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Education Quotes & Commentary

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." - W. Edwards Deming

Often, when I'm having a conversation about the expanded ways in which the Internet has provided new and exciting options for learning, the person I'm talking to will argue: if schools don't change dramatically, they will be left behind and become irrelevant. The market will force schools to change.

I myself have drunk the Kool-Aid, to be sure, but I now see this as wishful thinking.

The "schools will have to change" argument presumes, first, that most parents think about learning rationally and make choices about their children's schooling based substantively on the specific learning philosophy of their children's school, teachers, and administrators. For most parents, if there is even a conversation about the learning philosophy, it usually comes well-after the very practical realities of location, convenience, timing, child-care, children's friends, and which teachers are "good" or "bad."

Second, it's not as if most schools have, or feel the need to have, a consistently articulated learning culture, one that is clearly developed and crafted together by all constituent groups, that drives decision-making, and that is compelling and recognizable to the students, teachers, staff, and parents. Perhaps think of it this way: the companies most-desirable to work for have clearly articulated ways in which they care for their customers, employees, and stakeholders. Wouldn't we like to have our children attend a school that is similarly forthright in how it operates for the benefit of all? I'm sorry to say that both in the business and education worlds, measures of cultural value have become increasingly less relevant to the push for "performance"--hollow numbers that hide the loss of core commitments.

As a quick aside, the lack of defined learning cultures in our schools is pervasive. The current demand for "quality teachers" leads me to believe that we seem to not realize that the culture of an institution has much more to do with how the teachers perform collectively than their rightly-appreciated individual talents. Instead of recognizing the power that an aligned vision has for bringing out the best in (and, of course, addressing problems with) teachers, we fantasize that schools will become great learning centers if we just could somehow just bring the best teachers together. This is related to the same tired argument that promotes bringing together subject-matter recordings of the "best teachers" to build great online learning experiences. What's missing from that vision is the influence of caring individuals who help to change the learning lives of students. It's really, really hard for teachers to be caring individuals when they don't work for an organization that has a clear vision of how and why learning takes place, and cares for the teachers in this same way as well.

Back to our conversation about why significant change is unlikely to be required.

The final reason, the reason that parents and students aren't going to just stand up and demand that their schools go though dramatic changes to reflect the shifts in learning potential provided by modern technologies, is: schools are actually changing and will continue to do so, but they only change just enough to survive.

Survival is what institutions are good at. Institutions consistently make just enough changes to stay relevant, which makes sense because any more is risky. And survive they must, since so very many people depend on schools in very practical ways, from large supplier contracts to the individual paychecks that allow those who work at schools to support themselves and their families. Schools will make just enough changes based on just enough demands on them by parents and students in order to continue to be the place that we send children during the day. Individual schools, and even some districts, will push the envelope and reshape what they are doing, but perhaps this explains why their influence on others schools is often so limited.

The idea that in five or ten years, because of modern learning affordances and the demands they create for authentic learning, schools in general will look much different than they do now as a result of needing to survive is not, I believe, likely. So, for those of us who care about dramatically reshaping the learning experiences of children, what do we do? That is the million-dollar question.

You Are Not a Failure

One of my favorite ways to catch people's attention is to use the statement, "your child is not defective."

You see, parents often get the message that their children have not measured up in both specific and general ways. In an education system driven by standards and data, the focus is most often on what is not being done well, which is labeled as a deficiency and then becomes the center of attention and efforts. And therefore so many parents have been willing to believe, when they hear it, that their children are defective.

We're also very good at blaming the parents. They know it, and they internalize that. It's pretty natural to make the logical leap: a defective child means a defective parent or parents.

It's an easy argument to make because, like so many other social and emotional issues, there is truth to it. As parents we are the major influences in our children's lives, and often their successes and challenges are pretty reflective of our own ups and downs. But it's a truth that depends on a way of viewing life that focuses on people's deficiencies rather than working to help them, and it's based on a system of school/work/life where our not feeling confident is arguably beneficial to those trying to convince us to buy their expertise or products.

