Sunday, May 23, 2010

Simon Cowell and Basic Obedience Class: the examined life

   Piper came home today, forever!  She is a wonderful little creature, and it's as if she has always been a part of our family.  More about her as she gets settled in, and I see if I am up to sticking to the training plan (yes, plan!) I've made for us.  The clicker and a dream, and a dear sweet little bird, my Piper.

   Oddly, why I love American Idol is the same reason why Piper will attend a Basic Obedience and Manners class. 

   The reality TV I've seen can be divided into two categories: 1) infomercial, and 2) learning experience.  Take the Dog Whisperer for instance.  Which I watch occasionally, out of curiosity.  The performer = the narrator = the judge of how the performance goes.  Highly edited.  Cesar Millan tells you what needs to be done, does it, and then tells you how well it was done.  He chooses canine body language that his training methods elicit, and he holds these up as the standard ("Calm Submissive" and/or "intimidated into non-action" depending on your interpretation, but viewers are only given Cesar's interpretation....if you want another opinion, you're going to have to find it elsewhere.)  Not a surprise that each "solution" he provides is a grand triumph...when he's writing the test questions and the score sheets, and any clips that don't fit end up on the cutting room floor.  Some of his work on the show is great, some is OK, and some is absolutely revolting - but in the show, all are gospel.  And it will remain as-is, static, status quo, show after show.  Message: he's fabulous, what's to improve?  Remove Cesar Millan, replace with ShamWow, and you have yourself an infomercial complete with (only) glowing testimonials.  Though I hate to cast dispersions on the ShamWow, which by all accounts is a lovely product.  Plus no one's hiding the fact that they're trying to SELL you the ShamWow. 

   Contrast with American Idol, or any of the reality shows where there is a panel of evaluators, that are filmed live.  This is the kind I'm addicted to, now that Tivo allows me to follow the story without being a slave to the TV Guide.  You get to watch someone do something, then get to hear several differing, objective evaluations by experts in the field.  No editing, no time for everyone to get on the same page.  FAR more interesting, seeing the whole picture.  There may not be any REASON for me to be able to tell a fabulous Tango from a mediocre one, or to know if a singer was "pitchy" but hey, I like learning, and I enjoy honing my observation skills.  And if I'm going to learn, I'm not going to take the actor's/ singer's/ dancer's/ trainer's word for it.  Nor should I.  It really doesn't matter how great a performer Cesar Millan is, or not - but the life left unexamined is lacking in richness, and lacking in learning.  It is unidimensional and boring.  Now, add Dr. Sophia Yin's commentary on Dog Whisperer video clips, and now you've got something -  - performance AND objective evaluation!  Pros and cons, things to look for as an informed viewer.  If you aren't interested in all this, just stick to NCIS, because fiction gets to do whatever it wants, and NCIS is great fiction.

   Which leads me to two truths (in my view):  First - The examined life is a better life.  That is, if you're interested at all in being a better, smarter, and more capable person tomorrow than you are today.  Objective observation and feedback are absolutely crucial to learning how to do something, or how to do it better.  While I have taught the curriculum of the Basic class to many students, I will still benefit greatly from having the wonderful Sue lead us in our exercises, encourage us, observe Piper and I with an educated eye, and provide vital feedback.  One just CANNOT be both doer and observer/evaluator and expect to expand one's horizons.  I've come to believe that those that solicit and act on feedback are in a very separate category than those who do not - and are capable of so much more.  Individuals who take on mentors and solicit feedback from their employees, coworkers, and bosses are consistently better at their jobs.

Piper, doing some examination of her own...

   Second truth:  It's good to see real and genuine emotion in others.  Fear, trepidation, gratitude, enjoyment, bitterness, triumph.  These are so apparent on the faces of the Idol contestants, as they make their larger-than-life journeys.  Sometimes their expressions and words do not flatter them, but as real-time (or DVRed) viewers we are not shielded from this humanity.  And... I LOVE this part - jerks get voted out.  As it turns out, people don't like those who are petty, spiteful, and ungrateful.  And we get to see these kids free of the repackaging and merchandising of more established celebrities.  Season after season, we raise up those that are gracious, humble, and worthy in all their uncut glory.  If only the rest of life were so fair.  Possibly, if we had more panel discussions and took on more mentors...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hell is a Pampered Chef party where you don't know anyone

   It's interesting how studying canine behavior makes you more tuned-in to human behavior.  The "dog-people" I know are also some of the most self-aware and empathetic.  There are studies that show that as you learn canine body language and facial expressions, you are better able to interpret people's emotions based on expressions and body language (and vice-versa, but oddly I think more people start with dogs) - and that with both, once you are able to see it, you cannot "un-see" it.  You learn to tune in, and you train yourself to stop looking past it.  For better or worse, this skill is yours forever.  It's why I have a hard time watching The Dog Whisperer on TV, and enduring "come to Jesus" meetings at work, but that's another post...

