Sep 17
Sep 13

tedx:

Deep sea diving … in a wheelchair? Artist Sue Austin takes her wheels underwater to combat limiting views of disability

After a battle with illness damaged her ability to walk, artist Sue Austin started using a wheelchair. In a talk at TEDxWomen, she describes how beginning to use a wheelchair — something she found exciting and freeing — inspired people she knew to treat her differently:

"Even though I had this new-found joy and freedom," she says in her talk, “people’s reaction completely changed towards me. It was as if they couldn’t see me anymore, as if an invisibility cloak had descended.

"They seemed to see me in terms of their assumptions of what it must be like to be in a wheelchair.

"When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like ‘limitation,’ ‘fear,’ ‘pity’ and ‘restriction.’ I realized I’d internalized these responses and it had changed who I was on a core level. A part of me had become alienated from myself. I was seeing myself not from my perspective, but vividly and continuously from the perspective of other people’s responses to me.

"As a result, I knew I needed to make my own stories about this experience, new narratives to reclaim my identity."

Sue began to factor her wheelchair into her art, hoping to encourage viewers to reconsider the way they look at disability — to show that a wheelchair isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to experience the world in a different way.

One way she did this was by working with a team to create a self-propelled wheelchair that works underwater, allowing Sue to scuba without leaving her chair.

I realized that scuba gear extends your range of activity in just the same way that a wheelchair does,” she says in her talk, “but the associations attached to scuba gear are ones of excitement and adventure — completely different to people’s responses to the wheelchair. So I thought, ‘I wonder what will happen if I put the two together?’

At first, the goal seemed impossible: “When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn’t work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water — but I was sure it would,” Austin told the BBC. But things worked out, and the results are quite spectacular. “If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the center of gravity so you rotate,” she said. “It was certainly much more acrobatic than I anticipated.”

Watch Sue’s entire talk below, and see more of her art at her website.

Aug 26

Facebook Makes Us Sadder And Less Satisfied, Study Finds

August 20, 201310:35 AM

Researchers say Facebook use can lead to a decline in happiness and satisfaction.

Joerg Koch/AP

Facebook’s mission “to make the world more open and connected” is a familiar refrain among company leaders. But the latest research shows connecting 1.1 billion users around the world may come at a psychological cost.

A new University of Michigan study on college-aged adults finds that the more they used Facebook, the worse they felt. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found Facebook use led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction.

"There’s a huge amount of interest … because Facebook is so widespread," says research co-author John Jonides, a University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist. “With something like half a billion people who use Facebook every day, understanding the consequences of that use on our well being is of critical importance.”

The study authors did not get at the reasons Facebook made their test subjects feel glum. But Jonides suspects it may have to do with social comparison.

"When you’re on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing. That sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook," he says.

Interestingly, Jonides notes, the study found the effects of Facebook are most pronounced for those who socialize the most “in real life.” He says the folks who did the most direct, face-to-face socializing and used social media were the ones who reported the most Facebook-related mood decline.

"It suggests that when you are engaging in social interactions a lot, you’re more aware of what others are doing and, consequently, you might be more sensitized about what’s happening on Facebook and comparing that to your own life," Jonides says.

The researchers also tested and discounted other reasons for our unhappiness. TheUniversity of Michigan notes:

"[Researchers] also found no evidence for two alternative possible explanations for the finding that Facebook undermines happiness. People were not more likely to use Facebook when they felt bad. In addition, although people were more likely to use Facebook when they were lonely, loneliness and Facebook use both independently predicted how happy participants subsequently felt. ‘Thus, it was not the case that Facebook use served as a proxy for feeling bad or lonely,’ says [lead author Ethan] Kross.”

We reached out to Facebook for a response, but got an automatic reply. These findings, however, add data points in our quest to understand Facebook and other social media’s effect on our emotional well-being, whether it’s the behemoth social network’s role after relationships end or our feelings of regret after pressing “share.”

If you’re feeling bummed, researchers did test for and find a solution. The prescription for Facebook despair is less Facebook. Researchers found that face-to-face or phone interaction — those outmoded, analog ways of communication — had the opposite effect. Direct interactions with other human beings led people to feel better.

Read the full study at PLOS One.

