Mahler’s Musings

07.08.2012 Mahler's Musings Comments Off on Don’t believe everything you think

Don’t believe everything you think

I’m running the other day (truthfully, barely slogging up a hill) and see a bumper sticker with this quote on it and it speaks to me.  So I take a close look and it’s made by but I take the time to look up what might be the source.  And, of course, when you look you find that there are many seeming precursors to the bumper sticker such as a song by Lee Brice, a book by Thomas Kida and maybe even a lecture by Dr. Wayne Dwyer.  Enough said except that — caveat emptor – the quote is not original.  But why did it speak to me?  That is easy from a Culture as Comfort perspective.  That is, as children we learn to view our worlds and thus to think according to what we get exposed to—good, bad or indifferent.  If we repeat these ideas and patterns of behavior as we tend to do, they become not only more real to us, they become second nature and thus very, very difficult to question.  To question what we think and how we think is not easy if we take it for normality with the strong undertone of morality in normality.  Therefore, we have to work hard to not believe what we think in order to do culture more mindfully.

07.08.2012 Mahler's Musings Comments Off on Utopia or dystopia? What will the effects be of women earning as much/more than men?

Utopia or dystopia? What will the effects be of women earning as much/more than men?

When I was growing up in the 1970s as the only daughter in a family with three sons and a domineering father, I struggled to be valued as a female.  My father told my older brother to “take care of me” when we walked to school and to “take care of the family” when my dad was gone on a business trip.  I grew up largely ignorant of the Women’s Movement despite the fact that it overlapped with my adolescence (we lived in a small town among other reasons) but I was a firm participant in my own small world.  When I reached high school, Title IX was implemented and all of a sudden the sporting world—to which I had largely been shut out as a child, jealously watching from the stands as my older brother played Little League—needed me!  I played basketball and softball, learned to throw shot put and discus and I ran the mile.  I was never that good but when no one else is that good because everyone is learning the sport it’s not that hard to feel valued for whatever contributions you made.  And I did win on occasion, especially in discus.  In those hard years of adolescence it seems impossible to think that the day would come when society needed to worry about boys rather than girls.  But we second-class citizens were raring to show our stuff and we steadily moved into the few slots opened up for us.  We went to college and demanded Women’s Studies and we fought against misogynistic societies and practices.  We entered different occupations but rapidly our heads hit glass ceilings and the ERA was defeated

When I was growing up in the 1970s as the only daughter in a family with three sons and a domineering father, I struggled to be valued as a female.  My father told my older brother to “take care of me” when we walked to school and to “take care of the family” when my dad was gone on a business trip.  I grew up largely ignorant of the Women’s Movement despite the fact that it overlapped with my adolescence (we lived in a small town among other reasons) but I was a firm participant in my own small world.  When I reached high school, Title IX was implemented and all of a sudden the sporting world—to which I had largely been shut out as a child, jealously watching from the stands as my older brother played Little League—needed me!  I played basketball and softball, learned to throw shot put and discus and I ran the mile.  I was never that good but when no one else is that good because everyone is learning the sport it’s not that hard to feel valued for whatever contributions you made.  And I did win on occasion, especially in discus.  In those hard years of adolescence it seems impossible to think that the day would come when society needed to worry about boys rather than girls.  But we second-class citizens were raring to show our stuff and we steadily moved into the few slots opened up for us.  We went to college and demanded Women’s Studies and we fought against misogynistic societies and practices.  We entered different occupations but rapidly our heads hit glass ceilings and the ERA was defeated—affirming to us and seemingly to the rest of the world that we were still being kept behind our potential.

My times have changed.  It’s not that females have achieved equal status with our male counterparts.  Maybe it’s a question of measurement…what do we mean by “equal” anyway?  Equal pay for equal work?  We often don’t really work in the same sectors but statistics show we now earn about 80 cents of every male dollar, up from only 60% at the end of the 70s.  What about measuring equal in academic achievement?  With this measure girls are outpacing boys in most every way now…Sixty percent of all those in higher education are female and among people with bachelors degrees we are nearing the 2/3 mark.  So, is it time for celebration as Liza Mundy argues in her new book Breadwomen: The Richer Sex? It might seem so unless you take a view a bit down the timeline.  My father used to argue at the dinner table that gender is a zero-sum game.  If women rise, men must fall.  I never believed that then and I still do not (though it is a neat argument).  However, the contemporary world I live in certainly looks like males are losing ground and fast… Arguably they are losing ground largely to alpha males’ decisions about economics but the key in this particular case is not necessarily to ask why (which is always what I tend to do so it’s odd I am now not advocating that approach), but, rather, what are the consequences and how can they be addressed?

