The Gift of Unhurried Time

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flower GirlI came across an article recently, that referenced a thoughtful piece that ran last summer in the Huffington Post.  I don’t remember anything about the article that referenced it now, but the HP article called The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’ is worth revisiting.  In the article, author Rachel Macy Stafford tells the story of her gloriously “laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child”.

Her daughter, Macy Stafford, observed, was a Noticer, “and  I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That’s when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.”

In reading Macy Stafford’s descriptions of her perennially dawdling daughter, I  was instantly transported back, 20 years, to our own little blessing of a sprite, the eldest of our three children, an enchantingly distracted little creature for whom the word “hurry” had no meaning.  I remember watching her one day, when she was about four or five years old, at a community center gymnastics class.  The other children were tumbling with athletic fervor, cheered on by an energetic and encouraging teacher.  One after the other, the children somersaulted down the mat, like little windblown dandelion seeds.  And then it was my little girl’s turn.

My dreamy little kid took one graceless flopping somersault and lay there on her back, beaming up at the lights

Two Girls in a Gender- Neutral Box

overhead, clearly enchanted by something she saw there.  The teacher urged her on. The other parents around me chuckled indulgently.  My sweetheart clambered up, and gamely tumbled over again, and this time, a sliver of thread from the exercise mat caught her eye, and she lay there happily playing with it until the teacher nudged her on.  Then she saw something else that looked like some kind of animal and happily described to anyone who would listen, still not halfway down the mat.

It was funny and sweet and heartwarming enough that I recorded the experience in my journal at the time. Also among those pages are reflections of watching her little sister systematically explore a banana over a period of about 20 minutes.  I remember how my children could play for hours with sticks , sticks that were alternately swords, horses, tent frames, and magical wands.  They’d work for hours on drawings, stories, plays, and a box was a week’s worth of entertainment.

walking on the beachIt’s a good thing Macy Stafford realized the gift she had with her sweet Noticer in time for both of them to benefit.  Her Noticer, and my little Dreamer came preset with a knack for making the most of here and now, and we do well to heed their counsel. As we head into summer, it’s easy to want to structure every minute of a child’s life, and our own, with activities, programs, classes, and sports.   It might be worth considering this summer, the priceless gift of unhurried time.

To give the gift of time, of course, we have to take some things away — a sport, an extra class, a meeting, a shopping trip — because there are only so many hours in a day. To gain time, we have to eliminate something which uses it up. To some people, the thought of staying home and “doing nothing” can be scary. We have filled our days with so many things that we’ve lost the vital skill of doing nothing, of being a Noticer, of being patient and confident enough to fill the quiet hours with thoughts and day dreams.

Unhurried, unstructured time is important. So is day dreaming.  Isaac Newton came to conclusions about gravity while sitting still. Albert Einstein realized relativity during quiet moments of imaginative figuring. When Henry David Thoreau forced himself into solitude and inactivity, he made the enduring observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

With every moment of every day fully structured for us, both we and our children lose the ability to create order and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstructure of our own making. It’s not natural that children become “bored” as soon as school lets out, or think “there’s nothing to do” (and consequently may turn to inappropriate activities with other equally unimaginative and bored peers).

Children and adults with time on their hands and who have to make do with it — within supervised and safe environments well stocked with books, creative resources, outdoor spaces and peace and quiet — are generally more self-reliant, creative and self-satisfied than those whose time is always structured for them. Certainly our now grown children bear out that theory, grown into creative, thoughtful, curious, self-reliant and compassionate young adults.

In an interesting article for Jewish Family and Life, “Kids — Like Adults — Need Summer Downtime,” by Ann Moline,  Moline cites education consultant Ruth Heitin’s remarks that, “The search for something interesting to do will help kids exercise a part of their brains that may not be getting enough activity in today’s overspecialized, over programmed world.”

“I’m so afraid,” Heitin said, “that we will become a society of followers, who can’t find jobs on their own that please them, because things have always been programmed or directed for them.”

Labor Day walk in the woodsIn short, without unstructured, unhurried time to reflect, create and recharge our inner batteries, neither we nor our children can achieve our full potential.

So maybe this Independence Day, truly declare your independence, for you and your children, from the over busy, super structured ties that bind your soul and steal your time. Respectfully decline that umpteenth party invitation, don’t sign the kids up for that 3rd sports camp.

