Tag Archives: holiday

The Party Spirit – Not Necessarily as Fun as It Sounds

george-washingtons-farewell-addressGeorge Washington’s 285th birthday is two days away, my how the time flies, but today marks the federal holiday in his honor.  Close to half of these United States extends the holiday to all presidents, but I live in one of the many states that sticks with the federal designation of “Washington’s Birthday” in honor of the man known as the father of this country.

Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, a position he notably resigned after its stunning victory to retire to his farm in Virginia, but public service called again when he was elected as the new nation’s first president.  Washington never joined a particular political party, however, and warned against “the spirit of party” in his famous Farewell Address—an interesting admonition given today’s polarized society.

Washington argued that the party spirit is natural and pervasive and produces desires for (and acts of) revenge that lead a nation away from liberty and eventually toward despotism.  As a result, Washington argued that it is the “duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain” the party spirit.

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

Now it’s funny, I can picture readers from various political viewpoints reading much more into this than I intend.  My critique is of all and my point is simple: Encourage coming together, and discourage choosing up sides.  Unity good.  Polarization bad.  That would be my party platform should I have one, but ironically, a Unity Party is a contradiction in terms.

President Washington concluded his remarks on the party spirit with the following dire warning: “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. General President Washington.  And happy birthday.

Season of Giving (Exams)

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The end of November launches a holiday season in these United States, but for those involved in formal education it is also a season of papers, projects, and examinations.  Thanksgiving break does provide a break from classes, but not from work, as our youngest daughter bemoaned on her short trip home from college.  There is no rest for the wicked.  There are turkey sandwiches, sure, but no rest (yet).

Law school is particularly relentless.  The killer combination of a single grade-determining final exam and a pernicious grading curve that pits all-star students against one another for a handful of A’s produces a motivation that is not helpful for proper digestion.  If you want to experience stress with all of your senses, visit your neighborhood law library.

During this season of final exams, popular metaphors include heads down, noses to grindstones, shoulders to wheels, and so on, but not much related to actually looking up.  Unless looking up information or in desperation count.  From my seat in a law school, while I strongly recommend long hours and hard work, I also advocate periodically looking up for a little perspective.  Specifically, the following perspective:

Carol Dweck famously teaches the advantage of a “growth mindset” as compared to a “fixed mindset.”  For the latter, final exams are personal evaluations (i.e., I am good at this or bad at this; smart or stupid; etc.), but for the former, the exams merely reveal information helpful for growth and improvement (i.e., How can this make me better?).  And in case you are wondering, growth mindset leads to greater success than is ever possible with a fixed mindset.

This is a season of giving—professors giving assignments/exams, and students giving their very best effort—but the frenzied effort from the students is misspent if motivated by fear of failure as defined by a letter or number.  Instead, everyone is better off if the heroic efforts are motivated by the capacity to grow and learn.

Study hard, my friends, and look up long enough to remember that you are here to learn and not to be graded like cattle.  And learn well.  A real break will be here soon.