Letting Go of Emotions vs. Thoughts

A while back, I wrote about letting go of blame and judgment, following an enlightening "Zen with Len" retreat I attended last January. While the retreat helped me release others from anger I was feeling about perceived betrayals or other wrongs, I was still left with my feelings of pain, sadness and fear in response to those experiences. Letting go of pain has been an evolving process for me, and I wanted to share a few resources and practices that I have found useful on this part of the journey.

LettingGo_DavidHawkins_coverDavid Hawkins literally wrote the book on "Letting Go" (subtitle: "The Pathway of Surrender"), in which he argues for the primacy of emotions over thoughts, and proposes that by letting go of emotions, we can let go of the thoughts that emanate from those emotions.

Thoughts are merely rationalizations of the mind trying to explain the presence of the feeling... The thoughts associated with even one feeling may literally run into the thousands. The understanding of the underlying emotion and its correct handling is, therefore, more rewarding and less time-consuming than dealing with one's thoughts.

I tend to focus most of my time, energy and attention on thinking rather than feeling, and have always believed that thoughts give rise to feelings, but Hawkins suggests it is the other way around:

The mind is .. a survival mechanism, and its method of survival is primarily the use of emotions. Thoughts are engendered by the emotions and, eventually, emotions become shorthand for thoughts .. Reason is the tool the mind uses to achieve its emotional ends.

I initially found this description and the prescription for the "correct handling" of emotions counter-intuitive and unsettling. In my efforts to let go of the lingering pain, I had been devoting some of my meditations to focusing on troubling - and sometimes traumatic - thoughts, and sitting with the thoughts in an effort to let go of the emotions they give rise to. Hawkins suggests switching that around, and focusing directly on the emotion:

Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it .. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going .. A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the energy behind it dissipates... The feeling can .. be worked with by first accepting that it is there, without resisting it or condemning it. And then one begins to empty out the energy of the feeling directly by letting it be what it is until it runs out.

He acknowledges that some emotions are simply too overwhelming, and may require multiple letting go "sessions" of sitting with the emotions to release their power. It may also be helpful to deeply traumatic emotion into subcomponents, and let go of different elements incrementally over time.

Hawkins observes that suppressing emotions can increase stress, and that increased stress can lead to disease, and describes various ways that the mind and body are connected, much of which is consistent with my own experience, and with other teachings I've encountered (e.g., Gabor Mate's book, "When the Body Says 'No'"). He also covers several themes I wrote about in my last post, about attachment, dependency and possessiveness in relationships, so I won't go further down that path here, except to note here that I found one of his predictions about the potential outcomes of attachment especially poignant:

The other person, now feeling pressured by our energy of dependency and possessiveness, has an inner impulse to run for freedom, to withdraw, to detach and do the very thing that we fear the most.

One of the themes in the book I find most difficult to accept is the prescription to let go of desire, which echoes ideas I've encountered in [other] new age teachings:

wanting blocks receiving it [what is wanted] and results in a fear of not getting it. The energy of desire is, in essence, a denial that what we want is ours for the asking.. We surrender the emotion of desire and, instead, merely choose the goal, picture it lovingly, and allow it to happen because we see that is already ours.

Perhaps I'm not yet sufficiently evolved, but I personally don't see how wanting and desire - which are to be let go - are different from asking for something or setting goals - which are to be embraced - so I've decided to let go of this aspect of the teachings, at least for now.

There are a number of other aspects of the book that I find more difficult to accept. Hawkins was a proponent of using applied kinesiology to test muscle strength in the arm while a subject repeats a statement to "objectively" assess a subject's level of consciousness. His enumeration, ordering and descriptions of these levels - shame, guilt, apathy, grief, fear, desire, anger, pride, courage, neutrality, willingness, acceptance, reason, love, joy and peace - make intuitive sense to me, but associating frequency measurements with them, and estimating what proportion of the population has achieved these levels, do not. An essay on The Emperor's New Clothes: David Hawkins' Absolute Calibration of Truth offers a deeper investigation into some of Hawkins' questionable claims, and some of the ways he and his associates have actively sought to eliminate criticism from Wikipedia and other web sites.

As unsettling as I find some of these aspects of his teaching and behavior, I often find it useful to apply the slogan "take what you like and leave the rest", and continue to find resonance in his ideas about the primacy of emotions and the practices of letting go of the negative emotions ... although I will admit I initially found these unsettling as well.

One of the initially disturbing - but eventually resonant - aspects of Hawkins' views is that disturbances are beneficial:

Every life crisis carries within it the kernels of a reversal, a renewal, an expansion, a leap in consciousness, and a letting go of the old and a birth of the new .. a hidden lesson... Carl Jung [concluded that] there is an inborn drive in the unconscious toward wholeness, completeness, and realization of the Self, and that the unconscious will devise ways and means of bringing this about even if they are traumatic to the conscious mind...

One benefit of a crisis is that it often brings us into familiarity with our shadow .. Once the shadow has been acknowledged, it loses its power... Passing through a life crisis, then, makes us more human, more compassionate, more accepting and understanding of ourselves and others. We no longer have to indulge in making others wrong or making ourselves wrong.

... One major loss can awaken us to the nature of all attachments, and all relationships.

Indeed, I am hoping this journey through unresolved grief I started over a year ago is serving to awaken me to a higher state of enlightenment. The theme of crises and breakdowns facilitating growth has played a significant role in this awakening, and is a concept into which I plan to delve more deeply in a future post.

For now, I'll conclude with two other sources of inspiration for letting go that I revisit regularly. One is a brief passage by Tilopa shared in a guided meditation by Tara Brach - who regularly encourages attending to feelings in the body and letting go of thoughts in the mind - on Relaxing Open.

Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.

DannaFaulds_GoInAndIn_coverThe other is a poem by Danna Faulds, from her book, Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga, which I read nearly every day.

