10,000 hours of practice

It is funny to me that the biggest message that most people seem to have gotten out of Outliers  by Malcolm Gladwell is the 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert idea. Even people who have not read it have received that idea. And like so many sound bites, it is a faulty message. Because it is not just 10,000 hours of practice, it is 10,000 hours of deliberate, focused practice with the intent of becoming good at whatever it is.

Growing up, I put in quite a few hours of practice playing the piano. Am I any good at it now? Minimally. Why? Because the practice I put in was casual and indifferent, with no focused attempt to understand what I was doing or how to become really better. I was punching the time clock, not actually trying to master a skill.

Simply doing something you want to do for 10,000 hours is not going to make you an expert.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do

is simply keep your mouth shut.

I’m in an odd situation, where I’m a webmaster, but there are dual websites. The older website, which began it, is under the direct control of the former webmaster, who is the only one that can update it. I make appropriate updates, upload them to the website under my control, then send copies of the relevant files to him so he can do updates for the older one. (This is a transition period, in case you hadn’t realized.)

So what does he do? He changes my pages. The changes he makes? Not really errors, most of the time. And no longer his business to change.

But, do I say anything? NO! I am quiet and respectful. Eventually this will change. And it’s not worth it for me to object. There are political reasons not to say anything, aside from the simple courtesy of kindness and respect. Plus I have a feeling that he really doesn’t want to let control go, even though he himself suggested bringing in another webmaster in order to take a load off of himself.

But I have to wonder — does he realize how beyond irritating he is? He makes my work more difficult. And this…

Okay, I have to stop before I rant too much. Think about something else.

Political participation

Young Mom’s musings about gay rights and how a Christian should act were very interesting, and I found I wanted to comment on them, also on some of my thoughts in reaction to the comments that came up. (She made a couple of inaccurate statements, but they didn’t change the overall thrust of her post, with which I mostly agree.) Plus, as I thought through my own feelings, I found I wanted to add some things. Tangents! the joy of blogs.

So, first, I know how you feel.

When I first read what Young Mom had written, my first thought was an instinctive agreement. Then I read some of the comments, and felt some doubts about my own agreement. I had to think about why for a bit, but this is actually something I have been thinking about, and so some of the answers came fairly quickly. And in some areas, I disagree. But writing them down, well that takes longer.

When I see protesters who profess to be Christian acting in ways that I feel are hateful, I fully understand Young Mom’s uneasiness and distress with political activity. I fully empathize with that emotion, because it is part of my own feelings. I cannot walk in a protest, especially as a Christian, with a group who are professing to act based upon their Christian beliefs, who write things like “You are going to hell because you are gay.” Its truth is not the problem. HOW it is said IS a BIG problem. I think that how a Christian supports something can be just as important as what a Christian supports. When my fellow Christians act in hate and not love, then I cannot walk with them.

But I don’t think that excuses us from ANY political participation. (She wasn’t suggesting that, it is just a reaction I’ve seen in many.) The entire idea of the United States is built upon the fundamental principle that every citizen has both a right and a responsibility to be involved. For some, a minimum level of responsibility is nothing more than voting. For others, it goes all the way to becoming a politician and actively working to change things. For the rest, there are many shades in between. (Actually, there is a large portion who do absolutely nothing, including vote, but they are copping out on their own citizen’s responsibility. I try not to despise them, but it’s hard not to feel negative about them.) Political participation is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy, so I cannot simply say “I hate politics” and leave it at that. By doing so, you are handing someone else the power to make decisions for you, and I just can’t do it that easily. I can with God, but not with people. So I have to find a way to be involved that doesn’t support those shouting protesters but does fulfill the responsibility to be a good citizen.

When I am tempted to do nothing at all, I do sometimes remind myself of Christ’s admonition to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. While part of that message was to be sure to give him only what is his, there is also the admonition that that a total lack of involvement is not really an option either. The government, especially the US government, needs to have involved participants.

And something that bothers me a lot? We have started acting as if political discussion is as sensitive as religious discussion, with the result that people think it is impolite to bring it up in general conversation. Um, if we don’t talk about it then how can we reach ANY kind of consensus? We need to remember to be civil and self-controlled, not hateful and shouting, but we still need to discuss it.

It is actually rather funny when I think about my own family. My parents were never highly involved in politics as I was growing up, other than voting. But as they’ve grown older and had more time (no kids at home, you know) they have started paying a lot more attention to what is happening in politics and being a lot more verbal about their opinions. My brother and sister are also a lot more intense about it as well. All of them listen to a lot of talk radio, which actually drives me insane, even when I agree. (I find talk radio, especially call-in shows, hugely annoying. Endless repetition. Constant interruption. Really stupid questions. Irritating.) But what concerns me sometimes is that I don’t know that they’ve given it a lot of deep thought. Maybe they have, but I don’t always feel certain of that, and it worries me.

