Always take the high road.
It leads to the high ground,
where it’s much easier
to rain down pain
on your enemies.
Part 2 of a dragon story I made up tonight for my son (part 1 is here):
So a long time ago, in a land far, far away – called China – there were dragons.
And there were dragon detectors, like the one invented by Zhang Heng (but that’s another story).
But there were also wizards and magicians and witches (good ones) who tried to help the people. You remember that when the people were good, the dragons of the air, the sea, the land, and the fire would sleep. But when the people didn’t take good care of the land, and made war with each other, the dragons would awaken and cause terrible disasters.
So one day, the most powerful wizards and magicians and witches (good ones) all got together and created the most powerful spells ever. And they went out in all four directions and to the air, the sea, under the land, and even into the fire of volcanoes! And they said their magic spells in secret so nobody would ever know, way up in the clouds, and far out to sea and under the ocean, and deep underground, and even in the fiery lava at the bottom of volcanoes. And nobody knows how they did it, but they captured the dragons, hundreds of them, from all four directions and from all the places around the earth. And they captured them in crystals, that are very very hard, and froze the dragons forever – as long as the crystals don’t break.
Now only the very best people get to take care of these crystals and they are spread out all over the world to keep them safe. They didn’t get all the dragons mind you, so disasters still happen, but the ones they did capture they sure don’t want to let out – because nobody knows the secret spells anymore to put them back in.
And I have one of those crystals for you.
Now some people will tell you it’s a fake, and there are sure some fakes out there – just like there are fake guns, and made-up monsters and other pretend things. But this one is real (I think) and if you stare really hard at it, sometimes you can see the dragon move. And if you do – you know it’s real.
I know you’ll do a good job helping to take care of us by keeping your dragon safely inside the crystal.
I love you, and I trust you, and you’re old enough to take good care of things, so I’m giving this crystal to you to take care of forever and ever. Just like (mommy and) I will take good care of you.
Forever and ever.
A story I made up for my son tonight:
A long time ago in a land far, far away there were dragons. The land was called China and the people there feared and respected the dragons of the air, the land, the sea, and the fire.
When the people were good and took good care of the land, the sea, the air, and their fires, the dragons were kind and slept most of the time. But when the people were bad, and destroyed the land, put their garbage in the sea, polluted the air, and fought with their fires (instead of cooking and making good food and keeping warm), then the dragons were mad and would warn the people to be good.
Dragons in the air would flap their wings and bring terrible storms, dragons of the sea made big belly-flops and bring waves and floods to wash away the towns, dragons of the fire would huff and puff and make volcanoes explode, and dragons of the land would whip their tails back and forth against their homes in the earth – causing great earthquakes.
The people knew they could not stop the dragons except by taking care of the earth and respecting the dragons, who would just as well wipe all the people out to save the earth if they had to. So the people tried to be good.
And one day, a very smart man named Zhang Heng invented something to keep the people safe. He remembered when he was a little boy, that his Nai Nai (grandmother) told him that the lizards and frogs were cousins of the dragons and would always be the first to know if an earthquake was going to happen. If that was going to happen, the lizards and the frogs would all stop laughing and singing and go find a place to hide. Now Zhang Heng was not so foolish to think he could stop the dragons, and he knew that not everybody could pay attention to the frogs (like the people in the mountains or the city) but he knew he could help the people so not so many died or got hurt in the earthquakes.
So he made an invention called the “dragon detector”.
He took a big cookie jar and turned it upside down. Then he put a pendulum inside (you know, like the long swinging thing you see on big old fashioned clocks). The on the outside of the cookie jar he decorated it with little dragons all around it, like they were crawling down the sides. In the mouth of each dragon was a marble, and on the floor around the jar were little toy frogs, mouths open to catch the marbles.
Zhang Heng knew that if the dragons of the earth started whipping their tails back and forth, the pendulum would swing inside the cookie jar and tap the inside – jiggling the dragon on that side. The dragon would drop his marble – right into the mouth of the frog! And the frog’s mouth would close – just like the real frogs!
