Interested in the Mind & Human Potential? Check Out The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman …*

Screen Shot from The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman homepage

Exciting new resource alert for knowmads and psychology enthusiasts: The Psychology Podcast with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman:

Where we give you insights into the mind, brain, behavior and creativity. Each episode will feature a guest who will stimulate your mind, and give you a greater understanding of your self, others, and the world we live in. Hopefully, we’ll also provide a glimpse into human possibility!

What intrigues me most about this new podcast is its focus on diversifying the landscape of psychologists whose work gets reported and discussed. In the words of Barry Kaufman:

I feel like there are SO MANY podcasts that keep featuring the same guests over and over again, when there are so many awesome people out there doing work in psychology who rarely get appreciated or noticed. Sure, I’ll be having some of the more well known guests on my show. But I will also be featuring lots of folks who deserve a voice.

Head over to the website to listen to the first three episodes featuring Robert Greene on mastery and social intelligence; Gabriele Oettingen on daydreaming and mental contrasting for goal-fulfillment; and Annie Murphy Paul on learning and growth mindset.

group dynamics & the importance of [ social-emotional ] skills

I spent the past three days at an experiential Group Relations conference, hosted by The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and I feel forever changed. This conference consisted of three 10 hour days of experiencing and analyzing the dynamics of groups, with the goal of better understanding both group dynamics and how you as an individual function within groups. As explained by Tavistock,

The learning at the conferences, which are educational and are part of the Tavistock Institute’s professional development stream, emphasizes increased insight into irrational, or unconscious, processes we get involved in as we take up our roles in various groups. The basis of group relations theory is that ‘groups’ move in and out of focusing on their task and back and forth between a number of different defensive positions based on unarticulated ‘group’ desire and anxiety.

Each day was divided into 75 minute intervals,  and within each interval we had either small group work, large group work, community work, or reflection. In small group I worked alongside 8 colleagues in unpacking the covert processes in our own group. In large group the entire 60 person conference attempted to have a conversation about our group relations and the subgroups and alliances in the room. In community, we formed our own small groups and worked together on intergroup contact. Last, in reflection we’d reflect upon each days experiences and what we’d learned.

Within the bounds of the conference, we stripped away many of the social niceties of day-to-day life in an attempt to truly explore the covert factors that are often at play. We brushed upon issues such as racism, sexism, desires, longings, the need for attention, anxiety over ambiguity, and many other undercurrents that so often affect how groups interact with each other but are rarely mentioned. We divulged secrets in attempts to form trust and bonds. We talked about how to make a space feel safe.

There was something amazingly free-ing about being authorized to spend three days reflecting and looking inward to discover how my own personality and thoughts are affected by and affect groups that I work with. I haven’t fully unpacked what I’ve taken away from the experience, but I definitely feel such a sense of accomplishment for doing this conference and from my current emotional exhaustion I suspect I’ve learned more than I realize. I explored my desire to “save” people from emotional or anxious experiences, even if those experiences may be beneficial in the long run. I recognized that I respond to white male authority differently that other authority, which is something I never would have suspected. I acknowledged how I often project anxiety onto others, particularly people that I’m close to or trust. I also formed really strong bonds with people who were strangers on Day 1, some that at first I didn’t even particularly like.

While my own life lessons are something I will explore on my own, I believe that a larger take-away from this conference has been the importance of cultivating social-emotional skills. The social emotional learning (SEL) movement began in the mid-1990s, and places an emphasis on emotional intelligence and social competence. SEL has a variety of benefits including improving emotional skills, improved behavior in the classroom, and has been shown to foster adult success.

While most educators do believe in the importance of education towards the betterment of the “whole child,” and the goal of creating a good citizen, I worry sometimes that education towards social skills or emotional awareness is lacking in our education systems. Educators often assume that students will pick this up along the way, and many do, but even the most self-aware and emotionally healthy students can benefit from explicit social emotional learning. At the conference, I met so many psychiatrists, psycho-analysts, social workers, and other similar professionals who were there to better understand their patients but also to better understand themselves. If a highly experience psychologist can learn something from explicit social education, any student can too.

 

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally | rethinked.org

“All our worries are left here” – Rock found on the side of the road …*

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the first lesson- travel lightly.

