Feeling Tremendous Nerditude?

In our virtual worlds, we know more data about each other, but less about how to be with each other than ever before.

 

Younger people are often miles ahead of their elders in their ability to text, email, and use social media.  But relating to people through a screen is not the same as being together in person.  It can be a challenge to learn how to meet and connect with new people face-to-face!

Figuring out who we are within ourselves, and who we are with others, are major tasks of adolescence and young adulthood to begin with. (And even after all these years, I often have to psych myself up before going into a room full of strangers and beginning to get to know some of them!)  So it’s no surprise that any of us can run into high anxiety when it’s time to get together.  Picture a large group of uncomfortable people in a room = we are totally lovely human beings, feeling tremendous nerditude.

So awkward cartoon

Meanwhile, what is our image of a roaring good time?  Movies, videos, and models of social behavior from the rock generation often imply that in order to have a really great time, you need to “lose it” in some way.  What is the “it” that you’re trying to lose?  The awkward separate-ness?  That feeling of nerditude?  Does the desire to let loose combust into “extreme” behavior?  However we identify it, lovely human beings often come into social situations expecting that they need to be loaded in order to have a really good time.  This can affect anyone of any age, but is especially worrisome in younger people.

 

When parents, teachers, administrators, and health personnel see binge-drinking, drug use, and casual “hooking up,” their natural response is to say “Stop it!”

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“Stop drinking!”  “Stop using drugs!”  “Stop having sex!”  This is totally understandable, and sometimes it works, but problems remain.  “Just saying NO”  doesn’t help someone learn what to say “YES” to.

The more intriguing fundamental question is “What makes it FUN?”

 

 

The need for fun and for social connection among people is part of our basic nature as human beings.  It is not going away. We may like our electronic toys and enjoy using technology, but relatively few of us actually prefer to live as nerds (defined primarily by a set of technical abilities combined with a lack of social skills).  We would greatly prefer to be loving, well-loved, socially successful individuals with awesome computer skills!

 

Learning what makes it fun on the most basic human level is the most pro-survival thing we can do.  In order to get through this next phase of human history without destroying our environment, we’re going to need to be able to connect with people who are very different from ourselves.  One of our best moves is to learn how to have healthy fun with as many different kinds of people as possible.  We’re not denying our inner nerditude, we’re claiming our ability to connect with and enjoy a wider and wider circle of people.  All our computer skills will help, all our personal abilities will help,  we can have fun in both new and old ways, and we’ll stand a better chance of solving big problems.

There are a million reasons to be interested in these questions, from the most local to the most global, from the most mundane to the loftiest, from the drunk college kids next door to the international groups we don’t yet know or understand.

 

So let’s keep asking ourselves:  What makes it FUN?

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What was your favorite sentence from this post?

Did you find yourself strongly agreeing or disagreeing with anything here?  (I’m serious – I’m looking for feedback on this – it’s an excerpt from a much longer piece.  Thanks!)

 

Copyright 2017 Ginny Bales

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How Much News Do We Need?

Because of the storm this past Sunday, a woman at the gym has not had power for several days.  She reported that every in-person interaction she’s had with people during those days has been positive. Under normal circumstances, she’s a self-described “news junkie,” but while unable to hear much news, the tone of her daily life has become calmer and more reassuring.  Even while her house has gotten colder and colder each day, her emotional life has felt warmer.

 

What do we make of this?  It’s one person’s experience at one moment in time, so we can’t draw sweeping conclusions.  Still, there may be some resonance to things we have experienced.  What are we noticing at different points in time?  Which of our emotions are being massaged and to what purpose?  How do events of daily life strike us when our heads are full of “news” of desperate, tragic, or violent events somewhere in the world?

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The point is not to disregard events that impact our lives whether from a distance or closer to home.  We need the storm warnings when a hurricane is approaching.  There are clearly valid reasons for reporting serial robberies or personal attacks in a region where people may be similarly targeted.  Some kinds of publicity about incidents of terrorism like the recent New York terror attack on bicyclists may be useful for alerting people to say something if we saw something or if we see something questionable in the future.

 

But, as certainly has been noted by many others before me, 24-hour-news requires a constant stream of content and for the most part, bad news sells more than good news does.  We are probably hardwired to a certain extent to attend to possible dangers;  this has probably had survival value for our ancestors.  However, our ancestors were not continuously bombarded with news of unhappy events all over the world.

