Conflict, bias, and the observer effect or why I don’t like to argue

For years I’ve tried to avoid conflict but I’ve also grown weary of playing the dashboard dog, smiling and nodding because I just don’t like to argue. When what I really think is somewhat outside of the box, vocalizing my ideas to others forces me to defend those ideas. Sometimes I just don’t want to.  Not because I can’t but because I don’t like arguing with people who don’t listen, won’t admit bias, and argue without introspection. This brings me to the observer effect.

In science the observer effect proposes that the act of observing something causes change in the phenomenon being observed.  So I am willing to admit that my arguments are based on bias but I have to defend my arguments against people who insist that theirs aren’t. I almost think that being able to prove that all humans spin evidence might be more useful in having a conversation with someone who disagrees with me than simply arguing our differing viewpoints.

I don’t like defending my position because I believe that the minute I start looking for evidence to defend a position I already hold, I interpret what I read with my own biases.  Even when I am determined to be objective and open-minded. And I probably ignore or dismiss evidence that supports the viewpoint that opposes mine,  Sometimes the process of choosing and prioritizing relevant information, focusing and tuning out, is unconscious. At some point in the process of research I realize I am doing this to some extent and I wonder if people who disagree with me also know they are doing it or whether it’s entirely unconscious.

Deductive reasoning starting with the evidence and draws conclusions from there. But nobody can truly engage in deductive reasoning because by interacting with information we bring ourselves into the equation. We change the evidence before we apply logic and draw conclusions.

Even people who think they are being objective start with some sort of impression about the information or premises they use as a starting part for deduction. Something tweaks interest or people would probably not pursue a particular stream of knowledge. We respond to information with more than our intellect. Our emotions, needs, previous experiences, learning style, personality, tastes, and interests also affect how we process information. How information is delivered can be almost as important as content to how we perceive that information. Our impressions of the messengers color how we receive messages. Perception plays a huge part in which information we embrace and which we reject.

I’m not saying that truth is not out there or that nothing is certain. I’m not saying that the process of logic and reasoning should be abandoned. Not at all, I think they need to be applied rigorously along with clarifying operational definitions at the start so that at least we can agree on what we are arguing about before we start arguing. While we ought to present well-researched evidence to support our ideas, we come at those ideas using evidence with generations of bias behind it.  

I think that we are willing to go to the trouble to defend particular ideas because those beliefs speak to our perceptions about our needs and hopes and reflect our responses to how those needs and hopes have been satisfied or not satisfied in our lives. I think we have to approach our disagreements with this awareness. Faith belongs in the conversation because we all base our arguments on faith and perception. These are the filters through which we run our evidence.

I think insightful, generous, respectful conversations can happen between people who disagree. We let ourselves be known when we listen to each other explain why we think what we think and like the ideas we like. We protect our true selves when all we do present evidence and try to hide bias. I am more interested in relationships than in winning an argument.



Things that stress me out

1. Yelling. Saying things louder doesn’t make them more true, more urgent, or more more important. I will respond immediately to yelling because I want the yelling to stop but my response is likely to be neither efficient or effective because the louder and more belligerent, the more I am shutting down. I recognize that what I interpret as yelling might merely be another person’s emphatic or frustrated voice, but I’m usually too rattled to distinguish that in the moment. I tend to remember being yelled at and sometimes will be overly cautious when the same scenario arises in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the yelling.

2. Meanness. Mean people suck. Hurting another person is neither empowering or intelligent. Whatever small, sick victory meanness may elicit in the emotions, the end result is destructive not only to the recipient but to the instigator of the meanness. I find it hard to trust mean people, even when they haven’t been mean to me. I tend to remember and regret the times I’ve been mean to other people long after they’ve forgotten about it.

3. Presumption. My time, energy, and resources are limited. I need my alone time and I see scheduling and availability as two different things.  I hate feeling set up by the question “What are you doing?” Just invite me to the specific event or experience and let me decide whether I’m in or out. Worse yet, don’t ask me that in front of the people involved so that saying no makes me feel like I’m rejecting them rather than declining to participate in the event in question.

