Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Families: A precious roller coaster ride

Families are diverse and dynamic institutions. They comprise the people you don’t necessarily choose to be in your life, the people you grow up with and with whom you share many experiences, both good and bad. They are the people who you go through various stages with, loathing them at times and wanting to emulate them at others. They are also the people who you choose to bring into your life through marriage, a civil union or some other kind of domestic partnership, and they are the people, whether an actual family member or a friend, who you can always count on to be there for you no matter what, the people who you know will always give you a place to call home.

As indicated in the above paragraph, there is no one definition of a family. Several decades ago, in the 1950s especially, the majority of Americans would have defined a family as a mother, a father, one or more children and a dog. Today, however, a family can be defined in numerous ways: the aforementioned example, a single mother or father, and a divorced, remarried, inter-racial, gay or lesbian couple, among others. Jim Rule’s song, “A Family is What You Make It,” perfectly illustrates the idea that a family means something different to each person. The lyrics are as follows:

I used to believe that a family
Was a mom, and a dad, and 2.3 kids,
and a great big station wagon or a mini van
And a house and a dog and a cat.

But now that I've seen lots of families,
I know it's not always like that,

Because a family is what you make it.
It's you and your loved ones, whoever they are.
You've got to give and take it.
With understanding and love, your family's gonna go far.
With understanding and love, your family's gonna go far.

I used to believe I was normal
Now I don’t know what that means.
‘Cause if your family keeps you cozy and warm all right
and fits you like a pair of your favorite jeans

That’s what’s important. That makes it right,
Snug as a bug on a cold winter’s night.
Someone to love you and someone to fight
for your right to be just who you are.
With understanding and love, your family's gonna go far.
With understanding and love, your family's gonna go far.

However, no matter how one defines a family, there are going to be many trials and tribulations. As much as I would like to believe that the perfect family exists, it doesn’t. It would be ideal if every family could be like the Cleavers in the 1950s show, Leave it to Beaver, or the Brady Bunch gang, where problems are always resolved and everyone ends up being happy together. Instead, family relationships, just like any type of rapport, are like a roller coaster ride, taking each individual through many ups and downs over time. The 1998 movie, Pleasantville, demonstrates the idea that there is no such thing as the perfect family. In this movie, the two main characters, David and Jennifer Wagner, played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, are changed into the characters of a 1950s show that depicted the perfect family, where the father comes home from work, saying “Honey, I’m home,” to a house full of smiling faces and dinner waiting on the table. However, as the movie progresses and David and Jennifer influence the Pleasantville residents, this perfect lifestyle diminishes. For example, Betty and George Parker, played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy, who depict the ideal couple, grow apart. The primary reason for this break in the marriage is that the two want different things. George wants things to stay as they were while Betty prefers her new life of color and excitement. Perhaps deep down Betty was always unhappy with her “perfect” life but suppressed her feelings. The new ideas that David and Jennifer introduced were the catalyst for her to release these emotions and seek a more liberating life. George is not able to respect his wife’s changes and new desires, which causes him much grief and ultimately ends their relationship. The following clip illustrates George’s inability to accept change and move on.

Marriages often end when there is a lack of sacrifice, commitment and respect, as in the Pleasantville scenario. Problems can arise in a marriage when one spouse decides to put work first and sacrifice time with family. An example of this comes from last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. In one scene, Dr. Bailey, played by Chandra Wilson, and her husband argue about the number of hours she spends at the hospital. He tells her that the only time he sees her is before he goes to sleep at night and for a few minutes in the morning before she leaves again. Her work habits are an obvious strain on their relationship. However, issues with gender roles are also responsible for their problem. During the argument, Bailey’s husband indicates that he does not like the idea of staying home with their newborn son while she goes to work. Stay-at-home dads are becoming more common today, yet Dr. Aaron Rochlen, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Texas, notes in his babble.com article, “Maybe We Are Mr. Moms; Dad Survey Tells All,” that it is still difficult for men to leave their traditional role as breadwinner. He refers to a study of stay-at-home dads conducted at the university in April that found that the happiest stay-at-home dads were the ones who did not fit the traditional gender roles. He notes that according to the survey, “those who seek dominance over women, have trouble expressing themselves, feel they must do everything alone and have a penchant for John Wayne movies have a tough time on the at-home homefront.” Judging from this survey, it is likely that Bailey’s husband cannot accept any changes in the traditional gender roles.

