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Intellect and Fish

October 9, 2013

For a class, I was asked to write about the whether or not intellect is a social and cultural construct, based on the Einstein quote in the picture below.  The quote reads: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  Below is what I wrote on the subject.  

Poster from RedBubble.com

I believe that intellect is partially – but not entirely – a social/cultural construct. As in the Einstein quote, we are to some degree a product of our environments and our ability or inability to fit in to them. However, I believe there is also a natural, inherent potential in each of us. Some people, no matter what their environment, will simply never develop intellectually beyond a certain point. They simply aren’t “wired” for it. Likewise, there are some people who take Einstein’s fish analogy and (pardon the pun) blow it out of the water by becoming a tree-climbing fish. (Note, this is specifically regarding intellect, and not the various types of intelligence. We may use intellect and intelligence interchangeably, but they are actually quite different concepts.)

Obviously, a supportive environment increases our chances of healthy intellectual environment. Strong communication and literacy skills in the home, as an example, are likely to increase a child’s capacity for understanding language. This is one type of intelligence, but I believe it is also a piece of the intellect puzzle. However, if that child has a learning disability, a biological impairment, or even a lack of interest in this type of learning, he or she is still never going to excel in the area of language arts and literacy. The fish must have the desire as well as the ability to climb the tree.

Conversely, a child who is always told that he or she is stupid is likely to give up before he or she can even come close to reaching his/her ultimate potential. If you tell the fish he can’t climb the tree, maybe he won’t even try. If you encourage him to try his best, then maybe he will somehow manage to defy all logic and expectation.

Does this make the fish crazy? Does it make the fish-parents also crazy for encouraging the impossible? I suppose by some definitions it does. There can sometimes be a fine line between seeing the world a little bit differently than other people do, and being mentally unstable. Does that mean that a healthy and active imagination is just a slip away from schizophrenia or other dissociative diseases? After all, if you’ve seen the movie A Beautiful Mind, sometimes extreme genius and mental illness do in fact go hand in hand.

Mind you, this is not to say that mental illness should just be ignored because it can be a sign of great intelligence, imagination, or intellect. True mental illness should certainly be treated appropriately. My point is simply that sometimes the line is less clear than others between what is a matter of “thinking outside the box,” and what is truly unhealthy.

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Allergies in The Bathroom

May 15, 2013

For the food allergic, it seems logical the kitchen (and school cafeterias, and restaurants, and bake sales … ) would be a tricky area to navigate. I expect these challenges, as the parent of a food-allergic child. Where I don’t expect it is in my bathroom.

bottles of shampoo and body washed lined up

In recent years, I’ve tried to use more and more in the way of natural products for my hair, skin, and body. Likewise, my husband and I try to be mindful of which products I’m using for my son. Let’s use sunscreen as an example. Over the past few years, there have been more and more articles about how certain ingredients are bad, so I try to stick with more natural options. The Bug and I both have fairly sensitive skin, as well, and he is very fair-complected. During our occasional Florida vacations – and especially during the years we lived there – daily sunblock is/was a must, so we wanted to be extra careful, but finding products without the scary-sounding chemicals can be tricky. Imagine our surprise when we found, in our chosen brand, a substance called arachidyl alcohol, which is derived from peanuts. Were it not for my Italian-speaking husband, who recognized this word root as being akin to the word arachidi, Italian for peanuts, we’d never have known! There was no allergy warning anywhere on the label!

Now, around this time, I had also discovered that my shampoo at the time contained soy protein, and thus stopped using it – at least during showers with my son. That, I admit, was probably overkill, as reactions to soy are usually mild and not contact-based. However, reactions to nuts – and especially to peanuts – often are contact-based. At home, if my husband or I eat peanut butter, we have to wash our hands and faces before touching Bug. If I kiss him before I have rinsed out my mouth, he will get a red welt on his skin where my lips were. So I can’t help but to imagine his whole little body covered in red splotches from using a nut-based sunscreen! At the time, he had eczema flareups so often, it’s impossible to say whether or not we saw a direct reaction from the few times we used the lotion before noticing the label, but considering how deadly these allergies can be in some people, it wasn’t a chance I was willing to keep taking.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve been experimenting with different shampoo and conditioner options, trying to find the best balance of “works well,” “doesn’t cost a fortune,” and “isn’t full of scary unpronounceable chemicals.” I had a solution I absolutely loved… until one day I was in the shower and took a closer look at the label. Almond oil. Again, no allergy warning on the bottle, nothing to tip me off unless I looked very carefully at the ingredients list. Sighing, I planned another trip to the grocery store and packed the offenders into my gym bag where I didn’t have to worry about contaminating the shower or bath my son would be using. (Which of course then makes me wonder how the severely allergic manage in public showers!)

