An experiment in self discipline

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This semester is an experiment in
self-discipline. As the last chapter of my college career arrives, it brings
with it exceptional freedom -at least compared to my last seven semesters.
Thanks to a reduced course load, I am using this semester to pursue my own
interests and teach myself self-discipline.

I have many aspirations for this
semester, but mostly I want to make personal development and intellectual
stimulation a daily ritual. I will do this by conditioning myself to read
faster, read more widely and refuse all distraction from my goals. In addition
to this, I will make creativity a priority by spending a minimum of 4 hours a
week either making music or drawing.

My goals (vaguely):

·     
Finish one book a week from a cycle of classics,
sociology, theology, and business.

·     
Finish one book in a foreign language.

·     
Wake up each weekday at 8am sharp, or earlier.

·     
Memorize 3 poems.

As I pursue this new strategy of
living, I will explore its effects through this blog.

To find out more about the strategy
I will use, I invite you to read this article.

 

 

To Inspire Critical Thinking

To Inspire Critical Thinking

 

This week my friend and I had the opportunity to present our semester’s research in front of two different Supply Chain Management classes. As I stood there at the front of the room and observed my peers, who had a wide range of involvement with the content -interested in the presentation, more interested in texting, more interested in staring into space (one of my two signature expressions) -my interest was turned to investigating what it takes to teach.

As my own disconnected thoughts fell through my mind all week, the finally constructed themselves on Wednesday night in a conversation I had with my friend, a senior English major. The question we focused our discussion on was whether an English major would be a better high school English teacher (better in terms of being able to inspire critical thinking and apply it to the material) than an English Education major. The question being: will a deeper knowledge of the discipline (the English Major approach) be more valuable in inspiring students than a deeper knowledge of how students respond to different stimuli (the English Ed Major approach).

My friend and I agreed that a deeper knowledge of the discipline would yield more freedom in one’s ability to critically reflect on the material, and further, be able to communicate those reflections more easily to students.* However, when I asked another English major what his thoughts were, he believed that the English Education major would certainly be a better fit for a high school teacher because he believed that most high school student required an introduction into English rather than the full immersion which may more likely be the style of the English Major.

This led me to this question: should we be enrolling the teenagers of this country in rigid, standardized, formatted literature and writing courses, or would in-depth, more creative and challenging courses turn more students into critical thinkers? I believe that the answer is “yes, it would.” And I think that it would be insightful to examine the grade distribution between Penn State freshmen taking English 15, and English 30 (the Honors option); from what I have heard from my peers, we might find that students in the more challenging course are earning better grades than those in the standard course.** However, I have not yet found out who to ask for these grade distributions.

The point: critical thinkers are developed through challenge and freedom to pursue their own thoughts and creativity.

 

*Note: this argument may only apply to the question of English vs. English Ed. because the discipline itself is a study of communication, so we assume that one who is well versed in the discipline will also have an ability to communicate the discipline as well.

** Note: my comparison is specific to grades received in the Engl 15 and Engl 30 courses, not overall GPAs

Essay Series # 4: Assess your development as a leader.

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I have examined
before the qualities of the effective leader, which I believe to be threefold:
the realization that the world is not as it should be, the boldness to question
the status quo, and the humility to know always that he may not already have
the answer. He should never seek the esteem of the public, but instead must be
restless for the pursuit of truth and justice. The question of this essay
though, is my development as a leader, and whether or not I am that leader of
who I have written so often. I assure the reader that I am not a man of
steadfast resilience and restlessness -though I hope one day to be -but I would
like to explore a few observations regarding my development: first; that
personal reflection has been crucial, and second; that true leadership isn’t
necessarily grand.

