Sick and Tired

So this is what it feels like to work full time and go to school. I don’t think I like it. Granted, between my job and volunteer hours last year, I don’t think I’m putting in a whole lot more time this year, but due to re-setting my schedule for my new position in the school, my body’s gotten literally sick of my running around. What’s worse, between the two jobs, I now work every day of the week. What’s a student to do?


Saving Face and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

I mentioned recently in my other blog that I had a teacher who said some (to my mind) nasty things to me, and after two years, I wrote to him and told him how much his words had hurt me, and he wrote back and said, “I’m sorry, but that’s not what I meant!” In my continued offense at what to me felt like a response that had completely missed the point of the first message, my inner linguist and my inner game theorist decided to play cards. I’ve been wanting to blog about linguistics and game theory for a while now, so, regardless of this teacher’s infractions against my feelings, I guess I have to thank him for granting me this opportunity.

Let’s handle some of the more complicated stuff first. When I tell people about game theory, they often ask something like “what kind of games, board games? video games?” Well, no. Game theory has nothing to do with games, at least, not in the traditional sense. At it’s simplest, I’d say game theory is the study of choices, and that’s all a game is, a choice.

The simplest of games are interactions between two people, and they are usually drawn out in a grid, like so (sorry, I have no idea how to display such a table on here without using a drawing app):


The game matrix (as it is called) represents Colin’s decisions with columns and Rose’s decisions with rows. The boxes represent the four possible outcomes based on their decisions, and assigns each player a point value based on this outcome. To make things less arbitrary, let’s attach a simple scenario to this game. Colin and Rose are driving opposite directions on a street. Each has the choice to drive on the left side or the right side. If both pick the same side, they crash. If they pick opposite sides, they get where they’re going. Note: game theory is not about beating your opponent. It’s about achieving the highest possible score for yourself.

That being said, there is another game, known as the prisoner’s dilemma. Here’s an example:


In this scenario, Colin and Rose have committed a crime and are taken in for questioning. Neither has admitted to it, but the evidence is against them (likely because they did it). If neither of them admits to doing it, they will both end up in prison for five years. But the police take them to separate rooms and make them each the same offer: if you tell on the other person, and they don’t say anything, you go free and they’re in prison for ten years. But there’s a catch. If both people tell, both of them end up in prison for ten years. As you can see the best option is for both people to keep quiet. But because both of them have the option of bettering their position, this outcome is unstable. Of course, if both players try to better their outcome, both end up all the worse for it, but this is the stable outcome because it is the result of both players trying to achieve the best outcome for themselves. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s stable because if this game is played several times, the players will almost inevitably move into this outcome, and never move out of it. So, the prisoner’s dilemma is really just the name for the situation in game theory when the most stable outcome is the worst situation for everyone. Hold that thought.

Modern politeness theory is dominated by the work of Brown and Levinson, who introduced the idea of “face.” Actually, they didn’t so much introduce it as make it a technical term, as I’m pretty sure the concept of “saving face” has been around longer. (Then again, maybe it’s just broader and they are the reason it started getting used.) I won’t go into all the theory. The basics are that if we say something that makes us look bad, we try to say something else to make us look less bad. This is likely why the “I’m sorry, but…” apology seems so common. To make a bald-on apology, a plain “I’m sorry” would be for us to admit we are wrong. Thus we add the “but” as a means of providing an excuse or explanation regarding the original infraction to show we are not entirely at fault. In the case of my teacher’s words, this could be interpreted as “it’s not entirely my fault because I had no intention of hurting your feelings,” or it could be interpreted as “it’s not really my fault because you just didn’t understand what I meant (aka, it’s actually your fault).” This ambiguity in apologies may actually be behind what I am about to say next.

I have a feeling that using the “I’m sorry, but…” style of apology in some situations (probably not all of them, though I couldn’t tell you how to differentiate) is akin to the prisoner’s dilemma. Take the example of my teacher, who says “I’m sorry, but that’s not what I meant.” He has initially saved face by using the “I’m sorry, but…” strategy. But to me, his interlocutor, his words sound like he is ignoring what I am saying (and potentially saying, “it’s your own fault because I didn’t say that.”) Thus, instead of patching up the argument, as an apology is meant to do, it makes it bigger. It also opens the door for me to say lots of insensitive things that make him look like a jerk. For instance, I could tell him that the original things he said were nasty and no teacher has a right to tell a student such nasty things. I could also tell him that since I told him his comments negatively affected me for two years, what he meant really doesn’t matter anymore. And because he’s a writing teacher, I could tell him that he better go back to school and study language again because he clearly has no idea how to say what he means. These comments, while saving me face, are likely to further instigate my teacher and what began as a calm and rational request for understanding quickly dissolves into a greater altercation than the original and destroys what little remains of our relationship. Neither of us really wants that. But if both of us keep trying to save face, that’s what we will end up with.

Furthermore, if someone else hears about this whole situation (like, you, my faithful readers, or perhaps another teacher whom I trust to bring my grievances to), he loses face not only between the two of us, but in front of anyone else who hears about it. By using his “I’m sorry, but…” strategy, and allowing me to say all these things, I can turn the argument around so that a witness of it will see him as an egotistical jerk who doesn’t care about his students and has no right being a teacher (though I will admit POV and narrator reliability also influence the interpretation of the witness). In fact, if there was a witness, I would be inclined to mention that because of him, I stopped studying the subject he teaches. (I would love to hear what one of his co-workers would have to say about that.) Whereas, if he says simply, “I’m sorry, I should have spoken to you more politely” or “I’m sorry. That is not what I meant, but clearly my words offended you and I should have been more careful with them,” he has appeased me and mended our relationship, and if not, I’ll have a lot of difficulty making him look like the villain. With a bald on apology, he loses face initially, but opens the door for me to say little more than, “I accept your apology and I forgive you. Know that I still have respect for you as a teacher,” which, in turn, helps him save face. If I spit and sneer and continue to say how mean he was and how badly he hurt me, then I do nothing but cause myself to lose face by antagonizing the poor man who has done the only thing he can do given the passage of time, that is, offer a complete acknowledgment of my feelings and accompanying apology.

