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Measuring Productivity (Or Not)

Food for thought from Seth Godin: Productivity is not measured in drama.

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Sometimes life seems to me like a giant factory. The owners are busy manufacturing fear and drama day and night, making money hand over fist. We the people sit in little cubicles, brainwashed and manipulated by the factory owners, responding to fear and drama stimuli for all we’re worth (and much more than we’re worth, monetarily speaking) and providing a gigantic, endless river of profit to the few at the top. After a few months in the factory, we’re promoted; we’ve learned to create fear and drama all by ourselves! Now we can model good business practice for the newbies.

Success!

For someone.

Fear and drama. Two top money-makers. Naturally, a capitalist culture would be constructed to relentlessly promote them, and any vehicle for increasing fear and drama would have enormous lucrative potential. Hence, staggering financial power and influence in the form of social media, conspiracy theory centers and advertising.

Information (facts) and critical thinking mitigate fear, so let’s demonize them and weaken public education so such heretical things are not taught.

Breaking our addiction to stuff and stimulation, instant gratification and validation, might allow us to realize how hollow and expensive those addictions are, so let’s not give people a single second in which to be tranquil and quiet.

Changing our belief that having and doing are more important than being, that doing more faster will lead to greater productivity and thus more money (with which we can buy more) will hurt the economy. Let’s make that unpatriotic, unpopular, and offensive.

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Let’s emphasize and support division, outrage, hatred, bigotry, procrastination, ignorance, catastrophizing, gaslighting, urgency, “alternative facts”, and disempowerment. Let’s prioritize making a profit.

Let’s train the culture to demand drama, and richly reward those who disseminate the most drama to the public. Let’s give those people power, authority, awards, and our money. Let’s give them our time and attention, our applause, loyalty, and praise. They entertain us. They tell us what we want to hear. They will be our saviors in a terrifying world. Without them, we’ll lose everything. (Starting with our guns.)

Manufactured drama. Manufactured fear. As though life doesn’t have enough organically grown drama and fear.

But one can never have enough money, right? And fear and drama are sound investments. Better than blue chip stocks, because they perform best in the worst of times.

At some point, we hitched drama onto productivity and conflated them. Godin reminds us productivity and drama are not the same or even related, unless it’s an inverse relationship.

We don’t have to choose crisis. We can build slack into our lives, quiet, unplugged time, time away from a screen. We don’t have to feed drama or get involved with it. We certainly don’t have to pass it on. We don’t have to attach to fear. We can unhook from fearful media, take our time and attention away from it.

Fear and drama don’t help us effectively manage our lives or make positive contributions. They don’t make us more humane or better problem solvers. They don’t help us find true love or good health. They’re neither creative nor connecting. Urgency is not high-quality fuel for life, and it doesn’t help us make empowered choices.

If we want to be productive, we need to disengage from fear and drama.

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Adult Learners

When inspiration struck and I set out to build a new website for my blog and other writing, I assumed the process would move quickly. I could hardly wait to see the vision in my head become reality. I’m a happy and motivated independent learner and felt certain I could fumble with the design software and master it without much trouble, the way I did when I created Our Daily Crime.

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The software for Our Daily Crime is nearly ten years old now, a tech dinosaur. The new software requires a whole new level of skill.

I needed help. Scheduling a meeting with a professional took time. Then we had to reschedule due to a conflict. More time. I turned my attention to other things and practiced patience (not very successfully!).

In the meantime, we’ve hired a new team member at work to join us in lifeguarding, teaching, and working with patrons and patients in the pools. He’s older than I am, and he’s working hard on refining his swimming skills and learning new techniques. We’re giving him all the support and practice we can.

I admire adults who want to learn new skills. We’ve just begun to teach private swim lessons again after the pandemic, and I have two adult students. When I asked one of them what her goals were for her lessons, she said, “Not to drown,” which made me laugh.

I did eventually meet with my web designer using Zoom, and I spent an intense hour and a half taking notes, asking questions, and watching her use the design software. Since then, I’ve spent several hours working with it, and gradually I’m gaining mastery and shaping the website I dreamed of. I’m elated. Can’t wait to share it with you!

As a lifelong learner and teacher, I notice how varied our learning experience can be.

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Context matters. I was wretched during my public school years. My goals were to achieve good grades to meet the expectations of my family and graduate. Any pleasure in the learning itself, for its own sake, suffocated under the long nightmare of those years. Graduation meant nothing to me, and I would have ignored it if I’d been allowed. My reward was surviving.

College was no better. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t belong there. Once again, I went through the motions of pleasing others and living up to expectations, two hellish years of depression, social isolation, and suicidal ideation before I dropped out.

I still wince when I think of the money wasted.

