Pursuing Knowledge Over Familiarity and Choosing Creativity Over Perfectionism

The Commitment and Contemplation Necessary for True Knowledge

Hegel on Knowledge, Impatience, the Peril of Fixed Opinions, and the True Task of the Human Mind (Brainpickings)

Maria Popova on the pathology of impatience

I frequently lament a particularly prevalent pathology of our time — our extreme impatience with the dynamic process of attaining knowledge and transmuting it into wisdom. We want to have the knowledge, as if it were a static object, but we don’t want to do the work of claiming it — and so we reach for simulacra that compress complex ideas into listicles and two-minute animated explainers.

Hegel on the true goal of learning and the demand it places on us

The goal to be reached is the mind’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there. The length of the journey has to be borne with, for every moment is necessary; and again we must halt at every stage, for each is itself a complete individual form, and is fully and finally considered only so far as its determinate character is taken and dealt with as a rounded and concrete whole, or only so far as the whole is looked at in the light of the special and peculiar character which this determination gives it. Because the substance of individual mind, nay, more, because the universal mind at work in the world (Weltgeist), has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time’s extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labour of the world’s history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself, as each is capable of presenting it; and because by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is — for that reason, the individual mind … cannot expect by less toil to grasp what its own substance contains.

Hegel on the danger of equating familiarity with knowledge:

What is “familiarly known” is not properly known, just for the reason that it is “familiar.” When engaged in the process of knowledge, it is the commonest form of self-deception, and a deception of other people as well, to assume something to be familiar, to give assent to it on that very account.

Conquering Perfections and Getting on With Your Creative Work

Don’t Be Precious (with your ideas) Scott Berkun

Berkun on what it means to be precious:

Being precious means you’re behaving as if the draft, the sketch, the idea you’re working on is the most important thing in the history of the universe. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore. When you treat a work in progress too preciously, you trade your talents for fears. You become conservative, suppressing the courage required to make the tough choices that will resolve the work’s problems and let you finish. If you fear that your next decision will ruin the work, you are being precious.

Berkun on the importance of remembering that the creative process and the learning process are part of the same family:

When I see a young writer struggling to finish a book, or a painter wrestling with an incomplete painting, I say “don’t be precious.” If you truly love your craft there are an infinity of projects in your future. There will be other chapters. There will be other canvases and other songs. Perfection is a prison and a self-made one. Whatever you’re making, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion.

Obsessing about every little choice is a sure fire way to prevent great work from happening. Try a bold choice. Put the beginning at the end, or the top at the bottom. Blow your work up into jagged pieces and put them back together. You might just find this opens doors you didn’t even know were there. If you’re too precious you miss the hundreds of big choices that might reveal the path to completion, or convince you the project is a puzzle that needs to be abandoned for a time. But if you spin your wheels faster and faster on smaller and smaller details, you’ll never move anywhere. You’ll never call anything finished, denying yourself the essential experience of looking back from a distance and learning from what you’ve already made.

Berkun on why your mediocre work is a precursor for your brilliant work:

It’s rarely discussed but all good makers leave a legacy of abandoned drafts, unfinished works, mediocre projects and failed ideas, work that enabled them to learn what they needed to finish the projects they are famous for. If your high standards, or self-loathing, is preventing your progress, don’t be precious about it. It takes hundreds of experiences with the cycle of starting, working, and finishing creative works before you have the talent to make finished things that match the grandeur of the ideas in your mind.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 27/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

Effortless Happiness, The Pointlessness of Addressing Trolls, Education Beyond Schooling, & The Perpetual Nature of Problems

A Happiness that is as Natural as Sleep

Willa Cather on Happiness: A Soulful and Deeply Alive Account of True Bliss (Brainpickings)

Cather’s epiphany regarding the simplicity and and nearness of happiness:

The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Useful advice on not letting trolls waste your time or drain your energy

How to Deal With Crappy People (James Altcuher’s blog)

Altucher begins by giving voice to the familiar-sounding monster that rages in his own head. It’s the voice of unprovoked disgust, unwarranted contempt, and unjustifiable slander. It’s the voice of the inner hater that’s hell-bent on condemning anyone and everyone who strikes as strange, unfamiliar, intimidating on even slightly annoying.

The Problem:

Ugh, I’m disgusted with my brain. I see people walking down the street and there’s like this killer inside me providing running nasty commentary about each person. Do you do this also?

