Monday, April 23, 2012

Fishing Trip on the Roanoke River With Mayor Julia Meacham Weldon NC

Each time that I have spent time with Mayor Meacham, my observation and interaction with her always raises the question of honesty relative to human behavior from a cultural point of view. Simply put, Culture is what people say and do, as they go about their daily activities and how they conduct themselves at special events. 

Honesty is not a quality that we can know or see in an individual right away. It takes time, sometimes years but as I reflected and scanned over all the researched data that I've collected for two years. Not that I had any doubts whether the mayor is a honest person, but there were telltale signs of pure honesty cropping up that ethnographers pickup as they interact, interview, observe, participate and simply talk to individuals, and allow individuals or groups to be themselves in their own environment.

How would you define honesty? I asked myself, why re-invent the wheel? So I went to You Tube to find a short survey on how people define honesty. Take a look.

We fished, talked about our families, passion for our jobs, different struggles we've encountered and relaxed on the boat with Randy Mills (Second Job Guide Service). And her words hit me as I listened and observed the mayor freely expressed and gestured without any hesitation or calculated thought which I've noticed at many events and activities such as, town hall meetings, 4th of July Celebrations and monthly chat with the mayor for residents to share their concerns.

The words straightforward, integrity, veracity, uprightness, not holding anything back kept hitting my thoughts as I processed her opinions, and more importantly honor which is the old English root word for honesty kept nagging me for months, suggesting an active regard for the standards of an individuals' position, calling or profession. 

Take time to watch the two videos, get a glimpse of what I'm talking about and then, I will continue this discussion about (The Truth Dresses Down) which is not a concept but a reality of human behavior.

This week I explored why fishing as an outdoor recreational sport is such a popular sport for not only men but families, and how it relates to or impacts Weldon (See post: Why Weldon Rockfish Capital of the World is a Fantastic Idea). 

The week before I studied why women were more sustainable minded about our environment, than men. No matter what the subject is that I'm researching. I have discovered that the most effective method is to observe people in their environment where they feel most comfortable, whether it be in the privacy of their homes or outdoors raking leaves in their yards or Mayor Meacham welcoming residents at a town hall meeting. Unlike those who won't budge from their seats and despite those who are just following protocol.

There aren't many political figures who are willing to dress down to meet the needs of others consistently.

The Truth Dresses Down in many Ways
Mayor Cleaning Up Downtown
This picture was taken more than a year ago, as I noticed the mayor working at trimming the shrubbery and  cleaning up debris from around, one of the oldest standing buildings located just below my apt window. Numerous other times, too many to mention, I've watched Mayor Meacham alone, clean up around the town library with a 20-25 pound leaf blowing machine strapped to her back and dig holes to plant pine trees to help beautify downtown.

Whether she's wearing dusty backyard ragtag clothing that most women would not dare let themselves be caught seen in public, Meacham never beats around the bush to get the job done. She told me on several occasions that "I'm a last minute person, the world as we know it is changing, and if we don't change with it. We will be left behind. So, we use what we have, and we learn as we go" referring to teamwork of all the town commissioners and employees.
Also, self management requires an honest respect for others that makes sure that others feel comfortable at special town events, and more importantly the mayor makes it a point to have a equitable representation of community. She requested that I (a new resident) sit in for this picture as her pride and joy "Rocky" the Rockfish bearing NC State Symbol and symbolizing "dignity" was unveiled.
Over the years of working in the marketing industry and now ethnography, I've become attuned to the subtle nuances of consumer behavior. I can pick up details that few would even notice. I'm talking about small features that most people would regard as insignificant.

Listen, I grew up with four sisters and the female gender was dominant in my family.

So, I’ve come to understand when a women has a low esteem she'll place the most extravagant perfumes in front of the less expensive ones. And overweight women on Facebook are more likely to put up pictures showing less of their body than women who exercise regularly.

It's a phenomenon called "enclothed cognition," and it refers to the influence clothes have on the psychological processes of the wearer. Joshua I. Davis, an expert on embodied cognition, was quoted in the New York Timesas saying, "When we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role."

Dr. Galinsky, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, led a study into the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. In one experiment reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, randomly 74 students were assigned with one of three tasks wearing a doctor's coat, wearing a painter's coat, or simply looking at a doctor's coat.

They were tested for the amount of attention they paid to the task. They were shown two very similar images on the same screen. Next, they were asked to quickly write down four minor differences. Those wearing the doctor's coat (incidentally exactly the same as the painter's coat) found more differences that showed increased attention.

We all take on many roles in our lives. For example, we behave differently with a friend's parents than we do with a friend.

However, when psychology and ethnography partner in gaining knowledge pertaining to human behavior. And as we learn to peel back the many human layers, I've come to see how even the smallest  and most subtle signals and gestures can transform a personality. It seems that just carrying a clipboard has the power to make someone feel more important according to many studies on human behavior.

So being willing to be caught off guard without makeup or wearing our backyard ragtag clothing in public might help individuals to be more open and honest. This was indeed, my revelation after reflecting on Mayor Meachams' consistent behavior at special events, our fishing trip down the Roanoke River and her open and honest interaction with Randy Mills our guide and me.

Withstanding the confines of a gender dominated political environment which I must add, recent news reports and research studies show that women are still under constant attack by the more conservative political party. But, as I've stated before, Mayor Meacham's possesses the tenacity of a mama bear protecting her cubs, referring to Weldon's residents.

In her early election days, publicly she stated "I'm not intimidated by men" in reference to a news reporters' questions about running  and winning the election against the former mayor who held his position for approximately 40 years. We discussed these things during our fishing trip. 

As an ethnographer, I can only collect, document and evaluate information from what I observe of an individual and what they say, and do in reference to their understanding of reality, not mine. Ethnography uncovers not only what they say or do but why they do it.

We must look closely at the context surrounding the topic, paying close attention to human behavior from many angles by uncovering those opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked. For instance, a women who speaks highly of her husband and dad. Or a women who can stand among a room full of male dominant mayors, listen out of respect, and then jump in to share her opinion with dignity and grace.
Ethnography is always inductive. This means that our approach to research is exploratory and does not start with a hypothesis. An inductive approach takes best advantage of ethnography's spontaneity, which I by nature am known to do, and its potential for discovery and for finding the less obvious, hidden invisible qualities of human behavior that we, and our community participants have never thought of before.

Just returning home with a bunch of videos or photos about how a fishing trip is done in a particular culture is not ethnography. Good ethnography is a rigorous analysis and the ability to work collaboratively with local members of a community and businesses to create new ways of solving (some call problems) but I call challenges and opportunities to change from the "Status Quo" or this is the way that we have always done things here.

It is that very type of thinking and behavior that the outdated male dominated politicians role modeled for centuries. It's time for a change. Mayor Julia Meacham has the know how to Dress Down to the truth by being open and honest.

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