Avoiding The Pointless, Downward Negative Cycle

I’m in the Trump Trap. I doubt I’m alone.

It’s impossible to ignore the President, but paying attention to him only feeds his narcissism and seems to make matters worse. To ignore his lies and race baiting is to condone both. I argue with a friend when he says “Obama was worse,” but that doesn’t accomplish anything. How to escape this pointless, downward spiral of negativity?

My friend, while totally exasperating on things political, has redeeming qualities. Among others, he’s committed to his family, he’s funny, he cares about those he works with. Why don’t I just focus more exclusively on those attributes?

There’s a direct correlation between how people feel about themselves, more specifically how secure they are, and their propensity to see the best in others and affirm them. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, if your insecurities win the day, you’re unlikely to sing anyone else’s praises. You don’t send thank you cards. You don’t risk any awkwardness by directly and specifically telling others what you most appreciate about them.

As if life is a zero-sum game. That there’s only so much positivity or praise to go around.

We can focus on the good in others, and name it, without any cost to ourselves. At all. Focusing on the good in others, and naming it, creates positive momentum that makes political disagreements less consequential. My friend’s politics are whacked, but he is not the sum of his politics.

One can be a good teacher, nurse, or executive, and liberally celebrate other teachers’, nurses’, and executives’ excellence. One can be a decent human being and routinely celebrate decency in others. We’re apt to recognize and publicly declare the redeeming qualities in others to the degree to which we feel okay about ourselves, the degree to which we like ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I made eye contact with another driver as I pulled into the Trader Joe’s parking lot. She was an acquaintance from church who smiled at me. “Finally,” the introvert in me immediately thought, “I’m going to get a chance to tell her how much I enjoy her blog.” Sure enough, halfway through my appointed rounds, she walked straight up to me and asked if I’d eat some fancy shmancy blueberry desert that she was thinking of making for a party. “Yes.” I assured her, and then said, “Hey, I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I’ve been enjoying cooking more and I’m amazed at your creations. And you’re really funny.” For good measure I added, “You’re a very talented writer.” To say she was touched is an understatement.

Her blog deserves a wider audience. When that happens, I will celebrate her success. Because it will not detract from this humble blog.

With respect to the President and my friend, my inclination is to ignore the President. My vote will be my proof that I’m not condoning his calculating and inflammatory rhetoric which will only get worse once the campaign begins in earnest. As for my friend, I’m going to focus more on his redeeming qualities and our common humanity.

 

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. What it’s actually like to be on House Hunters.

“My story will possibly burst your bubble about the show. If this is not something you want, stop reading now.”

2. On last day with kids, special ed teachers says they’re a gift.

She’s been a gift to that community.

3. New research shows how teachers are the key to boosting student attendance.

“The study doesn’t tell us what, exactly, those attendance-boosting teachers are doing that’s working.” What?!

4. Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think. 

Particularly relevant given the first Demo debates.

5. How to fight neo-Nazis.

6. Where are they now? Yao Ming.

I love myself some Yao Ming. He wants to be anonymous. Check the first picture. Uphill battle.

The Mouse And The Man

Just received the meanest of text messages from the Bad Wife:

“I’m pretty sure I went 49 mph today coming down the hill between the Cove and Holiday Hills. Don’t have a computer so I can’t verify, but I’m pretty sure.”

There’s so much wrong with this text. First of all, what kind of person cycles without a computer?!

Secondly, I had just told the Bad Wife that I set a new cycling speed record during a group training ride in rural Lewis County (redundant). 48.8 mph.

I’m training for the annual sufferfest in Bend, Oregon in two weeks, the Central Oregon 500, which I turn into the Central Oregon 400, or last year 336, due to light snow on McKenzie Pass.

I am happy to report that I’m starting to feel some snap in my legs, but I coulda used a larger cassette on some of yesterday’s climbs. At times, I thought I might have to toss one or both water bottles overboard to breach the steepest pitches.

There were eight of us. I knew seven. Or so I thought. The eighth dude was someone I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years. The last time I saw him I was literally yelling at him at the finish line of the Black Hills triathlon. No, not in my character, but I watched him pass me on the bike, and then, totally ignoring the no drafting rule, suck another guy’s wheel for miles and miles. I did not reel him in during the run and did not take losing well. Keep in mind, this was before I studied Stoicism and got my shit together, by which I mean, got my ego somewhat in check.

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that your anger ends up being much worse than whatever offensive action the other person committed? Me too.

Not immediately, but with just a little passage of time, I would’ve liked a do-over. As if an Olympic age group triathlon has any cosmic significance.

So imagine my surprise when The Drafter, a friend of a friend I learned, showed up for our group training ride. What to do? I intuited that he still remembered the psychotic break. Damn. Awkward. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I know what to do, pretend I don’t remember any of it!

That’s right, as a friend puts it, I was way more mouse than man. Why the hell couldn’t I have apologized and said what I was thinking, “Man, sometimes I think back to that time I lost it at the triathlon and I feel badly, sorry for all that anger.” And we rode together for 3+ hours. And we talked about our 26 year old daughters and life. His daughter is a first year teacher in Brooklyn and he was asking me for advice to pass on to her.

Having obviously moved on even without an apology, he was more man than mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a loser and that’s the one thing you’ll be most correct about today. You’re also wondering who was stronger two decades later? The Man or the Mouse? He did challenge me on several of the steepest climbs. He really shoulda known better. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

The Real World Sounds Cool

Last Tuesday night. Church council swan song. Final meeting. The topic. How to pay for an $80,000 roof repair. A 5 year loan with slightly higher monthly payments or a 10 year with slightly lower ones.

