This week on the Isaac Morehouse podcast, Isaac and I discuss his threatening letter from the municipal business license office, my appearance on the Tom Woods show and some critical comments I received, whether believing in your own power is delusional, why wishful thinking is the source of all the good stuff, why faith is not the absence of logic but a remembrance of it, whether coding is a skill every will need or no one will need, old-timey radio voices, and more! Check it out.
For the month of October, I will read one manifesto from ChangeThis.com per day. After completing each manifesto, I’ll write a blog post inspired by one or more of the concepts espoused by that manifesto.
A manifesto lies somewhere in the middle between a long-form blog post and a book. It usually ranges anywhere from 5-50 pages depending on the author and subject. A manifesto is essentially a well-reasoned sustained presentation of a specific theme. The themes addressed by the manifestos I’ll be reading include leadership, business management, creativity, social change, and productivity.
This PDP relates to my goals in four ways:
1) I intend to write and publish at least one manifesto of my own before the end of the year. This 30-day challenge will help me familiarize myself with the styles and themes of successful pieces.
2) I’m always scouting for good professional development resources to recommend to my coaching clients and Praxis participants. Since most manifestos are published by prolific writers, this will not only give me a chance to update my knowledge of what’s out there in the world of manifestos, but it’ll also provide me with a low-cost opportunity to preview new authors/books in order to see if I want to explore their ideas further.
3) This PDP will help me practice my commentary writing skills. I enjoy writing about my own ideas, but I equally enjoy expanding on other people’s thoughts as well. Finding the balance between quoting the brilliance of others and adding unique value of my own is a creative challenge I look forward to.
4) I love learning. I’m genuinely going to enjoy this like a kid in a candy store. That’s the most important reason of all.
I look forward to sharing what I’m exploring.
To model the education experience I’ve created for Praxis, I will be switching over from a yearly PDP model to a monthly PDP model. That is, I will identify one activity/goal at the beginning of each month and I’ll focus on that until the end of the month where I begin a new activity/goal.
This approach offers me two distinct advantages over the yearly model I previously adopted:
- I will be able to work in sync with my Praxis participants. As they work on monthly professional development projects, they will know that I am doing the same.
- It allows me to marry my need for focus (commit to something and get it done) with my constant craving for variety (if I discover something new I want to try, I can start it the following month) and my practical need to eliminate things that aren’t working for me (if there’s an activity that isn’t as helpful or feasible as I thought it would be, I can finish doing it for the month and replace it with something better at the beginning of the next month.
I plan to begin my first monthly PDP at the beginning of October. When I begin, I’ll write a blog post identifying what my activity/goal will be. I’ll track my progress everyday on a spreadsheet I will share and I’ll also write my notes/thoughts/reflections no less than once a week.
Between now and then, I’m going to focus on reading for an hour per day, creating a spreadsheet of things I’d like to do for future PDP’s, and building a new website I intend to use primarily for coaching, speaking, and more brand-oriented writing.
I look forward to learning lots of new things this year and I’m eager to share those explorations with you.
One of the main things you have is your point of view. Your particular point of view is what fuels your work. If you’re just working on something because you have the skills to do it and it’s not triggering your point of view, the work can only rise to a certain level. So even as a career strategy, if the work only rises to a certain level, you’ll be thought of as a utility player, not as a superstar. –Brian Koppelman
Your Point of View: Finding it, Respecting it, Trusting it, and Making it a Part of Your Work
In this interview with Todd Henry of the Accidental Creative podcast, Brian Koppelman shares his insights on how to be more creative, doing work you love, the value of daily rituals, and the power of persistence.
Speaking on the passion he has for his work, Koppelman expresses sentiments that echoes Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss.”
I don’t even think of it as a side project. I just think of it as this thing that I love to do and that I’m so lucky and happy to do. It’s a huge highlight of my week and it’s something that I really look forward to. I only have people on the show who really fascinate me. There has to be something about the way they live their live, the choices that they’ve made, the creative risks that they’ve taken that lights me up and that raises questions in me or else I won’t book them on the show.
