Lesson Learned (reverb11)

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

(This prompt comes from day 10 of this Reverb11 list.)

I was really struck by the child abuse scandal this fall at Penn State.  Besides immense sadness and compassion for the children affected, I felt incredulous that after someone witnessed the rape of a 10 year old and reported it, nothing more was done.  Where were all the adults?  How hard would it have been to just call the police?  Surely, in the same situation, I would have done something.  Any of the decent people I know would have!

And then I read this extremely insightful look at human behavior, written by the very thoughtful David Brooks (whom I’d only a week before been introduced to via Charlie Rose on NPT, which we were watching because we cancelled cable).  In his piece, Brooks challenges me and everyone else thinking the same thing I was about the actions we surely would have taken had we been witnesses.  He highlights case after case of people witnessing wrongs against their fellow humans and continuing blissfully without taking any action.  Humans, he says, are good at self deception, paying attention to what we like, and ignoring that which is inconvenient, unwelcome or objectionable.   Brooks ends with this nugget (emphasis his):

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?”  The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive?

And I feel like David Brooks is speaking directly to me or maybe shouting (though I don’t think he shouts actually; he seems quite polite).  How often do I self-deceive?  How easy is it to not hold myself accountable at work to get lab stuff done?  Is that any way to finish a PhD?  In social or professional situations, when the subjects of religion, choice, or marriage equality come up, how often to I just keep my mouth shut?  And how many people could I advocate for if I spoke openly, rationally, and calmly about my views?  When I struggle with relationships, what do I do to address the situation?  (Blaming the other person doesn’t count.)  When I see a stranger riding a bike on the sidewalk or walking their dog without a leash, do I address it with them?  What steps have I taken this year to help the least of us, the homeless, the sick, the in other ways maligned?  How do I act to save our quickly warming planet and to reduce consumption?  The answers to these questions vary in how good I feel about them, so my lesson for 2011 is that self-deception is easy to slip into, and in going forward, the best way for me to address this habit is to be mindful of it.

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Free Time (reverb11)

What would you do if you had more free time?

(This post is a part of Reverb 11, even though I’m not blogging every day or following any kind of order.  The prompt comes from here.)

This question is fitting for this year because a lot of 2011 for Hubs and me was about decluttering our time and attempting to free more of it.  The goal was to find balance between feeling good about working really hard in lab, spending quality time together, with friends, and with our animals, exercising, and doing chores.  We’re obviously still working on it, but a lot has changed about the allocation of our time since the start of 2011.

First, we cancelled cable.  I blogged about this back in August, but now several months out, I can tell you that it is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  Not only have we stopped watching all cable shows (obviously), we have also stopped watching network shows that we didn’t really like because we no longer have the DVR to make them convenient.  We don’t turn to TV as the default relaxation activity anymore, and Hubs and I have both read waaaaaay more books than we did in 2010.  A lot of days the TV doesn’t come on at all, and it is almost never on in the mornings.  The NFL is still readily available, but we’ve also started a new social tradition of going to bars to watch games, which is more fun and fills us up socially.  If you’re thinking of cancelling cable, do it.  It’s absolutely the best way to give yourself more time.

Second, we hired a cleaning service.  It’s fairly crazy that grad students are making this a financial priority, but not having to worry about when our house is next getting cleaned is waaaaay worth it.  Also, the time that it takes me/Hubs to clean well and thoroughly versus the time it takes professionals to clean well and thoroughly do not compare.  We no longer have to fight about house cleaning, which is spectacular.  We can truly relax on the weekends, rather than doing tons of chores, which also means we exercise more.

Third, focusing on just a few things has made me feel more balanced overall.  Along with cancelling cable and paying someone else to clean, not playing/coaching ultimate, declining some social engagements to make sure we have some nights at home together, establishing a schedule of twice a month volunteering with Tonks, and finding three amazing yoga classes that work well with my weekly schedule have all be huge contributors to the balance I am currently (well maybe not currently, the holidays are hard) feeling.

If I had more free time, I would do more creatively, but frankly, I’m doing just fine.  The free time Hubs and I have now is spent in being together or being with family or being with friends, and I think that’s what I need right now:  to just be.

Guilty Pleasures (reverb11)

Being relatively new to the blogosphere, I have been pleasantly surprised to see a movement happening around the interwebs called Reverb 2011, where bloggers post lists of topics for every day in December or write in response to topics others have posted.  I like the community aspects and that topics are provided, and I like how some people are picking and choosing which topics suit them best.   Today, I’m going to write about five guilty pleasures, the fifth topic from this list.

1.  Following the fashion/activities of the English royal family, specifically the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Wills and Kate).  This guilty pleasure started EARLY.  When I was a tween, I joined an online Prince William fan club known as (wait for it) the Wilmas.  It was basically conducted all via Yahoo! chat rooms (when those were cool and safe) and we did things like send homemade birthday cards to William and Harry.  The obsession continues to the present day with my active membership in the What Kate Wore Facebook group and reading of the corresponding blog.  I hosted a 4 am party to watch Will and Kate’s wedding live.  I am currently watching the NBC special about the first six months of the royal marriage (while my darling husband grocery shops)!  Gosh, if I don’t feel pretty ridiculous.  BUT I LOVE IT.

2.  The Twilight Series.  Obviously many people love these books, but if I have a daughter, I will not encourage her to read them.  Twilight glorifies co-dependence, traditional gender roles, and the idea that women need men.  In spite of all that, I have read the series no less than four times, and I’ve been to the midnight premieres of all the movies.

3.  Cream horns (google it):  best purchased at the grocery store, I am fairly certain the filling of these is made with Crisco (or lard) and that they have virtually no nutritional value.  I don’t eat them often, but when I do, I usually eat the whole package (five cream horns).

4.  and 5.  are related because they both involve my preference for listening to songs on repeat (4) and reading the same books over and over.  A certain college friend will remember the days that I listened to Total Eclipse of the Heart on repeat until she was so frustrated that upon calling and finding I was still listening to it, she hung up.  I think it stems from the desire to not be disappointed.  If I can listen to a song or read a book, then why not choose one that I know I love?  I have therefore read Ella Enchanted maybe 12 times (no exaggeration).  These tendencies about myself seem like guilty pleasures because I think there’s a lot of pressure to be innovative and hip about the music we listen to or the books we read, but there’s something in these and all of my guilty pleasures about being true to myself, so that’s what I’m embracing here.

What are your guilty pleasures and what do they say about your true self?