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Month August 2013

{ Restlessness, Questioning, & Empathy } Three Book Playlists for Rethinkers…*

Last week, quite serendipitously, I discovered The School of Life’s Bibliotherapy service, which is an inspirational reading prescription that’s tailor-made for each customer:

In a consultation with one of our bibliotherapists, you’ll explore your relationship with books so far and be asked to explore new literary directions. Perhaps you’re looking for an author whose style you love so much you will want to devour every word they’ve ever written. Perhaps you’re about to trek across China and need to find ideal travel companions to download onto your kindle. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from the world and want to listen to the classics of your childhood during your daily commute. Or you’re seeking a change in your life and want to hold the hand of people who’ve been there and done that already.

Whatever your concerns, dreams or challenges, we’ll devote ourselves to creating an inspirational reading prescription that’s tailor-made for you.

I was delighted by the concept and wondered why I had never thought of giving ‘book playlists’ to friends and family. After all, stories are just as powerful as music in transporting one to new feelings tones. I decided it would be fun to try out the concept and make a few playlists for fellow rethinkers…* Obviously, creating playlists for a whole group of people, many of whom I have never met, kind of loses the appeal of the custom-tailored prescription. But this is such an intriguing concept and there are so many ways to play around with it, so here’s my first go at it. As you’ll see below, I selected three common moments/feeling tones that arise in the life of a rethinker…* and created playlists of 10-12 books, which have helped deepen my experience of these moments and which I believe might benefit others in similar situations.

Do you have any suggestions for other books that you think should be added to these playlists? What about your own book playlists? What might those look like? I am so curious, please share in the comments section below or email me at elsa@rethinked.org

{ Restlessness, Questioning, & Empathy } Three Book Playlists for Rethinkers...* | rethinked.org | photo by Elsa Fridman

{ RESTLESSNESS } To read when linearity and routine become suffocating

Anatomy of Restlessness: Selected Writings 1969-1989 ~ Bruce Chatwin

The Waste Books ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia ~ Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari

Les Fleurs du Mal ~ Charles Baudelaire

Don Quixote ~ Miguel de Cervantes

Schematics: A Love Story ~ Julian Hibbard

And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos ~ John Berger

Nadja ~ André Breton

Fragments ~ Heraclitus

Time’s Arrow ~ Martin Amis

Shamrock Tea ~ Ciaran Carson

Maldoror and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont ~ Isidore Ducasse

{ Restlessness, Questioning, & Empathy } Three Book Playlists for Rethinkers...* | rethinked.org | photo by Elsa Fridman

 

{ QUESTIONING } To read when feeling trapped by language and trying to disrupt and stretch your thinking

Manifestoes of Surrealism ~ André Breton

On The Genealogy of Morality ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

We Have Only This Life To Live: The Selected Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre 1939-1975 ~ Edited by  Adrian van den Hoven & Ronald Aronson

Écrits: A Selection ~ Jacques Lacan

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success ~ Carol Dweck

In The Blink of An Eye ~ Walter Murch

Mr. Palomar ~ Italo Calvino

On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness ~ Jacques Derrida

Letters to a Young Contrarian ~ Christopher Hitchens

Tao Te Ching ~ Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell

{ Restlessness, Questioning, & Empathy } Three Book Playlists for Rethinkers...* | rethinked.org | photo by Elsa Fridman

{ EMPATHY } To read when attempting to grow your empathy muscle

Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny ~ Amartya Sen

Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative ~ Herbert Mason

The People of Paper ~ Salvador Plascencia

Invisible Man ~ Ralph Ellison

Silence: The Currency of Power ~ Edited by Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb

So Long, See You Tomorrow ~ William Maxwell

The Story of A Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her How To Fly ~ Luis Sepulveda

The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Journey Is The Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon ~ Edited by Cathy Eldon

Voice of the Poet: W.H. Auden ~ Edited by J.D. McClatchy (This one might be a bit out of place here as it comes with an audio recording of W.H. Auden but if you’re looking to deepen your capacity for empathy, few experiences beat reading Auden’s poems while listening to his beautiful rich voice.)

Daniel H. Cohen On Why We Need To Rethink…* The Metaphors We Use To Think About Cognitive Arguments

In a recent TED talk, philosopher Daniel H. Cohen, challenges us to rethink…* the metaphors that we use to think about arguments so that we may shift our focus away from winning to deeper learning and understanding when we engage in argumentation. Cohen begins his talk by highlighting the three existing models for arguments that we hold:

1. Argument as War: There’s a lot of screaming and shouting and winning and losing. That’s not a very helpful model for thinking about argument, but it’s a pretty entrenched and common model for argument.

 

2. Argument as Proof: Think of a mathematician’s argument: Here’s my argument–does it work? Is it any good? Are the premises warranted? Are the inferences valid? Does the conclusion follow from the premises? No opposition, not necessarily any arguing in the adversarial sense. 

 

3. Argument as Performance: Arguments in front of an audience. We can think of a politician trying to present a position, trying to convince the audience of something. But there’s another twist on this model that I really think is important, namely, that when we argue before an audience, sometimes the audience has a more participatory role in the argument. That is, arguments are also in front of juries who make a judgement, decide the case, let’s call this the rhetorical model.

 

By far the most dominant and pervasive of the three models is the metaphor of argument-as-war.

 

It dominates how we talk about arguments, how we think about arguments, and because of that it shapes how we argue–our actual conduct in arguments. Now, when we talk about arguments, we talk in very militaristic language: we want strong arguments, arguments that have a lot of punch, arguments that are right on target; we want to have our defenses up and our strategies all in order; we want killer arguments. That’s the kind of argument we want. It is the dominant way of thinking about arguments. 

 

The issue with this model for argumentation, as Cohen points out, is that it has deforming effects on how we argue.

 

1. First, it elevates tactics over substance–you take a class in logical argumentation, you learn all about the subterfuges that people use to try and win arguments, the false steps. 

 

2. It magnifies the US vs. THEM aspect, it makes it adversarial, it’s polarizing.

 

3. And the only foreseeable outcomes is glorious victory of ignominious defeat.

 

I think those are deforming effects, and worse of all, it seems to prevent things like negotiation, or deliberation, or compromise or collaboration. Think about that, have you ever entered an argument thinking, let’s see if we can hash something out rather than fight it out? What can we work out together? I think the argument-as-war metaphor inhibits those other kinds of resolutions to argumentation. 

 

Perhaps, the most negative impact of the argument-as-war metaphor with its either-or framework–either I win or I lose–is that we begin to equate learning with losing.

 

If argument is war, then there is an implicit equation of learning with losing. Let me explain what I mean: suppose you and I have an argument. You believe a proposition–P–and I don’t. I say why do you believe P? And you give me your reasons. And I object and say, “well, what about…” and you answer my objection. And I have a question, well what do you mean? How does it apply over here? And you answer my question. Now, suppose at the end of the day, I’ve objected, I’ve questioned, I’ve raised all sorts of counter considerations and, in every case, you’ve responded to my satisfaction. And so, at the end of the day, I say, “you know what? I guess you’re right.” So I have a new belief, and it’s not just any belief, but it’s a well articulated, examined, battle tested belief. Great cognitive gain. Ok, who won that argument? Well, the war metaphor seems to force us into saying you’ve won, even though I’m the only one who made any cognitive gain. What did you gain cognitively from convincing me? [,..] The war metaphor forces us into thinking that you’re the winner and I lost, even though I gained.

 

What we need then, is to think of new ways to frame arguments that would yield more positive outcomes.

 

What we need is new exit strategies for arguments but we’re not going to have new exit strategies for arguments until we have new entry approaches to arguments. We need to think of new kinds of arguments.

 

Put in different terms, what Daniel Cohen is urging us to do is to shift from a fixed mindset understanding of arguments to a growth mindset appraisal of argumentation. This idea of mindsets comes from Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck’s research, which I was just writing about last week. Dweck’s big idea is that there are two basic mindsets: the fixed mindset, which sees ability as limited and static–you’re either good at something or you’re not–and the growth mindset which views ability as dynamic and changing over time with effort. Which mindset we hold in any given situation has a wide range of implications on the beliefs we carry and the ways in which we behave. For example, if you believe that ability is fixed and does not change over time, your primary focus is going to be proving your ability, proving that you do have it or, at the very least, hiding that you don’t. The fixed mindset leads to a primary framework of judgement–how good am I at something and am I better than others? Meanwhile, if you think that ability can change over time with effort, you’re going to have a framework that is oriented towards growth and you will develop a  deep desire and excitement for learning. The argument-as-war model puts us in a fixed mindset: this is an either-or model in which you are either a winner–you have talent and ability when it comes to arguing– or you don’t and you’re a loser. If we framed argumentation as fertile ground for growth and learning however, we would be able to place ourselves in a growth mindset from the get go and in doing so, redress many of the distorting effects of the argument-as-war metaphor. Our focus would not be on winning but rather on deepening our thinking and understanding, on discovering new perspectives, on pushing ourselves to keep iterating and refining our beliefs and assumptions.

 

If we want to think of new kinds of arguments, what we need to do is think of new kinds of arguers. So try this, think of all the roles that people play in arguments–there’s the proponent and the opponent in an adversarial dialectical argument, there’s the audience in rhetorical arguments, there’s the reasoner in arguments as proofs, all these different roles. Now, can you imagine an argument in which you’re the arguer but you’re also in the audience, watching yourself argue. Can you imagine yourself watching yourself argue, losing the argument and yet, still at the end of the argument, say ” wow, that was a good argument.” Can you do that? […] I think if you can imagine that kind of argument, where the loser says to the winner, “Yeah, that was a good argument”, then you have imagined a good argument. And more than that, I think you’ve imagined a good arguer. An arguer that’s worthy of the kind of arguer you should try to be. 

 

Oh, and one more thing:

 

It takes practice [effort over time–hello, growth mindset] to become a good arguer, in the sense of being able to benefit from losing. 

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and the nonlearners.” -Benjamin Barber

READ

Five Ways that Games are More than Just Fun ~ They make us more social; They empower us to be creative; They help us develop empathy; They make us act playful and silly; They force us to tinker.  via GOOD, published August 1, 2013.

How Your Morning Coffee Can Make You a Better Designer ~ Tim Brown on how conscious observation, followed by iterating and testing potential solutions, can transform activities we take for granted. via GOOD, published August 2, 2013.

Why Some Great Ideas Catch And Others Don’t ~ Anesthesia caught on overnight, while antiseptic took decades. Why? via FastCo.Design, published July 30, 2013.

Literature Therapy Program Delivers Personalized Reading Lists ~ Bibliotherapy is a prescription reading service from the London-based cultural enterprise The School of Life that offers curated reading lists tailored to an individual’s struggles or personal situation. Patrons of the service book one-hour assessments with The School of Life for an in-person, telephone or Skype session with a well-read advisory team composed of an artist, a novelist and an independent bookstore owner. Instant prescriptions of recommended fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction are given at the end of the consultation, with a full prescription following within a few days. via PSFK, published July 29, 2013.

A Do-It-Yourself MBA? This Guy Did It–and So Can You ~ Victor Saad wrote his own masters-level education plan before becoming an entrepreneur. Now, he has founded an institute, The Experience Institute, to help others do the same. via Inc., published July 29, 2013.

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers ~ via James Clear, published July 29, 2013.

Five Ways to Ease Your Envy ~ Envy is a state of desiring something that someone else possesses. It’s a vicious emotion that can crush self-esteem, inspire efforts to undermine others’ successes, or even cause people to lash out violently. It also just feels horrible. So what can we do to disarm the green-eyed monster when it strikes? Here are five suggestions. via Greater Good Science Center, published August 1, 2013.

How to Kill Creativity ~ Teresa Amabile on the three components of creativity and the six general categories of managerial practices that affect creativity: challenge, freedom, resources, work-group, features, supervisory encouragement, and organizational support. via Sage Publications,  published July 12, 2006.

Unstoppable Learning ~ Learning is an integral part of human nature. But why do we — as adults — assume learning must be taught, tested and reinforced? Why do we put so much effort into making kids think and act like us? In this hour, TED speakers explore the ways babies and children learn, from the womb to the playground to the Web. via NPR TED Radio Hour.

Organize an Office Recess and Create Your Own Game ~  A toolkit to organize an office recess and create your own game. via GOOD, published August 1, 2013.

LOOK

Babilawn: Ornamental Air Conditioning Attachments ~ American designers Daniel Licalzi and Paul Genberg have developed a solution to help aid the visual pollution caused by air conditioners sticking out from one’s window. Influenced by the hanging garden’s of Babylon, ‘Babilawn‘, the faux grass mat attaches to the top of the A/C unit, giving users the opportunity to decorate their ‘lawn’ with miniature ornaments such as a white picket fence, yellow or blue daisies, and even a garden gnome. via designboom, published July 30, 2013.

“Uncarriable Carrier Bags” Remind Us, Cheekily, Not To Carry Bags ~ Mother London really wants you to stop carrying plastic bags, and the ad firm will shame you into compliance if necessary. Their yellow Uncarriable Carrier Bags are overlaid with pictures of objects that you wouldn’t want strangers on the street–let alone your own mama–to see you with. via FastCo.Create, published July 31, 2013.

Cakes Shaped Like Planets Have Scientifically Accurate Cross-Sections ~ via design taxi, published July 31, 2013. 

14 innovative & practical solutions to today’s most urgent education challenges ~ The 2013 WISE Awards Finalists from around the globe represent some of the best and most creative work being done in education by non-governmental organizations, charity groups, cultural institutions and the private sector. The 14 projects demonstrate practical solutions to today’s most urgent education challenges. Selected by a pre-Jury of international education experts, the project Finalists showcase unusual approaches to issues of access, quality, and employment needs. via WISE.

Could This Cardboard Furniture Replace Your Ikea Chairs And Bookshelves? Cardboard furniture for the urban nomad. Chairigami’s furniture is made from recycled cardboard and there’s no assembly required: They don’t use any glue or fasteners.~ via FastCo.Exist, published July 29, 2013.