 

The recent
developments on campus have reminded me that most of the time our convictions
exist not as the product of critical thinking, but rather by picking the
popular or the non-conformist polarization, depending on our personal
proclivities. If leadership is the pursuit of truth, and defines itself by
abandoning assumptions and the status quo, then the leader must not only discern
the voices of the pundits and politicians, but he must offer his own original
assessment as well. I have learned that my skepticism has become second nature,
but my original thought is often stifled by the myriad of messages that I am
fed through social media and unlimited, unavoidable constant communication. The
reality is that I may have gone through my college career without having more
than 20 truly original and novel ideas. I have trained myself, however, to
discern what I hear, and force myself to continually ask myself what reasons I
have for holding the convictions that I do. I wrote last week about my
encounter with a homeless man in Pittsburgh, and just as I believe that the
only think I could do there was simply to sit down with him and listen to him,
in the case of my helplessness to counter my natural inclination to follow the
popular thought -I believe that progress begins at the question “why?”

 

A great friend
of mine told me last week about his relationship with his father. The man, who
left my friend and his mom for another woman has been the source of much
disappointment for my friend, but he confessed to me that he believes that he
is also fully capable of becoming the person that his father is. Where he
believes there is hope though, is that where his father never seemed to
acknowledge his actions as problematic, my friend holds the conviction that
they were, and he has set his will against walking down that same path. He is
not there yet -far from it -but I believe that he is at the very least turned
in the right direction. I think that most often we are forced to make decisions
without any real understanding of our situation or of the consequences of our
choices. Much like my friend, we don’t know exactly how to get from point A to
point Z -and maybe not even how to get to point B -but we start by recognizing
that the status quo is unacceptable. And it’s there that we move from
conformity to progress.

 

To address my
second point, that leadership isn’t necessarily grand, I would like to suggest
that the opportunity to lead is always there. If I am having a better day -and
am not consumed by my own priorities -I like to ask myself how can I lead
today. It usually comes down to something really small: if I’m leading a
meeting, I will remind my vice-president how much I appreciate her input and
value her leadership. I am convinced that leadership exists at many levels, and
that seemingly small actions have the ability to teach and influence the people
around you. The key though, is living each day intent on shaping your sphere of
influence for the better.

 

My leadership
here at Penn State has been modest, and admit that I don’t expect to leave a
significant legacy; at least not in the structural sense. My perspective
though, is that I am leading in the way that I need to right now -being
outspoken about my views, and seeking to inspire critical though in my peers.
Whether my actions here will really change the social environment in any big
way I’m not sure really matters; but I think that I am doing what I need to in order
to become a leader that may one day be able to further justice and truth in my
community.

 

Roland

Last
night my friend Josh and I hung out with a homeless man in Pittsburgh. We were
walking into a grocery store around 11pm for a snack when a man asked us if we
could spare some change. We passed him on and went inside to get our food, but
as we were walking through the produce section, I turned to Josh and asked him
if he’d want to buy the man some dinner with me. He said sure, so we picked up
a sandwich, some pears and an iced tea, and walked back outside. We walked up
to the man to give him his food and asked if we could sit with him for a while.
He said sure, and we sat down to enjoy our pears. We asked him his name, and he
told us it was Roland, and that he’d been on the streets for 3 years without a
home. Roland was 54, but you would never guess. He was clearly homeless, but he
did his best to take care of his clothes and his appearance. We could tell
pretty quickly that he wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug addict, because he had
retained his youth -though his beard was turning white. As we delved deeper into
Roland’s story, I learned two things: that Roland didn’t really choose to be
homeless, and that I was pretty powerless to do anything to change his
situation.

 

For the first point, let me elaborate: although I can’t claim
to know the whole picture,  I did learn
the immediate circumstances that led to Roland’s state. He was imprisoned a
little over 3 years ago for a few months after he witnessed a woman being
beaten by a man, and tried to intervene and protect the woman. Someone called
the police, who promptly showed up and arrested all three of them, and Roland
-who I’m sure was without a job at the time, and without family either -was
forgotten amid the bureaucracy of the judicial system. When he got out, he had
no money and nowhere to go. I asked him if he had any family, and he replied
simply that his mother was dead. Since then he has moved from place to place
every night, looking for a dry place to sleep. When it’s warm, he will sleep in
parks, but in winter he lies under a bridge to stay warm. When we met him, he
was waiting for a friend of his to return with a blanket for him to use. We
never met his friend, but Josh gave Roland a blanket and some new socks that he
had in the trunk of his car.

