Rethinking Failure, Growth and intelligence; Let the Games Begin!

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

At least now when I fail I will feel a bit better.

I don't know about you, but I hate failure. I have never liked failure and I have often avoided playing games to prevent failure. On the rare occasions when I do play games, I usually pick games I think I will win. Luckily, this habit of avoiding games has not appeared in my children. This past weekend, I could hear the peals of laughter from the den. My mother and my two children were playing a game of chance and strategy. There were instances when each of the children became upset, and almost quit. My mother encouraged them to stay in the game. Following her advice, they each won a round. The game soon ended, and while my mother did not win a round, my guess is that she considers teaching them persistence her reward.

An article I recently read, "The Secret to Raising a Smart Kid," By Dr. Carol Dweck, (Scientific American Mind, December 2007) sheds light on why I might care about winning or losing a game. I have been more concerned with looking smart than with learning forgetting that learning requires accepting risk and the possibility of failure. What about you? Do you believe that intelligence is fixed or malleable? According to Dweck, your beliefs about your ability to affect your intelligence might be more important than your actual intelligence.

Whether students believe in a growth mind set or a fixed mind set affects how hard they will work and how they will react to inevitable failure, according to Dweck. Her research has indicated that it's better for children to believe that hard work matters, than for them to believe that they are smart.

Students with a growth mindset believe that "intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work," she wrote. The ones who hold a fixed mind set "believe that intelligence is a fixed trait."

Which group do you fit into?

"The students with a growth mind-set felt that learning was a more important goal in school than getting good grades," she wrote. "In addition, they held hard work in high regard, believing that the more you labored at something, the better you would become at it. They understood that even geniuses have to work hard for their great accomplishments."

When failure inevitably occurred, "students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material." Their belief that they had an impact on the outcome through the application of their effort led them to work harder or create a new approach.

"The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little regard for learning," noted the article. "They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well."

This also affected the response to inevitable failure or roadblock. "Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests."

While this might appear controversial on the surface, it makes perfect sense. Why would people apply effort if they believe that the outcome is fixed? If you were to be labeled smart or stupid forever, then effort would not matter.

This means that our steady stream of praise to our children for being smart has been undermining their potential performance. After all, if they are so smart, there is more at risk if they fail and lose the label of smart. If they are dumb, then they believe they cannot learn.

Instead, children should be told that brains can grow and change and they should be rewarded for their hard work. Praise should include specific reference to their actions that lead to success rather than to their innate intelligence.

What if, instead of being labeled "smart" or "dumb," kids were told that brains grow over time and that their ability to learn is linked to hard work and effort?

Students can control how hard they work and the effort they expend. They can learn to reevaluate the situation after failure to determine if more work, or a different approach might lead to the desired results. They cannot control being labeled dumb or smart. The ability to have an impact on an outcome is one of the key factors that affect whether one perceives it is worth working for a different outcome.

The important lesson is not that people are smart or stupid, but that, through effort and hard work, brains can grow and people can change.

Old habits are hard to break, and it is not that I want to embrace failure, but now I can try to recast my failures as temporary setbacks on the path to learning.

In any event, now it is time for me to go and play a few games, without the fear of failure.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

Al Rights Reserved

Navigating the Rapids and Enjoying the Still Waters

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

When I was small, my family took many camping trips and spent many hours canoeing.

Before our trips, we planned where the canoe would go into the river and where we would pull out. We lined up people to drop us off at the start or pick us up at the end. We reviewed the river, looking for rapids, twists and turns, deciding if we were canoeing through the rapids, or landing the canoe and carrying it over the rapids. Finally, after a lot of planning, we would launch the canoe and our journey would begin.

Inevitably, the canoe trip was different from the one initially planned. The river was lower or higher than expected, affecting our ability to navigate the rapids. Traveling down the river, we determined whether to run the rapid or pull out on a case by case basis. Once the decision was made to go through the rapids, there was no turning back.

Right before we reached a rapid, my parents would begin to coordinate paddling direction and paddling speed. The shouting was fast and furious, similar to the rapids. As they began to work towards the common goal of making it through the rapids, we would begin to travel through safely.

A ride through the rapids was scary and thrilling. For a few moments, I would wondered if the canoe was going to turn over and all four of us (my sister too) would wind up swimming to shore. My heart would beat faster. I would leaned away involuntarily from where the river was pulling us.

Occasionally, our canoe would become beached on an outcropping of sand and rock. Then, my dad would get out, walk to the front of the canoe and push us back into the water.

After passing through the rapids, we would re-enter still waters, and take a moment to relax and enjoy the scenery and bask in our accomplishment. When the journey was over, the thrill of shooting the rapids is what we remembered, not the dread of approaching them.

OK, here's my point: As there are twists and turns in any river journey, so too there are twists and turns in married life. Marriage, often thought of as a destination, is more like a great river trip. It is not the destination but the journey itself that is important.

There are twists and turns along the way. Like canoers who navigate a river that is full of sandbars and rapids, couples must navigate through good times and not-so-good times. Through having children or not having children, job changes, career changes, community and civic events, losses of parents and friends.
There are times when the journey turns into a float, where the way is easy and peaceful, and you can simply lean back, enjoy the smooth, forward motion and bask in the sun.

