More is Less

MakingChoicesHow much is enough? How much of anything is enough? This is an interesting question that we all face every day in many different ways as we make many, many choices.

That said, we live in a society where it is generally considered that more of anything is better. In some ways, this has been a foundational element of our capitalist democracy – more is better. Is it really?

Well, a leading American psychologist by the name of Barry Schwartz has conducted significant research on exactly this. What he has found is that while society pushes for more and more choice, at a certain point, too much choice actually paralyzes us. Dr. Schwartz has surveyed thousands of people on this topic. In his recent book “Escape from Freedom” and an earlier book “The Paradox of Choice,” Dr. Schwartz concludes that we all need parameters and constraints to direct, enable and support us with a sense of order. So how much freedom is enough?

Through his research, Dr. Schwartz believes he can categorize most people into two main categories; “Maximizers” & “Satisficers.” Consider which category you fall into.

Maximizers want the best at all times and tend to suffer from stress because any given choice made may not be the best. Let’s make this concrete. Sally is shopping for a used sedan and has narrowed it down to three auto companies. However, the reality of shopping these days means that Sally has access to several auto dealerships around the city, many specialized used-car operations and hundreds of online points of sale where specific options on the specific car, mileage and price-point vary enormously. According to Dr. Schwartz, for Sally, the “Maximizer,” this situation is a bottomless pit of endless choices. Clearly, for her to be certain that she has truly found THE BEST deal is almost impossible. Like most “maximizers” who endlessly search for the very best deal, choice can paralyze her. So, Sally will be inclined to suffer and perhaps even become burdened and depressed from the process. Her quest for the perfect car weighs heavily on her, along with the many other choices she is making every day in other areas of her life. Unfortunately, Sally is rarely certain she has found the very best option out there.

The other group according to Schwartz, are the “Satisficers,” people who are generally content with good enough. They don’t want to settle for anything second-rate, but they are more inclined to shed stress around choice, whether it be deciding on a new car, a cell phone, a new garment, career direction, whatever requires thought and choice.

So, boiled down, what is Dr. Schwartz’ advice? Essentially, he suggests that we don’t let choice rule our lives and we should avoid being “Maximizers.”

So choose when to choose and make arbitrary rules to help guide you. For example, limit yourself to three stores or three websites when shopping – and when you’re done, be satisfied with good enough and simply move on. Do this more often and you will probably feel better because most people are quite content with limited options. Remember, more can be less and actually harm our emotional health. So recognize when you’re being negatively impacted by a quest for perfection and replace it with good enough. You’ll probably be happier. And yes, that matters. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U’76), Headmaster





Head’s Blog: Innovation Generation

DSC_0009I love Post-it notes! There are always a lot of them stuck on things around my office workspace and they help keep me organized and focused. Post-it Notes are so simple and the story of their creation is also a fantastic symbol of innovation and the impact of innovative thinking.

In 1968, while trying to develop a heavy-duty glue, a chemist at 3M accidentally created a very light adhesive called microspheres. As the development was unintentional, the microsphere adhesive was basically shelved. Several years later in 1974, a different person from 3M took that light adhesive and found a personal practical application for it. He was in a choir and marked important pages in his songbook with folded pieces paper that slipped out every time he held it up. So by using the light adhesive he found he could mark pages with small sheets of paper that didn’t fall out. Essentially, that was the birth and invention of what eventually became a very useful product.

Yet, it wasn’t until six years later that the Post-it Note was fully developed and marketed. In 1980, Post-it Notes went global as a product and spread immediately like a virus. Despite digital Post-it Notes today, the paper versions still remain very popular, with sales of more than $50 billion annually.

The Post-it Note is a classic innovation story. It was the product of active development, lots of iterations, unexpected results and a “eureka moment”.

I mention this because of what I saw last Thursday evening at our second annual LCC Design & Innovation Fair, an impressive event where Middle and Senior School students presented products and services they developed over recent months. The students were creative, courageous and passionate about developing an innovator’s mindset. Commendations to all involved!

I don’t think we’re ready to patent anything yet, but I’m certain that eventually that will happen. Until then, what’s most important is that more and more LCC students embrace an innovator’s mindset and familiarity with a cycle that includes comfort with brainstorming of ideas, endless problem-solving, refinement, marginal improvement and acceptance of incremental change as true achievement.

If you haven’t visited our LCC Fabrication Lab behind the LCC Store, take the time to do so. I urge all of our students to take advantage of this special makerspace and maybe, just maybe, they’ll discover the inventor hiding within!