Let go of the ways you thought life
would unfold; the holding of plans
or dreams or expectations – Let it
all go. Save your strength to swim
with the tide. The choice to fight
what is here before you now will
only result in struggle, fear, and
desperate attempts to flee from the
very energy you long for. Let go.
Let it all go and flow with the grace
that washes through your days whether
you receive it gently or with all your
quills raised to defend against invaders.
Take this on faith; the mind may never
find the explanations that it seeks, but
you will move forward nonetheless.
Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry
you to unknown shores, beyond your
wildest dreams or destinations. Let it
all go and find the place of rest and
peace, and certain transformation.

I continue to find it hard to accept that "the mind may never find the explanations that it seeks", but perhaps I'm moving forward, nonetheless.

Marriage, Romantic Realism and Relationship without Attachment

I've been a hopeless romantic for most of my life, but I am becoming increasingly disillusioned about love. I don't see disillusionment as a negative thing, but as a positive process: letting go of illusions, and thus becoming less romantic - and more realistic - about relationships ... especially long-term committed relationships ... especially the one I am in. I don't love my wife any less, but I'm striving to love her differently, more maturely, with greater acceptance and less expectation or attachment.

This maturation / disillusionment has evolved over many years, often unfolding in fits and starts. I may never complete the process, but I'm making progress. I wanted to share a few notes on the journey here, to collect and synthesize some relevant influences I've encountered along the path, both for my own future reference and in case it may be helpful to others.

GiftfromtheseaOne of the first realistic descriptions of a healthy relationship I encountered was in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's timeless tome, Gift from the Sea. My wife and I included a passage from this inspiring book in the readings at our wedding.

A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart's. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand, only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back -- it does not matter which because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.

The joy of such a pattern is...the joy of living in the moment. Lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined. One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one, but poised directly on the present step as it comes... But how does one learn this technique of the dance? Why is it so difficult? What makes us hesitate and stumble? It is fear, I think, that makes one cling nostalgically to the last moment or clutch greedily toward the next. [And fear] can only be exorcised by its opposite: love.

My wife has always been the more pragmatic and realistic partner in our relationship, probably due both to her general temperament as well as her greater experience with prior relationships before the two of us got together. I have tended to operate more toward the idealistic end of the spectrum, and have at times practiced more of a possessive clutch than a bare touch in passing. Fortunately - although it hasn't always seemed that way - the wisdom embodied in these two paragraphs has been re-presented through many lessons in many contexts over the years.

PassionatemarriagepbkA related source of wisdom is David Schnarch's book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, which I first encountered - and found very unsettling - several years after we were married. Schnarch describes marriage as a crucible in which the role of our partner is not so much to be affectionate, appreciative and approving - though some partners may exhibit any or all of these characteristics at times - but to support us in our growth as differentiated and resilient individuals.

In my last post, I wrote about the pitfalls of depending on external validation. Schnarch contrasts external validation - or what he calls other-validated intimacy - with self-validated intimacy, in which "you don't expect your partner to validate or accept what you disclose. You validate yourself by showing your partner who you really are." I'll include a few other resonant passages from the book below.

We're driven by something that makes us look like we crave intimacy, but in fact we're after something else: we want someone else to make us feel acceptable and worthwhile. We've assigned the label "intimacy" to what we want (validation and reciprocal disclosure) and developed pop psychologies that give it to us - while keeping true intimacy away. We've distorted what intimacy is, how it feels, how much we really want it, and how best to get it. Once we realize that intimacy is not always soothing and often makes us feel insecure, it is clear why we back away from it.


Our self-made crises are custom-tailored, painstakingly crafted, and always fit perfectly. We construct emotional knots until, eventually, we are willing to go through them.


Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of a group.

Lack of differentiation alienates us from those we love. Emotional fusion deceives us into thinking that we're not connected and we move away in defense. But the deeper truth is that we have to move away to counterbalance the tremendous impact we feel our spouse has on us.

Thebookoflife_logoA more recent source of wisdom describing a healthy, illusion-free, non-attached way of relating to one's partner that I encountered is from Alain de Botton's evolving online compendium, The Book of Life. One chapter presents Romantic Realism: a term used to describe "a correct awareness of what can legitimately be expected of love". A reformulation and refinement of some of the wisdom in that chapter (and some of his other writings) appeared in another chapter, On Marrying the Wrong Person, a version of which became the most read article of 2016 in the New York Times. To my way of thinking, despite its title, this chapter/essay is not so much about marrying the wrong person as it is about marrying any person based on the wrong goals or expectations. Here are a few of the passages I find most resonant:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out. An urgent, primary task of any lover is therefore to get a handle on the specific ways in which they are mad. They have to get up to speed on their individual neuroses. They have to grasp where these have come from, what they make them do – and most importantly, what sort of people either provoke or assuage them. A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.


The problem is that knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of. Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures. On our own, when we’re furious, we don’t shout, as there’s no one there to listen – and therefore we overlook the true, worrying strength of our capacity for fury. Or we work all the time without grasping, because there’s no one calling us to come for dinner, how we manically use work to gain a sense of control over life – and how we might cause hell if anyone tried to stop us. At night, all we’re aware of is how sweet it would be to cuddle with someone, but we have no opportunity to face up to the intimacy-avoiding side of us that would start to make us cold and strange if ever it felt we were too deeply committed to someone. One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.


We believe we seek happiness in love, but it’s not quite as simple. What at times it seems we actually seek is familiarity – which may well complicate any plans we might have for happiness.

We recreate in adult relationships some of the feelings we knew in childhood. It was as children that we first came to know and understand what love meant. But unfortunately, the lessons we picked up may not have been straightforward. The love we knew as children may have come entwined with other, less pleasant dynamics: being controlled, feeling humiliated, being abandoned, never communicating, in short: suffering.

