Can We Rebrand the Humanities? (Spoiler: Yes. We need to.)

As someone who studied both marketing and history (and who finds her history degree a super valuable part of that mix) the question often crosses my mind: “How can I sell my history degree?”

It shouldn’t be that hard, really. As a history undergraduate student, I just came out of a program with intensive research and written/oral communication training. I can mine through data about almost any topic, large or small. I can draw conclusions. I can organize the information. The list goes on and on.

When I see the words “B.A. in History,” I see all that.

I just don’t think employers always do. That’s a problem.

Employers often have no understanding of the transferable skills embedded in a liberal arts education. It’s like they see my degree and the only thing that comes to mind is their boring high school history teacher from 1971 droning on about the pyramids.

(…I mean, I do also know a whole bunch about the pyramids, but that is beside the point.)

So, here I am. Here we are. Looking at a job market which increasingly demands innovative, engaged, realistic, and skilled employees who can work with people and technology. Wanting to raise our hands and yell “THAT’S ME!” because really, it is. Our degrees should communicate all these competencies to employers. We just spent years building an understanding of processes, politics, humanity itself.

So how do we fix this perception?

It won’t happen right away. But I think there are a few subtle changes that institutions, professors, students, and graduates can make to help us rebrand some of these so-called useless degrees.

Here’s a start:

  • People who studied the humanities and are using skills from those degrees in their jobs should make the value of their education known in the workplace. When someone compliments your writing style, your note taking ability, or your problem-solving skills at work, do not shy away from giving honourable mention to the fact that you honed those skills through a liberal arts education. All the humanities grads making things happen in the world should be walking examples of the value of these degrees.
  • We need to create more portfolio-oriented curriculum. Many of the educational paths which are considered more “valuable” in workland get that reputation because their graduates have something tangible to show employers. Encourage students to research and/or present their research in a way that is accessible to those outside of the discipline. Give them something to show at a job interview.
  • Change the concept of specialization to include methodology and skillsets. Very few employers care that I “specialized” in 20th century North American cultural history…but a lot of employers care that I specialized in using digital tools and blogging to share information, or that I understand how communications and business have evolved over the past century. Did you become an expert in writing, in using a particular primary source, in different types of research or analysis? Consider recognizing these things as your area of “expertise” when speaking with employers.
  • Academic institutions need to realize that not every student wants to continue in academia and that’s okay. Professors automatically assume that their brightest scholars are immediately destined for academic greatness. But what if they are more interested in business, entrepreneurship, or the public sector? If every professor said to themselves “My students are going to come out of this class with one tangible thing to add to their resume” (it could just be introducing students to one new technology or method or communication skill) they would be preparing their students for success wherever they choose to go. Which is very good news, because if we lock all good humanities scholars up in Universities, they will have less of an impact on the world. Who wants that?
  • Speaking of entrepreneurship…we also need to encourage students to create their own projects and jobs. A liberal arts education helps us understand the culture, economics, and needs in our communities. These are certainly the kinds of people who are equipped to see the direction people are going in (and to make money on that direction). Let’s make sure are given the resources to make that happen!
  • We need to encourage interdisciplinary models in our academic institutions. One of my professors recently suggested putting spaces/resources frequented by engineering students (such as 3D printing labs) in liberal arts buildings on campus to encourage interaction. I think he is onto something. I would love to work with software engineering students to develop an educational app, or a design student to create a better website to showcase research. Fostering mutual respect and collaboration between fields should be a priority.
  • We need to connect students with the community. There are so many organizations who could use the skills humanities scholars have, or who could offer unique resources and projects to students. Working with organizations outside of their school helps students establish networks, explore their own career paths, and build their portfolios/resumes (see point #2). It also allows the community recognize the value that these students have, which can translate into a change in perspective for potential employers.

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We have the resources and technology to rebrand the humanities. Through the internet, we have the ability to connect with each other like never before. We can talk about the value of our humanities degrees online. We can teach students to recognize exactly why their degree is valuable, and prepare them to sell it to an employer (or to create their own business). We can develop interdisciplinary courses and programs which will encourage collaboration and help a humanities student’s degree appeal to a wider audience after they are done.

