Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From Plastic Mammoths to Glass Smartphones

It is amazing to think how advanced our society has become concerning the use of basic consumer products. Twenty years ago, my dad bought his first Mac desktop computer for a few thousand dollars. This breakthrough device allowed him to send emails, albeit very slowly, to essentially anyone, anywhere in the world... assuming the recipient had an email address. Furthermore, this allowed for my dad to make a word processed document on his computer that he could subsequently print up on his Apple printer. At the time, the conveniences and advancements of this massive machine where quite impressive.

Fast forward just ten years, and the Wood family purchased another Mac computer, the eMac. This behemoth of a desktop computer was housed in a single unit, and was outfitted with built in speakers, a 15 inch screen, and the new Mac OS X. Not only did this device allow for word processing and internet use, but we could also play music and movies on our new computer, because this machine had a built in CD/DVD (woah). At around the same time as our new computer was installed at our home, cell phones were becoming an increasingly more common device. More and more we would see people talking into these large plastic devices as a means to talk on-the-go. No longer were you constrained to only talk to people on the phone, but now you could talk virtually anywhere. This worked especially well with our fancy new computer, as naturally it only ran on dialup internet. This meant that rather then picking up the home phone and being met with the unpleasant gargle of a lost internet connection, you could now simply make a phone call off the cell phone network.

Let's briefly review these advancements. Around the time I was born, the Wood home was crimsoned as a 'Mac household,' by the introduction of a desktop computer that could connect to the internet, print documents, pay mine sweep, and send email. Ten years later, our Mac identity was further defined with the eMac, which housed a whole new range of practical programs like iTunes and iMovie, and again, we could connect to the dialup internet at anytime to explore the ever growing "internet."

Now lets take it to the present day. Every member of the Wood family now has an iPhone, a laptop and a few other devices for use. These phones have capabilities that our ten year old eMac never dreamed of possessing. These phones can explore the far reaches of the internet, they can take 5MP (!!!) pictures and video, they can wirelessly download and play music from virtually anywhere, they can send and receive large email files, they can write and print documents, they can instantly translate any number of languages, they can compare prices with the scan of a barcode, they can display realtime news stories, they can stream video, they can send hundreds of text messages at once... and yes, they can make phone calls. In my short lifetime we advanced from a massive, noisy and slow computer, which hogged most of your desk space, to a small, sleek smartphone that fits in your pocket. Not only is this phone a fraction of the size but it is also exponentially more powerful and practical.

In just twenty years, we have invented two incredible and unfathomably powerful products, the cell phone and the desktop computer. We have taken these advancements to such a level of advancement that they have now been reconciled into just one device, the $150 smartphone.

Consider this. Thirty years ago, very few people would have predicted the depth and breadth of our technological advancements. Today, we have a difficulty imagining something that much more advanced than we already have, but history shows that myopic lens to be often wrong. Considering the advancements of the last twenty years, what kind of advancements will the next twenty years bring us?


Friday, December 16, 2011

American Psycho... logy

I recently read an article that looked to understand how people judged a piece of art or their preference in expensive wine. The conclusion was that people's perceptions and opinions of things are complicated, and driven by a number of factors such as, the taste, aesthetic qualities, and monetary value of something. In experiments done on how people preferred expensive wine over cheaper wine and how people preferred a real Rembrandt over a fake Rembrandt, a common reaction was increased blood flow to the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. The article describes this part of the brain as focusing on monetary gain, pleasure and perceptions of reward.

I found it to be extremely interesting that there was a small piece of our brain which helped us prefer something simply on the basis of its associated value. This sort of brain activity (I assume) extends far outside of wines and paintings, and can be applied to things like clothing labels, foods, cigars and the like.

Now that their is a scientific understanding to how we incorporate financial worth in judging something, I wonder how we can apply that knowledge outside of psychology. More specifically, I am curious of the differences in development in specific part of the brain between cultures, communities, genders, races, occupations, socio-economic classes, ages, nationalities, political understandings etc etc.

