Category Archives: Research

Is There An Echo in Here?

The easiest temptation on social media is to follow people, blogs, websites, etc. who reinforce what we already believe.

More difficult is to follow those who have near the opposite point of view. The exceptions of when we do, it’s usually to laugh, scoff, or get offended by. We don’t do it to learn, and listen but to argue, sometimes in the hopes of convincing the opposition the rightness of our cause.

Too often, though, the opposition has no more desire to listen and learn than we do. In the end we give up, and return to our little echo chambers filled with people of like mind.

I don’t often read so-called news sites such as Vox, Slate or Salon. I find their news rife with too much bias for my taste.

Sometimes, however, I run into a headline that so intrigues me (and not in a good way), that I have to read it.

This is one such headline:

When I debate or discuss, I make sure I have truth and facts to back me up, otherwise, not only will I fail to convince, but I waste my time and that of my opposition. I don’t argue with emotions, because emotions are not rational or logical. Too often they are baseless, and fleeting. Too often they are based on misunderstanding of a smattering of facts, and can do more harm than good when trying to debate a specific point.

As Ben Shapiro likes to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

You can understand then, why I found this headline befuddling to say the least. Why would anyone give up facts in favor of emotion to win people to their side? It’s idiocy. And temporary.

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to read the piece. Too many news websites love to write provocative headlines in order to get people to read it (such as me). Click-bait as it’s called. Often, however, the headlines can also be misleading to the point that the article ends up making the exact opposite point.

As a writer, I found a lot of the opinion piece objectionable such as using emotions as a weapon. It implies that the author doesn’t want to convince, but to manipulate. It read less like a professional article and more like a personal journal entry (kind of like this lovely blog entry). The author isn’t trying to make a specific point so much, but exploring his/her thoughts in order to discover that point.

Still, after weeding through the verbosity, I surmised the author’s overall point was not to give up on facts, per se, but to appeal to a person’s emotions with facts instead of presenting facts alone. It’s a valid point, because in this day and age, regardless of what side people take on an issue, they are so emotionally entrenched in their point of view, facts proving their contentions false won’t deter them.

The entire article can be found here.

It’s worth thinking about, and for me will be one heck of a challenge. I don’t argue emotionally. Only facts matter to me, because they’re immutable. Still, I have to see the other person’s emotional point of view, and try to understand it before I can debate a specific issue.

I have to learn how to speak their emotional language, otherwise communication will be near impossible.

If I hadn’t stepped out of my own self-imposed echo chamber, I wouldn’t have discovered, let alone considered the idea.

Search Words

When I first created my website, I made sure to include keywords for search engines so people looking for content like mine will find me easier.

I understood that, and I included the most relevant ones. Still, I didn’t expect a lot of traffic. I read somewhere there are over 125 million blogs available for people to read. Who am I in that sea of writers?

In 2005 I signed up to writing.com, a website dedicated to writers to encourage them to write, but also to read, to review and be reviewed. In fact, as of a week ago, I celebrated my 12th year. While it took me over six months to post my first item for people to read/review, I now have over 100.

About a year later, my church asked me to write what the youth pastor titled, “Bible Monologues,” for the Easter service. He and I both wrote short monologues from the perspective of little-known people of the Bible during the time of Jesus.

Three I wrote for the Easter service, but since I liked the premise so much I wrote two others.

About six months later, a church representative found one of them to use for one of their own programs. I was surprised and even honored that one of my little stories that took so little time and effort on my part made such an impression.

Fast forward eleven years.

I received this email today:

I am contacting you in inquiry of a monologue you’ve written. I would love to use it for my class, and a student to perform during our fundraiser. I was wondering, if we credited correctly, if it would be possible to use “My forever stained hands” for our class? If you could email me back as soon as possible, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

Of course I let her use it, and even sent her the link to the all the ones I wrote.

I asked how she even found my monologues, because as vast as the Internet is, for her to find one of my little stories seems near impossible, especially since it was something she was hoping to find. She said she had gone to writing.com and searched “Biblical monologues.” Because I used both of those words as keywords for my stories, they popped up.

