The coolest thing about kids, I think, is this: They come into this world as a bundle of wonder and curiosity.
BEGINNER MIND POWER
Kids know they don’t know, they’re hard-wired to find out, and they are absolutely single-minded in their efforts. They are the epitome of relentless, the very best role models for persistence.
Every one of them is working on mastery. They all want to know how to do it all well.
It doesn’t stop: walking, talking, tying shoelaces, making friends, riding a bike, playing games, finding out how something works and why you do this and not that. On and on and on.
They notice everything (especially the stuff the adults would rather they didn’t) and they are interested in every single little thing they encounter.
Their major mistakes are usually the result of ignorance. They just don’t know enough yet and a lot of their plans fall apart because of that. (That tends to give the people who care about them the heebie-jeebies, but so what?)
When they’re starting out, kids are determined to catch on and catch up.
They want to do it themselves.
They want to get good and they want to show they know what they know.
SMALL IS COOL
Kids start small. After all, they are little and they are weak and have to depend on the Bigs around them just for survival. (But, THAT is gonna change! Uh-huh.)
Every time they make a misstep, it’s usually just a small hiccup in their forward progress.
The little guys haven’t gotten to the big stuff yet and if they’ve got Bigs who help to keep them mostly safe from the ordinary life-threatening stuff, kids can pick themselves up and try again…and again and again…until they get to where they want to go.
If the circumstances in their lives are harder, more unfortunate, or even downright dangerous, then the ones who survive learn more and they learn faster and often they get even better at not giving up.
Every little win is its own reward. (One more down, what’s next?)
TIME IS ON THEIR SIDE
Kids know time is on their side.
They’re going to get bigger.
They’re going to get those flabby muscles built up and that tongue moving right.
They already know how to act cute, and they are going to learn how to make friends and influence all those Bigs too.
They’re going to keep on going until they get there.
Kids only absolutely know they have Now, and Now is when they want to do something, so they work with whatever they’ve got going and they do what they can with it.
They’re going to find out everything they need to know about everything they want to know…just, EVERYTHING.
PLAY AS SERIOUS WORK
Kids also know that play is really serious work. It’s how you learn what you need to know.
When they get the chance to play, they will go for it. Why not? Maybe they will learn something.
You can just see the wheels turning as they play.
You can just imagine them thinking, You watch: I’m going to get out there and I’m going to rock the world! Yes, I am!
GETTING BACK TO THE MOJO
Sounds familiar, right?
We all started out like that. Some of us manage to hang onto the wonder and use it to leverage ourselves up and on to doing more and more amazing things. The rest of us wonder how come we don’t.
There are a lot of lessons you can learn about mastery by watching kids. Here are some examples:
IT ALL STARTS WITH WONDER AND INTEREST. Even as adults, we know this. If you are not interested in something, you just don’t pay attention to it and you don’t notice the lessons that are right there in front of you.
SMALL WORKS. We’re all little compared to the Universe. We all have limitations. We get to where we want to go by doing what we can with what we’ve got.
NOW IS WHEN YOU DO SOMETHING. It’s the only time when you can. You can’t change the past. The future is out of reach. There really is no other when to do something.
PERSISTENCE AND WILL RULES. If you haven’t gotten to where you want to go yet, then that’s a sign that you’re not done yet.
MIS-STEPS AND MISTAKES THAT DON’T KILL YOU DON’T MATTER. So you fell down. Ouch! Now try to get back up. Not happening? Well, hell…you can crawl, right?
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Whatever you know is what you know. What you know can be used to get to where you want to go. What else do you want or need to know? Go get it.
PLAY IS HOW YOU LEARN.
Isn’t it funny that these lessons are the same ones that we hear from all the wise guys and life counselors and self-help books?
My theory is that somehow, on our way to learning how to be adults, we got distracted by the details and have forgotten the power with which we were born.
I get the feeling that power’s still there, waiting for you to notice, and if you’ve forgotten what it looks like, then the Universe has lots and lots of little guys who can help you remember.
