Posts Tagged ‘belonging’

Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take, I’ll be watching you

The Police: Every breath you take

Yesterday, I was driving to visit an acquaintance, and my daughter was sitting in her car seat in the back. We normally take public transit if it’s just the two of us, so she doesn’t have a lot of experience of being alone in the back seat. This time, however, circumstances favored us taking my mom’s car.

Normally, she really likes it in the car. It hums, the scenery changes, and most of the time there’s someone next to her, keeping her company. This time, though, she was alone in the back, and I don’t know if it was that or some other reason, but she was really unhappy and voiced it very loudly. Since I’m pretty averse to letting my child cry for lengthy periods of time, I pulled over and went to the back seat, tried to calm her down and gave her the pacifier. She settled down for a moment, and just as I was starting the car again, she began to whimper. I started singing a simple lullaby that we’ve been singing to her since she was a few weeks old, and that seemed to calm her down. I ended up singing the song over and over until we arrived at our destination.

Apparently the sound of my voice and the familiar song were strong enough messages to convince her that she was not alone and that I was close by, even when she couldn’t see me. As far as I understand, developmentally she is yet to realize that things exist even when you can’t see them.

“I’ll be right there!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about presence ever since I read an article on a study concerning babies’ stress when they are ignored. The babies in the study were six months old, and in the study, their mothers played with them normally, but “froze” for two minutes at a time every now and then, staying in the baby’s sightline but ignoring the baby and staring at the wall. The babies showed elevated stress hormone levels on the following day, when they were brought back to the research facility, even though there was no ignoring on the second day.

I found out about the study on an online message board, and there was (unsurprisingly) some discussion as to what the practical applications of this study are. Some people thought it more or less chains mothers and infants together and lays a guilt trip on anyone who dares to go to the bathroom with the door closed if their child is left alone for that time. Others saw it as a defense against “just let the baby cry it out, it’ll be all right” type of advice.

Personally, I do think that babies need their mothers close by. If a child voices a distress and it systematically gets no response, it will eventually stop voicing its distress because it’s just no use – no-one will answer anyway. However, a response may well be something along the lines of my car-ride lullaby. If my baby hears my voice, it knows I’m not far away. I haven’t disappeared from the world, even if I am currently invisible.

Furthermore, she knows she is not invisible – I can hear her, I can vocally respond to her cries, I can take eye contact when I get closer and I can pick her up when I see she’s in distress. My presence and interaction with her convince her that she exists.

The online presence

In many ways, the online world reflects this “someone please tell me I’m not invisible!” line of thinking. Establishing a presence online – whether in Facebook, on message boards, in the blogosphere, on Twitter – really requires time, effort and reciprocity. There are a few online contexts where I’ve managed to create a presence, and others where I’m really only a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it face in the crowd.

Creating that presence takes time. Reading (because most of the presence is in text form) what others have contributed, finding interesting tidbits to share, regularly coming back to see what others have added since your last visit. It takes effort. Figuring out your opinions (on more serious matters), grafting your message so it’s easy to read, wording your jokes, timing your responses so you stay on the pulse and don’t comment on ancient topics.

And it takes reciprocity. Commenting on what others have already said, taking it a bit further, reading the responses you get and possibly repeating the whole cycle again. It’s the online equivalent of the eye contact: “Yes, I can see you, there you are, you exist in this world.”

Degrees of presence

For our daughter, I’m probably the number one presence in her life. The head honcho, the one who hardly ever leaves her side. My husband is a close second. After that, there are the grandparents, the godparents, our friends, and so forth in descending order.

It’s interesting to see how the degrees of presence show in her behavior towards us. Since I’m nearly always there, my presence borders on boring. It’s safe, but it’s also something she doesn’t make a big deal about. The few exceptions are the times when she wakes up from her nap, and sees me coming in the room if I was somewhere else. The smile on her face says “Awesome, you were gone and now you’re here!” My husband, on the other hand, seems to get all the giggles. πŸ™‚ He is a safe presence, but not quite as predictable as I.