When all of the important facets of a relationship, including caring, compassion, commitment, trust and friendship, diminish too much, then the relationship will also diminish. My aunt and uncle are an example of these fading elements. They often fought with each other and expressed their anger very clearly by attacking each other verbally and even going as far as throwing dishes at each other. The primary reason for these continual arguments was that they lost respect for one another, and my aunt lost her trust for her husband after she found out that he cheated on her. Their weakening relationship eventually led to divorce. My aunt has since remarried and seems happy with her new family. So “cleaning her house” with her ex-husband was necessary for my aunt to recover her happiness. The funny thing is that now both of them are friends and seem to get along better than when they were married. I guess that a romantic relationship was not right for them.

Societal pressures can also cause problems in families. First of all, Rebecca Sweat notes in her vision.org article, “Frenzied Families,” that there are more social pressures on parents to create enriching opportunities for their children. As a result, the parents enroll their kids in various activities, hoping that they will become successful, well-rounded individuals. William J. Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and author of Take Back Your Kids, points out that “we have higher expectations today of what our children should be experiencing, what they should be learning, and what they should be doing.” Yet, at the same time, the parents are creating busier lives for themselves and their children, which deprives them of quality time together. Sweat points to a 2001 study at the University of Minnesota, which found that conversations between family members in a household decreased by 50 percent in the past 20 years. She notes in another vision.org article, “The Family that Eats Together,” that “when family members are constantly on the go, one of the first casualties is the family meal.” In fact, according to the Food Marketing Institute, only 40 percent of American families eat dinner together, and that is only two or three times a week. When family members are so busy, they have less time to communicate with each other, share experiences and just enjoy each other’s company. When I was younger, I always used to eat dinner in front of the TV while my parents and brother ate together at the kitchen table. Then one day when I was about 12 years old, I decided to sit at the table, and it was such a different and better dinner experience. I was able to tell them about my day and learn about theirs, which is important when everyone is not together during the day. Now that I think back at the time when I ate in a separate room, I don’t know what I was thinking because today, those dinners with my family are times that I miss deeply. Ironically, I missed those family dinners this Thanksgiving because this was my family’s first holiday without my brother. He got married during the summer (the photo at the top is of the wedding), and this holiday was spent with my sister-n-law’s family. We were not able to have Thanksgiving with everyone because her family is in Florida, and the travel expenses were too much for both families. This experience was difficult for both myself and my parents, but I think more for my parents since they were not expecting shared holidays so soon. My brother and sister-n-law started dating last November, were engaged by May and married in July — a completely different love style than my parents, who dated for two years before marriage, were used to. Although it was saddening not to see my brother where he usually sat at the table, I think I handled the situation pretty well. However, I now know more than ever that time spent with family is precious and should never be taken for granted.

Another issue that can cause problems in families is when individuals go through various stages of life, as indicated in Gail Sheehy’s essay in Mercury Reader, “Predictable Crises of Adulthood.” One stage in the Sheehy’s “development ladder” occurs between the ages of 18 and 22. During these years, individuals often rebel against their parents and want to prove to themselves and to everyone else that they can take care of themselves. Individuals during these years will also try to avoid being seen with their parents in public, especially among their peers. The following clip from “8 Simple Rules...For Dating My Teenage Daughter” epitomizes this phenomenon. In this scene, Bridgette, played by Kaley Cuoco, doesn’t want anyone at the mall to know that she is related to her father, played by the late John Ritter, and bother, played by Martin Spanjers. In fact, she says that she wants to stay at least three steps behind them. I can relate to Bridgette’s feelings because when I was in high school, I never wanted anyone to see me with my parents. I guess you could say that I was embarrassed of them.

However, I now think it is important to accept all family members no matter what their little quirks might be. Learning acceptance is something that Clark Griswald, played by Chevy Chase, in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation needs to learn. Since he thinks that some of his family members are bizarre, time spent with them during family get-togethers is something that he dreads. However, when getting past everyone’s oddities, families will be able to have an enjoyable, and in the Griswald’s case, comical, time together.

