Education and Learning

July 18, 2019

How many people do you know who have college degrees yet don’t seem to know anything?

I never finished an engineering degree. Before I entered the university I was already taught through books, friends, experience about electronic circuits and the math involved. I went to university and refused to be channeled into a regimented system.

But in my third year, I discovered the game. And I was even able to hit the honor roll sometimes even though I don’t think I ever studied with the goal of a grade.

Then I had 10-20 years of jobs where the graduate engineer came in who knew tons of math, but couldn’t figure out the practical side of manufacturing or how to design to standards or any number of other things.

It’s the same for wherever my curiosity took me. Philosophy, psychology, Yoga, soccer, health, fitness…

I offer myself as a poor example of Mark Twain’s comment, “Don’t let education get in the way of learning.”

I know many professionals–engineers, doctors, lawyers, and more–who make good use of education and degrees.

But I know far too many people who have the paper yet are still unlearned.

They are the ones who asked, “Will this be on the test?” They remembered long enough for the test. They worked for a grade. Got it and moved on.

But there are many who barely remember university or maybe even made it there who are among the smartest and most knowledgeable people I know.

Curiosity and imagination are more important than rote memorization. (Although it is useful to remember many things. A paradox.)

Just Be Yourself

July 17, 2019

“How can I meet girls?” asked the young man in an online q&a session with a famous author.

“Just be yourself,” was a suggestion.

“How can I be myself? Aren’t I always?” came the reply.

I presumed his age as young, because evidently he was not aware yet of the masks people wear to project being someone they are not.

If he were aware, perhaps he’d be concerned that being himself may not be appealing to others. Perhaps he would be correct. Or perhaps just insecure. Doing things that develop self-confidence such as learning a skill or developing an expertise helps.

Maybe first, he (as well as all of us) first need to ask for the power like Robert Burns did in his poem “To a Louse”–‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!’

You can change and improve once you know your true starting point. It begins with attitude and continues to behaviors.

Or for this young man, I like Andy Stanley’s advice (paraphrased)–be the person that the person you want to be with wants to be with.

Oh, and ask questions. Then listen–really listen. And show interest and concern. It’s a gift to be quiet and let others talk. Then they think you are a great conversationalist. One of life’s many paradoxes.

Oh How Inaccurate The Memory Can Be

July 16, 2019

A blogger/writer/podcaster whom I respect recently told an interviewer, “I probably throw out five bad ideas before coming up with the one I write about.”

After reading some of my stuff, you may be amazed to learn that I do about the same thing. I have an idea, consider it, dismiss it, and then go on to the next.

Worse is when I am thinking of a Bible verse or song or quote. Then, just to be safe, I research it. Oops. I discover that the verse isn’t in the Bible. The song had a totally different meaning. That person never said what I was about to quote.

We have a conversation. Someone quotes the Bible. They feel deep into their being that they are right. Even if you open the book and point it out, they will continue to believe it.

Entire political or religious movements have begun due to someone remembering a phrase inaccurately.

When I find that I’m wrong, well, I just go on to the next idea. Or morph the bad one into something better.

That response is within the personality of an Enneagram 5, which I am (mostly). But I think it is also something the other 8 personality types can do–learn to dismiss an inaccurate memory and move on.

The palest ink is better than the strongest memory. Said Pope. Or was it Swift? Or Shakespeare? I think someone famous and old said that…

Defined on a Bumper Sticker

July 15, 2019

We define ourselves many times in just a few words. Maybe we think we are being cute, or funny or pugnacious. Many of the phrases are political or religious.

This one I saw when I finished my run at the park really hit me.

I have no idea who the owner of the vehicle is. But I wonder.

Did they have kids of their own? I certainly hope not.

Are they so up-tight that they cannot enjoy the unbounded energy of youth?

Have they forgotten their own childhood?

I think that I would not like to meet this person.

Is your self-definition-in-a-phrase inviting or repellent?

The Study of Holy Writing

July 12, 2019

Imagine the decisions ancient men had to make every night. Where do I sleep? Do I sleep in my own tent? Or maybe that of wife number 1? Or wife number 2? Or maybe the personal maid to wife number 1? Or the personal maid of wife number 2?

Here we have the story of Jacob grandson of Abraham. Who worked seven years to earn a wife only to find out that the wily father-in-law substituted the older daughter. And then began seven more years of work to earn the wife he wanted.

So, Jacob married Leah and then Rachel. And he had children with each. But when Leah was feeling distance from Jacob for want of another child, she had Jacob sleep with her maid Zelpha. Later, Rachel had Jacob sleep with her maid Bala.

Leah bore seven children; Zelpha two; Rachel two; and Bala two. Quite the busy guy.

Now, we could study this as a story in itself perhaps even as history of the Hebrew people. The sons became the 12 tribes of the Hebrews (it gets complicated because Joseph, the favorite who wore the coat of many colors, did not father a tribe).

Ancient writers and thinkers did not always take things so literally as we do today. The writer of the 1100s, Richard of St. Victor, took this story and applied it to describe the development of human spirituality. I cannot reproduce his essay in 300 words or less. Take this as an introduction to spiritual interpretation.

Taking words directly from the Hebrew text (although probably reading in Latin), Richard traced the development of two sides of human character.

Leah stands for affection and her maid for its complement sensuality. Leah’s children–Ruben for Fear of God, Simeon for Sorrow for sin, Levi for Hope for forgiveness, Judas for Love of the good God, Issachar for Joy in inward sweetness, Zebulon for Perfect hatred of sin, and Dinah for True shame for sin. From Zelpha (sensuality) are born Gad–Abstinence and Asser–Patience.