4. Making phone calls. I like texting. I like letter writing. I like talking face to face. I don’t mind public speaking at all. In fact,  I rather like it. I enjoy communicating, but I hate talking on the phone and the worst is if I am the one who has to initiate the call.  I feel vulnerable, exposed, and trapped when I have to make a call. I dread it and put it off even I’m calling someone I love talking with in person. Even when it means something good for me if I just make the call. Apparently this is a legitimate phobia appropriately called telephonophobia.

5. Driving. I don’t mind road trip driving but city driving and especially driving in an unfamiliar area is really stressful. I will not drive aggressively. I think the fact that people are surrounded my a chunk of metal doesn’t not make rudeness less personal.  I drive like I would walk. I let people in, I wait my turn, I smile and wave.  I interpret honking as yelling. People who would never be mean face to face act really mean in cars. I don’t understand that.

6. Slow pace.  I do things quickly. I try to be efficient. I do the hard parts of a job first. I work before I play. When someone asks me to do something I will get it done but if that person stands there and tells me how to do it slower and less efficiently than I would do it if left alone it really stresses me out. “Take your time” is a really annoying phrase to me. My time is valuable I want as little of it as possible wasted.

7. Judging. A person’s worth is not determined by another person’s estimation of appearance, accomplishments, position, gender, status, failures, faults, actions, possessions, skills, talents, or intelligence. It stresses me out when I sense that what I have to say or offer is being dismissed because I’ve been judged unworthy in one of these areas. It stresses me out to see that done to another person.

8. Grocery shopping.  I don’t like trying to predict what other people at my house are going to want to eat. The  grocery store is usually full of slow people. They rearrange the shelves. All that food reminds me that I am fat and that I am going to have to cook (#9). Worst of all, I often have to surrender control over how my groceries are bagged. It makes me crazy if they pack like items into two different bags. I also don’t like it if I end up having to unpack five bags when everything would fit in two bags. I don’t care how heavy the bags are fill them up. Given I could write a whole blog just on this issue, I recognize that this bagging thing hinges on OCD, which is weird because I really am pretty laid back about most things. I’m pretty convinced that hell has a grocery store.

9. Cooking. Watching food cook is boring but trying to cook food fast usually results in burning it and setting off the smoke alarm. I’m not a great cook and I don’t enjoy it but I really love the approval that comes when the people I am feeding really enjoy the food I’ve cooked, so when the food is mediocre I feel like a failure.

10. Risk. I don’t mind a little physical risk like climbing mountains or jumping out of planes but I’m not a fan of social or emotional risk.  I don’t know if this is because I’m an introvert or if I’m an introvert because I don’t like this kind of risk. I’m also not a fan of financial risk. Been there, done that. Had to hock the t-shirt.




Vacation June 2014 next stop Savannah

charlton street retreatWe used Homeaway to find this sweet little house in Savannah near downtown. I took a walk through the neighborhood to take in Savannah’s famous squares, a series of small parks throughout the city. Every one has huge oaks and honors a historical event or figure. Driving Savannah was a little more frustrating because of all the one-way streets and the fact that that the squares are positioned in the middle of streets so you have to drive around them. forrest gump forsythe parkForsythe Park is the largest park in Savannah’s downtown. It includes recreation areas, walking paths, art, rose garden, and lots of benches to sit and relax. Of course I had to make a pilgrimage to Forrest Gump’s bench.

More beautiful trees in Savannah
More beautiful trees in Savannah


We went down to River Street, a historic district with bars, restaurants, shops, live music, in historic buildings. After a good, but not remarkable, seafood meal we walked along the river as buskers played guitar or sax, and juggled for tips. We went on a weekday so it was relative quiet compared to the Austin nightlife we would expect to encounter downtown here. refreshmentTybee Island is a great little beach town minutes away from Savannah. The beach was pretty, clean, and full but not crowded. The waves we just strong enough to toss us around a little. After sunning and swimming we browsed shops and stopped at Wet Willie’s for some icy refreshment.

