On Living

#insta_repeat : an instagram account that duplicates and connects

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#Outsidemagazine recently published #insta_repeat, an instagram account dedicated to to portraying the replication of art and creativity.

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I was instantly drawn to this sentiment. Recently, wife and I have been discussing the pros and cons of entering a social media break for this very reason, to see exactly where our creativity would go if we had no input or influence from others. What images and creativity and thoughts would we have, in what direction would they wander?

We talked well into the night.

But then, as it often happens, I went to bed and she stayed up. She ended up heading back to the post to read the comments.

She found this one:

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“So what?” What a great question.

So what if we duplicate, if we find inspiration and innovation from those around us? So what if we imitate them, model them, and join them in their creative pursuits? So what?

It's easy to mock or scoff at all the perceived wanna-be's out there. "Be original!" we might say, because nobody likes a poser and everyone wants to be uniquely different. Just not too different. Because we also don't want to be alone, misunderstood, or an outcast. We want community and relationships and to be included. We want to be known.

"Being original," Adam Grant writes, "doesn't mean being first. It just means being different and better" (via). It means learning and absorbing from those around us while using our individuality and identity to progress an idea or truth beyond its current state. 

And that is exactly what is happening in so many areas of life and art and #insta_repeat, people are finding connection and community by embracing and participating in a movement, an idea, or a trend because it makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves, in their own unique way. Just like everybody else.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  : Outside Magazine

Wendell Berry: Thinking Globally, Locally

I came by this quote through the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schoolings. The book is okay. The quote is full and worth a long digesting.

I don’t think “global thinking” is futile, I think it is impossible. You can’t think about what you don’t know and nobody knows this planet. Some people know a little about a few small parts of it…The people who think globally do so by abstractly and statistically reducing the globe to quantities. Political tyrants and industrial exploiters have done this most successfully. Their concepts and their green are abstract and their abstractions lead with terrifying directness and simplicity to acts that are invariably destructive. If you want to do good and preserving acts you must think and act locally. The effort to do good acts gives the global game away. You can’t do a good act that is global…a good act, to be good must be acceptable to what Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place”. This calls for local knowledge, local skills, and local love that virtually none of us has, and that none of us can get by thinking globally. We can get it only by a local fidelity that we would have to maintain through several lifetimes…I don’t wish to be loved by people who don’t know me; if I were a planet I would feel exactly the same.

By thinking and acting globally, all of us, we take care of the globe. Seems simple enough. It breaks down quick, however, when we begin to peer over the fence, evaluate our neighbors work, and believe we can do better.

Acting globally requires trust in millions acting locally , which is why it’s so damn hard to do.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Wendell Berry Literature

What we've learned from Justine Sacco's tweet

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans. I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Let’s not do that (via).

What a challenging TED Talk. I especially loved the contrast between what social media’s intention, to connect us all through our faults and mistakes, and the reality of what it has become. Namely, a stage to celebrate our false perfection and a spear to hunt people. So we can hang them with their shameful secrets.

As Ronson says, let’s not do that.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  : On Living : TED Talks : Jon Ronson

Dear Self : An Open Letter to Those Who Wander

photo by  @wayleadstoway

“What advice would you give to your teenage self,” is asked at the end of every Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast, and the answers are often what you’d expect. “Be brave,” “be kind,” or “be adventurous.” All good advice, but not all that helpful because, what do they mean? What would they look like? Especially for a teenage kid?

I’ve often wondered what I would say to my younger self, if I could sit and chat with him a while. It probably wouldn’t be much different than what I share with my students or children. But then recently, the son of my good friend recently left his job, bought a van, and hit the open and free road, and I found myself living vicariously through him. I saw myself packing the van, scouring maps, and anxious to go, to start the adventure, and to see what sort of story would unfold.

So I sat down and wrote him a letter. His name is Austyn, but as I thought and wrote and considered his coming days, I found myself writing more to myself than to him and answering the question, “What advice would you give?”

