Monday, September 17, 2012

Old Words

I have always thought that language is very interesting. I am interested in how people speak, how they convey meanings through language, and how those meanings are socially constructed and understood. In this era of mass participation in social media, the collaborative and interactive components, now possible not just through conversation but also through technologically mediated interactive written text, images, audio, video, and animations, have superseded the old top-down forms of communication. Even the traditional media -- newspapers, radio, magazines, and books -- have websites with online reader forums.

Language is changing, and we are changing the ways, for what, with whom we use language. Because we are living through this change, it might seem unremarkable to us; it's just what we do every day. Many of us embrace our new electronic devices, smart phones and tablets, with glee, and take for granted each new change without giving much thought to the social impact of it. The changes are incremental, and so we fail to notice that the associated linguistic and social change is happening, in fact, at whirlwind speed.

I am a member of the generation that can say, "I remember when the only computers were mainframes and they took up a whole city block, and you had to use card readers to interact with them." Or, "I remember when we communicated with friends and family in other towns by writing letters, because telephoning long distance was too expensive." And even, "I remember when we had a party line, and you could tell when the neighbour picked up to listen in, because you could hear a little click on the line."

We've come a long way baby, in a very short time.

One indicator of the change is the bloating of common vocabulary with new words (interface, mash up, online, blog) and old words given new meanings (texting, tablet, forum, web). Equally interesting are the old words that are disappearing from common usage, or that have taken on new, very different meanings. Here are some on my list:

Rubbers (for feet)
Thongs (for feet)
Bough (of a tree)
Gay (as a mood)
Shorts (as in men's underwear)
Trunks (for swimming)
Rubber pants
Stem Christie
Grub (to eat)
Fag (as in cigarette)
Grubby (dirty)

Well, I seem to be on a clothing theme at the moment. My point though, is that there are many everyday words that have now slipped out of common usage. They sound quaint or archaic. I have included both formally accepted words here, and slang, which tends to change more rapidly. Can you think of some old words that are on he verge of disappearing to add to this list?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten Things I Know

I wrote in my last post about the long slow path to wisdom. I am definitely getting older. I am not so sure about wiser. However, here are a few things that I know:

1. In dysfunctional organizations, it is often the case that good people are behaving badly. They behave badly because they are not getting what they need. When they get what they need (respect, encouragement, structure, stability....), they are more likely to do their best work for the organization.

2. Three basics for raising happy children are good food, enough sleep, and lots of love. As Charlotte Diamond used to sing: "Three hugs a day, that's the minimum; three hugs a day, not the maximum."

3. The three things a university student needs to do in order to pass a course are: Come to class, read all of the assigned readings, and hand in all of the assignments. Of course, I don't actually just mean "come" to class (and sleep). My hope is that students will attend, engage, and participate.

4. After a terrible thing happens (e.g., marriage breakup, the death of a loved one) life goes on. As inconceivable as it may seem at the time, later on you will again feel happiness, have loving relationships, and deeply enjoy life.

5. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables taste better and are better for you than store-bought ones.

6. Children love their parents.

7. Car engines seize up if they have no oil (and the engine overheats if the water pump breaks, and a clunky sound combined with a hesitation as an automatic shifts up or down means that the transmission is about to go, and a howling sound coming from the wheels probably means that the bearings are shot, etc.) I have owned several old clunkers.

8. On a cold winter day, wearing a warm close-fitting hat (the Canadian toque) conserves body heat.

9. The four legs upon which my life stands are knowledge, creativity, love, and health.

10. Every age is a good age.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Path to Wisdom

Now as I am approaching yet another birthday, I have been thinking about the long slow path to wisdom. I had the opportunity recently to sit with and listen to a First Nations elder who took the time to help me understand a little about the tradional beliefs of his people.

He talked of many things. His tribe is rich in elders, he said, and they are deeply respected as the knowledge holders of the culture. One does not judge an elder by appearance nor by the life he or she has led. Rather, one looks for the good, the special knowledge that person has. No-one self designates as an elder. Nor does someone become recognized as an elder simply because of age. A person finds an older person to go to, and visits with that person and listens to him or her. That is an elder, an older experienced person from whom others seek wisdom or guidance.

That led me to think about our mainstream North American culture. We do not respect our elders. More typically, we fear aging and avoid or are scornful of the aged. For models of how to live, we look to celebrities: entertainers, sports stars, politicians, or people who have been widely recognized for accomplishments in their fields. People are respected by virtue of the material wealth they have accumulated, and status is conferred on the basis of their position of power and authority.