Stay home. Play cards or a board game. Read a book. Draw. Listen to the music. Sit outside, or take a walk,  and enjoy the nice weather and think. If your small children – or your big ones – come to you and complain that there’s nothing to do, tell them you’re sure they’ll think of something. They will! (Just keep sharp things out of reach, hide the car keys and lose the remote.)  And if they invite you to stroll along in their world - go!

I’ll finish with Macy Stafford’s words, which could, and probably should,  be a mantra in our hurried world.

“I will not say, “We don’t have time for this.” Because that is basically saying, “We don’t have time to live.”

“Pausing to delight in the simple joys of everyday life is the only way to truly live.”

Enjoy the gift of unhurried time this summer, and make this time, the very best time.


The Library of the Future: Collaborative & Community Driven

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”   Ray Bradbury

library signGoogle “Library of the Future” and you get 350 million results. Many examinations of the 21st century library include comments like “this isn’t your childhood library” or “no longer a warehouse for barely touched tomes,” remarks that can feel threatening as much as they can sound promising.

A lot of us liked our childhood libraries, and we touched as many tomes as we could – and still do! We like having quiet, safe places to go and be alone with our thoughts, and imaginations, to travel the world on a library card.  But the facts of the matter demand action to keep libraries both a sanctuary for book lovers and a meaningful part of our communities for people who might benefit from new functionality from our public libraries.

A recent Pew Research study on libraries (From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond : A typology of public library engagement in America. March 2014) found that while most people know where their local library is and 97% of Americans highly value their libraries, only 30% can be classified as “high engagement” users, with another 40% classified as “medium engagement “for having “used a library in the past year.” The remaining 30% are fairly disengaged from their public libraries.  Changing up library offerings,  and perhaps more to the point – reimagining the library –  is a natural next step towards reengaging the public with these vital centers of community.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), there are more than 120,000 libraries of all kinds, in the United LibrarySymbolLaptop-YBlueStates.  16,000 of these are public libraries, (nearly 100,000 of them are public school libraries).   That’s 16,000 free, public centers of learning and discovery, situated in communities around the country, in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods,  reachable by car, bus, metro, bike and on foot, providing tax payer funded, citizen owned space to read, think and learn, offering programming on everything from basic literacy to digital literacy.

In a related Pew study called Library Services in the Digital Age (January 2013), researchers noted that, “Many librarians said they were intrigued by the idea of makerspaces, or workshops where patrons can work on hands-on projects and collaborations. Similarly, several library staff members said they wished their library could offer digitization resources for local history materials, professional-grade office services such as videoconferencing, as well as renovated spaces that would encourage collaboration and allow the library to offer more types of services.”

social zoneAnd that, in fact, is where many libraries are now headed, looking at ways to revitalize programs and repurpose space to better serve communities and provide new avenues of enjoyment and fulfillment for all users, rebuilding their programs in the service of becoming exciting and relevant hubs of community engagement. Makerspaces in libraries, or their close cousins, digital commons or innovation centers , are making some of the biggest headlines, from Westport, CT to Missoula, MT, from Chicago to right here in Florida, in Orlando to the project we spearheaded here in Tampa, the Community Innovation Center at the John F. Germany Library.

Some efforts to create the “Library of the Future” will fall falter and fall short.  Those will often be the result of forced innovation driven from the top down, reflecting administrative and marketing visions of what constitutes “the future”.

Others will totally flip what people think of libraries and will bring excitement,energy, and endless possibilities to our IMG_5121communities, helping move us towards that necessary culture of active creation from one of passive consumption.

These libraries are community driven, as much about programming that reflects community needs and interests, as they are about space use.  Land O’Lakes Public Library in Pasco County comes to mind here, with their FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, the Edgar Allan Ohms, and their Battle of the Bands and Lamecon anime conference, as does Leesburg Public Library with their Zombie Prom.

These types of programming reflect a necessarily fearless approach to reimagining what a public library is, expanding from a static collection of archival knowledge to an active content and program delivery system.  This is the type of institutional cultural change we hope to inspire and support with our Makerspace-in-a-Box effort, working with libraries to help them understand both internal capabilities and native interests,  and external collaborative possibilities.