Therefore, the relationships between family members come with many ups and downs. However, if we learn to get through all of the low points, we will be able to not only maintain but also enjoy those precious rapports. After all, when we reach the bottom, the only way to go is up.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Men and Women: Same Species, Different Planets

It’s no secret that men and women are different. Just look at the symbols that distinguish a male from a female — they are different colors, shapes and directions. The physical differences between a man and a woman are also very clear. However, beyond the obvious gender differences are the dissimilarities that have required much research and analysis: communication styles. The ways men and women interact are so different that linguist Deborah Tannen refers to male-female exchanges as cross-cultural, and psychologist and relationship expert John Gray goes as far as saying that men and women are from different planets. With the vast amount of differences in the field of gender communication, I tend to believe that Gray might be on to something when he says that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

The first difference in communication styles between men and women is body language. In her book He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes, Dr. Lillian Glass notes that men take up more physical space when they sit or stand, with their arms or legs stretched out away from their body; gesture away from the body; and assume more reclined positions when sitting and listening. These differences in body language are evident in a classroom. For example, as I observed my current classes and thought back on my former ones, I noticed that the majority of male students seemed to be lounging more than the female students — sitting on the edge of the seat, legs stretched out in front of them and leaning against the back of the chair. However, this isn’t the case for all the male students. Some have very good posture, while a few of the female students assume a reclining position. Such positions could send the wrong message to the teacher. For instance, the teacher might conclude that the students are not interested in the subject matter or that they are not paying attention fully. If this is just how someone sits in order to be comfortable, then a miscommunicaiton has occurred. The differences in body language are also evident in news programs and talk shows. For example, when Good Morning America correspondent Bill Weir interviews Johnny Depp, he leans back in his chair and often makes large hand gestures that take up space. (Pay attention to the following times in the interview: 1:12, 1:49, 3:03, 4:12 and 4:30). On the other hand, when Katie Couric interviews Brad Pitt on The Today Show, she leans in toward her interviewee, does not lean against the back of the chair and although she makes some hand gestures, they are not as expressive.

Another difference in communication styles between men and women is how each gender listens. In the Mercury Reader article, “Sex, Lies, and Conversation,” Tannen notes that most women complain that their husbands don’t listen to them. She says that the “impression of not listening results from misalignments in the mechanics of conversation.” In other words, men do not maintain eye contact when they are having a conversation, which signals to the women that they are not paying attention. This communication difference is illustrated in the case study “He Says, She Says.” When Ginger is talking to her boyfriend Luke, he often responds to her while watching a roller blader pass by or glancing at a construction site. Julia T. Wood, the author, notes that “Ginger tries to make eye contact with Luke, but his eyes remain focused on the construction.” However, this is just his style of listening. Although he often looks away from her, he still responds to her, which indicates that he is listening. Yet, women want more assurance that their male conversation partner is listening to them. I have seen my mother often get angry at my father and accuse him of not listening to her because he is either watching TV, looking at his dinner, or doing something else while she is talking to him. Although he might not hear what she says every now and then, for the most part, he is listening. In fact, as I was reading the part in “Sex, Lies, and Conversation,” where the college student’s boyfriend listens lying down with his arm over his eyes, I thought of my father. He gets up at 3 in the morning to go to work, and as a result is tired early at night. He often sits on the couch and just rests his eyes. When my mother talks to him like this, she presumes that he is ignoring her. However, he is listening; he simply responds with his eyes closed.

A third difference in the way men and women communicate is that women talk to relate while men talk to resolve. In the Expert Magazine article, “Helping Business Women Bridge the Communication Gap,” Rosalind Sedacca notes that women focus on communicating, making connections, exploring emotions and being understood, while men focus on taking action and solving problems. I have noticed this difference in my relationship with my brother. Whenever I talk to him and tell him how stressed or worried I am about something or about any other problem I am having, he usually tells me what I should do. Sometimes, his advice irritates me because I wasn’t telling him about my problems so he could suggest a solution; I was simply filling him in on some aspects of my life. At first, I thought he felt like he needed to give me advice because he is older than me, but now I think it is that coupled with the fact that he is a male. Tannen put this difference best when she said that "women talk to establish rapport ... while men talk to report." This rapport/report difference is illustrated in the following clip from the TV show Friends. In this scene, Rachael (Jennifer Aniston) tells her friends Monica (Courtney Cox) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) that she and Ross (David Schwimmer) kissed. Monica and Phoebe immediately want to know all the details and are very attentive. In fact, Monica even tells Rachael not to start the story without her as she runs to get wine and unplug the phone — she doesn’t want to miss a thing. Now when Ross tells his friends, Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) about the kiss, he leaves out all the details. He is simply reporting what happened.

The Friends clip demonstrates one last difference in gender communication: the idea that women are more comfortable self-disclosing personal information. Rachael has no problem revealing to her friends all of the details about her kiss with Ross. In fact, her friends expect that she will disclose this information, while the opposite is true for Ross. I have also noticed this difference in the workplace. At my internship this past summer, the female employees seemed friendlier with each other than the male employees did with the other workers, both male and female. The women often spoke about topics outside of work, such as their family or future vacation plans, while the men spoke more about work-related topics. If a female worker were not aware of the differences in gender communication, she might perceive her male co-worker as unfriendly.

