4 years, 7 months, and 7 days. Read and learn the lessons of those who came before us.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Shosh, when you were young, you were a voracious reader.  Your mom did one thing right: she read to you constantly.  As a result, you had a huge vocabulary and were a smart little tyke!

Unfortunately, Jaialai, when you were about one, I lost my job as a result of blowing the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare and your mother had to go back to return to work because no one wanted to hire a whistleblower.  I stayed home to watch you, but was also occupied with the lawsuit against crooks who were ripping off the sick and dying; thus, I failed to read to you as often as your mom did for Shosh.  But, you still ended up being brilliant!!!!

That said, we tried to read to you both when we had the opportunity.  I hope you continue to read voraciously in my absence.

Books are wonderful things.  In addition to exposing us to far flung places in distant lands, they also introduce to us ideas that help shape our understanding of the world in which we live.  The wisdom of those who came before us is passed down in stories captured and preserved in those great instruments of knowledge: books.  Appreciate them.  Be kind and gentle to them.  Be grateful for the knowledge they bring and the authors who made such transfer of knowledge possible.

The lessons of yesteryears remain amazingly relevant today.  For example, today, I finished Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and found a quote towards the end of the book that captured well current events of the day.  Speaking to the protagonist (a journalist who had managed to spend years in Indochina to cover the conflict there without investing himself in any side), one of the characters said, “[O]ne has to take sides.  If one is to remain human.”  Page 166.

Life requires us to choose.  Will you side with might or right?  Will you choose to help the oppressed or the oppressors?  To do nothing in the face of evil is to give tactic approval to that evil.  Don’t.  Choose wisely.  Read voraciously and gain the wisdom of those smarter than you or I.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

4 years, 6 months, 27 days. Nothing worth having comes easy.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Heed the words of the wise.  In life, you either work hard and try your best to achieve your dreams, or suffer the pangs of regret later in life for having never tried.

Look around you.  How many do you see falling into the latter camp?  Look at your cousins, aunts, and uncles on your mom’s side?  They are roofers, fast food workers, warehouse laborers, sanitation department workers, etc.  Those are honest jobs and there is nothing wrong with those types of jobs in and of themselves.  But, the question is what else could they have made of themselves?

Life isn’t that difficult, really.  The rules are fairly simple:

  1. Do your best.
  2. Be true to yourself.
  3. Treat others as they want to be treated.

You will find that many people in life are “minimally exceptional” not because of their abilities (or lack thereof), but because of their lack of efforts.  They’d rather complain and blame others than strive to improve their lots in life.  The good ones who do will rise to the top while the rest will gravitate towards their rightful places in life.  The good ones will leave healthier legacies for their children while the minimally exceptional will leave their children the minimally exceptional.  I introduced you to Mr. Ted, one of the best in our field.  Who has your mom and her siblings introduced you to?

Where will you be in 10 years, boys?  I know what your abilities are, but will you put in the effort to get yourselves there?  I pray you will.  That is how I taught you to be.  Don’t be like your mom, who would rather veg out in front of the TV instead of taking you to the park, the library, the beach, or other places where you can exercise your bodies and your minds.  Strive to be the best you.

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 6 months, and 26 days. 1668 days. 40,032 hours. 2,401,920 minutes. 144,115,200 seconds. Too long!

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I had a dream about you last night, Shosh.  I was helping you with your homework assignment on sharks.  We caught a baby shark, and I tried to put a nose ring on it to keep it on a leash.  Note to self: sharks hate nose rings.

Remember how we used to draw pictures of dinosaurs, construction equipment and starfish?  You used to have an immense curiosity about those things and we constantly read about or talked about them.  Once, when you were about 3 1/2, we were at the aquarium and looking at the tide pool/touch pool where a number of different starfish was on display.  You pointed to a starfish and said that it was a leather starfish (the second one above).  The aquarium guide “corrected” you and said it was an ocre starfish (the top one above).  You disagreed and tried to explain to her that it was a leather star.  She wouldn’t have it.  I smiled and told her that she should listen to you.  She decided to go off and consult her books.  Shortly thereafter, she returned to apologize and confirmed that it was a leather star.

