Month: October 2007

“Should I Ask Her To Marry Me?” – 20 Things To Consider Before Proposing

You have a good relationship, you love her, you’ve been together for a while and you’ve started thinking (or she’s started hinting) that maybe she could be the one, maybe you should pop the question.

But you’re not sure… it’s a big step, a major change in your life.  It’s one of the biggest decisions you can make in life.  Even if you get a divorce, the marriage will be part of you, and part of how people think of you.

So how do you know?  How can you be sure that she’s the one?

A lot of things go into compatibility… it’s impossible to list them all.  What follows is a list of some of the most important factors, things you should consider very seriously before proposing.

After you read and answer all these questions, you should have a pretty good idea as to the answer for the question “Should I ask her to marry me?”:

  1. Do you love her?

    This one is simple… don’t get married to take care of her, or protect her, or because you feel sorry for her.  Only get married if you do, in fact, love her.

  2. Do you miss her when you’re away?

    If it’s easy for you to be distracted and not think of her, if you don’t miss her pretty much all the time when you’re apart (it can be more and less consciously, but you should definitely feel it any time you think of her), you’re not committed enough to marry her.

  3. Does she understand you?

    If you feel like she doesn’t understand you on a regular basis, the two of you are not ready to be married, plain and simple.

  4. Can you easily picture growing old together?

    If you can’t easily picture getting older together, if you have to work at it, then she’s not the one for you, at least not at this time.

  5. Do you share the same taste?

    This can be in many areas… if your tastes in clothes, music, food, etc. are not generally compatible, it’s likely to cause problems down the road.  This may not be a deal breaker, but deserves real consideration.

  6. When you compare her, overall, to other women, do they ALWAYS lose?

    She doesn’t have to come out ahead in every specific trait, but overall, there shouldn’t be anyone who even comes close.  If she ever loses, or even ties, you’re not ready to marry her.

  7. Is one of you a big spender and the other a penny pincher?

    Financial differences are the biggest killers of relationships… they cause conflict, so you don’t spend time together, so you grow apart, which causes more conflict, and on into a downward spiral.  Let me emphasize this:  if you are not financially compatible, think REALLY seriously before you ask her to marry you!

  8. Is one of you a neat freak and the other a slob?

    Disagreements over keeping things clean can really wear a relationship down.  Even if there is no other conflict, this one tends to be present enough to make the relationship go sour.  If one of you is a neat freak and the other a slob, again, you need to think really seriously before proposing.

  9. Is she controlling?

    Even if you don’t think it’s a big deal right now, if she’s controlling it’s almost certain to become one eventually.  You can only handle being controlled for so long… at some point you are going to want to be out from under her control.

  10. Are you?

    Be honest with yourself… if you are controlling, work on that before proposing.  It isgoing to cause problems down the road if you are controlling, and getting rid of being controlling is a HUGE personality change, so you should give her a chance to make sure that you’re still right for each other after doing so.

  11. Do you both want children?

    You really need to discuss children before discussing marriage.  If one of you wants more children than the other (I don’t mean the difference between 2 and 3… though the difference between 0 and 1 is huge), it will almost certainly cause significant problems in the relationship at some point down the road.

  12. Does she have anything she seems to consider more important than you/your relationship?

    If there is something that seems more important to her than your relationship, and it’s not a child she already has, that’s a huge red flag.  If you and your relationship are not the most important thing to her now, chances aren’t very good for that changing after you get married.

  13. Do you?

    The same thing from above applies to you, too… if there is something that’s more important to you than her and your relationship, and it’s not your child, you really shouldn’t ask her to marry you.  Having other things you value over her is a recipe for disaster in a marriage.

  14. Are you hiding anything from her?

    Trust is critical in a good relationship.  Not important, critical.  If you distrust her enough to hide something from her, work on that first… then you can come back and think about proposing again later.

  15. Do you feel like she’s hiding something from you?

    Again, trust is critical.  If you don’t trust her, and feel like she’s hiding something, even if you don’t think it’s that big of a deal, be careful.  You really should trust her before you propose… and you should be pretty certain that she trusts you, too.

