Thursday, May 15, 2014

In Conclusion... There's No Need For a Conclusion

I've never really been one to overemphasize the end of something, whether it be the end of the year, a final blogpost, or some other marker of something coming to a close. I've always found it important to define things by the sum of all their parts, rather than how they finish, but with that all being said, I suppose there is some importance in "finishing strong." So, as I write this last blog post, if there is one idea that I'd like to stress as sort of a closing thought, it'd just be: keep an open mind. Tying it all back to this blog's lens of offering sympathy to underappreciated or misunderstood viewpoints, I'd just like to make one final point endorsing the idea that there's no end to learning. As long as you're receptive and willing to consider perspectives that may differ from your own, you will always be putting yourself in a position to learn more, and acquire more information and experiences.

It feels strange to try to sum up all the lessons that I've been taught over four years of Academy, or even over this past year, so instead of taking some kind of metacognitive approach, attempting to capture the spirit of everything I've picked up on in the last four years, I'd like to continue to move the learning process forward and stress that it is far from over. Obviously with the pursuit of higher education, going to college, and continuing to move up the ladder of the American education system, it should be expecting that we, as soon-to-be Academy graduates, have far from completed the learning process, but I'm not so much talking about learning in the scholastic sense, I'm more concerned with life learning. The point at which people go off to college and are really forced into taking independent control over their own lives can in fact be a point where people get comfortable with a particular way of living, set in their ways, and either subconsciously or consciously begin to close themselves off from opinions or ideas they don't at first agree with. Whether it be something as trivial as actually listening to someone argue with you, or on a more macroscopic scale, recognizing the importance of being uncomfortable in order to gain an appreciation for something new, the takeaway message of this extraordinarily vague final blog post is just to always keep an open mind.

I've noticed that because I've been in a position where I'e been making some decently big life decisions, like where I'll be living next year, what I'll be studying, and everything else related to college and graduating high school, people have been trying to give me life advice now more than ever before. It's not hard for all of this advice to drown itself out, which might be a reason I'm sort of trying to avoid being overly preachy in this last post, but one quote that really resonated with me and is actually one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given is when someone told me that regardless of where anyone will be living or what they'll be doing next year, "life is all about gaining experience." So, as I close out this blog that has more or less just served as a venue for me to be cynical and play devil's advocate, I offer the same sort of advice that was offered to me; my message to all readers is just to try to always put yourself in the best possible position for you to learn or experience something new. Don't fear the uncomfortable, don't close yourself off to something just because it's foreign, and don't write off something as wrong just because you don't initially agree with it. Keep an open mind. Never stop learning. Don't try to write a good conclusion, just think of everything as the next chapter.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"It Doesn't Have to Be Good, It Just Has to Be Done" - Jack Poulton

One of the most underratedly hard parts about the second semester of any high schooler's senior year is finding ways to cope with inevitable senioritis. It's true, everyone gets it, but not everyone deals with this crippling disease the same way; some people embrace it and get comfy while they watch their motivation (usually in tandem with their grades) drop to record lows, while others drive themselves crazy trying their very hardest to stay on task and not soil their last seven semesters of hard work. My approach, I'd like to think, has been sort of in the middle, where I'm not totally blowing work off, but to say I'm still investing 100% of my best effort would just be a blatant lie. My guiding motto lately has been, "it doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done." Is this the anthem of a slacker who realizes what it takes to work just hard enough? Probably. But does that mean it's an inherently bad principle? Honestly, I don't think so. It's probably pretty widely accepted that the "don't work, don't care" perspective isn't something to strive for but, to play devil's advocate, I think there are situations where this sort of "not good, just done" mindset is necessary and beneficial.

Any cliche, out of touch teacher/parent/motivator will tell you that you should always shoot for perfection, because if you think your work is perfect, what more could you ask for, right? Wrong. There are quite a few problems that you can run in to if perfection is always the end goal. First and foremost, you will likely drive yourself into insanity if you're always struggling to achieve perfection; someone with a healthy work ethic problem wants to minimize their time spent struggling at all. If perfection can be achieved without any sort of struggle, then there probably needs to be some sort of paradigm shift or redefinition of what "perfect" really means. Perfection, by nature, isn't supposed to be easily attainable, and not everything a person does is supposed to be considered perfect. There should be some distinction between good and bad, which necessitates a certain allotment for things that are bad. This allotment is healthy, productive, and relieving, and the "not good, just done" mentality tolerates bad work as part of a greater whole (that we're assuming is also composed of good, maybe even some perfect work). For people really under the gun with expectations, or just in their eight semester of high school, this mentality offers a nice respite from the need to be perfect or always invest the best effort.

