Archive for December, 2016

The Critic and the Poop

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We’ve all been criticized at times. Sometimes brutally or without thought. The intent may or may not be to help. Keep in mind that there will always be someone around to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Feel free to listen to and act on the facts, but you’d do well to filter out the emotional baggage the sender may be trying to bestow upon you.

That’s part of the struggle of choosing your own path. Of course, nobody ever erected a statue for a critic. On the other hand, statues are the ones that get pooped on by passing birds. There is no way to avoid this if you want to get anywhere or do anything great.

It washes off.

Winning Combination

lighteningteampartnership

Tom Brady wasn’t a superstar in college. And nobody knew who (coach) Bill Belichick was before they got together. What about: Ben and Jerry. Warner Brothers, Hewlett and Packard, Jobs and Wasniak, Click and Clack. The Wright Brothers. Larry Page and Sergy Brin. The cast of Top Gear or Friends. Simon and Garfunkel. Rush.

All were (or are) great together. Winning combinations.

Here’s another kind of list:

  • Stephen Duffy (Duran Duran)
  • LaTavia Roberson/LeToya Luckett (Destiny’s Child)
  • Michael Dempsey (The Cure)
  • Dik Evans (U2)
  • David Marks (The Beach Boys)
  • Doug Sandom (The Who)

Do you recognize those names? They’ve pretty much been relegated to answers to trivia questions.

History is filled with great partnerships and teams. Groups of people who came together to do something special that the same individuals couldn’t have accomplished on their own. Their power together being greater than the sum of the parts.

Finding a winning combination is magic, like catching lightening in a bottle.

When you find a winning combination, I would encourage you to pursue it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same one your whole life. But it’s so important to see the power in the combo – the team. You can go to new heights, together.

Two Kinds of Argument

science-vs

Scientific -vs- the other kind. The scientific kind relies on what the facts say. The science can be proven wrong by better science. The other kind relies on what emotions say or pride.

If you need to convince someone who refuses to act like a scientist (listening to facts), making better science isn’t going to help you very much. The person you’re arguing with (who might be a scientist during the day, even, but is merely being a person right now) is not going to be swayed from a firmly held opinion by your work to make better science. It’s more likely that it will take cultural pressure, shame, passion, humor, connection and a host of unreliable levers to make your point.

The easy way to tell the two varieties of argument apart is to ask, “what evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?”

Don’t argue about belief, argue about arguments. The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what’s happening around us. The key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

“I believe A because of B and C.” If someone can show you that “C” isn’t actually true, then it’s not okay to persist in arguing “A”. The statement, “All swans are white” is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we’re done.

On the other hand, “Aliens are about to take over the world with flying saucers,” is not, because there’s nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, “well, they’re just very well hidden, and they’re waiting us out.”

If belief in “A” is important to someone’s story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There’s nothing wrong with believing “A”, but it’s counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you’re right or not. It’s a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it’s not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

You can’t argue with feelings. The key question is, “is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in ‘A’?” If the honest answer is ‘no’, then we’re not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let’s be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

Choosing Battle

battleeyelens

I enjoy playing and watching sports, particularly basketball and football. I enjoy the skill and competition, though I could live without the macho testosterone driven parts. Nevertheless those moments when things really heat up can be revealing.

I remember watching an NBA game one night where the Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett, whom I love, and is a respected battler on the court, found himself facing off against a player on another team (I don’t even remember who it was anymore). Kevin’s unintentional body language in that moment revealed even through a wild swinging punch he threw that he did not want to be engaged in that fight. It was so obvious to anyone tuned in to that sort of thing. But of course he had a reputation and pride to uphold, so he went through the motions.

Character is revealed in the heat of battle. Do we really want to be there, or would a quiet escape suit? Do we push through and do our duty, in spite of the risk and fear?

Examine your internal monolog as you read and think about this. My guess is it’s probably coming from a moral orientation. You see failure to step up to the plate as morally wrong, and a shortcoming.

That can be true, but if we get off of our moral high-horse for a moment, we can also understand that everyone has certain things worth fighting for. We just don’t all have the same ones. Sure, some have a higher predisposition toward fighting, but every man can be a coward if he doesn’t believe in either the cause or his chances of winning, or at least saving face.

It’s too simplistic to view character through the polarized lens of black and white, of you have it or you don’t. Character is more nuanced. What is a person’s character telling him or her is the right thing to do? Amazingly, someone could be doing a thing that we feel is immoral, but is actually consistent with that person’s character and view of the world or situation, and not wrong.

