It’s Always a Story We Remember

My grandparents were veterans and they rarely, if ever, talk about their time at war.

The stories they told stop at a certain point and the rest of the details are all second hand given by those who knew them. I have a great appreciation for what they had to endure based on those stories.

There are many facts about war: number of battles, strategy, soldier deaths, instances of disease, types of warfare, leaders, blunders, etc.

While those can be eye-opening, they don’t resonate like the stories we hear.

It’s the story… the individual story… that has the greatest impact on our sensibilities.

The reason for change is the story we hear.

Remember the story.

When the Signs are Against You

Two things are happening:

You are being challenged and forced to break through until the signs are on your side.
You are being warned the path is the incorrect one to take right now.

How can you tell the difference?

It all depends on your level of stubbornness…

and its effect on others.

If the result of your pushing is a benefit to those around you, push through.

If it’s going to cause damage to get there, you’ve been warned.

We’ve Created a New Gatekeeper

The democratization of the Internet allowed for an incredible leap in our communication: creators can communicate directly with their audience without the gatekeeper.

It was no longer necessary to get discovered as a musician to build a fan base. Writers can communicate directly with their readers, artists could share their work directly and manufacturers could sell directly to its customers.

While there was always an opportunity to do this before, the ability to reach the entire world was new.

Yes, it meant a much more competitive environment to get your voice heard, but it was possible for all to find their niche. There was no longer one funnel to control where our attention was diverted towards.

Somewhere along the line, we screwed up.

We have created our own gatekeepers again by channeling all our work and attention towards platforms that control the flow of information. Matthew Inman has an excellent comic illustrating its evolution.

While this may not have been intentional, we’ve once again given our power over to others. We can still ride the disruptive technology our interconnected communication network offers, but we need to be intentional about it.

That is, until another disruptive force comes along and democratizes our attention once again.

Will we create a new gatekeeper when that happens as well?

We seem to have a habit of doing it.

In Order to Be Critical, You Should Have a Foundation

Critical thinking is a necessary and welcome skill brought forward to any serious discussion. Unfortunately, it’s not always utilized correctly.

In our world of fake news, inaccurate memes and blatant lies people post on the strength that others will not look into the matter, it leaves us more ignorant.

To be critical, there should be some working knowledge of the issue. At the very least, one should look for one more sources beyond self-referential articles (Ryan Holiday tackles this in great detail in his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying).

Our opinions should be formed beyond emotional triggers. Emotions may play a part, but only if they are in-line with a depth of knowledge behind them.

There must also be a willingness to look beyond one’s own worldview, but only if stepping into another that’s at least equally as formed.

Critical thinking does not mean we argue purely based on personal feeling, nor does it mean we accept an opposing view based on nothing.

We need a foundation to work from first. Once that is in place, we can have a serious dialogue.

Settling for More

There’s a difference between wanting more and settling for more.

Wanting more is a never ending quest to achieve some pinnacle of satisfaction, only to discover there is another summit to climb that could meet even greater desires.

Happiness in this route happens in fleeting moments, only to be replaced by the disappointment of inadequacy compared to others.

Settling for more, on the other hand, forces us to aim high and settle for what we hit. We might hit the target, be just short of it, or hit an even higher target.

Whatever the outcome, there is no feeling of disappointment.

We’re Lost in Leisure Time

Leisure time is an old and new phenomenon.

Prior to the agricultural revolution, the mercantile system, oppressive governments run by a single authority… or economics in general, our tribal and nomadic lifestyle lent itself to times of leisure.

There was a time to work and move and the rest of the hours were spent in social camaraderie. Unless it was a time of war.

Thanks to technological innovation, we are more prosperous now than our entire collective history. The outsourcing of our most mundane tasks has freed up an unprecedented amount of time.

We might not see it that way because we’ve filled the hours with activities we deem necessary, but don’t actually contribute to our immediate survival. However, even taking those into account, we do spend a lot of time wondering what to do.

The immediate gratification is to reach for a digital device and get lost in its distractions for hours of time (if one were to do an honest assessment of how much time they do spend on a digital device, they would be shocked the hours I suggested might be close to the truth).

The other time-fill is to think of what to do with the time available and make plans for it.

It’s strange to think we’re meant to feel guilty if we decide to do nothing. How horrible it would be to allow times of leisure to be treated as such.

For the most part – we just don’t know what to do.

As technologies continue to expand the bubble of the time we have available to us, we must learn to navigate the hours at our disposal.

At the very least, we should get comfortable with it.

What is it Worth to You?

In my basement is a video game I purchased, used, in high school for a minimal fee. Not thinking beyond it being a game I was interested in playing, the long-term value was the furthest from my mind.

I would later learn this game became a rarity and its value skyrocketed.

