Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing to Be Read

The most important thing I've learned from keeping this blog is how to edit.  Writing for other people sort of requires you to write well, but writing for yourself can be more about preserving your writing as it is. When I was younger, I liked to make up stories and poems, but didn't have any interest in writing them out.  My dad insisted on writing down all of my poems.  Sometimes I would change a few words of a poem if I was giving it to someone, but my dad would never let me change the originals.  We had an unwritten rule that every poem in that binder would stay preserved so we could remember what I wrote at each age.

When I began writing in journals in middle school, I never wanted to alter anything I had written, including fiction and poetry. The only time I ever corrected something in a previous journal was if something was illegible or unclear, to the point that someday I might not know what I meant to say. When I read over my senior autobiography/scrapbook during the summer, I really wanted to fix it since the writing wasn't my best. But at the same time, I didn't want to touch it because technically, I wasn't in high school anymore, and I didn't want to alter my record of how I felt when I was in high school.

I am grateful for all my preserved records, but all those years of writing just for myself didn't give me any practice editing. The first time I really learned to edit was in fiction writing class, where I transformed some stories to the point of not touching the original documents.  But in terms of my non-fiction writing, I'm learning to edit on this blog.   I used to keep an online journal, which contained some private entries.  My main reason for moving to a blog was to be able to share my writing without giving access to those more personal journal entries. But now that I'm writing for other people, I care more about how I sound. On the internet, any post could be the one that readers stumble upon first. I'm always editing past posts. I no longer care about preserving my state of mind on some random day - I care about sounding good right now.  This blog has taught me how to write to be read.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

4 Tips for Validating Language

Language is very important in validating people.  Here are some tips for using validating language when someone confides in you with a problem.

1. Repeat their own words - or similar words - back to them.  Focus on the adjectives they use to describe the situation and how they feel.  If you friend says something was annoying, use words that mean "annoying." If your friend says something was horrible, use words that mean "horrible." Choose your words based on your friend's words, not on the objective situation.

2. "Sucks" is a great word because it is versatile.  You can say, "That sucks," when something is inconvenient or when something is very upsetting.  It's a great word to use when you're communicating with someone online and can't tell how much of an issue it is to them.

3.  When in doubt, use stronger words.  It's much easier for a friend to say, "Actually, it's not that bad," if you overestimate the severity of the issue than it is to say, "Actually, it's much worse than you think," if you underestimate.

4.  When typing, do not repeat phrases in quotations. Here's an example I've seen:
You said that you have too much going on.
You said that you have "too much" going on.

The first sentence simply confirms what the person said, but the second sentence says, "You claim that you have too much going on, but you actually don't." Quotations are very invalidating.  Avoid putting the other person's words into quotations, even if you think they're using words or phrases incorrectly.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bias Toward Liking Things

Here's a word problem: Some of Kate's classmates are going on a hike, and Kate is deciding whether or not she should go with them.  Assume these facts are true:

1. Kate only wants to go on the hike if it will be fun.  She does not have any ulterior motives, such as making new friends.
2. Kate went on a similar hike last week and hated it.
Should Kate go on this hike or not?

Now, my first question would be, why did Kate hate the hike last week? Was it raining?  Did she forget bug repellent? Did she fall and get hurt? Was she not feeling well?  What we all want to know is, did something bad happen last week that wouldn't necessarily happen again? 

Now, what would happen if we change the scenario so that Kate went on a similar hike last week and loved it? Chances are, we would all tell her that she should go on the one this week, without questioning any further.  But why aren't we questioning further? If there were so many non-recurring events that could have happened in the first scenario, why wouldn't the same be true now?  What if Kate only had fun on the first hike because of the perfect weather?  Because her best friend was there?  Because she was in a good mood that day?  

When Kate hated the previous hike, we're quick to search for other explanations that don't involve Kate hating hiking, but when Kate loved the previous hike we accept it and don't consider that her enjoyment could have been contingent on factors that won't exist on every hike.  We have a natural bias for pushing people to do things that we perceive as positive than to really consider what the person will or won't like.

