You are not an X

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I often think about how statistics impact our lives. The French sociologist Michel Foucault made a big deal of the scientific discourse, suggesting that power ultimately lies more there than with the individual politicians making the decisions. Though we are living in the midst of corona, right now it’s not corona my mind is thinking about, but individual human potential! When we look at the correlations science has revealed about our bodies, minds, and social lives, adding them all up you might feel like you only have a very narrow path of possibilities; limited capacities for your future. You belong to certain risk group for something and your age, gender, and diet allowes you a certain likelihood for something and so on. Life is full of limited possibilities, right?

I starkly contrast this thinking. While at the level of the whole society we can get very strong correlations and predictions of people and their life outcomes, at the level of any single person, there is equally MASSIVE individual freedom that counters it all. Think about it: any correlation revealed is revealed in a large group of people identifying, even in the most considerate analyzes, just a minimal portion of those variables that might be relevant to the phenomena under study. How do I know that? Because the number of possible variables are limitless and eventually everything is connected to everything in some way or another. Moreover, there is one variable that never yields to be tamed: your individual freedom of choice. You, can, make, choices. It is true that our habit energies are strong, and a mere decision to change often fails. Yet there are some decisions that give you huge opportunities.

A person struggling with addiction CAN leave their contact information to an addiction counselor, and at the millisecond of the press of the enter, they have migrated from the group “addicted” to the group “in recovery” and changed all the probabilities for their life outcomes. A person struggling alone with shame and fear around their sexual lives can write a message to a sexological counselor, and in a millisecond the probabilities for healthy and happy sexuality have drastically changed. A person in a violent relationship can call the women’s shelter; and a person without a meaning in their lives, though everything seems to be ok and normal, can join a group of spiritual seekers and walk into the forest alone to contemplate in silence. All these choices radically change the probabilities of any important life outcome and these choices CAN BE MADE. Remember your power! You are not the X of any statistical analysis.

Eye contact and online chatting

Cuddle

Eye contact is one of the most important ways of connection for human beings. We have evolved through millions of years to look each others in the eyes and get a feeling of weather we can trust this person or not. For couples, there is one moment when eye contact is more powerful than ever. This is right after having sex and especially after an orgasm. At this moment there is an exceptionally high level of oxytocin in your bloodstream, making you very receptive to feelings of closeness and trust. So if you want to have a casual relationship with someone, be careful about eye contact in this moment. One of you could easily develop an emotional bond that was not intended. On the other hand, if you are in a committed relationship, or want to start one, be sure not to miss the opportunity to stay in bed, skin to skin, looking each others in the eyes. This strengthens the bond between you and gives you eve positive memories connected to being in bed with your partner, therefore making the desire to have sex, that often is a problem in longterm relationships, happen more spontaneously next time.

One worrying thing about human interactions today is the amount of time people use in online interaction. Whereas Skype calls, FaceTime and such at least lets you see the face of the other person, chatting in WhatsApp, Messenger and like, is so stripped from the major elements of what constitutes human interaction, that research shows that on average people engaged in online interaction do not actually get any alleviation for their loneliness by doing it. This is in drastic contrast to the effect that interpersonal interaction face to face has repeatedly shown to be contributing to peoples well-being. Good social relations increase your expected lifespan even more than quitting cigarettes. The research of Osmo Kontula from Finland shows how the time couples spend online has been increasing while the times they have sex has been decreasing. To me it seems that sometimes couples talk to each other more through some device than eye to eye.

I think the problem with chat interaction is that it shares enough characteristics of face-to-face interaction (like it happening turn by turn and it being seen or assumed that the message has been received) that the norm about answering to messages relatively fast has gotten pretty strong. Therefore people try to avoid answering to messages slowly, because it would be breaking the now common norms and so require an explanation. Giving explanations is not fun and Harold Garfinkel, the father of ethnomethodology, thought that in fact the whole existence of social norms is due to people wanting to avoid it. And while messages now demand a quick reply, the shortness and the casual nature assigned to them puts the limit of sending a message much lower than for example making a phone call. It is interesting to see that emails have still maintained their status as something not requiring an immediate response, even though people can now access them with their smartphones just as easily than messages sent in other formats.