I spoke to a group in our church recently about how adults can feel like failures in their lives. I could see several people in the congregation physically nodding their heads, as though just recognizing this deep emotional pain out loud produced an involuntary physical response. No matter how much we try to make things look good on the outside, we can feel broken and alone on the inside. We, more than those around us, can see all the ways we feel we have not measured up.

In a purely biological framework, success and failure are just objective outcomes of life, reproduction, and death. Believing that the "losers" in the game of life have lost through their own weakness would be the natural conclusion if we thought that life was nothing more than biology. But if there is something more to our lives--something spiritual or moral--then seeing others or ourselves as failures is abhorrent. Would we say that the child with Down Syndrome is a failure? Or the person missing a limb is defective? Why is it so easy, then, to find fault with ourselves, even if our problems are less outwardly visible?

We make mistakes. We fail at things. But you and I are not failures, we are not losers. The moment we allow someone to tell us that we are, or we tell ourselves we are, we have surrendered. It feels like this is one of the great choices in life: are we victims, destined to always feel that we have never measured up; or are we agents, capable of learning, of getting better, and of creating things of worth and value? I know I have friends who don't really understand how someone intellectual could also be faithful, but in part my devotion is the conscious decision to believe in the divine worth and value of every individual--which would include ourselves--and the belief in the opportunity for, and the ability of. individuals to repair and change their lives.

Like I've argued in my posts here, feelings of failure unfortunately often stem from our school experiences. To believe that a child is defective because he or she is not good at one or more particular tasks, the way that we define those tasks, is one of the most powerful traps of modern education. Then to move from the delicate balance of a child's unique temperament, personality, skills, and interests to blaming the adults in his or her life is another powerful trap. It's not because there isn't truth to the deep connection between children's behavior and the behavior of the adults in their lives--of course there is--but focusing on weaknesses and assigning blame in a very complex system of influences are about the two worst ways to improve lives that you can imagine.

One of my personal heroes is Angela Maiers, who reminds us that "You Matter." And one of my favorite movies is The Kid with Bruce Willis, who though outwardly very successful has difficulty finding the ability to actually declare at the end of the movie, "I am not a loser!"

Whoever you are, however you are feeling right now, you are not a loser. You are not a failure. You may have made mistakes, you may have amends or significant progress to make, but I reject those who, individually or through systemic processes, push others into a state of "assumed inadequacy." Behind those who would have you believe you are a failure is their own inability to feel good about themselves without you feeling bad about yourself.

We cannot believe in the potential of every child unless we believe in our own potential. 

"Our children need to be treated as human beings - exquisite, complex and elegant in their diversity." - Lloyd Dennis

Systems of mass production can be really good at certain things.

If you go into a McDonalds anywhere, especially in the United States, you're pretty-much guaranteed you'll be able to order something from a menu that is pretty-much identical to the menu in every one of their restaurants, and that the food (hmmm....) that you get will be pretty-much identically prepared as it would also be in every one of their restaurants.

You want that. You want to know what you are going to get. You depend on it being exactly the same. And McDonalds wants to deliver it exactly that way. So they put in policies and procedures to guarantee that this will happen. These policies and procedures are documented and detailed, can be measured precisely, and--most important of all--can be scaled.

The quality of the output can be measured in very standard ways from the top down.

And this would be exactly the wrong way to run a school system.

Children are not identical meat patties to be prepared in identical ways. They are not sent to us as completely raw material, just to then be shaped by rule-bound, low-paid employees into identical products.

So, if children are exquisite, complex, and elegant in their diversity, and we take that as a starting point, how would we create learning environments for them? What would we consider to be success? How and where would we measure that success? And who would be doing the measuring?

Discuss. :)

"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." - Chinese proverb

I've been tying to put into words a feeling I've been having lately: that the cognitive dissonances of our current world have created a pervasive lifestyle of surface-level, short-term thinking.

Nothing seems to make sense right now. To the thinking individual, the stories we are telling about our education, financial, political, and foreign policy worlds just don't add up. So for most people, I propose, it becomes harder and harder to be a "thinking individual." How do you plan for the future when the very institutions that have promised to help build financial security are clearly building security only for themselves? When laws are passed that don't even seem to hide their ties to lobbying and financial contributions? When our leaders create education programs they protect their own children from?

