Saturday, December 25, 2010

Empath or.....not?

A couple life encounters lately have increased my curiosity about empathy. Particularly, how it applies to me and if do or don't consider myself an empath. It should probably be noted that I've gone into this with the assumption that I don't consider myself an empath. I've heard my boyfriend talk about, and seen, how he gets "caught up" in other's emotions. When someone feels something, he very literally feels it too. When I'm down, he feels down. When I'm happy, his emotional tone adjusts to reflect that.

It's not something I relate to. The experience of feeling "inside someone else's head" or feeling that deep and intense resonance to how their feeling is a very, very exceptional (in both senses; rare and amazing) experience for me. If anything, I frequently feel emotionally discordant with what's going on around me. When a crowd is going wild, I don't find myself getting inadvertently swept up in it. When someone is sitting in front of me crying, I (usually) don't start crying too.

That said, I feel it's also important to note that I consider myself a very relatable, very sympathetic person. In many ways, I've made my life a study of people. I've recently come to realize more fully how intentionally I position myself socially to be on the edges, or even outside, of groups so that I can observe better (that also partially stems from being highly uncomfortable with attention). I'm very observant and highly analytical. In (almost, let's not be too general) any conversation I'm paying constant and detailed attention to the flow and energy, how people are interacting, watching their reactions (and I seem to derive more amusement out of picking up on quirks or funny reactions than most people), and getting a sense for the dynamic and balance of the conversation. But that doesn't mean I am literally feeling the emotions around me.

Further, I seem to find myself frequently playing the role of confidant. I am good conveying to people that I understand, that I relate, and giving sensible and trustworthy advice (not the best, but better than many). I consider it to be a nod to my ability to make people feel safe and comfortable around me; personable is a word I've frequently heard people describe me as. It probably also has something to do with, despite having an admittedly "sheltered" background, I've kind of been a few places in life. I've been through a pretty broad range of things and been around a lot of different types of people in several places and situations.

So given my ability to relate, but not feel; sympathize, but not empathize, does that entirely mean I'm not an empath? I think it comes down to how you define a few things. Unfortunately, it also depends a lot of how I see myself in the context of others, which is difficult to peg down because it's a vision jaded with the bias of my self-perception and the fact that I am many different sides of myself around many different people.

I little poking around online and it does seem that there is an accepted distinction between emotional intelligence and empathy. Given the points I made earlier, I do consider myself to be a person who is fairly (my ego would say highly) emotionally intelligent. But my ability to relate to and pin point and act intelligently in accordance with others emotions often comes only very deliberately. During the course of an intense discussion, I find myself stepping back and thinking myself through what I'm hearing. "Ok, they say this makes them feel like this.....that must FEEL like ______ (pause to let the applied emotion set it), hm, ok that might because of this other thing they told me, and probably also means they're sensitive/averse to/effected by this other thing......" and so on. Very conscious, very deliberate. But also, usually, not too far off.

So this seems to become a question of the role intent plays in empathy. Many seem to describe it as natural, organic (even genetic), something that people inherently possess, and seems to be often also bring up allusions to psychic powers of "sensing" a person's true and hidden emotions. It seems to be considered an innate force.

Doesn't sound like me.

Yet when it comes to nature and feeling my surroundings, I seem to fit the empathy label better. I'm highly environmentally sensitive. I can "feel" a room, and be effected by its atmosphere and vibe very strongly. Consequently, when I find a space I like, I tend to LOVE it (and vice versa). I personally think this also coincides with loving being outside and a part of nature. But I've never really connected this to my ability to communicate with and understand people.

So am I an empath? Probably not. Is that a bad thing? Not really; it doesn't mean that I don't care about people, or that I'm not a good leader, or not creative, or not a good listener. Yet, my understanding is that empathy carries with it socially positive connotations. Those that are sensitive and able to feel with others are perceived as caring and lots of other good stuff.

Regardless, I'm happy with myself, however I am. I do realize that I tend to get blocked by my own emotions, but my ability to step back and logic out how other people are feeling has its benefits. I don't lose control of how I'm feeling in the presence of other emotions. And I'm able to remain sensible in otherwise highly emotional situations (unless the situation directly revolves around me, in which case all hope of sensibility is almost lost). And I'm able to provide perspective to those that are stuck in a particular emotional place that they don't want to be. I can adjust my focus to where they're act while still maintaining my internal emotional spectrum and thus help guide them and show them other ways to see and feel things.

Pros and cons, pros and cons....

Friday, December 24, 2010

Missing India - A recipe!

I was fortunate enough to get a few recipes of my favorite dishes from my host mom in Rajasthan, India this summer.