I need to go through all my other items, and my website in general (perhaps even this blog), and see what keywords I need to adjust and/or add. Who knows how much interest I will gain. It certainly couldn’t hurt, because there’s a lot of competition out there vying for people’s attention.

For History’s Sake, Write Your Life

We’ve all heard the refrain that history is written by the victors, and as such, the entire story can never be told.

In a society where the loudest people get all the attention, and biases in news agencies grow more obvious and prevalent, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for those not in the literal midst of important events to know what’s true and what’s false.

I don’t recommend we ignore important events, but I do recommend we do our research, and see if we can find people who were there to get their perspective of what happened. And not only one person, but more than one, and from all sides. The truth will eventually be found.

Discernment is key. And honesty.

Yesterday’s devotional focused on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) who “wrote books that shed a true light on what was happening behind the Iron Curtain.”

Without him and others like him who wrote and spoke fearlessly and honestly about what happened in their country, it’s likely the truth of that time would never have been revealed.

We must do the same.

With all the furor over so-called offensive statues with regard to the Civil War, and calls to rename everything because some people find it offensive is not only silly, but dangerous. As ugly as our history is at times (and no country can claim otherwise), destroying it is equally as ugly. If we’re not honest and open about our history, we can never learn and grow from it.

And where does it end? Will we now destroy the writings of people who lived during that time, because what they wrote offends some people?

Who ultimately gets to decide what’s offensive anyway?

Plenty of people find our founding documents offensive, including the Constitution, simply because it was written by people who did what many consider terrible things. Who wrote them is unimportant compared to the document itself. Should we ignore the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he cheated on his wife?

But I get off topic.

We live in interesting times, sometimes dangerous times. If we don’t chronicle them, and do so with complete honesty, our children will never know what we accomplished — both good and bad — and they will in effect never learn from either. History will then be guaranteed to repeat itself.

It might anyway, but that’s another entry.

I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people, and parties.

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Expanding Empathetic Horizons

I tried to find a synonym to "horizons" that started with an "e", because a little alliteration for a title is always kinda neat methinks. Alas, I found none.

Aristotle theorized that people who read fiction in particular are better able to understand and experience life, and empathize more with their peers.

Several studies have shown his theory has credence: The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

What I found most interesting in the article was how the mere mention of a word such as cinnamon or other smells lights up the part of the brain dedicated to smells as if that person actually smelled it. The same goes for how fiction describes characters, their thoughts and how they interact with other characters and their surroundings. Our brain activity when reading reacts as if we're engaging with actual people.

So if we want a more empathetic society, we need to read, and encourage others (children especially) to read more. It doesn't have to be fiction only, because some non-fiction is written in the same way as fiction such as describing the world around them, and interactions with others.

God's genius is obvious here, because he not only designed our brains to learn language at an early age, but the desire to share our lives and experiences through that language, whether written or spoken. He did so, because of our inherent need to understand the world around us, ourselves, and each other.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." —Anne Lamott

The Science in Morality

When thinking of the natural world — science if you will — we rarely tie morality into it. They should be mutually exclusive, because science is the study of the natural world, whereas morality is considered a construct invented by man (or God depending on your beliefs) in order to create civil society.

I watched a video where a philosopher contorted herself into a mental pretzel while trying to describe how some "early fetuses" have no moral status when other "early fetuses" do, and as such abortion is not a moral issue.

Aside: This post isn't about abortion, per se, but about how biological knowledge can and should, in many circumstances, define our morality.

Nowhere in the video did the philosopher or the two men interviewing her bring up the biology of said fetuses and how one — scientifically speaking — has moral status, and therefore a right to be born, when another doesn't. You can find the video here:

https://youtu.be/r5SQnQjryzI

This in turn reminded me of another conversation (paraphrased, because it happened a while ago) when someone argued that biology and laws have no bearing on each other, especially when it comes to human rights.

I said (again paraphrased), "Biology has everything to do with it. For instance, we don't give monkeys or dogs the same rights as humans. Why? Because they're not biologically human."

Humans have known that almost instinctively for thousands of years, even though they had no idea what a cell looked like, let alone a DNA strand that more definitively proves the differences between all species, whether animal, plant, or other.

