Divergent Thinking and Holistic Perspective

“Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Anyone concerned about the future of the world should spend time considering how we educate our children. I have friends who have children in different educational programs – public schools, private schools, Montessori programs, home schools, international schools. religious schools and so on and I know that they would all agree on at least one thing: education is important.

I came across this presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a remarkable presenter I wrote about months ago in my post called “Bring on the Learning Revolution.” This lecture is well worth the next eleven minutes of your day:

I’ve long felt that education should be more about drawing out the inherent value, talents, radiance, etc. from children than it should be about stuffing them full of facts and figures that will hopefully be useful at some later date. Individuality creative expression suffers in our current system, and this unnatural homogenization is resulting in a pressure that our youth are increasingly incapable of bearing and navigating.

It appears that the presentation stops before you hear Sir Robinson’s suggestions as to how we might best revitalize education in this new era, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

The Antidote to Premature Aging


Photo Credit: Lisa DeJong

A friend of mine told me that she was inspired by the example of others recently to start a new hobby. The hobby she chose, rowing, met several criteria for her as it was outdoors, involved opportunities for solitude as well as social time and provided exercise without physical exertion being the central focus. I wish I had a camera so that I could share with you the light that was in her eyes when she described her new-found passion.


Hobbies provide avenues for self-expression, personal development and  change in rhythm. My college soccer coach, who was a marathoner himself, taught me that varying the rhythm in distance running can provide for better performance and greater mental alertness over the long haul. The same could be said for your daily rhythms. If you are stuck in a “it’s time to make the donuts” repetitive rhythm, you might want to consider shaking it up a bit.

It is so easy to get into repetitive patterns that turn lightly-worn paths into ruts over time. I once heard someone say that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth and I feel strongly that everyone should find ways to have variety in life, to fill out flat spots in development and to express themselves more fully throughout life.

Consider this: no matter how old you are right now, dear reader, you are as young as you will ever be for the rest of your life. It’s never too late to start! Take up that hobby or activity that you’ve always thought would be interesting. What do you have to lose?

An active body and an active mind are an effective antidote to premature aging. Likewise, a balanced oscillation between activity and rest makes for better sleep, greater productivity when awake and a progressively more influential life. I find it strange that many people seem to give up on the idea that they can live generative, influential lives right up to their last living breath.

One of my readers, “FlyingGma” (Flying Grandma), is a grandmother who took up flying very recently in her life. I loved to hear her story and continue to enjoy reading her posts on her travels. Life needn’t be a bell curve, where you return to inactivity and impotence in your latter years. In fact, life can be and should be an ascending spiral, where its actors soar ever upward like a hawk in a thermal.

If you find something that lights your fire, that pushes you to perform closer to the edges of your present envelope and that calls for something new from deep inside of you, I will assure you that the rest of your world will benefit. Passion is contagious! Even the dullest aspects of your life will receive a breath of fresh air if you allow yourself to open up in new ways.

Gird up your loins, as they used to say, and enjoy a new challenge. The nature of the activity doesn’t matter; it could be physical, intellectual, esoteric, practical, serious or outrageous. The fact that you dive right in and let your mind and heart be caught up in a new field of creative expression is what truly matters, for flow begets flow.

I imagine that some of you have taken up new hobbies recently while others are contemplating them. Please share your stories! I’d love to hear them and how they affected your worlds.

Decorating Silence – The Power of Sound!

A friend sent me a fascinating link to a captivating TED talk given by Julian Treasure, chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises businesses on how to use sound. Just seven minutes long, the talk is sure to revitalize the way you relate to sound. Here it is:

My sons never cease to amaze me (as do children in general), particularly when it comes to seeing how quickly their ability to interact with the world around them expands from day to day. Long gone are the days when children were to be “seen but not heard,”  and I think that we’re better for it.

One of the primary tools children use in their quest to understand and have dominion in the world is sound. Children mature at a remarkable pace through an exploration of language, song or just making noise.

I recently introduced my youngest son to the greats of scat singing, including Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. He was fascinated by it (who wouldn’t be?) and has taken to scatting all the time. He also loves to improvise on songs he knows, using new experiences and new words. Each day his scats and songs become more complex, meaningful and delightful. It is fascinating to hear!

Sound, used correctly, improves health, orders consciousness and enriches experiences. However, when sound is misused it leads to disease, frenzy and unrelieved tension. Sound health depends on a sound relationship between you and your world.

