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Archive for June 2012

Our Culture of Change

This weekend, I was watching a movie on TV and was struck by how many commercials aired during the course of the film.  I did some light research and discovered that approximately 24 minutes or 41 percent of an hour of TV programming is dedicated to advertising.  This made me start thinking about the effect all these commercials may be having on our culture.

One of the few commercials I remember from my childhood was for colored contact lenses.  At the time, I didn't know anything about contact lenses.  What I did know was that most of the women in the commercial had brown eyes, but when they'd swipe a bath towel over their faces, their eyes would turn blue or green.  The women seemed so happy to be free from their boring, brown eyes that they convinced me to spend  countless time in the bathroom swiping a towel over my face.

This was probably 27 years ago.  Think how much worse the effects of advertising, and any form of multimedia, may be now that our culture has become so open about altering appearances.  I tried to find a study that provided research on how many beauty ads for botox-like products, eyelash lenghtening, hair weaves, weight loss pills, etc. air during an hour of TV programming, but was unsuccessful.  I think it is safe to say, we are constantly bombarded with beauty standards.

Knowing the effects that all of this can have, should we be shocked when we hear about 7 year olds having plastic surgery or that plastic surgery in children has increased by 30 percent in the last decade?  We've witnessed the evolution of our culture of change.  We've stood by when people took it too far.  Instead of talking about the phsycial and cultural dangers involved, we largely just gossiped and laughed about it. 

The beauty industry isn't going to damage its bottom line by presenting itself differently or less frequently, so we have to decide when we've accepted and been subjected to enough.  Do you think our culture can or will reach a beauty standard saturation point?

Update: Is this serendipity or what?? Since writing this post, I ran across this article Watching TV Can Lower Children's Self Esteem, Study Finds.  It's a pretty good read and has links to other useful info.
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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about what it means to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions. 
Until recently, I equated responsibility with being honest with myself.  Now I realize that’s the definition of admission.  I’ve also realized admission alone will get me nowhere.
For instance, one of my personality traits is that I’m a problem solver.  This is beneficial in the sense that when confronted with an issue, I won’t rest until I’ve taken action to resolve it.  On the flip side, I try to fix EVERYthing.  I provide a listening ear and end up walking away from conversations trying to figure out a way to make everything better for everybody. 
Needless to say, I’m stressed out - - a lot.
So you see, being honest and admitting I’m a problem solver - to a fault at times – is a step in the right direction, but it does nothing to reduce my stress level.   But by owning the fact that I’m a problem solver, I can alter what that means in any given situation.  If it’s mine, I can give it away and place the responsibility of resolution where it belongs or I can choose to take a problem on.   Instead of letting behavior decide my strategy, I’m taking responsibility and making a conscious chose.
This happens, and I have nothing or no one to attribute my course of action to but me.  Responsibility.   Ownership. And hopefully a sense of relief.
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The Illusion of Progression

I'm in the process of reading Fraternity by Diane Brady. I find the subject matter largely uninteresting - the book relays College of the Holy Cross' efforts to attract more black men in the '60s - because having personally experienced being recruited by and attending a liberal arts college with a small percentage of minority students, reading this is like reading the journal I maintained as an undergrad.

I have taken a liking to a key player in the book, Reverend John E. Brooks S.J., the catalyst for Holy Cross' diversity push.

Rev. Brooks' views about what an integrated educational system should look like struck a chord with me.

"Was it fair to subject black students to a body of knowledge that had been forged by centuries of white men?...It wasn't enough to let in black students...the school needed to change."
And I would expand that last statement to say, the education system needs to change.

As a holder of a B.A. in African American Studies with a focus on Literature, one of my biggest gripes is that I can't just say, I was a history major, or, I studied literature. I am forced to differentiate an area of study because America continues to fixate on its citizens' differences. Although I studied the history and literature of a people in this country, I’m forced to refer to my area of expertise as though it exists halfway around the world.

These distinctions exist because it’s
the desire that our mainstream education system remain stagnant. For instance, literary classics should be the gold standard regardless of (or more likely, because of) the antiquated views they posses and history should be taught in the same manner regardless of the common knowledge that it’s been skewed to promote the interests of involved parties.

