Friday, January 31, 2014

On Leadership

    In today's world, we hear that leadership is important, but what does "leadership" mean? How do we tell who is a good leader and who isn't? What qualities are core? It's a question we can think about for a long time, but the answer to all of these questions is simple; the difficulty is practicing proper leadership.
    Leadership is the ability to inspire action. That is it. I didn't look it up in a dictionary. This is the definition I came up with by simply looking around and analyzing different "leaders." How certain leaders inspire others vary. People are "inspired" to act through fear, money, power, intelligence, ideals, love, or example. For example, a soldier will fight and continue to fight because either he is afraid of a foreign nation attacking his family or because the government is actually threatening his family. A mercenary, on the other hand, fights in order to get paid.
    The test of a person's leadership is how far he inspires someone to go. Again with the soldier example, the test would be how long he is willing to fight before giving up. If someone is just fighting for pay, then he might give up easily or defect for a higher pay. If he is fighting for his family, then it'll likely be harder to convince him to surrender willingly.
    There is another test for determining who we can say is a "good" leader. In this case, we mean "good" to mean "virtuous" as opposed to "skilled." Adolf Hitler inspired people. In that sense, we can say he was "good," but he wasn't good. The ability to inspire does not justify murder, let alone genocide, as well as other crimes. In contrast, I think it's safe to say that TIME's Person of the Year and Esquire's Best Dressed Man of 2013 winner, Pope Francis, is a good leader in both fields. Not only does he inspire people to act, but he leads by example. If only all politicians were like that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chores and Gratitude

                If there is anything a kid hates to do while growing up, it’s probably chores. Now I did discuss this to an extent in Work is Fun Together, but that was addressing one side of things, such as the concept of doing chores alone is what made chores boring. But there’s another piece I realized in what made chores part of “living hell”. That piece is the perception of an absence of gratitude.
                Now most of us have probably heard that doing chores is supposed to be a child’s way of saying, “Thanks” to his parents. However true that is, I am not referring to that. That part of reality has been addressed and we already know the arguments for that. I am talking about parents’ gratitude.
                Something I realized sort of before I left for college is that children are more appreciated after they are gone for a long time. I saw this in how my mother treated my brother before he left for school and the times he came back to visit. Before I left, I was fighting with my mom over chores and responsibilities. So seeing how things were, that revelation influenced my decision to get far away from home and come home only twice a year.
                As I predicted, things were much better. I felt more appreciated and wanted when I came home. No longer was my mom attacking me to do something. Instead I would just help, sometimes randomly, and I would be thanked for it. Simply saying, “Thank you” has so much power. It can make the difference of heaven and hell. It could save marriages if the couple just thought about it. People like feeling wanted and needed. It helps give people a will to live and thrive. However, without that feeling of being wanted, people fall into anger and despair. Perhaps that’s the core of why some people commit suicide after a tough breakup. So yes, you can save lives by making a person feel wanted, but now I’m digressing.
                Back to my topic, would a simple “thank you” make a child’s life growing up much better? To an extent, yes. This is assuming the child can recognize it as appreciation. That is why it is not only important to say it, but to actually mean it. Parents, don’t focus so hard on getting your child to say, “thank you,” that you forget what it means and how you need to say it too.
                Now are there other ways of expressing these simple words? Ways to convey that someone is appreciated? Yes, there are. I know one tactic of getting kids excited to work was to pay them. I do think it is important to convey your appreciation through various methods, so as not to water down any of them, but none are as important as the two words. As people grow up, they place more value on Praise and Appreciation, so let’s not forget to do those.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Changing the Textbook

One of the problems for modern day students is the price for textbooks. It becomes worse when the “required” textbook is never used for a class. However, the problem I’m focusing on today is the readability of a textbook.
I remember trying to read through my Humanities textbook and how difficult it was to read it without the desire to sleep. The same with my Technology classes. Some teachers seem to think that a textbook might be good if they feel like it explains things in “layman’s terms.” This is a good step for the students who cannot understand pure technical information. However, just using everyday language doesn’t make it readable. I think the key to that is to make it interesting.
 I recently saw a clip of an Andy Griffith Show episode where Andy gets his son interested in History by telling him stories. It’s very effective. It’s also why educational programs like Zoom were liked. They made the academics interesting for students. I still occasionally ask myself, “Do you truly know how to learn?” but it’s also important to ask, “Do the teachers and textbooks truly know how to teach?”
 It is important to have the facts and to present them in an unbiased manner. However, it should be possible to tell an interesting story while keeping bias to a minimum. After most textbooks are still biased in what they teach and what they neglect to inform.
 One method of rewriting the textbooks is how I see things in articles or TV programs like History Channel’s Big History. They present a question we would ask like “What is the origin and importance of coffee?” to explain how weather in the tropics work and how caffeine is a natural pesticide. Now whether everything is true, I wouldn’t know, but those are the things that stick, hence actually learning.
 Now this doesn’t mean teachers and textbooks cannot use stuff like dates, but to know what year Columbus sailed to America is not as important as that Columbus sailed to America. This also is not the most perfect solution, just one I think would work for more people like me. That’s all I can say. Do you think this would help you learn?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Men are Heroes

I wrote this a few years back with the idea of submitting to This I Believe. For some reason or another, I never ended up sending it in. However, this one essay has been my core thought for a long time and is the basis for others. It is referenced in my piece on the Three Marks of Humanity. This is my analysis of what it means "To Be a Man."