Oh, but it is so hard for us to accept this, because we’re so programmed. And we have our own agenda.

 

Passion

passion

You have to have passion for what you’re doing if you want to be great. If you don’t love it you’ll quit before you get there. This we’ve all been told or read a number of times before.

The struggle we sometimes find ourselves in is when we try to make something great, even though the passion isn’t there. Or, said another way, we struggle trying to invent or re-ignite passion.

It’s a shame that we put this pressure on ourselves. Because passion, by definition, isn’t very controllable. It’s an emotion. It can be modulated to some extent by our actions and mindset. But like most of our emotions, we don’t have direct access to it. Emotions are driven in part by our intellect. We know the situation we are in, and we know how we feel about it. We can observe much of that taking place and understand it academically, but controlling it is a lot to ask. It’s unreliable, at best. Hard to fight our human nature.

The reality is…we sometimes keep trying to find a way through even when the passion isn’t there. This manifests to different degrees I can summarize into three categories:

  1. Apathy – Giving up. No longer trying. One step away from quitting altogether, which could be the right thing to do once one reaches this point.
  2. Mailing/phoning it in – This has most of the appearances of trying, but it’s usually more for the benefit of all the onlookers than anything. Sometimes we do this for a while, waiting/hoping for that spark (spark) of inspiration to strike.
  3. The Struggle – The gallant effort. Continuing to push and work hard, in spite of evidence that it isn’t doing much good. In spite of that dull, nauseating feeling of discontent. The tricky thing is, when we try hard, we usually do get some results. Often it can be enough to keep us engaged for a while. But in the end we usually know the truth.

Without that intangible thing called passion driving us, it’s virtually impossible to do our best for an extended period of time.

And so…things change. Some people experience more of this than others. Some are better at fighting through and ignoring the underlying feelings than others. I would humbly suggest that no matter which side of this you are on, judging what another person is battling  and how it may be manifesting, is probably a misguided waste of emotional energy. Your passion, your common sense, your background of obviousness is unique to you.

When the fuel tank reaches empty, the car can usually still coast for a while, especially when the wind is favorable, but in the end you gotta’ find something new to be passionate about to really get going and get somewhere.

I’m sorry if this is not the answer you may want.

Bravery

suntracks

Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths. It is mustering the courage to face the fear of the unknown. If you’re not courageous, you’re going to be hanging around the water cooler, talking about the person who actually is. That sucks, and it will eventually eat you up, poisoning your joy of life. Don’t let it happen to you.

Where does this courage come from and how do we know whether it’s misguided?

It is a willingness to accept the outcome of what you decide or take action for, rather than the fate of inertia. Mustering courage when it isn’t easy is a function of confidence in oneself and in the world. You are smart and capable. The world provides a lot of help. You can work it out. People far less capable than you have done it. The reason you want to work it out is because of a belief that things can be better, and also because life is a journey. Feeding your sense of adventure is a key to happiness.

As for the misguided part…sure, it’s possible your decision making isn’t well grounded. A little of that is inevitable and okay. Here is where self-examination is your reality check. Historically how has your decision making generally worked out for you? This is not a question of whether decisions led you into difficulty. Our lives are full of challenges that come to us because of AND in spite of decisions we do or do not make. The question is, did the decision take you on a journey that was meaningful? Did you learn and grow? Did you experience more of life? You see, it’s not about what is easy. It’s about what is worthwhile. You’ll never get perfect clarity on anything important.

Bravery is the choice to take a worthwhile journey and open new possibilities.

Organization’s Effects

artguy

If you take a group of people, a subgroup of the larger population, and expose them to focused messages again and again, you will start to change their point of view. If you augment those messages with exposure to other members of the group, the messages will begin to have ever more impact.

We generally tend to align ourselves with those we’re around. We don’t fully understand why. There is a lot of psychology we know, and then other stuff we can’t explain. Yawning, for instance, can be statistically shown to be contagious. It has been studied for years, yet we don’t know why it happens.

Once a group starts to become aligned, and starts acting like a tribe, the messages of the tribe will become self-reinforcing. When someone is born into that tribe, there is a very high probability she will never know the difference. It is simply her common sense about the way the world works.

Programmed.

Celebrate!

