Death and Social Media: Facebook Friends For Life

Anders Nilsen. Big Questions.

It’s been said too many times that social media is changing our relationships and degrading our ability to genuinely connect with others, but all those “superficial” interactions take on a unique significance when social media meets death. In a totally bizarre way, social media enables us to be friends with dead people.

And for that, I’m very grateful. Continue reading

Why I Fear a “Fear of the Unknown”

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Rich, lively conversations can be fun, energizing, and illuminating, but sometimes they can also get quite uncomfortable. This is especially evident when our conversations become more than a place for us to merely vent and get things off of our chests by “reporting the facts” (“Oh, he’s really nice;” “The lasagna  I had last night was totally banging;” “I’m going to file for a divorce”). Conversations push our comfort zones when they invite, or rather challenge, us to actually think beyond the so-called “facts.” To understand the kind of shift that can happen in one’s experience of a conversation, simply imagine the anxiety and defensiveness that can arise when someone asks a very simple and seemingly standard follow-up question. “Why?” At some point, discomfort and anxiety might surpass the threshold of conversational irritation and leave one ready to lash out: “All you ask is, ‘Why? Why? WHY?!?’ You’re no better than my three-year old!” (By the way, we should probably be less dismissive of the wisdom in our children’s inquisitiveness.) After teaching undergraduate classes in philosophy, the discipline that asks questions, I’ve learned a few fail-safe phrases from my students that can stop the discomfort and the conversation even faster than one can utter the words, “I don’t know.”
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In Defense of Marriage: No Need for Love Here

In addition to the quick little video below that I posted earlier today on YouTube about the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, it may be helpful to clarify a few more points that are worth keeping in mind this week (and hopefully beyond that).

The more radical progressives hesitate to give support to marriage equality because “marriage” – as a historical institution – has a pretty shady past wrapped up in the exchange of property, or more accurately, the exchange of people as property, or even more accurately, the exchange of women as property. In such relationships, there is a clear and problematic difference in power between a husband and a wife. But don’t be fooled. History and its influence on marriage hasn’t changed all that much. When marriage is defended these days as being between “one man and one woman,” such words are often still colored by rigidly prescribed gender roles that imply other “marriage-y”  things like “what he says goes,” or that determine “who wears the pants” and who “belongs in the kitchen.”So let’s be clear about at least one thing, gay and lesbian couples who want marriage equality aren’t really looking for those kinds of marriages anyway.

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Why Philosophy?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the great pleasure of meeting up with some really wonderful people last weekend at the Advancing Public Philosophy Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This happy little Think for a Change video is one of my favorite things that came out of my experience there. Danielle La Susa, Avram (Oz) Blaker, and José Muñiz join me as we discuss philosophy and how one can experience the so-called crisis of not having any answers with playfulness, humility, and strength.

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Take Your Present Back: The Past Is Not a Trap

being and time

Yesterday was Daylight Savings and by springing forward we “lost” an hour. Perhaps your witty Facebook friends also updated their statuses by asking: “Where did the time go?!” I’ll roll along with serendipity because, as of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about time, how it shapes our lives, and how conventional wisdom on the matter can be a little misleading. The saying goes: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why they call it the ‘Present.’” Sure. But there’s more to it than that. Continue reading

The Value of a Few Choice Words

letter writingYou know that great feeling when you are able to vent and finally get things off of your chest? Well I wrote a number of emails this week that were intended to be “strictly business,” but before I knew it that whole personal-professional line was blurred again and I ended up telling a few of my higher-ups what I really thought of them. Continue reading

Charles Darwin: Parenting Extraordinaire

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I don’t have babies but it’s never too soon to start looking for a potential partner to help raise them when I want them, right? In less contrived circumstances than that makes it sound, I shared a sweet, romantic moment with someone a couple of weeks ago when I told him, “I think that you would make a really wonderful father someday.” That may strike some men as too reproductively-focused in a way that seems weird, forward, intimidating, or just plain terrifying, but I meant it as a very sincere acknowledgement of his possession of qualities that I think it takes to be a good parent, and especially a good father. He actively listens. He takes good care of others. He’s generous, gentle, and accepting. And when it comes to social expectations of presumed gender roles in a heterosexual relationship, he’s man enough to say, “I hate it when I feel like I have to be a guy.” Continue reading

A Real Catch: Good Love is a Fish You’ll Know

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I’ve never really liked fishing. I can, however, appreciate why some people find comfort or joy in it. You can see beautiful scenery, be in nature, have quiet time to yourself, or make it a shared experience with others. I also like how the act of fishing can elicit a special combination of emotional states – patience, hope, apprehension, boredom, frustration, relaxation, excitement.

But for me it was always a different sort of thing. I remember a time when my dad took me fishing at a pond near our house. I was young and I cried over the thought of hooking a fish and dragging it out of the water, even if the intent was to toss it back. As I got older I maintained my own personal distaste for fishing as a sport. “What senseless trauma!,” I thought, “Poor fish, being tricked, tempted, and baited only to be rejected, consumed, or displayed as a trophy.” Thus, it seems that fishing is a complicated enterprise that can be experienced by different people in drastically different ways. There can be a mix of emotions, an array of objectives and goals, and for these reasons and more, maybe it makes sense that fishing metaphors are so frequently applied to romantic relationships. Continue reading

On Learning to Listen and Social Media Whores

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Figuring out how to cope with a terminal illness and deal with death has been the most present theme for me over the past week. My students and I spent a couple of days discussing these topics in our Medical and Healthcare Ethics class. After a colleague  mentioned in passing that his health was “not that great,” we spoke for nearly two hours over coffee about finding purpose in doing graduate work when you are faced with an unexpected and drastically shortened timeline. And, although this is a frequent occurrence, one of my closest friends and I talked even more than usual about what it means to live after a loved one has died. All of these conversations were punctuated by seemingly serendipitous finds of related videos and songs over a number of days.  It was one of those times when one’s attention is primed to pick up on such things more frequently and with greater ease. It seemed natural, then, to assume that I would write my reflections this week on such a weighty, important, and pressing question: How do we live when we really know that we are going to die?

But I’m not going to. At least not right now.

Maybe it was because I really do want to write about this question and these experiences, and perhaps also because I appreciate the gravity that can surround their consideration, that I found myself feeling quite adverse to the idea of doing so. From my own experience, I know that it is inappropriate (if not downright offensive) to talk to people about what they might be going through and how they should handle their feelings. In those situations, the most important thing one can do is just be present, sit with the experience, and listen. So I had a weird little moment when I thought, “Ugh. I don’t want to come off as that person.” And I totally blame Twitter and Facebook for my hesitation to write. Continue reading

The Most Desirable Pain

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Like small, delicate, little bubble worlds unto ourselves we emerge, take shape, grow, travel, and move. And then we meet others, at a particular moment for (what we may not always realize is) an indeterminate amount of time. Sometimes we touch. We cling. We gather and crowd. Then other times we separate. Eventually, at some point, one or both or all move away, go away, disappear. There are others, of course. Always others. But there was also that one. Those few. Those others before. And for that time, while we were, we were close. Extraordinarily close. Continue reading