The Evolution of Parenting

It’s Monday and all things are possible. On my morning commute, I was listening to the most recent episode of the podcast in which Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler recounts her early family history and how it made her become interested in conflict, leading her to write her most recent book.

As I listened to her story, I started to wonder how we are ever able to break out of the cycle of parenting in the same way as we were raised? Simple rebellion may have something to do with it. “I’ll never do this to my children” where “this” is whatever trauma most deeply marked the parent that repeats this phrase.

But I think another part of it might be the cultural recombination that is a natural outcome of marriage. The genetic exchange that happens as part of reproduction is fundamental to evolution and diversity. But just as Harari points out in Sapiens, the unique capability that has catapulted humans to be in charge of everything (sometime’s to everything’s detriment) is our ability to tell each other stories. Those stories form into cultures and today we see cultural evolution as a far more powerful and faster acting element in our lives than genetic evolution.

I think parenting styles in long term relationships is a great example of this and explains another important mechanism in allowing the next generation of parents to change things up. I wonder if this might be another challenge of single parenthood (not that there aren’t enough already): the single parent is left mainly with what they “learned” from their parents about how to be a parent and what they see in the culture at large. They don’t get to recombine their style with their partners in the petri dish of the home and come up with something new and hopefully better.


Speaking of unspoken games

The thing I love about HPB and Podcasts is the randomness of them. Sometimes they give you just what you need to read or hear respectively and this morning was one of those times.

While I am just 15-20 minutes into it, the most recent episode of The Portal features Agnes Callard, who dropped the idea that when we meet new people we are engaged in two unspoken games simultaneously: we are trying to build a relationship with them AND we are trying to jockey to status. These games push us in different directions; make us behave in ways that are curious even to ourselves.

I did a quick search and couldn’t find the article mentioned in the opening of the podcast, but did find this one, which has some really interesting things to day about why we play some of these unspoken games, and why the are unspoken in the first place.

Spoiler alert: it seems to come down to our need to have status be both freely available as a basic humans right AND be attainable through action / reward. Those two viewpoints are to date irreconcilable so we end up acting out in ways that are incoherent.


Boy problems

I’ve been deep into a few books, so have let my stack of periodicals get a bit out of control. I decided to tackle it a bit this week and was reminded why I subscribe to The Atlantic: articles like this.

In The Miseducation of the American Boy, Peggy Orenstein chronicles her interviews with college bound / college enrolled boys about their relationships with other boys and how that informs their relationships with girls. The challenges she finds are existed on the edge of my awareness, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t want to stare at directly. Part of that reason is that I’ve raised my boy (and girl). They are both over 18 and doing well at adulting. I think we were able to give them a wider view and better models of masculinity/femininity as well as a basic foundation of respect with open hearted questioning on top. But I also know what this article represents is more representative of the water they swim in and that leaves me with a number of thoughts:

  • Not to sound old, but geez was it easier when I grew up. I have what I feel is a healthy dose of compassion and an inquiring heart/mind for the conversations around gender, identity and relationships that today’s youth get to have (I’m failing at not sounding old), but still it seems inordinately complicated.
  • I’m thankful for navigating this with our two children, now adults, in what seems to have been a healthy, effective way. Especially since I had no idea what I was actually doing at the time. At the same time I feel somehow responsible for providing something to those that are still trying to make their way through this, but am not sure how or whether to act on that feeling. Teaching the faith and sexuality class one way I am doing this, but that will only be a few weeks. Then what?
  • I do wonder if some of this is a (mostly) unintentional byproduct of the important work to build up female identity and power. In a well intentioned and much overdue attempt to right past wrongs, most recently in the form of the #metoo movement, have we built up and women, expanding the Overton window of what is allowable for girls, at the cost of tearing down and giving increasingly limited options to boys? This is not to say that I feel or have experienced anything remotely resembling a backlash for being a white, cisgendered male in my life. But the stories in the article seem to me to be related to not replacing all the things we rightly removed from masculinity (misogyny, patriarchy, etc) with something to aspire to. A model to emulate.
  • Now here’s the part that I will likely get into trouble for: I think that these boy problems will (or maybe even are) cause problems for girls, at least for hetero / cisgendered ones. This is totally colored (i.e. biased) by my own experience, but I have been made immeasurably better through the relationship I have with my wife. And I think she would say the same about her relationship with me. That improvement is not because we are the same, but in fact because we are different, we know each other and we see each other’s blind spots. It seems to me that the boys described in this article will struggle to be a good mirror to the girls they manage to build a relationship with. Those girls will miss the opportunity to see themselves through the mirror of their partner and vice versa.