 

Psychologists and counselors sometimes advise people going through episodes of depression or anxiety to avoid watching or listening to the news.  The reason is that we human beings don’t function at our best when we are overwhelmed with fear or sadness.  In monitoring our exposure to news, we’re not aiming to put our heads in the sand or to ignore reality, but to question the balance in what we are paying attention to.  Many aspects of our everyday lives bring us joy, comfort, and a sense of connection with people, animals, nature, our own bodies, and the wonder of being alive.  If we’re aiming to advance the cause of fun (and of mental health!), we want our minds working at their best.  Being here now helps us feel grounded and aware.  It’s worthwhile to consider how much “news” from elsewhere we really need to be exposing our minds to.

 

Have you ever spent several days away from exposure to the news?

Did it affect how you were thinking or how much fun you had?

Fun Has Changed

During our own lifetimes, ways of having fun have shifted.  Any older person can easily attest to this, but even the young ones among us can see differences. IMG_7722

 

At a college dinner a few days ago, a sophomore said, “I think our age group is lacking in social skills” and held up his phone to illustrate one of the reasons why.  The next day I mentioned this at the gym where I teach fitness classes and got a chorus of agreement as my older students reported on their grandchildren’s behavior.

 

So much has changed, and we all see it, but how do we understand it?

 

Fun isn’t what it used to be.

 

When compared with previous generations:

  • Children today have very little unstructured time.
  • Longer school days and shorter recess periods.
  • Structured sports teams rather than sandlot games.
  • More screentime, more online, and less time in person.
  • More social time in groups and less dating.
  • More work demands on everyone.
  • Families are squeezed for time.

 

Nonetheless we can all still have more fun more of the time.

It’s part of our nature as human beings to want this, but some ways of having fun work better than others.

How do we maximize our chances?  By being born into fun-loving families and communities?  We don’t have much choice.  Partying all the time?  That doesn’t actually work well even when people can afford to do it.   Choosing fun-loving friends and finding work that is enjoyable?  Ok, sure.  Nice work if you can get it, as the old song says.  In this economy, just finding a job at all can be pretty darned challenging.

But our own actions and attitudes still make fun more likely or less likely.  Besides noticing the factors that are affecting us and noticing the choices we have, we can also step out a little, embrace our own social leadership, and figure out how to create more fun for ourselves and those around us.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a bandleader and singer, helping people have fun at parties and celebrations.  For the past seven years, I’ve also been helping people have fun with exercise classes.  I’m going to begin posting ideas from the book I’m writing called  What Makes It FUN?    I invite you to join this conversation and subscribe to this blog.

Let’s make it fun!

 

Do you think that fun in general has changed?  Is it just because we are getting older?  Or are different kinds of fun available now (or less available now)?

Art Students Create Toys for Elephants

Who can resist a project like this?  This story is fun on at least eight levels at once.

The art students are challenged with a real-world problem.   Being challenged can be fun, especially when you are working with others and have some resources and some hope of “success.”

The students are stretching to think about someone else’s reality as a basis for their artistic choices.  How refreshing to see the challenge framed as making something that will be fun for an intelligent but non-human being.

The students use their creativity to come up with concepts for toys and have resources with which to build and test their ideas.  Getting to play with ideas and materials is fun.

They get to meet elephants and see the elephants play with their toys.  Yeah!

The elephants have new experiences with the toys.  We hope these are fun for them and would love to see even more about this.

Videographer Lauren Frohne creates this video and The Boston Globe posts it.  Thanks Lauren.  Thanks Boston Globe.

We all get to see and enjoy it. Thanks MassArt students and faculty.  Thanks elephants!

As with so many projects in the arts, there is a multiplier effect.  Many people (and animals, in this case!) get something out of this.  Win-Win-Win-Win…

Big fun!

Long-Time Friends

Why long-time friends are the greatest:

 

They knew you when you wore cat-eye glasses – they honestly know how much better you look now  (and won’t be put off by a bad hair day, the “wrong” clothes, or a few pounds one way or the other).

 

You don’t have to go through a lot of introductory chatter since you already know each other’s history.  (And unlike recent information about new friends, you lived this.  It’s more deeply wired in your memory and easier to recall.)

 

You don’t have to prove yourselves to each other since you already did that a long time ago.

 

They literally know “where you’re coming from” because they remember your old house and old neighborhood.

 

They know that the teacher hated you in fifth grade – and they never thought it was your fault.

 

Since before Twitter was invented, you have been “following” each other’s relatives.  You know their parents and they know yours.  You remember their brothers and sisters as children.  (If you’re older, maybe you’ve known your friend’s adult children since they were children!)  This long-term knowledge becomes even more important when some of these people are no longer living and memories shared with others help keep them close.

