Although I finished my PhD years ago, I have the good fortune to continue to be welcome at the weekly lab meetings for my advisor, Gerard Saucier, where he talks with his grad students about the many interesting things he’s working on and thinking about. Today’s meeting covered what he described as a “smorgasbord” of topics, among them cultural differences in value hierarchies, or more simply put, what people believe is important.
Several philosophers have proposed their own hierarchies of values, like Francis Hutcheson and Jeremy Bentham. In general, at the very top of the hierarchies are more universal values: the well-being of everyone. Next comes the well-being of one’s own family and friends, then more abstract good things like art and science, then one’s own interests that don’t cause harm to others, and at the bottom, more selfish gratifications that may involve treating others poorly. In other words, if your highest principles are the public good, you could use this ranking to decide how to prioritize things you might be interested in doing.
But in his research, Gerard has learned something interesting, which caught my attention in the past, and which he mentioned today also – there’s another familiar value ordering that’s different from the philosophers’ hierarchies. It goes like this: At the very top, we have success – not necessarily money or material goods or with a disregard for others, but pursuing one’s ambitions with regard for intelligence, wisdom, family security, and self-respect. After that comes true friendship, enjoying life, being responsible, honest, and broad-minded, in a “world Continue reading
This morning I read a delightful academic paper, with an even more delightful backstory. The lead author, Sabine Little, is a professor at the University of Sheffield, specializing in “Languages Education,” especially multilingualism. Her native language is German. So when the Littles had a child, they naturally decided to raise him to be bilingual, with Sabine speaking German, and Toby’s father his native English. When Toby was 4, however, he asked his mother to stop speaking German to him. Then, when he was 6, he asked her to resume, as he had realized he wanted to learn German. He also asked if they could “do research together.”
I imagine that at the age of 6, Toby’s idea of “research” was that it was something potentially worth his attention because he knew it was important to Sabine. As a mother, I know how it feels when your child decides to try something because they see you doing it, although my own memories along these lines were much less consequential. I’m thinking of when my younger son was 2 or 3 and wanted to try some of the foods he saw me eating. His initial reactions to red salsa were pretty amusing, but in the end favorable; his conclusions about romaine lettuce went the other direction. Nevertheless, I was flattered.
Toby and Sabine, however, were making a much larger commitment. As they explain in the paper, “Through a joint research diary, we regularly and rigorously chronicled both language-related conversations and our emotions linked to the process of bringing back the heritage language.” Over two and a half years, that research diary ended up at 83 typed pages, or 25,450 words. And, “Since Toby had proposed the study himself, his desire to be involved in all Continue reading
Way back in the day, my Grandpa Ben was a big fan of Portland Wrestling. A quiet man otherwise, he’d cheer on Dutch Savage and boo Bull Ramos. I was maybe 10, and I didn’t see the appeal. Looking back, I have no idea whether Grandpa believed the theater or enjoyed the parody. He also liked Westerns, so maybe scripted drama was his thing; it’s hard to say from this distance.
Some 40 or 50 years from now, Americans will wonder the same thing about their Republican grandparents. What did they really believe, way back in the “Teens” and ‘20s? Did they honestly think Donald Trump and the many politicians in his pocket were sincerely fighting for their well-being (without any policies of their own except to oppose the Democrats at every turn)? Or had they all become so cynical about government as a means to make our lives better that they cheered on the Capitol rioters and the Congressional obstructionists “flipping the bird” at the American people in every vote?
Way back in 1988, Donald Trump got his start in show business with a WrestleMania event supposedly taking place at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. Who would have imagined, back then, that Trump would go Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, I popped into the First National Taphouse to pick up the dinner we’d ordered, and on their sound system was a song I hadn’t heard, or thought about, in years. It was the Brothers Johnson, singing their 1977 hit, “Strawberry Letter #23,” which has a fun, bouncy melody for the chorus, “A present froooom you, Strawberry Letter 22.” Or, alternatively, the line, “Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue.” Check it out!
The premise is that the singer/narrator and his lover have been exchanging “strawberry letters” as tokens of love, and having just received her Strawberry Letter #22, this song is his response, #23. It was confusing at the time – we all thought the song title should or did include #22, not #23.
Anyway! After that Taphouse meal, I wrote “Strawberry Letter #23” into my ongoing, multi-page do-list and now, whenever I scroll down and come across it, voilà! A cheery, bouncy tune begins playing in the back of my mind, infusing its positive energy into my day. (Alternatively, if pop-funk is too perky for you, try this extremely infectious sea shanty, a recent TikTok craze.)
It’s basically the same phenomenon described in this recent Washington Post article about rewatching old movies and shows – and the same thing I wrote about a month or two ago, about taking a mental stay-cation. We can hack our own moods by setting aside some time to deliberately put our attention Continue reading