I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


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Creating meaningful connections…

What is the difference between sympathy and empathy, and how do they work to either alienate others or to build bridges and create true understanding and compassion?

 

Why is it so easy for us to resort to sympathy when a loved one shares a difficulty with us?

Is it in some way defensive, perhaps because we are intimidated by the negative emotions of others? Are we afraid to appear vulnerable or to open up to the needs of another person? Do we feel awkward and simply don’t know the appropriate thing to say or do? Do we feel like it is our responsibility to fix the other person or their problem, rather than just being fully present and witnessing the other’s experience?

How can we practice true empathy in our daily life with those around us?

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Is science truly objective?

Here’s a thought-provoking post from Intentio Lectoris.

The author discusses some of the practical limitations of scientific inquiry that effect objectivity (finances, countless variables in the natural world that complicate things, outdated methods or equipment, etc.), but perhaps more importantly, the ways in which value judgements do come into the interpretation of data. This isn’t to say that if science isn’t perfectly objective, the whole thing is a big conspiracy and we should all forget about this whole science thing. I certainly wouldn’t advocate that stance!

Instead, it seems to me (as a non-scientist) that it is a call for scientists, and those interested in science, to be aware that scientists, like everyone else, are products of culture, particular organizations and institutions, their particular time and place in history, etc.,  and as such, carry cultural baggage, make assumptions, take certain things about the world for granted, and make value judgements based on their own prejudices.

Of course, the idea that true objectivity doesn’t (and perhaps, shouldn’t) exist isn’t only relevant for scientists. This little blog here is my personal attempt at challenging my own assumptions about the world. I try to seek out new information that gives me a more ‘objective’ view of reality, but at the same time, it is unrealistic to believe that I can ever actually be completely free of biases and certain cultural values, no matter how hard I try. I also wouldn’t really want to give up all of my cultural values because they do serve a useful purpose in life. Humans live with other humans, and as a way to communicate and create social bonds and cohesion, it is necessary to have some common ground with others, a sort of default setting of background information so we don’t have to be explaining ourselves to death all the time!

What do we really mean when we talk about objectivity anyway? What does it mean to be ‘objective’ and why does modern Western culture value this trait so highly? In what situations might it be undesirable to try for objectivity? How can we strike a balance between objectivity and the inescapable reality of personal and cultural biases and assumptions? 

For more on this topic, there is also a follow-up post here discussing why, in fact, it isn’t desirable for science to be completely objective, which is also worth reading.


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Green honey, violet sheep and wine-coloured seas… but no blue sky? (thoughts on culture, language and colour )

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How do culture and language effect the way we see and interpret colour? What is the ‘true’ colour of the world around us?

We take for granted that colour is ‘real’, an observable, definable, and objective part of our world. The grass is green and the sky is blue… or are they?

The ancient Greek poet Homer, author of the great epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, described the sea as being the colour of wine, sheep as violet and honey as green, along with many other seemingly strange colour descriptions… and there was no mention of the colour blue in his works at all. This fascinating RADIOLAB podcast delves into the discovery of Homer’s strange world of colour, and the language of colour in cultures past and present.

I find this story particularly interesting because the Iliad and Odyssey are some of my favourite stories of all time. One of my sons is even named after the hero Odysseus (that’s how much I love these stories!), and I’ve visited the ruins of ancient Troy and swam in the very sea that Homer describes in his epic poems. It’s strange and wonderful to have looked over the plains of Troy and the waves of the Aegean sea, to have stood under the same scorching summer sky, just as Homer must have done thousands of years ago, and yet know that we would describe that natural world so differently.

Listen to the podcast here:

RADIOLAB: Why Isn’t the Sky Blue?

Wine-coloured sea? Blue sky? On the Aegean sea, not far from Troy (Truva).

Wine-coloured sea? Blue sky? On the Aegean sea, not far from Troy (Truva).


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Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

This excellent article from the New York Times tells the story of a young man who murders his girlfriend, and the road he, his family and his girlfriend’s family travel on their way toward healing, forgiveness and restitution.  This bold look at what is known as ‘restorative justice’ challenges the way we usually think about criminal justice, crime and punishment, and offers hope in the possibility that both criminals and victims of crime can work toward true healing after terrible tragedies.

It is a very powerful story and has had me thinking for days. It doesn’t offer any easy answers or solutions, because particularly in cases of violent crime, no easy solutions or quick fixes exist. But it has made me question the limitations and failures of the current norms of criminal justice, and wonder how something like restorative justice could be used on a wider scale, and in what situations it would even be appropriate.

Is it really something practical that could be used beyond a few exceptional situations? What in our society would hinder further use of restorative justice and how could these hindrances be overcome? Is this a practice that can only be successful in smaller scale communities on a case by case basis or could it ever become the institutional norm?

Read the article here: Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?


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It’s a bit more complicated than that…

Confession: I have a tendency to think there is ‘One Right Answer’ to life’s big questions, and surprisingly enough (!), I often feel like I have that answer. However, I also know that it is utterly preposterous to think I actually have the answers to everything. On the contrary, I only know a tiny smidgen of all that’s to be known and understood in the universe, and things in life are rarely black-and-white. So, my ‘know-it-all’ self and my ‘I-don’t-know-jack-crap’ self are in constant battle. Sometimes it’s a bit exhausting to be arguing with one’s self all the time, but then again, it keeps me from getting bored!

So, that’s confession time out of the way. Now on to the more interesting stuff.

Recently I came across an amazing article about the evolution of adult milk drinking. Yeah, doesn’t sound that amazing probably, but trust me, it is. In a nutshell, for most of human history (or perhaps I should say pre-history) adults of our species could not really digest dairy, but somewhere around modern-day Hungary, perhaps about 11,000 years ago, there was a genetic mutation that kept that childhood milk-digesting ability working into adulthood, and that mutation was so advantageous for those who inherited it, that it spread like wildfire!

Still, about two-thirds of people currently living on the planet don’t handle milk so well… as in, drinking milk causes diarrhea and unpleasantness like that. However, the other one-third (roughly) can digest milk and it provides a valuable source of energy and nutrition. In some places, particularly in northern Europe, the percentage of adults who can digest dairy is up to around 99%! So, that’s a very brief run-down of the idea, but I highly suggest you check out this great article that explains it much better than I just did: Archaeology:The Milk Revolution (from nature.com).

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‘An attitude of openness, the willingness to recognize and accept the diversity of human experience and the spiritual values of other traditions and cultures, is essential in the practice of non-violence. We create true peace when we are inclusive of others. Yet inclusion and nonattachment to our opinions are sometimes difficult to practice. Exclusion, getting caught up my our views, is a deep-seated habit that arises from fear and misunderstanding of others. To transform our habit of excluding others, we must practice and develop understanding and compassion in all parts of our life.’

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, in Creating True Peace

There is a well known saying that it is better to be kind than to be right. I believe this is true, and yet, it can be such a challenge to really live out this belief. If you’re like me, you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into forming your particular beliefs and worldview, and these beliefs become an essential part of our concept of ourselves. In fact, it can feel that what we think and feel and believe is our True Self. It can be painful, frustrating, seemingly impossible to take a step back from those beliefs, to honestly attempt to understand the views of others, especially those we disagree with, and those who think or live in a way that conflicts with our beliefs.

If we are to live peacefully, peace cannot be just a concept. It must be a practice. It must be something we do. We must make it real. What steps can we take to create peace in our everyday lives? Is it truly possible to put our beliefs and opinions aside in order to connect in a heartfelt way with those who are different from us? What are the practical things we can do in our lives to grow in compassion and understanding with other people? 

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‘I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.’

~Pope Francis

from an interview featured in America: The National Catholic Review