In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result seems to be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, sizes.

In a world that doesn't really make sense, we're going to latch on that the things closest to us: our jobs, just making ends meet, and our own children's futures. Instead of thinking about how to build a healthy world for all of us, we're narcissistically self-focused. Our education system, you say, leaves most students feeling like failures? That's tough, but my job is to make sure my own kids get the most advantages possible.

It's not that we don't care about other people; it's that we don't have good stories about how to do so any more--we seem not to know to how to balance our own concerns with larger inter-generational issues, and maybe don't even believe that is possible.

And this isn't the narcissism of the self-aggrandizing, which is the typical lament of every generation regarding the next. No, this is rather the narcissism of pervasive isolation, loneliness, and an emotionally-broken people. It's the survival strategy of a world that seems unable to think for the future.

It's eating food that is bad for us, buying cheap things made under questionable circumstance, living unhealthy lifestyles, and retreating into the imagined worlds of television and movies. These are signs of decay, not of healthy and vibrant cultures.

I notice this self-absorption in other small and interesting ways. For example, the strange inability in public spaces for people to be aware of the movements of others, and stopping in the middle of a flow of walkers, not even seeming to see the jam-up that occurs behind them. Or the increasing disregard for turn signals when changing lanes while driving. Granted, this may not be a new problem, but does it seem now to be an epidemic of people who have no idea of the safety value of signaling their movements to others?

We are not planning for a lifetime. Nor a decade. In most cases, I don't think we're even planning for a year.

I see so many ways in which we seem to just be surviving day to day. And it's killing us and our future.

“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

What makes this quote so jarring is that it comes from such a famous book - Democracy in America - and that it's the opposite of what we (in the United States) like to think about ourselves.

Entertain with me the idea that it might be true.

Our national debates aren't thoughtful, they are for the most part sensationalist and argumentative. Cross political or philosophical lines and there's an epithet waiting for you. Ask reasonable questions and you're labeled a "denier," "skeptic," or "conspiracy theorist."

Why are we so averse to deep, careful, and thoughtful civil dialog? Perhaps because it's hard work that requires a willingness to see from another's perspective and to forgo easy answers.

My wife and I have been, as parents, "independent schoolers." We've done what we thought, at any given point in time, was best for our children. Sometimes that was regular public school. Sometimes it was homeschooling. Sometimes it was a chartered or private school.

Take it from me, most conversations about homeschooling are not rational. Want to really talk about what your child or family needs and why you're homeschooling, and don't be surprised to actually hear people say, "why can't you just do things the way other people do?" Now there's a thoughtful response... The pervasive, knee-jerk distrust of anything homeschooling is just not rational. You can probably hear the anti-homeschool arguments in your head as you're reading this: you must be trying to shelter your children from the world, or are religious zealots, or think it's OK for your kids to just run wild. Ummm... maybe we just were trying to help them to learn?

Does our system of schooling really create citizens capable of sustaining a free nation, able to think independently, to articulate ideas carefully, and to work with others to bridge different viewpoints on complex issues? We tell ourselves that it does, but what we tell ourselves and what is reality are often different--especially in a world of marketing and propaganda. H.L. Menken said:
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. 
How do we react to such a quote, or to de Tocqueville's above? Are we willing to consider that there might be truth to them, and/or that they are worthy of discussion? Or, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says , do we have defensive mechanisms in place that overwhelm us?
To prevent its annihilation, the ego forces us to be constantly on the watch for anything that might threaten the symbols on which it relies for identity. Our view of the world becomes polarized into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – things that support the image, and those that threaten it.
Likewise, from Bertrand Russell:
If people are offered a fact which goes against their instincts or their cultural programming, they will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, they are offered something which falls in accordance to their cultural programming, in accordance to their conditioning, they will accept it, even on the slightest evidence.
I think part of the reason these quotes might scare us is because if we allow the possibility that they could be true, they have the potential to shatter the illusions that give us comfort. Big important issues are big important issues because they are big and they are important, and reducing them--and those on either side of the issues--to sound-bite caricatures may make us feel emotionally good, is not real freedom of discussion, and harms our ability to make good decisions.