My own feeling is, if you’re stuck in the suck of trying to be a cog in some wheel not of your own making, the best thing you can do is watch kids…your own kids, kids belonging to your friends and family, stranger kids doing their thing, whatever.
Watch what they do. See what works. Do that.
This YouTube video is a compilation of jaw-dropping performances by some amazing kids. It was put together by People Are Awesome in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
The world is a bigger cup
Than your small hands can manage.
It is heavy and close to overflowing.
The hot liquid heart-blood it holds
Burns your fingers
As you concentrate on not-dropping,
As you try yet again to
Navigate over another
Wide, slick, sparkly-clean floor.
Your wrists ache
And you grit your teeth.
You try, try, try,
Harder and harder,
To hold onto that cup
That seems to get heavier
As you walk along.
There it goes…
The cup’s lying there, emptied,
And all the stuff’s spread out
In one grand sploosh spattered all over
That proud new pair of shoes
As old issues come bubbling up to blindside you,
As the shouting starts you notice that
The issues are not even yours.
Toddler lessons revisited:
My small, but not my bad.
It helps to remember that
The world is heavy
And it’s way, way big for small people…
It helps to remember that
We are all small.
Maybe we just need smaller cups.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Power” by BadWolfBobbi via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
It’s a very different take than the more usual “give until it hurts” that Mother Theresa espoused.
Mother Theresa’s thing seems to encourage a degree of selflessness that’s way over the top. Some folks take it to mean that you’re supposed to give and give and give until you’ve nothing left to give….and then you give some more.
With that one, I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do when you’re totally depleted and unable any more to take care of your own self, your own dreams, and the responsibilities that are yours.
I’ve often wondered.
MINDFULNESS AND GIVING
Levinson’s take on the whole giving thing seems, instead, to encourage mindfulness, looking at whether the “help” you’re giving is actually a help to the other person and is not a detriment to yourself.
Is this help you are giving effective?
Are you empowering the other person?
Does the help you are giving encourage the recipient to continue walking their own road?
Does it help them to build themselves up so they can tackle their own problems?
Very often, you have to watch to make sure that the responses and moves you’re evoking from the other person as a result of the actions you’ve taken are heading in the direction that can allow them to make the best use of the energy (money, time, talent) that you’ve expended on their behalf.
So, what happens if it doesn’t? What if your gift keeps the other person from learning the lessons they need to learn? What if your gift actually diminishes them?
An everyday example of that is the effects of being raised by a so-called “helicopter parent.”
A well-meaning, overprotective parent who does your chores and your homework for you; tries to resolve your every social problem; is your personal rally squad who cheers you on for every little thing you might accomplish and attempts to completely eliminate any sort of contact you might have with frustration of any sort is NOT a help.
If every obstacle is eliminated for you, how are you going to learn how to do your own work-arounds and develop your own strengths to power on through the potholes and hurdles and to fix your own mistakes?
If your way of giving involves solving another person’s problems without giving them the chance to face their own challenges, the net result is that your gift can prevent them from developing their own abilities and making their own choices and decisions.
It sends the unfortunate message that you don’t think they can do it without your help. Is that a message you want to send?
AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Also, a major question you might want to ponder is this: When you are making this gift, are you using your available resources in a way that adds meaning and mana (inherent power) to your own life?
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written about the positive effect generosity can have on one’s sense of freedom and our own sense of self.
When we give, we continually test our limits, she says. “The practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.”
The late poet Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What other meaning does the power of giving lend to your life? Is it worth the cost?
TWO ENDS OF A GIFTING TRANSACTION
It occurs to me that every gift has a giver and a receiver. The gift is a transfer of life-energy from one to another.
Gifting is always a transaction between the one who gives and the one who receives.
The thing is, human relationships are always complex. Questions to ask yourself before you offer to help someone with more than an easy-fix problem are these:
Does the person want your help?
Is the person ready to accept your help?
Do you have the skill, the time and the inclination to do what is really needed? Trying to help people when you don’t have the skills or the time or the commitment to a project is likely to do more harm than good.
