On sending the elevator back down

Parker PalmerKevin Spacey tells us that if we succeed in life we are obligated to send the elevator back down. He elaborates on this in his short video about how he teaches acting skills and techniques. The video.

Aaron Sorkin teaches screen writing. Werner Herzog teaches film making.

These three experts teach us a valuable life lesson. The videos are short, informative, and entertaining.

As a young teacher, I yearned for the day when I would know my craft so well, be so competent, so experienced, and so powerful, that I could walk into any classroom without feeling afraid. But now, in my late fifties, I know that day will never come. I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears—for there are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and act.—Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Celebrating silliness

I was born real. You were too.

I was born real. You were too.

Great minds have explained to us how our sense of self is a cliché based on teaching we suffered when we were young at the hands of the misinformed and insecure.

People who have said this to us include Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, Harville Hendrix, Thomas Moore, and many others.

I’ve read the books they wrote many times. My problem remains: I take my sense of self seriously even when I know it’s an error.

One of the remedies is to watch films. One of my favorites is Wayne’s World. It contains many references to topics that were popular in the 1990’s. So you have to know some history to see the amusing aspects of all the scenes.

Groundhog Day is also wonderful. Animal House is sweet and informative. African Queen is another wonderful resource. So is Field of Dreams. And We’re No Angels, and It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. They inspire us to redefine our self image.

These, and movies like them, invite us to redefine ourselves with an open mind. That is the same message we get from the great teachers. What we need, in my opinion, is to relax our sense that we are right, and to be open to a richer perspective.

I think movies are our greatest asset in this line of work.

Your favorite films?



Three books on fear

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

I estimate that fear is the dominant problem in the world. Some wise people confirm that.

The three I have in mind are Pema Chödrön, Chögyam Trungpa, and Krishnamurti. The books are, in sequence, The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times; Smile at Fear, Awakening the True Heart of Bravery; On Fear.

I will mention that Pema wrote the forward to Smile at Fear.

Dealing with fear, these teachers tell us, involves several challenges. My personal favorite is to smile at fear. Invite it to join us for dinner. Raise a glass to its consistent dedication to duty. Offer it a warm place to sleep.

Frightened people tend to generate fear in other people. This is intended, I suppose, as a defensive move. I’ll intimidate you before you do it to me. It explains the state of the world.

One of the great lessons these teachers impart to us is that we are not real. The self we try so desperately to protect does not exist. It is basically an idea, and we contribute to the definition of that idea.

The teachers invite us to choose a different idea to describe ourselves. The better idea is to be a warrior. Trungpa offers us this:

There is another way we could describe the education of the warrior, which is by looking at the development of ego and how the warrior works with fear and other problems that arise from a mistaken belief in the self as a solid entity.

The notion of working with fear is my personal highest priority. I want to redefine my notion of it, and I want to avoid causing you any of it.

Trungpa emphasizes that our problems are not really trying to destroy us. He explains, “The important thing is to be friendly toward our problems by developing what is called maitri in Sanskrit, or loving-kindness in English translation.”

He tells us not to turn this world into a battlefield. Doing that, he says, solidifies our view of the problems that seem to afflict us.

I welcome your comments on dealing with fear.

On understanding our crisis

img005Men want to be in charge, but they do not want to expose themselves to risk.

We are taught in school, and on the job, and by the rules of society to disable our curiosity and sense of wonder. The same discipline is available in church as I remember, but I have not been in one for a long time. Things might have improved.

We are taught by every source of authority to “tone it down.” And we obey.

We pay an enormous price for that alleged safety.

I like to browse Tumblr for photos of women displaying their charms. I marvel at their sense of freedom and their joy. Men limit such displays of gusto to flattering professional athletes at public events by shouting and waving.

The United States was formed in an act of rebellion. The British were the masters of obedience and conformity. We have forgotten, I believe, the lesson in that, our learning experience.

