On Upholding Traditions

Growing up, I was raised Muslim in a house located in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, which is a separate post in itself. My father was quite religious and taught me the different pillars of Islam and just general moral instruction. My mother was less religious, and probably not religious at all (she would go on to spur my future existential plummet into atheism). As a kid, although I believed in God, I wasn’t really interested in the physical aspects of following a religion such as going to prayer.

I am sure anyone reading who has had a remotely religious upbringing can relate to absolutely looking forward to waking up early in the morning to go to the mosque, temple, church, or synagogue with your family. As a kid, I didn’t care or even understand the religious motivation for going for prayer. It was something that was I just had to do, like my algebra homework or cleaning my room. It involved wearing traditional clothing that wasn’t particularly comfortable, and leaving in the morning to go pray in a small local mosque that would be tightly packed and not well ventilated. All of this was coupled with the fact that my father is obsessive-compulsive about being on time – meaning that we’d show up 30 minutes early for no reason. Fun times.

Once I got into my late teens, I stopped going to the mosque every year for Eid al-Fitr, one of the largest holidays celebrated by Muslims all over the world signalling the end of Ramadan. My father was a little disappointed, but it wasn’t a big deal. I got to sleep in late and stay home with my mother as he went to pray.

Today is Eid al-Fitr. It is an important one because it will be the last one I can spend comfortably at home with my parents as I will be moving away in the Fall. It has been so long since I last went to pray that I cannot even remember when it was. Appreciating the sentimentality of the occasion, I told my father I wanted to go pray with him in the morning. We woke up super early (seems that tradition has held up well), put on our special clothes, and left home. These were my observations.

From the moment we left our home, there was practically a spring in my father’s step. He was smiling (a big no-no for the men in our family) and beaming with pride. The morning lag made me struggle to grasp it at first, but I realized that my father was galvanized because I was there. In Islamic culture (and in Asian culture in general), there is a specific valuing and pride that comes with sons. Without commentary on the inherent sexism of this, my father was excited to be able to take his son to the mosque on the biggest religious occasion of the year. Going together is an unspoken message that says to people: we are united as a family, this is my son. As a kid, I didn’t care for meeting and greeting all the older men there that my father knew. I just wanted to go home and eat the delicious food my mother had been laboriously working on! What I never noticed was how much satisfaction and happiness my going had brought my father.

Today when I prayed, I started to relive little moments from my childhood like ripples upon a river stream. From wondering when the Imam (often the head of the mosque leading the prayer) would stop talking to being annoyed about the extreme proximity to strangers. I realized that while numerous aspects of going to prayer bothered me as a child, I enjoyed them to a different capacity now.

Maybe I’ve grown up and someone forgot to tell me. I certainly didn’t become religious again. So what changed? As the Imam began the ritual prayer and I bowed my head with my hands to the side, I carefully glanced with the corners of my eye to the rows and rows of fellow Muslims united in prayer. In that moment, I felt that I was a part of something greater and much bigger than myself. That was the problem, it had always been all about me as a kid. Praying there with my local neighbors, acquaintances, and the barber who had cut my hair since I was 5, there was a sense of spiritual tranquility. I was a small part of all that was going on and I felt connected, like supporting your favorite team at a sports game.

Then I looked to my right where my father stood tall, feet firmly planted, praying in benevolent grace. He was always there, on the right side, just as it had been when I was younger. My father had been my anchor of moral instruction throughout my entire life. He taught me about basic respect that was due to every man and woman, regardless of creed. He would always make me feel safe and protected as a child, and I felt just as safe now. Then I began thinking about how I would be moving and wouldn’t be able to see my parents anywhere near as often anymore and it started to get emotional.

That’s when I felt a sharp nudge to my arm. I opened my eyes (as they were closed throughout the prayer) and noticed my father looking at me from the corner of his eye and I realized the prayer position had changed. You see, there’s a specific physical ritual to go about the prayer and my old man was always a stickler for the details. He knew that I didn’t have all the exact protocols memorized, so he was constantly looking out for me even in the midst of his zealous prayers. Just like he would do every year when I would go with him. Unlike me perhaps, he hadn’t changed a tick.