I have to stop myself often: “you don’t know this person who is randomly crossing the street. You can’t possibly know that he’s a cheating lying rich Hamptons-worshipping whoremongering obnoxious trust fund baby with a 17 year old mistress on the side who doesn’t wipe, who doesn’t wash, who would wish nothing better than to see you die”.

You can’t know that! So why do I think it? Most people crossing the street probably think that about me also. Who is that freak? Is he homeless? Why can’t he comb his hair? Why is his fly open? Is he a child molesting pervert?

This voice, although its rants are understandable is the root of much unnecessary unhappiness.

The Solution/System:

Most people are pretty crappy. But not all. And even the ones who are no good and not worthy of your time need a system for you to use so YOU can be happier and leave this lecherous gossipy crack addict thats in your head on the road and kick him or her to the curb.

If you understand in advance how to deal with each of these four types you will be infinitely happier. Ultimately, interacting with the four types in the way I describe below will make one fit firmly into the first type, however difficult it is. That’s the goal. You don’t want to go through life unhappy.

Altucher suggests we adopt a strategy beforehand if we hope to deal with the various kinds of people who tempt us. Altucher classifies the people who irritate us into four groups. Then he offers some perspective on how and why we should stop letting our negative judgments about such people ruin our day.

On dealing with happy people:

There are people who are genuinely happy in the world. Sure they have their suffering. Everyone does. But a lot of people really are pretty satisfied with their lives at this very moment.

A natural reflex (not for everyone, but certainly for some people) is to resent people for being happy. Who doesn’t do that some of the time? Raise your hand!

It’s so hard to grab a single ounce of happiness in this world, please be happy for the ones who are happy today. Train your mind to be sincerely happy for their happiness. Catch your resentments and jealousies before they turn into monsters.

Carrie Fisher once said, “nobody wants to read about a good looking happy person”. She was making a commentary on comedy screenwriting and she’s probably right about that. But for you to go from success to success you must first be sincerely happy for the people who are happy around you. Like attracts. Picture all the people you might resent. Spend five minutes a day training your brain to be happy for them. You’ll die lonely in the jungle if you don’t do this and everyone will forget you ever existed.

On dealing with people in pain:

I’ve been unhappy often. Particularly in the past decade. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes people die. I think the level of unhappiness and pain I’ve had in the past decade (versus prior decades) has taught me compassion towards others in a similar boat. Try to cultivate that compassion. It doesn’t mean you have to drain yourself to help those less fortunate.

But even showing compassion and doing what you can goes a long way. If you can share what you have, all the better. If you can give a word of advice, do it.

You always have to protect yourself first. Be compassionate but keep your boundaries. Your goal is your own peace of mind throughout the day, so you can focus on your own success. The fastest way to do that is show compassion to those less fortunate. What you give, comes back tenfold.

On dealing with good people:

This is different from “Happy”. Good people don’t always have ulterior motives. Some people legitimately want to help others. There’s an initial impulse (at least with me) to suspect them. To resent them. Maybe even to envy them. I envy Bill Gates being able to donate $100 billion to charity. But the best thing for me is to catch myself doing that (almost a meditation in itself) and say, “this guy is good. I wish I could be as good as him. I hope I can help him in any way I can.” Be grateful for all the people good to you. Five minutes a day. Doesn’t have to be with incense burning and in the lotus position. On a bus, smile and think of the people you are grateful for.

On dealing with crappy people:

They never will get it. They will say and do things to you and they will never ever understand how evil they are.

And you will hate them. HATE THEM. And they knock on the door of your brain at three in the morning and they want to yell at you. And you yell back. And they yell back. And on and on. All day. All afternoon. The ongoing conversation with the shittiest people in the world. They will torture you, kill you, and slit the thoughts out of your mind and not even care because they think they are doing the right thing.

You know who I’m talking about. Because you have a good 20 or 30 of these in your life just like I do. They might even be former friends, relatives, neighbors, bureaucrats, whatever, whoever, whenever. They swoop down on your life and are just plain crappy and they won’t even know it.

They won’t ever know who they are so there is no way to convince them. That’s the trap.

Sometimes, in a weak moment, I think to myself: What if I run into them again? How badly I will hurt and destroy them. Maybe just casually walk up to them and smash a glass over their head so their nose is broken, glasses broken on the floor, blood all over their face. Arm broken after I hold the elbow and stomp on it.


