Category Archives: Education

Best Commencement Speeches: Chadwick Boseman

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

On May 12, 2018, a young actor delivered the 150th commencement speech to a capacity crowd of over 20,000 people at Howard University. There was tremendous excitement and anticipation surrounding his appearance since his recent film was one of the highest grossing films that year, earning over $1 billion worldwide at the box office. Little did the graduates know that the actor was not just a hero in films, he was a hero in real life as he courageously and silently was battling colon cancer since 2016. After his death in August 2020, his words of wisdom on that summer day would be even more meaningful to that graduating class — and now the world. Who is this actor? The then 42-year-old American actor Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther, two Avengers films, Get On Up, and Marshall. Variety film critic Owne Gleiberman observed, “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out [and he] knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions… That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero.” Michele and Barack Obama added, “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.” Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University, expressed his conflicting emotions: “I feel strange. I am overjoyed — not that I got to know him — but that he lived and in doing so, he taught us how to live fully and how to embrace life through all its opportunities, flaws, and weaknesses. I don’t think he hid from any of those things. He wore them gracefully. His ability to set that example is so touching and that, to me, is what is resonating now. He lived fully. His time wasn’t short. He maximized what he had.”

One of the most quoted passages from the speech is this: “Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Here is the full text of Chadwick Boseman’s inspiring commencement speech to the graduates at Howard University:

“It is a great privilege, graduates to address you on your day, a day marking one of the most important accomplishments of your life to date. This is a magical place, a place where the dynamics of positive and negative seem to exist in extremes. I remember walking across this yard on what seemed to be a random day, my head down lost in my own world of issues like many of you do daily. I’m almost at the center of the yard. I raised my head and Muhammad Ali was walking towards me. Time seemed to slow down as his eyes locked on mine and opened wide. He raised his fist to a quintessential guard.

I was game to play along with him, to act as if I was a worthy opponent. What an honor to be challenged by the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, for a brief moment. His face was as serious as if I was Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. His movements were flashes of a past greater than I can imagine. His security let the joke play along for a second before they ushered him away, and I walked away floating like a butterfly. I walked away amused at him, amused at myself, amused at life for this moment that almost no one would ever believe. I walked away light and ready to take on the world. That is the magic of this place. Almost anything can happen here. HU! You know!

Howard University, I was riding here and I heard on the radio, somebody called it Wakanda University. But it has many names, the Mecca, the Hilltop. It only takes one hour, one tour of the physical campus to understand why we call it the Hilltop. Every day is leg day here. That’s why some of you have cars. During my junior and senior years, I lived in a house off campus at Bryant Street. For those of you… That’s right, Bryant Street. For those of you who don’t know what that means, that’s at the bottom of the hill where the incline gets real. Almost every day I would walk the full length of the hill to Fine Arts, where most of my classes were, carrying all of my books, because once you walked that far on foot, you are not walking back home until it’s time to go home for good.

But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here. You have been climbing this academic slope for at least three or four years. For some of you, maybe even a little bit more. Throughout ancient times, institutions of learning have been built on top of hills to convey that great struggle is required to achieve degrees of enlightenment. Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill. For some of you, the challenge was actually academics. When you hear the words magna cum laude, cum laude, you know that’s not you. That’s not you. You worked hard. You did your best, but you didn’t make A’s or B’s, sometimes C’s. You never made the dean’s list, but that’s okay. You are here on top of the hill.

I want to say something to that. You know, sometimes your grades don’t give a real indication of what your greatness might be. So, it really is okay. For others it was financial. You and your family struggled to make ends meet. Every semester of your matriculation you had to stand in one line to get to another line, to get to another line for somebody that might help you. You had to work an extra job, or two, but you are here.

For a lot of you, not all, but a lot of you, your hardest struggle was social. Some of you never fit in. You were never as cool and as popular as you wanted to be, and it bothers you. So, your social struggles here became psychological. Even though you made it up to hill, you carried the baggage of rejection with you, but you are here.

Some of you went through something traumatic. You made it to the top of the hill but not without scars and bruises. Some of you fit in too much. You were on the yard rapping on your frat block when you were supposed to be in class. Or you got caught up into DC party life. I know how that is. I mean, we are right here in the midst of the city. Sometimes you forgot you were in school. You probably could have graduated with honors, but instead you are getting an “Oh yeah” degree today. Oh yeah, I have class. Oh yeah, I have that paper due. Oh yeah, I have a final. You were literally too cool for school. You waited until the last minute to do your best work and it’s a wonder that you made it up the hill at all because you carry the baggage of too much acceptance.

Most of you graduating here today struggled against one or more of the impediments or obstacles I’ve mentioned in order to reach this hilltop. When completing a long climb, one first experiences dizziness, disorientation and shortness of breath due to the high altitude, but once you become accustomed to the climb, your mind opens up to the tranquility of the triumph.

Oftentimes, the mind is flooded with realizations that were, for some reason, harder to come to when you were at a lower elevation. At this moment, most of you need some realizations because right now you have some big decisions to make. Right now, I urge you in your breath, in your eyes, in your consciousness — invest in the importance of this moment and cherish it. I know some of you might’ve partied last night. You should, you should celebrate, but this moment is also a part of that celebration. So, savor the taste of your triumphs today. Don’t just swallow the moment whole without digesting what has actually happened here. Look down over what you conquered and appreciate what God has brought you through.

Some of you here struggled against the university itself. This year, students protested and took over the A building, formulated a list of demands and negotiated with our president and administration to determine the direction of our institution. It’s impressive. Similarly, during my years here at Howard, we also protested and took over the A building in order to preserve Howard’s alum, in order to preserve Howard’s annual appropriations from Congress. President H. Patrick Swygert decided to reduce the number of colleges at the university. By his plan, engineering would need to merge with architecture. Nursing would merge with allied health and the fine arts, my school, will be absorbed by arts and sciences. That’s how we saw it, absorbed.

For many of us in fine arts, this signaled to us that our curriculums, all the curriculums of students following us, might become watered-down concentrations. This undermined the very legacy we were proud to be a part of and aimed to continue. The fine arts program had produced Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Isaiah Washington, Richard Wesley, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, just to name a few. We felt that… Yes, yes. You could go on and on. You can go on and on. You can go on and on. We felt that we could compete with students from Juilliard, NYU and Carroll Arts as long as we continued to have a concentrated dosage that rivaled a conservatory experience, but without it…

Although we took over the A building for several days and presented our arguments to President Swygert and the administration, the schools were still merged. Thus, the current collection or formation of schools exists. That’s why I view your recent protest as such an accomplishment for both sides of the debate, student and administration. I didn’t come here to take sides. My interest is what’s best for the school.

A Howard University education is not just about what happens in the classroom, students. In some ways, what you were able to do exemplifies some of the skills you learned in the classroom. It takes the education out of the realm of theory and into utility and practice. Obviously, your organizational skills were unprecedented. I’m told that you organized shifts so that you could at least continue some of your classes. We missed all our classes. We were in the A building. I’m told that through donations, there was always an ample helping of food. I probably ate a slice of pizza during the entirety of our three-day protest.

Your organization and planning was impeccable. You received the majority of your demands, making a significant impact on those who came after you. As is often the case, those that follow most often enjoy the results of the progress you gained. You love the university enough to struggle with it. Now, I have to ask you that you have to continue to do that even now that you received your demands. Even if you are walking today, you have to continue to do that. Everything that you fought for was not for yourself. It was for those that come after. You could have been disgruntled and transferred, but you fought to be participants in making this institution the best that it can be. But I must also applaud President Wayne Frederick and the administration for listening to the students.

Your freedom of speech was exercised in a way where you can contribute to this place. It also shows that you can contribute to the democracy. The administration and the campus police at the time when I was protesting were not nearly as open-minded as this current one. I know this was a difficult time, but because of both of you, I believe Howard is a few steps closer to the actualization of its potential, the potential that many of us have dreamed for it. Students, your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.

I was on a roll when I entered the system of entertainment, theater, television and film. In my first New York audition for a professional play I landed the lead role. From that play, I got my first agent. From that agent, I got an on-screen audition. It was a soap opera. It wasn’t Third Watch. It was a soap opera on a major network. I scored that role, too. I felt like Mike Tyson when he first came on the scene knocking out opponents in the first round. With this soap opera gig, I was already promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen. I was feeling myself. But once I got the first script, with soap operas you very often get the script the night before and then you shoot the whole episode in one day with little to no time to prepare.

Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted. The role wasn’t necessarily stereotypical. A young man in his formative years with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement. That’s somebody’s real story. Never judge the characters you play. That’s what we were always taught. That’s the first rule of acting. Any role played honestly can be empowering, but I was conflicted because this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as Black folk. The writing failed to search for specificity. Plus, there was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character, barely a glimpse of hope. I would have to make something out of nothing. I was conflicted. Howard had instilled in me a certain amount of pride and for my taste this role didn’t live up to those standards.

It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, “Well, he left when you were younger.” Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, “Well, of course she is on heroin.”

That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the Black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. One of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it. The other exec wore a smile and was now trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before — “If there is anything you need, just let us know.” She said, “As you have seen, things move really fast around here, but we are more than happy to connect you with the writers if you have suggestions.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that would be great.” I said, “because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t know if you guys have decided on all the facts, but maybe there are some things we could come up with, some talent or gift that we can build. Maybe he is really good at math or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play this character like a victim.”

“So, you went to Howard University, huh?” the exec holding my resume interrupted, peeking over the pages. “Yes,” I said proudly. He slid my resume back in his desk and said, “Thank you for your concerns. We will be watching you.”

I left the office. I shot the episode I had come in to shoot on that day. Probably the best one I did out of the three because I got one that was bothering me off my chest. I was let go from that job on the next day. I got a phone call from my agent. They decided to go another way. The questions that I asked set the producers on guard and perhaps paved the way for less stereotypical portrayal for the Black actor that stepped into the role after me.

