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A reflection on “intentional living”

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

 

Consider Socrates’  choice to join the army and constrain himself to the dicispline and regulations of the army in defense of Athens. he made a choice to submit to those constraints because he made a principled value judgment that it was worth giving up some of his freedom and comfort in support of a higher value for him: defense of Athenian democracy.

I dont equate  a “philosophical life” with  a life of complete autonomy and unlimited choice.  The philosophica;l life is worthwhile precisely because it helps us make the tough tradeoffs in a way that are consistent with our values. Your decision to wear the uniform and accept the constraints allows you to support other values you place higher than the freedom to wear PJs.

You probably have decided that a choice to wear PJs might prohibit you from earning a living to supoprt your self and family and achieve other goals you value more than maximum comfort.

To me the philosophical life comes from a desire to live intentionally, to make choice son the basis of your own values, and not simply as an animal life form reacting instinctively and thoughtlessly to random environmental pressures. To live intentionally is to ask of your self, “which intentions?” and “what values?” and “what tradeoffs?” It is then fair to examine our decisions for consistency and integrity.

Principles mantter precisely because of the consequences they lead to.  To select principles without consideration of the consequences begs the questions about the values that would allow such a decision.

Living a “full time philosophical life” in this schema, becomes an extraordnary effort: to live intentionally in all things?! and with consistency to set of carefully chosen and prioritized principles?! thats the work of a lifetime for sure, a worthy goal. Its an ideal that led the Stoics and the Buddhists to ask of themselves, each in their own way, what’s the difference between want and need? They came to different conclusions, as did the Epicureans etc  but they all shared the goal of living the examined, consistent, intentional life.

Thanks for your patience to let me think out loud

Reflecting on criticism and “Silent Philosophy”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Silent Philosophy

The world is full of critics – there has never been a shortage of critics! If you ever try to do something new you will definitely attract critics. The words of critics can take away all our inspiration and leave us wondering how to respond. However, if we can respond with silence, we maintain a great dignity. The critic wishes to provoke us, but by maintaining silence we are showing that it is beneath our dignity to respond to their false criticisms. It is like they are trying to give us something, but by refusing to accept their gift, the negativity remains with them. By maintaining silence we remain completely detached from their negativity. We can just concentrate on doing the right thing.

There was a young aspirant who wished to learn the meaning of life so he traveled to meet the most famous philosophers of his age. The first philosopher gave a very great and lengthy explanation on the meaning of life. The aspirant was suitably impressed and awed by the magnificence of his deliberations. However, straight away this theory was criticized by another philosopher. He cogently pointed out many deficiencies in his system; instead he pointed out another philosophy, which he argued was far superior. Like this several philosophers came to argue their case for having the best philosophy. Some said truth could not be discovered in this life, others said that truth was in a particular book. However, with so many conflicting philosophy’s the aspirant just became confused.

The aspirant decided to travel deep into the forest where he came across a yogi deep in meditation. His face expressed a countenance of deep equanimity, peace and, contemplation. Eagerly the aspirant asked the yogi what was the meaning of life. To this question, the yogi did not flicker even an eyelid, but continued in his deep meditation. The aspirant was disappointed, but remained inspired by the consciousness of the yogi. The next day he came back and his repeated question, the yogi maintained his silence. It was then that the aspirant realized the meaning of life could never be explained in words. At this point he began to learn meditation himself.

Sri Chinmov

 

so, how did the critics go from offering analytical insights, ie alternate points of view from their perspective to “false criticisms”? Isnt that classification the same thing we are accusing the critics of doing? Judging?
And if the criticisms have validity, why is silence an appropriate and improved response than engagement?

I dont accept silence as an improvement by default. That exchanges the value of “dignity” for one of “mutual engagement”, and i dont see that as an improvement necessarily..

If we take the position that dialectic, the exchange of thesis and antithesis, [producing synthesis is a way of creating knowledge not accessible to either individual on their own (and this is the basis of social construction of knowledge), the strategy of silence is a rejection of fellowship and engagement and pursuit of knowledge.

If we reject that knowledge can be pursued, and sit in silence whenever queried, then we are house plants, and are not using the gifts we seem uniquely to possess in the animal kingdom.