Then there are the interesting visitors, the ones who ring some kind of a bell but aren’t daily contacts, people like my mom and some of her godparents. There has to be a grace period of her reacquainting herself to these visitors from the safety of my or my husband’s lap, before she is secure enough to cuddle with them.

Online, the degrees or presence became evident on another message board, when there were several cases of sad news in a short while. Since the people in question were “big names”, it seemed that everyone knew what was going on in a heartbeat. Similarly, “big names” leaving or taking a break would be a huge deal in an online community – just because so many people are so used to their presence. It’s safe. You can count on their “it’s okay, honey, I’ll be right there”.

When a small-time presence disappears for any length of time, you hardly notice – until they return, or until someone points out they are gone. I’m fairly confident there were less than a handful of people who wondered why I’d been a lazy blogger, and most of those people were real-world friends. πŸ™‚

A shift of sorts

Since creating an online presence (and a real-life presence, too) takes time and effort, you can realistically have a limited number of really influential presences in different social communities. At the moment, my most influential presence is in the context of my family, but there are other, smaller ones in the background.

I’ve noticed I need the feeling of being a strong presence in social communities. Possibly for the “someone sees me, therefore I must exist” reason. This is probably why I’ve originally liked being a group leader or a teacher – there are more pairs of eyes to strengthen my existence. πŸ™‚ Being a quiet onlooker in the sidelines has not been a suit that fits.

Until now.

I don’t know if it’s the arrival of the baby or something else, but there has been a change in my relationship towards social situations, whether live or online ones. Before, I’ve felt like I need to open my mouth, to contribute, to be a presence in order to “buy” my foothold in the community. Contributing has been the currency of being seen.

Now, I feel like contributing has become the primary force. I want to contribute when someone needs help, thoughts, entertainment or ideas. Or when I have an idea that needs voicing. If someone sees it and benefits from it, wonderful. If they comment, even better. But I don’t feel like my contribution was a failure if it’s met with silence.

Furthermore, I enjoy just observing a situation without feeling the need to contribute. If something comes up, I’ll express it, but I don’t feel like I’ll be thrown out of the room (or off the Internets) simply because I just observe. I love going to a moms-and-babies meetup, sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and just listening. And my worth as an online community member is not determined by my post count. πŸ™‚

As is appropriate, the writing of this blog post was interrupted a few times by the cooing of a napping baby who needed my presence. πŸ™‚

Thank you so much for popping by again! If any thoughts came up (and you feel the need to contribute πŸ˜‰ ), feel free to share in the comments! If not, it’s okay to just sip coffee and observe, and possibly catch your own insightings!



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A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.
Eliphas Levi

I started my final practical teacher training period today.

The teacher training system in Finland is exceptional (as far as I understand) in that we have several supervised practical training periods in our teacher studies. Supervised in that for each lesson a teacher trainee conducts, he or she returns a lesson plan to a supervisor for approval, then conducts the lesson, and gets feedback from the supervisor and any other trainees that have observed the lesson.

In addition to the teaching, the practical training includes compulsory lesson observation as well as miniature lectures on different topics. All this is fascinating, yet really time-consuming.

The fun part is that we get to reflect, reflect, reflect on everything we experience. Some reflections are relevant to the teacher profession, others are more relevant to the Insightings context. It’s a win-win either way. πŸ™‚

Attitudes and solidarity

I had an interesting encounter today. I found myself in a conversation where someone tried to engage my solidarity by finding a common enemy and complaining about this enemy. The problem was that I didn’t really agree with this person about the enemy, and didn’t want to complain. Yet I didn’t want to invalidate their feelings of frustration, either, by saying something like “well, no, I don’t think it’s that bad”.

I’ve written about the complaining thing from the point of view of criticism and intelligence. Complaining also seems to have another function in many contexts – that of creating solidarity.

