Crisis vs Opportunity

Alt Title: Who We Are vs Who We might Become

“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

–JFK, 12 April 1959, seven months before the Cuban Missile Crisis


Stirring. Unifying. Inspirational.

And unfortunately, built on a fundamental misunderstanding of how characters translate into language, and is totally bullshit.

This quote is frequently taken out of context and used in motivational posters, to help us to see that our attitude profoundly affects our expectations and outcome in any given scenario. Basic psychology at work there, and using it to muster a populace looking to you for guidance is an ethically tenuous shelf to stand on.

There is a substantial difference in levels of ethics in play for a scope of using it to motivate the Free World vs using it to motivate Joe Corporation’s workforce.

“Because I said so” tactics are unnerving when used excessively, and to the extent that people are not allowed to claim the mental space traditionally reserved for free will.

Many workplaces are so heavily tiered that they must profoundly devalue descending strata of their workers in order to both justify the model’s complexity as well as to differentiate among establish Groups. It does, however, offer a very neat model for established divide of responsibilities, albeit one with tremendously significant side effects.

(Musical options now available in North Carolina, but for for a limited time only. )

Being given the task of setting our own moral compass without deviating magnets confounding the interactions required to do so, both well and effectively, is not so easily granted. However, we benefit from being bestowed the burden of this opportunity.

Being told in every way and with intense persistence that you are Some Such Way That Cannot Be Changed is a powerful incentive to fulfill it. Whether out of obligation, expectation, or misled revolt, we respond to the label and, more often than not, adopt it and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Being given options and opportunities produces an entirely different kind of person, regardless of the choices made, because the mere act of being able to make choices leads to facing consequences, which then leads to an understanding of where our reach of control ends and someones else’s (or no ones) begins. Assuming responsibility for what is actually yours to control and relinquishing responsibility of what is not yours to do or control is a big step.

Helping one another is everyone’s responsibility, to the extent that the actions taken in the name of Helping are, in fact, actually helpful to the intended recipient of the aforementioned Helping. Becoming familiar with this is also everyone’s responsibility. Living someone else’s life for them, is not.

The remainder of this post is passages from this article about Carol Dweck and her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Mostly I wanted to piggyback on something that is profoundly well written, but also to use this excellent topic of conversation to be more easily and readily acknowledged. Taking on too much, feeling too small, and feeling misled or lost all lead to misdirection and inaccurate allocation of responsibility and a skewed perspective.


And now, Ladies and Gents, more pearls of wisdom worth ruminating over, from Carol Dweck:

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

Another portion;

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

And another:

“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.

In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.

In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.”

Another section from the same article that inspired this train of thought to fill to capacity before leaving the station:

The most unsettling finding came after the IQ questions were completed, when the researchers asked the kids to write private letters to their peers relaying the experience, including a space for reporting their scores on the problems. To Dweck’s devastation, the most toxic byproduct of the fixed mindset turned out to be dishonesty: Forty percent of the ability-praised kids lied about their scores, inflating them to look more successful. She laments:

“In a fixed mindset, inperfections are shameful
— especially if you’re talented — so they lied them away.
What’s so alarming is that we took ordinary children
and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart. 

This illustrates the key difference between the two mindsets — for those with a growth one, “personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best,” whereas for those with a fixed one, “success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies.” For the latter, setbacks are a sentence and a label. For the former, they’re motivating, informative input — a wakeup call.”


It seems we are faced with a Crisis of Opportunities.


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