I look at these conversations I get to have as amplified versions of conversations I try to have in my life generally with these people. One of the great benefits of having become a working artist with some body of work that other people have responded to, is that I’m able to reach out to people I admire, and people about whom I have curiosity, or people I want to be mentors to me, or people who I think have an angle on a certain aspect on life or the creative life I want to know more about.
It’s really just an amplification or reflection of what I am and who I am as a person. These are conversations I have with my kids, and my wife, and with sort of everyone in my life. The microphone gives me almost an excuse to go deeper, to get into territory that might be a little uncomfortable at dinner…
Work that makes you truly come alive is experienced as an investment of one’s energy rather than an expenditure. The adage, “when you find what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life,” isn’t a false promise of a life free from discipline and demand, but rather an invitation to a kind of work that gives back. For those who manage to find their life’s calling, work is experienced as a reciprocating force. The energy one pours into it is reflected by to the worker in various forms. Koppelman’s relationship to work is reminder that the so-called “daily grind” or “rat race” can be a deep source of nourishment when we work harder at building a healthy relationship to our work than we do at just showing up to our jobs.
Addressing the issue of doing what you love versus doing things for the money, Koppelman offers the following two cents:
Only you can make that choice from a priority standpoint, but I know that I now won’t just take a job or an opportunity because there’s more money in that place. I haven’t for years. To me, the level of pain associated with that is to great. I don’t feel like I’m tapping into my best self and I put a primacy on that. I put a primacy on being able to go home at night and be really good to the people that I love. And I think that if you’re blocked creatively, you become toxic to yourself and I think that toxicity spreads.
At one point in the interview, Koppelman shares the story of how Gene Simmons from Kiss discovered the band, Van Halen, early on in their music career. Excited about their potential, Simmons helped them produce high quality demos (demos including songs that would later perform well on their first three albums) and attempted to help them get signed with his manager. When the band met with his manager, he rejected them and said their music wasn’t commercial enough. Van Halen was devastated by the rejection and taken aback by the surprising criticisms of their music. Later on, Simmons’ manager admitted that their primary concern was making sure Simmons didn’t get distracted from his music obligations, given the success of Kiss, by devoting too much attention to trying to manage a new band. So they decided that they would be critical of Van Halen’s music no matter how it sounded.
The lesson Koppelman extracts from this story is a powerful one:
You’re going to hear the “no,” probably, in the way that’s least empowering to you because we’re all still, in some sort of way, that kid in the art class. So you’re going to hear the “no” as confirmation that you’re worthless when, in fact, it may have nothing to do with the work you’ve put in front of the buyer, or the agent, or the authority figure. That person may be under pressures and employing strategies that you have no way to know about. So I’ve always cataloged these stories for myself and held on to them to prod me forward when I know in my bones that some pursuit is worthwhile.
Koppelman cautions listeners against being too quick to surrender their judgment to gatekeepers and experts:
If you have a really strong sense that your project is worth doing, and you know yourself…if a little secret voice that’s not insecurity, that’s reality says “this one’s not great,” listen to it. But if that voice doesn’t show up, keep working on it. [I’ve had] material that I knew was right that was passed on at various times, but then by continuing to focus on it and work on it, I ended up getting a “yes” and finding out those people were wrong and I was right to believe in it. I have a real skepticism about gatekeepers and supposed experts and their ability to judge the value of something.
The Universality of Fear and the Will to Create
Describing the anxiety and self-doubt she felt regarding her capacity to do justice to her dream project, authoring a fiction novel centered around comic book icon Lois Lane, Gwenda Bond serves as an inspiring counterexample to our tendency to assume that our personal feelings of unworthiness are a strange and unique phenomenon.
With a side helping of terror and secret worries that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Because, truth is, I adore Lois Lane (and Superman) and always have. This was a dream project, dropping from the sky into my lap at the exact perfect moment when I could say yes and get started right away. But . . . what if I screwed it up? Well, you can’t be so afraid to screw up that you aren’t willing to try.
