Friday, April 18, 2014

What I’ve learned about empathy

After researching empathy, the most important thing that I have learned is that emotion recognition, from a cognitive perspective, is not the most important part of bonding with another human being.  For the most part, we can recognize when someone else is suffering.  Even across cultures the face of suffering is the same.  Granted, in some cultures the norm is to hide negative emotions, especially in deference to social harmony.  But we can usually tell from faces whether or not someone is in pain, physically or emotionally.  The true obstacle to bonding, bridging, or compassion is the feeling of caring about the other.  Two big obstacles come to mind when considering the dilemma in a modern, urbanized world.  One is the distractions that we self-inflict, including multitasking, that removes us from here-and-now, face-to-face connection.  The second is the guilt or ignorance associated with not knowing what to do after one does bond or recognize the humanity of another person who is suffering, distraught, or could use assistance.  We think we have to do something and we fear it is something we don’t want to do.  We feel guilty because of the disparity between our income level or race or “privileged” status in comparison to the “other” person.  It doesn’t occur to most people that just recognizing and approving of another person as a person is a radical step towards helping.  Of course, this enters into another debate about taking action versus doing nothing, but I would argue that recognition and approval would help people out in many ways, if only pertaining to a sense of belonging and perceived normalcy.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Dangers of Multitasking

Here is a video that talks about the dangers of multitasking, with yours truly:

Monday, March 17, 2014

At the ISPR Conference in Vienna

The concept of presence deals with a vast collection of attributes and style preferences.  Right now, as I sit at the University of Vienna, I wonder how presence is involved in online bonding.  In order for both people to be able to interact on an emotional level during an interpersonal interaction, they must both feel that they "see" the other and that they are "seen" by the other.  Presence, in this context, acts to constrain their interaction and shape how they feel about each other.  A feedback loop between the two interacts can either lead to a great deal of connection or it can lead to feeling a deficit of emotion.   Both outcomes are equally likely unless previous knowledge or active cognition changes the dynamic.  For social networking, if one "sees" the other, but is not "seen", as we have in the case of unequal power dynamics, then true empathy cannot exist between the two parties.  Due to the reciprocal nature an empathic interaction, it can be said that presence in this sense only occurs when both interactants are considered "present."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"I am a Burner!" said the researcher.

Short foray into the topic:

Standing in front of an online crowd and saying it out load makes me feel a bit like a recovering alcoholic, but I’ll say it anyway, “I’m a burner.”

A burner, in this context, simply put, is someone who attends Burning Man, also called That Thing in the Desert. This means that they have some acquaintance with the ten “principles” of the organization, written in 2004 by Larry Harvey for the Regional Network.  These include radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy. 

The term burner means different things to non-burners, depending on how many burner friends they have and how they view things they don’t have experience with. Do they judge or are they curious? 

For those who are prone to judgment.  There are many meditation classes available that can help you with this kind of automaticity.  

For those who are curious, there are two things I would like to debunk.  Burning Man does not automatically make you a better person.  You will necessarily be changed in some way, but it is no guarantee that this change will make you more compassionate, giving, and kind.  BM simply provides an opportunity to utterly change how you interact with others, the universe, and yourself.  But it is always part fate and part choice as to how you are affected.

One problem that I have with any “utopian” perspective is that it often ignores the default world, the world outside of Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert, concatenating our psychological development into one short week.   

For some people who love the event, the other 51 weeks of the year are spent yearning for that space where you can be free to express yourself, where there is no money changing hands (except for coffee and ice), and where you can interact with some lovely souls in very provocative ways.   Plans are made for grand yurts fill with air conditioning.  Faux fur is bought to line the seat of your second-hand tricycle.  

But, there are a few who internalize the principles, or their understanding of them, and take that as a guide for doing good in the world, the default world.  One of the most direct examples we can see of this is where burners volunteer to help struggling communities in any way that they can or when they help underserved populations gain skills.  

One such organization is called Burners without Borders. Burners without Borders has two broad categories of volunteering: Disaster Relief and Community Initiatives.