Striking A Balance

This weekend I was in Seattle with a dear friend and we were discussing our life situations and that basically, neither one of us is entirely content with our respective situations.  There were various aspects that we discussed but one that we touched one that I am interested in is a balance of “input” vs. “output” as we phrased it.

I will skip the details of how we got to the discussion but, want to expand upon it some.  By input we were generally referencing the fact that, in our current situations, we read, a lot.  I personally have about 5 different books going right now and my friend probably has something similar.  We both take in a lot of information constantly in an effort to escape probably and to simply be learning in ways we do not get to do regularly during the week.  We end up with a problem though.

Namely, that problem is that we get lost in simply receiving information.  We get stuck in our own heads.  That ends up making us feel worse, possibly simply accepting the situation we are in without trying to affect change in it.

Then there are the “outputs” which, in essence, are creative activities which help us to end up with something at the end.  Mine is writing specifically, my friend is interested in writing more but does not do it as much.  Other things would be such as some other endeavors I want to pursue but have not yet along with goals for more physical pursuits of fitness etc. that we are both pursuing.

Another example would be the fact that both of us spent probably an hour in a book store trying to solve some of those puzzles that one can get as brain teasers the towers of Hanoi ring puzzle type.  Although these puzzles do end up leading to a “solution” I would argue that they are very poor outputs since they are not “creative” in the sense of being something original created by the person performing the puzzle.

One thing that both of us have fallen into though is being out of balance in these inputs and outputs.  We have a lot of input, insofar as we are constantly trying to find things to learn and be stimulated in somewhat fulfilling ways.  But, we do not have much in the form of friend networks or creative pursuits to have the outputs side.  As such, we end up not having a balance of learning and creating which leaves us feeling less empowered to make changes that we need to do for having more fulfilling lives.

Expanding on this idea: think about all of the entertainment we have now in the form of internet and TV specifically; what if part of our general discomfort comes from being out of balance in a similar way.  We end up watching a lot of TV, a lot of videos, reading a lot of articles but not everyone creates things after that.  What would happen if more individuals ended up creating more to balance out all of the things they are receiving from external sources?  Would it lead to more empowerment to engage with various parts of life?

Happiest People

One thing that comes up a lot is happiness, yet, when discussing the idea of happy people in academics I think there is a group that is forgotten often: construction workers.

Construction workers, although not perfect, could actually make a solid claim for some of the happier people in society.  As long as happiness for an individual means having a sense of community, being active and creating.  Construction workers have all three of these, or at least can.

Honestly, the active part I feel like that is obvious enough, they actually walk and do not look at a computer all day.  Creating is pretty easy too, take a group of workers who are tasked with building a house.  They start with nothing and each day they get to visibly see their progress on the house until it is finished.  Plus, in their creation they have a craft that they can take pride in.  A carpenter is a carpenter, they specialize in a specific craft that (at least for union members) they have to go to school for and practice and apprentice in before they can become just a plain worker.  This craft takes specific skill sets and a certain amount of creativity to deal with unforeseen problems on the job too.  On top of this they get to do this with others, some of whom they can be quite close to.

Community, one of the biggest buzz words that seems to be arising.  Presumably, we do not always feel like part of a community in our society anymore.  Something which, construction workers may not, or at least I think, they do not have a problem with, or at least not as much of a problem.  It’s amazing how close you get when you have to work with a person every day for weeks or months on end, create something together and have to be careful of each other’s safety.

That last comment opens up a different discussion, but next time looking at construction, think about it, that worker may be happier than you are in your office job.

Why You Don’t Know Anything in School

While in school an individual is supposed to end up “knowing” things that they have “learned.” The problem is that “learning” anymore means getting told what you have read as a student, getting ideas explained to you and then you get tested on your memory of what you were told.

Sure, sometimes, I repeat, sometimes, a student is asked to apply this material of theirs in a test or activity, but stop and think about it for a moment.  In any of these “applications” has there ever been something fundamentally new involved in the application situation?  Has there actually been a need to take that knowledge, reinterpret it and reforge it to be useful in a place that was not already covered in the class you were told this information before?  I know that for me this sort of application is incredibly rare and has maybe happened in three classes.  Instead your “application” of your “knowledge” is just putting the knowledge into a situation nearly identical to the way in which it was used when you were told.

In my opinion, that is not knowing anything.  Knowing something requires that a person is able to take the very fundamental ideas of something freely, bend it, forge it and tweak it where it you can possibly find that knowledge useful.  Knowledge of something could be considered like a set of lenses, each thing you know adds a different “lens” to anything you end up dealing with in your life.  You can then take these lenses off or combine in them in unique ways to look at one particular object, situation or whatever it is you happen to be examining.  Basically you must be able to use something, to be able to build/create new concepts/ideas/things/etc. in order to know a thing.

This isn’t a simple task, nor is it possible in a lecture.  In order to truly know something one must figure it out alone. Yes being in groups can be useful in some ways and help you, but a group is never going to help an individual know something, knowing requires a certain twisting of the mind that will never be accomplished by a group, but you can sleep on it.  Then after having come to understand something that same person must be able to use it to claim their knowledge.  The only way to really use something is through that understanding that you gain. Thus, getting lectured at about things you’re supposed to know is useless.

Having your hand held through a thought process, text, project, paper, whatever does not help you know anything besides how to parrot. The point of any class should be to make you focus on certain things which nearly everyone should have access to in order to build their own thoughts.  The second point of any class is to sharpen your skills, tell a student they are wrong and where, point out the failures making you defend your arguments and pushing you to continually push your creative abilities to build anew, reinterpret or simply throw out concepts/ideas/solutions/etc.  Essentially you should be pushed to through all of human thought and then to the very edge of human knowledge to add to it. Students have to begin with rational thought and build upon their own rational thoughts all the way through the entirety of civilization’s historic thought process thus helping the student understand themselves and the world in which they live.  Then adding to it.

A student should be asked if they can defend an argument well.  Other writings are only places for those students to gain new tools to help explain and defend their own thoughts, in order to defend one’s very own existence to themselves and others.

Some classes may do this, but not nearly enough in my opinion.