Domestic Abuse And Violence: You Just Never Know

There are a handful of principles by which I try very hard to live my life. A couple of these principles include always stopping for a child’s lemonade stand -no matter how busy- and not being allowed to ever get angry while driving. I have found these principles to serve me well and to always provide me a better perspective on life.

Another principle I try to live by is that you just never know what one is going through…so to always offer those around you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the person who just cut you off on the freeway was just diagnosed with cancer and is having a difficult time concentrating or the rude grocery store employee just found out their child has a severe learning disability.

You just never know.

When it comes to my students I try each and every class to extend the same attitude while concurrently holding up the fairly rigorous standards I have set for the course. As a human being, sometimes I fail in this regard and other times I succeed. I suppose that makes another life principle -to forgive myself when failing- to come in rather handy.

Several years ago I was teaching a summer course and had a student, Ginger, in my class who was quite charming and very talented. If one did not know better, you would assume this charming student lived a charmed life…and you would be wrong. I have recently reconnected with Ginger through Facebook and she just revealed to me her story. It is so powerful I feel the strong need to share it (with her permission) and allow it to inspire all those who may endure similar abusive situations in order to know that there is hope.

I wanted you to know the impact you had on my life. So many times people are quick to complain but so many times people do not take those same moments to thank others that have had a positive impact. I want you to know why you had such a great impact and so if you will permit me I would like to share a bit of my story.

I was married to a man for 16 years that had me convinced I was nothing and could be nothing and eventually I believed him and was emotionally broken. After my divorce, still broken, I was in a relationship with a man that physically broke me and went to prison charged with three felonies for what he did to me. I made an agreement to testify and in exchange the kids and I were relocated by the police and moved into our apartment with one bed for all three of us and a small suitcase of clothes. That was all. I was working 5 jobs and existing and surviving but not happy and not thriving.

I knew I wanted a better life and I thought going back to school was the answer but it had been 20 years since I was in school and I was scared and intimidated and didn’t think I could do it. (Mostly in part to the negative voices in my head that were still ever present).

But I took the leap and decided to enroll in a speech class. It was the last class I needed to transfer to CSUSB.

After trying unsuccessfully for a year to register for the class due to my enrollment status I took a chance and showed up to your class hoping against hope I could add the class. The first miracle happened when you drew my name and I was actually enrolled in the first step of my dream. The second came the day the class voted my speech as one of the best. I literally cried. You see that was validation from my peers. Not just the ones younger than me or my age group or older but over all they all thought I had done well. I was blown away and the seed of confidence and realization I could do this was planted.

The day I received the second trophy I was on top of the world. The seed had taken root and started to grow and I knew at that moment I could do anything.

I knew at that moment I was no longer a victim but I was a survivor.

Changing one word in your personal narrative may seem small and insignificant but to me it was life changing. You see victims are stuck and live a life of fear and dependency on others good will and support. Survivors on the other hand are strong and independent and create their own narrative however they see fit. And so that is what I did. I went full time to Cal State and full time to Crafton and Valley simultaneously taking 28 units. I also worked part time and still graduated magna cum laude. People would tell me what I did was impossible and I would tell them impossible is not a barrier but a challenge to achieve and surpass.

Since then I have not had the easiest of paths but I do not let anything deter me from my dreams or my goals. When an obstacle is placed in my way I just find other paths to get there. My motto in life now is to always be moving forward; to try new things, to constantly challenge myself. If it scares me than I know I need to do it.

So when you ask how I am doing I can honestly say I am doing Fantastic. And I can honestly say this life I now lead and this narrative I now live by is very much credited to you and your amazing ability to help others to believe we can do anything.

