Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Education in Finland

Much has been said of late about the amazing success of Finnish schools. In many ways they are the antithesis of U.S. schools. Everything that we have done in an effort to improve our educational system, Finland has done the opposite. To many Americans the system would seem to be counter-intuitive, but the results are a proof of concept.

Recess – In Finland students spend around one third of the day at recess. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that this is broken up into many small breaks, it can sound more manageable. These frequent breaks make the day less monotonous for students. After each 45 minute lesson, students go outside for a 15 minute recess. This success of this routine is backed up by the science. When the human body sits for too long, the brain begins to shut down. Obviously students need their brains working at their best in order to make the time in class as effective as possible. Allowing students time to move and play gives them a chance for their brain to stay engaged in the class work.

This has also allowed the school day to be shorter. Students spend only around 4 1/2 hours in school a day. They also start school later; while publicly funded day cares are available at younger ages, mandatory school does not begin until age 7. Despite what many people might think, less class time has not had an adverse effect on education, but may be contributing to its success.

One surprise however, is that even with so much outside time, Finnish students are not getting that much more physical activity. While free play is of more value to getting students less distracted in the classroom than teacher directed play, it may be necessary to integrate some structure to prevent kids from spending this time in sedentary activities.

Testing – In Finland, student assessment is left up to individual teachers until graduation, when a single, comprehensive test is administered. This saves class time for instruction. Testing would also conflict with the intention of getting students more active. Formal testing is a stressful activity. Students free of this stress are able to get more enjoyment out of school. When you enjoy something, you are more likely to prize it, remember it, and value it.

Teaching – In Finland, being a teacher is such a lucrative career that only 1 in 10 graduate applicants are accepted for the required master’s degree program. Incomes for teachers are on par with other professionals. Teachers are a highly valued resource, and given far more respect. Teachers also have more freedom to make their own decisions for their classroom. While they are given a generalized curriculum, they are free to tailor the lessons to their students. Teachers are trusted to keep their students on track and find ways to give them the assistance and attention that they need. Students are not held back for poor performance, but are instead given special attention. This way they are not stigmatized by their peers. They are able to avoid repeating the same information, which would make anyone bored.

Administrators – Those who are in charge of making decisions about school policy are recruited from within the educational system, instead of from the outside. This means that they are largely former teachers. They understand the struggles, and they understand the students. This means that they are better equipped to make decisions that will be beneficial.

Public Funding – Rather than having funds drained into private schools, and allowing vast disparities between the education of the haves and the have-nots, Finland had only publicly funded schools. This means that anyone who has an idea has only one place to enact it, so that everyone receives the benefits. Schools do not have to compete with one another, but are encouraged to work together, as are teachers. This team mentality allows everyone to succeed, rather than only those on the winning side.

Finland has a lot that they can teach the world. The experiments that they have undertaken prove that more is not necessarily better. Having a balance is the best way to achieve success.

 

Fear

I think that this will probably end up as a series instead of a single post. This will serve mainly as an introduction and outline.

What is fear? Fear is natural response to dangers. From an evolutionary perspective this means flight or fight. We evolved with a known danger with a predictable likelihood and outcome. These factors get calculated and we decide whether it would be in our best interest to flee the danger or to fight it. This decision also depends on other factors. Are you alone? Are there others that need your protection? Do you have backup if things go badly? How fast is your pursuer likely to be in comparison to you?

All of these situations need a lot of adrenaline to assist in either path, so the body produces more. This is why we sweat,  get tense, and other thought processes fade into the background. In the natural world, these threats arrive, and are dealt with, and we move on.

Today there are a lot more things that cause us fear. As humans we are living in a world completely foreign to our ancestors. Our fears vary according to where we live, but many of them we cannot solve as quickly as a situation in the wild would be. We are afraid to lose our jobs, our homes, our families. We fear disease, economic hardship, terrorism, rape, kidnapping. We fear police, politics, the poor, the rich, other races, our families, each other, and even ourselves.

What does that mean for us? As individuals it creates a state of constant stress and anxiety that is so common in our society. It leads to increased use of anti-anxiety medications. It also can lead to a feeling of despair, which explains our epidemic of depression. Our bodies were not built to deal with constant stress, and that may lead to the type of chemical imbalances that we are finding.

As a group, humans are drawing more lines between themselves and others. We do this in our daily lives. We refuse to make eye contact with strangers as we hurry through crowded streets wary that anyone we pass could be a pickpocket, or worse. On a larger scale we do it with entire cultures. America has broken all ties with Islamic nations because we are terrified that they are out to get us. Extremists of all types rationalize their actions using fear. Homegrown terrorists are afraid of the government, religious zealots are afraid for the continuation of their way of life, politicians are afraid of the people. In order to make themselves feel safer, people will resort to making others afraid. This is the source of the threat, including the demonstration of power.