I had to channel my inner Lois and be determined to do my best, while developing the superpower of shutting out the worries about being the person who screwed up a showcase for one of the greatest characters ever created, one known around the entire world. I think, though, that this lesson is applicable beyond this specific book—at least, I plan to treat it that way. If we’re not challenging ourselves to do something a little or a lot terrifying as writers, where failure is possible and has consequences, then we probably should be making bolder choices. That mix of terror and determination is where good writing lives.
Nervousness and insecurity, while often interpreted as evidence that we’re out of our league, can actually be a confirmation of the exact opposite conclusion. The process of becoming superior versions of ourselves must inevitably lead to an unsettling confrontation between our attachment to the cozy nest of familiarity and the demanding possibilities of who we know we’re capable of becoming. Our true self is so much more magnificent than the ordinary roles we settle for playing, that when we catch even the slightest glimpse of it, we can feel paralyzed by a sense of overwhelm. Steven Pressfield , author of the War of Art, contends that the resistance we feel towards creative endeavor is nothing less than a confirmation sign that we’re on the right road:
If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Bond’s experience and Pressfield’s advice is a call to nothing less than fearless creating. We must all find a way to dig deeply enough into the well of our creative potential until we find that which is more substantial than our doubt: the will to create, the power to convert uncomfortable feelings and unnerving emotions into creative energy, the determination to not run from our darker and more unpredictable psychological sensations, but to channel them along constructive lines.
Reflections on the Meaning of Art
Maria Popova demonstrates her usual curative brilliance by sharing a plethora of insights from various creators and thinkers about the nature of art. Below are my personal highlights from her list of favorites quotes and quips about the aesthetic enterprise.
Charles Eames, cited in the fantastic 100 Quotes by Charles Eames:
Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.
This particular understanding demystifies the creative process and offers many an aspiring artist the opportunity to think about art in terms of what they actually do rather than in terms of how they feel or what they think of themselves. “I’m not creative,” “I’m not a writer,” or “I’m not the artsy-type,” are reasons offered by many who’ve abandoned their creative dreams because they didn’t see themselves in accordance some stereotypical or mystical image of what an artist should be. Sometimes we feel good and sometimes we feel bad. Sometimes we feel inspired and sometimes we feel unmoved. Sometimes we feel confident and sometimes we feel insecure. Sometimes the process of creating things makes us feel magical and alive, while sometimes the process of creating things seems somewhat neutral. Either way, our artistry is defined by the results we choose to create. After all the mystical experiences have transpired (or failed to transpire), the art of creating will still be about creating.
Francis Ford Coppola in a recent interview:
An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.
Zig Ziglar once wrote, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” As I wrote in Preparation is What Happens While You Work,
Waiting for epiphanies, paradigm-shifts, irresistible sparks of inspiration, or whisperings from an exotic muse is nothing more than a mystical version of self-stultifying procrastination. If you want new beliefs, you have to explore new experiences by beginning new practices. The way to become the best version of yourself is by doing important, challenging, and noble work even when you don’t feel certain that you’re ready, worthy, or qualified to do so.
Michelangelo Pistoletto in Art’s Responsibility:
Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.
One of our world’s greatest needs is for people who their art as worth creating whether they’re rewarded with fame and fortune or not. Creating is not the special privilege of a select few. To be human is to create and the more we do it, the more humane our world becomes. As Maria Popova concludes in her own words,
This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.
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 23/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.
Sean Stephenson on psychological power, the danger of self-pity, and how to break through the invisible fence of self-defeating thoughts
I was born to rid this word of insecurity. When a human being is insecure, they do stupid stuff. When we feel like we’re not enough, we chase external validation and external objects to tell us we’re enough.
Sean Stephenson is a therapist and motivational speaker. According to Wikipedia, “because he was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, Stephenson stands just three feet tall, has fragile bones, and must use a wheelchair.” Sean’s life is a living embodiment of Albert Camus’s observation that ‘The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’ For Stephenson, freedom begins by liberating ourselves from faith in the necessity of disempowering beliefs:
Lesson # 1: Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you. When I was born, the doctors told my parents that I would be dead within the first twenty four hours of my life. Thirty five years later, all those doctors are dead and I am the only doctor that remains. Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you. How many predictions have been thrown at you your whole life? If you believe predictions that do not empower you, you will wither away and day; either physically die your spirit will die as you just walk around the world like a carcass that is just following the masses. You will be given a lot of titles in your life. You will be told so many different things. You must only listen to that which empowers you.