It would be interesting to discover that an American has a more defined and larger orbitofrontal cortex than a European might. Or that a middle class woman has a less pronounced orbitofrontal cortex than a upper class man does. The variables and circumstances to this kind of experimentation are endless.



Overcoming Cynicism

As you know, my past semester was spent in Ghana. Ghana is one of the more developed and stable countries in Africa, but it is certainly not without its problems. The country is riddled with poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and corrupt politics. Amidst all these problems, people remain engaged in their communities and appear quite happy under their current circumstances.

Despite Ghanaians appearing content, us Americans still see a need to improve on the present situation. In doing so, this semester I worked with a water filtration organization that distributed and maintained simple bio-sand water filtration devices in villages around Accra. My opinion of this project as a noble and important one has not wavered, I do question however, it's effectiveness. In practice, it seemed that every week we would install a new filter while we discovered that last week's filter was going unused and breaking. I could not understand why this fantastic and free product would go unused, especially when it was providing a much needed service to these villagers who lacked access to clean water. I could not understand what would prompt someone to forego filtering deadly bacteria out of filthy drinking water. Finally, I could not understand what we as an organization could to fix this major problem.

After working with SafeWater for 4 months, I left the country having only partially answered some of these questions. I realized that the normative and cultural practices of the village proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for us. It wasn't as simple as explaining the biological findings on these water conditions, and expecting people to understand and adopt the practice of diligently filtering their water. If a Ghanaian family were to go through the past thirty years drinking this dirty water and lived to tell of their practices, why would they use the filter? Pouring water into a blue bucket was simply laborious and unnecessary. It wasn't that they didn't appreciate and understand the concept of what the filter was doing, but they just didn't see the need to use it. Having come to this somewhat haphazard understand of the lack of use problems, I moved on to tackle the final issue of how to fix the problem... A question that has proved nearly impossible for me to answer.

SafeWater was plagued by a lack of funding, which certainly contributed to our roadblocks along the way, but the organization was run by passionate and committed people (namely, the fantastic Josephus Hallie). Funding issues notwithstanding, I question whether this model of distributing these devices throughout these villages is effective or needed. I question whether it is our place to come into Africa and make this improvement, moreover whether it was our place to decide whether it indeed was an improvement at all. With this understanding I have come to the conclusion that maybe we don't need to move forward at all. Although the mission and intention of international aid organizations is noble, I question whether it can be completed. Are consistent and positive results from the the push model of development possible? I say no. It is this resounding 'no' which is discouraging to hear myself say, as it is in essence admitting defeat; nonetheless, I don't have answers. I can't see how this model can effectively work and I don't know where to move on from here... It is this jaded cynicism that I am challenged by and am working to overcome. But again, I am tempted to embrace cynicism and accept that although we have good intentions, we may not have all the answers to the world's problems; furthermore, our egregious amounts of funding to these aid projects can only do so much.

Hopefully I will realize that this seemingly pervasive reality of failed aid is not the norm, but the exception; currently however, I am far from convinced of that.


I recently stumbled upon a TED video about this kind of problem and I believe it illustrates the issue quite accurately.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Odwira Festival: The Death of a Sheep

Friday was a day of celebration in the Odwira Festival and was the day of the durbar and the sacrificing of the sheep. The sacrifice of this animal began at about 8:50 in the morning, and was announced with loud drumming. Once these instruments caught our attention, the group walked over to the large tree in the middle of the square, a tree that is to be home to an important deity who protects the people in the village. As a crowd of about 40 people developed, a number of priest began to pour libation (in the form of schnapps) onto the tree, while reciting words appropriate for the occasion. From this point in the ceremony, it was clear that this particular event was not as revered or important as other events were, evident in the small attendance, and absence of many important priests and executioners. In any light, this seemed to be a sacred ceremony, and was believed to be an important part of the Odwira cleansing.