It is possible for disputes to arise when both parties in a relationship do not understand the differences in gender communication. Clinical and Medical Psychologist Michael G. Conner says in his essay, “Understanding the Difference Between Men and Women,” that “recognizing, understanding, discussing as well as acting skillfully in light of the differences between men and women can be difficult.” Sometimes it would be helpful to have a gender translator, as suggested by this cartoon. With or without a translator, Conner stresses the importance of this understanding because “our failure to recognize and appreciate these differences can become a life long source of disappointment, frustration, tension and eventually our downfall in a relationship.” Therefore, it is essential for both men and women to understand the different ways the opposite sex communicates. Only then will male/female relationships become and remain healthy.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Cleaning House & Moving On

When our rooms or our houses get too dirty or unorganized, we clean them so we can feel more comfortable. Sometimes, we also need to “clean up” our relationships that have become too uncomfortable or unorganized. This tidying up might mean making changes to the relationship or ending it altogether. Either way, when a relationship becomes too “dirty,” something must be done in order to ensure that the rapport remains healthy and helps the individuals grow.

There are numerous reasons why a relationship would need to be cleaned up. One reason is when the costs of a relationship outweigh the rewards. In other words, when someone is taking advantage of a friend, lover, spouse, or family member. An example of this exchange comes from an episode of the ABC show According to Jim. In one scene, Cheryl, the mother, cleans the kitchen until it is spotless. She is very proud of this accomplishment because with three children and a husband, this room can get quite messy. When she is finished, she leaves the room with a sense of achievement. However, just after she completes this task, her children and husband come in and make a mess, not even noticing her work. In the show, Cheryl resorts to alcohol to cope with her relationship problems, which indicates that feelings of unimportance in a relationship can have significant negative effects on an individual. According to the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, the threat of being taken advantage of in relationships often results in feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. When feelings of unimportance exist in a relationship, something needs to be done. In a situation like the one from the show, it is unlikely that the mother would decide to end the relationship with her family. Instead, she could do what my mother did when she felt like all of her housework had gone unnoticed — sat her family down, explained her feelings and suggested ways to enhance the relationship; perhaps a simple “thank you” from time to time. As I was watching the clip from According to Jim, I immediately thought about the article from Mercury Reader, “Why I Want A Wife.” The author, Judy Brady, lists all of the reasons why she would want a wife. The list is extremely long and includes the following: someone to take care of the kids while she is at work or at night classes for her college degree, someone who will keep the house clean and pick up after her, someone who will sympathize with her when she is sick and someone who will help entertain her friends. The reasons Brady lists represent the Western idea of the typical wife and mother. However, the way Brady describes the role of a wife indicates that her rewards are very slim and her costs are very high. The above cartoon also illustrates the idea that a wife's many duties are usually taken for granted.

Another reason why a relationship would need to be cleaned up is when the interests of the individuals undergo a drastic change and create two dialectics that do not mesh well together. Sometimes there are desires that cannot coincide with each other, leaving an individual to make a choice. For example, in the movie Keeping the Faith, Edward Norton’s character, father Brian Finn, struggles with the decision between his vows to the priesthood or his love for Jenna Elfman’s character, Anna Reilly. Ben Stiller’s character, Rabbi Jake Schram, deals with a similar choice: his love for Anna or his religion (As a Jew, it is not encouraged that he marries outside of the faith). Anna, who loves Jake, also has a decision to make: whether or not to convert to Judaism. Each character weighs the pros and cons of each choice and makes the best decision to help them all grow. I also had to decide whether or not to end a relationship when I was younger. When I was eight years old, I met my childhood best friend, Sarah. When I met her and for several years after that, she and I shared the same interests — the same movies, music, sports and other pastimes, like drawing, baking and practicing our flutes. We saw each other nearly everyday since she lived down the road from me, and we also did everything together; she was like the sister I never had. However, when we entered middle school, her interests changed. She found a new circle of friends, started listening to hardcore rock music, began to curse, smoke, steal and party, and no longer liked to draw or bake. She was like a completely different person, and the complete opposite of me. I tried to make the friendship last by continuing to spend time with her, but it wasn’t the same. There were times when I felt like she didn’t care about me or that she wanted to get me in trouble. For example, one day when we went to our local pool together, she met a boy and then spent the rest of the day with him. She also tried to persuade me to steal on several occasions, which was something I did not feel comfortable doing. When I realized that her influences were harming my growth as an individual and that our relationship was never going to be the same, I decided that it would be best to end the friendship, which was one of the hardest things I had to do. She was my best friend for five years, and losing her was like losing a significant part of myself. Yet, I knew it was the right thing to do. According to Nicole Thrasher, who wrote about ending a friendship on helium.com, although it might be hard to end a friendship, knowing when to end it is an intrinsic quality. “It’s much like a romantic relationship,” she said. “It’s not always that the love is gone, but that there's so many other things blocking it, it’s not really worth fighting for anymore. When the time comes, you will know how to end it.”

