Cultivating good habits essay - what is a thesis statement in a rhetorical analysis









cultivating good habits essay

cultivating good habits essayCultivating good habits essay -One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul.“I let him run on,” he says, “this papier-mâché Mephistopheles”—he’s talking not about the manager but his assistant, who’s even worse, since he’s still trying to kiss his way up the hierarchy, and who’s been raving away at him. “Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality.In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself.They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or Mc Kinsey consulting, or whatever. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution. Look at what happened to American corporations in recent decades, as all the old dinosaurs like General Motors or TWA or U. Finally—and I know I’m on sensitive ground here—look at what happened during the first four years of the Iraq War. It wasn’t the fault of the enlisted ranks or the noncoms or the junior officers.So I began to wonder, as I taught at Yale, what leadership really consists of.And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks.And when I say “revolutionary,” I am deliberately evoking the American Revolution, because it was a result of precisely this kind of independent thinking.They separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking.And if not Yale, then Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and so forth.Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even ex­cellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning.Here he was, just another two-star, and he was saying, implicitly but loudly, that the leadership was wrong about the way it was running the war. He was put in charge of training the Iraqi army, which was considered a blow to his career, a dead-end job.The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. Solitude means being alone, and leadership necessitates the presence of others—the people you’re leading.Marlow, not a military officer but a merchant marine, a civilian ship’s captain, is sent by the company that’s running the country under charter from the Belgian crown to sail deep upriver, up the Congo River, to retrieve a manager who’s ensconced himself in the jungle and gone rogue, just like Colonel Kurtz does in the movie. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. Are not the kind of young people who think about the world, who ponder the big issues, who question authority.That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word attempt to think for himself. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable.My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.We didn’t begin thinking about college until we were juniors, and maybe we each did a couple of extracurriculars. It’s an endless series of hoops that you have to jump through, starting from way back, maybe as early as junior high school. And the only reason I did is because it suddenly struck me that it was a perfect description of the head of the bureaucracy that was part of, the chairman of my academic department—who had that exact same smile, like a shark, and that exact same ability to make you uneasy, like you were doing something wrong, only she wasn’t ever going to tell you what.You can think of him as the Internet, the ever-present social buzz, chattering away at you 24/7: I let him run on, this papier-mâché Mephistopheles and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even .The very rigor and regimentation to which you are quite properly subject here naturally has a tendency to make you lose touch with the passion that brought you here in the first place. If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in . And I should say that Marlow’s creator, Conrad, spent 19 years as a merchant marine, eight of them as a ship’s captain, before he became a writer, so this wasn’t just some artist’s idea of a sailor.But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense.cultivating good habits essayYou are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else.Kurtz in the novel becomes Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Tell this to the kids at Yale, but why bother telling it to the ones at West Point? Surely you who have come here must be the ultimate conformists.Students everywhere else agonize over these questions, and while you may not be doing so now, you are only postponing them for a few years. Not everyone who starts here decides to finish here. You are being put through the most demanding training anyone can ask of people your age, and you are committing yourself to work of awesome responsibility and mortal danger. Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? It suggests an aimless liberal-arts college graduate—an English major, no doubt, someone who went to a place like Amherst or Pomona—who’s too spoiled to get a job and spends his time staring off into space. A more practical, hardheaded person you could not find.You don’t even have privacy, the opportunity simply to be physically alone, never mind solitude, the ability to be alone with your thoughts.By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise.Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.He’s one of those rare people who rises through a bureaucracy for the right reasons. When he was running Mosul in 2003 as commander of the 101st Airborne and developing the strategy he would later formulate in the and then ultimately apply throughout Iraq, he pissed a lot of people off.Unless you’re able to listen to yourself, to that quiet voice inside that tells you what you really care about, what you really believe in—indeed, how those things might be evolving under the pressure of your experiences. They were in­tensely idealistic, but the overwhelming weight of their practical responsibilities, all of those hoops they had to jump through, often made them lose sight of what those ideals were. So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? “The chance to find yourself.” Now that phrase, “finding yourself,” has acquired a bad reputation.So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader. As I thought about these things and put all these pieces together—the kind of students I had, the kind of leadership they were being trained for, the kind of leaders I saw in my own institution—I realized that this is a national problem. Look at what happened to Wall Street in just the last couple of years.Just like a big law firm or a governmental department or, for that matter, a university. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. To quote Colonel Scott Krawczyk, your course director, in a lecture he gave last year to English 102: From the very earliest days of this country, the model for our officers, which was built on the model of the citizenry and reflective of democratic ideals, was to be different.That’s the first half of the lecture: the idea that true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked?I just spent 10 years teaching at another institution that, like West Point, liked to talk a lot about leadership, Yale University.Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time.Without solitude—the solitude of Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison and Thomas Paine—there would be no America.Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to. Marlow in the novel becomes Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them.It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea.That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.” Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.Well, it turned out that a student who had six or seven extracurriculars was already in trouble. Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all.Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people.I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. But what happens after you fulfill your commitment to the Army? I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. cultivating good habits essay Ironically, one of the central elements of his counterinsurgency strategy is precisely the idea that officers need to think flexibly, creatively, and independently. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults.Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask.When he gets there he finds out that the steamboat he’s supposed to sail upriver has a giant hole in it, and no one is going to help him fix it. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going.They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly.The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. Unless you know who you are, how will you figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life? Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and You Tube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. What do the words I live by—words like —really mean? You and the members of the other service academies are in a unique position among college students, especially today.And yet I submit to you that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership. We need to begin by talking about what leadership really means.You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom.See, things have changed since I went to college in the ’80s. You have to do much more now to get into a top school like Yale or West Point, and you have to start a lot earlier. About the 10th time I read that passage, I realized it was a perfect description of the kind of person who tends to prosper in the bureaucratic environment.And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Even if you threw away your cell phones and unplugged your computers, the rigors of your training here keep you too busy to make solitude, in any of these forms, anything less than very difficult to find.Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your i Pod, or watching something on You Tube.They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not today.After all, it was the Army that gave us, among other things, the indispensable bureaucratic acronym “snafu”: “situation normal: all fucked up”—or “all fouled up” in the cleaned-up version. And so you need to know how bureaucracies operate, what kind of behavior—what kind of character—they reward, and what kind they punish. Marlow proceeds upriver by stages, just like Captain Willard does in the movie. This is Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, the big boss: He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. Lieutenant colonels who are essentially functioning as provincial governors in Iraq, or captains who find themselves in charge of a remote town somewhere in Afghanistan. I can assure you from personal experience that there are a lot of highly educated people who don’t know how to think at all.And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.He was way ahead of the leadership in Baghdad and Washington, and bureaucracies don’t like that sort of thing.They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today.Look at the most successful, most acclaimed, and perhaps the finest soldier of his generation, General David Petraeus. And because he can, he has the confidence, the , to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe. His path to where he is now was not a straight one.Most of them, as much as I liked and even admired them, certainly didn’t seem to me like leaders. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders.Just like—and here’s why I’m telling you all this—just like the bureaucracy you are about to join. You need to know that when you get your commission, you’ll be joining a bureaucracy, and however long you stay in the Army, you’ll be operating within a bureaucracy. Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. They were to be possessed of a democratic spirit marked by independent judgment, the freedom to measure action and to express disagreement, and the crucial responsibility never to tolerate tyranny. Anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few years understands that the changing nature of warfare means that officers, including junior officers, are required more than ever to be able to think independently, creatively, flexibly. cultivating good habits essay Classes, standardized tests, extracurriculars in school, extracurriculars outside of school. Like the manager—and I’m sorry to say this, but like so many people you will meet as you negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army or for that matter of whatever institution you end up giving your talents to after the Army, whether it’s Microsoft or the World Bank or whatever—the head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all.Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought.They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought.One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t.In other words, their minds were more disorganized.And it seemed to me that that had to be especially true of the kind of excellence I saw in the students around me.They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State. We weren’t just not winning, we weren’t even changing direction.But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day.And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input.I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Not only do you know that you’re going to have a job when you graduate, you even know who your employer is going to be. I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done.Because the students who got in—in addition to perfect grades and top scores—usually had 10 or 12. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. I tell you this to forewarn you, because I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity.And when we think of solitude, we are apt to think of Thoreau, a man alone in the woods, keeping a journal and communing with nature in silence.The Company, after all, is just that: a company, with rules and procedures and ranks and people in power and people scrambling for power, just like any other bureaucracy. He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. You’re at West Point to be told what to do and how to think. I know it, too; otherwise I would never have been invited to talk to you, and I’m even more convinced of it now that I’ve spent a few days on campus.But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying.The first thing the admissions officer would do when presenting a case to the rest of the committee was read what they call the “brag” in admissions lingo, the list of the student’s extracurriculars. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities?So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship.They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. When we think about leadership in American history we are likely to think of Washington, at the head of an army, or Lincoln, at the head of a nation, or King, at the head of a movement—people with multitudes behind them, looking to them for direction.People who know how to do more than follow orders and execute routines. No, what makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself.Indeed, when we look around at the American elite, the people in charge of government, business, academia, and all our other major institutions—senators, judges, CEOs, college presidents, and so forth—we find that they come overwhelmingly either from the Ivy League and its peer institutions or from the service academies, especially West Point. cultivating good habits essay In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. cultivating good habits essay

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