As it sits in its box downstairs, it seems strange this boxed up piece of entertainment is still holding value for others in the world. While common sense dictates I should hold on to it until it becomes exceedingly rare (and thus even more valuable), it’s really a gamble.

There is nothing to say it will be worthless in the next few years as interest wanes and few, if any, are willing to pay any price for it. The sentimental value will still be held in high regard as a game I enjoyed playing and the thrill of knowing it had economic value at some point, but nothing beyond it.

If one were to look at my pile of magic supplies, they might find its value to be minimal. Assortments of silk cloth, sponges, ropes, tins and books that appear to do nothing more than take up space. However, to me, it represents decades of practice, performing and joy.

Seeing it and knowing the intricacies of how to manipulate it in ways that would astound audiences is priceless to me… and possibly other magicians.

Worth, or value, is simply a matter of perspective.

When deciding what to keep, consider its worth to you, then consider its worth to others.

Finding a home where it will be valued is a matter of perspective to those looking upon it.

What A School Should Look Like

I write this in looking at the fallacy of my own practice.

We have plenty of conversations about what we should do in schools, but little attention to what it should look like.

The oft-mentioned observation of the classroom one hundred fifty years ago versus today (and how little it has changed) needs to be taken into some deeper consideration. The classroom layout, while important to this discussion, should only be one part of many.

As a teacher, here’s what I would like to see:

School should be a safe place where students can express themselves and their ideas. Those ideas should also be challenged as they formulate critical thinking skills and consider the perspective of those outside themselves.

School should be a place where creativity is nurtured, instead of hindered.

It should be a place where students are exposed to a variety of fields in a way that piques their curiosity and allows them to explore its depths.

The classroom should extend beyond the walls, inviting the world into the room while also going out to explore it.

The day should be a mixture of deep work, collaboration and play.

It should breed the excellence of each student in their own unique way, rather than encouraging mediocrity among everyone.

There should be responsibility for their own learning, encouraged by choices in how they go about it.

The value of learning isn’t relegated to arbitrary rewards such as marks.

Work should be done within the walls, respecting the time with family and friends that could be spent afterwards.

Subject areas should blend together without priority towards certain ones because of government testing.

The students should be at the center of learning and the passionate teacher is there to function as a guide.

While I admit the list is intimidating, there’s no reason I cannot take strides toward making it a reality in my room… one piece at a time…

The way a school should look will change. It’s a matter of creating the wave or being pulled along in the undertow after it’s happened.

The Ladder of Challenge

The gateway into a new piece of work should be met with something that is both engaging and easy to grasp.

The goal is to build confidence at a comfortable level with the assurance the unfamiliar has now become charted territory. From within this framework, the larger scope of what is available becomes apparent.

I, for instance, could take off my own head with a screwdriver if left unsupervised. The gateway upon which I needed to grow comfort were in simple tasks such as changing light bulbs, painting and assembling Ikea furniture (of which I’ve hit master status).

For those who are allergic to reading, a gateway book is what is necessary. Out of the pull of one text comes the desire to read more like it. Through this gateway of interest, a loving bond can be established.

However, it is not enough to remain stagnant with the comforts of your entryway.

One should always be putting up ladders to challenge themselves into more difficult territory. Keep in mind ladders have their limitations and one cannot step higher than the last step of the ladder… nor would it be safe to even stand on the top.

Back to the example of my inability to tackle home repairs – I cannot prop my ladder up on the wall for fixing my furnace should it break. That would be a recipe for disaster and many nights sleeping in the proverbial dog house.

In the instance of the non-reader, the next challenging book should be a side-step into a different genre and not necessarily an older, classic text that requires deep analysis to understand.

Wherever you find yourself, always be sure to find the ladder of challenge.

It is what will push you towards new heights and greater views that others simply would never attempt to see.

The Write to Express Myself

I hate puns, but I could not resist the obvious one for which this post is dedicated.

November is novel writing month, which is affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.

I’ve attempted and completed this challenge for many years, each time learning about the fortitude of character required to finish. It also teaches more about the craft of writing than any course analyzing texts could muster.

The past few years, I’ve invited students to join me on this test of insanity. Their eagerness to attempt such a task brings me joy and ongoing assurance the future of writing is looking good.

It’s also an opportunity to bond over a common character trait that plagues many writers: the ability to express oneself.

I am horrible at conveying my thoughts in person, unless given ample preparation time. My head is scattered in a million directions, causing a loss of focus on one coherent thought.

Writing is the outlet by which I can provide clarity to those who look upon me with strangeness. I don’t mean to be weird, I’m just behind on learning the appropriate skills to not come across that way.

I know I’m not alone in the world of writers.

I’m certainly not alone in the world of artists.

Writing is how I can express myself and it comes out in the words I choose, characters in my stories and plot points that are pursued.

We all have our way of showing what’s going on in our heads.

The joy of today is we have easier ways of using that medium and showing it to others.