Take care when it comes to the sound in your world. Remember this: you are a chord and harmony, not dissonance, is your birthright.


Making Friends

Have you ever noticed how easily children make friends? I’m always impressed by their untempered ability to walk up to another child and say “I’m Jack, do you want to play?” Young children are especially facile in this regard, perhaps because they have yet to develop complexes, self-image issues, prejudices and bad habits.

I have yet to meet a four year old who questions the motives of another the minute he meets someone. Neither have I seen a five year old shun another for his looks or social standing. The relative lack of judgment is refreshing and while I do agree that a well-developed capacity for discernment is valuable, the judgmental attitudes that most adults take toward one another is tragic and unnecessary.

Were people to mature completely, there would be no judgment. Judgment, and the condemnatory attitudes that accompany it, is employed by those who have yet to grow into the noble and magnanimous shoes given to every human being at birth. A refined, empathetic, self-assured and humble bearing is the birthright of each one, yet few on earth are given the nourishment, respect, challenges and guidance required to arrive at the point where their inner greatness is fully revealed.

Mankind has created a world for itself that essentially makes it so that no one is born into a perfect set of circumstances. That said, no one should accept the fact that they have a valid excuse for not revealing the highest and finest of which they are capable in any and every situation.

Part of the reason why children are so effective at making friends is because they have not yet begun the process of cataloging the reasons why they can’t do their best, why they can’t approach life and others with a pure and uncomplicated heart and why they feel justified in retiring from life rather than embracing it. No matter where you are now, it is important to remember that you were there once.

Your childhood may have been shorter than that of others, but there is no reason why you cannot let go of that which separates you from your birthright and let go to a less cluttered expression of who you are underneath the scars, bumps and bruises you’ve accumulated over your lifetime, here and now.

Making friends can be easy again. True friendships are not formed on the basis of commiseration. They are formed on the basis of a mutual appreciation for one another and for the opportunity to “play,” that is, to engage in a shared process of imagination, enjoyment and doing. Life really can and should be that easy!

On seeking and offering advice

In giving advice, seek to help, not please, your friend. ~ Solon

Some of the hardest things I’ve had to hear about myself came clothed as advice. Advice, pointers, tips and hints stream from every direction on a regular basis, if you are listening. Delivered by the mouths and pens of both friends and strangers, advice also comes in the form of feedback given by your circumstances.

On the other hand, I am regularly asked by friends, family and business associates for my thoughts and counsel. I’ve found over the years that the most effective way to give advice is to follow two simple rules: (1) don’t limit yourself to giving only happy, warm, fuzzy advice and (2) be strategic in your delivery. If you look to package the advice you give in a way that it is most likely to be received, even the toughest words of wisdom have a chance of landing.

One alarming trend with parents today – likely in reaction to the long swing toward laissez-faire parenting over the last decade – is the phenomenon called helicopter parenting. Such parents hover over and snuff out any flame of self-actualization in their children by over-parenting, over-advising and over-controlling.

Edna St. Vincent Millay once quipped “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” Children, like adults, must be given room to make mistakes, for experiential learning is one of the greatest and most penetrating forms of instruction.

To be an effective at receiving advice you must possess sufficient humility to overcome the embarrassment and shame of having been moving in the wrong direction. Far too many people over the years have refused to take advice and cut their losses out of “pride.” Is it really pride or just a lack of humility?

Life, even in these fortunate days where we live well into our 80s and beyond, is too short to spend in ignorance. Good advice can save you minutes, hours or even years when heard and heeded. You must be discerning when it comes to deciding which advice to follow, but you must also take great care not to let yourself off on a technicality.

Allow me to explain. I’ve seen buckets of good advice thrown by the wayside because the intended recipient took offense to how it was delivered. Perhaps the messenger had a bad hair day, was careless or insensitive or pushy when delivering the advice, but truly humble is the man, woman or child who can see past the delivery method or style, recognize the good advice at the heart of the message and make the change.

When it comes to advice, it is best to receive it and give it with humility and equanimity. Eternal progress is at your fingertips!

A Seed of Greatness

(an excerpt from Robert Fulghum‘s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten)

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

I mentioned yesterday that I would post more details on the basic elements of character that would benefit any and every child regardless of race, creed or color. Robert Fulghum did an excellent job at clothing these qualities and rather than guild the lily on this topic I propose that we venture a little further into the matter of drawing forth the inherent strengths of our children so that we might shape a better and brighter future.