Why are we so afraid today? Many people will tell you that it is because of our human ability to anticipate, but that leaves out the distinction between our ancestors’ fears and our own. I do not believe that we would ever have begun building permanent settlements if people obsessed over fears of wild animals in the same way we obsess over our fears today. Others will say that it is because of our global society. This is also part of the story. We are able to see the horrors going on in far flung parts of the globe. The images of 9/11 that are scarred into the minds, certainly of anyone who remembers the event, are mostly those images that were shown on television. People can describe this scene even though they may never have been to New York.

I believe that while these points contribute to our societal fears, the main cause is fear mongering. People who gain by the public’s fear do everything they can to manipulate our fears. This includes not only those who use violence to make others fear them, but also those who use the violence of another to create a solidarity between victims. What does that mean? It means that scared people are easier to control. It means that through manipulation of our fears people become predictable. It means that by convincing people to be afraid of one thing, they can be forced to overlook other things. It means that when people are afraid they make alliances with others who are also afraid. Politics took this to a whole new level when the color coded terror threat level system was created. This is used as a way to tell the people exactly how frightened they should be on a given day. I was reading about yesterday’s attacks in Paris, when I came across an interesting juxtaposition. In two back to back sentences we were told that there is currently no indication of an attack on the U.S., and then told that none of our prediction methods saw the Paris attacks coming. They know that at this moment our fear is already heightened so much that if they told us to be afraid they could lose that carefully crafted control.

Fear is a great way to get people to give things up. If you are afraid of attacks on your home, keeping your protection is important. This is why the same people who garner fear of people outside of the country attacking are the same people who create the fear of having guns taken away. If you are afraid that you will not be able to protect your family, your personal privacy is less important. If you are afraid that a certain type of person is out to get you it makes you less likely to protect their rights. If you are afraid that your child will be hurt by a stranger it makes you less likely to let them be alone.

What can you do? Recognize when someone is using fear to control. Look behind the words to figure out what the speaker gains by having you believe them. The less self-interest, the more likely the story is true. The more they have to gain, the more they will stretch the truth. The more followers they have, the more credence the story gains, and the more it can be bent without breaking.

People in America today have given up a lot of freedoms in the name of safety, many of which we still take for granted. We need to learn to take a step back and figure out why people tell us certain things so that we can truly protect ourselves.

 

Chapter 15 (WIP) – Recovery

When Jessica woke up she could not help but think about how carefree life seemed in her dreams. She sat for awhile trying to fall back asleep so she did not have to face her real life as it fell apart in front of her.

Once it was clear that there was no more sleep to be had, Jessica climbed out of bed with a sigh. When she went into the living room she was instantly tackled to the ground. Jessica struggled to escape her attacker, looking for anything she could reach to defend herself. The only thing she could find was a chair leg. She grabbed on and pulled, trying to escape. The only thing she managed to achieve was moving the chair closer and topple it over onto the person’s back.

“Ouch!” It was Ashley, the new roommate. “What was that for?”

Jessica relaxed, and apologized. “I guess I am a little high-strung right now. I didn’t realize it was you.”

“Where have you been?! I was worried sick!”

Jessica realized that Ashley had probably never been informed about what happened. She decided to go with the short version; “The hospital.” Jessica stood up and walked over to the couch, where she sat down.

“Oh my god! Are you okay? What happened? Why didn’t you call me? It has been days, and I hadn’t heard anything from you!”

Jessica smiled. The two had just met, but they had become fast friends, even though Jessica was so busy and tired all the time. “I’m fine. There was a robbery at work. I went with Kenzie, my trainee, in the ambulance, and once I got to the hospital I passed out. They kept me for observation even after I finally woke up.”

Ashley sat next to Jessica, “Were you hurt?”

“No, I guess it was just the shock, and my exhaustion. But now I have the distinct pleasure of calling up my boss and finding out if I still have a job or not. The lobby was probably closed off for awhile after the shooting–”

“Shooting?! You didn’t say there was a shooting!”

“Yeah, the robber shot Kenzie in the shoulder. She is alright now. I think she already got released too.” Jessica said it as calmly as she could, even though her lip was shaking as she thought about that night.

No matter how hard she tried to hide it, Ashley could tell. Without saying another word, Ashley gave Jessica a big hug, and Jessica broke into tears on her shoulder. The girls sat like that for a long time. When Jessica finally lifted her head and loosened her grasp, she sat up. “I guess I should make that call now.”

Ashley took Jessica’s hands, to stop her, “First, get a tissue. Go splash some cold water on your face, and I will make you some eggs and bacon.”

Jessica smiled and muttered, “Thank you.” She got up and went to the bathroom to make herself presentable.

After breakfast, Jessica was able to think a little better. She hadn’t realized how hungry she had gotten after days of hospital food. She called her boss.