  16. Do you have to change something important to you to make her happy?

    Is there some part of you that you would have to change in order for her to be happy?  Is that part of you important to you?  If the answer to both of these is yes, be very, very careful.  You may come to resent her for it, and that’s a horrible thing to have in a marriage.

  17. Does she have to change to make you happy?

    If there is something that she has to change in order for you to truly be happy with her, even if you think she will, be careful.  It’s very easy to be in love with the idea of someone, rather than who they really are, and you can’t make her change… so if you’re not happy now, don’t ask her to marry you now.

  18. Can you imagine getting a divorce?

    If either of you can imagine getting a divorce, and it is absolutely something you should discuss before proposing, then you really shouldn’t get married.  Marriage is too big an investment of your time, energy, attention, and to be honest, you for you to get into if you are already not sure it’s going to last.

  19. Has she ever cheated on or left someone before?

    This might be something you don’t really want to think about, but it’s important, because it’s much easier to do the second time than the first… and each repetition makes it easier.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t propose just because she hasdone one or the other, it just means that you need to take extra caution, and be even more certain than otherwise that you trust her.

  20. If another woman who was beautiful, smart, sexy, funny, and had a lot in common with you showed interest in you, how would you feel?

    This one sounds harsh, but it really is important.  If she really is the one, the one that you are going to be with for the rest of your life, then you should be able to answer this easily and honestly.  You know the answer to this, and if you would be “interested” in that other woman, you are not ready to marry your current girlfriend.

All of these things are serious questions you should ask yourself before proposing.  Marriage is a huge deal, one of the most important things you will ever do, so don’t rush into it… make sure that you really think about it and make sure that you’re ready first.

If you have any other questions, please leave them in the comments.  It’s the conversation that makes blogging fulfilling.

A Simple Way To Strengthen Your Family

Do you want a really simple way to strengthen your family?  It’s really not complex, and it doesn’t have to cost much, financially… it just takes your time and attention.  Do I have your attention?

One of the simplest ways to strengthen a family is to plan dates.  This includes, of course, your spouse… but isn’t limited to them.  It could and should include everyone in your family, at least once a month (if possible… some families are HUGE, it might have to be less often if yours is one of them).

Here are the with whom you should plan dates, in this simple way to strengthen your family:

  1. Your Spouse

    This one should be obvious, but for some reason it isn’t… the fact that you’re married doesn’t mean you should stop dating.  In fact, if you want your relationship to be great, go back to thinking of your spouse as someone that you have to woo, someone you have to win over.  An absolutely huge number of couples forget the importance of making each other their significant other.  If you are one of those couples… change.  Fix it… go back to thinking about your spouse and how important they are to you and win them over… again and again and again.

    This is one person whom you should NOT let slip to less often than once a month… if you can do more, go for it!  Once a week would be great… you wanted to see your spouse at least once a week before you got married, right?

  2. Your Children

    It’s less obvious that you should plan dates with your children than that you should plan them with your spouse, but it’s not less important!  Planning specific times to be with each child, and ONLY with that child, gives both you and them something to anticipate, hopefully eagerly.  If you start this when they are young enough, it is something that will keep you close to them, and something they will remember, for the rest of their life.

    If they are old enough, it’s nice to let them choose what to do… it makes them feel more like it’s their date, too.

  3. Your Self

    Probably the person most forgotten when it comes to scheduling exclusive time, your self still needs it.  It can be really difficult, especially if you’re one of those people who identify with your family and helping others, to remember that you need time to yourself, too… and I’m not talking about ten minutes before bed, although that can be very helpful, too (see How To Make Your Life Happier In One Simple Change).  I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness solid block of time for yourself, at least three or four hours in a row… uninterrupted.

    You can use this time to do whatever you enjoy, but don’t use it to do something that “needs” done.  Do something that you want to do, something you enjoy, but not anything that you have to do.

If you follow this plan, you should notice basically everything about your family life getting better over the next few months.  If you want it to happen faster, you can plan the dates more often… but don’t make it overwhelming.  It’s good to have a date with your wife once a week, and certainly wouldn’t hurt to have time to yourself each week, but you don’t want to feel like all of your time is scheduled to death, either.  After all, dates should be enjoyed, not forced, or they pretty much lose all effectiveness.