Beyond the fact that perfect is simply just not always a viable option, sometimes it genuinely isn't an option at all. Take for example my college decision, something that's been plaguing my thoughts for weeks; as of now I can either choose to attend the University of San Francisco or New York University next Fall, both of which are great choices, but neither of which really is perfect. I've been back and forth between the two relentlessly over the past few weeks and I've boiled the decision down to the notion that either outcome will be amazing, but part of what makes the decision so tough is that neither one jumps out to me as being the obvious, clear-cut "perfect" choice. In this, and many other similar scenarios, there really isn't a perfection to strive for, it's just choosing between the better of two goods (or the lesser of two evils if you're a pessimist). Framing the decision with the mantra, "it doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done" again is a source of respite; in the end whatever choice I make doesn't have to be the best because there may not even be a best, but ultimately a deadline will come (in a mere two days in fact) and a decision will have to be made. It might not be the best, but it doesn't have to be, it will however have to be done. That's what I really like about this mentality (at least for now, while I can still afford to like it), it doesn't hide the fact that there is a task at hand, but it takes the pressure off of finding the most supreme solution to the task. I recommend giving yourself a break once in a while and adopting the mantra for your own use, when you realize that perfection can be totally unrealistic or just a lie, then you can thank me. After, of course, you make sure that whatever it is you need to do is in fact done.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Welcome to Nature! Check Out is at 10:00

As we finally are transitioning out of winter into longer, warmer days, the heat of Spring Break has dawned on a lot of people over the last few weeks. More so than any other time of year, people feel compelled to travel, explore, go somewhere exotic during this week off. Spring Break is often seen as an opportunity to go somewhere exotic, somewhere more natural than the environments we're accustomed to living in on daily basis. If we search out nature and try to make it a point to "experience" something more natural while we have a week off of work, are we really accomplishing our goal, or are we simply gawking at places we're glad we don't actually live, potentially contributing to their destruction in the process? Maybe when people take off for the far flung corners of the world to some exotic, natural destinations, it defeats the purpose of nature entirely and jeopardizes its existence.

The natural beauty of places like The Maldives, The Everglades, or the islands of Fiji usually don't include resorts and travel organizations, but these are often what actually draws eager travelers to these destinations, not the innate natural experience. We're constantly bombarded with messages to "get out there," and experience something new; the fact that a list describing the best places to see before they disappear exists should be a testament to the fact that we hold natural, scenic places in high regard. But it's unlikely to think most travelers to these destinations would make such excursions without the luxury of resorts and hotels to tame these wild, natural places and make them livable. Does this count as tampering with nature? Unfortunately, the answer is more of a resounding yes than we'd like it to be. The fact that this list, of ways to "green your travel," exists should be a testament to the ecological hazards posed by travel, and how making pilgrimages to gape at these locations might serve to destroy them in the long-term. This potential for destruction, combined with the zoo tactics that a lot of hotels and resorts employ (look all you want but don't touch, just enjoy the ruggedness of nature from a deck chair) begs the question, is traveling as worth it as we think?

Obviously there is an incredible amount of room for interpretation to answer this question, and travel is by no means the same experience for everyone, but it seems rare to consider the environmental implications people can have just by visiting a different environment. Maybe the common attitude towards traveling needs a slight adjustment to realign itself with the world's increasing emphasis on environmental consciousness and sustainability. This doesn't mean that instead of taking vacations people should just go completely Walden and immerse themselves in natural wilderness (as entertaining as it might be for that to become a travel fad), but it should ask for a certain sense of increased awareness. If the motivation to travel far and see nature is just simply to see nature, people might want to consider staying home and resorting to Google Images; it's possible that simply the act of going somewhere exotic could do more harm than good for the existence of that place. It's becoming more and more important to adopt a new attitude towards traveling; either make a concerted effort to take a vacation from normal living and emphasize sustainability while your off the regular work schedule, or realize that is is in fact your vacation where you're free to indulge yourself, but do so responsibly, understanding the importance of ecological consciousness. If plane travel alone can account for almost 5% of global climate change, it's clear that the effects of traveling are more than meets the eye. If we're going to allow ourselves to continue to make destinations out of naturally beautiful places, then we'll need to realize the dangers we pose to these places, and how to ensure the enjoyment we get from them isn't causing their destruction in the process.        