We can rebrand the humanities. We need to. Because it’s not just our students who are missing out on jobs…it’s our employers who are missing out on awesome workers who can take businesses (and society) to the next level.

Moving.

I’ve been here before, but it still feels new. Slowly packing my boxes as I prepare to leave the place I call “home.” It’s the end of an era, I guess. Finishing college and making this move is a game changer.

I’ve been here before, of course I have. My mind immediately jumps to five years ago, when I took off for University. It’s a familiar story: By the end of high school, I had messily carved a suburban teenage “self” out of high school essays, basement parties, and bad attempts at French cuisine. The time had come to challenge that identity. So I moved to the City (mine was Ottawa; my friends scattered all over). I remember leaving my parents’ house in 2010, taking pictures off the walls as my younger brother prepared to take over the space. The process of packing up your old life, even if you’re truly ready for it, is necessarily emotional. It was emotional then, and it is emotional now.

It’s good emotional, for the most part: I’m excited, I’m ready. My family and career and soul will all be better for this.  I sat down with a friend from first year yesterday and just vomited out all the cool stuff I want to do with my life: “I want to make this website! I want to make that app! I want to run this Twitter account! I want to make education better! I want a dog and a house and a panini press!”

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

It’s time to challenge the identity again. That’s how I see these big moves. I’m attracted to the idea of putting myself in a new environment and seeing how my outlook and personality change…and how they stay the same.  “Finding myself in college” wasn’t about “doing new stuff” (though that was cool, too). It was about figuring out what parts of my identity were who I was, and which parts were just a product of where I was. Would I still like History when I left the guidance of my high school teachers? (Yes, it turned out, I fell even more desperately in love). Would I still adore my high school friends after a few years in a new place? (We had a wicked party last month, actually). Would I hold on to my lack of religious beliefs, my relationship, my bad habits? (No, no, and I’m sure I’ve traded them in for some more).

The move helped me. It didn’t save me, it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all “solution.” It just helped, for the same reason travelling or “trying something new” helps. It’s powerful to see that there is more out there. And it’s powerful to see how you respond to that. Embracing new space can show you what sticks when you shift the environmental factors—the social pressure, the family dynamics, all that. Whether you love the new place or hate it, the whole experience can give you a much more solid grasp on who you are and what you want.

And what I want now is to move forward with my life, which means leaving Ottawa. It means reclaiming a Southern Ontario “self” (this time as a job-seeking big kid) and shedding some of the capital city student life. Just some of it. I’ll still be me, of course. But with this move, I’m hoping I will get a better idea of what that means.

Courage.

I would say I have nothing to write about, but that would be a lie.

I would say “I’m busy!” but that would be a lie, too. Midterms have come and gone for me. I have one left, an easier one, and work hours remain part time. This is as un-busy as it gets. I’m wearing yoga pants and old t-shirts on the regular. I should probably do laundry. That’s all.

(Being un-busy makes me almost more anxious than being overwhelmed, but how can I complain?)

No, life is happening. Future plans are solidifying. Huge shifts are occurring right under my feet. Everything is growing: My career, my family, everything. I have a partner now. I’m inches away from a University degree. I have more answers and, naturally, more questions than I have ever had before. Also, Football season is over and for some reason I think EVERYONE cares.

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This is basically me just all the time now.

Life is worth writing about, of course it is. But I question if it’s worth posting on the internet.

– – –

At the start of every New Year, I choose one word to shape the 365 days ahead. It’s a cheesy tradition, believe me, I know it. But my resolutions never stick, and I’m a sucker for traditions, so wordplay it is.

This year, the word was “courage.” It needed to be. 2014, especially the latter half, had been pretty cautious. I picked my path carefully, deliberately. I whittled my responsibilities down–part time classes and three jobs (only, I proclaimed. Right. Sure.). I took my young relationship relatively slowly, revealing little to those outside my circle. And I’m glad for that, at least in some ways. I’m glad I didn’t go full throttle into anything. It was smart. But overthinking led to worries, and worries led to a courage deficit.

It was time to make a change.