 

You don’t have to explain what you were doing in college since they were there and did it too (or some of it!).

 

Even if you haven’t seen each other or talked in decades, you can pick right up where you left off.  If the channel was open before, it can be open again.

 

You see how hard they have worked at things and admire what they have accomplished.

 

The pure passage of time gives your friendship additional credibility and tenure.

 

You’ve developed ways of talking, joking, or just being with each other that let you think, laugh, and go deep all in the same conversation.

 

You see the essence of your friend more clearly over time and love them even more.

 

They knew you when you were a dorfwad and not half as cool as you are now, but you’ve liked each other all along!

 

 

What makes your long-time friends special to you?

The Wheelchair on the Dance Floor

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...
This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several of the most fun dance experiences I’ve had in the past few years have been at events where a person with a disability was central to the proceedings.  Contrary to what some people might expect, participation from the disabled person made the entire dance experience more engaging for everyone there.

One instance was a wedding and the ceremony took place outside, on a beach downhill from a hotel.  Everyone walked down a long zig-zag aisle to get to the ceremony location and once the processional began, we could see that this arrangement had been chosen not only for its visual beauty, but also for functional reasons.  The Best Man used a wheel chair and the zigs and zags were like a series of ramps, making it possible for him to process down to the beach as a member of the wedding party.

Later, at the reception, the dancing was all right, but really took off when a female guest invited the Best Man onto the dance floor.  As he rolled and spun in his chair, and everyone else joined in, the whole event seemed to lift.  It was suddenly not about dancing just like your neighbor danced, it was about expressing joy, rhythm, and movement in the ways available to you at that moment.  Dancing had become “safer” for everyone.

The Best Man was a good dancer.  He was in a wheelchair, but he was a good dancer. My husband leaned over to him and said, “you’ve got some good moves there!” to which he replied, “I had even more a few years ago.”  My husband just laughed and said, “Yeah, me too!” and we all danced with all the moves we had on that particular day.  It was fun!

Whether we say it overtly or not, people are always seeking that special chemistry that makes a party “gel,” the energy that connects everyone more intensely, the magic that makes an event memorable.  Back in the 1950s, politicians used to talk about “making the world safe for democracy.”  I’m interested in making the world safe for fun and one of the ways we do that is by being aware of the conditions that allow more people to participate more fully.  Making that zig-zag aisle allowed a man in a wheelchair to play an integral role in a major life event for his friend.  Including a person in a wheelchair in the dancing made the whole celebration more fun for everyone.  We’re not just “doing a favor for a disabled person” when we make our events more inclusive; we’re making our own worlds larger and friendlier.  And if we should become disabled at some point in the future, the image of the wheelchair on the dance floor will remind us that there are still many ways to dance.

Here’s a great article by Caitlin Kelly on how the current economy is affecting many of us.

Broadside

It’s not just lawyers who are hurting  — 7,500 of them surplus in 2009 in New York alone.

Or older men.

Or those who used to work in manufacturing.

The “creative class” is as well.

Those working in photography, architecture and graphic design have seen a 20 to 30 percent drop in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since August 2002, those working in the music field have seen their work opportunities plummet by a staggering 45.3%.

“The story has really not been told,” Scott Timberg, an arts and culture writer in Los Angeles said to host Kurt Andersen on the weekly public radio show Studio 360, which examines all forms of culture. “They don’t always have a tattoo or beret.  They’re like Canadians, among us secretly, silently and invisibly.”

“A life in the arts…means giving up riches, making a trade-off to do something they’re passionate about,” Timberg…

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Get This Party Started!

Get This Party Started!

Party-goers from different generations have very different expectations about how a dancing party gets started.  Our band played for an end-of-term college dance on Wednesday evening and saw a pattern that is typical for today’s students.  The dance was advertised as beginning at 10 PM and when we began playing, no one at all was there except for the two organizers.  A group of young women who were expert swing dancers were the first guests to arrive and they made great use of the open dance floor for about 15 minutes as other guests began to slip into the room and help themselves to the food.  (As I wrote in a previous post, women want to dance!)  Occasionally, another couple or two would join in on the dance floor, but there wasn’t a critical mass of dancers until over a half hour into the first set.

 

We mentioned the issue of late arrival to one of the students and heard an answer we have heard many times in recent years,  “you know it’s the old wanting-to-be-cool thing – no one wants to be the first one there.”  This is in sharp contrast to the behavior we have often seen from older groups of dancers.

Our band has played a large number of college reunions for three decades, so we have had many chances to observe dancing behavior of distinct age groups.