Pelicans at sunset near Tybee Island
Pelicans at sunset near Tybee Island

Later that evening week took a dolphin tour with Captain Derek. Dolphins are common in this part of the Atlantic. According to our guide its illegal to feed them but fishing boats sort onboard and discard trash fish overboard. Dolphins have learned that a good place to get food is in the wake of a boat, so dolphin tour boats stir up and wake and that attracts the dolphins. We enjoyed several sightings, the best was when we ran alongside another dolphin tour boat and three dolphins leaped between the boats in the large wake created by the two boats. It briefly occurred to me to take a picture but  focusing on recording a moment makes it impossible for me to feel fully present in that moment. For about five minutes the whole crowd on both boats were caught up in pure joy, hearts leaping with the creatures in the waves.  I don’t need a picture to remember the delight I felt in those moments. We also saw pelicans fishing and later resting at sunset.sweetgrass basket

Ted played his second bucket list course, Hilton Head, while I took a Gullah Heritage Tour in my quest for the sweetgrass basket my mother-in-law requested. She collects baskets and asked for one before we left. From an anthropological perspective the Gullah tour was very interesting.  A man of Gullah descent described how the culture was preserved for centuries only to virtually disappear over the last fifty years after the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge. While there are efforts underway to build historical replicas of Gullah homes- we stopped and looked at a couple of historical markers that will eventually be part of the attraction- but the tour basically involved driving around and looking at current modern homes of Gullah families. There were a few preserved buildings but the best thing about the tour was information rather than the sights. I expected to see some craftspeople and buy a basket for my mother-in-law but there was only one guy at the museum making baskets and his were several hundred dollars more than the ones I passed on at Charleston Market. I probably should have done more homework on this one.

The best place we ate in Savannah was Lady and Sons, Paula Deens restaurant.  I had the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever eaten. It’s big, has flaky, and, of course, buttery, crust, and is chock full of chicken and veggies. Ted had the buffet. Because we were willing to be seated at the bar, we didn’t have to wait too long. We ended up having great conversation with the bartender and a couple of waiters. The restaurant has a friendly, casual atmosphere and everyone seemed to be enjoyed themselves. We did.

We left Savannah heading for our friend Tim’s wedding outside Atlanta. Charming. I think that’s the best word for Charleston & Savannah.


Vacation June 2014 First stop Charleston SC

Charleston Highlights

Beachwalker Park, Kiawah
Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island SC

Beachwalker County Park on Kiawah Island After a day of travelling, I spent my first real vacation day at an almost deserted beach. My fellow beach walkers respected one another’s space, walking along the shore in silence, at a distance. I walked just at the water’s edge on the hard, brown sand so that each wave rushed up and covered my feet with cool surf. Eventually the signs on the beach warned  of a current and prohibited swimming.

Horseshoe Crab shells

I walked on until nobody was walking ahead of me and all I could see was sea and shore. As I spread out my towel to sit down, I noticed the remains of some strange looking crustaceans.  After posting a picture on Facebook three friends identified these horseshoe crabs. Either someone has a sense of humor or these two may have some tragic love story in the crab universe.

On the first day on my summer vacation I usually have a pajama day and sit around the house all day to enjoy some alone time. This year I took my pajama day at the beach. Silent. Peaceful. Breathing in and out in rhythm with the waves.

While I was at the beach Ted enjoyed a round of golf at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, one of his bucket list courses. I met up with  him for drinks afterwards on the back porch of the club house and watched rain come in over the ocean.

Chez Fish. On the way back to Charleston we stopped at a place called Chez Fish.  It looked pretty unassuming, there were a good number of cars in the parking lot, and we were hungry.  Everything was a-mazing. I had a pan seared flounder with some veggies and potatoes that were perfect. I expected great seafood on the Atlantic coast and this turned out to my favorite eatery of the trip…and we ate at some great places.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. This building has a history dating back to the 1670’s. The newly written Declaration of Independence was read for South Carolina citizens to debate revolution, and yes, George Washington did some military and presidential business in these very walls. Ironically in the shadow of this same building where important documents like the Declaration and Constitution were adopted by SC, a slave market operated on its grounds. So many influential lives and events touched this one place.

