The observable examined

Archive for the ‘children’ Category

attitudes, learning, and motivation

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As a parent of a teenager, one of my major concerns has to do with equipping my child with the right set of tools to navigate Life and be “successful”.  The yardstick of success, for most parents, is for their child to attend a prestigious or Ivy league school leading to a well paying industry or academic job. If it comes with tremendous fame and fortune, all the better. Nothing wrong with that per se.  But the hyper competitive environment prevalent in high schools today, chasing that yardstick, creates tremendous pressure on the kids. The situation is further exacerbated by Tiger moms and dads (everyone of whom uniformly believes their kid is a child prodigy or at the very least, super smart) orchestrating their child’s every experience and resume, with the purported goal of gaining them entry into the “top notch” colleges.

There is a bigger problem lurking with this game plan. Because parents think their children are prodigies, they think success is automatic. They do not anticipate that there could be setbacks. And when they happen, the parents, and more importantly, the kids, are not setup to deal with the situation. If they are not careful, it could lead to a download spiral of lost confidence, lowering of self esteem, and self doubt on the child’s part.

Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of Mathematics (supposedly identified as a “genius” at an young age) in a recent commentary wrote “This can be a hard lesson for the prodigies themselves. It is natural to believe that the just-pubescent children on the mathletic podium next to you are the best, the ones who really matter. And for the most part, my fellow child stars and I have done very well. But the older I get, the more I see how many brilliant people in the world weren’t Doogie Howser-like prodigies; didn’t shine in Math Olympiad; didn’t go to the inner circle of elite colleges. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t understand at 13 that it would be this way. But when they keep telling you you’re the best, you start to believe you’re the best.” His overall point is that geniuses are not the only successful people in the world. Hard work, perseverance, and a healthy dose of luck are important ingredients for success.

Which brings me to the part about tools for navigating Life.

The first is about finding an internal compass that is directed by intrinsic motivation and not just about coming out ahead in the rat race. That this sets you up for success much better than goals that are externally motivated was made evident in a recent study of of West point graduates. The researchers found that cadets motivated by internal drives fared a lot better than those seeking external rewards. They write  ” ….The implications of this finding are significant. Whenever a person performs a task well, there are typically both internal and instrumental consequences. A conscientious student learns (internal) and gets good grades (instrumental). A skilled doctor cures patients (internal) and makes a good living (instrumental). But just because activities can have both internal and instrumental consequences does not mean that the people who thrive in these activities have both internal and instrumental motives.

Our study suggests that efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success. “

The second is about enjoying what you do. Attitude – how you think and approach the task on hand is hugely important for success, one of the key messages in Pirsig’s  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Third, recognize that education is more than academic schooling. Allison Gopnik illustrates this with a nice anecdote of  her interactions with her grandson. Finally, know that the path to success is not a straight line but is going to be potentially fraught with missed expectations and setbacks deriving from a variety of factors. When that happens, having a strong internal compass, is absolutely critical to staying motivated and maintaining focus on reaching goals.


Written by asterix98

July 5, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Space Hero

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My newest hero is Commander Chirs Hadfield.  What a man! I had never known or heard of him until about two days ago. I tuned in to one of my favorite radio shows, Fresh Air, and I caught Terri interviewing Commander Hadfield.  It was such a riveting interview. In it,the  Hadfield describes his space walk, tethered to the space ship, and orbiting the earth, with a glorious view of the earth on one side and the black quiet emptiness of space on the other,  at a breathtaking speed of about 17,500 miles per hour!  He is so brilliant, “lyrical”, and eloquent in describing his experiences as an astronaut.  I went back and listened to the whole interview again. You can find it   here .

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Brings Lessons From Space Down To Earth .

Ira Flatow also did an interview with him on Friday …

Chris Hadfield’s Lessons From Life in Orbit

and so did  Marco Weman

Astronaut Chris Hadfield shows childhood dreams can come true

All three interviews while similar have slightly different takes but well worth listening.

Here is a link to his  beautiful and moving rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” [18M+ hits ]

There is a lot more…on YouTube….tears in space, sleeping in space…etc., Entertaining and educational for kids and adults alike.

He is a complete package….astronaut, musician, scientist, guinea pig (NASA is studying bone density loss and recovery), author,  and a fantastic human being. A true role model…..I have ordered his book – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Can’t  wait to read what he has to say.






