Proven

I had an interview yesterday, and I had a slightly scientific answer for one of the questions. It wasn’t anything crazy, but it is definitely a result of how I’ve been thinking lately. My mother and father both have masters degrees in biology, and I’ve mentioned before how my mother was my science teacher at one point. Growing up in a household with a geneticist and a toxicologist, there is one thing I had drilled into my head: science cannot prove anything, it can only disprove things.

That’s why it bothers me when people will start a sentence with “It’s been proven…” because nothing has ever been proven. We have no “proof” that the earth is round, exists on an axis, and rotates around the sun. However, there is significant evidence to support the claim that those three characteristics of this planet are indeed real, but no scientist will ever tell you they’ve been proven. That’s because science is always changing. Twenty years ago, scientists convinced an entire generation of people that fat was going to kill them. Now, we know that the anti-fat agenda was funded by companies that wanted to market their low-fat products as healthy, but keep the taste the same by adding more sugar.

This, however, is only one reason why we should be careful to label scientific theorie’s as “proven.” There are more theories on how our planet operates than any scientist or person could imagine. By labeling any one of those theories as proven, you’re dismissing the millions of others as false. The reality is, we don’t have the knowledge or the capacity for information to pick out which theory will be correct. It could also be that bits and pieces of each argument are relevant. So claiming one that theory, one single idea can explain phenomenons we are just beginning to understand is to limit what we may discover in the future.

Next time you catch yourself saying “it’s been proven that [insert idea] is correct,” try saying something along the lines “there is evidence to uphold the claim that [insert idea] is true.” Not only does it make you sound like you know what you’re talking about, but it leaves more room for the conversation to continue. Someone can now challenge whatever evidence you’re presenting and share their own as a counter.

It’s always valuable to be reminded of our insignificance. Humans love to think that the universe was created just so they could figure it out and that it’s existence were tailored to our needs. It’s quite the opposite though, most theories you find will support the idea that humans evolved to suit the climate that the planet offered them, not the other way around. Mother nature is superior and does not bend to human will or science. Who knows? Maybe every theory even the most veteran scientists accept as the truth (think gravity) could be wrong.

Eloragh

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Tagline

What’s your tagline? I’m writing a resume for an application right now and I’ve realized that I don’t have a tagline – oops. There’s one on my Facebook page, but I’m not super fond of it. The first thing it categorizes me as is a “student,” which is not inaccurate, but that’s not how I want to be labeled when people first meet me.

So, that begs the question. How do I want to be labeled? In a recent essay, I labeled myself as a trailblazer, but to put that on a resume seems a bit too arrogant. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this application will require a certain level of uncomfortable confidence that I have yet to master. Do I want to label myself as a marketing specialist? Not really, that doesn’t say anything about my character, drive, or ability. It just tells people that I can write ad-copy and send outreach emails. Those qualities are important in what I want to do, but they’re not the first thing I want a potential employer to know about me.

Coming out of high school, I knew I was ahead. My desire to be ahead was so profound that I had to push myself further than graduation or I wouldn’t feel good about my accomplishments. If I just received a diploma, I would feel as though I were stuck where everyone was. Drifting through school and life, completing the minimum requirements needed to get to the next stage. I didn’t even want to go to the next stage that people expected me to step into, so I had to route myself differently and I had to show that I could thrive in my chosen environment.

I’ve heard the phrase “unexpected academic” come from people who were not expected to reach for higher education but ended up becoming some of the most successful intellectuals in their given field. I’d say I’m the opposite of them. I’m the “expected academic.” That is, everyone in my life has expected me to go to college, study something brainy and complex, and then go on to change the world through my degree. I don’t think my parents ever expected to hear me say “maybe I don’t want to go to college.” I didn’t really think I would ever say that either. But then, I looked around and saw my friends in debt, dropping out from a lack of joy or financial means, or getting a degree and then being unable to get a job.

Now, I’m an unwilling student. Searching for ways to prove to people that I don’t want to go to school, not because I’m being influenced by unreasonable sources, but because I can read the writing on the wall. Going to college wouldn’t ruin me financially, but it’s not going to make me happy. Four years of a shitty high school has left me unimpressed by education and not excited by the idea of continuing it.

This resume has been hard to write. Throughout my entire process of trying to rewire my brain towards a value-added mindset, I’ve come to see that a lot of what I learned in high school is not benefiting me or my endeavors. Instead, I feel like a child again. Asking questions that I used to have the answers to, feeling frustrated at my lack of knowledge, and wondering whether the route that fascinates me is one I can succeed in.

I’m still trying to find my tagline, but at least it won’t have the word “student” in it.