The true “Library of the Future” will  be collaborative and community driven.  It will remain a cherished institution, with quiet places to read and think and vicariously journey, as well as active spaces and programming for academic and workforce skills development, and personal fulfillment,  contributing to economic development, generating pride of ownership, and  commensurately increased relevancy and vibrancy in the communities libraries serve.

And that’s a future that would make Ray Bradbury proud!

Empowered Learning: Co-Authoring our Future

10175081_704085139655151_8564558905749992192_n“You can make the whole room smarter than any of the individuals in the room alone, including the instructor. There’s a radical shift in this way of doing things — it’s built on trust, and I think our existing school structures are built more on dependency and control than trust.” Brad Ovenell-Carter

Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobsand a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, Digital Journalism and VirtualCommunity/Social Media, where he teaches a course in Participatory Media/Collective Action, has interviewed dozens of teachers for his blog on DMLCentral.  The common theme, he found, is “student empowerment.”

In his most recent blog piece, Co-Inventing the Curriculum, Rheingold looks at the work of  Brad Ovenell-Carter , a CanadianKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA educator who teaches a course on Theory of Knowledge to an 11th high school class, Knowledge Ethnographers as he calls the students, whom he has tasked with observing ” how knowledge was stored, moved and processed during a (10th grade physics) lab.” 

Ovenell-Carter’s students are digitally literate, familiar with blogs, spreadsheets, and social media.  But he takes them a step further in ownership of their education.

“… instead of banking received knowledge in their brains, “notes Rheingold, “which assumes that the creation and testing of knowledge is for others, Ovenell-Carter’s students look for problems, ask questions, collect data, try to make sense of the data they have collected, test their hypotheses, apply and integrate what they’ve learned about co-discovering, co-inquiring, and co-learning to all their subject matter. “

This idea of moving from “the creation and testing of knowledge for others” to co-learning for the purposes of producing a personal “meaning-making toolset” is a powerful and empowering concept.   Educator Steven Anderson contends that,  “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.”    Some rightly argue that we can be as deluded by a crowd as we can by ourselves (See Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds) , but what we’re looking at here is the time tested theory of small group-directed learning.  Sugata Mitra ‘s Hole in the Wall experiments have illustrated well how groups of children can co-learn in a collaborative setting  “where  children can share their knowledge and in the process, develop better group dynamics.” 

This journey from authoritarian rote content delivery to relevant and meaningful knowledge discovery is seen in everything from the growth of online learning to innovative charter schools to the developing maker movement.  It’s not well paved road, by any means.  There are pit holes, speed bumps,  steep drop offs and dead ends.   As always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle,  a balanced diet of old school and new served with a healthy measure of open mindedness.

But Ovenell-Carter’s work, like Mitra’s and many others, continues to show us the many ways that we can make our way into an interesting, exciting and fast changing future, one that we need to be both thoughtful and nimble in negotiating, as well as efficiently collaborative if we are to succeed.



Look Up: A Thoughtful Study in Irony

Three AmigosGive people your love, don’t give them your ‘like’ – Gary Turk

An article ran in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago titled, “My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation.”   In the article, educator Paul Barnwell described his students’ struggle to master a session in his English class on the art of conversation.

“…students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk,” he observed. “It might sound like a funny question, but we need to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation? “

Students need to be able hold conversations for everything from applying for colleges and jobs, to negotiating pay, discussing projects, building meaningful relationships and sustaining those relationships.

“If the majority of their conversations are based on fragments pin-balled back and forth through a screen, how will they develop the ability to truly communicate in person?” Barnwell asks.

British writer and director Gary Turk recently tackled the problem head on in a spoken word film called Look Up, that has gone viral (over 22 million views since being uploaded to groupYouTube April 25th) and is alternately lauded for being beautiful and thought-provoking and criticized for being hypocritical, self-serving (it’s a monetized video) and “overdramatised” (by a UK critic apparently).

The irony of Turk’s supplication to “look up from your phone, shut down the display/ Take in your surroundings, make the most of today,” going viral is not lost on anyone.   But the piece is thoughtful and well considered.  It was challenging to find the written text to his poem, but a blogger named Mon Amour gave it a shot, and some helpful readers tweaked her transcription a bit.