Well my kids are now 21 and 19. Idk how that happened cause I’m not old enough to have adult children. lol I graduated CSUSB and took a job as the Project Manager for Pulse Marketing who was named best Advertising Agency in the Inland Empire (totally true). When I was at CSUSB I was very, very poor and thought I might have to drop out or go part-time to pay for school. So I applied for scholarships. I received three and that was enough to keep me in school. One of them was the Jack Brown Scholarship (CEO of Stater Brothers) while I was working for Coyote advertising (a student run advertising agency on campus) and the radio director told me she needed a student to interview Jack Brown for Coyote radio. I asked if I could and she said of course. He was so ill we had to do the interview over the phone but during a recording break I was able to thank him and tell him how his scholarship helped to change my life. He was so happy to hear it and said the reason he gave so much to the college and the community was because his mother was a single mom and he loved to help single moms make their lives better. He said people that become wealthy usually leave the Inland Empire but not him. He believed in this community and felt we were all just as smart and all just as able as any Ivy League college but just needed people to believe in them. He was that man. A few weeks later he passed away and I was the last person to interview him.

I also took on the Disability sports festival and am now the marketing director and co-chair for the event. Currently I am in the process of creating VR that is adaptive. If we can do this we will be one of the first campuses to have created adaptive and assistive VR. I’m also on the board for Rolling start, American Advertising Federation.

I have taken up Cello this year and taking a graphic design class to improve my skills. Last Friday I won a gold, and a silver for the websites I created with Pulse and two bronze awards for my Disability sports festival and a solicitation piece. Felt pretty good to be recognized among the top agencies in the business. Made me feel like I’m legit. Lol. Here is the link to my video. It received over 15k views https://youtu.be/1LH8bsbS3qQ

Well I think I wrote a book lol. How are things with you? What inspired you to write your new textbook?

What inspired me? Are you serious? Ginger, you and any other students I have helped or can help in the future, consistently inspire me.

Blown. Away.

Thank you.

You just never know.

Is Higher Education A Thing Of The Past?

I am a community college Associate Professor of Communication Studies. I absolutely love teaching as much as any human being can love their vocation. This is not to say there are aspects to my job I do not particularly care for (use your imagination….yet it begins with “admin” and ends with “inistrative,” with the word “bullshit” at the end). Yet when it comes to the act of pure teaching itself, I am the proverbial pig in slop; I absolutely love to instruct…it is my sanity and, for lack of a better term, my safe and comfy space in an existential world.

However, not everyone in 2017 is down with the notion of “higher education,” be it in the form of community college or the four-year university. I hear arguments that we now have the world wide web with all the information in the universe available to us with the click of a mouse. Why go to a classroom to hear information that we can easily and readily retrieve from our home computer? You cannot seriously suggest that college is for everybody, right? Wrong.

Perhaps Winston Churchill had the answer many decades ago. “I love to learn,” he stated, “but I’m not always willing to be taught.”

Enter Higher Education.

Many of us need the formal accountability a higher educational institution provides to receive instruction in an effective manner. For those highly motivated self-starters who need only their own engine to get motivated, good for you. Yet I would contend that learning in community is nearly always superior to the autodidact approach even if you are one who prefers to be self-taught.

Yes, I am a college instructor and somewhat biased in my perception of the the need for higher education in contemporary society. However I would contend it is my belief in the system that drives my desire to teach rather than my desire to teach drives my belief in the system. After all, I am a product of the community college system as it literally provided me with all the tools and skills necessary to lead a functional and productive life –at a time in my life that I did not know the definition of the words tools and skills.

Therefore I offer you my five most compelling reasons to believe, support and engage in higher education, primarily at the community college level, in 2017.

Community College provides hope of direction for the directionally challenged. I am absolutely convinced that a college degree is not the right path for everybody; yet I am also concurrently convinced that some college courses are wholly beneficial to nearly everybody. Who would not benefit from a public speaking or interpersonal communication course in which you learn how to communicate more effectively in all your life endeavors? Who would not benefit from a basic skills English or Math course as all of us will practice these skills consistently throughout our life? If you are vocationally minded, how about a radiology or a welding course? Community College allows one to take courses to enhance their life skills while figuring out what direction life needs to take them.