I have noticed that since taking up my current, more senior administrative position, I am treated with considerably more deference than in my previous position. Yet I don't think I have changed a great deal in the last six months. I am not that much wiser or more capable. The way people treat me is mostly a function of my position.

I say "mostly" because the causality is not straight forward and one-way. In order to attain this position, I went through a stringent hiring process, in which my knowledge, experience, interpersonal style, and belief system were carefully evaluated. I have had many years of education and many years of career experience leading up to and preparing me for this current position. I was found to be a "good fit" and offered the job. My organization wanted a certain kind of person who would be able to do certain things for them. Because this is what they want, and because they chose me, they believe that I can do these things. They want to believe in me and the position itself confers a greater latitude to make decisions; therefore I have more opportunities to be wise or unwise. Or perhaps more accurately, my decisions and actions are in a bigger sphere, and have have more visible and serious consequences.

So is this very different from the First Nation on whose territory I live? There is plenty of evidence that many mainstream politicians and other leaders in positions of authority sometimes do not behave wisely. We watch them closely and are quick to judge them. The elder who was teaching me said that in his culture, they do not judge an elder because of poor choices. Perhaps someone was a drunk or a street person. You look for that special knowledge, and listen and treat the elder with respect. Each person in the community is free to be himself or herself, without having to dress or act a certain way.

In our mainstream society, I am not sure that we value and respect leaders in the same way. I see my colleagues working extremely hard and putting in very long hours in their jobs. Yet in many organizations, it seems that people sit in judgment and are quick to complain if a decision does not go their way. One senior leader told me that what he enjoys about his job is the tension; it is energizing and exciting to be making difficult rapid-fire decisions, or to to engage in challenging labour negotiations. Another told me that the organization pays her a big salary, and in exchange, she gives them a piece of her soul.

I am energized by problem solving, but not by interpersonal tension. And no amount of money in the world can buy a piece of my soul. I do feel constrained to dress and behave in a certain way (at work, and out in the public eye). As well, I do feel that people watch me and judge my actions as a leader.

The path to wisdom is long and the journey is slow. I will keep putting one foot in front of another. I will listen, and to try to do my best. And I will try to forgive myself if sometimes I am not very wise.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Midnight Pie

It is midnight and I am baking pie. Two pies, in fact. I worked eleven-hour days yesterday and today -- hard, stressful days. Today is my dear husband's birthday, and I had wanted to have time to celebrate it with him. Tomorrow, I have to be at work at 8:30 AM to chair a meeting that I am still not quite ready for. I'm really tired and my back hurts. So why am I up at midnight baking pies?

Well, a friend phoned a couple of nights ago to invite us to dinner. This is a new friend, a wonderful person, and he likes pie. So without really thinking it through, I happily accepted the invitation, and chirped, "I'll bring pie." No, actually, what I said was, "I'll bring SOME PIES." Plural.

I am not a novice pie maker. I like to bake pies for friends, and I have a fairly large repertoire of pie recipes that are pretty dependable. I have a great recipe for pie crust from my Mom, printed out neatly in her tiny printing twenty-five years ago or so: Never Fail Pie Crust.

Late last night I made the pie crust recipe and divided it into six balls, some for tonight's pies, and the rest to be frozen for later. After work (imagining that I was going to leave a little earlier than usual), I had planned to go by the Okanagan fruit truck and buy some nice ripe peaches and this-year's apples. Then I was going to take Rob out for a birthday dinner, and then come home and make the pies.

Well, nothing went as planned. I had a tough day at work, and despite my best efforts, didn't manage to get out of there until 7:30. The fruit truck had, of course, closed down for the day. We did go for a nice dinner, and then I went to the grocery store and bought peaches, which were not nearly as ripe as I would have liked, and apples.

The skins would not slip off the underripe peaches, and so they took a very long time to peel. The pie crust was impossible to handle. It cracked and crumbled when I rolled it out, and completely fell apart when I tried to lift it into the pie plate. I don't think in all my years of making pies I have ever had such a badly behaved pie crust. I don't know why -- new climate perhaps? Or maybe I did something a little differently than usual (it seemed extra wet and heavy when I made it last night). Well, I patched it together, which seemed to take forever, and finally got the pies into the oven. The last pie, an apple cheddar one, just came out a few minutes ago, and it looks and smells great. But I have my doubts about the peach pie. I think the peaches might still be a bit undercooked, but I had to take it out as it had been in the oven much longer than the recipe called for and the crusts were getting too brown.

Oh well. I will be bringing SOME PIES. It will be fun to have dinner with new friends, and the bonus is, I'll be forced to leave work early tomorrow because we're invited for 5:30.