This advice is a reminder that facts, while in and of themselves, are unavoidable, we are free to decide for ourselves how such facts are to be interpreted. The fact that one is sick or poor, for instance, is typically regarded as an intrinsically negative fact. Testimonies like Stephenson’s provide evidence to the contrary. In the spirit of Hamlet’s “for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so,” Stephenson presents a compelling example of the mind’s autonomous capacity to determine what it shall make of the facts. While reality make be unforgiving and unbending at times, experience belongs to the realm of the subjective and, as such, is the product of not only of reality, but also of the attitude we choose to adopt.
The real enemy that prevents us from accessing and appropriating our psychological power, is that socially acceptable and socially rewarding demon called “pity.” In exchange for the easy attention we receive from advertising our difficulties, we compromise our ability to see the possibilities that promise a higher quality of life:
You know what the worst drug that ever hit the human race is? Pity! The moment you feel sorry for another person or the moment you feel sorry for yourself, you are hosed. You are totally completely frozen in potential. We cannot pity ourselves. We cannot pity you.
The second lesson today is you are not your condition. I am not disabled. Sure, I’ll take the handicap parking privileges, but that does not define me as a man. Not able? I’ve been looked at and treated my whole life as if I am not able. I have had to rise above and show people that the only disability is one’s refusal to adapt. You have to adapt to whatever environment you’re in even if it’s prison. What does adaption look like? I think it looks like celebration. Because when you meet people that are celebrating their life, you want to be around them, you want to learn from them, you want to do business with them, you want to hire them. If you do not want to be seen as a prisoner or a convict when you get out of this, or even while you’re in this, then it’s an attitude, it’s a belief in yourself that you bring value to the human race no matter what your current condition, title, or stature is.
Stephenson challenges his listeners to be better than the good opinion of others by not limiting their options to what other people are merely okay with:
If I believe that I’m disabled, I would wither up, I would be shy, I would be insecure, I would be afraid, I would act like I need your help and the rest of humanity would be okay with that.
Stephenson concludes his inspiring and highly quotable talk by identifying the true nature of the prison that keeps us from living free and showing us how self-love is the way out:
I’m going to teach you what the real prison is. It’s not surrounded by barbed wire and electrical fences. The real prisons do not have guards. The real prison is up here (pointing to his head) and we all got it. We all have a mind that chatters and so often won’t stop chattering. Do you know where your salvation is? It’s not outside these walls. I’ve met so many people that are so extremely successful and famous and are in prison because they’re stuck in their minds bullying themselves and pitying themselves.
When you love yourself, whether you’re sleeping on a prison cot or in a mansion; whether you have food in your belly or you don’t know when your next meal is coming; when you love yourself, when you learn to master your emotions, then and only then are you free.
The phrase “master your emotions” is one that contains great power. Unfortunately, that power is often overlooked because of the conflation of two distinct responses to emotional life: that of suppressing or repressing one’s emotions and that of managing or mastering one’s emotions. The former is an act of denial and dishonesty which only leads to self-delusion and self-destruction. The latter is the graceful art of acknowledging and owning one’s feelings while creatively channeling emotional energy along constructive lines. Anger, sadness, jealousy, and all of the other so-called emotional states do not need to be pushed away, but rather redirected and put to good use. The antidote to suppressing one’s feelings isn’t to be driven by them in an unbridled manner, but to be proactive and self-determined about the process of collaborating with our emotions towards the end of creating a life that reflects our highest principles and priorities.
