Saturday, August 31, 2013

You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear.

I Love Neil Gaiman. 
His new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, made me love him even more.

When I finished this book, I had to turn around and read it again. I loved it that much... and I was that curious about what I had just read.

For me, Ocean is a very spiritual book. The three Hempstock women became a trinity of sorts for me. Without giving too much away, Lettie Hempstock pays the ultimate price without actually paying. The Ocean/Duck Pond was such a beautiful symbol. For me it was all knowledge - everything - and yet infinitely nothing.  You should really read this book.

If you love Neil Gaiman too, these are things that go without saying: Magic exists. The Universe is Magic. And it is true whether or not you and I can understand it. Magic doesn't need to explain itself. It's Magic. To those new to Mr. Gaiman, just accept that the world is not what it seems... and then begin reading. You'll be glad you did.

Be sure, once you are past chapter four, to listen to Neil Gaiman on SLATE Radio

Also, listen to Neil Gaiman and Ocean at the End of the Lane on NPR HERE.

This would be a great book to read together with your teenager, if you have one.

I have so many quotes from the book highlighted, but here are a few of my favorites:

It all came back and even as it came back I knew it would not be for long: all the things I remembered, sitting on the green bench beside the little pond that Lettie Hempstock had once convinced me was an ocean.

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don't. I don't. People are much more complicated than that. It's true of everybody.

Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't. 

I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I don't care to hang a boy for being frightened, either. What good would it do him?

So... today the verdict for Bradley Manning... 35 years in prison. 

He'll receive a credit of 1293 days for the time he has been confined and an additional 112 days of credit for the abusive treatment he was subjected to in the marine base brig.

I read this on NPR...

During a press conference, Manning's civilian attorney David Coombs said they will appeal the judge's sentence and also seek a presidential pardon for Manning.

"Pfc. Manning was one of the brave Americans who was not willing to remain silent," Coombs said. "Instead he decided to provide us with information that he believed would spark reform, would spark debate and he provided us with information that he believed might change the world."

I was thinking about Bradley Manning and wondering... could I be as brave? Could I face the consequences he now faces to bring to light acts of torture and abuse and inhumanity? Do I have that kind of moral courage to change the world?

How many of us, in much smaller situations, keep our heads down... keep quiet... keep going along with...

Have you ever been inspired to stick your neck out... to blow the whistle on being deceived?

If you have, it was probably difficult and uncomfortable. It probably cost you some social standing, some security... some anonymity.

But ... oh, the freedom. The faith restored in what is of value.

I could not get through this afternoon without Abraham Lincoln whispering in my ear. 

One known quote that I try to remember when chants of "kill the messenger" are at hand:

Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? I think in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but withal, a great mercy.
Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
16th President of the United States (Republican, IL)
Answering critics of his incarceration and banishment of Clement L. Vallandigham, a public critic of Lincoln and the war
Remark, May 1863

And one movie scene from the film, Lincoln: 

Lincoln walks around the White House, then sits in his office contemplating Grant's letter, later he goes to Nicolay and Hay's bedroom and sits at the foot of Hay's bed as they are both asleep, reading a petition]
Abraham Lincoln: Now, here's a sixteen year old boy. They're gonna hang him...
[Hay startles awake, looking at Lincoln as he carries on reading from the petition]Lincoln Quotes
Abraham Lincoln: He was with the 15th Indiana Calvary near Beaufort, seems he lamed his horse to avoid battle. I don't think even Stanton would complain if I pardoned him? You think Stanton would complain?
[Nicolay awakes in the next bed and looks at them]
John Hay: I don't know, sir. I don't know who you're, uh... What time is it?
Abraham Lincoln: It's three forty in the morning.
[to Hay]
John Nicolay: Don't let him pardon any more deserters.
[Nicolay sinks back down to his bed]
John Hay: Mr. Stanton thinks you pardon too many. He's generally apoplectic on the subject...
Abraham Lincoln: He oughtn't to have done that, crippled his horse, that was cruel, but you don't just hang a sixteen year old boy for that...
John Hay: Ask the horse what he thinks.
Abraham Lincoln: ...for cruelty. There'd be no sixteen year old boys left.
[Lincoln pauses as he thinks for a moment]
Abraham Lincoln: Grant wants me to bring the secesh delegates to Washington.
John Hay: So there are secesh delegates?
Abraham Lincoln: He was afraid, that's all it was. I don't care to hang a boy for being frightened, either. What good would it do him?
[Lincoln signs the petition to pardon the boy, then he gives Hay's leg a few hard hits and a squeeze, Hay chuckles]
Abraham Lincoln: War's nearly done. Ain't that so? What use one more corpse? Any more corpses?
[he puts the rest of the petitions on Hay's bed and stands to leave]
John Hay: Do you need company?
Abraham Lincoln: In times like this, I'm best alone.
[Lincoln carries on walking around the White House hallway alone]