We have had long relationships with certain college classes, for example, having played every reunion for the Yale Class of 1939 for the 25 years from 1979 until they stopped having reunions in 2004.  We have similar experience with reunions for classes from the 1940s through the 1970s as well.

 

For many mainstream Americans who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s (during the big band era), dances with live music were important social occasions and dancing was an important social as well as physical skill.  People who grew up with this usually carry their comfort with dancing throughout their lives for as long as they can move.  We have seen very touching instances of this at weddings when Great Grandma dances with her grandson or whomever.  There were and still are groups, such as some Southern Baptists and Orthodox Jews, who don’t approve of couple dancing, but by and large, dancing in couples was fun for older generations.  Live music was precious and people were eager to take advantage of any opportunity to dance.  Playing for them was very easy.  They were on the dance floor from the first note.

 

What has changed for younger people in recent years is their sense of awkwardness about getting started.  Events take a lot longer to get off the ground.  They are wonderful once they’re in full swing, but there’s a long period of standing around, waiting for someone else to make the first move.

 

People with higher skill levels are often the ones to break the ice, as we saw on Wednesday.  The strong swing dancers, the very athletic break-dancer, the couple who know how to waltz, tango, or cha cha, the guy who can moonwalk or do the robot, often attract others to the dance floor–others who at first just watch and admire, but then decide to join in.  At other times, there is almost a group “charge” to the dance floor, as “I will if you will” meets “all right men, we’re going in!”

 

There are sometimes particular songs that signal “it’s time to dance” for certain audiences.  Classic party music reduces people’s uncertainty about what to do by several different means:

 

  • Familiarity – You may have danced to this before and have good associations with it.
  • Rhythm – The beat is very definite and you feel comfortable moving with it.
  • Instruction – The song may literally tell you what to do, i.e.  “come on baby, let’s do the Twist.”
  • Known audience participation aspects – People have learned to expect to sing along on “Living on a Prayer” or pump their fists on “Sweet Caroline.”
  • Choreography – The song may have definite arm motions that go with it, as in  “YMCA” or dance steps as in line dances such as the Electric Slide or Macarena.

 

I used to wonder why bands never played the more obscure songs I liked and why other songs that were not “better,” but only more familiar, were played so often.  Now I see why:  because certain songs work better on a social level than other songs do.  We hear the same central repertoire of older and newer “standards” in many different situations because these songs have proven to help get the party started.

 

The next post in this music and dancing series will be “The Wheelchair on the Dance Floor” May 5.

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What songs, sounds, or situations make you want to dance?

Do certain dancing parties stand out in your memory?  What made them special?

What’s Fun About Starting Over?

What’s fun about starting over?

One of the addictive qualities of computer solitaire card games like free cell (included with the Windows operating system) is that you can replay the same hand until you get it right—if you want, you can have another chance with the same cards, a chance to learn directly from your prior mistakes.

This leads many people to replay their free cell hands over and over until they win.   When I first learned the game, someone told me that every hand could be won if approached correctly.  So whenever I lost, I would immediately replay the same hand as many times as necessary in order to win it.

(There are apparently a few unwinnable hands, but winning is still almost always possible if you play it right.)

But here is the interesting part:  No one is standing over us requiring that we replay a hand we just “lost.”  We just “failed,” so why aren’t we discouraged?  We willingly take on the challenge because we still expect that we can win.  Surely we will do better now that we know how much we’re going to need that red 8.

The other huge difference is that in free cell, the stakes are low and we are playing a game.  Our emotions aren’t involved as strongly as when we are making more consequential decisions.  We feel playful and we enjoy the challenge of figuring something out, so it’s fun.

Back in the 1970s, I worked in the Yale Psychology Department with Professor Irving Janis who did research on decision making.   (He coined the term “groupthink” in his analyses of the Cuban missile crisis and other incidents of faulty decision-making by policy makers.  He also studied adherence to personal decisions where following through was difficult, such as deciding to lose weight or quit smoking.)

Professor Janis and Professor Robert Abelson (another member of the department) used to talk about “hot cognitive processes” by which they meant the difference in decision-making on issues in which one was emotionally involved vs. those which were purely questions of logic.  (Before that, much of the academic research on decision-making had assumed that our decisions were made as Spock on Star Trek would have made them, which had resulted in a fair amount of work on decisions that were essentially trivial.)

Starting over in real life is a hot cognitive process!  It’s an understatement to say that there are often significant feelings attached.