That is, I argue, we need to think about a world in which larger and larger percentages of the male population across the globe is increasingly irrelevant.  My colleagues in global development talk of females surging everywhere which would seem something to herald, especially since females tend to transfer their good fortune on to their offspring more than males do.  But what will we do with tens and indeed hundreds of millions of males whose lives are less and less important to their societies?  It seems to me that it’s a recipe for disharmony if not disaster.  Males who cannot be financially stable are less eligible for marriage and what do they do with their pent up sexual appetites?  What do under- and unemployed males do to establish their belonging in the world when their female counterparts are employed and often overemployed—working not only second but also third shifts?  Where does all this need for males to feel important and valued in society go under these circumstances?  The traditional outlets are all well-known and not terribly cheerful—war and other types of competition and violence, control of females, establishment and enforcement of rules that control and contain forces of change, particularly those forces that appear to undermine the males’ social position.  The tech sector is another great hiding place.  High paying and high social status jobs, this sector is highly unfriendly toward females.  My daughter knows; she’s there and aware.  There still are some oases for blue collar workers too.  I see women holding the “slow” and “stop” signs in road construction sites but rarely are they driving the muscular machines.  And, of course, the rising fundamentalisms around the world emphasize males as domestic and societal leaders—one of the few characteristics uniting as opposed to dividing them.  Yet, despite these areas the overall picture for an increasing percentage of males is more gloomy than arguably ever before in human history.

We really do have to care about this.  One can try to argue that today is justice for millennia of female subjugation.  Males are societies’ destructive members after all.  They commit way, way more crimes and chaos than their percentage in the population.  If they were not our sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers then we might argue that they should be separated out in society and “rehabilitated”.  (Of course that does not mean females would ever have the power to do so…but this essay is speculative.)  So what do we do?  We really, really need to address the underutilized male segment of society effectively.  Even more urgent since now there is much less need for their physical labor as in yesteryears.  At least with high levels of physical exertion as food foraging hunters and farmer, males could invest their testosterone and frustrations into productive activities but in a post-industrial era wherein most men end up, arguably, fat and frustrated what solutions can there be?  With females, frustration is relatively attenuated through conversation, communication. But for males in general communication is about competition not about stress-relief.  Increase sex?  Bonobos handle social stress this way and they are our closest primate cousins.  Make love not war?  I’m not at all sure that would even do it in a world where all sorts of resources are so unequally “distributed”.

So the question I pose is, “How do we make sure that males are relevant in a world in which female relevancy is rising dramatically?”  To rephrase my father’s formula:  How can females’ lives be improved without that translating males feeling disempowered?  I don’t have the answer, but I do believe that a good place to start looking is sport.  The brain sciences show us that as we exercise our brains emit endorphins and this provides in us feelings of wellbeing.  Sex does this too.  Boys spend many waking hours playing sports but with age these hours become less and less.  And in the digital age, more of the playing is in front of video games—for males of all ages.  Getting up and playing is an important antidote to the ailing male, albeit surely not a total antidote.  Perhaps another is the male organization—the Rotarians and the Elks Club and the like, institutions where men can belong, be male and also do social good.  Get them out of the house and doing something with one another.  Female partners will have to be more tolerant of these types of male-male activities than we might be accustomed to when we want “companionate” relationships unlike the parallel relationships (the men’s room and the women’s room) of yesteryear.   And we might have to be less judgmental if guys are going to be allowed to socialize with other guys without jumping to conclusions about their sexual orientation.

Don’t have all the answers here, but society truly needs to invest the time to into males’ self-worth so I welcome your ideas…. —affirming to us and seemingly to the rest of the world that we were still being kept behind our potential.