As the Scripture says, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God kept it growing.” God kept it growing. Yet and still, when you invest in a seed, watching it grow without you, that is a bitter pill to swallow, a bitter pill. Anybody that has ever been fired knows what I’m talking about. Even if you really don’t want the job, when they let you go, it’s like any break-up, you act like you don’t care. I didn’t need that damn job anyway. I didn’t need them.

But when you have those moments alone, you start to wonder if there was a better way to handle it. If you could have handled it better maybe you could help your family. Then before you know it, you are broke. You find yourself scraping together change just so you can ride the subway, so that you could get the next job. Maybe if you could book something else that would eclipse the feeling of doubt that’s building, but it seems like you can’t pay them to hire you now.

My agents at the time told me it might be a while before I got a job acting on screen again. Well, that was fine because I never wanted to act in the first place. And I definitely didn’t want to be caught dead going after a fake Hollywood pipe dream. I’m more of a writer, director anyway, so forget their stories. I can tell my own stories. But am I actually blackballed? “We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult.” As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.

But what do you do when the principle and the standards that were instilled in you here at Howard closed the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is and how need to fight it. At some point, my mind reverted back to my experiences here, to the professors that challenged me and struggled against me, Professor Robert Williams, Doctor Singleton, George Epstein, to name a few, the ones that will fail you out of the goodness of their hearts.

This may be hard to grasp for some of you right now, but I even considered President Swygert and how negotiating with him was practice for a world that was considerably more cruel and unforgiving than any debate here, one that had no interest in my ideals and beliefs. How would I maneuver through all of this?

Finally, I thought of Ali in the middle of the yard in his elder years, drawing from his victories and his losses. At that moment I realized something new about the greatness of Ali and how he carried his crown. I realized that he was transferring something to me on that day. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter in me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you. God says in Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone that’s holding you back away from the door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory then you will not regret it.

Now, this is your time. The light of new realizations shines on you today. Howard’s legacy is not wrapped up in the money that you will make but the challenges that you choose to confront. As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose. God bless you. I love you, Howard. Howard forever!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related post: Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
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Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
Best Books for Graduates 2015

Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/howard-university-president-reflects-on-chadwick-bosemans-commencement-speech-it-shows-his-grace
cnn.com/2020/08/29/us/howard-university-commencement-speech-chadwick-boseman-trnd/index.html

 


Best Commencement Speeches: Rick Rigsby

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

Dr. Rick Rigsby is an ordained minister and President and CEO of Rick Rigby Communications; he travels around the world as a motivational speaker teaching people about leadership principles. Prior to that, Rigsby was an award-winning television news reporter, a college professor at CSU Fresno and Texas A&M (where he earned the Outstanding Teaching Award), and served as chaplain and character coach for the Texas A&M Aggies football team. He has earned four degrees: BA in Mass Communications; MA in Public Communications; MA in Biblical Theology; and a PhD in Critical Media Studies. Rigsby is the author of the bestselling book Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout: How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation. Rigsby was born in Vallejo, California in 1956 to working class parents. His mother was a forklift operator at the Venetia Arsenal and his father was a cook at the California Maritime Academy. In his motivational speeches, Rigsby draws on his life experiences to share the wisdom of his working class parents who taught him enduring values and life lessons and inspired lifelong learning. As his website explains: “Inspired by a genuine conviction to help people realize their full potential [Rigsby] brings a combined four decades of experience and expertise… [He] encourages, inspires and challenges people at every level to dream bigger, stretch beyond comfort zones and achieve the impossible!” Below is Rigby’s powerful, poignant, and inspiring commencement speech, titled “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout” to the graduating class of the California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo on April 22, 2017. It is filled with several insightful and transformative life lessons drawn from his personal journey. It is no wonder that this graduation speech has been viewed over 14 million times:

The wisest person I ever met in my life, a third-grade dropout. Wisest and dropout in the same sentence is rather oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp. Like fun run — ain’t nothing fun about it. Like Microsoft Works — y’all don’t hear me. I used to say [I] like country music — but I’ve lived in Texas so long, I love country music now. Yeah! I hunt. I fish. I have cowboy boots and cowboy… Y’all, I’m a blackneck redneck. Do you hear what I’m saying to you? [It’s] no longer oxymoronic for me to say country music and it’s not oxymoronic for me to say third grade and dropout.

That third grade dropout, the wisest person I ever met in my life, who taught me to combine knowledge and wisdom to make an impact, was my father, a simple cook, wisest man I ever met in my life. Just a simple cook. Left school in the third grade to help out on the family farm but just because he left school doesn’t mean his education stopped. Mark Twain once said, “I’ve never allowed my schooling to get in the way of my education.” My father taught himself how to read, taught himself how to write, decided in the midst of Jim Crowism, as America was breathing the last gasp of the Civil War, my father decided he was going to stand and be a man, not a black man, not a brown man, not a white man, but a man. He literally challenged himself to be the best that he could all the days of his life.

I have four degrees. My brother is a judge. We’re not the smartest ones in our family — it’s a third grade dropout daddy, a third grade dropout daddy who was quoting Michelangelo, saying to us boys, “I won’t have a problem if you aim high and miss, but I’m gonna have a real issue if you aim low and hit.” A country mother quoting Henry Ford, saying, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” I learned that from a third grade drop. Simple lessons, lessons like these. “Son, you’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.” We never knew what time it was at my house because the clocks were always ahead. My mother said, for nearly 30 years, my father left the house at 3:45 in the morning, one day, she asked him, “Why, Daddy?” He said, “Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.”

I want to share a few things with you. Aristotle said, “You are what you repeatedly do.” Therefore, excellence ought to be a habit, not an act. Don’t ever forget that. I know you’re tough. I know you’re seaworthy, but always remember to be kind, always. Don’t ever forget that. Never embarrass Mama. Mm-hmm. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. If Daddy ain’t happy, don’t nobody care — but I’m going to tell you.

Next lesson: lesson from a cook over there in the galley. “Son, make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.” I want to remind you cadets of something as you graduate. Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. You all might have a relative in mind you want to send that to. Let me say it again: ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. Pride is the burden of a foolish person.

John Wooden coached basketball at UCLA for a living, but his calling was to impact people, and with all those national championships, guess what he was found doing in the middle of the week? Going into the cupboard, grabbing a broom and sweeping his own gym floor. You want to make an impact? Find your broom. Every day of your life, you find your broom. You grow your influence that way. That way, you’re attracting people so that you can impact them.

Final lesson. “Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right.” I’ve always been told how average I can be, always been criticized about being average, but I want to tell you something. I stand here before you before all of these people, not listening to those words, but telling myself every single day to shoot for the stars, to be the best that I can be. Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better, and better isn’t good enough if it can be best.

Let me close with a very personal story that I think will bring all this into focus. Wisdom will come to you in the unlikeliest of sources, a lot of times through failure. When you hit rock bottom, remember this. While you’re struggling, rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build and on which to grow. I’m not worried that you’ll be successful. I’m worried that you won’t fail from time to time. The person that gets up off the canvas and keeps growing, that’s the person that will continue to grow their influence.

Back in the ’70s, to help me make this point, let me introduce you to someone. I met the finest woman I’d ever met in my life. Mm-hmm. Back in my day, we’d have called her a brick house. This woman was the finest woman I’d ever seen in my life. There was just one little problem. Back then, ladies didn’t like big old linemen. The Blind Side hadn’t come out yet. They liked quarterbacks and running back. We’re at this dance, and I find out her name is Trina Williams from Lompoc, California. We’re all dancing and we’re just excited. I decide in the middle of dancing with her that I would ask her for her phone number. Trina was the first — Trina was the only woman in college who gave me her real telephone number.

The next day, we walked to [Baskin-Robbins] ice cream parlor. My friends couldn’t believe it. This has been 40 years ago, and my friends still can’t believe it. We go on a second date and a third date and a fourth date. Mm-hmm. We drive from Chico to Vallejo so that she can meet my parents. My father meets her. My daddy. My hero. He meets her, pulls me to the side and says, “Is she psycho?” Anyway, we go together for a year, two years, three years, four years. By now, Trina’s a senior in college. I’m still a freshman, but I’m working some things out. I’m so glad I graduated in four terms, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

Now, it’s time to propose, so I talk to her girlfriends, and it’s California. It’s in the ’70s, so it has to be outside, have to have a candle and you have to some chocolate. Listen, I’m from the hood. I had a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine. That’s what I had. She said, “Yes.” That was the key. I married the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my… Y’all ever been to a wedding and even before the wedding starts, you hear this? “How in the world?” It was coming from my side of the family! We get married. We have a few children. Our lives are great.

One day, Trina finds a lump in her left breast. Breast cancer. Six years after that diagnosis, me and my two little boys walked up to Mommy’s casket and for two years my heart didn’t beat. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I wouldn’t be standing here today. If it wasn’t for those two little boys, there would have been no reason for which to go on. I was completely lost. That was rock bottom. You know what sustained me? The wisdom of a third grade dropout, the wisdom of a simple cook.

We’re at the casket. I’d never seen my dad cry, but this time I saw my dad cry. That was his daughter — Trina was his daughter, not his daughter-in-law, and I’m right behind my father about to see her for the last time on this Earth, and my father shared three words with me that changed my life right there at the casket. It would be the last lesson he would ever teach me. He said, “Son, just stand. You keep standing. You keep standing no matter how rough the sea, you keep standing, and I’m not talking about just water. You keep standing. No matter what you don’t give up.” I learned that lesson from a third grade dropout. And as clearly as I’m talking to you today, these were some of [my wife’s] last words to me. She looked me in the eye and she said, “It doesn’t matter to me any longer how long I live. What matters to me most is how I live.”