Old provost exchange and dungeon SC
Dungeon of Old Provost Exchange, Charleston SC

It’s basement served as a prison for Blackbeard and other pirates.  Patriots and Redcoats were held there during the Revolutionary War and Union soldiers and runaway slaves during the Civil War.

The support arches in the dungeon were constructed by hand and are still holding up this building hundreds of years later.  I found this space more beautiful and fascinating than the more opulent spaces above it.

The Charleston City Market on the corner of Broad and Meeting streets which has operated as the site of a public market since 1639. The market is like a very large, very nice flea market. Artisans sell baskets, jewelry, chachkies, clothing, and foods. It was fun walking through and looking at amazing art and amazingly tacky art displayed side by side.  I regret not buying a Gullah sweetgrass basket Ted’s mom asked us to bring her one and they were plentiful at the market but I figured I’d buy a basket on the Gullah tour I’d scheduled on Hilton Head (my excursion while Ted played another bucket list course.) Who knew Gullah crafts were dying out on Hilton Head? Not me. At least not before the tour I would take days later.

GRACEAlpha-Tography is a shop near the Market where we met John Laukaitis, a photographer who takes pictures of architectural features that look like letters of the alphabet and creates unique art pieces. We designed and bought one as a souvenir to remember the amazing buildings and gates we saw. More than that, it reflects our focus on God’s amazing spiritual message.

Angel Oak branch
Branch of the Angel Oak near Charleston SC

The Angel Oak is located a just a bit out of Charleston on John’s Island. Age estimates range from 400-1500 years old. It’s massive and its branches twist in every direction. I think I saw Treebeard’s elephant cousin.

This whole region is full of beautiful spreading oaks hung with Spanish moss. Their branches arch across the road like a tunnels.

Charleston tea
Spreading oaks at Charleston Tea Plantation. Tea garden is on left side of the road.

Charleston Tea Plantation. Speaking of old plants, we toured the nation’s only commercial tea plantation and found out that tea plants can live as long as 600 years. Some of the tea plants we saw were planted in 1799. We saw the harvesting and processing machines. They stop processing at different points to produce white, green, oolong, and black teas. Of course we sampled and brought back a tea ball and a tin of mint tea.

Charleston bridge
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston SC

The greatest adventures often happen when things go wrong.  We were supposed to take a tall ship tour to look for dolphins and see Fort Sumpter, lighthouses, etc. but it was cancelled. I was kind of hoping we’d go out in the rain.  I like seeing places in the rain.

We got soaked, went back to the hotel, ordered pizza and watched the World Cup, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

These were my favorite Charleston experiences. We spent five days there then headed to Savannah.




1:55 am wanderlust

I find myself awake. Alive in wonder. Finally.

Looking back down a locust eaten road wondering how God can return the years-Years marked by compliance and pretending, surviving and yearning for some forgotten thing

that I am just now recovering –

battered  dreams I thought lost.

Adventure emerges from its fear-induced coma.

Elusive ideas resist definition

My mind refuses the call. All day I distract myself with the inane and the practical but tonight sleep refuses me shelter from this compelling uncertainty goading me awake at 55 pushing me to embrace a future that I should be looking back at by now.

Beckoning me to go out my door and see where the road takes me.







A dangerous business

Gandalf, said, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure I am arranging…” There is something thrilling about letting go of fear. There is freedom in looking at everything there is to lose and being willing to lose it. It’s amazing to be out there but I find it absolute agony to decide to open the door and go out there.

When it comes to risk, I think Bilbo says it best, “Also I would like to know the risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required and remuneration. and so forth.” I want a detailed analysis of what I’m getting into and and plan for every eventuality. I am perfectly willing to go on an adventure but I don’t want complications or confrontations. And I like having a plan.

Yves Chouinard says that “the word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when the adventure begins. ” I recently watched 180 South for the third time and it messed with me.  The scenery is fantastic. It almost makes me want to get off the couch. In it Jeff Johnson retraces the journey of Chouinard and Doug Tompkins in a quest to duplicate their climb of the Corcovado volcano. Most of the movie is about his journey there in which things go wrong. Then, because he arrives late the snow is melting and more things go wrong. Instead of doing what he planned, Jeff Johnson ends up doing and learning and experiencing things that were not part of his original vision. That seems to be the way adventures work.