So my word for 2015 became courage,” and I wrote it everywhere. On the top of my schedule, on my Facebook wall, scribbled in my journal. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for the blog, but I was sure it would mean something. After all, wasn’t fear one of the reasons I wasn’t posting in the first place?

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Spoiler: It didn’t. Even when I really focused on honing all my courage, I didn’t write more. I didn’t feel immediately like blogging just for the sake of blogging. In fact, courage made me want to shut up for a second.

And I realized, oh-my, maybe what I really feared all along was not being heard.  Maybe my choice to post more sparingly–for now, at least–isn’t about a lack of courage, or losing self-expression, or even suffering writer’s block. It never was. Just like it’s brave to write or speak when we have something to say, maybe it is brave to sit down and listen and let things marinate when that time comes, too.

I’ll write soon, I’m sure. I’ll write as soon as I have something to say. I’ll try to write it even if it’s hard to say (all together now: courage, courage, courage). But I’m looking at it differently now.

(Sidenote: Thanks to all the readers of this blog for hearing me and seeing me all these years. It means so much. I hope I can hear and see you, too.)

I Knew John Maguire.

[Guest post by Ian McMillan]

This piece is very hard for me and has been a month in the making. When the original story broke in early December, I wanted to write something, but couldn’t find the time or frankly the words to express what I wanted to say properly. But now I feel I have to say SOMETHING to the world.

At 9:20 pm on January 14th 2015, I saw an article claiming that John Maguire, the young Canadian man who left his life behind him in 2013 to join ISIS, was killed in Kobani, Northern Syria. To those of you that don’t remember, John (who went by the name Abu Anwar Al-Canadi when he entered Syria) was the young man who was all over the news back in December when he made a video for ISIS threatening attacks against Canada and Canadians. The news was sensational because he seemed like a normal Canadian kid who wanted to play in the NHL, a smart kid, a kid and loved the outdoors. But something changed in John, who started to go by the name Yahya on Twitter and Facebook. He converted to Islam, became radicalized and abandoned his country and way of life, to fight the Jihad, against the infidels, in Syria.

It seems like a huge leap for me and you, right? To be honest, it even seems weird for me to be writing about him since he is “just another terrorist” and “a traitor”. Why should we even think, let alone care about him? I understand that most people will view Yahya’s death as sad, but quickly move on from it since it is a very small story in the grand scheme of the overarching tale of ISIS. Also I understand that people will frankly not care that he died and feel that he got exactly what he deserved based off his actions and words.

But for me there is a reason to care. I actually knew Yahya.

I am not claiming to be some childhood friend, or classmate of Yahya’s. I worked with him for almost a year at a grocery store in Ottawa. Ya, weird, I know right? The young man the world saw as a terrorist used to be a stock boy.

I met Yahya at 5:00 in the morning one cold miserable day in the winter of 2012. I was a little hesitant to meet him at first. The group that we had at this grocery store were mostly non-religious (or else very quiet in our convictions). Not only that, we were a group of younger guys who would get together for a beer or two after work. Yahya was different. He looked like the rest of us, in the sense that we were mostly white Canadians, but from the very start we all knew he was deeply religious. There was a fear that this might change the workplace, that we might need to censor ourselves. Still, I figured that as long as he did his work, we would get along.

Quickly, though, Yahya endeared himself to the group. Not only was he nice, easy to get along with and a hard worker, he was funny! We would talk about dumb things, crazy stuff that was happening in our lives, the scores of hockey games and other trivial matters. The group all thought he was a good guy and a valued member of the team. I saw a lot of him because we worked the 5:00 am shift together every day. He was always polite, willing to offer a hand if I needed it; the definition of “solid” guy. I also quickly realized that behind his easy going nature there was a deep intellectual side to him. Now, I’m not going to claim I’m some deep philosopher, but I like to have good conversations and debates with people about the issues of our times. Yahya seemed to be that type, too.