One of the best definitions of suffering I've encountered is from Tara Brach, who has shared the following formula from the Four Noble Truths in a few of her dharma talks:

suffering = pain X resistance

I think the risk of pain always accompanies the prospect of intimacy in a relationship: anyone we care enough about can say or do things - or not say or do things - that hurt us. One may not be able to eliminate pain in a relationship, but one can reduce resistance by acceptance of what is ... and letting go of attachment to what is not.

And the themes of abandonment, suffering, acceptance and letting go of attachment bring me full circle to yet another gem of wisdom I gleaned from a recent re-reading of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From The Sea, with which I'll close:

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

There are no mistakes only lessons; a lesson is repeated until learned; tuition varies

image from www.drcherie.comOne of my principal sources of wisdom is Cherie Carter Scott's book, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules, an elaboration of her Ten Rules for Being Human, which initially appeared (inadvertently unattributed) in Jack Canfield's book, Chicken Soup for the Soul.

My two favorite life rules are:

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons

4. A lesson is repeated until learned

I regularly quote these rules - online and offline - and over the years have recognized an important addendum to rule 4:

4b. Tuition varies

In Dr. Cherie's book, each rule is elaborated in a separate chapter that begins with an introduction and is followed by a few sections presenting themes (or perhaps lesson plans) relating to the rule. For Rule 3 - There are no mistakes, only lessons - the themes are compassion, forgiveness, ethics and humor. Here is an excerpt from the introduction for this chapter:

Rather than viewing your own mistakes as failures and others' mistakes as slights, you can view them as opportunities to learn. As Emerson said, "Every calamity is a spur and a valuable hint." Every situation in which you do not live up to your own expectations is an opportunity to learn something about your own thoughts and behaviors. Every situation in which you feel "wronged" by another person is a chance to learn something about your reactions. Whether it is your own wrongdoing or someone else's, a mistake is simply an opportunity to evolve further along your spiritual path.

The chapter on Rule 4 - Lessons are repeated as needed - includes elaborations on awareness, willingness, causality and patience. It begins with an introduction that articulates the following insight:

You will continually attract the same lessons into your life. You will also draw to you teachers to teach you that lesson until you get it right. The only way you can free yourself of difficult patterns and issues you tend to repeat is by shifting your perspective so that you can recognize the patterns and learn the lessons that they offer. You may try to avoid the situations, but they will eventually catch up with you.

I regularly experience the wisdom of these rules, with varying degrees of awareness. It often seems to be the case that I recognize their relevance retroactively. Over time, I have also learned that the lessons have variable costs, which exhibit a general upward trend. The costs can take different forms - money, opportunities, friends - but the most common currency appears to be emotional pain. In a 12-step group I used to attend, we often light-heartedly referred to the repetition of an emotionally painful lesson as another f***ing growth opportunity, or AFGO for short. 

Emotional pain experienced during lessons is often magnified by my unwillingness to practice self-forgiveness - for which two specific lesson plans are highlighted in the chapters on rules 3 and 4 - and my tendency to add a layer of self-criticism when I recognize that I've unwittingly and unintentionally repeated a mistake lesson yet again. But when the lessons involve other people - in either a cooperative or adversarial learning opportunity - the emotional pain also arises from my guilt over the tuition they pay ... fees that, in many cases, my co-learners never explicitly signed up for.

The highest student debt accumulated for my repeated lessons involve my wife and children. The costs in terms of the emotional pain I experience when I fail to live up to my own expectations of being an attentive and effective husband and father are enormous, and greatly intensify each time lessons are repeated. And, unfortunately, the costs borne by them through such lessons can also be considerable.

Marriage vows traditionally take into account tuition costs for partners' lessons, or at least that's my interpretation of "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health". Marriage, at least in our culture, involves an explicit choice by both partners, and each has the option of dropping the course(s). My wife has been one of my best, most consistent and often unappreciated teachers ... though I like to think at least some of her tuition has been reciprocated through lessons I may have offered her over the years.

Children are typically not offered an explicit opportunity to choose whether to sign up for lessons they learn with or from their parents. My children are also among my best teachers, as they regularly help me recognize hypocrisy or duplicity when I preach one principle but practice another, or when I am otherwise not living up to my - or their - expectations of being a good father. I don't know quite how to account for their tuition costs over the years, but I like to believe the process of micro-evolution will ultimately allow them to reap some valuable rewards from the dues they've been paying.

The Scientific Method: Cultivating Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance

Ignorance_HowItDrivesScience_StuartFirestein_coverStuart Firestein brilliantly captures the positive influence of ignorance as an often unacknowledged guiding principle in the fits and starts that typically characterize the progression of real science. His book, Ignorance: How It Drives Science, grew out of a course on Ignorance he teaches at Columbia University, where he chairs the department of Biological Sciences and runs a neuroscience research lab. The book is replete with clever anecdotes interleaved with thoughtful analyses - by Firestein and other insightful thinkers and doers - regarding the central importance of ignorance in our quests to acquire knowledge about the world.

Each chapter leads off with a short quote, and the one that starts Chapter 1 sets the stage for the entire book:

"It is very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room," warns an old proverb. "Especially when there is no cat."

He proceeds to channel the wisdom of Princeton mathematician Andrew Wiles (who proved Fermat's Last Theorem) regarding the way science advances:

It's groping and probing and poking, and some bumbling and bungling, and then a switch is discovered, often by accident, and the light is lit, and everyone says "Oh, wow, so that's how it looks," and then it's off into the next dark room, looking for the next mysterious black feline.

Firestein is careful to distinguish the "willful stupidity" and "callow indifference to facts and logic" exhibited by those who are "unaware, unenlightened, and surprisingly often occupy elected offices" from a more knowledgeable, perceptive and insightful ignorance. As physicist James Clerk Maxwell describes it, this "thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science."

