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The following is a list of all entries from the Human Relationships category.

Easily the most fascintaing and illuminating comparison of introversion and extroversion I’ve ever seen

The entirety of what follows is taken from the book The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney:

On dopamine:

Whereas extroverts are linked with the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected with the acetylcholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system.

“High and low novelty seekers don’t differ in their desire to feel good—everyone likes to feel good—but they differ in what makes them feel good. High scorers need excitement for the brain to feel good. The same level of arousal makes a low scorer feel anxious. A steady predictable situation would bore a high scorer but comfort a low scorer.” Dopamine appears to play an important part in what brain pathways introverts and extroverts use and how those circuits affect their temperament and behaviour.

Novelty seekers were found to have a long D4DR gene are were less sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Therefore, they need to experience life’s thrills and chills in order to produce higher levels of dopamine. … [Low novelty seekers have short D4DR genes and are] highly sensitive to dopamine. Because they receive enough dopamine in quiet activities, they don’t needs as much “buzz” in their lives. Low-novelty-seekers tend to be reflective individuals who are perfectly content to live at a slower pace. They feel more discomfort than enjoyment from thrill seeking or risk taking. Orderly and cautious, they enjoy the comfort of routine and the familiar; thus, they don’t incur much risk. Low-novelty seekers like to see the big picture before plunging ahead, and they focus well on long-term projects. They are even-tempered, good listeners, and loyal.

The researcher discovered … introverts had more blood flow to their brains than extroverts. More blood flow indicates more internal stimulation. …the introverts’ and extroverts’ blood traveled along different pathways. …the introverts’ pathway is more complicated and focused internally. The introverts’ blood flowed to the parts of the brain involved with internal experiences like remembering, solving problems, and planning. This pathway is long and complex. The introverts were attending to their internal thoughts and feelings.

Dr Johnson tracked the fast-acting brain pathway of extroverts, showing how they process input that influences their activity and motivation. The extroverts’ blood flowed to the areas of the brain where visual, auditory, touch, and taste (excluding smell) sensory processing occurs. Their main pathway is short and less complicated. …the behaviourial differences between introverts and extroverts result from using different brain pathways that influence where we direct our focus—internally or externally.

Not only does introvert’s and extroverts’ blood travel on separate pathways, each pathway requires a different neurotransmitter. …the pathway extroverts use is activated by dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter most closely identified with movement, attention, alert states, and learning. “Low dopamine also results in lack of attention and concentration, cravings and withdrawal.” Having the right amount of dopamine for your body is critical. “One way of characterizing the job of dopamine circuit is that it’s a reward system. It says, in effect, ‘that was good, let’s do it again, and let’s remember exactly how we did it.'” That is why cocaine and amphetamines are so addictive—they increase dopamine. Since extroverts have a low sensitivity to dopamine and yet require large amounts of it, how do they get enough? Parts of the brain release some dopamine. But extroverts need its sidekick, adrenaline, which is released from the action of the sympathetic nervous system, to make more dopamine in the brain. So the more active the extrovert is, the more … dopamine is increased. Extroverts feel good when they have places to go and people to see.

Introverts, on the other hand, are highly sensitive to dopamine. Too much dopamine and they feel overstimulated. Introverts use an entirely different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, on their more dominant pathway. Acetylcholine is another important neurotransmitter connected to many vital functions in the brain body. It affects attention and learning (especially perceptual learning), influences the ability to sustain a calm, alert feeling and to utilize long-term memory, and activates voluntary movement. It stimulates a good feeling when thinking and feeling. Introverts require a limited range of not too much or too little dopamine, and a good level of acetylcholine, to leave them feeling calm and without depression or anxiety.

Introverts who [use the energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system] too much can become depressed, unmotivated, or frustrated about not reaching goals… They need to engage the [the energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system] to get up and out. This requires learning to regulate anxiety and over-stimulation…

Longer Introvert Acetylcholine Pathway

  1. Reticular Activating System: Stimuli enter her where alertness is regulated. Decreased in introverts.
  2. Hypothalamus: Regulates thirst, temperature, and appetite. Turns on the Parasympathetic (Throttle-Down System: Conserve Energy) in introverts
  3. Anterior Thalamus: Relay station – sends stimuli to frontal lobe and turns stimuli down in introverts
  4. Broca’s Area: Speech area where inner monologue is activated
  5. Frontal Lobe: Where thinking, planning, learning, and reasoning are engaged
  6. Hippocampus: Attuned to the environment and relays to long-term memory
  7. Amygdala: Emotional center, where emotions are attached to thoughts in introverts

Shorter Extrovert Dopamine Pathway

  1. Reticular Activating System: Stimuli enter here where alertness is regulated. Increased in introverts.
  2. Hypothalamus: Regulates thirst, temperature, and appetite. Turns on the Sympathetic (Full-Throttle System: Expend Energy) in extroverts
  3. Posterior Thalamus: Relay station – sends increased stimuli to amygdala
  4. Amygdala: Emotional center, where emotions are attached to actions in the motor area in extroverts
  5. Temporal and Motor Area: Movement connects to working memory (short-term). Also the center for learning and processing sensory and emotional stimuli