Let’s begin with an assumption. I am convinced that there is greatness resident in each and every human being born on this earth. Given the right conditions, proper nourishment, a safe and nurturing home and the development of fundamental social skills every has a chance at bringing something valuable to the table.

In my field of work I come across doctors who work with children who have some type of developmental or behavioral disorder and I hear regularly that even the most challenging children provide opportunities for learning, sources of inspiration and reason to hold to the idea that there is a seed of greatness in everyone.

Great is the person who can look past the coping strategies, the defenses and offenses worn by others both young and old and recognize the seed of greatness deep inside. Rare is the person who can effectively maneuver around the same and water that seed without alerting its possessor.

Education to me is more about the process of drawing forth than it is about stuffing children full of facts and figures. While knowledge is an important part of education, a little or even a lot of knowledge can be a dangerous thing when put in the mind of someone whose inner seed never took root.

This isn’t so much a matter of finding what you love and doing it or “following your heart” as is so often said, but instead creating learning environments that encourage creativity and imagination while fostering self-expression.

Such environments start with the family and extend out in progressive spheres of influence. As the child grows, so too should his or her scope of influence. In my experience there were times of growth and expansion followed by period of compression and collection and I feel that shepherding children through such oscillations is one of the most important jobs of both parents and teachers.

I’m not so sure that everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten. I do know that anything I didn’t learn in kindergarten was much harder to learn later in life. That said, rounding out the flat spots in your experience is within your reach. It’s likely not so much a matter of going back as it is moving forward on a new basis.

Most of the problems in the world today cannot be solved by the application of more knowledge. Most, I would venture to say, require a healthy dose of of the sane, balanced and reasonable thinking that only comes from someone whose inner greatness was given stage by people who possessed sufficient care and savvy to let it happen.

Take the time to water a seed today!

Obedience, Respect and The Future of Humanity

There is nothing more humbling than raising a child. Children are both a reflection of you – your values, your expectations, your worldview – and a fountain of self-expression. They offer constant reminders of the need to refine your own capacity of self-expression while challenging you to grow and develop as they do.

I had the privilege the day before yesterday of attending my son’s first kindergarten parent-teacher conference. Not sure what to expect, I went in expecting a report card on two fronts. I was eager to see how well our child was living up to our expectations and to see how our expectations stood in relation to other parents in my son’s class.

His teacher gave a glowing report, offered suggestions relative to areas in which he could improve and suggested that we keep doing what we’re doing. I feel blessed to be raising a young man who loves challenges, who is inherently obedient and who has a wanderlust matched only by his enjoyment of new experiences.

Raising children is no easy task. They require constant nourishment and consistent love. They need boundaries that move out as they grow and privileges that remain dynamically linked to the responsibilities they carry. All of this while you go about living your adult life in the background!

As a parent you do the best that you can to provide what they need while in the nest of home. You must be careful not to over-protect or spoil them and you must work assiduously to develop a fundamental element of character called “obedience.” Obedience to me is not a mindless following, rather, it is an actively conscious state made possible by trust, respect and the regardful willingness to follow righteous leadership.

Obedience is not an end, but a means to an end. Obedience sets the stage for agreement and original self-expression, for you must learn to follow before you can learn to lead. Disobedience, on the other hand, is more often than not at the core of the failure to launch into adulthood.

Obedience is fostered whenever reasonable boundaries are carefully and respectfully enforced. Whenever arbitrary or unnecessary force is used to induce a state of obedience, the result is typically compliance, which looks like, but is nothing like, obedience. Children who simply comply submit to authority unwillingly while children who obey in the sense I am hoping to convey give themselves to authority lovingly and out of respect.

Inconsistent parenting is one of the primary causes of disobedience. If you set a boundary, respect the boundary yourself. Don’t hem and haw when the children wear you down. Don’t disrespect the rules out of a concern to quiet the children or to “buy” their love.

Children often try to play the father against the mother…don’t fall for it. Spousal agreement matters. If you are a single parent, you won’t have that problem, but they will find ways to play one aspect of your personality against the other. Either way, you have to stay on your toes.

Child-rearing is not an easy task and I wish that our schools could find a means of better preparing children for future parenting responsibilities. Book smarts have little to do with effective parenting and ACT  and SAT scores are no indicator of parental preparedness.

At the end of the day each parent must do what is right in his or her own eyes and heart. While I highly doubt that humanity will ever come to an agreement about the details of what that means, I do feel there are a number of qualities of character that can be considered universal.

More on that later.