 

I realized around the moment that Roland told me that he
didn’t have a family that there was little that I could do to fix his
situation. This man is 3 years short of my own father’s age, and living in a
city that I know little about. I couldn’t even tell him where the closest
church or shelter was to rest for the night. We gave him some food and a
blanket, and did our best to show him that we respected him, but ultimately we
left without really changing his situation at all.

 

As small as our actions were though, I think that that might
have been the start of a solution. We sat with Roland for almost an hour, and I
realized that although most people walked by without acknowledging him, a
number of people were unable to when they noticed that Josh and I were sitting
with him. I think that our presence at the very minimum showed the passersby
that Roland wasn’t harmful. I wonder -and I propose that had we stayed with him
longer -the rest of the night, a few days maybe -we might have found a way to
really help him. If we put ourselves in the position to see his full environment,
we would be able to critically assess the core of his poverty, and maybe find a
way to bring him out of it.

 

But
even I couldn’t wait to get back to my bed and to lay down to rest.

Essay Series: Critical Thinking in Leadership

I wonder how much last week’s development will really matter in the long run. Stringing it back together in my head, this is the order that I create:

Friday, the Grand Jury report is released. Monday, it hit the fan among the University and some news sources. By Tuesday the whole world knew, and a few clowns ran around Beaver Canyon. Wednesday the tension built, culminating in the removal of Paterno and Spanier, and Penn State’s 3rd annual Beaver Canyon riot. By Friday we understood that we needed to mourn the victims and what happened to them, and on Saturday we left it on the field. I can’t help but think that most students won’t really walk away from this any different than they were before it arrived, and perhaps more frustrating -that the despite our international media following, that the world is almost the same today as it was 2 weeks ago.

I think that we haven’t grasped the depth of human depravity that we witnessed, and I certainly don’t believe that we realize that what Sandusky (allegedly) did happens day in and day out probably a hundred million times over. I held a meeting for my organization last week for students to come in and hear the Grand Jury report and discuss what the appropriate response to it is. One friend of mine, a townie told me that her sister who goes to school in southern California overheard many of her classmates saying that “they would hate to live in a place like that”. How one can be so naive to believe that rape and molestation doesn’t happen in L.A. is beyond me. Perhaps even more concerning is that I’m not sure people realize that Sandusky wasn’t the only person in State College molesting kids. There are still many more in our Valley, in L.A., and certainly far more in countries that lack effective rule of law.

I think it’s a sad thing that many students were more passionately moved to defend Paterno than the victims, though I must admit that I don’t even have empathy for the victims yet. Our school will rebuild its glory, the justice will be pursued against Sandusky, but I wonder how different each of us will be. I have seen deeper into human depravity than I ever have before, but I don’t know what my practical response to it should be -because the reality is that this is going on day in and day out around the world and I am completely separated from it. Or so I see myself.

The question of leadership arises within this. “Do I think critical thinking is important in developing as a leader?”

Of course it does. Without it, the status quo would never be examined and found to be insufficient. Applying critical thinking to last week’s events, I conclude that:

One way or another, there was serious neglect on the part of multiple individuals and the University. Many people are sympathizing with Paterno, but the fact remains -and I’m sure he’d agree -that those in leadership abide by stricter standards and must face the consequences.

Another thing that I’ve experience from using critical thinking has been realizing that in no way can the weight of neglect be reserved for Paterno, Spanier, Curly, Shultz and McQuery. The students and the community created a culture where Sandusky thought that he could get away with it (and did for so very long).  We created the culture and attributed the influence to Sandusky that caused the janitors to remain silent in fear of losing their jobs. That’s our own fault; the Board of Trustees made the best decision that they could of, and the students need to suck it up and move on.

