January 26, 2011

The Bystander Effect

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 8:44 pm

During psychology class today we were having a discussion about the “bystander effect” — that particular phenomenon which, in 1964, led to 38 people ignoring the screams of Kitty Genovese when she was being brutally murdered. The professor was showing other famous case studies on the effect and asking us questions.

At one point a girl sitting just behind me raised her hand and provided a brief but insightful answer. When the professor asked her to repeat what she’d just said but loudly enough for the entire class (of 61 students) to hear, the girl shook her head, smiled shyly and said, “Never mind then,” adding, “I’m not the kind of person who speaks out.”

At which point my brain made a noise like the arm of a record player scratching over the entire surface of an LP. I was horrified, hearing a 20-year-old female college student announcing to the world that she doesn’t, can’t and/or won’t add her voice to any discussion. I wanted to stop the class right there and impart 30+ years of experience to her on the spot. I wanted to get all wise-old-auntie on her: “Oh honey. You have a big noisy mind in there, cooking up all sorts of fabulous ideas and points of view and opinions, and the most important thing happening in this room right now is happening between your ears. You said something good, and meaningful and worth sharing! But even if your comment hadn’t been that interesting, you should have said it anyway. Loudly. From now on, I want you to speak up and speak out. I want you to look around the room while you do so, make eye contact with a few people, smile confidently. Let them know that you, [insert name here], plan to be taken seriously. That you have something to say. You let them know you have a VOICE and you plan to use it so they’d better listen up or else. I’m talkin’ here; you shut up!” Like that.

Of course I didn’t. Didn’t stop the class; didn’t change her mind or her life. I can’t. She has to learn that lesson in her own time and in her own way — if she ever does. If she doesn’t, she’s going to spend an entire lifetime being just another bystander.

January 23, 2011

One Smart Cookie

Filed under: Feel-Good Story of the Day — Ann @ 10:34 am

She Has the Secret

My niece reports the following conversation she had with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter:

Mama: “Hannah, how did you get to be so smart?”
Hannah: (a slight pause) “Cookieeees!”

I’ve always suspected that creme filling had unique and unexplored properties.

January 1, 2011

The First 43 Miles are the Hardest

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 9:34 am

What happens when a sheltered, middle-class, mildly neurotic 33-year-old embarks on her first backpacking trip?

When my friend Stuart invited me to go on a seven-day backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada, my first instinct was to politely decline. I am, after all, what could be called a Protestant Princess. I used to require a nap after a trip to the grocery store. I once made my father drive six miles to flush a terminally ill goldfish because I couldn’t bear to touch it…even with a net. “Adventure” to me meant trying to make it to work and back on less than a quarter tank of gas. So, even though I knew better, I agreed to accompany Stuart and his friend Richard, and before I knew it I found myself shopping in stores with tents pitched in the middle of them, patronized by people who could distinguish Gortex from polypro.


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