Tuesday, December 17

Now You See It. . .and what happens when you do

I love books that make me think. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (2011) is one of the books, though the title is likely to exhaust you! In spite of its unwieldy and highly academic-sounding title, this book is quite readable and fascinating. And it's about learning.

This is one of those books with lots of underlining, notes in the margins, exclamation points, stars, arrows, and more to remind me what moved me, inspired me, or challenged me as I read it. Lots of dog-eared pages. I would love to use this text in a class or a workshop. LOVE it.

The author, Dr. Cathy N. Davidson, has been one of my educational heroes for a long time. She writes with clarity, humor, passion, and, of course, insightful intelligence.

One of the things Dr. Davidson addresses in this book is attention blindness. This piece from the Smithsonian calls it inattentional blindness, but it's the same thing. As Davidson notes, "Whatever you see means there is something you do not see" (p. 290). You can read more about this concept in her blog entry, Why You May Be Blind to a Good Idea (and What to Do About It). There are two basic lessons about attention blindness: 1) Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there and 2) No one person can see the whole picture.

This reminds me of the parable poem of the blind men and the elephant, but, more relevantly, of a writing activity during which students write a description of an object or scene from their perspective, having no idea what others might be seeing.

Dr. Davidson further states:
If I were to instill one simple lesson from all the science and all the stories in this book, it would be that with the right practice and the right tools, we can begin to see what we've been missing. With the right tools and the right people to share them with, we have new options.
From infancy on, we are learning what to pay attention to, what to value, what is important, what counts. Whether on the largest level of our institutions or the most immediate level of concentrating on the task before us, whether in the classroom or at work or in our sense of ourselves as human being, what we value and what we pay attention to can blind us to everything else we could be seeing. The fact that we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.
Why is this important? Because sometimes we can make ourselves miserable seeing only what we think we are supposed to see. When there is a difference between expectation and reality, we feel like failures. In one generation, our world has changed radically. Our habits and practices have been transformed seemingly overnight. But our key institutions of school and work have not kept up. We're often in a position of judging our new lives by old standards. We can feel loss and feel as if we are lost, failed, living in a condition of deficit.
The changes of the digital age are not going to go away, and they are not going to slow down in the future. They'll accelerate. It's time to reconsider the traditional standards and expectations handed down to us from the linear, assembly-line arrangements of the industrial age and to think about better ways to structure and to measure our interactive digital lives.
By retraining our focus, we can learn to take advantage of a contemporary world that may, at first, seem distracting or unproductive. By working with others who do not share our values, skills, and point of view, change becomes not only possible but productive--and sometimes, if we're lucky, exhilarating (p. 291).
Even if we are not overtly open to change and learning, our brains are constantly learning, unlearning, relearning. But we have to be willing to see it. We have to be willing to open our eyes and our minds. We have to be willing to experience change in ways that might seem alarming, even dangerous to our comfortable status quo. We have to be willing to ask the hard questions and then push through to the harder questions.

And once we see, we have to be willing to do and we have to be willing to continue to see.

Saturday, November 30

Wishing for thoughtfulness

There was a lot of conversation about a recent article in Huffington Post about an annoying airplane passenger and the individual who tweeted about the event. Many of us have sat next to or near the annoying passenger.

Such a passenger can be a distraction on a flight. It's possible such a passenger can be a danger to the safety of nearby passengers and/or crew members.

Those who don't travel often are more impatient with delays. Weather is pretty much out of the hands of the airlines. Infrequent travelers don't realize or don't care to realize the ripple effect of bad weather which means that planes or crews aren't where they're supposed to be. Of course, airlines often use "mechanical problems" as an excuse though it is often a legitimate reason for a delay. No one is going to mess around with a mechanical problem.

What I don't understand is not only lack of compassion, but lack of awareness. This woman on the plane, yes, annoying, even quite rude. And yes, I would have been really aggravated had I been on the flight with this individual. But it wasn't until the end of the story that Elan mentioned the medical mask and then I wondered if the breathing and tension was about the fact the annoying passenger was actually a frightened flyer. It's entirely possible she is just a nasty person who didn't plan well, but it's also possible that she is afraid of flying and, for reasons no one will ever know, she couldn't leave on any day but Thanksgiving. Her responses to everyone were heightened by her anxiety about travel and about getting where she wanted to be on time.

I don't care for Elan Gale's responses, nor his attitude about this woman. I think Elan crossed a few lines and I think he escalated the situation by his comments and his actions.

Maybe Elan thought he was trying to help when he sent the glass of wine, except for the last part of the note when he said the woman wouldn't be able to use her mouth to talk.  Had he stopped at the line that it was a gift to the woman, his sincerity would have been more believable. But with that last line, it suggests to me that Elan is simply getting attention.

As a result of the Huffington Post article and this other blog posts, Elan is getting a lot of attention. Perhaps not quite the kind he would like.

I wish we were more aware about people and ourselves. I wish we were more thoughtful and less cruel. I wish we were less apt to make situations about us and more alert to the conditions of others. I wish we were indeed more compassionate and more empathetic. I wish we were less self-righteous. I wish we were just nicer people.

