Archives for category: Language

Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Bad day at the office?

In the Olympics, if you choke, it’s 4 years ’til your next review.

Canadian swimming psychologist Hap Davis made his athletes watch video re-runs of their failures on repeat and scanned their brains to see what was going on under the lid.

Initially when watching the video, high level blood flow to their amydala (responsible for emotions) and low-level to their motor cortices (where movement is executed). This likely reflected their physical reaction at the time.

Once they talked it through and explained the feelings of the race, he asked them to re-watch the race.

This time, blood flow to the amydala and pre-frontal cortex (which controls planning) was less, and blood flow to the motor cortex more.

Effectively, talking it out took away the negative emotion.

Who knew?

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‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ is a tasty insight into the French way of rearing children who eat all their greens (and fois gras), sleep through the night, play happily on their own, and say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ more regularly than any Anglo adult you probably know.

New York-raised Pamela Druckerman noticed these differences whilst living in Paris with her English husband over some years, and her drill-down into how these somewhat magnificent marvels of children evolve is an excellent insight into competing Western parenting ideologies.

French parenting is loosely but largely based on two philosophical bases; the first is Rousseau, whose books ‘Emile’ and ‘On Education’ are still widely regarded in France as the basis of much of their approach to parenting. Through these texts he appealed that a child should be free to explore and discover the world, and let his senses gradually ‘awaken’.

This helps explains to Druckerman what she initially considers to be the strange behaviour of her French friends, who take their two year olds to swimming lessons not to swim, but to learn to enjoy the pleasure of the water… until they’re six (!) and then they start classes. Similarly, gym classes are not for learning triple tucks but for learning to explore their bodies. This couldn’t be further from the Anglo perspective of Piaget’s stage theory, whereby every parent tries to make their child learn things from the get-go in order to evolve their development. The French say, “childhood is so short, why speed it up?”.

The flip-side of Rousseau’s theory is that kids need strict boundaries (so that they can frolick, but safely). What makes kids miserable and tantrums is that they get what they want to such a degree that they don’t know what they want… and they are miserably confused. And noisy about it. “This unaccustomed refusal will give him more torment than being deprived of what he desires… Education is a firm cadre, and inside is liberty,” he says.

As such, a mother’s use of the word “non” is hugely respected by French children because of the way mothers use the word “yes” more of than not. Authoritative as a pose to authoritarian parenting means that children are controlled by a strictness which is an education – a constant gentle tuition of why you do/don’t do thing – and not a punishment. (Although, they do let slip the power of “les gros yeux”, the bigyeyes, whereby mothers can shoot just a look and the kid obeys.)

Also, they allow little discrepancies, one of which is the phrase “Caca Boudin” – which basically means, “poo sausage”. Parents allow kids to mutter, yell or name anything this (within reason) as an acknowledgment that kids have their own little frustrated moments that need airing on occasion. But mostly, aside from harm-prevention, French parents are fairly hands-off and let kids roam around the playground (they don’t hover over the plaything). If they fall, they fall and will be more careful next time.

“The most important thing is that a child will be, in full security, autonomous as possible,” says the number one French parenting guru Francoise Dolto, whose parenting tips from the late 1960s are known as well as Dr Spock’s are in any Western household but for some reason didn’t cross the Channel. In essence,  she believed that a child, a baby, is a rational being. At bedtime, you can speak to a three month old that they must go to sleep, that this is good for them, and that you’ll see them in the morning…. and viola! They are sleeping through the night just like that.

Crucial to this however is the idea of “La Pause” – the idea that French parents do not jump to their child’s crying or spoken demands – they wait for even just a minute or two, (more like 10 minutes at nighttimes) and then calmly attend to them. They believe this teaches a child patience which is crucial to create civiil human being; children cannot learn how to deal with life’s little frustrations if they’re not gently tested this way from the beginning. It also teaches them to wait, and in the interim, to learn to amuse themselves by distracting themselves from the immediate waiting period (ie playing by itself in a cot).

As for food, well perhaps not surprisingly, French parents make the sensory pleasure of eating key to a child’s life. They will steam, puree, roast, pickle and season vegetables any which way until the child understands its many forms, and, eventually of course, likes it. The child must not necessarily finish the food, but they must taste all of it. Also, from the age of 4 months, they eat with the family meals – breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner. And that’s it. The result is most often that the kids are bloody hungry come meal time and will also help to encourage them to eat whatever is there.

But the best, best, best part about this book concerns the preservation of the parents. Ok, so the fully-funded creche and kindies allow mothers to return to work whilst providing wonderful environments for children to interact and grow. (The meals they serve these tots are envy-making too; think Michelin star for kids. But also, French mothers choose to feel no guilt about preserving time for themselves. So much so that they will book their kid in for an extra hour/day per week to read a book, do their hair, or see their husband. When it all gets a bit much, they won’t beat themselves up and say “Oh I’m such a bad mother”. Instead they say to one another “The perfect mother does not exist”. And poof! The guilt is gone.

