Why No One Says "Hello" - Adventures in El Salvador

 

I don't know if it's just me but people don't say hello to each other anymore, or least not as much as they used to. As a teenager, I see it a lot. We pass each other on the street and don't even make eye contact. We see each other in the store and pretend not to know each other. I know that seems silly and my mom always asks me why I don't say hi but it's an unwritten rule. As nothing more than classmates, we don't expect a greeting on either end. 

Contrary to our culture, El Salvadorians are generally very friendly. When the team I was with drove down the streets in our colourful bus, 99% of the people waved. Young kids shouted "Hola!" at us and we greeted them in return. We would wave and smile at people as we drove past them and they would wave and smile back at us, taking a temporary break from whatever they were doing. 

It was hard coming back home, to a place where we are often more interested in the ground than in meeting another's gaze. I was talking to my El Salvadorian friend about this when I'd been back at school for a week or so after the March break. He told me that people who don't return a greeting in El Salvador are too proud to do so.

When I see someone I know but am not necessarily friends with, I don't say hi. In fact, I continue on walking as if they don't exist because I convince myself that there is no possible way they'll remember that we had that two classes together last semester. 

If this insufficient reason is keeping me from saying "hi" to people I know, what's stopping me from greeting a stranger? Is it because I think I'm better than them? Is it because they look "different"? Or am I just too shy or lazy to lift my gaze from my sneakers? 

I don't think I have a good answer to that question that won't sound like an excuse. If you ask yourself those questions and can't come up with a justifiable answer, something needs to change. It's not physically exhausting to make eye contact and smile at someone we pass on the street, so why not give it a try?

It may seem out of place and unnatural at first, but it's a step towards building a stronger and friendlier community. I'm going to give it a try, how about you?

 

Turn the Page: The Importance of Reading

After a long day of work, school, or both, all I want to do is get comfy in my bed, and mindlessly watch "Friends" on Netflix. Life can be rough and after a mentally tiring day, it's so easy to shut down our brains for a while. However, falling into that pattern day after day isn't good for you! Reading allows you to keep your brain working in an entertaining way.

Try to think of reading as rebooting your brain. My favourite part of reading is using my imagination. I love to create the character's appearance and surroundings. I love to image facial expressions as I read and reread the dialogue with emotion. Although watching a movie is sometimes what you need, you don't get the privilege of creating anything yourself. Everything is laid out in front of you, you're given the characters and emotions with little to none left for the imagination. 

Picking up a book is better than watching TV because books give you the opportunity to learn new, useful things and improve your vocabulary and grammar. This may sound like an english teacher's speech but I know from personal experience that reading has helped me improve my writing style and has taught me about history and modern-day culture.  

Why I Like to Read

To me, there's nothing more satisfying than finishing that last sentence and closing the book cover. I love knowing that I invested hours of my time into something and got a great story and new knowledge in return. I usually catch myself going over the plot and thinking about how things would have ended differently if one character would have done this instead of that. Even after I am done a book, my imagination is still active.

Books provide me with instant entertainment. Bored on the bus? Read a chapter or two. Waiting for class to start? Fit in a couple pages before the bell rings. I love feeling the weight of a book in my hands and the hearing sound as I turn the page, one page closer to the end. 

Reading is a temporary escape from the world that keeps your brain engaged and increases your knowledge. Hopefully, the benefits I get from reading will inspire you to pick up a book, turn the pages, and read.

Media Club: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams

 

Part memoir, part travel narrative, part cultural theory, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams is a masterful compilation of essays that resists categorization and reinforces a gritty kind of love. Jamison begins her ‘exams’ by relaying her time as a medical actor, a job where she was given a script with symptoms that she had to play out for medical students, and then rank their ‘diagnosis’ based not only on accuracy, but also on empathetic capacity. Did they make her feel heard? Cared for? Comfortable? 

This part-time college job was the catalyst for an exploration in how we relate to each other’s pain, both emotional and physical. Jamison has undergone an impressive list of surgical procedures and sustained many injuries throughout her life. She is preoccupied with personal bodily experience, and how our geographies of privilege influence our worldviews. In “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” she recalls a passage she wrote to a friend:

I’ve got this double-edged shame and indignation about my bodily ills and ailments—jaw, punched nose, fast heart, broken foot etc. etc. etc. On the one hand, I’m like, why does this shit happen to me? And on the other hand, I’m like, Why the fuck am I talking about this so much?”

Why do we talk about it? I think because otherwise, hurt is often invisible. No one will stop to look or ask or help unless you’ve just emerged from a burning vehicle. Chronic pain and illness reside in an internal world, remaining hidden until the external layers are peeled back one by one. Jamison is wary of the romanticization that invades classic literature on female pain in particular, and I am similarly annoyed at ‘emotionality’ being equated with ‘irrationality.'