After a few minutes of schnapps pouring at the base of the tree, the clerics of this ceremony grabbed hold of the confused and quiet creature. With a swift movement of their knife, the lamb’s throat was spilled open. Once the bleeding process began, the priests picked up the feet of the lamb and began waving it in the direction of the tree and surrounding plants. It was their task to spread the blood as a sacrifice to the deity in the tree. As the thick, red blood oozed out of the animals neck, the priest decided that they were done with this process of the ceremony and, in a very undignified manor, they tossed the lamb to the center of the cement platform, adjacent to the tree.

The lamb lay on the ground for a few minutes, quietly and uncomfortably gasping for air. When it seemed as if the sacrificial animal had finally breathed its last breath, it, in a burst of terrified adrenaline, began to shake and kick on the ground, as if to regain its balance and run away from these men with knives. This short and pathetic attempt to save itself only resulted in the hurried death the sheep, as it began to seep out more blood from the gaping wound on its throat. This struggle had also attracted the attention of one priest who seemed to take notice of the animal’s plight, and commenced to further sever the head from the body, while keeping the two intact. It is difficult to say whether this final violent act against the animal was done to relieve it from further misery, or whether it was traditional procedure.

The group of priests performed a few more unrecognizable ceremonial rites to honor the tree, and then continued in closing the ceremony. By now, the entirety of any life left in the animal had been lost to some other realm of being; evident by the listless corpse laying still on the concrete. The clerics wasted no time in further mutilating this lifeless body, by promptly cutting off the gentiles for the ram and placing them under the tree. This act was to further honor the tree deity, and leave something of a reminder of the sacrifice that was performed. Once this final act was performed, the procession of priests, drummers and followers continued out of the compound.

It was unclear to us what the people did with this animal after a sacrifice had been performed on it. The animal was dead, that much was certain, but was it appropriate to eat such a sacred corpse? These questions sat with us only briefly, as a group of men skillfully began to skin the beast in order to more easily access the meat of the muscular legs and side. Something about this process was less repulsive than before, perhaps because the animal was distinctly dead now, and any suffering or pain it experienced was no longer felt. Shortly after the skinning process began, our interest and curiosity was lost with this monotonous form of food processing. We had had our fill of violence and gore for the day, and decided to head back to the institute, to enjoy a snack of soda and meat sandwiches.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Immigration: Really Alabama?

Recently Alabama passed an immigration law so harsh, that it caused an exodus of thousands of Hispanics from the southern state. This law contained provisions that allowed police officers to inquire about residency statuses in a routine traffic stop, and even went as far as confirming legal residency for children attending public schools. These two provisions (to name a few) are inherently racist, impractical, and unjust. The problem with police officers asking for legal papers to a select few people is that it will unavoidably facilitate legal racial profiling. The problem with asking the legal papers of children attending public schools is that it is taking away a universal right that everyone should be entitled to, especially when that right was paid for through property taxes that even illegal alien pays.

The problem I find with the passage of this sort of heinous legislation, is that it intrenches us in a mindset of fear, where it is us vs them. We begin to see those people crossing the boarder as enemies of the state, enemies that need to be rooted out by any and every means necessary, even if it means kicking a child out of school, deporting a parent, or racially profiling a Hispanic man.

The article I linked from the New York Times provides a beautiful example of this backwards thinking (accidently I’m sure) by citing a supporter of the bill, Mr. Orr. “Mr. Orr said there were already signs that the law was working, pointing out that the work-release center in Decatur, about 50 miles to the Northwest, was not so long ago unable to find jobs for inmates with poultry processors or home manufacturers. Since the law was enacted in June, he said, the center has been placing more and more inmates in these jobs, now more than 150 a day.