Introversion

Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their heads. They are mulling—comparing old and new experiences. They often have an ongoing dialogue with themselves. Since this is such a familiar experience, they may not realize that other minds work in different ways. Some introverts aren’t even aware that they think so much, or that they need time for ideas or solutions to “pop” into their heads. They need to reach back into long-term memory to locate information. This requires physical space to let their feelings and impressions bubble up. During REM sleep or while dreaming, this pathway integrates daily experiences and stores them in long-term memory, where they are filed in may areas of the brain. Introverts are in a constant distilling process that requires lots of “innergy”.

Acetylcholine also triggers the hypothalamus to send messages to the parasympathetic nervous system to conserve energy. This system slows the body down, allowing introverts to contemplate and examine the situation. If a decision is made to take action, it will require conscious thought and energy to get the body moving. This explains why many introverts can sit for long periods while they are concentrating. Acetylcholine also rewards concentration by giving [hits of happiness] but doesn’t give the charge of glucose and oxygen (energy) to the body. The introverted process results in behaviour affecting all areas of the introvert’s life.

The introvert brain has a higher level of internal activity and thinking than the extroverted brain. It is dominated by the long, slow acetylcholine pathway. Acetylcholine also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system that controls certain body functions and influences how introverts behave.

The fact that introverts’ brains are buzzing means that introverts are likely to:

  • Be absorbed in thought
  • Avoid crowds and seek quiet
  • Reflect and act in a careful way
  • Lose sight of what others are doing
  • Not show much facial expression or reaction
  • Get agitated without enough time alone or undisturbed
  • Proceed cautiously in meeting people and participate only in selected activities
  • Reduce eye contact when speaking to focus on collecting words and thoughts; increase eye contact when listening to take in information
  • Surprise others with their wealth of information
  • Shy away from too much attention or focus on themselves
  • Keep energy inside, making it difficult for others to know them
  • Appear glazed, dazed, or zoned out when stressed, tired, or in groups

The dominance of the long acetylcholine pathway means introverts:

  • Hesitate before speaking
  • May start talking in the middle of a thought, which can confuse others
  • Have a good memory but take a long time to retrieve memories
  • Can forget things they know very well—might stumble around when explaining their job or temporarily forget a word they want to use
  • May think they told you something when they just have thought about it
  • Not offer ideas freely; may need to be asked their opinion
  • Are clearer about ideas, thoughts, and feelings after sleeping on them
  • May not be aware of their thoughts unless they write or talk about them

The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system means that introverts:

  • May have trouble getting motivated or moving; might appear lazy
  • May be slow to react under stress
  • May have a calm or reserved manner; may walk, talk, or eat slowly
  • May need to regulate protein intake and body temperature
  • Must have breaks to restore energy

Traits of introverted children:

  • Watch and listen before joining an activity
  • Concentrate deeply on subjects of interest
  • Enjoy time alone in their room, energized by introspection
  • Speak after thinking things through
  • Have a strong sense of personal space and dislike people sitting too close or coming into their room without knocking
  • Be private and may need to be asked what they are thinking and feeling
  • Need validation; may have irrational self-doubts
  • Talk a lot if the topic is interesting, or if they are comfortable with the people

Extroversion

Extroverts are alert for sensory and emotional input. When they get stimuli, they can answer quickly because the pathway is rapid and responsive. Their short-term memory is on the tip of their tongue, so while the introvert is still waiting for a word, the extrovert has spit out several. Extroverts need more input to keep their feedback loop working. Their system alerts the sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to take action without too much thinking. It releases adrenaline, blood (oxygen) to muscles and glucose, thus flooding the body with energy. The release of neurotransmitters from various organs enters the feedback loop, sending components back to the brain to make more dopamine. Dopamine and adrenaline release [hits of happiness] from the “feel good” center. No wonder extroverts don’t want to slow down.

For introverts, all that adrenaline and glucose soon leaves them feeling wiped out. It is too stimulating, consumes too much fuel, and leaves them with their fuel tank empty. Since they don’t get as many [hits of happiness] from dopamine and adrenaline, and acetylcholine isn’t increased in this feedback loop, they don’t receive the same good feelings extroverts do from this side of the system.

The extroverted brain has less internal activity than the introverted brain. It scans the external world to gather stimulation to fuel the shorter, quicker dopamine pathway; the signals from the brain travel to the sympathetic nervous system that controls certain body functions and influences how extroverts behave.