Aug 06

Kevin Breel is Inspiracity: Speaker, Comic, Teenager, Activist, Popular Kid …

My story is this. Four simple words: I suffer from depression. For a long time I think I was living two totally different lives, where one person was always afraid of the other. I was afraid that people would see me for who I really was. That I wasn’t the perfect, popular kid in high school everyone thought I was. That beneath my smile there was struggle. And beneath my light there was dark. And beneath my big personality just hid even bigger pain.

The world I believe in is where where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we are measured by our ability to overcome adversities not avoid them. 

Jul 19

A boy prepares with his jetpack.
By Linda Holmes

Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed films including Looperand Brick, not to mention directing a few episodes of Breaking Bad, tweeted early this morning: “To me the great hope is one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to make a summer movie where skyscrapers don’t fall over like dominoes.”

This took me a moment to process as I rubbed my eyes over a cup of coffee, but I eventually understood the plaintive wish at the center of his surprisingly profound statement, and I recognized it:When I am drowning in the familiar, I am comforted by the belief that somewhere there is a kid who will one day do something different.

And my next thought was, “If I were that girl, why would I believe anyone would care?” So the thought after that was, “I need to write that girl a letter.”

So these are my survival hints for young creative weirdos, a phrase I use not just with love but with reverence. I take in a lot of books, movies, television, online writing, and other stuff. You are the ones who will keep making it. You will make the summer movie without the skyscrapers, you will make the better summer movie with skyscrapers, and most importantly, you will make the thing I’m not picturing because I couldn’t possibly — only you could.

Don’t confuse what people are getting with what people want. It’s very easy to pull back and think, “Well, superhero movies are what people want; that’s just the way it is, so who cares about my idea for a story about a family operating a grapefruit grove?”

But Superman has only been around for 75 years. A hundred years ago — within the lifetimes of many people who are still alive! — we didn’t even have superheroes in their current form. If you had told people then, “I am a young person, and I intend to create Superman,” they would have told you, “That’s nice, dear, eat your dinner.” Things change.

What that means is that there was an audience somewhere that was open to Superman but not getting Superman. That goes for both the sublime (there was an audience for Avenue Qbefore there was Avenue Q) and the ridiculous (there was an audience for Twilight before there was Twilight). The fact that nobody is doing what you imagine doing is the beginning of your idea, not the end. People want to read things that haven’t been written, see things that haven’t been made, and hear things that don’t yet exist. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see yourself reflected in what’s being shown to you, let alone what’s being heavily marketed to you.

Learn the difference between feedback and criticism. Feedback is primarily for you; criticism (in the sense of “a movie critic” or “an arts critic”) is primarily not. Criticism is part of an ongoing cultural conversation that’s designed to make everybody smarter and better and more thoughtful and to advance the art form itself; it’s done even when the creator of a piece is long dead. It’s not really for you.

Feedback, on the other hand, is aimed at you to make you better, and that’s the only kind of feedback worth paying attention to. If you can’t listen to it and take it in without your hackles rising, you will never become good. Period, boom, g’bye.

But! Only listen to it if it’s supposed to make you better, not if it’s supposed to make you stop. And remember: much of what is presented as criticism or feedback is not about you at all. Some people are just walking around with a mouthful of acid, and they spit it at you because you’re there. You will know them by their tendency to spit acid at everyone indiscriminately and by their inability to love anything as much as they hate everything.

Get to know pod theory. When you work with a group of people on a project (as you probably often will) and it goes well, make them what we’ll call your “pod.” (One of my past editors taught me that phrase.) Your pod may grow out of your band, or your camp friends, or your college friends, or the people in a play with you, or the people who work on your web site. You’ll notice pods all over the place, especially on Twitter, if you follow writers and musicians and comedians and people like that. There are groups of them that know each other, talk back and forth — those are pods.

What you want isn’t to beat everybody else in your pod and be the biggest success; what you want is for everybody to do well. What’s good for somebody in the pod is good for the whole pod. (This is a rough translation of “it’s who you know,” but it doesn’t matter who you know if you know a bunch of people who don’t help each other out.)

Do a lot. This may seem like strange advice, but I mean it — do a lot. Write a lot, paint a lot, shoot a lot of film, take a lot of pictures, dance a lot, sing a lot, whatever the thing you do is, do it a lot. You have to get limber and skilled, so that when you have an idea, you can manipulate it and do the work part of the work. The idea is sort of the balloon in a balloon animal; you have to have it, and it has to be strong, or else there’s nothing. But you’ll be distinguished more by your handling of it than by the thing itself, and the best way to do that is to do the thing you do a lot.

