Opinions and balance

Hanging out with a friend and former student this weekend. He’s been in the Middle East and Europe for a few deployments and just got back from a nice long trip with his mother exploring castles in the UK. I am always amazed at how many students I stay in contact with over the years. It’s been 17 years since this one graduated and we’re still in contact. Pretty cool. He’s definitely more conservative, or I guess charged up about the current president than I am. We have some agreement points and some disagreement points. The funny thing is that when I hear some sort of less-than-accurate comment and call him out on it, the professor-student relationship re-establishes itself. I don’t mean to do it and I don’t think I’m overbearing about it, but it just happens.

My teaching philosophy has always been to give students the tools to think for themselves and think critically. I have never told them what to think (unlike some of my colleagues). Nobody does well with somebody else telling them what to think. Facts and events are subject to interpretation. That’s how we work as humans. We all have our own lenses and we interpret through those lenses. As the meme goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, however you are not entitled to your own facts. I would add that if your interpretation of events leans to the conspiracy side of things you might want to review your lenses. Conspiracies of hundreds or even just tens of people are usually spectacularly unsuccessful.

Confirmation bias is another problem we all have. We engage in confirmation bias when we take those stories that confirm what we know to be true and ignore those facts or other interpretations that contradict our known truths. People who self-identify as liberal/progressive and only read or watch MSNBC are engaging in confirmation bias; same goes for those who self-identify as conservative and watch or read only Fox News. Confirmation bias doesn’t just happen with politics, although that has become more evident recently. We engage in it in many different areas of life. We want our preconceived notions to be supported. It provides a sense of order and stability in a confusing world. Knowing that we are not alone in our opinions also feels supporting. Most humans do not do well psychologically or emotionally in a world of constant confusion and chaos or in a world where we feel we are alone in our opinions.

Identifying and breaking your own confirmation biases is difficult, but not impossible. It means admitting that you have biases first of all. (We all do; anybody who tells you that they are completely bias-free is lying or lacks any level of self-awareness). Once you admit to biases, you have to either own them or work at overcoming them. It’s OK to have biases (I don’t like fried eggs and I will never eat them no matter what. No way, no how. Yes, I’m biased.) Parents are biased in favor of their own kids; we’re human. Humans are flawed, but we are also good (when we want to be) at recognizing our flaws and working to fix them (assuming that fixing them will not lead to some sort of self-destruction).

I’m always working to identify my biases, note when I’m engaging in confirmation bias and figure out why. I’m not always successful, but I keep going. I think that my training as a researcher and experience as a professor has forced me into those considerations.

How about you? What confirmation biases have you noticed? Do you try to change those?

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

Reaching the finish line

Grading is DONE! Let the whinging begin! Well, I haven’t submitted final grades yet, and I won’t until about 24 hours before they’re due. It cuts down on the whinging. That’s when I also put on the “out of office” auto-reply on my email.

I’ve already had one request for an improved grade with the addition of post-semester extra credit. Really? After the semester is over you’re asking for extra credit? If you’re so worried about your scholarship, perhaps that should have been a consideration…oh, I don’t know…at the beginning of the semester? Maybe? Then I had one question as to whether the grade included the legit extra credit. Then I had one request for permission for late submission of a reflection paper. That one, if I had to guess, is fear of losing the ROTC scholarship. All of that is prior to final grades getting posted. We use Canvas, a so-called “learning management system” for classes. It allows for electronic submission, embedding videos, etc. It also shows grades and it calculates the current grade for students. So, when I posted the results for their last exam, they all figured that what Canvas calculated was their final grade. This, even though they know that is not the final grade. It may be close, but that’s not it.

Oh, well. It’s done. I’ll go back intermittently to do some spring cleaning of my office. I’ve been doing it on an off for the last week or so and finding absolute relics of stuff! 20-year old overheads! Overheads! Grad school papers, and today, draft copies of my dissertation. Oh, joy. It’s all getting recycled. Next week I tackle the filing cabinet! Pray for me!

So, for the rest of the week, I’m writing, editing, and reading. My own stuff, not freshman writing. My stress levels are already considerably lower. The prospect of another beer garden outing on Saturday makes it all even better!

Go do things that make you happy!

Back on track

I have not been writing for a few weeks. Things got a bit out of control at work. Then, it was spring break and we treated ourselves to five days in Punta Cana. A much needed beach break where we did nothing except walk on the beach, sit on the beach, move to the pool, back to the beach, to the swim up bar…you get the idea. I did do some writing and read fiction. Then, once we got back the rest of the semester with its stresses and deadlines moved in. OK. Enough of the excuses.

Today we got back on track with everything that’s hanging over us. Once more we dove into our own version of storage wars. This time we went into our own basement. Damn, we have a bunch of crap down there. We got through about six boxes of stuff and have about five boxes to go to Goodwill. That’s a relief. Now, we can go back into the parental storage unit and hopefully empty it out and close out that chapter. I have to start working on my office next. Oh, yay. But I kept thinking we were doing this “Swedish death cleaning” thing. Clearing out our extraneous junk so that nobody has to deal with it after we’re gone.

While we were on vacation we spent a lot of time talking about where we want to be in our lives and how we’re going to get there. I think this vacation was a big turning point for us. The Swedish death cleaning is a result of that. We now both have systems in place to get us moving towards something new. Right now, I’m not setting goals, I’m trying to create a system for simply doing something different and more fun.

This post is a bit rambling, but I’m still putting things together. Life is changing; I know it will be different and better. I’m not sure how we’re going to get there, but I know we will. Now, I just have to figure out this meditation thing so that I can get my stress levels down! Ha!

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

Friday Thoughts: Attitudes

For a while now, I’ve been trying to make sure that I arrive at work in a good frame of mind. When I manage it, the day is definitely brighter and more productive. There are times when I arrive and begin my day feeling pretty good and optimistic, and then something happens to wreak my carefully created mindset. An email from administration or a student or the dean or simply hearing some news about a program/project on campus. Pretty much anything that brings reality crashing in too early can wreck a mood immediately. I have one colleague who is very good at maintaining a sense of optimism and hope in the face of things that appear to spell doom. I am trying to follow her example and maintain an optimistic, or at least not totally pessimistic, attitude.

Granted, this is all work-related and does not affect the rest of the world outside of campus. Nevertheless, it winds up indirectly (and sometimes directly) affecting my life and tends to create a negative cascading affect. This cascading effect then leads to me having a bad attitude towards work (as I do recognize the source of the bad mood), which means I don’t want to go in the next day, or I spend the next day phoning it in. Neither of these are useful attitudes, nor do they help to make me feel any better.

This week was not a particularly bad week. I gave exams on Tuesday and Wednesday, which meant I only had to teach one class Monday, and the usual load of three on Thursday. Pretty easy, and not nearly as tiring, compared to a normal week. But, it was also one of those weeks where a number of threads and pieces of information came together and a more complete picture started to form. This is not a pretty picture and foretells of more chaos in the coming weeks and months.

However, I’ve managed to maintain my good attitude towards work. Why? Well, the picture that is taking shape is reminding me and emphasizing for me that I am making the right decisions going forward. In fact, I feel like I will be followed by others. Still others will remain trapped of their own volition (tenure tends to remove your ability to recognize when you should jump ship).

So, my attitude today is one of refining my route and moving forward along it. I will keep moving forward and work at keeping my attitude positive and resilient.

Go have a positive weekend!