The first time I ever had a deep conversation with Yahya was in the lunch room. We were both sitting across from each other having our hour lunch when he started to ask me about my beliefs. I shared that I was raised Catholic, though I am no longer practicing. Normally I would keep this very private because it is something that I was raised to NOT talk about, but I felt the need to talk to someone of a different faith superseded the way I was raised.  The conversations that the two of us had about religion, faith and morals fascinated me. As a student of history I could talk to Yahya about the early church history and its relationship with the Islamic Faith. We talked about the crusades, the religious justification for them and the morality of killing in the name of God (for his part, Yahya shared his personal belief that killing in the name of God was only justifiable if an innocent life was at stake). We talked about the similarities and differences between the two religions. It was all very civil, very respectful and always informative. I pictured this as how any religious conversation should be.

This went on for almost a year, every day the two of us talking to each other about what is truth and what is just. Not only did we work well together, we had some of the most intellectual conversations that I have ever had. But then one day Yahya was quitting. He had an internship that started in January 2013, and couldn’t handle the workload of both jobs. While we were sad to see him go, we were all happy for him. He was a hell of worker and a good guy. I can remember shaking his hand, giving him a hug and wishing him the best of luck. He wished me the same. This was December 2012, his last day. If you have been following the news you know that this is point that Yahya bought a one way ticket to Turkey so he could slip into Syria and join ISIS. According to every news source I have read, no one close to him knew he was planning on leaving. This is now the second hardest part of Yahya’s story for me (the first being his death).

I only knew Yahya for about a year but in that time he was a good friend who could be counted on in the workplace. He never complained and always did what was asked of him. The news of his death saddened me, but honestly didn’t surprise me. In early December, when the video of Yahya surfaced, I commented to my girlfriend that “he is never making it out of there alive”. I didn’t want that statement to be true, but I knew that was probably his fate. A very small percentage of young Muslim men and boys join terrorist groups (even fewer white men from the West), making Yahya’s story extremely odd. But to me, what made his story odd was this: Yahya went from someone who could debate about religion civilly and respectfully, to calling for attacks against innocent people. I’m truly am saddened by his death but am more saddened by how someone who was so bright and so strong in his beliefs could be twisted into something so evil and unrecognizable to those that knew him.

I end this piece with what I truly wish I could have done for Yahya. I wish that me and him could be put in a room by ourselves. Just two chairs, a table and us. Just so we could talk again. I just want to listen to him, hear his thoughts, his fears. I just want to be reminded that the different religious groups of the world can sit together in the break room and enjoy each other’s company.

When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

I was sitting at a friend’s orchestra performance. After a few rounds of clapping, I had become acutely aware of the red spots on my raw hands. “Why does that-freaking-conductor keep leaving the room and coming back in?” I wondered, irritated. Because seriously. My hands, guys. They don’t need to take this abuse.

As the applause died down for the fifth (sixth?) time, I clasped my hands and remembered the games I used to play as a kid.  My teeny-tiny hands perceived a round of applause as a call to competition. I would concentrate on being the loudest clap or, more frequently, the last clap–quietly tapping my hands together after everyone else had finished showing their appreciation, feeling a proud, silent victory when I was responsible for the last small sound from the audience.

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

I don’t want to be unreasonably nostalgic, but I think it’s a fair reflection. The line between fantasy and reality, which now feels so concrete, was blurred when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was from lack of experience, or dreamy imagination, or unrefined perception, or something else. But the line was blurred. We were self-centered, obnoxious, pushy…but we were also a lot of fun. The way we looked at the world was fun.

When I was small, I didn’t know much about life (hell, I still don’t), but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be fun.

“Play” is often considered frivolous recreation, the opposite of “Work.” But perhaps this isn’t totally true. Perhaps work and play are not mutually exclusive. A worldview that favours joy and laughter and a heavy dose of “don’t sweat the small stuff” sounds like a healthy move. A little less stress and a little more giggling and running around (endorphins, anyone?) has to be a good thing for your happiness and relationships. Challenging yourself in a joy-filled way sounds like a pretty good habit. And it’s certainly easier to see the world humbly and honestly when you aren’t busy taking yourself too seriously.

My favourite definition of play is this one:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.

Translation? Play is basically how every cool innovation ever has ever happened. Toying with ideas. Playing around in the workshop, playing instruments, wordplay.