I ask y’all one question, a question that I was asked all my life by a third grade dropout. How you living? How you living? Every day, ask yourself that question. How you living? Here’s what a cook would suggest you to live, this way: that you would not judge, that you would show up early, that you’d be kind, that you make sure that that servant’s towel is huge and used, that if you’re going to do something, you do it the right way. That cook would tell you this: that it’s never wrong to do the right thing, that how you do anything is how you do everything, and in that way, you will grow your influence to make an impact. In that way, you will honor all those who have gone before you who have invested in you. Look in those unlikeliest places for wisdom. Enhance your life every day by seeking that wisdom and asking yourself every night, “How am I living?”

May God richly bless you all. Thank you for having me here.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related post: Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
Best Commencement Speeches: Ken Burns

Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
Best Books for Graduates 2015

Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: rickrigsby.com
http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201310186163/features/nine-life-lessons-graduate
Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_Q7KYWG1g


Growing Up in A Home With Books is Good For You

alex atkins bookshelf booksI know. Book lovers, who most likely grew up surrounded by books, read the title of this post, roll their eyes and say “You don’t say!” However, since the coronavirus has made inspecting the bookcases of journalists, experts, and celebrities a fun parlor game, its a perfect time to examine the question: does growing up with books have an impact on children and adults?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Joanna Sikor and a team of researchers at the Australian National University surveyed participants between the ages of 25 and 65 from 31 different countries from 2011 to 2015. Respondents were initially asked to estimate how many books they had in their home when they were 16 years old. Then they completed a number of tests for reading comprehension, understanding mathematical concepts, and the ability to use digital technology for communication. For the purpose of the study, literacy was defined as “the ability to read effectively to participate in society and achieve personal goals.”

So what did study reveal? The study, published in the journal of Social Science Research, found that home library size is positively related to higher levels of literacy. Specifically, individuals who owned around 80 books at home tended to have average scores for literacy, while those who owned fewer than 80 books tended to have below-average scores for literacy. As number of books increased passed 80, scores for literacy increased, leveling off at about 350 books. That is to say, whether a person owned 350 books or 10,000 books, literacy rates remained steadily high. The researchers wrote: “A growing body of evidence supports the contention of scholarly culture theory that immersing children in book-oriented environments benefits their later educational achievement, attainment and occupational standing. These findings have been interpreted as suggesting that book-oriented socialization, indicated by home library size, equips youth with life-long tastes, skills and knowledge. However, to date, this has not been directly assessed. Here, we document advantageous effects of scholarly culture for adult literacy, adult numeracy, and adult technological problem solving.”

Another important study along these lines was conducted by Mariah Evans and her colleagues at the University of Nevada, Reno. Conducted over 20 years with more than 70,000 participants across 27 countries, the study by Evans is the most comprehensive study conducted on ascertaining what influences the level of education that a child will attain. Published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, the study found that regardless of parents’ level of education, occupation, level of wealth, or country of residence, having books in the home had a large impact on children’s educational attainment. Specifically, a child who is raised in a home with a home library containing 500 or more books gives a child 6.6 more years of schooling in China; in the United States, it increases education 2.4 years. The average increases in schooling across all 27 countries was 3.2 years.

One of the most interesting insights from the study was that having books in the home is twice as important as the level of education of the parents. This counters the commonly held notion that having parents who are highly educated is the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education. Evans writes: “What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead? The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed. Even a little bit goes a long way,.” The study found that even having as few as 20 books in a home made a difference. Evans adds, “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’. It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

So bibliophiles can now look to science to justify their compulsion to buy books (known as bibliomania) without any guilt. And parents, if you are listening, take your children, head out to the nearest bookstore and get them started on an intellectual journey that will last a lifetime.

Note to readers: I was trying to research average number of books in home libraries in the United States, but could not find any reliable information. If you have some data (including sources, URLS, etc). Would appreciate any insights. Cheers.

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Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
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For further reading: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0049089X18300607
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0276562410000090


What Are the Most Loved and Hated Classic Novels?

alex atkins bookshelf books“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say,” wrote the brilliant Italian writer Italo Calvino. “The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.” And naturally, that is why students are introduced to the classics in elementary and middle school, and explore them more deeply in high school and college.

Even though all classics have something to say, they are not universally liked by students and readers (we will address this a little later). Moreover, the classics are not always taught in the best possible way. In a thought-provoking essay, On Teaching Literature, Victoria Best, a former lecturer of French literature at Cambridge University, discusses the responsibilities that teaching literature places on both the teacher and the student, as well as the challenges that they face. When Best had an opportunity to teach literature, it was time for a critical assessment of pedagogical approaches to literature: “When I took up a university post teaching French literature I had to think long and hard about what we’re doing when we ‘teach’ a book or a play or a poem; what do we want out of it, how do we use it, and how best to lead students into an effective understanding? If you don’t ‘get’ literature, it can seem very perplexing and rebarbative. At worst, you can damage a student’s relationship to literature forever; thinking deeply about books can be something they never wish to do again.”

As she carefully examined her interactions with her students, Best came to appreciate how literature challenged students and the many obstacles that students faced in fully engaging with literature. She identifies four major obstacles. The first obstacle is the expression of thoughts and emotions: “At first they were shy about expressing what they thought. Too often they felt that loving or hating a book was the end of the matter. And they struggled to manage their tangled and convoluted thoughts in writing.

The second obstacle is the discipline that literature requires: “[Students] bumped up against the curious combination of creativity and discipline that literature demands. The way it invites us to think all manner of things, but to dismiss the majority in the interests of common sense, logic and emotional veracity. My students had to learn to deduce their conclusions only from the words on the page, not speculate wildly the way all other forms of media encourage them to do. And they had to organize their thought with care and reason to take another person through their argument.”

The third obstacle is the ability to think deeply and slowly: “This is the thing about studying literature – it stymies both of our main contemporary approaches to knowledge: the test-oriented desire for tickable answers, and the gossipy search for a self-righteous opinion. And so the huge obstacle it presents to the average teenager is the demand for slow thinking, not quick thinking, that pleasurable stab at what ‘everyone’ knows. My students struggled with the open-ended curiosity books required of them, the gentle, patient contemplation, the complete lack of an absolute answer. I told them that learning was most effective when it felt like a trip to a lesser Greek island – a place where there wasn’t much else to do but read and think. They almost preferred their own vision of themselves chained up to a hungry furnace in hell, shovelling in pages of mindless writing while being whipped by pitchfork-wielding devils.”

The fourth obstacle is narcissism. Indeed, great literature shakes us from our complacency — even more critical today as individuals become more isolated in their digital-device-created bubbles, oblivious to life’s nuanced ebbs and flows. Best continues the discussion: “For books do not keep us safe. They shake us out of ourselves, loosen our stranglehold on certainties, get us to walk a mile in another’s shoes. My job as a teacher was initially to unclasp my student’s fingers from their cherished narcissism. If they could put themselves to one side — forget themselves in a book, in the way that can be so wonderful — they could experience literature as a protected arena in which all sorts of troubling or paradoxical situations are contained and worked through. They could discover new ideas, new perspectives, and gain new sophistication in their beliefs.”

Best concludes with an eloquent and inspirational testimony about why it is important to study literature: “This is why literature is so important. Its study requires very different skills to those demanded by other mainstream subjects. All those issues my students struggled with – self-awareness, creativity, the challenge to established beliefs, the focused contemplation, the juggling of interpretations which had to be backed up by evidence – all exercised their minds in vital ways. And beyond that, stories form the great building block of existence. Whether they are stories we tell about ourselves to create identity, or stories in the news, or stories given to us by the authorities, the form becomes so familiar as to be lost to critique. It’s important to realise how determining stories are, and how we build them to persuade, insist and explain things that are often no more than cherished hopes. We lose a lot of insight if we don’t understand how stories function and the immense underground work they do within a culture.”

So let us return to the initial question: what are the classic novels that readers like the most and those that are liked the least? Where can we find that data? Enter Daniel Frank, a public policy expert and attorney, who turned to the rich data at GoodReads generated by hundreds of thousands of readers. Frank developed an algorithm to examine the rankings of the classics dividing them into the highest-ranked (most liked) and the lowest-ranked (most hated). So what did he find? Frank writes: “The data also reveals some interesting cultural trends. The first classic novel is Don Quixote which came out in 1615 but the next, Robinsoe Crusoe didn’t come out for more than 100 years later in 1719. The 1930’s produced significantly fewer classics than the surrounding decades, almost certainly as a result of the Great Depression and World War II. The two authors who produced the most classics are the British pair of Jane Austen with 6 and Charles Dickens with 5, followed by the American pair of Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck with 4 each. This reflects the cultural reach of Britain during its empire and the evolution of American cultural hegemony. Just because an author produced a number of classics doesn’t make their books universally loved; Dickens’ books all score mediocre, while Hemingway is hated across the board, and Steinbeck fares poorly beyond East of Eden. Jane Austen is unique as the only author with multiple truly beloved classics.” Here are Frank’s lists of the most liked and the most hated classic novels.

The Most Liked Classic Novels:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
1984 by George Orwell
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Phantom Toolbooth by Norton Juster
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Most Hated Classic Novels:
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Moby-Dick, or, the Whale by Herman Melville
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
Why Read Dickens?

The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America

What is a Classic Book?

For further reading: https://litlove.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/on-teaching-literature/
Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino
Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature by Joseph Epstein
Dan Frank: danfrank.ca/the-most-loved-and-hated-classics-according-to-goodreads-users/


The Value of Self-Education: Following in the Footsteps of the Ancient Greeks

alex atkins bookshelf educationOne of the most pervasive myths of modern culture is that in order to succeed you need to attend an exclusive private college where an undergraduate degree can cost up to $350,000 — and in some cases, close to $500,000. The fact is, most families cannot afford that. More than 54% of students in the U.S. take on debt to pay for college education. As of 2019, outstanding student loan debt in America has reached an all-time high of $1.41 trillion dollars!