The essential definition of a man is “a rational animal.” This definition applies to all of mankind; the young and the old, male and female. Yet what does it mean to “be a man?” This I Believe, that to “be a man” is to be a hero, a model for society. If we were to ask a boy what he would want to be when he grows up, he would give you anything from a career, to a superhero, to even his own father. All of these are to a boy, men. They are heroes, and through them one can see what it means to be a man.
Being a man does not lie in strength. It does not lie in intelligence. Nor does it lie in street smart. All of these things are characteristics. They are pieces of a man but do not completely define a man. The keys to becoming a man lie in virtue. Virtues are these characteristics that define a hero. They range from all over, from prudence to kindness, from courage to temperance, from love to faith. These are what make a man great. They are what make a man a hero.
The core virtues that make a man heroic are the four cardinal virtues. They are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. When we look up toward our heroes, they generally display at least one of these four. A man must be Just, knowing what is right and wrong. He must be Prudent in going about action. He must persevere against the evils that threaten. And he must be in control of his passion.
Perhaps passion is the greatest evil to face. It is naturally inside us all. We use it to define ourselves. It expresses our desires, our hopes, our dreams. Yet they also express our fears, our despairs, our anger, our sadness. How can one control such passions? How does one deal with a world full of disappointments? To try so hard, but in the end fail. How does one bear these pains over and over with no comfort? What about those who try to do what is good, but are always treated with contempt? This is where the true strength of a man lies. Where there appears to be no hope, he still goes on. In these cases, it his mind and will that pushes him to hold on.
The greatest hero whom we can follow must carry all of these virtues. Many heroes do as we perceive them. While none may be perfect in any, our perception and ideals is what we need more. Even if we find that our hero is not who we thought he was, that image we had is what we needed the most.
             It does not matter what career one goes into. It does not matter how much education one receives. It does not matter how strong one is. In any path that one takes he is given a choice; to be a model or not. This choice is the first step in what it means to be a man. This is what I hold, that Men are Heroes.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Rewards for Doing Good?

                Sometimes in my life, I come across common “themes” in the various, unconnected things I see in a small timeframe. These occasionally become my topics. The subject this time circled around being good or nice to others. I read a Christmas blog that attacked the “fakeness” of the Christmas spirit. Then I saw a little paragraph about an anime that explores the concept of being nice as a game. Lastly, I watched a movie called The Ultimate Gift in which one of the characters initially refuses help.
                The “fakeness” the blogger pointed to was how gift giving is practically obligatory and then how the “spirit” disappears on December 26th. So what good is Christmas if people are good for only one day of the year? This is not a new idea. The concept is applied when critiquing families who are nice at church but then are highly dysfunctional at home. If people can be nice for a small amount of time, can’t they be that all the time?
                What if being nice was a game? What if people got rewarded somehow for doing good deeds? Perhaps “missions” can be sent to people’s smartphones. That would encourage people to perform more good deeds, right? Unfortunately, yes and no. The problem stems back to motivation. The reward system is useful for training, but it doesn’t make anyone good per se. It places more emphasis on the rewards and “practicality” of being nice than being nice. So while there may be more good deeds, there could also be people causing bad situations in order to earn “missions.”
                The other problem, and perhaps the essential problem, of the idea of making “niceness” into a game is it objectifies everyone else. It strips people of their dignity and humanity. This is why people can be insulted by someone doing a “good deed.” They are not being helped because they are human or it is the right thing to do, but because they are mere pawns for someone’s gain.
                Now realize that some deeds require instant reaction. If the system worked as I said, if everyone checked to see how much they would get rewarded and then weighed in the risks, it would be too late. Or on the flip side, maybe there would be too many people getting in the way, and actually sabotaging each other so they can get the credit.
                The reason why we can predict these situations is because we already live in a world similar to that. Many people today don’t do good deeds unless they think it benefits them. In fact, there are people who view Religion almost this way. They think simply giving donations and attending services will give them rewards. They fail to understand the core of these practices. They do the simple behaviors but with no heart. They stay as selfish and prideful fools, getting angry when things don’t go their way, and never understanding what it means to be truly good.
 That’s a problem with the “only practical” mindset. When people do good only as much as they perceive it helps them, society will not change for the better. It will only change when the people evolve past that and start to do good deeds because they are good. This is why it’s important that people don’t always get rewarded for the little things. People need to know that doing good deeds is a self-sacrificing ordeal and that the reason why we should do them simply because it is good. Good people do good deeds out of love for their fellow man.