It’s pretty simple, really. Play is experimental, constructive, innovative, competitive. It can exercise your imagination, (pretend that there’s a monster after us!), your problem-solving skills (how do we hide from the monster?), and your ability to collaborate (let’s build a fort!). Games make you push yourself, and trick you into actually enjoying it.

And they make hands red from overclapping into a fun challenge, apparently.

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

In kid-land, we played house. We played school. We played dress-up. Now we just “do” those things, somehow forgetting that they used to be games. And forgetting that in many ways, they still are.

The stakes are higher, our awareness is (ever so slightly) stronger, but life is still full of games, just waiting for us to uncover them. We’re still allowed to play.

In fact, if we aren’t playing, maybe we’re doing it wrong.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

Yep, the East Coast is still wonderful. I checked.

My time exploring this country, in all its beauty (imperfect, tree-and-rock-and-tree based beauty, but beauty nonetheless), is far from over. Last week, I found myself on the East Coast of Canada once again. This time, though, I was exploring THE BEAUTY OF FRIENDSHIP.

(I also just threw up in my mouth, dun’worry. )

I share enough of my ridiculous awkwardness with the people who read this blog that I figure it’s worth throwing up some of my happiness, too. This one is profound, in the most simple way. I have friends, lovely friends. To me, they are home. They moved. I visited. They’re still home. And that’s awesome. It’s just awesome.

I repeat: I am also throwing up in my mouth.

With the right company, I imagine someone could be anywhere in the world and be happy. But the seafood, fall colours, ocean, and calmness of the East coast made the experience next-level relaxing. This was vacation. After the last post, there’s no doubt I needed one.

It’s different, traveling with friends. My last Canadiana experience was selfish…because, well, traveling alone is selfish. It’s supposed to be. That’s the point. That trip was all about experiences, about learning and bucket-listing; short-term connections, life lessons, et cetra. And I loved that. I’m sure I still would.

But last week, I was visiting old friends. I was traveling with my plus-one. This trip was all about people. It was about sharing experiences and sitting around the table. It was just friendship. Not the one-week-long Hostel kind of friendship (which is beautiful in its own way, no doubt), but the kind that makes you think “This. Is. Home.”

Of course, there is nothing, nothing, like experiencing a brief breeze of “This. Is. Home.”  while sitting around with a bunch of strangers in a new place. It’s literally worth traveling around the world for. It’s emotional tourism. But sitting around with people who have been there for awhile and just drowning in the “Home” feeling–even in a someone else’s  “house,” even after a long flight–that’s new.

And I could get used to it.

Hopewell Rocks. Why you gotta be so gorgeous, New Brunswick?

Overwhelmed.

It’s nearly October, and I’m tired.

I’ve been writing a lot of “advice-y” posts lately…where I try to sound wise or knowledgeable, where I share so-called insight. I know what I’m doing! I organized it into a list! Read me! Read me!

That seems strange to me this week.

I haven’t written since August 11th. I’m not apologizing; I’ve never liked the idea of churning out meaningless article on a weekly basis (I did try it once, but it felt disingenuous). I’m not apologizing, but maybe I should explain.

The readers of this blog have followed me through so many periods. You’ve joined me for ridiculous commutes, new jobs, viral rants, self-doubt. You’ve followed me through awkward holidays, musical train rides, and SO much “AHHH ADULTHOOD WHAT IS THIS?!?!” (seriously, like every other post).

Through all of it, all of it, I have been busy. Disgustingly busy. Here’s a confession, friends: Between internships and capital-J jobs, I have worked for twelve different organizations in the last three years. Twelve. Not one at a time, either. Jobs have been stacked like pancakes–four, five, six at a time. And that’s not including writing gigs, community service projects, tutoring, babysitting (counting those, my commitments are nearing the twenties). It isn’t counting this blog, either.

Oh, and it’s not counting school…which I attended full time.

This isn’t a braggy point. It used to be. The full schedule–being needed, being professional, knowing how to organize my time–it used to lend me a lot of confidence. I used to be really proud of my superhuman job-juggling skills, but now I’m not so sure.

Now I’m tired. Just tired. And I’m wondering exactly how long I’ve been tired; how long I’ve been ignoring the more unhealthy aspects of my commitment-a-holic ways because doing anything different is frightening.