Now, I know it is my responsibility as a consumer to read labels and to be aware of what it is I am purchasing. I’m not writing this to blame anyone, nor to spew righteous indignation all over my computer screen. Though I do think it would be nice if the FD&C required allergen labels for substances which come into contact with skin, I admit.

More than anything else, though, I am simply shocked and disappointed at how difficult it is to find products without nuts in them, when shopping for natural/organic skin-care products. Maybe it’s time to start looking into how to make my own shampoos and conditioners! Perhaps that will be a fun summertime activity for me.

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Love

February 14, 2013

Image of a teddy bear holding a heart and a ribbon which reads "Be Mine."

It’s Valentine’s Day, a day which has so many meanings and connotations.  To some, it is all hearts and flowers and romance.  To others it is another “black” day.  I’ve been in both camps over the years, from hosting an anti-Valentine’s Day party for my fellow singles in college to receiving a teddy bear with the pictured t-shirt from my husband the year we met.

But this post isn’t about Valentine’s Day specifically, nor even about romantic love.  For Unitarian Universalists, today is Standing on the Side of Love Day, which to me is about the embodiment of our First Principle: To Respect the Inherent Worth and Dignity Of Every Person.  I struggle with this; I suspect we all do.  But it is an ideal, something to strive for and to remind ourselves of when we catch ourselves slipping away from it.  It is hard to remember to love someone when they’ve done something wrong – to you, or to the world at large.  It is hard to remember to love when our differences divide us.

Hard, but important!

This post is also about self-love, another concept with which I have personally struggled.  From a young age, I remember being fed platitudes about how we cannot love another until we learn to love ourselves.  I don’t know that I agree with that absolutely and literally, but self-love is the foundation of so many other things in life.  If we do not love and respect ourselves, how can we be successful and happy?  If we do not treat ourselves well, how will anyone else treat us well in turn?

I think these two types of love are what can unify us all – the romantics and the skeptics.  We are ALL a part of this world together, and we all have a sense of self.  So whether you’re spending Valentine’s Day with your loved one(s), or on your own, remember that Love is more than the roses and the candy.  It is worth, it is dignity, and it is respect.

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2012

December 31, 2012

When I look back at 2012, all I think of is facing fears.  Death, pregnancy and loss, failure, success, public speaking, tragic events… even the end of the world.  Sure, a number of other things occurred throughout the year, but these were the defining moments for me – defining the year and newly-defining me as a person.

I want to say that I can face down these fears and tell them, “Ha! You can’t hurt me anymore!” but I’m not convinced (and I don’t like to tempt Fate).  Sure, that’s true of some of them: I’ve actually come to enjoy speaking in public, where just half a year ago the prospect terrified me.  But I’m not sure I want to find out whether the others still have the power they held before this year.  I’d rather just … not know.

But what is unmistakeable to me is this: I came through it! I faced all of the above, and I got through. Maybe I didn’t handle each situation with grace and aplomb. Maybe I needed some help along the way – support from my husband and family, extra sessions now and again with my therapist. But here we are, on the edge of 2012 into 2013, and I can honestly say, “I survived!”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to take credit if I had to ask for help. Sometimes it’s hard not to criticize myself for breaking down or falling apart or wanting to hide. Sometimes I have trouble remembering my strength, or I simply get tired of being strong all the time. 2012 was a very tiring year in that regard.

I’ve found it hard to say goodbye to 2012 because it means, well, just one more ending in a year full of endings.  So instead, I’ll do what I have tried (not always successfully) to do all year, and focus on beginnings.

Instead of “So Long, 2012,” I will say, “Welcome, 2013!” Let’s see what new beginnings the coming year can bring.

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Thanksgiving

November 22, 2012

Image

Today is a day to shift our “natural” negativity to focus on the positive.  The origin of the holiday is surrounded by darkness, but its meaning to us in modern times is about finding the light within the darkness.  It is not about gorging ourselves on turkey and pie any more than it is about mourning the ancestors who were involved in that first, bloody and violent Thankgiving.