Walking home after the prayers concluded (which took forever, that hasn’t changed either), there was a spring in my step too. It was ironic that I never fully appreciated the experience when I was actually religious, but could do so now. It had always been very meaningful for my father, praying together and meeting all his friends afterwards. The nitty-gritty details of the tradition never mattered; the upholding of the tradition, the willing immersion into the culture and sharing it with loved ones was what made the whole thing spiritual and significant for me.

While I didn’t realize it when I was younger, those experiences were some of the most meaningful that my father had shared with me. And I fully intend to continue the tradition.

Hearts of Lyon 2/2

The second half to the Hemingway-inspired short story. Read Part 1 here.

~~~

The hotel was massive and looked like a casino with all its lights. This contrasted with the unusually clear sky that night. “So we’ve managed to build Rome at last, heh.” Nick muttered to himself. He tipped the driver a bit generously and went on to probe his companion. Ash wasn’t waking up anytime soon.

“It looks like this one is done!” The driver laughed as the moon lit up his jeering smile.

Nick sighed and slowly lifted her into his arms with a resigned but cautious motion.

The hotel was remarkably quiet at this time, and he enjoyed this fact greatly. It made it easier to organize the oncoming thoughts. His instincts led him to the elevator but after the door opened, he had a curious idea and decided to take the stairs to the fourth floor instead. He wanted to feel her embrace just a while longer.

He wondered if this made him a person of poor character. But then he realized that he did not care. Morality was for the pastors and their false gods, not his.

When Nick reached her room, he had to knock three times. Eric opened the door after a long wait in a faded green nightshirt. He smelled like he had been enjoying his night as well.

“Sorry for getting this to you so late, but I figured you couldn’t sleep without it.”

“Haha, hello old chap. Thank you, did you two have fun getting winded?”

“Well, at least one of us did. How was the Rue St Jean?”

“Loud, full of uppity Americans and Brits, and overpriced. Just like home Nick.”

“Sounds about right, Eric. I’ll let you two sleep now.”

“You sure Nickie? Come in for a drink! Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you sleep here tonight? We can have a sleepover like when we were kids. I can put some sheets over the-”

“No, don’t talk crazy man. It’s okay, I’m exhausted. We’ll have breakfast tomorrow on the café across the street again.”

“If you’re sure. Good night Nick, and thanks again for Ash.” Eric smiled genuinely.

“Good night.”

~~~

With a new taste of bitterness, he paced along the hall. Yeah, good night old chap. Fucking hell. Who does that, lets their damn wife go out and get smashed like that? With another guy? Of course I brought her back, what the hell did you expect anyway?

Turning at the corridor, he withdrew his lighter and lit a cigarette. He tried to smoke, but he was just a casual smoker and it wasn’t enough this time. He threw the cigarette on the floor, stomped on it, and exchanged profanities with the empty hall. It was a scene of pure neuroticism.

It concluded with Nick Benett sitting at the hotel bar. It was sparse with only a couple of stragglers here and there. He ordered a glass of a traditional French spirit and downed half of it at once. “It seems I’m back in college again,” Nick muttered to himself.

As he performed an instinctive scan of the room, his eyes caught a very pretty girl at the other side of the bar. She was very young, and wore her hair short which complemented her round face and hazel brown eyes. She turned her head to him and they made eye contact.

“God damn it.” He looked away but it was too late. She slowly walked over and sat at the stool next to him. He then knew that the rest of his night would not be peaceful as he initially planned.

“Bonsoir. Américain?” He had no choice but to turn and nod.

“In that case, hello. You look like you could use company.” She crossed her right leg over her left, and took out a cigarette from a white case in her bag.

“You have a light?” She asked with the cigarette tucked under her venomous lips.

“No. I don’t smoke.” Nick replied coldly.

“It’s okay, I brought my own,” which she did as she started rummaging through her bag.

“Then why the hell did you ask?”

“I don’t know myself. Sometimes we do curious things.” The young girl smiled.

Nick was surprised she spoke rather fluent English although she still maintained a slight accent.

“Let me guess, you’re surprised I speak English well. That is the problem with you Americans, the only language you speak is your own and you think the rest of the world is the same.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you. Now tell me, what it is that a nice guy like you is doing in a place like this so late at night?”

“What makes you think I’m nice?”

Well, you’re not here with a woman Monsieur. Or a man. And you looked deeper in thought than you were in that drink in front of you.”

