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Wonder Years

Wonder Years

6 mins – Feynman, Campbell, and Kafka help us wonder where to go from here.

The memories of youth stay with us forever, and we long to tap back into those blissful ways of walking with wonder. Our day-to-day experiences were filled with aliveness, adventure, and originality. We engaged with the world as scientists, engineers, and artists. It was a time in our lives when we merely sought to relate ourselves to all the miracles around us. And then it began to fade. As we grew older, we began to give our imagination less value and space than it deserves. Our true instinct for what’s beautiful and awe-inspiring dissolves as we transition into adulthood. As adults, we question the significance of our inner-voice asking: “How could this be?” or “Why is this so?” The voice that begs us to discover the answers to our own curiosities, or search for clarity and possibilities. We do our best to suppress it as we grow older, and yet the voice only gets louder.

As Richard Feynman might ask: “What if we let go of erroneous ideas of what it means to do something worthwhile?” Following your curiosities beyond your “wonder years” may feel like traveling down a road to nowhere, on a path without promise. But what if every step holds possibility, and the mere act of taking the next step is inherently worth it? We’d move from a place of what we know to a place of what we might learn to know. We’d have to overcome the magnetic force of adulthood and social convention pulling us away from a place we want to be. Joseph Campbell explains this as the ordeal of acquiescing, where we move along quietly without progressing to the place we feel we need to be. To overcome this ordeal, we’d have to maintain the formidable path of progression and self development. But how could we ever know what’s worthwhile before we take the step towards the place we want to be, and walk into the realm of uncertainty?

Franz Kafka wrote a wonderful parable called Before the Law, and in it is a story of a man who seeks to walk through an open door but fails enter due to a large gatekeeper standing guard. The man looks up at the gatekeeper and asks for permission to walk through the door, and the gatekeeper explains that it’s not possible at this moment, but maybe later. The man peers through the open door as he wonders what he might encounter on the other side. The gatekeeper laughs at the man and dares him to try and walk through the door without his permission. Then the gatekeeper warns the man that beyond this door is another door with a gatekeeper much bigger and scarier than him, and further there are more doors with gatekeepers each more powerful than the last. The man thinks about this for a moment and decides to wait outside the door for a little while. This wait turns from days into years and the man continues to wonder what lies beyond the threshold. He proceeds to beg and bribe the gatekeeper to give him permission to walk through—but to no avail. Finally, the man is nearing the end of his life and with a final plea he asks the guard “How is it that after all these years no one else has requested permission to walk through this door but me? Everyone wants to walk through doors like this!” The gatekeeper kneels down to the old man and says: “This door was only meant for you, and because you no longer have the strength to walk through, I am going to close it.” This parable helps us understand that deciding not to act on our wonders is a choice, and the doors of mystery and inquiry that lead to clarity and understanding can be seen only through our own eyes. Taking a step through a door meant only for us is worthwhile as long as we see reality through a lens of wonder and curiosity. And since this lens tends to blur with age, the question becomes “How do we preserve it?”

What would it look like if our school systems actively engaged in preserving wonder? What if you could cultivate the practice of wonderment that lives beyond the wonder years? A culture where it’s normal for people to step beyond conventions in order to build the truth about their perceptions. Maybe you could foster a place where learners feel the urge to explore and the hunger to be moved. Where learners can express themselves today and find comfort in changing into a different someone tomorrow. In order to shape this type of environment, educators and administrators must establish a part of the learning experience—a sacred part—where learners can take accountability and ownership of their own journey. A break from the routine and orderly. A departure from the familiar and predictable. A time when learners are expected to follow their interests into the marvelous realm beyond the obvious way. A place where they can question what it is they don’t understand or believe in, and contemplate the values that will form their foundation.

You can build a sacred part of each learner’s journey right here, and with this community. Maybe it’s during a core class, or an elective class, or an after-school club. Let them create novelty, because when they do they’ll want to do it again. Over time, and well beyond their wonder years, learners will no longer need permission to wonder and act on something they care about. They’ll lead a life of intention and become an indispensable contributor to their workplace, their community, and their family. And when they see that opportunity beyond the threshold of uncertainty— they’ll wink at the guard as they walk through—and grow stronger with each stride as they devise their own destiny.

—Keo—

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Gratitude

Gratitude

6 mins – Notice the subtle serendipities that move you from “I am” to “I am that.”