Nobel Prize Winners Are Put to the Task of Drawing Their Discoveries ~ “The idea was, basically, to portray them in a way that was fun, personal and creative,” says Volker Steger. “I wanted to visually link them directly to their discoveries.” via Smithsonian Magazine, published July 23, 2013.

Look, No Grid! NYC Reimagined As A Circular Metropolis ~ Mapmaker Max Roberts‘ original designs aim to challenge conventional map dogma, a lot of which he says are outdated. Rather than emphasize straight lines, clean angles, and geographical accuracy, Roberts’ maps embody a more nuanced approach to mapping, one that combines aesthetics with usability. via FastCo.Design, published July 29, 2013.

WATCH

Find Your Creative Flow State ~ “Happiness is absorption.” – T.E. Lawrence. via Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe project, published July 30, 2013.

8 Things We Simply Don’t Understand About the Human Brain ~Despite all the recent advances in the cognitive and neurosciences, there’s still much about the human brain that we do not know. Here are 8 of the most baffling problems currently facing science. via io9, published July 29, 2013.

Educators, Rethink…* Your Assumptions About School To Become More Effective, Engaging & Fulfilled Teachers

One of life’s greatest pleasures, in my opinion, is the discovery of a simple idea that enables you to completely rethink…* and reappraise your understanding of yourself and the world. Not that the actual rethinking…*process is always pleasurable; it has been my experience that change comes with its fair share of growing pains. But once you have put in the hard work, and developed a deep and multilayered understanding of the idea, made it yours and truly changed your perspective to a new, richer and more nuanced vision of yourself and your reality, there is a special type of intense joy that comes from recognizing the extreme power and impact of simple and elegant thoughts. Carol Dweck‘s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success– How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential, provided me with such an opportunity for deep, assumption-shattering rethinking…* Dweck, who is a psychologist at Stanford University, has focused her research on achievement and success and elaborated a simple yet extremely impactful idea: success and fulfilling, engaging lives are linked to whether we approach our goals and existence with a fixed mindset–the belief that intelligence and personality traits are fixed, which leads to a desire to look effortlessly endowed and a primary framework of judgement for evaluating experience–or with a growth mindset–the belief that intelligence and character can be developed, which leads to a desire to learn and a framework of growth. Mindset, is a veritable treasure trove of powerful rethinking…* prompts and simple actionable advice which I will write about more fully in future posts. But for now, I’d like to share a passage that I came across earlier today which made me want to howl with recognition:

How can growth-mindset teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students? Are they just saints? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone can become a saint? The answer is that they’re not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. And about life.

Fixed-mindset teachers often think of themselves as finished products. Their role is simply to impart their knowledge. But doesn’t that get boring year after year? Standing before yet another crowd of faces and imparting. Now, that’s hard.

Seymour Sarason was a professor of mine when I was in graduate school. He was a wonderful educator, and he always told us to question assumptions. “There’s an assumption,” he said, “that schools are for students’ learning. Well, why aren’t they just as much for teachers’ learning?”  I never forgot that. In all of my teaching, I think about what I find fascinating and what I would love to learn more about. I use my teaching to grow, and that makes me, even after all these years, a fresh and eager teacher.

Source: Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. Print.

This is exactly what rethinked…* is about–we are an autonomous, innovation team whose mission is to help students and teachers question their assumptions and rethink…* their practices to optimize their learning and teaching and experience more fluid, nourishing, and engaging lives. We’ve worked with IDEO to explore the ways in which design thinking could be applied to K12 to optimize the learning and teaching experiences. We’ve worked with the Rotman School of Management to see how integrative thinking could be leveraged in rethinking…* education. We’ve partnered with Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth to integrate principles of positive psychology into the curriculum to teach character strengths such as grit and gratitude. But at the end of the day, all of these methods are just tools that we employ to rethink…* our doing and, just as importantly, iterate our questioning. Tools are lifeless, their impact comes from the purpose for which they are used and from the people who use them. And people are complex, multilayered beings ruled by their assumptions. By using different tools we broaden our field of inquiry, we try on new perspectives from which to evaluate our assumptions and in the process, we continue to refine our questions about what it means to thrive in our lives and learning. How? is a very important question–without it, nothing would get done, ideas would remain intangible, non actionable and therefore unimpactful. But why? must come first and it must infuse the process of iterating the how?

Ultimately, we’re not looking for definitive, all encompassing answers. Rather, we aim to keep moving towards more salient iterations of the age old question: what is the good life for man and how do we get there? And through our evolving questioning, to discover simple, impactful hacks such as the one proposed by Dr. Sarason– reframing how we approach teaching by questioning assumptions about school and rethinking…* their purpose with a simple question–to empower as many people as we can to take control of their experiences and learning and enjoy fluid, playful and fulfilling lives.

Check out Joy’s post, What Do We Assume About School and Learning? and try to see how many different ways you can rethink…* the assumptions he’s collected.

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