Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Did The Impossible! So there

Do just once what others say you can't do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.
- James R. Cook

That's not to say that people will stop telling you that you can't do things. They won't stop. However, what they really mean when they tell you that you can't do something is usually that they can't imagine themselves doing whatever it is. The limitations they accept for themselves become those they want to impose on others.

The most common form of limitation that people try to impose on others is "You're too stupid to do that." Quite apart from the fact that such a put-down is a power killer comment used by people who want to control another person, it's dreadfully and egregiously wrong.

While some things that people want to do may be physically impossible, or impossible at this time due to the fact that they depend on technology that doesn't exist now, most things that people tell others they are too stupid to do, they aren't.

In the first six years of our lives we develop certain brain patterns, neuronal pathways we use repeatedly to do both the regular activities we participate in each day and those exceptional ones we find ourselves in occasionally. That is, we learn not just how to brush our teeth, but certain skills that come in handy when we play Hide-n-Seek or learn to use a computer.

For the next five years, roughly until age eleven, we continue to have extraordinary learning ability for certain things, such as language. Learning a new language after age 11 comes with greater difficulty and the refinements of speech pronunciation may be mastered by very few over the age of 11 years.

So it is that by the latter years of grade school some teachers and parents have pretty well given up on some children who seem incapable of doing some tasks that others have learned easily by that time. Since children depend on their parents and teachers to such a huge degree for more years than that (even teenagers claim that their most important source of information is their parents, according to studies conducted in Canada in 1991 and 2001), kids often give up on themselves because they accept the judgments of those who teach them.

I had the extraordinary disadvantage/advantage of having been taught almost nothing by my parents before I began school at age six. Consequently, my cognitive abilities were severely impaired and underdeveloped compared to those of my peers. My physical, social and emotional development were hugely underdeveloped as well due to extreme isolation, but that's another story. I couldn't read when my classmates learned in the primary grades.

I could barely recognize a few hundred words by seventh grade when I took an IQ test with my classmates. I completed less than half the test (I couldn't read most of the questions) but did very well on what I had completed. My teacher and the school administration labelled me lazy because I had not finished the test. That label followed me through high school and appeared on reports and in oral discussions with my parents until I left high school. It never occurred to anyone that I couldn't read.

I gained marvellously useful survival skills with schoolwork, such that I graduated from a three year college course and subsequently received an undergraduate degree from a university (York) and a graduate degree (M.Ed from Toronto) while still being effectively functionally illiterate. I never read a prescribed text, never even bought one. I couldn't read them. I could, however, read enough of snippets from library books to find text to quote for papers and I thought through the subject matter to compose the rest.

Only in my early forties did I force myself to learn to read. A decade later I figured out that I needed to be able to write as well. That took many years, as it does for everyone who writes well.

The point is that I was a functionally illiterate adult who could neither read nor write much before the age of 45. Could I survive in the real world? Yes, it would seem. My entire teaching career with grade school children took place before I reached age 45. Almost every child who left my class read very well for his or her age. They all liked school.

If this story seems unlikely, it's because you have accepted limitations on people that may not be valid. Maybe on yourself as well.

I wrote a book too, one that has been read today on six continents. It's about a subject that few believe there are solutions for: community problems and personal problems of a social/psychological nature. I wrote it before anyone told me solutions were impossible. Now many people don't know what to do with easy solutions that others don't even know exist.

Neo conservatives told me these problems are natural consequences of an advanced society, that we just need to hire more police and judges, build more prisons and courtrooms, train more psychologists to keep up with the proliferation of law breakers. I find their ignorance shocking, especially as it impedes the progress of humanity.

After writing the first draft of the book, a friend who read the manuscript told me that the plan would never work. Many others had exclaimed about how brilliant and innovative it was. That one naysayer acted as the motivation I needed to spur me to do rewrites, to follow through with changes from editors and other professionals and to complete the work.

In other words, I used the claim of limitations by one person as motivation for me to complete the plan that he said was impossible. I didn't believe him as I might have in the past. I used his doubt as stimulus to prepare an even better book. Resistance is necessary for progress. Nothing slides easily uphill.

Anyone of any age can do anything they want with their mind, if they have the desire, the determination and the belief that they can do it.

And if they ignore others who say they can't do it. Or use the words of the doubters as motivation to make their plan work.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to make the impossible happen. And a plan to implement it around the world. Plus it has guides for parents and teachers.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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