Above all, the kid understands that though they are loved beyond all measure, the time between mums and dads is precious too, and they are not the centre of the universe. And so, the family balance (and sanity) is preserved.

Get your copy here.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

A great post by Big Think today about 10 relationship words that the English language does not provide for… i.e. they’re not translateable into a similar English word.

Funny part is, if you are an English speaker reading this,  you will read the below words and likely know the emotions probably behind them very well, even though you haven’t got the exact words to express them.

There is a lot of debate in psychology about the importance of language and thought. Some argue that language determines thought (ie you can’t think of something if you don’t know its name). Others argue thought comes before language (ie you can feel something but not have the words to express it)… this article fits into that category whereby these concepts will be very familiar to you (as English speakers) but not registered in your vocab.

Your amygdala (the part of your brain that stores for emotional memory) and your Wernicke’s area (the part of your brain that comprehends language) should be buzzing as you read this… but your Broca’s area (the part that produces speech) might feel a bit left out…

Enjoy the list of words below courtesy of Pamela Haag on Big Think.

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start. 

Oh yes, this is an exquisite word, compressing a thrilling and scary relationship moment. It’s that delicious, cusp-y moment of imminent seduction. Neither of you has mustered the courage to make a move, yet. Hands haven’t been placed on knees; you’ve not kissed. But you’ve both conveyed enough to know that it will happen soon… very soon. 

Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate or destiny. This is a complex concept. It draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends.

From what I glean, in common usage yuanfen means the “binding force” that links two people together in any relationship. 

But interestingly, “fate” isn’t the same thing as “destiny.” Even if lovers are fated to find each other they may not end up together. The proverb, “have fate without destiny,” describes couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason. It’s interesting, to distinguish in love between the fated and the destined. Romantic comedies, of course, confound the two.

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Retrouvailles (French):  The happiness of meeting again after a long time. 

This is such a basic concept, and so familiar to the growing ranks of commuter relationships, or to a relationship of lovers, who see each other only periodically for intense bursts of pleasure. I’m surprised we don’t have any equivalent word for this subset of relationship bliss. It’s a handy one for modern life.

Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way.

Ilunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

When I came across this word I thought of “unrequited” love. It’s not quite the same, though. “Unrequited love” describes a relationship state, but not a state of mind. Unrequited love encompasses the lover who isn’t reciprocating, as well as the lover who desires. La douleur exquisegets at the emotional heartache, specifically, of being the one whose love is unreciprocated.

 Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love. 

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.

Ya’aburnee (Arabic): “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

The online dictionary that lists this word calls it “morbid and beautiful.” It’s the “How Could I Live Without You?” slickly insincere cliché of dating, polished into a more earnest, poetic term.  

Forelsket: (Norwegian):  The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.

This is a wonderful term for that blissful state, when all your senses are acute for the beloved, the pins and needles thrill of the novelty. There’s a phrase in English for this, but it’s clunky. It’s “New Relationship Energy,” or NRE.

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love. Whether the object has been lost or will never exist, it feels the same to the seeker, and leaves her in the same place:  She has a desire with no future. Saudade doesn’t distinguish between a ghost, and a fantasy. Nor do our broken hearts, much of the time.

My first class at The School Of Life in Bloomsbury, London, explored ‘The Art of Conversation’.

Presenter John Paul Flintoff, columnist for the Sunday Times, delved into the history of conversation and discovered Irish novelist Johnathan Swift was in fact shy as a mouse and hated conversation. However, he was determined to have a good one, so he persevered…
If a man of his verbosity was felt like he had nothing great worth saying to people, then surely there’s hope for us all.

It’s been proven that conversation is a currenecy as important as money; psychological studies have shown that those who have deeper conversations rate themselves as happier than those who regard their conversations as largely superficial.

So here are six ways to have better conversations, courtesy of Mr Flintoff and The School of Life.

Six ways to have better conversations:

1/ Have curiosity about strangers – everyone is different but similar to you. Find out how much so.

2/ Take off your mask – everyone has one. See what changes when you make space for others to do the same.

3/ Empathy + lack of assumptions – we all know how to be kind but we forget. We also tend to box each other before we know them from a bar of soap. Remember your kindness (and how much you dislike being labelled), and you’ll find you have more connections with people.

4/ Get behind the job title – we are all more than our current job title. NEVER ask what people do! The curiosity might kill you for the entire length of the conversation, but it’s much more fun.

5/ Adventurous openings – try to avoid the formulaic. Ultimately people will thank you for it. We had some interesting ideas come up which revolved around asking people ‘the craziest things they’d ever done’ and ‘what is your biggest secret’. But if you think that’s off your richter scale of comfort, just aim to ask something about people’s appearance eg ‘where did you get your shoes’. People love that shit.

6/ Courage – it’s scary striking up conversations with strangers. After all, we’ve all been told not to do that from a young age. But with a spirit of adventure, great conversation can pull you apart, refresh you and make way for a new you. Don’t be shy…
Thanks to The School of Life and John Paul Flintoff for a wonderful evening. Book in, if you can, for more classes at www.theschooloflife.com.

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