Seven Small Talk Hacks for the Holidays

20091125-family-talking-350x263This is a time of year where you are likely to be involved in human interactions. Knowing how to interact in a way that makes the other person feel validated without having to invest too much of your soul into the process can be valuable if this isn’t something that comes naturally to you. With that in mind, here are seven conversation hacks I’ve learned over the years to make this holiday season just a little less exhausting.

person eye

1. Humans who are engaged in small talk like to monitor each other’s eyeballs for signs of distress. As a listener, you should direct your eyes toward those of the speaker 60% of the time and watch for changes in pupil dilation which can display excitement, focus or early indicators of a stroke. The rest of the time may be used to glance around for somebody who can save you from this conversation or to monitor exits. If you are talking, it is acceptable to reduce your eye contact to 30%.

talk-to-yourself2. When a human is telling you a rambling story about people you hardly know, it is possible to indicate that you are still conscious by nodding or grunting when they pause to inhale. If you have mastered this, try repeating a random verb or noun from their sentence and repeat it back to them each time they breathe. This hack creates the illusion that you are participating in their monologue and will cause them to view you as highly intelligent and trustworthy.

person pinpointing pen on calendar

3. To end a conversation with a human, ask about what they will be doing in the near future. Once they have explained their plans you have an opportunity to wish them well in those plans and then immediately disengage. If they ask what your plans are before you’ve completed your escape, your answer should be something you can do immediately after stating it, like topping up your drink or patting that dog over there. Once you’ve stated an intention to do that thing, assure the human that it was a lovely conversation and you’d like to continue it later, then walk away to engage in your stated task.

tumblr_oqs3z1xpNr1rg89a6o1_1280.jpg4. In the event that step three has not granted your freedom it is possible that you’ve performed steps one and two excessively well and the human has become addicted to your presence. If this is the case, attempt to call another human over and summarise one of the stories you’ve just heard. Upon hearing the summary, the first human will immediately begin retelling their story to the newcomer which you can then use to conceal your escape.

Positions-of-feet_3.jpg5. Sometimes you will find yourself enjoying a conversation with a human. This is when another human will decide to add themselves to your conversation and take it in a new direction. To communicate respect to the first human, keep your feet pointing at them. Pivot your hips to acknoledge the newcommer and tell them that you want to hear all about their story when you have finished your current conversation. This utilises the future plans effect of point three to end a conversation and also establishes a context to end your current conversation. You can now choose to wrap up your current conversation or continue it. At this point, assure the newcommer that you will come and find them shortly or thank the first human for the engaging conversation and wish them well as you pivot your feet toward the newcommer. You can also use the technique in point four to instead include the newcommer in the conversation.

third-wheel-6426. If you are engaged in a conversation with a human and a second human begins talking to them and they both seem to be ignoring you, place a hand palm down on the original human’s shoulder and whisper that you’ll catch up later, and then walk away. You are not obliged to wait for a natural pause in the conversation to announce your exit. Simply walking away without saying anything is also acceptable.

img_4092-1.jpg7. If you find yourself talking to a human who enthusiastically interrupts you to tell a story about themselves, extend your hand toward them palm down with your fingers spread and angled slightly up when you talk to indicate that your point isn’t finished. If you intend to share multiple points, state the number of points you intend to make at the beginning and then number each one as you say it. This then allows them to relax because you have taken responsibility for maintaining the conversation for a set time. If you are going to tell a story, start by saying what the conclusion of the story will be so that it is clear when you’ve reached the ending. If a human continues to interrupt with these techniques in place, it is acceptable to cut them off mid sentence but saying “just a moment” or “let me finish”.

Hopfully these techniques will make the seasonal obligation to engage in conversation with people you’d never seek out on your own a little more tollerable this season. Have a bearable human interaction!

What Men can Do

What can men (particularly young men) do to reduce sexual violence and harassment of women?

A friend asked me this when the #MeToo movement first started gaining momentum and I’ve been considering a response for some time.

My first consideration is that the usual advice doesn’t seem to be working. Publicly shaming every guy who ever made a woman uncomfortable doesn’t seem to be working. And as much as we can talk about men also being the victims of a lot of violence, it is overwhelmingly men who are the perpetrators of violence, sexual and otherwise. It is a male problem and “stop making it about men” also isn’t helping. So what would help? I’m not sure, but I’ve given it some thought. This is the advice I would give to men who are wondering how to start becoming part of the solution.

1. Don’t be a “Good Guy”

It is very easy to become defensive of criticism when the world is divided into “Good Guys” and “Rapists”.  Learn not to say “I didn’t do it” every time somebody tells you that you made them uncomfortable. If you can’t ever see yourself as anything less than perfect in every sexual encounter then you are going to walk all over other people’s consent and eventually you will rape somebody all while thinking you are still a Good Guy.