Community College and the University are sacred learning spaces committed to the ideals of seeking answers, critiquing information while wholly committed to developing cultural literacy. Cultures need single-minded institutions to foster and preserve important social values. We need places committed to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We need institutions committed to constantly asking the question, “Why?” If we did not have these bastions of intellectual pursuits, who would carry this much needed torch in society? We need institutions committed to carrying on the best interests of society: Academic institutions committed to behavioral and hard sciences; elected bodies committed to political governance; agricultural industries committed to food sourcing; medical institutions committed to warding off disease; civil liberties groups to ensure power does not go rogue, and the list goes on. We need single-minded institutions wholly committed to uphold the integrity of fundamental social necessities.

Community College is a place accepting all individuals who are now ready to learn…and even those who not quite sure. I recently instructed one of my public speaking classes that there should be no safer place on the planet to admit not knowing something or being wrong more than a college classroom. After I made this proclamation, a new college student, Samuel, mentioned that this is a far different cry from high school.  “If we confessed to know knowing something in class,” said Samuel, “We would be berated and yelled at because it was likely something we should already have known as it was probably taught to us the previous year.”

I mentioned to Samuel that if one did not learn it the previous year it was because they were not yet ready, for any endless variety of reasons. The universe knows I was not ready for much in terms of learning my senior year in high school.

The Buddhist saying comes to mind, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Readiness. Are all my community college students ready? No. And some may never be ready. Yet in my experience community college has been both the fertile ground for those seeking if they are now ready and for those who are indeed ready. And I always prefer to be the teacher who simply appears when the wonderful confluence of readiness meets educational opportunity. It is a feeling like no other.

College graduates simply earn more money over a lifetime. One of my favorite economists, Steve Levitt from the University of Chicago and of Freakonomics fame:

The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is he or she tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear: The market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that the economists currently have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

If you are indeed one of the few with no college education and a fantastic salary in a profession you love, good for you! Yet have the astute wherewithal to realize you and others like you are outliers, that you are not part of the norm. Most of us need the traditional route of formal higher education.

If you are a college graduate in a less than desireable job with a less than desireable salary, take heed, the day is young. A college degree is a stark contrast from the Wonka golden ticket, it is more the ace-in-the-hole when the opportunity you create, arises.

A college degree, like other challenging endeavors, develops character and says much more about you than it does about your knowledge base. I often explain to my classes that the single greatest predictor if one will stay in a marriage or get divorced is a college education. From Albert Mohler:

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%.

And why? What are the skills and characteristics needed to survive a marriage? Hmmmm…how about all the same skills needed to obtain a college degree? Patience, perseverance, self-motivation, determination, both deference when needed and assertiveness if called for, compromise, and, of course, what we have been hearing since kindergarten, the need to play well with others even when you really do not want to.

Yes a college degree will likely earn one more money over a lifetime, yet, more importantly, it will make one’s lifetime all the more worth living. Perhaps the single greatest gift higher education offers its students is humility; as higher education should shed light and reveal all in the world that we do not know over the little we do know.

Let me reiterate, a college degree is not for everyone. Yet certainly college courses can be helpful to everyone at some level.

So whether you are former community college attendees Walt Disney, Ross Perot, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah or even Tom Hanks who stated that, “Community College made me who I am today,” you are in good company as a current community college student or future student.

It is 2017 and we need higher education opportunities as much as ever. And let this pig in slop continue to do his thing.

 

The Top Ten

Every semester I ask most of my classes to reflect on the past term and identify the Top Ten things they learned for the semester. I ask them to select a concept or idea learned, who was responsible for it, a short definition and why they selected it.

I would like to share with you a few of the comments I recently received from a couple of classes. Why do I share these?

First off, I do NOT share these with you to in any way make myself look good or be at all self-congratulatory. In fact, I am not naïve enough to believe that my manner of conducting a class works for all students…it most definitely does not. Therefore, for as many who take to my style while bringing out the best in them, I am certain there are a number of students whom I hinder in equal proportion…albeit unintentionally with a constant earnestness to continually minimize this, perhaps inevitable, number.

I do share these with you as a result of our current political climate and the great need for sane, productive, reasoned and open minded dialogue. All college classrooms should be providing such a place–a place, by the way, where it should be happening–not through the safety of social media where it is easy to muster up courage to espouse an idea, an idea that largely goes unchallenged, or a bullhorn, which produces not a collection of reasoning individuals, rather a meandering mob.

