measuring the balance of human life

Can we measure the balance of human life? Perhaps not with 100% confidence, but we can certainly think about the factors contributing to the state of the system at any moment in time and see where the scale might be tipped.

Overview

As students, we learn about the critical role of balance in science, economics, politics, art, and every other subject. Think about chemical equilibrium, energy conservation, supply and demand, political checks and balances, atomic neutrality, mathematical parity, and artistic symmetry. As individuals, we constantly stress the need for a balance in our personal lives. Think about work and family, business and pleasure, excitement and relaxation. Physical components such as those in the first list are measurable, giving us the ability to understand, track, and predict the state of the system. On the other hand, the second list is quite abstract and is mostly qualified by our own personal well-being, the well being of those around us, and the influence on our surroundings as a whole.

So how close can we get to measuring the balance of our personal well being? Let’s run with Ockham’s Razor and try and make it as simple as possible. Consider this statement: the optimal balance of life is when what you take from it is equal to what you give to it. What does that look like?


What You Give
Contributing Factors: Advice, Assistance, Business Opportunity, Care, Directions, Donations, Empathy, Feedback, Friendship, Guidance, Hard Work, Philosophical Thought, Prayer, Product Innovation, …

Notes: It’s all good. There is an infinite amount of mechanisms by which you can give to society, environment, others, and life in general.

What You Take
Contributing Factors: Awareness, Consumption, Control, Crime, Emissions, Faith, Goods, Greed, Growth, Land, New Ideas, Pain, Reflection, Self-Satisfaction, Understanding, Vacations, Waste, …

Notes: There are many bad ones here, but some are obviously necessary and should take the majority of the weight, such as awareness, reflection, and understanding.

Analysis

Units of Measurement: There are concrete and abstract units through which we might measure what we give and what we take.
–Money – Something upon which we are all dependent.
–Time – Something by which we are all bound even though it is out of our control.
–Text, Speech, and Emotions – Can we measure the impact of our words by the resulting sentiment of readers and listeners?
–Acquaintances, Friends, Colleagues, Contacts, Followers – For certain personality types, does the size of an audience have any relevance?
–Quality of Life Factors (Ambition, Happiness, Health, Life Expectancy, Strength, Well-Being) – The toughest to measure, but the most important to global well-being.
–Dreams – Can you measure balance in life by analyzing what your dreams are about?

Deviations from Zero & Tipping the Scale: What does imbalance mean?
–Positive Case – If we give more than we take, we are left with an internal hole. Perhaps we are absent of understanding or self-awareness, or of our purpose in the world.
–Negative Case – If we take more than we give, our impact is diminished and it leaves our surroundings with less to gain.

Collective Balance: Perhaps balance is not to be determined at the individual level but at the level of societal groups and organizations.
–Family – Does your family collectively balance the give and take of life? Is your family happy, stable, and sufficiently contributing to the well-being of other families?
–Work – Does your work collectively balance the give and take of life? Does it contribute to the well-being of society as much as it takes for business growth and distributable profits?

Conclusion

Balance is important. We know that. But perhaps because it’s difficult to measure, the real importance falls on understanding the contributing factors to the state of the system. Like a Jenga tower, pulling pieces must still keep the tower standing.

Finally, we must think about at which organizational level we can best understand balance in human life, and where the ideal equilibrium should exist. By breaking it into its simplest components and visualizing harmony, hopefully that’s exactly what will result.

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” – Thomas Merton

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thick skin

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard that one before and it’s just not true. We are humans – words can hurt us and will hurt us at times. But in order to learn as an individual, to grow as an organization, and to advance as a society, it’s imperative that we know how to properly deal with criticism.

Criticism will come at us from every dimension of life, for the rest of our lives. Sports, school, work, writing, speaking, conversing, cooking, dreaming, loving, running, designing, singing, drawing… well, you get the point. Recognizing the many faces of criticism is the first step in developing thick skin.

Once you’ve recognized it, how can you analyze it? Well to start, there are some simple questions to ask:

  • Who is giving the criticism?
  • What is the nature of and motivation behind the criticism?
  • It the criticism valid?
  • How can I benefit from the criticism?
  • What is the optimal response to the criticism?

The goal is to maintain composure and to address criticism properly. Thick skin still let’s you sweat. Always keep your cool and address criticism with your mind, not with your emotions. Creating anger from internalization of critiques will never be beneficial.

