Category Well-being

On Emotions, Cognition, and Comedy: An Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Melissa Cesarano, and I am a new member of the rethinkED team for the 2015-2016 school year. To introduce myself, I’d like to begin by stating that I’m quite an eccentric human with eclectic tastes and talents. I’m a yogi, actress, comedian/improviser, poet, and cognitive scientist! I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Quakersssss!!!) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Studies and Philosophy of Mind, and a minor in Poetics. Currently, I’m a PhD student at Columbia University in Cognitive Studies in Education. I also work at a biotech company, Evoke Neuroscience, where I serve as the company’s science writer, lecturer, and research associate. At Evoke, I’m also training to receive a certification in biofeedback and neurofeedback, which will help me acquire a more holistic approach to emotional and psychological wellness, in addition to my more academic brain expertise. Additionally, I’m attending comedy school at The Peoples Improv Theater and The Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve co-founded my own NYC sketch comedy group, Laundry Day Comedy, and believe strongly that humor, play, and creativity are essential to our epistemic growth and self-realization as life long students; as Ludwig Wittgenstein so elegantly stated, “If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

My research as a Doctoral Candidate focuses on emotions. In undergrad, I felt that the cognitive realm was academically interesting, yet lacked the poetry, color, and humanity that I yearned for as an artist and creative. Admittedly, there seemed to be a lack of understanding as to where/how to fit emotions into a cognitive framework. Therefore, about two years into graduate school education, I resolved to undertake the task of understanding emotions from a cognitive perspective.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend intellectually even though they’re an integral part of our everyday lives. Nevertheless, they certainly color our interactions with others, motivate our behaviors, elucidate our passions, and are essential to our experience as humans. To clarify, they are a phenomenological manifestation of the things that matter to us. For a brief introduction to emotions (What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)) I recommend reading this riveting article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, the head honcho in Emotion Research (I like to call her ‘The Big LFB’):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/what-emotions-are-and-arent.html?_r=0

Specifically, the research that I’ve been conducting at Columbia, along with my research partner Ilya, relates to teaching people abstract models of the Human Emotion System (HES). Creating accurate mental models of our own emotional functioning and grounding these principles in tangible real-life emotional situations, seems to increase self-regulation through increased self-awareness of emotional functioning in a variety of different experiential contexts. The topic of my dissertation, however, deals with the ‘naïve’ mental models that people acquire intuitively through everyday life experience prior to explicit learning of the HES. Arriving at a deeper understanding of people’s HES intuitions and misconceptions (and the cognitive processes that underlie them) through careful epistemological inquiry, should thus allow for a more effective teaching of the HES model and other social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts.

Basically, I think it’s really insane that students are taught things like ‘the laws of physics’ in school, but are never taught the ‘laws of emotions’, the causal relations and principles of our own emotional functioning. Instead, we are left with the difficult and daunting task of pretty blindly dealing with these powerful and mysterious forces. Interestingly, emotionality is delegated to ‘higher learning’, a Psych 101 lecture in the hallowed spaces of America’s college halls.

Finally, I would like to join Ali in saying that it is an absolute privilege to be a part of such an inspiring community here at Riverdale. We hope to enlighten you and to contribute to the ever-evolving educational landscape at this prestigious school. Keep a lookout for upcoming posts from the rethinkED team!

With gratitude and an abundance of smiles,

Mel

[rethinking Purpose & Passion]: multipotentiality vs. one true calling… *

rethinking passion…*

Last year, both Elsa and I wrote about rethinking passion [here and here]. I argued that childhood should be about exploration, rather than passion. I also cited the importance of hard work, setbacks, and struggles in developing passion. Similarly, Elsa spoke of shifting from a “passion” mindset to a “craftman’s” mindset, which she describes as “a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones” A craftsman mindset involves deliberate practice of valuable skills.

what is purpose?…*

This year, rethinkED…* has been thinking about purpose and how to instill purpose in students. Yet what is purpose? Personally, I argue against the notion of pushing students to define one unified purpose for their lives. Instead, I believe we should cultivate multiple purposes and overall purposefulness in our students. Rather than having just one purpose, do with purpose.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?…*

Especially in today’s society, it seems rather rare to have just one passion. With this in mind, I was enthralled by a recent TED talk by Emilie Wapnick, a career coach who speaks to those without “one true calling.” Recollecting the overwhelming anxiety of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” she explains that it is not that students have no interest but rather than they sometimes have too many. She says that,

“while this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be”

This question is part of the overall societal pressure we place upon children to pick one thing, to choose which of the things that they love and make a career out of it. She continues,

“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.”

