Aaron Swartz: Belief in Change

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Remembering Aaron Swartz.

As his family and loved ones gather today to share their grief, we join the world in mourning the loss of Aaron Swartz, a young man of enormous talent and vision who was committed to making the world a better and more just place.

On Friday, at age 26, Aaron took his own life. His family and others who worked with and admired him (Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Chris Hayes, Rick Perlstein, Glenn Greenwald and Dan Gillmor) have written eloquently on the role depression and overzealous prosecution may have played in his death. These possibilities are deeply troubling but it is Aaron's own eloquence that best communicates the enormity of our loss.

Over the last 6 months, Aaron wrote an insightful series on his blog Raw Thought exploring the possibility of "getting better at life."  As we contemplate what we have gained and lost from Aaron Swartz's short, accomplished life, we'd like to leave you with his own words on our ability to change.

Believe You Can Change

This post is part two of the series Raw Nerve by Aaron Swartz.

Carol Dweck was obsessed with failure. You know how some people just seem to succeed at everything they do, while others seem helpless, doomed to a life of constant failure? Dweck noticed that too — and she was determined to figure out why. So she began watching kids, trying to see if she could spot the difference between the two groups.

In a 1978 study with Carol Diener, she gave kids various puzzles and recorded what they said as they tried to solve them. Very quickly, the helpless kids started blaming themselves: “I’m getting confused,” one said; “I never did have a good rememory,” another explained.

But the puzzles kept coming — and they kept getting harder. “This isn’t fun anymore,” the kids cried. But still, there were more puzzles.

The kids couldn’t take it anymore. “I give up,” they insisted. They started talking about other things, trying to take their mind off the onslaught of tricky puzzles. “There is a talent show this weekend, and I am going to be Shirley Temple,” one girl said. Dweck just gave them even harder puzzles.

Now the kids started getting silly, almost as if they could hide their failure by making it clear they weren’t trying in the first place. Despite repeatedly being told it was incorrect, one boy just kept choosing brown as his answer, saying “Chocolate cake, chocolate cake.”1

Maybe these results aren’t surprising. If you’ve ever tried to play a board game with kids, you’ve probably seen them say all these things and more (Dweck appears to be missing the part where they pick up the game board and throw all the pieces on the floor, then run away screaming).

But what shocked her — and changed the course of her career — was the behavior of the successful kids. “Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives,” she later wrote. “These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out.”2

Dweck, like many adults, had learned to hide her frustration and anger, to politely say “I’m not sure I want to play this anymore” instead of knocking over the board. She figured the successful kids would be the same — they’d have tactics for coping with failure instead of getting beaten down by it.

Continue reading here.

Image credit: Daniel J. Sieradski from Wikimedia Commons
 

Tags: aaron swartz, activism, carol dweck, mindset, psychology, talent, technology, work

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