It’s delicate. Gratitude is about being authentic and expressing more than a simple thank you. Saying thank you is often initiated by expectation through social convention, and this expectation removes the joy and intention of the connection. If there’s an expectation that we should do it, we lose the joy of dancing with the feeling of being truly grateful. It’s an act of letting go of where this experience might go, fully immersing yourself in what it is, and discovering what it means to you. Gratitude demands sensitive awareness, and letting joy creep into those moments that catch your soul. These moments cultivate feelings of being grateful because we realize the experience and feeling of becoming aware of this thing will never happen again. And the more often you discover these feelings of being grateful, the more you’ll begin to search for them because you want to, not because you ought to.

Gratitude can be scary though, and a little mysterious. Gratitude is scary because it’s a two-way street, and gratitude must be expressed to each other. We need to slow down and notice the connection being made, see what’s right in this moment, and savor it for what it is. This expression of gratitude is a gift meant only for each other, and yet we often take it for granted and resist the urge to sit with it and show appreciation for how it came about. Gratitude is mysterious because it’s something we don’t fully understand. To better understand it, we must to get closer to it, and lean into it. As we lean into the feelings of gratitude, our hard shell of individuality begins to soften and allows joy and connection in. This connection can be as simple and powerful as receiving an encouraging smile, or an acknowledgment of the work you’ve done and a nudge to keep you going where you seek to go. As you notice and engage with these experiences, they add dimension and intention to your life. They harden your resolve and soften your outlook of where you can go from here, and then you notice all the connections that can get you from here to there.

The only way we can express gratitude and feel grateful for these connections and experiences is through unselfishness. We need to recognize that there’s a process behind what created the gratitude we’re feeling, and that someone else is creating joy and leaving a trail of possibility so someone like us can find it. The sharp lens of gratitude enables you to become aware of subtle serendipities that move you from “I am” to “I am that.” It’s our responsibility to discover who is helping us become more grateful and changing the way we imagine ourselves, and use this energy to bring us closer together. But this energy is elusive, and it takes peace and strength to hold on to it. The culture has an energy that brings us closer together and changes the way we imagine ourselves too—but in a different way. As a culture, we have a tendency to notice others who have gained higher status, created more influence, or achieved more success. Social media has levered this tendency by creating likes, and comments, and reviews to provide feedback to someone else’s creation. As we search through feedback in search of the truth, we find it easier to see the truth in the negative feedback we receive. So, we hesitate, and we shy away from vulnerability that allows us to grow. Social platforms also leverage status by labeling people influencers or top contributors giving them a higher social value than the others, which changes the way we value ourselves too. These interactions flow from top to bottom and from me to the others from a selfish point of view. It’s this selfishness that interrupts real connection, the numbs feelings of being grateful, and suppresses the expression of gratitude between each of us, and for all of us. We might not be able to change the culture, but we can always change the way in which we engage with it. There is always someone else leaving a trail of joy and possibility for us to discover, and our challenge is to find them—and then pay it forward so others can find it too.

GrayVyne is where learners become aware, it’s where they find the others. They seek those experiences that make them feel alive, and take the risk of expressing gratitude for the unselfish performance of someone else. When learners share their work, they share it with the intention of inspiring their peers to believe that someone like them can make an impact like this too. There’s no expectation of achieving status, or influence, or success. There are no likes, or ratings, or comments, or reviews. But there is a gratitude button. When something of value is delivered to someone with care, it comes packaged in pure intentions and zero expectations. Learners have a choice to dance with this gift and find comfort in letting go, and then send warmth and appreciation to the others who made it so. They choose to acknowledge the things that are complete, and acceptable, and perfectly imperfectable—and believe all these things are worthy of being grateful.

—Keo—

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Intuition

Intuition

7 mins – The inner compass and the fickle hand of fate.

What has your intuition asked of you lately? Intuition is a delicate and wonderfully mysterious thing. Often misunderstood and discounted in the best of times, and yet longed for and leaned on in the worst of times. We’ve all felt it before, that gut feeling or inner voice telling us to go this way instead of that. It’s that internal sense of pause that demands you think through the action you’re about to take, as if you already know how it’s is going to play out in the long-term. There are no external facts, data, or analytics you’ve referenced to ensure you’re making the right decision, but yet you just know. I wonder how often our learners today get that same feeling? And if they do, will they trust it?