So, get started and actually enjoy something that strengthens your family.

The Essence Of Effective Communication – Shared Experiences

Communication is the act of conveying a message from the sender to the recipient.  Effective communication is when the message received is the message that was sent, without any misinterpretation.  Andall effective communication has one thing in common – shared experiences.

I’m not talking about shared experiences as in an experience that you went through together, although that certainly qualifies… I’m talking about experiences that you both went through, like both going through school, both having watched the same movie, or even both having learned the same slang and/or dialect.  It can even be as broad as both sharing the same language, but without the rest, sharing the same language (which won’t be precisely the same without sharing slang) is less effective.

Essentially, the more shared experiences you have, the more effective your communication becomes.  This becomes particularly apparent in families, especially between a husband and wife… you share so many experiences that you can sometimes convey five minutes worth of conversation with someone else in one sentence with your spouse.

This, of course, is not limited to families.  If you meet someone (a stranger) who you find out grew up in the same general area as you, you will immediately have more effective communication with that person than with a stranger who grew up far away.  If you find out that someone you work with has watched many of the same movies as you, or listens to the same music, or reads the same books, your communication with that person becomes more effective because of the shared experiences.

This is easily apparent in reverse, as well… less shared experiences causes communication to be more difficult and frustrating.  This is especially apparent in the area of slang and dialect… it can be very difficult to speak to someone who speaks the same language, but with a heavy (to you) accent (this is dialect), or with very different slang (think lower-class American English vs lower-class British English).

So how does this affect you?  How can you use this knowledge to become a more effective communicator?

Always look for things that you have in common with the person with whom you are communicating.  This can even be done by adopting similar body language, oddly enough, but it’s more effective to simply listen to what they say and how they say it, looking for something familiar and then focusing a bit more on that shared experience.  As you find more and more areas in common, your communication with that person will become more effective.

As if effective communication weren’t enough incentive on its own, though, there’s an additional bonus… the more shared experiences you find, the more that person will like you, almost without fail.  Shared experiences yield common ground to talk about other things, which leads to getting to know each other better, which leads to more shared experiences… you get the picture.  This is also the reason why relationships where the couple does not spend enough time together tend to become less close… there are less shared experiences, and so less effective communication, and so knowing each other less… it’s a vicious cycle which takes conscious effort to break.

So… if you want to become a more effective communicator, look for shared experiences… and watch all your relationships improve, too, as you apply the same techniques to them.

PS – This post was inspired by Adrienne.

One Simple Way To Make Anyone Like You

How would you like one simple way to make anyone like you, or if they already like you, like you more?  This isn’t in the romantic sense, although more platonic liking has, of course, been known to evolve to that.

It really doesn’t take much… there are four steps involved, but all of them are easy, particularly since (presumably) you already are interested (again, not necessarily in the romantic sense) in that person.  None of the steps should take very long, either, although we’re not just talking about a couple minutes, either.

So what is this way that I’m talking about?  What is the one thing that is virtually guaranteed to make someone like you, or like you more?

It’s easy… let them teach you something that kindles their interest, or better yet, their passion.  For example, you could ask me to teach you something about writing (one of my passions), or about web development (one of my interests), and you will very nearly automatically have my attention.

The four steps involved in one simple way to make anyone like you:

  1. Find Their Interests

    The first step is to find out what their interests and/or passions are.  Without this knowledge, you’re going to be rolling the dice… whatever topic you bring up may or may not interest them, and if it doesn’t, your net result may be negative, other than making them aware of you if they were not before… but never underestimate the power of someone being aware of you.  If you can find them out, and you really should be able to do so, you’re starting with an advantage.

  2. Learn A Little Bit About One (or more)

    Now that you have completed step one, choose one or more of their interests that also sound interesting to you.  It’s even better if it’s an interest that you already had, but regardless, don’t fake it.  Faking interest in the area can definitely work in the short term, but you can only keep faking it to a certain point, and once you pass that point, the person you want to like you may feel more negative feelings toward you from being used/manipulated/deceived than you ever generated in positive feelings.

    Once you have chosen the interest(s) you want to concentrate on, learn something about them.  If you were already interested, you may have this part already accomplished.  If not, don’t worry about acquiring in-depth knowledge, all you need is to learn enough to know how to ask questions about it.