Written by asterix98

November 2, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Critical thinking.Anyone?

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“ . . . intelligence . . . is in plentiful supply . . . the scarce commodity is systematic training in critical thinking.” –Carl Sagan (requoted from How to become a Critical Thinker)

Recently, when browsing the Health pages of Google News, I was intrigued by the following headline in the sidebar – Couple Addicted to Coffee Enemas, Up to Four Times a Day! If you know anything about enemas, well, the obvious is easily imagined. It turns out this couple are participants in a reality show – My Strange Addiction on TLC. And it is in its fourth season!! Fourth !?! What’s on tap for this season? I quote from the article “….In its premiere of the first of eight new episodes on Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. ET, the show will also highlight Lisa, a middle-aged woman from Detroit who eats cat fur, grooming her pet with her own tongue. In subsequent episodes, a woman is addicted to bee stings and another one inhales more than 30 jars of vapor rub every week. In the season finale, a woman is addicted to drinking blood….”  Really!  The good news here is that there is not much collateral damage as these strange behaviors are restricted to the individuals or their families.

Which brings me to another topic – Preppers! Anybody watch Doomsday Preppers, the reality show on National Geographic channel, no less! A NYTimes article described the show thus “…is more or less a weekly invitation to laugh at lunatics tunneling into mountainsides to escape a Russian nuclear attack. ” Of course, there was a significant segment of the population obsessing over the ill-fated Mayan end-of-the world prediction. Now it gets a bit worrisome because we are talking about larger groups of people who could potentially influence others in their network to think like them and create panic. The potential for collateral damage is higher!

Which leads me to L.Ron Hubbard. I urge you to listen to this interview – Going Clear – on the Fresh Air Program hosted by NPRs Terri Gross. It gives you some great insights into the mind of Hubbard, Scientology, and its practitioners. Essentially, Hubbard’s fight with his own demons gave rise to this cult with no real basis for broad applicability of its tenets to create social good.

Which points to two modern day abusers of their reach and power, one peddles physical health and wellness, Dr.Mehmet Oz, and another peddles, spiritual health, Dr. Deepak Chopra. You can read about Oz’s shenanigans in the New Yorker article – The Operator – Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?. From the article, it will be obvious that Oz is a cardiac surgeon with stellar credentials but also a man who gets carried away by his own success and succumbs to peddling advice (taking on a messianic persona) that is clearly outside of his expertise. Hence, the subtitle question. Clearly, lot of folks tune in to watch his show which means he ought to be more responsible. I came across Chopra’s book, back in the early 90s and kind of bought into his holistic medicine philosophy of curing patients, because it made sense. I sampled some of his writings over the years and quickly determined he was losing it. He has truly become, as one blog calls him, appropriately I might add, the King of Woo Woo. He is #72 on the Top 100 American Loons – a place well deserved. He was on KQED’s Forum program recently talking about his new book – SuperBrain . As usual with his gift of gab and condescending voice, he doles out a bunch of nonsense (which compelled me to write this). What is even more surprising, he has convinced academics from Harvard, CalTech, and other prestigious institutions to co-author books with him. This guy utters pure drivel. But then he has a huge following (I have watched him hold audiences in rapture and wondered why they cannot see through his blasphemy).

Which brings me to the main point of this note, the central importance and need for critical thinking in our lives. P.T.Barnum said there is a sucker born every minute. If you don’t want to be one of them, embrace critical thinking with earnest. Just in case someone needs it, there is a lovely primer on Critical Thinking (targeted for high school and college kids).

Written by asterix98

February 11, 2013 at 9:29 am

Moms are the best

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This is a shout out to all the Mothers out there. Happy Mother’s day! You are the best type of human there is….period. Normally, I would have been a little down on this day, because my daughter has had the “miraculous love” of a mother for a very short period in her life. This year, I feel better.   My daughter, like all other kids in her class, had to make a gift for Mom. She wrote this. (I served as the proxy – substitute Mom instead of Dad) .

Dad who…..

Dad who gives me energy like the tornado, it keeps going around.

