Books

When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink

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“We simply don’t take issues of when as seriously as we take questions of what” (pg. 92).

“mental keeness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater early in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on” (pg 21).

The most unproductive moment of the day is 2:55 (pg 55).

Breaks:

“hourly five-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, and “improved mood throughout the day and reduced feelings of fatigue in the late afternoon. These ‘microbursts of activity,’ as researchers call them, were also more effective than a single thirty-minute walking break - so much so that the researchers suggest that organizations ‘introduce physical active breaks during the workday routine.’ Regular short walking breaks in the workplace also increase motivation and concentration and enhance creativity” (pg 61) . . . So if you’re looking for the Platonic ideal of a restorative break, the perfect combination of scarf, hat, and gloves to insulate yourself from the cold breath of the afternoon, consider a short walk outside with a friend during which you discuss something other than work” (pg 63).

Lunch:

The most powerful lunch breaks have two key ingredients - autonomy and detachment. Autonomy - exercising some control over what you do, how you do it, when you do it, and whom you do it with - is critical for high performance, especially on complex tasks. But it’s equally crucial when we take breaks from complex tasks. ‘The extent to which employees can determine how they utilize their lunch breaks may be just as important as what employees do during their lunch’” (pg 65).

Adolescents who get less sleep than they need are at higher risk for depression, suicide, substance abuse, and car crashes . . . ‘Evidence also links short sleep duration with obesity and a weakened immune system’” (pg. 90).

Landmarkers:

“Temporal landmarks interrupt attention to day-to-day minutiae, causing people to take a big picture view of their lives and thus focus on achieving their goals . . . The implications of the fresh start effect, like the forces that propel it, are also personal and social. Individuals who get off to a stumbling start - at a new job, on an important project, or in trying to improve their health - can alter their course by using a temporal landmark to start again. People can strategically create turning points in their personal histories” (pg 96).

Midpoints:

This made me think of FedEx days that Mr. Pink talks about in Drive. “Groups didn’t march toward their goals at a steady, even pace. Instead, they spent considerable time accomplishing almost nothing - until they experienced a surge of activity that always came at the temporal midpoint of a project” (pg 126).

Endings:

“People are willing to override a relatively long period of one kind of behavior with a relatively short period of another just because it occurred at the end of one’s life. This ‘end of life bias’ suggests that we believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end” (pg 155).

“Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Typically, this leads the protagonist to let go of what he wants (a house, the Piston Cup, Andy) to get what he needs (a true yet unlikely companion; real friends; a lifetime together with friends)” (pg 163).

“The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer - a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need” (pg 164).

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Synching Fast and Slow:

“Groups must synchronize on three levels - to the boss, to the tribe, and to the heart” (pg 181) . . . after individuals synch to the boss, the external standard that sets the pace of their work, they must sync to the tribe - to one another. That requires a deep sense of belonging” (pg 189) . . . which “boosts job satisfaction and perfomance” (pg 191).

Thinking in Tenses:

Nostalgia is a “bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion. Thinking in the past tense offers a window into the intrinsic self, a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful” (pg 214).

Grade: A+

On the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, Daniel Pink claims that out of all his works, this book is the most influential on his day-to-day life. I would have to agree.

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"Natural Born Heroes" : Top Three Quotes

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Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into” (pg 29).

“On Crete, a grown-up is known as a dromeus, or “runner.” To be considered a full Cretan, you had to be strong enough and resourceful enough to run to someone’s aid. Until then, young Cretans are just apodromos - “not quite a runner” - and the ritual passage into adulthood was celebrated with the festival of Dromaia - “the Running” (pg 48).

Because being a god on earth is a natural human desire, and saving someone else is the closest we’ll ever come to achieving it” (pg 205).

For more Mr. McDougall quotes, click here.

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-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log : Inspiration

Get Out There : Normalize Greatness

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I recently listened to a discussion with Kim Chambers on REI’s podcast, Wild Ideas Worth Living, and it kinda charged my life.

Kim Chambers was 30 years old, an athlete and a powerful executive, when she slipped and fell down a set of stairs. The injuries she sustained changed the course of her life. Not only did she prove doctors wrong about being able to be an athlete again, but she became one of the most accomplished marathon swimmers in the world, after never swimming competitively in her life before the injury (via)

She attributes her success, largely, to the company she kept. By inserting herself into a world of adventurers who were, at their core, just ordinary people who were doing amazing things, she found herself surrounded by a society who had normalized great achievements. Suddenly, doing great things wasn’t so impossible. It was ordinary, if not expected. “If you want to do something that changes your life,” she says in the interview, surround “yourself with people who believe in you.”

This idea, of normalizing great achievements, has inspired me. Encouraged me. And challenged me to get out and surround myself with people and stories of people who do amazing things. To get comfortable with living a bit more wild, and free, and different. To make thinking different the norm, rather than the exception.

To help get my mind and body kickstarted, I bought a few books (and a bike), and I’ve just recently finished the first, Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine. Here are few of my favorite stories, in order of appearance:

  • They Call Me Groover Boy, by Kevin Fedarko, “What’s it like to be captain of the ‘poop boat’ and steering three weeks of human waste through some of America’s gnarliest whitewater? Read and find out.”
    (no video for this one:)

  • The Hell on Earth Fitness Plan, by Nick Heil, “In 2008, {Nick} heard about Gym Jones, a back-to-basics workout center with a (very) tough love ethos run by former climbing star Mark Twight. We’re still somewhat surprised Nick lived to tell the story.”

  • Open Your Mouth and You’re Dead, by James Nestor, “The freediving world championships occur at the outer limits of competitive risk. During the 2011 event, held off the coast of Greece, more than 130 athletes assembled to swim hundreds of fee straight down on a single breath - without (they hoped) passing out, freaking out, or drowning.”

  • Quoosiers, by Eric Hansen, “The Quidditch World Cup sounds dorky, and make no mistake: it is. But these sorcery-loving Harry Potter fans play pretty tough, as Eric Hansen found out when we sent him to captain a bad-news team of ex-athletes, ultimate Frisbee studs, slobs, drunks, and some people he knows from Iceland.”

  • The World’s Toughest Bike Race is not in France, by Jon Billman, “The rules are simple: Start pedaling at the Canadian border, and the first fat tire to hit Mexico wins.”

  • Reversal of Fortune (Lucky Chance), by Elizabeth Weil, “Maybe you’ve never heard of Lucky Chance - born Toby Benham - but the Australian climber, circus act, and all-around stunt monkey was testing the limits of BASE jumping in 2011 when he survived a horrible mountainside crash in France. What happens when a highflier falls to earth? He starts over.”

The book is broken into three parts: To Hell and Back, Let the Games Begin, and Consumed. The last section appropriately spends time reminding us that there are indeed lines to our extremes, and when we cross them, bad things happen. Sometimes really bad things.

I absolutely loved this book, especially the middle story, “The Hell on Earth Fitness Plan,” from which my (I think) a better title for the book comes: Prove you’re alive (pg 166). A few pages later, Heil writes, “Changing your body is just mechanics; it changing your mind that presents the real challenge. If the mind is not first trained to enjoy hard work, to relish suffering, to address the unknown, then no program, no amount of training can be effective . . . the muscle we are interested in training is inside the skull” (pg 171).

Damn. That’s good.

To find a group of people with a similar mindset, who believe hard work and simple sufferings are normal, then suddenly, great things are happening. Because that too is normal.

And if one cannot find a group, be the group.

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-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log : Inspiration

What Mr. Rogers' Quiet Neighborhood Can Teach Us About Our Loud and Busy Lives

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Fred Rogers began the episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood just like he’d done a hundred times before, “by putting on his cardigan and buttoning it up.” Only this time, according to Hedda Sharapan, a producer and actor who was often involved with the show, something wasn’t right. “He had started at the wrong buttonhole; he was one button off.” The crew expected Fred to start over. Instead, He gave Sharapan a look and kept on, ad libbing an explanation to his children audience just “how easy it is to make mistakes” and then spent the extra time showing them how to correct it (pg, 193).

Any other show would have snubbed the first take and instantly recorded a second. Not so with Mr. Rogers. He understood that mistakes were a huge part of life, that they were essential to life, and that his young audience needed understand that. So embraced the silly mistake and used it as a teachable moment, because he cared deeply about children, and because he knew exactly what they needed most.

After years of training, researching and observing young children in the classroom and in life, and after studying and listening to them and their stories and thoughts, Rogers become a master teacher who cared deeply for the holistic development of children. They became his chief concern. More than money, more than fame, more than job security, Fred Rogers cared about his children audience.