Critical thinking is the process of questioning our assumptions; why do we believe what we believe. Are there faults in our logic? Maybe more in tune to this situation; do we recognize our position, which is without enough information to fully comprehend the events that occurred? Unfortunately, there are forces at play that make it impossible for critical thinking to be the only decision model. To begin with, we must recognize that although the leader may use critical thinking, the public will most likely not. It is commonly known that the most read part of the newspaper after the front page is the editorial section. In last week’s episode, the public opinion was fueled not by patient citizens reading the Grand Jury report, but by rash students following Twitter feeds and pundits who were quick to overstate and inflate the story. I think that if more people read the report, and chose not to follow social media, editorials and pundits, we probably wouldn’t have flipped that van. The fact remains that most people don’t enjoy being patient and thinking critically.

Additionally, critical thinking may lead us to overlook the question of moral obligation. Critically thinking, we can justify the inaction of many to defend those kids, but we belittle the possibility that refusing to protect the innocent is inexcusable.

Ultimately, critical thinking will get us to a better answer, but we are still required to operate under the constraint that others may refuse to think critically as well. The obstacle is facilitating our peers’ own critical thinking -removing emotion, inspiring patience, and asking them to question their assumptions.

From all of this, I have learned the depth of depravity that humans are capable of, and that most people are quick to believe that they would never be capable of doing the same. I make this statement in the hope that it will cause each and every one of us to examine our own lives -not just whether we would be capable of doing what he did, but perhaps whether we would be capable a different tragedy: people don’t turn 60 and decide that they want to rape children. They also don’t turn 20 and think that they’d like to be that person when they grow up. There were more forces at play in Sandusky’s personal development than simply an attraction to children. Many people could have prevented him along the way; perhaps going as far back as to his own childhood. How we live our own lives inevitably impacts the lives of those around us.

 

From disillusionment to requirement

This week I think I’ve finally breached the disillusionment of school that so many seniors feel every year. I am tired, of course; too many late nights spent working on projects out of insecurity to succeed in the over-competitive job search has certainly taken its toll. But I’m beginning to look beyond my current emotions and ask the difficult question of where my frustration really comes from.

I ran into a friend of mine in the Atrium this morning and confessed to him that I’m beginning to believe that my time would really be better spent through self-teaching. The idea is this: we’ve finally learned all that is expected of us as 7th semester business school students (myself with a grand total of 4 credits left to take on my degree audit), and are almost simply going through the motions to prove our credibility to employers in the hopes that they will let us work for them. My friend -who is by far one of the most entrepreneurial and brightest minds in the business school -couldn’t have agreed more. I believe that we both have understood that our work should achieve more than mere academic success, and we have certainly realized that -just like money -good grades will only motivate a person so much.

I have discovered that my peers and I live in a society where we have learned that it is our responsibility to secure for ourselves more than the most necessary provisions in life. We push ourselves to excel in school so that we can land a job where we will ensure our own livelihood for years to come, but we rarely ask ourselves where our aspiration has gone. Ask yourself; when you were nine, did you believe that you could change the world? Perhaps, more importantly; ask yourself at what point did you begin to give up your aspirations to make way for the pursuit of wealth and security. My point is not to convince you to believe a false ideology that we all need to be the MLKs and the Ghandis of the world, but rather of the reality that sooner or later we will all die, and none of our accomplishments will come with us (at least as I’ve come to learn it).

The implication of this though is simple: what brings you greater joy? It may be completely legitimate that your happiness comes from securing your own $50,000+ salary for next year (or 2 years from now for all you juniors), and all the things that will come with it. But I myself am not entirely settled on that yet. What I am learning about myself is that I am motivated by a number of things: freedom to pursue my own lifestyle -where I live; how much I can travel; how much time I can spend with my family; how much time will I be able to invest in the community in which I live? I’m motivated by the nature of my work; will I get to transform a country’s civil infrastructure and help them get out of poverty, or will I spend my career making production lines for consumer products run more efficiently?

If I was given free reign over my education this semester, I would spend a lot more time reading; probably a lot of Harvard Business Review articles, but more likely a whole lot more C.S. Lewis.  I’d probably teach myself a skill like web programming or graphic design. More than anything though, I would examine the world around me -though this is hard when living in State College -and I’d find a way to fix some part of it. I don’t have any grand reason why, other than I don’t think that life comes from seeking my own prosperity. The interesting thing is that I also don’t believe that life comes from selflessness either. As the late Steve Jobs once said, “We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time”, so why would selflessness in and of itself matter either?

