I don’t know much and what I do know seems to be shrinking on an almost daily basis. My existence is increasingly consumed by thoughts regarding my sanity.
For those keeping track the opening paragraph was “underwear” and the follow-up paragraph was “shrinkage.” This is known as a progression of ideas. I’m building up to something. You are wise to still be reading this.
Aside from all that, there seems to be something else going on.
My rate of “Rain Man” moments seems to be on the rise. There’s been an uptick in momentia, if you will.
No, we decidedly do not refer to them as “senior moments.” Despite being a grumpy grandpa and standing on my lawn and yelling at kids, I’m not ready for that schtick just yet. Not while I’m still young and in my prime.
Besides, I’m an excellent driver.
Then I was responsible for a car accident after going to the pharmacy to pick up my “meds.” Oh, shit. Did I just use the word “meds?” This is the end.
So yeah, that happened.
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Shouts to planetjan on this one…
This post will be like a big ball of used gum. I keep coming back and editing in more bits. Thus, it won’t be very cohesive and is going to jump all over the place. You have been warned. (Note to my students: Here I employe the classic negativity technique known as “Tell Them How You’ll Suck Right Up Front.”)
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB – for added fun pronounce this as “nicklebee”) was one of the first things proposed by George W. Bush, not long after the Supreme Court decision that helped make him president. With that kind of mandate under his belt he leaped in and, on January 23, 2001, boldly proposed NCLB. The bill was mothered by Senator Ted Kennedy and received “overwhelming bi-partisan support” in Congress. It become the law of the land on January 8, 2002.
One of the driving ideas behind NCLB was that measurable standards and goals would lead to positive individual outcomes in students. This included, of course, incentives in the form of Title I funds and how those funds would be allocated to government-run schools that receive federal funding.
At the bottom of this post I’m including an amazing video from TED entitled, “How do we do the right thing?” This is a topic I ponder a lot. The video covers lots of topics, including doctors, but also has a fair amount about teachers. What does an emphasis on things like test scores tied to funding bring?
The video tells one story. A teacher was visited by a consultant. The purpose of the visit was to help the teacher produce higher test scores for the school. The consultant was there to provide training towards that goal. Step One: Ignore students who would pass the tests no matter what. Step Two: Ignore students who would fail the tests no matter what. Step Three: Ignore students who were too new to the district that their scores would not count toward funding incentives. The remaining “bubble” students were the only ones deemed to be worthy of the teacher’s attention.
Wow. And that’s the system taking a major shit on human beings. Now, let’s move on an explore some other ideas.
Human brains love to categorize things. As a matter of routine we make snap judgements, thin slice and judge books by their cover, in spite of the old adage that says we can’t. It’s something that we do.
How can this sort of thing manifest itself?
One of my favorite researchers of all time is Dr. Ellen Langer. She wrote the book Mindfulness which is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. (If experiments like the ones I’m about to describe interest you, go find this book and read it. You’re in for a treat.)
In one of her experiments, two women were given three tasks. First, they were asked to individually solve arithmetic problems. Then they were given labels at random – “boss” and “assistant” – and asked to solve anagrams as a team. Finally, they went back to solving arithmetic problems individually again.
What do you think happened? The person given the “boss” label solved more math problems than she initially had in phase one of the test. The person given the “assistant” label solved less math problems.
Holy shit. Think about that. These were just words assigned to people in an experiment. I would imagine, as such, that they’d have much less power than the real life labels we take on each and every minutes of our lives. What a mind fuck!
It doesn’t end there. There have been other experiments involving teachers and students. In the experiments groups of students were randomly separated into two groups. One group of students was labeled “gifted” or as having high IQs and the other group of students was not. The label of “gifted” was communicated to teachers. The results were dramatic. Consistently the groups labeled as “gifted” performed higher than the control groups.
The label was affecting the teachers. It turned out that when dealing with students they thought were gifted, teachers interacted with their students differently. They looked at the students more often. They smiled and nodded at them more. They taught more content, set higher goals, called on them more frequently and give them more time to answer.
This sort of phenomenon, where people place greater expectations on others which leads to greater results is known as the Pygmalion effect.
Another example of the powerful effect of labels is the famous Stanford prison experiment. In this case, in addition to labels, the structure of a setting (a prison) powerfully manifested to such a degree that the two-week experiment had to be terminated early after six days.
The mind can be a strange thing. I’d like to close out this post with two more examples of Dr. Langer experiments.
Langer, a social psychologist and teacher, has written a book, this is actually her fourth on mindfulness but first on health, that is philosophical in part, and practical throughout. It is based on many of her studies and those conducted with her students. One classic study Langer conducted had senior citizens, some of whom were in nursing type facilities spend a week living as though it was 1959 again, wearing the type of clothes they wore then, doing things like carrying their own suitcases, which they hadn’t done in years, bringing photos of who they were then and “acting as if” they were their younger version, again. A week later, most were actually livelier, stronger and healthier, they expressed more vitality and took more interest in life than they had in years. (Source.)
