Monday, February 27, 2012

Using Emotional Contagion to our benefit


I was having a bit of a frustrating day the other day. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed…a little late. My alarm hadn’t gone off. I had only two minutes to get ready if I wanted to be there on time.

Of course I hit traffic on the way there. Groggy and discombobulated, I stumbled into work. The day would have been destined for failure, early on if I hadn’t had some positive influences.

My co-workers were great. I had some uplifting customers pretty early on. My brain was a little fuzzy for a bit longer, but soon I was in a good mood…and I woke up.

I found out that this is called emotional contagion. Amanda Enayati’s wonderful piece on the subject, Is your boss ruining your weekend? 

Wikipedia defines emotional contagion as the tendency to catch and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. I was inspired to write about this after reading

I have written much about the bad side of so called, emotional contagion without even knowing the term, so I was inspired by her post to write about the good side of it. With intention, we can perhaps, influence someone’s mood the right way.

How many times has the sound of someone else’s laughter caused you to laugh? How many times has a smile from a stranger, or a friendly interaction with a clerk you don’t know brightened your frenzied mood? I know we can all name instances when the opposite has happened.

If you are around unhappy people, it’s going to bring you down. Every interaction with an unhappy person is going to be tainted or influenced by their mood, often unconsciously.

As a clerk myself, I can name numerous times when my own bad mood has been lifted simply because of the smile of a friend or the kindness of strangers. Interacting with positive people can help me forget myself and influence me for the better.

I’ve benefitted from genuine positive emotional contagion many times, so
I’ve made a commitment to be a positive force in the emotional contagion cycle.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

c. 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mirror's Reflection


I used to have a co-worker who could have been me 10 years ago. She had the same boy problems, the same work issues, the same school issues. She even had the same immature responses I did and rationalized them the same way.

It was kind of like working with my younger, stupid self and it really annoyed the hell out of me. I was cringing so much that it was beginning to interfere with my work.

Carl Jung said something I found kind of interesting.
"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."

Or more concisely put, everything that irritates you about others reminds you of the irritating things you do. I wouldn’t have believed this 10 years ago, [even though it was no less true] but now it just seems to knock me over the head. I cannot stand to be around people who remind me both of my younger, uninformed self; likewise, my potential for doing ridiculous things.

In fact, I think the problems in our society have less to do with our differences, and more to do with our similarities. If someone is completely different than you, there is little basis for the whole compare/despair notion. [Props to Stuart Smalley on that term].

I’m willing to bet that the things that irk you the most about your co-workers, friends, and especially your family, have but the teeniest shred of familiarity to you. And that is why you have such a passionate reaction to it.

I have a friend who complains incessantly about the annoying things her mother does. The thing she doesn’t realize [and far be it from me to point it out to her] is that she is just like her.

So be gentle. The annoying persons we once were turned into the awesome stars we are now!! 

c. 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reptiles Overseas

Stranger in a Strange Land

My friend who is overseas confided a reptilian moment, which I thought everyone on the blog would enjoy. It epitomizes a stranger in a strange land mentality that we all get when we are away from familiar or comfortable surroundings.


I should start by saying that I have had years of cross-cultural living training, have spent several years of my life living outside of my own culture, am the daughter of immigrants, and am a certified "Cross-Cultural Mediator"  (in other words, I took a week long seminar on the subject and did some role-plays)....That said, I will now resort to whining like the five year old I've felt like for the past week.  For the past 5 months I have been living in a culture vastly different from middleclass American suburbia and have been placed in many situations that have simply continually triggered what my friend Brooke calls my reptilian brain.  I asked her if I could submit this rant with the disclaimer that the thoughts or opinions expressed in the following paragraphs do not express the views of the more "evolved" segments of my being.

People here go crazy when they see Asian people.  Not being Asian myself I didn't notice this until the first time I was walking with a Korean friend of mine and her two young children.  Adults and children alike were running in front of us folding their hands in mock bowing, speaking non-sense Asian sounding words while stretching their eyes apart, and running after us shouting "Jackie Chan!"  My friend held her head up high and ignored the cacophony of racism as I looked around in confusion and offered the only defense my years as a waitress had taught me.  I greeted them kindly in their own language and asked how their families were.  This caused them much shock and they ran away laughing.  “Yay, victory for the good guys, killing them with kindness!”  I thought as we walked on our way.

About three months later I was walking on my own street with my Chinese-American friend, and a group of children ran behind us doing the same type of things, and this time I snapped.  I turned and started screaming at the kids told them they were unkind and they should go away...sadly, reptilian anger doesn't do well when speaking your shaky third language and the boys laughed and would have heightened their mockery if my neighbors hadn't intervened and shamed them away.  
My corner is a bastion of reptilian behavior.  A man sell snails outside my bedroom window by day (makes for a pleasant smell...), at night he chains his table to the wall and it becomes the hang out for 20 something young men who have nothing better to do than sit on the table and yell and each other and try to talk to everyone walking by.  Fights break out about every two hours, one boy will be escorted away by three of his friends, and then they'll quiet down.  Ironically, while these men make comments every time I walk by, one evening when a strange man was trying to follow me home, the men saw I was concerned, asked me if I was alright, I said I was fine, but then they strategically positioned themselves so that by the time the strange man could get around them I was in my door.  It's like, “these are our foreign women and only we can harass them.”  After five months we're now pretty cordial.