The author disputes the view of science as a collection of facts, and instead invites the reader to focus on questions rather than answers, to cultivate what poet John Keats' calls "negative capability": the ability to dwell in "uncertainty without irritability". This notion is further elaborated by philosopher-scientist Erwin Schrodinger:

In an honest search for knowledge you quite often have to abide by ignorance for an indefinite period.

PowerOfPullIgnorance tends to thrive more on the edges than in the centers of traditional scientific circles. Using the analogy of a pebble dropped into a pond, most scientists tend to focus near the site where the pebble is dropped, but the most valuable insights are more likely to be found among the ever-widening ripples as they spread across the pond. This observation about the scientific value of exploring edges reminds me of another inspiring book I reviewed a few years ago, The Power of Pull, wherein authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown & Lang Davison highlight the business value of exploring edges: 

Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers. Edges therefore become significant drivers of knowledge creation and economic growth, challenging and ultimately transforming traditional arrangements and approaches.

On a professional level, given my recent renewal of interest in the practice of data science, I find many insights into ignorance relevant to a productive perspective for a data scientist. He promotes a data-driven rather than hypothesis-driven approach, instructing his students to "get the data, and then we can figure out the hypotheses." Riffing on Rodin, the famous sculptor, Firestein highlights the literal meaning of "dis-cover", which is "to remove a veil that was hiding something already there" (which is the essence of data mining). He also notes that each discovery is ephemeral, as "no datum is safe from the next generation of scientists with the next generation of tools", highlighting both the iterative nature of the data mining process and the central importance of choosing the right metrics and visualizations for analyzing the data.

Professor Firestein also articulates some keen insights about our failing educational system, a professional trajectory from which I recently departed, that resonate with some growing misgivings I was experiencing in academia. He highlights the need to revise both the business model of universities and the pedagogical model, asserting that we need to encourage students to think in terms of questions, not answers. 

W.B. Yeats admonished that "education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Indeed. TIme to get out the matches.


On a personal level, at several points while reading the book I was often reminded of two of my favorite "life rules" (often mentioned in preceding posts) articulated by Cherie Carter-Scott in her inspiring book, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules:

Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors, and occasional victories. The failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that work.

Rule Four: A lesson is repeated until learned.
Lessons will repeated to you in various forms until you have learned them. When you have learned them, you can then go on to the next lesson.

Firestein offers an interesting spin on this concept, adding texture to my previous understanding, and helping me feel more comfortable with my own highly variable learning process, as I often feel frustrated with re-encountering lessons many, many times:

I have learned from years of teaching that saying nearly the same thing in different ways is an often effective strategy. Sometimes a person has to hear something a few times or just the right way to get that click of recognition, that "ah-ha moment" of clarity. And even if you completely get it the first time, another explanation always adds texture.

My ignorance is revealed to me on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis (I suspect people with partners and/or children have an unfair advantage in this department). I have written before about the scope and consequences of others being wrong, but for much of my life, I have felt shame about the breadth and depth of my own ignorance (perhaps reflecting the insight that everyone is a mirror). It's helpful to re-dis-cover the wisdom that ignorance can, when consciously cultivated, be strength.

[The video below is the TED Talk that Stuart Firestein recently gave on The Pursuit of Ignorance.]



An Excellent Primer on Data Science and Data-Analytic Thinking and Doing

DataScienceForBusiness_coverO'Reilly Media is my primary resource for all things Data Science, and the new O'Reilly book on Data Science for Business by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett ranks near the top of my list of their relevant assets. The book is designed primarily to help businesspeople understand the fundamental principles of data science, highlighting the processes and tools often used in the craft of mining data to support better business decisions. Among the many gems that resonated with me are the emphasis on the exploratory nature of data science - more akin to research and development than engineering - and the importance of thinking carefully and critically ("data-analytically") about the data, the tools and overall process. 

CRISP-DM_Process_DiagramThe book references and elaborates on the Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining (CRISP-DM) model to highlight the iterative process typically required to converge on a deployable data science solution. The model includes loops within loops to account for the way that critically analyizing data models often reveals additional data preparation steps that are needed to clean or manipulate the data to support the effective use of data mining tools, and how the evaluation of model performance often reveals issues that require additional clarification from the business owners. The authors note that it is not uncommon for the definition of the problem to change in response to what can actually be done with the available data, and that it is often worthwhile to consider investing in acquiring additional data in order to enable better modeling. Valuing data - and data scientists - as important assets is a recurring theme throughout the book.

DataScienceForBusiness_Figure7_2As a practicing data scientist, I find the book's emphasis on the expected value framework - associating costs and benefits with different performance metrics - to be a helpful guide in ensuring that the right questions are being asked, and that the results achieved are relevant to the business problems that motivate most data science projects. And as someone whose practice of data science has recently resumed after a hiatus, I found the book very useful as a refresher on some of the tools and techniques of data analysis and data mining ... and as a reminder of potential pitfalls such as overfitting models to training data, not appropriately taking into account null hypotheses and confidence intervals, and the problem of multiple comparisons. I've been using the Sci-Kit Learn package for machine learning in Python in my recent data modeling work, and some of the questions and issues raised in this book have prompted me to reconsider some of the default parameter values I've been using.

DataScienceForBusiness_Figure8_5The book includes a nice mix of simplified and real-world examples to motivate and clarify many of the common problems and techniques encountered in data science. It also offers appropriately simplified descriptions and equations for the mathematics that underly some of the key concepts and tools of data science, including one of the clearest definitions of Bayes' rule and its application in constructing Naive Bayes classifiers I've seen. The figures (such as the one above) add considerable clarity to the topics covered throughout the book. I particularly like the chapter highlighting the different visualizations - profit curves, lift curves, cumulative response curves and receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curves - that can be used to help compare and effectively communicate the performance of models. [Side note: it was through my discovery of Tom Fawcett's excellent introduction to ROC analysis that I first encountered the Data Science for Business book. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also note that Tom is a friend and former grad school colleague (and fellow homebrewer) from my UMass days].