So I was delighted when a student responded with the following:

Discussion can be civil and not get nasty. This class was so diverse in culture and politics, that I thought it was going to be a tough class to be in. It was nice to be able to have civil conversations even though we disagreed on a lot of stuff. I think having our comfort level pushed has really made me a more understanding person

Ahhhhh, such music to my ears.  Others produced similar sentiments:

That we can all get along. I learned that there are others like me who can disagree but get along. The whole class showed this to me. It was important to me because at times I feel kinda hopeless because it seems that people cannot coincide with so many different views, in current times.

So true.

The next response comes from student who, earlier in the semester, was visibly upset over a very conservative student’s remarks in the classroom. When I asked her if she spoke with him about it she essentially said it would be a waste of her time as he does not listen.

“Do you listen to him? I mean REALLY listen?” I asked her.

She confessed she does not. Therefore, it was no surprise that one of her Top Ten final responses was the following:

Hearing people out.  It’s important to listen to others even if their view is different from our own. Be open minded. If you expect others to listen to you, you need to do the same. Otherwise people just butt heads.

My students know full well that argument is a wonderful, welcomed and anticipated activity in my classroom –as arguing does not mean fighting, rather it means sharing with others with an anticipation of finding some common ground while proactively practicing some good, old fashioned give-and-take.

It’s okay to argue. This class revolved around arguing that was mature and mostly meaningful. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share ones view. Argument can be used a good way as long as it has supporting experience, or evidence and is meaningful.

They get it! I love it.

This final comment comes from an older woman (yet still younger than myself!) who confessed her mind and world had been blown open by this course. Thus, I was pleased when she wrote:

The whole class is infinitely different in age, social class, stage of life and what they intended to get out of the class.  Through a series of exercises and much communication we really became a community of people trying to increase our communication skills.  Every person came from a different beginning and progressed to new levels of personal growth because of the relaxed and engaging atmosphere in the room. Any teacher can teach, some teachers can coach and few can create the perfect learning environment to have the students want to grow and change for personal gain.

Like I said, my style does obviously work for some and if we can create this environment in the classroom, is it too much to believe we can foster these environments elsewhere?

Perhaps I am blessed to have a flexible point of view, or that I love cognitive dissonance, or that I am more about process than I am result…but I can’t be the only one. Whatever your lot in life, I challenge each of you to be the spokesperson for sanity and reason while understanding that those who disagree with you are not demons; they are, well, others with a different understanding…and that is OK.

You might even make someone’s Top Ten one day.

 

 

Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.

Facts And Other Fallacies

A former student of mine, who does read this blog and offers wonderful feedback at times, recently declared in my class that he is basically always right -as he bases all his ideas on the facts.

Ugh.

In my lifetime I have had countless arguments (a term I use with endearment and not with hostility, btw) with countless people when myself or the other will pull out the “fact” card, as in, “that’s a fact, man, look it up,” as if King Fact has just entered the room and has pronounced all further argumentative proceedings to be halted at once: The facts have arrived. I, admittedly, have been guilty of worshiping at the throne of King Fact…no more.facts-not-fiction

Truth be told, as I age, I most definitely am not a fact man. I believe the word is both misleading and dangerous while tending to derail arguments as if the final proclamation has been declared -deeming all further inquiry and conversation unnecessary.

Today I write about the idea of facts. What are they? Are they really true? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they potentially dangerous when used without nuance and discretion?

Regardless of how one may define a fact, it is nearly always inextricably tied with the notion of “true,” and therein rests the fundamental problematic root of the fact façade. The dictionary has over 25 different definitions for the word true that I will not bore you with…suffice it to say that nearly all these definitions are generally interwoven with the notion of “certainty” and, yet again, another fundamental problem with the idea of a “fact.”

If indeed facts existed as we commonly use the term, as in the truthfulness of a statement, why would, or better yet, how could, we ever have any disagreement or conflict in society? If life were as simple as adhering to a series of facts that no one could dispute, why do we have a divided nation? Factions? Ingroups and outgroups? Do we have two sets of people in society: Dumb people, or those who disagree with our facts and, smart people, those who agree with our facts?

Such thinking is not only intellectually dishonest, it is childish; if only the world were that easy.

I am fully cognizant that philosophers have grappled with the idea of facts and its accompanying sister subjects of truth and certainty for centuries while exhaustive works have been written on the subject, so today I discuss the idea of facts in terms of its use in contemporary communication practices, sans the deeper philosophical implications (Occam’s razor, ontological concerns, etc…), and how the term is used in erroneous ways that defeat effective communication practices.

What are the two biggest problems when we use the “Fact” card to discuss issues?

Facts change and can often not be trusted. When the idea of a fact is translated as true and certain, we have problems. How much in life is absolutely true and certain? Most definitely nothing in the social sciences yet what about the hard sciences? Is it certain the sun will rise tomorrow? Just because it always has does not mean with absolute certainty it will tomorrow. That E=MC2? A quick internet search will reveal many science geeks (of which I am not one) believe this to be false, or at least not altogether true. If something were absolutely true, would not there be universal acceptance of its truthfulness? Or is it just those dumb people again?

Consider how many “facts” are no longer true.  Was the existence of the planet Pluto once a fact? Yes, though no longer. Hell, it was a fact the world was once flat or that sun revolved around the earth.

“That’s not fair Jimmy, we now have progressed through scientific discoveries and those are basically beliefs from the Bronze age through the Middle ages.”

Agreed. And imagine in another century or so what science will be laughing at when discussing the ignorance of science in the year 2016? My hunch is we will have a whole new set of facts and we may very well be referred to as the Amusement Age, an era in which beliefs were guided first and foremost by influences that best met the prurient needs of the masses. But I digress…

I even learned this morning that the NCAA is taking away all the wins from the Notre Dame football team in the years 2012-13 due to an academic scandal.  Goodness, just yesterday it was a fact that this football team had recorded many victories in those seasons.

Facts change, therefore I would not hang too much of my intellectual hat on them. “Facts” may offer us probablity though most definitely not certainty.

Facts are often used to make a larger point that, in reality, it does not accurately substantiate. In other words, we use many “facts” to make a claim, or even an opinion, that something is true. For example, I can make the truth claim that people in the United States are becoming less violent and more law abiding. To back this up I may point to the “fact” that violent crime rates have been continually decreasing since the year 1990.  According to FBI statistics this could be verified and factually accurate. However, this does not address concerns such as, perhaps, a change in the definition by the FBI of what constitutes a violent crime, the accuracy of reporting violent crimes, a growing ineffective judicial system failing to convict violent criminals, and so on. The “fact” may or may not be influenced by some or all of these things, yet, due to their possibility, the “fact” must be used with great discretion and caution. Therefore your “fact” to support a truth claim may very well not be at all true, insofar as it goes in proving your opinion.

It is also a fact that drunk driving arrests among women have increased since around MADD’s (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) inception in 1980, from about 9% then to about 25% today. I guess then we could imply that more women are are drinking and driving today than in 1980 -not necessarily. The government, with such influences of groups such as MADD, have successfully redefined what “drunk” actually means…for many years it was undefined, then .15 blood alcohol content, lowered to .10 and now .08, and soon, perhaps to be .04 or lower. Yes, there may be more drunk driving arrests today yet the reason is we are constantly changing the definition of what it means to be drunk. This “fact” does not mean women have necessarily changed their drinking and driving habits, it means was have changed the definition, making the “fact” essentially meaning something entirely different, and in the sense it is comparing apples to oranges. Still want more “drunk” drivers? Move the legal BAC to .00 and voila! Drunk we shall be after the communion wine.

The idea of using the notion of “probability” is far more conducive to healthy dialogue over “fact.” The act of using facts in argument is an efficient heuristic that does not really deal with details of any given issue. Often times our facts are informed by a fundamental value system that directly filters our understanding of data.