Jumping into somebody else’s life and messing with their “stuff” does require a lot of heavy thinking beforehand. Be respectful. Be careful. That may be somebody’s heart you’re stepping on.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING?
Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitching in. Some project needs to be completed and you are willing and able to lend a hand.
The goal is clear, everybody agrees on the purpose and the method is fairly obvious. You go.
However, it does get more confusing and a lot more difficult when you’re trying to help others as they cope with circumstances that are catastrophic or perhaps the result of societal issues over which they have little control.
This YouTube video, “Help That Helps – Giving What Is Really Needed,” was published in 2016 by the Visalia Rescue Mission. It was put together by people who spend their days providing concrete help in many different ways for the homeless in their area.
The major take-away from this one is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the bigger, more problematic circumstances humans often face.
The book has a Christian bent. Its goal is to educate missionaries and ministries as well as other helpers who work in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas about how to effectively alleviate poverty for the long-term.
The authors advise that these helpers need to focus on the resources and abilities a community already has rather than focusing on what the community does not have.
The book is an interesting read for anyone who’d like to gain a better understanding of the different facets of helping those in need.
HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’RE GIVING TOO MUCH
Professor Shawn Meghan Burn’s 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Twelve Signs That You are Giving Too Much,” gives a rundown of the signs that the help you are giving to someone may be dysfunctional and unhealthy.
He says the most successful and effective givers are those who rate high in concern for others and also in self-interest.
These givers contribute in ways that reinforce their social ties and they say yes to the things they for which they have the unique skills, resources or time to give.
They also limit what they do.
Failed givers, Grant says, tend to say “yes” to everything. Often they end up either overwhelmed, ineffectual, or resentful and put-upon.
LOOKING FOR THE SIGNS
Perhaps Levinson is right. Looking at the real effects of what you do to help other people can guide you in determining how much you give and how.
If what you are doing is truly a help, then it makes sense to keep on doing what you’re doing.
If it does not help (either because you’re making stupid or ineffective moves or because you’re dealing with blind people), then it’s probably a good idea to stop whatever you’re doing and reassess.
As one commentator pointed out, if you help the wrong person for the wrong reason or in an ineffectual way, you may miss opportunities to really help the right person who needs the kind of help you can gladly give.
GIVING IS A GOOD THING
We all agree that helping people is a good thing. We believe that it’s a way to ensure our own happiness.
Wise guys have told us that forever.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
Saints, power dudes and other famous sorts all tout giving and serving others as the way to happiness.
Even scientific research provides compelling anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.
The guys in the lab coats have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology to map out how giving activates the pleasure centers in the brain, just like food and sex.
Humans are hard-wired to feel great about giving, it says here. We like doing it. Giving makes us happy.
For some people, giving is as natural as breathing. For others, not so much.
If you feel like you are starving to death and the world is set up to take everything you have away from you, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be moved to generosity very often.
Generosity is a learned response and you can learn it from the people around you.
That’s what research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests, anyway. He concluded that it is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity.
This 2015 YouTube video, “Joy” was a story presented by Ashok Ramasubramanian in Speakeasy DC’s monthly storytelling series. It was part of a show at Town Danceboutique, a bar in Washington, DC, on the theme, “The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right and wrong reason.”
The video gives an example of how someone can be influenced towards more generosity. It’s also an engaging story.
Smith is not completely convinced that the increased activity that happens in the brain when we are being generous is actually responsible for increasing our happiness.
Maybe all that cogitating is triggered by questions like, “Should I?”, “Can I?”, “Is this worth it?”
He’s one of the guys who suggest that, maybe, because generous people tend to view the world as safe, secure and abundant, it could just be that they are happy because they have a generally sunny outlook. Whatever.
It’s a funny thing, though. Even seeing other people’s generosity tends to be uplifting and induces a bit of teary-eyed smiling. This sweet video, “The Most Generous Boy in the World,” published by filmmaker Meir Kay in 2017, is a smile-maker that way.
