Proof of Concept: Why Evidence Matters

In a world full of deception and lying, it’s only natural that many people would develop a strong sense of skepticism. It’s a defense against the scams and cons that prevail. This creates a cultural ecosystem of disbelief. The question is, how do you communicate an honest message and promote a cause or brand you believe in without being drowned out by naysayers and a tendency to doubt? 

One answer is to prove your concept repeatedly until it is undeniable. If you believe something to be true, then show it. Show how it works. Show what doesn’t work. Explain why. Doing the work of proving a concept is the best way to build credibility. You must earn people’s trust.

Accountability is the key to credibility. If you believe something to be good for you, then showing how it works only makes sense. This is one of the reasons why we value live performances. Without the ability to edit, the live performance creates the appearance of credibility, it is proof of the performer’s abilities.

The most effective way to prove your concept is with consistency. If you can repeatedly come up with the same results, then you have an art. If you achieve your desired goal, but can’t repeat it, then you might have just been lucky. It is through consistent repetition that we gradually grow to believe that someone is honest and that something they are promoting is true. The proof is in the evidence.

7 Days a Play: As You Like It and Learning

My only rule for writing these daily blogs is that I don’t do any research at the time of writing. I want to write strictly from what I have retained from listening to the plays and the lectures. This means that I’m going to get some things wrong in the earliest blogs. During the first two or three blogs I may still be trying to sort out the characters. For example, I made the mistake of thinking that Rosalind’s father was recently deceased, but he was just kicked out of the court, banished to the countryside. 

I’m listening to the play each day and then writing a new blog each morning and I plan to do this for seven days for each play. So, as I listen to the play on day three, I might catch something that I had wrong about a character or the plot in an earlier draft. I will likely go back later and edit those posts to accurately reflect the plays’ content, but I think it is interesting to show the process of getting there, too. This is one of the great tricks of literature or any difficult writing. You must make your way through a process of misunderstanding it and by continuing to study and think about the subject you form a clearer and more accurate depiction of the text.

There is a value in leaving a paper trail that shows your growth. Earlier cringy versions of your attempts to express ideas only make the eventual success that much more impactful. There is an innocence expressed in bad writing. Take Orlando in the forest of Arden pining away after his love for Rosalind. Shakespeare uses the scene to make fun of bad poetry, but he is also highlighting his own skill and showing the audience through caricature something about the nature of a certain kind of poetic inspiration. 

Orlando’s buffoonery is also his authenticity. His passion for Rosalind is literally littering the forest with failed attempts to get it right.  Mad with love, he wills himself through the process any artist must undergo. He must learn his craft. His bad writing is only matched by his bad reading as Rosalind convinces him that she is someone else, a man even. He is so consumed with his feelings of unrequited love that he fails to recognize she is right there behind that fake beard talking to him about said love.

In As You Like It, Orlando is transformed from a valiant fighter to an unskilled lover and it is highly entertaining to Rosalind and the audience to watch him stumble with his attempts to understand his feelings. Through staging the scene, she gives the audience view to her own pleasure. Rosalind is a masterful writer. She understands skillful deception and uses it to create a context for comedy. Orlando’s uncontrollable enthusiasm makes him vulnerable to being deceived. Rosalind is a benevolent opportunist, taking full advantage of his impaired state to make fun of him.

The transformation of Orlando shows how important context is. He asserts himself in the court, first through a legal appeal to his inheritance and then through a physical wrestling match. He is actively fighting against the limitations imposed upon him. What he doesn’t expect, though, is to fall in love with an admirer. She got into his consciousness and absolutely destroyed his mind.

He begins a second childhood in the forest stumbling through understanding his feelings hampered by a difficulty with words. Orlando abandons his desire to pursue his rightful portion of family power and instead focuses all his attention on understanding his feelings of love for Rosalind. As a bad writer, a naïve poet, Orlando’s portrait of transformation through romantic attraction shows us how dynamic Shakespeare found humans to be. 

There is also in this interaction a portrait of the positive influence of affinity. As You Like It could refer to the process of growth that occurs as a natural consequence of rooting for something. Being a fan of something or someone is the force that leads to a greater understanding of it. As you like it, you grow to know it and eventually to interact with style, flow, and grace. It shows the strength of the desire to live, the will to love.

The Politics of Positivity and Self-Improvement

We are in this together. The power of our combined forces is strong enough to transform the world. When we truly unite, we can make miracles happen. When we find synergy, we make light work of heavy tasks.

We have every reason to work as a team. The purpose of coming together is clear as spring water. We can build a better future for our kids. Every part of our culture and of our economy has changed and this is our chance to reimagine it. 

Remaining respectful during times of crisis will earn us respect. Finding ways to resolve our own internal conflicts in order to show up in a way that is productive to dialogue will create trust. Making time to communicate will keep the conversation moving forward. The better we become at these things through practice, the more powerful our collaborations will be.