Still, another reason that a relationship needs to be cleaned up is when there is a loss of trust and security. For example, when I was six years old, my parents decided that the town we were living in, Clifton, was becoming too unsafe for my me and my brother. My mom heard rumors that the middle school was becoming increasingly dangerous since students were bringing knives into the building and starting fights, and the town in general was just becoming less family-friendly. Therefore, my parents decided to move. When I heard this, I became angry and then started to cry. I didn’t want to move and leave the only home I’ve ever known. Saying goodbye to my room, the house and my friends was really hard for me, especially because we were moving to Vernon, which was more than an hour away. I never understood why we had to leave Clifton, and whenever we were in the area, I would ask to drive by our old house. Seeing the house and the changes that the new residents made to it only made my heartache stronger. However, time eventually healed that wound, and I started to like my new home in a safer environment.

There are many more reasons why a relationship — whether it’s with a spouse, romantic partner, friend, town or lifestyle — should be cleaned up. Those reasons are too many to list here, but the same thinking applies to them all: If a relationship is impeding your growth in any way, try to repair it, and if it cannot be fixed, then think about ending it. In the end, you might realize that this change was for the best.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Emotional Side

One day last week when I was bored, I decided to look up the characteristics of my zodiac sign, which is Scorpio. As I was surfing the Internet, I came upon the Web site, astrology-online.com. What I found on this site quickly piqued my interest and boggled my mind because I realized that I possess nearly all of the traditional Scorpio characteristics. Not only that, but most of the traits that define a Scorpio were related to emotions and perceptions: determined, passionate, obsessive, obstinate secretive and emotional. Let’s start with determined. I am an extremely determined individual, especially when it comes to my schoolwork and my future. I set goals for myself that I know will not be impossible to attain. I keep those goals clear in my mind and do everything I can to achieve them. If for some reason I cannot achieve a specific goal, I would not let this one setback throw me off track; I would remain determined. For example, last year I applied for a competitive, prestigious internship program through the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. I really had my heart set on it, but I was not selected. However, I did not let this setback get the best of me. I remained determined and applied at numerous other news organizations. My steadfastness paid off because I was selected for another internship. Granted, it was not as prestigious as the Dow Jones program, but that didn’t matter anymore. After being selected for the other internship, I had two new goals: to be the best intern I could be and to learn as much as I could. I feel that I left that internship having achieved those goals. Why? Because I was determined.

The next word that describes a Scorpio is passionate. Although I might not be the most energetic or enthusiastic person all of the time, I would describe myself as passionate. For example, when I was in high school, I was on the tennis team. I started taking lessons when I was in eighth grade, and I fell in love with the game. I had such an intense desire for the sport that my dad, who was my usual tennis partner, had to drag me off the court, figuratively speaking of course. My passion for tennis is also evident because when I am playing the game, especially if it is with someone who I feel comfortable around, I become very animated. However, I knew how to manage this passion during tennis matches. I never yelled when I thought my opponent made the wrong call, had an outburst when I hit the ball out on a critical point or jumped for joy when I won a game or a set. Yet, like I said, when I am just practicing, I am very animated, and this animation paid off one day. A mother and her eight-year-old daughter came to the courts where I was practicing and started to casually hit the ball. Then, out of nowhere, the mother comes up to me and asks if I would like to give her daughter tennis lessons. I was surprised by this proposition and thought that she must have seen how much fun I was having and thought I could relay some of my passion for the sport to her daughter. I accepted the job and tried my best to accommodate the girl’s passion that I saw brewing inside her.