So healthy, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities have been phenomenal. It was exciting to grow in my faith enough to become a church youth leader. It was exciting to have writing deadlines to meet. It was really-freaking-cool to turn from a goofy history geek to a historical tour guide (aka professional know-it-all). And being paid to go on Twitter? Kind of the best.

But there was a problem. There was a big problem. I didn’t just like my full inbox and ringing phone–I defined myself by it. I measured my value in reference letters, scheduling conflicts, social media stats. I cared about klout at age 20 (Why. Why.). I said things like “I’ll pencil you in” and “Can we push this deadline out?” and “Hold on, let me grab my blazer.”

It was nice to be needed. It was affirming to watch my hobbies turn into volunteer commitments, for those to turn into paid jobs. But the lifestyle that came along with it was less-than-ideal. I developed fears, ridiculous ones: An empty schedule is frightening. Not being needed is frightening. Not moving forward actively, obsessively…well, that must mean I’m moving backwards, right?

Faulty logic. I’m learning that now.

Perhaps we spend too much time and energy building an “identity” and not enough time just building ourselves. Yes, sure, I was really good at being a blogger, a workaholic, a stressball. But I got too busy being those things. I didn’t smile at people in the elevator. I ran for the door after class ended, instead of staying a moment to socialize. I ate fast food, drank too much coffee, snapped at tech support.  I got really good at being “Shauna Vert, Communications Professional.” But that got in the way of being “shauna.”

Sometimes being “shauna” will mean writing, or working, or juggling. But sometimes that will mean going on long walks or cooking a lasagna or watching football and holding hands. Hell, sometimes it will just mean sleeping. It’s not just my title. It’s not just my job.

Of course, it will always involve doing-stuff-for-people. It has to. But that’s because I love people and I love doing stuff…not because what I’m doing defines me. We should honour our commitments, but we shouldn’t morph into them.

So, yes. It’s nearly October, and I’m tired. But I had a day off yesterday. I have a vacation in two weeks. I love my jobs–all four of them–and I like my classes. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.

I didn’t take a break from this blog because I was “too busy” (though, sure, that was a factor). I took a break because a) I didn’t really have anything important to write about, and b) I didn’t want to write anything, really. I didn’t want to, and now I do, and that’s fine.

That’s fine.

5 Truths That Will Change the Way You Think About Arguments

My best friend and I had a fight a couple weeks ago. The curse of neither-of-us-are-backing-down reared it’s ugly head, and we were yelling. We were yelling. We weren’t listening to each other, we weren’t giving benefit of the doubt, we weren’t keeping things in perspective–hell, we weren’t even arguing about the same thing in the end.

The unnecessarily intense interaction made me think about how to do conflict better…a little more grace, more love, more not-being-a-dick. It took a lot of reflection, but here are five important things I learned:

1) Start by assuming good intentions.

If you go into a disagreement feeling like a victim, you’re going to argue like a victim. And while victims are great at accusing and ranting, they’re pretty bad at actually coming to a solution. Don’t get me wrong– if someone has betrayed you in a major way, victim it up. But if you’re actually trying to solve something? Going in with a defensive attitude is totally unproductive.

Very rarely will someone intentionally do something just to make your life harder (and if they do, you should probably cut them loose). So why confront someone as if they are purposely trying to hurt you? Instead, talk to people as if you know they care, you know they’re on your team…even if there are some issues to address. It’s much easier to bring things up (and to be receptive when issues are presented to you) when you can always count on a side order of “benefit of the doubt.”

2) The most important question of all: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

So often, petty arguments aren’t really about what they seem on the surface. They are symbols of deeper issues. And that makes for a whole lotta miscommunication.

Example: The argument “You never do the dishes” could be about doing the dishes. But it could also be about “I don’t feel like you respect my space” or “I feel like I’m doing more of the work around the house” or “I don’t feel your support right now” or “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!”. And none of those things are about the dishes, really.