You may well make your first — and best — art from the things you most wish wouldn’t happen. This is the most personal part of this advice. Bear with me.

Everything worthwhile has a strong feeling in it, which means if you’re going to make great stuff, you’re going to have strong feelings. This is part of why people associate artistic types with moody outbursts or temper tantrums or lying around saying, “Oh life!” And it’s sort of true.

But you may also find that you have all the big feelings, including the incredibly uncool big feelings. There are things I did, particularly in middle school and to a lesser extent high school, that are just so mortifying to me that I hesitate to describe them in detail. (One example: I once went to a local jewelry store at the mall to meet an Olympic skater who was signing autographs there, because one of my friends told me he was cute, so when I met him, what came out of my mouth was, “My friend told me I should come meet you because you’re so cute.”) (I still hate that I did this. Still. And I was 13.) (Wanted. To. Die.) (Still do.) (I apologize, Peter Carruthers.)

I was terminally awkward, like I was trying to operate a computer with mittens on, so that socially speaking, instead of typing “Hi!” I would wind up typing “HA4TFAT4WEAW!” and people would back away.

The chances are excellent that at some point, you will do something like this — something big, intentionally or accidentally theatrical, something that you will still slightly sweat telling people about in 30 years. It is who you are. It marks you, and us, and those who are like you, and us. (Hey, flawless impulse control is overrated.)

Here’s the good news: that may be your first material. The first personal essay I ever wrote in the style I write now was something I wrote in my junior year of high school about being in eighth grade and accidentally dumping my entire dinner in my lap at the annual banquet of the Delaware Society of Professional Engineers, where I was being honored for my accomplishments on the math team.

Now just chew on that for a minute. If there were an Uncool Olympics based on that experience, I would be dancing up and down the levels of the medal stand with all three medals in my hands, and they would play my anthem three times while I waved all the medals yelling, “That’s right, suckers. SNACK ON THIS, FOR I AM TRIUMPHANT.”

But something in me recognized it as funny rather than purely miserable, and I wrote about it, and people thought it was funny. That same year, I started writing something I called Memoirs From The Country Club’s Reject Pile, where I mined additional embarrassing and/or treacherous tales of acting like a doofus for material. As you can tell just from that title, there is a direct line from that project — now lost to the ages, and manufactured from the scraps of my embarrassments like a loony patchwork quilt — to what I’m doing now, on account of which I once got to act like a doofus in front of Jon Hamm at the Television Critics Association awards!

I WIN.

(Cue Joni Mitchell’s "The Circle Game.")

And so in closing. Out here, we are already waiting for you. We are already anxious for you; Rian Johnson is anxious for you in the middle of the night in between thinking about award-winning directing jobs. Out here, we want to see your stuff. Don’t get me wrong — some of us will disappoint, reject, confuse, misunderstand, mislead, or even exploit you. (Not the good ones of us on those last couple. But some.) But we want to see your stuff. Keep going.

Photo by istockphotos

Source: http

Jun 08

"Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of helpless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn’t say a word, but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that."The hecklers ceased their attack. "I will never forget it," Robinson quoted in the biography by Arnold Rampersad, 

It was simple on its face, but as deeply layered as the gesture it memorialized. With Robinson receiving death threats and heckling and taunts from the crowd in a ballpark on the road, Pee Wee Reese walked over to him on the infield at a point either before or during a game and offered a quiet but significant gesture of friendship and comradeship.”My father had done his own soul searching,” said Mark Reese, Pee Wee’s son, “and he knew that some fans, teammates, and yes, some family members didn’t want him to play with a black man.”“I remember Jackie talking about Pee Wee’s gesture the day it happened,” Rachel Robinson said yesterday. “It came as such a relief to him, that a teammate and the captain of the team would go out of his way in such a public fashion to express friendship.”