Not only that, but you could tell what direction the earthquake was coming by looking at which frog had closed her mouth! That way, you knew which way to run in order to be safe! Zhang Heng thought this was a great invention and took it to the Emperor to show him.
But the Emperor’s men laughed at Zhang Heng. “Cookie jars?” “Marbles?” “Toy frogs?” “How can you tell us about dragons by playing with toys?!? You don’t know what you’re doing and you’re acting like a baby playing with toys!”
But Zhang Heng knew what he was doing and knew that he was right, so he quietly set up his dragon detector outside the Emperor’s castle. Then he sat down and he waited, and sure enough, not too many days later the dragon on the North side dropped his marble into the mouth of his cousin the frog, and she closed her mouth up tight.
“Ha ha!” said the Emperor’s men, “That stupid toy is foolish and worthless! We feel no earthquake, yet your toy says their is one! You lose!”
But Zhang Heng knew what he was doing and he knew that he was right, so he quietly sat down and he waited.
And sure enough, later that day a boy just about your age came running into the Emperor’s castle, crying “Help! Help! An earthquake is knocking down our houses and our people need your help!”
“Come here my boy, ” said the Emperor, “and tell me where you are from and we will send help right away.”
“Longxi, my Emperor,” said the breathless boy, “a day’s run North of here!”
“North!” said the Emperor to his doctors and soldiers, “take your men North to Longxi and help the people there!”
Then the Emperor looked at Zhang Heng and he smiled.
“You!” he shouted at his men who had teased Zhang Heng, “Go…make…some…toys…”
And the Emperor and Zhang Heng were best friends forever, and they saved lots of people by knowing where to send help long before a runner could come and tell them where the earthquake was.
And that’s the story of the dragons and the earthquakes, and the first dragon detector.
From a long time ago, in a land far, far away – called China.
Where they say dragons still sleep to this day…..
Here’s the argument broken down as a logic problem:
A happens, and B happens, so A causes B.
B happens, and C is a kind of B, so if B happens, C happens.
A causes B, and C is a type of B, so if A happens, C happens.
C is terrible, so we must do Q.
Q is new, so Q is good, because new is good.
If you don’t believe we must do Q, it is because you love C.
Only horrible people love C, so if you love C then you are the same as those horrible people.
And here it is as it played out today in the House of Commons:
(Canadian) Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, rebutting criticism of C-51 bill:
“As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier,” he told the House. “We are proposing to bring measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide police with the lawful tools that they need.
“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
#1: Fallacy: Confusing Cause and Effect
“As technology evolves, many criminal activities…become much easier.”
Although these two things may occur at the same time, it does not mean that A causes B.
#2: Fallacy: Assuming that if a General effect happens, a Specific sub-set of the General effect will happen.
“…many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become easier.”
Although X is a subset of Y, if Y happens, it does not mean that X subset will happen.
#3 Fallacy: Appeal to Fear
Creating fear in people (easier child porn distribution) does not constitute evidence for a claim (that the proposed bill is good).
#4 Fallacy: Appeal to Novelty
“We are proposing to bring measures to bring our laws into the 21st century…”
What we are doing is new, and therefore better.
#5 Fallacy: False Dilemma
“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Either you are against this bill, or you are for it. You are not for it, therefore you must be against it.
#6 Fallacy: Guilt by Association
“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Horrible people hold opinion B. You hold opinion B. Therefore you are a just like those horrible people.
Six fallacies in three sentences. The government does itself no favours in attempting to pass legislation by relying on such rhetorical errors (or tricks if you like). It is unnecessary to do so in order to pass the bill (the government holds the majority). It is also unseemly to use guilt by association, a child-like rhetorical tactic, in the House of Commons.
How might one respond to such lunacy?
“Child pornography is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, so anyone who opposes your proposal is a criminal? Has the government just criminalized dissent? Is the government threatening citizens with a decade in prison if they don’t support your proposal?”
