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Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making

Nonsense & Uncertainty

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

~ Brené Brown, excerpt from Forbes (2013) interview

Why is it that we often have a negative view of uncertainty?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately.

As a scholar working in the field of information research, the aim is often to reduce uncertainty.

Consequently, uncertainty is often presented in a negative light.

It’s associated with a variety of unpleasant emotions, including: fear, anxiety, and panic.

We have questions, but lack answers.

We want to know more, but the more we find out, the more we realize how little we actually know.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it?

And yet, as Brené Brown notes in the quote above, uncertainty leads us to some of the most amazing experiences in life.

It opens us up to love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity.

These are the emotional experiences that ground us, but they also unsettle us.

And nobody likes to be unsettled. Nobody likes to be vulnerable—to feel vulnerable.

Hence why uncertainty is often viewed as something to be reduced, rather than increased.

It usually is associated with changes that are happening in our lives. Changes that are difficult to accept. Changes that upset our plans for the future.

Suddenly, our lives do not look anything like we thought they would.

A wave of reality comes crashing down, making us fearful of the next. We spend our time wondering where and when this next wave will happen, and how we will handle it. To mentally prepare, we exhaust ourselves with “what if” scenarios.

In the process, we lose out on the fullness of uncertainty and what it can bring to our lives.

Because change can actually be a positive thing.

Yes, bad things happen in life.

But good things can happen out of them.

It’s not black and white.

Uncertainty keeps us asking questions and asking questions keeps us in a position to grow. Once we stop growing, we stop living.

Simply put: uncertainty makes us humble and humility makes us teachable.

Like Brené Brown, I think one of the most beautiful parts of uncertainty is that it can help us learn how to love better, increase our capacity for joy, teach us to trust more, embrace others, and exercise our creativity. Sometimes, the most exciting parts of our lives are those that we did not plan. Instead of spending our time dreaming up the worst “what if” scenarios, maybe we should spend it dreaming up the best.

As for me, I definitely want to stop running from the waves. I want to be better at swimming through uncertain times, maybe even learning to play through them. I don’t want the deep waters to scare me. I want them to excite me. They are where strong connections are made. They are where learning occurs. I know it’s not easy. There will be times when I’m blindsided by the unexpected, when I’m drenched with self-pity, when I want to give up. But I won’t. Because, “what if” the moment that I do, I miss out on a beautiful experience?

So, while we may be in agreement that we are all experiencing uncertain times, let that be an invitation to bring out the best in ourselves rather than the worst. I don’t know what you are going through, but it is my prayer that good will come out of it. The world needs more beautiful “what if” scenarios. It needs your love and joy.

To conclude, let me pose my own “what if”:

What if, instead of running from the waves, we create some ourselves?

Now that’s a beautiful thought!

References:

Schawbel, Dan. (21 April, 2013). Brené Brown: How vulnerability can make our lives better. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/04/21/brene-brown-how-vulnerability-can-make-our-lives-better/#2dd7e4ea36c7

Nonsense & Fairy Tales

“After all, it is fairy tales the world wants. Real life is all the ‘real life’ we want. Give us something better in books.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

Once upon a time. It’s a phrase we all know well, mostly because we have all read it more than once.

When we see it, certain expectations are raised.

We expect there to be magic.

We expect there to be trouble.

But most of all, we expect there to be a happy ending.

These expectations distinguish fairy tales from our real life experiences. In the fantasy worlds of our imagination, we get what we hope for.

In the real worlds of our experience, we often get other things.

Things that make our own stories seem less interesting. Less hopeful. Less happy.

As a result, we fail to see the magic in our lives.

When I reach this point, I realize it’s time for a rewrite. When the fiction I have been authoring is not the one I am interested in reading or living, something needs to change.

I know my imagination can do better.

After all, we can only see magic if we expect to see it. If we don’t expect it, we fail to look for it.

So, let’s look for it.

But where to start?

Hmmm…how about here?

Today, once more upon a time, once more upon a week, a month, a year, I choose to find magic in my life. In the people I meet. In the opportunities I have. In the challenges I face. 

Once I say these words and make that choice…POOF!

Magic appears.

Instead of looking for a happy ending, I look for a happy beginning.

And I find it.

You see? We should never underestimate the power of hope to transform our lives.

Once upon a time may be a phrase we repeat to ourselves in order to escape our realities, but it can also be a phrase we use to rediscover the magic they contain. And we all need to rediscover their magic now and then, especially when we lose perspective.

In the end, I want my “real life” to be worth reading. I want it to be a story full of new beginnings and the hope they bring. I don’t expect a fairy tale, but I do expect to be happy.

And real happiness, well, that’s all the magic I need.