   Here is an always-in-progress study on me, appropriate for my journal, and I guess for you too since I've had two glasses of Shiraz: 
   I always thought of myself as more of a cattle dog - secure in the world, no fears, no baggage, confronting the world with a "Yes! Let's do that!  The whole world is awesome, and I can deal with whatever comes!" attitude.  And to an extent, this is true.  However, as I contemplate my pending border collie ownership, it seems I have a little BC as well, in the form of weird phobias.  I hope that like the border collie, I remain lovable in my weirdness, somehow still not fragile for my faults, and have other gifts that make hanging out with me worthwhile.  I'd better not get a Anatolian Shepherd, because that's way outside of my wheelhouse.

   I am easygoing, tolerant, affiliative, and calm in the face of adversity.  In fact, I am so calm in the face of adversity, I now recognize shades of the shutting down and super-slow-mo that dogs go into when they are over the threshold at which they can effectively cope with a situation.  Strangely, I think people mis-interpret it the same way as with dogs that have shut down (usually from constant punishment) - lovely behavior, with no indication of an issue.  Polite.  Reserved.  Good for me most of the time - it's generally nice for people to think you are unflappable.  I can't recall that last time I was "flapped," if that's even a word.  To strangers I am generally quite kind, and - like many of you, whether you wish to admit it or not - I reserve my least kind behavior for my family and close friends, who will love me no matter what.  I am an unapologetic, unbridled optimist.  This makes me want to leave the house on a Saturday with no plan, knowing an adventure awaits.  I truly enjoy other people's successes and happiness, and I don't think I've felt anything like envy in a long, long time.

   Here's the thing.  As it turns out, I am WAY weird.  (And you're either saying "and, what's the news..." or "what?! You're supposed to be the solid person in our friendship!"  Sorry to break it to you, if you're in the latter category.)   I HATE the dentist.  This is actually where this started, I finally went to the dentist after I'm not going to share how long.  I don't think it's accurate to say it's fear, because I know I will be OK, but I HATE the dentist, and it causes me serious, palpable anxiety - enough to keep me away when I fully recognize the value of preventative healthcare, enough to keep my heart rate raised an hour after I left the office.  I think I may have to blame the Army healthcare system, if you really want to know the truth - a culture of "suck it up and drive on" in the face of pain does not make for a good dental visit.  I now have two more appointments (Scrape-O-Rama I and II) and "dread" about sums it up.  If the hygienist I saw at the first time wasn't surprisingly skilled at behavior modification through positive reinforcement (I'm guessing this is a fortunate accident, being praised for each bite plate), I do not think I would be keeping my next two appointments with her.  I also think that if I wasn't open to seeing my own anxiety, I could not deal with it as effectively (at least enough so that I'll actually go back.)  And revealing my anxiety just might have made the difference, in that my lovely hygienist was able to bring her A-game - and make sure I didn't leave the premises without making a follow-up appointment.  If you think you don't have something like this, I encourage you to really do some soul searching- because until I actually WENT to the dentist, I was able to avoid the whole thing and pretend it wasn't an issue.  I feel the same way about great white sharks, and being that I don't spend a lot of time in the ocean, and am well aware of the statistical improbability I will ever encounter one, I find this one pretty odd too.  Even though they DO have really, really big teeth, if there isn't one around, one should probably not be concerned.  Particularly when I kind of like snakes, and they are right in my backyard and potentially more dangerous - well mostly harmless, but more dangerous than nonexistent great white sharks.

   I am also SHY and totally uncomfortable in crowds of new people.  But I find human contact and interaction so rewarding that I do it anyway - I teach dog training classes with tons of new people, and seek out other people's company.  The classroom is MY place, where I feel comfortable, either as student or as teacher.   But try taking me to a Pampered Chef party where I don't know anyone and then heading to the bathroom and leaving me alone - if I go to hell it will be a Pampered Chef party where I don't know anyone.  And I don't need a spatula.  Oh wait, you won't notice anything because I will just be in slow-mo and looking totally polite like I'm enthralled with someone's conversations about their children (really? you're not noticing something odd there?)

    I also see it more when people are uncomfortable now.  And when they're quietly joyful, which is cool.  But mostly, dogs and people seem to spend more than their share of time being uncomfortable.  We should do something about that, but we'd have to all notice it first.  I recommend a dog training class.