The very first summer I went on a confirmation camp as a counselor, one of the older counselors said something about group dynamics that has stayed with me ever since. To have strong group spirit, she said, the group needs two things: a private joke and a common enemy. Find both, and you’re on your way to a group that sticks together.

It was interesting, then, to find myself in the situation mentioned above. This person was obviously trying to create some kind of a bond by finding a common enemy. They mentioned having shared a bonding moment on the topic with a few other people I know and often agree with, so the assumption that I’d follow suit here wasn’t preposterous.

Still, I felt weird and awkward.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been faced with solidarity-forging complaints. Then, like today, I felt awkward. There is a tension between authenticity – saying what you think – on the one hand, and relatedness – not wanting to reject the intention to connect behind the complaint – on the other hand.

Venturing a guess at someone’s attitudes, especially negative ones, is a risky strategy. Instead of feeling connected to this person, I felt distanced. Even if I had shared the reasoning behind the complaint, I didn’t immediately agree with the end result that they opened with. Had they been open about their own frustration without trying to attribute it to me as well, we might have had a fruitful conversation. Now, all that happened was awkward nodding and a few ‘uhhuh‘s.

Interesting. πŸ™‚

I taught a bit of Shiva Nata!

A friend of mine had been reading my blog, and asked a few questions about Shiva Nata. Since we had a few spare minutes before our meeting was due to start, I taught her a bit of level 1 horizontals.

Sooo much fun.

I had to really think about how to instruct the transition from horizontal 3 to horizontal 4 – the one that was difficult to myself and, incidentally, the one that has caused most trouble to everyone I’ve sort-of taught.

Sooo much fun.

If I ever learn enough (whatever that is), I might really consider teaching a little bitty workshop one day. First, I’ll have to take lessons myself, to see if I’m even doing it right. It’s fascinating, though, how teaching others really deepens the understanding here, too. As if that’s a surprise. πŸ™‚

– –

Interestingly, as I read through the previous paragraphs, I notice myself hedging and downplaying my Shivanaut abilities. It’s more obvious in writing than it is in my head, I suppose. Whether or not the hedging has any real justification, I’m not sure. Another pattern emerging here. Shiva Nata is revealing my patterns in so many ways, it seems.

Thank you for stopping by again! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and as always – keep catching your own insightings!



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Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I’m not…
The Crowd: Sch!

Monty Python: Life of Brian

After reading yet another brilliant post by Havi, and the wonderfully inspiring conversation in the comments, I’ve spent the past few days thinking about stereotypes and individuality.

Especially this comment, by Laurel, inspired me.

“We accept complexities within ourselves but we put other people into square little boxes and then discover we don’t belong in any box, forgetting that we’re the one who created the boxes in the first place.”

Then there was this t-shirt print I found while surfing The Onion Store.

And a day’s worth of reading The Finnish National Curriculum about how each learner is to be treated as an individual with their own personal learning history.

I couldn’t help but post about this.

Role and group identities

A fascinating course I took last fall dealt with identity theories. There are several views on what identity is and how it interacts with a whole bunch of things, but the two that intertwine with this topic are the ideas of group identities vs. role identities.

Your group identity helps you blend in. If you’re a Swedish female school teacher, you might identify as a woman among women, a Swede among Swedes, a teacher among teachers.

Group identities give us common ground with new in-group people. The more specific the group, e.g. Norwegian 20-something exchange students in Austin, Texas, the stronger the feeling of belonging.

Role identities depend on the, well, roles we play in different situations. Our Swedish female school teacher, Mona, in class is “the teacher”. At home, she might be “the mother”, “the wife”, “the friend”, et cetera.

Outside her groups, the group identity might also be reflected as a role identity. Among her male colleagues, Mona is “The Woman”. Among her friends, she’s “The Teacher”. In an international school teachers’ convention, she’s “The Swede”.