  3. Bring Up The Subject

    Now that you know enough to ask questions, find a way to bring up the subject with the person.  There are an almost infinite number of ways to do this, but make sure it doesn’t sound artificial.  It can be as simple as using a news story that has some relationship, drop a hint that you are doing something related to it (ie if you want to bring up writing with me, you might mention something that you are writing/have written), or just point out something that reminds you of it (if the topic of interest is dogs, and you see a cloud that sort of resembles one, you can use that).  It doesn’t really matter how you bring it up, as long as it doesn’t sound forced.

  4. Ask Them To Teach Or Explain Something

    Now that you have brought up the subject once, it will be easier to bring up again… you can say something like “I was thinking about what you said the other day…” and it’s natural and brings up the subject again.  It also makes it easy to move on to this step… you just add “and I was wondering ” along with “what you think about x”, “what you meant by y”, “how you learned z”, or anything else of the sort… making it into a question about them and their knowledge.  If the area of interest is one where they might be considered an advanced amateur or a pro, you might ask them to teach you how to do something in the field.  If they are more beginner or just moving to amateur, you might do better asking them what they think about something in the field.  Whatever their status in the area, you’ll usually do well by asking what they think about a specific piece of recent news that involves or is related to that area of interest.

    There really are a lot of ways you can go with this, but the idea is to get them talking about something they care about, something that also is of interest to you.  Once they start talking, just sit back and listen, encouraging them sometimes, possibly injecting some additional information or expanding a little on something they said where you are in agreement, but mostly letting them do the talking.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that one way to make anyone like you is to ask them to teach you something.  Notice that I said “teach”, not “tell”… that’s because you have to actually listen, pay attention, and learn what they are teaching.  That’s also why I said you need to pick something in which you are genuinely interested… if you are only faking interest, it’s going to require a LOT of investment of your energy to continue to pay attention and learn.  And the amount of energy it takes is only going to go up as you go along, thus bringing you to the point where you can no longer fake it.

So, there you have it… a simple way to make anyone like you.  Use it in happiness and health.

One-Upsmanship – Why Some People Have To Be Better Than You

We all know someone who plays the game of one-upsmanship, and at least for the guys, have probably at least been tempted to play the game ourselves at some point (sorry girls… I don’t know how much you play the game amongst yourselves, I have a lot more experience being a guy).  What is the game of one-upsmanship?

It’s the game where the player has to be better (or worse) than everyone else.  If you have a fast car, they have (or even more likely, had) a faster or more expensive one.  If you were really sick, they’ve been sicker.  Whatever you have or do, they have had or done something bigger, more attention getting.

And you see, that in itself is part of the game… whatever they are “one-up”-ing you with, it’s almost always something that you have no way of verifying.  Nobody else around was there or even saw it.  There is no proof as to whether they are telling the truth or not… but when they do it often enough, you may start to have a pretty strong suspicion about ALL of it.

Now to the fun part… why do people play that game?  What does it tell you about them?   Let’s list out why some people have to be better than you:

  1. They Need Attention

    One of the biggest reasons why people have to “be better than you” is because they crave attention.  They believe, quite reasonably, that they will get more attention than you if they have out-done you.  It’s quite reasonable to believe this because it is, in fact, true.  When it happens every time and is impossible to verify, however, people will cease to believe the person doing it, giving them even less attention than they originally did, until they get to the point that they are ignored even when they ARE telling the truth.  It’s the whole “boy who cried wolf” syndrome.

  2. They Need To Compete

    Guys are especially notorious for this, although my female friends have told me that the competition and infighting among women is just as bad… it’s just hidden better.  So… if you have an overwhelming need to compete, what easier way to do so than to play the game of one-upsmanship?  You have a famous friend?  They have one that’s more famous… or more than one that is famous.  You had a friend die?  They had one die in a more tragic way.  They’re competing… in EVERYTHING.  Of course, this part backfires as well… once people get the impression that someone has to compete on everything, they tend to discount what they say, and when possible, not allow them to compete at all, by excluding the competer from whatever everyone else is doing.