While there’s definitely a healthy dose of schmaltziness to the simple rhyme scheme:

(Be there for) The time you hold your wife’s hand, sit down beside her bed
You tell her that you love her and lay a kiss upon her head
She then whispers to you quietly as her heart gives a final beat
That she’s lucky she got stopped by that lost boy in the street

There’s also a healthy and powerful element of truth:

We’re surrounded by children, who since they were born
Have watched us living like robots, who now think it’s the norm
It’s not very likely you’ll make worlds greatest dad
If you can’t entertain a child without using an iPad

Helen and NatalieThis isn’t a new observation. There’s no shortage of reflection here (Heads Up) and elsewhere on the topic of social disengagement as a result of over-reliance on technology. But Gary Turk speaks as one Millennial to another, and his message is a meaningful one, even replete with the irony of its viral nature.

So don’t give into a life where you follow the hype
Give people your love, don’t give them your ‘like’
Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined
Go out into the world, leave distractions behind.

Look up from your phone
Shut down that display
Stop watching this video
Live life the real way

Smart phones and computers are tools, not ends in themselves.  Used intelligently, and as intended, they provide ways to connect us when we’re far apart, to broaden communications with others, to become better informed about our world,  and to gain new skills and knowledge.  Used incorrectly, they become debilitating social brain drains, disconnecting us from the real time relationships and real world experiences that make life worth living.

So sure, watch the sweet melodramatic video - and then do what Turk says:  go out with some friends, have some real conversations, be where you are, together with the people you love and value,  and leave the phone at home so you can really have a life worth sharing with others.

The Maker Effect

Alumni Awesome-c

FIRST Robotics Alumni – Engineers, filmmakers, roboticists, tinkerers all

The Maker Effect is the sum of the personal growth, professional success, community development, and continuous innovation that results when makers learn, educate, share, and create together. ”  The Maker Effect

The Maker Effect Foundation,a Florida nonprofit headed up by some veteran Florida makers and community leaders,  in collaboration with the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, has undertaken a research study “to understand the personality characteristics, motivations, and behavioral skills used by makers when working alone and in teams. We hope to answer questions such as: “What are the common behavioral and personality characteristics of makers?”, “Why do maker communities work?”, “Why should I hire makers?”, etc..”

These are all good questions, because there’s a lot going on here, both within and without the maker community.

“Today’s makers,” say Maker Effect organizers, ” are providing the knowledge, skills, and tools to anyone willing to take ownership of their own future – democratizing innovation in the way that the invention of the printing press, the rise of personal computing, and the proliferation of the internet did in previous innovation cycles.”

The phrase “democratizing innovation” is an important one.  As with 21st century blended learning  that began democratizing education through online content and virtual classrooms a couple of decades ago, the Maker movement provides a wealth of opportunity in every sense of the word.   The “Maker-Entrepreneur” is the empowered  everyman and everywoman who can become an instant small business person on the strength of his or her own elbow grease and ingenuity. It’s the new Personal Industrial Age,  3D printed in the garage.

But there’s another “Maker Effect”, a sort of shadow presence that hangs around the periphery of the maker community.  As with the advent of MOOCs and virtual schools that  made every space potentially classroom space, and conceivably freed us of the “experts” who previously controlled knowledge,  come new “experts” trying to capitalize onthe glass blower our new found Maker freedom, as they did with open education.   Becoming your own expert can be threatening to some people, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on some form of expertise that others can now access or develop for themselves.

These new “experts” trail in the wake of the grassroots maker movement, selling their wares and their services to people who originally distinguished themselves through their ability to fill their own needs.

  • Makerspaces literally started in people’s garages and empty building spaces. But now there’s TechShop franchises providing a makerspace in a box for the well heeled.
  • The Instructables were freely sharing how-tos for years.  But you can also pay for glossy how-tos with a Make Magazine subscription.
  • Early makers scrounged parts in junkyards and scavenged dumpsters.  Although many still do, today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of suppliers for every possible tool, part and electronic and mechanical need.
  • Makers have always been able to sell things through Ebay and Etsy and Kickstarter. But now there’s a fleet of experts promising to make every Maker a Maker Entrepeneur and a successful start-up.

