Weekly Photo Challenge: In The Flooded Forest

In The Flooded Forest

Within the depths of the Academy of Sciences, there’s a tunnel called the Flooded Forest. People can sit there for hours and see all kinds of fish drifting overhead. It’s inspiring to see; no matter where you’re from or what language you speak, nature is fascinating for everyone. Larger version is viewable here.

Smarter Every Day: A Baffling Balloon Behavior

Video

What happens when you drive with a balloon in your car? It’s more complicated than you think. SmarterEveryDay’s Destin (and his kids!) break it down.

Playing Nice

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being nice. As in, the nicest thing you’ve ever done. This one’s actually a bit unusual for me. Not because I’m some kind of raging sociopath (most of the time, anyway), but because I don’t see my niceness as anything particularly special. Rather, it’s more like common sense; of course I’m going to hold the door open for the next person. Of course I’ll give up my subway seat for the elderly. Of course I’m going to thank someone for helping me. I’m not the cheeriest person on the planet, but I understand the importance of being nice. It’s really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day problems and forget that yes, other people have lives too. When I worked in banking, my coworkers and management would marvel at the patience and kindness I gave to all my clients, be they little old Chinese women who barely spoke English, blind, homeless, strippers, lawyers, office workers, police, tattoo artists, etc. Their social standings didn’t matter to me; when you remove all the extra stuff, there’s still a human being underneath. And the kindness paid off well; even chronically rude clients were civil whenever I was handling their business.

I think my niceness has a lot do with being around older generations. Even growing up, I’d much prefer hanging out with the adults than anyone my age. I’ve been nicknamed The Old One on more than one occasion. For better or worse, it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of aging and my future. If you’ve ever had to take care of an elderly relative, you probably know all about this. Learning about diabetes, cancer, disabilities, stress, depression, comas, cataracts, tumors, memory loss, blood sugar, blood pressure, metabolism, bone fragility, transfusions…I’ve spent more time sitting in hospitals than any near-30 year-old should. Not because I’m sick, but because I try support and help relatives who are. Pushing wheelchairs, picking up prescriptions, just the little stuff that most young people take for granted. You want to learn patience? Try helping someone who can barely stand up. Most youths – and mainstream culture, really – try to brush aside any reminder of their mortality. Me? I face it every day, simply because someone has to help.

But as far as the best one-on-one niceness moments go, it’d probably be my interactions with children. There’s an unspoken understanding in my family that I’m good with kids. Even I was surprised by it; I’m the weird, quiet one that prefers books over social interaction. You’d think I’d be the last person for the job. But if I’m trapped at a family gathering with no peaceful hiding places, I’ll invariably end up watching the little ones. Mainly because most of the adults don’t bother; they would rather sit around getting drunk, arguing, or gossiping. If I get to see everyone only a couple of times a year, of course I rather play with the kids than bicker with the adults. Someone’s got to make sure the kids are doing okay. And amazingly, they usually listen to me. Even the typically loud and bratty ones! I think it’s because I treat them like people without being a pushover; I’m much more polite, but I don’t baby talk down to them. The other adults have caught on to this, and have used me as a way to talk kids into playing outside, reading more, etc.

And getting a shy kid to open up a little bit, too.

There’s one memory comes to mind. About ten summers ago, I got to stay with a family friend over in Washington D.C. As night fell, we decided to go out and tour some of the national monuments. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but we were walking along this line of trees in a park. My host’s little girl had gotten separated from the group, so I doubled back to make sure she was okay. I knew where the others were headed, but it was too foggy and poorly lit to see them. I looked down at the little kid and noticed how quiet and shaky she’d gotten.

Me: Wow. It’s really dark out here, huh?

Her: Y-yeah, it is. But that’s okay! I’m not scared! I-I can see real good in the dark!

Me: Uh huh. I’m probably not as good at it as you. Can I hold your hand? I don’t wanna get lost.

Her: Yeah, okay!