The penultimate chapter of the book is on Data Science and Business Strategy, in which the authors elaborate on the importance of making strategic investments in data, data scientists and a culture that enables data science and data scientists to thrive. They note the importance of diversity in the data science team, the variance in individual data scientist capabilities - especially with respect to innate creativity, analytical acument, business sense and perseverence - and the tendency toward replicability of successes in solving data science problems, for both individuals and teams. They also emphasize the importance of attracting a critical mass of data scientists - to support, augment and challenge each other - and progressively systematizing and refining various processes as the data science capability of a team (and firm) matures ... two aspects whose value I can personally attest to based on my own re-immersion in a data science team.

Valuable Advice on Preparing for Technical Interviews ... and Careers

CrackingTheCodingInterview TheGoogleResume The cover of Gayle Laakmann McDowell's book, Cracking the Coding Interview, and links to her Career Cup web site and Technology Woman blog are included in the slides I use on the first day of every senior (400-level) computer science course I have taught over the last two years. These are some of the most valuable resources I have found for preparing for interviews for software engineering - as well as technical program manager, product manager or project manager - positions. I recently discovered she has another book, The Google Resume, that offers guidance on how to prepare for a career in the technology industry, so I've added that reference to my standard introductory slides.

While my Computing and Software Systems faculty colleagues and I strive to prepare students with the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in their careers, the technical interview process can prove to be an extremely daunting barrier to entry. The resources Gayle has made available - based on her extensive interviewing experience while a software engineer at Google, Microsoft and Apple - can help students (and others) break through those barriers. The updated edition of her earlier book focuses on how to prepare for interviews for technical positions, and her latest book complements this by offering guidance - to students and others who are looking to change jobs or fields - on how to prepare for careers in the computer technology world.


I have been looking for an opportunity to invite Gayle to the University of Washington Bothell to present her insights and experiences directly to our computer science students since I started teaching there last fall, and was delighted when she was able to visit us last week. Given the standing room only crowd, I was happy to see that others appreciated the opportunity to benefit from some of her wisdom. I will include fragments of this wisdom in my notes below, but for the full story, I recommend perusing her slides (embedded below) or watching a video of a similar talk she gave in May (also embedded further below), and for anyone serious about preparing for tech interviews and careers, I recommend reading her books.

Gayle emphasized the importance of crafting a crisp resume. Hiring managers typically spend no more than 15-30 seconds per resume to make a snap judgment about the qualifications of a candidate. A junior-level software engineer should be able to fit everything on one page, use verbs emphasizing accomplishments (vs. activities or responsibilities), and quantify accomplishments wherever possible. Here are links to some of the relevant resources available at her different web sites:

One important element of Gayle's advice [on Slide 13] that aligns with my past experience - and ongoing bias - in hiring researchers, designers, software engineers and other computing professionals is the importance of working on special projects (or, as Gayle puts it, "Build something!"). While graduates of computer science programs are in high demand, I have always looked for people who have done something noteworthy and relevant, above and beyond the traditional curriculum, and it appears that this is a common theme in filtering prospective candidates in many technology companies. This is consistent with advice given in another invited talk at UWB last year by Jake Homan on the benefits of contributing to open source projects, and is one of the motivations behind the UWB CSS curriculum requiring a capstone project for all our computer science and software engineering majors.

IntroductionToAlgorithmsGayle spoke of "the CLRS book" during her talk at UWB and her earlier talk at TheEasy, a reference to the classic textbook, Introduction to Algorithms, by Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson, Ronald L. Rivest and Clifford Stein. She said that entry-level software engineer applicants typically won't need to know data structures and algorithms at the depth or breadth presented in that book, and she offers a cheat sheet / overview of the basics on Slides 23-40, and an elaboration in Chapters 8 & 9 of her CtCI book. However, for those who are interested in delving more deeply into the topic, an online course based on the textbook is now part of the MIT Open CourseWare project, and includes video & audio lectures, selected lecture notes, assignments, exams and solutions.

One potential pitfall to candidates who prepare thoroughly for technical interviews is they may get an interview question that they have already seen (and perhaps studied). She recommended that candidates admit to having seen a question before, equating not doing so with cheating on an exam, and to avoid simply reciting solutions from memory, both because simple slip-ups are both common and easy to catch.

Gayle stressed that was there is no correlation between how well a candidate thinks he or she did in an interview and how well their interviewers thought they did. In addition to natural biases, the candidate evaluation process is always relative: candidates' responses to questions are assessed in the context of the responses of other candidates for the same position. So even if a candidate thinks he or she did well on a question, it may not be as well as other candidates, and even if a candidate thinks he or she totally blew a question, it may not have been blown as badly as other candidates blew the question.

Another important factor to bear in mind is that most of the big technology companies tend to be very conservative in making offers; they generally would prefer to err on the side of false negatives than false positives. When they have a candidate who seems pretty good, but they don't feel entirely confident about the candidate's strength, they have so many [other] strong candidates, they would rather reject someone who may have turned out great than risk hiring someone who does not turn out well. Of course, different companies have different evaluation and ranking schemes, and many of these details can be found in her CtCI book.

Gayle visits the Seattle area on a semi-regular basis, so I'm hoping I will be able to entice her to return each fall to give a live presentation to our students. However, for the benefit of those who are not able to see her present live, here is a video of her Cracking the Coding Interview presentation at this year's Canadian University Software Engineering Conference (CUSEC 2012) [which was also the site of another great presentation I blogged about a few months ago, Bret Victor's Inventing on Principle].