It was not until the night before I was to set out for Santiago that I realized my sleeping bag would not fit in my pack. After spending a good hour trying various alternate packing arrangements and a panicked last minute phone call to my father, I decided to tie the sleeping bag on the exterior of my pack, which was already covered in extra stuff, “just in case.” I struggled a bit to get my pack on, stepped on the scale and discovered it was 14 kilos, well over the recommended five percent of one’s body weight. But caught up in a glowing feeling of victory after having managed to tie my sleeping bag (however precariously) to the outside of my pack, I felt quite sure the five percent recommendation did not apply to me.

Over the next two weeks, I hauled my absurdly heavy pack up and down mountains (some significantly larger and steeper than others). My collarbone bruised, my feet became swollen, and my back ached. I persevered until the fateful morning when I woke up to find that my feet had become so swollen that no amount of pushing and pulling would get them in my boots. Listening to the advice of new friends, I decided it was time to part with some of my stuff. I shipped ahead to my destination my sleeping bag (!) and some other things I hadn’t used. The moment I left the post office after having surrendered my gear, I immediately began to imagine worst case scenarios of myself shivering with cold while being devoured by the bed bugs which were rumored to be found all along the Camino. What happened for the rest of my trip truly surprised me—I was not cold and I did not get bitten by a single bed bug. Everywhere I stayed, the people running the Albergues (pilgrim hostels) lent me blankets. One night, the person sleeping on the bunk below mine caught bed bugs, but somehow, even without my permethrin treated sleeping bag, I emerged bug free.

{ CAN I AFFORD TO CARRY THIS EXTRA WEIGHT AROUND WITH ME? }

A few weeks after shipping my sleeping bag, I had dinner with a lovely man who was also walking to Santiago, an Australian sculptor in his seventies. We talked about various aspects of the experience we were sharing and he asked me how I dealt with the never ending snoring in the Albergues. He admitted that he sometimes would get aggravated by the snoring and shared with me a mental trick he used to deal with negative feelings as they crept up. He imagined each negative feeling as a weight, some weighed 400g, some 200g, some a kilo. Each time he felt annoyed about something, he asked himself if he could afford to carry this additional weight around with him. More often than not the answer was no.

I loved this little mental trick to let go of negative emotions, and I have practiced it often since learning about it. It has had two main effects; the first is that I simply let go of petty annoyances. The second benefit of this new method, is that if I find myself carrying the extra weight of anger or resentment and I cannot seem to just shed it on my own, I now feel much more inclined to speak up and resolve the issue rather than steam quietly. Either I drop it or I address it, but I’ve understood that I can’t afford (neither do I want to) carry superfluous weight on this journey.

{ TRAVELING LIGHTLY = LIVING DELIBERATELY } 

There’s a quote from Jonathan Harris that I love and which I’ve previously shared here on rethinked:

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” 

Walking 500 miles helped me understand these words in a new–or perhaps simply more immediate–sort of way. Our attention and our physical capacities are limited. It may sound a bit trite, cliché to the point of banality even, but it’s an unavoidable characteristic of our human condition. We can only carry so much, both on our backs and in our heads. The wonderful thing about being human however, is that once our basic needs are met, we have the freedom to choose what we will carry. Some of us may not realize that we have the agency to choose what we carry, and too often, even if we are aware of our power in owning our attention, we forget about it and get swept up in squandering it on things and emotions that do not help us thrive and flourish.

Travelling lightly then, to me at least, means living deliberately; it means being aware of and selective with what we let in to our lives, both physically and mentally.

Organization, Planning [ passion ], and Capturing [ delta ] in Our Lives

I have joined Dominic in his interest in mapping “change over time”  (Δ) in our lives as a way of moving past failures and reflecting on growth, and it’s been something I have thought deeply about over the course of the past year.

This is why I was extremely excited when I discovered the passion planner, a design project by Angelia Trinidad to develop a daily planner that helps people when they are feeling lost. It is a combination of functionality and reflection, and a beautiful way to stay organized and focused.

Angelia explains it as a tool “to make people’s passions a priority, It is an all-in-one weekly appointment calendar, journal, goal setting guide, and to-do list log integrated in one notebook. What I like to call a life coach that fits in your backpack.”  The planner is designed to enable goal setting at a variety of levels (for the year, for the month, for the week), and then breaks your goals down into actionable parts. It includes a yearly goal setting guide, inspirational quotes, and writing space for brainstorming, drawing, or journaling each week.

In her 2013 Kickstarter, she raised over 48K for her planner. The Kickstarter video below illustrates her philosophy and the functionality of the planner:

 

I love that she includes a guide to goal setting. I often get boggled down in the details of everything, and a planner that asks me to take a macro-level look at things is definitely something I could use.