That position rejects the Socratic method of inquiry for example.

I accept that there is argumentation for the sake of argumentation and that anything can be deconstructed. I reject argumentation as an end and consider a lot of post-modernism and critical theory as a waste of oxygen. I reject disengagement for the same reason.

There is a philosophical school in China known as the Legalists who took the argumentative tricks of the Greek Sophists for example to an absurd extreme. they would argue that “a white horse” is neither “white” nor “a horse” since the linked words created a unique entity that neither word alone could properly represent. They anticipated critical theory by 1500 years, and were just as useless for real people living lives, and seeking “right thought and right action”.

Why would i choose not to try on the insights and considerations of trusted others? of careful arguers? am i so sure of my own judgment all the time that I can be completely confident that i can write off disagreement as “false criticism?” That makes us only as smart and wise as we individually are.

That also happens to be poor evolutionary behavior. we have evolved successfully on the basis of social cooperation and sharing. we know this from evolutionary biology and anthropology. Voluntarily opting out could be seen as an evolutionary backwards step.

I conclude that it matters how and why we engage in constructive criticism. I acknowledge that something that may be truly classified as “false criticism” should not be rewarded with opposition, but that we cannot a priori distinguish between good and bad criticism until after we have enaged in good faith dialogue

A reflection on action research “storytelling”

October 27, 2009 1 comment

What follows is a 1st person, stream of consciousness  reflection written to my mentor & committee chair.  

I describe  what it was like to record a 10 min video “telling the story” of  some preliminary findings emerging from my action research cycles into curriculum and adult learning. 

The video is hosted  at YouTube.

It will be shown at an international conference in Athens, as part of the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) annual conference, as part of a bundle of reports from the Future(s) of Education project, an international  participatory action research network.  

Dr Alana:  

i am just glad to get it out of my head 😛  

i had a real out of body experience recording that one;  

i  am a very effective briefer in person, because i can read the audience pretty well.  

i have recorded hundreds of mini lectures etc for my business and for use here at the college on various topics.

i have never, ever needed more than a single take to record, decent and sometimes even inspired voice-overs  until  last night and that briefing.  

I literally needed about 30 takes to get thru it; most i stopped when less than a minute into it because the tone just didn’t feel right

 i think it has to do with being a fish out of water, and the difficulty i felt in trying to tune my story for an audience i couldn’t see, but more importantly didn’t have empathy for

because the audience characteristics still feel fuzzy to me, i couldn’t call up the right tone, voice, persona to apply  

 this caused me to have almost a split personality in the moment, when i am ordinarily dialed in

 i had a “talking part” and a “look ahead part” that is concerned with shaping the transition to the next point/slide  

but now i had a disconcerting 3rd part that was trying to anticipate the possible reactions of an unfamiliar, and hard to imagine audience  

this is what made me feel so out of sorts

 until i “wore out” the last, 3d part and was able to trust in just telling the story, and accepting the vulnerability of knowing that i couldn’t know the audience, i found i just couldn’t get thru it.  

this is the same phenomenon I spoke with Prof Mike Wesch, the digital anthropologist at Kansas State University, and world thought leader on social dynamics in social media: the camera eye represents the unlimited, unfathomable infinite future of all possible audiences across time and space who can be looking in on the “telling moment”.  

in a sense, its like coming face to face with the unblinking eye of God and wondering what she is thinking  

 it is trust that lets us get thru that moment, the accepting of vulnerability, that creates the empathy that hopefully fills the story, as told, with hope.  

that’s a clumsy way of trying to express my meaning of the risk and vulnerability to “telling” and why it can be such a powerful learning moment, and why we need to model it, embrace it, encourage it, and support it. 

Your “producer’s draft” was exactly what i needed to be able to get out of my own comfortable fishbowl; 

you gave me a bridge to the audience that i could not create on my own.  

this has become an interesting reflection to me already 😀  

please put the video on the website, and any or all of this reflection as you deem suitable  

have a great time at the conference!

Reflecting on the military as a way of life

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

I think it can be, but not necessarily so, especially in the West with its  materialistic and secular values.

