The #blimage challenge

blimageI saw this on my Twitter feed this week; “lf you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra) And so what? What if somewhere else is better than where you were going? And how much more might you learn on the way there? Travel broadens the mind, they say but your mind has to be open to being changed.

I had an interesting conversation with some language colleagues recently about this. We were in Spain, all recipients of a scholarship to study Spanish at Salamanca University. Our discussion was about how speaking a language helped to understand the culture of the country and the people. We all spoke at least one other language than our own and we had all travelled widely. Some of us had lived in other countries and we reflected that we all had the  “travel bug”. We wondered what prompts people to travel the world and to live in different countries. We do it to learn more about the world we live in , to learn about the people who inhabit our world, to learn about the history of the countries and how it has shaped the culture, the landscape, and the people . For adventure, for new experiences, to make friends , to meet new people.
robot woman looking at mirror imageblack and white drawing of torso of victorian woman  on top of an old fashioned cash register. Holding her head in her handsRobot high fiving a man wearing casual clothes in a  run down part of a city
On the plane from NZ to Madrid l watched two films which dealt with the idea of Artificial Intelligence – Chappie and Ex Machina. Just recently I read “For want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal which, like the films raises some fascinating questions about identity and how we learn about who we are and our place in the world.
How is knowledge given to the “machine” or robot? Where does the intelligence come from?  Whose intelligence is it? Can it “learn” or does it just acquire information or facts. Is it able to attach meaning to the information? Just like an online translation service the output is only as good as what has been input. The words are there but the nuances of the language are missing.
We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear.  How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge.  Those two films and the book dwell on that idea of humanity. A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” said Frank Zappa. So as those of us with travel lust stand looking out across the ocean planning our next adventure we have to be careful not to just “collect ” experiences like souvenirs. We mustn’t allow information to be simply stored in our database. We need to go out of our way, deviate from the norm, go off the beaten track, immerse ourselves and be open to having our perceptions challenged. To truly learn we have to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste and we must let those experiences inform who we are and make a difference to our lives.

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#28daysofwriting Day 18: On language, grit and absurdity

Last night we contributed to the cause of redressing our work-life balance and went to see Eddie Izzard at Claudelands Event Centre.   There is nothing quite so good for releasing feel-good endorphins than having a really good laugh.  He really is a “Force Majeure”;  witty, intelligent, incisive humour that has a healthy splash of schoolboy, pythonesque absurdity and a strong sense of social justice. Just brilliant!
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But there are two things about yesterday’s show that prompted me to write; one is his complete support and passion for learning languages.  He can present his show in French, German and Spanish and is planning on learning Arabic next.  It is not just learning the language though, it is being able to reach out and connect with the culture and the nuances of language and understand the psyche of a people and what makes them laugh.  Somehow he can do that.

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The other thing is his down-to-earthness (not sure that is a word!), his sense of realism, of humanity, of social justice.  I was surprised just how much of himself he revealed in snippets during the show.  There were moments of very personal reflection amongst the silly noises and the insightful observations of life.  In his Q & A session after the show he was asked about how he trained for his challenge of completing 43 marathons in 51 days to raise money for the charity Sport Relief.  He said that he trained for only 5 weeks prior to starting and that the first 10 marathons were training for the next 33!  But his comment that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything struck me most.

We talk a lot about “grit”, about perseverance, resilience in education now.  But where does it come from, that picking yourself up after you’ve fallen down and keeping going?  Can we teach it? Can we learn it? Can we change the way that we are?  Is the ability to persevere an innate quality or can we develop it?  There are plenty of articles out there, if you google “teaching grit”.  In this Tedtalk Carol Dweck talks about how we can shift our mindsets, how our own beliefs about our abilities affect the way that we learn and approach life.

We hear the cliche about being able to do anything if you put your mind to it all the time but I believe it is true.  Anyone can put one foot in front of the other but there has to be a desire to start, and then a determination to succeed and a doggedness to keep going when the going gets tough.  But maybe you also need a sense of humour and just a little dose of absurdity?  I will put that theory to the test on 28th March!