everyone else’s rights. A healthy democracy relies on citizens who can resist apathetic deferral to majority authority, hold politicians accountable, and critique systems that discourage Americans from protecting democracy. By equipping individuals to critically gather information, understand their surroundings, and reason about their choices, the humanities train Americans to be thoughtful and involved citizens. The humanities also help Americans engage in their incorrigible search for the meaning of being an American. “Self-evident” truths — that Americans are equally dependent on the interior lives of others, that the satisfaction of each American’s inner life depends on living in free society with others, and that equality relies on interdependence — are only evident through reflection fostered by studying the humanities.

The humanities also combat the self-promoting attitudes of social darwinism by teaching that just as individuals can discover their own intrinsic worth and need to be recognized for their full rights as human beings, they can also recognize the same worth and needs of every other member of society. After individuals recognize the intrinsic value in others, the humanities also help individuals foster an empathy necessary for promoting democratic ideals that protect all members of a diverse polity. For example, reading across languages and cultures fosters an understanding of the vast range of perspectives in society, and participating in the arts fosters the capacity to imagine the challenges that others face. These skills are especially imperative to fostering a diversity that America has always championed ideologically but struggled to uphold in praxis.

Social darwinism preaches that one’s pursuit of capitalistic gain is sufficient for one’s own flourishing, and that one does not need to consider the flourishing of society as a whole. However, democratic ideals teach that the ability to live together with others requires the ability to see oneself linked with others whom one has never directly known. For example, the study of American history reveals the need for nations to institute policies that protect the rights of all members of society, whose happiness is instrumental to the happiness of all other members. As Americans realize the wealth of wisdom that the past holds, American’s study of humanities not only enlivens their understanding of interdependence, but also catalyzes a positive cycle of combating the pastlessness and alienation that social darwinism perpetuated.

In neglecting the purpose of education for fostering democracy, present day education debates reflect the language and values of a post Civil War era when a country, born around a conversation and contestation of minds, lost its ability to reflect upon the dangerous evolution away from its foundational ideologies. The social darwinism that arose after the Civil War starkly altered the inner life of Americans, who struggled and failed to maintain foundational democratic ideals. Social darwinism shaped the politics that succeeded the Civil War: whereas Winthropian ideals preached that the study of nature brought Americans closer to natural truth of their interdependence, the new “natural truth” that emerged after 1865 taught that all humans were alone in the self-interested, competitive struggle for life. Social darwinism also promoted pastlessness and “progress,” which caused Americans to discard the very intellectual pursuits that defined them as a self-scrutinizing polity and necessitated their intellectual progress as a nation. Shifts in American political thought also contributed to an undermining of the humanities that continues today. However, studying the humanities is instrumental to restoring democracy, because it cultivates Americans’ abilities to recognize others’ unalienable rights and to live in a way that honors those rights. Amidst today’s STEM versus liberal arts debate, it is critical to not only remember what the humanities contribute to a capitalistic society, but the potential of the humanities to help Americans flourish in a democratic society. As Americans strive to create a more adaptable and innovative workforce, the humanities are a source of national memory and civic vigor, cross-cultural empathy and communication, individual and collective fulfillment, and most importantly, the protectors of ideals that make Americans who they are.

 

[1] Zakaria, F. (2015, March 26). Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-stem-wont-make-us-successful/2015/03/26/5f4604f2-d2a5-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html

[2] Cohen, P. (2016, February 21). A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.html?_r=0

[3] Jaschik, S. (2011, October 12). Florida GOP vs. Social Science. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/10/12/florida_governor_challenges_idea_of_non_stem_degrees