The Respect Question

A few weeks ago I asked my newsletter subscribers* to chime in on this question: “What is respect, to you?”

I asked the question because the topic of respect had been much on my mind based on some newsworthy events. In particular, I wanted to find out if very many people would agree with me that our society seems to be lacking in respect these days.

I was pleased to receive some very thoughtful responses. I don’t know if “pleased” is the right way to describe my feeling about the fact that nearly everyone who responded agreed that respect is in short supply in our current society.

Several friends (everyone who gets my newsletter is a friend, in my book) presented ideas for why respect has fallen out of fashion. We discussed it back and forth (I always try to reply when subscribers take the time to write back), and in general we thought the observed level of disrespect generally didn’t have to do with people being less respectable than they used to be. That is, everyone is still worthy of being respected. Instead, we discussed whether it might be a combination of two things: parents not teaching their children how to display respect, and adults in general not modeling respectful behavior for young people. Since respect seems to be something we learn (like manners, which themselves are indicators of respect), that led to the question of whether respect is something we need to practice lest we forget about it or start to ignore it.

One friend made an excellent distinction between “simple” respect and what he called “high” respect — the difference between the most basic respect we pay to someone as a fellow human being (or even that we pay to the uniform they wear or the office they hold), and the higher respect that they earn by … well, by acting respectable. I contend that we do people a terrible disservice if their failure to earn (or keep) our high respect leads us to deny them even simple respect. Furthermore, I think it’s possible to withhold a measure of respect without blatantly disrespecting someone — thought it may be difficult, and uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, as another friend pointed out, some people have used respect as a shield — or perhaps a bludgeon — by demanding or expecting it rather than actually working to be respectable. She suggested that “the whole concept has been cheapened” as a result. I find that idea just as sad as the generally high level of disrespect I see every day.

I was interested in one friend’s equating respect with trust, and he’s right: it is very difficult to respect someone if we don’t trust them. That’s quite a contrast with respect as the foundation of manners, which can be thought of as the way we ensure that people are comfortable being around us: as one friend wrote, displaying good manners demonstrates that you respect someone. (One of the things I learned long ago about manners — in a talk given by Tony Campolo at a National Youthworkers Convention — is that they may be most needed when we least want to use them. When thought of that way, showing manners to people we may not respect very much demonstrates the difference between simple respect and high respect.)

As another friend wrote, “You don’t treat someone else with respect so that they treat you with respect, or even because you think they are ‘worthy’ of respect — you do it because YOU are worthy of respect, worthy of self-respect, able to meet your own eyes in the mirror.”

respect
(Image: “Respect,” by Martin Abegglen, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I deeply appreciate everyone who offered their opinions and ideas. The more I think about it, the more I’m not sure we can overstate the hazard to society from being unwilling to treat people with simple, basic respect regardless of whether they have earned or squandered any deeper respect. That’s how debates boil over into arguments, arguments boil over into disputes, and disputes boil over into violence. The issue reminds me of an old Robert A. Heinlein quote about the loss of politeness (again, coming back to the question of manners, which themselves demonstrate respect), and how it’s “more significant than a riot” in identifying a dying culture.

I wish I knew how to fix it. I hope it can be fixed.

Do you have any insights? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks, as always, for your time!

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*If you’re not on the list already, you can subscribe to my newsletter at this link.

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Blinded by the Dark

Considering a pseudo-random question that seems relevant to our current societal climate:

Why does being vehemently against something — hating it with a passionate rage — blind us to any merits of the thing?

careful now
Beware what lurks in the darkness of hatred and fear. (Image: “careful now,” by neeel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Consider any number of candidate topics: abortion, guns, the President, nameacontroversialsubject. Why do so many of us end up so adamantly against whatever it is that we cannot bring ourselves to consider the least amount of good in it? Why does it seem that acknowledging even the tiniest merit is some kind of betrayal, rather than an admission that we don’t have all the answers and that most (if not all) issues are not clearly black and white?

Sometimes it seems as if we are afraid to recognize anything good in that thing we despise, because we might begin to question ourselves instead of the hated thing. But in general we’re careful not to question our own conclusions or premises, let alone how we got from one to another; and just as careful not to question our motives or our leaders — and so we build fortifications around our position and prepare not only to defend it, but to attack the other. We guard ourselves against an obvious risk: if we ever accept that the thing we hate has some good aspects, we may begin to recognize that its opposite, the thing we love, is not as pure and perfect as we thought.

As an artifact of my engineering training, I wonder: is there a scale, a curve, a function that describes the point at which opposition produces recalcitrance? And is there a way to draw one another back from the precipice it represents?

