“As I was telling Mrs. Kirkistan…”
Our unguarded responses in conversation often point a way forward. It’s just that we don’t realize it until we’ve said it. And even then, it may take us recollecting that statement, in yet another conversation, to an entirely different person.
Example: sometimes I think writing is the stupidest thing to do on earth. This is not my standard line with writing students. But sometimes I swing low, like after I finish a big project and stop to calculate the return on (mental) investment.
Note to self: Never stop to calculate the mental ROI on a writing project. Just keep writing.
I was describing to Mrs. Kirkistan how it is I’ve come to believe writing is the stupidest way to spend your time—bar none. In that conversation, after several (verbal) paragraphs about all the frustrations of writing and why I’ve come to despise it, I found myself defending the process and telling of the delights of writing and what I want to do next.
How did I just travel from one conclusion to another within 90 seconds?
It’s almost like opening a water tap in a long vacant house: you let the water run until it is cold, then you drink. I know with writing you have to write a lot of dreck before you ever get the useful and true stuff. Same with verbal conversations: sometimes we just talk to fill up the space between us. And then sometimes the true thing just spoken—that thing that landed between us—is the very answer to an unasked question.
We unwittingly answer our own question.
But, this: we need to listen so we can hear what we already knew.
Moral: make sure there are some unguarded responses in each day. And listen to those unguarded responses to help sort what you don’t know.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Feed your existential intelligence
I’m gearing up to teach again: freelance copywriting and social media marketing. My understanding of communication and writing and the volunteer social-media tethering we do continues to evolve. I can talk and teach and speculate about what works for communication and how to provide what a client needs. I can talk about how we need to help our clients think—that is a piece of the value-add a smart copywriter brings to a relationship. But these days I’m seeing more limits and caveats—especially in the promises inherent in social media.
These are English students and communications and journalism. Some business students. Juniors and seniors. Many are excellent writers. Many, if not most, have worked hard to develop an existential intelligence, as Howard Gardner puts it. I teach at a Christian college, and from very many discussions with students, I know they will seek a place for faith in their life and work and life-work balance. Many if not all are just as eager to make meaning as they are to find a job.
That pleases me.
That’s one of the reasons I like to teach there.
One thing I’ve learned is that work alone does not satisfy the meaning-making part of life. Nor does work itself feed the existential intelligence. Craft comes close. Especially when we grow in our craft as we seek to serve others. But work and craft and meaning-making must be purposefully-pursued.
Because if we don’t pursue them, we fall prey to entertainment. We gradually anesthetize ourselves and starve the existential intelligence with the well-deserved zone-out time in front of the big screen TV. I’m starting to wonder if some of our social media habits also starve our existential intelligence.
I wonder because I wrestle with these impulses.
No. One does not fall into meaning-making. It takes work to make meaning.
I suppose that is the work of a lifetime.
Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston
Some say there is
Trump wants power, of course. So do each of the Republican candidates for president. Just like the Democrat candidates—every candidate wants power and pledges to do right by those who grant them power. We are no different from those candidates: We all want power. We want colleagues to listen to us, spouses to bend to our will, children to follow our directives.
We want what we want. Especially because what we want is good and pure and right, holy and God-ordained.
One ancient writer thought there might be a different way. Old (dead) Dr. Luke quoted Jesus as saying you are better off finding a way to help the helpless then you are arguing over who is most powerful. Helping those who have no way to pay you back opens doors to a different sort of life that has very little to do with amassing power.
In fact—all that energy you spent manipulating and maneuvering into power—it’s not likely to lead you to the kind of solid ground that matters most.
What would our presidential politics look like if candidates thought about serving rather than voicing shameful prejudices that pry power from blocks of fearful voters? Likely that would not be covered by the media, because there is no story in that.
The institutions and organizations that own the candidates would not like that.
But humans might actually flourish in those conditions.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people.
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon. It typically happens in conversation—not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get at the bottom of things. I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love truth more than you love your own current state of understanding. This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.
–Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (NY: Farrar, Straux and Giroux, 2015) 63
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston