What’s the point of getting angry

I’ve heard so many times that anger is an unhelpful emotion. I used to believe it and avoid acting on anger as much as I could. I’ve changed my mind and believe that anger can be helpful when it’s channelled appropriately. Recently I heard an evolutionary psychologist explain her view of anger. In her view anger is a tool for protecting relationships. According to her, anger occures when we feel that someone has done something that had a big cost for us but a small benefit for them. This shows they don’t value us as highly as we believe our relationship deserves.

Lets unpack that a bit with an example. Suppose that your boss asks you to stay late one night to finish something. The factors that determine whether you get angry about this might include:

  • If your boss never asks this of other team mates. This would show that your boss is valuing your personal time lower than your team mates which would make you angry unless your boss had a good reason.
  • How important and urgent the work is. If it’s very important and urgent you are less likely to be angry as your boss is asking something that has a big benefit.
  • What your plans were that night. If you had hard to change plans or you’d made a comitment to spend the time with someone else you will be more angry as the cost to you is higher.
  • If the person making the request is not actually your boss but someone junior. Then the request probably isn’t appropriate to your relationship and would make you angry.
  • How the request is phrased. If it’s phrased as a demand rather than a request then the implication is that the demander doesn’t care what it costs you. This can make you angry even if the cost to you is not that high, as it is telling you that the demander is not valuing your relationship.

Understanding the point of anger and the factors that have made us angry can point us to helpful ways of expressing that anger with the goal of strengthening our relationships and our standing in them. That’s a topic for another post.


My thoughts on the EU referendum

I voted to remain part of the EU, as did most people my age. We lost the referendum and those who wanted to leave have won it. I’m sad about that, but I’m much sadder about the increase in racism that accompanied the referendum and has continued after the leave vote.

What can we do? We need to call out racism whenever we see it, we need to support the victims and show them that there are plenty of people in this country who value them. I  want everyone to know that I’m glad to be part of a multicultural society. I’m glad to have close friends from other countries in europe and further. They work hard, pay taxes and benefit the economy. They have interesting and valuable perspectives which I can learn from. They are kind, warm and openhearted friends. I hope they don’t decide to leave, but I will understand and support them if they do.

If you see racism whether it’s on the bus, in a restaurant or on social media then say something. Even if it’s a bit awkward. Imagine how it feels to be on the receiving end of racist comments time after time. Politely explain to the commenter why what they have said is racist, that racism is not tolerated in this country and that you will not put up with it. Say it loudly enough that the victim can hear you and ideally say it so loudly that anyone else who hear the racism can also hear you. If you think that it’s not safe for you to confront the person who is being racist then call the police and get them to deal with it. I’m serious. If you don’t feel safe to get involved then how safe do you think the victim is feeling? Here is more information on how to report hate crime (which includes racism).


My arguments against the Buddha’s diagnosis of suffering

This post is my mid term assignment from the coursera course Buddhism and Modern Psychology. The question I’ve chosen to write about is on the Buddha’s diagnosis of the suffering that is part of human experience. As you’ll see I don’t agree with the Buddha that life is continuous suffering or dissatisfaction, although there is certainly suffering in life which can be alleviated by following some of the Buddha’s teachings.

The Buddha argues that suffering comes from our tendency to cling to things which will not last. According to this view we are always desiring something, but when we get what we desired the pleasure is short lived and we find ourselves desiring something else. This is the cause of the dissatisfaction which the Buddha believed permeates our lives.

I do not feel that my live is a permanent state of dissatisfaction. Many things give me pleasure, for example sitting in a beautiful garden on a sunny day. This pleasure won’t last forever but I find it can last for an hour or more at a time. I wouldn’t describe it as fleeting.

There is also suffering that is not caused by clinging. For example I get migraines, which are a very painful kind of headache. They cause me suffering but not because I’m clinging to anything. When I have one I’m not doing anything except lying in bed with my eyes shut waiting for it to end. This is suffering but it doesn’t fit into the Buddha’s diagnosis of the causes of suffering.

Is it right to charge for education resources?

The question of whether it’s right to charge for educational resources is a tricky one for me. On the one hand I want everyone to have access to the best education and the best educational resources regardless of their ability to pay. On the other hand I believe that creating these resources is work and work deserves to be paid.

This is also an equalities issue. Some people are privileged not to need to earn money from all the work they do. Others, especially those with caring responsibilities and dependants, are not so lucky. Many single parents are struggling to make ends meet and don’t have time to spare on things they won’t get paid for. Most single parents are women.

If creating the resources is part of your paid job and your employer is happy for you to give them away for free then that’s great. You are being paid for your work and anyone who wants your resource can benefit from it. However if you are not getting paid for the resource in some other way then I think it’s right to charge users for it. What do you think?