Setting a positive tone is a radical gesture in a world where the default mode is fighting. Taking the more challenging path of optimism in the face of daunting odds displays more courage and attracts our admiration. Rising above the instinct to argue by passionately pursuing an activity, a relationship, a way of living opens up another important space in our culture. The confidence that comes from practice will reinforce our choice and over time the habit of being radically positive will create a space. All the things that fill this space of radical positivity will become the new lifestyle.

Practices that promote fitness and mental health, like eating foods with nutritional value, exercising regularly, reading and researching to educate yourself about best practices, all of these things will improve our collective situation. By improving yourself, you improve the collective. The more disciplined we can be in taking care of our own business, the more influential we stand to become in the long run.

Self-improvement is closely related to and different than self-promotion. The desire to improve your product, your service or how you communicate about your business leads to better outcomes for everyone. When we encourage and incentivize the desire to be better, to self-improve, then we nurture a culture of progress. The stronger that tendency to desire education, to study and practice a craft, the greater the learning curve will be. 

Teaching, Marketing and Leadership: Why Public Education is a Broken System

Education is one of the strange social contracts we are born into. We don’t get a choice. We have to go to school. It starts before we can possibly understand what it would even mean. School is where we learn about the social conditions that lead to school. Education is such an intrinsic part of the U.S. citizen’s experience of childhood that we don’t even question it. It is too close to us. It has become normalized. We have been culturally conditioned to believe in school.

Have we been lied to?

Education offers no guarantee of social inclusion or financial success. Anyone who does the work to really study and understand a subject will likely benefit from that education, but that is probably a very rare experience among the vastly wasteful and traumatic institution of public education, generally. For most people, school is the closest they will come to being in jail. 

If education was what it said it was, if schools and teachers were adequately funded, then people would be attracted to attend. The fact that we compensate teachers so minimally reveals something closer to the truth about the value of education. As it exists now, it is not worth as much as it should be, and it shows in the way teachers are rewarded. The secret truth is that education is a system that needs to be radically reconsidered and reformed to fit the world we are building. We need a technological revolution in education. We need to rethink how it is done.

When I was in graduate school and teaching at UCSC, there was this trend that was disturbing to a lot of people at the time. Students would evaluate the performance of their teacher at the end of the course and there was a general sense of entitlement and an attitude that is more typical of a customer than a student. The fact that the university is using graduate student labor to teach undergrads, however, is another example undervaluing education. It is a commodity, and it is sometimes a low budget production that is also incredibly expensive. 

Would it be better if we treated education like a business? It would be more honest. We would try harder. There is something about how our educational system is designed that takes the best from us and does not prepare us to succeed in any way, except through compliance. It teaches us the consequence of non-compliance. If school was a good system, it wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on the threat of punishment. 

And yet, school can be a great system. It can work really well for some people. When it is adequately resourced, education can be a thriving and vital culture. When I went to Lewis and Clark College, there was a lot of feeling of freedom. The educational resources were there for you. There was a 14:1 student to professor ratio. You went to dinner at your professor’s homes. It was an intimate experience.

I remember one of the best teachers I ever had, John Haugse, was a visiting painting instructor and he was giving us advice about applying to MFA programs. He said show up to the school on a Friday afternoon and see how busy it is. If the place is humming with activity and people have their hands dirty, then that’s a good sign. If it is quiet, the program is lackluster and won’t get you where you need to go.

Higher education is a gnarly careerist culture. The politics of academia are mind numbing. People are competing for positions of power. It is some strange cross between celebrity-based reality television like programming and pencil pushing accounting. A lot of it is just paperwork. But it is all highly political and therefore everything becomes politicized. You would think that there would be a meritocracy in education, but nepotism and relationships matter as much or more there than in other industries. 

The fallacious foundation of K-12 public education is that it is necessary, which prevents most educators from seeing it as a business. They see it as a utility and therefore do not take it as seriously. In higher education, at least, there is some sense that you have to compete to achieve status. The high school teacher has what power they have because the state gave it to them.

Here’s another way to look at it. In any college curriculum there will be some courses that are mandatory and some courses that are elective. Teaching a course that is a requirement is so much harder and less rewarding than teaching a course that is elective. When people choose to be there instead of having to be there they perform and behave so much better it is hard to describe. It is like the difference between being a prison guard or being the coach of a basketball team. An army of volunteers performs better than an army of conscripts.

What is the original sin of U.S. children that they need to endure 13 years of mandatory institutionalization? What crime did they commit? Why are we asking them to pay with so much of their valuable time? Why don’t people want to go to school? Why don’t they want to study the topics? We haven’t made the experience good enough for them to want to attend. We haven’t earned their attention. 

If we want education to become a better system, we would do well to look at why it relies on a system of punishments. What alternatives could we come up with that would engage with students on a level that would help them to thrive? How can we save our educational system?