What I find so appalling about this alleged evidence of the effectiveness of the bill, is that it is essentially arguing that prisoners are more obliged to have jobs than immigrants. There is something seriously wrong with our country when we use the argument that convicts have more of a right to jobs and a home in this country than those already living here, namely the undocumented. What is happening to us? How have we become such a xenophobic and bellicose melting pot? For a change, let us try to pass legislation that supports foreigners struggling to live in our society by providing them with residency and access to education; instead of legislation that kicks children out of school, encourages racism, and forces the evacuation of thousands of scared people from their home state.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fou Fou

Well the inevitable blog laziness has begun to set in. I find that a solution to this problem is the uploading of brief videos of my exciting life in Ghana; this video for example, capturing my first encounter with the traditional African dish, fou fou. Enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Month Update

We are fast approaching the one month mark of our time here in Ghana, and much has happened which I haven't shared in my blog. To simplify writing and reading, I'll lay out a few of these events in bullet form.

  • This past weekend, our group made a visit to the vacation area of Cape Coast. Here we toured two slave castles, ate dinner next to crocodiles, and enjoyed lunch at a beach resort. The highlight of the trip would be the delicious chicken we ate on the beach, followed with a nap in one of the available hammocks. The lowlight of the trip would be the unanticipated 5 hour bus ride back to Accra, and fruitless attempts at purchasing Fan Ice along the way.
  • Classes have now started. I am taking African Literature, African Politics, People and Culture of Ghana, African Drumming, African Dance, and the language of twi (pronounced "chwee"). Drumming and politics are my favorite classes, with twi being my least... not many surprises there.
  • Everyday I eat a Ghanaian dish called redred at the local Bush Canteen. Although this is a delicious and inexpensive meal, many students have gotten infections and digestion issues, allegedly, from this particular venue; however, I have made it through the first month scotch free.
  • Although we have been in our hostel for a month, I am still without a room mate... I will admit that writing this makes me nervous that I just jinxed myself, and will arrive at my room later tonight with a new Ghanaian waiting.
  • I have been trying to stay up to date with the news (AKA the GOP presidential nomination) by watching youtube clips and reading online whenever possible.
  • I have recently begun my work at Safe Water, the NGO which I was assigned to for this semester. My work will focus on construction, distribution and funding of the filtration system.

Monday, August 29, 2011


To all my readers, you may be happy to know that I have comfortably settled to Africa. I am staying in the International Student Hostel (ISH) with fellow “abronies” (white folk) and students from Nigeria and Ghana. For the past two weeks I have gotten a chance to explore the city of Accra and its surrounding communities such as Akrapong, Jamestown, and Medina. This week my classes started with a schedule in African Politics, African Literature, People’s and Culture of Ghana, Twi (the vernacular language), and African drumming and dance. Most of my meals are bought at the local markets and include an egg sandwich for breakfast, red red and avocado for lunch, and some sort or chicken and rice for dinner. I have gotten into a routine of running a few miles every morning following my breakfast and before my cold shower (as there is no ‘hot water’ option here).

Ghanaian culture is very different from anything I have experienced in my life. I would consider myself pretty well traveled and able to cope with changing cultural contexts, but Ghana is so far removed from how I have experienced the world thus far. So much so that for once in my life I find solace in making a trip to the mall and absorbing the familiar traits of western consumerism. In light of these new experiences and observations (which are too many to explain in this post), here is a list of some observations I have made in my brief time in Africa.

    1. For the first time in my life, I am part of a racial minority, and find myself clinging to my own familiar race... White Americans.
    2. When in doubt, use your right hand.
    3. The critique of Barack Obama being a “fad” takes on new meaning in a country where everyone adores him, simply for being a man of African decent.
    4. There is something to be said about having the ability to create music in a rhythmic and beautiful way. I observed this from the improvisational drumming tangents that my drumming instructor performs in class.
    5. Poverty, as I have grown up to understand it, is not as much of an objective term as I had thought.
    6. It turns out that meat can very well serve as a side dish for meals, and doesn’t need to always be the main course.
    7. As fun and cost effective as bargaining with a street vender is, has anyone considered the ethics around it? I hadn’t.
    8. Washing a load of laundry by hand can be a very tiresome but satisfying process.
    9. Males have a serious advantage in this culture when it comes to bathroom accessibility, as everywhere and anywhere is a potential urinal.
    10. Why don’t more people own goats as pets in the United States? They are adorable.
    11. Time spent on the computer can be so much more productive when you don’t have access to Facebook or the internet.
    12. Smell is a vivid way of experiencing things, but that experience is a bit too vivid in certain areas of Accra.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Donation