The fact that extroverts’ brains are constantly seeking new input means that extroverts are likely to:

  • Crave outside stimulation; dislike being alone too long
  • Increase eye contact when speaking to take in others’ reactions, decrease eye contact when listening to notice what’s happening in the environment
  • Enjoy talking—and be skilled at it; feel energized by attention or the limelight

The dominance of the short dopamine pathway means that extroverts:

  • Shoot from the hip, and talk more than they listen
  • Have a good short-term memory that allows quick thinking
  • Do well on timed tests or under pressure
  • Feel invigorated by discussion, novelty, experiences
  • Make social chitchat easily and fluidly

The activation of the sympathetic nervous system means that extroverts:

  • Act quickly under stress
  • Enjoy moving their bodies and exercising
  • Have high energy levels, not need to eat as often
  • Be uncomfortable if they have nothing to do
  • Slow down and burn out in mid life

Traits of extroverted children:

  • Be gregarious and outgoing, except during normal developmental stages
  • Be energized by interactions and activities
  • Want to tell you all about their experiences and ideas immediately, covering lots of topics
  • Think out loud. They’ll walk around the house saying, “Where’s my ball?” or “I’m looking for my walkie-talkie” as they hunt for these items. They need to talk in order to make decisions.
  • Prefer time with others than time alone
  • Need lots of approval. For example, they need to hear what a good job they are doing or how much you like their gift.
  • Like variety and are easily distracted
  • Often volunteering what they are thinking and feeling

On social anxiety:

Rather than being self-centered, introverts are often really the opposite. Our ability to focus on our internal world and reflect on what we are feeling and experiencing allows us to understand the external world and other human beings better. What appears to be self-centeredness is actually the very talent that provides the capacity to understand what it’s like to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Extroverts are also focused on the self, but in a different way. Extroverts like socializing and require the company of other people, but it’s as much about the need to be stimulated – engage me, challenge me, give me something to react to – as it is to feel related. Since extroverts don’t generate as much internal stimulation as introverts do, they need to get it from outside.Maybe this is why extroverts put introverts down – we annoy them because they feel we are withholding, and we threaten them because we don’t shoot the breeze or socialize in the way they need.

Introverts aren’t unsocial – they are just social in a different way. Introverts need fewer relationships, but they like more connection and intimacy. Since it takes a great deal of our energy to engage with other people, we are reluctant to need to spend too much energy on socializing. That’s why we don’t enjoy idle chitchat. We prefer meaty conversations, which nourish us and energize us. Energy conservation is also why we are very interested in other people but sometimes prefer to observe others rather than join them.

Extroverts, being the majority, influence the entire cultural view of introversion. Extroverts’ verbal ease intimidates introverts, making it even easier for them to conclude that they shouldn’t speak. Introverts can appear cautious or passive to extroverts. Extroverts are so used to speaking off the top of their heads that they may be distrustful of more reticent introverts. When introverts speak with hesitation, extroverts may feel impatient: Just spit it out, they think. Why don’t you have more confidence in your own opinion? What are they trying to hide? Extroverts may experience an introvert as withholding information or ideas.

When introverts appear reluctant to speak or speak slowly, they often don’t engage extroverts. Extroverts may think (and introverts can think this, too) that introverts don’t have anything to contribute. Introverts dislike interrupting, so they might say something softly or without emphasis. Other times comments made by introverts have more depth than the general level of the conversation; because this may make people feel uncomfortable, they ignore the comment. Later another person may say the same thing and receive a great response. The introverted person feels unseen. It’s frustrating and confusing for them.

From the outside, many introverts give no hint about the mental gears grinding and meshing inside. In social situations their faces may look impassive or uninterested. Unless they are overwhelmed or they are really disinterested (if the topic is too lightweight), they are usually just thinking about what people are saying. They will share their thoughts if asked. People in the group may start to exclude introverts if they don’t keep eye contact and don’t give clues that they are listening.


Thoughts on love, family, and North Carolina

For a while now, I have had long-term plans of checking out and quite possibly settling in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. That area, between Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, is known for its high-tech industries and highly educated populace. As I see it, living there would be like living in DC, except that people would be friendly and not as absorbed in work, politics, and other things with which elites occupy their time. My hope is that it would also provide social opportunities with people more like myself (i.e. those who are intellectually curious and ambitious, but laid-back and easygoing). Yes, I am talking about dating as much as I am talking about making new friends. More, really 😉

Anyway, I haven’t actually been there yet, so this is all speculation based on a number of positive reports of the area. I have a roadtrip planned for next weekend, however, which will allow me to scope things out. Specifically, I will be trying to figure out if it is possible to transfer to one of the grad schools down there, and/or find a good job. As I like to put it, I’m not married to anyone, nor to DC, nor to George Washington University, so if I find a sufficiently appealing option elsewhere, I’ll take it!