The next two characteristics, obsessive and obstinate, go hand-in-hand for me. First of all, I like things to be in order, both physically and in the abstract sense. For example, the things in my room need to be neat, organized and the way I arrange them. If someone comes into my room and moves a pillow out of place, I will feel the need to put it back where it belongs. However, I would not become angry or yell at this person, and I would also wait until he or she left to put the pillow back. I know this might sound like a trivial matter, but when the physical things around me are organized, I feel like my life is organized. Yet, I have run into problems when my stubbornness blends with my obsessive nature. For example, whenever I return to Rider and need to pack and unpack my things, my mom always wants to help me. However, I never let her help because I do things a certain way. She continually tries to help, and sadly to say there have been a few times when I yelled at her or grabbed something from her hand, saying, “I’ll do it. You don’t know where this goes.” As I was reading the article in our Mercury reader book, “Welcome to St. Paul’s,” especially the part where the daughter snaps at her mother for trying to unpack her clothes and show her where everything should go, I immediately thought of myself and my mom. I then realized that the mother in the story was trying to hold on to her daughter as long as possible; it was her way of coping with letting her child go. The daughter, on the other hand, yelled at her mother not only because she wanted to be independent but also because the time to part from her parents was coming closer. I then thought about my own situation and recognized that my mom and I were experiencing those same emotions. My mom felt the need to help and I became defensive because that was our way of dealing with the mutual feeling of not wanting to part from each other.

Yet, another word to describe a Scorpio is secretive. I believe that I relate to this attribute the most because I am a very secretive individual. I tend to suppress a lot of my feelings: anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. I may look OK on the outside, but on the inside, I might be ready to explode. When I was reading about the characteristics of my zodiac sign, the following sentences captivated me. “Scorpios are the most intense, profound, powerful characters in the zodiac. Even when they appear self-controlled and calm there is a seething intensity of emotional energy under the placid exterior. They are like the volcano not far under the surface of a calm sea; it may burst into eruption at any moment.” There have been times when my suppressed emotions were too much for me to handle and I did erupt. For example, I am often very stressed during the school year, worrying about how I am going to accomplish everything that I need to do. I usually go home on the weekends, and by the time I get home, I have all of my anxiety and stress built up inside me. After suppressing such strong emotions for so many days, the slightest thing could push me over the edge. For example, this past weekend while I was trying to study, my dad would not stop rattling coins in his pocket, which sparked an outburst of anger on my part. I felt terrible afterward because my dad did not deserve to have his daughter yell at him for no reason. I would say that I definitely need to work on getting in touch with and expressing my feelings so I can minimize my eruptions. I also think that Ellen DeGeneres needs to work on sharing her feelings before she has an outburst. Last week on her show, she started to cry while she was discussing a personal situation. She explained that she had adopted a dog, Iggy, but could not keep it since it did not get along with her cats. So she gave it to her hairstylist, whose daughters wanted another pet. However, the animal shelter where Ellen got Iggy from took the dog back, saying that she violated her contract (If she could not take care of the dog for any reason, she had to give it back to the shelter). I believe that Ellen was suppressing feelings of guilt, but not about the dog or hurting her hairstylist’s family. In this clip, she breaks down right when she says, “I feel totally responsible for it.” Perhaps she did something else that she felt guilty about and this was just her way of releasing those emotions. According to Micahel Sky, author of The Power of EMotion: Using Your Emotional Energy to Transform Your Life, supressing our emotions causes serious damage to our bodies, minds and spirits. He calls it a "slow suicide of self-strangulation." I agree that supressing emotions for too long could lead to "suicide" because the longer you keep something inside, the longer it will have time to build up and trouble you. Sky notes the importance of sharing our emotions. He says, "We need our emotions. They provide us with the vital force to think creatively and act decisively. The more successfully that we suppress our emotions, the less successfully we will do anything else."

One last word that describes a Scorpio is emotional. Whenever I think of an emotional person, I think of a sensitive person. Therefore, I will use the terms synonymously. I would say that I am a sensitive individual. Although I tend to hide my emotions about personal issues, I cry very easily when I am exposed to outside stimuli, such as when I watch a sad movie or hear of an unfortunate situation. For example, when the priest in my church asked the parishioners to donate money to a family who was on the verge of losing their home, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I also become emotional when I see photos of disastrous events or images where the pain in someone’s face is captured. One photo that really touched my heart was one that I saw for the first time in my high school history class. It shows a disheveled middle-aged woman with her two children during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The solemn look on the woman’s face depicts her heartache and worry of how she will feed her children. Yet, another classical photo that awakens my emotions is the War’s End Kiss. In this image, an American soldier who has just returned home from World War II grabs a woman on the street in New York City and kisses her because he is so happy to be home. The photo evokes feelings of freedom, victory, patriotism and the idea that there is no place like home. Whenever I see this photo, I smile; no tears this time, unless of course they are tears of joy.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Measuring Success

In the Disney/Pixar film, Ratatouille, a rat named Remy overcomes the constraints that society and his family place on him and pursues his dream of becoming one of Paris’ greatest chefs. With the help of Linguini, a garbage boy who has the same dream, he learns how to be true to himself, and not only realizes his dream but also learns the truth about family and friendship.