Saturday, November 23

Only the (mentally) strong survive

Not too long ago I was on a hike with a friend and we were having one of those series of random conversations. One of us would say something that would lead to a tangent that would lead to another tangent. It was quite fun. One of the tangents included Darwin's theory of evolution, that idea of natural selection or what became "survival of the fittest" which led to discussing what "fittest" meant. So that conversation came to mind when I came across this article Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid. I believe that many of today's fittest are, in fact, the mentally strong.

I love the concept of "failing up." Because sometimes we do fail. Yep, we fall flat on our faces, metaphorically speaking, and we have a choice as we lie there. We can do a few quick push-ups before we get up, or we can just roll over on our backs and whimper. Except for the push-ups part, I try to opt for the getting up. By getting up we say, "This failure does not define me. I will learn from it and I will move on."

What mentally strong people don't do makes sense. They don't:
  1. Waste time feeling sorry for themselves. There could be a moment or two of aggravation, frustration, and those normal emotions that people experience. But there is also a time of reflection--"what can I learn from this and how can I build on the good experience and insight I've gained?".
  2. Give away power. This one can be harder, but it's remembering who you are and what you're capable of doing. Failing can feel like rejection of your talents, but failing in that situation might not be at all related to anything you've done or are capable of doing.
  3. Shy away from change. . .or be okay with your cheese getting moved and perhaps a lot. Here's another thing about change: it's an opportunity to learn that much more about yourself--your capabilities, interests, limitation. I was recently in a position that was clearly not to my strengths. I was all but set up to fail (though not deliberately), but I opted to work towards my strengths to see how I could make the best of the situation.
  4. Waste energy on things they can't control. I was just on a business trip that was fraught with challenges. Weather caused delays which caused missed connections, etc. I could have complained, but that would have accomplished nothing. Instead, when I got to talk with the rebooking agent, I was pleasant with her and thanked her for her help. She was doing her job as best as she could and really didn't need to be hassled.
  5. Worry about pleasing others. I think this can be a tough one, even for some of the mentally strong. There is a fine line between pleasing someone else and being kind or not hurting someone else's feelings, but that is often situational. The flip side is focusing too much on pleasing ourselves, which is a different kind of problem.
  6. Fear taking calculated risks. The key word is "calculated." It's important to envision and even plan for worst-case scenarios, but not get mired in analysis to the detriment of progress.
  7. Dwell on the past. That was then, this is now. Learn from then, and apply it to the now and the future.
  8. Make the same mistakes over and over again. "Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs." I think the hard part is being accurately self-reflective: acknowledging our true strengths and determining how best to manage our weaknesses.
  9. Resent other people's success. Others have talents we don't. We cannot resent that others have taken advantage of presented opportunities or made good choices. That is a waste of energy (see #3) and can lead to wasting time (see #1) and giving away power (see #2).
  10. Give up after failure. Failure is an option. It has to be an option in everyday life. We will not always be successful in every single thing we do. So learning from failure is an important life skill.
  11. Fear alone time. See #8. Being alone, away from all of the noise and white noise, gives you the opportunity to reflect, to do those self-assessments, to examine those risks, and to make those decisions about what can and will change in your life.
  12. Feel the world owes them anything. The "world" has never owed anyone anything. Ever. That victim mentality gets you nowhere fast.
  13. Expect immediate results. Sure, sometimes a new possibility presents itself almost immediately. But sometimes the first thing isn't the best thing (see #6, #8, and #11). That could be rebound option, which might not bode well for you. As you contemplate your next steps, spend that time being self-reflective and examining the possibilities.
As I reflect on this, I think it's important to consider that it's not always the being strong. Sometimes the becoming strong is what matters most.

Monday, November 18

Tyranny of the Urgent: Impacting the Personal

Years ago The Navigator published a booklet titled Tyranny of the Urgent. It is a classic with perceptive insights into time management.

Not too long ago, a friend of mine and I were having breakfast and we talked about how hard we work for someone else and how little comparable energy we seem to put into our own passions, our own work, our own dreams.

We've all experienced the challenges of time management, of the "urgent" getting the most immediate attention. Although the urgent isn't always "urgent." It may be the thing that is demanding the most attention, but it may not be the most important thing to which you need to be paying attention.

A colleague and friend of mine used to talk about working constantly in a "hair on fire" mode. That wasn't good. It was reactive, which meant that people rarely felt as though they had the luxury of time to stop and think through solutions, options, or just do a reality check.

Rafe Esquith used that phrase differently in his book Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire; his was the story of a remarkable teaching career in Los Angeles. The phrase bespoke energy and passion, but not without thought and insight.

All of that was brought home recently when I was confronted with a situation that forced me to rethink my own responses to the tyrannies of the urgent and "hair on fire" moments in my life.

This isn't a change like flipping a switch, at least not for me. I know I will have to be consistent about checking my responses to the situations around me and those that affect me. I know I will have to be more consistent about pausing to guard against responding reactively to the urgent that might not be urgent, or responding to the "hair on fire" that might not really be a fire. And I have to keep myself in mind so that I do not stifle my own passions and my own dreams.

I think it's a challenging balance so that I'm not so self-directed that I become inwardly insular, aka selfish. But though I seem to have a deep need and sense of responsibility to take care of others, even strangers, I need to take care of myself to. I need to be the best possible me I can be. Every day.

