These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"In Groups We Shrink"

This week in my English classes we discussed the dynamics of a crowd or group. We examined two essays, "In Groups We Shrink" by Carol Tavris and George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell's essay was an example that accompanied Tavris' essay.

What the essays were saying had to do with how a person, or individual, "shrinks" in a crowd. Individuals lose who they are once they are in a crowd. Something happens that we become part of the collective. The group operates as one. I used the example of the Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation. I also told the classes a story of an incident when I was 12 or so, where we were gathered in San Jose outside one of hte houses. Two boys started fighting. Really one boy started picking on another boy. This other boy was slow. Still, we all gathered in a half circle and watched as this boy got his assed kicked around. Some spectators watched, others cheered. But no one did a damn thing to stop it. Why? WE knew it was wrong. This boy caused no harm to anyone.

We learned that when the crowd works as a whole, no one wants to step up. Reasons for this include: embarrassment, defussion of responsibility, fear of retaliation and approval of the action.

We don't want to go against the group. We can be seen as outcasts. So we sit back and watch as events transpire. It's sick , really. I remember the events of htat day in San Jose very vivid, even though it was more than 25 years ago. Events stay with you.

In his essay, Orwell talks about a time when he shot and killed an elephant that had gone rogue (he eventually killed a man). Orwell, who was a police officer in Burma which was under British rule, was sent out to kill the elephant. Two thousand Burmans showed up. He did not want to kill it, felt the elephant (who was in heat) had finally calmed. But the crowd "wanted" it, though no one actually told him to kill it. He felt compelled to do it. And if he hadn't killed the elephant, there would have been tremendous embarrassement-- he was after all a police officer (and the minority in Burma, even though Britons controlled). He felt helpless and shot the elephant. It took many shots and much time until the elephant died. He felt bad but justified thekilled because the elephant killed a man.

Crowds are dangerous.

The next time you're in a crowd, watch the dynamics of everyone. If something is occurring, would you agree with it or just following and going with the flow because everyone else is and if you stepped up and disagreed, you might become the next victim.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Today was the first snowfall of the season. We only got, oh, less than two inches, I'd say. Still, it required taking out the shovels to clear off the sidewalk and driveway. In the end, it was a pretty minor job, nothing like the monster shovel-fests I've encountered in the past.

It was also an opportunity for Kyle to help me out. All fall I've joked that now I've got sons to help me out with the snow clearing. Today that thought was put to the test. I went outside and began the task. Soon after, Kyle came out and asked for the shovel. I handed it to him and he finished off what was still left.

Later on, after another light covering, I went out again. Kyle followed me out. He asked for another shovel. He grabbed it and began helping. It was a good feeling having help from Kyle.

Over the past few months Kyle and I have bonded. He's so attached to Dawn and I let that be. None of thekids really had attached themselves to me. What has helped is my situation and Kyle's homeschooling. I work a very flexible schedule right now. I teach two days a week. The other three days, I'm home. Even on days I teach, I get to come home during the day.

This time, away from AJ and Kayla, helped bond us. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not at all like he and Dawn. But it's something. I'll take it.

Kyle enjoys physical stuff. He likes play wrestling and playing sword fights. I indulge. I play wrestel with im, put on fake wrestling moves an he just soaks it up. He pretends to hit me in the gut, so he's initiating some of the touching.

Another thing he's done is ask me to go sword fight with him outside. I even have my special orc sword. It's funny because in the past, he never invited me to play. Now, he does. A huge step, I think.

I think in the past eight months, Kyle's come a long way in our house. He can be a pain at times, but the majority of the time he is kind and considerate. He tends to put others before him, which is great. He's a funny kid, shy at first, but soon after, he is talkative.

And so today began another bonding experience with my middle son Kyle. It felt good.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


This is my first post in more than a year.

A lot has happened in that time. Obviously, I'm not at the newspaper. I'm teaching still. I'm doing a fewmore odds and ends types of jobs that makes life fun. One of the family cats, Kit (Dawn's cat), died in June. It was sad to see him die. He'd been sick for years with a thyroid problem and he lasted a long time. He was a good cat. Now, it's just Trina, queen of the house.

but perhaps the biggest change in our lives is the pending adoption of three kids, AJ, Kyle and Kayla. We started fostering them April 1. It was a rough start during the first few months trying to figure out what was going on. I mean, it took my brain a while to understand that there were three kids now living with us.

They finished off the school year and summer began. It was fun and hard at the same time. Kayla was a terror during the summer months. She decided she was gonna tear up her room and be a pain. She gave me a few gray hairs. There was lots of screaming on her part (she could be a singer in a heavy metal band). Slowly she's settled down. But she's got her moments.

The boys have been much better. Although wit AJ two years older than Kyle he's trying to find his own. He acts snotty about it and Kyle gets hurt by it. So them playing together doesn't work well these days.

I think Dawn has adapted to parenthood better and quicker than I have. I'm still adjusting to it. I make lots of mistakes. Much more than she does. Live and learn, I guess.

I'm also trying to find my inner child. I know it's there. When it comes time to play with the boys, especially Kyle, I struggle at times. I was once 12, too! Where is it, dammit!? As i said before, I need to have my jar of youthfulness near at hand. I don't want to lose it. I am capable of acting like a kid at times, but it was to be at the first time and with the kids. I am trying.

And it is late. Perhaps this will be my forum once more for an outlet for a monologue. Why not? it worked before.