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Just a quick reminder to celebrate what’s great. It may not be ideal, but take the win and celebrate. That’s where the joy comes from and goes to in life. Two-way street. Give it. Receive it. Bask in it. It’s worth it.

The Racket of Education

educationracket

The government doesn’t do a great job of educating our children, mostly because there is inherently some level of corruption, and people and organizations think they need (more) money to do the great work. So it all ends up gamed, and the blame diffused. There’s a lot of good, mind you. I’m not advocating tearing it all down. But we do need to learn to see through the B.S. and maintain accountability.

The Show versus Reality: For the most part teachers are evaluated primarily on observation and test scores. For the first few years performance is evaluated by an administrator who comes into into classroom to watch. It happens about two or three times a year, and they generally know when it’s going to happen because either the admin team wants to be sure the administrator is there on a day and time that makes sense for getting the evaluation done (not wasting his or her time) or simply to give the teacher a chance to shave up the dogs and ponies as a favor. I don’t mean to imply that all teachers get a pass all the time. The principle usually figures out who the good and bad ones are, but this process, which could be instrumental, is only incidental toward that end. It lets them put the right things on a checklist, and takes the pressure off of them to take significant action that would otherwise be warranted.

Standardized testing is a measure that’s semi-objective, at least on the surface, but is fraught with its own problems. One of the big ones is that many teachers will teach to what they believe the test is, rather than to the overall betterment of the student. It makes the teacher look better, and again removes the burden for anyone to take more difficult action.

The other concern is establishing what the standards should be that are tested. This process is inherently filled with bias, whether cultural, demographic, religious or otherwise. “Standard” by definition ignores the individual. How much of this makes sense is debated. One problem I see everywhere that I’ve spent years talking about in this blog is how programmed we all have become. We’re made to think and act in certain ways so as to more easily fit or conform to society and be good workers. Of course, this mindset comes from a time when we needed people to show up for work every day and be good, consistent, quiet workers who don’t upset the way things are done or challenge anyone or anything. To conform. These days we struggle because the world has moved on, and this deeply ingrained training no longer serves us. We can’t figure out what to do. Schools have been very slow to respond to these changes.

Principals and superintendents shave the dogs and ponies for their shows as well. Schools and districts are compelled by honors and accolades from various sources. From Lighthouse Schools to National Board Certification for teachers to publisher rankings to accrediting agencies, school leaders are compelled to score high. Competition is good and it makes us better, but the problem here is that schools are going through the motions. While accolades from publishers or high scores from accrediting agencies seem great, they’re merely snapshots. If you look good that day or that week, by teaching something that will impress them (in spite of what lesson really should be taught in the context of the course material), it creates a perception that’s not reality.

You may have heard of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which in many ways is an organization that tries to help. Teachers who receive NBPTS accreditation have done good work and have done a LOT of work. I’m sure many people have been through the process and found it to be incredibly effective and rewarding. However, some get the certification and the promised increase in pay only until the next time the state decides budgets need to be cut. The state got the appearance they were looking for and moved on.

It’s not just firms like NBPTS that cash in on education. Publishing companies write textbooks specifically for large districts or large states. We’re talking big money here. Once books are adopted, many firms have a leg up on their competition. Textbook adoption is usually a district level decision. I’m not going all the way down this rabbit hole here because this one topic is covered quite a bit elsewhere, and one would truly have to have her head in the sand to not have an inkling of how gamed it all is, but suffice to say that the values of a few in power impact the many in unusually profound ways given how few controls there are in place to manage the merits of texts. It reminds me of the phrase, “History is written by the conquerers.”

Software developers also benefit from this situation. Schools are eager to adopt a new program or system to manage grades or attendance or all sorts of student data with only a cursory review. Sure, they talk a good game: peer review, teacher and parent consultation, blah, blah, blah. What it often amounts to is a five or six person panel calling the shot for the whole district.

None of this compares to the accrediting boondoggle. These are for profit companies hired to manage…accreditations. Their agenda is to produce sales. Each time the accrediting agencies show up, the school puts on a nice show and blows a nice chunk of change on wooing them. They usually don’t even eat or spend time with students. Teachers, have you ever seen anyone from an accrediting agency so much as eating in the same cafeteria with the students?