During other times, the marriage can become rough and tumbling, sometimes the result of one or both parties rocking the boat, sometimes due to tidal forces beyond the control of either party. Such times require intense concentration, watching for signs of what may be around the next bend, and most importantly remaining calm

When the rapids occur, working together toward a shared goal is important. Working together as a team, making progress bit by bit and sharing the work and effort are critical. So too it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the partners so that adjustments and allowances can be made to ensure success.

It is important during the rapids to remember that nothing lasts forever, even if it feels as if a phase will never end it will. The only thing constant is change, and change will come.

Working together and making it through the rapids creates a shared story that will help couples traverse the next set of rapids. The shared event builds strength, experience and understanding, providing additional resources to be used when the next set of rapids occurs. My husband, Jimmy and I are celebrating our ten year anniversary this weekend. Whether one views a decade as short or long, it is all the same amount of time. Enough time has passed that the relationship has traveled through both rapids and still waters. Anyone who has been married a decade will have gone through trials and tribulations, or is in high denial.

Possibly the best part of celebrating a decade of marriage is the knowledge that the waters will change, and believing that by continuing to work together through the next set of rapids we will find the journey to be exhilarating, fun and rewarding.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved.

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

You are born alone and you die alone. Don't dump on anyone else for your decisions. You're a big girl and you make them yourself," was the quote that I remembered at the end of the night. These were words from a Jewish great grandmother based on more than 90 years of living. Not stated as a cliche', but heartfelt and serious.

Good advice.

It reminds us that, in the end, no matter what, we have to be comfortable with who we are, with who we have become. We have to be comfortable in our own skin.

Recently, my kindergartener used the phrase "the man in the black skin," in reference to the person he was talking about.

This was a description. Not a derogatory statement or a put down, as it might have been in generations past, but a simple descriptive statement.

As if he had said, "the man in the red shirt."

After reflection, I realize the two descriptive phrases are not quite the same.

"The man in the black skin" is not able to take off his black skin and put on a skin of another color, while "the man in the red shirt" can easily change shirts. While my kindergartener sees the color of a person's skin as a simple attribute, it is one that cannot be easily changed by dye, diet, or a new outfit.

This makes skin color inherently different.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was 39 when he was assassinated in 1968, two years younger than I am now. It fills me with sorrow to think of his wife and children left behind, and the work that he could have accomplished.

It also leaves me in awe of a man who accomplished so much in his all-too-short life.

Dr. King not only dared to dream that our nation would be one where "all men are created equal;" Dr. King also provided us with a picture of what that dream would look like:

"All of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

"This past week, I attended the opening of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. The organization's Web site notes that the American Jewish Committee "is a national advocacy organization that works to build bridges of understanding between ethnic, religious and national groups around the world. The Atlanta Chapter produces a film festival because we believe that film is one of the best ways to tell stories and stories are the best way to share experiences."

It seems fitting that the AJFF spans the weekend when Martin Luther King's birthday is being celebrated.

The ideas of building bridges of understanding and using stories to share experiences are ideas that Dr. King might have considered worthwhile.

When a friend remarked that I might not want to go to the film festival because it might be bombed, I knew she was kidding, but it made me stop and think.

Keeping a sharp lookout for bad drivers and paying attention in dark places or in areas with little pedestrian traffic are all part of my daily routine. However, I rarely consider that that I might be targeted due to religious beliefs.

Dr. King was probably aware of the physical risks that he ran while leading the civil-rights movement and, as with many soldiers, he probably believed that the possibility of his personal sacrifice was worth the risk in light of advancing the greater good.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream."This dream has come a long way since Dr. King's death, but we are not there yet.

In trying to live the dream, our society has focused on building political correctness rather than building individual character. The overwhelming political correctness of our society today puts everyone into a group. Once groups are created, it is easy to focus on differences rather than to focus on similarities. The continued categorization and labeling creates continuous friction rather than fostering solidarity and unity for Americans who are interested in how we can help each other move forward.

It makes no more sense to group together people born with white skin than it does to group together people born with black skin. Skin color is not determined by an individual, but by genetics. What each person can control is the person who fills that skin.

If we really are to live the dream of Dr. King, skin color and religious background should be mere descriptors, and the focus should be on the person inside the content of the character and how this character is reflected in everyday activities and actions. Make sure you feel comfortable with whom you are as a person. After all, you did not create the skin, just the person who lives inside it.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved

Stories and Tall Tales

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

A few days ago, while I was telling my children a story to convey a lesson, Maggie, my oldest child, asked me if the story was real, or a tall tale. She explained to me that she was learning about tall tales in school, and that tall tales had an element of truth, but were made-up.

This is an excellent question, even for people past the third grade.
Stories create the narratives that take otherwise uninteresting facts and figures and link them to people, making those same facts and figures interesting and relevant. Facts and figures in a vacuum are often unmoving.