Which is why, in contrast to his competition, Mr. Rogers’ show was slow, even crawling at times, because he knew that was what his young audience needed.

“Rogers’s embrace of reality also included breaking one of the established rules of television, a prohibition against footage that is essentially empty. While Sesame Street used fast pacing and quick-cut technique to excite and engage their viewers and keep them glued to the screen, Fred Rogers deliberately headed in the opposite direction, creating his own quiet, slow-paced, thoughtful world, which led to real learning in his view” (pg, 194).

Fred Rogers believed children were entertained enough. That instead of another fast-paced tv show that kept children distracted, what they needed was time.

“He really was interested in the child as a developing person” Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, which is why Rogers feared constant entertainment; it would engage his audience but weaken their minds. And if they had a weak mind, they would not fully grasp who they were, what they were, and how they thought.

“Our job in life,” Rogers believed, “is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is - that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside which is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness, and to provide ways of developing its expression (pg 237).

For Mr. Roger, in order for children to discover their uniqueness, they needed silence, time, and space. Silence so that they could hear themselves think, time to consider those thoughts, then space to work them out, to fail, and then to try again. They need opportunities to be human, and they needed adults to model humanity for them, to teach them, and to encourage them that life can be hard but that we can always work to correct it. Even when it’s something as simply as a missing a buttonhole.

“One of the major goals of education,” Mr. Rogers believed, “must be to help students discover a greater awareness of their own unique selves, in order to increase their feelings of personal worth, responsibility, and freedom” (pg 328).

In contrast, classrooms, living rooms, and car rides that fill the silence with gimmicks, screens, and distractions leave little room for such self-reflection and no time for imagination.

“Fred Rogers lived out the conundrum of modern life: embracing technology and using it in imaginative ways to benefit children, while rejecting the dehumanizing aspects of complex technological advancement” (pg 80).

For our children’s sake, for our future’s sake, embrace the silence, fight for the quiet, and allow time and space for children to think, make mistakes, and try again. It’s what Mr. Rogers would do. And he was the master of a pretty amazing neighborhood.

But so can we.

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-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Parenting : Living

December 4, 2018 Balance Like a Pirate : Going beyond Work-life Balance to Ignite Passion and Thrive as an Educator

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For any educator, this is worth reading. It’s an easy read and can easily be accomplished over a break or long weekend, with the potential to help change life and the lives of those you serve.

Here is a brief snapshot.

IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS:

“When we talk about personal balance, we are referencing everything that really makes you who you are - what are the “titles” outside of your job, and how do you cultivate them” (pg xxi)?

Positional balance . . . Whatever you do that earns income or provides you financial stability . . .” (pg xxi).

Professional balance is just that - how are you continuing to learn, grow, and enhance your knowledge and understanding of your role” (pg xxi)?

Passions: What I would do for free (pg xxii).

Five Favorite Quotes:

“We do not learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience” (pg 35).

“Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves, We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence” (pg 74).

“Each person has special talents - the things you enjoy doing when they are away from school. Making intentional time to cultivate your dream and following through with courage and discipline is important not only for you, but for the students you serve. So don’t hide it from your students! You strive to find out as much as you can about their passions, but how often do you share your passions with them?” - “Identity Day”, a school day devoted to students AND teachers sharing on thing they are passionate about (pg 106)

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading” - Lau Tzu (pg 115).

“The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it” - The Law of Diminishing Intent (pg 124).

For more favorite quotes click here.

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Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Three (plus two) favorite quotes from You Are A Badass

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“If you want to live a life you’ve never lived, you have to do things you’ve never done.”

I just finished this book a few weeks ago and, to be honest, it wasn’t earth shattering. But it was a good reminder - a great reminder even - that I am a badass, and so are you. We just need to get rid of the many obstacles that we set in our way.

To help (inspire and save you time, if you can’t read the book), here are a few write-em-on-a-notecard points of encouragement that you can post on your frig, your dash, your workspace, or anywhere else you find yourself thinking and procrastinating.

In no particular order:

  1. “If you wanna stay stuck in the same place and keep getting spanked with the same lessons over and over, be negative, resentful, and victimized. If you want to get over your issues and rock your life, be grateful, look for the good and learn . . . write your thank-you notes!” (pg 120).

  2. “Sometimes the road to freedom lies in deciding you’d rather be happy than right” (pg 125).

  3. “If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse” (pg 153).