Even during the monsoon season, rain is rare in central Rajasthan; it rained for a few hours a couple days the entire time I was there, and the relief of seeing it brought child like elation from adults. Going up on the rooftop while it was raining, and you'd see the heads of all the neighbors on their rooftops also taking rain baths.

Seemingly everything has a meaning and a tradition there, and rain is no exception to this. It didn't take me long to immediately start looking forward to eating dal dhokali as soon as I saw rain. It was easily one of my top 5 favorites and I miss it!! So I thought I'd share the recipe :)

(for dal)
-1/2 cup mung dal (kidney beans)
-1/2 tsp red chili, tumeric, coriander
-salt to taste
-pinch asafoetida
-1/4 tsp cumin seeds
4 cups water
(for dhokali)
-1 cup wheat flour (unbleached)
-1/2 tsp red chili
-¼ tsp tumeric powder
-¼ tsp cumin seeds
-salt to taste
-2 tsp oil/ghee

Wash and soak dal for 15-20 minutes and drain excess water. Put 3 cups of water, salt, tumeric powder into dal and leave on gas (simmer) for 5-6 minutes. Now puta ll spices and duokali in and leave for ½ an on gas.
Take wheat flower and add all spices and make into dough (knead with water and pinch of salt until it stops sticking to your fingers. Roll to about ¼ inch thick and cut into 1 inch squares) and put into dal and simmer for 10 minutes. Add more water if needed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Drop it like its hot

I'm actually on the ball for once in my life and looking up textbooks for my classes BEFORE they start.

I looked up the texts for my "fun" class, political psychology, and...well, a few things. First, there's 10 books for the course. The most I've read for any one course in a semester thus far is 8. I'm unsure the level of depth that will be required, but still its a lot to keep track of.

AND costs a ton; its the nontextbook books that always sell back for the least. Kids always complain about science classes being expensive, but honestly, it's the english/language/novel heavy books that cost the most because you get the least back, if you get anything at all because they tend to have rotating topics so the reading list will change every semester meaning the bookstore no longer wants last semester's books back.

AND all the books appear to be about war and leadership. Perhaps I should have seen this coming? There's books about establishing authority, legitimacy during war, books by war time heros, etc. I want to take this class to learn more about citizens in the context of the state. It looks like we'll be studying the opposite end of the spectrum. Which could be intersting but not something I entirely can justify making time for given the other constraints in my life.

Droppin' it like its hot.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Easy Way Out

I can already tell I've got a potentially too full academic plate next semester. I've had more than one semester with 6 solid academic classes, and by the end I'm always swearing never to do it again. I have 5 solid classes and a fitness class, but the combination of classes and knowing how busy I'm going to be with the grad school apps and the job hunting and everything that comes with being an RA (namely having to be spur of the moment flexible and frequently being kept up at all hours of the night to deal with stuff).......I'm fearing I've set myself up for too much to be able to get the academic results I want.

So I'm faced with a decision.

Right now I have a "fun" class, my first intentionally-doesn't count for my major-just because I want to take it-elective credit class since I started college (and since sophomore year of high school for that matter, although my 7th IB subject was intended to be an elective that just happened to get me IB credit). It's political psychology and it appears to appeal precisely to my research interests. I'm fascinated by the relationship between citizen and state; how does the citizen contribute to government outcomes, how is the citizen shaped, how is their behavior as a citizen influenced, and in turn, what are the policy implications of all that. Fascinating. People think that because I'm a student of International Studies/Relations that I want to save the world, which dichotomously can only be achieved by either being a diplomat or being a certain breed of NGO running, non-profit loving, corporation hating, Peace Corps volunteering, UN working......person. I've come to find that I am centering on an unusual middle path between the two that is far less traversed and I think it has much to do with my research interests and the simple fact that I chose IR because I am, quite simply, interested in how the world works. My particular chosen angle on this happens to involve governments because they are an inevitable and often powerful presence in nearly everyone's lives and thus can be important to how we chose to live our lives and can be a mechanism to reach thousands, if not millions, of people at one time.

Now that I've basically written my personal statement all over again; political psych. Cool, want to take it, probably won't be massively difficult, but won't exactly be underwater basket-weaving either.

So do I drop it? Do I accept the simple fact that it is a luxury that I cannot afford and need to drop to free of time to attend to my other classes?

Another route is change my selection for my quantitative reasoning requirement. I've currently selected deductive logic. I almost chose philosophy instead of economics (and in retrospect, thank goodness I did) so I obviously have some penchant for it and thus would consider it a worthwhile and fulfilling course that would enable me to be better tutored in the practice of logic, an excellent life skill. But, despite the fact that my brain is fairly well attuned to the type of thinking required for the course, it still will be difficult, and the class doesn't give many A's.