A technique I use for many problems I face is a mathematical construct that involves breaking the problem into its simplest components and then strategically attacking each one. The same construct applies to any type of critique whether personal or professional. Break it down to its underlying motives, objectives, validity, and logic, and derive the proper response and lessons learned.

Lastly, learn to think about others. Don’t be quick to blame someone or to simply deflect criticism because that’s the easy thing to do. Don’t be quick to retaliate with criticism of your own. Think about who is giving the criticism, who the other players are, and how you can optimize your own self without being selfish.

So to summarize, what does having thick skin entail?

  • You need to be able to take shots.
  • Stay on your feet and stay balanced.
  • Do not internalize rejection.
  • Understand the genetic makeup of criticism.
  • Think about others.

Grow thick skin. It will make you a great leader, a great colleague, and a great friend.

Quotes

  • “Taking shots builds stronger armor.” – Me
  • “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” – Harry S. Truman
  • “Living well is the best revenge.” – George Herbert
  • “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “Inner strength shows itself not when the world is praising you but when others are critical.” – Gabriela Cora

Links

Learning to Develop a Thick Skin: Don’t take things personally, don’t let others get to you, remember that everyone gets rejected sometimes, learn to counterpropose when things don’t go your way, learn to meet in the middle, don’t hesitate to unstick sticky situations, don’t be self focused, stop the self-talk, don’t worry about looking stupid, learn to be patient, don’t be quick to blame, think about others

Developing a Thick Skin (from a writer)

Developing a Thick Skin (in IT)

How to Develop a Thick Skin (eHow): Face your fears, never let them see you sweat, continue to improve, stay busy, stay positive and surround yourself with positive people

on creativity

Overview


It’s imperative that curriculums (especially for early education) are built on more than just core subject matter. They also need to be strongly founded upon core ideals, values, and principles. The teaching of such values (although much harder to guide, manage, and track) is absolutely essential to the intellectual growth and prosperity of emerging generations.
What values are most important to push early in a child’s development? Honesty & trust. Altruism & empathy. Individuality & originality. Happiness & humor. Confidence & faith. Creativity & innovation. Innovation & creativity. Creativity!

I’ve posted about holistic education before and creativity is one of the three main pillars of such education – It’s seen in the SunWALK model of holistic education as “one of the three intrapersonal ‘primary colours’ or modes of engagement, of the human spirit, that are utilized in facing, individually and interpersonally, progressively more challenging tasks to nurture the development of abilities.”

Creativity is essential to the development of other abilities and the fundamental ability to engage/interact with people, nature, and the world in which we live. It’s from creativity that the purest dreams and ideas are born.

Definitions


So how is creativity defined? Let’s look…

Wikipedia: “Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity is fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight.”

Children’s Health Encyclopedia: “Creativity is the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways, or develop an idea based on an original, novel, or unconventional approach.”

Some more definitions can be found at a great post by Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point “On Defining Creativity”.

It’s important to note that creativity and intelligence are not synonymous. There are plenty of studies addressing possible correlation between IQ and creativity, but the main point is that with a positive surrounding environment and culture, we must believe creativity can exist in any individual of any level of intelligence.

Qualities

  • Impulsivity and spontaneity – Just do it! / Just think it!
  • Nonconformity (not going with the majority) – Stray from the beaten path.
  • Courage – Naturally be unafraid of trying new things.
  • Self-Confidence – Have no susceptibility to peer pressure.
  • Persistence – Learn when to maintain thoughts or set thoughts aside.
  • Balance – Convergent / divergent thinking – Learn to hypothesize, speculate, and evaluate multiple conclusions while reserving the ability to logically find and support a single conclusion.
  • The “One Brain” Concept – Right brain thinking and left brain thinking together are the best engine of creativity.
Some Take-Aways

  • Need to create good inner resources in children. Multi-dimensionality is key.
  • Give children an active role in their own learning.
  • Educators need to be aware of the “blocks to creativity” or things that can interfere with it. SunWALK says there are two types of blocks: Environmental (the lack of a motivating physical surrounding, trustworthy acquaintances, or positive leadership) and Cultural (the fear of making bad choices, lack of an appetite for chaos, and the general lack of enthusiasm). It should be noted that the positive case of “blocks” would be that Environment and Culture become “enablers” of creativity.
  • In order to foster creativity in schools, education should be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of critical attitudes, rather than on the passive absorption of knowledge.

