You are either a product of your circumstances or an observer of your circumstances.
Genuine observers are scarce and difficult to find since they do not seek the limelight. They are also very happy, resilient people.
Keep reading to learn about why we need more observers.
Break the Loop
Last week, I promised a discussion on how we can repair broken feedback loops and our education system with the underlying goal of displacing societal ills. These are strictly my opinions, and I would welcome yours: an open exchange is the best way to move forward.
I feel that there are two major, Earth-shattering steps to take.
Step one is to formally separate education and learning. They are two separate things and should be treated as such. Step two is to cultivate awareness of everything around us.
I am not picking on education; on the contrary, education must be the solution to societal and environmental ills. If you have been with this blog for any period of time, you'll know that teachers are my personal heroes.
Let's go back to fundamental definitions to move forward:
This feedback loop consists of education as the input and a learning outcome as the output. This is how the system is designed. Note that our focus is an attempt to measure and quantify what was learned against what was taught; there is no consideration for what was inadvertently learned outside of the framework.
And it's just as well: the possibilities of what was learned (but not taught) is immeasurable. What if I learned to doodle during math? And, more importantly to my personal happiness, I made a successful career out of my doodle-in-the-margin-shenanigans?
This example is one class of result: a bad learning outcome with a good personal result. As we collectively shy away from what we have agreed are bad things, we will implement controls to address the bad things. Often, the controls are worse than the original problem and come with their own set of difficult-to-identify issues. (We still find ways to justify them. Doing "something" is a must.)
These difficult-to-identify issues are the source of my recommendation to break the education-learning-feedback loop. Let's look at a different class of example: a good learning outcome with a bad personal, societal, or environmental result that cannot be immediately identified.
An example that fits into this concerning class is frequently found in STEM education. Let's consider a hypothetical STEM course. It is based on the premise that the knowledge learned will allow the learner to improve the world through technology. As a prerequisite, we need to embrace the necessary edtech in the classroom.
It sounds good, so what is the issue here? An application of neuroscience suggests that students are inadvertently learning in their STEM classes that electronics are disposable. What is learned is not what is taught.
Let's circle back. I am proposing a separation between education and learning. This is a manual intervention in our institutional feedback loops [that makes things much more Montessori-esque], understanding the obvious that what is taught is not what is learned.
What is learned must be self-directed (doodles) and must work toward creating the best possible person. Imagine a school that enables students to find their innate talents and equips them to pursue it in the context of addressing societal and environmental needs. The educational aspect of this arrangement is that materials are available on-demand to support the individual.
A healthy community cannot exist without healthy individuals. The healthiest individuals are working toward their highest purposes in roles that they can freely choose.
On to roles.
Step one was to fix education by breaking it. Step two was about cultivating awareness. At the personal level, this means that we must learn to face a set of answers and ask bold, unexpected questions. (It used to be trendy to call this "thinking outside the box." I would argue that the box is an imaginary construct.)
For example, when presented with a set of answers in the context of a specific role, our default behavior can become as extreme as to commit atrocities. This is what happens when our feedback loops are inseparable from our awareness. We automatically assume the role that we have been told.
We assume the role of "powerless individual" or "C student." We assume the role of "shock deliverer" or "caretaker." (To be clear: I am not diminishing those of you that have suffered a trauma. Neuroplasticity tells us that this pain is not something that can be switched on or off.)
Note that I expressed assuming a role as a default behavior. There is a choice, but for someone to uncover the unasked questions in any situation is as complicated as an individual's neuroplasticity. There is no fixed checklist.
Interesting things happen to the observer. They can choose to override self-preservation. They can sometimes see bad events around them as "something to fix" without assuming the role that circumstances suggest or that they are told to assume. Mother Teresa comes to mind as a pure observer.
The observer asks the unexpected questions. The observer becomes aware of other possibilities other than what is presented as default choices. They can assume the role that makes the most sense for the moment.
To them, there is no dualistic, heroic struggle between right and wrong. Observers are downright boring! Adversity holds no power over them. They are still human and swayed by their personal biases, but they choose how they are affected by their circumstances.
There is presently no accepted institution to teach this ability. Nor is there is a one-size-fits-all lesson plan that instills this quality. And, since this is not a measurable item, it never appears in the lesson plan of any school. I would argue that it is the single most important thing to learn right now.
I predict that these rare people that have learned this on their own will slowly bubble up into the spotlight as our environment becomes more perilous. They never asked for the spotlight, but they will be the ones that work toward solutions to our adversities without blinking an eye.
To quote Greta Thunberg, "… if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself." Hello, Shift Sight.
This is such a logical conclusion but so hard for us to swallow. We resist change, not wanting to rip up all of our past hard work. It does not matter if our institutions no longer serve us; we prefer bad situations over uncertainty.
We are told that our institutions and technology will allow us to master our surroundings. It is quite the opposite: you cannot realize that this premise is flawed until you can master yourself.
If you go about your day, treating life as a checklist for the many roles you take on hour-by-hour, you will never stop to ask the questions that nobody else is asking.
Shift Sight is developing Jade to cultivate awareness through individual, creative development. We do not believe in a set of fixed answers that demonstrates a learning outcome: everyone must arrive at their own answer.
Creativity is associated with spacious, free thought: the type of thinking that is necessary to be an observer of circumstances rather than a product of circumstances.
Jade is our beginning. Humane, sustainable technology is our long-game. Shift Sight is modeled as an observer: the company ultimately has a moral imperative to continually up the game and change our business model once durable, repairable electronics are widespread. There is no self-preservation or profit-at-all-cost model.
Shift Sight is here for you on your journey. We are the map, not the destination.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.