So, is this uniquely American? And if so, why? The next paragraph is for the brave only.

In countries and cultures where the divisions of power and privilege have historically been more overt, perhaps it's easier for people to recognize and discuss the different ways that individuals and groups manipulate others for their own purposes and gain. Those discussions may be seen as radical and subversive, but they are not ridiculed and are often driven by the educated class. But in a nation founded on the very idea of citizens governing themselves, with checks and balances on power, an education which keeps that narrative illusion of virtuous self-rule alive makes us uniquely susceptible to marketing and propaganda, and to a system of schooling which claim to be creating independence while doing exactly the opposite.

"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting their eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted." - Garrison Keillor

Children watch adults ever so closely. They inherit our view of the world and how life works. They start by seeing everything through the lens of our perception, including and especially how they see themselves.

Our kindness and generosity become long-lasting lessons to them. A part of the architecture of their own cognition and emotions.

Equally, negative emotional traits also form patterns of thinking inside of them. For most of us, that negative voice inside our head sounds distinctively and recognizably like adults who played significant critical roles in our own childhoods.

Children are finely tuned to perceive how we respond to them, constantly learning from those responses. They often understand us better than we do ourselves, since they experience how we actually act and react versus how we tell ourselves that we do.

I'm thinking of how children become so very good at knowing just what to say or do to get a response or a behavior from their parents. Ever stood in a checkout line and watched a frustrated parent give in to a whining child just to avoid the embarrassment of parenting in public?

We might attribute some form of malicious intent to the annoying child--the frustrated parent usually does--but what we are actually witnessing is just the incredible awareness the child has of how his or her parent operates. If you are not the parent who is caught in the emotion of that moment, it's fascinating to watch.

This also means we have great opportunities to build cultures, within our families, our classrooms, and our schools, that use this power of childhood awareness to grow, reinforce, and perpetuate healthy behaviors and beliefs.

Who we are, and how we act with children, matters. A lot.

“When you judge you project your shadows onto others. When you love you project your inner light.” - Aine Belton

I've always been intrigued by the degree to which those things which bother me about other people are often the things that I like least in myself.

Perhaps it's my own worries and insecurities--the fact that I haven't figured out how to overcome or come to peace with something--that makes them particularly prickly for me. As a parent, my shortest fuses were in situations where I felt most unsure.

It's tragic to think that our own insecurities can so easily create confusion, doubt, and fear in another. Our heart breaks for the child who is on the receiving end of an adult's insecurity.

When we feel calm and confident, we are much more capable of being generous about others' shortcomings. Their difficulties don't threaten us. We feel some sense of confidence that we can help them.

Projecting light is a powerful image for helping another, especially a child. Illuminating the areas of darkness for them, providing a bridge across the shadows of fear. Showing confidence in the ability to deal with and overcome life's challenges.

Our ability to influence others truly depends on who we have become. 

"There is no recipe for raising children to be successful adults, but parental warmth and affection make more of a difference than any other factor… The main finding… was that 'subjects who had warm mothers or warm fathers were more likely to be rated as higher in social accomplishments 36 years later.' - Radcliffe Study, Quoted in the Boston Globe (4/8/91)

I remain intrigued by the idea that to really help students, we need to be helping families.

Not trying to transplant things from the family to school, which is a risky proposition, and based on the belief that we can somehow isolate certain factors and replicate them outside of their natural circumstance. Transplanting practices that should be happening in the family, but aren't, also holds the obvious drawback of further weakening the families.

I call this the A-to-C fallacy.

A is where we are (in this case, wanting to help children who are struggling).  B is a known mechanism for fundamentally helping (in this case, parental warmth and affection).  C is where we want to be (in this case, children becoming successful adults).

B is the hard work. In the world of farming, it's planting, watering, cultivating, weeding--all the things you have to do to get the harvest (C).  In the education equation, a significant part (arguably the largest) of B is healthy families.

But because B is hard work, because we're not always in direct control of B, and because we're always trying to improve or be efficient, we look for shortcuts, ways to skip the work, and ways to go somehow more directly from A to C. This is a trap.

