Category Archives: Uncategorized

Responding to the big challenges of our institutions

     New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote about national malaise has impacted some of the challenges of the day. A large part, Brooks believes, is economic malaise tied particularly to the general economic challenges. Brooks and his sources suggests reducing benefits for affluent non-working people, while assisting employers in funding higher wages and assisting people from high unemployment areas in relocation expenses. He also suggests reforms in immigration to bring in research and innovation talent, reforming the tax code (with an endorsement of a plan offered by Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee), and increasing “human-capital” investment, specifically in education to allow more people to earn college degrees, since research shows this tends to increase people’s earning power (Brooks, 24 October, 2014, downloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/opinion/david-brooks-the-working-nation.html, November 2, 2014). These are important ideas.

However, we cannot ignore or simplify everything down to just jobs. Economic life is extremely important to American life. It influences most decisions in one way or another. Even if some individuals wish this was not the case, it is a reality.

However, if the United States wants to truly address the malaise, it will take more than just policy innovations. The United States will also have to recapture some of its values of innovation, faith, scientific rigor, and continue to work to reestablish its moral center in the universe. It will take fidelity to its values, especially those enshrined in the Constitution. We will have to pay attention to the family unit, the bedrock of our society, and work to continue to reestablish those ties. The nation will need to confront the issues of mental health services and gun violence in a way that preserves individual liberty and dignity. We need to empower teachers and local school districts so that they perform at their very best, so that all children will have access to top-quality education from their earliest years until higher education and make sure that these students are fully prepared for a career upon completion of that education, not because education entitles people to jobs, but because the education system, working perhaps in partnership with government and industry, should be able to prepare students for stable work. We must empower our economic engines and our laborers, especially our small businesses and family farms and ranches. We need to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children and gradually encourage students to take responsibility for their own lives. We cannot avoid all inequalities, but we must reduce both the sense of victimhood / entitlement and correct the historical conditions that cause such a mentality. We need a health care system that is top of the line and yet, at the same time, encourages innovation that drives down the cost of health care so that one does not have to be wealthy to afford health care. We must exude both strength and moral leadership at home and abroad.

Most importantly, the citizens of the United States need to have and restore their sense of optimism in their institutions. Many citizens of the United States have pride in their country – and continue to do so no matter what party is in power. Their faith in country, and perhaps faith in a higher power, compels these citizens to do the needed work no matter what the situation is and strive forever on to meet the challenges that today and tomorrow may bring.

However, as citizens and as human beings, we cannot be merely satisfied with the status quo. We must think boldly. Saint Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child; I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 13:11). The context of this piece of scripture has to do with spiritual gifts and love, specifically the concept of agape, divine love. Saint Paul is arguing here for maturity to understand these gifts. In other words, to fully reach our potential, we need to reach spiritual maturity.

We cannot be mired in depression and inaction. We need maturity and strength to deal with a changing world, yet we must be mindful of our societal challenges. Institutions and things in our world are changing and will continue to change. However, we must remain true to our faith and allegiance. We must be a people of action, of maturity, and of reason. Although the path will not always be easy, we cannot aspire to be our best if we are complicit in mediocrity or fail to meet the challenges. The United States is a country of big ideas. As we have in the past, we must rise to meet a new set of challenges. If we rise to this challenge, we can make our country and our world sustainable.

Because I believe in this mission, I will be utilizing this specific blog less. There are other opportunities to learn, develop, and even blog about. I will likely post occasionally at least for the foreseeable future. I will also publish links to any new blogs I develop. I thank my readers for your attention and comments over the course of this project.

A little rowdy, a little wonky, and coming changes: Sustainable Institutions after 1 year and a hiatus

Hello Sustainable Institutions Readers,

It has been awhile since we last (virtually) conversed, has it not, regular Sustainable Institutions readers? I am back from “blog hiatus”. Posts will be appearing more regularly on this blog.

It was about this time a year ago that I started the Sustainable Institutions blog. The blog has really wondered around since that time! We have done higher education issues, K-12 education issues, marketing / business issues, environmental issues, religious oriented material, and yoga and fitness blog posts. That is a lot of topics!

My original point in starting the blog was to encourage conversation about “sustaining” important institutions in society and making them work for the people within those institutions. It recognized that institutions are not necessarily perfect and as the world revolves, the things people may take for granted are not necessarily going to be in place. How can we sustain our institutions while making the required changes to “work” with a changing culture? Are there points of departure where an institution would not want to change (for example, to uphold some sort of long-established or even sacred tenet)? These were the questions I was interested in writing about when I started this blog.