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We Didn't Start the Fire (#FreeTyler)

Last week was one of the biggest weeks for alternative rock, pop, and hip-hop music of the entire year. The annual South by Southwest Music Festival, essentially a who's who showcase of the best emerging talent in music today, descended on Austin, Texas, filling virtually every music in the city with a constant stream of live performances for nine days. As with all large gatherings of popular music, this festival attracts a huge crowd of fans to the city, and as with almost all huge crowds of fans, the atmosphere at times got a little rowdy. At times very rowdy. To the point where law enforcement became concerned for the well-being of attendees, and took what they saw as necessary measures to make sure no one got hurt. Apparently those necessary measures involved arresting rapper Tyler, the Creator, who performed at the festival.

Tyler, the Creator owes a lot of his popularity and notability to his ability to instigate. His presence in the media over the last few years has been approximately 1/3 music related, 1/3 publicly dissing other artists, and 1/3 lewd, offensive, or otherwise borderline illegal activity. The fact that there is a section of his Wikipedia page solely about "feuds" should be an indication of the type of eccentric character he is. But, even with this history in mind, is he to blame for potential safety hazards amongst a crowd of rowdy fans at a music festival? And is he deserving of a Class A Misdemeanor with a $25,000 bail? The answer should be a resounding no.

So some festival goers got a little caught up in the heat of the moment and broke through a security gate, why should he have to bear full responsibility for hundreds of other people's actions? It's not like he's the first musical artist to make headlines because a crowd's safety was called into question at a performance. And even if this was the very first instance of a crowd becoming potentially dangerous at a concert, the keyword is potentially, after all he only "encouraged behavior causing an immediate danger and injury to persons," according to police. The charge is in it of itself subjective, as "encouraged" can be perceived in many different ways, but the point is he himself didn't pose any threat or danger to the crowd of attendees at his show. If anyone is to accept blame for this incident, it should be no one other than the crowd of people in attendance. Unlike most other music festivals, SXSW has an age restriction; to even be able to buy tickets to see any events throughout the week you have to be able to prove that you’re at least 18 years old. This means then that everyone in the crowd who caused “the scene reportedly almost became violent” is legally an adult, and they should be treated as such. If it was a group of adults that broke down an outside gate chanting “PUSH, PUSH, PUSH,” then it should be a group of adults who are charged with whatever consequences result from this kind of behavior. Placing the onus completely on Tyler, the Creator for encouraging reckless behavior sounds like as good of an excuse as a child making the timeless attempt to get out of trouble by saying someone else “made them do it.”  

If the local law enforcement and festival security really wanted to make a point that they don't condone that type of activity at their event, they should've rounded up everyone in the crowd at the time and given them a fine for inciting a riot. I wouldn't call Tyler, the Creator a martyr, but to say that an artist who may have contributed to a performance scene that almost became violent deserves to be detained on $25,000 bail blows the incident out of proportion, is a gross understatement. 

On a more metacognitive level, I've discovered through this blog lens that being a devil's advocate and offering sympathy for the devil often means forcing more responsibility on the general public. This story seems like a prime example of this trend, and testament to the broad idea that placing the onus on many can prevent the persecution or injustice of a few. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

...Neither Is Shakespeare (But He Comes Closer)

School Is Just Not For Everyone [GRADE THIS ONE]

"Why do I even go to school anymore?"
"Because it keeps you out of trouble."

I don't think I can argue with my mom on this one, but the fact that if I weren't still regularly going to school for 9 hours a day I'd probably be getting in a lot more trouble may be the only reason I can justify high school nowadays. As I look forward to wrapping up my tenure in the American public education system in the next couple of months, I've been thinking a lot about the highs and lows I've experienced in education over the last 12 years, and if there were other ways I could've been spending that time. While it may partially be the senioritis talking, I've come to the conclusion that school really just isn't for everybody.

This isn't to say that I haven't experienced a ridiculous amount of learning, about people, about the world, about curriculum, during my time in school; calling these last 12 years anything less than positive would discredit some of the amazing teachers and classmates I've met. With that in mind though, and as I look ahead to the next stage of education where I'll have more control over what kind of environment I'm in, I can't help but wonder about supplements or alternatives to traditional schooling that would be as or more beneficial.