I just finished talking to Tiff on the phone, and catching up on her blog. I learn good things from the examples of each of my family members, and one thing I always take from Tiff is the happiness that comes from parenthood (although she may be tempted to question such a perception). Single life is much easier than married/family life, I’m sure, but I know it is not as fulfilling, and far from the end-all of existence. Whenever I visit with family – especially when there are nieces and nephews involved – I feel like a dormant part of me comes alive again. Much of it has to do with love, I think. A life focused on meeting one’s own selfish needs is hardly a life at all, it seems.  Real joy comes through putting others first, from living for others. My guess is that this kind of love comes about only in the most sacred of human relationships, those between husband and wife, and between parents and children.

During the Christmas holiday, Dad shared a quote by Dag Hammarskjöld (not a household name, but a wise man, nonetheless). He said:

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.

I have thought much about this quote since Dad shared it with me. It is the kind of notion which flies in the face of conventional wisdom of single people like me (and yet, so unlike me!). If I ever brought it up in class, my peers would scratch their heads in bewilderment, and not just because I’m talking about Dag Hammarskjöld in an economics class 🙂 To clarify, I am not against laboring “diligently for the salvation of the masses”, and I certainly do not think it ignoble. However, I am completely convinced that family life is more important than any other aspect of life, and I strongly suspect that to ignore and replace the impulse for family with other things, even very good things which help other people, is to miss the mark. Such a realignment may even be motivated by selfish reasons (fear is another plausible motivation). After all, a happy family comes about from hard work, self-sacrifice, humility, discipline – in other words, a happy family is costly, and not everyone is willing to pay such prices. I’m reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s keen observation in the beginning of Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Admittedly, I didn’t get very far into the book, but I interpret this to mean that the happiness of a family depends on the application of certain principles, and that the failure to discover, commit to, and apply such principles may very likely lead to the discovery of a unique brand of unhappiness! Some innovations should never be made, I say 🙂

So, to sum up, families and love are good, and North Carolina might be good too!


You Can’t Control for Happiness

I seem to be entering a new phase in my interpersonal relationships here in DC, and I like it. Perhaps it is not a new phase so much as an old phase revisited after having acquired greater insight and maturity through experience. Either way, I think I can best summarize the new emphasis in this way: chill out and enjoy life and the people around you. In large part, this shift has been possible because of the friendships I’ve been able to form with my neighbors, who are a great bunch of girls. Associating with them helps me be a better and happier person, plus their house is a lot less ghetto than mine. In a way, it is like having a family again – although incomplete, there are discernible parallels, for which I am very grateful. I feel that my social life in DC up until now has been more solitary and self-centered than is healthy, but it is starting to turn around as I am now able to enjoy a greater sense of community.

This city seems to attract people who are preoccupied with being in control, and mostly sub-consciously. I don’t necessarily mean self-control, which I think is a virtue, but rather being in control of all situations, the desire to be the one pulling the strings instead of the one whose strings are pulled. I do not think this inclination is all bad, and certainly I think it is understandable for all who live in this  dangerous and uncertain fallen world. Nevertheless, I think preoccupation with being in control stunts our personal growth and curbs our happiness, and I think it is something we all grapple with to one degree or another.

I think preoccupation with control is a particular hindrance for developing healthy interpersonal relationships and sharing the gospel (two things which are closely related and, as I see it, require many of the same skills and attributes for success). Both require a sincere sharing of thoughts and feelings in a context of respect and love. Also, both must be done with a respect for individual choice, and certainly cannot be forced. It seems to me that love, openness of thought and feeling, and a respect for the freedom to choose can clash very much with being in control. However, ultimately the fruits of the former are so much sweeter than the fruits of the latter. Yet, relinquishing control in these two areas of life, as necessary, is easier said than done. It requires patience, trust, and a certain calm inner strength and confidence which can seem quite elusive (but is, fortunately,  even more attainable in this life than we may realize). Also, it requires that we put forth an effort to offer something precious and valuable (our friendship or the gospel) without expectations for recompense or fear of failure. In other words, that we give people an opportunity to act and accept an invitation, that we do the right thing, without worrying too much about the consequences.

Anyway, these are just a few of my abstract thoughts on the matter. What do you think?


Be Nice to Introverts

My sister at Mishtown recently posted a link to an article in the Atalntic, Caring for Your Introvert. It will probably remind you of people you know – or it might even end up describing yourself!

I liked the article and thought is was generally correct about a number of things. However, I think there is much more to personality than just introversion and extroversion (in fact, this is a dead horse I feel I have beaten again and again on this blog and in conversation, so I will try to make my comments here brief). Take myself for instance. Introverts probably comprise the majority of my closest friends, as well as probably three quarters of my immediate family*, and, while I have a surprising capacity for being friendly and upbeat, overall I am also an introvert (about 60%, I’d say). But it’s tricky – I really like people, and in the right circumstances I find interaction with them to be quite energizing, fulfilling, and fun. I also have a habit – which I’m sure many find perplexing if not annoying – of thinking out loud. Nevertheless, I think at my core I am an introvert. However, I do take some issue with the author’s assertion that introversion is an immutable orientation. Or rather, what I really take issue with is the temptation to conclude that, because introversion is innate, people are thus incapable of adapting and even changing**. And of course, this is very similar to the objection I most hear about these personality theories – that they reduce people into overly-simplistic caricatures incapable of adaptation and growth. I think this criticism is somewhat deserved, but I also think these theories (certain of them, that is) can at least offer some sort of threshold for understanding and appreciating the differences among us in the present. 