Example: I know people for whom military service is a passion, some for whom it is a profession, some for whom it is employment, some for whom it was better than time in jail.  Some find the military as an option when there may not be other options around.  Some seek ewxcitement and thrills;  some serve out of a sense of dty and tradition to family. For them, service is expected.  Some enter from a sense of drama, some are seeking…something.  I know some for whom the military was a chance to start something new, with a new name.

Reasons for continuing to serve are as varied as the reasons for joining, and it is normal to see reasons change through time, as circumstances, and life experiences, and life phases change.

For me, service was a coming together of familial tradition, educational opportunity, a desire to do “walkabout” and a way to establish myself in my career apart from the automobile and steel industries which had been home to all my kin. I had taught for a year in highschool after college graduation but was sure I was not prepared for a career as a HS teacher when I saw what 40 yr old HS teachers looked like in the teaachers lounge.

After entering, and having my romantic notions of service exploded, i found a sense of color-blind, achievement based excellence that was very attractive in 1980. Here was an organization explicitly committed to sevrice to the nation and others, with a foe who represented a clear and present existential threat, and where what you did mattered more than who you were or where you were from. Not perfect by any means, but filled with good people trying to do their best.

I found myself adopting a career orientation as I decided to go to officer school and committ to a career of service.

As you know from my “Big 5” the warrior role is important for me, in the sense of beginning weith self mastery, and then servic ein defense of the defenseless. This for me feels like a calling, a duty that transcends every other value I have. Duty, for me is my dominant value, and it is expressed in service to others. My decisionto reitre a few years ago came after deep reflection on the tipping point between duty to family and community, and uty to the nation and Army.

For those whom the military is a way of life, I’d say they are spoken to by the martial values, and the code of conduct and the comraderie of friends whose love for each other is forged in fire; friends for whom they would give their life without thinking, whose names and memories they can never forget.

I think it can grow to be a way of life; the experienceof many retired soldiers is of a deep hollow inside when they hang up the uniform, and there is a surreal sense of disconnect and separateness that is very difficult to name and deal with. The Band of Brothers captures this sense very well. Veterans have an unspoken conenction that is a comfort at these times, and i cannot attend a parade, and see the old timers marching or watching with the old timers and the youngsters troop past wearing our colors.  I get a disembodied feeling at these times. I get misty when I hear the national anthem sung properly, and “Taps” makes me break down. And i wait by the front door of the college at 5 o’clock so i can hear the cannon fire and the sound of Retreat echo across the lawn.

So I would say, yes, the military can be a way of life for some, if it chooses you.  I wouldnt say we really choose it, we seem to be chosen, or at least there is a natural fit

Reflecting on Hadot’s “philosophical way of life”

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Hadot’s discussion of philosophy as a way of life

Hadot emphasizes that philosophers live in the space between the gods and the unconscious masses. He describes philosophy as a searching and a striving for perfection in thought and deed, for excellence (arête) in living. He asserts that

The gods have no need for philosophy, since they already manifest perfection in their being and are never out of that state.

The masses, being unconscious of the potential or need for improvements  in their thoughts and deeds, exist at an unconscious level, manifesting their unrefined human nature. They also have no need for philosophy.

The philosophers are simultaneously aware of their imperfections, but desiring to know and live virtue and knowledge, are constantly striving yet never (or perhaps rarely, for a moment achieving perfection)

By describing philosophy as “A way of life”, I believe Hadot makes the following points:

1. Because it is “a” way” and not “the” way, he implies there are real and meaningful choices for how to proceed along the “way”. Phil makes this point concerning the real choices available and accessible.

2.  Because it is a “way” of life, it implies a comprehensive pattern of actions, behaviors, motivations, justifications that informs and guides and entire life, and acts as a standard to be measured against. It I not something to be confined to a particular time and place in our lives, but something that ties it all together. Andrew describes this well in his reflection on internal standards, as does Mel in her sicussion of consistency and evaluation.

3. Because it is a way “of life’,  Hadot connects the search for excellence and love of wisdom to the center of our living, both as an action verb (excellent living in action) and a state of being (achievement of a state of excellence as a consequence of action).

