September 30, 2014

Options and Choices

Jeremiah 17:10 - But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.

I have spent the past two weeks teaching my Communication students about research methods. Last week, we focused on social science research (quantitative), and this week, we are focusing on humanities research (qualitative). 

Research, in and of itself, is a challenge to most undergraduate students. From the moment students enter college, they are asked to conduct research, to use scholarly resources, to find evidence to support claims, and to persuasively argue their point of view. Locating scholarly resources, good quality resources, is a challenge for any student, even doctoral students. Therefore, helping my students find these resources, helping them to understand how they are structured (for publication), and helping them to cite them properly, is vital to their success in school. Not only will they be able to use resources well to present strong arguments, but the more comfortable they become with the entire research process, the easier it will be for them to conduct research on their own (as they say "practice makes perfect!")

My students complain whenever they have to use the online library and database. They tell me that they do not understand what they are looking for or how to use the databases to find resources that match their topic interest. I understand, really I do! I struggle at my level to find resources that match my study topic too, and since research is a major part of what I do as a doctoral student, I feel intense pressure to find good sources. My research is founded on good source material, and I do not have the luxury of picking and choosing like they do. I have to find narrowly researched studies that support my research questions (or hypotheses). My entire research project or prospectus will succeed or fail based on the quality of my resources.

Motivation and Making Sense

Thus as a Communications scholar, I have three choices in how to conduct research: quantitative, qualitative or historical/critical (I only teach the first two to my undergraduate students). Communications is considered to be a social science discipline (like psychology or sociology), yet there is overlap with the humanities because aspects of language and linguistics can be studied under the umbrella of Communications. This means that I can decide how I want to research any given communication topic based on my perspective or lens. I can conduct scientific research, collect and analyze data to report findings or I can conduct interpretive research where I focus on meaning and connection. I can also conduct historical research (something I am currently learning how to do) and study rhetorical methods of communication.  I "sit," so to speak, in the qualitative and historical/critical research camps. I bring my interest in language studies and linguistics to communication because I am keenly interested in how we make meaning when we communicate. I believe that communication is essential to relationship building, and as such, understanding how we communicate with each other as well as why we do certain things (behaviors, acts and motivation) when we communicate, can prove instrumental in helping God's people learn to live in community, and learn how to share the good news of the Gospel message with a hurting world. My research then is focused on communicating meaning (meaning making) and on affect (motivation).

Today, I started thinking about motivation and how we as human beings are motivated to do certain things. I do not have any answers (that is why I am a Communication Scholar) at this point in time, but I am aware that motivation is predicated on our belief and value systems. We make choices, and we consider options based on our belief that something will cause something else (in argument, we call this causation because "x causes y") or that something will lead to something else (consequence).  Our choices often are the result of a prime cause or a first cause. We use causal chain reasoning to determine outcomes, to determine whether an action or a belief will create a desired consequence. 

This is a very long aside: One of the reasons I love argument is because it is so logical. As an INTJ personality type, I am rational, ordered, and analytical in my thinking. I do not make snap decisions based on emotions. I am considered and carefully thoughtful in what I do. In fact, I spend a lot of time collecting data, analyzing it, processing it, and then organizing it before I make any decision. My son (an INTP) says that the average INTJ personality will plan their lives out 33 years in advance. While the length of time might be off the mark in a real-world sense, I would agree that my focus on careful planning and the determination of my steps, is spot on. In short, I have the plans for my life laid out and so carefully considered that I can almost guarantee today what I will be doing in 3-5 years from now. I may not have 100% of the details sorted at this point in time, but I have the major events plotted on the timeline and graph of my life. My INTJ wiring gives me confidence to say that I know where I am going, and I know how I am going to get there. I digress...

Lately, I have been thinking about options and choices in life. Yes, INTJ's tend to think a lot about choices. We consider everything, every new piece of information, within the context of all the established planning. So if some change comes into my life, a new person, for example, and that new person turns out to be significant to me, I will reconsider my entire life plan to factor in that change. My life plan that is carefully purposed will need to be recompiled to include this new person and all the relevant data they bring with them. I know that sounds really weird, so let me explain how it works...

My INTJ brain works like a giant computer program. New data has to be entered into the program in the proper place or line in the code. I cannot just dump new coding into an establish program or the program itself will break (will not function). No, I have to put that new coding into proper context, into its proper line, so that the program will function with this new enhanced feature added to it. Computer programmers would understand what I am suggesting, but suffice it to say, that adding in any new element, be it a person, a place, or a thing, requires that I spend time recompiling my program (my life application) so that the outcome (the goals and end results I have planned) still come to pass. 

In some ways, this process requires a lot of time spent thinking or debating within my head. I think a lot, about a lot of things, and I process mostly through reflection. I think about how something might influence or impact my life, and I consider the range of possible outcomes or consequences. Once I have carefully considered the possibilities, I make a decision based on all the data I currently have in hand. I rarely make significant errors when I process this way. Yes, sometimes I am short data, and I may make a decision that seems best, but in practical application, I will realize that the decision didn't produce the expected outcome. It happens. When it does happen, I don't consider the process to be flawed, but rather I acknowledge that there were extenuating factors or circumstances unknown at the time.

You may be asking why is all this so important, and what does this have to do with making choices, considering options, and research? 

Sigh! Yes, I am rambling, and I know it. I am a "big picture thinker." I need to see the big picture, the picture on the top of the puzzle box, to feel comfortable that everything is as it should be. When I struggle to process new information, to piece together disparate items, or to factor in new change in my life, my brain begins to recompile all the data in order to reestablish the preplanned and purposed outcome. I think my problem right now is that my "big life puzzle" is missing some key pieces, pieces that I don't have on hand right now, pieces that I need in order to create the picture on the front of the puzzle box. AGH!

I think this is really what is going on inside my weird, my quirky, and my dysfunctional brain right now. I am trying to figure out what is happening to me, why my life seems to be turned upside down, and how all the new data that I am collecting will fit (will be recompiled) into my life. My ordered and logical mind has been given a great challenge, a great opportunity to consider an altered outcome. I am trying to process this information (research), to consider it carefully (analyze cause), and to understand (make sense) what the Lord desires me to do with it. I can hear Him say to me "let it be," and that reminds me that I am trying to be INTJ-Super Woman and crunch the data to fit. The Lord, I believe, is telling me to let go, and to rest in His ability to make sense of what is happening in my life right now. All I can say in response is "Yes, Lord!"

Dear Lord,

I thank you for the change you have brought into my life recently. I thank you for the opportunity to experience something new and wonderful and blessed. I am struggling right now to process everything, to understand it all, and to make sense of what you want me to know, to do, and to accept. I ask that you to cover me with your blessing today, that you help me to rest, and that you help me to let things go so that I can relax and move along with you as you lead and guide me. I believe that you know what is best for me. I believe that you have everything under control, and that the plans you have for my life are good, so very good. I trust you today, and I let go of all the details, I let go of all the unknowns. I rest in your sufficiency, and I rest in your provision for my life. You are God and I am not. I let go, I let it be, I let you be Lord over this new area in my life. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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