Eloragh

Balance

Throughout my life, I have always struggled to find the right balance between working and relaxing. I tend to lean on either side for too long and end up neglecting my responsibilities or my health. My life is not very stable at the moment, but I wouldn’t ask for it any other way. With a constant flow of work, phone calls, emails, and things to be done, I am always making an effort to reach that perfect equilibrium.

This time last week, I felt bored. I had completed a lot of the work I needed to do and had more time on my hands than usual. I remember feeling frustrated and lazy; there was, of course, research or communications I could be doing, but I didn’t think any of it would truly benefit my projects at the moment. I try to not work just for the sake of working, especially when what I produce ends up being useless or unnecessary to whoever I’m working with at the moment. During this period, I read a lot, explored Montreal, and continued my day-to-day blogging and outreach work.

Today, however, is a different day. My to-do list is probably the longest it has been since I moved to Montreal. A lot of the tasks are menial and simple to complete, but I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them. People drop projects, need more information, want help in different places, etc. Work springs up quickly and often catches me by surprise.

Today, someone dropped a massive project and then someone else dropped that right into my lap. I have associated with this project already, so I understand why the responsibility fell to me to complete it, but I will admit that I am worried about my distance from the “client.” I’ll be back in New Mexico for the first three weeks of August to complete an internship, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to work with this organization remotely until then.

Finding the balance between distance, responsibilities, physical and mental health, and enjoying your life is a big challenge for everyone. I find that setting a beginning time, a lunch break, and an end time helps. Sometimes, working from home can feel like time travel. You sit down to send one email at 9 am, and suddenly it’s 6 pm and you haven’t eaten or moved all day. This, in some ways, is good, it means you enjoy your work. In other ways, you won’t be adding value to anything if you sustain this type of lifestyle for too long.

When I was a junior in high school, I would watch my grades religiously. I updated the app on my phone after every class and made a note of every assignment and grade shift. I remember crying myself to sleep one night after watching my history grade drop from a 92 to an 89. The next morning, I woke up in a daze and decided that I was due for a reality check. Metrics, data, scores, grades, views, followers, paychecks, and other forms of success through numbers are fantastic ways to measure how much your work is paying off, but they are easy to become addicted to.

Measure your success by those numbers if you so choose, but measure it by other means as well. Measure your success by your happiness, by your quality of life, by those around you, by how you feel in your mind and body. There are many other ways to appreciate your work. To thrive, you have to think about the balance between work and play. Having adequate amounts of both will benefit your success in every aspect of life.

Eloragh

A Socratic Educator

What does it mean to be a Socratic educator? What are the credentials required to label yourself as such? Well, I label myself as a Socratic educator, yet I have no credentials. I have yet to receive a university degree, attend any sort of licensing program, or been presented with a certificate detailing what I am trained in. What I did, however, I think is much more valuable than any piece of paper or four-year program could give me: I watched people who called themselves Socratic educators try to teach me and took note of everything they did wrong.

My high school was a Socratic school, but that label was truly only a marketing scheme. Throughout my four years at Moreno Valley High School, the amount of Socratic education I received steadily declined. What I was left with was a watered-down “discussion-based” school that focused more on teacher philosophy than on the student involvement. My seminars turned into lectures from instructors about their political doctrine or personal moral beliefs. Initially, this frustrated me, but I knew that I had to find a way to make the school work for me until I graduated.

Do I really have a right to call myself a “Socratic educator?” Maybe not. I think about all the people in my life that undoubtedly deserve that title, and I wonder if labeling myself as such is disrespectful to them. On the other hand, I do work in education, I do focus on discussion-based, Socratic styles of learning, and I have operated as an educator of sorts. I do believe there is more value in experience than anything else, and I lived through four years of watching my teachers fail to provide me with the education they promised.

The concept of a seminar is simple. A few rules here and there to keep the discussion calm, but otherwise, you’re free to speak as you want. Judgment is thrown away as people come together not to argue but to ask each other for a better understanding of their differing opinions. I took the best experiences I had, the best seminars I could remember, and thought about what set them apart from the rest. I wanted to focus on what seminars meant to me and how I could take the most meaningful elements and apply them in real-world settings.

I started hosting radio shows using Socratic ideas. Students who had never been exposed to any kind of discussion-based learning quickly adapted to a simple theory meant to keep the conversation productive. It was more than easy, it was enjoyable to introduce them to this kind of communication, which is more than the teachers at MVHS can say. The radio shows have been incredibly successful, airing on KNCE Taos, KSFR Santa Fe, and NPR. My most recent success with them was an award for the NMBA Best Student Journalism Broadcast on our show about gun violence.