Similarly, I was talking to someone the other day who couldn’t stop talking about someone who had wronged her fourteen years ago. Stop! You are an idiot. And it’s boring already. It was your fault anyway!

This is the worst category. I’ll tell you one more anecdote. Two seconds ago someone posted a horrible comment on my blog. I won’t repeat it. Racist, mean, rude to me, whatever. I deleted the post, blocked the user, blocked his IP address. And then I was going to send him an email telling him what I thought of him. I was angry. Then I stopped myself. You have to stop yourself.

Remember this:

When you get in the mud with a pig, you get dirty and the pig gets happy.

There is only ONE only way to deal with these people in a way that will make you happier instead of sadder. ONE WAY. And it always works. This is the most important part of the Emotional leg of the Daily Practice. COMPLETELY IGNORE THE EVIL PEOPLE

Altucher describes an experience he had responding to trolls online and it reminds me of a recent experience of my own:

This isn’t easy. It’s a daily discipline. Much easier to do a 1000 pushups. I had an article recently on the Wall St Journal site that had 971 comments. No exaggeration when I say 950 of the smartest anonymous trolls on the internet called me an idiot moron and worse. I ignored all the comments. Great. I could care less. I was the winner there.

Then I put another article up on a supposedly peaceful site about Buddhism and yoga, the Elephant Journal. Great site. I post there regularly. The topic of my post was that 18 year olds should basically not be sent into war. I like peace. Better to send 40 year olds. They are closer to death anyway. The most hateful responses popped up. People comparing me to Hitler. I was so shocked I wasted one whole night until 2 in the morning responding to these people but ignoring the many emails I get that genuinely support me and that I want to be friends with. Why did I do that? I wanted my haters to like me. I wanted them to agree with me and love me. Its like putting a gun to your head and saying, “unless you do what I say, I will kill myself”. You’re going to end up firing that gun.

I lost my discipline for a whole night and then I slept late and it took at least 36 hours to get back on track. What a waste. For nothing! Its hard to keep up this practice. But you fail and die unhappy if you don’t.

And did I win a trophy for doing this? Was it a huge trophy made of gold? For responding to all of those comments? Did everyone/anyone write back and say, “you’re right. I’m sorry. Now I LOVE you! Let’s all be lovers!” Of course not! They just want to fight. I got in the mud with pigs. I got dirty.

I wholeheartedly agree with Altucher here, but it is definitely a difficult thing to do. It takes tremendous self-awareness and discipline, the kind that can’t be mustered by willpower, but that can only come through committed practice. When I wrote a lengthy blog post offering a point by point refutation of some nasty things that were said about me by another blogger, my father called me the next morning and said the following words: “I can understand where you’re coming from, but sometimes the best resistance is non-resistance. Some people aren’t going to change their personality or their position no matter what you say.” Words to the wise.

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (Pgs 23-33)

Education beyond schooling

Illich on the delusional presumption of obligatory schooling:

The major obstacle on the way to society that truly educates was well defined by a…friend of mine in Chicago, who told me that our imagination was “all schooled up.”We permit the state to ascertain the universal educational deficiencies of its citizens and establish one specialized agency to treat them. We thus share in the delusion that we can distinguish between what is necessary education for others and what is not, just as former generations established laws which defined what was sacred and what was profane.

Illich on the illusion of non-educational spaces:

The very existence of obligatory schools divides any society into two realms: some time spans and processes and treatments and professions are “academic” or “pedagogic,” and others are not. The power of school thus to divide social reality has no boundaries: education becomes unworldly and the world becomes noneducational.

The perpetual endurance of problems, the nature of misfits, and the value of taking personal responsibility

Are Your Lights On by Donald C. Gause & Gerald M. Weinberg (pgs 49-60)

Since any problem is a difference between a perceived state and a desired state, when we change a state to “solve” a problem, we usually create one or more other problems. Put simply, each solution is the source of the next problem. We never get rid of problems. Problems, solutions, and new problems weave an endless chain. The best we can hope for is that the problems we substitute are less troublesome than the ones we “solve.”

The trickiest part of certain problems is just recognizing their existence.

If you can’t think of at east three things that might be wrong with your understanding of the problem, you don’t understand the problem. There are hundreds of things that can be overlooked in any problem definition. If you can’t think of even three, all that says is that you can’t, or won’t, think at all.