Sunday, September 15

Reflections and no regrets

Robin William is returning to television. In a recent interview, he was asked about being in television again and some of the changes he's made in his life. Having been through rehab twice, Mr. Williams noted some changes were out of necessity and some changes have been a choice. But when asked about regrets, Mr. Williams said he had none. "Regrets don't help anyone."

Friday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The Days of Awe are what some call the
10-day period between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur. This is a time of reflection and repentance. On Yom Kippur, Jews seek reconciliation with God as they prepare to move ahead in the new year.

As I was doing some cleaning, I came across a piece of paper on which I'd written, probably copied: "With clean hands we find our grace. We realize the slate can be as clean as we allow it to be."
Psalm 103:2-3 reads "Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases." (NLT). God forgives all of my sins and heals all of my dis-eases, those abnormalities of my being.

If you're still with me, you're wondering how all of these things go together. First, then, thanks for hanging with me.

Humanity seems to have a need to refresh and reset. At New Year's we want a clean slate. It is a time of hopefulness. We try for no regret and no recriminations. I believe we hope and try to learn from our mistakes, but wallowing in them, speculating on the "what if" of the past is pointless. We live in the present. The road that wasn't taken doesn't really matter as long as we learn something from that experience that informs our present and helps us prepare for a better future. Our mistakes and failures are just as important in shaping who we are and the kind of people we can be as our successes.

But it can be hard to forgive ourselves, so our slates may not be as clean as we could allow them to be. Yom Kippur doesn't mean Jews can't repent and seek reconciliation any time during the year, but it marks the importance of going through that process, sealing that in the past, and moving on to the future. Reflection is important; dwelling and wallowing, however, don't help us grow or improve.

"Regrets don't help anyone." Mr. Williams is right; they don't. Reflecting on our behavior and actions, acknowledging mistakes, seeking repentance where it is due, learning from our reflections and mistakes, living in the present, and striving for a better future.

That's what can help us become better people. For ourselves; for everyone.

Monday, September 9

Success through failure

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" 
Robert Browing


Diana Nyad was 64 when she achieved her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida, 110 miles. It was her fifth attempt since 1978; her fourth since turning 60. Each time she attempted the swim, she learned something new--about herself, about the conditions, about the kind of support she needed. Each time she failed, she learned something that would help her be more successful the next time.

There are those who believe she still has not succeeded, that she unfairly wore a mask and body suit to protect her from the jellyfish, that she swam too fast, that blah blah blah. There will always be skeptics when the seemingly insurmountable is surmounted.

An article in the September issue of National Geographic is titled "Famous Failures." Persistence. Resilience. In today's education space there are articles and studies about student grit, tenacity, and perseverance. It's curious to me that this American society--a culture that once proudly boasted of and honored "rugged individualism," that cherished and still occasionally recognizes American ingenuity--seems so often intent on schadenfreude.

Rather than celebrate the hard work of a successful venture, too many seem to want to cast aspersion. I suppose there are many things that drive that sort of mean-spirited behavior. Perhaps Diana Nyad didn't follow English Channel rules; that seems to be one of the complaints of the skeptics. Then again, she wasn't crossing the English Channel and she never claimed that she would follow those rules. Why is it so hard to say "Congratulations! Well done!" to someone who persevered to accomplish her dream? Who had supporters and encouragers to help her achieve that dream? Why must it be diminished?

Why can't this 64-year-old, who tried five times over 30+ years to complete this one task, be congratulated for what she did? That no one else has ever done? That others may try to do, and perhaps under English Channel rules because Diana Nyad has now established a benchmark.

You don't know until you try
We can learn from failure and we can learn from others' successes. In the National Geographic article, you can read about a failed Arctic balloon expedition. What has been learned from the degrees of success in each of those failures has led to remarkable technological innovations and learning about aviation and expedition in extreme conditions.

Everest climber Pete Athans says, “If you take away uncertainty, you take away motivation. Wanting to exceed your grasp is the nature of the human condition. There’s no magic to getting where we already know we can get.”

Saturday, September 7

Eyes and mind mostly open

Long ago, before Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and other such buffoons, I used to think I was somewhat conservative. I know I'm not a "liberal" as I think I understand that term, but I confess to being confused about what it means to be either liberal or conservative and the several shades of gray and other colors in the spectrum.

I realize that in some things I am more liberal than conservative and in some things I'm more conservative than liberal. I also know I change my mind about my positions on things as I learn more. And as I get older, I hope I get a little wiser about some things.

The latest incident to cause me such reflection is a brouhaha over Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. I used the book as a text in a college, and in relatively conservative Christian college at that. I did warn students of some of the graphics, but I also explained why we were reading and discussing it.

Would I teach it in 11th grade? I don't know. It depends on my students. There's a woman who Oregon who claims to be the voice of the conservative woman. She's helped me come to the conclusion that I'm not that narrow-minded nor, I hope, that insufferable. She went on and on and on and on about this book, and included some selective texts from The Bluest Eye to prove (!!!!) what a terrible book it is. She did her homework, I grant her that; she talked to a pediatrician and she did some research on Toni Morrison. She presented "research" and I'd want to check out the veracity of the presented research to determine how objectively she presented her findings or how balanced her reporting. She also quoted the American Academic of Pediatrics, though selectively. You can find the entirety of the AAP media report here. She raises some interesting points, but her tone she suggests that one dare not dissent with her position. And that saddens me because I think it might be interesting to have a conversation with her, but I doubt conversation is really possible; I fear it would become a lecture or a diatribe and intimate something unpleasant about my person or my thinking because I fail to agree with her.