“I’m almost offended by that. How old are you anyway? You shouldn’t be here.”

“I am 21. The women of this country mature early,” she smiled playfully this time like she was winning at a game.

“I like the late night air, the crowd it attracts – outsiders, drunks, neurotics. Which one are you Monsieur?”

“I don’t believe that you’re 21. But your English is very good. I am none of the above. I’ve had a long day and I’m trying to find the end of it at the bottom of this glass.”

“So, it’s a woman, isn’t it?.” Nick blinked.

“Hah. What makes you say that?”

“It is just mathématiques. I’ve seen many men in this bar. It is usually a woman. You do not have to be shy. They don’t last anyway, like a nice breeze on a summer day. Nothing to feel terrible over.”

Nick felt unexpectedly queer. He couldn’t put a finger on why he felt uncomfortable, but he chose to pretend it was the spirit finally working its way down.

“Hey, can I get another glass of this? And one for her too.” The young girl smiled. Her teeth shone in the dim light of the bar.

“Now tell me what the name of this…inquisitive little girl is, and what she does.”

“My name is Eden. Yes, just like the garden in the Bible. My mother was from Córdoba and very devout. And yours, Monsieur?” Her cheeks were exposed red as she took her drink.

“David. Different text, same themes. It seems both our mothers had a sense of humor, Eden.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t worry about it. Tell me, what do you do, Eden? When you aren’t enjoying the night in poorly lit hotel bars.”

“I am saving up for school. I want to study to become a defense lawyer. Right now, I take one class each semester at the University of Lyonnais.” The girl had been a bit offended by Nick’s tone, which the latter realized.

“That is a noble pursuit. I wish I had done something like that. My father was an accountant, my mother a district manager at a firm, the path was already set for me.”

“That is sad, David. That makes me sad! If you could have studied whatever you wanted, what would you have chose?” The young girl leaned forward and got closer to Nick.

“It doesn’t matter now. We all end up exactly where we’re meant to be,” Nick said as he turned towards his drink and away from the girl.

“I do not think so. It’s important to have passions. What is life without working for something that will bring you happiness? What is li-“

“We don’t always get everything that we want. In fact, we seldom do. Your naivety is refreshing, but as you get older you will quickly learn to compromise on these passions of yours.”

“Ah! You are older, but not old. But you are talking like you have given up. A man who is not ready to die for their passions, is not living anyway. Tell me then, why do you live? Why all the effort to go through every day?”

“Because an object in motion tends to stay in motion, little girl.” Nick was rapidly emptying the contents of his second drink, and definitely starting to feel the effects as well.

“Look Eden, you’re a nice girl. And very smart. Go to school, go after your passions, and stop talking to men like me. I want to be left alone.”

“No. I reject your request. Talk to me, Monsieur. What is your passion and what is stopping you?”

“God damn. It’s a fucking woman, alright? Are you happy? Will you shut up now?” Nick had unintentionally raised his voice and the bartender turned to survey the situation. The girl with him did not seem bothered so he decided not to interrupt yet.

“I see. She does not feel the same way?” Eden asked very softly.

“I don’t know. Maybe she does. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Because she’s with someone else and that isn’t going to change.” The emotional depth of the entire night’s events were starting to catch up to him and he was ready to bury his head in the bar’s table.

“I’m sorry. That is hard. I know it may not help to hear this now, but it will pass. There will be other women.” Nick stayed quiet.

“I have had bad luck too. My first boyfriend, Alexander, I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“What happened?”

“He got bored of me.” Now it was Eden’s turn to attend to her drink.

“I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“It’s okay. Because that’s life. That’s people.”

“Haha, now you’re starting to sound just like me.”

“Maybe that is not so bad. We are more alike than I thought, David.” Eden turned to Nick and smiled again.

Nick slowly sipped the remnants of his drink. As he did so, he noticed Eden and how she looked like she was anticipating something. Or, she looked like she was deep in thought. In that tight dress that accentuated her torso, that masked such a terribly naïve girl.

Then Nick thought of his friend’s face. Fuck Eric. Fuck you too Ash. Especially you. He wanted to pull their hearts out of their chests and pound them with a hammer until only small pieces were left. He wanted to do this because that’s how he already felt inside. What the hell am I doing here? Don’t even think about that. I’m an alcoholic but not a scumbag. This girl was so young and so nice. I should call her a cab. I should say goodnight and go back to my room, that’s the right thing to do.

