Tag children

{ On “Doing” Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back

{ On "Doing" Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back | rethinked.org

“By encouraging children to examine the world from perspectives other than their own, philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back.” – Giacomo Esposito

I was thrilled to discover the work of The Philosophy Foundation through Giacomo Esposito’s deeply relevant article, Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools. The Philosophy Foundation is a UK based, award winning educational charity raising aspirations and attainment through doing philosophical enquiry in the classroom.

Our aim is to make ‘Reasoning’ the 4th ‘R’ in education – by giving children the tools to help them think critically, creatively, cohesively and autonomously we aim to fill the gaps in education and consequently benefit society as a whole. 

Philosophy can help to shape the way we think and live in the world. Learning to think clearly and creatively helps in many ways – the most obvious being the effect it has upon one’s actions.

At the core of The Philosophy Foundation ‘s work is the belief that thinking is a capacity–a habit of mind–and that thinking well requires learning and practice.

It is the job of our specialist philosophy teachers to identify and draw out from the children philosophical material, and to encourage them to adopt a philosophical attitude. Our aim is to cultivate the habit of thinking and we do not believe that this will come about simply by giving them the opportunity to think. Like anything else it needs to be learnt. So the facilitation should include teaching and guidance. Philosophy is not something that can be learnt by being told a list of propositional facts about what it is, it is best learnt by modelling. In other words, the children will learn how to do philosophy best by seeing it done well on a regular basis by a skilled philosophy teacher.

Head over to The Philosophy Foundation website to learn more about the fantastic work they are doing and check out their many excellent resources to start doing philosophy with the children in your own life.

Below are some highlights from Esposito’s article, first published on The Guardian, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

THINK, LEARN, DO . . . * 


The sessions I run usually begin with a story or short “stimulus” which draws on a traditional philosophical problem, but reframes it to make it more engaging for a younger audience. The story then ends with a question, and a discussion ensues. Throughout the class, I try to take a backseat; I’m there to help draw out the children’s thoughts, but it’s really for them to decide where the discussion goes and, crucially, what they think. In fact, rather than teaching philosophy, a more accurate description of my job is “doing” philosophy with children.

Children can be fantastic at doing philosophy. Their natural disposition to wonder at the world is given free rein during lessons. Recently I was running a session about time travel. In response to the claim that “time is a feeling”, a 10-year-old boy thought hard for about a minute and then said: “Time is different for us than it is for the universe, because 100 years passes in a flash for the universe, but seems a long time to us … so time is a bit like a feeling.”

[ … ]

At its core, philosophy is about thinking and reasoning well. It’s about learning how to be logical, present arguments, and spot bad ones. Yes, this is often done through strange, improbable examples, which can feel removed from – and therefore irrelevant to – the real world (like the tree in the forest). But these exercises in mental gymnastics train the mind to think more clearly and creatively, which benefits all aspects of life.

As well as learning how to naturally construct arguments, the children are also invited to question them – both their classmates and their own. When it seems like there’s a firm, unwavering consensus across the class, I only have to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of an “imaginary disagreer”, before a flurry of hands appears.

. . . *

Source: Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools by Giacomo Esposito via The Guardian, published July 13, 2015

“I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open” – Our Interview With RAE, Artist …*

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

 

Chances are you’ve likely come across prolific Brooklyn based artist RAE‘s work before. If you’ve spent any time in NYC, it is almost a certainty that you’ve seen some of his stickers, installations or murals. RAE’s art is vibrant, colorful, dynamic and enigmatic and never fails to make me stop and smile when I chance upon it. I have often wondered about the person behind the art and reached out to RAE to ask him my nine questions about his heart, his fears and his notion of the good life. I am delighted that he agreed to participate in our interview series. His responses, as you’ll see below, are full of the same poetic whimsy, depth and energy as his artwork. You can connect with RAE on Twitter @RAE_BK or follow him on Instagram @rae_bk.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I have a cat that speaks to me. She told me she doesn’t want to lead such a nocturnal, lazy and mundane existence. So I made a hole in the bottom of my fence so she can go out and explore the neighborhood. I may take her to see Europe one of these days. In the beginning she was just going out for short trips but now she’s gone for days. I am about to outfit her with a small camera to see where she winds up and what she does in a day. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

I fear that more and more people will make decisions on social and/or political issues based on what their group or party affiliation supports rather than look at issues on a case by case basis.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Talk Talk Mural & Photograph by RAE

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I was in Ethiopia in 2014 and noticed there was pretty much no public spaces for kids to play. In Addis, the capital city, I finally spotted a playground but only one kid was inside playing while others watched from behind a small fence. The fence was one they could have easily climbed over and joined in but they chose not to. Instead they stared longingly at the one kid inside who was laughing and enjoying the zip-line ride and swings all to herself. Next to the entrance of the park was a security guard who told me that the playground belonged to the large hotel behind it and they only allowed guests staying there to use it. It was bitter sweet to see one child enjoying themselves so much while the others couldn’t even get a sniff of what it felt like to soar through the air just for the fun of it.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Allow yourself extra time and you can do the work of many alone.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

In high school I was a delivery boy at a butcher shop in Brooklyn then later became a deli counter person and then sort of an unofficial manager. I worked there for about 5 years. One day a lady who often shopped there asked me for help and after I assisted her she turned to me and said, “You’re really good at your job. Keep going the way you are and one day you’ll be manager of this place.” For the rest of the work day I kept staring through this large glass window into the back of the store where all the older butchers and meat packers worked. I kept thinking about how each one told me at one time or another of the big dreams they had. Some claimed they still planned on following through with them. I quit the next day.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

When I was younger I used to think a “good life” meant having what “you,” as an individual, wanted. Money, success, fame, etc, but as soon as I got a small taste of that I realized it feels very hollow if the people around you don’t have the means to at least make ends meet. So many hardworking people can’t pay the bills no matter how many hours they work in a week. Having the good life means being able to uplift others that want to do for themselves. I like it when someone gets an opportunity and makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there and pry that shit open.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN? 

Never hold people to the high standards you set for yourself. You’ll be disappointed more often than not. And when you do find those that operate on the same level take note and appreciate rather than be jealous.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

I have several….

How big is the universe?
Will time travel ever be possible?
Will I ever get out of this life alive?
Would I trade in my life up to this point to start over again?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Books: “The Measure of a Man” by Martin Luther King Jr.
            “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt
Movies: Amores Perros, Dead Man, Little Odessa, Rocks With Wings (the documentary film)

. . . *

THANK YOU, RAE!

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Subway Sculpture & Photograph by RAE

 

“Gratitude is the antidote to fear” – Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician …*

"Gratitude is the antidote to fear." - Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: David Schloss

Mario the Magician – photo credit: David Schloss

I first discovered Mario and his delightful take on magic by serendipitously watching a short video (now turned into a full length documentary) on his approach to magic. What really struck me about Mario, a self-described, “wandering traveler turned maker/magician,” is the level of artistry and invention that goes into each of his magic tricks. Mario is a true craftsman of magic, deriving pride and joy in creating his own clever and delightful contraptions. If you’re in or around NYC, you can book Mario to come enchant and awe your children with his uplifting, inventive, and highly interactive program for ages 4 to 10. And now, for everyone, here is Mario’s interview –the perfect way to infuse a hefty dose of wonder, gratitude and whimsy into your Friday and kick off the weekend on a magical note. Connect with Mario @MarioMagician.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I was trying to build an Easter egg finder. I found out that an Arduino micro controller can transmit an AM radio signal around 800Kz. Arduino has become a worldwide go-to tool for experimenting with electronics, and it’s super cheap. I had an idea to make an antenna contraption for kids, with analog gauges that swing like crazy when in proximity of a hidden Easter egg. I managed to squeeze the little transmitter into a plastic egg, but the receiver part was tricky. AM radio waves can get interference pretty easily. I tried to build a super simple receiver that would only pick up the specific station the Arduino transmitted. It was tough! Long story short, I ended up buying a children’s AM radio kit and replaced the tuning capacitor with a fixed one. I added little analog gauges from a 1980’s stereo and they swung around like crazy! It did work, though not as strong as I intended, and I didn’t make it in time for Easter Sunday. Ah well – next year!

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

Keeping my fear in control has been a major focus of mine over the past few years. Starting a family really brings life into full circle. I had to rewire my brain after my first child was born. You know, I spent my twenties breaking every rule I possibly could, and now in my thirties, I spend all my time trying to remember how to follow them again. Reviving the faith of my childhood has been the best life decision I’ve made. Faith in God, Christ, Universe. Because everything we see with our eyes is temporary. People will let you down, always. But people are imperfect for a reason. Innovation succeeds because of imperfection. We are at our best in the midst of crisis and fear. Running away from fear, I fail. Dwelling in my fear, I fail. In hard times, dwelling on things that I’m grateful for changes the direction of my fears. Gratitude is the antidote to fear.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO? 

Being out in the middle of America somewhere, lost in an antique indoor flea market, with 500 dollars cash in my pocket, holding my wife’s hand. In a parking lot at some small town classic car show. Chatting it up with some old man who rebuilt a VW beetle into a custom street machine, all from scratch. Holding my daughter up into the sunlight, swinging her as a street performer is playing his guitar on a Sunday afternoon. When I am about to perform a magic show, squished in a living room in Tribeca. These things delight my heart.

I surrender to the moment. I am most at peace when I have all my tools around my 1967 Bradley GT, and it’s NOT running. When I have pieces on the floor, not knowing why it’s not working. Why do I feel peace when I “should” be stressed? There is something that excites me in this situation. My scattered tools become cold water on a hot day. My unsolved problem, a meal that I take my time eating. It’s a form of meditation that gives me purpose. I surrender to unsolved problems, ones that will lead me to create something that might not yet exist in the world.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

Being on Sesame Street. But before that… I overheard someone once after a magic show say that I was all hype and no show. It destroyed me. I went home broken. It really stung. I took that and spent two years building my own magic tricks. Using custom electronics, 3d printing, cigar boxes, cardboard, tape, hot glue, bottle caps, etc… Now I am still learning, but at least I didn’t give up. I took something that gave me a lot of fear, and turned it around. And that became me. It became my niche. My handmade props, my original routines and my integration of electronics into my art have started to bring me places I never imagined.

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Living in truth. Truth with all your senses. Love. When you receive love it makes you feel supernatural. To love when you receive hate. Love when you receive hurt. Love when you feel cheated. Love when others have more than you. Letting go. Distinguishing what to let go. I know which are my greatest projects… the ones I was able to let go of at the end of the day. I could work through the night, but I wouldn’t be giving it my best. Not spreading yourself too thin. Focusing. Find what makes you lose sleep because you love it so much. Live in that. And grace. Always thinking the best of people. Doing unto others what you would want done to yourself. We forget this rule so much. I know I do – every time I’m driving on the West Side Highway in Manhattan! Haha!

 COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

I have a seven month old son named Bear Gideon. He is the happiest child I have ever seen. We put him on a swing at the park recently. He is really chubby and big for his age. He sat back on the chair like a chubby Buddha giggling as our daughter Gigi pushed him. I watched Gigi push him gently as he giggled more and more. Gigi and Bear live the art of being human. I’m looked at my wife, Katie, and thought, “Damn. We created these little creatures, and now they are entertaining themselves.” I think the art of being human is sacrifice. I honor great leaders who chose to really give rather than receive. I believe without any doubt that Jesus, this homeless man from a small town, died for humanity, then rose from the dead and disrupted everything. I believe Buddha has reincarnated many times. What am I trying to say? Katie and I have chosen a path to have and raise children. This is the most sacrificing decision we have ever made. I chose this path because I believe I have come across something great. A wife that completes me. A career that makes children laugh and believe in new things. I surrendered the idea of being the next Lance Burton or David Copperfield years ago. I loved magic so much that I started taking kids’ shows from other magicians who didn’t want them. Children’s magic is so often looked upon as secondary entertainment. Two years after that decision, we started paying our rent just doing magic. It wasn’t until then that I started realizing that the very thing I was running away from was the thing I was made to do. I LOVE performing for kids. I LOVE it.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

What will I make next week? How will I make it?

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Benny and Joon. Chaplin’s The Circus. YouTube videos of The Great Ballentine, George Carl, Steve Martin on Johnny Carson, Tommy Cooper.

. . . *

THANK YOU, MARIO!

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It?

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would share an excerpt from a poignant opinion piece that Aja Monet published last week in response to the unfolding events in Baltimore:

A mother publicly beats her son “rioting” in the streets of Baltimore. The spectators weigh in on the subject. There are some things that are sacred. We ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. Mother is sacred. Children are where mother places dreams and visions not in some philosophical and ideological way but physically, very bodily. They are our offering and sacrifice. Our children are extensions of us, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. Who is loving our children if not us? Who is bearing them, protecting them, raising them? We cannot do this alone.

As a son tries to declare himself a man, to assert his right to express freedom and dignity, a mother aches with the conflict of wanting to protect him from this system. It is a system she knows is bent on beating him down and her down, too. It is upsetting because a Black mother knows what speaking up can result in for Black boys and girls. When we see any son or daughter die, it is our son and daughter that has died too. We do not want more casualties. Where is the depth in our rage? How do we expand the narrative verses simply shifting it?