BUT, if the argument focuses on those stupid dishes, then none of those actual root issues are addressed. Or worse, when they are addressed, it comes ten minutes into the conversation with a burst of hot tears and accusatory language and geeeeez, that escalated quickly. That’s how shit gets confusing and angry, folks. Simmer. Make sure you are both arguing about the same thing (so often, people are not). And when an argument goes in a weird direction, stop and ask: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

3) Avoid blowups by recognizing when you’re “collecting evidence.”

In an attempt to be right and not look like we’re overreacting, we have a tendency to “build a case” and legitimize how we feel before attempting a confrontation. When we do that, we skip the calm, loving “Hey, this is how my world looks right now,” conversation, and silently build up to a cold, grudge-filled trial.

“You did these 7 things in the last week that pissed me off. I have been writing them down, and they are now alphabetized in this list. What do you have to say about THAT, hm?”

Naturally, when we put someone on trial, they defend themselves against our evidence because that’s how trials work. We end up arguing over individual instances (“I’m working overtime! And I did the dishes three days ago!”) instead of the actual issue at hand (“Oh, you feel overwhelmed? How should we work this out moving forward?”).

By approaching conversations with “Hey, I just caught myself collecting evidence on you, can we talk?” you are taking responsibility for your expectations and feelings, rather than waiting for enough ammunition to put all the blame on someone. You make it about being real, instead of being “right.” Obviously, that’s a much better strategy.

4) People yell because they want to be heard

Ah, the good ol’ screaming match. When we start arguing with people, especially if we refuse to see their points or perspective, it’s only a matter of time before they raise their voices a little. Or we raise our voices a little. Although it seems like an emotional response, maybe even irrational, yelling actually makes a lot of freakin’ sense.

It’s pretty simple, really: We learn from a very young age to speak up when someone can’t hear us. Talking louder is a very natural response to not feeling heard. Mix that with a little bit of frustration and you have a high-volume warzone (where, ironically, no one is listening to anyone).

While your body assumes that TALKING LIKE THIS will help you make your point, experience tells us that it really won’t. The best way to be heard is actually by being clear, honest, calm, and timely…not by bringing the roof down. So take those deep breaths (they really work, guys) and remember that when someone raises the volume in your general direction, sometimes THEY JUST REALLY WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD AND IT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU WILL HEAR THEM, OBVIOUSLY. They may be wrong, but this isn’t your cue to talk over them or defend yourself—it’s your cue to listen better.

5) When it gets competitive, no one wins

There is a point in every big argument where a simple disagreement turns into a capital-F Fight. And who wins capital-F Fights? Um, no one.

Learn to recognize when things are getting into a competitive space, and cut it off then—because in relationships, “winning” an argument by brute force is rarely a true victory. Here are a few signs your disagreement has turned into a showdown:

  • Your body temperature rises, your body language becomes aggressive, and your focus narrows
  • You lose sight of all your initial goals (to be understood, to be legitimized, to find a solution to an issue) and take on short-term goals (to have to other person give in, to be “right”).
  • Displays of emotion (tears, yelling, etc) from the other party seem like a victory, rather then a sign that you’ve crossed a line
  • Oh, and you cross lines. Because YOU’RE RIGHT, dammit.

Any game that is won by someone you love bursting into tears is not worth playing. Period. So when it goes there—and it can, of course it can—give it a break. Disagreements can be productive. Capital-F Fights rarely go anywhere positive.

Not the best role models.

Not the best role models.

So, as always, let’s be good to each other.

(I know I say that almost every post, but man, it’s so worth repeating.)

5 Things I Learned About Canada After Traveling From Sea to Sea

It’s Canada Day(!!)

As usual, my love for this country is on overdrive.

Despite the dark parts of our history (there are many, no doubt), I do hold a lot of hope and pride in my heart for good ol’ Canada. It’s nuanced and critical, but it’s there.

This is my first Canada Day since I did my cross-country train tour last August. I suppose that should make me feel like I have some level of insight on this country. Not so much. The more I have learned and seen of this country the less I want to make general claims about it. Even writing this seems a bit strange.

BUT BUT BUT, there are five things that I observed that felt pretty solid. So here goes. Just for you, just for Canada Day. Let’s listicle this bad boy.