The truth of the matter, as many education experts have pointed out over the last decade, is that there are many fine, outstanding colleges — public and private — that are not brand-names that can provide students an exceptional education. There are many books on the subject, including Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni and Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope — to name just a few. But today’s post focuses on where you can go to get a free college education. That’s right — I said “free.” For inspiration, let us turn to one of the countries greatest statesmen, but moreover, greatest intellectuals: Thomas Jefferson. Over his lifetime, Jefferson built a personal library of close to 6,500 books, which he eventually sold to the Library of Congress. Jefferson was a lifelong learner and greatly enjoyed the company of books and the pursuit of knowledge by reading books on every subject.

“Well, books cost money,” you say. True. But realize that Jefferson was only following in the footsteps of the Ancient Greeks. One of the most learned and famous philosophers was Heraclitus of Ephesus who was self-educated. Heraclitus famously said: “I am what libraries and librarians have made me, with little assistance from a professor of Greek and poets.” Amen. So  if you cannot afford to build your own library, you can always visit your local library or read some of the classics that are available online for free (eg, Gutenberg Project, Digital Book Index, Bartleby, and Upenn.edu to name a few).

One of the most passionate advocates of self-education is historian and classics professor Susan Wise Bauer, who wrote The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. In an early chapter she discusses some of her frustrations and the limitations of graduate school. What emerges from her reflections on graduate school is the importance of self-education following Jefferson’s example. She writes:

“Here is the good news: You don’t have to suffer through the graduate school wringer in order to train your mind — unless you plan to get a job in university teaching (not a particularly strong employment prospect anyway). For centuries, women and men undertook this sort of learning-reading, taking notes, discussing books and ideas with friends — without subjecting themselves to graduate-school stipends and university health-insurance policies. 

Indeed, university lectures were seen by Thomas Jefferson as unnecessary for the serious pursuit of historical reading. In 1786, Jefferson wrote to his college-age nephew Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., advising him to pursue the larger part of his education independently. Go ahead and attend a course of lectures in science, Jefferson recommended. But he then added, “While you are attending these courses, you can proceed by yourself in a regular series of historical reading. It would be a waste of time to attend a professor of this. It is to be acquired from books, and if you pursue it by yourself, you can accommodate it to your other reading so as to fill up those chasms of time not otherwise appropriated.”

Professional historians might take umbrage at their apparent superfluity, but Jefferson’s letter reflects a common understanding of the times: Any literate man ( or woman, we would add) can rely on self-education to train and fill the mind. All you need are a shelf full of books, a congenial friend or two who can talk to you about your reading, and a few “chasms of time not otherwise appropriated.” (Contemporary critics of university education might add that a Ph.D. doesn’t necessarily train and fill the mind in any case; this, sniffs Harold Bloom, is a “largely forgotten function of a university education,” since universities now “disdain to fulfill” our yearning for the classics.)

Young Randolph was able to build on the foundation of a privileged education. But his home course in self-improvement was followed by many Americans who were less well schooled-including thousands of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women, who were usually given much less classroom education than their male counterparts. Limited to the learning they could acquire for themselves once a brief period of formal education had ended, American women of the last two centuries kept journals and commonplace books chronicling their reading, met with each other, and took responsibility for developing their own minds. The etiquette author Eliza Farrar advised her young female readers not only on manners and dress, but also on intellectual cultivation: “Self-education begins where school education ends,” she wrote sternly.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: How Many College Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Major?
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Exploring Carl Sandburg’s Library of 11,000 Books
The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded 
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

Related posts: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
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For further reading: The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
https://www.investopedia.com/student-loan-debt-2019-statistics-and-outlook-4772007


What is the World’s Dirty Secret?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere is a point, months or years after graduation, that one longs to return to college. Nostalgia grabs you by the lapels and cries out: “remember the great camaraderie; the epic parties; the memorable meals; the thought-provoking, passionate discussions, young love, and the idle time for contemplation or getting lost in the world of ideas? Remember all that?” Of course, those years slip by so quickly, like sand through your fingers. And now, stuck in the routine of a boring, soul-crushing 9-to-5 job, you really begin to miss those years and those amazingly transformative experiences. But, year by year those memories recede before us and you stretch your arms farther, like Gatsby reaching out to recapture his past, and a younger version of his beloved Daisy.

It is exactly that paralyzing ennui that motivates Jesse Fisher to return to college and visit with his favorite college English professor, Peter Hoberg, in the 2012 enchanting film, Liberal Arts (written and directed by Josh Radnor). By visiting college and his favorite teachers, Fisher hopes to recapture his passion, his purpose in life. Hoberg dispenses a lot of wisdom, including this gem: “Any place you don’t leave is a prison.” However, during one memorable scene, while discussing aging, Professor Hoberg shares the world’s dirty secret with his former student:

Professor Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Fisher: [Shrugs]

Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face and I look in the mirror and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” [Sighs] Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Fisher: Yeah.

Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

So if you are a young adult, now you know what most middle-aged adults know. But please be discreet, don’t tell anyone… remember it’s our little secret.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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Misconceptions About the Modern College Student

alex atkins bookshelf educationA survey in October 2018 by Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan organization, asked a representative sample of Americans, as well as individuals who worked in the field of education (leaders of educational institutions, leaders of educational associations, politicians, policy makers, etc.) to describe what they considered to be the typical modern college student. Turns out that most Americans, including the educational experts that should know better, need some serious schooling! — LOL! — most have many misconceptions about today’s college students. Executive Director Julie Peller stated “The data confirms that in several key areas the public is unaware of the demographic shifts that have occurred in higher education. Although policy insiders understand that the needs and aspirations of college students have evolved, the [incorrect] pop culture archetype for the typical college student still seems to dominate the perceptions of many Americans.”

So what are some of the misconceptions about the modern college student? According to the report, the “pop culture archetype” of the modern college student is:
18-24 years old
Lives on or near campus
Parents help with college costs
Attends a 4-year university
Attends full time
Has no children or other family obligations
Has spending money for clothes, beer, and travel

So how far off are these misconceptions from reality? Quite a bit. As one education insider explained, “Picture an 18-year-old from a middle-class background who gets support from parents and goes to school full time. That is probably the experience of most of us in the policymaking community. But that is increasingly not representative of a college student today.” And that’s putting it mildly. Here is the profile of the actual modern college student:
41% of college students are older than 25
13% of first-year students live on campus
55% are financially independent 
39% attend a college part-time; 36% of undergraduate students attend a 2-year college
26% are parents
42% of independent college students live at or below the federal poverty line

Class dismissed.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: How Many College Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Major?
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For further reading: https://higherlearningadvocates.org/news/survey-reveals-gap-between-public-and-policymakers-when-it-comes-to-understanding-todays-college-students-2/
https://www.aacu.org/aacu-news/newsletter/2018/november/facts-figures


What is the Genius of the Constitution?

alex atkins bookshelf movies

Sometimes a film from the past speaks to the present in a very compelling — and perhaps eerie — way. Take the prescience of the 1994 film, With Honors, regarding the topic of the balance of power between Congress and the President that has dominated the news in the last few months. In With Honors, Monty Kessler (played by Brendan Fraser), an honors student in the government program at Harvard University, and his new companion, Simon Wilder (played by Joe Pesci), a homeless man, attend a class lecture. The professor, Mr. Pitkannan (played by legendary author Gore Vidal) poses a question to the class: “Our founding fathers, or to be more politically correct, founding parents designed the Constitution to prevent the presidency from becoming another form of tyranny — an elected king. Well, did they succeed?… Could the President of the United States without consulting those he governs, more or less destroy the entire world?

Monty: “The President cannot bomb without reason.”

Professor Pitkannan: “He has the reason. He thinks we need more parking spaces. The point is — can he destroy the world?”

Monty: “Not without Congress.”

Pitkannan: “Now Mr. Kessler, after four years at Harvard has it escaped your attention that the President can make war for 90 days without consulting Congress… My question still stands: what is the particular genius of the Constitution? You sir [pointing to Simon], do you have an opinion on this?…

Simon: “You asked a question sir. Let me answer it. The genius of the Constitution is that it can always be changed. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes no permanent rule other than its faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.”

Pitkannan [in a sneering tone]: “Faith in the wisdom of the people is exactly what makes the Constitution incomplete and crude.”

Simon: “Crude? No sir. Our founding parents were pompous middle-aged white farmers. But they were also great men because they knew one thing that all great men should know — that they didn’t know everything. They knew they were going to make mistakes. But they made sure to leave a way to correct them. They didn’t think of themselves as leaders. They wanted a government of citizens — not royalty. A government of listeners — not lecturers. A government that could change — not stand still. The President isn’t an elected King, no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the crude Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s a servant of the people.”

[The classroom erupts in applause.]

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Read related posts: Benjamin Franklin’s Warning: A Republic if You Can Keep It
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How Reading Makes You Smarter

atkins-bookshelf-booksA few years ago, the Pew Research Center published a report on the reading habits of Americans. The study focused on how often adults (aged 18 and older) read print books, audiobooks, and e-books. Unfortunately the results were not promising: the number of people who are not reading any books has tripled in the past three decades. Specifically in 1978, 8% of American did not read a book within the past year. In 2002 that number jumped up to 18%; and in 2014 that number increased to 23%. What those individuals don’t know, and dedicated readers do know (at least intuitively), is that reading makes you smarter and has several beneficial effects on the brain. Here are seven ways that reading makes you smarter:

1. Reading encourages empathy. Studies indicate that reading literary fiction increases empathy and sympathy as readers respond to the struggles of a protagonist. Reading allows the reader to step into the life of the protagonist and imagine what it would be like to have those experiences.