As explained by Simone Wright in her book First Intelligence, intuition doesn’t rely on previous knowledge of others, but develops with imagination, innovation, inspiration, and intent. It’s specific to each individual and guides us to seek our highest potential. It leads us to see a different perspective in all the things we experience, but it takes time, patience, and dedication. It’s like learning a language, you have to be comfortable developing it and you’ll get it wrong sometimes, and the only way to get comfortable developing this skill is by experiencing it. The more immersed you are in it, the easier it becomes to build awareness of the nuances and make connections to build deeper understanding. But developing intuition takes patience and dedication, and develops with inspiration and intent. As learners progress from the primary to the secondary levels of education, it seems there is less time available for taking inspired action and exploring creative possibility. Why is this so?

Maybe because with all of the information we have available at our fingertips today our intuition is seen instead as primal instinct knocking on the door of a new world where it isn’t relevant anymore. But instinct is for survival, and intuition is for growth. If learners are to grow internally and seek their highest potential as an individual, then dismissing intuition in favor of collecting external information is a mistake. As explained in the documentary film InnSæi, developing intuition is more important now than ever because there is so much information available at our fingertips, and it’s too easy to find confirmation of any decision we believe we are supposed to make. This data comes in fragments and is so specific it misses the broader connections that not only provide direction, but provide clarity and confidence in long-term outcomes. The logical focus is so narrow and framed in short-term thinking that it misses the big picture, it fails to answer the question of “what are we doing this for in the first place.” Our relational brains are pretty good at stepping back and seeing the forest for the trees, but we must do it with trust and clear intention. Learners need to develop their relational skills by using their collective experiences as a foundation on which external data will reside, and then use their intuition to connect the dots that will help them make informed decisions they can truly believe in and take them on a guided discovery of doing work that matters to them. Of course, this is impossible to teach—or is it?

How do people learn to ride a horse, or fly an airplane? They learn through experience. They learn by doing. If you’ve ever ridden on the back of a grumpy or tired horse, you’ve quickly found out what it’s like to adjust your knowledge of horses in real-time by sensing how the animal is feeling at that moment. When you learn how to fly an airplane, there’s an expression called “flying by the seat of your pants.” This often refers to using your senses to understand how the aircraft is performing, and this feeling is what initiates a decision to take action. Like the crooked feeling of slipping in a turn, and the sinking feeling of losing airspeed on landing, or the weary feeling of sticking to the flight plan when navigating thunderstorms at night. Pilots don’t learn how to feel these feelings by collecting information from a book or a video, they learn by first-hand experience and reflecting on them later. Pilots are tasked with operating a complex machine in a complex weather system in a complex body, any of which can ruin a pilot’s day—and these variables can change every flight. Pilots operate in a world where they know they’ll run into a set of variables they’ve never encountered before, but they’ve also learned how to quickly scour their entire database of experiences and connect those that relate to this new experience. Pilots learn to trust their ability to pull on their prior experiences and take action even—and especially—when it isn’t clear what action they’re supposed to take. These types of actions are driven by their intuition because pilots know when something doesn’t feel right, and they have the audacity and confidence to trust it.

To develop intuition within our learners we need to give them permission to immerse themselves in experiences they care about, and do work for someone they care for. They need to lend credence to their intuition and follow their inner compass rather than giving way to the fickle hand of fate. We need to empower learners to discover a problem that means something to them, and then give them the time and space to search for extraordinary solutions, alternate ways of doing things, or groundbreaking new ideas that aren’t outlined in the expected outcomes or an answer key. If learners can engage in real-world projects that go beyond simply presenting their idea, they’ll find themselves fully immersed in the experience and gain invaluable insights first-hand. Over time, learners will find comfort in letting their intuition evolve into a resource they can utilize with greater precision and focused ease—and employ it with pure intentions. And one day, just like you, they’ll feel that strong internal sense of pause that demands them to think through the action they’re about to take as if they already know how it’s is going to play out in the long-term—and they’ll trust it.

–Keo–

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Unfinished

Unfinished

6 mins – I love the idea of creative worry, and who exactly the Model T was for.

What’s the difference between a project that’s complete and a project that’s finished? Being complete means the project is whole, it works, and it’s beautiful to someone. A complete project brings some level of utility to that someone who engages with it. But there’s always more to be done, and a complete project is merely the beginning. A finished project on the other hand has reached the maximum level of utility and unparalleled beauty to everyone who engages with it. It’s been refined, cared for, and pruned to perfection. A finished project is the end of the process. When your learners work on a project and develop a product, when is their project considered complete, and when does it end?