Unfortunately, I have found as a blogger that perhaps a wide range of issues is perhaps not the right format for a blog. Because there are so many things that can be covered, the blog seems to lack particular commitment.

Moreover, because Sustainable Institutions has sought a “middle way” approach, it has sometimes displayed weakness in its argumentation. Certainly, there are points in which facts, rather than ideology, needs to drive action, but it is most responsible, in discussing societal issues, to derive a particular point of view since facts lead us to one particular conclusion or another. There are certainly times where reasonable compromise can be achieved.  At other times, moderation can lead to complicity in a social wrong (King, 1963, found at http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/resources/article/annotated_letter_from_birmingham/, downloaded September 14, 2014). Utilizing this logic, it is important to advance actual arguments instead of consigning ourselves to be on moral autopilot. Moreover, utilizing viewpoints, assigned in facts, can be a positive in the democratic process.

I have decided, therefore, to start utilizing this blog to write more about narrower topics and to exert stronger viewpoints (i.e. improve argumentation) where appropriate. I will be writing about Universal Design for Learning in U.S. based educational reform efforts. I will be explaining these things in more detail at a later date. While I will be covering a diverse set of viewpoints, I hope to enact more discussion within this framework.

I enjoyed writing about fitness / spirituality issues and may consider writing about those on another blog site at a later date. For now, I want to see if this particular blog format can be successful, so am concentrating on this blog site for now.

For my readers, thank you for your readership over the last year. For those who may be new, welcome to the blog. I do hope rather you are a long-time reader or just reading this blog for the first time that you will continue to be engaged in this blog. Maybe it will get a bit wonky; maybe it will get a bit rowdy; it is all a part of participating in democracy via the blogosphere.

Be at your best.

Andrew Bennett

Blog hiatus

Greetings Sustainable Institutions readers:

This blog will be on hiatus until the end of the summer (Northern Hemisphere). Until September, I will  only be posting if circumstances warrant it. Until that time, feel free to read the archives.

Be at your best,

Andrew Bennett

Building up multiple layers of power in the body

          Here in the United States, we are about to celebrate Independence Day a.k.a. the 4th of July. The day commemorates the country’s independence. While the country’s move to independence came out of specific political issues of the day, a lot of issues came back to broader issues of power and governance. Various forms of bodily movement also focus on power, but of a different variety.

       Physically, a lot of power is going to come out of core areas. This especially includes the abdominal areas and the pelvic midline. One wants to essentially focus on the core foundation in order to expand bodily strength. One would do this by focusing on those exercises / asanas that would focus on strengthening core areas, utilizing, perhaps, the body itself to work on building up those core areas, utilizing those areas to build strength in other areas as well. This sort of training is specifically focused on these areas to build up lean muscle and improve overall functioning.
      Mental strength is also very important to attaining a fitness of the whole body. To hold power over the body, one has to believe that one can control it. Before I started with a serious exercise program, I used to doubt that I could do certain things. Sure, I might even get in some exercise, but perhaps the mental strength was displaced. I saw limitations to my body that seemed to go beyond my limits. At some point, though, we have to ask ourselves whether these beliefs are actually true or whether they are just mental blocks that we set up in our own minds to suggest failure. Now, that does not mean that everyone will be able to do everything – at least not all at once – but rather that we can set up modifications and training to meet our goals. We are not necessarily bound by the doubts that others have of us – or we have our own selves – if we can get past those mental hang-ups and find a functional way of carrying about a particular task.
Mental power also means utilizing one’s own resources, whenever possible, to do self-care and to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of others. To be able to self-function at an appropriate level, whatever that may mean to a person’s development, situation, or ability level gives one power because of the self-autonomy component. Now, that does not necessarily mean that we are all “lone wolves” on the journey. To the contrary, we are surrounded by people that are necessary to our success – or who can pull us down. However, forging self-identity and becoming as self-sufficient as one can in one’s situation is important to having and maintaining the power to become one’s best self.
      Finally, there is spiritual power. That concept means a lot of things to a lot of different people. However, there usually would be recognition that there are things bigger than oneself implicit in that definition. In other words, we are aware that we are not completely alone on the journey. Becoming spiritually powerful is to gradually come into awareness of this concept and to be able to take the journey necessary to negotiate just what that means in one’s individual life.
Building up power of various types is one positive aspect of physical fitness and/or bodily movement. However, one needs to define this power, utilize it appropriately, and continue to maintain the power. What sorts of ways do you maintain power in your physical, mental, and spiritual states?

Exploring with movement

          Recently, I took a short internship in a new city. There are many things that I have had to adjust in my life, but one of them concerns getting to know the city in which I am now located.