I am not unfamiliar with risk or with things going wrong.  In the 70’s I jumped out of a plane and sprained both my ankles. Back then there were no tandem jumps. The new skydiver simply climbed out on the wing of the plane, grabbed the struts, and jumped. I counted 1001, 1002 and pulled the cord to deploy the chute. It was amazing. Quieter than I expected. And faster. My feet hit the ground before I was ready to do  the rolling fall I’d practiced.  My ankles still give me trouble but I don’t regret jumping.

In the 80’s I had children. By definition, children mean disruption and risk. It’s guaranteed that parents are sometimes going to mess up parenting. I would do some things differently but my sons are three amazing people. Becoming a parent is a huge adventure and completely unpredictable.

In the 90’s I quit my job to do a start-up with my husband. It failed and we lost a lot of money.  In the 00’s we left a church and a circle of friends we’d been part of for nearly 30 years in order to follow the adventure God was arranging.  In the 2010 we got rid of over half our stuff, rented out our house and simplified our lives by moving into an apartment 5 minutes from work.

And now, just as I was warming up to those changes, God seems to be arranging another adventure, and I for one want to know the risks. I want to see the schedule, the budget, the agenda. Not gonna happen.

What I’ve discovered in looking is that jumping out of a plane is so much easier than jumping into life change. The simplicity of letting go of the struts and falling forces an “all in.” I love to travel, I love adventures, I even like to move, but I enter into life changes holding onto fear.  I stubbornly try to follow a safe plan instead of surrendering to the inevitable adventure that happens when that plan is disrupted, which is gonna happen.

I am not sorry for any of the risks I’ve taken. I’m sorry for the ones I was afraid to take. Even knowing that, I find myself guarded and slightly uncommitted. I hope I can let go of the struts soon.



20 Things I want to do before I die in no particular order

  1. Whitewater rafting
  2. Paint something amazing
  3. Publish that QSR book
  4. Write a piece of fiction I like
  5. Write a piece of fiction that someone other than me likes
  6. Zip line
  7. Hike at least 10 miles of Appalachian Trail
  8. Lose 50 pounds and keep them off
  9. Read everything on my Goodreads “Want to read list”
  10. Learn to speak French or Spanish
  11. Face my fears
  12. Simple math
  13. Increase awareness of current events
  14. Reconnect with family
  15. Understand quantum theory
  16. Spend a week alone in the mountains without having to talk to anyone
  17. Open mike comedy standup
  18. Learn more objective information about early Christianity
  19. Learn to sculpt in metal
  20. Entertain without stressing

10 things I want to see before I die

Northern-lights-in-Canada-006 (2)The Northern Lights. This picture was taken in Canada. I think seeing them in a forest would probably be my favorite viewing spot. Cold, quiet forests with tall trees inspire me already. Adding colors in the sky should satisfy my wonder-lust. I can probably combine this dream with destinations in Iceland or Scandinavia, which are also in my top 10, but viewing it from a forest is part of my vision.

Antelope Canyon, USA 2Antelope Canyon, AZ This is a canyon on Navajo land near Page, AZ. The only way to see it is to pay for a tour, which doesn’t thrill me, but there is nowhere else like it and just looking at rock waves on a sea of reds takes my breath away.

Cliffs of MoherThe Cliffs of Moher are the Princess Bride’s Cliffs of Insanity. These sandstone cliffs are on the southern end of Ireland not far from Kilkenny where my grandfather Lowry came from. The water against the cliffs cause some unusual formations near the bottom. I want to see Kilkenny and Dublin as well.

Skaftafell ice cavesSkaftafell Ice Caves are in Iceland. I realize after looking at the previous pictures I may be assembling a natural version of a box of crayons. This place is absolutely fascinating. Being from such a warm climate I can’t even imagine the feeling of being inside this cold blue ice. The picture reminds me of that tingly cold feeling excited anticipation causes inside. Iceland has some amazing landscapes. It may seem odd for this to be so high up on the list, but from what I’ve seen in pictures I think I would love being there.

niagara3Niagra Falls is one of those places that I look forward to hearing as much as I look forward to seeing. The power of the water is amazing and I want to experience it in person. I’d like to visit Toronto after seeing the Falls. I’ve never been anywhere in eastern Canada and I’d like to check it out as well.