When you think about it, this multitude of differing perceptions, understandings, and interpretations of facts, data and information in general, is what makes the world a much more interesting place. When one believes they are right because the “facts” are on their side, this is a red flag warning of dogmatic and closed-minded thinking that critical thinkers should not practice.

Whether it be political, social, or personal, most are driven by an internal need to massage their deeper emotional and intellectual needs then to arrive at an objective conclusion.

Perhaps taking an example from the micro in life may help put this “fact kerfuffle” into perspective. If we were to live our lives by the facts, none of us would be overweight, smoke, drink, or engage in any behaviors that may potentially act as a detriment to our health. The “probability” of such behaviors resulting in negative consequences is certainly substantial, yet most of us would confess to engaging in such behaviors at various times in our lives.

If we cannot allow these “facts” to inform and direct our personal lives, how could they possibly inform our public and social life? Would not the same pattern follow?

If I were to argue the fact that eating a jelly donut may be physically bad for you, you should never eat jelly donuts, right? The problem with this “fact” is that it does not take into account the complexity of the human psyche or context. Perhaps eating that donut will quell emotional angst (read: comfort food) and MAY play an overall health benefit for you in general, provided you do not eat the entire dozen…which is typically my problem. Or what about the person who is in starvation mode and their only choice of nutrition would be a jelly donut…or die.  A jelly donut would be the recommended dietary choice in such a situation.

Facts can get really fuzzy really fast.

If only life were as easy as adhering to a set of factual propositions that we can all uniformly adhere to and live happily ever after. We then could kneel at the throne of King Fact and bask in our delusions.

How boring.

 

The 5 Things I Learned While Wearing A Dress All Day As A Man

I love to challenge my students in regards to beliefs, societal norms, and cultural expectations.  As a strong proponent of new experiences and change, I frequently find myself encouraging others to try something different in order to gain new perspectives.  I believe this to be of particular importance the older we get—as opening ourselves up to new information and experiences truly helps to keep our minds fresh and challenged.

So, this past week when I challenged a particularly effeminate male student, who basically despises everything masculine, to open himself up to new “macho” experiences in which he may feel uncomfortable, going to an NFL game for example, he cringed.  It occurred to me that perhaps that could be too much, too soon. So I reconsidered.

“Ok, Jack,” I stated, “if you wear an NFL football jersey to class on Thursday, I will wear a dress…all day.”

As a man who has no interest in wearing women’s clothing, I somewhat instantly regretted my offer as he quickly took me up on it. However, I also have no interest in being a hypocrite. If I challenge my students to take on new experiences that go against their natural inclinations, why shouldn’t I?

It turned out to be one of the better ideas I have had in my life

So, the next day, I went with my daughter Tessa dress shopping (at The Good Will…. I knew I would likely never wear it again) who helped me pick out a nice red and black paisley with matching sleeves and a delicious plunging neckline.

And what did I learn from my day dressed as a woman?  5 things. 5 things I already knew at some superficial level, though experiencing it firsthand solidified and greatly deepened my understanding. I realize these lessons are very specifically from the United States perspective of cultural norms.