This is my answer:

Dear Self,

When I heard you were embracing the Road, I instantly longed to go with you. To sit in the co-captain’s chair, arm bouncing out the window, and small worries packed into a small bag. The open road and an empty journal. Wonder and bliss. Life. Or at least, it can be.

Self, know that to you I'm little more than a name on a page, and thats okay! But if you don't mind, I'd like to share some thoughts with you. Thoughts that are bread from experience, from the reflections of those who have gone before you and I, and thoughts that are inspired by the endless train of the faithless who have desperately reached for, and occasionally captured, a glimpse of Understanding on this journey called Life.

I hope you find them beneficial. If not, no worries! Writing these words has brought me back to my own travels with family and friends, like running my finger along a map of life, and I'm okay with that. Because that too is why we wander, so that one day, we have something to look back on.

Self, Be Inspired:

Heading for the unknown is, I think, just as natural and crucial as the need for food, shelter, and love. Throughout history, cultures across the world have valued the process of "finding yourself" - especially in the West - which is why guys like Kerouac (On the Road) and McCandless (Into the Wild) are so damn inspiring, because they're scratching the itch that many of us choose not to reach. These men, and the many that came and went before and after them, wanted to “suck out all the marrow of life,” and they did, making them uncommon among the common and pillars of inspiration.

“Being original doesn’t mean require being first,” Adam Grant writes in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant, “It just means being different and better. (pg 105) As you prepare for your journey, I wanted to give you a few examples of people who did things different and better. They, I think/hope will provide some possible clarity and direction to your coming days and months:

180 Degrees South : Conquerers of the Useless : "My whole life I've been drawn to open country. I always come home a little different."

Life Lessons from a 7-Thousand-Mile Bike Ride: "I had this fear of building {a} routine . . . and so promised myself that I had to do something radically different. I'm gonna do something that scares the crap out of me and see if that changes my brain chemistry."

Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa: “The true beauty of Nepal isn’t the mountains, but the people who live in their shadows.”

Breath: a "deep punch to the creative soul" : Mike Olbinski is a storm chaser, photographer, and an overall inspiration. 

Be Original:

It's easy to be inspired by others and their adventures, because that's life!!! It's also dangerous, because in following the inspiration of others, you can easily lose your own path. As you travel and rub shoulders with others, be cautious. The purpose of such trips is to find clarity, not lose yourself in someone else's noise. 

Like these people:

. . . people didn't really enjoy the moment and were hooked to their smartphones. As if the ultimate goal of travel was to brag about it online and run after the likes and followers . . . "These Instagrammers are collectively sucking the joy and spontaneity out of travel . . . Social media encourages the memeification of human experience. Instead of diversity we see homogeneity. It’s extremely boring” (via).

In short, don’t be boring. Don’t be common. And don't take this picture. 

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Or this one.

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Instead, be original.

"We are all social chameleons," Kevin Ashton writes in How to Fly a Horse, "adjusting our skin to blend in with, or sometimes stand out from, whatever crowed we happen to be in" (pg 224) which makes sense because we all want to be accepted, to have our Tribe, and to know that we are known, that we belong. But we also want to be uniquely ourselves, to stand out, and to provide our own stamp and worth upon the greater world or small Tribe. Just remember, "Being original doesn't require being first. It just means being different and better.”

Be different, be better, AND be known.

Head out on your adventure, like the many men and women who have done and gone before you, at times following their footsteps, like a child struggling to meet the gate of his father's long stride but confident he is headed in the right direction. Other times, veer off and find your own stride. Explore. But then come back.

Be like this guy; not one of "those guys."

Self, Don't Get Lost:

Remember that trip you took as a sophomore in high school? You were planning to visit you sister in Philadelphia and had one friend lined up and ready to go. But with only a week or so before departure, he backed out. "My mom said she's nervous we might break down or get lost" he had said, and you were devastated because you thought the trip was off. When you Dad, he said, "I would think so. That's part of the adventure! Find another friend who would like to adventure with you.” So you did. And nothing happened. No tires exploded and no accident occurred. You didn’t even get lost! But you did stretch a 10 hour drive into almost 18 because, well damnit, there were just too many roads that needed exploring!