So it is understandable that we spend a lot of time answering messages. And as it seems almost like real talk, an answer often creates an expectation of a reply, which creates an expectation of an affirmation of the reply and voila! we are chatting. It is just sad that our brains do not seem to deeply enough realize that it actually is interaction with another person. The contribution that this chatting is giving to the development of the most important aspects of relationships seem very mild. Trust, closeness and willingness to give social support usually stay at a completely unchanged level after hours and hours of chatting. This is why so many people feel that even after sharing something in chat, when they actually see the other person face to face, they want to go through the same topic again. I suggest trying never sharing it in chat, at least if you have a chance to share it soon enough face to face. When you share about your life face to face, there are billions of neurons being attentive to all the small variations of tone of voice, all the micro-expressions on the face, every little millisecond between the words spoken and every second the eyes have been looking at each others. And all this makes you feel like you have really shared with another human being, they have heard and listened to you, responded to you positively and your brains are therefore now assured that there are people around who care about you – and then you no longer feel alone.

So think twice before missing any opportunity of face to face interaction in favor of staring at black letters appearing on a smartphone screen. There are huge differences between different forms we can connect as human beings.

The honeymoon and “bad moon” of expat life

Many speak of a “honeymoon period” and the troubles that can arise after it in romantic relationships, but those who have settled to live in a foreign country might notice something similar with their relationship to their new surroundings. Some time ago I was writing an article while waiting for a bus. I planned to continue my work during the ride but was surprised to find it impossible. For a moment I had forgotten that buses are driven quite differently in Finland and France. For a Finnish person, a French bus ride can feel a bit like being in a rally car.

It takes time for all of our unconscious expectations to adjust to meet the reality of a new culture. Small individual instances like a bus ride are usually easy to face but it is never in our control how many small adversities we face during the same day. For the cultural native the frustration of an expat might sometimes sound like overreacting and people rarely enjoy hearing repeated criticism of their culture. This is therefore one of the common causes of arguments in many intercultural relationships. The arguments can be augmented if the expat life’s honeymoon period ends at the same time as that of the relationship. It should be remembered though, that just like the honeymoon period, when you paid so much attention to all the positive aspects of your new situation, also the “bad moon period”, when you notice more the things that are challenging, will pass.

“Ruisleipä” as an example of free will in expat experience

Today I was making a bread order to a local baker introduced to me by my friends in the village. I had a choice between a few different types of traditional French bread that all seemed delicious and some of them, like the “Campagne”, I had already tasted and loved. I googled the pictures about French “Complet” and remembered how I told my friends about the Finnish “ruisleipä” (rye bread), which has so strong and somehow heroic taste and structure.

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Then, while looking at the pictures of “ruisleipä” I felt somehow connected to all the other people living away from their countries of origin. I had known many of them while I lived in Finland and I remember the shining eyes of the man who served me strong black tea – Persian style, and the pride my Italian friend took in preparing a decent coffee. There is a window of free will in these moments. Weather your mind goes into the direction of interpreting that something is missing in your life – because you are not in your native culture anymore, or weather you perceive that you have something extra in your life – because on top of the culture you are living in now, you also have the gems of your native culture to enjoy.

You can enjoy these gems as nostalgic, maybe a bit silly and exaggerated tales, similar to those that old people tell of the “Good Old Times” all around the world, or if you really get inspired, you can start an adventurous project of preparing something concrete. If I really get excited about experiencing “ruisleipä” and sharing this wonder with my French friends, I can buy rye flour and learn to prepare it myself. This way I can actually end up closer to “ruisleipä” than I was in Finland, where I never made it myself, but only bought it from the supermarket.