“Hi, Ms. Thomas? It’s Jessica. I was just calling to let you know that I am ready to get back to work.”

“Oh, that’s great! I did hire someone, but training has been tricky; I have been working every night since it happened and I am sooo ready for a break, if you could come in tonight that would be great – since Kenzie hasn’t worked here long enough, we had to let her go, but I suppose if she told me she could come back back and fill in other shifts or something… but that doesn’t concern you any, we are just glad to have you back, oh my– I didn’t even ask how you are doing! The hospital won’t tell me anything about either of you, even though I asked so many times and told them who I am, as your employer it seems like I should have a right to know when my employees should be released, but they have privacy rules and things, anyway I hope that you are feeling alright, once the new guy is trained -tonight should be his last night, so you can take it easy – you will be able to ease back in if you want to, or you can dive right back to full-time if you would rather do that instead, but thank you for coming in tonight, my husband will be glad that I don’t need to go in to work, have a good one, and get some rest!”

“Thanks- and she hung up.”

“Well, is it good news at least?” asked Ashley

“I guess. At least I still have a job. But I’m not really sure if the rest is good or bad. They hired someone, so now I don’t get as many hours. Yay I get some time to rest and things, but I need that overtime more than ever now.”

“Well, maybe you can use those days off to find a second job.”

“Yeah, at least that would get me more hours, but I would have to work more standard time to make up for the lost overtime. I will end up working more anyway. Hopefully I can work something out with the hospital for payments and get a better-paying job I guess.”

Ashley took Jessica’s hand, “Not today. Today you are rested, and I will have you back by the time you need a nap for work. Today we are enjoying ourselves. We are going to find something fun to do that doesn’t cost a cent.”

Chapter 16 – Facing the Past

Table of Contents

Why my Son’s Favorite Game is Mine Too

I had a problem. I work afternoons, and my 18 month old uses when I leave for work as his queue to take a nap. On my days off, he would stay up until bedtime! I had to come up with some routine that he could follow whether I was going to work or not.

I decided that we would pick up his toys before I left for work, and do it at the same time on my days off. I had no idea how well that would go over. I figured that it would end up with me putting the toys away and him pulling them back out again, just like when we tidy up before vacuuming.

For the first few days, my son mostly just watched, and I tried to get him involved. I am pregnant, and the bending over is difficult, so I was not sure how well this routine would work as I progressed.

After a few days I was able to get my son to pick up a few things that he knew the names of and bring them to me. Now it has been just over a month and now he recognizes the names of most of his toys. He has been saying more of them, and his spoken vocabulary is growing faster than it was before.

To my son, it is not work. To him it is a word association game. I sit in front of the drawers where his toys belong and ask him to bring me something while pointing and saying the name of it. He gleefully skips off to find the item. I start with the words he knows well, like ball or block. Once those are out of the way we move on to ones he doesn’t know quite as well. When he down to only a few options left on the floor, I go ahead and introduce newer words. He usually needs some help with these, since he tends to look too far away, but he is very proud once he finds the right thing.

I know this game will not last forever, but right now my little man is so helpful. I get the room tidied up every day and all I have to is sit and point. My son gets not only fun, but good habits, and an expanding vocabulary. It is a win for everyone!

Living History

History is being largely ignored in primary schools, and by the time it is introduced, the old names and dates methodology that has turned away so many from the discipline is still the primary teaching method. History is vital to know. It allows you an understanding of cause and effect on a large scale. It can help shed insight into how people will react to certain circumstances. History provides essential case studies for various sciences. Living History is a great, fun, hands-on way to explore these ideas. Living History is basically the idea of meeting people who lived at a certain time in history, and participating in activities from the time. It provides a way to combine all the senses into one experience, making the lesson more memorable. Meeting people (actors) provides stories, which are a great way to relate to other people.

When I started college I was not really sure what I wanted to do. Studying theatre was a no-brainer for me. But I wanted to do more. I decided on history, not because it would help my career, but because I enjoy it. If you had asked at the time, I wanted to be an actress. My last semester in school I took a history class that I did not really know much about. The description was very vague, I’m not even sure why I took it. In the end I am glad that I did. It was a Living History class. I had always been intrigued by Living History since I visited Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement. Maybe even before that, from El Rancho de Las Golondrinas near where I grew up.

I had always tossed off the idea of making a living doing Living History though. From what I know, Williamsburg hires high school students for summer work, while Las Golondrinas uses volunteers. This does not necessarily set up the most knowledgeable people in the field, which is unfortunate. On the other hand, the SCA is only a hobby, and is full of people who are very passionate about learning and sharing information in their spare time. Today I am hopeful that I can find a way to combine so many of my passions into a single career. I want to be part of the education that helps children grow into successful, thoughtful adults.