October 2008

One of my intentions this year is to work on three elements of my dancing: musicality, vocabulary, and style. By vocabulary I mean working vocabulary, and by that I mean how much I can remember and use when I’m out on the dance floor. I’ve spent the last several years developing my lead, which in the partner-dancing world is like your accent. My dancing is a lot like my Spanish: My accent is great but my vocabulary is like a three-year-old’s. I don’t mean to denigrate myself by saying that; being able to lead well is really important. Maybe it’s more like being able to make specific sounds clearly and intentionally than like an accent. This may be taking the dancing-as-language metaphor too far, but I think learning to social dance is a lot like learning a language.

Anyway, I’ve just started learning some choreography with my friend and teacher, Karly, thinking it’s the best way to increase my working vocabulary. (This is her, upside-down, dancing with Russ, a guy from Portland.) Swing dancing is almost always improvised, so I’ve learned very little choreography and I’ve found it quite challenging when I have tried it, remembering what to do next, and it’s reminded me of how I feel on the dance floor, racking my brain for something interesting to do. I imagine that learning this choreography will help my musicality and style, as well. It’s a dance by two of my favorite swing dancers, Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama. They are improvising, not doing choreography, but what they do is so musical! The song (a great one, by Duke Ellington) is moderately fast but they look relaxed and they hit the quirky little rhythmic phrases in such an effortlessly cool way, like the hit at :45, and the bu-bu-bum-bum at :55. I also like how they flow between Lindy (the circular stuff), Charlseton (the kicky stuff), tandem Charleston (the back-to-front kicky stuff), jazz steps, and just screwing around. And I love how much fun they look like they are having. They obviously know and really like the song and like dancing with each other. Here it is:

I am in good spirits today. I presented my honors project to my lab I and got an enthusiastic response. This lab is full of really smart and critical people. I’ve seen them demolish articles that I’d thought were good and send big projects practically back to the drawing board. That’s probably not fair to them… I mean, I don’t think they would quite agree with what I just wrote, and to be honest, I can’t quite keep up with their thinking most of the time. They talk quickly and with such certainty and use a lot of lingo that after a year of hard study I’m just getting on to. Anyway, I was nervous to make that presentation and happy to find that in this area of social psychology I’m able to keep up with the thinking of these scientists. I had even anticipated most of their concerns and was able to respond well. From that place, I was able to appreciate their suggestions instead of get defensive. It’s quite an honor, really, to have that many (there are about ten people in the lab) brilliant people helping me think. Wow.

I also ran my first four participants today and it went really smoothly. All of the work I put in on the front end (lots) is paying off. As I ran them, I was able to relax and allow the process to unfold. And as I was doing that I got a lot of good thinking done. One of those thoughts was, “I haven’t posted on my blog for a while, partly because I’ve been spending so much time on this project. Maybe it’s time to write about what I’m doing here.” I’ve been putting in 60-hour weeks on school work, and about a quarter of that has been on my honors project. So, here it is:

I took a class last spring called Experimental Methods in which I was to design an implement an experiment. In my research for that project, I first came across an article by a rock star in the social psychology world,Adam Galinsky, called “Power and Perspectives Not Taken.” In a series of really creative experiments, he showed that having power over other people hurts your ability to take other people’s perspectives. That grabbed my attention because my main philosopher these days, Ken Wilber, is really into developing perspective taking, saying that it’s a super key cognitive ability. The journal articles I’ve been reading agree, too, showing that perspective taking is a major component of empathy and reduces stereotyping, for example. Then I came across an article, called “Power, Approach and Inhibition,” proposing a theory of power based on all the recent research. It painted power in a pretty bad light: Other than making you feel good, power is not a good thing to have, in terms of psychological outcomes. The more power you have, the more likely you are to stereotype, take credit for other people’s work, see others as a means to your own ends, and a bunch of other no-nos. It’s disturbing because these effects of power will tend to cause power to accumulate and keep the powerful ignorant of their faults.

This was a little disturbing personally, too, because in my community, “living powerfully” is a big deal. Don’t live a small, timid life! Live a big, impactful life! On the other hand, empathy is a big deal, too. And what good postmodernist likes stereotyping? But I also noticed that all the papers on power I was reading defined power as “having control of others’ outcomes.” In other words, the kind of power they were talking about is hierarchical power, and that’s not really the kind of power my community is into. In fact, for some of us, it’s against our religion.

Then I came across another, more obscure, article by some Dutch scientists named Van Dijke and Poppe, called “Striving for Personal Power as a Basis for Social Power Dynamics.” They had found that what people who strive for power want is not power over others, but freedom from the power of others. They call that freedom “personal power” to distinguish it from the hierarchical “social power” that has been getting all the attention in the research. When given a choice, people will act to increase their personal power instead of their social power. In fact, if they can get personal power, they will often give up social power. This is big news for any non-anarchist.

So then I did an extensive literature search for research on the psychological outcomes of having personal power, also called agency, autonomy, and a few other things. I found almost nothing, and absolutely nothing on how personal power might affect perspective taking. I was suspicious of that so I emailed MariusVan Dijke about it and he agreed: “I think the distinction is actually a new one, and I am not aware of any other research.” This is a dream for a scientist—a wide open field, and potentially an important one, too.