The Utah Jazz player Derek Fisher walks away from his career of fame and fortune so he can focus on taking care of his 11-month-old daughter who has cancer in her left eye.

A young man who is bored with his life at Harvard University drops out and starts his own computer company known as Microsoft, which has become the billion dollar enterprise that links the Harvard drop out’s name, Bill Gates, with the epitome of wealth.

The city of New York has a significant decrease in crimes over a five-year period, creating a safer environment for its inhabitants.

What do all of these anecdotes have in common? They are all success stories. It is impossible to define success in only one way because it comes in many different forms. When most people think of success, they will most likely think of fame and fortune. Many might even point to Gates as the quintessential example of success. However, being successful is so much more than wealth and recognition. It’s the individual (or rat) working hard to overcome obstacles and realize a dream; it’s the individual who puts his career on hold to care for his child; it's the city that creates a safer environment for its people; and it’s the person who takes a chance and starts his own billion-dollar business. But success does not have to be as extreme as these cases. For example, cheering up a friend, providing company to the elderly in a nursing home, or just knowing that you you gave a specific task your all are also examples of success. Another example of success is someone who prepares for a job interview by researching the company and dressing the part, and then walks into that interview with confidence, making eye contact, maintaining good posture, selling him/herself, and leaving with a sense of accomplishment. As Chris Mauer, the sales coordinator for American Express, said: “Develop, apply, employ — develop yourself, apply yourself and get employed.” And when individuals do become employed, whether it’s at their dream job or not, it’s important to not stop building on their computer and communication skills, their leadership ability, and their knowledge of the company and industry. Improvements like these in one’s professional life are also a form of success. Another type of success that goes hand-in-hand with improving one’s personal and professional lives is accepting criticism with an open mind. When people listen to what others say and use criticism to better themselves, new opportunities will arise.

Yet, another form of success is realizing that no one can do anything alone. When individuals solicit the help of others, anything is possible. For example, when someone asks for help on a company project that he or she does not fully understand or when someone asks for an informational interview with a company employee in order to network, the road to success will be so much easier. Just look at Remy. He knew he couldn't achieve his dream by himself, so he teamed up with Linguini and acquired the life he knew he was meant to have.

Different companies and industries also have their own meanings of success. Retail stores measure success in terms of revenue earned, athletes in terms of games won, politicians in terms of votes obtained and teachers in terms of students inspired. However, according to Dr. Thomas Simonet, a Journalism professor here at Rider who was a newspaper reporter prior to his teaching career, the field of journalism is unique because individuals do not need to succeed at a high level in order to be successful. For journalists, just knowing that the information provided to the public is accurate means that they have achieved success. This information also doesn’t have to reach 30 million people in order to be considered successful. Simonet noted that even local papers that have a much smaller audience can be successful because they are still providing an indispensable service to the public. He also pointed out that a story does not need to be scandalous in order to be successful. “If you do small things well, you’re providing a service,” he said. “You don’t always have to be covering something controversial or sensational.”

Journalists also feel like they have succeeded when their stories are published. It is very satisfying when reporters see their bylines in the newspaper, according to Simonet. He said it is a powerful feeling when a journalist sees someone reading his or her paper or just sees it in someone’s hand walking down the street. These are moments that journalists savor.

However, newspapers are also a business, and just like any other business, the desire for money often blurs the true meaning of a company’s success. Simonet said that newspapers quickly lose sight of their definition of success because raising profits becomes the primary goal for many of them. According to him, money makes it difficult to be a journalist. But money also makes any occupation difficult since it redefines how an individual or a company measures success.

It is important for individuals to remain true to their own definitions of success. In a speech at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Gerald Boyd, managing editor of The New York Times, outlined three keys to success in journalism, one of them being staying true to yourself. The other two ways to achieve success are having a passion for what you do and maintaining balance in your life. All three of these sources of success can be applied to any occupation. First of all, if you are not happy with your current job, listen to your heart and take a chance at something new like Bill Gates did. You never know what success you could find elsewhere. Second, if you do not have a passion for what you do, you will most likely dislike your job and feel like you are unsuccessful. Lastly, if you focus too much your job, other aspects of your life will suffer. Boyd put it best when he said, “You must find things outside your job to make you whole.”