Another science of generosity finding backed by a lot of anecdotes and stories is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion he or she often feels. This compassion is likely to increase the tendency to be generous.
One of my favorite YouTube videos is this 2013 short film made by TrueMoveH, “Inspiring Power of Giving and the Power of Veggie Soup” that was published by Get Your Health Up in 2013. (Got your Kleenex handy?)
Here’s a poem:
An everyday wonder are the friends of your heart,
They see you and they let you know you are there with them.
They cherish you for who you are
And they honor what you are making of your own true self.
Their love’s embrace is soft,
But the love is solid and deep.
Like a gentle bay, they invite you to come and play
On warm, golden sands shaded by tall trees
With leaves that rustle in the softest breezes,
And swim in calm waters ringed by strong reefs.
You can build sand castles there.
You can float in the water cradled between sand and sun,
A peaceful bit of flotsam among the ripples.
Like the moana beyond the reef,
The deep, rolling waves of their love
Carry you on your way beyond the horizons
To new worlds that you can only imagine
As you dream on the beach while you watch the sun set.
I’ve just read Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s book, THINKING FAST AND SLOW, which is a summary of Kahneman’s lifetime study on how the mind works.
Kahneman, now in his 80’s, has been called “one of the world’s most influential living psychologists.” His work – which includes things with names like prospect theory, loss aversion, anchoring, separate mental accounting, the representativeness bias and the availability bias — has helped to shape and continues to influence the field of behavioral economics and finance.
For laymen, the book lays out Kahneman’s insights about two often-conflicting systems we humans use for making decisions. The book is written in a clear and engaging style that led to the book becoming an international bestseller in 2011.
I’ll probably go back to read this book several more times. It’ll be a reference book for me, sitting on my shelf.
THINKING FAST AND SLOW is one of those primers that is just chock-a-block full of useful insights that can be applied to regular living. It’s worth more than one visit.
THE TWO “SYSTEMS” OF THOUGHT
In his book, Kahneman builds mind-constructs that delineate and explain the two main ways we humans use our minds to decide how to move in the world.
These constructs are based on work from the decades-long collaboration he maintained with another brilliant psychologist, Amos Turyev, whose focus of study was decision-making and judgement. Turyev died in 1996 at the age of 59.
Kahneman sticks labels that he got from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West on the constructs – System 1 (the automatic system) and System 2 (the effortful system).
As Kahneman explains them, these systems each have inherent strengths and weaknesses. They are available to us at all times. If we can learn how to work with both of them, then we’re likely to reach better decisions than if we rely only on one or the other.
GOING ON AUTOMATIC PILOT
System 1 operates with little or no effort. It’s sort of like breathing. You don’t need to call it up and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.
System 1 is always there, at the ready for action, and it is lightning-fast.
Because of this system of thinking we are all really good at creating a consistent story from the data and the observations we have on hand.
With that story, we can make up ways of walking and directions to take. We can create new things, evoking a Something out of the possibilities that present themselves because we have and believe that story.
This is cool and all, but there does happen to be a downside to it.
With System 1 running, we see what we see, throw in memories of old lessons learned and mix in assorted hints and rumors and allegations we’ve heard from someplace or other to build a logical sort of a story that becomes a platform from where we can launch off in some direction or other.
Kahneman likes to call the underlying mode of this system by the acronym WYSIATI for “what-you- see-is-all-there-is.”
Notice how the picture above is an automatic story-starter. (You can check out the photographer’s story about it by clicking on the caption. Did your story come close?)
In our almost-immediate story-creating, we do tend to ignore sometimes-critical information. After all, if we can construct a logical story from the information we have, why bother to see new facts, figures or ideas? Right?
Rebel-psychiatrist R. D. Laing once famously said, “If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.” (Read that again. Like much of Laing’s work, it’s confusing but it does make sense.)
The fact that we are so prone to take things at face value does have a bearing on the problem with just running with System 1. When it comes to making decisions, we can be fearless in our ignorance.
In the absence of detailed, accurate knowledge we can construct stories that support our beliefs and act on those beliefs with a confidence that can border on insanity.