  3.  They Can’t “Lose Face”

    Guys, in general, are especially sensitive to looking bad in front of other people… even more so when the other person is a woman, and even more than THAT when she’s attractive.  A lot of one-upsmanship occurs for this reason… it’s closely related to the need to compete, listed above, but not the same.  The additional pressure of trying to impress a specific person, whether an attractive woman or someone who commands much respect, can cause guys who normally wouldn’t play the game to start.  Like the things listed above, however, doing this a lot backfires… nobody really likes someone who always has to be better, even if the person is doing it to someone else.

  4. And It All Boils Down To… They Are Insecure

    All three of the points above boil down to the fact that the person doing it is uncertain about their own worth, uncertain that people will like or respect them for who they are, rather than what they have or do.  The reverse is closer to the truth, though.  People DO respect someone who has the honesty and integrity to be themselves, to admit when they don’t know something, to give respect to someone who deserves it without diminishing themselves.  And, to be honest, if you ARE secure in your own worth, it doesn’t really matter what other people think about you… so you have no incentive to play the game

Everyone knows someone who always has to be “better than you”, and I can state with quite a bit of confidence that your mental reaction when you think of them is distate or stronger.  Even if you play the game yourself, you probably don’t like other people who do the same.

When someone always has to emphasize how they are better than everyone else, everyone else assumes the reverse… that the person’s character, demeanor, and observable actions aren’t enough to speak for themselves.  That’s not really the reaction that anyone wants, and those who play the game would be well advised to stop.

So… why play the game at all?

Perception – What’s In A Name?

No two people see reality in exactly the same way.  The same event, viewed by ten different people, will be perceived in ten different, sometimes wildly different ways.

That point has been made many, many times, by many, many people, including me.  The problem is that we use different language to refer to the same thing… the beliefs, opinions, prior knowledge, and other internal factors that color our perception of reality.  I generally vary between two words to describe this:  filters or lenses.  For me, the difference is that filters refer to individual beliefs, opinions, etc., where when I use lens, I’m generally speaking of the entire collection of such things that belongs to one person.

Other people use other labels, such as mental maps, “centers”, etc.  But it’s all referring to that set of internal factors that are what makes your perception of reality unique.  Unfortunately, the profusion and variety of lables may cause some people to think that they all refer to different things, and therefore scatter their efforts amongst all the labels and techniques to become aware of them, or just give up the whole concept as something too difficult for them.

Perhaps if there were one agreed upon term, that would make it easier for more people to begin (or extend) the process of becoming aware of the things that color their perceptions of reality.  Standardizing terms makes it easier, in fact possible, to communicate… if you don’t have certain words and their definitions in common, it is impossible to communicate a concept.  If, for instance, what I call black is what you call white, then when I refer to “a black car”, you’ll never get the message that I was trying to send.

The same goes for terms in regards to perception… if you don’t understand what I mean when I say the lens through which you perceive reality, then any further discussion on the topic is futile.  If I don’t know what you mean when you say “centers”, in regards to perception, then I won’t understand anything else that you say that depends upon that concept.

The problem here is the same as with perception, though… we all perceive the things which affect our perception differently, and with different previous experience, so the term that suits the concept best is not the same from person to person.  So even if you understand what I mean when I say lens, it may not help YOU that much, though it might be perfect for your best friend.  And in matters of perception, what works for you is more important than an agreed upon standard.  Whatever concept allows you to start finding, acknowledging, and altering your own personal collection of beliefs, opinions, and other internal factors in influencing your perception is the right concept (or term) for you.

So… what’s in a name when it comes to perception?  Everything and nothing… it can “make it click” for you, so that you understand, but once you understand the idea, the name no longer matters… you translate it automatically.  If my “filters” and “lenses” don’t work for you, you could try Stephen Covey‘s centers from 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People (Amazon aff).  If those don’t work, either, I’m quite certain there are many, many other terms and concepts out there for you to try… or you can always do what I did, and come up with your own.

If you do have other terms you use, or terms from other people, please feel free to share them and link to them in the comments… provided the sites linked to are clean.

7 Small Things You Can Do To Improve Your Relationship

Virtually all relationships can use a little improvement, even if they are going along great.  Bad relationships may need some serious changes before they can improve, while good relationships can always use a few small changes to make them even better.