Jules Evans on the Madness Underlying our Efforts to Fit in
Jules Evans recounts the recent experience of going out for pizza with a close lifelong friend. The only problem was that this friend was known for suffering from regular episodes of paranoid schizophrenic behavior resulting from an experiment with LSD that led to a psychotic breakdown at the age of 17. Describing the unpredictable nature of his friend’s state of mind, Evans writes, “Sometimes he is lost to this reality, too deep in the ocean of his own delusion and imagination. Sometimes he surfaces, and you can have a conversation with him, and your old friend is back from the depths.” Evan’s concern about going out for pizza with his friend was that his decision might be too big of a risk to handle. What if his friend says of does something embarrassing? What if his friend misses out on all those important social cues we need to recognize in order to fit in as a “normal” or unobtrusive member of society. Ironically, it was Evan, whose self-consciousness and insecurity led to some rather awkward behavior, that served as the source of discomfort, not his friend. The remorse he felt from the situation inspired him to think deeply about the everyday plight of trying to fit in and the creative challenges it poses to our need to be true to who we really are. Evans observes that so much of our energy is devoted to managing our brands, protecting our public personas, and making sure we’re behaving in a way that supports our social ambitions that we easily overlook the necessity of embracing our demons, owning our madness, harmonizing with our shadows, and loving our weirdness:
Being an adult in a highly civilised society like ours is hard. It takes a lot of self-control, emotional inhibition and social tact. We have to learn, from the age of six or so, to read social situations – which can often be bewilderingly complex and nuanced – and out of the million possible ways of responding to ambiguous social cues, we have to select a good response. Civilization is one long improv competition, on a stage watched by millions. To the best performers go wealth, status, power and sex. But those who miss their cues or disrupt the play end up isolated, unloved, ridiculed or ostracized.
We have to learn to play a role, to ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’. And this takes a lot of effort, because it means controlling and hiding any aspects of our psyche which might be deemed primitive, uncouth, or shameful. Behind our masks there is in fact a whole jungle of psychic energy, and we have to police that jungle and make sure no wild beasts stray into view.
People with mental illness, Evans observes, have such a difficult time being meet with acceptance because they not only disrupt our expectations, but because they present us with a more overt illustration our own inner battles, the inner tension we feel between the seemingly opposing forces at play in the construction and maintenance of our sense of self:
One of the reasons mental illness is still stigmatized is that it is embarrassing. People with mental illness don’t always behave according to the unspoken rules of politeness. Indeed, often they crash right through those rules. This causes shame and anxiety in the people around them, because we have put enormous psychic energy into learning and obeying the rules. The mad upset the consensual fiction of social reality (unless they happen to be powerful, in which case everyone must go along with their fiction).
That’s why sometimes families in which someone is mentally ill would in the past (and sometimes still in the present) hide them away in the countryside, or in an attic, or in an asylum. To save face. To preserve the front of politeness and self-control that enables them to fulfill their social ambitions. They put the approval of strangers before compassion for their family member.
Drawing on insights aquired from his own personal bouts with post traumatic stress disorder, Evan makes note of how his inner “earthquakes” paradoxically became more manageable only when he stopped fearing their capacity to ruin his social ambitions.
I recovered from my panic attacks when I stopped freaking out over what other people might think, and said to Pan, in effect, ‘OK, maybe some people will think I’m weird, so what?’ I had to learn to accept myself and put moral integrity before the false morality of social ambition. Only then, when I sat surrounded by the rubble of my social ambition, did Pan stop sending the earthquakes. I achieved a fragile truce between my social self and the unruly gods of my inner jungle.
Evans avoids the trap of presenting his thoughts as if they were the final word on the complex psychological phenomenon of making peace with oneself, but his article offers much food for thought for a social-media immersed world where the power to create, reinvent, manage, and destroy our publicly visible personas lies at our fingertips on a daily basis. At the very least, it’s an invitation to turn off auto-pilot and become conscious of the assumptions we allow to govern our lives when we suppress or express our ideas, impulses, and instincts for the sake of making sure we don’t lose our cherished positions of normalcy in society.
A Surprising Fact about Happiness
Camus on how we sabotage our happiness by insisting on our right to be right, prepared, and in control:
It is not true that the heart wears out — but the body creates this illusion.
Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.
Maria Popova adds:
“All true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, and yet, as Camus so stirringly reminds us, order itself, when worshiped too blindly and rigidly, can consume our fragile chance of happiness.