Remembering the importance of B, committing ourselves to working on B, and remembering that what we want (C) is B's natural outcome, means that we're thinking deeply and carefully.

So then my own personal question becomes: who's doing really good work to strengthen families, and how can I help them?

"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." - Marcel Proust

There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge.

Knowledge can be taught, but wisdom must be obtained by oneself. Wisdom is self-discovered. Galileo said: "You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself."

Knowledge is crucial, and can be transferred in machine-like fashion from one individual to another. But if we focus only on knowledge, we will find ourselves in the barren wasteland of information without understanding.

Wisdom is about how we work as human beings, and we are not machines. It is wisdom, not knowledge, that saves nations from destroying themselves and others. It is wisdom that understands human needs, cognitive biases, and emotional growth. It is wisdom that balances and bridges conflicting information. It is wisdom that reflects on history and builds carefully for the future. It is wisdom that thinks about how to help future generations become good thinkers.

We live in an age of knowledge, but our greatest need right now is wisdom.

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paolo Friere

Here is the initial synopsis of Hans Christian Andersen's tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes," from Wikipedia:
[It] is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that he doesn't see any suit of clothes until a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" 
For those interested in truth versus narrative, or the social dynamics of power, one of the most interesting parts of the story has been left out. In Wikipedia's fuller description of the plot, the important conclusion to the story is included:
Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspects the assertion is true, but continues the procession.
The procession continues.

Most people tell this story as way of emphasizing the need to regain a child-like purity of vision, to be able to see and tell the truth, even when everyone else is pretending and going along with a lie. And of how we easily we can be manipulated by being told that if we were smart enough, then we'd believe that lie that others are telling us.

But there is more.

Do we recognize the truth, either initially like the child, or ultimately like the crowd, but stand idly by as the procession continues?

Do we say, "well, that's just the way things are?"

Or are we sometimes even holding up the imaginary cloth, part of the continued procession, because we depend on the King's support?

"All children are born geniuses, and we spend the first six years of their lives degeniusing them." - R. Buckminster Fuller

I've never really liked the use of the word genius in pithy quotes about education. It's always felt to me that claiming every child to be a genius was sort of the height of silliness--an exaggerated, rose-colored, and naive view of what could be a more pragmatic acceptance that children are likely to excel in different areas, and not all of them in academic pursuits. And that some children are born with difficulties and constraints, not by any fault of their own, who deserve no less love and attention from the adults in their lives.

But I recently came across this definition of genius, and it allowed me to shift my view. "The word genius derives from the Latin gignere, 'to beget.' The word also carried the meaning of a guiding spirit, present with every individual from birth: literally, a spark of the divine" (from What is Generative Literature? Introducing “The Generative Literature Project”, emphasis mine).

This idea that every child has a spark of the divine surely resonates with parents. We may be intimately aware of the struggles of our own children, but we also deeply believe in them.

Our willingness to see that spark in each child, whether we believe it is divine or just evolutionary potential, is critical to building a healthy culture of learning, and a healthy society.

Robert D. Shepherd gives us a scientific view of the same:
Every child born today is the product of 3.8 billions years of evolution. Between his or her ears, is the most complex system known to us, and that system, the brain consists of highly interconnected subsystems of neural mechanisms for carrying out particular tasks.... The truth is that there are, quite literally, billions of intelligences in the brain–mechanisms that carry out very particular tasks more or less well, many of them sharing parts of the same machinery to carry out subroutines.Over that 3.8 billion years of evolution, these many intelligences were refined to a high degree....
Almost every new parent is surprised, even shocked, to learn that kids come into the world extraordinarily unique. They bring a lot of highly particular potential to the ball game. And every one of those children is capable, highly capable, in some ways and not in others. 
On the religious side, we can turn to the Quakers. Because Quakers believe there is “that of God” - an Inner Light - in each person, a "hallmark of the Quaker school experience is the basic belief that we are all teachers and learners and that each child has unique gifts and talents" (quoted from here). And the Quakers are not alone in believing this as a part of their core religious tenets.

Religious terminology carries a lot of baggage these days, but I think if I ever write a book, I might call it The Divine Learner.

So, are all children born geniuses? Yes, of course... if we believe them to be so.