On the other hand, as has been said many times before, it’s the small things that add up and determine the quality and character of the relationship.  So even if your relationship can’t exactly be described as a good one, making it a habit to do the small things listed in this article and others like them may bring it back from the brink, and turn it from lead to gold.

Let’s just get started, then, so you can get started on figuring out how to use these (or coming up with more… if you do, please comment!) 7 small things you can do to improve your relationship:

  1. Say “I love you”

    You do love them, and they know it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear it.  I generally find that the amount I tell my wife that I love her varies directly with how close I feel to her… though I think it’s the being close that causes me to tell her more, rather than the other way around.  Either way, it lets her know that I am thinking about her right then.

    One thing to watch out for, though, is overdoing it, especially if your significant other is not feeling particularly close to you at the moment.

  2. Drop Everything

    You can really show how much you love someone by dropping everything that you’re doing to go give them attention.  This works especially well if you do it right when you see them after being apart, such as right when they come home.  There’s very little that makes me feel better than when my wife drops whatever she’s doing when I come home and meets me at the door, throwing her arms around my neck.

    This is another one of those whose effectiveness varies considerably depending on the recipient’s mood, however.

  3. Pay Attention

    It feels good when somebody notices what you’ve been working on… so pay attention and see where they’ve been spending their time, energy, and attention.  You should notice when your significant other gets a new item of clothing, a new haircut, a new scent (ie perfume/cologne), or anything else that changes.  Let them know you noticed, especially if it’s something they did for you (like if they bought that new item of clothing because they know it’s something you like).  It doesn’t hurt to thank them, either, when it’s something for you, or even something that’s not for you, but IS something you appreciate.

  4. Let Them Know When You Are Impressed

    This one is actually a big deal, though in my experience it seems to be a bigger deal for men than for women.  It doesn’t really matter how small the thing is that impressed you, everyone likes to know that they did something that you find remarkable… it could be that you threw something to them and they caught it, in spite of it not being the greatest throw, all the way up to them getting a promotion or a new job.

    There’s a corollary to this, as well… let them know when you are proud of them.  If your significant other spends a significant amount of time and energy on something, and achieves a significant results, such as losing a lot of weight, completing a long and involved project, overcoming their anger, or something else involving a difficult accomplishment, let them know that you are proud of them for what they’ve done and for sticking with it… it will make them feel much better and provide more motivation for their next serious effort.

  5. Remember Special Moments… And Share

    When you’ve been together for a while, even a short while, you will have special moments together.  As you’re together longer, you will pile up more and more of these, and while some of the initial, lesser, special moments may fade, you will always have a collection of these moments.  While going through your daily life, it’s quite likely that something will make you remember one of these special moments… when it does, take a moment to really remember it.  If you are with your significant other, share the memory right then.  If not, try to remember the circumstances… what brought up the memory, how it made you feel, etc., and tell them later.

  6. Buy Them Something Small Spontaneously

    This is always easy… pick up something small for them that they like, for no reason.  Buy your wife flowers (or chocolates… as long as she’s not working hard to lose weight… if she is it will make her love you AND hate you), your husband a new gadget, or whatever it is that they like.  Your definition of small may vary… to me something small is something that costs less than $20.  If you make more money than me, that might be $1,000… if you make less it might be $5.  Whatever amount small is to you, it’s just something to show that you were thinking about them and willing to go out of your way in order to get them something they like.

  7. Make Them Their Favorite Thing For Dinner

    This one really doesn’t take that much effort and can really have a big effect, especially if you don’t do it all that often (it makes it more unusual, and that makes it of greater significance).  This is another way of showing them that you were thinking about them, and willing to spend your time, effort, and attention on doing something specifically for them.

    This also works if their favorite thing for you to make for dinner is reservations.

These are all small things you can do… they don’t take more than a few minutes, mostly, with the exception of number seven.  When you do them regularly, though, mixing them up and making them a part of who you are and what you do, they can really add up to a serious improvement in your relationship.

This is not a complete list, by any means… it’s more a list of some of the small things that I do for my wife (and she does for me) that I know really add up to make a big impact over the long run.  I’m always looking for new things, though, so if you have any additions, please leave them in the comments for me.