All of Boyd’s points are important. However, the last two are the most significant. Without happiness and people to share it with, life is meaningless. I remember interviewing a retiring teacher for a feature story assignment during my summer internship, and this is an interview I will never forget. The teacher, Ms. Brozik, was so energetic and had so much passion not only for her job but also for her life that I left the school only hoping that I could be as happy as she was. So I guess that in a way, her success was contagious. However, it is now up to me to strive to achieve the same happiness and success that she did. I also find it ironic that the people who are extremely wealthy are often the ones who are the loneliest and the unhappiest. This phenomenon affirms my beliefs that money does not always equal success and happiness — which is something that so many people believe — and that there are numerous ways to measure success.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Essence of Me

Who am I? If I had to describe myself, I would say that I am compassionate, responsible, determined and diligent. My particular others have had a significant impact on these attributes. I often find myself playing the role of my compassionate mother, determined brother, diligent father and responsible friends. I am also a very nervous individual — one of those people who worry about every little thing. It’s funny because most of the time, I worried for nothing. For the most part, everything works out fine. But tell that to my nerves!

However, on a more profound level, the question of who I am is something I often contemplate because there are times when I honestly do not know who the real me is. That is because I am an extremely shy person, which has had a significant impact on the way that I perceive myself. First of all, it is no secret that an introverted personality and self-consciousness go hand-in-hand. My level of self-consciousness is so high that I constantly focus on what others think of me. I always try not to stand out or disappoint anyone since that might draw negative attention to myself. For instance, I always ask my mom or my roommate before I go out if my hair looks OK, if my shoes match or if I look fat. The funny thing is that no matter what they tell me, I still fell like my hair is a mess and that I look like a fat, mismatched slob. I often ignore their comments and change my appearance, an action that definitely puts me in a strange loop.

I also put up this wall around myself — something that will hide the real me. I often avoid making eye contact and keep my verbal communication at a minimum. Yes, there are times when I just want to break through this wall and yell something out or even just quietly contribute my thoughts to a conversation, but I don’t. I would say that the ME component of my self dominates about 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent? That’s time spent with my family, when I am the closest to the “real” me. When I am around my family, it’s like I am a completely different person. I am more amiable, talkative and spontaneous, and my level of self-consciousness is much lower. Maybe that’s because I know that my family will accept me no matter what. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that since I am so afraid to know what others think of me, I shy away from being myself, which has blurred my true identity. Am I the girl with the reticent personality or the one who is more gregarious? Now that I think about it, I’m both. That’s who the real me is: shy around others and anything but that around my family.

But just like relationships are always changing, so is my personality, my perceptions, my identity. And these changes cause my two identities to mesh together. For example, once I feel comfortable around someone, I will start to open up little by little, kind of like a closed flower that blooms just when the time is right. I know that I have already blossomed, so to speak. It is much easier for me today to socialize than it was five or 10 years ago. I owe this to my past jobs and internships, and my I-It and I-You relationships I established there. For example, at one of my most recent internships as a reporter at a local newspaper, I had to interview many people, in person and over the phone. These interactions with people who I would most likely never see again not only enhanced my communication skills but also heightened my level of self-esteem. Although I was worried at first that my interviewees thought I was a bad reporter who had foolish questions, I soon learned to begin each interview with confidence. My self-perception also changed when my interviewees and editors made such comments as “Your questions were very in-depth” or “Good job on that story.” However, I would never let such comments build a pretentious aura around me. I would only use them as ways to build my confidence to a comfortable level and try to emerge from that strange loop.

I also owe my personal growth to my friends, who push me to try new things. For example, one of them persuaded me to go on an inverted roller coaster — something I was terrified to do. I have to say that when I went through that loop, I let my guard down and screamed so loud that I shocked my friend since she had never heard me yell so loud.

After seeing how much relationships and communication can influence my identity, I can only hope that my future relationships will help me to continue blossoming in my personal and professional life, and ultimately pave the way to new and exciting adventures — maybe a trip around the world, a move to France, or to my dream job: being a reporter for The New York Times.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Motivational Quotes About Communication

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I'll remember. Involve me and I'll understand. - Confucius

The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished. - George Bernard Shaw

If speaking is silver, then listening is gold. - Turkish Proverb

If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view - as well as your own. - Henry Ford