November 2, 2005, Two Men Who Did the Right Thing, New York Times By IRA BERKOW

May 06
Beginning in 1996, Radio Diaries gave tape recorders to teenagers around the country to create audio diaries about their lives. NPR’s All Things Considered aired intimate portraits of five of these teens: Amanda, Juan, Frankie, Josh and Melissa. They’re now in their 30s. Over this past year, the same group has been recording new stories about where life has led them for our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited.
Here’s our first installment: Amanda Brand is gay. Her family is conservative Catholic, and when she was a teenager, her parents were convinced she was only going through a phase. Recently, Amanda sat down with her mother and father in Queens, N.Y., in the same house she grew up in, to revisit her tumultuous teen years.
Teenage Diaries Revisited: A Gay Teen’s Family, ‘Evolved’
Photo: Radio Diaries (left), David Gilkey/NPR

Beginning in 1996, Radio Diaries gave tape recorders to teenagers around the country to create audio diaries about their lives. NPR’s All Things Considered aired intimate portraits of five of these teens: Amanda, Juan, Frankie, Josh and Melissa. They’re now in their 30s. Over this past year, the same group has been recording new stories about where life has led them for our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited.

Here’s our first installment: Amanda Brand is gay. Her family is conservative Catholic, and when she was a teenager, her parents were convinced she was only going through a phase. Recently, Amanda sat down with her mother and father in Queens, N.Y., in the same house she grew up in, to revisit her tumultuous teen years.

Teenage Diaries Revisited: A Gay Teen’s Family, ‘Evolved’

Photo: Radio Diaries (left), David Gilkey/NPR

Source: NPR

Apr 28



“To live in this worldyou must be ableto do three things:to love what is mortal;to hold itagainst your bones knowingyour own life depends on it;and, when the time comes to let it go,to let it go.”  






—Mary Oliver from “In Blackwater Woods”, in American Primitive (via growing-orbits)

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
”  

—Mary Oliver from “In Blackwater Woods”, in American Primitive (via growing-orbits)

Source: eaau

Apr 20

This biopic of Temple Grandin, illustrates the possibilities of overcoming limitations even autism. Temple did not speak until she was four. She had difficulty with social relationships and emotional regulation through out her childhood. She processed information differently, experiencing things visually, as pictures.Temple’s mother and several teachers supported and nurtured her potential. She developed an interest in cattle while spending time at her Aunt and Uncle’s ranch. This passion ultimately led Temple became an expert in animal husbandry and Professor at Colorado State University. Her humane designs for cattle processing plants has done her awards from PETA. She is an author and tireless advocate  for those with autism. She is noted for creating the ‘hug box’, a way of relieving stress. 

Apr 19
Apr 17
Apr 01

Learning From Kurt Cobain’s Mistakes




by Nicole J. Georges
My mother picked me up from school in early April 1994. I was barely a teenager, lips stretched over braces as I focused my attention on the radio dial, seeking an alternative station whenmy mom delivered some news: “Oh, your buddy died.”
"Who is ‘my buddy?’ "




"Uhhh … whatshisname … the screaming, you know, the blonde. …"
She was talking about Kurt Cobain.
I had absolutely no right to be as upset about Cobain’s passing as I was. You know, someone famous dies and you feel forlorn for a few hours because you didn’tknow them. But when Cobain died, I was devastated.
In part, I blame his biographer Michael Azerrad.
I found his book at Barnes & Noble. There — in the music section — was the perfect heart map for my teenage angst: Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana.
In no time at all, the book was dog-eared, crusty, bent back, spine cracked and totally disgusting. I dragged it into the bathtub, into school, looked at it while I was eating, sitting on a curb, in the car, anywhere.
It is a book about three band members (plus musician Courtney Love) whose rejection of the mainstream made them even more popular within it. They appealed to outsiders everywhere, and they appealed to me.
I identified so heavily with the protagonist of the story that I started shaving the sides of my head, playing guitar, seeking out punk records and romanticizing drugs. I melded my own personal angst (divorce, family secrets, outsider status) with Cobain’s. I took control of the alienation I felt in the suburbs and embraced it.
I would lie on the ground in my room pretending to be dead on the anniversary of Cobain’s suicide every month, weeping as Nirvana Unplugged played behind me.
I was so performatively distraught that I decided to make an appointment with the school counselor. I signed myself up on the door to her office and was called in later that afternoon to talk about my troubles.
I told the counselor about my depression.
Not any real, family things, but the grief I was feeling about Cobain. She looked genuinely concerned. After furrowing her brow she suggested that if I were to follow Kurt’s example too closely, I might end up making some of his mistakes. I left the office considering this. Perhaps modeling my life after a deceased heroin addict wasn’t the best takeaway from his suicide.
I picked the book back up and looked a little closer at the things that made Cobain feel alive. His style of punk, as told by Azerrad, was “do-it-yourself, be-yourself, low-tech ethos.” Punk and zines.
I went back to the idol-worship drawing board. I started attending shows by local punk bands. I found zines by girls who were writing about their darkest secrets — liberating themselves by transforming these shames into art. I then started writing myself. And I found readers who understood, forging a place for myself in punk culture.

By this time in my life, I was a professional Portlander, desensitized to celebrity. I looked upon my teenage idol-worship with embarrassment. But when Courtney looked up at me from the couch and appraised my outfit for her boyfriend (“nerdy” and “very Olympia”), my heart skipped a beat. I owed it to that awkward, angsty 13-year-old inside of me to be over the moon with excitement. I had arrived to the party 10 years late, but I had arrived.

Years later, in my 20s, I was folding xeroxed copies of my zine in an L.A. rehearsal space waiting for my date to finish band practice when I met Courtney Love, slumped on a couch next to a seedy-looking manager-kind-of-boyfriend-guy.
By this time in my life, I was a professional Portlander, desensitized to celebrity. I looked upon my teenage idol-worship with embarrassment. But when Courtney looked up at me from the couch and appraised my outfit for her boyfriend (“nerdy” and “very Olympia”), my heart skipped a beat. I owed it to that awkward, angsty 13-year-old inside of me to be over the moon with excitement. I had arrived to the party 10 years late, but I had arrived.
PG-13 is produced and edited by NPR Books.

Learning From Kurt Cobain’s Mistakes

"Uhhh … whatshisname … the screaming, you know, the blonde. …"

She was talking about Kurt Cobain.

I had absolutely no right to be as upset about Cobain’s passing as I was. You know, someone famous dies and you feel forlorn for a few hours because you didn’tknow them. But when Cobain died, I was devastated.

In part, I blame his biographer Michael Azerrad.

I found his book at Barnes & Noble. There — in the music section — was the perfect heart map for my teenage angst: Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana.

In no time at all, the book was dog-eared, crusty, bent back, spine cracked and totally disgusting. I dragged it into the bathtub, into school, looked at it while I was eating, sitting on a curb, in the car, anywhere.

It is a book about three band members (plus musician Courtney Love) whose rejection of the mainstream made them even more popular within it. They appealed to outsiders everywhere, and they appealed to me.

I identified so heavily with the protagonist of the story that I started shaving the sides of my head, playing guitar, seeking out punk records and romanticizing drugs. I melded my own personal angst (divorce, family secrets, outsider status) with Cobain’s. I took control of the alienation I felt in the suburbs and embraced it.

I would lie on the ground in my room pretending to be dead on the anniversary of Cobain’s suicide every month, weeping as Nirvana Unplugged played behind me.

I was so performatively distraught that I decided to make an appointment with the school counselor. I signed myself up on the door to her office and was called in later that afternoon to talk about my troubles.

I told the counselor about my depression.

Not any real, family things, but the grief I was feeling about Cobain. She looked genuinely concerned. After furrowing her brow she suggested that if I were to follow Kurt’s example too closely, I might end up making some of his mistakes. I left the office considering this. Perhaps modeling my life after a deceased heroin addict wasn’t the best takeaway from his suicide.

I picked the book back up and looked a little closer at the things that made Cobain feel alive. His style of punk, as told by Azerrad, was “do-it-yourself, be-yourself, low-tech ethos.” Punk and zines.

I went back to the idol-worship drawing board. I started attending shows by local punk bands. I found zines by girls who were writing about their darkest secrets — liberating themselves by transforming these shames into art. I then started writing myself. And I found readers who understood, forging a place for myself in punk culture.

By this time in my life, I was a professional Portlander, desensitized to celebrity. I looked upon my teenage idol-worship with embarrassment. But when Courtney looked up at me from the couch and appraised my outfit for her boyfriend (“nerdy” and “very Olympia”), my heart skipped a beat. I owed it to that awkward, angsty 13-year-old inside of me to be over the moon with excitement. I had arrived to the party 10 years late, but I had arrived.

