Category Archives: Problem Practices

Communication behavior or analysis that is often counter-productive

Looking for a Spark Inside

At some point a student must realize they should be going to college for themselves, not their parents.

We can all celebrate the virtues of listening to others. It’s usually a winning trait for all of us in the business of communicating.  But like every communication virtue, it can have a dark corner.  Even an attentive person can be adrift. Conforming to expectations can substitute for acquiring enough self-knowledge to know what we need for ourselves.

This challenge comes up periodically as I meet young adults who are planning their college careers. They are wary and often a bit confused. In addition, most are young enough to have not put much effort into figuring out what matters. So many are intent on passing on the task of planning their future to their parents.  That includes what they will do in college.  When asking about their interests, I tend to get restatements of what passes for parental wisdom about not “wasting their time” with “useless” subjects. Thirty years ago it would have been unusual to hear a student tell a faculty advisor what their parents want them to study.  Now it happens a lot.

So in my own field of Communication Studies, nearly all parents on a campus visit expect a tour of our television studio, even though a lot modern film and video production occurs out in the world.  I think the studio is reassuring because it reminds them of a workplace.  But they are several decades behind the times in terms of where the real action is in shooting video.

We all know parents.  They are mostly good people and are used to being in charge.  A common scenario has their young adult children skipping over the possibility of considering their own passions while uncritically accepting advice from a  generation’s experiences from the dark ages. In most cases they  would be better advised to follow their own star.  Like Benjamin in the film classic, The Graduate, these young people are often on the verge of being locked into a narrative that is not their own.

the graduate one word plastics

Uploaded by wsinful on 2015-09-30.

So, of course, I have an answer for them.  Sure, respect your parents’ experiences.  But at some point, a student needs to realize they are going to college for themselves, not their relatives. Set aside news coverage of pathetic helicopter parents trying to buy their child’s “prestigious” education with flat-out deception. More common is the number of students in undergraduate institutions who like the aura of a college degree, but lack the self-knowledge to know what it ought to be. A course in Medieval Art?  The predictable advice  from anxious parents is that they are wasting their time. Many wrongly assume their son or daughter has enrolled in a kind of trade school that will yield one particular job, not a liberal arts education.  Many are also unaware of fields of study and occupations that have sprung up since they graduated.

I sometimes see a student who has no interest in my field.   But they are ready to take bad advice and labor on.  In other cases I see students in supposedly “safe” business majors who have not noticed their own talents lie in other areas.  I’ve got good news:  businesses of all types are full of people without business degrees.

My hope for these students is that they will choose a course of study that excites them.  If it’s Medieval art, go for it.  Right now medievalists are on the world’s front pages reminding readers about the stunning arts that made Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris possible. Life has a way of opening up opportunities that we might never expect.

Paying for the Quiet

We clearly thrive an aural stimulation.  But it’s doubtful we were meant to handle the high walls of noise that modern life throws up.

Loud and intrusive racket is a part of living in the 21st Century.  Many of us hardly give a second thought to the noise pollution around us:  restaurants with patrons drowning in the din, apartments a few feet from raucous traffic, sidewalks inches from the continuous roar of traffic.  Then there are also theaters and music venues that pitch amplification beyond the margins of what the inner ear can tolerate. If there should be an unexpected lull as we move from place to place, earbuds are at the ready to fill in the gaps.

On my campus a few of us battle teams of leaf blowers who spew their pollution and noise under classroom windows.  The campus looks quieter than it is.  But this inconvenience pales compared to a whole block on the West Side of Manhattan that is apparently in need of tranquilizers. Apparently one of its uber-rich among them is noisily digging a 36-foot hole for a mammoth swimming pool and theater to go under their $100 million dollar townhouse.  According to the New York Times, one neighbor found solace in a quote attributed to Schopenhauer: “The higher your tolerance for noise, the lower your intelligence.”  We may think we thrive an aural stimulation.  But it’s doubtful we were meant to handle the high walls of noise that modern life throws in front of us.

Of course quiet is not an absolute value.  I know plenty of sane people who function with some degree of auditory tumult.  But  I’m always amazed at seemingly oblivious patrons in public establishments, where the sound is barely less than what can be found next to a runway at O’hare. The phrase “I can’t hear myself think” is more than a figure of speech. Thankfully, many still regard any space that can foster a whisper as an island of sanity.

It follows that there is a price to be paid if a person prefers a buffer from the noise of ordinary life.  Prized residential property in most vertical cities almost always exists in the upper floors of a residential building.  A high view in an apartment complex is in several ways “above it all.”  Aside from a better view, these homes are acoustically more isolated.  Sound dissipates as it travels up and away from the reflective surfaces of the street. Rents thus rise dramatically to reflect that height advantage. They are typically even higher if residential spaces are built with double or triple-glazed windows. Vacant spaces between the glass are devoid of air, the prime medium for the transmission of sound.

Deep in the woods in many parts of the United States city dwellers are shocked to hear their heartbeat.

The ultimate escape from noise, of course, is out of the city and away from busy roads and airplane glide paths.  In a secluded forest in many parts of the United States it is possible to hear your heart pump: a phenomenon that can catch a city-dweller off-guard. It is even quieter after a few inches of snow.

I only realized how quiet living in deep woods could be until September 11, 2002.  Airspace in the United States shutdown for days after the disastrous attacks in New York and Washington, with a resulting atmospheric stillness rarely known to those of us who live under the air highways feeding the nation’s airports.

In the meantime, we buy quiet that we can “see” in the bucolic images of landscape paintings and photographs.  I suspect that seeking the silence of an open space is an unsung function of a lot of landscape painting. Alternately, we may set aside time for activities like meditation, prayer or yoga.  All are meant to happen in calmer surroundings.  With regard to meditation, it seems that we now pay to learn practices that happened to previous generations naturally. A farmer taking a break in a corner of his field would be puzzled if asked by a passerby question if he was meditating.  Functionally, however, the peace that is possible in the middle of a field gives his brain the same kind of break.