So we held hands and rejoined the rest of the group. The little girl never left my side, and fell asleep snuggling against me on the ride back home. Her parents thanked me profusely for watching her later on. Like most of my acts of kindness and/or common sense, I’m just glad that I could help.

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion, Or: The Unseen Party

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt involves confusion. Or rather, a time when you felt out of place. This one’s kind of hard for me because there’s too many moments from which to choose. I’m really self-conscious in social situations. I’m what you’d probably consider a textbook introvert. I could write novellas just on what that’s like. I’m utterly unflappable in dangerous situations or when traveling abroad. I try to be polite and congenial to anyone that strikes up conversation with me, even though it leaves me exhausted. And for whatever reason, people like talking to me. But in a closer, more personal setting with a large group of people? I’ll carefully, stealthily slip into a corner, whip out a book I’d smuggled past the watchful eyes of my peers, and try to avoid making contact with anyone. It’s not that I despise people outright, it’s just that I find such situations insanely uncomfortable and tiring. Nor is it about arrogance; I just have a soft voice (which strikes people as odd given my appearance), and most of what I talk about goes right over peoples’ heads. Let’s see you try to explain the latest news from CERN or the finer points of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and not be met with blank stares. My interests aren’t what most would consider ”normal”. Whatever that means. The ensuing silence is awkward and makes me wish I hadn’t bothered at all. I think and work way better when I don’t have to juggle it with reading facial expressions and cues. The fact that introversion is considered to be abnormal by current social expectations makes it even worse; I’m all-too aware of the confused stares and contemptuous mutterings of people who just don’t “get” introversion.

Double standards, anyone?

However, I’m not blind to the necessity of social interaction. No man is an island (more on that later, I promise); human beings are wired for interpersonal communication. It’s how innovation and culture develop. It’s totally possible to come up with findings on your own – just read up on the discoveries of Henry Cavendish – but the process is much easier when you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of other people’s perspectives. I think it ends up being more of a matter of pacing and exposure than anything else.

So how do people balance it?

I’m not sure. I’m still really uncomfortable in social situations, but I don’t completely shut people out. This is probably best exemplified in a party I recently attended. It was the birthday of a young boy of a family friend, aged maybe 8 or 9 at most. What I noticed – and this a trend common in pretty much any kids’ party I’ve ever seen – was that all the adults tended to congregate together. They’d sit around drinking, watching a game on the TV, etc. But no one was talking to the kid. You know, the entire reason for the party in the first place? He wandered near where I was reading, with the unmistakable grimace of boredom and loneliness plastered across his face. I felt bad for him, so I decided to put the book down and talk:

Me: Hey, dude. What’s going on?

Him: (sighs) There’s nothing to do.

Me: What do you mean? Where are your friends?

Him: (dejectedly) We just moved here, so I don’t have any.

Me: Yeah, that sucks. What would’ve you done if they were here?

Him: (sighs) I dunno.

Me: Aw, come on. What do you like to do?

Him: (glances at my copy of The Geeks’ Guide To World Domination) …I kinda like to read…

Me: Uh huh. What else do you like to do?

Him: (shyly looking down)...Well, I have this big box of LEGOs. But I don’t know what to build…

Me: Hey, cool! LEGOs are awesome! If you bring them out, we can build lots of stuff!

Him: (confused)You want to play LEGOs with me?

Me: Sure, dude. Let’s see what we can make!

Him: (a huge grin on his face) Okay!

Over the course of three hours, the two of us dug through his box of LEGO bricks. He had plenty of ideas, and he excitedly showed off his creations to any adult who would give him a second glance. In the meantime, I focused on building a single, massive spaceship for him. By the time it was time for me to leave, I had crafted something so huge he had to carry it with both arms. He proudly showed it off to his parents, who were shocked what the nearly-silent bookworm they had ignored the entire party had done for their child. I may have disliked being in that situation, but the grin on that kid’s face made my awkward efforts worth it.

I’d still rather read, though.