1. Canadian humour? I think it’s a thing.

I met a lot of funny people on my trip. Good storytellers, great attitudes. At the Just For Laughs festival, I tried (with little success) to crack the code of Canadian comedy. While that experiment fell flat, the people I met as I traveled across this country gave me more of a clue.

The humour in Canada seemed to be a really unique mix of joy and sarcasm. I know satire is often characterized as a dry, cold humour, but the sarcasm I felt throughout Canadian seemed almost warm. I met so many people across this country who looked at everything with a wink of “Eh, this is life! And it’s ridiculous!”

Which it is. Living in Canada is kind of ridiculous. The weather, the empty space, the strange array of cultural indicators (a leaf and poutine and hockey and whatnow?).  Canada also has the unique position of having a lot of rural spaces, small towns, and harsh winters…while also having a literacy rate of 99% and high scores on international education rankings. I’m sure the doesn’t hurt the development of a unique kind of outdoorsy wit.


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2. Community is everywhere.

Everywhere I went in Canada, the communities I visited seemed to offer community in relatively the similar ways–survival, sports, music, food, drink, repeat. Obviously events varied based on size and geography, but generally it was pretty status quo–downtown parades and fireworks on special occasions, community theater in the warmer months, concerts in the park, sports bars with hockey specials. In Halifax, the experience made me seriously question why I didn’t just do more of these things at home.

That said, I found that community often wasn’t a super important value for folks in Canadian cities.  I’m guessing that’s because “survival,” which is historically at the heart of most Canadian communities, has become less and less an issue (thanks, indoor heating and modern medicine). We all are relatively free and mobile and proudly different, so sometimes it feels like we don’t seek each other out as much.

But we do still need each other. And the lucky thing is that community is available, and it is worth pursuing. I found it literally everywhere I went, and it was awesome.
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3. Oh, and French is also everywhere.

My whole life, I was fed this ugly lie that there are only French Canadians in Quebec. No where else.

Turns out, that is so very wrong.


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Seriously, if I ever have kids, I’m raising those buggers to be bilingual. I underestimated the Frenchness of this country so much. It’s everywhere. When I went to the French quarter of Winnipeg, no one was speaking a lick of English. Not to mention New Brunswick, or Northern Ontario. I even met a tour group of French first language kids from British Columbia recently.

Yes, Quebec has a lot of French people. But it also has more people, period. I loved Quebec culture and deeply enjoyed my time there, but I was wrong to assume that different versions of French Canadian language and culture didn’t stretch from sea to sea.

 

4. So. Much. Patriotism.

Oh, you thought Americans were proud?

Hah.

omg we're so great look guys here's an infographic

omg we’re so great look guys here’s an infographic

Yes, the United States is known for having overzealous residents who are patriotic to a tacky degree. But when I worked and lived in the States, it turned out that I was the one who patted myself on the back for my citizenship on a daily basis. Gay rights? Medicare? Cool looking federal police officers on horseback? Canadians think they are the coolest.

It can be annoying, I’m sure. I was basically like that pretentious friend everyone has who proudly collects records and forces obscure music on everyone…except instead of indie tunes, I was dealing out ketchup chips and maple syrup.
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5. We don’t really go to church.

Empty pews are certainly a major theme throughout the country. I don’t totally know how I feel about that–the United Church of Canada is a big part of my life, and I think the church can be a wonderful and remarkable space for people (see point #2). But I’m not necessarily disappointed in our emerging “churchlessness.” I’m mostly just curious about it.

I’ve heard a whole host of reasons for people moving away from the church, most of which are not only confined to Canada: Corruption, postmodernism, the perceived conflict between science and religion (or between social justice LGBT/women’s rights and religion), individual spirituality over community practice. I get all those things, I do.

But Canada is an interesting study simply because recent generations have been so privileged, so lucky, so educated and connected, so blessed….and so secular. I often wonder if there is a connection. Either way, it will be interesting how churches and people transform in this environment.

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Basically, I learned that Canada is the True North strong and free…and funny…and diverse…and proud…and changing all the time. All the time. Like, right now.

So, I guess we should probably go out and look at it pretty seriously and take good freakin’ care of it. Because whatever this country becomes…we’re a part of it.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!