The other side of our personality is rationality. Rachel stands for Reason and Bala for its complement Imagination. Rachel (reason) bore Joseph–Discretion and Benjamin–Contemplation. Bala (imagination) bore Dan–Sight of sufferings to come and Nephthalim–Sight of joys to come.

We could study this story and just come away with a history which we may or may not believe to be factual in today’s way of thinking of history.

Or, we could use the story by reading the descriptions and exclamations within the story, and contemplate on these attributes for a long time.

When have you felt fear of God? Or sorrow for your sin? Or Hope for forgiveness? Or used your reason and practiced discretion in a situation?

The richness and depth of Holy writing yields great rewards. Richard would never get a Ph.D. today with his analysis. But his words have moved people for 900 years.

Making Constant Adjustments

July 11, 2019

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future (Steve Miller Band)

We have a cuckoo clock in the living room. Authentic German Black Forest purchased at some small town along the Danube.

Given the vagaries of temperature and humidity, it either slows or speeds. Its accuracy keeps slippin’, slippin’, slippin’.

Having vestiges of an engineering mindset, I spent months patiently trying to adjust the pendulum to just the exact spot for perfect time.

It never happened. The clock is just not designed to be a precision instrument.

Then a better solution presented itself.

Why don’t I just adjust the time occasionally when it needs it? I pull out my iPhone, check the time, adjust the hands. Duh…

I have met Christians who think they have fine-tuned their lives to the point where they are in perfect time. “I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart, and now I’m perfect…”

Only life doesn’t work that way.

Following Jesus (another whole different thing) means that periodically (daily?) I pull out a “Jesus measuring instrument” which necessitates my adjusting my life to get back into sync.

Are you in sync?

Take a Lesson from the Tiny Wren

July 10, 2019

I work and eat most meals on the patio when I’m home and the weather cooperates. I’ve been watching a pair of little House Wrens. They have chosen to build a nest here. They have a perfect collaborative division of labor.

He searches out likely homes. She chooses carefully. I watched her measure carefully, check the entrance for safety from enemies. He brings a steady supply of longer “sticks”. It is not easy putting a piece of dried grass or thin stick through a small opening into the cavity when you have no hands. Using only his beak and dexterity, he builds the nest. She finally comes back and brings soft grasses and fuzzy seed to prepare the nest for her laying.

She lays the eggs. He is not allowed in the house. But he stays just outside on a perch where he can see anything coming. And woe to the gray squirrel who decides to walk the fence close to the house. The tiny wren will attack and drive the squirrel away.

The eggs hatch and the two of them work constantly bringing small insects and caterpillars to feed the fledglings. They must grow quickly for they haven’t time for toddler and adolescent stages like humans.

It is all choreographed by centuries of experience passed through the genes.

If only we could work so diligently and collaboratively! So many of our enterprises would be accomplished to good outcome.

More from Less; Everything from Nothing

July 9, 2019

It is a paradox.

You cannot gain communion with God until you have stripped away everything and left yourself in complete darkness. Only then can the light of God shine within you.

Strip away pride; acknowledge yourself as humble before God.

Strip away ego; it’s not all about you.

Strip away greed; it’s not about comparing yourself to another who may have more.

Strip away sloth; be diligent pursuing God.

Strip away anger; for it comes from pride and subjugates peace.

Then it is just you and God. And there is room now for God to shine.

(Thanks to the first contemplative I read at about 16–John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul.)

If are to have a great kingdom, rule over yourself

July 8, 2019

This quote from the Stoic philosopher Publilius Syrus came to me recently.

This is a thought often echoed.

It is what I learned from studying the ancient Christian contemplatives. I expected reports of great spiritual visions–and indeed there are some–but mostly they wrote about how to conquer themselves so that the path to seeing and following God would be cleared.

When we see people whose public morals border on the illegal elevated to important offices or revered for their wealth in popular press, we could hardly be accused for wondering about sticking with virtues and morals as a way of life.

To live a rich and complete life, the experience of many throughout human history teaches this wisdom.

Do not be tossed about by the vagaries of emotion. Rule over yourself.

A Nation of Personality

July 5, 2019

We in the US have become a nation of personality rather than a nation of character.

Technologists invented ways to make “moving pictures”, which became “movies”, which have become videos.

Artists invented ways to tell stories and make dramatic art with each advancement of the technology.

Business people using the skills of marketing and public relations invented ways to progressively promote the actors making them famous in the minds of people who would in turn buy tickets and then merchandise.

Hence, we have the Kardashians and other reality show personalities dominating news and politics. People magazine replaced Shakespeare.

Our founders, rich white guys all, had a common education in the classics. They reflected the religion of the time, but also philosophers such as John Locke and especially the Stoics–Seneca, Marcus, Cato. Remembering Benjamin Franklin’s wry comment that by signing the Declaration of Independence these rich guys were risking it all, “We shall hang together or we shall hang separately.”

Modern Stoic Ryan Holliday writes, “At the core of the American experiment was liberty. At the core of Stoicism we have not only a love of freedom, but the counterbalancing virtues to that freedom: Justice. Duty. Self-Control. Honor. Selflessness. Remember that the comfort you enjoy now grew out of a philosophy that was made to embrace discomfort and to do the right thing, whatever the costs.”

In the writings of the founders, we often find reference to these virtues and to the concern that, upon losing these virtues, democracy and freedom would no longer exist.