Falling Down Joy

What do you do when your passion doesn’t measure up?  When your best work is considered average?  When your goals go unmet, your progress stops, and the audience boos?

What do you do when you’ve tried one interest after another, and you’ve fallen short in all of them?

What do we, the audience, tell this person?

Is it OK for the average to enjoy their work?

What meaning will our work have when it has all been superseded by machine intelligence?  That day may be closer than you think…read Automate This, by Christopher Steiner.

We lament the loss of love of learning, while we pressure our kids for straight A’s, while we pressure them to go to Ivy League schools, to get high paying jobs, while we measure and compare them in every possible way.

Why are we surprised?  None of that is about learning; it’s about being better than your peers, better than Europe, better than Asia.  We want more, so that we have more than the next guy.  If we’re doing better than our neighbor, then we must be doing OK.

School has become one great endless competition.  There is no more status conscious place on earth than the university.

Joy has come to me by focusing on the work.  I try to clear everything else from my mind; no thought of my audience, no thought of my “grade,” no thought of my peers.  I want to focus on my work, and experience the joy of working.

Here’s what I’d tell that person:  “Do the work you love, admire those whose work you admire, and learn from them.  Live within your means, and be a blessing.”

Building Social Capital – a Thought Experiment

I am particularly interested in finding a way for kids to discover for themselves the joy of learning.  I think for me the joy of learning began with a book I enjoyed reading, and then finding another one like it; and then another, and another.  I wonder whether I could help a child do the same.

Suppose I work with a school to find three children interested in reading a book with me, or maybe let them read three different books.  Maybe we meet once a week to talk about the book(s), with me guiding them in a conversation, asking them questions and so on.

I could ask them what they can glean from the title of the book, ask them to state what the book is about in one or two sentences, what are the important ideas are, what they’ve learned from the characters, and so on.

Suppose I teach them what it means to be a talk dancer, and get them to practice talk dancing in our group.

After we read a couple books I ask them whether any of their friends might like to join us.  If we get say eight kids reading together, and there are two kids I think might be reasonably accomplished talk dancers, I split them up so that there is at least one talk dancer in each group.

Now instead of leading the groups directly myself, I encourage them to lead themselves knowing that each group has a talk dancer.  I linger outside the groups, listening to their conversation, encouraging them, and maybe interject a question if their conversation appears to languish.

If we can repeat this process over and over again, perhaps even inviting people outside the school to attend, such as kids from other schools, parents and grandparents, etc, what would be the resulting social capital?

With each division, the number of persons involved would roughly double.  They would be forming bonds, building trust, and discover how much can be learned and enjoyed from discussing books with other persons.  And every group that started from the root group would be connected to all the other groups; that is, at least one person from each group would know someone that could link them to all the other groups.  In just 6 such iterations, there would be over 100 persons involved.  That’s a lot of social capital.