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Month July 2014

Rethinking …* Process – Understanding & Embracing the Emotional & Subjective Aspects of Venturing Into the Unknown

“We’d all studied science as if it’s a series of logical steps between question and answer. But doing research is nothing like that. At the same time, I was also studying to be an improvisation theater actor. So physics by day and by night–laughing, jumping, singing, playing my guitar. Improvisation theater, just like science goes into the unknown because you have to make a scene on stage without a director, without a script, without having any idea what you’ll portray or what the other characters will do. But unlike science, improvisation theater, they tell you from day one what’s going to happen to you when you get on stage: you’re going to fail miserably. You’re going to get stuck, and we would practice staying creative inside that stuck place.” – Uri Alon

 

In this TED talk, systems biologist, Uri Alon, urges us to rethink our schema of science–not as a linear path from point A to point B–but as a courageous, often highly uncomfortable, uncharted flight into the unknown. Our cultural emphasis on answers over process often leads to discouragement and feelings of alienation for those willing to take a risk and venture into the fertile lands of the unknown. Uri drew from his work in improv theater to reframe and work through the discomfort of process in his scientific research and is now attempting to help other researchers name, accept, and understand the various emotional and subjective aspects of venturing into the unknown.

While Uri’s talk is centered primarily around the sciences, he provides some valuable insights on reframing, understanding and thriving within the discomfort of the unknown that can be translated to any field or experience that requires pushing past the known.

*

The Empathic Potential of Storytelling – Creating Spaces to Exchange Stories with Strangers & Cultivate Empathy…*

The Empathic Potential of Storytelling - Creating Spaces to Exchange Stories with Strangers & Cultivate Empathy...*  | rethinked.org

“I think we need to think about bringing empathy into our every day lives in a very sort of habitual way. Socrates said that the way we live a wise and good life was to know thyself. And we’ve generally thought of that as being about being self-reflective, looking in at ourselves. It’s been about introspection. But I think, in the 21st century, we need to recognize that to know thyself is something that can also be achieved by stepping outside yourself, by discovering other people’s lives. And I think empathy is the way to revolutionize our own philosophies of life, to become more outrospective and to create the revolution of human relationships that I think we so desperately need.” – Roman Krznaric

Tune in to any news outlet today and the urgency of Krznaric’s message about our need to bring empathy into our every day lives and revolutionize human relationships should be quite clear. We need to create, nurture and seek out spaces where we may step outside ourselves and discover the lives of other people. We need platforms that allow us to appraise the “Other,” not as a collection of labels, stereotypes and prejudices, but as fellow dreamers and worriers–as human beings, full of hopes and fears, longings and potential. We need tools and spaces to recognize ourselves in strangers. Here are three such spaces, each exploring, in its own way, the power of storytelling to nurture empathy.

 

20 Day Stranger  }

20 Day Stranger is an iPhone app that reveals intimate, shared connections between two anonymous individuals. It’s a mobile experience that exchanges one person’s experience of the world with another’s, while preserving anonymity on both sides.

For 20 days, you and a stranger will experience the world in your own way, together. You’ll never know who it is or exactly where they are, but we hope it will reveal enough about someone to build your imagination of their life… and more broadly, the imagination of strangers everywhere.

20 Day Stranger from Playful Systems on Vimeo.

*

Judged.co }

It started when Catherine Hoke, founder of Defy Ventures, asked: “What if you were only known for the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life?” The 1,500 attendees of Brooklyn Beta, a popular tech conference, fell silent with the question. How do ex-convicts get past their troubled beginnings? The stigma of conviction? The judgment of others? Can former criminals really change their hustle? Is it possible for people to make a 180-degree turn, change their habits, and start over? Defy is finding the answers by helping ex-convicts start their own businesses, and giving them a chance to change their path and repave their future. So, what does that have to do with us? We’re not criminals. We’ve led privileged lives and make a living as creatives. But Catherine’s mission struck a chord with us. So we decided to get involved. To talk to Defy Ventures graduates and hear their stories. To use our talents to make sure as many people as possible are inspired by what organizations like Defy are doing. And, maybe most importantly, to add depth and meaning to an often commercial or superficial virtual world. Over the months that passed, the stories kept resonating in our heads. Defy graduates didn’t have the opportunities we did. But they now have the power to impact the lives of the next generation. By bringing these positive role models into the spotlight, we have the chance to contribute to something real. Something good. Something that goes far beyond appearance, all the way to inspiration. Listen to these stories. We think they’ll inspire you too.

*

{ NARRATIVE 4

Narrative 4 is a global organization headed up by some of the world’s most renowned and influential authors, artists and community leaders who have come together to promote empathy through the exchange of stories. In an effort to break down barriers and shatter stereotypes, N4 encourages people to walk in each other’s shoes and prove that not only does every story matter, every life matters.

Narrative4 from Narrative 4 on Vimeo.

*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED talk – Flow: The Secret to Happiness

 

As I’m nearing the end of the Positive Psychology cycle of the rethinked*annex project, I have decided to include two additional ideas–flow and growth mindset–before moving on to the next and final cycle. Because the meaningful happy life is so deeply dependent on the successful and recurring deployment of one’s signature strengths in as many of life’s arenas as possible, I have decided to turn to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow for some additional guidance on how to nurture and cultivate my pursuit of what Seligman terms, “the gratifications.” And because the nurturing and deployment of strengths and skills can be so radically improved by the cultivation of a growth mindset, I have decided to reread Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ll share a couple more interventions to experiment with based on these two ideas in the coming weeks.

For now, I invite you to watch Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk – Flow, the secret to happiness, in which he gives some context to his research around the core question of “what makes life worth living?” and gives an overview of the flow experience.

{ Managing the Fear of Change } 7 Interventions to Make Big Changes Feel Small & Achievable …*

In this TEDxTalk, conflict mediator and strategist, Priya Parker shares seven interventions to overcome the fear of change that so often paralyzes and keeps us from living the deeply meaningful and impactful lives we long for. The seven experiments that Priya suggests are based on research in neuroscience, business management, conflict resolution and the arts and share the common aim of making big changes feel small and achievable:

  1. The Obituary Test
  2. The Passion Comic Strip
  3. The Backward Elevator Test
  4. The Life Sentence
  5. The Dwindling Cash Experiment
  6. The Habit of Helping Others
  7. The Farewell Party Evite

watch, experiment & rethink …

8-Bit Philosophy — A Brilliant Blending of Video Games & Philosophy …*

8-Bit Philosophy is a new(ish) online video series that is sure to delight gamers, philosophers, knowmads and lovers of chance encounters! 8-Bit Philosophy is the brainchild of Greg Edwards, aka. Sparky Sweets, PhD. You may have come across Sparky’s other online show: Thug Notes, marketed as a mix of classical literature and original gangster.

8-Bit Philosophy–“where gaming makes you smart”– examines various complex philosophical works–from Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel to Sartre— by setting and exploring them in a video game environment. The result is deeply engaging, funny and manages to make often highly abstract ideas tangible and easy to understand.

watch, learn & rethink …

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?  | rethinked.org

I haven’t yet had a chance to do the gratitude night exercise suggested by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, so I have no Positive Psychology interventions to report on today. I thought I’d ask YOU about how you go about cultivating happiness and well-being in your daily life. What habits, actions, tools or mindsets have you tried and adopted to nurture and increase your well-being? How do you make yourself happy?

Let me know * 

{ Rethinking Our Definition of Success } Tina Roth Eisenberg’s 5 Personal Rules for Life & Work …*

“I think a lot about what it means to be a good mom and I think a lot about what it means to be a good boss. And if I’ve learned one thing in doing both, it’s that in having these roles you need to really be able to articulate what you stand for, what you believe in and what your values are. And I believe in an environment of kindness, respect and trust. I believe in an environment where you can be vulnerable and make mistakes. I believe in an environment where we push each other to be better and shine the light on others. What I’m secretly hoping for is a new measure for success that goes beyond money and power. I measure success with the happiness I see around me and with the personal growth I see around me. I firmly believe that we all can make a difference, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you lead a team of two people or a company of five hundred. If your team members go home feeling fulfilled, happy, appreciated, they’re going to be a better spouse, they’re going to be a better mom, a better dad, and they’re just going to be happier members of the society. So I’m obviously no expert on leadership, and I’m far from perfect, but what I’m trying to be is just the best mom and the best boss that I can be. And if you just take one thing away from this talk, I would hope for it to be that when you go back to your work, to your families, that you really think about what you can do to bring just a little bit more heart, a little bit more kindness, a little bit more sense of generosity and play into your environments. And if you don’t know where to start, I suggest you empty out one of your desk drawers and you fill it with confetti.”  – Tina Roth Eisenberg 

Here’s a wonderful talk by rethinked * favorite, Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka Swiss Miss in which she shares her five personal rules for life and work and proposes a new definition of success based on kindness, generosity, heart and personal growth.

{ TINA’S 5 PERSONAL RULES FOR LIFE & WORK

  1. Embrace your superpower – own it and use it
  2. Don’t complain, make things better
  3. Choose wisely who you hang out with
  4. Don’t forget to play
  5. Push to be better

Tina Roth Eisenberg: 5 Rules for Making an Impact from 99U on Vimeo.

{ rethinked*annex } Have a Beautiful Day …* – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Have a Beautiful Day ...* - Adopt or Rethink? | rethinked.org ( photograph: Elsa Fridman )

{ THE EXERCISE

I assign you (as I do my students) to have a beautiful day. Set aside a free day this month to indulge in your favorite pleasures. Pamper yourself. Design, in writing, what you will do from hour to hour. Use as many of the techniques above as you can. Do not let the bustle of life interfere, and carry out the plan. (111)

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …*

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

{ WHAT I LIKED

I have always loved surprises. In fact, I love them so much that when I was younger, I would give a portion of my allowance back to my mother and ask her to buy me a gift. The object mattered little, my immense pleasure in receiving the gift was the delight of discovering what my mother had selected. Now that I am older, I have wondered what it was about this notion of surprise that I loved so dearly. I think what it comes down to is being led on an experience by someone else. It is a tremendous gift–other people’s time and intent– and surprises comprise both of those variables. Someone else has taken the time to plan out a discovery, whether in the form of an object or experience, they believe will delight you. Sadly, it is something which occurs only very rarely in daily life. Perhaps we surprise a loved one on their birthday or a special occasion, but in the course of the everyday when do we lead other people on journeys we have created for them? Obviously, in the case of the Have A Beautiful Day exercise, there was little element of surprise, since I engineered the experience for myself but I found great pleasure and joy in creating, in a very intentional sort of way, a journey for myself.

I also appreciated how the exercise helped me achieve happiness in the past, present and future. Planning out my day allowed me to savor the anticipation of the pleasures, big and small, that I had planned for my beautiful day. I paid particular attention to the details–I planned the colors that would infuse my day–from my dress to my lipstick, to the color of the mug I would drink my coffee in–and reminisced about the memories and feeling tones that I associate with each of these colors. I thought very concretely about ways to bask in and savor the small, often overlooked, pleasures of each moment–I decided to wake up early, watch the sunrise, and enjoy the delicious feeling of getting back in bed. Having thought out in such detail these small variables allowed me to be more aware and appreciative of them as they occurred in the course of my beautiful day. I felt very present and aware of each moment.

My gratitude journaling practice (along with this post reflecting on the experience) helped me relive the best moments of the day and experience once more, retrospectively, the pleasures and happiness of my beautiful day.

{ FRICTION POINTS

None. I only wish I had made a habit of a monthly “Have A Beautiful Day” sooner. I also find it is a great loss we do not assign these types of exercises in schools alongside algebra problems and english essays. As my review of Positive Psychology has taught me, happiness is something to be nurtured and cultivated. There are tangible actions and habits to increase well-being. The Have a Beautiful Day is an easy and impactful way to start doing just that and it is adaptable to all age groups so why are we not teaching our students to do this?

{ NEXT STEPS } 

This is a keeper. I intend on setting aside one day each month to repeat the exercise and I urge you to try it out for yourself, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

*

Ernest Hemingway: “As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come.”

Ernest Hemingway: "As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come." | rethinked.org

From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?” -Ernest Hemingway

Today we are celebrating Ernest Hemingway’s birthday here at rethinked* Other than being a great and completely superfluous excuse for gorging ourselves on cupcakes, it is a splendid time to reflect on some of his insights on the creative process. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his 1958 interview with the Paris Review.

eat [cup]cakes, reflect, create & rethink …* 

– On the Feeling Tones of the Creative Process – 

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

 

– On Knowing When to Stop – 

But if you stopped when you knew what would happen next, you can go on. As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come.

 

– On Solitude, the Passing of Time & the Creative Act – 

The further you go in writing the more alone you are. Most of your best and oldest friends die. Others move away. You do not see them except rarely, but you write and have much the same contact with them as though you were together at the café in the old days. You exchange comic, sometimes cheerfully obscene and irresponsible letters, and it is almost as good as talking. But you are more alone because that is how you must work and the time to work is shorter all the time and if you waste it you feel you have committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness.

