Monday, January 23, 2012

Be Careful How You Word Your Wishes

Growing up, I always thought the phrase "Be careful what you wish for," was a strange one, mainly because most examples I saw of wishes gone awry weren't what the wisher wanted in the first place. I completely understand being careful what you wish for, because you may not like it as much as you think. The classic example is King Midas, who doesn't stop to think about what it would really be like to have everything you touch turn to gold. Then there are examples of people who think they want something, but then learn that the reality of their wish isn't the same as what they imagined. But most of the time, when the "be careful what you wish for" lesson showed up in kids' stories and shows, the person granting the wishes didn't give the wisher what they really wanted. The wisher's mistake wasn't that they made a certain wish, but that they weren't specific enough when converting their thoughts into words.

Here is an example of the difference: In the Disney Channel movie, The Other Me, a boy clones himself and gets his new twin to go to school for him and fulfill his responsibilities while he stays home and watches TV. This was a dream come true for him at first, but after a while he got bored of doing nothing and didn't like someone else living his life for him. This is a good be-careful-what-you-wish-for example because he learned about the downsides of what he had wanted.

In another Disney Channel movie, Sixteen Wishes, a girl gets 16 wishes granted on her 16th birthday, one of which is for people to stop treating her like a kid.  When the wish is granted, she actually becomes an adult, so that her parents pull her out of high school and expect her to get a job and live on her own. As soon as she realizes what's going on, she tries to take the wish back because it isn't what she wanted.  She wanted more freedom to do what she wanted, like staying out later, but not to actually be an adult. While this is portrayed as a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment, it really isn't, because what she really wanted wasn't what she got.  No matter what kind of lesson she learns about appreciating what she has, the real problem was that she didn't get what she actually wished for. Sixteen Candles is the only example I can think of at the moment, but I've seen a lot like this, and my thought was always the same: that you can't say "be careful what you wish for" to someone who didn't get what they wished for in the first place.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Forget a Memory

One year in high school, I had to take an SAT prep class at a learning center during the summer. I was really angry about this class interfering with my summer, and I told my parents that I didn't want anyone else to know about it. At the time, I didn't understand much about how my memory worked, but I had this feeling that I could sort of "contain" the class, so that it didn't touch the rest of my summer. I knew that if I told people about the class, they might ask me how it was going.  A normal question to ask, but I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to think about the class outside of class at all.

My first experiment of trying to contain an experience and keep it away from the rest of my experiences actually worked. I have memories of the learning center, but they aren't linked to my life memories. If I think about that summer, the class doesn't even enter my mind. I have a very clear memory of my life, and what happened when, but when I try to recall everything that happened between sophomore and junior year of high school, this prep class doesn't show up anywhere. In fact, the only reason I remember which summer it happened is that I've thought a lot about this memory experiment. Before that, I actually had to count back from the time I took the SATs to figure out which summer the class must have been.  Even that was difficult because I don't have much of a memory of when I took the SATs - studying for them was something that I tried to keep quiet for the same reason - I didn't want it interfering with my life. By not talking about these things, I was able to contain them and keep them from spilling into my life and my memories.

I have a clearer memory than a lot of people. (I say "clearer" rather than "better" because memory is reconstructive. My memories are clear in mind because I've thought about them and reconstructed them so many times, but that does not mean that they are 100 percent accurate). When my friends or cousins are talking about something that happened a long time ago, I'm usually the one who has the clearest memory of what happened when. When my parents are trying to remember what year something happened, I'm usually the one who knows. Because even if I don't associate an event with a particular year, I will associate it with what grade I was in or something that was going on in my life at the time, which I do connect with a particular year. By not talking about  SAT preparation with anyone, I prevented myself from linking those memories to anything else that was going on, which is why I can't instantly recall which year I took the SATs. 