Hadot’s discussions of the various ancient schools situate them along various choice points, demonstrating through their tenets and through the exemplars of the lives of their founders and representatives. Phil’s summary again, is useful here in capturing the differences between the goal-oriented school of the Epicureans (seeking pleasure, but not just sensually, but in accord with all elements of the human nature, including the desire to connect with the divine ) and the rigorously distilled, laconic principles of the Stoics, who sought crystallized and perpetual gems of wisdom from which right action could be derived and applied for every situation.

His rich descriptions of Socrates, Zeno, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius demonstrate how these choices and endeavors manifested in the living of their lives.

In his chronicle of the massive undertaking of Aristotle to provide structure for the sum of human knowledge at the time morphed over time into a pursuit of ontology for its own sake, losing sight of the purpose of the study of physics as simply a method whereby a man might apprehend and then conform to natural excellence. Aristotle’s achievement becomes an end in itself as philosophers began to increasingly to look at  knowledge and discourse as an end in and of themselves, and not as an inherent part of the examined and properly lives life.

I am reminded of Weick’s reflections on the intersection of theory and practice: as he developed a useful way to examine the dual nature of reflective living which is that life is lived and experienced going forward in the moment, while it is known and understood looking backwards; as sense-making seeks to make clear what was known as uncertain when it happened.

Hadot concludes that philosophy, as practiced,  has departed from the ancients, into a compartment of wordmakers and ontologists, and out  of the center of spiritual and physical lives.

In my own life, I find a connection with Stoic thought, traced to an exposure to the works of Epictetus (who wrote the philosophy manual of the Roman legions) and Marcus Aurelius, whose reflections from the frontier of the Empire resonated with me when I was serving in the DMZ in Korea.  The personal story of Vice admiral Stockdale, who found strength and solace in the Stoics in his 7 1/2 years in solitary confinement in a Vietnamese POW camp stays with me to this day.

Management game update

October 25, 2009 Leave a comment

had  my first design meeting with the programmers and established the timeline to get the game produced by end of march 2010.  Looks like it will have a combination of the qualities of Risk  and the card game prototype I designed as a proof of principle.  I cant wait to play it.

Reflections on myself as an adult learner

October 16, 2009 2 comments

Who am I as an adult  learner:

I am framing the answer within the context of my “Big 5” (Strelecky, 2007). The “Big 5” focus my thoughts about self, purpose, mission and values.  In Strelecky’s work, the Big 5 are 5 things you want to accomplish in your life. My “Big 5” are all states of being, roles that I want to live with the highest quality (arête). My Biog 5 are:  father, husband,  teacher, student, warrior,

 

Student:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:  ENTJ  I am getting closer to the “I” as I get older which moves me from “Leader” to “Scientist” in the typology.  My scores are very high on the NT domain, which gives me a global, theoretical perspective. I notice that I am always searching for the broadest generalizations that can be made from an incident, or the widest application of an idea. It doesn’t take much for me to go off on a tangent. I am least happy when bringing a project to a conclusion, as it feels stifling and disconnected from the dynamic world around me. Finality and endings are disturbing to me, and I dislike graduation ceremonies above all else. I am much more at home in the developmental and conceptual phases of any project. I get bored easily by data gathering and have learned to offload that task to others. I am a good project manager, as I have learned to build teams of various skills and aligning tasks with strengths.

 

Kolb Learning Style Indicator:

The Kolb LSI measures self-reported preferences along 2 dimensions:  Concrete experience-Abstract conceptualization and Active experimentation-Reflective observation.  These 2 dimensions reflect how we prefer to gather our information about the world and then how we prefer to make sense of it. The intersection of these 2 dimensions establishes 4 quadrants, and can be used as a way to describe a classroom population as well as individual learners. We use this model extensively at the Command & General Staff College, and I have become convinced of its practical uses when used within reason.

In this model,  I am classified as an “Assimilator”, which combines a preference for Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualization. This means I don’t need to spend too long “in the moment”, fully experiencing every nuance of the moment; I am always ready to begin reflecting on its dimensions, characteristics, descriptions and classifications. As an Abstract Conceptualist, I proceed to place experiences within my larger world view, as a particular example of a class of experiences. I spend little time in active experimentation to validate the data, once satisfied that it makes theoretical sense. 

