The day I repaired my lawnmower, I remembered that sometimes we limit ourselves by how we define ourselves. I learned that I am better off appreciating the things I have accomplished rather than by what I don’t think I can do. I also realized something I hadn’t thought about before. That with me at least, although memories of ability can lead to greater accomplishments, the process of remembering can be extremely challenging. It seems to feed on itself as a process, building and expanding and deepening, the more I use it which in turn increased my sense of ability.
For example, I’ve installed a programmable thermostat, I’ve replaced my thermocoupler in my hotwater heater, done some minor plumbing, and I’ve replaced the car battery and headlights. I’ve even built a desktop computer by ordering parts and assembling them. Sometimes, the directions that were included with the computer parts were written clearly enough and diagrammed clearly enough that I could follow them. Yes, I use instructions. But sometimes, I was successful because I used video found on YouTube.
You can find how to do anything yourself on YouTube. You might have to look at three or more videos before you understand the actions you need to take, but with a little patience and focus and time, YouTube is a goldmine for doing it yourself. However, this time, I solved the problem without a YouTube video telling me what to do. I puzzled it out myself.
I AM the Champ! Now, Who Am I?
First of all, I don’t consider myself “handy”. “Handy” people are usually guys–real men, for one thing–who know their way around a toolbox. They know their tools, and know how to use them. They know what they want, and what to do.
If you show one of them a dirty, bleached deck, for example, the handyman will tell you how to pressure wash it. He will tell you which washing fluid he recommends, and he will offer a variety of stains you might choose. He will also talk of the qualities of wood planks versus synthetics, their pros and cons, all from his own experience.
The handyman has tuned up his car, changed the oil, and rotated his tires. If he has to bring his car to a mechanic, he will narrow down what the problems could be, because if he brings the car to a mechanic, he has done so only because handyman doesn’t have a forklift or he would have done it himself. He would explain all this with a repertoire of problem solving processes and rule outs because the mechanic needs to know that the handyman will not be taken advantage of. The negotiation over price has begun, even though he hasn’t really gotten the estimated price lower, because the handyman needs to know how much he is really paying for the repair and how much is he paying for his own ignorance. It’s as if he’s saying, you better be doing what you said you will be doing, because I will know–I assure you–if you do not. And you won’t like it.
I have never changed the oil in a car by hand, I have never given a car a tune up. Yet, even with this self-defining label that I am NOT handy, I realize that I HAVE done a few repairs and installations myself. Maybe I can’t build a deck, but I actually have done some handy things. I have even pressure washed my deck myself, a fact I have only recently come to remember after accomplishing the lawnmower repair.
Which is weird…
…and has led to a personal, developing understanding of identity and character.
I remembered that my neighbor across the street helped me with a snowblower problem. I needed a part. So, he looked in the manual and found the part in the diagrams provided in the manual. He matched up the part to the part number and he called a local company that sometimes had parts for sale. He actually talked to a person on the phone and the person looked “in the back” to find the part.
One thing about my memory is that I remember this process but I don’t remember if the parts-lady had the part or if this helped me repair the blower. But I remembered the process.
So, I decided I was going to make it happen. I was going to repair the lawn mower.
I should say that this was not my first rodeo. About a month or two ago, I had twisted up its blade on a tree root. The thing wouldn’t work anymore. So, I watched a YouTube video, got the size of the lawnmower blade, and I went to the local home repairs franchise, one of the big ones, and bought the blade. To my surprise, I replaced the blade and was able to mow my lawn the same day.
This time though, while mowing the lawn, I discovered a problem pushing it. Then I saw the rear wheel was tilting inward. I was having trouble pushing the mower because the wheel was leaning against the big thing that holds the engine. What is it called? The body?
I thought I could fix the problem by bending the wheel back, but that was a major fail. While pushing the lawn mower the wheel’s axle cracked clean off.
Now, I had every right to lose my cool. First of all, I was stressed. I had to cut the grass because it was already too long, and it seemed that we were the only house on our street that needed the grass mowed. Meanwhile, we were about to go on vacation in two days. It was a beautiful day. Really hot. Sweat was dripping down my face and the baseball cap wasn’t keeping the sweat from running into my eyes. Sweat burns. It really burns.
Yet, somehow, I kept it together. I did something else instead.
I overcame the hopelessness, the helplessness, and my fear of being incompetent. This was nearly overwhelming. It was like expecting to fail, but feeling afraid to confirm that failure. It was a fear of trying and fear of failing wrapped up together. So, to beat the fear, I had to give myself permission to fail. To do this, I told myself I would just look. There’s no harm in looking. Maybe I can’t fix the lawn mower, but on the other hand, maybe I can.