Source: Aja Monet: The Love that Develops in a Foxhole

With her characteristic poignancy and powerful voice, Monet indirectly reminds us of something we would all do well to dwell on this Mother’s Day: that each of us–white, black, and every shade beyond and in between–starts out as a question mark. I think it’s a powerful trigger for empathy to think of the universal experience that all mothers have when they first become aware of the life growing inside them. Who will this child be? Who will he or she become? What will break and delight their heart? How will I protect that little heart and help it soar? Will she have my hands or her father’s eyes? What will he like? What world will she grow up in?

Before we learn the narrow and destructive cultural associations of color, we are all blobs of cells and potential deep in our mothers’ wombs. The questions continue, we are never ‘resolved’–we all live our lives amidst a profusion of doubts, hopes, fears, joys and pains. We all struggle to define ourselves and find our place in the world. We are, all throughout our lives, a question mark to ourselves and those around us. Trying to shove all this unknown and potential into reductive cultural categories is not only an inadequate appraisal of the fullness of the human being, but much more erosive and malignant, it obscures our common humanity and shared experience of the thrilling and complex business of humanness. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

Speaking of mothers and race, my earliest memory of race happened when I was four. My mother took me to the toy store and told me I could pick out any baby doll I wanted as long as it was a black doll. I threw a fit. I didn’t want a black baby doll, I wanted a white one. Clearly, I had already been exposed to ideas of race before this conscious memory since as a white little girl, I felt my dolls should be white too. My mother didn’t relent and when grumpily I picked one out, I decided I would name it Rose. My mother felt strongly that I should identify with humans and for a long time, race wasn’t really something I thought about. But I’ve come to realize that this stance of colorblindness comes from privilege–the privilege of having a mother who was relentless in trying to teach me to value people for their character rather than their skin color, but also the shameful and outrageous cultural privilege of being white. Where is the depth in our rage?

Monet continues:

This moment in history is a moment where we have no choice but to destroy and to create. When we talk about Baltimore, let us also talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. I walked into a poetry workshop of teenagers yesterday afternoon and I want to believe that the work we do is how we pick up the pieces of what’s left, how we sweep the debris after the soot of our suffering settles. We unravel before each other reaching for words. Americans only reach for things that are already in their hands. We asked that we stretch and grab what wasn’t already there; handed to us. I pleaded with my students, leap, take, grab, fly, clench, fist, and fight—revolt. We left the room a little heavier, with more arsenal, a sense of more self than we had walked in with, calloused palms and swift blows. This is our birthright, not a land or object. It is our ability to communicate our humanity. It is our soul. It is our right to imagine a world where we create the language for our liberation not merely to become literati but inventors. If language is how we arrange the world, how has it been used to limit our worldviews? How has it been used to expand it?

In generation hash tag, we use catchphrases and slogans more than meaning. If we aren’t making liberation and love a part of our everyday lifestyle, I want no part in your rhetoric, constantly adhering to and navigating the white gaze.

All lives matter. It stands as a shameful reminder of our systemic failures to protect, celebrate and uphold our sacredness as human beings that in 2015 we need to be reminded that black lives matter too. In the end, we all bleed the same color. Perhaps that’s a sentimental image, but we ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. I’m not advocating for colorblindness– race is an issue, we have made it so, let us talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. We are only given nine months reprieve before the world attempts to stuff us into its categories and define us. The categories are man-made and arbitrary but the consequences are tragically real and cut deep, in real flesh. Children die. Mothers weep. We, of all colors, need to rethink this. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

I leave you with the rallying call for disrupting the narrative from another poet.

Dis poem will not change things
Dis poem need to be changed
Dis poem is a rebirth of a people
Arizin’ awaking understandin’
Dis poem speak is speakin’ have spoken
Dis poem shall continue even when poets have stopped writin’
Dis poem shall survive you me it shall linger in history
In your mind, in time forever
Dis poem is time only time will tell
Dis poem is still not written, dis poem has no poet
Dis poem is just a part of the story
His-story her-story our-story the story still untold
Dis poem is now ringin talkin irritatin
Makin’ you want to stop it, but dis poem will not stop
Dis poem is long cannot be short
Dis poem cannot be tamed cannot be blamed
The story is still not told about dis poem

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

{ Yes, And…* } Applied Improvisation, Role-Playing Games & the Importance of Retaining A Childlike Capacity for Wonder …*

{ Yes, And...*  } Applied Improvisation, Role-Playing Games & the Importance of Retaining A Childlike Capacity for Wonder ...* | rethinked.org -Photo: Elsa Fridman

A new study on the beneficial effects of positive emotion on physical health has been popping up all over my newsfeed this week. On the Greater Good Science Center blog, Yasmin Anwar writes;

“Researchers have linked positive emotions—especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality—with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

While cytokines are necessary to fighting off disease and infection, continuously elevated levels have been linked with chronic inflammation and a whole host of attending disorders such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, clinical depression and Alzheimer’s disease to name few.