There are areas of culture and life where I would enjoy more innovation and curiosity. I offer this short list:

  • Opening our imagination to expanded definitions of decency and morality. Why are boobs considered evil?
  • Why does skin color matter to so many people, and what can we do to influence their thinking?
  • Why do we eat meat? And beyond that, why do we obsess on doing that?
  • Why do we give so much authority to employers? They are ordinary mortals like us.
  • What moves us to consider being a servant a demotion?

I welcome your comments.


Steven Spielberg: My all-time favorite speech

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

I like teaching experiences. One of the best ways to teach is to speak. This speech by Steven Spielberg at the 2016 graduation ceremony at Stanford is my favorite speech ever. It even transcends the speech Steve Jobs presented at the same event. And that is saying a lot.

This blog generates no comments or guest posts. I do not know how to change that. If you watch the speech, and if you are inspired to share your impressions, I will welcome them.


Movies to save the world

HeartChurches, so far as I know, merely increase our risks by emphasizing guilt and adversarial relationships. The real solution, in my opinion, is the movie.

Today I watched Love Actually again. Hugh Grant narrates in the introduction that love, actually, is all around us.

At my house we own hundreds of films on DVD. We are drawn to movies that carry a message of hope, optimism, generosity, and kindness. The opening scene of Love Actually features people arriving at airports, and receiving and giving hugs, while wearing enormous smiles.

We would do well to honor movies for their messages of hope, patience, and optimism. Another favorite of mine is It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Does it get any better than that? And consider Field of Dreams. It’s totally about feeling connected and valued.

And A League of Their Own? Amazing. Inclusive. Sweet.

My suggestion is give up on messages from an angry past and embrace the delicious sweetness that comes to us today. Blessings on Michael J. Fox in Doc Hollywood.

Why we think we suck

DanWe live in a nation and world where most people think they suck. I’ve made a study of this in order to recognize the forces at work, and how, possibly, I could have a better relationship with my own sense of self.

In this post I share what my study has revealed to me.

Number 1: Other people pass binding judgments on us. This starts in grade school with letter grades and playground monitors. It continues with employers and annual reviews, and the IRS with tax filings and audits.

This thinking is embedded deeply in our culture. They tell us who we are, and they assess our value, if we have any.

Number 2: We judge ourselves on our ability, or lack of it, to “read” the universe. Who is God? Does God love us? We assume God to be male. That is a clue to our deeper problem. God, we are told, is distant and judgmental.

Number 3: We appoint authorities who we empower to make us feel helpless and guilty. I was given this message about Jesus when I was not yet logical. It was imprinted deeply on me, and by many people. The messages put me on the defensive, both about his suffering, and the possibility of my own.

Number 4: We are told of the superiority of the male point of view. We men exaggerate our importance, and we discredit the feminine spirit. The consequences are tragic.

We are always at war because we claim to know more than anybody who would ride a camel, or run short of drinking water. We are profoundly condescending, making the world we live in today the painful place it is.

Number 5: We endorse wealth at the total expense of wonder and curiosity. Day dreaming is considered a vice and a distraction. Wonder is proof of foolishness. We are expected to have direct, simple answers to the mysteries of life.

Number 6: We scorn physical enjoyment. We categorize physical delight as a fondness for pornography. We drink too much alcohol. We put people in jail for experiencing marijuana. We are entirely anti joy and amusement.

Number 7: Our first choice is to rebuke people. We see this particularly in our bulging prison population. There are alternatives, but we judge them as weak and evasive.

Number 8: We lack appreciation for conversations. Bosses are expected to know it all, and to take charge. Our organizations demand and reward that behavior. We hold the opinion that rank equates with knowledge and competence. There appears to be no remedy for this.

Number 9: We tell people, often indirectly, what interests of theirs are acceptable. I have long had an appreciation of ladies’ feet, and I have chosen to conceal it. There are countless photos on the Internet that show me that other people share my interest. I finally give myself permission to be me.

Number 10: We expect lists to have 10 entries. I offer you this. Do what excites you. Take that chance. My two college degrees have zero value, but they cost Yvette and me a lot of money.

And Number 11? Say something on this blog if you are so inclined.