A consensus builds around the 10 year. Then I recommend the five because I argue we need a sense of urgency to pay it off before another expensive, unplanned for problem surfaces. Given our aging building and our feeble finances, we can’t fend off overlapping fiscal crises.

I add that if our next administrator is “on it” like our exiting one, then the 10 year would be fine since there are no pre-payment penalties, but who knows whether he or she will be equally vigilant when it comes to monitoring our strapped budget.

That’s when I was introduced to the “real world”.

In unison, a few people said, “But ‘closely monitoring the church’s finances’ is on the new and improved job description.” In other words, don’t worry about it, it’s a done deal.

My internal thought was the same as my Millennial daughter’s recent text to me, Hahahahahaha. I wish!

A good friend of mine who sells hair care products for a living is always exasperated with me. I mean always. Tenure, sabbatical, self-actualization, all trigger words. His constant refrain is that I don’t live in the “real world”. The “real world” is one where you have to continually find more customers in order to make monthly and quarterly sales targets. Or get fired. In contrast, I just show up at my classroom and teach my ass off for whomever appears on my class list. I’ve always dug my unreal world, but in his mind, it’s a grossly inferior place. An aggravating anomaly.

I have to confess, in my unreal world, job descriptions haven’t mattered much. Few in the unreal world reference their job descriptions with any regularity and there’s always some sort of gap between what’s written and performance.

So the real world really intrigues me. It would be quite convenient to know everyones’ work performance matches their job descriptions. Much cleaner and more predictable than the messiness of my unreal world.

 

How Not To Indoctrinate Students

Excellent advice from David Gooblar’s Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “What is ‘Indoctrination’? And How Do We Avoid It in Class?

His answer. . . by modeling open-mindedness and intellectual humility.

Gooblar thinks we can guard against closed-mindedness if we:

“. . . admit when we’re wrong, discuss our failures, and let students know when we’re unsure about something.”

When researching my doctoral dissertation, I spent two months closely studying a master high school teacher with a PhD in Mesopotamian history. Most PhD’s in Mesopotamian history would fall FLAT on their face if required to teach high school, but not this one because he never flaunted his intellect. One time, I recall, he started a story about something he had recently read about Egyptian pyramids. “I recently read in a book, but I don’t know if it’s true, . . . ” With one simple phrase, he demystified textual authority. The take-away, reader beware, authors are flawed.

However, there’s more to the “indoctrination story” than Gooblar reveals. A year ago, I was teaching an interdisciplinary International Honors course to a dozen whip smart juniors and seniors at my liberal arts university. One session, when discussing economics, a winsome but exasperated senior said, “I’ve never had a single professor here say anything positive about capitalism.” And on a scale of “1 to 10” in terms of liberal, liberal arts campus cultures, I’d rate my university a 4.

I thought long and hard about that statement, but also the student’s seeming resistance to critically question obvious, albeit unintended, negative consequences of unfettered free-market capitalism. As a conservative surrounded mostly by liberal faculty and peers, did he feel compelled to overcompensate? “I’m planting my flag on the hill of free-market capitalism come hell or high water!”

No, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I also taught the same student writing four years earlier in a seminar where we got to know one another well. I was reminded in the Honors course of how close he was to his mother whom he talked about affectionately. When I probed a little about how he came to his pro-capitalism views, he talked about his mother’s passion for it and their numerous conversations about it from when he was little. His hesitance to question capitalism as an economic system didn’t have anything to do with peer relationships, it had everything to do with his love for his mother. To even question capitalism, let alone reject it like an increasing number of his peers, would’ve required him to reject his mother. Far too high a cost to pay.

When teaching anything remotely political, that is the educator’s dilemma—how to honor each student’s familial context while also challenging them to expand their worldview. Or more specifically, given our example, how to celebrate the beauty of a loving child-parent relationship, while simultaneously cultivating critical thinking about closely held, unquestioned assumptions learned from birth.

How do educators challenge students to thoughtfully confront their families ideological blindspots knowing their intellectual awakening will disrupt those cherished relationships?

 

Which is Better, Rewards or Punishment?

Trick question, neither. How to parent. And teach. And coach. And change the world for the better.

“No matter how irrational or difficult a (parenting) moment might seem, we can respond in a way that says: ‘I see you. I’m here to understand and help. I’m on your side. We’ll figure this out together.'”

The book.

Some PTA’s Paying Teachers’ Salaries

Like in Seattle Washington. Here’s the district’s rationale.

Many well-to-do parents’ fear their children will not enjoy the same economic privilege they have. That anxiety explains a lot of the inequities embedded in our public education system. In fact, I’m surprised super wealthy parents in the U.S. haven’t followed the lead of the super wealthy 30-something Chinese parents I met twenty years ago in a Beijing suburb. Focused intensely on English language instruction, those parents built a K-8 boarding school specifically for their children. It was a weird, disconcerting place, but I bet the teachers made quite a bit more money than their public school Chinese counterparts.

I wonder. Why haven’t any multi-millionaire parent groups (that I know of) created schools exclusively for their children staffed with teachers making $200,000/year? I suppose the answer is they feel the best public and private K-12 schools are good enough. If that changes, I will not be surprised. And yes, I will say, I called it.