I may be the only person who wonders, or cares. But, then again, I’m quite comfortable in the “grey areas” of life — between the black and the white.

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Yes, I’m Giving Teachers a Free Book for Teacher Appreciation Week

UPDATE! I’ve extended this offer through Memorial Day (May 27th). Two more weeks!

This is a little late coming — my blog became inaccessible for a little while after a server upgrade, sorry — but: as I posted on social media, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I’m giving teachers a free e-book.

So: Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher?

From now until the end of the week — or maybe longer, since I got a late start — I will give away a free e-book copy of my 2016 book Quality Education to any teacher who wants one. Send me your e-mail address, tell me what you teach, and say you want the teacher giveaway, and I’ll send it your way!

Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb
(Image: “Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb,” by Shalu Sharma, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In fact, I will give away a free e-book to any teacher you know — just send me their e-mail address and tell me what they teach, and I’ll send it to them as a gift from the two of us! 😉 Or, better yet, share this blog post with them and tell them to write me.

It’s just my way of saying “thank you” to all the teachers out there.

Thanks, and have a great day!

___
P.S. If you want, you can scope out the book on Amazon: Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It.

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In Search of a New Political Slogan

President Trump has had so much success with “Make America Great Again” — which I never fully understood, since I was convinced that the USA was pretty great already, but which I have to admit is continually effective in how it drives some people beyond crazy — that I started thinking I might need a new slogan for my ongoing “Anti-Campaign.”

(For those unfamiliar with the Anti-Candidate’s Anti-Campaign, we offer two musical introductions: “I Think I’ll Run for Congress” and “The Anti-Candidate Song”.)

My first thought was to copy the “MAGA” formula exactly, and one early contender in that vein was “Make America Gray’s Again” — but that seemed too “arrogant and megalomaniacal” even for me 😃. (If you’re not sure about the “arrogant and megalomaniacal” references, you definitely need to listen to the musical introductions above.) Plus, it would need to be somewhat different so as not to confuse people too much.

Anyway, following the “Make America [Something]” structure, we could have things like:

  • MABA — Make America Barbaric Again (for fans of Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” and the rough-and-tumble days of the frontier), though in some respects we’ve crossed that bridge and burned it behind us; alternately, Make America Brave Again might be more appropriate
  • MACA — Make America Confederate Again (since some progressives seem ready to ditch the current Constitution, maybe we should revert to the Articles of Confederation — or did you think I meant a different confederacy?), though it would probably be better to Make America Constitutional Again
  • MADA — Make America Disciples Again (for those of a missionary or Dominionist bent)
  • MAHA — Make America Harmonious Again (for the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” crowd)
  • MAMA — Make America Magnificent Again (maybe too close, thematically, to MAGA … wouldn’t want any copyright infringement issues), but could also be Make America Megalomaniacal & Arrogant 😁
  • MANA — Make America Neutral Again (admit it: you thought it might say “nice” or “native” again, didn’t you?)
  • MAPA — Make America Proud Again (since, as we learned a few years ago, some people don’t have a lot of pride in the USA)
  • MARA — Make America Righteous Again (another one for the evangelicals, and particularly the fundamentalists)
  • MASA — Make America Serious Again (on second thought … naaah)
  • MATA — Make America Trustworthy Again (i.e., a country with integrity: the best friend and worst enemy another country could ever have)

None of those really fit the bill, though, do they? Maybe this is one reason why I wouldn’t be very well-suited to politics.

I’m sure if I were at all serious about running for office, I would bring some smart people into a room and come up with something. But at the moment, if I were serious, I might just turn things around and have my campaign be about GAMA: Giving America Meaning Again.

What do I mean by that? Reminding us that the USA was “brought forth on this continent” for freedom, and that the steps we’ve been taking toward statist control are anathema to freedom. Reminding us what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” mean — and what they don’t mean. Reminding us what government is supposed to do — and what it’s not supposed to do. If, that is, anyone would ever want to listen to another voice crying in the wilderness.

So, if you were an adviser to the Anti-Candidate, or on the Anti-Campaign team, what would you suggest as a good slogan?

___

Don’t forget: As noted here, I’ve been running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, and the last drawings will be held this Monday, the 15th of April. Sign up at this link!

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More on Motivation: Try to Catch Up

This post will express my frustration at an article on KQED’s MindShift blog entitled, “Intrinsic Motivation is Key to Student Achievement — But Schools Can Crush It”.

As the Valley Girls used to say, back when I was writing about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in the original version of Quality Education: “Duh.”