Justice... It's a lot to think about. Often, we look for the light and only find more shades of gray.

UpdateBradley Manning's statement after being sentenced today.

Monday, August 19, 2013

the tangible future

I love the Arrow Electronics ads... especially as we head into a new school year.

"Who are these people?"
"They are you... and you... all of you."

"Innovation isn't something you do to get famous. It's a calling, a passion. Every idea improves every other idea. What's possible leads to what's practical. What's practical leads to what's possible. Innovation leads to innovation."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

it's not much of a tail...

So, my hometown is on fire right now. We don't still live there, but we are lucky enough to keep a small place to head back to in the summer and, now and again, during ski season. As things progressively get worse... we watch from afar. We pray for the firefighters and the residents and the animals.

Yesterday, in a moment of reflection, we ran through a quick inventory of what was in our small place, what objects would be lost if the fire takes over... nothing much... some art and sports equipment. Nothing that can't, really, be replaced. Yes, that was my 'favorite' ski jacket. Yes, there is that oil painting of your great-grandmother... but... so comes the lesson in non-attachment.

The grown-up, always on the search for enlightenment, responsible me reflects on Pema Chödrön:

“We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.”  (When Things Fall Apart)

But, the me, who I really am... the me who struggles with attachment, finds solace in A.A. Milne's Eeyore:

“It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it.” 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story.

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal: How Books Can Teach Your Child to Care. I loved the focus on empathy. I highly recommend that you read the article. I've included some of my favorite bits, but it could have all been listed as "favorite" to me. Also, I've pictured some books that would be wonderful children's books to get you started.

However, empathy is as important as literacy. When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her a love of language.  We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human.

When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  I will go further and say that that child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps, or in our classrooms, or in our reading circles.

We learn empathy as children, through our interactions with the people in our lives and by experiencing the world around us.  When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves.  Reading with children makes an intimate, human connection that teaches that child what it means to be alive as one of many beings on the planet. We are naming feelings, sharing experience, and expressing love and understanding, all in a safe environment.  When we read a book with children, then children – no matter how stressed, no matter how challenged – are drawn out of themselves to bond with other human beings, and to see and feel the experiences of others.  I believe that it is this moment that makes us human.  In this sense, reading makes us human.

A child with a strong emotional center doesn’t hurt himself or other children.  It is the child who doesn’t develop empathy who lashes out without remorse.  A child without empathy runs the risk of growing into an adult who is lacking in humanity and does things that fray the human fabric of society.  So how do we do it?  How do we nurture and teach empathy in children?  Here’s one really good way to go about it: Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story.  Have fun.  Read in character and use funny voices.  Ask questions about the plot and the characters.  Talk about how the story makes you feel, and ask your child if she can relate to what the characters are experiencing.  Laugh and cry.  Be human, loving, and strong, and that will allow the children in your care to be human, loving, and strong.  Perhaps, the next time those children feel like hitting or pinching someone, they’ll hold off and ask for a hug from you instead.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

is as bright and shining as any

"That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly."
- George Saunders

And, if you haven't already...  read George Saunders's advice to graduates in his amazing commencement address at Syracuse University .

Saturday, August 3, 2013

in Decisive...

My husband just introduced me to the Heath Brothers (Chip and Dan Heath) and their current book Decisive : How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

From GoodReads:
The four prinicples that can help us to overcome our brains' natural biases to make better, more informed decisions -- in our lives, careers, families and organizations.
In Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the bestselling authors of Made to Stick and Switch, tackle the thorny problem of how to overcome our natural biases and irrational thinking to make better decisions, about our work, lives, companies and careers.
    When it comes to decision making, our brains are flawed instruments.  But given that we are biologically hard-wired to act foolishly and behave irrationally at times, how can we do better?  A number of recent bestsellers have identified how irrational our decision making can be.  But being aware of a bias doesn't correct it, just as knowing that you are nearsighted doesn't help you to see better.  In Decisive, the Heath brothers, drawing on extensive studies, stories and research, offer specific, practical tools that can help us to think more clearly about our options, and get out of our heads, to improve our decision making, at work and at home.

I feel like I make a lot of decisions; you probably do too. And yet, we are probably not as effective at making decisions as we could be.

Think of a decision you're grappling with right now or a decision you've made but are now questioning. How did you arrive at your decision? What process did you use? What role did bias play?

We’re quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information in front of us and we fail to search for new information, which might disprove our thoughts. The Heath brothers call this the "spotlight" effect. (Think of the way a spotlight in a theater directs our attention; what's inside the spotlight is crisply illuminated.) We draw conclusions from a very small pool of information in the "spotlight".  And that, in essence, is the core difficulty of decision making...  

What's in the spotlight will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision, but we won't always remember to shift the light so we can see the broader landscape beyond the 'spot'.

Decisive introduces us to a framework for decision making... one that goes beyond the typical pros-and-cons list. The book begins by introducing us to 

The Four Villains of Decision Making:
1. Narrow Framing: “… the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms. We ask, “Should I break up with my partner or not?” instead of “What are the ways I could make this relationship better?” 
2. Confirmation Bias: “When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisting attitudes, beliefs, and actions.” We pretend we want the truth, yet all we really want is reassurance.  
3. Short-term Emotion: “When we’ve got a difficult decision to make, our feelings churn. We replay the same arguments in our head. We agonize about our circumstances. We change our minds from day to day. If our decision was represented on a spreadsheet, none of the numbers would be changing—there’s no new information being added—but it doesn’t feel that way in our heads.”  
4. Overconfidence: “People think they know more than they do about how the future will unfold.”

Now, to defeat these four villains, we are to apply a strategy they've labeled  WRAP:
1. You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options. So …Widen Your Options. How can you expand your sent of choices? …
2. You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information. So … Reality-Test Your Assumptions. How can you get outside your head and collect information you can trust? …
3. You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one. So … Attain Distance Before Deciding. How can you overcome short-term emotion and conflicted feelings to make better choices? …
4. Then you live with it. But you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold. So … Prepare to Be Wrong. How can we plan for an uncertain future so that we give our decisions the best chance to succeed?
If you'd like to delve further into this process, you can sign up on their website and access the free resource pages, work books, interviews, book club guide, and the first chapter of Decisive.

So... what's stopping you? Could it be, perhaps, your own natural biases?


Friday, August 2, 2013

think large

Vaclav Smil has written 30 books, and according to The Gates Notes...
"There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil. He jokes that no one reads his books (he’s written more than 30 of them). It’s true that each book only sells a few thousand copies. But I’m trying to read everything he writes." 
- Bill Gates

I just bought Harvesting the Bioshere: What We Have Taken From Nature.

Below is a short excerpt from a videotaped conversation between Bill Gates and Vaclav Smil, focused on the enormous amount of wasted food production in this country:

  The 'Think Large' takeaway ...

"Use less. Each of us can do it very easily. And in a world of 7 billion people it eventually makes a difference."