Remembering, Learning, and Teaching

They all converge for the same reason.

 

They all trigger a certain common “feeling”… or “emotion”, I’m not sure what the right word is. “Motivation” feels like the most correct name – “They all trigger a motivation” – but the word type feels kind of off, and it’s kind of vague. If I say that some experience makes me feel motivated, you wouldn’t know what that means in particular. Motivated how? In what way? To do what, with what kind of feeling? Remembering, learning, and teaching all “motivate” me – but leaving it at that is about as useless as someone telling you they are “interested” (how much? in what way? in you, or in using you?) or that they are “emotional” (sarcastically? uncontrolled? or just different from usual?) while giving no further description.

I think it’s fairly clear that the “further descriptions” are not given because they’re not pretty.

While “interested” has generally tilted to sexual and “emotional” to negative connotations, it is now fairly easy – maybe even standard – to to think of “motivation” as like a drug. Everybody knows that having it will allow you to feel great, but unless you keep on getting those hits and keep on going to the dealer, you are dead in the water. Talking about it though, is a different story. While everyone I’ve spoken to has come to agree pretty quickly that motivation these days is more and more likely a scam, it doesn’t seem like they or the general culture “are bothered to the point where they think it’s a problem that shall be solved”[1].  They just keep on “liking” all these tumblr and 9gag pictures, while posting the same stuff different times every year (or month). It’s like they never learn anything from the quotes overlayed on jawdropping scenery.

That being said, something which can be called “motivation” should not be dispensed of entirely. The problem, at least in this instance, doesn’t actually seem to be in the lines themselves. Many of these lines are ones you can picture completely legitimate and successful people saying: “you can only try your best”, “you’ll get there, just keep going”, “nothing happens unless you take the first step”. It seems instead the problem resides in how people perceive such lines, how they perceive others encouraging them to improve their limits. In this sense, I don’t think the idiom “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is accurate. There is no baby, nothing external to be saved – it’s quite literally all in your head. The problem with motivation is more akin to the problem of lead piping. You want to get rid of the lead, but not the piping – simply because you have been poisoned by lead does not invalidate the entire concept of indoor plumbing.

I will touch on the “lead” here and there. My main purpose, though, is to remove and replace it[2].

I talked about the importance of the act of remembering things in my previous post. Pretty simple: You are the sum of your experiences in this world, to experience you must remember, and to remember you must treat your life as worthy of giving it your all. In retrospect, I’ve talked all around the idea before. The biggest reason why I started focusing on the art of discipline was because I became convinced that not only does form follow function, but also that function follows form: in other words, even if it is true that wanting to do something and doing something eventually makes you better at it, it is also true that however you act (or: “whoever you are) before you do something will always have a great effect on how you perform… in anything. I’m not too big a fan on this topic so I won’t go too deep into it, but my belief is that the current culture as it stands is focused too much on the “form follows function” and actively rails against function follows form – or worse, act like such a possibility doesn’t even exist. This denial of half of reality, as with any denial of any reality, will not end up well. As for my part and this blog, just keep in mind that I’m only painting a part of the picture. The rest of the picture is already being painted quite sufficiently on the “you can do anything you put your mind to” half; I’m just here to cover base and remind that negative space is also/still space. That being said, I have had trouble seeing the positive space – and in turn, is why I am able to write about it.

Learning I’ve touched upon a little bit. Back during the end of March I was trying to figure out the mechanics of motivation and touched upon how at least half of the equation involved a certain “feeling”. Though I did write up the long and more confusing counterpart to it for the discipline perspective, it was still lacking something, something which conventional motivational lines and stories focus on. I treat a lot of what convention has to say on positive outlook as proverbial messages from the boy who cried wolf – ignore and reject on sight, regardless of actual relation from reality. And why not? All the signs point to it. Every step of the way your life is “regulated” “for your own good”. EVERY step of the way. Today, the more you live the more people disappear the less you have to connect to the less control you have over your life the less time you have to do what you love the more you’re TOLD you have control the more you’re TOLD you have freedom and if you’re not satisfied? Go “get” motivated. See a “counselor”. It’s on you buddy, nobody’s gonna take care of you. “You’re a big boy now”. The worst thing about these lines is that you know there’s something right about them. You’re not a kid, you’re physically larger and you’ve had much more direct and visceral experience; you should be able to take care of more things. You told someone who’s important to you either financially or personally that you’d get something done – if you had any self-respect you’d do it, wouldn’t you? But there’s something wrong with it, and even if you can’t exactly word it out and not be dumb (definition 2) about it, you just know there’s something off about the situation. There are many things, but I believe the biggest one is captured by this quote:

My argument […] is the preconception that suffering is a mistake, or a sign of weakness, or a sign even of illness, when in fact, possibly the greatest truths we know have come out of people’s suffering; that the problem is not to undo suffering or to wipe it off the face of the earth but to make it inform our lives, instead of trying to cure ourselves of it constantly and avoid it, and avoid anything but that lobotomized sense of what they call “happiness.”