Instead, use each encounter as a learning experience. Communicating consent isn’t always going to be intuitive. It is something you learn. That learning experience means that sometimes you are going to push somebody’s boundaries and by a combination of inexperience and enthusiasm it is inevitable that you will end up in situations where somebody ended up doing something they weren’t comfortable with. Talk about it and learn from it. You aren’t expected to be perfect right away. You are expected to learn from your small mistakes and adapt your behaviour so you don’t make big mistakes in the future.

2. Making the First Move

As a man, you are culturally expected to initiate ALL physical interactions you may have with women.

This is not a perfect situation but it is what you are working with. It is inevitable that if you are putting yourself out there you are going to encounter rejection and you are going to cross somebody else’s boundaries at some point while you learn how to see boundaries. In that acknowledgement, if you think you may have crossed somebody else’s boundaries: ask. If you did, apologise without defending or explaining. Try to understand how they felt in the situation. Learn how to read the situation better to avoid doing it to someone else. Keep experimenting and communicating. It’ll make sense one day.

3. Quit Slut Shaming

Quit telling sex workers that they don’t have a real job, or that they are selling anything other than a service. Quit trying to limit access to abortions to punish women for having sex by forcing them into parenthood. Quit telling women what they should and should not do with their bodies.

This might come as a shock, but this ridiculous mating dance we’ve created where women pretend they aren’t interested in sex (to avoid being labelled a slut) and then allow men to “convince” them is where rape culture comes from. If a woman boasts to you about a sexual conquest, give her a fist bump. Do NOT tell her that her body is like a car or a flower or some crap about people not wanting to buy cows. Pretending that women have to be “pure” rather than empowered is every bit as dangerous as any “locker room talk”. Shut it down when you see it, especially when it is said by somebody in authority.

4. Gendered Communication

Try to learn the differences between how boys and girls are taught to speak and behave. Women have a lot of social pressure telling them to be agreeable and humble while men are expected to be confident and competitive. Breaking down that culture is a bit much for any man, even a very confident one. Instead, seek to allow space for the women in your life to express themselves in the way they’re comfortable with. Women may not be able to outright say what they want. Instead of just doing what you want to do in the absence of a clear “no”, give her opportunities to have an input into your shared experiences without having to outright turn you down.

5. Sex-Drive Myth

Don’t buy into the myth that men are supposed to want sex all the time. A huge portion of public sexual harassment of women by men is men displaying their sexuality to other men. This kind of behaviour is mostly engaged in by men who are self-conscious about their sexuality. Encourage the men in your life to bond with you over interests other than sex and displays of physical prowess.

Amputation to Prevent Child Rape in Matthew 18:7-9?


downloadWhat is this verse really about? I’m not 100% sure but this image came up in my newsfeed today and it got me thinking. I’m not claiming any authority to know what this means but I have written down my thinking process o you can read along and see if you come to similar conclusions.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:7-9 NIV)

This is the version of this verse most Christians will be familiar with. As a young single Christian man struggling with reigning in my bodily desires, my main area of persistent struggle involved two eyes and at least one hand so this verse appeared to have a very clear meaning to me. What prevented any serious self-inflicted body modifications at that time was the knowledge that being a blind amputee probably wouldn’t be a great witness to the redemptive power of Christ in my life. I was given some pretty terrible advice around masturbation at that time, but I’m thankful that nobody ever suggested “Well if it is causing you this much of a problem, just cut off your hand and gouge your eyes out”.

But why? For a church that believed the Bible to be the literal word of God, why pick and choose what verses you’re going to follow? I thought about that a lot at the time. Then, like most Christians, I packed that verse away in the closet with the verses about beating your wife and never trimming your facial hair. Today though, I want to kick away the cobwebs and bring this verse out into the open to see what it really says. So let’s break it down.

Firstly, let’s make a note that this chunk is located after Jesus putting a child amongst the disciples and telling them that whoever is least in society will be greatest in heaven Immediately after he tells the disciples not to hate those who are least in society because God care for each one.