KThese aren’t bad things, of course. TechShop does cool stuff with DARPA. MAKE Magazine has a great community and provides terrific and very instructive hangouts and contests.   It’s nice to be able to shop at Adafruit.  And it’s helpful to have entrepreneurial support if you want it.

But here’s the thing:  Not every maker wants or needs to be an entrepreneur.

Many, if not most, makers simply want to – make stuff.  They’re  hobbyists and tinkerers, artists and explorers. They want to  build a widget, fix a motor, sculpt or paint, make a video, create a game, craft a costume, command a robot uprising.  Many makers already have jobs.  They’re engineers and fry cooks and writers and taxi drivers and parents and store managers and cashiers and mechanics and programmers and designers and students and any number of other things.

The exercise of making something  provides  intellectual enrichment, personal fulfillment and creative entertainment and relaxation.  Making things in a safe, accessible and collaborative environment like a makerspace provides community development and capacity building,  empowering ordinary citizens to be self-reliant, capable individuals who can take control of their own lives.  Sometimes that means selling their own products.  Oftentimes that just means being able to fix their own car or paint their own walls or play with their drone.

The real Maker Effect should make experts of us all, in a million different fields, empowering us to collaboratively improve our communities and to care for each other through the exercise of our shared skills and knowledge, as entrepreneurs, and as capable individuals.

Sometimes, Making is just the end in itself, and that’s a perfectly fine Effect.

Make Glorious Mistakes!


by Daniel Dennett

Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” Neil Gaiman

Brain Pickings, one of our favorite sites for inspiring thought and introspection,  shared a look at philosopher Daniel Dennett, on the recent anniversary of his 72 birthday.  Dennet is often considered one of our greatest living philosophers.   What? You didn’t know there were still philosophers?  Allow us to introduce you to Mr. Dennett.

Daniel Clement “Dan” Dennett III is an American philosopher, writer and scientist with a particular interest in evolutionary biology and cognitive science.  He is currently the Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Among other things, he has been referred to as  one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism“, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens- a sort of evangelical atheist, a phrase he’d probably disdain.

More to our interests, though, he’s a huge proponent of failure.

“Mistakes are not just golden opportunities for learning, Dennett wrote in his essay, How to Make Mistakes, “They are, in an Oopsimportant sense, the only opportunity for learning something truly new. Before there can be learning, there must be learners. These learners must either have evolved themselves or have been designed and built by learners that evolved. Biological evolution proceeds by a grand, inexorable process of trial and error–and without the errors the trials wouldn’t accomplish anything. “

Recently, on the journey to creating something we believe is amazing and good and important, we made some big, truly glorious mistakes.  They were errors of judgement, mostly, affecting process and to some degree, perhaps the outcome of initial effort.

Dennett says, “The fundamental reaction to any mistake ought to be this: “Well, I won’t do that again!” “

That was, in fact, our reaction.  And that reaction, says Dennett, is the start of the reflection that is at the heart of the value of making mistakes.

“…when we reflect, we confront directly the problem that must be solved by any mistake-maker: what, exactly, is that? What was it about what I just did that got me into all this trouble? The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it, and not be just another blind stab in the dark. “

There’s a movement afoot in schools to de-stigmatize the action of making mistakes.

Credit: Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien

Credit: Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien

Mistakes, said authors Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien in a recent Edutopia article (Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes), are the most important thing that happens in any classroom, because they tell you where to focus …deliberate practice,” the exercise of “isolating what’s not working and mastering the difficult area before moving on.”

That’s one of the reasons FIRST robotics is such an effective educational program; mistakes – big glorious messy mechanical mistakes, emotional teamwork mistakes, complicated programming mistakes – are common and, thanks to the culture of FIRST, expected, embraced, documented and built upon.

When we first realized our mistake(s), we were disappointed, sad, frustrated and mad at our ourselves.  Once we could put aside some of the emotion of the experience, we were able to take at serious look at what happened and earnestly evaluate how we wanted to move forward.   And we became excited anew about the fresh possibilities presented as a result of the new knowledge gained from our big mistake, and even somewhat grateful for the experience. (Maybe we’ll be more grateful when a little more time has gone by!)

The folks at GoogleX have a “fail fast, fail often” philosophy.

“If we can get to a no quickly on an idea, that’s almost as good as getting to a yes,” says Rich DeVaul, head of Google X’s Rapid Evaluation team.  (How GoogleX Employees Deal with Failure)

If, as Dennett asserts, anyone who can say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” is standing on the threshold of brilliance, then we’re near geniuses!  But a critical part of making the best of mistakes, Dennett points out, is to not hide from our mistakes, nor to hide our mistakes.   Dennett says we should savor our mistakes, suck out ” all the goodness to be gained from having made them, (and then) cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity.”

It is that indomitable spirit that builds character and resilience, and makes good ideas become workable realities.

Back to the drawing board!

The Power of Nice

survival of the nicestA new book,  Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why it Pays to Get Along, by Stefan Klein,  is revisiting the idea of  “survival of the fittest,” and just what that might really mean in terms of human social interaction.   Reviewed in the wonderful journal,  Greater Good: the Science of a Meaningful Life, ( Does Nature Select for Nice? ),  reviewer Joseph Ferrell says, “Klein argues that selflessness, not selfishness, creates more genetic success, and that proof for this has been gaining momentum among scientists, gradually challenging the “survival of the fittest” model in evolution.”

“If our ancestors had not learned to follow common goals, they would never have become sedentary, never have crossed the oceans and colonized the entire earth…never have invented music, art, and all the comforts of a modern life,” writes Klein, suggesting that the rise of civilizations are likely the result of a selflessness that  is vital to our species’ continued success.

Oftentimes it doesn’t feel that way – that selflessness leads to more success than selfishness.  Big business, big government, brute strength, loud propaganda, steamrolling bosses and coworkers, drivers apoplectic with road rage,  and pushy people on the street and subway would seem to suggest  otherwise, that nice people get kicked to the curb while the self-absorbed rise to the top and reap what often seem to be undeserved rewards.

But if you feel you’re one of the “nice” people – and probably most of the people reading this would feel they fit that category – think about your day, about your circle of friends, about the stranger who smiled at you, or said “excuse me,” or who helped you pick up something you dropped.  More likely, those folks outnumber the others,  who typically substitute volume for substance.

Our work with FIRST youth robotics teams reveals to us regularly the power and promise of selflessness.  In FIRST parlance, it’s known and celebrated as “Gracious Professionalism.”  FIRST students together Coined by Dr. Woody Flowers,  FIRST advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gracious Professionalism, or as the kids call it “GP”,  is “a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.”

Gracious Professionalism, Dr. Flowers says, is  a vital part of pursuing a meaningful life, and he  urges FIRST students to “Go be kind and creative.”

Dr. Flowers gets the power of compassion in a competitive world.

And, indeed, a FIRST tournament can be one big noisy nerdy,  love fest, a combination of fist pumping, chest thumping, gear grinding competitive robotics mashed up with those same competitive kids line dancing with linked arms  happily caterwauling to 80s karaoke.  They understand that even in a field of obvious winners and losers, they are still all friends, bound by their unique shared community that endures beyond the field competitions.

They have learned that they can be nice and successful, and the wonderful schmaltzy rewards of their larger community reinforce that understanding.

No less that Charles Darwin himself pondered the question of altruism and its role in natural selection. In “The Descent of Man,” Darwin wrote, “He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature.”

The question is not, then, “Why is the world so cruel?” But perhaps more appropriately, “How can there possibly be so much kindness in such a cruel world?”  That is the miracle, made abundantly obviously by a nature video gone viral over the last few days, of a hippo gently shoving an injured gnu ashore.  In what way would helping the gnu benefit the hippo?  And yet, the hippo helps.

Clearly, compassion and kindness persist in the most unusual and trying of circumstances.

Instances of heroic selflessness are legion throughout human history, and everyday acts of random kindness are abundant.  Cooperation and collaboration – “Coopertition” FIRST kids know it as – ensures not only individual survival, but the success of a community.

It’s not hard to see what drives some people to ruthlessness.  The real wonder is what makes so many, so nice.

Join us on

Lives of Holy Curiosity

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAs with all great journeys, there are more questions now than answers, not the least of which is, where shall we go from here? As that remains to be answered, all we can do now is keep living life to its fullest.  - Andrea Willingham, our daughter

Life is a work in progress.  We’ve always told our children that.  Sometimes we need them to remind us of that, too, when we lean towards sedentary thinking.

