West End News: May 16

Marriage Equality
Marriage Equality

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Every year, here at Sawbill Outfitters, we outfit a group of college freshmen from Nebraska Wesleyan University.  It’s a summer seminar on wilderness and we’ve really enjoyed working with such nice kids and their competent instructors.
 
Last year, the group brought along psychology professor Frank Ferraro.  On the canoe trip, he conducted an interesting psychological demonstration, with the help of nine of the students, that confirms what many of us feel about how spending time in wilderness affects us.
 
It’s no secret that college age kids live pretty hectic lives.  It’s also obvious that young people’s attention has been more divided since the widespread adoption of smart phones and tablets.  Texting, videos, Facebook, Instagram and many other distractions make significant demands on attention spans.

Just before the students got on the bus in Nebraska, Ferraro gave the students a simple word game that tests focused attention and creativity.  At the end of the canoe trip he gave the test again, with a different set of words.  The students improved their ability to focus their attention and think creatively by 40 percent.  The students also reported that their thinking had been changed by their week in the wilderness.  They noticed how their attention spans and focus had increased.
 
Even though the test was more of a demonstration and not actual research, the results would not surprise anyone who spends time in wilderness.  Everyone feels the slowing down, sense of renewal and return of focus when they travel in wilderness. 
 
It seems obvious to me that we are all able to adapt to the fast pace of modern life, but it causes a constant and significant strain on our brains.  When we go somewhere where our actions are dictated by sunlight, wind, weather and other purely natural forces, our brains relax back into the mode that millions of years of evolutionary biology designed them for.  Or, in simpler language, our brains go “Ahhhhh…”
 
Whatever your feelings are about same-sex marriage, anyone who is interested in Minnesota politics must stand amazed at the remarkable political turnaround on this issue in less than a year.
 
At this time last year, not only was gay marriage illegal in Minnesota, but it seemed almost certain that a permanent ban would be voted into the state constitution.  Polls on the pending referendum for the constitutional ban showed pretty solid support.  Thirty other states had placed a gay marriage ban in their constitutions and not a single state had rejected an attempt to do so.  The political groups supporting the ban seemed well-funded, well-organized and confident.
 
As we know, the constitutional amendment did not pass in Minnesota.  The “Vote No” campaign was successful by being very personal. They asked the question over and over, “Don’t you have a gay couple among your family, friends or co-workers and don’t you want them to have the right to marry?”  The combination of the personal message, traditional campaign shoe-leather, and shifting age demographics carried the day – and may have contributed to the election of Democratic majorities in the legislature.
 
Almost incredibly, last week Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage.  It will be interesting to see if there is a political backlash, causing the pendulum to swing back to the right in the next election.  My political instincts, such as they are, say that the new law will quickly be accepted by the majority of Minnesotans when they see that it causes no problems.  I must say, everybody I know who is under the age of 35 seems puzzled that gay marriage is an issue at all.  They have grown up in classrooms where friends have two moms or two dads, many of their classmates are openly gay and they see gay role models in the media almost every day.  Their attitude is “What’s the big deal?”
 
The biggest impact on my family will be the uptick in the number of wedding invitations that we’ll be receiving this year.
 
 Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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