TED Talk Tuesday: Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

School is structured. There’s a curriculum everyone must pass. There’re benchmarks that are standardized by the state. But some students get an individualized education program. Who are these lucky few? These are the ones who cannot perform at the predetermined levels. The misfits.

Schools don’t reward creativity. They reward assimilating. Ken Robinson says our students are being educated using principles from yesteryear, when our population needed to be prepared for the industrial revolution. Today, we can see that the only industry left in this country is the service industry, and it’s not a field that most people want to work in. Seth Godin observes that new careers are not with a corporation, but in creating your own niche. It’s an empowering time of change in the US, but it is also stressful. Godin agrees:

“Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do. Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping… in the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.”

If only the education system can train our children to achieve in this market.
Robinson is a master storyteller with an important area of interest, about how our education system is failing, right along with the one in four American students failing out of high school.

“If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people, think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.”

Don’t blow through the pleasantries.

“Hi there.”
“How are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
“Almost perfect.”

It’s true that I’m almost perfect. Really.

I’m being more honest than when I say “ok” or “good”.
I’ve also heard people give the depressing “Not bad” and “Can’t complain”.

The “How are you”s are part of the exchange of pleasantries. They’re supposed to be pleasant, right? Then why do we blow through them with a catch phrase? And then we stall, searching for something more tangible to talk about, like the weather, which will save a conversation, yes, but it will also make you want to check your cell phone for more stimulating conversation with faceless people.

I realize that the so-called pleasantries breakdown the walls we have built up. They slowly bring the conversation to more meaningful levels, so that we’re more comfortable.

Why is that?

Sure, our genes may be coded with the fear response to strangers. Strangers who may be from another tribe who want to kill me for my food, shelter, or women, but why continue the drive-by pleasantries today, especially in this country, where survival is pretty easy? Even in low-income areas, no one is starving.

Ok, so keep the superficial pleasantries…what’s next?

When we get to the more meaningful part, we circle around asking the “how” and “why” question and get neck-deep in the comfortable quicksand of what we did, where we went, or what someone else is doing. We might get to some feelings, like “It sucked.’ Or “It was awesome.” But when was the last time we asked a probing “Why?” follow up?

We’re conditioned to make the “How are you?” the start of the conversation, and it’s ok to make it a greeting. Hey, it’s the best greeting I can think of..It jumps right into YOU. But instead of it being the start of the conversation, I think it should be the conversation. Let’s keep the courage of our convictions and see how someone else feels. Maybe give each other a new perspective?

The “how”s and the “why”s are the reason we’re here: It makes up the dialgoue that enables us to connect with people and grow.

I think a good start to connecting is to take that greeting seriously.

How are YOU?

TED Talk Tuesday: Atheism 2.0

Alain de Botton says religion is a system that works. It knows human nature. So let’s not throw away the template just because the content is questionable. He wants us to use the religious method.

Religion treats us like children. And it is well to. We need to be life-long learners, but we cannot wait on chance occurrences to teach us the important stuff. Botton describes the value of the religious system of education, from the sermons to repeated practice, which the secular world has left to the individual.

Even our higher institutions expect the newly minted adult walking onto their campuses to know what it’s all about. After graduation, the corporation is ready to provide us the structure for our lives, and the branding and clarity.

“…except they’re right down at the bottom of the pyramid of needs. They’re selling us shoes and cars. Whereas the people who are selling us the higher stuff — the therapists, the poets — are on their own and they have no power, they have no might.”

Life is about growth and discovery, and we need to get into our groups and start communicating our ideas in a more organized way. The secular world has fled so far from religion, it’s forgotten that we need to congregate. We need sermons. We need to communicate ideas.

“My concluding point is that you may not agree with religion, but at the end of the day, religions are so subtle, so complicated, so intelligent in many ways that they’re not fit to be abandoned to the religious alone. They’re for all of us.”

Tell it, brother!

National Defense Authorization Act has been passed: The government has now taken our right to trial

During Hurricane Katrina, martial law (termed state of emergency) was declared in New Orleans while the city streets were cleared, power was restored, and looting stopped. Martial law power was instituted during World War II when Japanese-Americans were imprisoned to protect all of America from the possibility that ethnic loyalties would turn the Japanese violent.

Martial law is declared when the safety of the populace is threatened. It gives military control over an area and military power over you. You can be arrested and jailed indefinitely until the military decides to release you. It is one of the paradoxes of life. We fight war for peace. We have martial law take our freedom, to protect our freedom.

Earlier this month, the government claimed the power of martial law

Congress passed the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) which has declared that American citizens who are suspected of supporting terrorism can lose their right to trial. This emergency measure is to protect us and is only temporary. Like in New Orleans, after power was restored and the roads cleared, martial law was lifted. Like after Japan surrendered to the US in World War II, the Japanese-Americans were released from prison.

But how long can the government hold current martial law power when our war isn’t against a group with a leader or against looters during a natural disaster? When do we win the war on terror?

