New Year’s Resolutions
It’s good to be back together after the break. Below are my comments from assembly today. All the best in the new year!
Welcome back in this new year. I am so proud of what you’ve accomplished so far. How you’re working together as a community and giving to those beyond our community. Let’s keep up this good work.
I’d also like to point out that you and your teachers have done impressive work moving the mission of the school forward. You’re working in blended classes, which, as of next fall, will be available in every junior and senior course. In the survey, yesterday, you joined the effort to evaluate how we can improve our use of time at the school. You’re doing scientific research. Designing submersibles and urban ski winch systems. And making music with Portland Symphony Orchestra members. You’re on the move. It’s a privilege to work here and with you.
Finally, I want to share a personal reflection on the new year.
I’m always happy to see a new year, but I do struggle with the annual ritual of making resolutions.
I think there is a problem with resolutions as they are typically constructed. The goals are often too meager to fire the imagination. They are often rooted in ways we want to change ourselves when self-acceptance would be more powerful, or based on external standards when we have spent too little time understanding what’s going on inside. As if this is the year of my perfection, the year I will measure up, or the year I will be acceptable.
So, maybe something different this year.
What about committing to a deep understanding of just one important thing?
Understanding is tough to achieve and there are obstacles.
For example, there are well-funded organizations full of brilliant people whose business model involves fragmenting our attention. I’m actually a big fan of their work, but being inundated doesn’t help us think deeply. In my case, I find that each year, despite loads of reading, television news, news feeds, and social media, I make little progress in my understanding of many important and urgent things. It feels like much of what I’m doing reinforces but doesn’t deepen my understanding. Sort of an intellectual Groundhog Day.
So let’s just say we’ll get past that. Now you need to pick that one thing to understand.
Think of something that is important to you. Something you care about and that draws you to greater understanding of yourself, the world, or your place in the world. Or maybe it just makes you happy and at peace.
It’s totally fine if the idea is big and messy. Or particular and specific. It’s okay if it’s right at the edge of your ability to keep the whole thing in your head…a real stretch.
Maybe you want to understand climate change. Global terrorism. Sports psychology. Politics. Why you love dogs. Family dynamics. Artificial intelligence. How love works. The meaning of life. Or chocolate.
Now, here’s the hard part.
Get beyond the fast turnover media. Go out and find two good books and one periodical that deals with the topic you’ve chosen. Google and Amazon make this easy.
Then, of course, read them. Great books and magazines are put together by people who wrestle on a daily basis with the idea you’re looking at. They spend their lives on it. Go into the deep end of the pool and learn from them.
Also, read book reviews. You can cover a lot of ground by reading thoughtful book reviews…and I’m not talking about comments in Amazon.
Finally, test your progress by talking to people. Talk with your parents, teachers, and friends about what your learning. Invite others to challenge you and push your assumptions. Use the words, take positions, and seek understanding through engagement with others.
I’m going to do this and frankly, I am both intimidated and inspired by the challenge. If you want to know what I’m working on, feel free to stop by the office for some chocolate and conversation.
So, seek understanding in the new year. Go big and read deeply.