This is where we run into stereotyping. If Mona’s convention acquaintances have never met a Swedish person before, they might base all their opinions of Swedes and Sweden as a nation on this one person.

So if Mona happens to be exceptionally beautiful, or intelligent, or musically talented, or rude, or has a habit of running late, then that characteristic could get extended to the entire nation by default.


We’re all a delightful jumble of in-group associations that are reflected to others as roles. (To be clear, I’m not talking about roles as a notion of make-believe or false pretense, merely as different facets that are displayed in social situations.)

This is what makes us unique human beings – I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a single other person in the world with the same combination of identities that you have. The simple fact that we’ve been raised in our respective childhood homes gives us completely unique combinations of group identities.

The individual identities may be weak or strong, or they might only become activated in certain situations. I don’t really identify as a teacher when I’m in choir practice – the identity and its characteristics are not that relevant in the context.

This is probably where the whole outsider aspect comes to play, too. When we’re in one of our in-groups, the others seem so much more “in the group” than we do, because we know we’re only maybe 10% in-group ourselves.

What we often don’t realize is that the others are showing their 10% to us and we think it’s the whole deal.

I want to quote Laurel again, because she put it so beautifully:

“We accept complexities within ourselves but we put other people into square little boxes…”

We only see a fraction of the true identities of the people we meet. Even those closest to us have sides we’ve probably never seen. I’ve never really seen my mother at work, having a meeting with a client. If I did, I’d probably still see her as “Mom having a work-type meeting” instead of “an entrepreneur having a routine meeting“. My glasses are tinted that way.

I can try to become aware of the tint, however. If I’m looking at the world through blue glasses, it’s a lot easier to guess the true color of things if I know my glasses are blue. Similarly, I can try and figure out if I’m looking at someone through stereotype glasses, so I can make the necessary adjustments to my behavior.


In theatrical improvisation, one of the main rules is “be obvious“. The more obvious you are, the more original you seem to others, because your “obvious” is not everyone else’s “obvious”.

Related anecdote: I and my fiancΓ© are planning a wedding for next summer. This has caused me to spend countless hours reading wedding forums, listening to wedding planning podcasts, and surfing wedding blogs. (What can I say? It’s become a hobby. :))

The interesting thing is that a lot of people participating the forum conversation are adamant about making their wedding “unique and different”. And most of them want to do that by skipping a lot of the traditional aspects of a Finnish wedding and just throwing a fabulous dinner party with music and conversation for their closest ones.

Don’t get me wrong – if that’s what floats your boat, go ahead. Make the wedding your own. But it strikes me as weird that you’d want to make your wedding unique and original by, um, doing the exact same thing as ten thousand other brides next summer? *sigh*

For the two of us, a lot of the decisions we’ve had to make about the wedding have fortunately seemed obvious – the venues, the officiant, the first dance, the menu. I’m not even stressed about the originality factor; if we make our own obvious choices, the wedding will reflect our personalities and be truly unique.

Thanks for stopping by, keep catching those insightings!



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“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!”

Lewis Carroll

One of my favorite favorite books about pragmatics is Deborah Tannen’s That’s not what I meant!, which deals with the balance between directness and indirectness in communication.

To explain the paradoxical human need for both independence and connection, Tannen uses an example of a group of porcupines in the winter. To stay warm, the porcupines need to huddle up as close to each other as possible. Sadly, the closer they get, the more they poke each other, so they have to stay at a distance to avoid getting hurt. Which means they’ll get cold again, and huddle up. Ouch. And step back. And on and on again.

Which is exactly what humans do, too: in order to stay connected, we get too close, and in order to give others privacy, we keep away. In terms of direct vs. indirect communication, the former often serves the purpose of creating closeness, whereas the latter often observes the boundaries and distance your hearer needs.