I suppose what really wearies me is the insistence that lines be drawn, that there is no room for dissent nor, apparently, for objective and reasonable discussion regardless of one's position along the political spectrum. And there is no room for being more conservative on one thing and perhaps more liberal on another. No open-mindedness permitted. No tolerance for different perspectives.Minds solidly closed.

I know there are things about which I am more personally emphatic than others and positions for which I'm less likely to entertain differing points of view. But if my mind is always closed and my position always firmly staked on what I know at the moment, I don't think I would or could continue to grow or learn or develop as a humane and responsible member of the society in which I live and work.
s that exposure to violence in media has a significant risk on the health of children and adolescents and can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed. It is also associated with teen pregnancy and promiscuity. The AAP has also called on schools specifically to do more in the way of preventing young people from being exposed to and negatively impacted by harmful media
Read more at http://politichicks.tv/column/warning-graphic-common-core-approved-child-pornography/#xx7TzyBoKEdepG5O.9
The AAP states that exposure to violence in media has a significant risk on the health of children and adolescents and can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed. It is also associated with teen pregnancy and promiscuity. The AAP has also called on schools specifically to do more in the way of preventing young people from being exposed to and negatively impacted by harmful media
Read more at http://politichicks.tv/column/warning-graphic-common-core-approved-child-pornography/#xx7TzyBoKEdepG5O.99

Saturday, August 24

The Power of One

NYC Engineer Wants to Help Homeless Man with Software Coding Classes. The article had me at "wants to help."

I'm not going to deconstruct the article. You can read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions. I'm not going to argue if the Patrick, the software engineer, should be focusing on food and housing rather than skills. Patrick offered Leo a choice and Leo made a decision. Honor that.

There is a proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

In my mind, Patrick is teaching Leo to fish. Even better, Patrick has given Leo the fishing rod, bait, and all of the other tools he will need to be a fisherman and is even teaching him how to cast and know where and when to cast. Good for him. Good for them.

What really struck me is the closing paragraph of this article:
I've tried to build products for the many before, but I wonder if this new generation is building projects for the power of one. . . .I am going to do a really good job with this guy. I will learn from him, maybe even more than he learns from me.
Habitat for Humanity came to mind. They build projects for the power of one. It may be one family, but they build one house at a time.  Through Kiva, I can make a microloan to a specific individual for a specific project. Through Donors Choose, I can contribute to a specific teacher in a specific classroom to meet a specific need.

I'm not sure what Patrick intended when he spoke of the "power of one." Maybe his power, maybe the power he was helping Leo achieve. It really doesn't matter.

We each have the power to help someone else, even if only in small ways. Sometimes the simplest gesture of help can make a difference in a person's attitude. You will probably never know the ripple effect of a kind gesture, a smile, a helping hand, a microloan, an offer to teach someone something. Never discount the size or impact of the difference you can make.

It's not really even about paying forward. I think it's more about being a civil, courteous, and contributing human being. It's about being kind. It's about recognizing the power you have as one person to make a difference in the world.

Wednesday, July 17

Of Rolling Stone, The Newsroom, and getting along to incite change

Rolling Stone has suspected bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev on its cover, and people are writing letters. The mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts think the cover is in bad taste, that the magazine is giving the young man celebrity status by putting that picture, a picture used repeatedly in the media since the suspect was identified, on its cover. Let me note here that I don't think Rolling Stone is a news magazine, but I'm not sure everyone can differentiate that which is news and that which is infotainment.

There are protests and rhetoric in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Of the many avenues of response, some are purely emotional--and what follows is an oversimplication--fueled by whatever information they think they have as well as their own perceptions of what justice is and what justice should have done. Others are using the verdict as a call to action to change laws. I think I don't have enough information to know what really happened and I'd bet that every one of those witnesses who were confident of their testimonies might have some of their information right and some of it wrong, but their testimonies are their perceptions of what occurred and what they witnessed. We have to respect that. I also think that we will never really know what happened because, sadly, Trayvon Martin is no longer with us. We can never hear his side of the story from him.

I have lately become a fan of The Newsroom, and not just because of the kind of dialog Aaron Sorkin writes and the platform Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) gives Mr. Sorkin for his views on the news. Two of the last three episodes were about the news team having to prostitute their principles for ratings. Mr. Sorkin's target was the Casey Anthony story and how it became "news" simply because it was the train wreck networks and cable channels broadcast incessantly.

I recently read that we have "gone from 4 to 320 reality TV shows in a decade" (Davidson, 2011, Now You See It, p. 127). I was stunned. Really? I knew the proliferation of reality shows was a lot like kudzu, and as intellectually stifling. . .though, I confess, I watch a few and I'd like to think, with a certain degree of self-righteousness, that my indulgence is more intellectual than others because I watch "educational" reality TV like Food Network Star and the like. Okay, and several episodes of Duck Dynasty but only from Season 1 when a friend of mine shared the DVD.