Klaatu barada nikto – Klaatu
In the end…aren’t we all just dogs playing poker? – Edgar Teglee, Psychonauts
When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!’ – Winston, Ghostbusters
Get to da choppa! – Arnold
It’s a trap! – Admiral Ackbar
Good, bad, I’m the one with the gun. – Bruce “Don’t call me Ash” Campbell, Army Of Darkness
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A – Konami Code
I have come to chew bubblegum and kick a$$. And I’m all out of bubblegum. – Roddy Piper, They Live
Understanding is a three-edged sword. – Vorlon ambassador Kosh, Babylon 5
Spooooooon! – The Tick
Leeeroy Jenkins!!!! – Leroy Jenkins
It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations. – The Hobbit
I did it thirty five minutes ago. – Ozymandias, Watchmen
Do or do not. There is no try – Yoda
Selections from a Topless Robot contest. Click here – read more.
From Leadership Freak:
Don’t solve people’s problems give them confidence they can solve them.
You’re missing the boat if you:
* Think more about processes than people.
* Jump in and help people solve problems.
* Fix rather than build.
* Speak more than listen.
You’re on target when you:
* Let them talk about problems while you talk about their strengths.
* Explain why you believe in them.
* Honor their hard work rather than their frustrations.
Training or other resources may be required to solve problems; however, instilling confidence comes first.
Read the whole thing by clicking on these words.
From Erica Glaiser’s blog, which is one of the best damned social media blogs out there, and a 2011 nominee for Canadian Weblog Awards in Best Written, Business & Career, and the Science, Technology & the Internet categories.
Here’s her take on why the hell and how the hell you should approach blogging if you want it to be an extension of your brand or resume. Obviously that’s not the case with this blog, but it’s good advice nevertheless.
Professional blogs are basically there to serve as an expanded resume, and it helps to know why you’re bothering to become a little publishing machine. What is it employers are going to see for all this effort?
Everyone can tell when you’re stoked about something (so write about stuff about which you are stoked. It’ll be a better read). Employers ❤ passion.
“Thought leadership” is the more grandiose buzzword for strong analysis. Tear something apart. Put it back together. Show me you saw beneath the surface, figured out a motivation, or connected some previously unconnected dots with your keen, keen mind.
The fact that you bother to construct this whole persona, do research to impress me with your investigative skills, and make images to ease my understanding & please my eye says “hey, this person really wants it”.
An employer who wants to get to know the you behind the resume will know PDQ if your charming, quirky self is the right fit for their organizational culture. This can help you find a good corporate fit, so be yourself within the realm of good taste.
Posting struggles, successes, media you’ve produced, and plain ole’ writing shows me what kind of communicator you are. Visual skills translate especially well in the blog medium—cartooning, animation, slideshares, infographics. If you make it and it doesn’t suck, post it. If it does suck, ask for critique so you can improve.
Besides showing your knowledge of subject matter, social media & communication, frequent blogging on topical stuff shows me you know what’s going on in your industry & you’ve got the commitment to prove it.
Comments show people are reading. Retweets show your stuff is worth sharing. Clips of speaking engagements or presentations demonstrate your ability to work a room.
On a meta level, outside the subject matter you blog about, you’re making it clear you know how to think like a publisher. Brand journalism and content marketing are a growing underpinning of social media marketing. The future employer is relieved to see you’ve worked out all your blogging disasters on your own dime.
Want to read more great stuff by Erica? Sure you do. Click on these words.
If you have a gift with words, learn to keep your mouth shut; when you speak, punctuate with pause; and when you have nothing to say, say nothing.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we’ll change the world.
~ Jack Layton
You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.
~ Uncle Iroh, The Last Airbender
Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor.
“Please, set aside 15 minutes of your time to watch this amazingly brilliant short animation. I can’t even describe how beautiful, heartfelt, and nostalgic it was to watch. I’m telling you, for all my book lovers, librarians, authors, writers, anybody who has ever loved a book, this short was made for you. Watch it.” source
from zen habits
The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice.
Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.”
But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy. If we agree that it is a common aim of each of us to strive to be happy, then compassion is one of the main tools for achieving that happiness. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.
7 Compassion Practices
Morning ritual. Greet each morning with a ritual. Try this one, suggest by the Dalai Lama: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” Then, when you’ve done this, try one of the practices below.
Empathy Practice. The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. Many of us believe that we have empathy, and on some level nearly all of us do. But many times we are centered on ourselves and we let our sense of empathy get rusty. Try this practice: Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.
Commonalities practice. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness. Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. One of my favorite exercises comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
Relief of suffering practice. Once you can empathize with another person, and understand his humanity and suffering, the next step is to want that person to be free from suffering. This is the heart of compassion — actually the definition of it. Try this exercise: Imagine the suffering of a human being you’ve met recently. Now imagine that you are the one going through that suffering. Reflect on how much you would like that suffering to end. Reflect on how happy you would be if another human being desired your suffering to end, and acted upon it. Open your heart to that human being and if you feel even a little that you’d want their suffering to end, reflect on that feeling. That’s the feeling that you want to develop. With constant practice, that feeling can be grown and nurtured.
Act of kindness practice. Now that you’ve gotten good at the 4th practice, take the exercise a step further. Imagine again the suffering of someone you know or met recently. Imagine again that you are that person, and are going through that suffering. Now imagine that another human being would like your suffering to end — perhaps your mother or another loved one. What would you like for that person to do to end your suffering? Now reverse roles: you are the person who desires for the other person’s suffering to end. Imagine that you do something to help ease the suffering, or end it completely. Once you get good at this stage, practice doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way. Even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore, or just talking about a problem with another person. Practice doing something kind to help ease the suffering of others. When you are good at this, find a way to make it a daily practice, and eventually a throughout-the-day practice.
Those who mistreat us practice. The final stage in these compassion practices is to not only want to ease the suffering of those we love and meet, but even those who mistreat us. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in — the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through. Now think some more about the suffering of that poor person, and see if you can imagine trying to stop the suffering of that person. And then reflect that if you mistreated someone, and they acted with kindness and compassion toward you, whether that would make you less likely to mistreat that person the next time, and more likely to be kind to that person. Once you have mastered this practice of reflection, try acting with compassion and understanding the next time a person treats you. Do it in little doses, until you are good at it. Practice makes perfect.
Evening routine. Rake a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about your goal that you stated this morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could you do better? What did you learn from your experiences today? And if you have time, try one of the above practices and exercises.
These compassionate practices can be done anywhere, any time. At work, at home, on the road, while traveling, while at a store, while at the home of a friend or family member. By sandwiching your day with a morning and evening ritual, you can frame your day properly, in an attitude of trying to practice compassion and develop it within yourself. And with practice, you can begin to do it throughout the day, and throughout your lifetime.
This, above all, with bring happiness to your life and to those around you.
When people are asked to identify nonprofits, certain names jump to the foreground—the YMCA, the American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity. What these household names have in common, besides size and fame, is that they all work through a network structure, with multiple affiliates across the country striving for significant impact. In fact, nine of the ten largest US nonprofits are networks.
For decades, the main pressure facing networks was to be in more places and serve more people. Now, there is a different kind of pressure: to get better. Networks with multiple sites are increasingly expected to provide donors and supporters with a higher level of evidence that their work is effective and delivered consistently across the board. While an “outcomes” orientation isn’t new, its effect on the sector has been magnified, in part because of the difficult economy.
In our work, we have seen several networks take promising steps to deliver measurably better results in achieving their missions. Central offices are working collaboratively with affiliates to improve the way in which their network’s high-level strategy translates into action across the entire organization. They’re figuring out where their best work is being done, finding ways to become more effective, and learning how to ensure that all affiliates benefit from the experiences and know-how of their peers.
Here are five promising elements that networks are using to raise the bar:
Use the network’s unified strategy to drive decision-making. Maintain consensus around a common strategy to keep each office moving in the same direction. Establish universal key performance indicators that apply to all, regardless of size, programming, and population characteristics. These measures help the organization assess individual high performers, identify the things needed to improve their results, and show where one might benefit from the experiences of another.
Create a common language by defining the dimensions of effectiveness. When everyone shares an understanding of what high performance looks like, it becomes easier to identify reliable indicators of effectiveness. Ask: What information will allow us to set clear expectations and compare results? What will help us see how each office performs against a common strategic goal and understand why some may be achieving more than others? What support is needed to transform the effectiveness of the individual and the national organization itself?