2. Reading poetry encourages deep self-reflection. Studies show that reading poetry activates areas of the brain that are associated with introspection and autobiographical memory.

3. Reading improves memory. Reading activates the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. In one study, readers read simple descriptive phrases (like “dark blue carpet”) while placed in an MRI machine. The MRI indicated that these simple phrases were enough to activate the hippocampus. Using fewer words encourages readers to use their imagination to “fill in the blanks” and create a virtual scene or world.

4. Reading improves decision-making and emotional processing. Researchers have found that reading activates key parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, lateral temporal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobe. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved with decision-making and memory recall. The lateral temporal cortex is responsible for emotional association and visual memory. The posterior cingulate cortex is involved with episodic memory recall. And finally, the inferior parietal lobe is responsible for understanding emotions and interpreting sensory data.

5. Reading improves your verbal skills and vocabulary. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between verbal skills and reading. As most readers know, reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary by looking up new words you encounter. The more you read, the greater your working vocabulary will be. Reading also helps discover new ways of describing situations, feelings, and places as well as creating images in the mind’s eye.

6. Reading strengthens the mind. The brain is not a muscle, of course, but studies suggests that mind-building (mental exercise) is analogous to body-building. In another MRI study, researchers found that brain retains activity for as long as five days after reading a book. MRI of subjects revealed increased activity in the left angular and supra marginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri areas of the brain that are associated with comprehension.

7. Reading helps slow down mental aging. Studies show that reading improves memory and sentence processing in older adults. The steady exposure to literary ingredients that encourage imagination (eg, metaphors, imagery, abstract ideas, etc), the brain gets mental exercise, remaining active and healthy.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book and start getting smarter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Reading is Critical to the Writer
Why Read Dickens?
The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
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The Books that Most People Begin Reading but Don’t Finish

For further reading: https://www.dailyinfographic.com/what-reading-does-to-your-brain?


30 Epigrams That Can Make You More Creative

alex atkins bookshelf educationThe wisdom of Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher who is considered one of the founders of ontology (the study of being) and greatly influenced the philosophy of the Stoics, particularly Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Sadly most of his writings have been lost to the sands of time, save for about 125 fragments, epigrams, that appear in the writings of other Ancient Greeks. These early philosophers were very fond of epigrams, an idea expressed in a clever way. (The word epigram is derived from the Greek work epigramma, meaning “an inscription.”) Moreover, many of Heraclitus’ epigrams are paradoxical requiring contemplation and interpretation; therefore, in many cases, there is no one right answer. Those early philosophers were really onto something…

Despite being more than 2,500 years old, the epigrams of Heraclitus have been a tremendous wellspring for modern authors who have rediscovered and repurposed them in the last few decades. Authors like Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living); William Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy); and Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior), for example, have very successfully mined the wisdom of the stoics for valuable insights into how to live and have a meaningful life. In 2001, creativity expert Roger von Oech (author of A Whack on the Side of the Head), stumbled onto the wisdom of Heraclitus as a key to unlocking creativity. In his book, Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It), he writes: “I’ve selected thirty epigrams which I believe best express Heraclitus’ philosophy of the creative spirit. I call these his Creative Insights… Viewed as a whole… [they] provide us with a set of tools on how to be more creative… Indeed, Heraclitus’ enigmatic style in itself forces us to think differently. To understand his vivid metaphors and unusual paradoxes, we’ve had to tolerate ambiguity and probe for symbolic meanings. We’ve also had to be imaginative and think of multiple interpretations… [These epigrams are] a treasure box of creative inspiration.” The 30 Creative Insights of Heraclitus of Ephesus are listed below:

1. The cosmos speaks in patterns.
2. Expect the unexpected, or you won’t find it.
3. Everything flows.
4. You can’t step into the same river twice.
5. That which opposes produces a benefit.
6. A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected.
7. If all things turned to smoke, the nose would become the discerning organ.
8. The Sun will not exceed its limits, because the aven­ging Furies, ministers of Justice, would find out.
9. Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things.
10. I searched into myself.
11. Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight.
12. Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand.
13. When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars.
14. The most beautiful order is a heap of sweepings piled up at random.
15. Things love to conceal their true nature.
16. Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings.
17. Sea water is both pure and polluted: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving; for humans undrinkable and destructive.
18. On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point.
19. It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet.
20. The doctor inflicts pain to cure suffering.
21. The way up and the way down are one and the same.
22. A thing rests by changing.
23. The barley-wine drink falls apart unless it is stirred.
24. While we’re awake, we share one universe, but in sleep we each turn away to a world of our own.
25. Dogs bark at what they don’t understand.
26. Donkeys prefer garbage to gold.
27. Every walking animal is driven to its purpose with a whack.
28. There is a greater need to extinguish arrogance than a blazing fire.
29. Your character is your destiny.
30. The sun is new each day.

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The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Fragments by Heraclitus 
Whack on the Side of Your Head by Roger von Oech
Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger von Oech
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
A Guide to the Good Life; The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Life by Dan Millman
The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman


A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

From George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the sprawling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the source of HBO’s highly acclaimed series, Game of Thrones. The quotation appears in chapter 34, when Jojen Reed is talking to Bran Strark. Jojen, a member of the House Reed, possesses greensight, the power of prophetic green dreams. Although Jojen has greensight, he is not a greenseer, as he explains to Bran: “No, [I am not a greenseer] only a boy who dreams. The greenseers were more than that. They were wargs [a skinchanger, a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions] as well, as you are, and the greatest of them could wear the skins of any beast that flies or swims or crawls, and could look through the eyes of the weirwoods [deciduous trees of Westerns that have blood red leaves and bone white trunks] as well, and see the truth that lies beneath the world.”

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The Secret to a Great Life: Amor Fati

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe great Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus believed that philosophy was not just a theoretical discipline but a way of life. During his life (55 – 135 AD), he endured and saw more than his share of adversity. He was born a slave and was crippled (there are conflicting accounts: he was either born that way or one of his masters crushed his leg). Eventually, after the death of Nero in 68 AD, Epictetus obtained his freedom and traveled to Epirus, Greece to teach philosophy. Fortunately for us, his wisdom and teachings are preserved in the Discourses and Enchiridion. The secret to a great life, according to Epictetus, was what Nietzsche called amor fati, a Latin term meaning “a love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.” Specifically, Epictetus wrote: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” In other words, don’t curse your fate: accept it — furthermore: love it. Epictetus and the stoics believed that everything that happens in one’s life — whether good or bad — is fate’s way of reaching its ultimate purpose: shaping you into the person you should be.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel


The Man Who Launched 75,000 Libraries

alex atkins bookshelf booksOn October 18, 2018, Todd Bol, the founder of the Little Free Library, passed away at the age of 62 due to complications of pancreatic cancer. Margret Aldrich, a spokesperson for the Little Free Library organization said of Bol: “Todd created this beautiful, living, breathing movement of literary and community that resonated from that very first Little Free Library all the way to today. He was a true believer in the power of one person to make a difference. And he certainly did.”

The story of the Little Free Library begins in 2009. Bol was renovating the garage of his home. After removing an old wooden door, he realized that he didn’t want all that good wood to go to waste. He pondered about what he could do with the wood. That is when he was struck with an epiphany: why not build a tribute to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher? So he built a small replica of a schoolhouse (about two feet wide by two feet tall), filled it with about 20 books that his mother owned, attached the structure to a post, and planted it on his front lawn. The world was introduced to the first free book exchange, the first Little Free Library, based on the honor system: take a book, leave a book. Absolutely brilliant!

Bol had read the biography of Andrew Carnegie, the railroad and steel magnate, who as one of the country’s richest men wanted to give back to society by establishing 2,509 libraries. That legacy was in the back of his mind, when he established the Little Free Library nonprofit organization in 2010, hoping to inspire others to build a little library in their own neighborhoods. His initial dream was to inspire others in order to beat Carnegie’s record. Bol, with the assistance of some craftsmen, built some of them; but most were built by home owners who downloaded plans from the organization’s website. In just two years, there were more than 2,510 little libraries around the world. Fast forward to today, and Bol’s organization has inspired more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the United States (all 50 states) and in 88 countries. And what’s truly remarkable is that people get really creative with their libraries — they come in all shapes and sizes. You will find libraries that look like spaceships, barns, Victorian mansions, boxcars, robots, log cabins, cars, boats, trains, and even replicas of the houses of the builders.

So the next time you walk by or drive by a Little Free Library, think of Bol, the man who launched 75,000 libraries around the globe to share books and support literacy. Indeed, one person can make a difference.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Little Free Library Book by Margret Aldrich
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/23/obituaries/todd-bol-dead.html


What is the Worst Color to Wear to a Job Interview?

alex atkins bookshelf educationIf you are going to a job interview, most people are guided by two timeless maxims: “Dress for success” and “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” We can thank John Molloy, author of the best-selling book Dress for Success (1975), for popularizing the expression and the concept of “power dressing,” i.e., dressing like you are already successful and have the job. And we can thank film star and social commentator Will Rogers for the second adage. At bottom, both of these sayings reinforce the notion that in the real world, especially in the competitive business world, people are judged by the way they present themselves — more specifically, by the way they dress. Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, reviewing extensive research on first impressions states “Clothing plus communication skills determine whether or not others will comply with your request, trust you with information, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary or fee for contracted business, hire you, or purchase your products and services.” Well said!

In the interest of finding the best and worst colors to wear to a job interview, CareerBuilder asked over 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals to discuss how they perceived different colors worn by job seekers. Let us begin at the bottom of the list; that is to say, the worst color to wear to a job interview. Can you make a guess? Overwhelmingly, survey respondents indicated that orange was the worst color to wear to a job interview. Sorry, orange is not the new black. Orange is well… the old orange. They considered orange to be loud, attention-seeking, and inappropriate in formal business settings. Other colors to avoid include: green, yellow, and purple.