“Eden, it was nice meeting you. Thank you for the chat and the drink.” Nick said as he got up in a frantic rush. She grabbed his wrist.

“It was nice talking to you too, David.” She smiled differently this time.

The next morning, she woke up before he did, showered, picked up a small bundle of bills that had been carelessly tossed on the dresser, and left. He was awake and heard her leave but he pretended to be asleep because that was the kind of man he was. As he heard the door close, he finally opened his eyes and looked out the window. The sun was particularly vibrant and beaming, and it hurt him to look right at it.

END

Hearts of Lyon – 1/2

This is my first prose post. I wrote this back in undergrad when I was obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. My favorite novel of his is “The Sun Also Rises,” and this short story is loosely based off of the main characters. The history of this short story is actually kind of interesting. I had major writer’s block and was totally fed up with hating anything I put to paper.

I decided that simulation might rejuvenate my creative juices. Why not try to follow writers who I really respect and enjoy? I started writing enthusiastically (and slightly angrily) one night and had the skeleton of my plot. A very small glimpse into the world of a character who is unable to find happiness, yet is teased with the possibility of it briefly. Many drafts later and we have probably the only short story I’ve ever written that I actually kind of like. Anywho, here’s part one.

~~~

Hearts of Lyon

“You know you could take it easy once in a while Ash,” the man said to his companion whom he was supporting on his shoulder.

It was particularly cold that night and the warm buzz from the scotch only reminded him of this fact. As he stepped into the cab taking specific diligence to ensure his companion was safe and comfortable, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“Where to, Monsieur?” The driver was a rare sort and his physical maturity was transparent in his vigor. He wore an aged red cap that carefully sheathed his grey hair. The cap came down the front of his face like a visor so you only saw half of his eyes when he looked at you.

“The Hotel Chevalier please, and take your time so we can enjoy the drive,” he said to the cabby. It was from then on that Nick Bennet could find himself at ease, and more importantly, to examine the state of his company.

Although she was a woman in her late twenties who was inebriated to a point of no return, she still maintained a childlike naiveté. She was half-asleep, or really she was in a peaceful trance the likes of which only true alcoholics could understand.

She was wearing his favorite leather jacket, a faded mahogany reflective of the season that inspired its purchase. It was loose on her but it wrapped around like a protective blanket. Inside she wore a white dress shirt, top-button open. This detail would be insignificant to anyone else but for him, the button tested the threshold of his lust.

He reached towards her hair, cultivated black silk. With a delicacy almost excessive, he began to run his hand through it. Nick was now in two places – holding his soulmate, and at his annual family outing to Manchester Beach. His mother has her characteristic beaming smile, his father is further away but present. The grains of sand form gentle currents in between his fingers. Watching the waves breathe in and out to an invisible rhythm, he feels invincible. Now next to Ashley, he was nervous, terrified even, but he did not want to be anywhere else.

And he had waited for this painfully since the summer of ‘99. They were just kids in the bodies of young adults back then. One of his friends had thrown another meaningless party as was common in the social circles he traversed. After wandering around in search of anything, he was greeted by his best friend, Eric Palmer.

“Nicky, there you are. Been looking all over for you.” Eric was a Calvin Klein cut-out: tall, dark, and handsome but he never let it go to his head. He was one of those likable types that got along with everybody. Nick had known him since childhood. Their fathers had been on the rowing team in college.

“You’re looking pale chap, you need some sunshine! Listen you remember that girl I told you about? The one I met at that National concert that wouldn’t leave me alone? Well come say hello to her.”

“Eric, are you running that mouth off again? You hounded me if I recall correctly. I’m sorry, don’t listen to a word he says. Hi, I’m Ashley, call me Ash. And you must be Nick. You know, Eric doesn’t shut up about you. At the beginning I was even sort of worried.” That was the first time he saw her smile and he stored it in the dressers of his mind like a secret photograph.

Ash was one of those bright-eyed girls on the covers of magazines. The type that caused traffic jams and left behind rubble and heartbreak in their wake. In actuality, she was only above average in terms of appearance but her confidence and the dexterity in which she carried herself elevated her. Nick was so caught off guard that he delayed in noticing the hand extended towards him.

“It’s a pleasure, Ash. And you’ll get used to it, don’t worry. Eric’s always been a talker.” Nick smiled, non-artificially for the first time in a while.

“No he’s alright. Thank you, for always taking care of him.” she grinned again as she shook his hand. He almost didn’t let go.

Everything followed after that. Lunches, dinners, parties, mindless excursions. The three were inseparable, even after Eric got married. Now it must be noted that while there was an initial attraction, what he felt for her now took years to propagate in the recesses of his heart.

And now she was only a breath away, delicate and vulnerable as he slid his hand to her neck. He traced her contours with religious devotion akin to Donatello taking the final measurements of his David. Then Nick’s finger bumped into a small golden locket that encased her neck.

“Why do you never take that thing off your neck?”

“It’s not a thing, Nick. Eric gave me this when we started seeing each other. As you know he was a waiter back then so he saved up for months just to get this for me! I tried a million times to get him to return it but you know how sentimental he gets. He keeps saying it’s just a placeholder until he can get me something bigger and shinier. But this is all I need.” Her voice faded as she grew nostalgic.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were so…cliché, Ash .”

“Oh, shut up. What’s taking him so damn long with the drinks?”

Nick inhaled deeply. Life is a sequence of choices, some with more heavy consequences than others. His parents weren’t backing him now so he had to tread carefully through the labyrinths of his emotions.

“Oh Ash…” he whispered to his sleeping audience as he reached for her cheek. It was a flush of crimson, but not due to the poison coursing through her veins. She always appeared to be blushing and it was one of those things about her that drove him mad.

Nick inhaled deeply. He wanted nothing more than to embrace her, to feel her warmth against his. He knew things weren’t so simple. Life is a sequence of choices, some with more heavy consequences than others. He had to remember to tread carefully through the labyrinth of his emotions. Still, he could not resist putting his hand on her exposed cheek.

It was a moment of pure unadulterated love, an experience that was so foreign in his life that it was excruciating for him to have to pull away. As he did so, suddenly she detained his wrist with an intimate grasp. All the blood that had rushed to his dick came back to his heart at twice the speed.

“Don’t stop Eric…” she said softly, in her half-conscious state.

Like the moment after a gunshot, his blood turned to ice. All the late night fantasies, all the savage delusions he had built towers out of, came crashing down upon him at that instant.

He let go of her hand and he did not even look in her direction for the rest of the ride. Fortunately, she had returned to slumber after that timely mumbling. He tried to focus his attention to the passing scenery but he felt incapable of seeing, hearing, thinking, anything.

“It’s a cold night, isn’t it?” Nick asked, almost to himself.

“Yes. Very. In France, it gets like this, this time of year.” The driver responded, eyeing the front mirror.

“May I ask if you are married?”

“Twelve years my friend.”

“Hah, how do you manage that? In my country, you would be laughed at.”

“We manage with difficulty. It is not easy, and French women are not easy. But if you live with someone a long time, it comes together like a ruban. Simple. ”

“That’s the problem with everyone today. We’re all too damned simple.” Nick’s face was half-covered in the darkness of the night.

“Well, you don’t have anything to regret, friend. You are a lucky man!” The driver replied, implying in the direction of the once-again unconscious woman.

“Yeah. I guess I am.”

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

I am sure a few of you have already rolled your eyes. Maybe you’re a skeptic, maybe you’re tired of hearing about the test from your friends or seeing it on dating profiles. For those unacquainted, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test that is quite popular nowadays.

History

The test is the brainchild of Isabel Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs. The two became grossly interested in the ideas of one Carl Jung, the founder of  analytic psychology. Jung believed that the ultimate goal of the individual was self-realization, which involves exploring the different facets of one’s personality with the goal of integrating them together. Inspired by this framework, Briggs wanted to create a tool that could help people become aware of the multiple dimensions to their personality so that it can aid them in reaching their full potential. Borrowing and adapting the ideas from Jung’s book, Psychological Types,  the MBTI was eventually born.

The MBTI

I won’t go into great detail here but there are 4 dichotomies. Each person is believed to have a dominant function in each dichotomy. With 4 categories and 2 functions in each, there are a total of 16 possible types. For example, an INFJ or ESFP.

  1. (E)xtroversion/(I)ntroversion – Whereas these terms have grown to have different meanings, the way Jung originally interpreted them was to describe how individuals attained energy. Those who feel rejuvenated by spending time alone were introverted, while those who became galvanized by being around others were extroverted.
  2. (S)ensing/i(N)tuition – This facet has to do with how one processes information. Those who are more in touch with their senses rely on the concrete input they get from their present environment (through hearing, seeing etc.). Meanwhile those who favor using their intuition would rather trust information that comes internally or through insight.
  3. (T)hinking/(F)eeling – These two functions relate to how we make decisions. People who are thinkers rely more on objective assessment of different variables using logic to make their choices. People who are feelers think with their hearts, and tend to use subjective experience to make decisions.
  4. (J)udging/(P)erceiving – The final dichotomy has to do with how we use information once we’ve processed (or experienced) it. Judging types lean towards being organized and relying on established rules or ideas. Perceivers are much more flexible, and tend to be more open to spontaneous changes.

Validity

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the flaws with the MBTI. Psychometric validity (does the test measure what it claims to) and reliability (how consistent is the test) are vitally important for any kind of test or measure, especially if it wants to be taken seriously in the academic community. Having said that, the reliability and validity of the MBTI are dubious at best. Multiple researchers have addressed some of the limitations and flaws of the design of the MBTI (Boyle, 1995; Pittenger, 2005). Here are two of the big ones.