Using System 1, you can effortlessly form impressions and generate feelings that can be used to build complex patterns of ideas that engage your interest and influence your decisions.
You can even react to a threat before you recognize that it is one. (Sometimes you’re even right.)
The one fly in the soup is this: System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of information we hold. All it looks for is a coherent, believable story.
It’s the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness.
We can make totally believable stories with next to no facts. We can even make totally believable stories out of downright lies.
That can be a problem.
Very often in our System 1 parkour-style free-running through life, we neglect to suss out the big drop on the other side of the low wall we’re jumping over and…ouch! Street-pizza happens.
[This awesome 2018 YouTube video, “Late For Work – Parkour Run,” was published by urbanamadei. I figured we needed a break from all the heavy-duty thinking.]
WORKING ON THROUGH SYSTEM 2
Kahneman calls the conscious and deliberative System 2 thinking “effortful.” It is neither automatic nor is it easy.
You would be likely to tap into System 2 thinking when you’re trying to solve one of those durned word puzzles on a math test. Very often these riddles are tricky. The first answer that comes to mind is probably not going to be the right one.
Here’s a cute animated YouTube video published in 2017 by funza Academy, “The Bat and Ball Problem That 50% of Harvard Students Got Wrong.”
As the video points out, we really have to push ourselves to get into the process of System 2 thinking. The mental work involved is deliberate, effortful and orderly.
If you are really grinding on a complex problem, even your body gets involved. Your muscles tense up, your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases. Your pupils dilate. You stress.
It doesn’t stop until you either solve the problem or you give up.
Only the slower System 2 thinking can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps. To activate it and use it, you do have to pay much more attention to what you are doing than when you use the automatic System 1.
Think of an American driving in Europe for the first time. There she goes, driving down what she totally feels is the wrong side of the road.
You’d better believe she is paying strict attention to what she is doing, especially if that road gets busy.
The other thing System 2 can do, Kahneman says, is to overrule the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1.
System 2 goes into action when you need to control yourself. When you’ve already made a mistake because of your inattention that requires fixing, you’ll reach for the System 2 thinking. When you need to be logical and rational, System 2 will be there on-call.
System 2 will keep you polite when you’re angry. When you’re driving at night, System 2 helps to keep you alert.
Also, when System 1 runs into difficulty, when tried-and-true solutions to some problem does not work or when you encounter a question for which you have no answer, System 2 can be mobilized to look for new solutions and for better answers.
The biggest problem with System 2 thinking is the urge to keep looking for one more factoid, one more factor, or one more aspect or angle. You can get so caught up in analyzing and philosophizing that you forget to get up off your behind and start doing.
“Paralysis by analysis” sets in and you need to call in System 1 thinking to cut to the chase.
When you get to the point where all the fact-gathering has you in “Park,” you need to dismiss the System 2 thinking and let the System 1 thinking take over again. Otherwise you’re never going to get out of the parking lot.
You take all your new insights and information from the System 2 thinking and you build another story using the System 1 thinking. Then you go.
The following YouTube video, published by The Commonsence in 2018, presents some thoughts on how to work with both of the systems in day-to-day living.
Knowing fast and slow thinking are a part of your mind’s toolbox means that you’ll be able to use them appropriately as needed, it seems to me.
I do recommend Kahneman’s THINKING FAST AND SLOW. It has a plethora of insights and ideas that can help you understand about how you are thinking and why you do that. It can also help you direct your course corrections more consciously.
One thing that Kahneman does not emphasize in the book is the part where you take all the insights you’ve worked so hard to gather using the System 2 explorations and figure out how to sink that new knowledge down into your bones so that the insights become a more permanent part of your System 1 story-making.
That one is the result of doing, repetition and deliberate practice — something athletes, martial artists and Makers of every stripe know is necessary to develop mastery. And that’s a whole other story….
Here’s a poem:
SLOW THINKER LAMENT
This is irritating!
In a world of fast thinkers and pyrotechnic wizards,