Years later, in my 20s, I was folding xeroxed copies of my zine in an L.A. rehearsal space waiting for my date to finish band practice when I met Courtney Love, slumped on a couch next to a seedy-looking manager-kind-of-boyfriend-guy.

By this time in my life, I was a professional Portlander, desensitized to celebrity. I looked upon my teenage idol-worship with embarrassment. But when Courtney looked up at me from the couch and appraised my outfit for her boyfriend (“nerdy” and “very Olympia”), my heart skipped a beat. I owed it to that awkward, angsty 13-year-old inside of me to be over the moon with excitement. I had arrived to the party 10 years late, but I had arrived.

PG-13 is produced and edited by NPR Books.

Mar 30
bookpickings:

Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
Timeless wisdom from Viktor Frankl

bookpickings:

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

Timeless wisdom from Viktor Frankl

Look for the Silver Linings

Mar 29









"So the focus is on the process of persisting through it despite the challenges, not giving up, and that’s what leads to success," Li says.
All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.











In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.
"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ "
Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.
"I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire," he says, "because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ "
But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.
Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.
"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart," Stigler says. "It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."
In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.
"They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing," Stigler says. "I mean it sounds bad, but I think that’s what they’ve taught them."
Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it’s possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.
It’s a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications.
'Struggle'
Stigler is not the first psychologist to notice the difference in how East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.
Jin Li is a professor at Brown University who, like Stigler, compares the learning beliefs of Asian and U.S. children. She says that to understand why these two cultures view struggle so differently, it’s good to step back and examine how they think about where academic excellence comes from.
For the past decade or so, Li has been recording conversations between American mothers and their children, and Taiwanese mothers and their children. Li then analyzes those conversations to see how the mothers talk to the children about school.
She shared with me one conversation that she had recorded between an American mother and her 8-year-old son.
The mother and the son are discussing books. The son, though young, is a great student who loves to learn. He tells his mother that he and his friends talk about books even during recess, and she responds with this:






Mother: Do you know that’s what smart people do, smart grown-ups?
Child: I know … talk about books.
Mother: Yeah. So that’s a pretty smart thing to do to talk about a book.
Child: Hmmm mmmm.






It’s a small exchange — a moment. But Li says, this drop of conversation contains a world of cultural assumptions and beliefs.
Essentially, the American mother is communicating to her son that the cause of his success in school is his intelligence. He’s smart — which, Li says, is a common American view.
"The idea of intelligence is believed in the West as a cause," Li explains. "She is telling him that there is something in him, in his mind, that enables him to do what he does."
But in many Asian cultures, Li says, academic excellence isn’t linked with intelligence in the same way. “It resides in what they do, but not who they are, what they’re born with,” she says.
She shares another conversation, this time between a Taiwanese mother and her 9-year-old son. They are talking about the piano — the boy won first place in a competition, and the mother is explaining to him why.
"You practiced and practiced with lots of energy," she tells him. "It got really hard, but you made a great effort. You insisted on practicing yourself."
"So the focus is on the process of persisting through it despite the challenges, not giving up, and that’s what leads to success," Li says.
All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.
Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.
And Stigler feels in the real world it is easy to see the consequences of these different interpretations of struggle.
"We did a study many years ago with first-grade students," he tells me. "We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up."
The American students “worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, ‘We haven’t had this,’ ” he says.
But the Japanese students worked for the entire hour on the impossible problem. “And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, ‘Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!’ and they looked at us like, ‘What kind of animals are we?’ ” Stigler recalls.
"Think about that [kind of behavior] spread over a lifetime," he says. "That’s a big difference."
Not East Versus West
This is not to imply that the Eastern way of interpreting struggle — or anything else — is better than the Western way, or vice versa. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which both sides know. Westerns tend to worry that their kids won’t be able to compete against Asian kids who excel in many areas but especially in math and science. Li says that educators from Asian countries have their own set of worries.
" ‘Our children are not creative. Our children do not have individuality. They’re just robots.’ You hear the educators from Asian countries express that concern, a lot," she notes.
So, is it possible for one culture to adopt the beliefs of another culture if they see that culture producing better results?
Both Stigler and Li think that changing culture is hard, but that it’s possible to think differently in ways that can help. “Could we change our views of learning and place more emphasis on struggle?” Stigler asks. “Yeah.”
For example, Stigler says, in the Japanese classrooms that he’s studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through hard work and struggle.
"And I just think that especially in schools, we don’t create enough of those experiences, and then we don’t point them out clearly enough."
But we can, Stigler says.
In the meantime, he and the other psychologists doing this work say there are more differences to map — differences that allow both cultures to more clearly see who they are.