*Aside from Mom and Tiff, probably everyone, including spouses, huh?

**not that I am the undisputed life of the party, but you’d better believe I wasn’t always as outgoing and confident in social situations as I am now. My mission in particular did wonders for helping me become more outgoing, as did simply gaining confidence about myself and my abilities during my college years.


Hero Worship

[This one is pretty long, and might seem a little boring or irrelevant to the casual reader. But if you’re curiosity’s piqued, please read on!]

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For some reason, in fact, in the mornings I sometimes find myself waking up and thinking, practically first thing, “Man, I should really write about hero worship!” Here’s how I think it started:

I recently began interning at a think tank, where I work in close proximity with some pretty prominent people. Among the list of people I would love to meet while there are Newt Gingrich, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Greg Mankiw (whose econ textbook I found so enjoyable that I forewent a pretty generous sell-back price to keep it). The other day, while helping stuff envelopes for an event (a very glamorous task), I encountered some other famous names you’d definitely recognize if you ever watched the news.* Now, it’s pretty easy to get drunk on the thrill of celebrity (or, in my case, mere distant association to celebrity), but for me, at least, the intoxication is relatively short-lived and unfulfilling.** As Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, even US presidents are merely men: “We hire them, we fire them, they come back for photo-ops. They’re not magic.”***

Nevertheless, there seems to be a common yearning for heroes and leaders. There is an apparent demand for people who will show us the way, those we can look up to with admiration and expectation. On such people, we seem to place our hopes – hopes of deliverance from our difficulties, from danger, insecurity, our own weakness and shortcomings, purposelessness, loneliness. I do not think this yearning for leaders is inappropriate – in fact, I think it is a very natural by-product of our experience as mortals separated from our Heavenly Father. However, I think it is important, as Peggy Noonan has suggested, not to place undue expectations on people who are, notwithstanding their great talents and accomplishments as leader and role models, still just people. Furthermore, we ought to be careful not to divest ourselves of personal accountability and place it on the shoulders of these “great people”; their role ought to be to aid and encourage us and not, with one very notable exception, to save us.

That said, I’d like to laud certain people who have made, and continue to make, a huge and positive impact in my life, who have earned my admiration and inspired me to greater heights. This is not an exhaustive list – I’ve been abundantly blessed with countless wonderful people who have left their mark in my life, but these are the ones that stand out most clearly. “They’re not magic,” but by small means they have done great things for me.

1) Dr. Michael Murdock: one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and certainly one of the more strangely charismatic ones. Despite his huge intellect and exacting academic standards, behind the layers Dr. Murdock is generous and, although it may surprise some, quite gentle and kind. He helped me make big improvements in my thinking and writing (still plenty of room for improvement though!), and helped me discover that I really like history after all. Also, he went beyond the call of duty by being a very patient listening ear as I tried to chart my academic course.

2) Dr. Edwin Gantt: he did a great service for me, and continues to do a great service for the students of BYU by teaching psychology from a perspective that takes religion (particularly, but not exclusively, the religion of the Latter-day Saints) seriously. This is an uncommon practice in the social sciences, especially psychology. Along with Dr. Slife, another great professor, he helped me recognize the assumptions and perspectives (certain of which are tragically misleading, if not spiritually dangerous) currently prevalent in the behavioral sciences, and to recognize some alternative views and assumptions which are just as viable. With insight, enthusiasm, and a great sense of humor, Dr. Gantt is helping prepare LDS scholars to enter the professional world without compromising their membership in the kingdom.****

3) Bishop Kerry Morgan: it seems like he was my bishop in Oregon for a long time, but I think that is because he was a true and loving friend to me in- and outside of his tenure as bishop. He is a true Christian who has gone the extra mile for me and countless others.