23.03.2012 Mahler's Musings 4 Comments

Personality Stability, Cultural Flux

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our minds carve out the sensation of stability and continuity in a world of continual flux.  What continual flux, you ask?  Well, at a minimum there is day into night, season into season, life into death, etc. all the time.  Children grow up, neighborhoods change and so on.  That’s not counting changes in world affairs, technology, climate and so on.  Let’s leave those to the side for a moment and just think about the first fluxes.   Think in terms of circularity – that these changes are not linear but circular and repeated; thus, the stability we feel despite all this change might be derived from the predictability of these cycles.  And I argue that predictability is really the key factor for the brain.  Without predictability our brains would devote too much energy to trying to figure things out constantly, over and over again.  When most of what we experience is packaged into known routines which are stored and recalled when needed, then we don’t have to spend that energy re-analyzing similar experiences as they occur.  That’s how, as I like to say, “new” becomes “known.”

We do live at a point in human existence when cultural change does feel faster and faster (although people writing a century or so ago also expressed similar feelings of huge changes.  After all, a hundred years ago peasants were being converted into workers at an unprecedented pace and agricultural life was being whisked away from most people and replaced by urban, industrial life…).  If we feel this, then how is it that we feel any stability at all in a proverbial “sea of change”?  As I think about it, I return to what I wrote about in the first paragraph.  As a cultural species, we learn cultural practices as routines, as ritualized behaviors and they are stored in our neural wiring.  They reside largely in our subconscious.  Repeating similar behaviors (and thinking similar thoughts) provides a great mechanism for feeling stability during times of great change.  Try it out with your personal routines.  Maybe you’re feeling stressed out.  A perfect antidote is a personal ritual that you can do which is calming because it’s known not new and because it’s repeated which makes it predictable.  If it’s a routine that takes just a little bit of conscious thought, even better.  In that case, it will take your conscious mind away from its fretting and planning so that you stop those worries and just “rest” with the routine.   Meditation and yoga can be great for this but you can invent any ritual which does the trick.

But there is an additional factor I’ve been thinking about and that’s personality.   Psychologists and others who write about personality typically argue that it is quite stable across the lifespan.  We have something that is often referred to as a “set point” which means that we know what is our own normal state of mind and emotions.  We might get anxious or depressed or exuberant or stressed for a while, but we will return to our personality set point and feel ourselves being “back to normal.”  Normal for each of us, that is.   Which leads me to another point.

I find it really interesting and quite fascinating that a randomizing factor in human life (personality) plays quite the opposite role (i.e. stability) in our perception of life.  Let me explain.  If you have not already read this book, I highly recommend reading Quirk by Hannah Holmes.   It is very accessible and even entertaining.  What Holmes argues is that personality is a complex concept with different aspects to it.  Each person’s “personality” is actually an amalgam of different factors.  We get only about half of our personality amalgam genetically and the other half seems to be a random draw.  This helps explain why children raised in the same household can be so different.  What’s more, it is not just people who have personalities but animals as well.  And this is for important evolutionary reasons.  For example, take risk.  Some animals need to take more personal risk while others need to be more reticent.  A species needs both types in order for the species to survive during different circumstances.  Resources are scarce?  You want a risk taker to go out and look for new resources.  Resources abundant?  You don’t want to lose members of your group who take risks that are costly; you want members who are good at preserving what you have for a rainy day.  And the same is true for other components of personality.  When you take different individuals’ mixes of different factors, you get a whole lot of variation in “personality” which means that even if you have cultural norms that everyone abides by, you are still going to have the recipe for cultural change due to different people doing different things, taking different approaches, etc.  That’s how personality can introduce variation into a pretty stable cultural system – as would have been more likely in generations gone by than for today.  (Just imagine an individual living in a food foraging society who likes to innovate – take some risks.  Even if the rest of the group tries to quell this person’s quirkiness, she may succeed in finding a new way to do something that is useful to her group before being pressured to conform…) The point is that the quirks of personality would produce on occasion variations, as it does today.

However, from the perspective of any given individual, personality helps provide psychological stability even as different personalities might produce cultural variations or shifts.  And in our world today with so much change all around us, this sensation of stability with our own personality set point can provide emotional security.  We need security and most of our security comes from subconscious predictability, I argue.  Subconsciously we can thus predict ourselves which is, of course, very helpful.  Our everyday lives are full of moving from one cultural context to another and what seems to be resilient to these changes is our own personality.  We do shift a lot of how we interact with others based on context but we typically do not view our personality as shifting.