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

It all comes down to motivation. In many schools, students do their work because their teachers tell them to. Or because they need to do it to get a certain grade. For students like Destiny, getting a good grade and outshining their peers — not learning itself — becomes the goal of school. For other students, they need minimum grades to be on sports teams or participate in extracurricular activities or please their parents, and that becomes their motivation. Students who do their work because they’re genuinely interested in learning the material are few and far between.

But that’s exactly backwards.

The teacher demands, the grades, the promise of additional opportunities — they’re all external rewards. Decades of research, both about educational best practice and the way the human brain works, say these types of motivators are dangerous. Offering students rewards for learning creates reliance on the reward. If they becomes less interesting to the student or disappear entirely, the motivation does, too. That’s what happened to Destiny in middle school when she no longer got the reward of being celebrated as the top of her class.

Inspiring students’ intrinsic motivation to learn is a more effective strategy to get and keep students interested. And it’s more than that. Students actually learn better when motivated this way….

That echoes very closely what I wrote — in both the 25-year-old book and its new, improved version.

Just a few weeks ago, though, I posted here about “The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed” when I was writing about students’ motivations to learn. Basically: yes, there’s a lot to be gained by recognizing internal and external motivators, but even more if we recognize that motivators represent (and in some cases are) expectations — either that students have for themselves, or that they perceive others having for them — and students’ tendencies differ depending on whether they are prone to rejecting or trying to meet those expectations.

So my frustration is two-fold: one, a bit of “I told you so,” and two, an annoyance at being reminded that I failed to imagine a more elegant approach.

___

P.S. Not related to education, but a reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link! And note that one of the three gifts you get for signing up is an e-book excerpt of Quality Education — but not the part that deals with motivation.

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What If No One Wanted to Be a Doctor?

A thought experiment: What if literally no one — not you, not anyone — had any desire whatsoever to be a doctor, nurse, emergency medical technician, or any other healthcare worker?

Imagine, for the purpose of this thought experiment, that no one had any interest in anatomy, physiology, or the like; and no one studied fields like radiology, oncology, pharmacology, or whatnot; such that the entire medical profession was unknown and therefore unavailable.

Then, under those conditions, you get sick or injured.

How would you obtain care? Upon whom would you rely?

If you were alone, you would have to treat yourself as best you could; or, even if you weren’t alone you could make the attempt if your symptoms or wounds were slight. Maybe you remember some First Aid from the Boy Scout Handbook, or some folk remedies from one of the Foxfire books, or maybe your parents “doctored” you when you were young and you recall what they did. (In this modern era, you might even try to pull up a YouTube video in hopes that someone had documented their own ordeal.)

If that failed, or your case was beyond your (or the Net’s) abilities, you would likely try to find someone else to help you. You might first ask someone you know, who you know cares about you, to treat you as best they can. If they couldn’t help, you would have to venture further afield and ask someone outside your immediate circle if they might deign to treat you.

Does that sound about right?

How would you ask them? What would you offer in exchange for their trying to help you? Would you promise? Would you plead? Would you threaten?

Doctor
(Image: “Doctor,” by Matt Madd, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If asking didn’t get you the help you sought, would you demand it? Would you — could you — force someone to help you? Would you recruit others to do so? How far would you go, if you had the power?

Thankfully, we don’t live in the world of this thought experiment. We can be grateful that so many people choose the caring professions and study the medical sciences, so that we don’t have to treat ourselves when we’re in distress.

Their numbers, alas, are relatively small; and whenever limited supply meets significant demand, economics can deal heavy blows with its invisible hand. But even though their numbers are small, their impacts are tremendous. How we show our gratitude for their knowledge, skill, and dedication, of course, is up to us.

___

Apropos of nothing, other than the fact that this is my blog: If you missed the announcement, I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, which includes what I’ve been told are rather realistic emergency response and medical scenes. Sign up at this link!

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Whatever Happened to ‘Women and Children First’?

I understand that, in the interest of enforced equality, a judge with an unfortunate first name has ruled that selective service registration is unconstitutional if it applies only to men. The reasoning is that since we now allow women to operate in combat roles, we should require women to register for the draft, and if we don’t register women then we should not be able to register men for the draft.

This has been billed as an “equality” thing, but that’s garbage. Equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of responsibility or requirement. It’s one thing to have opened up combat roles to women who have the ability to fill them (both the physical attributes and the requisite viciousness), but it’s another thing entirely to require women who would never willingly choose such roles to have to sign up for them.

Imagine the difficulty of training drafted women — conscripted, non-volunteer women — for combat roles. But that in and of itself is not my primary concern. Nor is my concern that the proportion of women who can effectively fill combat roles — by dint of either physicality or temperament — is likely a good deal lower than the proportion of men who can do so.