Jamison references a 2001 study called “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” which found that when reporting pain to doctors, men are more likely to be given medication, but women will be dismissed with sedatives. The Victorian image of the hysterical woman is apparently alive and well. When medical professionals don’t trust women’s interiority, they can be left to seek out alternative avenues of healing and support.

I won’t spoil all of The Empathy Exams for you, but I will say that Jamison doesn’t baulk at putting herself in harm’s way, in the hope that she’ll get it. “It” spans a whirlwind of topics, from mysterious diseases to impoverished Mexican border towns to murder scenes. The essays that most resemble travel writing take poverty tourism as their subjects, asking how to best reconcile empathy with the embarrassment that accompanies placing yourself within someone else’s sorrow in a temporary way.

“In Defense of Saccharin(e)” is the essay I wish I wrote, a brilliant extended metaphor that links artificial sweeteners with cancerous cells: “Saccharine is our sweetest word for fear: the fear of too much sentiment, too much taste. When we hear saccharin, we think of cancer: too many cells congealing in the body…” There’s no way I could do this essay justice in one measly paragraph, except to say it is a smart, soaring accomplishment that calls for cautious sentimentality as an antidote to cold irony. I can’t disagree with Mary Karr’s front-cover review of The Empathy Exams: “This riveting book will make you a better human.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Kayla Besse is a photographer and an English Lit major at the University of Guelph. She also volunteers for Anxiety Free Community

 

 

 
 

3 Easy Ways to be Great in a Bikini

 
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To help accommodate families and friends flocking to the beach, InStyle.com posted an article entitled “10 Easy Ways to Look Great in a Bikini.” The article is part of their ironically titled column, “Inside Beauty.” 

If you would like to strategically tape your breasts so that they sit higher and thus “magically” slim your waistline you can find their article here: ow.ly/lwjYe

If not, I have included “3 Easy Ways to be Great in a Bikini”

  1. Put on a bikini. 

  2. Think about what “great” means to you. Does it mean having flat abs? Or does it mean you are a person with integrity, a caring heart and a kick-ass personality?
  3. Have fun following your definition of great (often this entails being your awesome self)!
 


An Introduction to Cultural Studies

 

The term “culture” is often used to refer to artistic and creative production. More broadly, culture is how we experience and interpret the world. As cultural theorist John Storey argues, “Culture is not in the object, but in the experience of the object: how we make it meaningful, what we do with it, how we value it” (x). By sharing in culture, we share in how we interpret the world. Cultural analysis, therefore, reveals the collective priorities and beliefs of a given society. 

Work Cited: John Storey, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), pg x.

 

 

Back to Basics: Critical Thinking

 

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking has been called the “skill to search for truth.” At its core, critical thinking is when we independently analyze and evaluate information as a guide for our beliefs and actions.

Often the information we are using for analysis is collected from, or created by, our observations, experiences, reflections, and reasonings (2). With this in mind, it’s key that we be active when collecting informational sources. A passive approach, would be only observing the sources that naturally surround us. This approach guarantees biased analysis. By comparison, taking an actively seeking information from a variety of sources, perspectives and methodologies gives us the opportunity to counter act inherent bias. 

Linda Elder argues that critical thinkers are “keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked” (1). When collecting observational data, we should be keenly aware of our own biases, and read broadly so that our analysis encompasses all sides of each issue. It's important to assess for epistemological gaps and then seek out sources that fill those gaps. It’s also important to consider the historical and cultural context of each issue.

Finally, make a decision or don’t. The world is only black and white if you choose for it to be. Nuance is sexy ;). 

Going forward, here is a "Back to Basics" critical thinking cheat sheet: 

  1. Read broadly and look at each issue from all sides.
  2. Dissect logic of each side’s argument.
  3. Pay attention to the historical and cultural context of the issue.

A side note on sources: Ask who or what is providing that information and why? The ICAT (International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking) recommends checking each source for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, logic, and fairness (2).

When in doubt, use the Newsroom method (3).

In a fictional news room, an idealistic news team decides to reinvent the nightly news. Instead of choosing news stories for their ability to attract viewers, they use these 3 rules to govern  their storytelling process: 1. Is this information we need in the voting booth? 2. Is this the best possible form of the argument? and 3. Is this story in historical context?

Works Cited

  1. Linda Elder, September 2007, http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-where-to-begin/796 
  2.  http://www.criticalthinking.org/ctmodel/logic-model1.htm 
  3. The Newsroom, episode "News Night 2.0" written by Aaron Sorkin, HBO Entertainment.