 

Nonsense & Christmas

“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'” (Dickens 38).

Some stories never get old, they just get more profound. At least, that’s been my experience with Charles Dickens’s classic novel, A Christmas Carol. When I was younger, it was easy to look at the grumpy old miser with a critical eye. I could dissociate from the self-interest and apathy that govern his life. As I grow older, however, I find myself carrying more sympathy in my heart for Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to appreciate the fact that we all have a bit of Scrooge in us, especially around Christmas time.

Whether it comes to counting our money or our time, the Christmas season can easily fill up with business of a sort that has little to do with the holiday itself. When my list of  “to-dos” keeps growing longer and my patience shorter, I know it’s time to revisit my priorities. The clock chimes in my brain begin to sound and the ghostly thoughts of Christmases past, present, and future come to visit.

After all of these years, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. And yet, each Yuletide I find myself in need of re-education. I find myself grumbling or complaining about some aspect of the holiday and the different things I have to do in order to prepare for it. I might not see Marley’s face in the door knocker, but I do begin to see Scrooge’s face in the mirror. This is when I return to Dickens’s classroom.

Reading Marley’s words to Scrooge, I begin to speak them to myself. I remind myself that charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are the things that truly count in life. Busyness will steal my past, present, and future of these gifts if I let it mess up my priorities. When it comes to Christmas, spreading love, joy, hope, and peace is the business that matters most. It is my greatest priority as a human being.

I think the main reason Dickens’s story continues to have enduring appeal for me and many others is that it speaks of redemption and grace. Mankind is in the business of making mistakes, but we are also in the business of forgiving each other for them. The nightmares we navigate teach us the power of new beginnings. Christmas gives us the promise of a fresh start.

So, if you, like me, are finding yourself in need of more than one fresh start this Christmas season, remember that Dickens’s story is a carol we can sing all year round. Our mistakes are invitations to start anew and to accept the gifts of grace and kindness offered to us by our fellow human beings. May we grow better at accepting these invitations and offering them to others.

If I am going to see any aspect of Scrooge’s face when I look in the mirror, I hope it is the joyful spirit of these words:

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” (Dickens 146).

Wow. Grace sure has a beautiful effect, doesn’t it?

Merry Christmas Everybody.

May God bless you all this holiday season. Each and everyone.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. 1843. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Image courtesy of kissclipart. Retrieved from https://www.kissclipart.com/christmas-carol-dickens-clipart-a-christmas-carol-gdg1t4/

 

Nonsense & Puppies!

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”

~Charles M. Schultz

On dark, cold, fall nights it is nice to enjoy the comforts of a warm home.

It is even nicer when that home contains a puppy.

Staring at him chewing my sister’s sock, I had to snap a picture. This new addition to our family is ridiculous, frustrating, noisy, obnoxious, needy, and downright lovable.

He has turned our lives and our living room upside down. Training pads, toys, gates, blankets, and water dishes lie scattered on the floor. Furniture is chewed and scratched, food spilled, accidents waiting to be cleaned, and sleep disturbed.

Yes, this puppy is a handful.

He is a bundle of nonsense leaving a trail of chaos in his wake.

And yet…

The decision to bring him into our home makes complete sense.

Because, while he is a handful, he is also a heartful.

And on dark, cold, fall nights nothing fills your heart quicker then the sight of a puppy following your sister devotedly around the house with her sock between his teeth.

Yes, puppies are nonsensical. But the most nonsensical thing about them is their ability to love.

And when it comes to the question of whether or not to bring that kind of love into your life, the answer is easy.

It is worth giving up your socks for and even some sleep.

After all, on dark, cold, fall mornings, it is nice to enjoy the comforts of a puppy’s kisses.

Waking up to that kind of love is worth a bit of nonsense now and then!

 

 

Imaginative Stories

“For all that, we know that if we are to appreciate and understand an imaginative story (or an imaginative hypothesis, for that matter) we must ‘suspend disbelief,’ accept what we hear for the time being as putatively real, as stipulative” (Bruner, 1986, p. 51).

In his book, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986), psychologist Jerome Bruner addresses the longstanding divide between the sciences and the arts. In his exploration of the different assumptions distinguishing these human endeavours, he comes to the conclusion that both center around the creation of hypotheses.

An imaginative hypothesis, he points out, is in essence an imaginative story. It is an idea that proposes the possibility of something—something that we have to be open enough to explore.

At least, initially.

Hypotheses, after all, are designed to be tested.

The question is, how?

The answer, Bruner observes, is telling in its distinction between scientific and artistic inquiry.

“With science,” he explains, “we ask finally for some verification (or some proof against falsification)” (Bruner, 1986, p. 51).

