Saturday, 14 January 2012

Habitualness: One Philosopher-Quirk of Many

So I’ve been away for a while. I have lots of excuses, but the one that most of you will be able to relate to rhymes with shmrad shmool shmapplications.

[Semi-related side-note: I don’t know how you students in M.A. programs ever get any applications out to Ph.D. programs. Seriously, I had no life for six months (though I do work at a full-time job, at which we had a particularly busy semester, which didn’t help). I can’t imagine how you can write final papers for your grad classes in addition to preparing a writing sample, studying for GRE exams, and putting together all of the various statements of purpose/intent, etc. in time].

Now that I’m not perpetually stressed and sleep-deprived, with GRE words and Petrarchian sonnets dancing around in my head [like sugar plums in the “Night Before Christmas” poem, just in a creepier way] all the time, it’s time to write again. Off we go!

My philosopher often describes being a philosopher to non-philosopher this way: lots of time spent alone, studying projects that no one outside of one’s area is interested in. It makes them weird.

The “cute,” weird habits that philosophers develop early in their careers will only get worse as they get older. Part of learning to understand and/or live with a philosopher is learning how to live with some of these quirks and accept them as part of the philosopher-package, without letting them get in the way of your happiness, too.

I thought it would be fun to talk about one of the more apparent quirks, and then I’ll give some (hopefully) helpful suggestions about how to deal with it.


Philosophers are so habitual.

I know several Continental philosophers who will protest here that I am being unfair to them, as Continental philosophy has an air of unpredictability about it, but let me respond that I know many Continental and many Analytic philosophers, and every single one of them is habitual to an extreme. Here’s a way to test and see how habitual your philosopher is: move, hide, or disrupt something that they use/eat/do every day and see how they respond. [This can turn into a really fun game, but you didn’t hear this from me].

I had the opportunity once to view the results of a rearrangement of furniture in my philosopher’s department main office. Every professor or grad who entered the office acted shocked at the change, but here are my favorite reactions: (1) walking in, seeing the change, and freezing in the middle of the room with a look of fear on their faces; (2) looking around confusedly and not being able to form simple sentences because they were too distracted; (3) complaining about the change initially, then coming in a few days later and deciding that they liked it after all (most philosophers had this reaction).

Habitual people have a hard time when familiar things change [“Duh Katie”]. Philosophers are super-habitual. How can you lessen the blow? [Note: Some of you philosopher will think that this is patronizing in tone, but I can reassure you that it is an attempt at sympathy not patronization].

1. Prepare your philosopher
Explain that you will be making changes a few days before you actually do make them. They will grumble less if they know that something is coming.

2. Prepare Counter-Points
Have gentle responses ready when they do grumble about a change (“Yes, it is different, but you can see that it does give us more light in here, which we needed”). Philosophers are pretty rational people. They will consider your counter-points to their grumbles, as this is how they understand things in philosophy-world (philosophy-world is all about points and counter-points). Besides, it’s really fun to play at their game sometimes.

3. Sympathize
Let them know that you understand that they don’t like something. They will grumble less if they see you as an understanding person.

Just as philosophers develop habits which make it difficult for them to handle change, they can also develop habits to deal with change. Example: In our case, I always try to warn my philosopher ahead of time when something is going to change. If he can be ready for it, he will not grumble when the time comes, and he might even have responses ready for philosophers around him who do grumble about the same change. [Note: “Grumble” might not be the correct word here, as my philosopher doesn’t actually grumble. Perhaps “protest” or “panic” would be better].

Remember: habitualness is a defense for understanding and dealing with the outside world. Be patient with your philosopher and help her/him out a little with all of the unpredictableness outside of their little projects in philosophy-world. Realize that when they do protest to change, it is often because something is different rather than because they don’t like something.

~The Philosiologist

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  1. I have found that if I say "Hey, Hubby, I moved/changed something, let me show what I did and where [the various items I moved or change] are at. I realized [how its better, or somesuch], and thought we could try this for a while to see if it is better".

    He takes it quite well, and often will endorse the change like this. Its "temporary", so he has the freedom to request a change back if it really doesn't work.

    I'm missed your posts, but glad you are back!

  2. Yay! I'm so glad you're posting again!!

  3. Yahoo! A much anticipated post! You are absolutely correct, the grad school application process is a grueling one. One note on habitualness from a philosopher: being routine and habitual is a way to allow for the time needed on one's projects, as dealing with all the day-to-day happenings is most manageable when they are kept in a semblance of relative minimal or manageable change. We want our time--and minds--directed at our work, and this is accomplished with a practiced habitualness. As always you're posts are fun and wonderful reads. All the best in the new year!

  4. Great to have you back and posting, hope there's much more to come! :)

  5. Happy you're back! And good luck with the mad fool crap vacations!

  6. Today my loving wife packed my bag before I went off to school. I did my best not to grumble even though the computer/phone chargers were in the wrong pocket and the zipper pulls were positioned on the left side of the bag and not the right side. I did my best.
    -A.P. Sullivan

  7. I packed my philosopher's school bag the other day to help out because they had overslept. They then went through the bag and said, "oh, you put my charger in this pocket instead? That's okay. Oh, you didn't see it necessary to close all the zippers to the right? That's not a big deal either." Clearly it was. I laughed and "fine, next time be late!"