Finally, I want to round things out on a lighter note, with a related video that I also include in my standard introductory slides, Vj Vijai's Hacking the Technical Interview talk at Ignite Seattle in 2008:

Net Smart: a call for mindful engagement with technology

NetSmart-coverHoward Rheingold shared some highlights of what he's learned and taught about being "Net Smart" Monday night at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. Acknowledging the growing chorus of criticism of the growing prominence of online media - and it propensity for distraction, diversion and delusion - he noted that critique is necessary, but not sufficient, in the cultivation of practices that enable us to successfully adopt and adapt to new technologies. To help fill this gap, Howard enumerated and explained what he calls the Five Fundamental Literacies that are essential to use technology intelligently, humanely and mindfully: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection and network know-how. The book represents a carefully curated collection and distillation of wisdom from Howard and a broad array of other net luminaries, with over 500 end notes and an index that is over 30 pages long. I haven't actually read the book yet - it was just published this week, and Monday night was his first book talk - so the notes that follow are based primarily on Howard's presentation ... and biased by my own particular interests and interpretations.

Howard led off with the literacy of attention, a topic about which he and I have both learned a lot from Linda Stone. He described experimenting with attention probes during classes he teaches, ringing a chime at various times and asking students to report what they were thinking or where their mind was at during that moment, a form of what I might call experience sampling mindfulness (riffing on experience sampling method). Howard defined the term infotention, which I initially interpreted as a mashup of information and attention, but also suspect it involves intention, as he went on to say that the application of attention to intention is how the mind changes the brain (e.g., through the use of mandalas & mantras), and shared a pithy neuroscientific mantra to explain this connection: "neurons that fire together, wire together".

Moving on to the literacy of crap detection, or the "critical consumption of information", Howard showed that if you google "martin luther king", one of the top hits is to a site entitled "Martin Luther King, Jr. - A True Historical Examination". I was immediately reminded of Margaret Thatcher's insight:

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.

I don't want to make too much of a connection between being powerful and being truthful - in fact, I suspect they tend to be rather oppositional, e.g., speaking truth to power - but I suspect that many sites claiming to be about the "truth" of a matter are not actually about the truth of that matter. In investigating the truth behind the "true historical examination" of MLK, Howard demonstrated that conducting a simple "whois" search reveals that the registered site owner is Don Black, who is associated with the Stormfront White Nationalist / White Pride resource page.

Howard summarized his recommendations for effective crap detection

  • think like a detective, look for clues
  • search to learn (don't stop with first search, or the first page of results)
  • look for authors, search on their names
  • triangulate (find 3 different sources)

Expanding on the importance of consulting diverse sources, Howard also recommended including people and organizations with different perspective in your regular information network, because "if nobody in your network annoys you, you are in an echo chamber". Having long thought - and recently written - about the idea of the irritation-based innovation, I found myself ruminating about the value of irritation-based learning.

Howard is an inspiring innovator in the realm of learning. I believe he coined the term peeragogy, a mashup of "peer" + "pedagogy", which denotes a highly participatory form of learning (an example of which is The Independent Project I wrote about recently). I have been an intermittent participant in his Peeragogy Handbook Project, and strive to practice & facilitate - not just read (or write) about - more participatory student-centered learning in my own educational endeavors.

Speaking of such endeavors, I want to turn my attention toward my intention to prepare for next week's classes. One of the costs of teaching is that I rarely have time for any "outside" activities, such as attending book talks ... or writing about them afterward. Howard told me he rarely gives book talks any more, so I'm glad that we both took the time to converge on Elliott Bay Books this week. It was well worth the effort, not just to see and hear Howard, but also for the serendipitous opportunity to meet other co-learners and to learn more from their questions and comments. Several of them referenced other interesting books, which I've added to my list of future reads ... but those will have to wait until after "Net Smart".

On the Personal Philosophy of Carl Rogers


A while back, I was delighted to discover the source of one of my favorite quotes:

What is most personal is most general.

The quote is from psychologist Carl Rogers' 1956 essay "'This is Me': The Development of My Professional Thinking and Personal Philosophy", which can be found in the first chapter in his 1961 book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. I bought the entire book based on this one quote, and its elaborating paragraph. As I anticipated, the book is full of inspiring insights and experiences, far more than can be adequately expressed in a single blog post. I already applied and integrated some of his wisdom in a post on client-centered therapy, student-centered learning and user-centered design. In this post, I will excerpt some sections from his "This is Me" essay.

"This is Me" traces Rogers' personal and professional development, and the insights he gained into himself, his profession and the institutions and disciplines with which he was affiliated. Of particular relevance to me, in my own current professional context as a non-tenure track senior lecturer, is his judgment about the tenure process (based on his own context of having been hired, with tenure, at The Ohio State University):

I have often been grateful that I have never had to live through the frequently degrading competitive process of step-by-step promotion in university faculties, where individuals so frequently learn only one lesson - not to stick their necks out.

However, it is the more personal "significant learnings" that he shares that I find most inspiring (an example, perhaps, of the most personal being the most general). He is very careful to state at the outset that these learnings are true for him, and may or may not be true for others. Throughout the book, he carefully delineates data, feelings, judgments and wants, and he states each of his significant learnings with phrasing that makes the personal nature of his perspective clear. I will include the most direct statements of these learnings (with his emphasis) below, along with a few other excerpts that elaborate the learnings in ways I find personally useful.