The anger dissipated. I steadied myself. I released my tension with a decision. I was not going to give up. There will be no excuses. I lifted a weird blindness that I could only describe as not knowing where to look or how to look. It was a blindness full of shapeless color and visual noisiness. That’s what it was. One moment, I didn’t know how to see what I was looking at. The next minute, I could.
I looked at the breakage carefully with my new found vision. I compared one wheel to the other wheel. Left side. Right side. I did this back and forth comparison exercise and in the process began to see more. For one thing, it wasn’t an axle like what I had expected to find, one that connected two wheels. The axelrod only held one wheel. And it wasn’t one part. It was something attached to an L-shaped piece of metal which was bolted to another part that was, in turn, attached to the lawn mower’s body. I examined it close. So, the axle-thing was a small part that attached to the cutting height adjuster. I reasoned that what I needed to do was to find out the name of that part. That way, I could find a way to replace it. I needed the manual.
I knew I had the manual around the house somewhere, but I figured I could more quickly and easily find the manual online. I did when I returned to the lawn mower, copied down its P/N number, and included that number in my search. I opened a link to the company.
The hardest part to this task was matching the part’s shape to the technical drawings in the manual. For one thing, the parts were hard to see. It was hard to distinguish them from each other. It was even more difficult to match the part to the number that corresponded to the parts description in the list on the right of the drawing. This took some trial and error.
I copied down the parts number and the name of the part and searched for them separately in another Internet browser tab. In the process, I found the part I needed, even though I ignored the word “discontinued” that appeared every time I clicked on the part’s image.
I scribbled the information onto some paper so that I wouldn’t waste expensive printer ink. Then I would press my luck. Maybe I could find a store with the part lying around somewhere in storage. Maybe someone didn’t enter their inventory into a connected database.
I couldn’t find the part in the three stores I visited. One saleslady told me they had discontinued the part and there were no suggested substitutions. She didn’t have any ideas. She didn’t know what I could do.
I returned home and searched one of America’s biggest department stores online, found the part, and ordered it along with my son’s birthday present.
A week later, I got to work on the lawn mower. I resolved to focus on getting it done, not on any worries that kept cropping up. They were nebulous. I wasn’t really sure what I was really anxious about. It wasn’t going to blow up and it wasn’t life threatening. What was it? I gave myself the commitment to think about this later.
I collected the tools and discovered that I was missing a piece. I call it a ratchet. I think it goes by another name. (Some people call it a kaiser blade, I call it a sling blade mm hmm). I went to the local hardware store with the piece the tool needed to fit. What if the piece wasn’t there? What if I found the handle but it was too expensive? What if they didn’t sell single handles and I have to buy a whole new set? What if…?
I got to the store, again by consciously setting aside my ruminations and meanderings. The radio music helped. But when I got to the store, the choices and sections threatened to overwhelm me again. Access mental store map. The tools–just the regular hardware–was near the stores other exit. Don’t ask for help. You have the socket. But what if the tools are closed up so I can’t check the fit? What if they think I stole the socket? It’s a socket! No one is going to think you stole a socket. But still. They might. I push back the ensuing questions and walked. I just walked. With determination.
There was a wall full of different hand tools. Manual, analog. I worked it out. I made my way looking for wrenches and soon found the ratchet handles. Cool. They did sell them as separate, singular ratchet handles. But they were of differing sizes. I found that I could try the fits into the socket I brought with me, but now I had to decide how big and heavy I wanted the handle to be. What would be useful, effective? How much leverage would I need? Go big or not at all. Memories of dominoes games came back to me from back when I worked in residential centers, cottages, in …STOP. I chose a ratchet handle that was big enough but not too big, and it wasn’t too expensive. Don’t think about the price. Don’t price shop. Get out. I made it to the cash register with only one or two indecisive returns to the tool wall. Caveat emptor. What? Was that buyer beware? Should I look it up on my phone? I chose the tool I had in hand. It’s time to get out. Soon I had the tool and I returned to the task at home.
Things go in order. I had to find a way to remember the order, but I knew somehow that if I went back into the house for a piece of paper and a pencil or a pen if I couldn’t find a pencil then I might take an hour or two before coming back to the task. Just focus. Focus so that I would remember with the intention of remembering. This was the advice in a TED Talk about becoming a memory master…
Focus. Do it.
In my reflection on this task and its difficulty, I suddenly realize why I don’t see myself as handy. I know why i have so much trouble remembering that I am handy and I know why I am so resistant to fixing things. It’s because it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. Things remind me of other things. Memories of quotes and text passages, movie scenes, pieces of conversation keep washing into my consciousness inexorably like waves and the tide. They are relentless. I have a sandcastle that I am building–the repair job–but the waves keep carving away my will to work and undermines my sense of priority,of urgency of my goals and the benchmarks I want to accomplish. I’m like the Time Traveller guy from the movie The Time Traveller’s Wife. His daughter says the key to controlling the suddenness of time travel is music. This is descriptive, because I time travel in my head along memory streams and streams of consciousness.