Castle in the alpsCastle in the Alps I want to see the Alps and want to visit an authentic medieval castle. Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy. I’m not specific on this one. I’m leaning toward Switzerland or Bavaria.

romeRome is full of history. After Paris, which I’ve already enjoyed, Rome is the European city I most want to visit. And Rome is just the beginning. I’d like love to eat and drink my way through Venice and Naples too.

Scandinavia, preferably on a Viking ship – and I don’t mean a cruise liner is one of my dreams. I have always loved the Vikings – I guess the way some little kids like pirates. All the pictures I see of Scandinavian landscapes draw me in. I also love the style, architecture and mythology of that region. I want to go.

Machu PIcchuMachu Picchu in Peru inspires mystery. After teaching mythology the lives and thoughts of ancient people fascinate me.



Patagonia is a region at the tip of South America in Argentina and Chile. This picture is part of the Tierra del Fuego archepelago in Chile. The whole place is a wonderland. Plus my favorite wine comes from Argentina so that’s another plus.

Next 10 – if I win the lottery or something: Edinburgh, Santorini, Boston, Prague, Great Barrier Reef, Maui, Tokyo, Barcelona, Carribean, New Zealand

Uncertain journeys

Sometimes I feel the excitement of change. That hopeful moment when I get this momentary glimpse myself thriving in a different environment having applied clear and simple plans to resolve the problems. But in most of the changes I’ve experienced the plans and process remain uncertain. It’s not enough to know that it will work out, I want to know how. I love to travel and experience new things, with an agenda.

I actually like moving, when it’s planned. It’s not doing something different, or even dangerous,  it’s doing something different I can’t predict or control. To be honest, risk is kind of thrilling if you know the potential dangers and challenges. It’s the faceless, nameless, unforeseen disruptions that scare me. Then excitement about change, even good change, comes with a little fear. It’s not the risk, it’s the uncertainty.

Sometimes I feel the necessity of change. That supercharged moment when I realize I can’t simply abide because the aggression of the status quo will not stand. Then I retreat, wearied by potential tension, fearful of potential conflict, smiling and nodding like a dashboard dog. I tend to be an abider. I have a hard time arriving at a point where conflict is worth more than tolerating a situation I don’t find ideal. I don’t really believe in ideal anyway, so changing one imperfect situation for another takes a pretty gigantic tipping point for me.

Sometimes I feel the inevitability of change. That uncontrollable moment when the ticking of the clock and spinning of the earth upset my equilibrium. Time is running out. About ten years ago on my 45th birthday I realized that, optimistically, I was half dead. That is, I’d lived at lest half my life. Gravity is not my friend. Health has been a better companion but may not continue to tolerate my cavalier habits. My bucket list is bigger than my checkbook. Progress is more dizzying than impressive but I am trying to stay on the culture train as it blasts into the future.

I find myself regretting the changes I resisted more than changes I embraced. I don’t regret risking and losing. Risking and losing is a story worth telling. There is not much of a story in hibernating because I was afraid. I regret the times I didn’t try something new because I was afraid. But I don’t regret the times I passed on change because I just didn’t think the potential reward was worth trading relationships or time or personal satisfaction. Like I said before, I’m more of an abider than a world shaker.

Sometimes I feel the rewards of change. That revealing moment when I recognize that I’ve been on a journey that has changed me, internally and externally. I can look back and see that while I was living through a series of related events in my life, God was writing a story worth telling, complete with character arc, plot twists, conflict and resolution, and hopefully some snappy dialog.

Now I am confronted once again with change. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know what effect it will have on my life, my relationships, or my thinking. I didn’t choose it but I’m open to it. I will abide in change, trusting there is a good story to tell at the other end of this uncertain journey.



The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety. Goethe