My point is that infotainment makes it increasingly difficult for "serious" journalists. One of the reasons I like to listen to NPR is that the stories have more heft both in content and duration then most other so-called news shows, which often seem like a series of headlines with 10 seconds of explanation of the headline. Another reason I like to listen to NPR is that it seems like actual news: objectively reported stories that inform me, without being gussied up for a party; stories that give me objective context and information about events around the world. And when that comes with editorializing as to why the news should matter to me, the editorializing is generally identified as such. NPR rarely gives subjective and breathlessly shared droppings.

In the story cited above, Rolling Stone reportedly issued the following statement:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone's long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.
I haven't read the story and I don't know if I will. I think the observation about the age of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the age of the readers is an interesting one, and probably has some value.

In the time that I have written this blog post, additional reports about the Rolling Stone cover controversy have hit the cyberwaves. CBS News reports the waves of outrage and that certain stores, including Walgreen's and CVS, will not carry the magazine. Oy. So, in my opinion, Walgreen's and CVS are jumping on the self-righteous indignation bandwagon which means people will go elsewhere to buy the magazine.

So here's something else I note. We can't seem to have a conversation any more. The response on the CBS web site has its fair share of vitriol and outrage, though there are a few people who are responding with rational perspectives. I suspect that isn't the case on all sites carrying this story.

One more thing. In the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal, I heard an interview with someone who said that this whole thing reminded him of the Rodney King beating in LA. The man seemed to wonder why we still can't just get along.

Honor opinions and perspectives; respect an individual's views and experience; have a conversation rather a protest. When you talk to me and share your views, experiences, opinions, and perspective and when I listen with an open mind (no small task), perhaps you will change my mind and with that small change may come greater change. Yea, it takes time but that sort of change is more sustainable and is more likely to stick.

Tuesday, June 25

Personal spatial awareness, or lack thereof

One of my pet peeves is people who have no personal spatial awareness. I confess this happens most frequently at airports, but these people are everywhere.

You know the kind of people I'm talking about: the person who stops in the middle of the corridor to stare at his or her smartphone; the individual who goes through security at the airport and stops just at the bench and blocks the way; the person who insists on unpacking the security trays the moment they clear the X-ray area and then slowly, methodically get redressed and put things back in the right pockets and places.

But I'm also talking about the backpack people. The backpack is inevitably overstuffed so about at least a foot wide, if not more. You've followed these people down the aisle of the airplane and witnessed what would be funny on Saturday Night Live. Backpack person turns to check boarding pass and seat and clocks person sitting in the aisle seat with said backpack; clocked person is knocked unconscious and sits sprawled in seat. In mock horror, backpack person turns to apologize and knocks backpack into the arm of the person behind whose cup of coffee goes airborne, etc., etc. It would funny on TV. Not so amusing in real life. But the backpack people seem to have no clue how much more space they take up when they sling on that backpack.

The rollaboard people are often armed and dangerous, especially if they have the older two-wheeled rollaboards that they trail behind them as they bob and weave through the crowds at the airport. Pity the poor person who isn't looking down and whose shins get nicked or who trips over the rollaboard as its rolled down the airport corridors.

Of course, the poor person looking down to avoid the tragedy of the rollaboard is likely to smack into the person who has stopped in the middle of the corridor, fascinated by whatever urgent message (note sarcasm here) cannot possibly wait and negates the civil ability to step out of the way.

On the other hand, there was an occasion when I stepped out of the way to review something on my iPad. I tried to be sure I was off the main pathway. And even then someone who was not paying attention to where she was going walked right into me. . .and I watched as my iPad fell flat on the floor, and the glass shattered.

I understand the distraction of electronic devices; I've been guilty of that on occasion myself. And I've been one of the backpack people. But I find myself more often watching for incidents of the lack of personal spatial awareness to see what comedic pratfalls may ensue though it's usually ticked off people and something bruised.

My personal hope is that not only will we think to look up and around us, but to be considerately and considerably more aware. . . of ourselves and those with whom we share public space.

Wednesday, May 29

Work place loyalty : Investing in our selves

Workplace loyalty. It's not something most of us think about any more. "Job 'tours of duty' growing shorter" caught my attention because I do pay attention to how long someone has been at a job and I wonder about the change.

When I first started working, long, LONG ago, job hopping wasn't frowned upon because there was an understanding people changed jobs every two or three years for a better opportunity. There did seem to be an unwritten rule about how long one had to be with a company before making a leap. And, then, fairly quickly and for reasons I could probably divine if I thought long enough about what was happening economically, politically, and socially, the unwritten rule was rewritten and there was an expectation employees would stick around for a while. Not so much out of loyalty, exactly, but out of a commitment to the work. Or some such nonsense.

Only it wasn't really nonsense. I worked for a large multinational company that seemed to be in the business of acquiring other companies. An acquisition was inevitably followed by a reorg. And sometimes there would be a reorg just because it was spring or fall (reorgs seemed to occur in May and October, and I'm sure there's a reason for that).

Once we all figured out that we were still on the org chart and where we were on the org chart, we'd try to regroup. But for those with a new boss, it was dangerous to regroup too fast because, inevitably, the new boss would have ideas about the way things needed to be done. So energy was dissipated, time was lost, projects fell behind or were abandoned (often at the most inopportune times, like two weeks before launch), etc. Valuable time and energy were spent regrouping and redirecting. It seemed odd that no one figured out that a big dip in profits had to do with all of that reshuffling.