Altruism can come in many forms, monetary donations being one of the most common. In this scenario, I will call into question the motives and precieved selflessness of donations.

I was recently confronted with a dilemma in which I felt called to make a donation to an organization. The organization was one in need, and one who’s mission I supported; the decision to donate was easy enough. In this scenario I was practicing what seemed to be altruistic behavior. I was giving money to a group of people who needed it, and with that money came no call for gratitude or a returned favor. I was sacrificing my eared income for the betterment of others... A quintessential act of altruism.

Altruism is not that simple however, as my emotions in this situation caused for the apparent selflessness of the act to be invalidated.

When writing the check and accompanying letter for this donation, I couldn’t help but sense a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction for what I was doing. I was helping people in need. I was practicing the difficult task of sacrificing my income. I was giving a gift that I knew the receivers would appreciate. Similar to volunteering, I had an unavoidable feeling of fulfillment from what I had done. In the end I felt as if my altruistic act was no longer selfless or magnanimous, instead it was self-serving and acquisitive. I realized that my donation was partly given to serve the donor (me) and not the receiver. If my act of charity would have been purely altruistic than my own welfare and happiness shouldn’t have even been an afterthought.

This scenario points to the fact that an act of altruism often has unavoidable selfish motives, motives that make us appear compassionate when we are really being egocentric.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Soup Kitchen

The first scenario I have of altruism comes from volunteering one’s time to a noble cause or organization.

In my time at college, I have begun to see the value and benefit to volunteering in various ways. For example, volunteering at a soup kitchen can be a meaningful experience because it allows you to serve a cause (feeding the hungry) that you support through personal hands-on experience. In this experience, you also meet and network with people you might not normally have an opportunity to, being that both the patrons you are serving and co-volunteers. In this soup kitchen scenario, one might work for a few hours serving food to those in need or preparing a dish to be served. You do these tasks without any expectation of a wage, a gift, or even gratitude from those you are helping. By definition you are engaging in altruistic behavior, because you are sacrificing the commodity of time without any expectation of a return.

But let's try to dig a bit deeper at this.

You (the volunteer) are helping those in need, as you are not one in need and therefore are able to lend your needed services to other people. It is certainly noble for you to put in time and effort to such a worthy cause, but as a participant in this soup kitchen, you also leave satisfied at the end of the day. Here is why. By serving those in need and accomplishing your job in a much needed role, you walk away feeling happy with yourself because you accomplished something and performed a task where people were satisfied and ultimately grateful for your time and effort. Additionally, your altruistic effort of volunteering was rewarded by gratification and a feeling of personal accomplishment. This reward, whether foreseen or not, causes the pure altruistic character of the voluntary act to be null, as it is no longer selfless. Simply put, your gained from your sacrifice, and your self interests were appeased. The voluntary act has lost its selfish nature, for potentially unavoidable reasons.

I have two other scenarios of altruism that I will share in a later post. One point I would like to make however, is that altruism and the accomplishment of good deeds are not mutually exclusive... far from it. The fact that a person may have the intention of gaining from a seemingly altruistic act, does not make that act less valid. For example, if the volunteer at the kitchen knew that they would be satisfied from their sacrificed time, and gain social capital from their experience, that does not disqualify the act as being an upstanding act. After all, the kitchen and the people it serves benefitted from the time spent.

