Culture Blindness

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indiana and his companions are searching for one of the clues that will lead them to the holy grail they go to a library and look for symbols to help them on their journey. They find two of the symbols-Roman numerals- but are stumped when searching for the numeral ten (X). It is only when Indiana looks from a higher perspective that they see that they have been standing on a giant X the entire time.

I think it is that way in society as well. Mankind is constantly looking to grow and become better, but how can we be sure that our choices and the directions we decide to go in are correct? I heard the phrase “cultural growth” recently, and although I don’t remember the source it got me thinking. What defines growth? How can one be sure that a culture is headed in the right direction and the supposed growth is not the beginnings of a cancerous tumor?

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that culture or society should remain stagnant and unchanging. Without considering other ways of doing things and integrating new ideas a nation cannot survive, especially in the modern world with its free flow of information. It is simply interesting to note how cultural critics and progressive thinkers are so positive that the changes that they seek are correct.

History can shed some light on the impact of man’s choices upon his environment. Lessons of the past inform us of mistakes in theories and actions. Without historical examples to point to, how would we even know where we stand in regards to liberty, equality, enlightened thinking, and moral standards?

However even history fails in the end. Every situation is unique; every people instilled with a different set of values and expectations. Technology and what we know about the universe is changing every day. People are deluged with a flood of conflicting information without compass or guide to determine what is true or noble. In a certain sense we are more blind now than all our ancestors were. Despite the amazing advancement the human race has undergone in the past 200 years we still can’t look beyond the present with any certainty. No one can know for certain the long term effects of daily events, and unlike Indiana Jones we cannot simply get a “better view.”

I say this not to be pessimistic, but simply as an observation. Before we commit to a course of action we should think about the consequences to ourselves, loved ones, and our fellow human beings. As only the long, backward gaze of history, and ultimately the wisdom of God can show us the right or wrong of our decisions I think we owe it to both of them to be as responsible and as careful as we can.



The Gift of Games

There are few things that can bring people together and break through barriers like a game can. This is one of the primary reasons I love gaming. The framework it provides for social interaction is unlike  any other activity. Whether it is a card game, board game, or role playing game face-to-face gaming is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to meet new people.

When you think about it, what makes meeting people and breaking the ice so difficult? For me it is the lack of shared experiences. Conversation and interactions are all based off of the experiences of each individual, but true friendships are formed only when those people share an experience with each other. Games provide that experience immediately by breaking through social stigmas and becoming a platform for interaction.

  • Games provide rules. Rules determine the “social norms” of the game and allow everyone to act and become comfortable within those norms. Since everybody knows them, everyone knows what to expect and how to act.
  • Games can often times provide a shared goal. Games that involve teamwork immediately give a reason for people to work together and interact. Even competitive games usually have a single goal that is wanted by all the players.

Games and game mechanics can also provide value in other ways. In Aaron Dignan’s book Game Frame he addresses the two causes or sources of the apparent apathy of many young people. First there is a lack of volition. Volition is the will to do something; it is what motivates us to take action. Faculty is our confidence that we have the skills and expertise to accomplish something.

Often times people limit themselves because they lack either volition or faculty. Games can change this by providing what Dignan calls “flow.” Flow is a state where a person’s skills and expectations rise at the same approximate level as the challenges he or she faces. If a challenge is to hard and our skill level too low it creates anxiety, whereas if our skills are more than adequate for the challenge then we become bored.

Games optimize flow so that when you first start out you are confronted with challenges that you can overcome with a limited skill set. As your skills grow so do the challenges. This provides a strong model on which to improve skills and confidence.

These are just a few things that games can teach us, and only part of the reason I love them so much. If you are interested in this topic I suggest you check out Game Frame or the work of Jane McGonigal.

The Silent Relationships

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day while I was on the bus going to class. I was sitting next to a woman and due to the large number of people riding that day it was cramped and everyone had to squeeze as best they could. This closeness, which broke down the personal space bubble that is the norm in American society, got me thinking. What if there are some people who feel so alone that even the short time of being on the bus next to someone, feeling their leg touching yours, was comforting to them?

The intimacy of relationships with others isn’t something we think about often, but when we hug a friend, shake a hand, or give a friendly punch on the shoulder to a buddy we are engaging in an intimate act. Each time we do that it can strengthen a bond and these types of interactions make us feel appreciated and loved. But what about people who feel cut off from the rest of the world? Do they take these intimate acts for granted too or do they even experience them at all? Does something as simple as a bus ride with a familiar face or a interaction with someone at a grocery store mean so much more to them?

Some people (notably the elderly) often shop at the same store for the majority of their needs even if that place doesn’t offer the best service or have the best prices. Many times it is the (perceived) relationship that that person has with the stores employees that keeps them coming back. To those men and women shopping is not just a chore, but a social experience where they can see people they know and feel the kind of intimacy that we all crave. These are often the silent relationships, the ones that people take pleasure and comfort in without the other person knowing.

This may sound creepy, and it can be taken too far, but is it really that far out of the ordinary? Stopping after work at a gas station and being recognized and acknowledged by the attendant. Enjoying your co-workers talking (but not complaining) about their kids or their family. Saying hello or a quick word of thanks to the janitor. Everyday occurrences to us but to someone else it might have a deeper impact.

Do you know anyone like this? Maybe they don’t have many friends or they are dealing with depression or some other emotional issue. Sometimes we are all guilty of treating them as an annoyance and trying to distance ourselves. I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to cater to someone’s  every whim or try and fix their lives, but a simple act of kindness, or the effort to make them a familiar, friendly acquaintance can go a long way. We all see our relationships in different ways and I think if we considered the value that other people derive from a relationship it would do us good. Instead of considering in a selfish way what you can get out of it, try and be a person who gives in your relationships. You may just find that you mean more to the other person than you realized, or even the other way around.

I’m not really even sure where I was going with this post to be honest, but it has been rolling around in my brain for a while now and I thought I would get it out and published. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I just insane? Well maybe don’t answer that last question. 😉 Leave a comment below with any thoughts or comments!