4) Dr. Valerie Hudson: she, along with Dr. Bowen, another wonderful woman, not only introduced me to the complex, fascinating world of women’s issues but also to political science (I had never taken a Poli Sci course before taking theirs). Thankfully, they did it in a way that was bold and forthright, yet thoughtful, loving, and full of faith. Dr. Hudson is a big hero(ine) in my eyes – not just because she is kicking butt on a regular basis to improve the lives of women and children around the world, but because that is not even close her first priority, but rather secondary to her cherished role as a wife and mother. She has continued to work and teach not because she prefers it to the work of home and family, but unselfishly and for a different reason entirely. One who champions womanhood institutionally and especially in the home earns a place at the top of my list. Which takes me to my next person…

5) My beloved Mom! She is such a delightful, wonderful woman, that merely talking to her on the phone refreshes my spirits and gladdens my heart! Intensely and lovingly committed to her children, it would be impossible for me not to love her in return. She has been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement in my life. My mom is a born leader with an iron will (she’s mellowed out over the years, fortunately) and a heart of gold who finds her greatest joy in serving others. I was truly born of goodly parents – the other of whom is…

6) My Dad! I do not know a wiser, more intelligent man than my dad, nor one who is also as gentle and kind (if that is what fatherhood does to a man, then I want in!). Very often, my dad contributes a voice of incomparable reason to dispel confusion in my life and help me maintain my most important priorities. He’s done his best to shape me into a man (one can only do so much), and has taught me by word and deed to sacrifice for and unselfishly love his family. As a father, he has exemplified righteous priesthood leadership “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy” (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44).

7) Joseph Smith, Jr.: some people have built entire careers out of trying to assassinate this man’s character (and indeed, his message was and is a bold one, which some find threatening), but for me, it is exactly his character that I admire so much. I like to think that he and I share similar dispositions. A study of Joseph Smith’s life reveals him to have been, from an early age, prone to serious and sober reflection on the questions of the soul, yet endowed with a “native cheery temperament”. He possessed a unique blend of intellectual and spiritual depth and purpose and a certain earthy affability; some, expecting the austere demeanor of a Moses from a prophet of God, were unpleasantly surprised to find Joseph quite too approachable and gregarious upon first meeting him. Joseph Smith was no brooding introvert, nor was he merely a charismatic people-person – he was a courageous, self-sacrificing leader and prophet, entrusted with a sacred work and responsibility, but brimming with a love of all people and an eagerness for the company and well-being of all who were friends. I do not wish to stretch the comparison between he and I too far -certainly, I am not Joseph Smith-, but I see facets of myself, undeveloped as I am, in him. That gives me comfort and encouragement when I feel alone, uncertain, or misunderstood, but perhaps more importantly, it gives me an example to follow as I seek to grow.* (x5)

…and lastly, but most significantly,

8 ) Jesus Christ: All that is good and noble comes through Him. I have never met Him, and yet I see and feel His influence all around me – not always, and perhaps not even most of the time, but I have an assurance that He is closely involved in the details of our lives, whether or not we sense it (the trick, of course is to do our part to better sense and invite Him into our lives). He is my Savior and friend, who makes it possible for me to be cleaned, forgiven, and refined, shaped into someone new and holy. He has the power to heal us of all our infirmities and weaknesses, in the proper time and by the proper processes. His promises are sure: if we will simply trust and follow Him, we will have joy and ultimately eternal life. In the end, there is nothing as important as trusting and following Jesus Christ. I love Him, I want to be like Him, and I want to be with Him. He is my hero.

*One more (very distant) claim to fame: yesterday, thanks to a tip-off from a co-worker, I was able to see Mitt Romney through a cafe window, talking excitedly with some important-looking guys.

**Perhaps if I were truly closer to the action and prestige, and not just a distant intern, it would be harder to shrug off. But really, I haven’t had any substantial brushes with fame, and if I did, they would probably be pretty low-key and relatively unremarkable over all.

***My favorite quote from the article, in regards to a recent presidential photo-op: “Did you notice how they all leaned away from Jimmy Carter, the official Cootieman of former presidents? It was like high-school students to the new girl: “You can’t sit here, we’re the Most Popular table.”

****see “Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences” by Neal A. Maxwell.

* (x5) For some very accessible insights and information on the life and teachings of Joseph Smith, see Joseph Smith the Prophet and The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph, both by Truman G. Madsen.


In search of good conversation

Let it be known: I really like hearty conversation. Unfortunately, for some reason it is very hard to find in this world.

So, today on the way home from work on the train, I was fortunate enough to have a nice, friendly, and surprisingly satisfying conversation. Here’s what happened:

I was sitting behind a girl that I thought was pretty, but she was reading a book. Past experience trying to talk with people, especially pretty girls, reading things on the train has made me a little wary of trying to strike up conversation, as their motivation for reading is usually some combination of a) they are really digging their book and b) they don’t want to talk to you or anyone else (although it might be just you exclusively)*. Anyway, I kept trying to muster up the courage and boldness to talk with her, but in a way that wasn’t too bothersome (somehow being pleasantly bold is, I feel, the great challenge of approaching strangers), and just couldn’t do it. She was reading a book about flowers and looked like she was really into it**.

flower-confidential

So my eyes started to wander in search of something I could comment on to bring up some conversation, with the book-reading girl or someone else (it’s really helpful to have some sort of neutral object or happening to comment on to start up conversation). Across the aisle, I saw a woman in uniform with a Seattle Seahawks lunchbox – I was born in Seattle and grew up in Portland! This was the “in” I was waiting for!seattle-seahawks-rugAs soon as she turned in my direction to look at something, I asked if she was from the Pacific Northwest. It turned out she was and, because she was friendly, open, interested in talking, and we had interesting topics to discuss (east coast vs. west coast culture, her military experience, and her lunchbox), a very pleasant conversation ensued. In fact, the conversation just flowed, without any awkward pauses to speak of (an uncommon treat!). Soon enough, her stop came, and our conversation ended, on a rushed, albeit positive, note. I seriously doubt I’ll ever see her again, but I hope both she and I will have many more such pleasant encounters with people.

