More on Mindset

As I work further through Mindset, by Carol Dweck, I can understand her points and illustrations to a greater extent. Basically, she’s rolling out all the main education and sports figures (in the first half of the book) to make the point that the best earned their success instead of simply being born or gifted with it. Even Babe Ruth went above and beyond, in her description, to use practice and trail-error to develop his skills as a batter.

I remember how fun it was to visit the documents room at the University of Oregon many years ago to see some of the working manuscripts of Ken Kesey. I saw a working draft of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I was amazed by how every word and sentence was being struggled with and broken down and rebuilt with layer after layer after layer of revisions. That was what the U of O writing instructors were trying to teach—no one sits under a tree, listens to a muse, and effortlessly rolls out perfect prose or poems or lyrics.

In some ways, that’s why I like this blog—the pieces hover between first and second drafts, but at least they are down. It serves as a form of externalized memory for me, and I search it on occasion for past examples and ideas. A different kind of writer’s notebook.

One aspect that still bothers me—why does Dweck we still need to use popular figures to make her points. In each case, the more famous a person is, the more likely the re-told story is liable to be warped. What sports star would like to have others think he or she was born with greatness—who wouldn’t give interviewers the “hard work” line. It seems doubtful that she interviewed the “big names” whose stories she tells– instead, it seems her anecdotes are based on their biographies or others’ interviews.

It’s also true that the successful sports stars and writers often have an obsessive focus. Money, relationships, family, society-itself could burn around them, but it wouldn’t matter if their focus was becoming realized. In most of the cases she notes, “balance” wasn’t high on the priorities list. Her argument that success is based on “character,” for example, is muddied by the single-mindedness of some of the success stories she uses.

For some reason, I keep thinking of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as I read Mindset. Basically, the horse Boxer in Animal Farm has a single response to the collapse of the social structure surrounding him—“I will work harder.” As he becomes more of a twisted, bleeding wreck, he takes the injustices blindly and works and works and works. In some ways, he is the negative side of Dweck’s advice that all obstacles and failures and even injustices can become opportunities for growth through hard work.

I’m not a fan of single-cause explanations. (Howard Gardner uses the term “unicausal.”) In most of her cases, the successes and problems she offers have a single explanation– the growth mindset or lack of it. Thus, an individual creates or ruins a sports team or corporation. An individual makes or wrecks a classroom. I’m not certaint that we can always discount environment or peer pressure or the cost of mindless collaboration. The explanations seem to embrace a lack of critical thought.

Funny. I’m flying to Denver enroute to London right now, and on the silent LCD screens up and down the aisle there’s a Tibetan martial arts master training a young boy in a red sweat suit. Do exactly this. Raise that arm. Work, work, work. Perfect the moves. Somewhere in there, I also wonder if “don’t think” or “don’t question” or “don’t improvise” isn’t part of the training. Dweck might say that the hard workers are self-actualizers and critically aware as well, but it’s questionable if all of the examples she’s sharing are or were. In most cases, it seems that she is presenting clear authority roles that succeed or fail, and how we succeed or fail is based on how completely we respond to authority roles.

Turbulence. Prep for descent. Time to put the laptop away.

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