It’s true, the military is not patrolling the streets, but why wasn’t the wording in the NDAA made more clear than “supports terrorism”? Why didn’t it specify that support is giving information, material, or physical help to a terrorist? Why didn’t the law err on the side of protecting our freedom while protecting us from terrorists? Why did they instead take absolute power over arresting Americans in the US?

A terrorist attack killed nearly 3000 Americans on 9-11.
In comparison, over 28,000 babies born in the US die before their first birthday

In reaction to the attack on 9-11, the government waged war in three countries, created a Department of Homeland Security, and has taken our right to trial.

I think we must ask why they deserve to take such a power to protect us in a war that has no end in sight.



Accepting yourself is vital, but it is not enough

I am going to come clean: I’ve fallen off the wagon. The days have been getting away from me, and I haven’t accomplished what I wanted. Days have become weeks, and weeks have become a month, and thus my time has slipped away. Have you ever been there? Here are the three steps to help get back on track:

1. Accept yourself
2. Determine your paradigm
3. Set longterm goals, then set smaller goals that lead to them

Accepting yourself is not enough

After a long time, I’ve come to accept myself. I mentioned accepting myself briefly in a previous blog. Yesterday I mentioned it to someone and they asked what I meant. Accepting myself doesn’t mean that I say I am ok with the way I am, and that I don’t need to change.

Accepting myself is understanding that I am responsible for myself and my happiness

Acceptance is knowing that your environment doesn’t make you happy or sad. Your environment includes the people around you, your physical surroundings, your accomplishments or failures and even your physical appearance. In this mindset, you don’t react to your environment, you act on it.

After acceptance, you can then take action

Acceptance is not enough to be happy. We must do. But doing takes effort. It takes discipline. If you find yourself lacking the drive and you’ve had a long period of inaction, reassess your goals. So I’m back at the drawing board, reviewing my goals: Get two books published by the end of next year. For you, it might be get a certification to help your career along, hiking the Appalachian trial, or restoring an old car. Whatever it is, you need to realize it fully. Finding your goals is more than listing specific accomplishments. Your true goals are based on something much deeper..your purpose. Your passion.

Purpose is your fundamental goal

To find your purpose, you need to find the lens through which you see the world. You need to define your paradigm. In general, this is the same for everyone: Do something of value and be valued. Remind yourself of this to help keep you on track. Consider the alternative: Doing nothing of much value. That’s not a scenario I want to face. Do you?

Having no short-term goals is like bowling without seeing the pins

For me, small goals involve building content. Writing a chapter a day, writing a synopsis of every day, and a blog article every week. These tasks keep me on track to my longterm goal of publishing two books and writing for magazines and periodicals. Revisit your longterm goals to ensure you’re doing what you want, and to motivate you towards those accomplishments. If you find you are unable to meet your short term goals, break them down to even smaller, shorter-term goals: Yearly into monthly, monthly into weekly, weekly into daily.

Don’t get discouraged

Remember: Those accomplishments don’t make or break you. You are in control of yourself, so accept your responsibility. Be aware of yourself. Only you know if you are making a true effort at living your paradigm. Organize your goals so that your behavior matches your passion.

So I’m back on track. I trust that I’ll see you in action soon enough, too.

Dr. King fought against the majority and today we have the same fight

In Washington DC yesterday there was a commemoration of a monument to honor Martin Luther King Jr. A number of speakers talked about Dr. King…about his words and how they inspired so many, but also spoke of his actions. And the mention of action made me hopeful. Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again. We must fight to utilize the consumer power of the majority against the concentration of power in the corporation.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population.  Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts.  The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer.  Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority.  This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from Wall Street and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving the Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored.  We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race.  We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers. Perhaps Dr King’s quote should be amended slightly:

We shall match OUR capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.

The Occupy Wall Street protests and fear

The protests that began several week ago have spread from NYC to several cities across the nation. I was thinking about why people are protesting now, but not before the market crashed in 2008.  As I puzzled over it, a friend answered my questions simply: “Fear. They’re afraid now.”

We are driven by confidence

For at least the last 10 years, people bought homes and invested in housing loans, because they had confidence that home values would go up. In fact, there was so much confidence, that three things happened:

  1. There were loans that shouldn’t have been taken or given
  2. A lot of investments were bets (derivatives) that home values would increase. Investment banks bet so much, in fact, that they went into debt!
  3. And lastly, but maybe most importantly, investment banks started cheating. They combined the risky derivatives, called subprime, with the more stable derivatives, called AAA, and called them all AAA.

Fear is useful

Everyone bet on house loans because there was no fear, because there were no negative consequences to our actions. The banks didn’t care when someone couldn’t pay their home loan, because the value of homes was always going up.  If someone walked away from the loan, the bank took over an investment that was increasing in value.  Still, bank debt continued to grow, and fear set in that banks didn’t have enough money to pay their account holders. Fear is useful to balance out the belief that we cannot fail. In fact, failure is good.