If we are starting over in building a relationship, unresolved feelings from prior relationships are just waiting to show themselves.   If we have been fired or laid off from a job, a part of our new job search has to include managing the feelings we have about our previous work experience and how we were treated.  Otherwise we risk answering interview questions in ways that hurt our chances of creating a new opportunity.  If we are working toward regaining our health after a threatening illness, our feelings about having been vulnerable are part of the baggage we carry into our new health regimens.

None of this sounds like fun.  But if our goal is to have more fun more of the time, how can we apply that approach here?

The world keeps changing under our feet.  And the pace of change appears to be accelerating.  Many of us are going to have to start over numerous times during our lives.  (This blog is part of a new chapter for me.)  What helps make it fun when we are starting over?

Talking things out with a good listener who really pays attention makes a tremendous difference.  With someone who knows how good you are and isn’t upset by what you are discussing, burdensome feelings can lift and very serious matters can suddenly seem hysterically funny.   Sentences like “there go ten years I’ll never have again,”  “it’s only my career,” or just “I’m still here” can seem sad one minute and like the funniest joke in the world the next.

I wish I could actually hang out with you and listen to you and let you experience what I mean, but you probably already know.  Feeling connected to someone else who “gets” us is enormously reassuring.  Letting the wind blow through some of our feelings of failure and frustration makes everything start to look a little different.  It loosens up our thinking so that we become more flexible and more able to respond in a fresh way to whatever comes up.  Little mammals and little children play as a way of learning about how the world works and how they can affect what happens.  When we become a bit more playful, it helps us too.

We can choose a light and kind touch in what we say to ourselves.  So long as we’re not weighed down by disappointment and discouragement, starting over can be great fun.  A new world of possibilities awaits us.  As with playing free cell, here’s another chance to get it right.

What’s Fun About Recess?

Do you remember recess as the most fun part of your school day?  If so, you are probably no longer a child.  In many schools right now, recess is not that much fun. In one study, principals reported that the largest number of visits to their offices resulted from situations that arose during recess.  An alarming number of injuries and school suspensions occur because bullying and fighting are happening rather than good clean fun.  It’s obvious that many kids do not know how to play well with others.  And when they don’t know how to share or resolve conflicts, they may attempt to solve problems by using brute force or threats, making the whole situation messier and worse for everyone.

 

If our goal is for more people to have more fun more of the time, how can we help our kids with that?  One answer is to be sure that our children are learning basic social play skills.  This happens most effectively when adults and other young people model fun-loving supportive behavior and when the entire social system of the playground is set up to encourage positive interaction.  One group that has made both a science and an art of this is Playworks and a recent study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has now shown the effectiveness of their approach.

 

http://www.playworks.org/research-reveals-playworks-reduces-bullying

 

Playworks works primarily with low-income schools, but also does training programs for teachers and staff at higher income schools.  A Playworks coach works as a full-time staff member in the school, setting up active inclusive play activities.  Coaches work with both teachers and students, organizing the use of playground space, establishing consciously cooperative situations, and encouraging new expectations about playing together.

 

One simple and strikingly effective method of resolving conflict involves using the old “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game to allow kids to take charge of their own decisions about who goes first or whose judgment will be followed in case of a disagreement.  The thinking behind this is that many of the conflicts kids get into are arbitrary and if they can be settled quickly, the kids can get back to playing.  Although it takes a while for everyone to learn these new norms, as kids begin to “own” these methods, their desires to keep the fun going lead them to manage themselves and their play effectively.

 

When the overall atmosphere of the playground is positive, kids have more fun and feel better about themselves and each other.  They also get more instructional time in the classroom because they settle down to work more quickly and bring fewer emotional upsets with them after recess.

 

Playworks so perfectly illustrates what I am interested in–methods of helping people to have more fun more of the time!

 

  • It’s a nuts-and-bolts action plan that replaces chaotic, negative, and violent behaviors with organized, positive, cooperative ones.

 

  • It helps shape student experience while the students are still young and sets the stage for a better overall experience in school.

 

  • It empowers kids to handle many of their own issues in productive ways.

 

  • It makes kids feel good about themselves and their school, but is not just a “self-esteem program.”   It actually teaches social skills, cooperation, respect for others, and self-management.

 

  • The Playworks coaches engage with the kids in playful ways, but also expect responsible behavior.

 

I remember so well the differences in “recess supervision styles” of my own teachers (and I’m talking a half-century ago!).   I bet you remember some of these things too, regardless of your age.   Teachers and coaches are just that important!

 

What were some of your own most positive experiences with recess?

If recess was sometimes hard for you, what could have made it better?

What have you observed about the play experiences of the children you care about?