However, we leave many, many people out of this narrative. People who do many wonderful things across their lives, who have many things they are curious about and many different things that they want to do. People she calls multipotentialites.

MULTIPOTENTIALITES…*

She defines multipotentialites as those with many pursuits, the modern-day “Renaissance” men (and women). Rather than thinking of this flitting from interest to interest as a limitation, Emilie cites three super powers that multipotentialites can possess:

  1. Idea synthesis- Combining two or more fields and finding something new and exciting at the intersection. Innovation happens at these intersections.
  2. Rapid learning- Multipotentialites are comfortable at being beginners or “accomplished novices”.
  3. Adaptability- With many skills, you can morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation.

She states that there are many complex, multidimensional world problems that need solving right now, and the ideal team for such problems is a specialist and a multipotentialite paired together. She concludes by stating

“…embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

ARGUMENT AGAINST THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE..*

Overall, Emilie does not advocate for one path through life but rather believes that we should support individuals who aim for breadth (multipotentialites) as much as we support individuals who aim for depth (specialists). This fits with the idea of exploration alongside passion.

However, one criticism that could be put upon Emilie’s argument is that most students would rather be multipotentialites, flitting from interest to interest, rather than dig in and put hard work into one specific thing. In terms of grit and deliberate practice, it is far easier to shift gears when something gets hard or tedious. In terms of success, research suggests that being gritty and putting in the work is very important.

Purposeful, gritty pursuit of multiple passions…*

Instead, I would argue that the ideal falls somewhere in the middle. We should encourage students to pursue multiple passions, but we should also discourage students from straying from an interest when it simply becomes too challenging. Further, in order to use the “idea synthesis” superpower, students must actively reflect on the themes and ways in which their various interests connect. I am passionate about education research and studio art. I can cultivate these two passions simultaneously. More importantly, I seek inspiration from my artwork in my research. I seek respite from the intellectual rigor of school in the flow state I get when painting. I integrate the two when I design research studies and develop compelling presentations. My overall philosophy on life, truth, and knowledge is inextricably tied to the meaning I’ve distilled from these pursuits.

Your life does not need to be played on a single instrument. Yet only through hard work will you play any one instrument well. And only through learning how to combine the sounds of each together in harmony can you create a symphony…* 

 

unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:

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HOW TO LIVE A MEANINGFUL AND LIFE-GIVING LIFE…*

The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!

IMG_7781

 

Rethink { Passion }: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Having a Passion

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “have a passion,” and why our society values this so much. As I talked about in my recent post about the construct of “grit”, grit is a character strength defined by passion and perseverance of long term goals. People with grit have sustained passion for one thing and stick to it. Research indicates that people with grit succeed in life, both professionally and academically.

Yet are we jumping on the grit wagon a bit too enthusiastically, at the expense of exploration?

passion

http://goldengatebpo.com/blog/passion-in-the-workplace/

Passion versus exploration

In a NY Times article last month entitled Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids, Lisa Heffernan discusses this strange new notion that, by high school, a child must “have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crown“. She jokes that this must happen before he begins his Common App, and anyone who has applied to college recently or helped another do so is awake of this phenomenon. As Heffernan states,

This passion, which he will either stumble upon or be led to by the caring adults in his life, must be pursued at the highest level his time and talent, and his parent’s finances, will allow… This is madness.

She warns that the obsession with seeking a passion comes with costs. Children latch onto “passions” that are not really things they enjoy simply to be able to proclaim one. They feel lost and pressured to find their “one thing” early on. If we are laser-focused on finding one thing our students are good at and then push them to pursue it doggedly, they may miss out on other things they are perhaps more suited to or enjoy more. Childhood is about exploration. As Heffernan concludes,

…childhood isn’t about passion, but rather about exploration. Our job… is to nurture that exploration, not put an end to it. When we create an expectation that children must find their one true interest so early in life, we cut short a process of discovery that may easily take a lifetime.

In some ways, the exploration that Heffernan prescribes is antithetical to grit. However, I’d argue that grit is great, once you find something you want to be gritty at. However, we can’t push young students to latch on so quickly, and sometimes it IS more sensible to quit rather than to doggedly pursue.

Find-your-passion

http://idealistcareers.org/category/job-search/find-your-passion/

 

Passion requires struggle

Evidencing the harm that societal pressure towards passion can cause, in a NYMag Ask Polly column last week, Polly assuages a 25-year-old woman’s fear that she does not yet have a passion. The writer calls herself “Life Is Buffering” and worries that she lacks an anchor in life.

Polly takes a different approach to the obsession of passion, explaining that children in the upper middle class who have been coddled by their parents and lived very fortunate lives often have known no struggle. Yet passion is not born from the easy life. She explains,

Passion comes from hard work. Passion bubbles up from intense, sometimes tedious labor. Passion floats in when you’re exhausted from doing something by yourself, for yourself, just to survive… Passion arrives when you stop seeing men and babies as a kind of solution to not having enough passion. Passion materializes once you give up hope and then you’re just sitting there, without hope, and you think, I might as well do something. I have to pay the bills some way, don’t I? 

Polly reminds us that passion is not “something that descends like magic at cocktail hour, when all the work is done.” It is instead an uphill battle through thankless work and setbacks and struggles. 

Moreover, it is okay to not yet know exactly what you want to do. Part of the struggle is defining that purpose. As Polly concludes,

Those people with the biggest question marks are usually the ones with the most passion of all.

Passion: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Overall, I believe that “finding a passion” is a bit idealized in our society. Moreover, for upper class students who’s parents and teachers are trying to give them every advantage in life, finding a passion can be a bit of a contradiction. Passion is not something you can be spoon fed, and it is not something that should be a item on your checklist for college acceptance. It is born from struggle and hard work, it takes time to develop, and it’s okay if you haven’t figured yours out yet.

This – of course – goes back to my obsession with failure. If we want our students to develop passions, we need to put them in situations where they can fail. We need to take them out of their comfort zones and into contexts where they will struggle. We need to let them explore and remove the expectations and pressures to zero in on one thing so early on. We must rethink what it means to be passionate, why we value it so much, and how to instill passion in our students without smothering them with the label.

rethinking { stress } to live a healthier life.

THE PRIMAL SCREAM…*

Last night I witnessed Columbia University’s traditional PRIMAL SCREAM. If, like me, you have no idea what I’m talking about, this scream is a tradition with variants at a number of prestigious Universities – including UCLA, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, U Penn, and Vassar. At midnight of the Sunday of finals week each semester, students open their windows or go outside and SCREAM blood-curdling, horror-movie worthy screams. It is quite the exhilarating and satisfying experience.The tradition is said to help students release their pent up anxiety and stress about exams.

It’s finals week at Columbia so stress levels are high and libraries are packed at all hours of the day and night with students finishing papers and cramming for tests.In fact, this has been an especially stressful year in my life. I’ve been working 60-80 hour weeks with an amount of responsibility on projects that has left me exhausted and anxious more than I’d like to admit. I’ve seen it affect my sleep, diet, and mood in negative ways. Which is why the following TED talk is so important.

RETHINK STRESS…*

As discussed in Kelly McGonigal’s TEDGlobal2013 talk, “How to make stress your friend,” McGonigal explains that despite what we’ve been told, stress is NOT the enemy. In a recent Pew study, results suggested that it is not the experience of stress but instead the belief that stress is bad for your health, that leads to death and other negative health outcomes. In other word, it is not stress itself but rather how you think about it, that leads to poor health.