Self, getting lost geographically isn't a problem. In fact, you might find it the most enjoyable part or your journey! Getting lost mentally, however, is a terrifying thing. I mentioned Kerouac and McCandless in the beginning, and I did so deliberately because they tend to be the faces of contemporary American adventure, inspiring hundreds (if not thousands) to quit their jobs, wave goodbye, and hit the road in search of "ultimate freedom.” Yet, at the end of their journey what they were left with was a wake of pain, destruction, and death.  And I don't mean physically, but humanly. I mean the kind of death that can only be born from selfishness and the isolated pursuit of personal gain. The kind of death destroys the soul, the spirit, and the beauty of those around you. That’s the death I’m talking about, the living kind, and the kind I hope so desperately to steer you away from.

Self, as you travel, as you spend countless hours driving, thinking, talking, and living, consider this: who can you serve? Initially, road trips were inherently selfish. With a thumb pointed towards the sky, wondering travelers required the help of strangers. They bummed rides, spare change, and simple meals. The more outgoing supertramps were offered a bed. Yet, how many of them actually helped others? How many used their gifts and talents to serve and bless others? Kerouac didn't. McCandless for sure didn't! Both thought only of themselves, their journey, and how others might help enhance their experience. In search of truth or experience or whatever, they forgot the greater and deeper purpose of life: to help others.

There may never be a time such as this, where your days are your own, the road is open, and responsibilities at a minimum. What an opportunity to find yourself! To discover what you are good at, what you love, and HOW BEST TO GIVE IT AWAY!!! You are gifted with many things, and hopefully, those gifts also align with what you're passionate about. So try them out on strangers, offer them to bypassing wayfarers (I think I just made that word up): old ladies walking across the street, mothers with their hands full of groceries, the man on the corner holding a cardboard sign. Whatever it is, and to whom ever it is, FIND WAYS TO SERVE!!! If you do, you will never be lost. 

And Lastly, Self:

Here are some simple pieces of advice I wish someone had told me, when I was your age:

Learn a new skill of any sort - music, photography, drawing, whittling, whatever. Learn something new. You've got the time and endless amount of inspiration.

Journal - a lot! Even the mundane. I would truly recommend a blog (wix, squarespace, etc) only because, from experience, journals tend to be lost or damaged. Plus, if you and your journey truly are an original, people will find your journey inspiring - so why not give it away!!! However, many would argue a 99 cent journal, black pen (I recommend the InkJoy 700RT 1.0 M, found at any Walmart or Target), and a picnic table are just as, if not more, inspiring than a blog. Whatever your fancy, WRITE!!! You won't regret it. 

Take pictures. Keep them safe (like on a blog!!!) You're gonna want them someday.

Write letters. Not emails, not texts. Letters. Especially to people who help and encourage you along the way and to those who come to mind on your journey. Not only will you bless those fortunate enough to receive them, it will serve as a constant reminder of just how many people have helped you along your greater journey. Which should, in turn, inspire you once more to help others.

Thoughts for the Road:

I know you’ve already planned your playlist for the road, so I won’t waste time on that. However, what I can provide are podcasts. Below are a few of my favorites.

Reality: Invisibilia

Feminism in Black and White: Scene on Radio

GREGOR: Gimlet Media

THE TRUE HARD WORK OF LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS: On Being

DECLUTTER: The Minimalists

GRASS IS GREENER: The Moth

Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis: Revisionist History

Do Meaningful Work and Change the World with Adam Braun

Tom Petty and the Creation of "Wildflowers": Broken Record

Ami Vitale – Traveling the world, Telling Stories, And Creating Awareness Through Photography: By Wild Ideas Worth Living

One Head, Two Brains: How The Brain's Hemispheres Shape The World We See: Hidden Brain

(And if this isn’t enough, there’s plenty more where they came from).