With every utterance, a speaker performs a speech act. It can be a question (“Where is the car?”), a command (“Give me the sweater!”), a statement (“Something smells bad in here.”), or a bunch of other speech acts, like promises, threats, or requests.

In terms of speech acts, directness could be explained as matching the speech act with the grammatical structure it most naturally takes. In the examples above the question, the command, and the statement are all easily recognizable, and can be interpreted at face value.

Now imagine a stranger walks up to you on the street and says those three things. You feel quite offended, right? Politeness rules dictate that increase in social distance requires more indirectness.

Then again, a mother would have no problem saying those things to her seven-year-old, for two reasons. One, the two are socially very close to each other. Two, the mother is higher in the social hierarchy than the seven-year-old.

Directness between equals, then, often marks closeness. You wouldn’t think twice about telling your best friend those jeans make her behind look horrible – at least before she buys them. Or telling your spouse that s/he has toilet paper stuck on the sole of his/her shoe. You trust them enough to interpret your message at face value and to not read some hidden criticism into it.

Directness requires a good nose for the situation, however. Being too direct when stating your opinion might seem like an insult, especially if the hearer perceives you as being lower in the social hierarchy. Direct commands, of course, can easily sound like you’re bossing people around.

Asking direct questions from someone you’re not that close with may make the hearer feel you’re being nosy or intrusive. Furthermore, they might feel you’re forcing them to be rude by asking a question they cannot skate over and must answer with a direct “I don’t want to tell you.”


If directness was defined as matching your speech act with your structure, indirectness would then be e.g. using an interrogative structure (“Are you wearing that to the party?”) to convey a non-question speech act, like a statement (“I don’t think you should wear that to the party”) or even a command (“Go put on something else.”)

As already noted, indirectness is very useful in socially distant situations. People have varied levels of directness tolerance, and until you know where the limit is, it’s wise to stay well on the polite side.

The interplay of directness and indirectness is also an interesting factor in social situations where some people know each other better and some are new acquaintances. Using direct speech to your old friends and indirect speech to the newcomers is an efficient way to keep the two groups separate.

On the other hand, addressing your new friends very directly in front of your old friends can have a few effects. It can serve as an invitation to join the group, especially if your directness is matched.

Or it can seem like a form of namedropping, especially if your new friends are somehow higher in social hierarchy.

Case in point:
A while back I attended an event that had people from a few different circles. One of the more amusing moments of that evening was when a woman – one that had been extremely polite and indirect to my friends and very direct to hers – started addressing a few of “our” gentlemen in very familiar terms. Specifically, the hot one and the semi-famous one. Her offer for more familiarity was politely declined by both, though.

When it comes to close relationships, mismatching structure and speech acts can work as either increasing closeness or creating distance.

In a safe and trusting communicative culture, like one you might have with a significant other, using indirect communication can become almost a code language between the participants. Communicating with mere declarations and relying on conversational implicature can enhance the feeling of “s/he can totally read my mind!”

“We’re out of milk.” (indirect request/command)
“I’m going out to the post office in just a moment.” (indirect response to request)
“I’m baking bread this evening.” (indirect request)
“Great, then I’ll bring some yeast, too, just in case.” (indirect response)

On the other hand, you could just as well use indirectness to tell your spouse that you feel like keeping at arms length and you’ll be just fine on your own, thank you very much. Gestures, eye contact and tone of voice all contribute to the effect.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this whole topic of directness, indirectness, trust, closeness and independence. Will most likely be getting back to this on Friday.

Until then, keep catching your own insightings!



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reflection (Merriam-Webster online)
– an instance of reflecting; the return of light or sound waves from a surface
– the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
– something produced by reflecting; an image given back by a reflecting surface
– a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
– consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose

One of the big words in Finnish teacher training today is the reflective process. Whatever you do, whoever you meet, wherever you go, it’s essential to reflect upon the experience to develop yourself as a teacher.