Jewlery Alcemchy or What to Do With Bendaroos

First, a news flash:

Yesterday, Subway called to see if I would come in two hours early. I said no. But after one of our employees walked out and we had a steady night, I ended up staying an extra two hours, just to make sure that store didn’t look like utter chaos this morning. The bad news is the closer will likely be in serious trouble for how late both of stayed that night. (What are you talking about, two people can’t clean the whole store and make near 30 sandwiches an hour?) The good news is (no matter how self-centered and mean this sounds) there is nothing anyone can threaten me with. Because tonight is my last night. And any reservations I had about leaving that built up the last two weeks just flew out the window.

Next week, I start work at a local pizza parlor. I am so excited I could jump out of my skin. I already like the folks there a whole lot, and I’ve been vying for a part time kitchen job. (Okay, I don’t know if it’s all kitchen. I think there’s a lot of cleaning–sweeping and mopping type stuff as well–but at this point, that’s semantics.) And whenever my pocketbook worries about the part-timeliness, I remind it that (1) if a full-time job got in the way of my schoolwork, I wouldn’t be going to school anymore and there would be no need for it anyway, and (2) I’ve applied for a substitute position (since I’ll be working in the schools anyway, under the same volunteer teaching status) and that will make it a little bit happier.

In other news, I go to Carthage, MO tomorrow to visit Annie and to attend the Vietnamese festival, which is apparently when about 3,000 Vietnamese people descend on a small Missouri town. I hear it’s a rally spectacular cultural festival. I’m stoked.

Now, on with the Bendaroos:

I love making things out of junk. When I was eleven, I built a whole living room set of doll house furniture out of toothpaste boxes and thread spools and stuff like that. As a result, I’ve collected rather a mish-mash of art supplies over the years. So when I was challenged recently to create a totem representing myself, I got to dig through it.

I already had a pretty strong idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a necklace out of this lump of amber with a compass that I had bought in Lithuania last year, in a fit of inspiration by Kathryn Shulz. But after several moves and lots of rearranging, I’m not sure what I did with that lump of amber. I went to our storage shed to see if it was in there, but I had low expectations.

As expected, I did not find my compass, but I did find several other things that I had almost forgotten about, like this bag I made at my friend’s birthday party in second grade, and all my medals from solo and ensemble festival during the seven years I spent in band. And my Big Brothers Big Sisters pin. I thought about making a big banner for my wall, containing various pieces of my life: my brownie (Girl Scouts) sash, my band medals, my peer mediator pin, my honor cords… But I kind of wanted something small I could wear or carry. And if I made a banner, I would have to go on a whole nother search for the brownie sash and the honor cords, etc. And then I found my Order of Pan pin.

The Order of Pan used to be the name of the teenagers’ section of the Peter Pan Children’s Fund, an organization that donates money to children’s hospitals (because Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children). The founding concept of the organization is that children, instead of receiving gifts on their birthday, ask friends and family to donate money to a local children’s hospital. I found out about it just before less than a year before my sixteenth birthday. If I remember correctly, my little party raised around $200, and I ended up with a certificate and a lapel pin, but the pin got damaged in the mail. When I received it, the pin part was bent and had busted through the back. So it sat in a box for a while, until I decided to something with it, and asked my dad to break the pin part of. We got as far as getting the back dislodged, and then I was told “you just need a new pin back for it now,” so it sat in the box for several years more… until now.

My disappointment at losing my compass reversed into elation at a new idea. If I could get the pin off, I could make a necklace out of this. It was everything that represented me–my love of Peter Pan, my passion for storytelling, my desire to do what I can to improve the lives of others, and a reminder to maintain a child-like outlook on life. If I could get the pin off, I could make a necklace out of this. I had plenty of embroidery thread to make a cord. I just needed to tacky glue some kind of a loop on the top… somehow.

For the second time, I asked my dad to get the pin off, and this time, we succeeded. But due to having a pin in it, the back wasn’t flat, so my original plan to make a loop out of thread and tacky glue it on, covered by a piece of tagboard was shot. The tagboard wouldn’t stick if it wasn’t flat. So I headed for my box of art supplies to see if I could find anything useful, and again, I was surprised my Bendaroos.

For those of you who don’t know, Bendaroos are essentially yarn, covered in wax. This means you can bend them into shapes and sculpt them around each other, and stick them to things. I always wanted them when I was kid, so I got really excited to win them in a white elephant a couple of years ago. But after making all of my residents Bendaroo door decorations, I had run out of ideas, so they’ve mostly been sitting around. But now I needed something thick and bendy. I was able not only to use the Bendaroos to make a loop for a string, but sticking them to the back of the pin, I created a flat surface on which to stick a re-enforcing piece of tagboard. The best part is that since the Bendaroos are designed to stick to stuff, I didn’t even need to use the glue (but I still glued a couple of tagboard pieces together to make the back a tad more stable. Thus, I have learned how transform a pin into a necklace. Voila: