Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sometimes You Say I'm Just a Friend

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell toils; it toils for the.”  Jonne Donn
I can grin when I am alone, I sometimes cry in solitude, I create my daily agenda, I can create and I can complete homework. I can plan events, run errands but all that I do has a limit.

I am an extension of others. I am the faith of my grandparents, the perseverance of my grandparents and the repercussions of dedication and care of my parents. I am product of a loving community, a supportive family, caring teachers, thoughtful mentors, amazing friends and a merciful God.

I am who I because of the intentionality and sacrifice of others.

I’ve always been comfortable with being alone and technological advancements have condoned a culture of seclusion.               

Technology has decreased the amount of intentional interactions humans have with one another.

Information was originally conveyed through storytelling. Tribesmenship was an essential component to individual survival.

Now one’s entire existence can be completed without ever having to physically meet another person.

Technology has made life more convenient than ever, but it has made fulfillment almost unobtainable. Satisfaction only derives when one feels they have earned something.

Despite the release of dopamine that I receive after a text message, Facebook like or Snap Chat- there is something missing.

It’s like using high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, like wearing an under-armor jacket instead of a coat, like eating frozen yogurt instead of ice-cream. It’s fun, it’s convenient, but it is so empty. The false pretense is so strong that you can actually go a long time before you realize how empty you actually feel.

Human relationships take time, sacrifice and intentionality.

My mom’s cousin is in a rehabilitation facility, he has been low-functioning since coming out a coma last year.

This week we went to visit him, and it was my first time to do so. In my heart I didn’t want to. I don’t like nursing homes, hospitals being around sickness that makes me feel sympathetic and reminds me just how well I am. It is humbling and uncomfortable.

In high school, I mentioned once that I didn’t like nursing homes or hospitals, and my chemistry patiently remarked, “Nobody does.”

That has always stayed with me.

I went to the rehabilitation facility because my mom wanted to go. My mom went because she wanted to see about her cousin, and she wanted to see about her cousin because she loves him. She loves him because she cares for him, prays for him and conveys her love through intentional and sacrificial actions.

She didn’t like a Facebook post, solicit prayer through a shallow status update or send him a card. 

She intentionally set aside the time to go visit.

Relationships don’t happen haphazardly, that is why so many people live empty lives because it takes effort that society has grown unaccustomed to.

When I consider some of my failed friendships, they dissolved because of lack of effort. Moving forward, it isn’t my goal to make more friends, but to be a better friend to the people I already know.

The Restrictions of Religion

I hail from Muskogee, Oklahoma- the county seat with a population of around 30,000 kind, traditional and somewhat conformist individuals.

I had 114 in my graduating class. Of these 114 people there was little religious/ spiritual variety. Last weekend in a conversation with my mom, we discussed how most students and staff from my high school attended one of two local churches.

Churches can be great places to grow in one's spiritual journey, but can also hinder personal growth.

When choosing a place of worship, many individuals seek a place where they are comfortable, where their beliefs are confirmed, ideologies and methodologies repeated- things which are not negative within themselves, but it can impede one's tolerance for different ideas and viewpoints.

The problem with my high school classmates all attending the same church, is that they all thought the same way about religion and spiritually. They all viewed religious practices as absolute, with their's being right and deviation from the social norm as wrong.

These thought patterns are humanistic, and as human I too am guilty of occasional narrow-mindedness.

I attend a church where I feel welcome, loved and able to grow. As I mature, I know that all people seek these same things, but may go about it in different ways. It is my love for others that prompts me to respect and support others in their spiritual journeys without judgement.

Really churches are just buildings.

The true value of a church comes from edifice’s function of fostering spiritual growth.  The grandeur of a cathedral is not in its religious appearance, but in its spiritual potential.  -Kalen Russell, The Majesty Within

Religion oversimplifies the human experience and discourages diversity and inclusivity.

I find spirituality to be more inclusive. Within Christianity, differences are accepted, celebrated and add to the strength of the group.

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many." 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
So if diversity within a religion is good,  why would diversity of religion be considered bad?

Many religions are founded upon the same principles- love, unity and service to others, event those who are different.

Like me, most pictured in this photo have attended their whole lives. 
The church is one of the strongest echo chambers, and sense religion is so closely linked to identity, these echo chambers are difficult to dismantle.

I try to find my identity from within, from who I am. Not where I worship.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Though I'm Wrong, I Write

I think critically, I share my thoughts and I grow. I better utilize my strengths and I am more aware of my weaknesses.

“To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else." His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

I enjoy studying cultural competency and the importance of diversity. Though I condemned echo-chambers in my last post, I  realize that I may reside in an echo chamber myself.
How can you say, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while you yourself fail to see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Luke 6:42

Self-reflection is essential to growth, but it is often difficult. Outside noises, influences, ideas and comfort impede our ability to think critically about well- how we think. 

Plato describes our confinement to our perceptions through an illustration of a cave, which shows how our culture influences our view of reality.

My blogging has grown more personal. Instead of covering cultural topics that I am familiar with, I write about my personal learning experiences, shortcomings and situations that have forced me to think differently.

My life application blog posts are more fulfilling than the more comfortable topics that I began with. I am stretching myself to see beyond my own perspective and include the perspectives and thoughts of others.
Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses. -Plato
Blogging is important to my major because free, open and inclusive thought is necessary to all ethical communication.

Blogging is important to my career because marketing strategies and ideas never come from conformity. Success comes from deviation from the norm, pushing boundaries and thinking differently. We often marginalize creative pursuits to what one does, but creativity comes from how one thinks, and learning to think about how you think is the highest form of intelligence.

Everyone wants to be a better person, but we rarely dedicate the time necessary to bettering ourselves. This class helped me to better myself, by setting aside a few hours each week solely for reflection and growth. I plan to continue to blog once this semester ends, challenging myself with new topics and always striving towards personal growth.

Most importantly I have learned to think, to think for myself, to think about myself and to think about others.

I think therefore I am. Rene Decartes
I experience therefore I think. Kalen Russell 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lessons in Leadership

"Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing." Tom Peters.
Anyone can manage a group's output without much skill or effort, but leading a group and enhancing the strength of each individual is rare/.

Leadership is not stagnant, but adaptive to the needs of a situation and a group.

For example, even if you make the world's best peach cobbler, you can not use a peach cobbler's ingredients to make a cake. It doesn't work.

A new varsity girl's basketball coach was hired my sophomore year of high school. He originally coached boys at a smaller school and had an amazing coaching record.

The whole school was excited to have a new coach and looked forward to building a better basketball team.

During his first months on the job, he pushed us past complacency and pointed out faults that had gone unnoticed for years. Players were improved individually and team was more cohesive than ever.

He continued to push the team to new heights, but not without a cost. Our record was at a higher than ever, but the morale of the team was low.

"Coaching boys is different than coaching girls," my dad knowingly remarked. "Girls get upset and will quit if they feel wronged, while most boys will get mad and play harder."

As if clairvoyant , my dad was right. After a record setting season, star players began to quit.

Coaching is the ultimate example of leadership because there is little direct input into the team's outcome. A coach observes and trains each player to be their best, minimizing individual weaknesses to amplify group strengths.

This was an amazing coach. His only flaw was in not adjusting his leadership style to meet the needs of his team.

Leaders must adapt to the dynamics of a group. 

Being accepted into the President's Leadership Council was a large component of my decision to attend UCO. I'm a required to be an active member of at least two campus organizations and complete twelve community service hours each semester.

In high school I was used to being a leader and having everyone follow, but being a part of a group where everyone was accustomed to being a leader was jarring.

Once again my dad reflected on my experience," It's like being on a college football team huh? Everyone is used to being the best."

He was right, and I adopted a softer leadership approach. I played up my interpersonal skills and affected change through one-on-one interactions instead of the dictator approach I used in high school.

It worked and I even made friends.

I currently serve as secretary of the UCO Black Student Association, which has also increased my leadership skills.

I discussed my leadership journey with the BSA President. She surmised that I would have still matured without BSA, "You would have been a leader anyway because of PLC."

I explained that I would have been the same leader because leadership skills are developed uniquely depending on each circumstance, and each circumstance necessitates different leadership skills.

How I lead in the President's Leadership Council is different from how I lead in the Black Student Association.

In both groups I use interpersonal skill, to accomplish tasks and encourage others, but I edit my delivery depending on the culture of the group.

Comparatively the groups are starkly different, but within each group their is a common culture, cultural cues, signals, signs, words and habits that affirm that one is a part of a group.

Depending on the group, I use certain  song references, jokes, cultural familiarizes and quotes.

In the duality of my interactions, I never lose my identity because I am the accumulation of my personal experiences and interactions that I have had.

We can all lead without changing ourselves, but our leadership can be misinterpreted if we don't adapt our delivery to meet the needs of the group.

Knowing the needs of a group comes from experience and interactions with others.

Being an influential leader takes effort, but the best leaders always manage.

Eeriness of Echo Chambers in Blogging

La Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Social media prompts users to live within echo chambers. Echo chambers are created by individuals with similar ideologies, reinforcing ideas and inhibiting diversity of thought.
            Within the many social media platforms, blogs are the most user specific. For every hobby, religion, food preference and random thought there is blog, which allows an individual to feel as though they belong. This belonging prioritizes group identity, restricting diversity of thought and preventing personal development. “Highly cohesive groups intensely reject deviant individuals,” or ideas that threaten the group’s values (Gilbert, et al).
            Humans naturally oversimplify complex ideas to make them easier to understand (Baranuik). Social media encourages and accelerates the simplification process encouraging: “tribalism, insulation” through a diverse selection of news sources (Baranuik). individuals can “cherry-pick” the information that they are exposed to (Baranuik). Interestingly, the increase is the diversity of media outlets has decreased diversity of thought because many social media users are not exposed to information that conflicts with their beliefs.
            The University of Illinois conducted a study over 1,000 comments placed on the top 33 blogs (Gilbert, et al.). The semantics of each comment were evaluated using a standardized assessment. Of the comments studied 49.4% of comments are neutral, 39.2% agreed with the author and 11.1% disagreed author (Gilbert et. Al).  The low controversy in blog comments shows that blog users rarely follow blogs that they disagree with.
With my study tour group in Cordoba, Spain
            Social theorist and utilitarian John Stuart Mill strongly believed diversity of thought to be “invaluable” to personal development. In an age of convenience, it is more necessary than ever to do what is challenging. To create a more equitable and inclusive society, social media users must step away from comfortable URLS and explore new ideas and ways of thinking.

With classmates in historic gypsy caves Granada, Spain


Sunday, March 5, 2017

According to the Academy, Kalen and Drew

Without music life would be a mistake.- Friedrich Nietzsche 
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences is best known for the GRAMMY Awards. Each year the Recording Academy’s voting membership decides what artists and producers will be considered for and/or awarded a GRAMMY.
Each voting member can vote in up to 15 categories, but the voting results are not known until the day of the GRAMMY Awards when winners are announced on stage.
Due to difference in opinion, preference and sometimes talent, there is always public response to who receives a GRAMMY.
Due to its prestige, Album of the Year is one of the mostly scrutinized categories.
We then discussed how cultural impact should be decided.In a conversation a few weeks ago, my friend Drew stated that he believed cultural impact should be a criteria in choosing album of the year.
  1. By how many times people of one culture are impacted by an album?
  2. By how many people of different cultures are impacted by an album?
In communications those questions are defined as:
  • frequency: how many times an individual is exposed to an message
  • reach: how many individuals are exposed to a message at least once
Drew and I both agreed that reach was more important. Influencing people of different cultures and backgrounds has a greater social effect than only being able to influence individuals of the same culture.
Reaching various groups inspires creativity and demonstrates reliability, elements characteristic of the most influential and remembered art.

"I am whatever I say I am"

"Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth." - Alan Watts
It's easy, but kind of pointless.
My name is Kalen.
  • I'm majoring in Strategic Communications.
  • I like to read and write.
  • I'm graduating next May.
  • I think I'm pretty funny.
  • I love to drink coffee and eat dessert.
  • I have great friends.
I could easily list the people who have made the greatest impact on my life, or the experiences that "changed the way I thought about everything," but there would still no clarification on who I really am.
I am more than lists, more than just my preferences, characteristics or adjectives. I am the accumulation of my experiences, thoughts and interactions.
Defining oneself is intriguing, but limiting.
Identity is more fluid and it creates a bond between individuals.
  1. the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
    "he knows the identity of the bombers"
  2. a close similarity or affinity
Describing my identity allows for a more accurate interpretation of who I am. My identity portrays which groups I consider myself a member to, my perspective and my cultural affiliations.
I identify as a 21 year old, African-American, heterosexual female. I'm a Christian and I have an extroverted personality.
The terminology I've used to identify myself, reveals how I view myself and the cultural contexts that have shaped my perspective.
Humans are meant for relationships with others, so it is natural to identify and understand what groups we feel a part of. These associations create our identities, while our characteristics create our personalities.
Despite the words of Marshall Mathers, it only matters how you identify yourself.
-Eminem, The Way I Am 2000

microaggressions – BIG SCREEN

Get Out was the number one in America last weekend. Written by comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out uses satire to discuss racism and its subsequent prejudices and microagressions.
This film combines fiction and reality to make the topic of race more palatable/ comfortable. Microaggressions are a common phenomenon. They plague the media, relationships and conversations.
the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
They are typically are conveyed through back-handed compliments or comments that just feel off. Intentional or unintentional,  micoaggressions leave the receiver of a message feeling confused and degraded.
Most microaggressions are created through making an assumption about someone based on a component of their identity.
For example:
  • Telling an international student that they “speak English really good.”- Why wouldn’t they?
  • Telling a young lady that the is “pretty for a black girl.”- Is prettiness reserved for certain races?
  • Asking if they “drive cars in your country?”- Why assume the development of a country is lesser than America just because you haven’t heard of it?
Sometimes those who utilize microaggressions do so unintentionally and mean no harm. But regardless of the intent, microagressions are hurtful and indicative that prejudices are still a prevalent part of society.
I liken the satire of Get Out to that of a modern The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Though humorous and entertaining, the audience is cognizant of a deeper underlying issue.
Mark Twain and  Jordan Peele have both used their platforms to bring awareness to racial inequality.
Microaggressions stem from assumptions and you know what they say about assuming…
So don’t assume. Be intentional. Be inclusive. Be thoughtful. If you make a mistake (as I often do) apologize, and try not to make the same mistake twice.