My one criticism is that this is only available as a real-life book planner, and I think it should go digital for a number of reasons. She could develop a google chrome extension app that could sync across devices and have the exact same layout. As an avid google calendar user, I would LOVE something like this that would sync with my calendar and exist online. Additionally, if we want to track Δ, computers have a great talent at consolidating information and presenting it in a way that lets us see change. For example, a computer version could take all of your “week’s focus” text and combine it in a way to let you see how your focus ebbed and flowed. It could combine all of your doodles. It could ask you to reflect on how different weeks helped you reach your more long-term goals.

More importantly, I’d love to put something like this in the hands of students. But how devastating would it be when one of them inevitably loses the planner and with it all of their valuable data and passions.

Despite the old fashioned pen-and-paper style (which I’m sure many others find to be a plus), I knew I needed to have one.  I ordered mine last week, but they are already on backorder so I likely won’t receive it until some time in February. However, I highly suggest you get one too! While you are waiting, she’s provided downloadable pdfs of the planner pages, so you can try it out for a week [or more] here.

“The Internet of Things,” empowerment, & ground-up technological advances.

In my Culture, Media, and Education course we’ve talked a lot about how media has evolved in recent years such that students are not simply consumers of media, but also producers of media. Platforms such as YouTube, Square Space, and Scratch have made the means of media producing so widely  accessible in a way that is both empowering and transformative for our society.

A recent ideas.ted.com blog post, WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE INTERNET OF THINGS, Karen Eng explores similar ideas, related to the internet that now exists in the objects around us. Thermostats, traffic lights, and Fit Bits are examples of objects that can possess “the internet”; objects that communicate with us and one another in ways that better our lives. For example:

It’s more about gathering intelligence with a variety of different systems. So while traffic lights do currently communicate with light controllers, they don’t yet communicate with approaching cars, for example. But what if traffic lights could tell the car ahead of time that there’s a string of traffic lights coming on, and so the car should take another direction?

[http://ideas.ted.com/2014/10/02/whats-next-for-the-internet-of-things/]

While the “internet of things” is becoming more of a reality every day, Karen Eng suggests that we are going about it the wrong way, specifically in a very top-down way. Companies are creating closed off devices with prescribed functionalities to solve specific problems, and then we can then buy them. No customizability, just consuming, no room for producing. See the problem here?

She calls for a world where we “democratize the technology,” or where the internet of things exists in open platforms. Mirroring the recent ways in which students and the general population have become producers of media, we can become producers of all types of technologies. While engineers at big companies will likely design amazing things, people on the ground who are face-to-face with problems may see different problems and come up with different solutions.

One great example of a such a technology, that is not only open platform but also child friendly is littleBits. As explained in another great TED talk (embedded below):

…beyond simple play, littleBits are actually pretty powerful. Instead of having to program, to wire, to solder, littleBits allow you to program using very simple intuitive gestures. So to make this blink faster or slower, you would just turn this knob and basically make it pulse faster or slower. The idea behind littleBits is that it’s a growing library. We want to make every single interaction in the world into a ready-to-use brick. Lights, sounds, solar panels, motors — everything should be accessible.

[http://www.ted.com/talks/ayah_bdeir_building_blocks_that_blink_beep_and_teach/transcript?language=en]

I’m excited about the day when we begin to bring open-sourced object-based technologies into the classroom, because I can only imagine some of the creative and useful things our students will develop. Additionally, the more we move our students to be producers of technologies, rather than consumers, the more empowered and prepared they will be to function in our ever-changing, technological world.

5 Things I Understood While Walking 500 Miles …*

5 Things I Understood While Walking 500 Miles ...* | rethinked.org

It has now been nearly a month since I reached Santiago. Since ending this bit of my journey, I have spent the past few weeks attempting to digest the experience and reflect on some of the things I understood during my walk, which I hope to translate into daily habits and behaviors in my life and work moving forward. I’ll write a longer post about each of these five reflections in the coming weeks to provide some context and, hopefully, avenues for further exploration. There’s nothing truly groundbreaking about these observations, in fact they are things that I have been thinking and writing about often on the blog. This is why I am using the term ‘understood’, rather than learned, because these reflections are things I’ve learned a long time ago, but the beauty of the walking and thinking combination, is that it gives one a different kind of understanding of previous knowledge. Without further ado, here is what walking 500 miles has helped me to understand differently and more deeply.