Again, I can attribute some of my feelings toward school right now to the fact that I'm three months from high school graduation and senioritis is in full effect, but the thought of annotating a novel or delving into some math problems repulses me right now. So what else could I have been or will I be doing in lieu of school? I suppose that hinges partly on how I view school; some people choose a path that sets them up with an entirely different set of skills, but is still considered school. Trade and vocational schools seem much more specific, like an avenue for people who know their purpose and just need the tools to attain it. Had I known from an early age that I was destined to become a welder, maybe a vocational schooling would've been right up my alley, but I definitely have to give credit to the school system I've been in for narrowing my interests over the last 12 years, because there is no way I would've been able to make that sort of career decision at an early stage in my life (I can't even make it now).

There are plenty of credible defenses for traditional schooling, and why certain aspects of it can be beneficial throughout a person's entire life. Liberal arts educations in particular have a lot going for them in terms of how they can help people appreciate culture, and non-career aspects of life, but this is looked at in comparison to a sort of education that has people studying scientific experiments in labs. What if someone's education was only focused on culture? Wouldn't they have a huge appreciation for life then? This raises other questions about being able to contribute to the world, and how people should use their education as a foundation for bettering the world.

I can't help but feel the need to set myself apart from the rest of the scholastic community, an urge that according to Killer Mike could help me become something more than just a factory worker for the rest of my life. I guess I have to give credit to the fact that he said "try to learn stuff outside of school as well as in school," meaning that you probably shouldn't just have one or the other (school or no school). I still think traditional school isn't meant for everybody, but I guess just realizing that in the first place might be enough to set me apart slightly from the rest. After all, I've only got three more months to kill until pretty much all of my learning can be done outside of school, so until then I'll just be happy that I've determined that I don't belong in academia, and plan for how I'll continue learning stuff once I'm free from its shackles.

Friday, February 7, 2014

This Is Not a One-Handed World

This past week has been one of the most physically challenging of my life. Quick backstory: about a week ago I cut the edge of my middle finger on my right hand with a router while working on a personal woodworking project. This is a router, for those of you that don't know, here is essentially how I was using it, and as far as the injury goes, I won't include a picture but I essentially tore away every layer of skin on my finger and narrowly avoiding hitting the bone. Long story short, it wasn't pretty and my hand has been in a splint for the past week to help it heal, giving me effectively one functional hand to live with.

It's been difficult, to say the least, adjusting to one-handed living, with some of the easiest parts of my day (taking a shower for example) quickly becoming some of the most challenging and dreadful. I vow to never take my two functioning hands for granted ever again once I can get this splint off completely, but I've definitely gained a lot of insight and appreciation for the challenges a lot of other handicapped people deal with daily. I'm lucky in the sense that eventually my finger will heal and I'll be able to live normally again, but unfortunately some people don't have that same luxury. In fact, tens of millions of people live with a physical functioning disability that affects their daily life, and that's only statistics gathered for the United States. I think it's safe to say more of our world is handicapped than we realize, but have we constructed a world where people can live with relatively the same amount of ease regardless of physical ability?

The past few days have taught me that the answer to the question is a resounding no. We may fool ourselves into thinking that anyone with a disability has the means to live normally, but while there may be an element of truth in that notion, as a general rule, the world doesn't take too kindly to handicaps. There used to be a show that ran on TLC called Little People, Big World that profiled a family of six, three of which have dwarfism, a medical condition characterized by abnormally low or slow growth. The point of the show was to highlight how people four feet tall could adapt to a world that's been built by and for much taller people and live a relatively normal life; while this was accomplished to some extent, what I remember about the show is how much of a struggle they seemed to go through to convince the rest of the world that they weren't struggling. If that doesn't make any sense, essentially the problem I've observed is that although it's possible to appear normal and modify the life of a handicapped person so that it doesn't stand out as different from anyone else, the amount of work that goes into appearing normal or trying to live normally is a testament to how not normal such a life is.

Why does it all matter though? Like I said, eventually I should (hopefully...) heal up just fine and not have to try to make my life normal, because it will be naturally. The takeaway should be that if we care at all about empathy and really allowing everyone to live with equal ease, we need to be much more observant and honest with how people with disabilities live. Opening a bag of chips or using a pair of scissors have been harder this past week than ever before in my life, but for some people that level of difficulty is the norm. Are fully capable people responsible for constructing equality amongst the disabled and the rest of the world? I'm going to stray slightly from the Devil's Advocate nature of this blog and let personal experience takeover; yes they absolutely are responsible, and if we're going to keep telling ourselves that we live in a land of opportunity and equality, we need to regularly check with the entire population and take the necessary measures to make sure that's true.