Being agitated is a part of life. In spite of its inevitability and unpleasantness, however, we can significantly improve our lot for inner peace by resolving to not be agitated about the fact of being agitated. When we do so, we discover a surprising fact: there is a kind of happiness that can exist alongside unhappiness. But as with all the richest, deepest, and most enduring forms of happiness, we stand our greatest chance of tasting them if we entertain Camus’s invitation to be open to the unplanned and uncontrollable. When we force happiness to fit into our schedules, we find the time for it to be immensely more scarce.
Curiosity is the only Curriculum
Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg (Pgs 11-25)
When a group of twelve boys and girls, aged nine to twelve, approached Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School, and requested that he teach them how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and all the other important principles of mathematics, he responded with skepticism. Suspicious that they were being driven by pressure from adults, he encouraged them to pursue subject matters they were genuinely interested in. After the children’s persistent refusal to withdraw their request, he laid down some basic ground rules, procured a good textbook that focused on practical application, and developed a lesson plan. Although he was committed to giving his best effort as a teacher, he still believed, in the back of his mind, that this little experiment wouldn’t last very long.
I knew that arithmetic took six years to teach in regular schools, and I was sure their interest would flag after a few months. But I had no choice. They had pressed hard, and I was concerned. I was surprised.
What unfolded over the next six months left Greenberg completely stunned. Not only had the children managed to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but they went on to learn more advanced areas like long division, percentages, fractions, square roots, and decimals in only a fraction of the time it takes most students to learn such materials. But the surprises weren’t over at that point. Greenberg’s next big lesson came when he reported the children’s astounding rate of progress to math specialist.
A week after it was all over, I talked to Alan White, who had been an elementary math specialist for years in the public schools and knew all the latest and best pedagogical methods. I told him the story of my class. He was not surprised.
“Why not?” I asked, amazed at his response. I was still reeling from the pace and thoroughness with which my “dirty dozen” had learned.
“Because everyone knows,” he answered, “that the subject matter itself isn’t that hard. What’s hard, virtually impossible, is beating it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit every day for years. Even then it does not work. Most of the sixth graders are mathematical illiterates. Give me a kid who wants to learn the stuff — well, twenty hours or so makes sense.”
I guess it does. It’s never taken much more than that ever since.
This story, and so many others like it, provide a living example of the power that lies in adopting a pedagogy that encourages learners to follow Richard Feynmen’s advice to “study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” In education, discipline must be the servant, not the master, of genuine interest and curiosity. When the goal of learning isn’t to please adults, pass tests, and avoid punishment, but is instead to seek out the knowledge and experiences that satisfy and ignite a student’s sense of wonder, the usual complications that arise from trying to coax people into being attentive and diligent are bound to fall away. The greater danger in education is not to underestimate how easy it is to learn, but to overestimate how important and effective it is to impose authoritarian agendas, however sincere they may be, on the learner’s organic process of exploration.
Greenberg claims that teaching is difficult at Sudbury Valley schools. This isn’t because of the hours spent developing lesson plans, disciplining the class, or grading papers though. It’s difficult because the teacher has to be willing to set aside their own sense of self-importance by demonstrating a willingness to get out of the student’s way whenever their involvement is not requested.
We get a lot of people writing the school asking to be hired as teachers. Many of them tell us at length how much they have to “give” to children. People like that don’t do too well at the school. What’s important to us is what the students want to take, not what the teachers want to give. That’s hard for a lot of professional teachers to grasp.
Classes end when either side has had enough of the deal. If the teachers find out they can’t deliver, they can back out — and the students have to find a new teacher if they still want a class. If the students discover they don’t want to go on, the teachers have to find some other way to occupy themselves at the appointed hour.
The most meaningful, enduring, and practical forms of learning happens when the learner learns what the learner wants to learn, when the learner wants to learn it, in a manner that’s consistent with how the learner wants to learn, and with whom the learner wants to learn. And as a corollary, the most meaningful, enduring, and practical forms of teaching are those which honor this form of learning.