Before we get too deep into the specifics, it is important to note that there is no single “correct translation” for words in this context. The Hebrew language and the Hebrew usage of Ancient Greek in the first century are heavy with double and triple meanings. Every word choice carries cultural innuendo and connotations and the correct understanding includes these subtexts for the words rather than attempting to completely substitute an English word in place of the original word. In breaking down the meanings of individual words, I will attempt to determine the active use of the word in context but also reveal the subtle secondary meanings that a native speaker would have understood as part of the meaning.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin!”
The single word that this version converts into “temptation to sin” is σκανδαλίζω (skan-dal-id’-zo). The roots of the word are to do with falling into a trap and its use at the time could mean anything from tripping over something on the ground to becoming indignant. It could also mean to be caused to sin. So this sentence starts with exasperation; follows with the subject which can be the physical world or society at large, which is being affected by something causing a trip or indignation. We could translate this as “Damn it all for these scandals!”

For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

This section doesn’t go into why it is necessary for temptations to come but it does call it necessary. The word here is ἀνάγκη, ης, ἡ (an-ang-kay’). The roots imply a timely action to meet an immediate need and are generally positive in their connotation. The word can imply compulsion or even violent force. So temptation is a force for good that is forced onto society and all of the individual members of society.

“but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”

Woah there! It is a good thing but woe to the person who brings it? Pretty much. So if the temptation is my lustful thoughts toward beautiful women then the one who brings temptation or indignation must be the woman right? So fuck her right? Just a second! Check the context, we’re right in the middle of two verses saying that those who are least in society (and women and children were about as low is you could get in that culture) are the greatest in God’s kingdom. So who is responsible for sexually objectifying women? Whose fault is it if a woman who is dressed provocatively is sexually assaulted? Let’s read on!
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away

Boom! You are responsible for what you do with your own body. Jesus doesn’t tell women to cover up to avoid becoming a temptation to men. He instead tells a room full of men that if they are worried that their hands will cause them to commit an act that would cause outrage and indignation in the community that it would be better to mutilate their own body then to act on those impulses. More importantly, he makes it clear where the responsibility lies.

The word here for hand is χείρ, χειρός, ἡ (khire) which can mean the thing at the end of your arm or in can be the means you use to carry out an action. So if your broadband connect is causing you to sin then it would be better to unplug it. The cause is still clear, it is the thing the sinner uses to act on their temptation that causes the sin, NOT the object of their desire. I’ve gone into a lot of detail in a previous post about what the Bible means when it talks about “feet”. This chunk could easily be seen as saying that if your penis causes you to rape, then it would be better to chop it off than to rape somebody.

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.

The new word here is ὀφθαλμός, οῦ, ὁ (of-thal-mos’) which can mean a physical eye but is also talking about the imagination. Again, there is no blame placed on the thing or person you are looking at. The one who brings temptation to men in terms of sexual sin is your mind, your means of action, and your dick.

It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire… It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire

There’s only a few things to address here. The word that translates as one eyed has no added meaning as it would in English. It just means having only one eye. The references to eternal fire and hell fire are both referencing a belief held by Pharisees (a Jewish sect who differed from the traditionalist Sadducees for their belief in eternal life, angels, demons, eternal punishment beyond death, and an emphasis on oral tradition over the authority of scripture).

So to bring it all together:

Damn these actions that cause scandal and outrage in our community! Outrage is important and beneficial to social growth but damn you if you’re the one who brings it! You want to blame your circumstances or opportunities for your actions in harming vulnerable people? Well I’ll tell you this! If your position of authority makes you take advantage of the people in your care, then quit. If your penis makes you rape, cut it off. And if your mind is just hard wired to hurt vulnerable people then a lobotomy would be a good step. You don’t have to do those things, but if you can’t control your urges any other way, it would be better to do that than to commit crimes that harm the vulnerable members of society because if I catch you harming kids with your power, your penis or your imagination I will set you on fire forever.

Sorry this isn’t more concise. I’m just rambling through the book at this stage. I might put something together later that is a bit more solid after I’ve had more time to think on it. Do you agree with my conclusions? Do you think the verse means something different? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

What Jesus Said on Homosexuality

10298943_202448230099115_7105373244802606819_n This image has been doing the rounds on social media lately. It isn’t bad, and makes a great starting point for a dialogue about rights for homosexual Christians. Unfortunately it is not a complete argument. Quoting this to Christians who know their New Testament and want to argue that God opposes homosexuality will get you into a tight spot fairly quickly, and not in a good way.

While Jesus himself says nothing on the topic (not strictly true but let’s roll with it), the apostle Paul does seem to say a fair bit. In what is arguably the first book of the New Testament in terms of date of authorship Paul pretty much opens with a story about an arrogant city who God destroyed by making all the straight people gay. It doesn’t list homosexuality itself as their sin but it is a go-to verse for Christians who want to claim that homosexuality and Christianity are mutually exclusive, so it needs to be addressed. Read Romans One carefully and check if it does actually say that it is sinful for people who are naturally homosexual to practice what is natural for them, or does it say something else?

