How the Scientific Method Repeatedly Fails Me
Posted by BearsGrl8
When parents describe their young daughters, more often than not, they are prone to use words like pretty, funny, silly, cute, etc. I, on the other hand, was most often and most accurately described as “analytical.” Even at the age of six. It wasn’t just curiosity; it was a cycle of observation, questioning, experiencing, reasoning, and forming conclusions that occupied almost all of my time. When I daydreamed, it was not of castles and dragons or other grand adventures. My daydreams were hypothetical scenarios based on the aforementioned cycle: given what I’d learned about England, what would it be like to live there, or, this is what romances are supposed to look like, so how should I act when Shawn professes his undying love to me? Hey, I never said my scenarios were perfect; at the age of 9, the extent of my experience with romance was strictly observational and limited to my parents, Disney movies, Dirty Dancing, and Pretty Woman. Nevertheless, daydreams were grounded in practicality, and analysis was as easy as letting my own heart keep beating. I do it without even knowing it. When the scientific method was presented some time in grade school, I couldn’t understand why some people struggled with it; didn’t everyone’s brains work like that?
A lifetime of rehearsing hypothetical scenarios is an asset for an introvert, but a liability for someone who deals with anxiety. It’s not uncommon for introversion and anxiety to go hand-in-hand. For an introvert, rehearsing things means that there is less pressure when you’re in the moment; for example, when I am anticipating confrontation, it is helpful to think of what I am going to say ahead of time and keep an awareness of what I am going to feel like when it happens. As someone with anxiety, though, rehearsing can become a bad thing when I immediately start cycling through worse and worse possible outcomes. Then, when I find myself in the middle of the confrontation, I am already feeling defeated by things that the other person “said” when I was rehearsing it (despite the fact that the other person didn’t say and may not say any of those things at all).
Part of the beauty of the scientific method is that, when executed properly, things are tightly controlled so that you can pinpoint your findings. When the only thing that varies is the amount of chlorine added to another solution, you know that the variable responsible for the varying reactions is the amount chlorine itself. Unfortunately for me, more than three decades of analysis has taught me that the only thing I know for certain is that nothing is certain in social interactions. There are too many variables, and I cannot control most of them. Even when the same element resurfaces, it cannot be counted on to react the same way as it had the previous time.
Two of the elements that I cannot control are my age and my gender, proven Double-Whammys in my small, post-manufacturing and farming community. I am thirty-two years old, which means I am about half as old as most of the professionals I meet here. Most of the time, they seem to speak to me as if I were a child, seeming to assume that I have no experience in the ways of adulthood. I am well aware that they have more time spent as an adult than I, but I hate feeling patronized. Last year, I worked very hard to establish a cooperative Christmas relationship between my church and another agency in my county. Since then, the other agency has new management, and working with them has been difficult. While they have never lived in or worked in my county before, they insist that their three seasons of experience in another county as well as their age (mid-sixties) trumps the decades of experience I have in providing Christmas assistance in not only my county, but across several states (my mother was in social work, and as young as elementary school, I was a part of helping with/leading Christmas assistance efforts).
Being a woman is even harder here than being relatively young. The parsonage in which I live is falling apart, and I’ve been trying to get someone out here to fix it for the last three summers. I called every contractor in the phone book and they wouldn’t show up for appointments or wouldn’t call me back. Finally, I asked my father to call them when he was visiting one Sunday, and he had four people lined up to some to the house the next day. Of the four contractors who came out to put bids in, three of them suggested that instead of replacing the rusting siding that is falling off, why don’t we just paint over it and “it’ll look pretty,” as if I could not recognize the real problem. Only one of them actually submitted a bid, but I need two bids to get church approval for the repairs, so nothing has come of it. This week, I had to get a hold of a mayor in another town in my county because there was a matter that was relatively urgent. When I finally did get a hold of him, he was absolutely rude and mocked my ordination. When he followed up the phone conversation with a rambling, ranting, late-night text message, he insisted on referring to me by my first name but he was to be referred to as “Mayor [Surname],” not even affording me the courtesy of referring to me as “Ms. [Surname]” if he didn’t want to recognize my ordination.
None of these interactions constitute the first time I’ve had to deal with people who make assumptions based on my age or gender, and it’s often hard to determine the effect that these variables have/will have on my interactions with others. Sometimes, they are not factors at all, and I am treated with the same courtesy as I see others receiving. Sometimes, it is not that I am being treated rudely because of anything I did/am at all but because factors unknown to me are impacting their behavior (e.g. the other person is tired, ill, or simply a jerkface). These unknown variables turn my analysis into a 40-ring circus. It means that before any and every anticipated interaction, I have the run the scenario through a zillion different ways in order to have any hope of knowing what to do “in the moment.” As I mentioned before, the more scenarios I run, the more drastic (and exhausting) it gets.
This week holds a lot of very stressful encounters: a funeral for a mentor, at least three conversations that I already know I don’t want to have, and a meeting with the aforementioned Christmas people. So many scenarios. So many variables that I don’t even know where to start. So many other, little things that need to be done in the midst of it all. So many interruptions that I know will happen, but cannot anticipate.
If only human interactions were as simple as chemistry or physics.