My concern is what forcing women into combat, into life-threatening danger, when there are capable men who could serve in that capacity, may mean for our society.

Used to be, if a ship was sinking and the passengers were directed to lifeboats, women and children would be given the first spots. Any man who took a seat when there were still women and children waiting to board would open himself to general condemnation and charges of cowardice. Given the state of our society these days, I’m not sure that holds true anymore — especially since the court case that resulted in the ruling mentioned above “was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, and two men who argued an all-male draft was unfair.”

Boo-freaking-hoo. Life’s unfair, cupcakes. If this is representative of their approach to life, that group may as well be named the national coalition for poltroons.

Thank God I still know people other than myself who believe, like Robert A. Heinlein, that

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal.

Unfortunately, some people these days seem as if they would welcome genocide. A philosophy professor from my own alma mater not long ago published an op-ed in which he pondered the question of human extinction — and whether it would be all that bad for our race to go extinct since we’ve been so bad for the planet. I confess that I’m selfish enough to say that genocide and human extinction would be bad for me and the people I care about, so I’m not in favor.

RNLI statue
The sculpture, “When I Grow Up” by Darren Jackson, depicts a boy who wants to save lives — a noble calling, and one in which “women and children first” remains an important consideration. (Image: “RNLI Statue,” by Phil Parker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Along less drastic lines, I’ve heard plenty of people declare in triumphant tones that “chivalry is dead,” because after all wasn’t it just a tool of the nebulous but hated patriarchy, meant to keep women in their place? Notwithstanding that any good thing can be misused, modern chivalry couldn’t possibly be an indicator of how highly men value women, and the lengths to which men would go to protect women and ensure their safety, security, and comfort — could it? It certainly couldn’t be an unconscious (but in the end perhaps effective) instinct to preserve the race, could it?

Some people have gone so far as to point out that modern chivalry bears little resemblance to the medieval codes governing knightly combat, and so, even if it’s not exactly dead, it should be. How utterly barbarous. Remove that muzzle very carefully, zookeeper: the bear has teeth, even if you’ve filed down his claws.

Perhaps this historic period of peace and plenty has something to do with these new societal mores. We are not in extremis, so as a culture maybe we have the luxury of devaluing those people among us who are most precious. The emergency will come, however — emergencies always do, and most of us are caught unawares — and holding to these modern sensibilities in the confusion and chaos may spell our societal doom. Not only witless, as Heinlein said, but genocidal. Or, to coin a phrase, genosuicidal.

I hope I’m right that most people, deep down, are fully in favor of “women and children first” — even if they won’t admit it. I certainly am. And I think (and hope) most people would still look askance at any man who intentionally saved his own life knowing that in doing so he was placing his wife or child, or any woman or child, in jeopardy.

But, “call me a relic,” as Bob Seger sang. Please, observe my actions and accuse me of being chivalrous. I will take it as a compliment.

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The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed

If you don’t have time to read all of this right now, just know this: Gretchen Rubin’s formulation of the “Four Tendencies” is brilliant, and I highly recommend it as a model for understanding what motivates people — others as well as ourselves. (I do hope you’ll come back and read through this post when you have time, but I’m serious: Look up her work, go to her website, take the quiz to find your tendency, the whole bit.)

So, then, confession time.

I missed a key aspect of motivation when I wrote the original edition of Quality Education that ASQC Quality Press published back in 1993, and then I repeated my error in the revised version I issued a few years ago. Specifically, I wrote about how schools generally offer more external than internal motivators, and how very often those don’t work to keep students interested and on track — a position that I still believe was correct, but I now know to be incomplete.

Why did I make that mistake? Because I didn’t know about the Four Tendencies model. It would have made my entire discussion about motivation much deeper and much more complete. In my defense, Ms. Rubin had not developed her model when I originally wrote Quality Education in the late ’80s. To my chagrin, however, she had written about the tendencies shortly before I put together my new edition, in her book Better Than Before — but I didn’t learn about them until this year.*

As I say, I don’t think what I wrote about motivation was specifically wrong, just that it could have been better. In chapter 27 of the new edition, for instance, while discussing the “psychology” portion of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge,” I wrote of employees:

Management classically has understood enough psychology to stress external motivation, often smothering internal motivation in the process; this is the legacy of B. F. Skinner and the behaviorists. The over-reliance on external factors (for example, pay, awards, time off) to motivate people essentially prostitutes them to the job, and can even rob them of esteem, dignity, and joy in their accomplishments….

