Friday, February 13, 2009

Smoking Ban

I've decided to get a little more "personal" and/or opinionated in my blog entries... at least once in a while anyway.

Before I get to abortion issues, I figured I should start with something slightly more benign in smoking bans.

The city of Madison, WI recently instituted a smoking ban. I am not knowledgeable of the financial ramifications of such a decision, nor do I care very much at this time. I'm not sure how it affects taxes or tax-funded services or programs, so this is not an entry about that.

I am happy that I can now to eat anywhere in Madison for lunch or dinner and not have to worry about my kids inhaling smoke, inhaling smoke myself, or walking out smelling like an ashtray. I live in a community that is not smoke free. Yet. Hopefully.
Playing devil's advocate, someone once asked me, "Don't smoker's have rights too?" I answered, "Yes." They have rights. They have the right to smoke. They have the right to go out to eat or drink too. But they don't have the right to hurt anyone or damage their health. Does anyone ever have the right to do something that can hurt others? I don't think so - or at least I don't think they have the right to.
Now, if establishments could successfully keep the smoke in the smoking section and out of the non-smoking section, I think that would be a fine compromise. I'm guessing that would require some remodeling, adding some walls and ventilation systems; but at least they'd have that option - that way, financially, they could still serve customers who want to smoke and those who do not. Otherwise, people who smoke can at least still eat without smoking. Its not like the city is banning the people - they are just banning the harmful behavior.
You can't fight in a bar or restaurant either. That doesn't mean that those people couldn't come in if they don't fight - its just that they can't behave harmfully while they are inside.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Who Am I?

I was walking into work last week, and for some reason I was thinking about how the average job interview process is lame - for the most part. How does someone describe themselves? "Tell me about yourself." "What are your strengths and weaknesses." Etc, etc. I don't think it is possible to say "who you are." A description of "who I am" is like describing a photograph: its static. I can vaguely describe my appearance in terms of measurements and colors and ideas of relativity, but how does one accurately describe "who they are"?
"WHO I AM" isn't consistent. Who I am changes. It is not static. I can maybe tell you about who I was or who I want to be, but not who I am. Unless you want me to tell you who I am right this second. I can do that. But that won't do you, or I, or anyone else any good two second from now. My point is, who I am changes every day as I take on new knowledge and experiences. Who I am also changes, to a certain extent, based on my environment or situation.
One could argue that we are the same person no matter where we are - and I can see that argument - but I'm talking more about the outward behavior part of who I am. In other words, the part that people see. Call it the part that would make you decide if you would want to be my friend or not. For example, even though I am the same person everywhere, I am different at church than I am at a bar on New Years Eve. I don't mean to suggest that I have dissociative identity disorder (DID, f/k/a Multiple Personality Disorder), just that the context/situation I am in somewhat dictates how I behave.
This reminds me of the Nature vs. Nurture debate: are we who we are? Or are we 'trained' to be a certain way? Are we strongly influenced by our environment. For those of you who took Psychology 101, you may remember the similar debate about personality traits. The "Big 5" personality traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These have been analyzed, studied, and debated for years, but have held up remarkably well in our disposable world. Take each of the big five:
Openness: would I be as OPEN in a job interview as I would be with my best friend of 40 years?
Conscientiousness: would I be as conscientious with my brother as I would be on a third date with a woman I really liked?
Extraversion: would I be as extraverted in line at the DMV as I would at my 21st birthday party?
Abreeableness: would I be as agreeable in divorce court as I would be on my wedding day?
I would answer "NO" quite emphatically to each of those questions; I don't know about you.
So, I am assuming at this point we can agree that "personality" - at least to a certain extent - can change based on situations or context. Included in that - and where I'm heading - is the area of context that includes people. Let me explain:
I think specifically which people we are with, more than any other factor of context, determines our behavior - our personality - more than any other factor, such as time, location, etc, etc. Who am I with? Who is around me? Who am I interacting with? If I am a soldier in Iraq, I would probably act much differently with my comrades in the middle of the desert than in the middle of town, because there are other people present. Or even the same town at night versus during the middle of the day when people are walking around. Many of the environmental factors may have changed, yet its the people that would most affect my behavior.
Who I am is not something necessarily within me - at least operationally speaking. I (and therefore you) cannot "measure" who I am within my own head. I may be able to think it or say it, but until it is exihibited, it just isn't. It doesn't exist. It cannot be measureable. Further, who I am is only measureable by some other person. Its relative and relational. Read that again: RELATIVE and RELATIONAL. Look at the BIG FIVE personality traist above again. ALL FIVE are relational and relative. I would include other so-called personality traits like honesty, trustworthyness, funny, caring, etc, etc to be the same.
Relational, to me, means that each of the personality traits cannot be experienced in a vacuum by myself. I cannot be agreeable to myself. I cannot be open to experiencing myself, because I am me. I cannot be dishonest to myself, because I know what I know. All of these traits must include another person. They can only be measured as they are exhibited within a relationship. They ARE the relationship.
Relative, because they are all abstract terms without measurement. Of course you could measure the percentage of time someone is honest versus not honest - or you could try - but there is no absolute scale for conscientiousness or neuroticism. All of the traits are on open ended spectrums with no set endpoints or even relative range. The relativity comes from our personal experience, meaning Person A is more agreeable than Person B. Person C is less extroverted than Person D. We continue to place people on multiple spectrums all based on our experience. But since our experiences/pasts are different, "WHO I AM" is going to be different to everyone since everyones' spectrums are different.
One of my favorite person examples of this is from college - though the same can be said for bosses at work or friends of friends: when scheduling classes for the upcoming semester, I would have acquaintences that would compare courses and professors. I often heard a phrase like, "Ooh. Don't take that professor, he/she's really tough/mean/bad/dumb/[insert favorite negative personality trait here]." More often than not (roughly 100% of the time), those professors were my favorite professor of that semester. There is a lot to be said for that - many different variables and factors - but my point is, how can I base my opinion of anyone on a third party's opinion? Or rather, how should I? Or even better, why would I? when I know that personalities are relational and relative. Who someone is to me will be much different that who someone is to another person. Our "relationship" - which is what I call that space "between" two people - is unique to those two people. Its a constant give and take of information/communication/behavior. Its a "dance", if you will.
So, who am I? You may all call me Ryan, but I am somebody different to each one of you. I am who I am to you. And you are who you are to me. We are.... we.