– Arthur Miller

If all suffering no matter what depth or breadth is something that would never happen for any acceptable reason… why wouldn’t people be unhappy? There’s only two things an actor can be to be expected to not suffer no matter what: god, or dirt. If people were gods then obviously they’d know everything, and take rational steps for the optimal solution even in unforeseen circumstances. If they falter, then they should be able to take care of it and will take care of it – and that’s the end of the story. If people were dirt, then they could absolutely mold to anything no matter how difficult and they’d still be the same as before[3].

People aren’t. They learn all the time, and almost all of the time it’ll take suffering[4]. Cliche as fuck, but when we realize the power of memory, when we realize how much time and energy or even how many lives we save because we paid attention to our elders or our surroundings as we experienced it, we want to learn more. We grasp for it anywhere and everywhere from practical and pure utility experiences, to competitive and play and completely “unproductive” activities:

That’s the other thing, right? You can look back and be like “Oh I did good”, but then there’s also those times where you know you’re going to win – you just pulled something off, something which took great discipline and awareness, a passionate drive and the graces of fortune. But the timing window has closed for all that opposes you. Nothing can stop you anymore. You’re going to win, and the only thing that is left is for the fat lady to sing.

THAT MOMENT

is amazing.

This leads us to our final part of a new trivium: Teaching.

This whole entry was written because I was reading Velo, my cycling magazine, and the opening line for the Tour de France article was inspiring. Can you believe that? Put off telling my stories because I found something amazing. Now that I’ve transcribed it, it actually looks really similar to the quote above.

There is a concept in education circles called the teachable moment, a fortuitous convergence of circumstance and nascent interest that creates the perfect environment to teach something in a meaningful, lasting way.

It brought me back to a lecture I had watched long ago by David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails. In “Unlearn Your MBA” (second video), he talked about how no matter what you blog about, there’s always someone that’s going to be interested – unfortunately he was talking mostly in business language, about “building an audience” rather than “selling to a customer”, so I didn’t really get too much. My dad talked a couple of days ago about how you always have something to put on your resume – if assembly line workers can talk about how they have just in time skills, a college student who basically exists and survives in reality can find something to talk about enthusiastically. For a long time, this “finding stuff to talk about” seemed like pure BS – and it’s probably still pretty accurate (the concept of a resume and interview absent of skills and aptitude tests is amazingly stupid). 100% BS isn’t too bad of an approximation if it’s 99.999% BS. Find stuff to talk about? If you actually had stuff to talk about it’d just naturally flow out of you, no?

No, of course not. You’re not dirt.

While I still think it’s utterly retarded to put things like “problem solving”, “team player”, and “good listener” as acceptable skills on a resume, there’s a kind of beauty I only realized once I started trying to list my own skills – you have unlimited limited space. You can put one skill and it’ll be the one that gets all the attention, but readers will know less about you. Put too many, and the reader will not even flip the page. In the end, there are two parts.

There is your skill,

And then there is your interest and choice in describing yourself by that skill.

You can have many skills, experiences, friends, or really anything – but if you never choose to talk about them, few will ever know. The humble star who rises to fame with good fortune and perfect logistics is the counterexample, not the rule. It’s not only chance and other people doing the work for him though. If you truly have no attachment to what you are doing, you will eventually fall out of it. “Hard work beats talent until talent works hard”: wanting to be better a prerequisite for working hard. On the other hand you can also have few actual skills but talk about absolutely everything, many people will know of you, but fewer people will treat you as a high value person. Not only are you a jack of all trades master of none, your supposed interest in absolutely everything will come into question because they suspect, validly, that you actually have no focus at all. You must find a mix. A mix between “selling yourself” and “becoming a better person”.

Those last two phrases are in quotes because I think they form a rather third-person view of yourself in this first-person perspective life. I prefer a different two-parter: one to cover “form follows function”, and one to cover “function follows form”. Reusing an old name, I’ll call it “Passion Clarity“. Function Follows Form is what I’ve been talking about this whole time, under the name “Discipline”. As for a more correct, in-focus, and a counterpart-recognizing Form Follows Function part…

…well, I’ve been wanting to use the word “Motivation”.

 

Let’s call it that.

 

 

 

1. Here I was trying to avoid the phrases “anyone”, “care enough”, and “must be” to avoid the passive voice. I still don’t think it conveys “by itself” the message I wanted to say in a clear fashion, but I did my best. It is hard to say things in active voice when the entire culture is bent on being passive (“movement”, “social justice”, “we should”, etc.).
2. A magnum opus or even an entire field of history could be devoted to explorations of this topic.
3. This has something to do with how much of modern psychology and thus culture is based on the idea that people are “tabula rasa” i.e. blank slates.
4. It’d be interesting if forced schooling and thus lack of time to actually learn from life during childhood and the “formative years” led to the perspective that learning is only done without suffering.

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One thought on “Remembering, Learning, and Teaching

  1. Pingback: The Unifier: Jack Donovan’s “The Way of Men” « All Else Is Halation

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