Favorite quotes that were quoted:

  1. “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past” - Lily Tomlin

  2. “We tiptoe through life trying to safely make it to death” - unknown

For more favorite quotes click here.

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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I once recommended the book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy because it was such a powerful story and I wanted someone to help me process through it. I was told the book was too harsh, to graphic, and not a "good Christian book." I remember being so frustrated because I loved it and felt it an extremely important book. And I just couldn't figure out why.

In later years it became clear that the reason I love that book was because it showed an element of life, a side of life, I had never known, experienced, or seen portrayed. It was raw and authentic, it was real, and it captivated me. 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is much the same. This is my second novel by Adichie and, like her other work, Half of a Yellow Sun, I couldn't put it down. Not only are Adichie's character extremely relatable (even when they aren't), they are beautiful and flawed. They hope and dream, they're destructive, and they portray a reality that many white authors fail to capture. And I just simply love it.

One of the main components of the novel is hair. It's a powerful symbol in the book - just as it is for life as well - that embodies and highlights the differences of race. Throughout the novel, whenever the distinction of hair is raised, I thought of this documentary by Chris Rock.

When Chris Rocks daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, Daddy, how come I don't have good hair? the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl's head!

I haven't recommended this book to anyone in my family, but I have shared and gifted it to many of my friends, telling them all that, "It is one of my favorite books of the year!" Because it is.

 

 

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

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Cannot recommend this book enough, even though for us slow readers, it's quite the undertaking. However, for all the pains and troubles and time, it's fully worth it. 

Not only does Harari somehow manage to capture the entire scope of human history in an engaging and challenging sort of way, he also aptly and continually finds ways to challenge our current mindset and norms of life and living and understanding. He's brilliant! 

Sapiens is one of those must-read books that will linger in its readers mind long after it has been placed on the shelf, only to be passed around or reached for time and time again. If only just to refresh our memory. 

Here are a few highlights:

Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump (pg 12).

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into e better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud (pg 79).

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally, they reach a point where they can’t live without it (pg 87).

Ted Kaczynski actually said something very similar in his Manifesto:

Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it . . .Thus the system can move in only one direction, toward greater technologization. Technology repeatedly forces freedom to take a step back, but technology can never take a step back—short of the overthrow of the whole technological system.

Interesting. Might have to consider that a bit longer.

Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate. Rather than writing the first thing that came into their heads, they considered carefully what they wanted to say and how to phrase it. They expected to receive a similarly considered answer. Most people wrote and received no more than a handful of letters a month and seldom felt compelled to reply immediately. Today I receive dozens of emails each day, all from people who expect a prompt reply. We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated (pg 88).

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy, or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it. People are equal, not because Thomas Jefferson said so, but because God created them that way. Free markets are the best economic system, not because Adam Smith said so, but because these are the immutable laws of nature (pg 113).

In order to establish such complex organizations, it’s necessary to convince many strangers to cooperate with one another . . . There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run toward freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison (pg 118).

This next quote might be the most disturbing. Growing up in a Christian home and attending church most of my life, I've always heard of the persecution of Christians from the non-believing world. Not how much we've killed ourselves.

In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion . . . On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attached communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organized festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican’s room with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors). More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence (pg 216).

There is poetic justice in the fact that a quarter of the world, and two of its seven continents, are named after a little-unknown Italian whose sole claim to fame is that he had the courage to say, “We don’t know” (pg 288).

Strange. That there might be a downside to curiosity. What are the ramifications/consequences of pursing understanding or insight? What (or who) are we killing off? What are we losing?

Just as the Atlantic slave trade did not stem from hatred towards Africans, so the modern animal industry is not motivated by animosity. Again, it is fueled by indifference. Most people who produce and consume eggs, milk and meat rarely stop to think about the fate of the chickens, cows or pigs whose flesh and emissions they are eating. Those who do think often argue that such animals are really little different from machines, devoid of sensations and emotions, incapable of suffering. Ironically, the same scientific disciplines which shape our milk machines and egg machines have lately demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that mammals and birds have a complex sensory and emotional make-up. The not only feel physical pain, but can also suffer from emotional distress (pg 343).

Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over (pg 349).

As long as my personal narrative is in line with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction . . . commercials urge us to “Just Dot It!” Action films, stage dramas, soap operas, novels, and catchy pop songs indoctrinate us constantly,: “be true to yourself”, “Listen to yourself”, “Follow your heart”. Jean-Jacquess Rousseau states this view most classically: “What I feel to be good – is good. What I feel to be bad – is bad.”