With narrative, on the other hand, “we ask instead that, upon reflection, the account correspond to some perspective we can imagine or ‘feel’ as right” (Bruner, 1986, p. 52).

These insights leave us to consider whether feeling is enough verification for the hypotheses we explore in life.

From a conventional scientific perspective, the answer would appear to be no. Affect is viewed as disruptive to the powers of reason and the logic it employs. Feelings must be removed from science in order to make accurate, “truthful” observations.

This is not the case, however, for the arts and the humanities.

As Bruner writes, “they too are constrained in the kinds of hypotheses they generate, but not by constraints of testability in the scientists’ sense, and not by the search for hypotheses that will be true across a wide range of human perspectives. Rather, the aim (as already noted in the preceding chapters) is that the hypotheses fit different human perspectives and that they be recognizable as ‘true to conceivable experience’: that they have verisimilitude” (Bruner, 1986, p. 52).

From an artistic or humanities oriented perspective, then, the question is not whether we can prove the existence of the proposed reality, but whether we can imagine its possibility.

That is, does it feel right?

Or, perhaps more importantly, does it feel wrong?

What happens, in other words, when the imaginative hypotheses we generate and the perspectives they offer, do not align with our own?

Does that mean that they are “not true to conceivable experience”?

Or, does it just mean that they are not true or conceivable to our experience?

I think that if we are not careful to acknowledge the role affect plays in our ability to embrace imaginative hypotheses, we might be tempted to project a universal reality onto the world, one that is equally as constraining as scientific perspectives in its efforts to generalize what is true and ignore the role subjectivity plays in shaping our understanding of what is real.

Because, the fact of the matter is, we cannot turn off our emotions. Feelings play as much of a role in scientific thinking as they do in artistic thinking. Bruner (1986) notes that:

“To the degree that modern science (or science in any era, regardless of Newton’s famous hypothesis non fingo) also is involved in hypothesis generating, as well as in hypothesis testing, it is akin to the activities of the humanist and the artist. That much we know from examining the metaphoric crutches with which the good intuitive scientist proceeds up his abstract mountain. But his object is always to convert those dense metaphors into the transparent, frangible hypotheses of science—or into untestable axioms that will generate hypotheses that, with luck, may be tested” (p. 52).

In order to be truly transparent, however, we have to be honest about the way our understanding of the world is influenced by our emotions.

That is the nice thing about imaginative stories or hypotheses that do not feel right.

They help keep us honest.

They force us to reflect on the different worlds we inhabit. They force us to question the assumptions, values, and beliefs we have come to take for granted.

In short, they test us.

The object of such testing is not to arrive at a perfect place of absolute correctness, but rather, to protect us from the arrogance of ever assuming such a position.

The hypotheses we allow ourselves to explore determine the extent of our growth as human beings.

They narrate the stories of our lives.

The question is: How imaginative are we willing to make them?

 

References:

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Stop, Drop, &…Reach Out

Do you ever feel like you are constantly putting out fires? I know I do.

Lately, it seems like whenever I get one area of my life under control, another quickly catches some spark of trouble and I am left scrambling to put it out.

Work. Family. Friends. Personal Wellness. That’s a lot of ground to cover when you think of it.

And it’s all connected.

While I might try to tell myself otherwise, these different areas of my life overlap in significant ways.

Which means that trouble in one area can affect all of the others. When a fire takes up a lot of my emotional, psychological, and physical resources, it inevitably spreads to everything that I do. It affects my ability to concentrate. It affects my ability to make good decisions. It affects my ability to get things done.

In short, it compromises my ability to function.

Because, when life feels like it is in a state of emergency, prioritizing responsibilities can be very difficult.

That’s why we can’t fight fires alone.

If there is one thing I have learned from living in B.C., it is that firefighting is a team effort.

When we feel the heat of life getting to us, we need to stop before we drop and roll right over to the people who are waiting to extend us relief.

Once we do, the haze begins to clear. Breathing becomes easier. The flames start to shrink. The fight becomes manageable.

We regroup. We re-evaluate. We rest.

We remember that, while life’s fires may burn us out at times, they also show us how blessed we are to have the support of incredible people.

Perhaps even more importantly, they remind us that we have the opportunity to be incredible people.

The more experience we gain through fighting fires, the more compassion, understanding and relief we can extend to those going through similar times of distress.

When we see signs of trouble, we can stop, drop some of the items on our to-do lists, and reach out.

I am truly grateful to live in a world where so many heroes do this on a daily basis.