Somehow the joy of learning has been distorted into competition, capitalism, and perfectionism. Everyone doesn’t have equal access to education and educational tools. Many people don’t complete high school, let alone higher education. We don’t talk about education in terms of enhancing our lives and making us bigger. We talk about getting a good job, making a lot of money (or not), and school loans. Capitalism defines success.

Worst of all, if we happen to be interested in literature, writing, religion, music, theater, philosophy – liberal arts, in other words – we’re steered away from those interests because “they” say we can’t earn a living pursuing them. I’ve got news for you. You can’t make a living as a librarian or medical transcriptionist, either.

Apparently, education is not valuable unless it leads to making a certain amount of money.

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On the other hand, many learners in our communities are in it for the fun of learning something new. Their goals are about real life, as opposed to the construct of consumerism. They don’t want to drown. They want to do a job they’ve never done before and so learn new skills. They want to use technology as a tool to support their passion. Adult learners know learning enhances life. They’re not coerced into learning; they seek it out.

It’s a lot easier and more fun to teach someone who wants to learn than it is someone who’s having learning thrust upon them.

Adult learners have lived long enough to know how to learn. Not how to compete, how to cheat, how to work the system, how to manipulate good grades and references, and how to create their own personal perfectionistic demons, but how to learn. Adult learners also know something about how they best learn, and are able to communicate their needs and goals.

Learning requires time, patience and practice. It takes courage to seek new skills. It’s messy. We make mistakes, flounder, and fail. Good adult learners persist anyway, pursuing their creativity or passion, satisfying their curiosity and desire for mastery.

I’ve had the good fortune to know and work with wonderful teachers who have inspired, encouraged, and challenged me. I’ve also known destructive teachers who permanently damaged my trust, confidence, and sense of self-worth. The difference between them, I’m convinced, has nothing to do with their level of education or training, but rather with their power management. Good teachers seek to empower their students. Destructive teachers not only refuse to share their power, they actively disempower their students.

Healthy communities support learning and teaching, not necessarily as a formal process, but as a natural one. As a teacher, I know my students give me at least as much as I give them. Teaching and learning are collaborative, a sharing of power. To teach is to learn. To learn is to teach. Passing on my love of swimming doesn’t change the world, but it’s a contribution I can make joyfully.

Everyone succeeds when we teach and learn together. My daily crime.

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Win or Lose

Win: To be successful. Who defines success?

Lose: To fail to win.

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Are those the only two options?

If we win, then what? Are our lives fixed? Are we fixed?

If we lose, then what? Are our lives broken? Are we broken?

Do we need to win? Do we need to lose?

We compare ourselves to others in contests and competitions. Our capitalist culture shapes us to believe winners receive the most money and fame.

Our culture assures us money and fame equal power, and winners have to spend a lot of money in order to win. Everyone else has to spend a lot of money in order to compete with them.

The fact is, contests and competitions produce one winner and many losers. But those losers want to win, so they spend even more money to become winners.

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Win-win for capitalism, but lose-lose for almost everyone else.

I recently heard of a question on Facebook to men: What woman do you admire?

Nearly all the answers involved women of extraordinary intelligence and talent who have made important contributions to the world but are not necessarily well known, although their male colleagues are!

Are they losers because they’re not rich and famous? Can they be winners if we’ve never heard of them?

Is our win meaningful if nobody recognizes it? Is it meaningful if it’s not part of our identity?

Is it the win we care about, or the validation, power and applause we expect to receive as a winner?

Are our wins and losses about what we think of ourselves (empowering) or about what others think of us (disempowering)?

How important is winning? More important than the truth? More important than our own integrity and dignity? More important than our health and well-being?

Is our win really about someone else losing (I’ll show them!)?

Winning, like perfectionism and people pleasing, is a moving target, not a permanent state. Winners come and go, just like losers. Money and fame come and go, just like winners.

Our personal power stays with us, win or lose, rich or poor, famous or unknown. We each hold the keys to our own success.

Winning or losing has nothing to do with it.

Crowned With Gifts

My emotions are running free and fierce these days. There’s the tumult and chaos outside the small bubble of my life and my attic aerie, and at the same time there are singing threads of gold weaving through the much darker pattern of fear, uncertainty and loss. My gaze shifts from gold to darkness when I raise my eyes from my own step-by-step choices and routine.

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I have a strange thought that coronavirus has brought with it many gifts.

I came across this article about nurturing creativity in our children, and enjoyed the metaphor of meeting the flame of creativity with a bucket of cold water or a breath of wind. Although the author here is talking specifically about children, it seems to me we’re witnessing a flowering of creativity from people of all ages on every side.