  1. The design of the measure is categorical, it’s one or the other. In other words, if you are extroverted it means you are not introverted. We all know better than that. In reality, people are a balance between the two – the variable is continuous. The way the test is designed, it is not sensitive to the fact that people are not black-and-white and could operate on both sides of the different dichotomies.
  2. The second problem is the test-retest reliability. Many who’ve taken the test will get one result the first time, and a different one the second. Perhaps this is related to first issue. If someone takes the test on a day they’re more in touch with their intuition function, the results of the test would likely reflect that. A good personality inventory would be sensitive to differences such as that and would reliably lead to the same outcome if an individual took the test again.

Once you have received your type on the test, you can read up on what the core strengths and weaknesses of that particular type are. There’s a wealth of other information such as what your different relationships (friends, family, romantic etc.) are likely to be like, what kind of career paths would be a better fit, and how you could continue to grow and develop as a person as was the original vision of Katharine Cook Briggs.

There are a couple of different places to take the test and there are a few different versions with slightly changed or new methodology as well; however, the basic makeup of the test is the same. I’ll include a link to the site that I particularly like, you can take it for free on there.

Take the Test

Thoughts

I first took the Myers-Briggs in my freshman year of college. It was a tumultuous time in my life where I was thrust into a new environment and just starting to figure out who I was as a person. I took the test and got my type designation, and became terrified at the profile for what my type was like.

It matched me to a “T.” It felt like I was reading a textbook about my personality, a lot of my feelings, ways I thought about things, and even weaknesses that I had. It was scary at first but over time it also became helpful. It helped me connect more to the different facets of my personality and learn about myself. For the first time, I really became aware of the “edges of my personality” and became curious to explore who I was. Most importantly, it motivated me to want to grow and change in order to address some of the shortcomings or areas my personality type struggled.

Now a lot of the skeptics will immediately disregard the MBTI due to the lack of strong empirical evidence. As I am a scientist, I do understand that reaction. However, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there all over the world who really do find the MBTI a useful tool in learning more about themselves, and in finding solidarity in their personality type using it as a vehicle for social interaction. To discount the usefulness or significance for those individuals would be rather stubborn, not to mention inconsiderate.

The test is certainly not for everyone. But a lot of people find it pretty cool. If you’ve never heard of it or taken it before, give it a try (there’s a link a few sections above). Worst case scenario – you waste 10 minutes. Best case, you learn something new about yourself.

References

Boyle, G. J. (1995). Myers‐Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Some Psychometric Limitations. Australian Psychologist, 30(1), 71-74.

Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57(3), 210.

Missing Out

We live in an era that is dominated by social media. Everything you see, hear, or do can be effortlessly transmitted onto a platform for all your friends/family to complete strangers to see. The advent of social media has also brought a long-hidden facet of being human – the longing for approval. Now, not only can we share our lives, but we can cash in for approval and validation in the form of likes, retweets, upvotes, and on rare occasions when Snapchat makes you aware that your friend just took a screenshot of your bikini photo or weird alcohol-fused text.

Ego validation and approval are a basic human social need, there is nothing to be ashamed of (so be sure to hit that “like” button at the bottom of the page). However, there is a more insidious side effect that has come about that I’d like to bring forward. Due to the approval-based nature of social apps, we are rewarded for posting certain kinds of content through the aforementioned methods. This leads to a kind of “filtering” that occurs; you don’t post about every little thing that happened during your day nor do you take pictures of every meal you eat (okay, to be fair some of you do). Instead, most people post the interesting cool things that happen to them like that limited time Björk art exhibit at the Metropolitan, or that glass of $400 wine you got to try. Thus news feeds become inundated with pictures and posts that are interesting, aesthetically pleasing, but not necessarily realistic.

Not seeing the issue? Let’s paint a picture. It’s Saturday night and I’ve opted to stay home and listen to the entirety of The National’s discography while I assemble a bookshelf from Ikea. It’s not the most riveting weekend and during a break I decide to catch up on my Facebook feed.

“Hey, it’s Julia. Wonder what she’s been up to. She went skydiving? Wow, that’s insane.”

Scroll.

“Hm, I haven’t hung out with Juan in ages. Let’s see…he went to a Nets game today, that’s cool. Looks like he took some photos at the game. Wait a second, is that Jay-Z in the photo? He got to meet Jay-Z!?”

Scroll.

“Okay, surely someone here has had just a plain old regular boring weekend.”

Scroll with more intensity.

Anita wrote a status, let’s take a look.

“Decided to keep it low-key and stay in this weekend.”

Alright this looks promising!

“Will need my energy next week when I’m flying to Haiti to help build roofs! #blessed #squadgoals”

GOD DAMN IT.