Coffee table upcycled to play table

Yesterday I took an old ikea coffee table and turned it into a play table for my toddler. Hopefully it’ll now spark his imagination more than the plain white table. Here are pictures, on the left is the table and on the right is the table plus some animal toys. Yep, there is a crocodile in the river. The ducks seem to have disappeared…

Is the beginning such a good place to start on exams?

Maths exams are typically structured with the easiest questions at the beginning and hard questions at the end. The standard advice is to start at the beginning and get as far as you can before going back to check your answers. This assumes that either you can do a problem or you can’t do it and you’ll know soon after starting a problem if you can solve it.

I don’t agree with this assumption. When you examine it closely it’s clearly untrue as all teachers know students who did problems perfectly in class only to go to pieces on a test. However more than being false I think this assumption is very harmful as the idea that either you can do a question or you can’t turns a momentary panic on seeing an unfamiliar question into proof that you can’t do maths. The belief that they can’t do maths destroys students motivation, and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

So how can we improve the situation? Explain to students that it may take some time to solve the harder problems. Recommend that they start by looking at a hard problem that looks interesting. If they solve it first time, great. They should give themselves a high five and move onto another hard question. If they don’t solve it first time then after a couple of minutes if they find themselves stuck they should take a break to look at an easier problem. It’s important that students understand that they haven’t failed at the hard problem and they certainly aren’t giving up. They are taking a break to give their subconscious mind a chance to work on the problem. Once they’ve worked on an easier problem they move back to the hard problem.

It may take several attempts before they solve the hard problem, or they may not finish it during the exam. But by looking at it early they have time for more attempts than if they left it to the end, a better chance of solving the hard questions and a much healthier understanding that hard maths problems take persistence to figure out and an initial feeling of confusion is not a sign that you can’t do a problem.

Each peach pear plum; book review

Each peach pear plum is a classic toddler book for a reason. The verse flows so precisely it’s a delight to read out loud (something that you really appreciate when reading it for the hundredth time). The detailed illustrations are a bit old fashioned to my eyes but my toddler doesn’t care about that. We both enjoy playing “I spy” and also pointing at and naming all the extra things in each picture. I like a baby book with plenty to talk about on each page, something that many modern books with a clean, minimal style of illustration don’t have. The text on each page is nice and short, perfect for toddlers who like turning pages. We love each peach pear plum.

The right to be believed and the right to be wrong

I recently read Rebbeca Solnit’s excellent article “Men Explain Things to Me”. In it she makes the case that women have to fight to be believed, while we automatically  assume men have whatever expertise they claim. It’s a powerful article and I highly recommend that you read it. Here I want to talk about a consequence of this disbelief in women’s voices.

I’m talking about the confirmation bias which means when a woman is wrong it “proves” she didn’t belong, we should never have listened to her and she’d better get back to the kitchen. Of course when a man is wrong we hear “nobody is perfect”, “it’s not important anyway” or “it’s too complicated to explain, but he’s not actually wrong”. What we rarely hear is “I’m sorry I was wrong”. What we almost never hear is “I apologise to the woman who was right all along, they are more of an expert than me”.

We all need the right to make mistakes. Especially in a classroom, our students need the right to try problems that are hard, to fail and try again. They also deserve to be able to stick their hands up and say “I didn’t understand what you just said” or just “why”. That won’t happen if every time a female student admits they don’t know something they risk a barrage of comments telling them that they are inherently stupid and don’t belong.

These comments destroy most girls motivation and so they become self fulfilling. These comments are a way of silencing women and denying them the right to participate in the classroom. They are most common in traditionally male dominated fields like maths. As teachers we have a responsibility to ensure that these comments have no place in our classrooms.

A headstart for learning new students names.

Teachers know how important it is to learn their students names. Names are powerful, not to mention essential for good classroom management. However it’s not easy to learn all your students names at the start of the year. It turns out that memory experts have a trick that is really helpful. They learn memory aids for names they are likely to need to memorise ahead of time.

For example, if you have been given a list of names before the summer you can spend a little time over the summer coming up with a memorable image to associate with each name over the summer. If you don’t have a list of names you can find a list of most common names from the year that your new students were born. These lists varry quite a lot by area, so try to find one for your area.

Suppose you know you will have a student called Ben, but you don’t yet know what Ben looks like. Simply think of an image that will remind you of the name Ben and which you can add Ben into once you meet him. In the case of Ben you could imagine a giant climbing up Big Ben. Once you meet Ben you put him into the picture, so the giant now looks like Ben. Perhaps this sounds complicated, but with a bit of practice it becomes a powerful way to learn names quickly. It works as humans are designed to remember pictures much better than we remember names.