  • Wearing a dress all day gave me an unusually high level of awareness concerning my, ah, “junk.” A dress provides extremely easy access to the genital area while having to work fairly hard all day ensuring you are not the victim of public upskirt porn or the Marilyn Monroe style blown up dress.  Could it be that we made dresses for women the, essentially, cultural norm in a society that hyper-sexualizes them? I do not claim to be a student of fashion history, yet dresses certainly make women more easily sexually available from a practical, “let’s make this as accessible as possible” perspective. In the little bit of research I performed for this blog, it does appear that the voracious male sexual appetite has always played a central role in determining clothing norms.  Call me crazy, yet when you have to work all day ensuring your genitals do not fall out, a much greater cognizance of their presence is the natural result. As a man with pants we just tuck that bad boy away, zip up, and move on.
  • Wearing a dress all day made me feel somewhat scared and vulnerable.  As I walked through campus and endured the laughs, the dirty looks and even taunts (one young man said, “you wearing that dress makes me want to kiss you,” in jest, to be sure, though it still crossed his mind) I was not sure if I was even safe. Now I am quite certain if I did wear a dress everyday my level of sensitivity would decrease, yet this experience offered me a very small, yet profound insight into the vulnerability some disenfranchised others—such as the handicapped, effeminate males, “bull dike” lesbians or certain out-of-place ethnicities, may feel on a daily basis. Wow. I just wore a dress one day at a college campus as a stunt…while certain people have to live this as a way of life. This experience was surprisingly insightful and has given me a new perspective of cultural outliers.
  • Wearing a dress all day caused me to reach a higher level of critical understanding concerning cultural norms and practices. Why shouldn’t men wear dresses? It is just fabric that covers the body—which is really the entire purpose of clothing. Why have we attached such strong gender specific identification to clothing? It is just…CLOTHING. Who gives a flying f? Who was the council that got together and declared what is for men and what is for women… and what was the logic behind it? It makes absolutely no sense from a strictly “do things rationally for a valid reason” perspective. I realize that some men wear dresses as official garb, such as priests and supreme court justices, yet that is designed to place dress over existing clothing as to not let the outfit you are wearing underneath play any form of distraction in official proceedings. What other bullshit cultural norms do we we buy into everyday? This experience really has me thinking at a higher level of consciousness concerning what we do and why we do it.
  • Wearing a dress all day made me realize society has a double standard: Women can dress like men and it is socially acceptable though men cannot dress like women. Ok, my daughter, Tessa (the one who likes to go dress shopping for her dad)  disagrees with me on this one and I understand her point and do not necessarily disagree with it.  Her understanding is that this double-standard really is not a double-standard at all.  Men are the powerful in society and to emulate one through dress is acceptable; to emulate the less powerful is unacceptable—and perhaps this is true, yet, it still creates the same result —there is a stigma against males dressing as females, whatever the reason. Ruth Greyraven, a card toting member of the “female who dresses as male” club and biology professor at Crafton Hills College, had this to say about gender and clothing on Facebook:

Since 1968, I’ve been participating in a social experiment where I wear “men’s” clothes. I got sent home from school and threatened with expulsion the first few times, even when the outfit was a girlie-colored and femme-cut pantsuit. Times changed for women, but not as much for menwomen don’t get arrested for cross-dressing in this country. And a butch woman is far less likely to be beat to shit by queer bashers than a cross-dressing guy.

Agreed Ruth. In my courses, most female students do not wear dresses, rather, mostly, jeans and a t-shirt…traditional guy clothing. However, to my point above, why does this double-standard even exist? Clothing should not be an issue in the first place. Wearing a dress all day reaffirmed my commitment to continually challenge myself and others to test all cultural norms. Why? Not to be different, arrogant, unwilling or defiant—rather for the purpose of assisting the evolution of culture to be more loving and accepting of others, and, secondly, for the purpose of personal growth. As mentioned above, what else are we doing in 2016 that is traditional though not logical; unacceptable but with no basis; insensitive and for no good reason? Clothing is likely just one cultural contradiction of many.

So there you have it, my day dressed as a woman, in a dress. I had absolutely no idea the profound impact this would have on my psyche.

I dare you. Step out and explore new realms.  You will have no idea of the effects it may have on you, the individual, and culture, the collective. Jack did it…so can the rest of us.

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It’s Over…Good. Crafton Hills College Now And Into The Future

Each year our school hosts by far my favorite event of the year—graduation.  Every third or fourth Friday in May we celebrate the day with a breakfast in the morning and a wonderfully, positive, high-charged ceremony in the evening.

Not so much this year. Just wasn’t really feeling it.

Normally we faculty members have to scheme ways to beat the heat and the blinding, terrible glare of the late afternoon sun—so much so that the faculty purchased matching yellow and green sunglasses to sport during the outdoor celebration.

Did not need them this year.

Rather, the entire day was cold, rainy and downright gloomy; in retrospect it was actually the perfect weather conditions for a rather down and downright gloomy school year.

It was just one of those kind of years.