I love the idea of containing memories like that, but I don't see myself doing it anymore. I really like to tell my friends everything that I'm doing and I don't like to keep anything to myself. What really enabled me to keep the SAT stuff a secret in high school was that I cared about my image - I wanted to be seen as the girl who spent her summer practicing singing, dancing, and acting, not studying for the SATs.  I got instant gratification out of keeping things private, because I got to present myself as someone whose only focus was getting to Broadway, and that made me feel really good. Now that image doesn't matter to me as much, having someone think that writing is the only thing I do doesn't make me feel as good as it once would have.  And without that positive feeling, I don't have any real motivation for keeping something private that I'd rather tell. I don't see myself containing memories again in the near future, but I thought I'd share the experience. I'd be interested to see if this method works for anyone else.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

No Excuses for Sexual Assault

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape and assault.
If you have ever been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault. NO ONE has the right to push you into something that you don't want to do. People have a lot of excuses for rape and sexual assault. In this post, I am going to discuss some of these excuses and show how nobody would accept these excuses in any other situation.

Affirmative Consent
My friend Eli created a webcomic about affirmative consent, which you can read here: Affirmative Consent. The important thing to keep in mind here is that if you ask someone to do something 49 times, and they say no each time, but the 50th time you ask them, they say yes, that's not consent. That's pressure. It means that having to do the thing isn't as bad as whatever pressure the person will experience if they don't. If someone wants to have sex with you, they should be actively  interested, not just going along with what you want them to do.

Think of it this way: if your friend calls you and asks if you want to eat at a restaurant that you hate, you can tell them that you don't want to eat there. But what if you're already in the car with your friend, and without asking you, your friend pulls into the restaurant, parks the car, and assumes that the restaurant is okay with you?  Sure, you can still say that you don't want to eat there, but wouldn't it be harder?  Wouldn't you be more likely to go along with it even if you really don't want to eat there? The same is true with any activity, including sex.  But since people are uncomfortable talking about sex, they will usually just start kissing or touching the other person and try to figure out if they like it. Because there is no actual discussion, it's much easier for someone who doesn't care about the other person's feelings to pretend that they thought the person wanted to have sex when they didn't.

Mental Awareness
A person must be mentally aware in order to actively agree to something. If you broke into someone's home and robbed them while they were asleep, you would never get away with saying that it was okay to steal because the sleeping person didn't say anything to stop you. The same would be true if you stole from someone's purse or pockets while they were very drunk, very sick, or passed out.  Likewise, you can't have sex with someone who is asleep, passed out, or out of it for any reason and is unable to give consent. Remember: the person must actively want to have sex with you.

Secondly, you need to be mentally aware in order to know whether someone else wants to have sex with you. It would be wrong to drink before you drive, operate heavy machinery, perform surgery, or anything else that might lead to someone getting hurt. If you are so drunk that you are unable to tell yes from no or that you don't have enough self-control to stop doing something when someone tells you stop, then you are not aware enough to be having sex.

Other People's Perceptions
The only thing that matters is whether or not a person actually says that they want to have sex - anything else that you perceive as asking for sex - clothing, dancing, flirting - has nothing to do with actual consent. If you ran a school dance team and met someone wearing an "I ♥ dance" t-shirt and jazz pants with "dancer" written on the back, you wouldn't just sign them up for the team - you'd ask first. And if their answer is that they have no interest in the dance team, you wouldn't push them into it, or say that they owe it to you to join the dance team because they dress like someone who likes dance. It works the same way with sex - what a person actually says (or doesn't say) is final. Thinking that someone was "asking" for sex with their clothes or behavior has nothing to do with what the person actually wants. And most of the time, the idea of someone "asking for it" is probably not a misinterpretation, but an excuse for sexual assault.

The Code
Imagine that a friend invited you to hang out, but when you got to their house, they expected you to go skydiving with them. You're terrified at the thought of it, but your friend is acting like you already committed to doing it, like agreeing to hang out meant that you also agreed to go skydiving. This happens all the time with sex - someone was supposed to understand that the other person invited them over to have sex, when the other person never said so. Of course you can still say no, but it's very easy for someone to pressure another person into having sex by implying that they already promised they would.