A misfit is a solution that produces a mismatch with the human beings who have to live with the solution. Each new point of view will produce a new misfit.

Don’t solve other people’s problems when they can solve them perfectly well themselves. If it’s their problem, make it their problem.

….if we can swallow our pride for just an instant and view the problem as though it were ours alone, we might actually get something done…Try blaming yourself for a change–even for a moment.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 26/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

Inventing Your Own Path, The Refusal to be Broken, The Limits of Solutions, & Free Market Schooling

Inventing the path rather than identifying the path

What and how

In this brief but compelling post, Seth Godin writes,

Small dreams work this way: figure out what’s available, then choose your favorite.

Important dreams are based on what needs to be done, and then… find your how.

It’s always easier to order off the menu. Is easier the goal?

There are two distinct approaches to career-making: one is scientific, the other artistic. The scientific approach places emphasis on discovering preexisting facts and choosing to work in harmony with them. The artistic approach places emphasis on making things up. When an artist composes a song or choreographs a dance, he/she doesn’t approach this process in the same way that scientist conducts an experiment in the lab. The artist is not merely attempting to discover what is real. The artist is endeavoring to introduce a new possibility into the world. Both approaches are needed and there is much overlap, but there it seems that the scientific mindset has dominated the way we think about work in many ways. We start with facts and then we try to pursue and educational path that will help us best take advantage of the already existing facts. What Godin seems to be encouraging here is more of an artistic approach. In addition to doing research on what’s already out there, the world needs more people who are willing to create jobs that don’t currently exist. We’re not only free to choose from the menu, but we’re also free to add to the menu.

The Refusal to be Broken

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Introduction

Douglass’s broken spirit and subsequent determination to not be broken:

It was under Covey’s brutal management that Douglass took seven-league boot-sized strides toward freedom. Again in mythic terms, Douglass describes how at first Covey’s snaky brutality and interminable regimen of hard labor defeated his spirit. “A few months of this discipline tames me,” Douglass says. “Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

Douglass resolves never again to be beaten by Covey, or anyone else, without a fight. In anticipation of his showdown with Covey, while watching the ships on Chesapeake Bay he says, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

Douglass’s David and Goliath moment with Mr. Covey:

“But at this moment—-from whence came the spirit i don’t know—I resolved to fight;…I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him” (p. 68). They fought for nearly two hours, remembers Douglass. “I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him….This battle with Covey,” says Douglass, “was the turning-point in my career as a slave”. As a result of the fight, “my long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.” Covey never touches him again, and in the four remaining years of his bondage, “I had several fights, but was never whipped” (p. 69).

Douglass’s crafty ability to use the trickster ways of his slave masters to outsmart them on his way to a life of freedom:

Finding himself in a thick briar patch with tricksters owning power that is nearly absolute, Douglass quickly learns to become something of a trickster himself. Finding himself ruled by a system of what he terms Lynch Law–the arbitrary prerogatives of those who have all the official power—Douglass learns to read and write; in so doing he develops a rhetorical strategy that trains his mind for revolutionary action, for literally turning the tables on the powerful. He learns to write sentences that outlast theirs; and then, through speeches and through his speechlike narrative, he helps generation after generation of those seeking freedom to find their way from learning how a man or woman becomes a slave to knowing how a slave becomes a man or woman.

Insights on the nature and limits of solutions

Are Your Lights On by Donald C. Gause & Gerald M. Weinberg Chapters 4-6, Pgs 29-46

Highlights from Chapters 4-6:

Don’t take their solution method for a problem definition.

If you solve their problem too readily, they’ll never believe you’ve solved their real problem.

Don’s mistake a solution method for a problem definition—especially if it’s your own solution method.

You can never be sure you have a correct definition, even after the problem is solved.

Don’t leap to conclusions, but don’t ignore your first impression.

The really important thing in dealing with problems is to know that the question is never answered, but that it doesn’t matter, as long as you keep asking. It’s only when you fool yourself into thinking you have the final problem definition—the final, true answer–that you can be fooled into thinking you have the final solution. And if you think that, you’re always wrong, because there is no such thing as a final solution.

You can never be sure you have a correct definition, but don’t ever stop trying to get one.