 “My thoughts go to sleep unless they and I wander.” – Montaigne

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Travel Lightly – One can only carry so much

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Start Walking – You can make the whole journey one step/arrow at a time and besides, in the end, the best part is not knowing where you’re going or how you’re going to get there

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Be Open To Yourself, Others & the Unknown – You don’t need to travel far to unhouse yourself

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Stand By Your Choices – When the going gets tough, lean into the discomfort, after all, you’re the one that chose to put yourself in this situation

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Grow In Peace – Transformation, it turns out, is astonishingly banal

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[ Does it spark joy? ] : getting down to the essentials and decluttering your life.

Recently both Elsa and I have blogged about travelling light and the feeling of being bogged down in “stuff”. In that light, I’ve started reading a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, a Japanese “tidying expert” (with a 3 month waiting list!) who teaches a holistic, loving approach to decluttering your home.

One of the philosophies behind her method is taking in each item, one at a time and asking yourself, “does this spark joy?” If the answer is no, the items should be discarded.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve begun her process of holding each item of clothing from my closet and asking myself “does it spark joy?” I love that her approach focuses on the feelings we attach to our things, and she attaches a very Eastern anthropomorphic quality to the items we keep in our homes. A black blouse that I wear constantly sparks joy, as does an old t-shirt from the first half marathon I ran, even though I never wear the t-shirt. An itchy top that I recently bought does NOT spark joy, so I immediately put it in the goodwill pile.

Naturally, I’ve expanded this mentality to other spheres of my daily life. I’ve ben trying to reduce my intake of “stuff” to items that bring happiness to my life. Shopping with my roommates at a great sale, I refused to purchase anything that didn’t “spark joy.” Selecting groceries or picking foods for a meal, I made an effort to pick foods that made me feel good, rather than succumb to hunger.

I’m now experimenting with this philosophy in my work life by both decluttering my office space and decluttering my “to do list”. I’ve read before that simply saying “no” sometimes and reducing one’s own workload is an important step to productivity, but using this lens of “does it spark joy?” I’ve been able to better understand the things that matter to me, both short term and long term.

I encourage you to try this philosophy on your own life. Of course, there will be times when we must do, buy, or spend time on things that do not “spark joy.” But wouldn’t life be happier if we surrounded ourselves with things that do?

David Shrigley on Trusting the Process, Experiencing Flow, & Showing Up To Do the Work No Matter What…*

Read a great interview with artist David Shrigley on Dazed yesterday and thought I’d share my favorite bits on the blog as they relate to several key ideas we’ve been exploring in our work and writing these past two years.

enjoy & rethink …*

- FLOW – 

I think when there’s somebody who is going to come and take the drawings away on Monday and you still have 20 drawings to do that does tend to hinder the enjoyment of it – and that’s the situation I’m in right now! But, in essence, the moment when I’m working is still the moment when I feel most free in the eye of the storm that is around me. I feel very at peace when I’m working, it’s a very meditative and cathartic thing for me.

- TRUST THE PROCESS – 

I tend to write lists of things that I’d quite like to make but I’ve no idea how they’ll resolve themselves. They’re usually a list of very banal things: for example, two things on my list today are the words “pissing” and “human heart”. I will interpret those two instructions as I see fit. Something will happen eventually but a lot of it gets discarded so I try not to put any pressure on one particular image. If you’re making something and you know that there’s a high probability that it’ll get thrown away, it gives you the ability to make something that isn’t contrived. Well, that’s the strategy.

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- SHOW UP & DO THE WORK -

I have more successful days and less successful days but I don’t allow myself to have creative blocks because I don’t stop creating. Sometimes I make things that aren’t very good but my rules dictate that I make it anyway and just having that attitude seems to work. I still make the work even if I don’t want to. Somehow eventually something happens.

*

Source: David Shrigley: ‘I’m quite happy being a ponce!’ via Dazed, published October 24, 2014

[ Literacy ] through Educational Technology?

I recently read a cyberpunk novel called The Diamond Age (highly recommended), and it delves deeply into issues of education and social class.The main plot line concerns the development of a new technology, a book called the A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. This is an infinitely adaptive interactive book that bonds and grows with the young girl it is first given to. It speaks natural language, teaches through allegory and elements of the learner’s environment, and consistently provides just-in-time information. It’s higher goals are humanist in that it aims to make the learner a strong, independent thinker. Along the way, the primer teachers various characters many different skills including how to read, problem solve, self defense, and computer programming.