I have found that music is a powerful distractor, but it can be useful. Music with words are too too distracting. Words pull me back into the memory stream, the river of thoughts, and words keep me from focusing on the task at hand. On the other hand, instrumental music, music without words can help me focus when I need to get through mindless tasks.
The big step again depended on memory. This time, I needed to remember how I can use music to not only change my mood but to focus my intentions. I needed to remember that music is a useful distraction so that I can enter “execution mode.”
I chose a playlist of music and my focus returned. The music pushed away the compulsion to write and remember. I saw the parts of the wheel’s arm assembly. If I were wearing an augmented reality heads up display, parts numbers and instructions would have popped up and scrolled in my view Terminator-style. But they were action steps. I remembered “righty tighty, lefty loosey”, and went to work loosening the bolts. Since it is a wheel and it turns, I had to prop up the lawn mower and brace the other end of the axle with a wrench.
There was a moment that I wasn’t sure about the order of the washer, nut, arm assembly, or where the wheel actually sat among these parts. I kept comparing the complete, untouched side of the lawn mower, looking closely. But eventually, I simply slid everything in place, tightened the two nuts. It worked and rolled. I was done.
In addition to this perfect day, the ratchet handle perfectly fitted in the ratchet set’s case. The original ratchet handle is lost. I had probably lent it to someone, but for my purposes, the handle had returned. Another win.
This experience raises a number of questions for me. One was about the nature of identity. Although research suggests that identity is more dependent on values than on memory, is it possible that, more dependent is not the same as saying that a person is their values rather than they are what they remember. It certainly felt like I became more when I remembered that I could DO more.
Another question is about tacit knowledge. “There is a whole other realm of knowledge that you can only learn through action and practice known as tacit knowledge.” Why did the action I took to repair the lawn mower trigger so many memories as I went about solving problems? I got better at fixing as I did the activity.
This experience also reminds me of students and the learning experience. A lot of the students who struggle the most seem to suffer from doubts and insecurities. Based on the belief that students do well if they can, I see other possibilities in memory and the ability to recall.
If kids have trouble with recall and retention of memory, then they may experience similar experiences to mine. When I didn’t remember my successes at repair and assembly, I described myself as not handy. But, when I remembered my successes at repairing and assembling, I felt more capable and could describe myself as “handy.” This self-definition opened up or limited my willingness to try new things along the lines of repairing and assembling.
This is also true of educators.
How to Become an Expert at Anything: Healthy Tips For Every Aspiring Self-Learner http://www.theemotionmachine.com/how-to-become-an-expert-at-anything/ Posted on November 26, 2012 by Steven Handel
What a powerful set of questions for educators from an instructive blog:
“So here’s my question for everyone who teaches, everyone who coaches, everyone who stands before another person in the name of mentoring or guiding or instructing them in any way: Are you a Bastianich? Do you ever behave in ways that are more about you than about your students? Do you overdo it, put on a big show, humiliate students for the sake of making a name for yourself? Because it builds your rep and makes students fear you? Because, in a sense, it makes for good TV?”
“Sometimes, rather than compare students to previous groups, we compare them to ourselves. Maybe you were a great student. Plenty of teachers were; we loved school so much we became teachers. But a lot of students in your peer group were not like you; because you were a kid, you didn’t know about all the problems that were being handled while you were out at recess or sitting on the carpet for story time. You didn’t know about all the homework that didn’t get turned in or the other kids’ low quiz scores. And if you were the kind of kid who turned work in on time and never talked back, if your handwriting was neat and your clothes completely free of rips or questionable slogans, you’re in a perfect position to be incredibly judgmental of every student who isn’t just like you were. And that’s a whole heck of a lot of kids.So…
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“Ms Fraser said girls should learn to challenge their inner critic with an inner cheerleader.
“She told her organisation’s annual conference, in London, of the 21st Century pressure on girls to be perfect – “perfectly beautiful, with a perfect row of A*s, perfectly good at sport and music and friendship”.”
We need to remember to rise above; not sink to a lower level.
One of my social networks reminded me of this post that I had shared a year ago today. As DAVIDE ‘FOLLETTO’ CASALI, the author of the post, notes that this concept resonates with him, it resonates with me as well. This quote was noteworthy: “It’s interesting to note how could also happen that a Shu learner could think of being at the Ri stage, thus falling in the usual Dunning-Kruger effect, failing to recognize one’s own skill level, thus trying to break the rule too soon.”
The author also follows up with this article, Shuhari is about master-apprentice, not solo learning.
