Saturday, December 29, 2007

Daily Resolutions for Early in the Year

The other day, a co-worker asked me if I had made any New Year's resolutions. I reminded him that my New Year occurred already - several months ago, on Rosh Hashanna, the Judaic New Year.

Of course, I can't help making comparisons between the Judaic New Year and the Gregorian New Year. The way two people celebrate the New Year is so drastically different, that, even if I tried to ignore these differences, I couldn't. The Jewish New Year is spent in quiet introspection and prayer. While the holiday is joyous and families gatehr together for festive meals and conversation, a good part of the day is spent in solemn thought. We contemplate our past behaviors and resolve to improve ourselves for the coming year. Our prayers to God recognize Him as the king and ruler over our destiny, and ultimately, every action and decision we take in life is in God's hands. Nonetheless, we still resolve to improve ourselves and pray to God for His assistance.

That, I think, is the major difference with the two New Years. I know people resolve for physical, practical things - losing weight, exercising more, making more money. These are all useful resolutions, mind you. But seriously, if you asked yourself what resolution you made last year, would you really remember?

I know that I recall my resolution that I made on Rosh Hashanna. It's the same resolution I make every year, actually. What's that, you say? Shouldn't a resolution be new and something different? Well, not really. You see, my resolution is actually quite simple to phrase. My resolution is:

Do more of the things I do right and less of the things I do wrong.

The "right" things are the things that make a major difference in the world; a difference to other people. These are the things that help even one person live more easily and more comfortably. It could be a compliment, buying groceries for a disabled person or teaching my children how to do an algbera problem. The wrong things are the things that have no impact at all or, worse, harm someone else.

Why do I remember this resolution? Because I evaluate how I am doing not just once, but at least twice daily - once when I arise - so I can plan my day, and at the end of the day so that I can evaluate my own performance.

A New Year's resolution has meaning if it's something you can evaluate daily, not just infrequently, and certainly not just once / year. When you think about it, it makes sense to make a resolution that helps others. After all, when you help others, you'd be surprised how others can make your resolutions a reality and not just another meaningless promise.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Gifts and Resolutions

I must admit. I don't celebrate XMas at all except for the fact that my office gives me a day off. That's pretty good in itself, because it gives me a chance to think a bit more before I blog.

Each year, I find that the way people act between Thanksgiving and New Year's gets a bit more idiotic. I'm not sure I quite understand the idea that people madly rush to buy presents to give to people they don't like or care about too much, just so that the people that get the gift can return the present they didn't like or want, anyway. I've heard so many stories from co-workers and others about how they worry about making a nice cozy meal for their families and getting everything "just right" for the annual family gathering. Then, they spend half the day when the family is together bickering over something trivial that someone (didn't) say or (didn't) do.

Then, for about a month, I hear what kids want from Santa. Games, iPods, TVs.

I think it's time to stop all this craziness and commotion and view some basics, perhaps.

The holiday season in the U.S., at least, begins with Thanksgiving. That's a noble concept if we could well understand what that all means. We should be thankful for all the small things we have in life that we take for granted. Such as our health, our healthy families, our children, and the beauty of nature such as it is. We should also be thankful even for our own imperfections and quirks, because without them, we would have no challenges in our own lives to improve upon.

Secondly, life is about giving, not getting. People spend too much time working about what they might get from Santa because they were "nice." They run around figuring out the "perfect" gift. In reality, most people want nothing more than to hear a compliment and spend some time enjoying each other's company. If it's a co-worker you want to give a gift to, besides a compliment, how about offering to teach them something about the tasks they need to know or helping them out with a project so that they don't always feel overwhelmed?

Thanks should be a daily routine, and giving should also be a daily routine. I'm not sure why people feel that being nice and helpful lasts for about one month during the year - from Thanksgiving to XMas.

Oh, and if you feel that you must ask for a gift, perhaps you can learn a lesson from Solomon when he first became king. God appears to him in a dream and asks Solomon what gift he wishes. Solomon asks God for wisdom. Hmmm ... it seems it was a good choice then; it's an even better choice now. The world sure could use a few extra wise people.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's Stupidity Star

Every so often, I will offer a Stupidity Star to a person or group who comes up with a bizarre stupid expression, idea, or process.

Chanukah ended last week. Just before Chanukah started, a group (I don't recall, offhand who this was, so bear with me, while I try to find out the exact name) claimed that no one should light Chanukah candles because candles deplete the oxygen supply.

Let's award this group the Stupidity Star of the week. I suppose that chopping down XMas trees would be fine. If I remember my science correctly, trees give off oxygen that we humans need to breathe. So, if there are fewer trees in the forest, there's less oxygen for us to breathe too.

I have an idea. We should invent special XMAS forest rental areas. If you want a XMas tree, you give a huge deposit (like $2,500) and you rent the tree for the holiday. When XMas is over, you have to return the tree to the place you got it from and plant it back where you found it, so it can grow again for the next year. When you plant it back in its place, you get your money back. And the side advantage to all that besides preserving the forests and the green is that your tree grows and gets bigger for next year! Oh, and if you want, you can reserve your own personal tree in the forest so you can have it each year. But, the point is that at least after XMAs the tree doesn't get tossed to the trash or even made into mulch, pulp, or paper.