  • In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
  • I find that I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself ... a decidedly imperfect person ... the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.
  • I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person. ... understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding.
  • I have found it enriching to open channels whereby others can communicate their feelings, their private perceptual worlds, to me.
  • I have found it rewarding when I can accept another person. ... it has come to seem to me that this separateness of individuals, the right o each individual to utilize his experience in his own way and to discover his own meanings in it - this is one of the most priceless potentialities of life.
  • The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in and "fix things."
  • I can trust my experience. ... when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing.
  • Evaluation by others is not a guide for me.
  • Experience is, for me, the highest authority.
  • I enjoy the discovering of order in experience. ... Thus I have come to see both scientific research and theory construction as being aimed toward the inward ordering of significant experience. ... I have, at times, carried on research for other reasons - to satisfy others, to convince opponents and sceptics, to get ahead professionally,  to gain prestige, and for other unsavory reasons. These errors in judgment and activity have only served to convince me more deeply that there is only one sound reason for pursuing scientific activities, and that is to satisfy a need for meaning which is in me [an example, perhaps, of irritation-based innovation]
  • The facts are friendly. ... while I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, com to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning.
  • What is most personal is most general. [full quote below]
    Somewhere here I want to bring in a learning which has been most rewarding, because it makes me feel so deeply akin to others. I can word it this way. What is most personal is most general. There have been times when in talking with students or staff, or in my writing, I have expressed myself in ways so personal that I have felt I was expressing an attitude which it was probable no one else could understand, because it was so uniquely my own…. In these instances I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets as people who have dared to express the unique in themselves.
  • It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. ... I have come to feel that the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more he tends to drop the false fronts with which he has been meeting life, and the more he tends to move in a direction which is forward.
  • Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. ... It is always in process of becoming.

I hope this blog, and my personal and professional life will continue to evolve in a positive direction. Meanwhile, I will surely continue to incorporate other of Rogers' insights - implicitly or explicitly - in my future thinking and writing.

Client-Centered Therapy, Student-Centered Learning and User-Centered Design


I recently finished Carl Rogers' 1961 book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's Guide to Psychotherapy, in which the renowned psychologist describes his approach to client-centered therapeutic relationships. Rogers makes a compelling case for extending his approach to cultivating relationships with his clients to all personal and professional relationships, including those between parents and children, managers and employees, and teachers and students. I'm currently teaching a senior-level undergraduate course on human-computer interaction (HCI), and believe that Rogers' approach is also well suited to relationships cultivated in the practice of user-centered design (UCD), which constitutes one of our primary lenses for the course.

Rogers states his guiding question in the second chapter of the book:

How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?

He goes on to describe three conditions that characterize his approach to therapeutic relationships (and all relationships):

  • Transparency or congruence: "I have found that the more I can be genuine in the relationship, the more helpful it will be ... rather than presenting an outward facade ... It is only by providing the genuine reality which is in me, that the other person can successfully seek the reality in him."
  • Acceptance: "I find that the more acceptance and liking I feel toward this individual, the more I will be creating a relationship which he can use. By acceptance I mean a warm regard for him as a person of unconditional self-worth - of value no matter what his condition, his behavior or his feelings."
  • Deep empathic understanding: "I also find that the relationship is significant to the extent that I feel a continuing desire to understand - a sensitive empathy with each of the client's feelings and communications as they seem to him at the moment. Acceptance does not mean much until it involves understanding. It is only as I understand the feelings and thoughts which seem so horrible to you, or so weak, or so sentimental, or so bizarre - it is only as I see them as you see them, and accept them and you, that you feel really free to explore all the hidden nooks and frightening crannies of your inner and often buried experience."

Other characteristics of a facilitative relationship include "attitudes of warmth, caring, liking, interest, respect" or "unconditional positive regard", a recognition of personal boundaries and the separateness of the other person, an allowance for the other person to be utterly free to be himself or herself, and a willingness to see things from the other's perspective and to step into the other person's private world "so completely that I lose all desire to judge or evaluate it". Rogers believed that each person already has the potential solutions to their own problems somewhere within them, and so the goal of the therapist is to be a "midwife to a new personality", creating a safe container within which that internal knowledge can be discovered and applied by the client. This approach is in sharp contrast to the more traditional authoritarian approach to psychotherapy - and many other health care fields - wherein an enlightened therapist diagnoses problems and prescribes solutions for the unenlightened client.

Rogers applies these conditions to many other types of relationships, but of primary importance to me (in my current context) is the application to learner-centered education. In Rogers' view, the teacher should embody the characteristics above, and provide resources relevant to the domain of study (as well as being a "resource-finder"). Students are then allowed to use these resources however they see fit to discover, appropriate and apply the knowledge that they believe will be most relevant to them.

When Rogers taught a course, he would show up the first day of class with stacks of papers and tapes (e.g., of recorded therapy sessions), introduce himself, invite students to introduce themselves - if they felt so inclined - and then wait for them to structure the learning process in which they would participate throughout the course. He did not provide a syllabus, assign homework or readings, nor give any tests. This unorthodox approach sometimes entailed several awkward sessions at the outset, during which students would demand or implore him to impose structure, but he would kindly and resolutely refuse to do so, and they would eventually take the initiative.

Rogers, a rigorous empiricist, reported on some early findings about the gains realized by students who participate in student-centered educational processes: greater personal adjustment, self-initiated extra-curricular learning, creativity and self-responsibility. He was also a radical reformer - or, at least, an advocate of radical rethinking - as can be seen in a 1952 essay on Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, in which he espouses doing away with teaching, examinations, grades, credits, degrees and even the exposition of conclusions.


Others have written far more extensively - and eruditely - about Rogers' approach to student-centered learning, and I've recently encountered a number of other inspired and inspiring resources that are aligned with this approach, including Emily Hanford's provocative American RadioWorks program on Don't Lecture Me, Cathy Davidson's bold experiment with Crowdsourcing Grading, and Howard Rheingold's evocatively named Peeragogy Handbook Project. While I feel a strong sense of alignment with Rogers' principles (and those articulated by others), I don't have the gumption to fully embrace his radically unstructured approach to student-centered learning in my own teaching practice, however I will strive to iteratively incorporate as many of the principles of learner-centered education as I can.