Schooling and the Free Market

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (Pgs 12-22)

Illich on how state monopolies on schooling limit the dynamic possibilities of skill training:

Potential skill teachers are never scarce for long because, on the one hand, demand for a skill grows only with its performance within a community and, on the other, a man exercising a skill could also teach it. But, at present, those using skills which are in demand and do require a human teacher are discouraged from sharing these skills with others. This is done either by teachers who monopolize the licenses or by unions which protect their trade interests. Skill centers which would be judged by customers on their results, and no on the personnel they employ or the process they use, would open unsuspected working opportunities, frequently even for those who are now considered unemployable. Indeed, there is no reason why such skill centers should not be at the work place itself, with the employer and his work force supplying instruction as well as jobs to those who choose their educational credits in this way.

On the opportunities that can emerge were schooling governed by free market forces instead of governmental force:

Skill teachers are made scarce by the belief in the value of licenses. Certification constitutes a form of market manipulation and is plausible only to a schooled mind. Most teachers of arts and trades are less skillful, less inventive, and less communicative than the best craftsmen and tradesmen. Most high-school teachers of Spanish or French do not speak the language as correctly as their pupils might after a half a year of competent drills. Experiments conducted by Angel Quintero in Puerto Rico suggest that many young teenagers, if given the proper incentives, programs, and access to tools, are better than most schoolteachers, at introducing their peers to the scientific exploration of plants, stars, and matter, and to the discovery of how and why a motor or a radio functions.

Opportunities for skill-learning can be vastly multiplied if we open the “market.” This depends on matching the right teacher with the right student when he is highly motivated in an intelligent program, without the constraint of curriculum.

Free and competing drill instruction is a subversive blasphemy to the orthodox educator. It dissociates the acquisition of skills from “human” education, which schools package together, and thus it promotes unlicensed learning no less than unlicensed teaching for unpredictable purposes.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 25/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

The Power of Silence, The Futility of Multitasking, The Downsides of Obligatory Schooling, & The Relationship Between Freedom & Literacy

Highlights from Susan Sontag’s Musings on Silence

The Aesthetics of Silence: Susan Sontag on Art as a Form of Spirituality and the Paradoxical Role of Silence in Creative Culture

Sontag’s delightfully poetic and robust conception of spirituality:

Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself. (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at resolving the painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.)

Sontag on silence as the guardian of artistic autonomy:

Silence is the artist’s ultimate other-worldly gesture: by silence, he frees himself from servile bondage to the world, which appears as patron, client, consumer, antagonist, arbiter, and distorter of his work.

Sontag on how the longing for silence is summoned by the desire to live in accordance with superior standards:

An exemplary decision of this sort can be made only after the artist has demonstrated that he possesses genius and exercised that genius authoritatively. Once he has surpassed his peers by the standards which he acknowledges, his pride has only one place left to go. For, to be a victim of the craving for silence is to be, in still a further sense, superior to everyone else. It suggests that the artist has had the wit to ask more questions than other people, and that he possesses stronger nerves and higher standards of excellence.

Choosing a Life of Focus

William Deresiewicz: How To Learn How To Think

Referring to the discoveries made during a study at Standford, Deresiewicz comments on the myth of multitasking and how it works against constructive thinking:

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

Interestingly, a good friend of mine text messaged me the following quote from Albert Einstein today:

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

As an avid reader and book lover, I will never align myself with any views that appear to underestimate or belittle the value of reading, but I think there is much to be learned from both of these quotes here. The act of reading, which is often referred to as “consuming content,” could be compared to the act of eating. One could then extend the analogy by saying that digesting food is to eating what meditation, silence, and solitude is to reading. To do one without the other negates the value of both. I often feel immense pressure to keep up with all the different things constantly being shared online. My own book wishlist is long enough, but things get even more stressful when I try to absorb all the various stories, blog posts, attention-grabbing headlines, and social media trends that get tossed my way from day to day. I find that the quality of my attention, my work, and my relationships tends to be much higher when I either unplug altogether or when I choose to delve deeply into one thing with great focus. A couple of weeks ago, my one of my colleagues expressed my exact sentiments on this issue in a post called What I Tell Myself When I’m Tempted to Not Be Myself:

“Today I will live free.”

I wrote those words out by hand this morning and felt an immediate release. I wrote them because I needed to. I just got back from some time off to deliberately do little but rest and reflect, and immediately I felt the pressing weight of the Other upon me.