Create paths to improvement. Professionals hone their skills by progressing through a series of developmental milestones. Make the pathway clear.
Diagnose where you are today and uncover pockets of strength. Figure out the developmental stage you’re at, then compare to the baseline measurements for success. They ask: Where do you fall on the developmental continuum? Are there pockets of strength in the organization, despite an overall failure? How might the national organization strengthen performance if each office could improve in one key area?
Capture knowledge that matters: Figure out what to do first and how each office can best learn from others. Especially important may be the use of a self-evaluation tool to track performance indicators, understand individual strengths and weakness relative to others, and tailor performance improvement strategies to those strengths and weaknesses.
From Stanford Social Innovation Review: A new article, “Growing Network Impact: How Nonprofit Networks are Raising the Bar on Results” shows how the work of six networks illustrates these practices.
1. Panic Mongering. Not fear mongers, panic mongering. The idea is to terrify and terrorize the audience during every waking moment. Why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypass the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don’t think rationally. And when they can’t think rationally, they’ll believe anything.
2. Character Assassination/Ad Hominem. Go after the person’s credibility, motives, intelligence, character, or, if necessary, sanity. Ad hominem attacks work not just against individuals, but entire categories of people in an effort to discredit the ideas of every person who is seen to fall into that category, e.g. “liberals,” “conservatives,” etc.
3. Projection/Flipping. t involves taking whatever underhanded tactic you’re using and then accusing your opponent of doing it to you first.
4. Rewrite History. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they’ll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.
5. Scapegoating/Othering. This works best when people feel insecure or scared. The simple idea is that if you can find a group to blame, you can then go on to a) justify violence/dehumanization of them, and b) subvert responsibility for any harm that may befall them as a result.
6. Conflating Violence With Power and Opposition to Violence With Weakness. Terms like “show of strength” are often used to describe acts of repression. Violence become synonymous with power, patriotism and piety.
7. Bullying. Bullying and yelling works best on people who come to the conversation with a lack of confidence, either in themselves or their grasp of the subject being discussed. The bully exploits this lack of confidence by berating the guest into submission or compliance. Often, less self-possessed people will feel shame and anxiety when being berated and the quickest way to end the immediate discomfort is to cede authority to the bully. The bully is then able to interpret that as a “win.”
8. Confusion. As with the preceding technique, this one works best on an audience that is less confident and self-possessed. The idea is to deliberately confuse the argument, but insist that the logic is airtight and imply that anyone who disagrees is either too dumb or too fanatical to follow along. Less independent minds will interpret the confusion technique as a form of sophisticated thinking, thereby giving the user’s claims veracity in the viewer’s mind.
9. Populism. The speakers identifies themselves as one of “the people” and the target of their ire as an enemy of the people. The idea is to make the opponent harder to relate to and harder to empathize with.
10. Invoking God. The idea is to declare yourself and your allies as patriots, believers and “real people” and anyone who challenges them as not. The speaker has been chosen by God (or is uniquely qualified to know God’s intent) to speak on behalf of him, so any challenge is perceived as immoral.
11. Saturation. There are three components to effective saturation: being repetitive, being ubiquitous and being consistent. The message must be repeated cover and over, it must be everywhere and it must be shared across commentators. If something is said enough times, by enough people, many will come to accept it as truth.
12. Disparaging Education. Express a lack of reverence for education and intellectualism. Define higher education as elitist.
13. Guilt by Association. Here’s how it works: if your cousin’s college roommate’s uncle’s ex-wife attended a dinner party back in 1984 with Gorbachev’s niece’s ex-boyfriend’s sister, then you, by extension are a communist set on destroying America. Period.
14. Diversion. This is where the commentator suddenly takes the debate in a new direction, like wanting to focus on “moving forward.” Any attempt to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand will itself be called deflection.
1. Write about your problems
Sit down for 20 minutes a few times a month and write about something traumatic that has happened to you. Yogo and Fujihara (2008) found that it improved working memory after 5 weeks.