People who have been raised from infancy on a diet of such slogans are prone to believe that happiness is a subjective feeling and that each individual best knows whether she is happy or miserable. Yet this view is unique to liberalism. Most religions and ideologies throughout history stated that there are objective yardsticks for goodness and beauty, and for how things ought to be. They were suspicious of the feelings and preferences of the ordinary person. At the entrance of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, pilgrims were greeted by the inscription: “Know thyself!” The implication was that the average person is ignorant of his true self, and is therefore likely to be ignorant of true happiness. Freud would probably (392, 393).

So much to chew on. So much to consider. Just as a good book should be. 

 

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Born A Crime : by Trevor Noah

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"In the hood," Trevor Noah writes, "everybody knows who the best dancer in the crew is. He's like your status symbol. When you're poor you don't have cars or nice clothes, but the best dancers get the girls, so that's the guy you want to roll with. Hitler was our guy" (pg 193). 

In his New York Times best selling memoir, Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah dedicates an entire chapter to his good friend and great dancer, Hitler. And the result is absolutely brilliant. Just like Hitler.

"I often meet people in the West who insist that the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history," he continues,

But I often wonder, with African atrocities like the Congo, how horrific were they? The thing Africans don't have that the Jewish people do have is documentation. The Nazis kept meticulous records, took pictures, made films. And that's really what it comes down to. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It's harder to be horrified by a guess. When Portugal and Belgium were plundering Angola and the Congo, they weren't counting the black people they slaughtered. How many black people died harvesting rubber in the Congo? In the gold and diamond mines of the Transvaal?

So in Europe and America, yes, Hitler is the Greatest Madman in History. In Africa he's just another strongman from the history books . . .

Because to many South Africans, Hitler was a kind of "army tank that was helping the Germans win the war, or a man so powerful that "at some point black people had to go help white people fight against him - and if the white man has to stoop to ask the black man for help fighting someone, that someone must be the toughest guy of all time" (pg 194). So mothers named their son's Hitler. Because they wanted them to be strong and tough.

So Trevor Noah, while working and thriving as a DJ, had a friend and dancer named Hitler. And it was never a problem. Until King David School hired them for a school dance. It was a Jewish school.

A short while into their set, Trevor started getting the crowed psyched, "Are you guys ready?!" he screamed, and they were. They yelled and hollered and screamed back, "Yeeeeaaaahhhhhh!"

"All right! Give it up and make some noise for HIIIIIIIITTTTTTLLLLLEEEERRRRRR!!!!" Trevor writes. Then, "The whole room stopped. No one was dancing. The teachers, the chaperones, the parents, the hundreds of Jewish kids in their yarmulkes - they froze and stared aghast at us up on the stage" (pg 197). Seconds later, a teacher was on stage, yelling and berating and demanding that the boys apologize. But Trevor didn't understand, was she offended by his dance moves? Where they a bit too sexual and offensive? Either way, she should have know because that's what she hired, those dance moves are their culture. He hadn't a clue that the name Hitler was offensive, and she hadn't a clue that he hadn't a clue. 

They both operated from a truth they believed was universal, and they both interpreted the other through that preconceived truth. Neither was right, and neither was wrong. But they both lost. 

 

Other Favorite quotes and ideas:

“If you stop to consider the ramifications, you’ll never do anything” (pg 22).

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people” (pg 56).

“Racism exists. People are getting hurt, and just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening” (pg 57).

“A knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom” (pg 61).

“That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generation who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero” (pg 66).

(Advice from Mother) “Learn from your past and be better because of your past, but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter” (pg 66).

“Catholic school is not the place to be creative and independent” (pg 88).

“You do not own the thing that you love” – story about Fufi (pg 100).

“When a parent is absent, you’re left in the lurch of not knowing, and it’s so easy to fill that space with negative thoughts. ‘They don’t care.’ ‘They’re selfish.’” (pg 108) . . . “Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being” (pg 110).

“That’s where the government came up with things like the pencil test. If you were applying to be white, the pencil went into your hair. If it fell out, you were white. If it stayed in, you were colored. You were what the government said you were. Sometimes that came down to a lone clerk eyeballing your face and making a snap decision. Depending on how high your cheekhones were or how broad your nose was, he could tick whatever box made sense to him, thereby deciding where you could live, whom you could marry, what jobs and rights and privileges you were allowed (pg 119).