I’ve long insisted that creativity belongs to everyone. Since the dawn of our species, we’ve been artists, makers, dancers, drummers and innovators of symbols in order to create language. One of the most destructive aspects of a rampant capitalistic culture is that we are discouraged from innovating for ourselves and encouraged to go out and buy something someone else (someone qualified to do so) has designed and produced. The cultural belief is that if we can’t sell what we make for money, our creativity and innovation are worthless. Refer again to the article about writing’s “dirty secret” in one of my recent posts.

Most of us can’t possibly compete with the unlimited fame and resources of the rich and influential to advertise and promote our product, and we don’t try, under normal circumstances. We know who’s in charge. We know who has the powerful connections and the money. It’s not us.

Our present circumstances are not normal. I am delighted and awed to see, every day, that hundreds (at least) of people are rediscovering or perhaps discovering for the first time their flexibility, their resilience, their creativity and their innovation.

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It’s notable that for every article I find online about making DIY facemasks there’s an article saying they’re not good enough, they won’t work, and citing all the reasons why it’s either a bad idea or a pointless one. I have yet to see the “it’s not patriotic” spin, but doubtless it will come. Cold water on creativity, indeed.

I rejoice to see that people are making facemasks anyway! Facemasks in layers. Facemasks with makeshift filters. Facemasks that can be washed and reused. Not facemasks as a magic bullet, but to help remind us not to touch our faces and to protect others from our droplets, since it appears many of us may be asymptomatic and infected.

After all, a non-commercial facemask isn’t going to make anything worse, and it might provide some protection for us and those around us, so why not? We do not currently have the personal protective equipment we need in this country to battle this pandemic. That’s a fact. Ask any doctor, technician or nurse in a hospital. At the hospital I work in we are strictly rationing masks and we haven’t admitted a single COVID-19 patient. Yet.

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I observe with interest that many of the innovators out there are not leaders (I use that term advisedly). They’re regular people, out of work, frightened, wondering what will happen next, trying to care for and protect their families and communities. They don’t have connections. They’re not rich or famous (or infamous). Just people. Marvelous, adaptable, curious, creative people are making masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, ventilators, etc., etc. Virtual concerts. Virtual birthday parties and get togethers. Hand written letters of appreciation and signs held up outside windows for quarantined loved ones. Birthday parades of neighborhood cars.

I had a boss once who was competent, intelligent, experienced and organized. I appreciated her in many ways. Then, one day, something tragic and sudden happened at work, and she did not know what to do. She was unable to take a leadership role. She fell apart right in front of me. There was nothing in our standard operating procedures, nothing in our binders and protocols, that addressed the situation. She was undone because there were no guidelines and she was strictly a by-the-book person. She was not flexible or creative.

It so happened that the event that occurred was something I had a lot of experience with, so a colleague and I took charge of the crisis so that other lives would not be lost. It was a hideous few hours, but we contained the situation and dealt with it. It left us all deeply scarred.

I was reprimanded later for taking control, for not “staying in my place” as a subordinate, for daring to direct those ostensibly in charge during the crisis!

This reminded me of the value and power in being able to adjust, adapt, think on one’s feet, and throw away (at least temporarily) the rule book.

Sometimes our leaders are unable to lead. Sometimes the rule books give us no useful guidance.

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Sometimes we just have to proceed with our own experience and good sense and do the best we can, knowing that others might actively discourage us from doing so!

But Frodo Baggins (unexpected hero and leader) does live, and he’s just a regular person like you and me. Sometimes we get no permission, no validation and no support for our innovation and creativity, because many people are better at throwing buckets of cold water around than they are at gently fanning the flame of an idea or plan.

Those who can only operate inside the box are naturally threatened and outraged by those of us who like to color outside the lines, but the ability and willingness to color outside the lines is what is going to get us through these times, as it got us through the World Wars, 911 and other terrible events. We are faced now with uncertainty, shortages, financial collapse and a crisis that threatens such monoliths as public education and public health, not to mention our taken-for-granted personal freedoms.

Yet this tiny crowned virus is reminding us what it means to be human and encouraging us to reclaim powerful parts of our humanity. We are makers, creators. We were that a long, long time before we were consumers. We may be in the middle of personal and institutional financial collapse, but we can still make and create, and we are. We are. We are beautiful.

Resilience. Endurance. Innovation. Gratitude for forced opportunity and unwanted gifts. My daily crimes.

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Measuring Health

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Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

I first heard that quote five years ago. It gave me comfort, because it allowed the possibility that my feeling of isolation and alienation at the time was a normal response. The problem, I find, with taking too much responsibility is one stops excavating interpersonal challenges. Instead, we assume it’s all our fault because we know we’re broken. This attitude effectively blocks further inquiry into what the people around us are up to. If we can be taught or manipulated into believing we’re the core of the problem in social interaction, our shame and guilt give those around us a free pass to behave however they like and treat us however they wish. No matter what happens, they can count on us to blame ourselves.