There are numerous ways stories are communicated. Stories may be spoken (as they were before the creation of writing), written, sung, or conveyed through images. All of these methods can be combined to create movies. Stories have always held a special place in my life. When my sister and I were very young, our dad would tell us PeeWee PeteTM stories. He told these stories while driving long distances. PeeWee PeteTM was a small person (2' 3 inches) who was constantly getting into and out of trouble. Possibly our dad was trying to warn us of challenges we would be encountering throughout our lives against larger forces. More than likely, he was simply trying to find a distraction for his two children who were rarely quiet.

As we grew older, we moved from oral stories to written stories. Reading was an escape, transporting me to another time and place, allowing me to become someone else for a while and to leave behind the daily challenges of growing up. Many nights and weekends passed with all four of our family members glued to our books. My sister and I would lie on the floor. Dad would pace back and forth across the room as he read and my mom would sit in a chair.

My love for books and stories grew as I did. By junior high, I had begun placing a paperback inside my math book, enabling me to read during math class. This was a low risk activity as my mom was a math teacher and could review the material with me at home prior to a test.

Movies were also one of our family staples. One of my earliest memories is waking up in the theatre during a western film, peering over the seat in front of me, and seeing a cowboy jump off a cliff onto an Indian, knocking him off of his horse. As they began wrestling, I put my head in my mother's lap and went back to sleep easily, as I knew the movie was fiction.

As I grew older, my family would often travel an hour from the small town of Carrollton in west Georgia to midtown Atlanta to attend movies at the Rhodes Theatre and eat at Zesto's. We would often remain inside the complex and move from one theater to another, frequently seeing two or three movies on a Saturday afternoon. I remember a Bruce Lee double feature action movie where good triumphed over evil.
When I was still a teenager, we watched the 1979 Academy award-winning movie Kramer vs. Kramer at the Rhodes Theatre, which was so crowded that my sister Kathy and I had to sit in the aisle, away from our parents and each other. This movie fictionalized the real and heart-wrenching impact of divorce.

Many people try to affect us through stories that are not true, which is fine if the stories are identified as fiction. Just yesterday, I received a fax of what appeared to be a newspaper article. A handwritten note on the top of the page said, "I thought you'd find this interesting. At first glance, the article appeared to be true, but on further examination, (the fax didn't identify the sender, nor did it identify where or when it was published and it ended with this giveaway: "The preceding story is a dramatization of every day frustrations experience by many customers.") I determined it was an advertisement rather than a real article. So into the trash it went.

The purpose of a story can be to enlighten, inform, entertain, and most importantly inspire. So what makes some stories resonate with us, while other stories are not able to keep our attention for more than a few moments? Possibly it's the connection of the elements within the story to important elements within our own lives.

Before we allow ourselves to be swept up in the emotional impact of a good story, we should be thoughtful enough to determine where the story comes from, whether it is true, why it was told and what its planned and real impact might be.

It could be that compelling stories, even if fiction, contain an element of truth that speaks to our human existence. But let's be careful that we can determine which ones are based on truth and which ones are simply fabricated with a possibly not-so-noble goal in mind.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved

December 28, 2007

News for today - Mostly focused on Sports after all its the time of year for bowl games.


Two interesting articles from todays Atlanta Journal Constitution:



Brennan has put conviction behind him

Star QB works hard to restore imageBy THOMAS STINSON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/28/07 Honolulu  What Colt Brennan does is walk into the youth detention center, sit down with the newest line of delinquents and spin a tale of redemption sought. His."I look at them and say, 'Hey, look. You're looking at a convicted felon right now," Brennan said. "And I've not let that hold me back one bit. You can decide your fate in this world.'

I love the Colt Brennan story and wish him well in the bowl game (even though he is playing Georgia). I first heard about his story earlier this year and references him in a story regarding Michael Vick. Maybe Michael Vick will watch the game and learn a bit about moving forward after a conviction - hope springs eternal.

The second story is about Patrick Kerney, former Atlanta Falcon now playing for Seattle - he is really having a great year.

Ex-Falcon Kerney happy in Seattle
Defensive end has made a timely, successful escapeBy STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/28/07 Flowery Branch NFL-wise, Patrick Kerney is about as far away from Atlanta as he could possibly be. Lucky guy.



Patrick Kerney (97) stays in touch with at least one former teammate, Falcons end John Abraham.



Defensive end Patrick Kerney, playing in his first season with the Seahawks, has been selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.



More Falcons



Just 10 months ago, he bolted from the Falcons, for whom he played eight seasons, for the Seattle Seahawks, whose salve of $39.5 million over six years eased his emotionally taxing departure. He had no idea then that he might have just made the best football decision of his life.

"We miss him," Falcons interim coach Emmitt Thomas said. "He's had a hell of a year. He's going to the Pro Bowl. Kerney is one of those guys that when you look at him you say, 'Where is he getting it from?' It was deep in his heart. He was a compassionate player, a tough player and I'm happy for him. I wish he was here."

I too miss seeing him around the neighborhood - But I am glad he is having one heck of a year - and wish him well in the Pro Bowl.

After this year - its nice to read about two stand up guys in the sports arena. I am looking forward to seeing the results of this weeks games.

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