I invite you to examine your own life and the world you live in, and particularly I invite you to challenge the values you hold regarding purpose: what it is, and whether you are actually searching for it. I found my answer in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, verse 68, though I am continually trying to understand what it truly requires from me. Ask yourself, what your life requires from you.

The Burden of Leadership

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“It
is our responsibility to prepare students to understand that the most difficult
decisions in today’s world require the examination of all sides of an issue. It
is in the gray area that the greatest challenges reside.”

 

This statement lies at the foundation of the Leadership
Academy, but I believe that we rarely question what it’s true nature is. This
weekend I pondered what the implication of absolute truth -whether there is
actually a right answer and a wrong answer in a given situation -really is. Although
many today choose to disagree -or refuse to acknowledge -I find it all to
simple to believe an ideology that states that what is true for one person is
not necessarily true for another. For example; I believe that heroine would be
detrimental to my own health, and if asked, I would say that it would be bad
for you too. The conclusion that I came to though, is that although in any endeavor
there are a million ways to be wrong, there is only one right answer; the grey
area is only created because we aren’t wise enough to find the right way.

 

I think that we choose to remain in the grey because it is
easier than to accept that choices may really be black or white, and that we
may actually have a responsibility to choose “right” even when “wrong” may be
more convenient or satisfying for ourselves. Although I believe the statement
about grey areas to be valid, in that we operate under ambiguous decision
variables, our mistake is in believing that because our circumstances are
vague, so must our response to them be. As leaders, it is up to us to discern
good from evil -right from wrong -and respond by sacrificing our own position
to make right from grey. Grey areas exist because leaders stand idle to the
real problem; the burden of leadership is restlessness in the pursuit of truth.

Leadership Essay Series: Abrasiveness

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What
role do you think personality plays in leadership? Please give examples.

 

This week I met with a
representative from Teach for America. For those of you who aren’t familiar
with the organization, Teach for America sends teachers into schools whose
students live below the poverty line. It’s a great program, but something the
representative told me didn’t sit well with me. He was explaining the
recruitment and training process that corps members go through, and he told me
that they are unable to train leadership -that people are either leaders or
they aren’t -so they recruit people who have held prominent positions at their
universities, and train them in education methods to teach kids from low income
families. What I disagree with is that I think the whole concept of proper
educating hinges on the belief that leadership can be taught. If you think
about it -despite all that you may have be conditioned by standardized tests
and the multitude of scantrons which you have inevitably filled out here at
Penn State -if you really think about it, good education teaches students to be
critical thinkers, and improper “education” conditions students to be drones.

 

Example: when you were a
junior in High School and you were preparing for the SAT, did you decide to
simply apply yourself more in school, or did you purchase the Kaplan textbooks
which taught you exactly how to most efficiently complete the test? Paying more
attention in school would teach you to think critically about the material
you’re confronted with, and thus be able to create your own opinions and even
counter arguments to the content, but test taking seminars will only teach you
to find the answer which is expected of you. Granted, I grew up without
scantrons and standardized tests, and as a result think that they’re absurd,
but I invite you to humor me here for the next few paragraphs of this essay.

 

My point is this: leadership
is not acquired, and the only connection to personality that I am confident that
is has is whether a person is of an active mind, and not a passive one. My
argument hinges on the assumption that the status quo of our world today is
everything but perfect, and requires men and women in every culture to be
active agents of change in their communities if we are ever to progress. If you
look at history, time and time again when unjust leaders have assumed power,
they have done so by conditioning the public to see only one valid argument. It
works; it worked with the Nazis, it worked with Communist China, it worked for
Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Passiveness can be conditioned, and leadership can be
inspired.