Today people talk about "human capital," which is defined at Investopedia (I kid you not) as
A measure of the economic value of an employee's skill set. This measure builds on the basic production input of labor measure where all labor is thought to be equal. The concept of human capital recognizes that not all labor is equal and that the quality of employees can be improved by investing in them. The education, experience and abilities of an employee have an economic value for employers and for the economy as a whole.
Right. I'm not sure how that is measured, but it's interesting to me that this term popularized in the 1960s has resurfaced. But it also interests me that many companies recognize the value of bringing in someone from outside of the company to help rejuvenate it.

We talk about veteran employees having "institutional knowledge." Institutional knowledge, or memory, can be flawed like any other memory or knowledge, and it can be skewed by the roles and responsibilities held by the individual, that individual's colleagues and bosses.

Veterans laugh when new folks come in and excitedly offer suggestions. They scoff when it was something they used to do "way back when." I remember making a suggestion about a program and someone telling me they'd done that very thing a few years before. When I asked why they stopped, the person was perplexed and told me she had no idea.

If you're still with me, my point is this: for those of us who have the luxury of being able to move to a new or different job (and I recognize there are thousands upon thousands who do not have that luxury), I don't think our loyalty is so much to the work place as it is to the mission and vision of the organization. I think one of the reasons we hang around is that we mostly enjoy the people with whom we work who make the days we don't enjoy more enjoyable. I believe we seek places in which we are comfortable because of our colleagues and places in which we are challenged. And when everything starts to become commonplace, it may be time to try to seek a change.

Because all labor is not equal and the quality of our work lives can be improved when we invest in our work lives, and ourselves.

Monday, May 27

Memorial Day Observations

Flags flying. Parades. Facebook postings.
Veterans with poppies as a symbol of remembrance.

It is important that we remember Memorial Day is more than a long weekend, an opportunity for sales, and, weather permitting, cookouts.

General George S. Patton once said, "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

When you see a veteran today or any day, when you see the parent or family member of someone who serves in the military, thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

Thursday, May 23

Tested by a taxi driver

It was spectacularly windy this morning in the Windy City and I was grateful to get a taxi to head to UIC for my presentation about Common Core.

The driver was an amiable fellow and we chatted about his educational plans. He is from Ghana and has a bachelor's degree in finance. He's hoping to get a Master's in MIS because he believes that will offer him better opportunities.

When we got to my destination, I asked for a receipt. He offered me a dozen. I smiled and declined his offer saying "I need only one." He gave me a big smile and handed me two and told me I might need the extra in case I made a mistake.

And then I wished him well on his educational endeavors and said I hoped he was able to achieve his goals. He smiled again and said, "I hoped you would say that. You'd be surprised how many people take as many receipts as I will give them and say nothing to me about our conversation. Too many selfish people. Too many dishonest people."

It was a good "test" and a good reminder, but saddens because being honest and being nice really aren't that hard. Or shouldn't be.

Tuesday, May 21

Random observation

I was at the train station in downtown Chicago last week: Ogilvie Transportation for those who need to know. It's a nice train station. About 15 tracks, I think. Trains traveling to and fro the city's suburbs, bringing mostly working folks to the city in the morning. Evidence, perhaps, that the Metra ads to encourage people to take public transportation actually work.

There are ads everywhere. I've seen ads in the shuttle at the airport, so it stands to reason there would be ads in the train station. Designed for commuters and those who are trying to save time and/or money and maybe even help the environment by not driving.


So why, pray tell, were these the ads that greeted passengers as they disembarked from their trains?

Nothing against either company.

Just curious.

Monday, March 25

Tips on tips for writing well, or at least not badly

I'm always on the lookout for strategies, suggestions, helpful hints for writers. Naturally I was intrigued by the come-hither title "7 words guaranteed to make you a better writer."

There are, alas, no "Aha!" moments in this article. There are, however, in the first paragraph, a couple of grammar errors and I can't tell if he's trying to make a point by being funny or if he just doesn't know. If it's the former, sound the gong because the joke didn't work. If it's the latter, well, just join me in a deep sigh.

The first full paragraph (I'm not counting the spoiler alert which really isn't a spoiler alert) reads thusly:
I just published a 175-page book called How to Not Write Bad. It will set you back $15, plus tax. But I am here to tell you that if you master just seven words, you will not only not write bad: you'll write good, er, well. (And in fact, there are only six words; one of them is repeated.)
The book is to tell readers how to do something. I'll overlook the split infinitive, but I'm troubled by the absence of the adverb. I believe the title of the book should be How Not to Write Badly. But you see how he might be trying to be clever, or get someone to pick up the book just to try to prove him wrong. Or something. But not for 15 bucks. Plus tax. Then there is the double negative in the third sentence which also does not sport an adverb where one should be even though he makes a passing attempt at grammar humor with the self-correction to an adverb. How are you writing? You are writing well or you are writing badly.

The tips.
Yes, read. Read whatever you can whenever you can. In this Mr. Yagoda is correct as you will discover styles of writing that pique your interest, that help you think differently about a purpose or an audience. That will help you further develop your style for your audience(s).