That’s what I’m doing this year. I’ve designed an experiment to replicate Galinsky’s (which showed that power hinders perspective taking) and adding a personal power dimension to it. If I can reproduce his results then I will be able to add some knowledge to the field. How does having personal power affect perspective taking? I have no idea. I have a hypothesis, of course, because that’s how you do science, but it’ll be exciting not matter how it turns out. If personal power is detrimental to perspective taking, like social power is, that’s pretty big news: Autonomy, bad for perspective taking! If personal power is not detrimental to perspective taking, that’s really big news: In all these struggles for power, the thing that people really want is benign! OK, I know, those are oversimplifications, but there is truth to them. And if it’s somewhere in between, if the perspective taking abilities of people with personal power fall somewhere between the tyrant’s and the slave’s, well, that’s something too. I think that’s most likely, and that’s my hypothesis: Having personal power will bring its own cost and benefit package, and for perspective taking it will be not great but not too bad.

So this term I’m running participants in my experiment, while I learn how to crunch numbers. Winter term I’ll crunch the numbers. Spring term I’ll write it all up. The best case scenario is that my results will be good enough that someone in my lab will do some follow-up experiments and publish it all in a research journal. That would be great. I’d love to be part of the conversation going on out there about human nature. I don’t think, though, that I am going to devote my life to perspective taking research, or power research, or even social psychology. Or even scientific research, though I’m closer to that than I’ve ever been. I think I’d be a good researcher—I’m thorough and smart and I love putting information into contexts and being on the cutting edge of a conversation—but so far I have no indication that I’d be brilliant. I know it’s not fair to compare myself to the others in my lab who’ve been working and studying in this field for years, but that’s what I do, and when I do think about it, so far, it seems that my best strengths lie in a more interpersonal direction. And, so far, that’s where I’m headed. But that’s another story. For now I’m happy being a scientist.

Sing everyday: This is I did, minus maybe ten days. It was one or two songs a day, usually. This was enough to keep up my singing voice, but not enough to improve it, as I had hoped.

Dance everyday: This I did as well, minus a few sick days. I put the number of minutes I danced on my daily graphing-my-life/training chart, which shows that I danced an average of 54.41 minutes a day. My dancing really improved. I went to two Balboa camps, two Lindy Hop camps (“camps” are weekend-long dance marathons with classes all day and dances all night), one Lindy exchange (like a camp without the classes), took tap dancing classes all year, took a series class for Soul Motion, taught by Grace Llewellyn, and worked for hours at home on Balboa, Charleston, Melbourne Shuffle, clown walk, and just boogying.

Meditate every day: I think I might have missed once or twice. I kept track but lost my excitement for number crunching after analyzing my dance time. It looks like I averaged between 15 and 20 minutes. Meditation is not nearly as enjoyable as dancing for me but I’m glad to have sat every day. The benefits seem to come from regular practice.

Make a fourth Abandon Ship record: This I did not do. Abandon Ship is the band I have with two of my brothers, Damian and Gabriel. I did write arrangements for a couple of Damian’s new (and really good) songs and I wrote a bridge for another. I also spent a couple weeks in Joshua Tree this summer, writing and recording three more songs with him. It’s an ongoing project.

Continue to master being kind to myself: This is a project I started two years ago, with the help of my friend, Taber. It’s definitely worth a blog entry of its own, but simply put, I realized that there was a way that I am habitually not on my own side, and I began to practice continually realigning myself toward compassion and kindness for myself. It’s a major shift in my tectonic plates, as Taber says. This project is going really well.

Walk slowly: This has been great. This has been my favorite. I noticed that I walk as if I’m in a hurry, even if there’s no reason to hurry. I’d like to think I was emulating my fast-walking Grandpa Bob, but I think I just kept myself so busy for so long that I forgot about strolling. Walking slowly is wonderful. I love it.

Have a flexible back and hips: I did downward dog and plow poses plus a few other physical therapy exercises most nights between my birthday and the end of June. I improved my back and hip flexibility noticeably, though not as much as I’d hoped. I also stopped wearing a backpack after more than 15 years of schlepping, which I think helped. I started getting comments from friends that my posture had improved. Then I traveled all summer, basically camping in somewhat hectic circumstances: helping friends move and working at Not Back to School Camp, mostly. Traveling makes a nice, relaxing evening stretching routine a challenge. Anyway, I still have some of the flexibility I gained but I can’t say that I have a flexible back or hips right now. I’m not even sure that I could have said that in June, actually.

Overall I think I did well this year, both in setting good goals and in following through. I like the simplicity of the list. It’s got a nice compact aesthetic. I’m both inspired and daunted by my list for this coming year but it’s not as nice to look at.

Add new knowledge to the field of social psychology

Break my habit of scratching and picking my skin, including biting my lip


Dance every day, working on 1) musicality 2) vocabulary 3) style

Finish bachelor’s degree

Get accepted into a couples and family therapy graduate program

Maintain this blog

Meditate every day

Produce a record with David Waingarten

Record an EP with my band, Abandon Ship

See healthcare provider each month until all my body concerns are resolved

Set up a slick system of musical collaboration over the internet and use it regularly

Shift my schedule three hours earlier for at least one term: In bed by 11 pm

Sing out every day

Take African dance classes

Write at least one song per month