There is a new club at North Carolina State University. If you’re interested in learning some proactive steps to taking control of your personal growth, we’ll be meeting once a week to consider a compelling presentation on a wide range of topics — spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and everything in-between.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “personal growth”? All kinds of warm and fuzzy connotations are attached to it, but what does it really mean?
Philosophers, artists, and spiritual thinkers have tried to create or discover a roadmap for growth for centuries. One could be forgiven for observing the state of human society and surmising that all these efforts have been in vain. But believe it or not, people actually have come up with some pretty good ideas over the years, but you probably haven’t heard of most of them. Even when good ideas have made it to the mainstream, they have as a rule become so diluted so as to have lost most of their power.
At Sunday 2.0, we’ve done a lot of digging. We have searched out new ideas from a host of sources, both well-known and esoteric. Although we haven’t found a single silver bullet that answers the questions of Growth and Enlightenment once and for all, we have discovered a number of edifying and practical concepts that we believe are worth sharing.
Finding fellow travelers on your journey will make your quest for personal growth more enjoyable and more successful. Join us Sunday mornings for a presentation on some of the most interesting and inspiring ideas we’ve come across. We hope you hear something you can use to make your life better, and we hope you’ll meet people who are on the same path and can provide support and companionship along the way.
The following is a letter I sent to the administration of my former high school about eliminating the practice of spanking. Spanking is still legal in Alabama, as it is in 19 other states primarily in the southeastern US. The current bill in congress, while applying to public schools across the US, does not apply to private schools that do not receive funding from the federal government.
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is [Name], and I am a Briarwood graduate from the year 2007. I attended Briarwood for all of my schooling, from K-4 through the end of high school. Since graduating, I have spent some time studying psychology, both formally (through college classes) and informally (by reading a number of books and current journal articles, and by listening to interviews with experts in the field). Conflict resolution, both among adults and between adults and children, has been of particular interest to me.
I recently spoke with Dr. Mosbacker about alternatives to spanking, which I believe (and which research has shown) to be not only ineffective, but a counterproductive means of discipline. I was overjoyed to hear that the practice has been officially discontinued at the high school and junior high level, but I believe there is a good case to be made for change at the elementary level too.
Like any exercise of authority and power, spanking creates external incentives for a child to change his behavior. It may achieve compliance in the short run, but it does not promote genuine understanding of the difference between right and wrong . A child who is spanked does not internalize a methodology for making healthy and sound decisions. He only learns to follow the dictates of authority in the moment . Instead of spanking, teachers could model negotiation. They could explain why certain rules exist, and how they serve the interests of both the school and the child. Children want to cooperate. If they are given the chance to understand the purpose of a rule (and if the rule makes sense), then they are much more likely to participate in following the rules and encouraging others to follow them as well.
If a child is climbing on a fence, the teacher could threaten him with punishment, or she could say something like: “When I see you climbing on the fence, I feel afraid because you could fall off and hurt yourself, and I don’t want you to be hurt. Even if you are a good climber, other children who are not good climbers may see you climbing and want to copy you. I don’t want them to fall and get hurt either. I want you to have fun, but I have to watch the whole playground. I can’t make sure everyone else is playing safe and having fun if I have to spend all my time paying extra attention to you because you’re doing something dangerous.” She could go on to suggest alternative forms of play that don’t involve increased risk.
This approach may seem time-consuming—and at the beginning it is. But because it promotes understanding of the reasons behind the rule, the child can internalize the logic behind not only this particular rule, but perhaps other rules as well. Children want to know why things are the way they are—That’s why they’re always asking!
Negotiation begins when the teacher explains her perspective, but that’s only half the equation. It is equally important for the child to be heard, and to feel that his perspective is understood. Even if the rule doesn’t change, it can be enormously helpful for the child to have the experience of being listened to. If his thoughts and feelings matter, he is much more likely to feel that he has some investment in the school. Children aren’t alone in this. As adults we also feel more invested in our relationships when someone listens to us—our bosses, our neighbors, our spouses…And of course, there may be some chance that the rule is not serving its purpose (to keep the children safe and happy, to promote a secure and stimulating learning environment, etc.) and needs to be amended. Because children experience the teacher-student authority relationship from below rather than above, they may be able to see something that others have missed.
Spanking can also be physically dangerous. There is no safe way to hit a child, particularly a young child. Depending on where they are hit, bruising and even damage to bones and tendons can occur . Even if one is attempting to hit a child in a “safe place” the child might move in the last moment so that he is struck in an unsafe place (such as the lower back, tailbone, or a major nerve, which for young children are still developing and are easily damaged). What if the child were to fall and hit his head or eye against the corner of a desk or table? A teacher may be two, or three, or even four times larger than a small child. What if the teacher overestimates his strength? What if a teacher gets carried away in the moment?
Certainly the school has policies that attempt to protect against extremities, such as recommending that teachers not “spank in anger,” and requiring that two adults be present during the procedure . But the physical, emotional, and spiritual risks of spanking are not reduced by hitting “without anger.” In my experience at Briarwood the “rule of two” was never followed (I was spanked once and saw other children being spanked on at least four other occasions, and there was never a second adult present). There is no way to enforce this policy; children are unaware of it and therefore cannot report violations (or will not, if they fear additional punishment), and teachers may also be unaware of the rule, or they may not wish to enforce it on themselves.
Spanking can harm brain development. Even if no visible physical damage is done to the child’s body, being struck by an adult (or even being threatened with such aggression) causes the release of stress hormones in the brain, including cortisol. Overstimulation by adrenaline and cortisol, particularly during the rapid development that occurs at an early age, has been shown to cause brain damage, even significantly reducing the size of certain areas of the brain. Such brain damage can result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and an inability to empathize with others—resulting in aggressive or even violent behavior .
I really appreciate that you took the time to read my letter. Like you, I want the children who go through Briarwood Christian School to have a safe, happy, and productive time at school. I want teachers and the students they are responsible for to have the best relationship possible. I want school to be an experience that children look forward to, not just one they endure. Thank you for considering the ideas I put forward above. I hope they are useful in beginning (or continuing!) a dialogue about the best way to model love and respect between teachers and students.
I would be happy to speak further on this matter or to provide additional references to anyone who is interested. Thank you again for your time and consideration.
Class of 2007
 Alice Park, “The Long-Term Effects of Spanking” – TIME Magazine, May 3, 2010, available here
 Jordan Riak, “Plain Talk about Spanking,” available here
 See Briarwood’s policy, available on their website
 Alice Miller, “The Political Consequences of Child Abuse,” The Journal of Psychohistory, available here
My elementary school summer reading program, by paying us with points and prizes for each page we read, did not encourage us to read for enjoyment or understanding, but for volume–to “finish” a book. Perhaps that’s why I feel resistance to quitting a book, or to pausing to absorb or add to a thought, or to “not reading fast enough.” But if the point is to gain knowledge or enjoyment, rather than to process a high volume of words, why should mere speed matter? Even well-meaning summer reading programs seem to have unintended consequences.
Stefan Molyneux is the founder and host of Freedomain Radio, which he describes as “the largest philosophical conversation on the planet.” Molyneux has an M.A. in History from McGill University, and he has lived in Ireland, England, South Africa, and Canada. He is a former software executive and entrepreneur who currently lives in Toronto. He quit his career in software in 2007 to run Freedomain Radio full-time.
Freedomain Radio is a podcast about philosophy—but that isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds. As Molyneux demonstrates, philosophy touches every aspect of our lives, from abstract topics in politics, economics, and religion, to more personal subjects in psychology, relationships, and parenting. In addition to the podcast series, there is a growing community of listeners who meet online to discuss the topics covered in the podcasts. In fact, the community is increasingly active “off-line,” as people meet and become friends with other listeners who live near them. In London, there is Freedomain Radio-inspired “Psychology Book Club,” which meets once a month to discuss works such as Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. When I asked Molyneux what he thought set Freedomain Radio apart from other philosophical conversations, he said it was the combination of respect for science and rationality (without falling into determinism) with recognition of the depth and meaning of human experience (without falling into mysticism). “I think that [kind of] balance is really, really unusual in philosophy, and I think it comes out of my immense respect for science and my immense respect for psychology and the pursuit of self-knowledge…I’ve not seen anything like it out there.”