Now the question I am wondering about and would love to get your comments on is whether or not the stability we derive from our personality set point subconsciously makes our cultural life appear more stable than it actually is.  To say it another way, does the experience of having a largely stable personality aid us in producing, subconsciously, the expectation that our “culture” (most of us think of ourselves as having A culture much like we think we have A personality) is also stable – or at least should be stable?  If we have this expectation as I suspect, then this might help us understand why so many people resist cultural change.  We think of cultural change as the exception, not the norm.  I think of cultural change as quite normative and there are lots of good reasons why.  But if most people think of culture as a “thing” and, much like personality, they regard it as stable and enduring, then this would help explain resistance to changes in culture, especially resistance to changes that appear to be exerted from outside one’s group.

Just my musings for today.  What do you think?  Please comment.

09.02.2012 Mahler's Musings 1 Comment

Feb 3 Theory of Mind and the Arts

Have to admit that I have recently had a reconciliation with the Arts.  It took seeing about a half dozen museums during my trip to Portugal and Spain last month and a lot of associational thinking to Culture as Comfort but I think I am finally there.  Where? You might ask.  Well, here’s the background.

I believe it started when I was a kid growing up in rural Upstate New York in the midst of an upper middle class family with strong associations to New York City and being taken, typically by my very elitist grandmother (more on her later) to museums.  This was not really appealing to me – and to a lot of kids I might add.  I was set to walk in front of what were said to be masterpieces—I most strongly remember going to the Frick Museum in NY—and wondering why I was there.  (My favorite memory of that particular trip was seeing a painting by El Greco of a man with an extremely long, rugged looking face with a forlorn look and somehow identifying with him.)  From my (paternal) grandmother’s point of view, what she was trying to do was to instill some “culture” into her country-bumpkin grandchildren growing up way, way too wild and untamed in the hinterlands far away from the centers of learning and, of course, culture.  Now my grandmother became quite the upper crust person she wanted to be after a childhood in which her father died leaving her family destitute so my grandmother, as many before her, resolved (I believe for we never spoke about this) to never be destitute again.  She ended up getting herself into and then through college, married a second-generation immigrant from Germany who, like herself, had pulled up his own bootstraps (they met in Statistics class at Columbia University) and they settled down to a life where he provided a good income as a banker.  They lived in Scarsdale, NY which as some of you reading this may know is one of the older close suburbs to New York City in Westchester County and reputed to have the best schools.  Well, they lived there but did not enjoy the top of society (first generation middle-classdom would never earn that status) and I think my grandmother always felt looked down upon by her surrounding society so it was even worse when her ragamuffin grandchildren would visit and now know how to dress (we dressed absolutely awful as family photos attest but we had access to only one pre-Walmart days but Walmart type store so that explains it).  I was the worst because (1) I was a granddaughter and she didn’t appreciate girls much and (2) I had little to no interest in wearing pretty clothes and trying to fit into higher society.  I was a dyed-in-the-wool tomboy.  OK.  Enough of these musings on how I got to feel a strong antipathy for museums and particularly for efforts, albeit with good intentions, at teaching me to utilize knowledge of the Arts to negotiate my social status.  I understand that now, but I was lost during the key moments I was being instructed by my grandmother! (Well, and my mother tried too but she came from the wrong side of the Scarsdale tracks so she didn’t have as much instruction from her parents and only earned my grandmother’s scorn.)

Now as I return to my insights let me summarize the above paragraph by saying that I acquired early in life little interest in and a great deal of distaste for anything that smacked of scaling social class.  And I knew that going to museums and to the theater were mechanisms to enculturate me into an elite class status.  So I rejected them.  This rejection lasted well through college and graduate school and, I must admit, into my adulthood and professional life.  Such are the cultural comforts we learn as youngsters.  However, and this is a big HOWEVER, I always wondered if there were anything more to High Culchah than what I had learned and rejected early on.  As my career progressed, I noted with that feeling of satisfaction pretty much only academics feel (well, at least I think so since I don’t ask non-academics) that I had figured things out.  Patronizing the Arts (AKA High Culchah) was indeed principally about the fungibility of monetary capital for social and cultural capital.   The upper crust invested their monies not in resolving the world’s most crushing problems, I reasoned smugly, but in earning even higher social status by acquiring works of Art and by patronizing live theater, museums, etc.   They, to use the terms I most prefer, do “Boundary Work” this way; buying themselves into social circumstances that are too expensive for the rest of society and thus creating spaces in which they can relate to, network with, etc. other elites.  It costs a whole bunch of money to have this type of access but it’s worth the investment because you are, indeed, negotiating status not within the broader society but within a small sliver of the broader public and in that small sliver there is a lot of competition for status.  How better to establish how erudite, knowledgeable, etc. you are than by purchasing unique (and that’s important) works of art and displaying them in your home—a place that only people of your social circle can be invited?  If you want to be seen doing Boundary Work, then go to expensive live theater, the opera, classical music concerts and wear your expensive, one-of-a-kind designer outfits and jewelry.  The vast majority of society cannot go there because they cannot buy in so you are just competing with your own class.  And, of course, the masses do their own variety of Boundary Work by rejecting the elite as snobs and who wants to spend their time with snobs.  So this whole scenario solves the great issue of separation of society’s classes right?  Well, right but what I’ve learned in the past month or so is that it’s a very important part of the story but not the whole story.  I think I’ve added another important chapter to the story and using the story metaphor is really key because when talking Theory of Mind and the Arts, understanding stories is the conceptual fulcrum.