So I'm considering instead taking the easy way out and taking something algebra just to get the requirement done.

This seems a bit backwards to me though since I've already taken calc and on principle have something against the idea of it.

So what's most important here?

Its my last semester. This semester was a disaster that I'm still beating myself up about, but it doesn't even compare to the nuclear destruction I did to my GPA last year. I have a particular goal GPA in mind that I'm not super excited about but can live with. Anything less than that is a prospect I'm currently not sure how to handle. In order to meet this goal my GPA has to be solid next semester. Not impossible, definitely not my highest ever, but nothing can go wrong. I can not afford any disasters or surprises and I don't want to set myself up for failure. At the same time, my academics are important to me and I'd hate to forfeit the pursuit of education in favor of my GPA.

But I keep coming back to the fact that this is my last semester, my last chance. There is no redemption after this point. Either it happens or it doesn't. And right now, walking out of UNC with my diploma in my hand knowing I reached my goal GPA is much more important to me than taking a certain class.

So I think I know I have to back down and change my schedule. I just haven't quite gotten to a point of action yet.....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pardon my opinion

Some ideas are just stupid. So it upsets me when people with stupid ideas are praised.

Cases in point:

1. A project at a certain top-tier school to raise funds for something in Kenya (probably a school or an orphanage, they seem to be the only things college kids care about) (And yes, I am sick and tired of hearing heart warming, touching, oh-so emotionally compelling stories about African orphans so I'm slightly more sensitive to the topic). The project involved sending old newspapers and magazines (in the US, a-hem, Indiana) TO Kenya where they make them into necklaces (if you've been to East Africa, you know what I'm talking about). Then they shipped them BACK to the US, sold them on campus, and donated the funds.

Two trips, across the ocean, just to make a necklace. And why not use local magazines and newspapers (bc there certainly is plenty in trash piles in Uganda, I can only assume the same for Kenya) is absolutely, positively beyond me.

2. Another project at another top-tier school (a-hem public university in, cough cough, North Carolina) that ships defective painted glass beads (from a local craft organization) from Kenya, to the States. Students then make the beads in the jewelry and sell them on campus and send the proceeds to an orphanage that students have built a relationship with by sending numerous interns to volunteer over summers.

Clever, but the project is product of at least two grants and entreprenurial fellowships to stay afloat and I highly highly doubt they are coming out ahead.

Oh, you say, but Cortney, darling, you're missing the point! Its social entreprenurship! The point is to enact social change! Not make a greedy captialistic profit! That's entirely beside the point!


If you have to survive off of government funds to do you're little feel good (but completely and illogically inefficient) project, lets just think about that for one second. Let's extrapolate a little bit. Someone has to pay to ship the beads and the necklaces and the purses and the aprons from Africa to the US. Even if you're organization doesn't, the government has to foot the bill. Hurray, you've successfully increased national debt, weakened the US's economic position further, and therefore made the country less capable of allocating funds to development related issues.

Is the money lost to the US small in comparison to the gains in Africa? Perhaps. I'll agree a little goes a long way. But it adds up in the US, too. Argues of profit v. nonprofit organizations aside, if everyone takes on ventures that aren't self-sufficient and sustainable, where on earth is the money going to come from to fund them? And no, you can't just print more, bc horray you've just devalued the national currency and further weakened our position globally, horray, we now can do less to help other people with our money that is worth less.

It seems amusingly ironic to me that a lot of "these people" talk on and on and on about social responsibility and taking social issues into account, in fear of the big bad capitalism monster, well guess what folks..........isn't all this just a TAD socially irresponsible? It's inefficient and it comes at exorbitant unnecessary cost. Thanks for keeping OUR nation's ability to provide for OUR citizens in mind. Not.

I could go on longer to make this more air tight but I have studying that needs get done so I wont. But overall, I'm ticked at how idiotic some ideas can be and how much praise they are given and the pedestal we put these people on.

Why not send ONE intern over to TRAIN more personnel at the orphanage so you don't need to spend the money on sending so many interns over, and consequently have more money to donate to the orphanage?