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction." - E. F. Shumacher

It's really hard to not do anything. To not solve a problem for someone else. To not create a program to fix something.

But sometimes, not doing anything is the best thing.

For example, when a student needs to go through the discovery process on his or her own. Or when solving a problem for a group would ultimately be disabling, thwarting the building of their own constructive and creative capacity.

I can remember when I had significant responsibilities for a lot of people. A wise friend said, "don't ever respond immediately to any problem that is not life-threatening." He told me to wait 24 hours before calling people back, because doing so allowed them to figure things out on their own.

Not doing anything can look to others like a cop-out. But it can also reflect deeper thinking, which usually has a hard time competing with the enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and allocation of resources that come from taking action.

It takes some courage to defend not doing anything, but it's often the best decision.

“Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” - Mahatma Gandhi

There is reality, and then there are the stories or narratives that are told.

Reality + motive = story.

We see things through the lens of our own interests. And if those interests involve profit, power, or control, we can bring a lot of energy to the task of helping other people see our narrative as reality.

Sometimes we're not aware that this is what we are doing. Our boss, colleagues, friends, family--they all have expectations of us, and so we craft narratives that seem to suit those who figure most importantly in our lives, often not even conscious that we are doing so.

But other times, we're quite aware. We call it marketing. Or salesmanship. Or influencing.

It's not easy to see past our own subconscious or conscious narrative-building to something more truthful, as our view of the world--and our paycheck--can be at stake. This is not an easy process, and it may be that most of the time we're not finding truth or reality, we're just getting closer to it.

And when that truth-seeking confronts someone else's pervasive and persuasive narrative, especially one that has lots of energy behind it, things can get hard. Those who depend on that narrative (again, either unconsciously or consciously) will do everything they can to keep it intact. Their responses can run from just ignoring you, to dismissing you, to outright belittling or punishing you. (E.g., the whistleblowers in the financial industry.) While there is an institutional benefit to supporting whistle-blowing (the health of the institution), in reality there tends to be little benefit, and maybe even disincentives, to the managers and decision-makers in that institution in supporting it.

So the bottom line is that speaking truth to power is not easy, and most often requires sacrifice. Gandhi was a great example of this.

Might we also be.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandhi.
"Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." - Albert Schweitzer.

One of my favorite stories to tell is about the instructions given on airplane flights regarding oxygen masks. In case of an emergency, we're told, please place the mask on yourself first, then on a child. I haven't been able to independently verify this, but I've been told that this is because a child will be much more willing to have the mask placed on them if they see that you have the mask on first.

Modeling is certainly an important part of the "change yourself" concept.

And there is something deeper.

I have a friend who talks about having, doing, and being. Having is the goal that we are after, the tangible result. Doing are the actions we take to accomplish that result. Being is who we are and why we are doing that accomplishing.

Who we are matters. We can get caught up in all kinds of goals, and working on all kinds of programs to get those goals, but if what we do isn't ultimately reflective of our deeper core self--our being--it's hollow, ultimately unfulfilling, and arguably unimportant or even distracting.

Those who, in their being, are settled and centered do a much better job at determining what goals are important, and then in choosing appropriate actions to accomplish those goals.

Working on ourselves is hard work. It's hard enough that we're often tempted to run here and there after easy and attractive goals without really thinking deeply about whether they truly matter. We then build creative programs to accomplish those unexamined goals, and by this time we can be so mired in activity that we might be described as being "caught in the thick of thin things."

And we live in a world of such compartmentalized work, of such high inter-dependency around tasks that have been determined and set for us, that we may not even feel that we have the luxury or time to work on ourselves so that what we do reflects our deeper beliefs and ideals.

But that's a trap. I don't believe we truly influence others in profound and important ways unless what we are doing reflects our being. The time we spend on ourselves--reading, thinking, sharing, exploring, caring--is not wasted time. It's building the foundation without which all the rest that we do doesn't really matter.


"The depth of your observations from last night is still resonating with me. I'm trying to think of another interview I've given where the questioner understood the material so well that he/she so regularly (and fluidly) went into new intellectual territory. I can't think of any. Pretty amazing. Thank you."
-David Shenk
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