We’ve also always told our children to “Question everything,” to not make a habit of accepting things at face value. Sometimes, as you get older, it’s easier to just accept things. Questioning – and dealing with the sometimes complicated answers – can take a lot of energy, not to mention brutal self honesty in assessing situations and deciding how to proceed with both the questions and the answers sometimes.

In a recent article in Mindshift (Why It’s Imperative to Teach Students How to Question as the Ultimate Survival Skill ) author Warren Berger ( A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (Bloomsbury)) . observed on “Pi Day,”  the anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birthday, as well as my own, that questioning “was a big theme for Einstein, who told us, “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” while also urging us to question everything and “Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Berger designated March 14 “Question Day 2014″ , which I think is my new all time favorite holiday.  I hope this trends!QuestionDayHeader2

Apparently at one time it did.  In  2008, Einstein’s birthday was observed as  “National Question Day”  by the Inquiry Institute, a consulting organization founded by Marilee Adams.   But it didn’t seem to catch on.  I hope Berger’s effort meets with greater success.

“Questioning is a critical tool for learning,” says Berger. ” It helps us solve problems and adapt to change. And increasingly, we’re coming to understand that questioning is a starting point for innovation. In a world of dynamic change, one could say that questions are becoming more important than answers. Today, what we “know” may quickly become outdated or obsolete—and we must constantly question to get to new and better answers.  Questions also spark the imagination.”

With our children grown, and asking new questions that only they can answer, my husband Steve and I found ourselves reevaluating some of  our life and work, and asking hard questions about our own way forward.  It can be especially difficult to set free the things you’ve created.  Like children, the creations we birth often take on lives of their own; bending,  and sometimes breaking,  under the influence of other forces, and other ideas, becoming things other than expected.  If these creations are meant to be, they’ll persevere, follow the course of their own history, unfold in their own way. If they’re not meant to be, they won’t.

What remains is us: The Creators.

And we have so many more questions about so many more things! So we forge onward here, in the next chapter of the next stage of our lives of holy curiosity.

We hope you’ll join us!

-Terri Willingham

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Avoidances Enabled: Highways

Old Baton Rouge Capitol

Storm approaching over Baton Rouge Capitol building

My GPS has this wonderful “Avoidances” feature that allows me to select any of several driving obstacles I’d like to avoid: U-turns, toll roads, traffic, carpool lanes, ferries (?).   When I’m traveling -at least, after I reach my destination – I choose to avoid “Highways.”

bluebonnet swamp

Bluebonnet Swamp

Toodling around  Baton Rouge for the last few days, “avoiding” highways has taken me to some great places in some interesting ways. I’ve seen sights and neighborhoods  that I’d never have enjoyed had a I just hopped up on I-10 or I-12 and puddle jumped between exits.


Raccoon in Bluebonnet Swamp

Taking city streets to the Old Capitol area took me through some gritty areas of Baton Rouge, but also gave me an intimate sense of the history and layout of the city.   Driving main roads to Bluebonnet Swamp richly illustrated the wonder of this fantastic urban greenway, bordered on all sides by homes and businesses and busy roads that give no clue to the wild lands they embrace, or the diversity of nature the park protects.

Baton Rouge statue

Statue on LSU Ag Center grounds

In the same way, entering the LSU Rural Life Museum and Ag Center grounds – an amazing 40 acre oasis of history and botanical beauty – along residential roads that give way to boundless fields and acres of forest made the experience of time travel offered by this unparalleled museum of folk architecture and culture even more powerful.

baton rouge

Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge, like all communities  large and small, is more than the sum of its parts.  It is powered by the energy, perseverance and creativity of  its people, made manifest through that people’s architecture, industry and artistry.  Exit hopping on the highway makes it convenient to forget and easy to miss everything in between those exits that makes it all possible and, more important, that makes it all meaningful.

Tomorrow, I have to disable my highway avoidance and make use of those high speed interstates, at least for some major stretches,  if I’m to have any hope of getting back home in a day, which work and life necessitates.  But I’ll be keenly aware of the lives and livelihoods, of the history and communities, that I’m passing by.  And at the first opportunity, I’ll be taking the first available exit off the highway and getting back to the roads that really take you places.