For the first in my life I had money, and it was the most liberating thing in the world. The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want toe be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money” (pg 188).

“People love to say, ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ What they don’t say is, ‘And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.’ That’s the first part of the analogy that’s missing” (pg 190).

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people (pg 221).

“There were some {parents} who’d actually do that, not pay their kid’s bail, not hire their kid a lawyer – the ultimate tough love. But it doesn’t always work, because you’re giving the kid tough love when maybe he just needs love. You’re trying to teach him a lesson, and now that lesson is the rest of his life” (pg 228).

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag

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I thought this book was going to be about more than what it was, but I still found it worth reading because, if nothing else, it raised some pretty provocative thoughts and questions. And any book that can do that at least once is worth reading, at least once.

Here are some of the highlights:

The photographs are a means of making “real” (or “more real”) matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore (pg 7).

This reminded me of Jacob Riis and his revolutionary work, "How the Other Half Live" which exposed the rich and privileged to the reality of how many lower income families lived. His work is largely credited with the reform in child labour laws and opening the door to a new way of thinking about the world - Realism.

We are not monsters, we members of the educated class. Our failure is one of imagination, of empathy; we have failed to hold this reality in mind (pg 8).

This sentiment struck a cord with me because it doesn't simply apply to financial status, but all. To those who are emotionally wealthy, to those who are physically or mentally healthy, political or religious it doesn't matter. Those who have find it difficult, at times, to imagine a life that does not. 

In contrast to a written account – which, depending on its complexity of thought, reference, and vocabulary, is pitched at a larger or smaller readership – a photograph has only one language and is destined potentially for all (pg 20).

The slight of hand allows photographs to be both objective record and personal testimony, both a faithful copy or transcription of an actual moment of reality and an interpretation of that reality – a feat literature has long aspired to, but could never attain in this literal sense (pg 26).

This might apply to most writers, but whenever I ask my students to draw what they see in "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, they all draw - almost to perfection - the exact same thing. It doesn't matter the age, the ethnicity, the location, or anything else, it's all the same. And that's pretty amazing.

Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced  - this for many reasons, among them that large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward the spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect. (There is no comparable level playing field in literature, where virtually nothing owes to chance or luck and where refinement of language usually incurs no penalty; or in the performing arts, where genuine achievement is unattainable without exhaustive training and daily practice; or in filmmaking, which is not guided to any significant degree by the anti-art prejudices of much of contemporary art photography) – pg 28,29

This is perhaps the single most reason why photography is so popular, but also why it is so difficult. Anyone can take a good shot once or perhaps just a few times, but to capture the moment, the mood, or the spirit of a moment time and time again takes experience and expertise. Just like any other art form.

What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledge it? 

I don't know, but that's a great question. I'll have to think more on it.

But surely the wounded Taliban soldier begging for his life whose fate was pictured prominently in The New York Times also had a wife, children, parents, sisters and brothers, some of whom may one day come across the three color photographs of their husband, father, son, brother being slaughtered – if they have not already seen them (pg 73).

This quote really struck me. Because it's right. How often do I see the death and suffering of people all over the world and forget, especially in times of conflict, that they too are fathers, sons, brothers, and friends. That they too will have people weeping over the loss of life. That they too are just as human. 

For photographs to accuse, and possibly to alter conduct, they must shock” (pg 81). Yet, “Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off (pg 82).

Which then begs for more provocative, more shocking photographs, which dulls us even more. The question here that isn't asked but should be is how long will this cycle continue before we no longer feel shock at all? Before all suffering and abuse is simply familiar?

And what can we do to fight against it?

 

Resources:

-       Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

-       Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by Walker Evans

-       Kazuo Hara’s, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

 

To Consider:

-       The planting of the American flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 by photographer Joe Rosenthal was reenacted. It was staged. Is this okay? For the purpose it was wanting to serve, was it okay to reproduce an event? It has inspired thousands and has become an iconic moment and image of American history . . . does that fact that it isn't completely authentic in time and space make it any less relevant or powerful of a moment? Of what it symbolizes? 

-       How could church going citizens create and use postcards that depict lynched and murdered African American men and woman? But even before that, how could church going citizens LYNCH AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN AND WOMAN?!?!? And how can they/we still do it today?

What will people be saying of us, in just a few short years from now?

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018