Oh, and speaking about depleting the oxygen supply, I guess we may as well stop breathing. That's not "green" either!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Breaking the Stupidity Chain

First of all, perhaps I should welcome myself back to the blogger. As you can see, it has been several months since I have last posted. Many busy things have happened in my life - some good, some bad, but all of them usefully challenging. I've learned something from every event. In time, I may get to some of these items.

I have decided to focus the discussion to tie it with my morallearning.com web site. In time, I shall try to post more items and lessons there. But, I'd like to make this blog more of a discussion forum and get your thoughts and feedback on some ideas.

So, I'll start with a question which I allude to in the morallearning.com site. It's something I call the Stupidity Chain. Essentially the concept is that leaders and people in charge do stupid things repetitively. Everyone around them realizes that their actions are stupid. However, these leaders try to use their power and rank to convince everyone else that their actions are smart. Eventually, others buy (or get forced) in, and the stupidity gets another link in the chain. The stupidity continues.

So, before I post some of the wacky crazy examples of this stupidity chain that I deal with in my life, I'd like to here some of your stories. Most of all, I'd like to hear your solutions. How do you break the Stupidity Chain in your life?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Thoughts on various learning technologies

There are so many different technologies available for on-line learning that it's tough to decide which one I would like best.

I find that blogging is a pretty decent way to have a discussion going, as well as post my own thoughts on a topic. I can see blogging to be quite useful in terms of getting "on demand" information to people who need something quickly. Often, I have found that a lot of learning takes place "informally." Classes and formal self-paced programs are good for focusing on specific topics. But, often, learners want a quick answer to an immediate question. I think one of the biggest challenges in learning is to be able to hand over more of the responsibility to the learner. Have them find the information rather than feeding it to them. The catch is, how do learners locate the correct resources? Blogging can help, and a social link forum like del.icio.us seems to do a very good job with providing learners with some options while at the same time forming a collaborative learning group with others. I learn far more from peers than I do from many teachers. The peer role is very different.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Talmud - An Ancient form of non-linear learning

The Talmud is a written compilation of Judaic law and ethics written between the second and fifth century Common Era. A typical page from the Talmud is divided into a main text area with various commentaries and cross references surrounding the page border. Studying Talmudic text requires the ability to jump from the text to the commentary, to other references, and sometimes explore more deeply into that references further reference, until, eventually, continuing with the text. Thus, the Talmud can be considered an "early" form of hypertext, without the use of computers, of course.

Talmudic learning is definitely non-linear. Can non-linear learning work on-line using computers? Do you think you can learn non-linearly?

Here's an interesting way to find out:
Go to http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html This page shows you an image of a page from the Talmud. The top of the page gives directions on how to use the image. Try it out, and see how it works.
Then, return to this same page and click on the link below the image - the one that tells you to click to see a hyperlinked selection of the texts in translation. It will display a lot of frames!

See if you can learn something by following the frames. These frames are there for a reason! It is an attempt to simulate Talmudic learning. Each frame represents a commentary or a reference to related texts to support the main text on the Talmudic page.

I learned this way throughout elementary and high school, and I still study Talmud this way! I'm not sure how comfortable I would be learning Talmud on-line with all these frames. But, I can learn non-linearly, and I actual prefer this style.

What's your opinion? Do you think you can learn non-linearly? If so, what requirements would you want or need in terms of screen lay-out and content?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Definition of Excellence

I found a great Biblical verse that succinctly explains what the term "excellence" means:

The man became great. He continued becoming greater until he
was exceedingly great (Genesis chapter 26 verse 13.)

This verse is referring to Isaac. In a short verse, the message points out that even though Isaac was great, he didn't stop there. He became greater. This is what true excellence means. It is not a finite goal. It is an attitude that is continuous and has no end. Regardless of how great a person's accomplishment is, he should view this as step and an example to producing an even greater achievement. Of course, one should be proud of his accomplishments, but, at the same time, when one views a big accomplishment as the end of a path, one ceases to be excellent. The path from that point is downward. Instead, the path must always be upwards, striving to reach an even greater goal.

Further inspection of the next Biblical verse (verse 14 in the same chapter) states what Isaac gained - cattle, sheep, etc. numerous possessions. It is the end of that verse (verse 14) that states, "The Phillistines were jealous of him."

How sad that is! Notice that the verse did not state that they were envious of his possessions or his success, but they were envious of him, as a whole. In the end, the Phillistine king, Abimelech chased Isaac away because he and his people couldn't handle such envy and the competition. (Eventually, though, Abimelech relented, apologized, and made a peace pact with Isaac.)

The Phillistines, sadly, did not look as Isaac as a mentor. They could have asked Isaac how he became successful, and perhaps learned from him. Had they done that, perhaps, they would have become a more prosperous people and tribe. Instead, they became a savage, warrior group of people who brutally killed others and prided themselves on their physical strength.

Sadly, the way the Phillistines acted then, is common practice in numerous societies. Envy can be constructive when people use it as a means to learn and emulate someone else's success and moral behavior. Sadly, envy, more often results in distrust, hostility, and often, war.

If you know of someone else who is successful, don't be jealous. Learn from their knowledge. If you ask, they will, most likely tell you. Any truly successful person is smart enough to know that there is enough space in the world for success to be shared without detracting from his own success. If you have achieved greatness, why not make the first step and be a mentor to others?