Dad who has the gift of art like Van Gogh painting the night sky

Dad who gives his best effort in everything he does

Dad who has a bright colorful personality like a box of crayons

Dad who has eyes like ebony pearls in a mine

Dad who loves me more than shimmering emeralds

Dad who is sneaky like a lion tip toeing in the high grass

Dad who dreams big like a baby going to the moon in an hour

Dad who has the best kid in the whole universe

(She told me it was directed to me because she had nobody else. This was a poignant moment. I know she misses Mom…a lot) .  This, coming from a 10-yr old is a humungous shot in the arm to lift the spirits and keep going.

I also wanted to share yet another of her creative outputs (Thanks are due to her teacher Terri, who inspires them in so many ways). The context here is a field trip to the Legion of Honor museum. After the tour, the kids had to pick an object and write a short poem…

Wine Glass

The elegant glass shimmers in the light,

the rim glistening in the shadow,

blue as dark as the ocean,

and white as clear as day,

all sealed up in a hollow empty glass.

This would have made Mom very, very proud indeed!

Written by asterix98

May 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Some observations

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The past couple of weeks have been busy and the pace is likely to pick up moving forward. However, yesterday, on the way to work, the commute was slow because of heavy traffic. In such circumstances, my thoughts usually turn to Lechi. I was feeling a bit guilty for not having her in my thoughts often because I was getting too caught up in work. But does it really matter? The answer is a resounding yes because both Mahati and I continue to miss her a lot.

Unless you are part of the nucleus, the intensity of the loss fades fairly quickly. Outside of the core circle, the gravity of the situation is much diminished. This is fairly apparent as the rest have mostly moved on, busy with their lives, planning their futures, rightly so. But where it becomes really hard is when people outside the nucleus show utter lack of sensitivity to your own needs (whether it is one of privacy, peace and quiet, or access to your own sanctuary) assuming you are also moving on at the same pace.  It is a complex family dynamic.

While Mahati has made progress, leaps and bounds, in dealing with the loss, I see many subtle signs of how she is struggling to make sense of it all. One of her mini obsessions is health. She is worried about every insect bite, she asks me about my age and about others. She volunteered to continue seeing the school pyschologist. She has offered to counsel another child in her situation. On several nights, over the past couple of weeks, at night, she has confessed to being sad. But when I press her for the reason, she attributes it  to something trivial. Also, I have observed her behavior when I am playing and cuddling her baby cousin. She appears to yearn for the same hugging, kissing, and comforting (even though I do hug and kiss her).

My own responses to her needs is definitely a work in progress. Sometimes when she needs me, I notice I am tired or otherwise preoccupied (which I should not be) and may postpone servicing that need. But as they say, knowing what the problem is, makes for half of the solution. So I am working on it.

Written by asterix98

November 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

missing mom

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Yesterday, on Mahati’s insistence I took her for a haircut. This activity was a first for me, having been Lechi’s domain. I did consult Mathangi. (thanks Mathangi!)

Children are amazing. I suppose, during the day, Makat had been imagining herself with different types of haircuts. Towards the end of the work day, she had been calling me, every few minutes, to discuss her preference. One minute, she would call and say, “Appa,I think I want chin length hair.” Next phone call, in a few minutes, and it would be better if it were shoulder length, and so on. Eventually, she settled on shoulder length and layers.

Back home, it was interesting to observe her get used to her own new look (plenty of visits to the mirror). I was fascinated thinking she was updating her own mental image. I guess she was also running scenarios in her mind about how her new look would be perceived by others.

I was also thinking Lechi would have been delighted and she may have exclaimed something like “Aappu, Sheela, Deepa, Azhaga irrukaale!” and given Mahati a big hug.

I am not sure what was weighing on her mind, going to bed. She woke me at about 4AM and asked “Appa, how many pieces of the Wish Machine have you completed?” I answered 700. (Our target is 1000 pieces to build the Wish Machine – the magical tool that would grant you know what. This is part of our own year of magical thinking). In the darkness, I felt her silently wiping away tears. Gut wrenching stuff! All I could do was hug her.

Today, in the bath, out of the blue, she said “Appa, can I take the day off from school on Mother’s day? You know they make us do stuff during Art class. Besides, what is the point? Even if I make something who would I give it to? I’d rather do something on Father’s day”. I was tongue-tied. These episodes tug at your heart with the biggest hook there is.

A few days ago, I did try asking her if she would permit me to hang a picture of mom in the house. She straight away refused.

Tomorrow, both of us will visit Kara.

Written by asterix98

January 19, 2011 at 7:19 am

Posted in children, mom

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