I envy the journey you are about ready to embark upon, and in many ways I wish I could go with you. But maybe this is good enough, joining you in mind and spirit, at least for now. Who know though. If you stop in, and if you have room for the family, we might just join you.


Good luck to you!!!

Safe travels.

(Older) Brian

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  : Adventure : Inspiration

Calvin and Hobbes head out on an adventure

The first of anything is difficult. Even, sometimes, if you’ve been doing it for a while. For me, the first post of the new year is completely nerve wracking. There’s something about the first post that seems to set the tone, and it always makes me incredibly nervous. Sometimes I just dive in, like I’m jumping into a cold pool and I just need to get it over with. Other times I take my time, waiting for the perfect idea to come along.

This year, it took just over two weeks. But the wait was worth it.

On December 31, 1995, Bill Watterson published the final 'Calvin & Hobbes' comic strip. Little did he probably know how his little cartoon would inspire, encourage, and entertain the world.

Or inspire the beginning of a new year.

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It’s a magical world, and I’m ready for another year of exploring all that it has to offer, are you?

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.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Parenting : Living

Post-it: A Perfect Mistake

“Spencer Silver, the scientist who is partially credited with the creation of the Post-it,” Sinek writes, “was working in his lab at the Minnesota-based company, actually trying to develop a very strong adhesive. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. What he accidentally made was a very weak adhesive” (pg 168).

Instead of throwing away his mistake, he passed it around throughout the company, “just in case someone else could figure out a way to use it.”

A few years later, a fellow scientist was in church choir practice, “getting frustrated that he couldn’t get his bookmark to stay in place.” It kept falling to the floor. Until he remembered Silver’s “weak adhesive.” It would make for the perfect bookmark.

That mistake is now “one of the best-recognized brands in history, with four thousand varieties sold in over a hundred countries” (pg 169).

Instead of seeing his mistake as a failure, Spencer Silver saw it as a “Not yet.” He also saw that he didn’t have the solution, that he needed a fresh set of eyes to look at the problem. He understood that he needed help. Which is exactly why he chose to work for 3m.

3M “knows that people do their best work when they work together, share their ideas and comfortably borrow each other’s work for their own projects.” There is “no notion of “‘mine’”, which is why, at 3m, more than 80 percent of their patents “have more than one inventor.” It’s also why, in 2009, “when other companies were slashing their R&D budgets to save money, 3M still managed to release over a thousand new products” (pg 170), because “they have a corporate culture that encourages and rewards people for helping each other and sharing everything they learn.”

Rather than serving and celebrating the individual, they consider the group and others above themselves. They stick together, just like the adhesive Spencer Silver attempted to develop in the beginning. (I know, my brilliant display of a word play amazes me too.)

“Successful failure,” my son says, reading over my shoulder, and he’s right. Perfectly so. Because in a society that considers others above themselves, failure is not something to be feared. It is something to be embraced, shared, and endured.

Imagine what our homes, schools, and communities would look like if we lived with a similar approach. Imagine the bruises and the failures. The freedom. The healing. And the beautiful success we would experience. Together.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  On Living

Mass Shootings : We are Responsible.

Photo by @davideragusa

Photo by @davideragusa

It happened again. This time, in Thousand Oaks, California. You and I both know how the days and weeks to come will play go.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to . . .” we will hear whispered from podiums, while “Enough is enough” banners are posted on websites, blogs, and social media. And for a brief, brief moment, the country will be unified in grief, shock, and horror of what our country has become. Then someone will point the finger of blame. Then another. Then another. Until everyone is pointing, shouting, and condemning, calling for reform, calling for justice, and demanding someone does something to stop this madness.

All the while, someone somewhere will have made a plan, written a note, or posted a video. Right under our tear-stained cheeks and upturned noses. Just like they did in Columbine, almost 20 years ago.

“Eric Harris was a psychopath,” David Cullen concludes in his New York Times bestseller, Columbine, “he was a narcissist, he was a sadists. He wasn’t out to bully bullies, he was out to hurt the people he looked down upon . . . humans.” He wanted to destroy everyone, all of us. Yet fortunately, he only made it to thirteen. He had planned for many more.

According to the investigation that followed Columbine, Eric Harris wanted to go down as a legend. He wanted to make a mark bigger than the Oklahoma City bombings and he wanted to be remembered forever. So he planted bombs in the park on the other side of town, set to go off as a diversion for the cops. Luckily, they didn’t. Neither did the propane tanks in the cafeteria (which would have killed hundreds) nor the bombs in his and Dylan’s cars (which were set to detonate after the police and paramedics arrived, killing them too). In fact, Eric and Dylan never intended to enter the school. Their plan was to wait outside and pick off the surviving few as they fled the carnage of Columbine.

But things didn’t go according to Eric’s plan, hardly anything in fact, except for one seemingly minor detail: the media was there, and they granted Eric Harris his deepest dying wish. He became famous.

Dave Cullen, an author and elite journalist, was “one of the first reporters on the scene” at Columbine. He then spent the next ten years writing Columbine, which is “widely recognized as the definitive account” of the school’s massacre, and for many of the 300-plus pages of his heart-wrenching book, Cullen spends a great deal of time talking about who Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were, what happened in the days prior, during, and after the infamous shooting, and how people from across the country responded.

But that’s not why he wrote the book. He wrote it because he was trying to figure out why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did it. Once answered, he concludes his book with the most important takeaway of his journey: how to prevent this from ever happening again, and who is responsible.

His findings are not extenuating.

Dave Cullen’s conclusion of who is responsible for Columbine and every shooting and massacre is not a familiar one, nor is it a popular, but it is the most accurate and reliable one.

The answer of who is responsible, according to Cullen, is us. We are responsible. Malcolm Gladwell says the same, but where Gladwell fails to provide a solution, Cullen does. It is us. We are the solution.

Let me explain. Or rather, let Cullen explain.

Almost 100% of the time, the perpetrator of mass killings is male, and “{f}or his glorious week,” Cullen explains, “the spectacle killer is the hottest star on earth. He dwarfs any sports champ, movie star, president, or pope . . . They spill a little blood, {and} the whole world knows who they are . . . His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

So, “If you’re planning a spectacle murder,” Dave Cullen once told a CNN anchor, “here’s what you do:

{There are} two routes to the elite club with the star treatment: body count, or creativity. Choose body count, and you’ve got to break the top ten. The media loves scorekeeping and will herald your achievements with a banner beneath the victims as they grieve. For creatives, go for originality and horror . . . Maximize the savage nature. Make us fear movies theaters, or churches or {school} - and a Joker costume at a Batman movie takes theatrics literally. Live TV was a great twist - only took two victims in Roanoke to get the big-star treatment. Surprise us.

The anchor was justifiably horrified, but that was the point. “These are the tactics the killers have turned on us so callously,” Cullen writes, “They cracked the media code. Easily.” And if the media care about ending this, “we in the media need to see our role as clearly as the perps have. We did not start this, nor have we pulled any triggers. But the killers have made us reliable partners. We supply the audience, they provide the show” (pg 380).

In these few short paragraphs, Cullen models the role we all need to take after events such as these occur: point the finger at ourselves, find where we are responsible, and take ownership of it. Just like Andy Dufresne.

Like everyone else, my favorite scene in Shawshank Redemption is the one where Andy Dufresne emerges from the septic tanking, raises his hands to the air, and is finally free from the deathly Shawshank prison. But it wasn’t until I read those lines from Cullen that I understood why I love that scene, and how Andy Dufresne was able to get there.