Breaking Windows, Making Money, & Balancing the Books: Henry Hazlitt on Why Acts of Destruction Don’t Create Wealth
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (Pgs 20-30)
Henry Hazlitt begins the second chapter of Economics in One Lesson by paying homage to Frédéric Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy. The Broken Window Fallacy refers to the error in logic that takes place when a person assumes that new forms of wealth or opportunity have been created as a result of acts of destruction. The slightly modified example given by Hazlitt — the original provided by Bastiat can be found in What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen — is that of a shopkeeper whose window is broken by an act of violence. The onlooker’s in this example, while they may condemn the act of violence, praise the outcome because of the newfound opportunity that’s been created for the person who makes their living repairing broken windows. The misfortune of the shopkeeper becomes the good fortune of the glassmaker. “Surely, this is a good thing,” some would reason. The problem with this kind of logic is that it only focuses on the benefits procured by the glassmaker. That is, it focuses on the seen while neglecting the unseen. What is the unseen? The unseen fact is that although the glassmaker has found fortune, his fortune must come at the expense of someone else who would have benefited from the shopkeeper’s demands. Say, for instance, that the shopkeeper want to buy a new suit. Let’s suppose that new suit costs $250. Further suppose that the cost to repair his broken window is also $250. That means his demand for a new suit must take a backseat to his necessity for a new window. So not only is the shopkeeper deprived of valuable resources — instead of having a window and a suit (or the money with which to buy a new suit), he now has only a window and nothing else — but the tailor who would have profited from the sale of a new suit is also deprived of an opportunity. As we can see from this example, acts of destruction do not create wealth, but they only reallocate the use of resources from the category of demands to the category of needs.
Seeing through such a fallacy is easy enough when it comes to small everyday maters like broken windows, but this line of thinking becomes far more pervasive and pernicious when politicians and economists assess the pros and cons of large scales events. In chapter three, The Blessings of Destruction, Hazlitt identifies the broken window fallacy as the culprit in a slew of macroeconomic missteps:
So we have finished with the broken window. An elementary fallacy. Anybody, one would think, would be able to avoid it after a few moments’ thought. Yet the broken-window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past. It is solemnly reaffirmed every day by great captains of industry, by chambers of commerce, by labor union leaders, by editorial writers and newspaper columnists and radio commentators, by learned statisticians using the most refined techniques, by professors of economics in our best universities. In their various ways they all dilate upon the advantages of destruction. Though some of them would disdain to say that there are net benefits in small acts of destruction, they see almost endless benefits in enormous acts of destruction. They tell us how much better off economically we all are in war than in peace. They see “miracles of production”
which it requires a war to achieve. And they see a postwar world made certainly prosperous by an enormous “accumulated” or “backed-up” demand.
In Europe they joyously count the houses, the whole cities that have been leveled to the ground and that “will have to be replaced.” In America they count the houses that could not be built during the war, the nylon stockings that could not be supplied, the worn-out automobiles and tires, the obsolescent radios and refrigerators. They bring together formidable totals. It is merely our old friend, the broken-window fallacy, in new clothing, and grown fat beyond recognition.
Hazlitt spends the remainder of the chapter pointing out key economic distinctions like demands versus needs; explaining how supply and demand are really two sides of the same coin; and demonstrating how an increase in the money supply results in a decrease of purchasing power. The most pivotal point of the chapter, however, is his insight regarding how macroeconomic confusion is rooted in microeconomic confusion. We fail to recognize our fallacies with large matters because we carelessly slip into vague abstractions about collectives, hence losing sight of the fact that all economic realities begin with the individual:
No man would want to have his own property destroyed either in war or in peace. What is harmful or disastrous to an individual must be equally harmful or disastrous to the collection of individuals that make up a nation.
Many of the most frequent fallacies in economic reasoning come from the propensity, especially marked today, to think in terms of an abstraction—the collectivity, the “nation”—and to forget or ignore the individuals who make it up and give it meaning. No one could think that the destruction of war was an economic advantage who began by thinking first of all of the people whose property was destroyed.
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 22/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.