In all of this, only one thing is clear: There are no clear diagnosis or easy prescriptions. I only hope we have reached some sort of local minima and can improve from here. I hate to think about what worse relationships between boys and girls could look like.


What I’m listening to now

Here’s my current list of podcast subscriptions, with the ones I listen to most often in bold and newest subscriptions in italics. I’m still using the native Podcast app on my iPhone although I am interested to try out Spotify. Just need a reason to switch.

On average I listen to about 2-3 podcasts a week. Mostly when driving. More when I travel (on planes) or in the spring / summer (when I have to I get to mow the lawn). Fewer when I am working from home or in a mood for music. So obviously with this sort of feed I miss a lot.

Podcasts have been an important part of my journey. I find it to be the absolute best thing to have emerged from the web. They have reintroduced long form conversation and the best ones let you hear both all sides of important ideas and arguments in more than soundbites.

I do find it interesting that I had to compile the list above manually. I looked for a podcast app that would send data to a wordpress plugin, or at least publish a feed and couldn’t find one. It would be even cooler to have real time stats on what I had just listened to, similar to the Spotify social feed. Maybe spotify podcasts does do that. That may be my reason to switch.


When Things Fall Apart

I have been and still am a “fan” of Buddhism. I think I am allowed to be that and still be an Episcopalian. I think it started listening to Tim Ferris’s talk about the benefits of meditation. I’m not ready to fly to Tibet and renounce all of my earthly possessions, but I do think there are some interesting ways of thinking about things that the Buddhist tradition has to offer.

So it was when I started reading Reboot that I was interested in Jerry’s connection to what he learned from his teacher and added a few of the books he mentioned to my to-read list. It was only a few days later that I found myself in the place where the universe gives me a sign of what to read next when I saw one of the books on the shelf: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.

I am not struggling right with anything specifically right now, but that’s not what this book is about. While it can help you with a crisis, although probably not if you read it in the middle of one, the essays in this book more wake you up to the idea that things are falling apart all the time. That’s the way of things. Living is dying. It’s only our clinging to the way they are or the way we think they should be that causes problems.

We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off-limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.

There were a few essays that stood out to me. Three for ideas I found helpful and even comforting. And one that I am still struggling with.

The first in the helpful / comforting category is “The Six Kinds of Loneliness”. The message in this essay resonated with me since it gets right to the heart of how I feel before I start to subconsciously (although more a more, day by day I can at least notice it) look for a distraction.

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we invite in….

…When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and rolling loneliness the turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

The 6 kinds of this cool loneliness are:

  • Less desire: the willingness to be be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up
  • Contentment: giving up the feeling that there is being able escape from our loneliness will bring any lasting happiness, joy or sense of well being
  • Avoiding unnecessary activity: notice when we are keeping ourselves busy simply as a way to avoid the pain of being lonely
  • Complete discipline: being ready at any opportunity to come back to the present moment
  • Not wandering the world of desire: noticing when we look for food, friends, entertainment and instead relating directly to things as they are
  • Not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts: not hiding in the joy of our own inner dialog when things get lonely.

The second helpful essay was about Nonaggression and the Four Maras. This one spoke to me since it gave a label to all the ways I have tried to hide various fears and avoid what is in front of me. The four maras are:

  • Devaputura Mara involves seeking pleasure.
  • Skandha Mara has to do with how we constantly try to reinvent ourselves.
  • Klesha Mara is all about how we use our emotions to stay asleep.
  • Yama Mara is fear of death.

I have been visited by all of these Maras at various times and have not responded well. I think that knowing their names will help me see them more easily…and invite them to tea.

The final helpful / comforting essay was the final one in the book called The Path is the Goal. This was a nice wrap up that basically says…where ever you go, there you will be. The path is not preset. There isn’t a manual. The path presents itself in each moment and our only job is to be awake in that moment and do the best we can. Everything is a teacher.

The one chapter I struggled with was on Hopelessness and Death. Big surprise, eh? It actually wasn’t so much the death part as the hopelessness. Chodron seems to be arguing in favor of taking up the position of hopelessness, as it represents a rejection of how things are and/or a clinging to an idea of how they might be. Perhaps its my “American” showing through, but I struggle with the idea of hopelessness being a superior position to having and hope. How would anything ever get better if people had no hope. No clear idea of a better tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I also know that things are better by many measures today than they were 200 years ago largely based on hope and skill. Perhaps I am missing the point. Or I still have some more work to do. Both are probably true.

Overall, I enjoyed When Things Fall Apart very much and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the pathless path, the groundless ground and the ways we think ourselves into knots.


Feb tech updates

Writing this from the simply amazing keyboard on the 16″ MBP I picked up the day they shipped to Apple stores. I have a 13″ MBP for work with the first gen butterfly keyboard and the difference is night and day. I had planned to get a dock setup at home with an external display, monitor, etc, but honestly the keyboard is so good on this and the display does everything I want that I’m sort of loosing motivation to spend the extra cash there. I waited a long time to upgrade and now that I have I wonder why I waited so long…but then again, not sure I would be as satisfied with anything other than what this.

I think I got the blog hosting platform on AWS worked out. The upgrade to the $5 a month plan seems to have worked out the crashing issues I was experiencing on the $3.50 a month plan. It’s still half of what I was paying for GoDaddy with better performance and more control (SSH access for instance). The addition of the certificate seems to be having some of the intended effect on search performance as well.

I switched my home video surveillance system up at the barn from Zoneminder running in a Jail on my FreeNAS to an Apple HomeKit based solution running the cameras through a homebridge instance I added to my spare Ubuntu server that is mainly running automatic ripping machine to post all my CDs and DVDs to FreeNAS for access via Plex. That seems to be working well also, although I found out after I did the conversion that while the cameras work for live viewing, they don’t work with the Secure Video features which means the video isn’t recorded and I don’t get notifications when there is motion. The home bridge guys are working on it, so may just be a matter of time.

Lastly, I switched up VPN providers, at least for the next month. I moved from Private Internet Access to Mullvad. PIA got acquired by a company with a less than stellar track record, having been accused of distributing malware, so I decided to look elsewhere. So far so good, with essentially the same performance on fiber as I had with PIA – about 220 MBps down / 110 MBps up on a 300/100 MBps connection. The switch over on pfsense was fairly simple although I did have to retrace my steps on how I had setup the partitioned my network and setup the guest network to get everything working the right way.


The great divide

My wife and I “volunteered” (we might have been under the influence of a few cocktails at the time so the question of consent comes into play here) to help teach a faith and sexuality class at our church. All kidding aside about whether we were taken advantage of at a time of weakness, I am actually glad we are doing it. It’s a great chance to get to talk with some of the youth in the parish that I don’t know as well (and how better to get to know them than an hour long conversation about the terms we want to use as a group for body parts and “verbs”) and it’s also a great example of why I love my faith: the kinds of conversations we are having in these classes are both critical AND I just don’t see happening in many other faith communities.

What we discuss in these sessions is of course confidential, but there was one exchange that we had last Sunday that I can relate generally enough to keep confidence and explore the point here. It had to do with conversations that the youth are having with their parents. They expressed that although they know their parents are trying to connect with the times and be sensitive, sometimes they can say things that seem insensitive.

There’s a lot here.

One thing this makes me realize is the need for compassion when trying to communicate across generational divides. The older side of course needs to have compassion for the younger side by realizing that what defines them as different generation is a different set of foundational experiences. Growing up in the 70s was fundamentally different than growing up in the 90s which is fundamentally different than growing up now. These different experiences shape us in ways that most don’t even realize and are in fact what makes one generation different from the next. The younger side also needs to have compassion for the older because of this same difference. The things the youth today are sensitive to don’t occur “naturally” to those that grew up in a different time, so when something insensitive is said, the youth need to do some more work to not simply react as they would if one of their peers said the same thing. They need to get curios when they might otherwise get furious and ask what is behind what was said – what’s in their heart? This can be hard and painful because sometimes they’ll find something that is actually troublesome. Some real hate or disfunction. But I think equally often they will find honest intent and this can lead to learning.