Failure is a learning opportunity, not a time for retribution

Occupy Wall Street has an opportunity to recognize the failure of the US: Of our government in promoting irresponsible housing loans. Of the banks that chose to go into debt so they could continue giving out housing loans, good loans or bad. Of the people who accepted loans but couldn’t really pay them. Of the people who allowed their banker  to bet their money in the housing market without knowing how they were going into debt?

Occupy Wall Street is not a time for class warfare

Occupy Wall Street needs to show us that our failure is a chance for hope. Hope that we can hold people accountable: The people in government, the people in the corporations, and people like you and me. The protest is a call to take responsibility. To realize that we have the power. The power to do the right thing. When the government or corporation has become too big for us to control, it’s time for us to reign them back to represent our interests. Not the interests of money, but the interests of people.

How do you think the Occupy Wall Street protests can bring about this change?

Food is more than fuel

On my way home last week I stopped at Chipotle, a restaurant famous for its burritos. After I got my food, I made my way home, and I passed a Firehouse Subs restaurant, a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell, and a Burger King. The drive-thrus were lined with cars with people waiting for their own quick meals. At home, I ate the burrito, my hunger driving me past savoring the taste to get the food in my stomach. Afterwards, I grabbed a bag of banana chips, and as I snacked, I looked at the ingredients.  The first ingredient read, “Bananas”. The last one read “Banana flavor”. As I sat there on my couch, I felt full and satisfied, and ready to tackle my chores, but I didn’t feel good. Why?

Although the food was real, I didn’t know what I’d eaten

The restaurant workers were nice enough. The cashier even talked to me beyond the usual banter, but all I did was hand over my credit card. A quick swipe and I was done. I had eaten alone, speaking to no one.  I had finished quickly, but usually I am the slowest eater in the dinner party. I chew and talk, while others chew and swallow.

I like picking parsley from my garden and chopping it on my cutting board

From my couch, I looked out my window, and saw the parsley growing in my garden. I liked hearing it crunch under my knife, and suddenly smelling its fresh and pleasant fragrance. I would mix it into the noodles that I had cooked, and the aroma of the tomato sauce and capers and parsley danced together into my nose. I would look at what I’d made, swirl a bite onto my fork, and chew it. It was a good experience. It made me happy.

I knew it would be a long time before I’d have the full and satisfied feeling of a restaurant burrito and  bananas with banana flavoring.

And that was ok by me.

9-11 is the wake-up call that is still ringing

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I listened to news reports about the attacks, and grew sad in remembering what happened. Then I tried to think about why those men would want to attack the US.

Ignorance promotes aggression

If you truly knew your enemies, you would not only see them as having different ideas, but as a father or mother, son or daughter. They love their family and try to help provide a good life. They just want to be happy… just like you and me. Ignorance dehumanizes the Americans that are being targeted. And ignorance about the terrorists leads us to fear them.  Fear is a feeling of insecurity. When we don’t know a person, we’re cautious.  And when we don’t know a situation, we are fearful.  But knowledge gives us power over the situation, and it gives us the power to decide whether attacking is justified. Those who call for war sound the most confident, but in fact, they are the most fearful, whether they are patriots or terrorists.

The 9-11 attack is the wake-up call

Did the terrorists surprise you on 9-11? They surprised me. I realize now that the attack is our wake-up call to find out what is happening in the world. The attacks happened in a world in which the US spends massive amounts of money and sells loads of military weapons. In fact, the US is the biggest spender and biggest weapons exporter of any other country in the world. We provide money and arms to different countries and different groups. Some of them have fundamentalist religious beliefs and/or have powerful ethnic grudges. Our money influences these alliances and animosities. After years of involvement, we have developed a worldwide reputation, accurate or not.

With our money comes great power, and great responsibility

How do we stop future terrorism? We start taking responsibility. We start thinking about the consequences of our actions. What do you think we can do to prevent people from developing a mentality that would make them attack us? Asking these questions is part of being an accountable and empowered American.

I know we can do it.

Labor Day reminds me how to respect the laborer

This Labor Day makes me think of the workers who help me get everything I have. The food in my kitchen, the tv in my living room, or the car in my lot.  I thought, “Many of my dollars are paying people outside of my community, and so taking jobs and money from the people in my community. The right thing to do is buy goods that support my local economy” And then I realized that I cannot do this. My stuff didn’t come from one company, although there is only one company name stamped on the label. Many hands from all over the world contributed to each of those things, from their inception in creative minds in one country, to their manufacture in another that used supplier parts from still other countries.  But I can still make a right decision given this.

Making a right decision requires us to ask WHY it was the right thing to do

The supply chain is too diverse. And some out-of-state/country companies have invested in the people around me to make their product, like the Honda plant just outside of my city. What can I do? I can become more aware about where my stuff comes from, so that I know why I’m making the decisions that I am. I should require a company be able to tell me where their product comes from.  This way, I’m accountable for my actions.

Consumer accountability is empowering and it respects the laborer

Accountability gives our lives meaning. Without this, we are just consumers, and we cease to become members of a community.  As society becomes more complex, we must keep this power, because otherwise we are losing our freedom of choice and our connection to other people. And I don’t think anyone of us wants that.