Why not train women to make their own beaded necklaces to sell locally and pump money into the local economy, which lots of research has show has greater net results than merely donating money directly (and trains more women and "empowers" them, which some researchers say has consequent benefits on better family spending decisions such as educating children and saving. I see pros and cons to this argument, however)

Why not get wealthy families in Kenya that can afford newspapers to donate them for jewelry making, instead of shipping US newspapers all the way to Kenya. (and consequently increase rich/poor interaction and increase inequality awareness that could potentially lead to narrowing socialeconomic gaps via cultural attitudes)

Yes this is personal for me because I'm in the same field as these kids and had entertained the exact same ideas, but turned away from them for sake of attempting to avoid doing more harm than good. I will rarely do something unless I see some net benefit to be found in it and I DO NOT believe that "something is better than nothing" which is what motivates a lot of people to rationalize their under-scaled and inefficient efforts.

Yet who wins at the end of the day? Who is getting national attention and praise and a great resume full of lots of fellowships and grants and acceptance in to great grads schools. The idiots. Yes I'm jealous and yes it doesn't seem fair. Call me a brat but I do think I have some validity in my point.


I really am horrible at remembering I have a blog. All I need is one sufficiently distracting thing, and BAM it's existence ceases to be something I'm aware of.

Luckily something usually jogs my memory.

I've been weirdly on top of my work lately. Like, it's legitimately unprecedented for me.

I'm the procrastination queen. I do everything at the last minute; its a way of life for me.

And yet, sometime, three weeks ago, I accidentally wrote down the due date for a huge paper a week earlier than it was actually due, which resulted in me getting ahead on my work.

Suddenly I had time to do all my other work in a timely matter.

And since then, I've been precisely on top of my work, with enough time to get everything done without cramming, and enough bumper room to make sure I have time to rest and relax and stay healthy.

I think part of it also has to do with the fact that my boyfriend is visiting this weekend, the weekend before finals, and I'm worried about a) getting distracted and not doing the studying I need to do and b) having to study all weekend and thus not getting to spend much quality time with him. Consequently, I've been working diligently to make sure I'm on top of my work, rather than behind, so I don't have to cram this weekend.

I'm not saying this to gloat. It's a life lesson that I think should be shared.

I don't have any more time than usual, nor do I have less work than usual, simply put, I just do stuff when I need to do it rather than putting it off as long as possible.

I'm amazed how....rewarding trying this new approach has been. Procrastination might be addictive, but so its staying on top of your work. I'm so much less stressed, can really enjoy the time I spend not working, and I work better because I'm not so hyper pressured to finish my work.

I'm rather acutely aware of the fact that at any point in time I could get knocked off my balance, get behind, and end up cramming as usual. Which, interestingly, motivates me further to do my work now rather than later so that doesn't happen. It still feels weird to run out of things to study and go to sleep rather than staying up all night to study as much as possible. I've also noticed I seem to be more sensitive to changes in stress levels. Which I suppose makes sense, I'm not so hyper stressed that I lose all sense to magnitude.

We'll see how the week plays out.I have two problem sets due tomorrow, which I finished yesterday, and an exam friday, which I'm almost done with my study outline for, meaning I can spend a little time today and tomorrow starting to prepare for my two exams Tuesday rather than waiting until after my Friday exam.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bull Between the Horns

I was told to write "a 8-10 page paper on a relevant topic" for my Global Issues class.

Given that I hate this class and would be hard-pressed to do any serious damage to my grade, I'm not entirely gung-hoe about putting a lot of work and effort into this.

So, ticked at all the time we spent in recitation moaning about end of end of the nation state and how horrible this is for culture and communities, I wanted to write about transnationalism and ways that the concept of boarders are being redefined by globalization.

I figured this deserved some categories of ways and settled on economic, technological, ideological (politically), and cultural.

Yeah, super broad.

But I'm too lazy to narrow it down and do the amount of thinking and research that would be required of a narrower topic (say, MNCs specifically, or just focusing on Asia).

So I'm currently banking on arguing myself out of this little situation I've created. My topic isn't too broad. Every other topic is simply too narrow. And until a broader approach is taken, we cannot begin to "realistically" conceptualize the issue of transnationalism and therefore cannot even begin to competently discuss its legal, security, etc. implications.

Basically, I'm taking the bull between the horns. You'll note that two of my categories are the ones most often focused by those arguing for economic globalization and the later two are more often the focus of sociologists/anthropologists in their social theories of transnationalism.

In reality, these are two sides of the same coin but no one seems to be acknowledging it. Rather, the economic school is overlooking social consequences as mere afterthoughts/products of economic change, and the social school is looking highly myopically at cultural implications of grande and mystical economic forces that they often only vaguely refer to.

I shall close the gap! I shall build a bridge! I shall spur discussion and dialogue between the two schools for the sake of a brighter global future!! And I shall spend less time working because of it.

Sound convincing?