The Other is anything and everything that does not come from within. It’s all the great ideas and people and tasks and activities that bombard me from without. They’re all wonderful things, and nothing but expressions of the agency of others. Yet they’re not me, and if I internalize them, or interact with them in any way that has a responsive orientation, I become trapped.

There is so much information out there. If my life is only to collect it, gather, sort, label, react, and respond to it, I am an automaton. But I’m not an automaton. I live and breath passionate freedom. I can’t afford to play my life in response mode.

I had to commit to myself and to the world that I will live free today. Just one day. Anyone can do that, right?

So today I don’t care about anyone else’s information. I don’t care about opinions. I don’t care about any ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’ flying my way. I care about living my journey for truth, freely and with abandon. Only then will I have the excess creative capacity to engage fully the wide world of the Other.

Obligatory Schooling and the Quest for an Authentic Approach to Education

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (Pgs 1-12)

Illich on obligatory schooling as the basis for societal ills

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for healthcare, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question….the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence: three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernized misery.

Illich on how the schooling mindset scandalizes the virtues of self-reliance and autodidacticism:

Not only education but social reality itself has become schooled…Rich and poor alike depend on schools and hospitals which guide their lives, form their world view, and define for them what is legitimate and what is not. Both view doctoring oneself as irresponsible, learning on one’s own as unreliable, and community organization, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion. For both groups the reliance on institutional treatment renders independent accomplishment suspect…Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs “deschooling.”

Illich on how obligatory schooling discourages independent learning and deincentivizes healthy competition from the marketplace:

…the mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world the school has an anti-educational effect on society: school is recognized as the institution which specializes in education. The failures of school are taken by most people as proof that education is a very costly, very complex, always arcane, and frequently impossible task.

School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education. Simultaneously both schools and the other institutions which depend on them are priced out of the market.

Illich on the danger of equating education with schooling and the need to abolish a government monopoly on formal learning:

Equal educational opportunity is, indeed, both a desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the Church…Two centuries ago the Unites States led the world in a movement to disestablish the monopoly of a single church. Now we need the constitutional disestablishment of the monopoly of the school, and thereby of a system which legally combines prejudice with discrimination. The first article of a bill of rights for a modern, humanist society would correspond to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The State shall make no law with respect to the establishment of education.” There shall be no ritual obligatory for all.

Illich on how obligatory schooling confuses credentialing with meaningful and pragmatic learning.

Neither learning nor justice is promoted by schooling because educators insist on packaging instruction with certification. Learning and the assignment of social roles are melted into schooling. Yet to learn means to acquire a new skill or insight, while promotion depends on an opinion which others have formed. Learning frequently is the result of instruction, but selection for a role or category in the job market increasingly depends on mere length of attendance.

Instruction is the choice of circumstances which facilitate learning. Roles are assigned by setting a curriculum of conditions which the candidate must meet if he is to make the grade. School links instruction –but not learning– to these roles. This is neither reasonable nor liberating. It is not reasonable because it does not link relevant qualities or competences to roles, but rather the process by which such qualities are supposed to be acquire. It is not liberating or educational because school reserves instruction to those whose every step in learning fits previously approved measures of social control.

Even now many people wrongly believe that school ensures the dependence of public trust on relevant learning achievements. However, instead of equalizing chances, the school system has monopolized their distribution.

Freedom and Literacy

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Preface, Timeline, & Intro

Highlights from the introduction:

Robert G. O’Meally on the uniqueness of Douglass’s legacy:

What seperates Douglass’s quest for improvement from, say, those of dime-store Horatio Alger heroes of a generation later, is that his will to free himself is so directly related to his will to help others free themselves.

Douglass on the teaching power of the slave songs:

I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.

…If anyone wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonol Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul

Douglass’s poignant recollection of the harsh warnings administered by his slave master to his mistress upon discovering that his mistress had been teaching Douglass how to read:

“If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world…if you teach that nigger…how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”

Douglass’s reaction to these words is equally poignant:

These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom….

Understanding the Real Nature of Problems

Are Your Lights On by Donald C. Gause & Gerald M. Weinberg Chapters 1-3, Pgs 3-25

On the value of approaching problems from a pluralistic perspective:

For the would-be problem solver, whose problem is to solve the problem of others, the best way to begin is mentally to shift gears from singular to plural–from Problem Solver to Problems Solver…To practice this mental shift, the Solver should, early in the game, try to answer the question: Who has a problem? And then, for each unique answering party, to ask “What is the essence of your problem?”