Three lessons reveal themselves here.  First, don’t believe in “experts” just because they are experts.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Sometimes, “experts” are too smart for their own good and can be blinded by their own “expertise” and blinded to the data confronting them.  Second, always pursue what you love.  Be curious. Be intensely curious.  Life is an unlimited buffer if you nurture that curiosity.  Third, trust yourself.  Be willing to entertain other ideas, even opposing ideas, but never jettison your thoughts because it’s expedient, because an “expert” said you’re wrong, or because others disagree with you.  If you are right, you stay right even if everyone disagrees.  If you are wrong, you remain wrong even if everyone agrees.  Don’t worry everyone else.  Trust in yourself.

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 6 months, 25 days. Think for yourselves.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I wonder what you’re like now at 16, Shosh.  Has your voice deepened?  Have you put on weight?  Are you still biting your nails?  (That’s a very unhealthy habit, and I hope you’ve long outgrown it.)  Do you own the room upon entry?  Do you think for yourself, or allow others to influence you?  How are you doing in school?  Who are your friends?  Have you made plans and preparations for college?  (You should be, if you are not already doing so.)  I have million and one questions.  But, I can’t engage in this exercise often for it reduces me to a useless lump of flesh that must will itself to breathe.  I hope that you are well, and that you are well along the path I laid out for you during our time together.

Boys, remember how I used to always say that your greatest weapon and tool is your brain?  It is.  With a sharp wit, a keen eye, and sound knowledge, you can extract yourself from most unpleasant situations.  Success may not be immediate, but it will come with time and perseverance.  I hope you’ve continued to use and sharpen those great tools of yours.

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Think for yourselves.  Don’t EVER allow others to do your thinking for you.  That never bodes well.

Note above how specific and detailed the 10 Commandments are.  God gave them to the people at a time when the latter were enslaved and uneducated.  However, when Jesus came much later, the people had been freed and educated.  Thus, he reduced the 10 commandments to only two: love God, and love your neighbors as yourself.

Jesus’s two commandments are the thinking man’s version.  A smart man can think for himself and figure out how best to live and to express himself.  He knows being a good person is about more than simply not killing, stealing, cheating, or bad-mouthing others.  A good man is also kind to those in pain, generous to those in need, firm with those who are unruly or unethical, etc.  Thus, the list for the uneducated and the unthinking is not sufficient.

Think for yourselves.  Never let anybody — not some hired marketer, not your teachers, and certainly never any government official —  tell you what or how to think.  Beware when they try.  Bad things follow.

Think for yourselves and arm yourselves with knowledge.  Don’t allow others to disarm you with empty promises, falsehoods, and lies.  Take care of yourselves and each other.

Until we reunite, I send you all my love, always,

Dad

 

 

4 years, 5 months, and 22 days. Think critically.

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Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.

Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.

How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life?

First, we must understand that there are stages required for development as a critical thinker:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking)
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking)
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve but without regular practice)
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice)
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice)
Stage Six: The Master Thinker (skilled & insightful thinking become second nature to us)

We develop through these stages if we:

   1) accept the fact that there are serious problems in our thinking (accepting the challenge to our thinking) and
2) begin regular practice.

In this article, we will explain 9 strategies that any motivated person can use to develop as a thinker. As we explain the strategy, we will describe it as if we were talking directly to such a person. Further details to our descriptions may need to be added for those who know little about critical thinking. Here are the 9:

   1. Use “Wasted” Time.
2. A Problem A Day.
3. Internalize Intellectual Standards.
4. Keep An Intellectual Journal.
5. Reshape Your Character.
6. Deal with Your Ego.
7. Redefine the Way You See Things.
8. Get in touch with your emotions.
9. Analyze group influences on your life.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

If writing is clear thinking put to paper, then we must work on your ability to think clearly and critically.  As with most things in life, critical thinking is a skill … something that you can learn and over which you can gain expertise.