And boy, do I ever want to be one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thought & Words

“A thought may be compared to a cloud shedding a shower of words. Precisely because thought does not have its automatic counterpart in words, the transition from thought to word leads through meaning. In our speech, there is always the hidden thought, the subtext. Because a direct transition from thought to word is impossible, there have always been laments about the inexpressibility of thought…”

~Vygotsky, Thought and Language, p. 251

 

The inexpressibility of thought. It is something that all of us are forced to think about at various times in our lives. Or, if you are like me, at various times in the day.

You see, there are so many moments when I want to express the ideas running through my head, but just can’t seem to find the words.

Can you relate?

I suspect so.

Because, as the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky observes, this dilemma appears to be part of the human condition.

The clouds of our thoughts precipitate words, but, in doing so, inevitably lose part of their original composition. There is always a hidden subtext to the language we use, one that can only be read by uncovering the motivation behind the words being communicated.

Vygotsky notes that “[t]hought is not begotten by thought; it is engendered by motivation, i.e., by our desires and needs, our interests and emotions” (Thought and Language, p. 252).

How often do we fail to attend to the desires, needs, interests and emotions that shape the words of those we come into contact with?

How often do we feel misunderstood because people have failed to recognize the motivation behind what we are trying to say?

The answer, I am fairly certain, is often.

In fact, I think the frequency of our misunderstandings is increased by our tendency to project our own motivational subtexts onto the words of others. When we encounter a statement, we interpret it through the lens of our own desires, needs, interests and emotions.

As a result, we fail to see the thought behind the words.

I think this is where empathy comes in.

The ability to put oneself in another’s place. To make space in our minds for the thoughts of someone else. To feel the meaning of what they are trying to convey to us.

It’s an ambitious task, to be sure.

But I am convinced it is a worthwhile one.

Because, if we are able to empathetically engage with the thoughts of the people we meet, light will shine through the clouds. And what happens when light and rain meet?

Rainbows.

A beautiful spectrum of understanding that can only be achieved through different forecasts of human experience.

So if you are having a cloudy day, take heart. The inexpressibility of your thought just might manifest as a lovely rainbow in somebody else’s life.

Kindred Spirits

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I love this quote from the iconic Anne Shirley. Montgomery’s redheaded heroine is an icon of Canadian culture and a constant reminder that our differences are the gateway to discovering what we have in common.

Anne, in her journey of maturation, realizes that kindred spirits are found in the unlikeliest of places–in the unlikeliest of people.

Matthew, Miss Josephine Barry, and even Mrs. Rachel Lynde are all very different from Anne, and yet, their differences provide the foundation for transformative dialogues that extend the scope of Anne’s life, as well as their own.

You see, when we use our imaginations to bridge the gap between our experiences and those of others–when we actively seek to empathize with their situations–we find ourselves navigating the exciting adventure of personal growth.

We find ourselves looking beyond the social and cultural barriers that divide us as we search for genuine connections with other human beings.

In the process, we form beautiful relationships that remind us of all the good there is to be found in the world. We are reminded that when we view each other through eyes of compassion, understanding and respect we see possibilities for friendship with those who are different from ourselves.

I love that.

It’s reassuring to know that when we have the imagination to see the world for its possibilities we have the grace to accept our flaws and those of the people we meet. We can recognize mistakes as opportunities for change–as new beginnings–the chance to be brave, whether that bravery comes in the form of delivering an apology or accepting it.

To me, Anne is brave because she has the courage to imagine those possibilities in the people she meets. She doesn’t get it right all of the time. She openly messes up at various moments. Still, throughout her story she becomes better and better at admitting when she is wrong and embracing the opportunity to do what is right.

I think that’s why Montgomery’s novel continues to speak to so many people.

At least, that’s one of the reasons why it continues to speak to me.

As Anne shows us, the path of progress is an adventurous one, full of victories and setbacks. The journey, however, is enjoyable when we realize how blessed we are to share it with such amazing people.

I hope that we all have the pleasure of discovering a kindred spirit in an unlikely person today. More than that, I hope that we each have the opportunity to be one for someone else!

 

 

Nonsense & Lemons…

Every once in a while I get a playful urge to write a poem for no apparent reason. This poem was the result of one of those urges. It might very well be a lemon, so feel free to make of it what you will!

 

When Life Hands You Lemons

A Poem by Bonnie Tulloch

When life hands you lemons,

Don’t make lemonade.

Throw them up in the air

And start a parade!

Wiggle and jiggle,

Stomp, skip, and hop!

Slide and glide,

Twirl, twist, and bop!

Sing and dance

Your worries away.

They cost you too much,

They’re not worth a day.

No, they’re not worth a day,

A minute,

Or hour.

So let’s not give them that kind of power!

Instead…

Go bananas!

It’s way more fun.

Mashing your troubles,

One

by

One.

 

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