I want to conclude this post with a few thoughts about the connections between Rogers' perspective and the principles of User-Centered Design, a paradigm which prioritizes users over technologies, and places human needs, wants, skills and experiences at the center of the design process. A definition of user-centered design at the Usability First web site highlights the parallels with Rogers' thinking:

User-Centered Design (UCD) is the process of designing a tool, such as a website’s or application’s user interface, from the perspective of how it will be understood and used by a human user. Rather than requiring users to adapt their attitudes and behaviors in order to learn and use a system, a system can be designed to support its intended users’ existing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors as they relate to the tasks that the system is being designed to support.

Like Rogers, user-centered design emphasizes rigorous empiricism, offering a variety of methods for observing, measuring and evaluating the effects of different potential design elements on the user experience. UCD also involves iterative design and experimentation, very much in keeping with the serial nature of client-centered psychotherapy sessions and the punctuated equilibrium that I believe characterizes the process of unfolding revelations. UCD methods work best, I think, when its practitioners approach users with transparency, acceptance and deep empathic understanding. While there is a significant emphasis on evaluation and judgment in UCD, it is focused on the methods and their results rather than the human subjects - aka users - under study.

One important question in user-centered design is who the users are. Are we designing for ourselves or designing for others? Reflecting on Rogers' observation that the most personal is the most general, a third option might be proposed: designing for others through designing for ourselves. Much of the emphasis in UCD has been on designing for others, focusing on methods of observation, measurement and evaluation that help designers better understand [other] users' perspectives. However, some recent developments suggest a growing openness - on the part of some designers - to the idea of designing for others through designing for ourselves.


I captured portions of a debate on this topic - involving accusations of arrogance and justifications for self-centeredness - in an earlier post on irritation-based innovation, which I will simply summarize here with an observation made by one of the participants, Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, in response to a critique by human-centered design advocate, Don Norman:

Solutions to our own problems are solutions to other people’s problems too.

Personally, I believe there is room for both perspectives. While I think that the most innovative designs arise out of the effort to solve one's own problems, the solutions can be made more useful and usable through a greater understanding of how they might be perceived and used by others to solve their own problems. So, while the most personal may be the most general, UCD practices can help pave the way for maximizing that generalization.

I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb

We are all interconnected and we have responsibility for each other.

I_Am_Because_We_Are_coverThis is the interpretation of the Swahili word, ubuntu, offered near the start of a short, inspiring interview with photographer Betty Press by NPR Weekend Edition Sunday host, Audie Cornish two weeks ago. The interview focused on the incredible photographs celebrating the lives of people in Africa compiled over a 20-year period in a new book by Press, I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb. The NPR web page for the segment, A Photographer Changes The Focus In Africa, includes a selection of 7 of the 125 black and white photographs from the book. The images are striking, but given that this was a radio interview - on NPR, no less - I was a bit disappointed that, with the exception of the quote above, the proverbial dimension of African Wisdom was largely omitted from the segment ... and, well, talking about photographs is like writing about music ... which, of course, is like dancing about architecture.

ubuntu_logoAlthough I have never been there, I have been interested in Africa since inadvertently becoming an unofficial spokesperson for Nokia's efforts to empower people in developing regions with mobile technologies at PopTech 2007 (and several subsequent events). And as a technology guy, I have long interpreted ubuntu as a reference to a Debian-derived version of the open-source Linux operating system. I was intrigued, though not entirely surprised, to discover the origin of the term, which does seem well-aligned with the philosophy embodied by this evolving software artifact. So after learning more about the broader - and deeper - interpretation of ubuntu from Betty Press, my appetite was whetted for more examples of proverbial African wisdom to be revealed during the course of the interview.

Unfortunately, there were no further examples of proverbs offered on NPR - during the interview or on its associated web page - and while the book's web site offers a gallery that include additional photos, there are no examples of the proverbs in the book ... although the its proverbial aspects are highlighted in the following endorsement by Joanne Veal Gabbin on the main page:

A wise one said Proverbs are the palm wine with which words are eaten. Proverbs, like poems, are concise, loaded with metaphors, wisdom, nuance, and the rhythms of life…

At $39.95, this is not an inexpensive book (well, at least, not in my book), and I wasn't sure I wanted to make the investment. As much as I am moved by visual images, words are my primary source of inspiration. The book cover says "Proverbs compiled by Annetta Miller", and so I don't know if the division of labor is, in part, responsible for the primacy of images vs. words in nearly all the marketing materials (I cannot find a web page for Ms. Miller, but her bio suggests she has been involved in compiling other collections of African wisdom).

Having purchased and now received a copy of the book, I can attest to the captivating imagery contained in the photographs. Many of the proverbs of the book reflect wisdom that I've encountered in proverbs arising in American, European and/or Asian cultures - perhaps reflecting the universal nature of many of the most meaningful insights and experiences we share as human beings - but a few stood out as particularly poignant pronouncements of perspicacity. I wanted to help compensate for what I see as a deficit of attention to the proverbial wisdom in the book by sharing a few of my favorites:

The world is a mirror; it looks at you the same way you look at it. [North African proverb]

Our children are living messages sent to a future we may never see. [Nigerian proverb]

What you help a child to love is more important than what you help her to learn. [Sengalese proverb]

If you educate a man you educate an invdividual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation). [Ghanaian proverb]

If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance. [Zimbabwean proverb]

These last two are especially resonant, after having recently attended a David Whyte poetry reading, in which he and representatives of a local organization, Young Women Empowered, shared some proverbial wisdom about the importance of empowering [young] women and for the need for all humans to courageously speak out in the world. Whyte also spoke of embracing different forms of beauty, and the images and words in I Am Because We Are are a powerful illustration of beautiful forms that arise in the people and places of Africa.