Now those are extreme examples (except the skydiving which seems omnipresent, what’s up with that?), but what I’m getting at is that with these filtered feeds, we get a narrow view into peoples’ lives, one that makes everyone seem a lot more interesting or exciting than we probably are. The truth is Anita probably prepared for a while for her excursion to Haiti and she doesn’t necessarily spend all her free weekends volunteering. Or Julia spent several days a week walking dogs after school to save up money to go skydiving. And Juan certainly wouldn’t be posting about the many Nets games (perhaps the only Nets fan in NYC) he goes to throughout the season if he hadn’t met Jay-Z. Maybe you know someone whose life really IS that interesting, but chances are statistically – that it’s not.

When the average person flips through Instagram or Facebook, it can instill this inner sense of dread that is an amalgam of disappointment and perhaps insecurity that one is not living life to their fullest, or at the least that it’s not as cool or interesting as that of others. But it’s like comparing yourself to a mirage, you’ll never win, especially when your competition is primarily comprised of a snapshot of the best and most flashy parts of a person’s life.

The sense of missing out is something I’m sure is common to the experience of many in this day-and-age. If you feel that way, at least you aren’t alone. If it’s any consolation, most people have pretty boring stable lives with the occasional gulf of excitement. You aren’t missing out too much.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

For those who haven’t heard this one, it’s a famous metaphor originally coined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The premise is simple.

A group of hedgehogs (cute little mammals whose bodies are covered by sharp spines) are trying to get through a very cold Winter. Desiring warmth and intimacy, they try to bundle up close to one another. However, they realize that if they were to try to get close to one another, their sharp spines would cause harm. Thus they are to remain separated and deprived of warmth or intimacy.

This metaphor has been extended to different situations such as the relation between the individual and society, or the plight of an introvert longing for social connection. Today I want to discuss it in the framework of depression.

Peter Lewinsohn was a psychologist who argued that one’s environment and their interactions with said environment are key to understanding depression. Central to his argument was the concept of positive reinforcement, the idea that a behavior that leads to a positive reward or outcome is likely to lead to a repeat of that same behavior in the future. For example, a child that throws a tantrum in a store and receives immediate attention from their parents is likely to throw future tantrums as a means of gaining attention (if you are a parent, please reflect thoughtfully on this).

Lewinsohn suggested that those who are depressed, perhaps as a precursor or as a natural consequence of the disease, struggle with receiving positive reinforcement from their environment. Those who are depressed may not have access to resources or people who can provide them with support or opportunities for happiness. Even worse, those who are depressed may also be less sensitive to positive reinforcers even when presented with them. Without any form of positive reinforcement, there is little incentive in attempting change and those who are depressed are stuck with their negative emotions unable to move past.

However, those who are depressed still desire happiness, intimacy, and social connection. Lewinsohn also argued that depressed individuals may have deficits in social skills that make it harder to receive positive reinforcement from their environment. That is where our friend the hedgehog comes in.

“Don’t be a Debbie Downer.” We’ve all heard that expression. If you’ve ever known someone with major depression, you know it’s not the most fun thing in the world. Depression is a horrible disease, one that not only afflicts the sufferer but their loved ones as well. It can take energy trying to reach someone who is depressed, putting in all your effort to try to engage or have fun with them. Most importantly, it takes patience which is a virtue that not all possess. Many may lose their patience and give up. Or others may feel their own mood being negatively affected and choose not to try anymore.

The individual who is depressed, however, still longs for that social connection or for some kind of positive interaction. Analogous to the hedgehog, as the depressed individual tries to interact with other people in search of positive reinforcement, they may instead experience the opposite with others avoiding them or interacting negatively. In turn, this may lead to depressed individuals isolating themselves further and thus depriving them of future opportunities for positive reinforcement and maintaining their depression. It is a very difficult cycle to be stuck in.

So what is there to do? There is no easy solution. However, if we all become more sympathetic and understanding of the nature of major depression, it is at least a step in the right direction. On the part of those who are depressed, being cognizant that others may want to help and have the right intentions but may not know how to go about it is important as well. Honest communication between both sides could go a long way in not only improving empathy, but also preventing social isolation.

The xx – Chained

The xx – Chained (BBC Live)

I watched you breathe in
And I wished you’d stop
Only for long enough
Long enough

It’s hard to say

Separate or combine
I ask you one last time
Did I hold you too tight?
Did I not let enough light in?

If a feeling appears
If your mind should sway
It’s not a secret you should keep
I won’t let you slip away

Chorus x2
We used to be closer than this

We used to be closer than this
We used to get closer than this
Is it something you missed?

Winged or chained
I ask you would you have stayed
Did I hold you too tight?
Did I not let enough light in?