Monday, October 15, 2012


When it comes to problems, it's not the objective situation that matters - it's how the person who's in the situation feels.  Any problem is legitimate if it's hurting someone. The next time someone tries to tell you that a problem isn't real or that you're imaging things, here's a good analogy:

Do you sneeze when you get close to a kitten or a dandelion field? Do you avoid foods that don't agree with you?  When you have an allergic reaction, your immune system treats an innocuous substance as though it is harmful.  The symptoms you experience are your body's way of trying to fight off the substance, the same way your immune system would fight off a cold.  There is nothing harmful in these substances, but that doesn't make the symptoms any better for people who are allergic.

Different things bother different people. The next time you're about to tell someone that what they're going through isn't a real problem, that they should be okay with it because other people can handle it, try repeating the same thing to someone who would die from eating a peanut butter sandwich.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learning to Trust Again

The summer after senior year of high school, I had a fling with a boy I had a crush on, and was disappointed to learn that he didn't like me the same way.  At the time I was very upset and talked about what happened with everyone - family, friends, acquaintances, a former teacher - anyone who would listen.  While what happened is no big deal to me now, it was a significant experience - it marked the last time that I would feel free to share a story like that with everyone I knew, the last time that I would trust everyone with something that really hurt me without testing their trust first on something smaller. It was the last time I remember not worrying at all about invalidation.

When someone indicates to me that something is of a certain importance, I try my best to accept that importance at face value, even if the same thing wouldn't be a problem if it were happening to me.  But when I was in college, I did NOT get that kind of treatment in return from most people. College was just one invalidation after the next for me.  Every single problem I had (and there were a lot of them) came with two problems - the problem itself, and the fact that most people didn't take me seriously. People who didn't even hurt me directly made it clear that they didn't take my issues seriously based on the way they talked about other students.

I've been out of college for two years now, only stayed in touch with my true friends, and only made friends with people who seem understanding.  Yet my mind still processes conflict the same way it did for four years - every time I have a problem, I assume that no one will take me seriously. And I know that's not true - I know that I'm only friends with people I can trust.  But after four years of this being very true, my subconscious hasn't figured it out.

My high school fling happened over 6 years ago, and it is honestly the last time I remember discussing a problem freely without the fear of not being taken seriously.  I had always assumed that most people could be trusted.  Maybe I'm more cautious now that I've met so many people I can't trust. But I'm trying so hard to get back to that summer of telling all, of trusting all.  Because I do trust you. I just need to let my subconscious know.

Truth vs. Honesty

Let's assume that the following facts are true:
  1. You love video games more than any other activity. You play them every day after school and with your friends on the weekends. 
  2. Once in a while, you ride your bike down the street to get an ice cream cone.
  3. When your friend has her annual pool party, you like to go in the pool.
Now let's say that you're applying to college and when asked to list your hobbies, you list biking and swimming but not video games.  Technically you are telling the truth, but are you really presenting yourself in an honest way? You can say that it doesn't make a difference, and there are cases when that's true. But it matters when all your friends are swimming laps at the pool and you'd rather be playing Marco Polo. It matters when you have no one to play video games with because all your friends are out riding their bikes. It matters when your peers look down on you for what you enjoy the most.  

While it may seem innocuous to fudge the truth a little in order to get something that you want, you run the risk of ending up in a situation that you won't be happy with. A simple "yes" when someone asks if you want to play intramural sports or study abroad when you don't really plan to can have more impact than you realize, because you're classifying yourself as a certain type of person that isn't really you. Even if we want to be honest, most of us have a natural tendency to say what we think the other person wants to hear, to give the answers that will get us where we think we want to be. 

I don't worry anymore about making a good impression - I worry about making an honest one.  When I applied to college, I said everything I could about myself that I thought schools would like, and ended up miserable.  When I started dating my boyfriend, I shared everything that I thought someone might have a problem with to make sure he really liked me, and we fell in love.  Total honesty may seem daunting, but it can be the light that guides you to where you  truly want to be.