Read it aloud. I gave this very advice to my college freshmen and speak of it in every writing workshop I do. Ideally, have someone who doesn't know your voice read it aloud. Those folks will read it as they see it and hear it; they will read it based on your words and your operational signposts--transitions, punctuation, paragraphing.

Show, don't tell. True; always true. What I think this means is any writer needs to be thinking about his audience and the kind of details and information that audience wants and needs. What style of writing will tap that reader's sweet spot just right and encourage her to settle in her chair to read without distraction? What type of detail and style of writing will hook that reader so he wants to keep reading every next word?

I'll interject here that that was one of the best compliments I ever got: one of my doctoral professors actually wrote that he was "compelled to read every next word." Now that is a good writing experience because, in my view, it was a good reading experience.

Write on!


Wednesday, March 13

Some good days, some "meh"

Yesterday was an "interesting" day. Yep, the dreaded double quotes so you know that "interesting" has a particularly peculiar connotation.

A meeting in the morning had the potential of going badly and ending quickly, but things turned around. The customer thawed out and welcomed some of our suggestions. A satisfactory meeting was followed by a delicious lunch at Arizona's. Amazing mushroom and artichoke soup.

The flight home was fine. Uneventful. That's good for a flight. Boarding just before me was a woman who seemed to speak no English and had to gate check her bag. Another passenger and I made sure it got tagged so she could retrieve it, a process with which she was obviously unfamiliar. As we deplaned and lined up near the Baggage Buddy (I'm serious; if you've flown American, you know what I'm talking about), she was panicking and recognized me. She had a flight to Madrid with no gate information. We had to wait for the Baggage Buddy so I trudged up the jet bridge to talk to a surly gate agent who shrugged and said there should be someone in the jet bridge to help her. I trudged back down and got the reverse message. Blech. "I'm an experienced traveler, I thought," I can help her with this.

I spoke soothingly to her knowing she understood not one word. We got her bag, mine was right after hers. I walked up with her and, by then, Ms. Surly had colleagues and I managed to get gate information. We checked times and I nodded. "Vamonos" I said to my Madrid-bound friend and we walked quickly. I kept trying to assure we had time, which we did.

Of course her gate was the very last gate at the end of the corridor. I could have told her the number as I'd been practicing saying "diecinueve" as we walked, but she still seemed panicked. And O'Hare can be overwhelming. 

So I delivered her to her gate, pointed to the board where it said Madrid, and gave her a big hug. She cried and smiled and thanked me over and over and over again. She made me cry. We hugged again. I made sure she got in the right line, she turned and waved, I waved, and off I went. A long walk back to get my suitcase and my ride home.

As I stood outside in the chill of the early evening, a woman stepped near me, her small, shivering dog in her arms. She fumbled with her phone and a piece of paper, the dog a hindrance. I reached out to help but she politely thanked me and said she could do it. A few minutes later she asked for help, her hands shaking. She said she'd gotten off the plane and there was a message for her from the police department.

"Uh oh," says I, "never a good thing," says I, with remarkable insight.

"Yea," she kind of grimaced. "I just learned my cat died." Well, I thought that's what she said, but then she said, mumbled, a few things after that which made no sense if her cat died and why would the police call to tell her that her cat died? I didn't want to ask for clarification of her tragedy; she didn't seem distraught--no tears, no sadness-she seemed frazzled.

Anyway, I helped her make the call. My ride arrived. I mumbled some platitude I hoped would be appropriate and moved to get in the car.

She thanked me profusely.

That was yesterday. I hope the woman made it safely to Madrid. I wish I'd given her my card so someone could have emailed me to let me know she arrived safely, but I'm fairly confident she didn't get lost between the boarding line and the plane itself. I hope the woman who had some sort of a situation that required police intervention is okay.

For me, it wasn't really a "feel good" day in the warm and fuzzy sense. But it was a good day because I know, by virtue of being kind and considerate, I helped two other people.

Pay it forward.

Sunday, March 10

Travel notes, briefly

I am in Nashville, AR which is about 30 miles north of Hope, AR. I have a meeting tomorrow with some folks who are very clearly worried about what they can do and need to do to help their teachers and their students as they wrestle with this Common Core thing.

But that's not why I write. In the past several months, I traveled to cities, towns, and villages large and small. Sometimes I work on the plane. Sometimes the best I can do is scrunch in on myself on the small plane and try to read, maybe nap. This trip I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Wolper Surviving Picasso (1996) with Anthony Hopkins, Joan Plowright, Julianne Moore, and the luminous Natascha McElhone. That's relevant only because of some great lines delivered by the great Sir Anthony Hopkins: "You can try anything in painting provided you never do it again. Don't become your own connoisseur."

My translation to life is this: "You can try anything. Don't get too wrapped up in yourself and your abilities." I'm quite sure what to do with that; I'm still musing.

I flew from Chicago to DFW and then to Texarkana, AR before the drive up to Nashville. Texarkana is home to a small regional airport. Driving up there are acres of pine stands and fenced land with clumps of cattle, and one good-sized pasture with about half a dozen donkeys. Not mules; I know the difference. Donkeys.

I drove through a tiny little place with a population of 81. Just 20 minutes up the road was a larger town, over 4,000 souls, with distinctively better housing and better-looking livestock. I took a deep breath and wondered about the hopes and dreams of the people in that 81-person place. Do they dream? Do they dare dream? Do they wish for more or other?