Thanks for reading. More scenarios to come.


Friday, July 29, 2011

The Limitations of Altruism

I have recently been trying to make a more intentional effort of tithing and sharing the gifts I have received with others. When performing these seemingly noble deeds, I never have the expectation of receiving something in return, but am often aware of an unavoidable sense of satisfaction I get from making this self sacrifice. This realization has set me on the path of considering the ideals of altruism, or better yet, the limitations of it.

By definition, altruism is the "selfless concern for the well-being of others." When considering this, one might see my acts of charity (a check here, a check there) to be altruistic in nature; after all, I am sacrificing a piece of my own money for the betterment of others. I have realized however, that this logical belief is flawed, and charity or self sacrifice does not equate to pure altruism. In my personal experience as a Christian, there are a number of factors that contribute-to or inspire my charity. These ulterior motives are what cause me to call into question the actual purity in altruistic behavior, or lack their of. To best explore this topic I will put altruism in three different contexts, volunteerism, monetary donations, and the ultimate personal sacrifice. As to not overwhelm you in one post, I will construct these different scenarios over the next few weeks. Hopefully this prelude whetted your intellectual appetite for the future posts...


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Critique on Blogging

Blogging is a verb that I am only beginning to practice, and with that inexperience comes the hazard of carelessness. In constructing this blog I wasn't sure of what the theme would be, what direction I wanted to take in writing the posts, or even if my motivations were completely honorable. After a few days of publishing, I can't say that I have successfully answered any of these questions, but here are my attempts thus far...

I decided on a cliché and nebulous title like "A Published Mind" because I wasn't set on any single theme apart from a sharing of my own thoughts. Every post thus far (this included) has really just been a regurgitation of ideas I have been thinking about, without much commonality apart from the source - me. This lack of consistency brings up the question of why am I publishing a blog in the first place? Is it a way to gain notoriety, respect, a following perhaps? Is this an attempt at trying to prove a certain degree of eloquence or intellect to the world...? And if so, who is to judge?

As you read my blog, I assume that many of you are asking yourself these same critiquing questions. I'm afraid I cant do much to put those questions to rest, except assure you that I am wrestling with the same considerations when I make any post. I cannot force you to continue reading my un-cohesive posts, and frankly, my blogging should not be contingent on a devoted following. What I can do, is leave open a space to converse and share about the pertaining topics. I can't promise that all my posts will be well-written or profound (in fact most probably aren't). What I can promise is that my posts are written with a conscious attempt at objectivity, honesty, and care.

I don't want this blog to be a way of imprinting my ideas on other people. I don't want this blog to be an attempt at proving my intellectual worth to the world. I want this blog to be public reflection for the sake of reflection... void of hubris and pride.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to do so :)


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Re-Evaluating my Evaluations

Today I had the fortunate experience of working with an autistic boy at the archery range. His time at the range was both satisfying but also very challenging. I focused a large part of my time on improving the technique and self confidence of this boy, as he had a difficult time understanding the mechanics of archery and had a tendency to march off in a huff when he wasn't able to hit the target (which honestly, was more often than not).

Today's time at archery was preceded by a few sessions with Adam's Camp. In these sessions, I worked with campers whos ages ranged from ten to thirty. A common character trait these campers all shared was an emotional or physical disability, very often down syndrome. As with the autistic boy I helped coach through archery, these participants were challenged by the basic physical strength and dexterity to succeed in an activity such as archery, but tried none the less.

After both of these experiences I left with a feeling of both satisfaction and achievement, which is more than I can say about a "normal" lesson on the range. My time with these disabled children was filled with laughter and gratitude, but most importantly passion. Both the autistic boy and the disabled campers were filled with such alacrity when they achieved in hitting a target, and overwhelmed with angst when they failed to meet their expectations. This emotional reaction is not something I personally experience, and it is not something I find everyday on the archery range, or in many of the other activities we offer.