                These preferences are helpful when approaching new material where the connection to theory is strong or explicit, because it satisfies my need to be situated in the world. I am comfortable with complexity and nuance and am  competent at brainstorming and imagining future scenarios.

The downside of my preferences is that I am prone to overlook deep subtleties in experiences especially if the situation is slow moving. The idea of sitting in a duck blind for hours waiting for birds is my idea of hell on earth. I am also prone to accept theoretical justification as truth and am willing to short change practical validation of new concepts simply because of the theoretical elegance.

                As a consequence of knowing this about myself, I find it necessary to do sitting meditations to work on my mindfulness and presence in the moment, to learn to appreciate the experience simply on its own merits, without a need to explain it or frame it as part of a larger construct. On  group projects I am careful to include pragtmatists and  naysayers who will insist on evidence and results from fair trials before we adopt policy changes.

                These strengths and weaknesses, and my accommodations to the limitations of my learning preferences are an integral part of my business success as an equity trader which puts a value of new ideas, but also on backtesting and forward risk management.

 

Brainmodepower typology: AVK, global. 

I am off the chart on the audio learning, and on the globalization scale.  I have now noticed that when I am really trying to concentrate on learning I do not look at the person talking, but need to doodle in order to free my ears to hear. Doodling helps me occupy my eyes and hands (visual and kinesthetic modes). This has been a problem for others in the past when they would say “Look at me and pay attention!”  when I was doing my best to pay attention.              

2 stories from combat on this topic which reinforces the power of the insight: On a night attack, wearing night vision goggles I had high explosive rounds land near me and “whiteout” my night vision goggles, and I lost my night vision for about 15 minutes: I was able to command my company though because I could hear what was going on via the radio and I had a sense of where things were based on noise, sounds, and the volume of fire. A few days later, in the daylight, I had a hand grenade land very near to me and I didn’t have my earplugs in. I was deafened for about an  hour before my hearing returned, and it was the most frightening experience I had ever had. I felt absolutely cut off from the world and was unable to command effectively. It was terrifying, even though I could see everyone around me and could consult a map.

 

Learning techniques:

I am a fast reader and I prefer to read in burst of 10-20 minutes, rendering my notes in visual, mindmapping form.  I will generally  develop detailed cognitive maps and turn them into slides as cues for recalling detail and cognitive structure. I take semi-structured notes on standard note-taking forms that I have developed over the years to suit my style. I will often color code the notes to make structure even more apparent. When I review notes from my Masters program (15 years ago), they make perfect sense to me and I can recall the circumstances of the classroom and the moment as if no time has passed.  This form of “chunking” supports my assimilating style. 

At any given moment I may be engaged in reading up to 20 books at a time in various locations, and I follow my mood or sense of urgency for picking up the next book to read. When I find myself drifting I stop and do something else until my attention is focused, rather than trying to force concentration.

 I can concentrate for hours at a time in reading if needed, but I prefer the shorter bursts when my mind is feeling especially sticky.  Learning to crate feelings of “sticky mind” is an essential part of my practice of sitting meditation, which Buddhists call “child’s mind”.

I will rarely read a book from cover to cover, preferring to read from top down and outside in, by examining the covers, introduction and forward, table of contents, index and references and chapter summaries first, and then come back to the book after 24 hours when that has had time to digest and become embedded. I will then skim chapters based on my interests, and finally skim the whole book. I have adapted this technique from  Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read A Book” (Adler, 1940) and it has helped me integrate a lot of material from a broad array of fields.

I am not very good in free form dialogues of material, preferring to hear structured presentations that reflect deep inquiry on the part of the presenter. Lectures are excellent for me as I can listen carefully, while doodling and seeming to daydream in my own personal comfortable space.  I enjoy writing and working on a topic while having a background lecture playing, trusting that if something interesting is being said that I will tune in to it. Some of my most creative work is done in this manner in the apparent cognitive dissonance set up by 2 different information streams. I am listening to a Teaching Company presentation on Chaos by Dr Stephen Strogatz as I write this.

My biggest problem as an adult learner is procrastination and time management, since I am always eager to read one more thing before generating my final conclusions. I also find it difficult to recast my theoretical framework of information once established and will generally try to find ways to accommodate pieces of my original insight in an evolving understanding. I try to delay taking final positions in order to gather more information for this reason.