 

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            I have found my runs to be a good opportunity to explore the city. I can go out and explore the natural world of the city, shocking up sunshine (most of the time) and getting to know the neighborhood and its topography. In other words, my runs have partially become exploring sessions.

            Exploring, when we are involving the body in movement, does not always have to entail merely our physical location. We can just as easily explore on a mat, a treadmill, or just over a familiar location and topography. This can be done by experiencing our bodies through any physical movement.

            To do this, we have to experience our surroundings and our bodies. Sometimes, movement is just movement. We may not necessarily be involved of the experience of our physical presence unless we are paying close attention. For example, we breathe automatically. If we are focused on doing another action, we may not necessarily be aware of the experience unless we are listening carefully to, and focusing, on our breadth. Many people may experience difficulty, at least at first, experiencing the body because modern society has become increasingly focused on the hustle and bustle of the world. Bodily exploration of the self, on the other hand, is a more reflective process.

            We can learn, however, a lot from bodily exploration. First, we can gain knowledge of our own bodies. This can lead to an awareness of our strengths, our limitations, and areas of improvement. At the same time, we might also hold to mind that others hold their own strengths and limitations. We can utilize this information to become more informed and compassionate individuals.

            Now it is your turn. What drives you in your bodily explorations? Are there certain practices that you find more helpful than others?

Distributing weight in foundation

         Greetings Sustainable Institutions Readers,

          Doing the Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) this week, description can be found here at http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/491, downloaded 15 June 2014, I noticed that it was a lot more comfortable than it used to be when I first began my practice.

            One insight came from the “yoga for beginners” YouTube video that I used to start my practice. Austin, Texas, USA based yoga teacher Adrienne Mishler, on the video (discussion of the wrists is at 14:13), gives the advice not to “collapse” onto the wrists (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ6NfFIr2jw&list=PLui6Eyny-UzzWwB4h9y7jAzLbeuCUczAl, downloaded 15 June 2014, link intended to attribute and link to the source of the information only). When I took this advice and was able to perform this asana with looser wrists, I had an easier time because my body weight was more evenly distributed.

            An even balance of weight can be very important in many of the asanas especially involving “foundational” poses. So it is also in our lives, including our institutional lives. If there is too much weight or tension put on one thing or another, one might find that the more foundational elements are being overstressed. This stress puts pressure on one particular part to do most of the work yet it may not even be the right area for most of the work.

            Therefore, one might take a hint from the practice of yoga in regards to keeping a centered alignment, not allowing “weight” to overtax certain areas especially when those are inappropriate for fully performing the task at hand.

            Keeping this balance, however, is not always easy, whether in yoga or in institutions. The best tip I would have, again whether yogic or in institutions, is to develop a foundation. In bodily movement, it is about finding a distributed flow to allow fluid movement for the desired activity and the mental/spiritual strength to allow this distribution to happen. In institutions and for individual decision makers, it may involve finding a sort of moral and/or mission center upon which everything else can be based.

            How do you build upon your own foundation, physically or mentally? How can you take this into your institutional involvements?

            Be at your best,

            Andrew Bennett

            In my yoga home practice, I have been working on forward bends. This is critical to many yoga asanas, especially in the hip and thigh openers, so in order to access these areas, so as to open these areas, I need to be able to bend forward. This is probably one of the harder physical components of my practice thus far.

            Searching for answers, I found this YouTube video online that helped (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgwYiX7zIl0, MacGregor, 2011, produced by iHanuman media, downloaded June 8, 2014 [please note I share this link as a citation and no copyright infringement or intention of utilizing this video in my blog other than through fair attribution is intended). MacGregor gives some really helpful advice, which is to move the gut out of the way. When the gut becomes less of a blocker, it is easier to access the forward bends.

            Moving the gut out of the way can be metaphorical to other things in our life. Andrea Leber, a yoga blogger based in Australia, links fear to anxiety (Leber, 2014, Feb. 6, downloaded from http://andrealeber.com/2014/02/06/reachingformore/ on June 8, 2014). This linkage of anxiety / fear can become important in access issues whether it involves doing something like forward bends or doing something unconventional or taking a risk in our own lives. Some psychologists tell us that anxiety can be “held” in the gut at least in regards to physical sensations. It becomes important, in that case, to utilize the idea of moving the gut to be able to achieve what we want to achieve or what we ought to achieve.

            The key to any positive process of change, whether it is a personal goal, something in various forms of relationships, or changing something in society is to move past the initial stages. It may very well involve some sort of physical movement (or changing something physical in nature). It may very well require engaging the body and spirit as well. Essentially, the whole being can be put into practice to get results.