Diamond Age is fiction, and we are FAR away from developing anything of this caliber, if it is even remotely possible. Yet the books presents an interesting model of education, and I was delighted to see an article recently about teaching literacy through technology from Sesame WorkshopThey have recently signed a two-year grant to explore how conversational technology (with toys such as Elmo or Grover) can teach preschool early literacy.

The success of this idea hinges firmly on two things: 1) technology capabilities and 2) the ways in which children will interact with a toy versus a human. Speech recognition software is good right now, but is it good enough to understand a toddler who is just learning to make sounds? I will love to see how this project progresses. The other aspect is how children interact with toys. Speech theories often suggest that children begin to use language around the same time as they develop “theory of mind” or an understanding that there are other people in the world with their own minds, who are experiencing the world from another perspective. Once you recognize this, you realize the need to communicate with them. Yet in today’s world, children communicate with technology all the time – sometimes as a means to speak to another person (e.g., Skype, FaceTime) and other times just with a screen (e.g., Blue’s Clues). Children also develop rich narratives, often aloud, when they play with toys or as they go to sleep at night.

Are we taking one step closed to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer?

And the bigger question… how is educational technology good and bad for rethinking education?

[ Ed Tech – The Bigger Picture ]

A larger theme of my studies is thinking about and discussing technology’s role in the education world. This is something that everyone you meet will have an opinion about, and these opinions can often be very polarized.

My standard response is that I do research in order to better understand what technology is good for and what it is not good for. I am the first to admit that there are many current uses of technology in our classrooms and education systems that are under-researched and therefore poorly executed. Yet in this digital age there is such a need to integrate technology more seamlessly into education that I know there are spaces where Ed Tech could help teacher teach, help students learn, and provide experience with new forms of learning that are vital for functioning in today’s society.

[ What are the hurdles to successful Educational Technology?? ]

Umang Gupta wrote an article in edsurge last month explaining some of the issues surrounding integrating Ed Tech in schools. Currently, we spend only 1% of education funds on technology, compared with the approximate spending of 10% of GDP in the wider economy. Obstacles for technology in the education world include 1) worries that the tech world is going to replace teachers with laptops, and brick-and-mortar schools with services such as MOOCS (massive open online courses), and 3) a highly fragmented, high regulated, and highly bureaucratic industry.

To respond to issue #1, I maintain that real life teachers and brick-and-mortar schools are here to stay. The social aspect of school is important and motivating in and of itself, and I doubt we will see technology in my lifetime that can rival a really good teacher working one-on-one with a student. Yet good teachers are a limited commodity, so the idea with technology is to supplement that teacher’s abilities. If a computer program can teach and manage some of the more basic aspects of a lesson, the teacher is free to move about the room and provide individual help with other aspects. The research project I am working on currently exists entirely under the rationale that we’ve discovered a great pedagogy but the current teacher to student ratio is too high (about 1:4) for it to be feasibly introduced into classrooms. With a software to guide students, the ratio can go down.

In terms of online education, I’m definitely wary of any education that is completed entirely from a screen. Yet blended learning has a tremendous future and value to students, creating multimodal, asynchronous learning opportunities for students to connect across time and space and to learn in more authentic spaces in the world.

The bureaucratic red tape is definitely another huge issue, especially when combined with the time constraints of school. In addition to some of the issues Gupta brings up in his article, simply finding a school to pilot test or conduct research in is extremely difficult (if anyone has a middle school in the NYC area let me know!), and once you have a product, the general rule of thumb is allowing up to 6 months of professional development to teach the teachers how to use the software before beginning to integrate that software into classrooms. When this lag doesn’t happen, teachers tend to just ignore the new piece of technology. When the lag DOES happen, a better piece of technology is often already in development.

Ultimately, I am excited to be a part of the education world, specifically in the technology realm, and I think that we will see huge transformations in the ways in which technology supplements traditional modes of education over the course of the next few decades.

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy …*

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org

Hola rethinkers* Elsa here, back from my camino! Had a truly splendid time and made it all the way to Santiago. Walking 800 km has given me plenty of time to think (a really really good combination and ancient tradition this walking and thinking business). I’m excited to share with you some of the insights and discoveries I made on my trip but as I’ve only just got back and barely had time to digest my experience, I’m going to write about something completely unrelated which happened this past weekend: I got to hang out with a six-year-old—correction, a six-and-a-half-year-old— and I was struck by how much adults, especially those interested in challenging the status quo and developing their capacity for empathy, stand to learn from young children.