One of the areas where I’ve not been completely sure I agree with my family is the issue of having a law defining marriage. They agree with the idea, but I’m a little more dubious. One: this is, at least in part, a religious issue as much as a legal one, and I do believe in the separation of church and state. (This is one area where I don’t agree with Young Mom’s statements. Marriage is not just a legal issue, it is both religious and legal.) If I remember right, there are countries where people have to have two ceremonies, one civil and one religious. That actually makes a good bit of sense to me. Two: I’m not sure I am as bothered by the insurance, etc. consequences. If a gay couple wants to be sure that their gay “spouse” receives the same benefits as a heterosexual spouse, then I’m pretty much fine with that, even though I believe them to be completely wrong in their homosexual choice. It is their choice. Letting them have the same spousal benefits does not imply approval by me or by a religion that clearly teaches it as wrong. Three: I’m wary of defining homosexuality as illegal, since that has led to a lot of wrongs in the past. How many human beings persecuted others for their sexual choices? LOTS! The homosexual choice was certainly sinful, but so was the persecution.

On the whole, as I’ve thought about it, I decided that if a law came up to define marriage as between one man and one woman, I would probably vote for it, but I am certainly NOT going to campaign for it. But before I vote for it, it has to meet certain criteria for me. It has to be a positive law, meaning it establishes a right, not a negative law, that punishes someone for making the opposite choice. Being a homosexual is as sinful as being a fornicator in God’s eyes, as I understand it, so I’m not going to even ask for a law about either of those, so long as they bring no direct harm to another person. (This was one of Young Mom’s inaccuracies. There have been times when being a fornicator or adulterer has been illegal, in the US as well as pretty much everywhere else. And I believe there are some gays who are attempting to make it religiously acceptable to be homosexually married.) Yes, I understand that there are many cultural, societal consequences to these things that can be/will be mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually harmful, but you can’t legislate everything. You shouldn’t legislate everything. That is not the province of government.

In a way, I suppose thinking about this goes back to my own struggles to understand what is the purpose of government. So much of what a government should do is based on definitions and opinions of what is harmful, what is a natural, human right, and what should be a choice. And this topic is deeply intertwined with my previous post about laws, regulations, and guidelines. What a law dictates and what a society approves are two different things. I am more distressed by the fact that being gay is “approved” by society than the fact that there is no law on the books that defines marriage in favor of a heterosexual couple.

Sigh. This is the kind of confusion you will find inside my head.

“It makes me happy. “

I find this phrase incredibly irritating. And I hear it a LOT.

You know, it’s not that I object to people being happy. It’s not that I object to people doing things because it makes them happy. What I object to is a combination of two things: it is used as a reason way too often and because it is used so much, it makes me question their underlying philosophy and values.

Now as for the using it too often, partly it is context. Some of the places where I hear it so often are on some podcasts where the phrase is more or less appropriate to the topic. They are, after all, talking about a hobby that we share for entertainment and pleasure. If they were talking about other things, they might not use that phrase so often. So I don’t truly object to their use of the phrase, it’s just that I get tired of its frequency, but then I also get tired of the frequency with which they use the same adjectives again and again. It takes concentration to stop yourself from always using your favorite terms to describe good things. And they are, ultimately, amateurs, so I don’t really hold it against them.

But underlying the phrase is an approach to life that is all too pervasive in our society, and that bothers me a lot more. What is your reason for doing things? Any things. All kinds of things. Because it makes you happy? If that is your reason for anything and everything, you are an incredibly selfish person. (NOTE, please, that I am not accusing the aforementioned podcasters of this attitude; in fact, my general impression is that they are generous, nice people. For them, it’s all about context.) If that is your reason for some things, that is understandable and acceptable. But where is the balance point?

Being a Christian, my underlying philosophy of life does not automatically assume that everything I do in life is to make me happy. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to do things that are not about my happiness. Serving God and serving others are excellent reasons for doing things that you personally don’t like or enjoy. Over time, as you grow spiritually, doing those things in the spirit of service means that you will eventually come to gain pleasure from them, not in a self-mortifying way but with an eyes-on-the-prize attitude that ultimately sanctifies even the most annoying and unpleasurable tasks. But pleasure is not the reason for doing those things. I have taken on tasks that I don’t necessarily like in order to serve others. For example, I do not regard cleaning things as particularly happy-making, but I can remember at least once going to a Christian sister’s house and helping to clean her bathroom while she was down with a leg injury. And I walked away pleased, but I still didn’t enjoy cleaning the toilet. (Many children make for dirty bathrooms.)

What bothers me most, I think, is that the it-makes-me-happy reason is cited all too often. I’m not seeing or feeling the balance in people’s lives that helps me know that they are making those choices only some of the time, not all the time. So I am left with the thought that as a society, our attitudes are unbalanced and more selfish than not.

And that worries me.

What makes a craft appealing

Every craft has its appeal. People regularly make these broad, sweeping statements about their craft that really reflect themselves. I find this annoying.

Statement made: what makes quilting appealing is the mathematical puzzle of putting it together.

Response in my head: Really? What about all those art quilters that are creating a landscape or painting on fabric?  Are they being mathematical?

Answer: obviously not!

What is really being expressed is what they think appeals to them, and maybe the crafters with whom they are most familiar. And since we tend to be most familiar with the things we like, then our attention is disproportionately focused on those like themselves, thus there is a feedback loop that reinforces the generalization. But really this is just an example of sloppy thinking and inadequate research.

I really wish people would take the time to think.