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Posted on 2012.01.02 at 10:00
Current Location: 67114
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I love running across words I never knew existed - that defined things I thought had no definition. And usually, I find them completely by accident. Well, almost. They're usually tucked away somewhere in plain sight amidst synonymous etymology. In this case, an avatar I've been seeking for some months - a visual representation of wonder which hitherto has been an arduous feat. And while I wasn't expecting bubbles...everything else - the composition and expression - were pretty much exactly what I'd been seeking.

I've been toying with whether or not how we behave is more important than what we do. As Henry Higgins observed, "The French never care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly." So it is with us - outside of medical personnel and the like - emergencies are just that, but then, that often seems to be the problem, doesn't it? Everyone is always under some illusion of justifying their behavior because of a fabricated emergency; they dropped their Blackberry - ITS AN EMERGENCY! (Actually happened to me once.) Is it really? Having worked National Defense, I find anything short of loss of life an emergency, and that puts me in the minority.

The word I ran across was neoteny. It means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder.* My wife had recently posted about joy and that day, as we're walking together around the geese-laden "lake" view path on our daily walk, she asked how one who didn't have a childlike-wonder about the world - could develop one. I was surprised by her question and I'll tell you what I told her - that I didn't know.

But on that same page with the image and the word, the author outlined it. She outlined exactly how to instill that in people, and ostensibly, ourselves: By being given the freedom to fail. That's it! Her sole commenter followed up with "The inherent pleasure of experimentation, of enjoying a journey that may not have an explicit end destination at the outset." To not fear failure. Rather, to use it as a tool. And that is why I enjoy work so much. Autonomy. Ability to play. Break things. Experiment. My management encourages this from me and I love it. It fits me like a glove.

How we behave doesn't have to be more or less important than what we do, but it certainly needs to be as important. Pride not only in what we do, but in how we do it. Aristotle said, "It is hard to be truly proud; for it is impossible without nobility and goodness of character." Guess where goodness of character comes from? From behaving admirably in the face of adversity. A self-perpetuating cycle of joy. Be not as the meek. Be proud of yourself for reaching your goals and also of your behavior while accomplishing them.


I will always be proud of your accomplishments. But more importantly, I will be proud of your attitude and your behavior during those times above the accomplishments themselves. I would rather you lose every ball game you ever played if you enjoyed the hell out of playing and were genuinely impressed in the efforts of all the players - on both teams. I would be more impressed with that than if you won more than you lost but were angry or resentful when you did lose. That's not why we play. We play for the challenge, and for the fun.

Not that there's anything wrong with winning - its a boon to the ego and validation that we've done well. But we can learn from loss as well, and other people marvel at our character when we do. Some people are only impressed with winning, but that is a sad life full of disappointment, for they cannot accept loss, and feel personally betrayed by it. They feel betrayed because they let that accomplishment define who they are because they are frightened of failure.

But not you. You will be magnificent.

Love, Dad


pcofwildthings at 2012-01-03 05:05 (UTC) (Link)
Very interesting post, and I like that word, neoteny. I think having the freedom to experiment, as a kid, is very important. I did not have helicopter parents. We (my siblings and I) ran the neighborhood, popping in on our friends, and together doing things our parents had only a general awareness of (and they seemed okay with not knowing details). As a result, we did things like form a human chain and touch the electric fence, try to make bubble gum by using the ingredient list on a Bazooka wrapper as the recipe (huge fail, but a fun one; corn syrup and Kool-Aid make a sticky, stainy, yet edible mess), etc., etc. We weren't over scheduled, and I think that is important too.

I really wonder if one could learn (or re-discover) that sense of wonder in adulthood? I would like to think that given the right environment, time, and encouragement, one could.
ehowton at 2012-01-03 05:10 (UTC) (Link)
Interesting you mention the over-schedule; my wife is convinced that's becoming an increasing problem. I hadn't thought about it being connected to this very thing.

(And I assume you tried the Pop Rocks and Coke? We did.)
suzanne1945 at 2012-01-03 14:55 (UTC) (Link)
This "not fearing failure" is tantamount to one's learning processes. In my book "Bringing Math Home", I tried to instill that idea in working with children. Learning the process of problem solving (which must include trial and error ergo possible failure)is so much more important than always getting the "right" answer. True, ultimately, as adults we need to strive until we reach the "right" answer, but without learning the process of trial and error, no correct answer can be found either. I regret that "No Child Left Behind" largely destroyed this valuable part of learning and growing.

A fantastic letter to your children.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-03 16:45 (UTC) (Link)
It was quite disheartening when you told of your nine and ten year old students who were already so afraid of getting the wrong answer they didn't want to try. What is the matter with our society?
suzanne1945 at 2012-01-03 16:55 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, it was so sad to see the change in children's thinking/problem solving ability from the 1990s to after No Child Left Behind. Not only were children doing much more critical thinking in the 90s (at least in Kansas), they were so much more engaged in school.
Math was the favorite subject, not the most hated as it had been prior to this time and since NCLB. Totally different teaching methods!
ehowton at 2012-01-03 17:54 (UTC) (Link)
A fantastic letter to your children.

Thank you!
michelle1963 at 2012-01-03 16:14 (UTC) (Link)
How we behave doesn't have to be more or less important than what we do, but it certainly needs to be as important.


I've been at work in an emergency room during a full blown code - definite life or death situation. Doctors bark orders brusquely, rudely, and angrily. Everyone's adrenaline is running full-force, and everyone understands the decorum of usual behavior is suspended until the crisis is over. No ER nurse ever goes to the corner and cries because the doctor yelled, "Hurry up, God-damnit!"

