The most meaningful learning in my life doesn’t come with a badge 😉
My life has seasons of learning and 5 topics are really active right now. I’d love to hear from you about yours! Leave me a comment so that I can cheer you on!
civil Rights history
Last week, I picked up At Canaan’s Edge, the third volume in Taylor Branch’s opus on “America in the King Years.” I read the first back in 2020 and resolved to read one per year. Well, time has moved slowly during the pandemic, but we’re in the waning phase of 2022 so I figured I better get a move on book 3. While I’m only about 250 page in, it’s giving me SO much to think about.
The book begins somewhat in medias res as the Civil Rights Movement turned up the heat in Selma, Alabama while campaigning for the right to vote. Somewhere in the backrooms of my memory, I recalled that the famous Selma to Montgomery march had turned around at the Pettus Bridge, a day of furious intensity with major political ramifications. And I knew that the Dr. King made another attempt at the march route, which some see as a turning point in the late epoch of the Movement. What I didn’t remember was that there was a PRIOR attempt at crossing the bridge which was met with violent, white supremacist, resistance. So the action of crossing the bridge was the third attempt. Something about this really struck me. It’s not a simple adage like “If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again.” The discipline required to keep energy up, insist on a standard of nonviolence, and continue with a strategic objective despite (yes this is melodramatic) all odds… well, it’s why this moment is so glorified in social movement history.
Beyond the success of the march, Branch continues by pulling back the curtain on what we know about Dr. King’s mental health state after the march. Despair doesn’t begin to cover the sense of loss and fear that characterized his disposition. Many members of Dr. King’s inner circle wanted to require him to have a retreat or psychiatric treatment because he was suffering so profoundly, all the while mitigating both death threats and accusations from other movement leaders who disagreed with his tactics and prominence.
Dr. King wasn’t shy about his struggles with mental health and the lack of accomplishment he felt from his work in the movement. It appears that it was a sense of moral obligation and not enjoyment or ego that kept him moving for all of those years. He wrote about this candidly in his book on the Montgomery Bus Boycotts (which I don’t have close at hand to reference, oops!) and shows up in movement retellings outside of the patriotic rebranding of King’s charisma.
I have often felt this way when finishing a big project (whether politically or in my tech work). Why don’t I feel a sense of child-like joy and satisfaction?! I think this has a lot to do, with, well, emotional landscapes are complicated, and also leaders are often somewhere on the change management trajectory that is different from their followers and the general public. That tension, alone, especially when it is not named, is cause for discomfort!
This particular volume has been all action and little administration, but it’s still giving me a lot to think about! I’m excited to keep reading and hopefully write another blog post before the series is complete.
Last year (5781 in Jewish time, 2020-2021 in Gregorian time), my partner and I read the Old Testament from cover to cover. It was a great experience and I remember feeling a huge sense of curiosity, habit, and knowledge form around the process. This year, we resolved to read Mishnah Brachot and assorted writings on blessings but we seem to have fallen off of the, ahem, camel, and haven’t been keeping up.
However, some new opportunities for Jewish learning have emerged recently that I am so excited to jump into! The first one is spending as much time reading The Book of Legends for folktales, dreams, riddles, and assorted explanations about how the world works. The second one is joining the 929 reading cycle where I’ll get to read the later books in the Old Testament that I’ve never really gotten my hands on! This is also a three year cycle, I’ll be joining in on years 2 and 3 in a few months.
I’ve had a longstanding practice of doing creative learning in the spring (art/writing/craft classes) and technology learning in the fall (mostly certification prep classes and study groups up until this point). This year, I was planning to take a Google Scripts class (which I am still so excited to do!) but I am also realizing that I need to take a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class for my health which falls during September-October. Instead of seeing this as a setback, I’m considering the mindfulness class part of my learning pattern. I’m excited to see what I can learn from this class that relates to technology and social movements (and if the answer is very little, I’m ok with that too).
I wrote a few weeks ago about being in the plateau and I think I’m finally out of it! I’m not sure what changed – I think time passing is the best overall cure.
From attending the Open Source Commons leadership summit, I had the opportunity to deeply and intentionally consider how the tech tools that open source contributors use fit together. I also started to think about how to make meaningful contributions without needing those tools right away (to solve the problem of spending too much time on tooling and not enough time creating!). Since then, I’ve tried to rethink how this bias for these platforms shows up in communications, meeting agendas, team shoutouts, etc.
I’m also learning how to onboard a new team member at my day job! This is giving me a chance to slow down and really explain the various intersecting types of automation operating in our Salesforce instance as well as the processes that we have build around decision making. I’m trying to take things slow but also support my new team member to have useful things to do right away!
Over the past few years, I’ve dedicated much energy to learning about socialist systems and beliefs, largely without much success! I’ve endured a lot of condescension from people who seem to be well informed about such things, and read books that were extremely dry but also interesting! This year, I read the best book on the subject that I’ve encountered so far which has made me excited to forge ahead. Right now, I’m thinking I might start another 3 year reading cycle to tackle the 3 volumes of Capital, as I did with the Taylor Branch books. This one is going to be pretty dense so I am recruiting a few friends to do it with me!
Check out a recent blog post on this topic.
There are certainly topics that are important to me that didn’t make it to this list, but all combined, they represent a serious commitment to past-present-future learning and interconnection of ideas and tactics that make me a more well rounded technologist and community member (or at least I hope that is the case!)
What are you learning these days? By choice or by life circumstances? Do you have seasons of learning in your life?
Leave me a comment and I would be thrilled to cheer you on!