For just this one day out of the year, let us try to shift our focus to remember our blessings.  Even the worst-off among us can surely find something for which to be grateful.

Myself, I am thankful that I have this beautiful life.  And I will try, at least for today (but hopefully for longer) to remember that it does not (nor do I) have to be 100% perfect to still be pretty amazing!

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Trust

November 19, 2012

Trust.

It’s a small word with really big meaning, and I think it’s a concept a lot of us struggle with to one degree or another. Mostly, though, we focus on interpersonal trust, I think. “I have trust issues,” tends to mean, “I have difficulties trusting other people.”

Yet, we are a society full of insecurities, lacking in confidence. Lacking in self-trust. This self-doubt often keeps us from achieving – or even setting – goals to push us towards our dreams. In the worst cases, it can be absolutely debilitating and could be easily linked to social anxiety, job loss, problems at school, and can definitely affect our relationships with other people. If we do not believe in ourselves, others aren’t likely to believe in us either.

I recently came to the realization that my own trust levels even have a biological facet. After difficult menstrual cycles throughout my adult life, and three pregnancy losses, I realized I no longer trust my body to function as it is “supposed to.” Perhaps I never did trust it, but I certainly do not, now. Likewise, as I fight the constant barrage of Kindergarten Germs, I find that I don’t truly trust my body to stay healthy either; instead, I’m hesitant to even make plans more than a few days ahead of time for fear of illness interfering. How sad is it to not even trust my own body? My body does so many amazing things: it walks, it moves, it digests, it sustains itself with breath, and nearly 5 years ago now it brought an entirely new body into the world. All by itself. How unfair is it that I would treat it with such disrespect and mistrust?

Similarly, is it really fair how little I trust myself in general? Isn’t it disrespectful to question my every major decision, to constantly second-guess myself, and to hold myself back from opportunity because I might not be “good enough”? If I treated my husband or son this way, it would be considered far worse than mistrust! (It’s interesting to me how that differs – my mistrust of myself versus my difficulty in trusting others, but I think that’s a separate rant.)

In my experience, realizing the root of the problem is the first step towards solving it. Sometimes (too often, I’ll admit), that’s actually as far as the work ever seems to progress because making changes is hard.

But this is a change I want to work hard to make. I want to learn to trust more readily. I want to trust myself – body and soul – and I want to trust others. Though, as stated above, I think the internal and external trust issues come from different roots, I think some of the mechanisms are the same, and I hope that being aware of and working on one will help to do the same for the other.

Trust yourself. You are capable.

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It Can Get Better

November 7, 2012

I recently had the privilege of attending a community concert and event intended to increase awareness of It Gets Better. The numerous local musical talents were interspersed with videos and speeches – some from people who had been bullied and lived to tell the tale, and some from local representatives. As I listened to all of these stories, it was very difficult for me to keep my emotions in check. These stories made me remember some of the difficult things about my own childhood, and made me worry for that of my son.

Mind you, my own story is mild in comparison. I don’t know if one would say I was “bullied,” or “teased,” or whatever. It wasn’t necessarily about sexual orientation – just being “different.” I was never physically harmed (threatened a few times, though), but was called all manner of names and went through periods of time where I was lucky if I had one or two people I could call friends. I never got to the point of wanting to kill myself, only to the point of not wanting to go to school. It could have been much, much worse, and these stories reminded me of that.

What really sticks with me from the speakers I heard that night, though, was one line from Jamie Nabozny‘s speech. He reminded us all that, “… bullies are our children, too.” (And hopefully I’m remembering that quote correctly.)

As a Unitarian Universalist, part of what I (try to) believe is that every person has inherent worth and dignity. What Jamie said spoke right to that, and reminded me of how difficult the first principle of Unitarian Universalism really is to live out. As people, we often want to label the world as right or wrong, good and bad. Bullies are bad, right?

No, bullies are people. It’s not as black and white as all that.

Most of the stories we hear are about the victim. We want to tell them that it gets better, that life is worth living and the future is worth seeing, but we let the bullies fall through the cracks. They, too, need to understand that life is not about, “…just the here and now,” as the song says.

With some love, understanding… and maybe therapy or other interventions, it can, indeed, get better.

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