Shosh, you may not remember, but when you were a three or four, you scared my staff (Ms. T and Mr. D) because of how smart you were.  When they asked you questions, you’d answer clearly and methodically.  You’d scare them with statements like, “There are five reasons why I like ….  First, ….  Second, ….  Third, ….”

That’s critical thinking.  It is clear, rational, and driven by evidence.

I hope you boys have continued to practice what I have taught and modeled.  Be skeptical.  Question assumptions and conventional wisdom.  Based on what evidence does someone make an assertion?  What was omitted in the analysis?  Who said what?  Why would he/she say it?  What does he/she have to gain?

Be brutally honest in your analysis.  You may have to soften the analysis when you deliver it to others, but be objective and clear minded when you do the analysis.  When it comes to the delivery of the message, think critically about how best to deliver it to maximize the objective.

Good writing and critical thinking are not accidental.  Practice.  You, and others, will find value in those skills for the rest of your life.

Live well.  As Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 4 months, and 12 days. Think critically.

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My dearest dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I miss you so much!  Your absence weighs heavily especially when I see kids struggling with problems and worry whether you face similar.  Be strong my sons!

Remember, your mind is your greatest asset and your best tool.  Use it well.

Think critically.  Always explore the truthfulness of what you think you know and what others tell you.  What is the source of the information?  Is it trustworthy?

Even if the source is trustworthy, is there a reasn the person giving you the information may not wish to tell you the truth, or the WHOLE truth?  What is his or her bias?

What’s information is missing — because it was left out on purpose, because the person giving you the data doesn’t have the complete story, etc.?   Does the missing piece matter?  Think of the blind men and the elephant.  Each touched a different part of an elephant, and, depending on which part he touched, the individual blind men thought an elephant was like a fan (ear), a rope (tail), a snake (trunk), a tree (leg), etc.  Here, obviously, the missing information mattered.

I wish I could be there to guide you through life’s challenges.  For now, we have this.  Until we reunite, I send you

all my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

4 years, 3 months, and 11 days. Caveat Emptor.

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caveat emptor

 noun

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

In commerce, as in life, the burden is on YOU, as the consumer, to always be wary of what you’re being sold — be it a thing, a service, or an idea.  The job of whoever is selling you the thing/service/idea is to sell that thing/service/idea.  The sale is his goal.  In making the sale, he can but he doesn’t have to be truthful, ethical, or humane.  For example, he doesn’t have to tell you

The burden is on you, the buyer, to make sure what you’re buying is of high quality and useful for your purpose.  If you don’t watch out, once you’ve bought his ware, the problem becomes yours to own.

Caveat emptor is of greater significance in this day and age when we are constantly bombarded from all sides by information — good and bad.  It is more important than ever for you to be educated consumers.

Unless you can trust the person with your life — and even then — always check to verify the truth of what the person said.  Among other things, always ask yourself the following:

  • What do I know about this subject that confirms or contradict what the person just said? 
  • What can I verify, using reliable and reputable sources such as well-reviewed articles published in reputable journals and peer-reviewed academic studies?
  • What does the speaker have to gain from me buying what he said? 
  • Is his gain also my gain, or do our interests conflict?
  • Even if the seller has nothing to gain personally from my buying his ware, does he have one or more biases that blind him to the objective truth?
  • What’s the harm if I buy his good, service, or idea — is the harm significant and permanent or is it slight and temporary?

The last is important because we live in an imperfect world.  We don’t always have the time or energy to verify everything.  Sometimes, if the cost is slight (meaning the harm is negligible and temporary), then it may not be worth spending a lot of time on the investigation.  Regardless of the consequence, you should always engage in the analysis.

This is true of the “news” you hear daily, the textbooks chosen for you by your schools and your teachers, and certainly the sales pitch anyone throws your way.

I love you always, and forever,

Dad