Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Whetstone 11-21-08

One of the things that we talked about in the 7 Habits class is the idea of paradigm. More than just a buzzword, paradigm is the way we see things. It's our own reality. In order to truly understand people and situations, we often need to change our perspective and see things from a different angle.

Of course the best way to do this is to expose yourself to lots of new people and situations. Take trips, do an exchange, ask questions, really listen when people are talking to you, try something new...

In addition to real life experiences, I have found it useful to listen to books on tape and other audio programs. I spend some time driving, walking, at the gym, and on planes and I was searching primarily for entertainment. Every once in a while you read or listen to something that really changes your perspective because it expose you to someone else's reality. Sometimes we need to hear that our problems aren't really that bad compared to what they could be, sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get us moving towards a reality that is better than our own.

Here are a few favorites:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns and the Kite Runner.

I have an audible subscription. Last year, I had an Erica Jong novel on my iPod. As I was listening, I kept thinking- "Yeah, wow. I am glad I'm not a single career woman in my thirties in 1960's America. They had it hard."

For some reason, I didn't have part II of the Jong novel, so I switched to A Thousand Splendid Suns. Let's just say I never made it back to Jong. It just seemed incredibly superficial after listening to the story of two women in modern day Afghanistan. It was gripping, touching, at times hard to listen to, but worth every minute. The Kite Runner had a similar effect.

2. Family Matters and A Fine Balance

Living in Canada helped me understand what cold really meant, and I will never complain about winter again. Reading Rohinton Mistry books helped me understand what it means to live in a place (Modern and Recent Past India) where opportunities and freedoms and even dignities are limited.

3. Most Episodes of This American Life

Specifically, an episode from last week called "Who Do you Think You Are?" that featured three stories that really gave me insight into some perspectives that I could never experience myself- growing up during the depression, growing up as a black male in the 1960's and growing up as a perfectly family, only to have it taken away (but finding out that made the family much more wonderful.) Subscribe to the podcast, it is very good.

4. The Fountainhead

While there is the typical Rand Objectivism message, what really changed my perspective was the way Howard Roark approached architecture. He believed that the form of the building should be in tune with its function and structural needs. For example, he disliked facades and decoration because they served no real purpose on the building. He would rather work as a laborer in a quarry than compromise his architectural ideals.

While I realize Rand was probably going for a bigger metaphor here, I took it pretty literally and tend to enjoy simple and functional designs in furniture, buildings, bridges, and of course all nature of engineering projects. I also try to examine my work life against his occasionally. I'm not sure I'd give it all up to work at a quarry, but now and again you have to smack yourself around and get back "on mission".

There are tons more, but this should keep you going until next week!