Changing your attitude towards stress can change your body’s response to it. When we’re stressed we have a clear physiological response: our hearts beat faster, we breathe faster, we sweat. And our minds interpret these as negative signs of anxiety.

McGonigal asks, what if you view these changes as signs that your body is energized and preparing itself for a challenge? In a study at Harvard, researchers found that participants who were trained to rethink their physiological stress responses as helpful rather than a sign of weakness, were less stressed, less anxious, and more confident. More importantly, their blood vessels did NOT constrict. In a typical stress response, our blood vessels constrict which, if chronic, can lead to cardiovascular disease. But these participants’ physiological profiles more closely resembled people experiencing joy or courage.

 

http://ideas.ted.com/embrace-your-stress-a-visual-idea/

 

The Social Side of Stress…*

McGonigal also speaks to the social side of stress, specifically the power of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a stress hormone that makes you compassionate and caring. It motivates you to seek support, to tell people how you feel, to surround yourself with people who care about you. It is, in essence, a built-in resilience feature for stress. And physiologically, releasing oxytocin and giving into its urges – seeking support and love – is even better for your heart health.

As McGonigal concludes,

Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement.You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.

CONCLUSIONS…*

To me, this TED talk gives the PRIMAL SCREAM even more profound meaning. This scream embodies the strength and confidence of the student body to tackle the week ahead. While studying for finals and paper-writing can often feel like isolating and solitary experiences, the unison behind the scream ties students together into a community that can accomplish anything.

So, if you are approaching the next week with anxiety or trepidation, let out a nice long primal scream and change your mindset about stress for a healthier, happier life. Never under-estimate the power of a good rethink…*

 

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

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http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

maggie-daley-2

Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

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Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

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A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

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My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

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A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ incandescent souls }, eulogy virtues, & character education…*

David Brooks wrote a beautiful Op-Ed piece for the New York Times this past weekend titled “The Moral Bucket List.” In it, he talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the skills we learn for career success and what our education system is largely designed to teach. Eulogy virtues, however, are the types of things discussed at your funeral (to be a bit morbid). They include attributes such as kindness, bravery, honesty, or love.  In the article, he talks about those people with impressive eulogy virtues, who radiate an inner light,

“They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”

We all know these types of people. Perhaps some of you fit this description. Yet I think it is far too common today to focus on our resume virtues at the expense of our eulogy ones. As Brooks writes, “it is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity… Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

However, the good news is that an incandescent soul can be cultivated, and Brooks compiles what he calls a “moral bucket list” for those wishing to get closer to their desired selves.

teaching-kindness

the moral bucket list…*

According to Brooks, the moral bucket list includes 6 experiences:

1. the humility shift – a shift to honestly admitting your own weaknesses. This is followed by…

2. self-defeat – confronting these weaknesses and finding ways to counteract them. Next is…

3. the dependency leap – switching from an individualist/ highly autonomous perspective on life to one that allows for admitting when you need help or support and a life rooted in connections with others.

4. energizing love is the type of life-changing love for another that overcomes one’s innate self-centeredness.

5. the call within the call is an experience that turns a career into a passion.

6. the conscience leap is the moment when one makes a moral decision, no matter the stakes.

How can educators support eulogy virtues? …*

Soft Skills…*

The above moral bucket list experiences have a lot to do with those “soft skills” that we talk about these days in education such teamwork, emotional intelligence, empathy. They also involve metacognition – specifically self-awareness and reflection on one’s faults and how to remedy these. Always an advocate for soft skills, I suggest we continue to emphasize the importance of these for building both our resume AND eulogy virtues

Collectivism and connectedness…*

Brooks suggests that we need to take a less self-centered approach to education. While we often tell our graduates to “follow your passion” or “be true to yourself”, we should focus less on the self and more on the self as connected to the world. We should say “what is life asking of you?” or “how can you match your talents and skill sets with one of our society’s deep needs?”.