I'll even wager most of our morals depend on our understanding of the natural world. They should be, and always remain, intrinsically linked.

A few months ago, I read portions of Leviticus. Many find it dry and boring, because it contains laws about holiness, ritual cleanliness, family life, and a slew of others.

What I found most interesting is many of the laws, especially with regard to sanitation, we use and take for granted today. The difference is, we do those things not for religious or moral reasons, but because we understand the science of how diseases spread.

If we choose to ignore biology, and try to make a "moral" stance based on how we think our biology should be instead of what it is, we do so at our own peril.

That society is trying to erase what it means to be human, man, woman, boy and girl, became abundantly clear with the reaction to the release of the so-called "Google memo." You can find the text of the memo below. I encourage you to read it, and not depend on my opinion of it (or anyone else for that matter, including the writer of the linked article):

http://gizmodo.com/exclusive-heres-the-full-10-page-anti-diversity-screed-1797564320

Mr. James Damore (who wrote the memo) made a valid point — which many scientists have proven time and again — that men and women are different. Men — on average — react one way to a particular situation, and women — on average — react another way. One isn't necessarily better or worse than the other. It should show, however, that men and women complement each other. Where one is weak, the other is strong, and vice-versa. When we work together as partners with different roles to play — other than having and raising children — we can accomplish great things.

In short, trying to make women and men, and boys and girls the same, we both ignore and destroy what makes each beautiful, unique, and strong. Morally, we should acknowledge, encourage, and embrace our biological differences, because if we don't, we will, in the end, destroy each other and ourselves.

Twenty-Two Days

That’s the average response time to short stories submitted to a magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve read three issues so far, and think my short story that won 2nd place in last year’s Writers Digest competition would make a good fit.

We’ll see.

In approximately 22 days.

The worst part about the whole process of submitting articles and short stories is hitting that awful “submit” button (or dropping that proposal or query letter into the mailbox). Once I do, there’s no turning back. No more chances to edit out any mistakes, make any other changes to the plot, grammar, setting, characters . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s like sending a child away to school, or discovering it’s time he left the house to create a life of his own. My story is now out of my hands, out of my control. It’s my heart and my mind on display, and I can’t help but think, “Now I get to find out if the editors of this magazine thinks the story is good, or if it’s crap.”

Not submitting it is always easy, because in my dreams, my stories always find a place. They receive nothing but accolades.

But it’s not real, and reality can suck sometimes. I’m like most writers in that I often prefer my fantasies. In my fantasy worlds, I am in control. Submitting stories and articles for others to judge is purposefully relinquishing that control, and my opinions and biases are shown to either be spot on, or completely spot off.

It’s a terrifying thing to step out of my made-up world and take a chance that in reality, everything I created is nothing like I believed and hoped it was.

That said, in case my story is rejected by this magazine, it doesn’t make my story crap. It simply means they didn’t find it a good fit for them. There are other magazines out there, and in fact, I have another in mind (I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide which to try first. It boiled down to response time. The one I submitted to is a bit quicker). Like many others, neither magazine takes simultaneous submissions, so I have to submit it one at a time.

Time will tell.

I’ll keep you apprised.

10,000 Ways

One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Edison when he talked about creating a light bulb:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

With my first rejection letter out of the way, I can now say I know one way that won’t work.

But I am impatient. Always have been.

I buy a lot of books — too many of which I haven’t read — on subjects ranging from basic economics to warfare.

They collect dust, because for some reason I keep thinking that the mere presence of a book on my shelf means I can learn the subject, as if I can absorb it through osmosis. It’s a sad realization that I don’t necessarily want to learn new things; I want to know them without having to work to get there.

Unfortunately for me, to find an agent who’ll hopefully find me a publisher requires not only patience, but a lot of studying and research. I have to study each prospective agent carefully to see if they will not only be a good fit for representing my book, but also a good fit for me personally. I will, after all, be working with said agent — for years if everything goes right.

I must be like Thomas Edison, and continue to write, to pursue, and figure just the right combination for success, even if it means learning 10,000 ways how not to do it.

To quoth Mr. Edison again:

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

God willing, it won’t take me literally 10,000 tries. I’ll settle for 12. Okay maybe 20. 50?