Afterwards, it left me wondering, with gratitude and curiosity rather than wistfulness and disappointment, why such seemingly chance but fulfilling interactions are so rare***? And why, when they do happen, are they so distinctly enjoyable? Perhaps they are a tender mercy shown to me by the Lord, who knows how much I love and appreciate being engaged with people and understands how deeply I experience the absence or deficiency of human contact and interaction. Any thoughts or related experiences, friends?

*One experience in particular sticks out in my mind – I saw a not-unattractive girl reading “Freakonomics” and I thought “Cool, that girl likes economics, she must be smart! And I’ve read that book, so I have an in!” Pleasantly but not without some boldness, I asked how she liked the book – she gave me a very brief, nondescript response, and as I hadn’t read the book in quite some time and she didn’t give me much to work with , I couldn’t come up with any sort of interesting comment to keep the interaction going. So it ended. Truthfully, I think she really wanted to read her book and really didn’t want to talk to me.

**Part of me wondered if her apparent absorption in her book was somewhat self-consciously affected because of the mysteriously handsome half-Asian guy eying her and her book from the seat behind. The egoist in me thinks that is precisely what it was 🙂

***unfortunately, they seem especially rare among the exceptionally pretty girls, which makes my chances of wooing and marrying an exceptionally pretty girl pretty slim (that, and many other reasons of course).


Mormons are scary

(I’ve got to put this to words before my memory fades. And then I’ve got to cram for the GRE)

I like the organization I am currently working for, and especially enjoy working with the great people there. Sometimes, though, I get a kick out of the funny things that happen when people realize that my opinions and beliefs are not as mainstream as they had assumed. By “mainstream” I mean, in general, (and this is not to disparage anyone in particular – I really do love my co-workers and the organization! – but just to make an observation) politically liberal-leaning and vaguely irreligious; I, myself, am relatively more conservative, (moderate, really), and passionately religious. I usually, but not always, keep a pretty low profile about politics and religion at work (although it is only very rarely that I feel my beliefs are actually somewhat under fire. Again, I work with some really great, caring people), although I deeply value those deep and sincere relationships I have been able to form so far with certain co-workers which are amenable to discussions on such subjects (even if we happen to disagree, fundamentally, even). Truly, I think politics and, more importantly, religion could be so much less taboo in public if people approached them with more open-mindedness, understanding, and restraint, and fewer preconceptions and prejudices. This is not something I have perfected yet by any means (my dear agnostic brother once characterized me as the most aggressive theist he knew, which I don’t think he meant as a compliment 🙂 ) , but it is a true treat when two comparably respectful, open-minded people are able to connect and find common ground on matters of spirit, truth, and love. Really, I think that is what life is all about. Lest I equivocate, however, I must make it known that those same principles of spirit, truth, and love are found with greatest clarity and abundance in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ; they are not found there exclusively, but are found there with greatest clarity and abundance.

But back to my original topic. We had a pizza party today to celebrate the birthday of one of our co-workers. I have to admit, my opinion of lawyers has improved immensely from working where I do. I think public interest law tends to attract the kinds of lawyers that I would consider “cool” and pleasant to work with. Anyway, one of the things I enjoy about these lawyers (I’m sure this is true of most lawyers) is that they are very knowledgeable about the cogs of the great machine we call society, and I enjoy sitting back and listening to them talk about things which I have very little understanding of but recognize as being important, if not for society as a whole then at the very least for some individual somewhere.