Change The Schools, Change The World

Aaron has tagged me for another writing challenge (Caring, Compassion, Charity from Alex Shalman) as well, and this is something that I have been thinking about** for years, and have actually come up with some plans, though they require far more money than I have currently.  Who knows, perhaps this article will bring me into contact with someone who has the same passion as I do, but has the money to back it.

Alex, in the article linked above, says his passion is for taking care of children… so is mine, but with a different focus.  You see, I believe that a lot of the negative things in the U.S. and in the world come from the fact that children are no longer taught how to be an adult.  One of my passions is to build an alternate school system in the U.S. that actually teaches kids the things they need to know… both as far as academics go, and in regards to how to be an independent adult.

So what are some of the flaws with current school system?  I’ll limit this to just a few…

Kids Are No Longer Expected To Earn Their Rewards

Every year the school system in the U.S. marches farther and farther down the path to just giving kids credit for being present, rather than for actually learning and doing the work.  At some schools students have to be unable to learn or apply over half of the material taught in the class before they fail!  What’s the point of the class if you only require them to learn half of the material?

The schools here are also trying to eliminate competition in physical education, sports, and the playground.  If there are no winners, if hard work gets you the same result as little to no work, what is that teaching our children?  One thing it certainly isn’t teaching is a good work ethic.

Punishment Doesn’t Fit The Crime

This works both ways… kids are allowed to get away with ridiculous things with little or no punishment for disrupting class, disrespecting the teacher, and sometimes even threatening the teacher or other students.  After the lack of enforcement has its entirely predictable effect, draconian punishments are handed out for minor offenses, like a ten day suspension (or even expulsion) for bringing aspirin to school.  If they would just let teachers enforce discipline at the class level, and then back those teachers up at the administrative level, we could prevent the former, and with oversight and accountability we could eliminate the latter.

Teacher Ability Has Nothing To Do With Teacher Reward

Throughout most of the U.S. teachers receive the same compensation whether the percentage of students who pass is 50% or 100%.  And, of course, if you are going to use passing percentage to determine teacher quality, then you have to remove the ability for the teacher to give easy grades, and standardize.  It would also let you include other, better (but not quite as obvious) criteria, like the improvement in kids from one year to the next.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my thinking** on this:

We already have (at least) state-wide standards for what needs to be covered in a class.  We just need to expand that a little bit further, and have a panel of non-teachers write questions for testing that knowledge, and then have computers randomly choose from a pool of questions to create a test for a specific student.  If you want to take that one step further, you also submit those tests (once taken) to another independent panel to grade them.  You have now taken away all ability for a teacher to play favorites (or its opposite, giving bad grades to a student they don’t like), as well as to grade easily or harshly.  You have also standardized what is taught to students, so that you can have a good idea what someone who has graduated from a particular grade knows.

It also doesn’t take away the freedom of the teacher to teach beyond the tests… but that material isn’t what has been determined is essential to graduating that class, so it is just bonus knowledge for the students. 

This method would provide a good way to measure the performance of individual teachers up through schools and even to school districts or an entire state.  Compensation could be based on this performance, encouraging good teachers to stay, average teachers to improve their performance, and bad teachers to leave.  It also provides a very good way to compare the academic performance of individual students from different schools and different teachers… which I’m certain would interest colleges.

My passion is to change the schools… what’s yours?

** I really have been thinking about this for years, and have documented some of my thinking, so if you are seriously interested, you can comment on here. **

Courage In A Moment, Courage In A Lifetime

I’ve been tagged by Aaron to participate in Lorraine’s “What Gives You Courage?” challenge.  The challenge is to write an article that covers:

What’s the bravest thing you ever did that you’re most proud of? What gave you courage to be brave then, that continues to give you courage today?

I do want to respond, but I’m going to have to respond in other than the expected fashion.  Because, you see, I don’t believe in that kind of bravery or courage.  Courage (I’m going to stick to that word, and leave bravery here) isn’t about one thing you did, or one moment.

Courage is something that is in all of your life, and your courage will be reflected in each one of your actions, your choices, to one degree or another.  The chance that someone will do something courageous in one set of circumstances and cowardly in another, unless separated by enough time that the person has changed substantially, is remote.  To put it bluntly, you are either courageous or you are not.