MEET MY NEW FRIEND MATHIEU & HIS LEGO HERO FACTORY TOYS–BULK & STORMER

I met Mathieu at his parents’ house where I was having a long Sunday lunch. He sat at the table with us to eat a bit and then disappeared around the garden to play. When dessert was served, Mathieu came back for some ice cream, holding in his hand a Christmas catalogue. I asked him if he had started making his list for Santa and if he’d show me what it was he wanted. We went over the catalogue together and he explained the various delights of each toy he had circled. I then asked him what was the one toy he most hoped Santa would bring him, to which he answered Lego’s Hero Factory before disappearing to his room to bring back two specimens.

I spent over an hour talking with Mathieu about his Lego Hero Factory toys and playing with him. I could hardly say which of us had the most fun. But the reason I wanted to write about my encounter with Mathieu, goes beyond wanting to brag about my awesome new tiny friend or my love of all things Lego. Having no children of my own, I rarely get the chance to hang out with the six-and-a-half-year-old crowd and that’s a real shame. I’m passionate about storytelling, empathy and the architecture of change and as my time with Mathieu showed me, we (the part of the population who no longer values half years in our age) have much to learn in all three of these interrelated domains from children.
STORYTELLING 101 – WHY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CANNIBALISTIC JUMPER & CANNIBALISTIC COCOON MATTERS
 
What quickly became apparent to me as Mathieu and I played with Bulk and Stormer is that the toys were artifacts from an incredibly rich imaginary world, one which Mathieu inhabits very comfortably. Mathieu painstakingly explained the origin story of the Hero Factory world, the main hero, (Evo, for the uninitiated) the good guys and the bad. When I tried to rephrase what he had said to make sure I had understood, I confused the cocoons and the planters several times and each time, Mathieu patiently corrected me. Once I had gotten the full back story, we started playing and caught up in the excitement of the game, I started making what can best be described as attack noises – “Grrrrrrrrr,” “pooowww,” “watch out!” Mathieu looked at me a bit embarrassed and then said, as nicely as he could, “It’s a machine, it doesn’t talk.”

 

I think the fact that Mathieu corrected me each time I confused the cocoons and the jumpers or when I got carried away with battle sounds was critically important. He sensed my genuine interest in entering the Lego Hero Factory world and took it upon himself to guide me in. Each imaginary world operates according to a specific set of rules (so while vegetal cocoons attack robots in the Hero Factory world, machines do not speak or make battle calls) and it is these shared laws that keep the world bounded together and allow it to be a shared imaginary space. Creating these rules and then exploring the possibilities of the worlds created within them is what fiction writers, dreamers, and rethinkers * of all type do. It is no secret that soft skills are becoming increasingly important as the pace of change accelerates and the collective problems we face become increasingly wicked. We need people who can craft solid, inhabitable alternatives–“what ifs” that offer better, more sustainable futures for more people. And that starts with storytelling and storytellers. We need to cultivate and amplify children’s natural capacity for creating imaginary worlds and we need to learn from them how we ourselves might regain that wonderful and critical ability to ask “what if?” and run with it.

 

EMPATHY & PLAY – JUMPING THROUGH FIRE REGULARLY WILL HELP KEEP YOU NIMBLE IN YOUR ABILITY TO ENTER OTHERS’ INTERNAL WORLDS
Not only are children naturally adept storytellers, they are also able to grasp with ease the nuances of others’ stories (I think the proper buzzword to describe this aptitude, these days, would be creative listeners). In many ways, each of us, carries and inhabits his or her own world. Our reality is constantly mediated by our perception; our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others is shaped by a mix of past experiences, character traits, hopes, neuroses, tensions and dreams. In essence, empathy is about being able to experience what an exterior situation might feel like when viewed from the particular lens of another (an Other’s internal world). Children do this extremely often when they are at play, seemingly without any effort. Just a few weeks ago, I was having a drink with a friend on a rather deserted village town square while two little girls played nearby. The girls were running around and jumping, taking turns yelling, “now water, now fire.” Evidently, they were on an epic journey through the elements and shared a common imaginary space, worlds away from the physical environment, that had them running around panting with excitement. They were able to take turns designing the world and could seamlessly go from their own internal reality to that of their friend’s, experiencing with equal ease and immediacy what was in their friend’s mind’s eye as what was inside their own.

 

It’s interesting to note this link between play and empathy, how they seem to go hand in hand naturally. Perhaps it is because we try to stamp out our own playfulness as we age that we become more and more stuck within our own world and less able (or willing?) to enter into those of others. My advice? Go play with a tiny human.
play & rethink …*
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