In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue, known as oral mucosal transudate, taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.” (Can Awe Boost Health?)

While the exact relationship between levels of cytokines and the frequency at which individuals are able to experience awe remains unclear, on the Science of Us blog, Melissa Dahl quotes the study’s lead authorJennifer Stellar explaining why cytokine levels function as good predictors of one’s ability to experience positive emotion:

“One reason is that proinflammatory cytokines encourage social withdrawal and reduce exploration, which would serve the adaptive purpose of helping an individual recover from injury or sickness. … [A]we is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation.”

One prompt for cultivating more awe in one’s life then, would be to be more intentional about fostering our desire to explore and connect with those around us and our environments. One of the best ways to do just that, which we are all naturally very good at, (or at least were at some point in our lives) is through play. Sadly, for many of us, play is something that gets pushed to the background as we age and we wake up one day worrying we’d look silly or be wasting our time should we engage in play activities. I was happy to come across two resources this week that each addressed this point and showed the importance and benefits of engaging in play as adults. So if better health isn’t motivation enough, check out the two resources below to learn about how play and more generally, being open to the moment, the environment and those around you, comes with a host of social, professional and cognitive benefits.

Patrick Allan details The Surprising Benefits of Role-Playing Games (and How to Get Started) over on Lifehacker. Meanwhile, in the TEDx talk below, Paul Jackson, founder of the Applied Improvisation Network looks at how improvisation skills are in fact life skills which are relevant to everyone– individuals and organizations alike:

“One of the areas that they’re taking [applied improvisation] into now is in business schools. Improvisation is on the agenda of more than half of the top twenty business schools around the world. Leaders are coming to learn skills for the future to build and create new types of organizations in which “yes…and” can be a core part. They learn for example the importance of collaborating with each other and with their colleagues and how to deal with uncertainty and being more confident in a world of complexity and constant change; and these are skills that are available and useful to us all.”


Applying Improvisation: The Power of ‘Yes…And’: Paul Z Jackson at TEDxLSE

“You have two choices in life: you can say no and be rewarded with safety; or you can say yes and be rewarded with adventure.”

Watch Walter Mischel Discuss the Marshmallow Test & Strategies for Delaying Gratification…*

“The successful delaying of gratification is very much about how you represent the object of desire.” – Walter Mischel

Looking for some last minute strategies for self-regulation before sitting down to your Thanksgiving meal? You’re in luck, here’s a great short video from the RSA featuring Walter Mischel discussing his motivation for creating his now famous Marshmallow Test sets of experiments and some of his findings on delayed gratification, willpower and self-control.

source: RSA – What Marshmallows Can Tell Us About Self Control

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 …*

Harper’s Playground: Rethinking the Typical Playground to Create A More Inclusive World …*

“A quality play area is more than just a collection of play equipment. It is a place for play and learning – a place where children develop essential physical, social and cognitive skills, where different generations share common experiences, and where community members gather and build relationships.”The Inclusive City, Susan Goltsman & Daniel Iacofano – MIG

Haper’s Playground, located in Portland, Oregon, is an inclusive playground which allows children of all abilities to play together. Harper’s Playground was founded by April and Cody Goldberg whose daughter Harper uses a wheelchair to get around and could not enjoy their local playground. The Goldbergs were also frustrated with the alternative option of “adaptive” playgrounds which they view as:

expensive solutions to the wrong problem.  The problem isn’t about access to a structure, it’s about allowing and encouraging children of all abilities to play together.

They decided to design their own solution to the unmet needs of their daughter. The result is Harper’s Playground, which is an inclusive, fun and social place where children of all abilities and their families can come together to play, learn and explore. This is a splendid project, which aims to create a paradigm shift in how we think of and design the typical playground. Every community should have such a thoughtfully designed and delightful play space and luckily for us, the Goldbergs have a How To tab on the Harper’s Playground website with a form you can send them to receive feedback and advice on how to start an inclusive playground in you own community.

more play for more people …

Harper’s Playground: “More Play for Everyone” from Cody Goldberg on Vimeo.

Hat Tip: A Lot of Playgrounds Can’t Accommodate Children With Disabilities. A TEDx Speaker is Changing That. via TED, published August 6, 2014. 

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* | rethinked.org

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink

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“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977

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“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987

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“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970

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“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

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