Here are the colors that hiring managers and HR professionals recommended for a more favorably-viewed job interview, ranked in order of preference:

Blue: conveys trust, confidence, and suggests person is a team player

Black: conveys sophistication, seriousness, and exclusivity

Gray: conveys that person is independent and self-sufficient

White: conveys that person is well organized and careful

Brown: communicates warmth, safety, reliability, and dependability

Red: conveys power, passion, excitement, and courage

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For further reading: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-your-clothing-impacts-your-success-2014-8
https://www.businessinsider.com/best-and-worst-colors-to-wear-to-job-interview-2013-11


Serendipitous Discoveries in Used Bookstores

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Still, anyone with a taste for wonder — not all, apparently, have it — should learn to haunt used bookstores, even more than stores that sell new books… Each person should take pains to scout his own city on this score… The used bookstore, unlike the catalogue or even the library, puts us in a place where we can come across and buy some unsuspected title that turns out to get at the essence of what is.

From Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education by James Schall, S.J.

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The Most Beautiful College Libraries in America

alex atkins bookshelf booksAs most librarians know, college libraries have been on the endangered species list for some time. Over the last two decades, college libraries have downsized, relocated, or — gasp — entirely eliminated their books as they shifted to digital resources or repurposed the space. Which begs the question: if a library does not have any books, is it still a library? But we digress. In the article “The Disappearance of Books Threatens to Erode Fine Arts Libraries,” journalist Sarah Bond discusses this disturbing trend: “Across the country, many university libraries are engaged in a book purge. This has meant reassessing the use of library spaces and consolidating book holdings in a bid to attract more visitors. In states like Missouri and Kansas, libraries have begun to spend more and more of their annual budgets on digital subscriptions and spaces for people, rather than on the acquisition of physical books. As in Austin and Madison, such shifts have often been met with resistance. At Syracuse University in New York, there was a faculty uproar over the proposed movement of books to a far-away warehouse. The struggle ultimately resulted in the university building a 20,000-square-foot storage facility nearby for over 1 million books — guaranteeing next-business-day delivery.”

Twenty years ago, book stores also thrived. Consumers took them for granted. And then, before you knew it, they disappeared — one by one. That is why Town & Country’s recent feature, “22 of America’s Most Beautiful College Libraries,” is a reminder to appreciate their significance of what they contain as well as their stunning architecture. If you have an opportunity, visit them while they are still around. Here is the list of the 22 most beautiful college libraries in America:

Bapst Art Library at Boston College

Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington

Widener Library at Harvard University

Uris Library at Cornell University

Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College

Riggs Library at Georgetown University

Washington University Law Library

Hoose Philosophy Library at the University of Southern California

Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago

George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University

Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania

Cook Legal Research Library at the University of Michigan

Butler Library at Columbia University

Beinecke Rare Book And Manuscript Library at Yale

Anne Bremer Memorial Library at San Francisco Art Institute

Mclure Education Library at the University of Alabama

Joe And Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago

Firestone Library at Princeton University

Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego

Albert And Shirley Small Special Collections Library at University of Virginia

William R. Perkins Library at Duke University

Powell Library at UCLA

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For further reading: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/news/g3006/most-beautiful-college-libraries/
https://hyperallergic.com/433583/fine-arts-libraries-books-disappearing/


The 300 Book Vacation

alex atkins bookshelf booksMeet Hope Faith Wiggins — a sweet and precocious 8-year-old girl from Aldine, Texas who is a real inspiration for book lovers around the world. Her family could not afford a summer vacation, so Hope used her imagination and took a different kind a vacation — a voyage through the world of books. Specifically, she pledged to read 300 books before school began on August 19. Her proud mother reflected on the 300-book vacation: “The library opened up so many worlds. It was like a vacation, but inside our house.” Hope made dozens of trips to the library, collecting books by the armful, to exceed her goal. By mid-August, she had read 302 books. Hope’s profound love of books is infectious; she explains: “I like reading a lot because it’s fun. It’s like being inside of a whole other world. You can imagine that you’re the character, and for me, one thing that happens when I read a book or watch a video is I dream about it.”

One of her favorite books is Our Enduring Spirit: President Barack Obama’s First Words to America. Hope recently experienced something very tragic: she lost a close childhood friend to cancer. Each day she wears a yellow bow in her hair to keep the memory of her friend alive. It is that profound loss that inspired her dream career: to be a pediatric oncologist. She is certainly well on her way — the best education, as many philosophers and writers know so well, is self-education motivated by the insatiable thirst for knowledge. Moreover, at such a young age, Hope understands the importance of having a good heart as well as a good head; in the words of another inspirational and remarkable human being, Nelson Mendala: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” Indeed, the world is a better place because of Hope.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: www.bookstr.com/8-year-old-girl-has-already-read-more-300-books-achieve-her-summer-goal


What Book Should Every Student Read in 2018?

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year in the United States, there are 600,000 to 1 million books published each year. Of those, about 50% are self-published titles that sell less than 250 copies. So the book lover’s dilemma — what should I read? — is quite a challenge. But no need to pore over countless book reviews, book blogs, and best-seller lists — why not ask the smartest people on the planet: college professors. The bibliophiles at Business Insider (who knew?) recently asked the brilliant professors at Harvard University: what one book should every student read in 2018? Here are their recommendations.

EJ Corey, organic chemist: Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun. Janet Napolitano, president of University of California writes: “[Aoun’s] book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology –infused world and higher education’s place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly benefit from this cogent, persuasively written work.”

Claudia Goldin, economic historian and labor economist: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “There is no better novel I know about how women (and I don’t mean just Anna) – elite, intelligent, educated – are ignored, oppressed, and have little legal recourse. Women are the caregivers, the empathetic. They hold society together and provide salvation even as the priests take the credit.”

Stephen Greenblatt, English professor: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Incidentally, this book is one of the most popular books assigned as summer reading for incoming freshmen at over 70 colleges in America. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend those need it most: the indigent, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the byzantine and Kafkaesque criminal justice system. Author John Grisham compares it to the timeless legal classic To Kill A Mocking Bird: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.” Ted Conniver, from The New York Times Book Review, adds: “You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man… The message of this book… is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”

Steven Pinker, psychology professor: The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: [The authors] explain the decline of interstate war and conquest [via]… the Kellogg-Briand Paris Peace Pact of 1927, which declared war illegal… [The] book presents a sweeping vision of the international scene, making sense of many developments in the news and recent history.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:https://www.businessinsider.com/harvard-university-professors-book-recommendations-2017-12
https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/#2132763e14bb


Best Commencement Speeches: Tim Minchin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomTim Minchin may not be a recognized name in the United States, but in Australia he is a well-known comedian, actor, musician, writer, and director. He is best known for his musical comedies that have been performed around the world, such as Matilda that received seven Olivier awards. Back in October 2013, his alma mater, The University of Western Australia, honored Minchin with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters and asked him to deliver the commencement speech, which the university calls the “Occasional Address.” His thoughtful, and at time hilarious, speech titled “Nine Life Lessons” delivered to the 225 Arts and Sciences graduates and their families, manages to pack a lot of wisdom and inspiration in just 12 minutes. Here is Minchin’s memorable graduation speech delivered in his inimitable way:

“In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational — it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cause he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cause… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now — at the ripe old age of 38 — bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense. So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. 

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness

Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck 

You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which — when placed in a horrible childhood environment — would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved… but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise

I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right — you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions 

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like [assholes], in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from [assholes], in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians — including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick — believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher.

Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke — we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love

I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me.” Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You.

I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush.

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing… but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

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Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/
http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201310186163/features/nine-life-lessons-graduate


The 15 Components of Emotional Intelligence

alex atkins bookshelf educationOver decades of study, psychologists have discovered that human beings have many types of intelligence. In 1983 psychologist Howard Gardner proposed eight, but conceded that there might be as many as ten.* One of these intelligences is emotional intelligence. Emotions, of course, are central to human existence. As the famous Roman writer Publilius Syrus (85-43 BC) advised in the Sententiae, “Rule your feelings, lest your feelings rule you.” The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) was introduced as early as 1964 by Michael Beldoch in his paper “Sensitivity to expression of emotional meaning in three modes of communication.” However, the term was popularized by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in their influential paper, “Emotional Intelligence” (1990) as well as science journalist’s Daniel Gorman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence (1995). Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence this way: “[Emotional intelligence is] a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.”

As popular as the term is, there are some disagreements about exactly which components make up emotional intelligence (EI). In his concise, but informative book 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Psychology, Adrian Furnham elaborates: “There is no agreement about what features, factors, abilities, or skills form part of EI. As more and more tests of, and books about, EI appear on the market, the situation gets worse rather than better… A central unresolved question is what are the facets or components of EI?” To that end, Furnham provides a very helpful table of the 15 common components found in salient models of emotional intelligence.