And that’s the another thing this has made me realize. That while some portion of generational divides (and perhaps divides of all sorts) is a lack of compassion and willingness to go deep and mutually discover intent, another major portion comes from lack of interest in teaching and learning on both sides of the gap. The older side has to be willing to learn how things have changed and the younger side has to be willing to teach. Similarly the younger side has to be willing to learn from the experience of older side to avoid past mistakes. Both sides loose when they assume that they know it all and the other side has nothing to teach them. Both sides loose when they close themselves off to learning.


Brave enough to stop clapping

While I was taking a bit of a blogging hiatus last year, I doubled down on reading and for a time I was rally focused on the Russians, reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn in a 3-4 month stretch last spring.

So I was interested to tune into a discussion of Gulag Archipelago on the Great Books podcast on my drive into and home from work today. I also read an abridged version based on repeated mentions of the work by Jordan Peterson when I was still actively consuming almost everything he put out. As an aside, that time has past, but I would still book time to watch / listen to his next bible series should he ever get back to that.

They recounted a story from GA that stuck with me from my reading, that of the endless clapping. It goes that there was some gathering of minor party officials and local business folk in some out of the way people’s hall. The leader at this event called for an ovation for Stalin at which point everyone started clapping. The problem was that no one wanted to stop for fear of being singled out by the secret police as not patriotic enough. After 11 minutes of enthusiastic praise a local business man sat down and was followed by everyone else. He was later arrested and sent to the gulag.

Humans are heard animals by default with incentive to stay with the group. Add in a little justifies paranoia and you have a recipe for unreasonable actions that everyone knows are unreasonable but no one can seem to stop.

This is an important book still because I can see myself in too many of the stories. Would I be brave enough to sit down and stop clapping? I’d love to delude myself into thinking I would. But when I’m most honest I know the truth.

I see this happening today between many groups: left / right, urban / rural, rich / poor. We all get caught up in story lines and don’t ask questions. We’re all afraid of stepping out of line and loosing the protection of our tribe. Solzhenitsyn makes us all think about what we would go to a Gulag for. Reading even an abridged version isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but at least take a listen.


Anxiety Loops

I saw a few write ups of this study on test anxiety. The study itself uses some pretty technical language (perhaps an artifact of the “scientization” of the humanities), but here is the gist as I understand it:

  • The standard theory concerning the cause of test anxiety is that students both value the outcome of the test while at the same time feel they have less control than they would like in getting prepared (i.e. a lack of self efficacy).
  • This lack of self efficacy leads to procrastination resulting in a perfect storm / self fulfilling prophecy: I don’t think I will do well because I can’t learn the material and since I can learn the material, why should I bother to study, which of course results in…not learning the material.
  • The study found something that I think is a form of CBT called “inquiry-based stress reduction” (IBSR) as an effective means to overcome the feeling of non-effectiveness.

I read through the entire study since it reminded me of how I can feel when facing a big project. I have a perfect idea of what the result should be in my mind, but I struggle to start because I know that no matter how hard I work, whatever gets realized won’t be as perfect. Steven Pressfield called this feeling “resistance” and he correctly observed that you only really feel it for things you care a lot about. I’ve gotten reasonably good at noticing resistance, but I’m interested to try the ideas in this study to give me something to do about it when I do.

The two opening questions seem like CBT classics:

  • “Is this thought true?”
  • “Can you absolutely know that this thought is true?”.

But the follow-ups are a little more interesting:

  • “How do you react, what happens when you have this thought?”
  • “Does that thought bring peace or stress to your life?”
  • “What images do you see, past or present, as you think this thought?”
  • “What physical sensations arise having these thoughts and seeing these pictures?”
  • “What emotions arise when you have that thought?”
  • Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you have this thought (e.g. alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, and television)?”
  • “How do you treat others when you have this thought? How do you treat yourself when you have this thought?”

House Cleaning

The house cleaning of the blog continues. I finally went back and fixed the display issues that cropped up in one of my past WordPress upgrades having to do with the display of Latin-1 characters from a UTF-8 database. Followed these instructions and it seems to have worked like a charm.

I also went through and re-organized the categories, simplifying to the things I seem to write on the most: podcasts, books and a catch-all miscellaneous. I also set all of the work related posts I did here in the PLM category to private. I put them here at a time when the business wasn’t blogging, but now that they are I can focus on non-work stuff here, making the purpose a little clearer to everyone – most of all me 😉

Lastly I moved to the new default WordPress template which seems to have some cool things supporting blocks. I may eventually buy or build my own template, but this will do for now.