In my recent article,  Courage Without Limit – The End Of Doubt And Fear, I wrote about how you build unfailing, unblinking courage.  Essentially it boils down to getting rid of the clutter on the surface of your mind, and always making any decision by choosing the path that best reflects who you are and who you want to be.  There will always only be one choice that best reflects who you are, and that choice is the right choice for you.  Once you learn to do that every time, your courage is complete, because there is no fear… and fear is the only thing holding you back from acting courageously.

That kind of courage will be reflected in a moment, when you choose whether to risk your life to save another, and in a lifetime, as you learn and grow to be more of who you want to be.  It gives you the courage to make huge decisions with long reaching impact, because it’s not the outcome you’re focused on, it’s the path leading into the future.

So the only answer that I can give to the questions Lorraine asked is:  Being open and honest with myself and others about who I am, and living my life that way… because that is what courage is.

The Amazing Power Of Posture

What’s so amazing about posture?  Where do I start?  It affects your mood and your clarity of thought… it also is an extremely powerful part of body language, so it affects the way everyone around you perceives you.

If you are having one of those days where your outlook, your whole attitude, is negative, you can shatter that negativity.  If you are having one of those days when you have trouble focusing mentally, you can brush away the blurriness.  If you have a meeting with an important client, and you’re nervous, you can shake the nerves and never let him see you sweat. You can do all of this through the power of posture.

You have heard it said for years how important body language is in how others perceive you, and probably have an intuitive understanding of its importance in anyway.  But did you know that you subconsciously listen to your own body language?

Take note of your posture right now… what mood or feeling does it reflect?  When you stand with your arms crossed, in a defensive posture, you are not only conveying that defensiveness to others, you are conveying it to your subconscious, which then reinforces those feelings.  If, on the other hand, you are sitting back, feet kicked out in front of you, with a big smile on your face, you are telling your subconscious to reinforce THOSE feelings.

It doesn’t even matter if you are feeling completely the opposite way in your conscious mind, except in that it becomes harder to maintain the posture of the feeling that you DO want.  You can alter your mood from sad to happy, angry to calm, nervous to calm, distracted to focused, or any other change you’d like… including going from a positive mood to a negative one, though there generally isn’t much call for that.

Being aware of your posture allows you to much more easily exert your will over your emotions than trying to wrestle with them directly.  All you have to do is drop the posture, the body language, or the emotion that you want to weaken or cast out, and adopt the posture of the emotion that you want to strengthen or create.

So that leads to the question:  How do you know what to do, how to position your body, to get the mood you want?  It’s really not that hard… first of all you’ll have a natural feel for the posture of most emotions.  Past that, however, you can use your imagination to figure it out:  You can either imagine yourself in a situation that would make you feel that mood (which, if you keep at it long enough, will actually push you toward that mood, too), or you can imagine someone you know of who projects the attitude you want.  Now look, with your mind’s eye, at the posture that whomever you are imagining has… and put your body in that same posture.  Simple, right?

Now comes the hard part… the mood/attitude change doesn’t happen immediately.  You have to maintain your awareness, and your attention, on your posture.  You have to use your will to force your body into a posture other than the one it naturally wants to adopt based on what you’re currently feeling, rather than on you want to feel.

You’ll have to maintain this focus for a few minutes.  Fortunately, however, it gets easier and easier, because your mood moves along a scale, not in an absolute switch.  That means that even though you may not actually be feeling the way you want to yet, you’ll be getting closer and closer, making it less of a struggle to maintain that posture.

If you can keep your posture suitable for the mood you want, without slacking off, it should take less than five minutes for you to make a major change, from one end of the spectrum to at least a good ways toward the other end.  Minor changes can sometimes be accomplished in 30 seconds.  Once you’ve made the change, just maintain your awareness of your posture enough to keep from sliding back to another posture, and you will maintain the mood you want, as well.

Take note of your posture again now… has it changed?  It often will just because you are made aware of it… you will consciously change your posture to remove the elements that you know signify things that you don’t want to feel, or at least don’t want to show.

So… be aware of your posture, and choose to have it reflect the emotion, attitude, or mood that you want to feel.