Here’s the connection:  Psychologists coined the term “Theory of Mind” to mean that we humans have the capacity to understand that others do not think exactly as we do.  We are not the same.  We have different minds.  Well, this is not an understanding we’re born with; we seem to be born with the capacity to understand this but it’s not something we develop before the second year of life or third.  Until then, babies basically think everyone thinks as they do.  What helps them understand others’ minds?  Among humans, stories full of different characters is one of the key if not THE key mechanism.  Think about it.  With young children we spend an inordinate amount of time telling them or reading them stories or allowing them to watch stories on TV, videos, etc.  And the characters are typically anthropomorphized.  By that I mean that we make barnyard animals (we’ve not been a rural society for over 100 years but still teach kids stories using animals) into people.  This is an abstraction, really a third-level abstraction.  What I mean by this is that kids are exposed to people telling stories about animals which symbolically represent people.  Even more important is that these stories help teach children about the mental states of others.  Stories—and a great explanation of this can be found in Robin Dunbar’s easy-to-read-book How Many Friends Does One Person Need? –transport us into the mental states of others.  When listening to a story, watching a play or movie, etc. our minds become occupied in the present moment (not thinking about what we have to do tomorrow or what we did yesterday) and engaged in what others are thinking and doing.  So we enter the mental and physical worlds of others.  Plus, since we’re exposed to multiple characters at the same time and get to see how these characters think about and engage with each other, we are transported into a complex social world in which we get to see how others strategize, plan, manipulate, etc.  This is particularly helpful when the story has a narrator who is giving us the narrator’s take on what’s happening.  When this occurs, we cannot just tacitly view the world as having one perspective.  At least there are two: the narrator’s and what we think about the narrator’s.

In short, stories help us develop Theory of Mind.  [I’d like to state that I distinctly dislike this term because it’s not a theory about the mind at all; it’s a short-cut term to mean that we are capable of understanding that other people have different perspectives.  I’m a stickler for making things more easy to understand so that terms should not confuse but clarify…]  Ergo, I now have a newfound appreciation of literature.  I’ve never had that much of an appreciation of literature because I’ve spent so much of my waking hours trying to answer the “Why?” questions that continuously pop into my head that, for me, reading non-fiction has been my passion.  Now, however, I understand much better at least one importance of literature – that of helping develop Theory of Mind.  Additionally, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more whatever helps us live in the moment.  I know from studying the brain that when we live in the moment, when we’re really paying attention to what’s going on right now and not worrying about yesterday or, even more, tomorrow, then our brain is more relaxed.  Since we are a creature that lives—much more so than other creatures—in three time dimensions and they absorb a lot of our mental energy, cutting back to two can really help distress.  It’s similar to watching a movie or ball game or any other activity that distracts us from our worries…