The two posts are useful together. I find that this mental model for phases of mastery can inform teachers and learning leaders. I wonder how it can be used in teacher preparation in order to focus discussion around mastery and other education goals. I also imagine Shuhari can help direct life-long learners in the use of mentors and reference materials and other resources. The Eastern Thought cred can be exploited since some tend to assume that Eastern philosophies are historically older and more mature than American philosophies and traditions. This Far Eastern-philism (love for things far eastern) has been noted and lampooned in viral posts on social networks.
These are some examples:
Articles like these help remind me not to use terms in public if I don’t know what them mean. It also reminds me of the time I used a slang term that did NOT mean what I thought it meant. (“Chicken-head,” for example, is not a term for a female gossiper. Trust me on this.) Trying to be “hip” and “with-it” usually doesn’t work out too well no matter how “cool” you think you are.
I don’t know why Eastern thought is so powerful to me, but many Westerners, especially Americans in the United States, reveal interests in (Far) Eastern philosophies. This is a trend that extends decades back into American history, at least in popular fiction, probably due to American involvement in World Wars I and II. Numbers of creatives, for various reasons, have consumed traditional aspects of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian religion and philosophies in the form of martial arts, fashion, religious beliefs, cuisine, and approaches to life and aesthetics.
Trying to think from another’s perspective generates many insights into our own beliefs and practices. The Other reveals our blindness and illuminates. Similar insights are achieved when traveling to foreign countries and in finding ways to engage with people living there.
I’m not even sure if Aikido counts as an Eastern martial art. In Wikipedia, an author explains:
“Ueshiba developed aikido primarily during the late 1920s through the 1930s through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied. The core martial art from which aikido derives is Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, which Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sōkaku, the reviver of that art. Additionally, Ueshiba is known to have studied Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū with Tozawa Tokusaburō in Tokyo in 1901, Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū under Nakai Masakatsu in Sakai from 1903 to 1908, and judo with Kiyoichi Takagi (高木 喜代子 Takagi Kiyoichi, 1894–1972) in Tanabe in 1911.“
Not that I don’t believe that someone from an Eastern civilization created this martial art. It’s just that, for some reason, I am troubled by the possibility that it is “less eastern” than the martial arts created for self-defense. My suspicions are shared with aikido critics:
“The most common criticism of aikido is that it suffers from a lack of realism in training. The attacks initiated by uke (and which tori must defend against) have been criticized as being “weak,” “sloppy,” and “little more than caricatures of an attack.” Weak attacks from uke allow for a conditioned response from tori, and result in underdevelopment of the skills needed for the safe and effective practice of both partners. To counteract this, some styles allow students to become less compliant over time but, in keeping with the core philosophies, this is after having demonstrated proficiency in being able to protect themselves and their training partners. Shodokan Aikido addresses the issue by practising in a competitive format. Such adaptations are debated between styles, with some maintaining that there is no need to adjust their methods because either the criticisms are unjustified, or that they are not training for self-defense or combat effectiveness, but spiritual, fitness or other reasons.
“Another criticism pertains to the shift toward ki as the focus of training. After the end of Ueshiba’s seclusion in Iwama from 1942 to the mid-1950s, he increasingly emphasized the spiritual and philosophical aspects of aikido. As a result, strikes to vital points by tori, entering (irimi) and initiation of techniques by tori, the distinction between omote (front side) and ura (back side) techniques, and the use of weapons, were all de-emphasized or eliminated from practice. Some Aikido practitioners feel that lack of training in these areas leads to an overall loss of effectiveness.
“Conversely, some styles of aikido receive criticism for not placing enough importance on the spiritual practices emphasized by Ueshiba. According to Minoru Shibata of Aikido Journal, “O-Sensei’s aikido was not a continuation and extension of the old and has a distinct discontinuity with past martial and philosophical concepts.” That is, that aikido practitioners who focus on aikido’s roots in traditional jujutsu or kenjutsu are diverging from what Ueshiba taught. Such critics urge practitioners to embrace the assertion that “[Ueshiba’s] transcendence to the spiritual and universal reality were the fundamentals [sic] of the paradigm that he demonstrated.”
In these reflections, it can be valuable to note the questions that emerge.
Why does the authenticity of Eastern philosophy matter? Shouldn’t a resonating thought matter for its own sake?
What is the value of a martial art that is “not training for self-defense or combat effectiveness, but spiritual, fitness or other reasons.?”
The answers to these questions depend on the learner’s goals. The answers also depend on the learner’s thinking skills. For me though, as I learn more about dignity and its history, and learn about the tripartite domains of mind, I have broadened my understanding of what “thought” can be.
Intersubjectivity is a social process used for building meaning: “In its weakest sense, intersubjectivity refers to agreement. There is intersubjectivity between people if they agree on a given set of meanings or a definition of the situation. Similarly, Thomas Scheff defines intersubjectivity as “the sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals.””More subtly intersubjectivity can refer to the common-sense, shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. If people share common sense, then they share a definition of the situation.” This building of meaning is performed in groups.