But how many histories can one country have? And more importantly, why has every other culture’s history been adopted into and taught as American history while our history remains its own category?

I know that by asking for our history to be regarded as simply American history, I’m asking for a lot. It involves the people in power accepting not only factual information, but also us as a people. Delving even deeper, this involves accepting responsibility for what’s been done to keep us on the periphery. I’m aware this is counterproductive to their goals and therefore unrealistic.

Therefore, it is our job to stop getting distracted - trying to keep up with the Joneses or trying to actively rebel by creating a counterculture that is becoming more meaningless by the day. We need to define and focus on our own needs as Americans.

Our history in this country predates slavery and even the arrival of European settlers. So, we need to acknowledge that we're more than just a small portion or an appendix to our country's history. And once we accept this, we need to share the knowledge because regardless of a person's race, ethnicity or culture, if they live here, our history, as American history, affects them.

The diversification in our country's education isn't going to start at the top because like I previously said, the people at the top have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. So we need to educate each other. I'm trying to do my part through this blog, but I still have a lot to learn, so please treat this as a forum to hold conversation, share ideas and information.

Another Great White Hope??

When I began reading Three Cups of Tea, I made a
prediction that I’d either love the book because it was about a man, Greg Mortenson, founder of Central Asia Institute, who turned his thoughts into action, or hate it because it was another story glorifying the Western World’s influence on so-called primitive cultures.

After reading it, I’m surprised that my reaction is simply lukewarm.

I accept Mortenson’s assessment of one of the possible causes of extreme Islam – lack of opportunity. He believed that by providing education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it would create opportunity. This opportunity would thereby prevent people from feeling the need to join groups such as the Taliban in order to be heard and get what they need. In short, he felt that a counter-attack against terrorism was respect. Provide communities basic needs - schools, clean water and the tools to create industry – instead of solely approaching them destructively.

“People in that part of the world are used to death and violence…the worst thing you can do is what we’re doing – ignoring the victims. To call them ‘collateral damage’ and not even try to count the numbers of the dead. Because to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and there is no greater insult in the Islamic world. For that, we will never be forgiven.” – Greg Mortenson
My least favorite feeling about the book stems from what remained unsaid. There are children right here in America that could benefit just as much from the aid Mortenson strove to provide for other countries. Although I don’t frown on any humanitarian efforts, I wish more people paid attention to taking care of their own before extending themselves. I just feel we’d be able to do more overall if we’re stronger as a whole.

Okay, so now that my opinion has been stated, I’d like to talk about my favorite story in the book. Jahan, the first graduate of the first school Mortenson founded in Pakistan came to him after she’d completed her studies in her village. When she began her studies, Mortenson asked what she envisioned for her future and promised to help her achieve her goals. She wanted to continue her education by studying medicine in a nearby city and then returning to her village with the knowledge. To convince Mortenson to help her make her dream a reality, she put together a written proposal detailing course load and cost of tuition and school supplies. The catcher was this quote:

“Here comes this teenage girl, in the center of a conservative Islamic village, waltzing into a circle of men, breaking through about sixteen layers of traditions at once: She had graduated from school and was the first educated woman in a valley of three thousand people. She didn’t defer to anyone, sat down right in front of Greg, and handed him the product of the revolutionary skills she’d acquired – a proposal, in English, to better herself, and improve the life of her village.”
If that’s not the fruition of opportunity, I don’t know what is.

Although much of the book focused on humanitarian efforts, Mortenson and Relin did a wonderful job capturing the political context of the conflict in Afghanistan. He described a visit to the Pentagon when he gave a speech about his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He detailed military officers with laptops under their arms speed walking down hallways – a world apart from life as he knew it from spending time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are simply out of touch, using cyberspace to try and fight a very real war.

And last but not least, I loved this quote Mortenson and Relin included from one of Pakistan’s Brigadier Generals, Bashir Baz

“Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home…you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance.”
So overall, there’s a lot of really great parts to this book and some that are far too detailed and drag on too long. On a scale of one to five, I’d give it 3.5. Not a must read, but definitely worthwhile.

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