Now there is another, and at least at this point last, realization that my art museum trips provided me:  PERSPECTIVE.  Perspective is a synonym for Theory of Mind (ToM).  Art handles perspective(s) in many ways and I don’t pretend to be an expert (but it’s nice not to be one since I’m free from the CaC ways that experts have been disciplined to think!) but to my mind it boils down to something similar as with stories.  We look at sculpture or paintings similarly to other works of “art” as in theater, music, etc. as communicating perspective and asking for interpretation from our perspective.  At a minimum, then, there are two perspectives going on—that of the artist and that of the viewer.  But as I was walking again through the halls of the Thyssen- Bornemisza Museum in Madrid I recalled why I like it so much.  The different schools (AKA disciplines in academic talk) of so-called western art are shown to visitors in ways easy to comprehend.  So you quickly move from Medieval Art which “looks” like children’s representations and can then imagine being a Renaissance artist comparing Medieval art with classical art from the Greeks and Romans and saying, “Hmmm.  Why are we painting so poorly versus those from yesteryear?  Why don’t we try to capture in two dimensions exactly how the human body looks or how a still life looks?  Why do we have to limit ourselves to painting stories from the Bible when there are so many other stories to tell?”  And then you go a few more rooms and you get to the Impressionists and begin to hear a different conversation going on.  It might go something like this, “Well, we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our ability to draw, paint and sculpt to reflect ‘reality’ as we see it but what we are really to do is to interpret reality.  What people see if often not what lies beneath and we should do something that gets people to really think about more than what we usually think about.  Let’s find a way by making art do less direct depiction and more interpretation.”  So you get these paintings in which the outcome is not to mimic what our eyes typically see, but to help us understand that a fleeting impression is just that—an impression.  And we don’t get all the information but we get what we need and then our minds put together the rest.  Our mind fills in the rest and that’s our perspective.

Now until I strolled around the Thyssen the first time, I must admit I had little to no appreciation of so-called “modern art.”  I found it way too abstract, not visually pleasing.  And so I, like many others, would just look and then look away.  With a few exceptions, though.  I have always liked Miró’s work and Dali’s and to a lesser extent Picasso’s.  So there was something I needed to understand about why they appealed to me.  And I know that Dali’s melting clocks among other depictions did something: they sparked my thinking.  What was Dali trying to communicate (ahah! Perspective!) and what was he trying to say about time itself?  So some works of art really jostle your thinking.  Well, that’s like embracing cultural discomforts.  We don’t have to think much when we’re culturally comfortable but we are jostled into thinking more consciously when we are outside those comforts.  So now I can even say that the most abstract paintings are pushing us to think.  Of course, the realist in me will say that when they are too, too abstract they can have the opposite effect encourage us to shut off thinking.

As an educator I should be very mindful of this lesson.  A while ago I was in a Service-Learning training and the trainer stated what seems to be a fact:  that 90% of people learn best through direct hands-on experience while 10% learn abstractly (we can learn OK just by learning about learning and don’t necessarily have to do something to understand it).  But professors are the opposite: 90% of us are abstract learners and thus we have a hard time getting students to learn when we lecture because lecturing is an abstraction and while OK for us, not so OK for experiential learners.  But for many generations, education has been more focused on teaching than learning.  Well, that’s for another day, but the lesson to abstract from this is that even myself, a really, really abstract learner, has a hard time with a lot of modern art.  It’s too abstract for me so I shut down my thinking processes.  However, the broader lesson for me and the one I want to emphasize again in this blog entry is that I am having a rapprochement with art.

Las Meninas by Velázquez

For a long time I rejected the “high” arts because I saw them as the domain of the bourgeoisie and the upper crust and rejected their classism.  I now can see how that connection might have been made (because many artists could not afford to do their work without being sponsored by the elite and because the elite need ways to negotiate status without having to bother with lower socioeconomic sectors of society), but I’m not fixated on it.  Now I’m much more interested in how art, among other pursuits, fosters recognizing perspective and this relates to that critical human quality: Theory of Mind.  We are unlikely to be the only species with ToM, but we have certainly developed it far beyond other species and art has played a part in that.  Stories have played a really, really important role in developing ToM.  So stories made concrete—literature, movies, plays—need to be appreciated in this sense.

And that brings me to the Las Meninas by Velásquez.  I must admit that I was in El Prado the other day and walked right by it.  I did not stop to really contemplate it other than to think about the Infanta Margarita’s dress and how it made me think about my own student, Anna Clark’s, research on contemporary corset trainers.

I did not see the many perspectives, the many sets of eyes looking, in this painting.  But when I went to the Picasso museum in Barcelona and there saw how Picasso had become fixated on Las Meninas and spent long hours drawing it in El Prado and later drawing his own versions, well, then, I began to appreciate it with the kind of appreciation others, including Picasso, have given it.

Las Meninas by Picasso

And it all boils down to our very, very profoundly human ability to understand others’ and our own perspectives.  When we step into others’ perspectives we are embracing our cultural discomforts to some extent (because most “others” do not share all our cultural comforts).  And when we can identify our own cultural comforts—yippee!! We really are applying and exercising our intellectual and cultural muscles…