Psychologists aren’t exactly sure why this works, but it does have a measurable effect.
2. Look at a natural scene
In one study people who walked around an arboretum did 20% better on a memory test than those who went for a walk around busy streets.
In fact you don’t even need to leave the house. Although the effects aren’t as powerful, you can just look at pictures of nature and that also has a beneficial effect.
3. Say words aloud
If you want to remember something in particular from a load of other things, just say it out loud. A study (described here) found memory improvements of 10% for words said out loud, or even just mouthed: a relatively small gain, but at a tiny cost.
4. Meditate (a bit)
Meditation has been consistently found to improve cognitive functioning, including memory.
In one recent study, participants who meditated for 4 sessions of only 20 minutes, once a day, saw boosts to their working memory and other cognitive functions.
5. Predict your performance
Simply asking ourselves whether or not we’ll remember something has a beneficial effect on memory. This works for both recalling things that have happened in the past and trying to remember to do things in the future.
When Canadians tested people’s prospective memory (remembering to do something in the future), they found that trying to predict performance was beneficial. On some tasks people’s performance increased by almost 50%.
6. Use your body to encode memories
Memento style? Not quite. We don’t just think with our minds, we also use our bodies. For example, research has shown that we understand language better if it’s accompanied by gestures.
We can also use gestures to encode memories. Researchers trying to teach Japanese verbs to English speakers found that gesturing while learning helped encode the memory. Participants who used hand gestures which suggested the word were able to recall almost twice as many Japanese words a week later.
7. Use your body to remember
Since our bodies are important in encoding a memory, they can also help in retrieving it. Psychologists have found that we recall past episodes better when we are in the same mood or our body is in the same position.
Meditation is like chess: the rules are relatively easy to explain, but the game itself is infinitely complex. And like chess the names and techniques of meditation are many and varied but the fundamentals are much the same:
Relax the body and the mind. This can be done through body posture, mental imagery, mantras, music, progressive muscle relaxation, any old trick that works. Take your pick. This step is relatively easy as most of us have some experience of relaxing, even if we don’t get much opportunity.
Be mindful. Bit cryptic this one but it means something like this: don’t pass judgement on your thoughts, let them come and go as they will (and boy will they come and go!) but try to nudge your attention back to its primary aim, whatever that is. Turns out this is quite difficult because we’re used to mentally travelling backwards and forwards while making judgements on everything (e.g. worrying, dreading, anticipating, regretting etc.). The key is to notice in a detached way what’s happening but not to get involved with it. This way of thinking often doesn’t come that naturally.
Concentrate on something. Often meditators concentrate on their breath, the feel of it going in and out, but it could be anything: your feet, a potato, a stone. The breath is handy because we carry it around with us. But whatever it is try to focus all your attention onto it. When your attention wavers, and it will almost immediately, gently bring it back. Don’t chide yourself, be good to yourself, be nice. The act of concentrating on one thing is surprisingly difficult: you will feel the mental burn almost immediately. Experienced practitioners say this eases with practice.
Concentrate on nothing. Most say this can’t be achieved without a lot of practice, so I’ll say no more about it here. Master the basics first.
Zzzzz Zzzzz. That’s not meditating, that’s sleeping.
This is just a quick introduction but does give you enough to get started. It’s important not to get too caught up in techniques but to remember the main goal: exercising attention by relaxing and focusing on something. Try these things out first, see what happens, then explore further.
Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb said, “neurons that fire together wire together.”
The implication is that if our brain changes itself based on our experiences, then by changing our experiences we can actively reshape our brains. One way to consciously change our experience is to learn how to apply mindfulness, the ability to be intentionally aware of our experience as it is unfolding. And by being more aware of our present experience as it is happening, we begin to form a secondary ability that UCLA psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls “response flexibility” – the capacity to pause before we act. He describes it as follows:
“It creates a spaciousness of the mind to notice that an impulse has arisen and to disconnect from the automatic behavior that usually follows when someone is an impulsive person. So mindfulness creates a space between impulse and action that allows us to be more flexible in our responses.”