I call myself a Socratic educator not because I think I am “deserving” or “worthy” of the title, I do it because it’s what I want to be. I am not interested in becoming a teacher or going through the grueling licensing process. Instead, I want to spread the idea of progress through conversation, through connections, not classrooms. People respond well to tolerance and genuine interaction, two ideas that seminar is based in. Being a Socratic educator has never been about shoving my ethics into the face of my peers, it’s been about asking them to consider a different point of view while I do the same. In my opinion, trying to spread that message has taught me a lot more than any lecture could.

Eloragh

Image credit to alignleadership.com

Too Niche

For the past six months or so, I’ve been working a lot on growth. Personal growth, web growth, social growth, professional growth, etc. Trying to formulate any kind of progress, internal or external, is a long and involved process. Lately, I’ve been wondering if my efforts are too niche and what exactly that may mean.

Since December of last year, most of my work was focused solely on alternative education. I was sure that alt ed was the niche I was meant to work in and, although I don’t think I was completely wrong, I think I was limiting my perspective. Alternative education is continuing to blossom as more and more parents, and students realize that traditional ways of “learning” aren’t actually beneficial, but this mass exodus has much broader implications.

In April of this year, I started working with an incredible alternative school in Senegal. When I went to visit the students, I did a lot more than act as an instructor. I learned a lot about poverty in Sub-saharan Africa and how western countries often perpetuate it through relief efforts. If you own a pair of Tom’s shoes, you probably haven’t really helped support impoverished people in Africa. You buy a pair of those shoes, Tom’s sends a pair to a child in Africa, sounds charitable and straightforward right? If only economics were that easy to work around. It’s impossible to compete with free, so that pair of shoes that were supposed to help end poverty just put another local African shoemaker out of business. By purchasing these shoes, you’re falling into a pit trap of western pity.

Suddenly, the depth of my own ignorance was brought to my attention. I had never bought into the Tom’s shoes model, mostly because of my own vanity (I think they’re ugly, sorry,) but I found myself sickened by the thought of how much the company has profited off of this marketing scam. I am aware that the owner of Tom’s acknowledged the problem and made an apology, claiming he had no clue that the scheme would end up backfiring so horrifically; but his apology won’t bring back the jobs he took.

As I started to learn more about economics and confronted my own lack of education on the subject, I became increasingly absorbed and fascinated by the ideas and possibilities that it held. I started writing more about economics, politics, and theory and less about alternative education. I realized that my content was no longer relevant to a lot of the sites I used to write for, and it really threw my creativity through a loop. On the one hand, my newfound curiosity for economics and how it influences human behavior was captivating, but on the other, I was still very dedicated to alternative education. I wondered if I had pigeonholed myself into a niche that allowed for minimal variation in my writing.

Is it possible to be too niche? That’s the question I kept asking myself. Had I shoved my way into a community that was so specialized in its battle for change that it was keeping me from growing? In short, no, I had not. I had every right to leave that community and stop fighting for alternative education if I wanted to. The problem was that I didn’t want to give up my interest in alt ed, it was that I began to see the push for different methods of school as a symptom of a much larger consensus; the consensus that the lives we are all living are not primarily dictated by our will. I saw economics, education, politics, lifestyles, etc. all under this umbrella of suppression of free will.

I do think it is possible to be too niche, but I don’t think it is easy or sustainable. Onc I stopped worrying about whether or not my content was relevant and started thinking about the audience I was appealing to, my content became a lot more interesting. Many alt ed advocates also battle for the decentralization of government and laissez-faire policies, topics that I was interested in exploring. Those people didn’t want to read about education 24/7, just like I didn’t want to write about it 24/7. Most people want to see the connections between all of these ideas and form a network of compatible concepts.

Regarding marketing, niches are useful. If you can appeal to a particular idea or group of people, you have a much better chance of building an audience quickly. However, those groups are limited not only in scope but in readers. To create an audience that will last, it’s smarter to use niches as a foundation and expand your content from there.

Start with a niche, build content for those ideas, become familiar with concepts that are compatible with them, and start expanding. Soon enough, you’ll appeal to more than one niche and your content will be on an exponential curve of relevance. Very few people participate in one niche exclusively. There are more than enough opportunities to integrate your ideas into several groups of people. The challenge is patience and perseverance.

Bilingual

I spent four years, 9th through 12th grade, trying to learn Russian.  I would sit in a classroom 4 days a week and stare at an online language learning software for 70 minutes. Usually, I ended my sessions more confused than I had started, wondering where all of the information I was supposed to have learned over the years had gone.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been in a French-speaking country. By just making an effort to speak the language as much as possible, I have learned more about linguistic concepts in 20 days than I did in 4 years of classroom education. Albeit French is much closer to English than Russian, I believe there are many other narratives similar to mine that would support this idea. It frustrates me to think that I spent 70 minutes a day, four days a week, 9 months a year, for 4 years trying to learn a language in a totally unnatural way. That’s 43,000+ minutes or roughly 720 hours of wasted time.

I can’t say anything sophisticated in French, but I can cash out at the grocery store and make baristas smile when I mispronounce something. I have made a lot more connections with people while trying to learn a language naturally than I ever imagined I could. Making an effort to speak in French has been a straightforward and considerate way to make good impressions and even gather a few friends. People generally want foreigners to try to fit in (assimilate, if you will, but that sounds a little too Manifest Destiny for this piece) and doing your best to speak their native language is a fantastic starting place. I want to encourage every linguistics student to think about their time spent in the classroom and then think about how much of that could have been used speaking languages, making real-world connections, and gathering a network of diverse, intelligent people.

Linguistics is a passion of mine so I wouldn’t put down anyone who wants to go to school for it, but I tend to think that a degree in it might be a little silly. What’s more impressive to an employer, a degree in linguistics or fluency in four languages? Which of those accomplishments is going to add more value to their business? I have always been drawn to languages, but I am only beginning to understand how difficult it is to comprehend them without being submerged in the culture they developed from.

I don’t regret my time spent learning Russian. It taught me patience, devotion, and the Cyrillic alphabet, which I probably could not have learned without a classroom. However, it also showed me that my time is something I should give out very cautiously. Those days clicking away on Rosetta Stone were not the most efficient way to learn. Language and the history of communication are so fascinating; I want to absorb as much of them as possible, which means I should be using the most effective tools possible. Language connects people and gives them a common ground. Teaching something like that in an academic setting with very little back and forth communication turns the entire class into an oxymoron.

Eloragh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corrections

As a ballet dancer, I get a lot of corrections. In fact, I go to class and hope that my teacher takes time to correct everything I do wrong. After my day is done, I have a notebook where I write down every last piece of critique or advice that any of my instructors have given me throughout the day. Their thoughts are that valuable to me.

Some dancers have an incredibly difficult time when getting corrections. They see it as a teacher picking on them or criticizing their ability, which can really impede their progress. It can be frustrating to witness those people when you understand where they are in their mind and how far they’ll need to go to move past that mindset. We don’t go to class six days a week and push our bodies to their breaking point because we already have perfect technique, we do it because we know we have the potential to be better. However, being better often requires direction from someone who has already been in our (pointe) shoes. It requires acknowledging that we will always be stronger and weaker in some areas of our dancing, but that constant search for balance is what makes ballet an addicting art.

That is why I treasure criticism and corrections so much. I hold the highest respect for my instructors, as ballet is a horribly frustrating art for everyone involved. External rotation of the hips is something you can’t teach, it’s a feeling each student has to develop differently. I know I can be a frustrating student. I work incredibly hard, but I don’t have the best rotation or the best lines or the best back, etc. I do have a few things going for me, such as my superhuman hyper-extension and extreme passion for the art form. Despite my setbacks, I enjoy knowing that I will always have something to work on and strive for.

Ballet has brought me a lot more than strength and flexibility (although I very much appreciate those two contributions), it has also given me an immense appreciation for criticism and those who are willing to provide it. When I finally understood that a teacher will only give corrections to those that want to get better, I was so happy to hear “point your foot, Eloragh!” from halfway across the studio. It’s motivating that someone recognizes my hard work and wants to give me more opportunities to push myself.

I will admit that some teachers go so far. Last summer I went to Carlisle, PA for a five-week intensive ballet program that I did not enjoy. It was obvious that the teachers didn’t want me there, the administration was not willing to be flexible, and the technique was so extreme that I ended up injuring my lower back by rotating too much. If I had stayed another week, I could have crushed some of the smaller vertebrae near my tailbone. So, yes, criticism can go too far, but in appropriate doses, it can be an essential source of information and wisdom.

I often find myself being very critical of the work I do outside of ballet. Any suggestion of any slight adjustment in something I produced makes me question everything about the product. It’s more difficult – but increasingly important – that I apply my mindset of gratefulness towards criticism or corrections for any kind of work I do. I try to remind myself that if they didn’t think I could do better, they wouldn’t ask me to strive for more.

So, in some ways, I pity the dancers that won’t or can’t take corrections. They are limiting their achievements due to a fear of acknowledging that they are less than perfect. I was only able to start improving when I accepted that perfection is unachievable, but still something to strive for. When I find myself upset that I will never be a flawless dancer with beautifully refined technique, I remind myself of this quote by Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Eloragh