Secondly, Paul claims to be responsible for the doctrine of Gentile Christians not being bound to the Old Testament rules of Mosaic law/lore. The four concessions to complete freedom was that Gentile Christians should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. That last one is what people will cling to because it is repeated ALMOST as many times in the New Testament as the command that male believers are to kiss each other on the lips whenever they meet. This is one of those tricky ones because the word that is translated as “sexual immorality” is a word that Paul seems to have made up and doesn’t appear in texts by any other author. The root word means to “sell off” and is contextually linked to the diagrams temple prostitutes would draw to show what activities they were available for within the context of divine sexuality for profit (this was a practice of some of the Roman temples, the Hebrew temple had largely stamped that out but there is biblical evidence that it had been an issue during the Babylonian occupation). It was translated into the more general “sexual immorality” during a time of schism within the church and has a lot of political motivation behind the choice of words.

So that verse can mean one of two things:
1) Don’t eat food sacrificed to other gods, don’t drink blood as part of a worship ritual of other gods, don’t eat animals killed in an inhumane way for purposes of ritual sacrifice to other gods, don’t be gay.
2) Don’t eat food sacrificed to other gods, don’t drink blood as part of a worship ritual of other gods, don’t eat animals killed in an inhumane way for purposes of ritual sacrifice to other gods, don’t participate in ritual prostitution as part of the worship of other gods.

I know that’s a lot to take in, but I think it is important that people are equipped to engage Christians on their own beliefs and ask “does your bible really say that?” with a bit of solid knowledge to back that up.

Marginalised by Correct Spelling?

I am a big fan of standardised English as an equaliser.

Before there was a standardised English, you could tell where somebody was raised by how they spoke and how they spelled. Since there was no standard set of spellings to refer to as correct, a person’s class of birth could be easily guessed.

The standardisation of the Queen’s English allowed the rules of the language to be set down and the culture of correct English rather than local dialects developed. So now your quality as a person could be gauged by your ability to master the admittedly complex and occasionally inconsistent but Standard and Correct rules. It was the great equaliser because anybody with a wit and will do do so could communicate in a form of English which was not only understood throughout the Empire but would allow the common man to speak and write like a prince.

This holds true today. In formal settings there is formal English. It is a language whose rules are readily available to anybody who cares to learn them. It is not elitist and it is not regional. It is a single language which, when used correctly, can communicate eloquence and education to any other person who speaks it.

Now obviously language is a fluid thing, and vernacular especially so. This is why it is good to have a standardised formal language which everybody can aspire to for formal discourse. Formal language should be the very last part of English to adapt to new norms so that there is always at least some part of the language where there is a definite “correct” way of doing things.

Once we let go of a centralised standard against which all variations are measures then we go back to linguistic tribalism.

Standardised language doesn’t marginalise people. Failure to sufficiently standardise language is what marginalises people.

Contextualising the Bible on Marriage Equality

Q: What does the Bible say about mixed race marriage, mixed class marriage and same sex marriage?

A: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

SI ExifQ: What does the Bible say about mixed race marriage, mixed class marriage and same sex marriage?

A: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

gaymarriageQ: Will there be “gay marriage” or “traditional marriage” in heaven?

A: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
I am following the modern tradition of cherry picking verses to suit an agenda. Have you noticed that every verse quoted regarding homosexuality is actually referring to a specific religious practice which was associated with idol worship in the first century and that there is no condemnation against men cohabiting and loving one another as equals?

Have you noticed people who want to use the bible oppose marriage equality by citing verses that define marriage between a man and a woman and skipping the context that the marriages being referred to generally involved a man buying a young girl from her father without her involvement? Modern marriage bears scant resemblance to any aspect of first century marriage and most people would agree that society is better off for it.

Figure 1.

The verse I’ve quoted does, however, provide a principle which the verses taken out of context to condemn homosexuality do not do. The principle (one which the early baptists died in the thousands for daring to suggest) is that cultural distinctions of class, race and gender are social constructs which it is God’s plan to do away with. It is well in keeping with the original baptist philosophy that equality of all people is a goal to be strived toward and that if that means breaking down some outdated ideas about marriage definitions then so be it.

It is strange to see Baptists even suggest that homosexuals should take a vow of celibacy when the earliest Baptists were raiding convents and liberating cloistered nuns of their vows and their virginity in celebration of a new understanding of God’s word.

Perhaps it would be wise to examine the context of the verses you quote out of a love of telling people what they should do with their genitals before calling somebody else out on the context of the verses they use. Otherwise the measure you use to judge somebody else may be used to judge you also (Matthew 7:1-3).

Marriage equality is about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:23).