 

– On Enhancing One’s Craft By Learning From Other Fields – 

I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.

 

– On the Artist – Audience Relationship & the Need For a Work of Art to Stand Alone –  

Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.

A sensible question is neither a delight nor an annoyance. I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

 

– On the Only Constant of the Creative Act Being Change & Movement – 

Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.

 

– On Competition – 

I used to try to write better than certain dead writers of whose value I was certain. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

 

– On Reminding Oneself that Creating Something Out of Nothing Is Always Difficult & Often Involves Some Degree of Despair – 

I read them [his own novels] sometimes to cheer me up when it is hard to write and then I remember that it was always difficult and how nearly impossible it was sometimes.

 

– On the Importance of Observing & Soaking Up Experience – 

If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything he sees goes into the great reserve of things he knows or has seen.

 

– On His Principle of the Iceberg – 

If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story. 

[…]

First I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened. This is very hard to do and I’ve worked at it very hard.

Anyway, to skip how it is done, I had unbelievable luck this time and could convey the experience completely and have it be one that no one had ever conveyed. The luck was that I had a good man and a good boy and lately writers have forgotten there still are such things. Then the ocean is worth writing about just as man is. So I was lucky there. I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.

*

Source: Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21. The Paris Review, Spring 1958

{ The Independent Project …* } What If Students Designed Their Own Learning?

A few weeks ago I posted a deeply insightful observation from John Maeda about the disconnect between thinking and doing in academia. Maeda argued that the gift of ideas is the curse of doing nothing and highlighted the stigma around “doing” in the world of pure academia. I posed the question: How might we help students become fluent in both literacies of doing and thinking? Just this morning I read an interesting article on Ashoka’s Start Empathy blog about the importance of college students taking ownership of their education by engaging with the myriad learning opportunities surrounding them both in and outside the classroom. The quote below really struck a chord with me and I thought it highlighted a potent entryway into rethinking * the harmful dichotomies we have created between thinking and doing and being students and “real” people functioning in the “real” world:

“The very best students wring the veritable sponge of their institution for every last drop of value. They assume ownership of their education by taking advantage of all the available resources. They let what they learn shape them as human beings so that when the mantle of “student” eventually falls away, a knowledgeable, prepared, and motivated person remains underneath.” – Engaged Learning, Engaged Living 

What might this process look like? How do we enable the young minds that are entrusted to us to engage with and construct their learning in a way that shapes them as human beings rather than simply as “students”–an identity which is context-specific and thus ephemeral (and far too often, is experienced as imposed and begrudged by children who are disengaged and cannot wait to shed the “student” label, eagerly awaiting emancipation from the school system)? In other words, how might we produce ‘knowmads’–lifelong, engaged and passionate learners? One fantastic initiative, which attempts to do just that, is The Independent Project, started by a high school student, Sam Levin, in 2010.

The Independent Project is an alternative student driven school-within-a-school that was started at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

The idea for The Independent Project came about from that student’s own experience of high school, and his observation of the experiences of his peers. The two main things he felt were missing from many high school classrooms were engagement and mastery. He also felt that even students who were engaged were often learning material that was not very intellectually valuable. They were learning lots of information, but very little about how to obtain information on their own, or even create new information. His intent was to design a school in which students would be fully engaged in and passionate about what they were learning, would have the experience of truly mastering something, or developing expertise in something, and would be learning how to learn. He felt that the most important ingredient to a school like that would be that it was student-driven. Research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on engagement suggested that if students have more control over their learning, they will be more engaged, excited, and committed to their studies. He also felt that it was important for the school to be focused on methods rather than specific topics, having students work like actual scientists, mathematicians, or writers. – Sam Levin’s ‘White Paper’ on The Independent Project 

The pilot for the Independent Project ran for one semester, accepting eight students ranging in grade levels and academic ability, and was divided into four parts: Orientation, The Sciences, The Arts, and The Collective Endeavor. The students’ days were broken up into collective learning in the mornings and independent, project-based, inquiry-led learning in the afternoons. Watch the two videos below, produced by the students themselves, to learn more about The Independent Project. Also be sure to check out Sam Levin’s White Paper on the project for a detailed overview of the pilot and helpful tips, ideas and insights on the project.

question, engage & rethink …*

Hat Tip: This Is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like via MindShift, published July 14, 2014

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