Head’s Blog: Four Flags

IMG_0789If you walk by the front door of LCC’s main school building, you will note that we proudly fly four flags: Canada, Québec, LCC and Round Square. The final one requires some consideration. Although we are a member of many school associations, Round Square is more than a membership; it represents an ethos that underscores our approaches to education. Why is this significant?

Round Square is a global association of nearly 200 schools inspired by Kurt Hahn, an influential educator in Europe pre-WWII. He was a visionary who believed that it is concrete experiences beyond the classroom that have the most profound impact on student growth. Even in the 1930s, he was concerned about what he called “decays” in youth, especially regarding compassion, curiosity and the potential toxicity of entitlement. Hahn was adamant that the adolescent mind was too focused on the self and needed to be shaken and challenged by active learning experiences.

All Round Square schools dedicate time and attention to what have become key areas of focus, the RS IDEALS. This represents a commitment to Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service. These foundational elements exist in all Round Square schools, from Canada to India to Thailand and Argentina, but always interpreted through a local lens.

If one looks at the Round Square flag, the organization’s name is there, but it is off centre, quite intentionally. A key objective of the Round Square ethos is to provide experiences that challenge students’ norms. When grappling with new ideas or experiences, students do broaden and shift their perspectives, preparing them to be more competent and confident global citizens.

During the past decade, membership in Round Square has had a significant impact on LCC students and our school. Through thoughtful discussion and a wide array of concrete experiences (international exchanges, conferences, service, leadership training) students have grown and developed in ways that are profound and lasting.

So now we are ready to welcome the world. In late September of 2018, LCC will host the Round Square International Conference, inviting approximately 450 student and adult delegates from 65-70 schools from around the world. Under the thematic banner of “Bring Your Difference”, together we will investigate the meaning and importance of diversity in today’s world. For a full week, our extended school community will come together to act as hosts and we look forward to everyone’s contribution. Reflect on this next time you walk by our four flags. Perhaps the concrete experience will push us all a little off centre and we will surely be the better for it!

Head’s Blog: In Defence of Truth

Do you always tell the truth? Probably not. In fact, I’m sure you don’t because none of us does. Honestly, people stretch, cover-up or mangle the truth for a host of reasons all the time, many of which are justifiable and humane.

For reasons of tact, compassion or diplomacy, we are all usually quite prepared to lie. Just to be nice, we tell a friend recovering from a serious illness that he/she looks okay, when in our heart of hearts we don’t believe it. You may not like your close friend’s outrageous new outfit, but as a true friend you will most often be inclined to offer a compliment to avoid hurting them for no good reason.

We are often forced to hide, soften, stretch, or maybe even misrepresent certain difficult truths in an effort to protect people, to not embarrass them in a public way. My mother used to call these white lies. We were taught at home that they were essentially okay, understandable and justifiable.

Yet, there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t bent the truth or presented a half-truth for personal gain or to get out of something you didn’t want to do. So, beyond white lies, the question is: how far will you go with stretching or bending the truth?

Unfortunately, lying to get your way can work or appear to work for you. But just because you manage to get away with it once – or even a few times – does not mean that it’s a good way to live because the truth matters.

We all need to accept responsibility for our actions, our behaviours, our general comportment and self-regulation. It is no surprise to you that baseline honesty or truthfulness is a key pillar of good citizenship, and a consistent record of honesty and dependability impacts one’s overall personal integrity and what we tend to refer to as character and one’s reputation. Honesty and consistency of behaviour help build a sense of trust, which is critical to stable friendships and harmonious family, work and community relations. It actually takes a long time to forge a solid reputation. However, if one becomes known for being a liar, all that you’ve built can collapse overnight.

I recently heard an interesting podcast by a Stanford University education professor and psychologist, Dr. Bill Damon. This noted psychologist has studied many attributes of human behaviour and has identified a trend in North America. More and more people seem to be lying primarily in an effort to boost their ego or simply for personal advantage in an increasingly competitive society.

Obviously, that’s not a good development. Professor Damon expresses a concern as a psychologist, that people who are inclined to lie about things are actually also being self-deceptive. They need to realize that his research also shows that such people are generally less competent, which can be very destructive in the long run. In essence, lying to yourself or to others catches up to you. Not facing the truth head-on is an easy way out but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.