That said, anything short of life or death is simply not worthy of indulging oneself in rude, angry behavior. I guarantee that if someone behaves like an ass during a non-emergency situation then whatever it is that person is trying to achieve will mean little to me. It will be the obnoxious behavior I remember once the interaction is long past.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-03 16:26 (UTC) (Link)
Everyone is always under some illusion of justifying their behavior because of a fabricated emergency; they dropped their Blackberry - ITS AN EMERGENCY!

I think people mix up true "life and death" situations with situations that they simply don't like. I don't consider finding myself in a situation that I don't like an emergency. Dropped Blackberry. Yeah, not fun. Life or death? Nope.

It would go better both for the person who finds himself in a less than optimal situation and those who must deal with him, if the person in question could cope with a modicum of class. Whether a person gets angry or retains his cool, the situation will get resolved. However, if he engenders good will, then resolving the situation may actually go faster and more smoothly.
suzanne1945 at 2012-01-03 17:05 (UTC) (Link)
Exactly! Anger has the potential of producing fear in individuals. Fear actually lessens a person's ability to think clearly. So often the person yelling gets the opposite of what he/she is striving for.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-03 16:39 (UTC) (Link)
The word I ran across was neoteny. It means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder.

The biggest obstacle to achieving neoteny is fear. As you said, fear of failure. That is huge!

I would add in fear of rejection. How many wonderful ideas get set aside for fear that the idea itself will be rejected? And that's before a person even gets around to actually testing the idea, having to face the fear of failure.

Let's include fear of looking stupid. I can't tell you how many times, I've said to someone, "Isn't this cool?" emphasizing my fascination, only to be met with abject lack of understanding, because not only do they not find whatever I'm sharing fascinating, the are somewhat abhorred by my child-like wonder. For a lot of people that would be child-like wonder killer right then and there. (I just feel pity for them. Me? I'm all about the "How cool is that?")
ehowton at 2012-01-03 17:59 (UTC) (Link)
From what I remember of Thomas Edison, experimentation (read failure after failure) was the cornerstone of his success.
suzanne1945 at 2012-01-03 17:35 (UTC) (Link)
In looking up the definition of neoteny, I came across this info. I found it facinating.

See also: memory and aging

Humans have been evolving toward greater "psychological-neoteny".[30] Highly-educated people and eminent scientists usually demonstrate more neotenous psychological traits,[31] and students with more of a "baby face" tend to "outperform" their less-neotenized peers in school.[32] In fact, the ability of an adult human to learn has long been considered a neotenous trait.[33] Physical neotenization in humans has, likewise, caused psychologically neotenous traits in humans: curiosity, playfulness, affection, sociality and an innate desire to cooperate.[34]
ehowton at 2012-01-03 17:58 (UTC) (Link)
Ooooooh, good find!
codekitten at 2012-01-06 13:36 (UTC) (Link)
crap. my comment just got eaten.

basically there was a large study that followed high IQ kids and normal IQ kids through their college years. they found a much higher graduation rate of the normal IQ kids. when delving into the reasons, the high IQ kids were used to just "getting" the material and when college presented problems that they failed at, they were frustrated and didn't have the needed skill set to troubleshoot.

this isn't the study (i couldn't find it) but something related.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-06 14:17 (UTC) (Link)
Haven't had a chance to look at the article you cited yet, but I remember being told during an education psychology class that high IQ didn't necessarily correlate with high societal achievement. High societal achievement is correlated with the quality of persistence, which is not tied to IQ.

So yes, it makes sense to me that students who skated through school easily would perhaps have even less of a chance to hone these capabilities that would allow for success.
codekitten at 2012-01-09 02:57 (UTC) (Link)
Makes sense to me too.
ehowton at 2012-01-06 14:37 (UTC) (Link)
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

I know a young man who won't lift a finger to even try. Its sad. One of my favorite quotes is by Calvin Coolidge, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

He fancies himself a writer, but will not write. He feels he doesn't need to - once his "great american novel" comes to him, it will easily write itself.

He fancies himself a photographer, but will not take pictures. He knows that if he just had more expensive lenses his photographs would suddenly be creative and awe-inspiring.

I could go on and on.

No one wants to try because somehow society has taught them that failure is bad. I am seemingly unable to even articulate how ignorant that is, yet he is living proof. I'm trying to raise my children differently, and I know you are too.


michelle1963 at 2012-01-07 15:59 (UTC) (Link)
Somewhere along the line it appears that American psychology has changed. Trying, working hard used to be rewarded. Remember the old sports adage: "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game?" Kids used to be told if they tried hard, they'd done a great job. This type of psychology would teach persistence ~ the very thing that is a secret to success.

There is an old musician joke: "Do you know how you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice."

Now immediate success appears to be the expectation. And America is poorer for it.

codekitten at 2012-01-09 02:56 (UTC) (Link)
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.

this. if you just don't quit and keep trying to figure out ways to keep dinging at what you want, most of the time you'll figure out a way to get there (or close to it).

once his "great american novel" comes to him
ugh. that chef i mentioned that i dated was also a "writer" but never wrote anything. he would just tell me his ideas and how he wanted to get them down on paper. but never would attempt it.

made me want to gouge my eyeballs out after the 547th hour long conversation about it.

ehowton at 2012-01-09 15:30 (UTC) (Link)
made me want to gouge my eyeballs out after the 547th hour long conversation about it.

Oh yes. And perhaps even more frustrating - on the remote chance they finally understand the truth of your words....they're unable to apply the same logic to a nearly identical problem.

Yes, I finally and begrudgingly agree that I should practice writing to get better at it so that when my "one great idea" comes it will be a shorter learning curve. But that doesn't apply to practicing photography. Photography is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than writing!"

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