~~~

I have to say I’ve been on a electronic indie binge recently, and it’s been very difficult to pull away from the hypnotizing lure of The xx.

The London-based group have been on a steady rise to fame from the get-go after their debut album in 2010 won the Mercury Award (best music album in the UK + Ireland).

The band has no real lead singer. Instead, guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s crazy beautiful voice effortlessly interplays with bassist Oliver Sims’ equally delicate vocals. Often on tracks, and particularly in their earlier albums, the lyrics are almost just spoken aloud over the music likening it to slam poetry. That’s not a style I am normally a fan of, but the reason it works for The xx is because of the production and genius of the band DJ, Jamie xx who also has a prolific career having been heavily influenced by hip hop.

Fun Fact: The band members are childhood friends, with Croft and Sims practically playing in the same sandbox together from age 3. They befriended Jamie later in school around age 11. It’s difficult to find a more closely-knit band than this one.

the-xx-2

Image courtesy of @The_xx.

I want to point out the really minimalist nature of the band. There’s no fancy over the top effects or filters, no distractions from the delivery of the lyrics. Even down to their dress code which could be viewed as modern-Gothic, The xx keeps things simple in an era where that is far from the norm. This style really exemplifies the band’s ability to produce a very intimate sound. In contrast to the well-known shyness of the band members, their music and lyrics betray a much deeper and emotionally connected depth of experience much like a silent lover who feels everything but shares very little.

Dysfunctional relationships seems to be a recurring theme with the songs I choose, and this one is no exception. “Separate or combine, I ask you one last time. Did I hold you too tight?” The narrator holds conflicted feelings about their partner, wanting to see them suffocated in the first verse but then going into a neurotic self-questioning streak where they try to figure out if they are to blame for the fall of the relationship. Songs like these always make me a bit sad because they’re so heavy coming from one side of the relationship; it’s easy to feel sympathetic for the narrator, but I wonder what the other partner would say about the relationship.

When growing up, my mother had one of those motivational sort of posters in our bedroom which had a bird on it and read “If you love something, let it go. If it come back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, then it never was.” So my final question to you is, winged or chained, would you have stayed?