Then in chapter 28, applying Deming’s system to education, I wrote of students’ motivations (and couldn’t resist throwing in a Star Trek reference):

Traditional educational psychology, like traditional management practice, has relied on external motivators to entice or coerce students into learning….

In “Miri,” an episode of the original Star Trek series, we find a look at motivation in education. A group of children is gathered together, playing school. One of them holds a hammer; he is the teacher. “What does a teacher say?” asks another of the children. The boy thinks for a moment before speaking, then emphasizes his words with the hammer as he says, “Study, study, study! Or bonk! bonk! bad kids!” That is external motivation.

Internal motivation is Plato sitting at the feet of Socrates. External motivation is the schoolmaster who raps your knuckles with a ruler. Internal motivation is the children coming to see Jesus. And how did he receive them? He took them in his arms and blessed them….

The extremes of the argument over the use of external motivators are poles apart. On one end managers and teachers believe that external motivation (for example, prizes, awards) is good if it helps one person rise above his previous level, no matter how many others may be hurt or demotivated. On the opposite end are those who believe that regardless of the number of people who appear to be helped by external motivators, they should be avoided if they hurt even one individual. I fall closer toward the latter than the former category.

When I wrote that, I never dreamed of juxtaposing internal and external motivators in the way Ms. Rubin does with inner and outer expectations in the Four Tendencies model. (I wish I had.)

By examining how different people may — or may not! — respond to expectations imposed on them from outside, or the expectations they have of themselves, Ms. Rubin divides all of us into four groups as shown in this graphic from her website:


The Four Tendencies model, developed by Gretchen Rubin.

Applying the Four Tendencies to the classroom, we see that some students respond well to the expectations inherent in the external motivators that many teachers use: they are the Obligers and the Upholders. (Ms. Rubin’s research has shown that Obligers form the largest cohort of the population, and I contend that the prevalence of Obligers is probably a necessary condition to developing a healthy, functioning society.) Those students who respond less well to external motivators are the Questioners and the Rebels. Based on my reading of her work, I now see that my call for discovering and relying more on internal than external motivators — i.e., finding and feeding students’ inner expectations — might work for Questioners, but I effectively missed the Rebel cohort entirely. I did not recognize their outlook at all, so I did not even consider their needs, nor did I try to find ways to help Rebels see the benefits of school and learning.

The aspect of motivation missing from Quality Education, then, is the idea that internal and external expectations and motivators are not a coin to be flipped or an either-or proposition to be considered. We don’t respond in the same way or to the same degree to each. Some of us respond well to both; some respond well to one and not the other; and some do not respond well to either.

Ms. Rubin explains that identifying our tendencies as to how readily we respond to each can help us understand our behavior and our relationships. Not just our personal relationships, but our relationships to institutions such as home and school and church, and our relationships to activities such as work and play and learning.

In sum, I find Ms. Rubin’s approach to be both more elegant and more complete than the simple internal-versus-external approach I took. Not that my approach was completely wrong — I still think what I wrote is sound, and that it’s important to recognize the differences between the types of motivators — but her approach is much better. I highly recommend her work — and I hope my readers will forgive my lack of insight and foresight.

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*Better Than Before came out in 2015. I only learned about the tendencies a few weeks ago, when I picked up Ms. Rubin’s 2017 book, appropriately titled The Four Tendencies.

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What Age Do We Live In?

I suppose it will eventually be up to future historians to give some descriptive name to this time — if they go with Heinlein’s “Crazy Years,” I wouldn’t be too shocked — but if you could give this current era a name, what would it be?

Would you name it according to what’s going on in the U.S. — political battles, deepening social divides, and such? Or would your name try to encompass what’s going on in other parts of the world as well?

It’s the “Age of …” — what?

flower of romance
“By any other name,” right? No matter what we call this age, it will still have thorns to go with its flowers. (Image: “flower of romance,” by mario, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

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So Many Things in My Head …

Between trying to make progress on the new novel (writing the thing, as well as adding more detail to the fictional world); and looking at other people’s novels for the “day job”; and reviewing chapters of the forthcoming audiobook version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds (paperback version at this link); and reading bits of other books for pleasure; and spending time with family in the real world; and looking over notes for literally dozens of possible blog entries that I’ll probably never flesh out; and reading interesting articles that come to my attention; and comparing products that I might want to buy; and interacting with other people by e-mail or text or social media; and playing songs every once in a while; and looking at possible graduate courses to take; is it any wonder that my brain feels like this:

IMG_4156
I can’t seem to stay in one mental lane long enough to get where I want to go! (Image by Joshua McKenty on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lord, help me figure out what mental road I should take to get where I need to go.

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