 

Personality obviously plays
a role in leadership syle, but frankly if good leadership means leading justly,
consistently, and serving those who put you into leadership, then does it
really matter whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert? If the goal is
reached -given proper conduct -then what real consequence is the route taken?
It is for this reason that I argue that the only personality trait that is of
true consequence is abrasiveness. I believe that the world is a very dark and
sickly place, and it takes abrasive men and women to stand up for justice. MLK,
Ghandi, Mandela, Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Wilburforce -all of these men, though very
different personalities, had one thing in common: their disillusionment by the
status quo, and their conviction to speak against it.

 

I think that we often
confine leadership to the broader, political, business, science public
position, but I believe that we’re missing the point if we fail to recognize
the need for leadership to begin at the most ordinary level; the people right
here around us. How do we handle personal disputes, family matters, friends of
ours who appear alcoholic at times. How can our ordinary reactions give insight
into our leadership? Because if we really are leaders -good ones -then we will
inevitably seek to influence those around us for the better. What good is a
representative if he creates a thousand jobs for his constituents if he cheats
on his wife or if he abuses his children? Has he actually made the world a
better place? Good leadership begins at the bottom, and maybe makes its way up
to the top eventually, but only by being consistently abrasive to the status
quo. I am not writing of how to win friends and influence people, but rather of
the leadership that the world actually needs. We don’t need politicians with
empty promises or business leaders who care about nothing more than their
position or their compensation. As far as I’m concerned, you can win the world
easily, but true leadership shows itself in the leader’s restlessness for the
pursuit of justice.

Did Steve Jobs Really Change the World?

I’d like to recall a discussion that the seniors had in
class a few weeks ago. Exactly how the conversation developed, I can’t
remember, but it culminated in a dialogue between Dean Brady a student about
the degree to which one’s ideology of a career transforms when children enter
the picture. The student was quite adamant that for him, career will always
come first -an ideology which I personally believe will inevitably lead to
dissatisfaction, though I do hope to love my career too -but I would like to make
a case for a quite opposite outlook on life: that our careers will inevitably
fail to actualize the false expectations that we eager college seniors assign
to them.

 

I make this statement in light of the recent death of a man
who shared that same conviction. In 2003, Steve Jobs discussed his
accomplishments with Wired Magazine, where he explained that he work never
really changed the world.

 

Wired:
“What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?”

 

Jobs: “The problem is
I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It
really doesn’t.”

 

Wired: “That’s going
to break people’s hearts.”

 

Jobs: “I’m sorry, it’s
true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we
live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time.
Technology is not changing it much — if at all.

These technologies can make life
easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child
with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support
groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things
can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice
to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change
everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

 

So I ask you this question: if Steve Jobs believed that he
-and all that he did to advance communications and technology, and even art
-did not in fact change the world, then how are we to respond?

 

·     
Downplay his words as humility, and believe that
he did in fact change the world?

·     
Ask ourselves, if Apple and Pixar couldn’t
change the world even remotely, then what does change the world?

·     
Or do we pose the question whether human beings
really can change the nature of the world: love, joy, peace, war, hate,
slavery, human interaction, jealousy, deceit, laughter, humor, beauty.

 

I ask this: maybe we can. Only maybe. But, given the state
of the world today -war (which never seems to end), poverty (where there is
greater inequality of wealth today than ever before), slavery (where there are
more slaves today than ever before in history) -if mankind can really change
the world, in all of our efforts, do we inevitably screw it up more and more
every year, and was the world (not
just your world) a better place 200,
800, 1500, 4000 years ago? My question is not whether there are men and women
out there -like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or William Wilberforce
-who have changed the world for the better; rather my question is whether the
global trend of social movement across history had been progress or decline?

The (career) Fair

This past week I have reflected much on what it means to remain an individual in a workplace of potential homogony. Between organizing the career fair, a conversation I had with a friend of mine, attending the career fair, and having 3 interviews, I have yet to arrive at a conclusion. Though I now understand three things:

I am an individual

There are jobs I would hate, and there are a few that I would enjoy

Happiness doens’t come for circumstance.

If you have the time, read this article.

HOW_TO_CHASE_YOUR_DREAM_JOB_WITHOUT_QUITTING_YOUR_DAY_JOB.docx

 

-Harry