Simple Creativity Exercises

  1. Spell all the letters of the alphabet using letters other than the one you are spelling. Now try it without using any vowels. CAY-YII-FEE-EYE-EHDT (that ‘N’ was very hard)
  2. Draw an adjective, act a noun, describe a verb.
  3. Create an equation that has never before been created. Describe its elements, fundamentals, and purpose.
  4. Contemplate a newly-shaped earth. What would a cubed earth be like? What if the world really was flat? How would business, transportation, politics, weather, etc change?

Quotes

  • “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm
  • “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist.” — Thomas Disch
  • “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
  • “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
  • “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” — Joseph Chilton Pierce
  • “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” — Goethe
  • “To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –Osho
  • “We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own and other’s people’s models, learn to be ourselves and allow our natural channel to open.” — Shakti Gawain
  • “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Einstein
  • “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” – George Bernard Shaw

the power of context

Well I’m truly working on reading for pleasure more often. I’m generally seasonal in my reading: I’ll go through weeks of consistent, nightly reading, followed by periods of addictions to Good Eats and Unwrapped (11pm and 11:30pm on Food Network) without reading. Oh well, both are fun, quality decompressors before hittin’ the hay…

That being said, I’ll hopefully post some excerpts from books I’m reading and try to provide some of my original insight if it’s not too weird.

Right now I’m trying to finish up Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which talks about the social epidemics that surround us in our lives (e.g. Blue Clue’s and NYC crime in 1980’s and 1990’s). The book digests the onset of such epidemics into three rules: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. You can read into these more on Gladwell’s own site and/or on Wikipedia which does a decent job of explaining the book.

With respect to The Power of Context, Gladwell says that human behavior is strongly influenced by the situational environment. For the NYC example, crime dropped when graffiti was cleaned off subway cars and fare-cheaters were booked. As the environment was cleaned, so were the behaviors of potential criminals.

In particular, I enjoy Gladwell’s relation of The Power of Context to Walter Mischel’s (Dept of Psych, Columbia / Wikipedia) research on personality psychology. Mischel’s research speaks to how people tend to perceive and define other people in simplified ways, such as aggressive, kind, honest, or patient. However, in reality we are all complex, multifaceted individuals who respond in different ways at different times depending on the dynamic elements of our environment (who we are with, what we are doing, where we are, when we are doing it).

To put this simpler, a person is not independent and mischievous on one day, and warm, honest, and dependent on the next day, but rather he/she is independent, mischievous, warm, honest, and dependent all together – and the impression given, of any of these traits and at any singular moment, is highly dependent upon the situation and the environment, or the context.

Pretty neat stuff – I guess it’s nice to see correlating theories and practical examples rolled up together.

“The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”
– Joe Ancis

mind-bend it like beckham

I’ve played soccer for pretty much my entire life. According to some quick calculations, I’ve probably spent almost 10,000 hours around soccer (practices, camps, indoors, outdoors, games, high school, middle school, intramurals, adult leagues, premier teams, district teams, travel teams, tournaments, refereeing, etc.). That’s equivalent to over 400 full days – over a year if I played all day/night (which sometimes I think I did).

Now considering I’m 24, that means about 1/24th of my life has been on the soccer field. To put that in perspective, I probably eat for 1.5 hours a day which would be 1/16th of my day. Therefore, eating and soccer combined have taken more than 1/10th of my life. Subtract sleeping, school, and work, and how much free time did I really have for a bat and turkey catching club (P.A.B.A.T.)?

The point is that I love the game. One must be physical but sensitive, dynamic yet passive, and logical yet imaginative in order to be a complete player. This balance of attributes while being prepared mentally will always make someone an asset to their team.

I think most of all it’s the pre-game mental preparation and in-game mind-reading that make it so much fun (and I’m talking not just of your opponents, but of your own players too). Studying the other team means identifying stand-out players or leaders and recognizing weaknesses in formation. Studying your team means knowing players’ strengths, weaknesses, and most of all, tendencies. You should be able to move as a cohesive unit and almost play blindly – the best teams I’ve been on have been where I can pass the ball without looking, knowing someone will be there who will know what I am expecting them to do with it.

While in the game, it’s about reading minds of players. Anticipation and probabilistic expectation play huge roles in gaining an advantage on the other team. A quick analysis of 2 connected passes should lead you to forecast subsequent moves based on the prior movements of nearby players.

It’s true, soccer is math, and really I mean it. Optimize your position and forecast movements based on prior states – all from looking at someone else’s eyes, hearing their communication, and most of all, intuition based on thousands of hours of experience. It’s pretty simple.

“The scoreboard never lies but it rarely tells the whole truth.”