Adaptability: flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions

Assertiveness: forthright and willing to stand up for your rights

Emotion expression: capable of communicating your feelings to others

Emotion management: capable of influencing the feelings of others

Emotion perception: clear and your own and other people’s feelings

Emotion regulation: capable of controlling your emotions

Low Impulsiveness: reflective and less likely to give into your urges

Relationship skills: capable of having personal relationships that are fulfilling

Self-esteem: feeling successful and self-confident

Self-motivation: Being driven and unlikely to give up in the ace of adversity

Social competence: having good networking and social skills

Stress management: capable of withstanding and managing stress

Trait empathy: capable of taking the perspective of another person

Trait happiness: being cheerful and feeling satisfied with your life

Trait optimism: being likely to look at the positive aspects of life

So now that we understand the many facets of emotional intelligence, we can discuss the next issue: emotional intelligence in the workplace; more specifically, how do different generations differ in terms of emotional intelligence? The research-minded folks at Talentsmart shed some light in a fascinating article titled Great Divide: The Generational Gap in Emotional Intelligence. The researchers observe what many have experienced in the business world: “For the first time in history, organizations find their offices occupied by employees spanning four generations — Generation Y (18-29), Generation X, Baby Boomers (42-60), and Traditionalists. While the generational gap can create a healthy marriage of fresh perspective and deep wisdom, we’ve all seen it give way to significant culture clash.” Baby boomers, for example, are used to planned face-to-face meetings, overtime, and occasional work on the weekends. However, Generation Y are used to interacting with others via text and email and are very protective of their personal time. Not surprisingly, the researchers found a huge difference between Generation Y and Baby Boomers, particularly with the facet of self-management: specifically, Generation Y are not good at self management.

So why do Generation Y employees lag in self-management skills? The researchers conclude: “It could be that coming of age with too many video games, instantaneous Internet gratification, and adoring parents have created a generation of self-indulgent young workers who can’t help but wear their emotions on their sleeves in tense situations. However, a deeper look reveals another explanation. Even within the same generation, older people have better EQ skills than younger — despite sharing the same generational influences. Self-management appears to increase with age. Experience and maturity facilitate the mastery of one’s emotions. Generation Years just haven’t had as much time to practice and perfect their skill at managing their emotions.” This opens the door to an important opportunity: to have HR experts help  improve the EI of Generation Y employees. The researchers echo what many CEOs and management experts have been promulgating for several years now: “They not only can do it; they must do it.”

*Gardiner proposed these ten intelligences: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential, and moral. On the other hand, in his book, Practical Intelligence: the Art and Science of Common Sense, Karl Albrecht, a management consultant, introduces “practical” or commons sense intelligence; he believes that there are six intelligences: abstract, social, practical, emotional, aesthetic, and kinesthetic.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Are Millennials so Difficult to Manage?
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
Great Teachers Inspire

For further reading: Social Encounters edited by Michael Argyle
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.385.4383&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner
50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Psychology by Adrian Furnham
http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Great-Divide:-The-Generational-Gap-in-EmotionalIntelligence-1404193582-p-1.html


What Nobody Tells You When You Graduate College

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIf you wrote a commencement speech, what wisdom would you want to impart to a sea of bright, eager, in-debt-up-to-their-eyeballs college graduates? What should college graduates need to know about the competitive business world? Jon Acuff, an author of five bestselling books (his most recent: Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck), did not let not the lack of an invitation to deliver a commencement speech get in the way of reflecting on his business experience. Although Acuff does not fit the description of the wise, silver-haired octogenarian sage that typically delivers a bombastic, protracted commencement oration, at the cusp of middle age (39) Acuff believes he is up to the task to address college graduates half his age; he explains, “[I] have spent 17 years in the workforce. I’ve worked at big companies and small ones. I’ve been promoted and fired. I’ve started my own business. I found and left my dream job. I’ve learned a lot, mostly the wrong way (and would prefer you didn’t). So before you throw your cap in the air… allow me to share some things nobody will tell you.” Here are the 21 things nobody tells you when you graduate college:

The real world is more fun than grumpy adults have ever told you.

One of your friends will be instantly successful.

Your first job might not involve your major in a major way.

Your 20s are lonelier than you think they’ll be.

Being an adult comes with an obscene amount of paperwork.

Your generation gets unfairly labeled for entitlement. Don’t accept that.

Pay attention in meetings.

Treat email like it matters.

Take risks.

Don’t put off your college loans.

Hold your money with an open hand.

If you move home, make sure you bring an exit strategy with you.

Don’t spend all your time with idiots and then wonder why it’s hard to meet someone great to date.

Don’t ask to work from home the first week of your new job.

Jump into the wild west of side jobs.

Figure out which part of your career needs the most work.

Don’t become a dinosaur.

Don’t burn many bridges.

Put your phone down when you’re talking to someone.

Remember, it’s all an audition.

You are going to start at the bottom. That’s OK.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: http://time.com/3849142/life-after-college-graduation/
Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done
by Jon Acuff
Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job by Jon Acuff


Why Are Millennials So Difficult to Manage?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureSimon Sinek is a British-American organizational consultant, ethnographer, motivational speaker, and author. Sinek also teaches graduate-level strategic communications courses at Columbia University. He has published five best-selling books that focus on how leaders can inspire others, how leaders can build a company that people want to work for, and how to discover one’s true purpose. His first book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009), led to his popular TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, which is one of the most popular presentations in that forum. Sinek introduces the concept of the Golden Circle: “a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision-making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others.” One of the most common questions that Sinek answers in interviews is the infamous “millennial question” — that is to say, how do you manage millennials that pose a bit of a challenge to most company managers? During an interview with Tom Bilyeu, host of the web-based talk show, “Inside Quest,” to promote his third book (Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, an illustrated and scented quote book to inspire human interaction), Sinek answered the millennial question this way:

“Apparently, millennials — as a group of people, which are those born from approximately 1984 and after — are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused, and lazy — but “entitled” is the big one. Because they confound the leadership so much, leaders will say “what do you want?” And millennials will say “we want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and bean bag chairs.” Any yet when provided all these things they are still not happy. And that is because there is a missing piece. It can be broken down into four pieces, actually — 1. parenting; 2. technology; 3. impatience; and 4. environment.

1: Parenting

The generation that is called the millennials, too many of them grew up subject to “failed parenting strategies.” Where they were told that they were “special” all the time. They were told they can have anything they want in life just because they want it. Some of them got into honors classes, not because they deserved it, but because their parents complained. Some of them got A’s not because they earned them, but because the teachers didn’t want to deal with the parents. Some kids got participation medals. They got a medal for coming in last. Which, the science we know is pretty clear, is that it devalues the medal and the reward for those who actually work hard and that actually makes the person who comes in last embarrassed because they know they didn’t deserve it so that actually makes them feel worse.

[So] you take this group of people and they graduate and they get a job and they’re thrust into the real world and in an instant they find out they are not special. Their moms can’t get them a promotion. You get nothing for coming in last and — by the way — you can’t just have it because you want it. In an instant, their entire self-image is shattered. So we have an entire generation that is growing up with lower self esteem than previous generations.

2: Technology

The other problem to compound it is we are growing up in a Facebook/Instagram world, in other words, we are good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is amazing even though “I am depressed.” Everybody sounds tough, and everybody sounds like they have it all figured out, [but] the reality is there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it all figured out. So when the more senior people say “well, what should we do?” they sound like “this is what you gotta do!” But they have no clue.

So you have an entire generation growing up with lower self esteem than previous generations — through no fault of their own, they were dealt a bad hand. Now let’s add in technology. We know that engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text, it feels good. In a 2012 study, Harvard research scientists reported that talking about oneself through social media activates a pleasure sensation in the brain usually associated with food, money, and sex. It’s why we count the likes. It’s why we go back ten times to see if the interaction is growing. And if our Instagram is slowing we wonder if we have done something wrong, or if people don’t like us any more. The trauma for young kids to be “unfriended” is too much to handle. We know that when you get the attention it feels good — you get a hit of dopamine… Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble… [and] it’s highly, highly addictive.

We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking and gambling but we have no age restrictions on social media and cell phones. Which is the equivalent of opening up the liquor cabinet and saying to our teenagers “hey by the way, if this adolescence thing gets you down — help yourself.” [So] an entire generation now has access to an addictive, numbing chemical called dopamine through cellphones and social media, while they are going through the high stress of adolescence.

Why is this important? Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we are very, very young the only approval we needed was the approval of our parents and as we go through adolescence we make this transition where we now need the approval of our peers. Very frustrating for our parents; very important for the teenager. It allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate families and into the broader tribe. It’s a highly, highly stressful and anxious period of our lives and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends.

Some people — quite by accident — discover alcohol, the numbing effects of dopamine, to help them cope with the stresses and anxieties of adolescence. Unfortunately that becomes hard wired in their brains and for the rest of their lives, when they suffer significant stress, they will not turn to a person, they will turn to the bottle. Social stress, financial stress, career stress — that’s pretty much the primary reasons why an alcoholic drinks. But now because we are allowing unfettered access to these devices and media. Basically it is becoming hard-wired and what we are seeing is that [as] they grow older, too many kids “don’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships” — their words, not mine.

They will admit that many of their relationships are superficial. They will admit that they don’t count on their friends; they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know that their friends will cancel on them when something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practiced the skillset and worse — they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress. So when significant stress begins to show up in their lives, they’re not turning to a person, they’re turning to a device, they’re turning to social media, they’re turning to these things which offer temporary relief. [The] science is clear, we know that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than people who spend less time on Facebook.

These things balanced, are not bad. Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is fun, too much gambling is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with social media and cellphones, it’s the imbalance. If you are sitting at dinner with your friends, and you are texting somebody who is not there – that’s a problem. That’s an addiction. If you are sitting in a meeting with people you are supposed to be listening and speaking to, and you put your phone on the table, that sends a subconscious message to the room “you’re just not that important.” The fact that you can’t put the phone away, that’s because you are addicted. If you wake up and you check your phone before you say good morning to your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you have an addiction. And like all addictions, in time, it will destroy relationships, it will cost time, it will cost money and it will make your life worse.

3: Impatience

So we have a generation growing up with lower self-esteem that doesn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress and now you add in the sense of impatience. They’ve grown up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something, you go on Amazon and it arrives the next day. You want to watch a movie, logon and watch a movie. You don’t check movie times. You want to watch a TV show, binge. You don’t even have to wait week-to-week-to-week. Many people skip seasons, just so they can binge at the end of the season… Instant gratification. You want to go on a date? You don’t even have to learn how to be socially awkward on that first date. You don’t need to learn how to practice that skill. You don’t have to be the uncomfortable person who says yes when you mean no and no when you mean yes. Swipe right – bang – done! You don’t even need to learn the social coping mechanism.