On the mutually beneficial nature of mutually felt tension:

When one party begins to feel pain in synchrony  with the other, we know that the problem will eventually find its resolution.

On what a problem is:

A problem is a difference between things as desired and things as perceived.

The perception principle:

Phantom problems are real problems.

The humor axiom:

Don’t bother trying to solve problems for people who don’t have a sense of humor.

Carl Menger’s Contributions to the History of Economic Thought

Principles of Economics by Carl Menger (Foreword pgs 7-10/Intro by F.A. Hayek pgs11-15)

Peter Klein on the uniqueness of Menger’s approach to economic thought:

Unlike his contemporaries William Stanley Jevons and Leon Walras, who independently developed their own concepts of marginal utility during the 1870’s, Menger favored an approach that was deductive, teleological, and, in a primary sense, humanistic. While Menger shared his contemporaries’ preference for abstract reasoning, he was primarily interested in explaining the real world actions of real people, not in creating artificial, stylized representations of reality. Economics, for Menger, is the study of purposeful human choice, the relationship between means and ends. “All things are subject to the law of cause and effect,” he begins his treatise. “This great principle knows no exception.”  Jevons and Walras rejected cause and effect in favor of simultaneous determination, the technique of modeling complex relations as systems of simultaneous equations in which no variable “causes” another. Theirs has become the standard approach in contemporary economics, accepted by nearly all economists but the followers of Carl Menger.

Klein on Menger’s revolutionary understanding of pricing:

Menger sought to explain prices as the outcome of the purposeful, voluntary interactions of buyers and sellers, each guided by their own subjective evaluations of the usefulness of various goods and services. Trade is thus the result of people’s deliberate attempts to improve their well-being, not an innate “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” as suggested by Adam Smith. The exact quantities of good exchanges —their prices, in other words—are determined by the values individuals attach to marginal units of these goods. With a single buyer and seller, goods are exchanged as long as participants can agree on an exchange ratio that leaves each better off than he was before….Menger’s highly general explanation of price formation continues to form the core of Austrian microecnomics.

F.A. Hayek on Menger’s pivotal place in economic history:

There can be no doubt among competent historians that if, during the last sixty years, the Austrian School has occupied an almost unique position in the development of economic science, this is entirely due to the foundations laid by this one man.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 24/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.

I Choose to be Good, but I Refuse to be Boring and Safe

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, abd make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe

In so many unfortunate ways, we have become a nation of boring people. The human species is inherently creative and unfathomably interesting. Yet, the complex, nuanced, beautiful, and sometimes messy stories that make us who we are all too often go untold because of the high price that seems to come with having a perspective.

One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to the arts is because they remind us that we are essentially storytelling creatures, that we can’t be who we truly are unless each of us exercises the courage to be faithful to the reality of our own unique narratives. But we don’t need to be professional artists to change the world. Through entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, collaboration, simple conversation, and small acts of love, we can reclaim our rightful place as revolutionaries and creators.

We weren’t made to be cookie cutter personalities who all say and do the same things in order to avoid being misunderstood. We were made to let the brilliant and sometimes disturbingly blinding light of our individuality shine. This is what it means to live authentically. This is what it means to be a human being.

What it Really Takes to be Creative


I recently wrote a post for Medium entitled Creativity isn’t Sexy. Creativity is about Creating. In that post, I discussed one of the biggest myths about creativity that prevents many would-be artists from doing the work they so deeply desire to do.

Since publishing that article, one of the producers from Cliff Central contacted me and asked me to be a guest on the Kellman Show to discuss some of my ideas. We spoke this morning about failure, hard work, and the difference between creativity and eccentricity. If you’d like to hear our conversation, you can check out the show by clicking on the link below.

T.K. Coleman on the Kellman Show


The Wonder of Simple Things

Earlier today I was sitting in the airport next to a mother holding her baby.

The mother was on the phone so she had no idea what was going on, but the baby kept peeking over the mom’s shoulder to stare at me.

Every time I caught the baby staring, I made a funny face and she laughed. We carried on like this for 5 minutes and I honestly think the both of us were having the time of our lives.

I don’t know what the age is when we begin to forget such magic, but I’m grateful to this little angel for the brief reminder.