Changing Your Mind
Even if you think that someone did say they would have sex with you, a person can change their mind at any time, no matter what. If your friend promised to go to the movies with you, but then decided that they didn't want to, you might be disappointed. But would you ever think that you had the right to drive to their house and physically force them into your car, or threaten to hurt them if they didn't come with you? Probably not. Probably if you did either of these things, everyone would recognize that what you did was wrong, even if the other person had originally said they would go. This is not an excuse when it comes to sexual assault - it doesn't matter what someone said earlier if they are saying no right now. Again, this is probably used more often as an excuse than an actual misinterpretation.

If you have been sexually assaulted, don't let anyone make you think that any part of it was your fault. You could be wandering around naked for all I care, and if you didn't say that you wanted to have sex with someone, then they had absolutely no right to do anything sexual to you. When you don't know what someone wants, you ask. It's that simple. There are no excuses for sexual assault.

To Hear What Isn't Said

Reading between the lines has never been my specialty, but I want to make a serious effort to hear what people aren't saying, to understand what people actually want even if it is different from what they're asking, because not everyone is comfortable asking for what they want directly.  I mean, when was the last time you told someone that you wanted attention or to feel cared for? Probably, you didn't ask for these things directly - you found another way to try to get what you were looking for.

One time in college, I told a classmate that I thought the school should provide us with milkshakes during finals, because some of us were unable to swallow solid food. My classmate said, "Well, suggest it," and sort of shrugged it off. But I didn't want a milkshake. What I wanted was to talk to someone about how sick to my stomach I felt all the time. I wanted someone to ask why I had trouble eating solid food.

I realize now that I have probably given similar responses, without meaning to blow the other person off. In high school, a friend of mine didn't like that her hair was curly, and I said, "Why don't you straighten it?" I was trying to help solve her problem, but looking back now and realizing that she never did straighten her hair makes me think that she didn't want styling advice any more than I wanted a milkshake - she wanted reassurance that her hair was beautiful just the way it was.
I am not always the best at reading people, but my new goal is to be able to figure out what people really want, and give it to them.

Types of Pain

The way I see it, there are 2 types of physical pain:

Type A: The pain you feel when you fall off your skateboard, burn your hand on the grill, or have a headache - pain that you do not want to experience again. You may be willing to risk some pain in order to learn a new skill, such as riding a unicycle, but you still wear safety gear and try to avoid falling.  Breaking your leg is type A pain because you need to stay off it in order to heal.

Type B: The pain you feel when you're stretching your muscles or doing something physically active that you enjoy, where even if you are in pain, you feel good at the same time.  Continuing to feel the positive feeling is more important to you than avoiding the negative feeling, and the two are linked together to some extent. Continuing an activity such as stretching will actually reduce the pain, rather than making it worse.  Having sore muscles is type B pain (assuming you didn't actually pull a muscle) because usually stretching the sore muscles will make you feel better.

Things do not automatically fall into one category or the other - whether pain is Type A or B is different for each individual. One person may be okay with some muscle pain that they experience going for a run, whereas another person may not be, even if the degree of pain is the same.

I think that these same classifications exist for emotional pain as well. Although it is a little trickier to define, most emotional pain or distress can also be divided into what you want to avoid, and what you don't mind or are okay working through. In this case, there is probably and even wider range of variation in terms of what people consider Type A and Type B. It doesn't really matter, but what matters is that we all recognize that there is a difference, that one person's Type A pain could be another person's Type B pain, and vice versa.  After going through the same stressful situation, one person may feel exhilarated in a positive way, like they just finished running a race, while another person may feel more like they've burned themself and never want to do it again.

Next time someone is talking about something stressful or emotionally painful, listen closely and you can probably tell which type of pain it is to them.