Then there is the Cool Stuff Arms Race. Interactive white boards that barely can be kept working, or are so difficult to use they end up wasting more time than they are worth. Never mind that the school asks teachers to be careful about using it because the bulbs are expensive!  iPods (not pads, “pods,” the music players) were rolled out at many schools a number of years ago. Hardly used. Eventually dropped. Districts don’t seem to understand what it takes to feed and clothe these technological wonders they bring home. Each school seems to have its own handful of things, but the teachers are rarely consulted about what they need, and once they have (what they don’t need) they struggle with a less than fully trained IT staff to keep it running. It ends up being not worth the effort, and traditional means are often used, which in most cases work just fine anyway. It’s all up to whether the teacher is committed and good at it, not so much the technological pyrotechnics involved. Cool new stuff keeps getting added to look good to parents, the media, and accrediting agencies.

This is not to say it is all bad. Good schools do well overall. It’s just frustrating to watch the massive amounts of waste in the process. Waste that results in no money for things that matter. Like the teachers. They are treated like the same commodity pens and paper are in a lot of ways. We try to build a structure that forces them into a paradigm that some idealistic administrator visioned without really understanding that it’s nearly impossible to manage that type of human interaction so systemically. (The medical profession, by the way, suffers from the same thing.) Instead, we should be taking every possible step to build the competency of the teachers, and then paying them accordingly so that once they become brilliant and skilled, they will actually want to remain in the profession, rather than going out to get a real job where they can earn a professional living.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, and it really shouldn’t take more, but the reality is it probably will. Government is horribly inefficient, but it’s the best thing we have. Until people get serious about (first) understanding what education is needed for kids and then (second) demanding it, I doubt things will change significantly anytime soon.

Meanwhile, how do you know if your kids’ teachers are doing a good job and the district is a good one? You can start by asking your kids and watching what’s going on with their scores on standardized tests. Look deeper. Ask your kids’ teachers what the kids are supposed to learn and ask the kids about those topics. Talk to your kids about the content of their courses. If you’re kids’ teachers are worth their pay, they’ll be glad you did. There’s no substitute for being an involved parent. Not an overbearing, annoying one. But one whose head is in the game paying attention, and talking with the teachers.

Some take this to the extreme of homeschooling. In some situations this may be a viable alternative, and I absolutely applaud folks who can do it, but I expect there are precious few qualified to teach their kids AP subjects in multiple disciplines. Private schooling can be a good answer answer. Certainly many of the inefficiencies and half-baked decisions are minimized, not to mention the elimination of the grindingly slow pace of any kind of change in any governmental body such as eduction. The good private schools can’t game their reputations as easily because they are accountable for what happens to the kids once they leave because they are populated by kids whose parents have resources and talk to each other in the community, not to mention many of them knowing themselves from experience what a good education looks like. But that’s the elite. Below that, it’s still going to require diligent parenting to ensure success.

Hands on. No escaping that. Look past the BS for reality.

 

 

Happiness, Part xx8, Other People

happinessothersrainumbrella

We’ve already explored happiness topics ranging from drugs to business. Perhaps the most vital, if obvious, piece has only been touched on up to now.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, known most for its excellent wine, is part of a volcanic archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean far off the southwest coast of Portugal. It’s actually closer to northwest Africa, and loosely associated with the Canary Islands as a stopping point for transatlantic journeys.

One small island in the group has such steep cliffs jutting out of the ocean that it actually looks a bit like a cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. The only way to the top is a winding and narrow path. There is no way an ox could navigate the path, so when the ox dies, how is it replaced? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why. One ox, alone, in a field on the plateau of a small rock island in the middle of the ocean.

Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, there is one thing I’ll bet they had in common: all of them took place around other people. Simply put, other people is the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

Recent research on human evolution points to the importance of positive relationships. Studies of the big social brain, hive emotions, and group selection persuade me that positive relationships are a basic element of well-being.

It’s really pretty simple, except the catch is that nasty tendency we sometimes have to not want to be around people when things aren’t going well. It’s a downward spiral.

The other tricky aspect, is being around the right people. If you spend time with someone who brings you down or causes you stress, even if through no particular fault of his own, then at minimum you need others in your life who provide the type of companionship that makes the rest work. It turns out we’re pretty complicated socially, yet we produce anxiety and ultimately unhappiness because we don’t always set our lives up in a way that takes care of this truth, or honor and act on behalf of the changes we undergo throughout life. When someone connects and makes you feel good, pay attention, as it’s you trying to tell yourself something. Recognizing the importance of that is essential to not just happiness, but to fundamentally taking care of yourself.

 


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