Being mindful is the exact opposite of our “fight, flight, or freeze” part of the brain, the part of our brain that is activated when we feel threatened or in danger. This state of mind isn’t necessarily bad, but unfortunately, due to our busy and very fast-paced world, we have been conditioned to activate “fight, flight, or freeze” as a reaction to novel stimuli that don’t actually pose a threat or danger. However, when we are able to remain mindful, calm, non-impulsive, and feeling safe, we can free up our mental resources and use them more effectively for things like learning and problem-solving.
For some beginner practices in mindfulness you may want to try:
from The Emotion Machine
by Tim Ferriss
Bill Clinton has it. Steve Jobs had it. A “Reality Distortion Field” (RDF)—an aura of charisma, confidence, and persuasion, in which people report it almost impossible to avoid surrendering to the man and following his will when interacting face-to-face.
What was it? Lingering Eye Contact. You can do it to. Here’s how:
STEP 1: Practice Brief Eye Contact With Strangers
While you walk down the sidewalk (during daylight hours!) look at the eyes of every person walking towards you long enough to see their eye color. Less than a second. Then look away.
You can also practice longer eye contact with waiters, salesclerks, cashiers, and other paid service staff, so long as you do it respectfully and in a friendly way.
In all cases, keep a neutral facial expression and soft gaze. You don’t want anyone to think you’re trying to stare them down, rob them, or get them into the sack.
STEP 2: Learn the Art of Personal Space
Our sense of personal space is not a pure function of physical proximity; many other psychological factors influence it. In general, your sense of physical proximity with someone increases when they are:
- Making direct eye contact with you
- Facing you directly (as opposed to standing side-by-side looking into the crowd)
- Touching you (i.e., rubbing elbows in a crowd, patting your back, touching your arm or shoulder)
- Raising their voice
- Talking about you (as opposed to a neutral subject)
If you learn to modulate these five different factors, and combine them in different ways, you can make your conversation partners feel safe and comfortable while at the same time feeling close and intimate with you.
When you increase eye contact, try leaning back or standing back a little to increase their comfort. When you are physically close because it’s a crowded room, try lowering your voice. When you pat someone on the back or touch their arm as you talk, try standing at an angle, not facing them directly.
STEP 3: Practice Being Present
In our age of tweets and Facebook status updates and cellphone buzzes and new texts and IMs and VMs every few seconds, focusing your inner attention on the same person you’re talking with can be challenging.
For one week, whenever you talk with someone, pay attention. Attention is becoming almost as scarce a resource as money. Someone who “pays” it to you is giving you something of true value.
Try to create for you and your companion that feeling of “we were the only two people in the room.”
The Canadian privacy expert David Flaherty expresses a similar idea when he argues: “There is no sentient human being in the Western world who has little or no regard for his or her personal privacy; those who would attempt such claims cannot withstand even a few minutes’ questioning about intimate aspects of their lives without capitulating to the intrusiveness of certain subject matters.”
To describe the problems created by the collection and use of personal data, many commentators use a metaphor based on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Orwell metaphor, which focuses on the harms of surveillance (such as inhibition and social control), might be apt to describe government monitoring of citizens. But much of the data gathered in computer databases, such as one’s race, birth date, gender, address, or marital status, isn’t particularly sensitive.
Another metaphor better captures the problems: Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Kafka’s novel centers around a man who is arrested but not informed why. He desperately tries to find out what triggered his arrest and what’s in store for him. He finds out that a mysterious court system has a dossier on him and is investigating him, but he’s unable to learn much more. The Trial depicts a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people’s information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used.
The problems portrayed by the Kafkaesque metaphor are of a different sort than the problems caused by surveillance. They often do not result in inhibition. Instead they are problems of information processing—the storage, use, or analysis of data—rather than of information collection. They affect the power relationships between people and the institutions of the modern state. They not only frustrate the individual by creating a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, but also affect social structure by altering the kind of relationships people have with the institutions that make important decisions about their lives.
Legal and policy solutions focus too much on the problems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t adequately addressing the Kafkaesque problems—those of information processing.
“You get to fight with swords. How much better could a camp get?’’