So, last Friday, the normally bustling narrow streets are virtually deserted as shops closed and people hurried home for special Friday lunch.  My roommate and I were walking to a neighbor's house to enjoy her Friday feast when a group of little girls walked by, must have been eight or nine years old, when one of them suddenly ran up to me and put her hands on my mouth and started to poke at my face.  I slapped the little girl's hand away and turned to run after her, I had no clue what I planned on doing, but thankfully my roommate grabbed my arm and said, “dude,” which is really all it took to calm me down to my right mind (“dude” really is a magic word),and realize it was just a little kid and I was a grown adult and beating up children is wrong.
In order to become a resident of this country you have to go to an office behind the police station and wait in line to submit your paperwork to this man.  I arrived at 8:30 in the morning, and was the 32nd in line.  I tried to smile at a few people and talk to them, but no one seemed interested in socializing.  I spent about an hour walking back and forth on a line on the ground.  Around ten I finally was at a spot where I could lean on the wall.  At noon it was finally my turn.  The short angry mean man who chain smoked asked me what I wanted, this question threw me off a bit since I was standing in the same line as everyone else, why would I want anything different (I might also add at this point, that I was the only white person in the room, other than that I can't imagine why he would ask me this question I didn't hear him ask anyone else).  The French I've been speaking my whole life suddenly faltered and I found myself unable to explain myself, so I just handed him my file, he glanced at it and told me to come back at 3 o'clock and then called in the person after me.  I felt the anger rise in me, so I quickly turned and ran, and continued running, crossing the major street without looking, and for about 5 minutes sprinted down the sidewalk in my high heels and Editor pants.  I came to my senses and realized I looked ridiculous sat on a bench and calmed down.  I went back at three and a little after four submitted my paperwork to the chain smoking angry little man who should have a sitcom based on his life. 

I'm not an angry person.  Most people would probably describe me as light-hearted and happy.  I like to laugh, I don't take life or myself to seriously, I eat healthy and exercise, I have strong faith, and a solid group of close friends and family.  I have a great life.  Living in a foreign culture can do things to your brain that life in your home culture cannot.  Culture stress can be paralyzing or can lead you to behave in ways you never thought you would.  I'm certainly getting to know a whole new side of myself, and it's very disconcerting, but also invigorating, coming to the end of what you can stand and realizing stores of strength you never knew you had and you think, “Wow, I might really accomplish something.”  And then the next instant you're chasing an eight year old girl down the street shouting profanities.

c. 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Standing in the shadows

Rosalind Franklin

Have you ever had to stand in the sidelines with little else to do but bite the inside of your cheeks, while you watch someone else get all the credit for your work? Was their fanfare so big that when all was said and done, you were less than an afterthought to your own accomplishment?

If you paid attention in science class, chances are you’ve heard of Francis Crick and James Watson. But you may not have heard about Rosalind Franklin.

In a pre-feminist age where most women stayed pretty far from the lab, Franklin broke ground with scientific discovery. She made a name for herself as a biophysicist, physical chemist and an X-ray crystallographer. In fact, she was so good, that Crick and Watson made their groundbreaking discovery of DNA based on her preliminary research.

She made revolutionary discoveries with regard to DNA. Unpublished drafts of her paper show her reaching the same conclusions, as Crick and Watson. She even caught a mistake on Crick and Watson’s diagram, pointing it out to them.

She received little accolade for her part, aside from a posthumous mention of the huge role she played in Watson’s book.

Encouraged by her father, she took physics and chemistry at a very young age. She decided at 15 that she wanted to be a scientist. Besides doing extensive research on physical chemistry, gas phase chromotology, carbon and coal, molecular biology.

She studied X-ray diffraction in Paris. She got a research fellowship at Kings College in London. She wanted her to use the diffraction techniques on DNA, instead of X-rays.

Shockingly, she was content to stand in the shadows with regard to this groundbreaking discovery. She was just interested in the truth being known. She just continued her work as usual. She went on to publish 17 papers after this discovery.

In The Double Helix by Watson characterizes her has difficult and stubborn. But who wouldn’t be difficult and stubborn with regard to their passions? She had a habit of looking people directly in the eyes could sometimes be perceived as abrasive, and probably a little unnerving especially to men of that day.

She later teamed up with soft-spoken, Maurice Wilkins, whom she didn’t get along with too well. He was quiet and shy contrasted with her perceived domineering nature, and they disagreed about the structure of DNA. He ended up stealing her research.

Astoundingly, she later became friends with Crick and Watson. The DNA race was never discussed.

Watson also had an about face with regard to Franklin, who ended his book with a nice tribute to her.

In those days, they didn’t know the importance of wearing a lead apron while doing X-rays. As a result she developed ovarian cancer. She died 4 years before Watson and Crick received the Nobel prize for “their” discovery.

c. 2012