For me personally, the academic year began with teaching for a semester in London. Yes, the experience was overall very much worthwhile, highlighted by the fact my daughter and her man Nathan reside there and I could spend copious amounts of time with them, yet it was quite taxing as well and I am quite confident when I say I will never do it again.  The students were entirely disinterested in studying (as I would be); the program was not particularly well-run, and my experience ended with a trip to the emergency room (you can read more about that here).

Needless to say, when I arrived back in California in early December and drove my convertible home from LAX on a bright, cheery, eighty degree Saturday, even the traffic on the 405 was a welcome sight…ANYTHING but the cloudy, dark and rainy London days, crowded tube rides and masses of humanity—everywhere at all times. Some people just love that stuff…just not my cup of British tea.

It was when I arrived back to teaching in the Spring was that the parade of gloom hit the campus. The semester essentially began with a report by the state accreditation commission placing our campus—and the entire district—on “warning.” Having written a large portion of the accreditation report the year prior, I, particularly, was pretty bummed out. The infractions that placed our campus on warning were relatively minor and, for the most part, very easy fixes.  The general consensus remains that we were placed on warning due to some very problematic issues with the District Office…all issues that have, essentially, nothing to do with our campus. But, hey, it takes a village, right?

What was particularly demoralizing about this was that previously there was a sense of positive, growing optimism on campus. The school was, and is, growing in terms of both students and buildings. We were one of the few colleges in the state selected to offer Bachelor’s degree’s in certain fields. Prior to this “warning,” overall feelings of camaraderie and community were at all time highs.

As a result of this status, the school held a number of additional meetings (meetings I personally was a part of) to determine if we should give our current District Chancellor a vote of no confidence. A number of negative, contentious and overall yucky meetings later, we did.

Then the real tragedies struck. A very popular and well-liked student on campus, Adam, who had just been accepted into UC Berkeley, died in a tragic car accident. Just a couple of days later, a beautiful and intelligent young student, Amanda, was found dead.

The entire campus has been grieving these losses for weeks.

So, the campus community sat in the cold and rain on this Friday evening in May fairly exasperated. Tired. Happy it’s over and certainly ready to move on.

Yet something hit me as I sat in the gloom and the cold rain hit my face. Something that just snuck up on me as if out of nowhere. I just looked around and there it was.

I really love these people.

These people -staff. faculty, students- are my family. I really care about them. Perhaps by collectively mourning together and dealing with negative circumstances, we reached a new level of care and concern for each other that, perhaps, we could not experience in any other way.

I realized Crafton Hills College is not just a job, a paycheck and a place to do what I love. It is home to my family, my friends and the people on this planet I care deeply about.

I am quite certain that we, together, will rise like the Phoenix out of the ashes and become bigger, stronger and tighter than ever.

We carried on with our traditional end of the year faculty and staff party after the graduation. Our President, Dr. Cheryl Marshall, was particularly festive and far more gregarious than usual. It was little wonder why. It was very easy to see the pain and burden she has been carrying these past few months…you can read it on her face as easy as a pop up children’s book.

It was just one of those kinds of years.

Her festive and gregarious spirit screamed one thing: It is over—and it is time to move on.

Yet, now we move on stronger in spirit and community. We cry together, we mourn together, we party together, we dance together and we work together.

And it’s over. It’s goddam fucking over.

Good.

Now it is time to rest and get ready to rise out of these dirty ashes.

Together.

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The London Professors: When Communication and Psychology Collide

episodewhateverPlease join the podcast for a discussion with fellow London and Human Sexuality Professor, Dr. Ken Guttman, as we discuss sex (duh!), education, studying abroad, and what students should call us…amidst many other topics.  Though you cannot tell, his eyes are beautifu, believe mel. Help me Jordan!

 

A Lecture With A GoPro On My Head

This is an experiment in coordination with my son Jordan. Inspired by his All Over Perception Travel Series, I wanted to find out how a lecture from various perceptions and points of view would work. We are going to do another one in a few weeks and we think with this trial run it could be much more polished. Enjoy. His expertise only cost me .31 bitcoin!