Let’s talk about the Ford Model T. I recently came across a story called Farewell, My Lovely! In a book titled The Second Tree from the Corner by E. B. White. It’s a wonderful story about the Model T and its owners, and how a brand-new vehicle off the assembly line was fit for use by someone, but it definitely wasn’t for everyone. The car needed to be modified to fit the needs of someone else, and the responsibility for leading this transformation lied with each and every owner. To provide context and a sample of perfectly simple storytelling, the following is a direct quote from the story:

There was this thing about a Model T: the purchaser never regarded his purchase as a complete, finished product. When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start—a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware. Driving away from the agency, hugging the new wheel between your knees, you were already full of creative worry. A Ford was born a naked as a baby, and a flourishing industry grew up out of correcting its rare deficiencies and combating its fascinating diseases.

First you would buy a Ruby Safety Reflector for the rear, so your posterior would glow in another’s car’s brilliance. Then you invested thirty-nine cents in some radiator Moto Wings, a popular ornament which gave the Pegasus touch to the machine and did something godlike to the owner. For nine cents, you bought a fan-belt guide to keep the belt from slipping off the pulley. You bought a radiator compound to stop leaks. This was as much a part of everybody’s equipment as aspirin tables are of a medicine cabinet. You bought special oil to prevent chattering, a clamp-on dash light, a patching outfit, a tool box which you bolted to the running board… It was only a beginning. After the car was about a year old, steps were taken to check the alarming disintegration. A set of anti-rattlers…hood silencers…shock-absorbers and snubbers gave ‘complete relaxation.’ Persons of a suspicious or pugnacious turn of mind bought a rear-view mirror; but most Model T owners weren’t worried by what was coming from behind because they would soon enough see it out in front.

I love the idea of creative worry. It’s as if there’s an obligation that once you have this thing in your possession, you should make it your own, and try to make it better. Owners felt a sense of micro-ownership in the idea of the Model T and what it stood for, and where it could go from here. Owners not only bought gadgets from the catalogs, but in many cases, they had a lonely insight and were forced to invent gadgets of their own. Model T owners learned most about their machine through first-hand experiences called “sudden developments.” They had to work through it, and experiment with it as they labored persistently and imperfectly towards a better solution. But they didn’t have to do it alone. Owners had their own theories about everything, and they discussed mutual problems and shared stories with other Model T owners no different than them. They collaborated on problems in search of novel solutions, and clearly didn’t operate by committee. There was your way and his way, both of which were considered to make my way—if superstitions allowed. They operated as individuals pursuing their own self-interests, and paradoxically it was this individual contributor methodology that produced better collective results for the community. The Model T bred a diverse set of owners operating from different environments and ideals which made it more likely that at least someone would take a gamble on a radical or unlikely idea to make the product better, and then they’d share it with the others. Over time, these thousands of bets, experiences, experiments would develop and refine solutions in pursuit of perfection—and even though the product was complete, the process remained unfinished.

For learners, most of their projects will be given a deadline, a day in which their project must be complete. This deadline is practical, and sets a clear expectation of the timeframe allotted to create something of value for someone else. Learners present their idea and showcase the value they’ve created, but their project isn’t perfect. If only they had more time, more resources, and more ideas to spread the impact further. These projects die at the exact point in which the greater learner community could make the project their own, and try to make it better.

What if learners told the story of their completed project, and then gave other learners the confidence that someone like them could complete a project like this too? Stories about possibility, and potential, and change. On GrayVyne, we believe the community will produce collective judgements that represent not what any one person in the group thinks, but rather, in a sense, what they all think. Like Model T owners, each individual has the freedom to act as an independent contributor to something greater than themselves, and together they generate collective wisdom. They work in concert with pure intentions and high aspirations. They share stories, apply them to their own knowledge and experience, and then take action.

Don’t let projects die at the end of the term. They can be complete and yet remain unfinished, and the process doesn’t have to end. The process of idea generation and value creation can continue as other learners seize their chance to contribute and make an impact for someone else, someone specific to them. The best thing learners can do when they make an impact is to serve as inspiration and an example to their peers, and then do it again. And it’s at this moment when learners realize that they have the power to change their lives and the lives of others—and feel gratitude as their peers begin to realize this too.

–Keo–