And, excerpted from Dr. Langer’s web site…
In the 1970s my colleague Judith Rodin and I conducted an experiment with nursing home residents. We encouraged one group of participants to find ways to make more decisions for themselves. For example, they were allowed to choose where to receive visitors, and if and when to watch the movies that were shown at the home. Each also chose a houseplant to care for, and they were to decide where to place the plant in their room, as well as when and how much to water it. Our intent was to make the nursing home residents more mindful, to help them engage with the world and live their lives more fully.
A second, control group received no such instructions to make their own decisions; they were given houseplants but told that the nursing staff would care for them. A year and a half later, we found that members of the first group were more cheerful, active, and alert, based on a variety of tests we had administered both before and after the experiment. Allowing for the fact that they were all elderly and quite frail at the start, we were pleased that they were also much healthier: we were surprised, however, that less than half as many of the more engaged group had died than had those in the control group.
Dramatic results, eh? My advice is to be mindful about your brain. You never know what it might be doing to you.
Finally, the Sabbath is here. Whew! No A-Z Blogging Challenge today. Yeah!
What day of the week is the Sabbath? I don’t really know, but as far as A-Z is concerned, it’s Sunday. We’ll pick back up with “C” on Monday.
So, I will now strive to emulate God, at least in this one way. According to Genesis, God created heaven and earth, light, firmament, Earth, seas, vegetation, seasons, the sun, moon and stars, moving creatures, fowl, cattle, creeping things, beasts, and humans.
Then, on the seventh day, God “rested.” Woot! I’m gonna do that, too.
Literally, Sabbath is a “ceasing,” a rest from work, or a hiatus. According to the Bible this even applies to the beasts, so I have unharness the cats and have given them the day off.
I’ve established I’m taking a break from the A-Z Challenge. Now what?
For today’s sermon, I wish to delve into something else. Master Yoda once said, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”
Yoda was talking about being mindful.
According to Wikipedia, one possible definition is, “Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Ha! How often does anyone really do that?
Have you ever done stuff like driving away with your coffee mug on the top of your car? That’s mindlessness.
Today I offer for your consideration a few examples.
One day I went to a restaurant I knew should be open. I walked up, turned the door knob (yes, they have a door knob) and pulled. The door didn’t open. I looked in the window. There was an “open” sign. “What the hell?” I was livid. I stomped away all the while imagining the nasty note I was going to post on the internet to let them know I didn’t appreciate being treated that way. They’d learn a thing or two from me.
Before getting too far, however, I watched someone else walk up to the restaurant. They turned the knob, pushed on the door, and walked on inside.
I just got schooled on mindlessness. Quite effectively, I might add. Humbled, I shuffled over to the restaurant and successfully let myself in.
For this next story, I’m going to give you the ending first. It ends with someone sitting on the living room sofa, drinking some milk, then shouting profanities with alarm.
Ah hell. Why be coy? It was my wife.
Once in the kitchen, she immediately grabbed a glass and poured herself a drink of milk. Savoring the moment, she went to the living room and settled in before, finally, taking a long satisfying drink of delicious milk.
Or so she thought.
It can be quite jarring to take a drink of something expecting it to be one way and then finding out that it’s something else. Quite jarring.
It turns out she didn’t buy milk after all. She bought something from the milk case that was bottled and labeled in similar fashion to milk, but it wasn’t milk. It was some sort of lactose-free beverage that my wife hates.
Yes, she was mindless in the store. She didn’t bother to mindfully look at what she was buying. And it led to quite the surprise.
Okay, only one last example and I’m done.
Last weekend, my wife hired a friend’s kid to help with chores in the garage and around the house. One of the jobs was getting rid of the big umbrella from the table in our backyard. It seems it had been left open during a windstorm and had been broken. I ended up wrestling it down just before the whole thing flew away Wizard of Oz style. And it only cost me one severely pinched hand.
So here she was, paying this kid in cash money to help her take care of the umbrella. She instructed him to break it down and dismantle it for the trip to the dump. He dutifully pulled off all the fabric and crunched it down as much as he could.
When loading the car, however, she noticed something strange. There was the damaged umbrella still sitting in the garage and it was completely untouched. What the hell?
Oh yeah, they had just destroyed our backup umbrella, making us the proud owners of two useless piece of shit umbrellas.
Remember that in everything you do, there is a choice. Be mindful and pay attention to what you are doing. Or be mindless and think about anything else and suffer the consequences.
You can expend all the energy you want, but if you do it mindlessly, you’re probably just wasting your effort and time.