In this part of the country, a house may be a church. The landscape along the back roads is dotted with small churches, mostly Baptist, of course. I flashed back to the youngish couple sitting in a waiting area at O'Hare, hands clasped, heads down, eyes closed, and he praying. And I wonder about the people who attend those churches, leaving, in some cases, their rusted trailers, their aging homes with sagging roofs and dragging porches, their yards that have amassed all manner of leftovers, cast-offs, and just flat-out junk.

As I travel, as I drive, as I think about the difference an education can make, as I think about what I have and am able to do and what I know and what I could be doing, I know I am blessed. And I am grateful for every mile traveled, for every smile exchanged, for every idea discussed, for every conversation of conflict or dissension or disagreement, for every moment I have touched and been touched by someone else's life.

Friday, March 1

Not my worst flight

5AM on Wednesday morning. The weather forecasters had been mostly right the day before about the weather. We had snow blowing sideways, thundersnow, and nearly whiteout conditions in the afternoon.

I left early on Tuesday for an off-site meeting and was grateful I hadn't planned to fly out that night, smugly congratulating myself for planning to fly out the morning of the meeting. Late afternoon meeting, easy 2-hour jaunt to a southwestern destination. No worries. Right?

Except with the kind of weather we had in the Midwest and the trajectory of the storm and the cancellations, planes and crews weren't in the right places.

So at 5A, or thereabouts, on the fateful morning, I checked to see if a gate had been assigned because I was deciding what shoes to wear. Thank goodness I had that moment of vanity. I looked. Looked again. The mobile boarding pass looked funky. ORD - ORD? That can't be right.

Panic. Did I mess up the reservation? I've been known to do that. Nope. The reservation was right. So I checked my alerts and my emails. Ahh, there it is. United had canceled my flight around 1A that morning. My original reservation was outbound around 10A on Wed with a return on Thu. My rebooked flight was an absurd out and back on the same day with about 45 minutes in the destination airport. Some problems with that rebooking algorithm.

So, no flight. Swearing mightily and somewhat colorfully, I fired up the laptop and started looking for flights. There. From Midway. Southwest. Blech. Midway. But the timing worked. The fare was exorbitant, but got me to my destination in time. But it was Midway rather than O'Hare. So I called a taxi rather than drive myself and figure out parking.

Nope. That wasn't my worst flight experience, but it certainly wasn't one of my best.

Tuesday, February 5

Exasperation and malapropisms

Malapropisms. It's a fun word to say. And it means "the act or habit of misusing words to comic effect". I like malapropisms, especially when they almost make as much sense as the "correct" word.

What may or may not be an example is "flustrated." I first heard this word years ago from a physics professor who was just flustrated about his students' performance in class and on a test. I think this is a word that people have misheard, but I like the idea of combining "flustered" and "frustrated" because I think people often get flustered when they are frustrated. But just recently I heard someone say the word and I'm pretty sure he didn't realize it isn't an actual word. Yet.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was in a business meeting and someone said something like "One of the factors that exasperated the situation. . . ". I managed not to laugh out loud. "Exacerbated" can be a hard word to say and pronounce under pressure. And, to be honest, "exasperated" made a lot of sense in that situation.

So now I find myself listening for malapropisms and trying to figure out if the misuse makes as much sense of the likely intended word.

Sunday, January 20

The Story Behind the Story of Manti Te'o

Are we all really tired of the story of the non-girlfriend of Manti Te'o? Weary of speculating what he knew and didn't know? If he was involved in the hoax? Or if he's just sufficiently gullible to fall in love with a virtual personality?

What he knew and when he knew it is confusing. Why friends and family embellished the relationship that wasn't is also puzzling. But what is even more confusing is how easily the media fell for this story.

NPR's David Folkenflik examined this in his story, noting the media let its guard down. I'll say.

I don't follow Notre Dame, though I was aware of the football phenom, Manti Te'o. It was hard to follow college football and not know the name. I can't tell if Te'o talked about his girlfriend before she died; I get the impression he did not.

So I don't understand several things:
  • in an era when the media is notoriously inquisitive about every detail in the life of every pseudo- or about-to-be celebrity, why did no one do any kind of investigating about Te'o's private life?
  • as soon as the story of the girlfriend broke, why didn't anyone contact Stanford University or visit the campus for background information? The hoax would have been uncovered quickly then.
  • Why in the world would any member of the media rely only on other members of the media as sources? Isn't that Journalism 101?
Folkenflik concludes with this
Here's an instance of at least two experienced reporters who tiptoed to the edge of the truth and didn't quite believe where their reporting took them. The story was too important to let the absence of verifying facts get in the way. Just like fans in the stands, the reporters and their peers wanted the story to be true.
Well, okay, but that's a pretty shoddy excuse for not doing their jobs. And what's even more interesting to me is how the media keeps trying to report on this story while trying not to look incompetent about the way they report on celebrities and celebrity-like people.

It's bad enough there was a hoax. It's possible that Te'o fell in love with a non-existent person, which underscores the potential dangers of online "relationships" so there is a lesson here. It's really bad that the media got a selective conscious and, thereby, was duped. In my opinion, this story just gives us another reason not to trust the media's ability to report anything with any degree of honesty, integrity, objectivity, or truth.