I find it amusing that despite a strong rational component, and a structured approach to learning, that my decisionmaking and sensemaking is much more intuitive than rational.  I trust my instinct far more than my conscious mind. This is a habit perhaps ingrained into me from 15 years of  being an infantryman in combat and trusting my senses in dangerous situations. This habit of mind is so odd that it is even the subject of discussion among peers who know me well and wonder how I can be so rational and yet make instinctive, intuitive decisions.

 

Teacher:

I have been teaching in the Command & General Staff College for 8 years and have reinvented my whole approach to teaching as a result of the action research inquiry while attending CTU. While I acknowledge the need for competence at the data level I also have become much more aware of the importance of the social level of learning.  I no longer think that learning and education are like filling up a pail, but are rather like lighting a fire (to paraphrase  Yeats).

                I am trying to create an educational space in the classroom, in the college, and in my professional work that encourages and supports free inquiry, a commitment to truth and academic freedom, and both a respect for and a seeking out of diverse perspectives and points of view. As a teacher in the classroom  I try to model the behavior I seek from students, by the quality of my preparation, a concern for the learning and perspectives of others, and a willingness to be vulnerable in my ongoing search for knowledge. I am encouraging as many means of formal and informal feedback as possible to help students shape their own educational programs and outcomes. I encourage and support their inquiry in my classes and through support of their independent studies. I reach out to other colleges and programs to create networks of learners and to act as a catalyst for learning.

                I respect the action research construct of multiple ways of knowing (experiential, presentational, propositional, and practical) and acknowledge the learning that can happen through 1st person, 2d person and 3d person action research.

                I favor the connectivist learning school of thought being developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes at University of Manitoba, as I believe it represents a realistic, sound, robust and challenging way of developing knowledge and practice to appreciate and thrive under conditions of uncertainty.  More at:  http://www.elearnspace.org/

                As part of my research I am looking carefully at how to add Voice to the environment by encouraging, supporting and promoting the diverse needs, intentions and inquiries of faculty, students and curriculum developers in a way that advocates a move away from an industrial age view of curriculum and towards one of connectivism and individuality. In this sense I have taken on an advocacy perspective that is values-based but which respects the perspectives of other members of the action research teams that make up the projects.

 

 

Father: 

My role as a father influences my role as a student. One of the important reasons for me to begin the doctoral program was to set  a personal example for my kids, who at ages 18, 15, 11 are getting to see their dad doing his homework and reading books every night as a priority.  My father set the same example for me as a kid as he went to night school to work his way up the engineering ladder from “shop rat “to full-fledged design engineer.  I’ve been trying to re-learn math and physics to be able to keep up with my son who is getting ready to go to college next year to be a physicist or an engineer, but just like in video games, I believe he has passed me for good. I am content to listen to him and get him the occasional book to feed his curiosity.

 

Husband: without my wife’s support I could not have dreamed of taking on the active role of student once more; in fact she finally told me to stop moping around and dreaming about it and just get it done. I need that boost from her to get moving at times. I want her to be proud of my work and my goals.

 

Warrior: 

I use Warrior in the eastern sense, as one who is called, by his dharma, to seek mastery of self first in order to protect the weak and promote justice and compassion in the world. This calling is well described in  Trungpa (1984). In this sense, my role as an adult learner is to focus on those things that I ought to be learning in order to improve my practice; to find worthy teachers and learn from them; to questions my own assumptions and preconceived knowledge in order to step outside what I already think I know and to follow my beliefs to their core to find the source.

Warrior learning also has a strong service component, and so the topics for inquiry, the choices for action research must satisfy the “so what” question, must be directed towards a virtuous end. For me, the choice to do action research within my college represents a way to do the right thing in support of my duty to country and soldiers whom I support. Action research’s methodology strongly supports these values, particularly when fellow inquirers are positioned as co-researchers.

 

References:

Adler, M. & Van Doren, C. (1940). How to read a book. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

Strelecky, J. (2007). The big five for life: Leadership’s greatest secrets. New York: St Martins’ Press. 

Trungpa, C.  (1984).  Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior. Boston: Shambala Publications.