In reflecting on these experiences I have come to two interesting conclusions: first, perhaps there is a vocational opportunity waiting for me in working with this demographic; second (and more pertinent to this blog post), I reconsidered how we should view these people and their disabilities. I would like to talk more about the latter point, as the former might be a little less interesting and deals too much with the unknown future.

It is society's natural and visceral reaction to look at the disabilities of autism, down syndrome, and the like as an unfortunate problem and a drain on "normal" people's lives. With this response, we feel pity, sympathy and remorse for those who personally deal with these emotional/physical problems and those who care for the inflicted. I think this natural response is problematic, and causes us to (whether consciously or not) look down on the disabled and consider them less than ourselves. As a disclaimer I know that not everyone has this natural response, and I am speaking largely for myself here.

I can still recall a time when I was working at the Special Olympics this year and silently prayed to myself that our world could be rid of these diseases and disabilities, but then stopped. I began to consider the point that maybe these disabilities are character traits, traits that characterize some of the most gracious, joyful, passionate, and caring children I have encountered. In my prayer, I stopped myself and began to look at these people I was coaching as beautiful creatures that God had created. I began to look at these people as gifts rather than burdens.

When I framed the issue of down syndrome or emotional disabilities, I considered it to be just that, an issue and a disability. Now I am not trying to ignore the fact that there is still that element of disadvantage in the world; what I am trying to highlight is that these people who we often look at diminutively, are first and foremost people. What I am also trying to highlight is the point that these are some of the most beautiful, passionate and caring people I have ever encountered. In these brief experiences I have had with the "challenged" people of our society, I am growing more and more conscious of how I look at these people and careful of how I consider their presence in this world. I am working towards caring for these people out of love, and not out of sympathy. I am working towards appreciating differences as differences and not deficiencies.

In closing, I want to make a statement of humility and honesty. I write this post not as a person with much experience in the dealings and rhetoric of this particular topic. Having said that, I am open to criticism about my thoughts or words, and can only hope that they are not met by offended or disgruntled readers. Thanks for reading!


A Critique on Conversation

Conversation. It's something we all engage in (some more than others), whether by force or voluntarily. Over the past few weeks at SMR I have taken part in numerous conversations at the dinner table, in the sauna and during the many hikes through the Rockies. In reflecting on these conversations, I began to consider what the point of it all is. Certainly there is great worth in a Socratic dialogue about the meaning of life, or a Biblical inquiry about the piety of our faith; however, it is rare that I find myself in those sorts of exchanges. More common are the trite accounts of the day, gossip about co-workers, or attempt at a political debate. What I have concluded from observation, is that there are two forms of conversation: the rare-remarkable and the common-trivial.

I believe that we have these latter types of conversations because they are more satisfying and easily facilitated, while the former are often ominous and unappealing. I have had a few conversations where I find myself trying to recite my knowledge on the ideas of different ancient philosophers and ultimately prove my own intellectual worth through digging at difficult, unsolvable questions. There have been a couple of times where I have looked to digest Biblical text and deliver a scripture verse of two, perhaps for the purpose of better understanding modern ethics or exploring eschatological views. In my experience of both these topics, I find the study overwhelming and my own knowledge lacking. These are the rare-remarkable conversations; "rare" because they are difficult to solve, and "remarkable" because they can often change one's beliefs and open one's mind.

Having said all this, it is of no surprise that I have had few engagements with people that have seriously taken on these hard questions. More common are the trivial engagements of the day-to-day rituals such as work, food and plans for the weekend. Engagements that leave the participants satisfied and often amused... But to what end?

In closing I would like to say that I enjoy conversing on every level, and if a talk does not hold deep value, it is as much (if not more) my fault than anyone else's. My only concern in writing this post is that I will come off as pretentious and arrogant, which is not my intention. I merely wanted to share my thoughts on the week, and give you readers a topic to marinade on... Thanks for reading :)