For the first few years of my studies, I saw the reflective process as a nuisance, especially since it often involved writing a reflective journal about this, that and the other. More often than not “reflection” translated freely into “producing the kind of jargon the lecturer probably wants to read”.

For the most part, though, the problem with the reflection process was not the thinking back and writing itself – it was the lack of a proper mirror. Not having good questions to reflect my experience on was like trying to put on makeup and using a spoon as a mirror. Sure, you’ll get something down, but you know you’re not seeing the whole picture

Experiential learning

Reflecting on experience is a central part of the experiential learning process, which is the main way of learning through drama activities. It’s no surprise, then, that the whole experience-reflection-conceptualization-modified experience circle has become clearer during the fifteen months I’ve now been studying drama education.

The important thing in the reflection stage, however, is to have the right kind of mirror. With questions that support the focus of learning, the teacher can guide the participants into fabulous insightings about the ongoing drama process and its themes. With misguided questions, though, the teacher can undermine the ongoing drama process or leave the participants wondering about the purpose of the activity.

As a drama-teacher-in-training, it sometimes feels awkward to ask direct questions about the exercise we just did. Well, everyone knows what we just did, right? It’s still important to ask the participants to verbalise or otherwise transform what they experienced – draw, dance, sing, mime – to gain new points of view into the issue. Furthermore, if there are twenty people participating, there are twenty different experiences, which can then enrich each other if discussed out loud.

After the reflection stage, experiential learning entails some kind of an analysis or conceptualization stage. This is where the experience meets my mental theory of the realm of that experience – learning, teaching, India, group dynamics, photosynthesis, stress tolerance, communication, whatever.

If I have experienced something new and unusual, I will have to change my theory to accommodate the new information. Based on the modified theory, I then go on to new experiences in the same realm, hopefully a bit better prepared to meet the challenges.

The mirror problem

The reflection stage is very important in the entire process, because it determines the conscious information we gather of our experience. This is why the questions – the mirror that reflects the whole picture – are so central. With the wrong questions, we might interpret the whole situation in a twisted light.

This is especially true in an educational setting, because the teacher more or less guides the participants’ conclusions with the questions she sets.

There is also a distiction between introspective questions and theme-oriented questions. Regardless of the process at hand, introspective questions are often useful as they chart the participants’ experiences of themselves during the activity. Theme-oriented questions, then, are the ones where a teacher must really pay attention.

Last weekend I conducted my very first process drama on the themes of belonging in a group. With a different set of reflective questions, though, the same basic process could easily have focused around how detrimental cult religions are, or around communication patterns in friendly or hostile contexts. Quite different learning processes might have taken place.

Everyday experiential learning?

Anyone who has ever done a bit of self-work recognises the basic structure of experiential learning.

Huh, I seem to have devoured half a bag of chips. Why did I do that? Because I was tired and hungry. Why was I tired and hungry? Because I skipped lunch. Why did I skip lunch? Because… and so on, until we get to the a-HA! moment.

It seems I get cranky and lethargic if I don’t eat, which makes me skip all kinds of duties, including lunch and deadlines. At this stage, the hypothetical example person (ok, you guessed, it’s me) would be well advised to somehow accommodate this piece of information into her theoretical framework of, say, health, well-being, and productivity.

The most useful tool in self-work are, of course, introspective questions. Figuring out what I think of something or why I choose to act like I do is highly useful, because that helps me address the stuff I’m self-working on in a deeper level. Root Cause Analysis – asking ‘why’ five times – could be a useful tool as far as introspection goes.

Theme-oriented experiental self learning is of course possible as well. In that case, reflecting on the pros and cons or the details of successes and failures of your experiences might do the trick. I think I’d get someone more knowledgeable to help me out at first, though. It takes a bit of experience to be able to ask useful questions about any skill.

Note to self: use experiential learning skills to regain the basics of playing guitar.

As always, feel free to comment and reflect upon this and everything else – and until we meet again, keep catching your own insightings!



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