A friend of mine recently pointed out a lot of social media buzz about normalizing obesity. As I am not on social media, I did some research into memes and articles about this issue, and everything I saw made me think of the Krishnamurti quote.

Here again I see sloppy language. Almost every source agrees carrying too much weight on our frame is unhealthy. Unhealthy, as in bad for one’s health. Not ugly, stupid, lazy, lacking self-control, or a whole host of other slurs, taunts and unkind criticisms many overweight people have endured their whole lives.

Obesity is unhealthy. The fact that we have so many people struggling with obesity in this country doesn’t change unhealthy to healthy because it’s so common. A growing population of obese people signals a profoundly unhealthy society. Normal, as in usual, typical or expected, does not imply useful, healthy, functional or positive.

Is normal a goal, or is it merely a cop-out? Is normal something we aspire to because it makes us bigger, or is it something we have to make ourselves smaller in order to fit into? Who gets to decide what is usual, typical or expected? What are the consequences of choosing not to be usual, typical or expected?

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I can answer that one. Consequences include tribal shaming, deplatforming, silencing and other violent, destructive and coercive responses.

Normal is one of those words we define ourselves. Normal describes something not aberrant or abnormal. Abnormal is the absence of normal. That distinction can be useful, but in a limited way. Conflating normality with Good and abnormality or different with Bad (or vice versa) is mindless, black-and-white groupthink, the kind of ideology driving genocide, religious persecution and racism.

Our culture and context help us define normal, but if our society is profoundly sick, to be well-adjusted and “normal” within it is to be profoundly sick.

This is particularly true when I look at money. I’m noticing an ever-widening gap between money and value in my own life and in the lives around me. Until recently, I thought of all resource as money, and a life without some magical amount of money I never defined and could never access would be a safe, successful life.

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But money is only one kind of resource, and for me it’s the weakest kind. This thinking is definitely not normal by our cultural standards, but I believe it’s becoming more common. Minimalism is a growing trend, and those of us who explore and practice it are very clear about the relative value of money, time, contribution, experience, relationships, creativity, relaxation and joy. If earning money burns up all our other resources, we can’t replace them. Money won’t buy them back for us. A tree, an afternoon in the sun, a lap full of a child, the arms of a friend, the ability to lend someone a helping hand, are all beyond the power of money.

I don’t say money is bad or useless. I am dismayed, however, at what a God we’ve made out of it in this culture. During my lifetime the middle class has disappeared and the chasm between those very few who have significant financial resource and the billions of us who don’t seems likely to tear the planet apart.

A lot of sad people out there think money is power. It’s not. Our power is in our intelligence, our hearts, and our souls, not in our bank accounts. We have to make ourselves increasingly small and, ironically, impoverished, in order to adjust well to our deteriorating and unsustainable capitalist consumer culture.

In this house, we’re frequently in need of money to pay bills, buy groceries, keep up with car costs, buy a new pair of swim goggles, and buy a new fan for the furnace (our old one is beginning to sound like an airplane falling out of the sky when it kicks on). Most of the time, we don’t have money when we want it, but we manage to have what we need when it’s essential.

I used to feel terrified, ashamed, and like a failure because of my lack of financial resource. My relationship with money ruled my life. My hunger for more was never satisfied. When I had more I caught up with all my expenses and then I was broke again. It was a game I could never win.

I see now it’s a game no one ever wins, yet we all go on compulsively playing it, chasing the lie that enough money will provide us with love, success, healing, healthy relationships, confidence, power, and a sense of purpose and meaning. We’re so busy playing the game we have no time to recognize or welcome into our lives the things that do have the power to give us what we want.

Ultimately, accumulating money for its own sake is an expression of impotence. What’s more sterile and pointless than a lot of digits sitting in an account? The tool of money is useless unless we put it to work. If (when) the economy crashes, a piece of paper with our account information on it will be of less use than toilet paper.

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What will matter is our ability to form loving, compassionate connections with others and our willingness to collaborate sustainably with Planet Earth. Our ability to both teach and learn will be important. Our skills and integrity will be important. Our laughter and creativity will be essential. If we can translate whatever financial resource we have into these things, we’ve made good use of our money. We’ve invested in sustainability and resilience, real resource for real life.

Frequent readers know how much I enjoy playing with frames. If we feel rebellious, noncompliant, alienated and crazy, perhaps the problem is not us at all. Perhaps the problem is we’re trying to fit into a profoundly sick society, and the fact that we can’t means we’re retaining some measure of health, even in the face of tremendous social pressure.

Those rebellious, noncompliant, alienated and I-feel-crazy ones are the people I’m writing for. Those are my people. Their courage, compassion and generosity are the wind beneath my wings. Our shared truths, tears, scars, love and broken places shape a womb where a healthier life for all can be nurtured.