Professor Damon’s work reminds us about the importance of foundational ideals such as honesty. He says that we often need to work hard to get to the truth. He also asserts that we need to defend the value of conversation, reasoning, debate, discovery, insight and, ultimately, the defence of truth, especially in schools where learning and ideas are paramount. If we were to allow lying and the law of the jungle to dominate, it will surely undermine our community and social fabric.

As you know, there’s a lot of talk these days about “fake news” – the fact that your inbox and social media networks are full of information expressly designed to deceive you or pull you over to the position of a particular friend, interest group or politician. So, discerning truth from falsehood – and the courage to defend the truth, is indeed honourable and principled – is now perhaps more important, yet more difficult than ever.

You can be certain that the defence of truth is what our founder Dr. Fosbery envisioned for his school in 1909 and was what our Canadian forefathers envisioned for this country 150 years ago as a key virtue for a free society. So I urge you today to stand up for honesty. Don’t deceive yourself; your personal development, your reputation and our society’s greater good all depend upon it!

Head’s Blog: Pink Shirt Day

Pink_Shirt_DayIt was Pink Shirt Day on Wednesday all across Canada. It’s an initiative that was started some years ago by two courageous boys in a high school in Nova Scotia. They openly and actively defended a new student, a younger boy in grade 9, who was taking heat from some students for wearing pink. In an act of solidarity and support, the two senior boys got their hands on dozens of pink t-shirts and issued them to boys as they entered the school one morning.

From those roots, Pink Shirt Day developed into a national awareness campaign against bullying. In addition to wearing pink, participants are asked to practice acts of kindness and do whatever they can to minimize physical, emotional and online bullying in their communities.

Pink Shirt Day is a call to action to students to build awareness and defend weaker kids whenever and wherever they can.

This campaign reminds me of some striking experiences I had a few years ago while visiting public high schools in Bogota, Colombia. We currently have a couple of Round Square exchange students at LCC from Bogota (Andrea and Juan). Given that Pink Shirt Day is essentially about creating a safe and peaceful learning environment, I’m sure they’re very proud that the most recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is their president, Señor Juan Manuel Santos.

From the early 1960s to 2013, known to all Colombians as La Violencia, civil war dominated Colombian life. Last fall, after four years of negotiations with a revolutionary guerrilla group called FARC and other smaller groups, President Santos managed to finalize a peace treaty with the FARC, which had waged a decades-long civil war against the government.

According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians. Also, more than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 and 2012, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.

During my visit to Colombia, I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing the country with about two dozen school principals from all around the world. Our focus was on how to build peaceful communities in our schools. After years of civil war, educators in Colombia had much to teach us. We visited 15 schools in several different communities. Two of the visits were particularly memorable:

The first was with student leaders in a large high school who had decided to call themselves “Agents of Peace.” Each young leader wore an armband or a vest identifying him or her as a “Peacemaker.” Believing that there had been too much violence around them for too long, and that adults hadn’t really been able to model peaceful resolution, the students focused on ways to implement peaceful conflict resolution as the top priority in their school. These students were impressive and engaging. They were proud, clear about their priorities, and intentional about establishing peace as a norm in their school and beyond.

The second special visit was a performance at a Colombian arts school with a wonderful private dance troupe. Each of the dancers originally came from the poorest communities or barrios in Bogota. The older dancers (in their 20s and 30s) had been doing this for years and developed into an internationally recognized dance troupe. That day, they modeled how they actively paid it forward with younger students. They showed how they taught young kids from the poorest communities of Bogota how to dance. As the founder and director of the troupe told us, the young students had seen and experienced too much violence and suffered daily from the poverty in their lives. Learning to dance gave them skills, confidence, and a sense of peace and calm – something that was relatively absent in their lives of struggle.

These experiences were important reminders that acts of kindness and agents of peace come in different forms and exist in many different cultures.

I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to sowing seeds of kindness, empathy and care in our communities, wherever we are. Today I think this is particularly important. We don’t have to agree with one another all the time, but we do need to be respectful and accepting of difference at all times. These norms, these foundational values, matter a great deal.

I was proud to wear pink on Wednesday, and hope we will all stand up for the weak or the victims of bullying and harassment, whenever we are aware of it.

My thanks to those students in Nova Scotia and Colombia for reminding us all that we each have an important duty of care in our community. I hope that you regularly practice kindness and acceptance every day. Remember, peace, acceptance and trust form the bedrock of healthy communities everywhere. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster