Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chautauqua in the Deep South

Last weekend I attended several events in the annual Chautauqua festival, enjoying the various performances especially Harry Truman, appreciating the high quality of the shows; a wonderful way to understand history; sort of like a short cut to learning (instead of reading history books). In a way it like those battle reenactments, for both the revolutionary and civil wars, but Chautauqua is more intellectual, delving into historical individuals, while the battle field enactments provide a direct understanding of the actual event, away from sterile stories in books and into direct participation in history, where one can smell the smoke of battle, hear the shouts and cries, experience the thrill of victory or defeat. Supplementing the impersonation and enactments are visits to museums and watching documentaries and movies, aside from visiting historical sites as a way to learn other than reading, which can be time consuming and boring after studying several tomes; instead looking at artifacts in museums and enjoying play acting, but one should also listen to audio books by good authors like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Barbara Tuchman and David McCullough. Documentaries by Ken Burns are also excellent including several series by HBO that can complete one’s education.

These are different ways of learning, something unfamiliar in Asia, particularly creative enactments and impersonation, preferring museum and set pieces, also good when done well like the Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore, combining high technology and excellent scholarship. Nowadays, audio CDs, YouTube videos, online courses, Sound Stream, video on demand, online lectures are the best way to learn, no longer the old way of reading books and spending time in libraries or classrooms. The situation is dynamic, especially the massive online open courses or MOOC, where sites like Udacity and Coursera provide cutting edge knowledge, like attending college virtually. I enrolled in several, indulging in my propensity to overbook my time, especially on knowledge gained freely, whether in libraries or online; knowledge treated like scarcity when it’s now in abundance.  But in fact, time is scarce, and mistakenly one partakes into the abundance of knowledge, and instead the result is the scarcity of with less bandwidth to undertake truly important tasks. Hence, instead of novel writing or starting a business, one is always reading, attending lectures, trying to gain knowledge and be a better writer or entrepreneur when time is actually wasted and lost.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, to be effective in the current task demanded right now, rather than focusing on the future or past. Meditation is the method where one can gain mindfulness, (but one can take shortcuts to learning like attending Chautauqua). Recently several ideas start to coalesce: irrational behavior and behavioral economics, the concept of scarcity and bandwidth, mindfulness and meditation. The emerging idea is that mindfulness and meditation is the answer to fighting the problem of scarcity and bandwidth, as a way to correct irrational behavior.   This seems to be the trend in corporations, the recent rise of mindfulness seminars, to be alive in the present moment. I guess this is the charm of Chautauqua, away from book reading via a direct confrontation with history. This is not some abstract lesson of ideas, where the mind is churning and lost in noble thought, but an experience of reality, to watch the performer enact a historical character. Hence, one must stop the mind and observe, to watch the performance; an act of mindfulness that serves as a history lesson. It would help when supplemented with other learning, for example, listening to the audio book of ‘Moby Dick’ beforehand to appreciate the impersonation of Herman Melville as in last year’s Chautauqua.

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