So today, as they were talking about this and that while eating pizza, one of them mentioned John McCain, or conservatives, or something like that, which led to a “Hey, wasn’t so-and-so who worked here a conservative?”, and a “Yeah, don’t get many of those here”. Pretty soon, the topic of Mormons came up, as Mormonism and conservatism tend to be linked in people’s minds (for the record, NOT because membership in the Church requires any specific political affiliation, and certainly not because there are no liberal Mormons), someone said “Wasn’t such-and such person who worked here a Mormon?’ and finally, from a co-worker who knows me fairly well, “Yeah, and so is Bryce!”. Seeing the reaction was priceless. It was so awesome! The girl next to me, a 3L working as a part-time law clerk, was somewhat dumbfounded and, judging by her countenance, mildly appalled (an observation which I lightheartedly shared with her), and there was a brief, maybe 2-second-long pause as people mentally switched gears and adjusted their social filters. Again, I mean no disrespect in sharing this, and I don’t mean to make a bigger deal of this than it was, but it was just so interesting to see people’s reactions and to picture what they were thinking (“Shoot, Bryce is a Mormon, and therefore conservative. I must’ve offended him!”). Also, it made me think about how I must come across to people on matters of religion. Obviously, I am not shy about talking about my faith, and in fact it is one of my all-time favorite topics of conversation. However, I also recognize that faith can be a very uncomfortable topic for people, or at least a tender subject to open up about. Sometimes, I wonder if people feel self-conscious around me, knowing that I have strong convictions, almost as if I am silently judging them if they drink coffee or say a bad word here or there (as for coarse language, I do have my limits of toleration, but would always try to be pleasant, courteous, and diplomatic, or at least humorous, about addressing speech which I personally find offensive). While I cannot help it if the fact that I have convictions makes people uncomfortable, I believe I can do very much indeed to let people know that I don’t look down on them because of my beliefs – if anything, my beliefs ought to lead me to love and respect them more as beloved children of God trying to find their way in this crazy and confusing world. So, rather than feel smug and self-satisfied about this occurrence, I am using it as a way to evaluate how I am doing about developing and communicating love and esteem for the people I interact with daily (although I do want to reserve the right to chuckle about it good-naturedly – is that bad?).

Life sure is interesting, but it’s also so awesome!


Reflections on my personal history

[brace yourself, I’m waxing poetic]

My heart and mind are heavy today, and I am experiencing a vague and lingering sadness. The reasons for this are fairly complex, but as I’ve reflected on them, I’ve had occasion to look back at my life thus far and recognize the unexpected and unusual twists and turns which have shaped me and altered my course. I wholeheartedly believe that the Lord’s hand is in each of our lives, to the extent that we invite Him to participate, and I have no doubt that such interactions and interventions are for our ultimate good. Nevertheless, life is full of poignant or painful experiences, as well as certain singularly soul-stretching events which reveal, and if endured well, refine our character.windingpath

It is fascinating to look back and recognize what factors have led me to where I am now. Things such as the fact that I was held back a year in kindergarten because my parents thought me too hyperactive (according to one account, I couldn’t sit still to write my name), that my LDS mission was delayed (and the reasons for the delay), that I grew up with certain people in a certain place, that I have encountered certain influential books and ideas, and that certain people were involved in the critical junctures of my life. Of course, this is to say nothing of the deep and steady influence of certain quiet constants in my life: my wonderful parents and siblings and certain close and life-long friends, the culture of freedom and opportunity enjoyed in this  prosperous country (notwithstanding our current turbulent circumstances), and the intimately powerful, although perhaps outwardly unremarkable, effect of the Church and its teachings on my life. This mortal life, although fraught with difficulty and confusion, is nevertheless an incredible journey – one which, fortunately enough, may also be filled with clarity, peace, and joy! I hope that we all might have occasion to stop what we’re doing in our busy lives to reflect on our own life experiences, taking note of areas in need of course-correction and seeking to recognize the hand of an involved and loving God in our lives, and then afterwards approaching life with renewed vigor and zeal and a fresh and grateful perspective.


A philosophical quesion about marriage

I consider marriage between a man and a woman to be one of life’s most significant and ennobling relationships, perhaps on par with a person’s relationship with God (if not at least deeply intertwined), and the foundation upon which loving and happy families are created. To form such a relationship is one of my most earnest desires; to raise children in a nurturing and loving home is a close runner up. I am of the opinion, however, that single people my age are generally rather undecided about what they are looking for in a future marriage partner, if they are seeking marriage at all. In truth, I sense that most single people my age are largely uncertain about what they are seeking from life itself, which is troubling and potentially tragic (although, outwardly at least, some appear not to mind the uncertainty too much). For such people, I wholeheartedly recommend they investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I digress 🙂 To a certain degree, I am also such a young person lacking in wisdom in matters of dating and marriage.

I am of the opinion that two of the most important factors in the health and happiness of a relationship are 1) character (what a person is – I would also call this personality) and 2) behavior (what a person does). I think behavior is obviously important, as it is the actual bridging of two unique individuals, but also that it is largely, although incompletely, determined by the involved personalities. Put another way, I believe that people ought to determine not only what kinds of behaviors they approve of in a relationship, but also to recognize the underlying characteristics which tend to produce such behaviors in an individual.

I believe that certain types of personality matches are more natural and comfortable than others, but I also believe that there are matches which, although not as comfortable, involve a melding of different complementary traits to the effect of creating a dynamic pair. I can see pros and cons to each matching, as well as the possibility of having the best of both worlds – a comfortable match with complementary differences. But this is the question which I’d like my married readers in particular to answer if they would: which is ultimately more important, to have a comfortable match or a complementary match? Or is my creation of such a dichotomy misleading and unnecessary? 😉