What some might dismiss as a geeky alternative to more traditional camps, where sports and arts classes rule, is actually a precious, even irreplaceable resource to the population it serves, say campers, parents, and staffers involved with Wizards & Warriors. Lured away from their computer screens, at least for a few hours, these kids get to engage in more physically challenging and socially interactive versions of games they already love. For many, the excitement comes from playing characters of their own creation in a multilayered adventure story their actions help shape. For others, it’s all about the sword fighting. But everyone seems to agree on the value – and fun – of turning video-game material into real-life play.
“For a lot of these kids, this is their first camp experience,’’ notes Meghan Gardner, a martial arts and fencing instructor whose company, Guard Up, runs the camp. “They usually don’t fit the classic camp mold, where kids go from place to place doing what everyone else is doing.’’ Rather, she says, “We’re taking their dreams and making them happen in a safe environment.’
Joseph Hall, 15, a hard-core Harry Potter fan returning for his third session, said the role-playing camp is completely different from the other camps he attends each summer. “There’s no way this is going to help you later in life,’’ mused Hall, whose self-designed costume evoked that of a Roman gladiator. “There are no professional foam-sword fighters. It’s just plain fun, but it’s having fun in an atmosphere that everyone helps create.’’
“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
“Solitude gets my creative juices flowing. It gives me energy.”
“I love solitude because no one is making demands on me.”
“When I’m alone, my senses are sharpened and I feel part of the rhythm of the universe.
“Solitude refreshes my spirit.”
“I make my wisest decisions when I’m alone.”
“Solitude is a funny thing. It’s almost like another person. After a while it will keep you company if you let it.”
by Trey Smith at The Rambling Taoists
Just like the rest of you, I go about my daily routine. I have household chores, time spent writing blog posts, excursions into town and visiting with my family and neighbors. Sure, I see the headlines — when there ARE headlines of this nature — but I soothe my conscience by telling myself that a person can’t think about it 24/7. I’ve got my own life to live.
In many parts of the world today — Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Bahrain, Syria and so many points in between and beyond — tears fall daily. Some are due to grinding and unrelenting poverty. Some are due to stifling oppression and exploitation. Still others are due to the ugly vestiges of war. And, for some, it is a grotesque mingling of all of these factors.
I never see the tears. I don’t hear the cries.
I read about them, here and there. Sometimes their stories are told under huge banner headlines. More often than not, their stories are buried on page A16 next to the ads for septic cleaning services and a buy-one, get-one free coupon for a hamburger and fries. The articles skim the surface of the gut-wrenching horrors these people live with.
Sometimes, after reading or hearing one of these stories, a tear may streak MY face. It doesn’t last long, though. There is dinner to prepare, a ballgame on the telly or a good book I can’t wait to get back to. I feel their pain, but only in the most ephemeral sense.
I read recently that, since the campaign started on the last day of March, there have been approximately 6,000 bombing missions by NATO in Libya. Six thousand! That comes out to around 50 per day. How many actual bombs and/or missiles does that entail?
More importantly, what is the ratio of tears to bombs? How many lives have been irrevocably broken and destroyed? How many mothers and fathers have lost sons and daughters? How much anguish has resulted from the threat of carnage that we never see nor hear?
We in the westernized world seem to have a very myopic definition of compassion. As Keith Olbermann stated in the video featured here earlier today, our sense of compassion only seems to extend to those in our tribe or those who are like us. We reach out to loved ones and, maybe, people in our communities to express our caring and concern. But too many of us draw the line there. Everyone beyond this imaginary line is greeted with little more than a meager ho-hum or complete disinterest.
For compassion to mean ANYTHING in a substantive way, it must be extended to those who suffer beyond our immediate gaze. If we only “care” for those in the closest proximity, it becomes little more than emotional masturbation. It makes us feel oh so good without having to extend ourselves more than a little bit.
As long as we continue to support leaders and policies that rain down suffering on our fellow brothers and sisters, it becomes untenable to say that most of us understand what genuine compassion entails. If we rarely bat an eyelash for the tears not seen and the cries not heard, what does that ultimately say about our humanity?
Not much. Not much at all.