Chinese schoolchildren during lessons at a classroom in Hefei, east China’s Anhui province, in 2010. STR/AFP/Getty Images


"So the focus is on the process of persisting through it despite the challenges, not giving up, and that’s what leads to success," Li says.

All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ "

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

"I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire," he says, "because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ "

But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart," Stigler says. "It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

"They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing," Stigler says. "I mean it sounds bad, but I think that’s what they’ve taught them."

Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it’s possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.

It’s a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications.

'Struggle'

Stigler is not the first psychologist to notice the difference in how East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

Jin Li is a professor at Brown University who, like Stigler, compares the learning beliefs of Asian and U.S. children. She says that to understand why these two cultures view struggle so differently, it’s good to step back and examine how they think about where academic excellence comes from.

For the past decade or so, Li has been recording conversations between American mothers and their children, and Taiwanese mothers and their children. Li then analyzes those conversations to see how the mothers talk to the children about school.

She shared with me one conversation that she had recorded between an American mother and her 8-year-old son.

The mother and the son are discussing books. The son, though young, is a great student who loves to learn. He tells his mother that he and his friends talk about books even during recess, and she responds with this:

Mother: Do you know that’s what smart people do, smart grown-ups?

Child: I know … talk about books.

Mother: Yeah. So that’s a pretty smart thing to do to talk about a book.

Child: Hmmm mmmm.

It’s a small exchange — a moment. But Li says, this drop of conversation contains a world of cultural assumptions and beliefs.

Essentially, the American mother is communicating to her son that the cause of his success in school is his intelligence. He’s smart — which, Li says, is a common American view.

"The idea of intelligence is believed in the West as a cause," Li explains. "She is telling him that there is something in him, in his mind, that enables him to do what he does."

But in many Asian cultures, Li says, academic excellence isn’t linked with intelligence in the same way. “It resides in what they do, but not who they are, what they’re born with,” she says.

She shares another conversation, this time between a Taiwanese mother and her 9-year-old son. They are talking about the piano — the boy won first place in a competition, and the mother is explaining to him why.

"You practiced and practiced with lots of energy," she tells him. "It got really hard, but you made a great effort. You insisted on practicing yourself."

"So the focus is on the process of persisting through it despite the challenges, not giving up, and that’s what leads to success," Li says.

All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

And Stigler feels in the real world it is easy to see the consequences of these different interpretations of struggle.

"We did a study many years ago with first-grade students," he tells me. "We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up."

The American students “worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, ‘We haven’t had this,’ ” he says.

But the Japanese students worked for the entire hour on the impossible problem. “And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, ‘Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!’ and they looked at us like, ‘What kind of animals are we?’ ” Stigler recalls.

"Think about that [kind of behavior] spread over a lifetime," he says. "That’s a big difference."

Not East Versus West

This is not to imply that the Eastern way of interpreting struggle — or anything else — is better than the Western way, or vice versa. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which both sides know. Westerns tend to worry that their kids won’t be able to compete against Asian kids who excel in many areas but especially in math and science. Li says that educators from Asian countries have their own set of worries.

" ‘Our children are not creative. Our children do not have individuality. They’re just robots.’ You hear the educators from Asian countries express that concern, a lot," she notes.

So, is it possible for one culture to adopt the beliefs of another culture if they see that culture producing better results?

Both Stigler and Li think that changing culture is hard, but that it’s possible to think differently in ways that can help. “Could we change our views of learning and place more emphasis on struggle?” Stigler asks. “Yeah.”

For example, Stigler says, in the Japanese classrooms that he’s studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through hard work and struggle.

"And I just think that especially in schools, we don’t create enough of those experiences, and then we don’t point them out clearly enough."

But we can, Stigler says.

In the meantime, he and the other psychologists doing this work say there are more differences to map — differences that allow both cultures to more clearly see who they are.

Chinese schoolchildren during lessons at a classroom in Hefei, east China’s Anhui province, in 2010. STR/AFP/Getty Images

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