September 14, 2016

The quality of our enemies* matters.

By choosing the safer, easily-winnable challenges, we don’t get to figure out where our own bounds are.
Too many gifted children underachieve as grown-ups. Largely, because they can easily knock over the tests that school (in particular) presents. They don’t often get the thrill of going to cold-sweat struggle with problems that are waay bigger than their natural capacity.

The smarter ones often lose out on bashing through by sheer determination and getting stronger the hard way. They less frequently try the dumb or desperate fixes to break through. And may miss out on ingenious cracks not obvious to those who know “the right way” to do it.

Every maker of video games knows something that the makers of curriculum don’t seem to understand. You’ll never see a video game being advertised as being easy. Kids who do not like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. It’s because it’s – boring
– Prof Seymour Papert ♥ (MIT media Labs)

Grab this and let it do its poetic calibration on your mental filters:

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

– Rainer Maria Rilke snippet from “Der Schauende” (Robert Bly translation)
The strong stuff, right?


*enemies = high-quality problems (not just people).
Having masterful competitors makes life more fun too. Loathing and hostility aren’t essential to a great battle. Hunt out the geniuses in your field, and earn the right to compete with the greats.

September 14, 2016