Everything you want you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, instant gratification, except, job satisfaction and strength of relationships – their ain’t no out for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes. And so millennials are wonderful, idealistic, hardworking smart kids who’ve just graduated school and are in their entry-level jobs and when asked “how’s it going?” they say “I think I’m going to quit.” And we’re like “why?” and they say “I’m not making an impact.” To which we say, “you’ve only been there eight months…”

It’s as if their standing at the foot of a mountain and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have on the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there’s still a mountain. And so what this young generation needs to learn is patience. That some things that really, really matter, like love or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self confidence, a skillset, any of these things, all of these things take time. Sometimes you can expedite pieces of it, but the overall journey is arduous and long and difficult and if you don’t ask for help and learn that skillset, you will fall off the mountain. Or the worst case scenario, we’re seeing an increase in suicide rates in this generation, we’re seeing an increase in accidental deaths due to drug overdoses, we’re seeing more and more kids drop out of school or take a leave of absence due to depression. Unheard of. This is really bad.

The best case scenario, you’ll have an entire population growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy. They’ll never really find deep, deep fulfillment in work or in life, they’ll just waft through life and it things will only be “just fine.” How’s your job? “It’s fine, same as yesterday.” How’s your relationship? “It’s fine.” [And] that’s the best case scenario.

4: Environment

Which leads to the fourth point which is environment. Which is we’re taking this amazing group of young, fantastic kids who were just dealt a bad hand and it’s no fault of their own, and we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than the life of this young human being. We care more about the year than the lifetime. We are putting them in corporate environments that are not helping them build their confidence. [Corporate environements] aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation [or] helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and finding more balance [or] helping them overcome the need for instant gratification and [teaching] them the joys and impact and the fulfillment you get from working hard on something for a long time that cannot be done in a month or even in a year.

So we thrust them into corporate environments and the worst thing is they think it’s them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them who can’t deal. And so it makes it all worse. It’s not them. It’s the corporations, it’s the corporate environment, it’s the total lack of good leadership in our world today that is making them feel the way they do. They were dealt a bad hand and it’s the company’s responsibility to pick up the slack and work extra hard and find ways to build their confidence, to teach them the social skills that they’re missing out on.

There should be no cellphones in conference rooms — none, zero. When sitting and waiting for a meeting to start, instead of using your phone with your head down, everyone should be focused on building relationships. We ask personal questions, “How’s your dad? I heard he was in the hospital.” “Oh he’s really good thanks for asking. He’s actually at home now.” “Oh I’m glad to hear that.” “That was really amazing.” “I know, it was really scary for a while there.” That’s how you form relationships. “Hey did you ever get that report done?” “No, I totally forgot.” “Hey, I can help you out. Let me help you.” “Really?” That’s how trust forms. Trust doesn’t form at an event in a day. Even bad times don’t form trust immediately. It’s the slow, steady consistency and we need to create mechanisms where we allow for those little innocuous interactions to happen.

When we are out with friends, as we are leaving for dinner together, we leave our cell phones at home. Who are we calling? Maybe one of us will bring a phone in case we need to call an Uber. It’s like an alcoholic. The reason you take the alcohol out of the house is because we cannot trust our willpower. We’re just not strong enough. But when you remove the temptation, it actually makes it a lot easier. When you just say “Don’t check your phone,” people will just go to the bathroom and what’s the first thing we do? We look at the phone.

When you don’t have the phone, you just check out the world. And that’s where ideas happen. The constant, constant, constant engagement is not where you have innovation and ideas. Ideas happen when our minds wander and we see something and we think, “I bet they could do that…” That’s called innovation. But we’re taking away all those little moments.

None of us should charge our phones by our beds. We should be charging our phones in the living rooms. Remove the temptation. We wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep, you won’t check your phone, which makes it worse. But if it’s in the living room, it’s relaxed, it’s fine. Some say “but it’s my alarm clock.” Buy an alarm clock. They cost eight dollars.

The point is: we [who are] now in industry — whether we like it or not — we don’t get a choice — we now have a responsibility to make up the shortfall and help this amazing, idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills, find a better balance between life and technology because, quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
Great Teachers Inspire
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For further reading: https://impacttheory.com/blog/simon-sinek-millennial-question-tom-bilyeu/
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration by Simon Sinek
Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team by Simon Sinek
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek


There Are Two Educations

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThere are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.

Although this quotation is often attributed to John Adams (1735-1826) — and it certainly sounds like something he would have said —  it was actually written by James Truslow Adams (1878-1949), an American historian and writer, in the essay “To Be or to Do: A Note on American Education,” appearing in the publication, Forum (June 1929). Adams (no relation to the second President of the United States) is best known for coining the term “American Dream” in The Epic of America (1931). Adams defined the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” Adams was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for History for the first volume of a three-volume history of New England.

Read related post: The Paradox of the American Dream


The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomThere is an age-old Chinese parable about a farmer and his fate. It goes something like this: there once lived an old farmer who had diligently tended to his crops for many years. He relied on his trusty, hard-working horse to plow the fields. But one day, the horse broke through the fence and ran away. Upon hearing this news, the farmer’s neighbors rushed over to the farmer to voice their concern. “What bad luck this is,” they said, “You will not have your horse during the critical planting season.” The farmer listened intently, nodding his head as if in agreement, smiling slightly. Then he spoke softly, “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later the horse, accompanied by two wild horses, returned to the farmer’s stable. The farmer immediately realized that he could train these two new horses to help him plow his field more efficiently. Soon after, the neighbors heard about this and visited the farmer. “You are now blessed with three strong horses,” they said in unison, “What great luck this is!” But the laconic farmer simply replied, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

The farmer gave one of the untamed horses to his son. While riding the horse, the son was thrown off and broke his leg. The farmer’s neighbors came around again and expressed their worry, “It is a shame that your son will not be able to help you during planting season. This is such bad luck!” The farmer smiled faintly, and said “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later, the Chinese emperor’s army rode ominously into town under gray clouds. The general’s order was to draft the eldest son from every family into the army. One of the soldiers took one look at the farmer’s son’s broken leg and motioned to have him left behind. The army marched out of town while tearful residents waved goodbye to their sons, knowing that they may not see them again. Later in the day, the neighbors gathered at the farmer’s house. “You are the only family that did not have their son drafted into the army,” they said. “This is such good luck!” The farmer, who was busy with his chores, looked up and said, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

This timeless Chinese parable teaches us that luck can be paradoxical — bad luck can be very good luck (and vice-versa). Another lesson is that fate — whether considered “good luck” or “bad luck” — is a matter of perspective. This is one of the greatest lessons that Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, teaches us: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” [Emphasis added] from Man’s Search for Meaning published in 1946.

The parable also reminds us of the famous proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” that originated in the late 1800s. That is to say, one should never feel down and hopeless because challenging times lead to happier, better days ahead. The proverb also introduces a very important metaphor about life — every situation in life is transitory; gray clouds that create dark days will eventually pass, allowing the sun’s radiant light to shine through. Or expressed another way, no matter how dark the night, each dawn ushers in a new day full of hope and new opportunities.

At another level, the parable teaches about a very important life lesson: acceptance. Rather than creating drama around a situation that is either “good luck” or “bad luck” it is best to follow the Taoist tradition of detachment and acceptance. It is important not to celebrate the good luck or scorn the bad luck too excessively. Moreover, it is critical to simply accept life as it is, rather than expending energy to consider what could have been or should have been. Only then one can fully consider the question that my Jesuit mentors often posed: “what is the next, best step?”

There is an absolutely brilliant discussion of fate and misfortunate, through the lens of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, by an erudite, insightful young (as in high school aged) scholar titled: The Consolation of Adversity’s Sweet Milk, Philosophy. If you are passionate about literature and/or philosophy, you will definitely find it fascinating and thought-provoking; moreover it will inspire you to pick up and read (or re-read) two timeless classics.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
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For further reading: https://www.knowyourphrase.com/every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

 


The Wisdom of Famous Cartoon Characters

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsEveryone knows that cartoons and animated films of the Disney variety are for kids. However, they are written by adults and sometimes, tired of writing halfwitted jokes and inane conversation, they manage to sneak in a few life lessons along the way. And given the rapid-fire pace of dialogue in kiddie shows, you have to listen pretty closely to separate the wheat from the chaff. The hope is that some of this wisdom might make a lasting impression on the kids who are watching (and perhaps the adults watching with them) so they can learn from it. Here is some of the wisdom of famous cartoon and animated film characters.

Merida (Brave): “Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.”

Aladdin (Aladdin): “Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance. Like so many things, it is not what outside, but what is inside that counts.”

Alice (Alice in Wonderland): “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

The Blue Fairy (Pinocchio): “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

Eeyore (Winnie the Pooh): “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”

Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): “You’re never too old to  be young.”

Mulan (The Emperor of China): “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of them all.”

Stitch (Lilo & Stitch): “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”

Zeus (Hercules): “A true hero is not measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.”

Mewtwo (Pokemon): “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

Chef G (Ratatouille): “You must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul.”

Rafiki (The Lion King): “Oh yes the past can hurt you, but you can either run from it or learn from it.”

Jack Skellington (The Nightmare Before Christmas): “Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.”

Master Shift (King Fu Panda): “Anything is possible when you have inner peace.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: visual.ly/community/infographic/entertainment/life-advice-50-beloved-characters-kids-entertainment?
http://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/20-life-changing-lessons-we-can-learn-from-cartoon-characters


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