Throughout the first half of the movie, the audience is left in the dark as to Andy’s involvement with his wife’s murder. There’s that scene in the beginning, of him stumbling from his car, drunk, and carrying a gun, but nothing more. He adamantly denies killing his wife, but we are never fully convinced of his innocence. Till we hear the story of Elmo Blatch, an old cellmate of Tommy’s, and then our suspicions are confirmed, Andy Dufresne is completely innocent and absolved from the murder of his wife. Somehow, though, that isn’t enough. The movie isn’t entitled Shawshank Absolvement, it is Shawshank Redemption, and Andy is not yet redeemed. That comes later, after Tommy has been killed and Andy beaten, placed into solitude for calling the warden “obtuse”, and at the brink of ruin. And like Cullen, as he comes to grip with the harsh reality of what has happened and who is to blame, his hammer of judgement falls to no one else but himself.

“I killed her Red,” Andy he says with a dull sincerity to Morgan Freeman as they sit in the yard, leaning against the giant stone wall, locked in Shawshank Redemption. “I didn’t pull the trigger but I drove her away. And that’s why she died, because of me.”

Red leans down and sits on his heals, “That doesn’t make you a murderer,” he counters, and he’s right. But so is Andy. He didn’t pull the trigger, but he did play a part. A small part perhaps, or at the very least a forgivable part (no on goes to prison for being a bad husband), but a part none the less. And once Andy is finally able to see that, he is able to admit it. And once he admits it, Shawshank could no longer contain him. He is free.

A few scenes later, he climbs into a sewage pipe and crawls to redemption.

“We did not start this, nor have we pulled any triggers”, Cullen admits, echoing Red’s “That doesn’t make you a murderer.” But Cullen, like Andy, isn’t content with being absolved. He wants freedom. Freedom from a grey and deathly prison, freedom from guilt and shame, and freedom from fear that this will indeed happen again. So he accepts his portion of the blame, “we supply the audience, they provide the show.” He acknowledges his responsibility and admits his complicit role. Then, like Andy Dufresne, he climbs into the sewage pipe and beckons us to do the same.

We, on the other hand, continue to sit in horror and amazement, waiting for someone to unlock the cell.

“For the past few years,” Jason Kottke writes, “whenever a mass shooting occurs in the US that gets wide press coverage, the satirical news site The Onion runs an article with this headline written by Jason Roeder: ‘“No Way To Prevent This,”’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens’.”

After each mass shooting, our nation raises its hands in grief and disbelief, “How does this keep happening?” Then, because there is never a clear answer, we quickly defend ourselves, our beliefs, and our rights, leaving many people absolved, very few freed, and even fewer redeemed.

There are two definitions offered for redeemed:

  1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

  2. the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.

Both require an admittance. Both require action. Neither point to someone or something else.

I, like the rest of our country, desperately long for these headlines to be eradicated from our headlines. I’ve also been convicted by Cullen and Andy and believe that casting the blame onto others will only perpetuate the acts. But because I’m not a journalist, I cannot rest with Cullen’s admittance. I must find my own, as an educator.

So far, I’ve come up with three.

Purpose:

“Education is inherently selfish” I found myself saying to a room full of educators, “we spend so much time and effort convincing kids to pursue school and grades so they can better themselves and their future” I said, “we encourage them to follow their dreams and be whatever they want to be, but for what purpose?” I found myself trying not to look at a particular school that has geared their entire program around personalized learning and a system that focuses on each kid as an individual, that teaches each kid to learn at their own pace, in their own way, completely isolated from their peers.

Why school? Why do kids have to go? And why do they have to take the classes that they do? A school I once taught for attempted to answer that question with a giant poster that hung in the hallway for each student and teacher to read. “Do it for you,” and it bothered me every single day.

Is that why kids need to be in school? So that they can go to college, get a nice job, and buy nice things? Or is it so that they can collect experiences and enjoy life? So they can learn how to “Follow their heart”? If so, no wonder they’re miserable.

After they’ve pursued every relationship, dating the hottest boy or girl they can find, after they’ve driven the coolest car, bought the the newest technology, and worn the nicest clothes, what next? After sex, popularity, success, and whatever else their hearts desire. what happens when they’re still miserable, empty, and without direction?

Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says, “When the product motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen” (via). The purpose of education, as is written and expressed today, has become unmoored from the deeper more existential purpose: to discover our gifts and talents, to hone them, and then figure out ways to give them away. To serve others.

And for that, I am responsible.

Humanity:

Teachers and coaches (perhaps even parents), my friend Glen Walenda once theorized on one of my recent blog posts, “often treat {children} as future people instead of people. We are so blinded by their potential we don't see them in the present.” In doing so, we concentrate on the superficial, the tangible, and the quantifiable measurements that will help them succeed (whatever that means) later on in life, when they’re future people.

Because that’s what how we know we are doing a “good job,” when our students are scoring well and paying attention in class. It’s also how we’re failing.

The best comedy, according to George Carlin, is a process of digging through the layers of humanity. Instead of simple jokes, the best comedians spend their time talking about feelings and who we are, our loves and likes, our fears and nightmares, and the stuff that makes us, us. That makes them, them. The human being stuff. The stuff that no standardized test or classroom assessment can ever measure.

Curriculum, teaching strategies, and assessments are important and necessary to gauge learning, but how to live life, how to work through struggles and celebrate victories, how to engage humanity and find our purpose in life, these are what we stay alive for. These are why we learn. But because we cannot measure them, no funding is attached to them, and because it is easier to grade knowledge rather than character, education focuses on GPAs rather than character, compliance rather than curiosity; it focuses on the future people rather than the now people.

For that, I am responsible.

Humility:

 The most “influential and inspiring people,” according to John Dickson, “are often marked by humility” which is “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself” (pg 24). Fred Rogers would agree. “The real issue in life,” Fred Rogers believed, “is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away” (via).

Schools, however, don’t often teach students to give their resources and blessings away. Instead, we focus on individualized learning, valedictorians, and high GPA’s. We focus on counting our blessings and building resumes.

We buy letterman jackets, award honor rolls, and crown kings and queens.

People of character, however, focus on how they can best give away their gifts and resources rather than hoarding them. They care more about their classmates, their community, and whoever else might be in need. They rarely focus on their own.

They care more about living in harmony than they do standing in the spotlight.

“Harmony,” the poet, theologian, and philosopher John O’Donohue states, is everything uniquely itself, “and by being uniquely itself, part of a greater community” (via). Sadly, I have not taught that enough in my classes.

I have focused on the uniqueness of the individual, but not on how their uniqueness fits into the great narrative. I have focused on their gifts, their talents, and dreams they want fulfilled, but I have not taught them well enough the responsibility of those gifts, and the joys of giving them to others. I have focused too much time on developing their resume virtues, not their eulogy virtues.

I didn’t pull the trigger on any mass shootings, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play a part or that I’m unable to prevent the next one. Because I’m an educator, I’m responsible for building and guiding a culture. And so far, I haven’t done the best of job.

For that, I am responsible.

Andy Dufresne crawled through “five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness, {we} can’t even imagine.” Dave Cullen did the same. For ten years. Then, like Andy, he emerged, clean and redeemed on the other side.

Like Andy and Cullen, we didn’t pull the trigger. But we have pushed each other away for the sake of ourselves. And that’s why we die.

If we, as a country, truly do believe enough is enough, that “No one should ever have to go through this. Period”, and that, names of victims on the back of shirts just isn’t enough, then we too must be willing to endure the worst we can imagine and take whatever responsibility we can upon ourselves and change. We must choose another rather than ourselves, our freedoms, and our rights.

If we can do that. Then, maybe, just maybe we too can emerge from this shit-smelling foulness that isn’t hard to imagine. And when we do, like Andy and Cullen, we too can be free, and clean on the other side.

We can find redemption.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Chapters to my book