Thursday, January 05, 2017

Friday Fragments

Is there any purer expression of hope than a kid’s on a night with a winter storm coming, eagerly wishing for a snow day?

If there is, I haven’t seen it.


I read a lovely term somewhere earlier this week: microaffirmations.  They’re sort of like microaggressions, but positive.  

The people I have most liked working for have trafficked heavily in microaffirmations.  I’m a believer in them, whether as a parent, a teacher, or a manager.  

Really good microaffirmations use “micro” in the sense of “narrowly focused.”  In other words, they show that someone is paying attention.  It’s noticing when someone chooses to take the high road in a difficult situation, and mentioning it approvingly right after.  Or it’s taking a moment in a meeting to call attention to an especially good point that almost got glossed over.  Even something as simple as admitting “I hadn’t thought of that” can go a long way.

In my reading, the term “microaggressions” is usually used to denote racism, sexism, or other forms of enacted bias.  Microaffirmations are particularly meaningful when used in the other direction.  That can be the man in the meeting who echoes, with attribution, the smart comment by a woman that got ignored.  (The attribution is the most important part.  “Wait, I think we’ve lost sight of the great point that Jen made about…”)  The key is to be, well, affirming, rather than condescending.  It’s the difference between “I really liked how you phrased that,” which is both affirming and specific, and “you’re so articulate,” which implies surprise and therefore insult.

I’m not sure where the term came from, but it gives a name to one of my favorite things.  Thank you, unknown author…


The recent Times piece about men refusing to train for jobs mostly identified with women was a bit of a mixed bag, but it had some wisdom accidentally buried in it.

I don’t consider it mysterious that someone who used to make, say, 50k balks at taking a job that pays 30.  That seems straightforward enough, even if it seems clear from the outside that the old 50k job isn’t coming back.  I get that.  And anyone with a vague sense of the sociology of the job market knows that “female dominated” and “lower paid” tend to go together.

But the story reminded me of a great piece from a few years ago -- I’m thinking Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote it, but he may have just cited it -- titled something like “Don’t Be Yourself.  It’s Limiting.”  The gist of it was that a narrow or brittle sense of who you are can needlessly prevent you from jumping into situations that could change you for the better.  Good self-awareness involves some humility about how self-aware you actually are.  

One of the concessions of middle age has been developing a more forgiving sense of self.  Not having to be _exactly_ what I thought I was going to be allows a lot more room to improvise.  Sorting out what really needs to be constant -- a sort of ethical true north -- from what can change  takes some life experience, and it’s never perfect, but it’s worth the effort.

In academia, for instance, some perfectly capable people seem to have categorial blocks against going into administration.  They think they aren’t the sort of person who would do such a thing.  In some cases, that’s for the best, but I’ve seen some mediocrities move up because better people sat on the bench.  There’s something to be said for taking calculated risks.

The Times article doesn’t do a great job of separating identity-based objections from salary-based objections, but it’s at least circling something worth examining.


Heard yesterday in speech by local politician:

“We are the greatest nation in the United States of America.”

Well, okay then.