The philosophy for stumblers…*

Brooks ends by suggesting something that I love, because it has a lot to do with the value of failure (an idea that I am designing my doctoral work around). He talks about “a philosophy for stumblers” or the idea that incandescent souls stumble through life, always enmeshed in a struggle towards an ideal. They are not squeamish about their imperfect nature, but rather constantly transcending, growing, and learning. As Brooks states,

“The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be”

This so clearly aligns with my beloved philosophy around failure – the idea that failure is a good and natural part of learning and growing. Therefore, if we can bring students to view life with the philosophy of stumblers (or the design thinking mindset of “fail forward”), perhaps we can help mold more incandescent souls, stumbling through life and making the world a better place…*

 

 

Find happiness in the humdrum, rediscover the mundane, && { embrace the ordinary…* }

Most commentary on the explosion of social media and tedious micro-blogging has been negative: we’ve become a generation of over-sharers, we’re over documenting our lives rather than experiencing them.

But recent research suggests that you should NOT delete your tumblr or deactivate your Twitter. A recent article in Psychology Today reminds us all to both document and embrace the ordinary. As the author, Dr. Amie Gordon says,

Even when it seems silly, or not worth it, take the time to record the seemingly unmemorable moments in your life. The future you will be grateful. 

(my ordinary)

(my ordinary)

In a series of studies by Zhang et al. (2014), the authors find that we derive joy from reliving records of the past, in the form of rediscovery, and that people systematically underestimate the value of rediscovering the past. They find that individuals underestimate the extent to which rediscovering past experiences will be thought-provoking and interesting in the future. Additionally, the authors found that people find pleasure in rediscovering ordinary, mundane experiences, not just extraordinary ones. Furthermore, a final study demonstrated that ordinary events are perceived as much extraordinary over time.

(my humdrum)

(my humdrum)

Some tips on how to document your ordinary life include taking a photo a day, write “a day in the life” posts, or keep a journal. One website called the 365 project helps facilitate the photo-a-day challenge. Dr. Gordon states that “a day in the life” blog posts are her favorites to read, and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. For inspiration, A Cup of Jo did a feature called Motherhood around the World, where mothers documented their seemingly mundane lives to contrast with those of other cultures.

Who knew that those Instagram posts about what you ate for breakfast might bring you happiness after all. :-)

(my mundane)

(my mundane)

…There is magic in the ordinary. It is the ordinary among us after all who make the world go round, who live quietly graceful lives, and who, when heroes are needed, step forward to make a difference…
[Roberta Gately, Huffington Post]

[all Instagram photos are my own]

{ Power Posing } How to use your own body language to change how you feel about yourself…*

In my Visual Explanations course this semester, we learn about how gesture can facilitate cognition.

If you’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy this season (does ANYONE still watch Grey’s Anatomy other than me?), there was an episode this last week about the “superhero pose”. One of the doctors is about to begin an extremely challenging brain surgery, and she decides to hold this pose for 5 minutes prior to boost her confidence and performance.

While the vast amount of medical jargon on this show makes anyone in a medical profession cringe, this bit of information is mostly true. As this Psychology Today article, Superhero Stance, explains, holding a power pose for a few minutes can make people feel more powerful and act that way.

In the cited study, high-power poses included sitting in a chair, arms behind the head, elbows out, and feet up on a desk (like a boss, “relaxing”), and standing in front of a table, legs about a foot apart, leaning forward and hands on the table bearing weight.

This study indicates that not only can our minds change our bodies, but our bodies can change our minds.

superhero

 

Amy Cuddy, one of the researchers in this area, talk about her findings in the TED talk: Your body language shapes who you are. She speaks to the power of gesture and how our nonverbals govern not only how other people think and feel about us but how we think and feel about ourselves.  

She discusses our natural body language reactions to powerful and powerless situations, and suggests that by intentionally placing ourselves in this body language positions, we can enact those feelings of power or powerlessness.

This is a long but interesting talk that I highly recommend. This week, as I begin to collect data in schools for my study, I will definitely be taking on some “power poses” before I start my days!

 

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