I originally discovered Freedomain Radio and Stefan Molyneux in a political discussion group on Facebook, where someone posted one of his YouTube videos. In this video, Molyneux explained that he believed the cultural and political development of society was governed largely by our individual experiences and personal relationships. His points were of particular interest to me because I had myself been speculating about the effects of self-esteem on politics and religion. Perhaps Molyneux could help me develop this line of thinking further.
After a few weeks of exploring the website and listening to some of his introductory podcasts on psychology, politics, and economics, I realized that Freedomain Radio was one of the most stimulating intellectual resources I had ever found, and I decided to become a regular listener. Since that time I have listened to all of Molyneux’s 1800+ podcasts, and I have become a regular contributor in online discussions. Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting Stefan Molyneux in Philadelphia when he debated former presidential candidate Michael Badnarik on the question: “How Much Government is Necessary?”
A few weeks ago I “sat down” with Stefan Molyneux via Skype, and we discussed his views on the topic of leadership.
Leader Background and Development
Molyneux’s training in leadership can probably be traced back to the experience of being on his high school’s debate team, where he got a good deal of practice formulating arguments and learning to ask tough questions. His experience with debating continued—although much less formally—into University, where in addition to debating fellow students he got into arguments with professors.
Molyneux credits his experiences in the business world with helping him overcome shyness. Early in life, he found most other people to generally be “overwhelming” or “intrusive,” and he didn’t have much of a desire to interact with them. Even as he became more comfortable around other people through playing sports or debating, he struggled with how to share his ideas with other people. “I always thought that I had a lot to offer, but I never thought that I could communicate in a way that would be interesting to people.” Frustrated by his ability to communicate effectively, particularly in the face of hostility toward his ideas, Molyneux slid back into shyness. But the business world turned things around for him. “If you can program really well, or if you can do a really excellent sales presentation and think on your feet, then you automatically have something of value to offer—and it’s not something as volatile or as challenging as philosophy. So in the business world, I recovered somewhat from the re-infliction of shyness that occurred for me in the academic world, where because of my political and atheistic beliefs, I ran into a lot of opposition.” He found that in the business world, where productivity and competence are usually more important than ideology, he “could relax and enjoy communicating with [people] more.” Freedomain Radio would later be forged from the synthesis of his controversial philosophy and his new-found relaxed communication style.
As an entrepreneur, he also learned the importance—and difficulty—of providing value to people in the free market. These experiences (with voluntarism and negotiation) helped to confirm his conviction that voluntary solutions for all social problems can exist in the absence of a centralized state. He also gained a greater appreciation for the amount of work it takes to create value, making him skeptical of big promises by government bureaucrats and politicians to solve the world’s problems.
By far the most important element in the development of Molyneux’s leadership abilities and style is his experience with psychotherapy. Molyneux sees self-knowledge as a prerequisite, not just to being a good leader, but to being a good person. Molyneux views “working on yourself” as training for leadership just like going to medical school or residency is training for being a doctor. Self work helps aspiring leaders to “avoid the ‘sin’ of hypocrisy and the ‘sin’ of substituting authority for the embodiment of the virtues that [they] are pursuing…Because if you don’t embody the virtues that you’re trying to motivate or inspire other people to pursue, then you end up having to manipulate them, and you end up having to bully them…and of course you end up attracting people who would respond to that kind of interaction, which is not [what] you really want when you’re trying to motivate people to genuine excellence.”
A major part of self-knowledge is gaining awareness of our own motivation—including our motivation for improving our self-knowledge or becoming leaders. Molyneux suggests that we should pursue self-knowledge in order to develop our own wisdom, virtue, and happiness. If at the end of that process we decide to use our wisdom to help others, then we can begin to think about becoming leaders. Becoming a “leader” should not be our primary goal. “Because I pursued [self-knowledge] for its own sake, I have a kind of credibility…when it comes to the steps that I think are necessary [for people to achieve happiness]—or at least the ones that worked for me, which I think can be reproduced in others.”
Self-esteem also has a role to play in good leadership. But Molyneux says it is vital that a leader not get his or her self-esteem from being a leader. If our self-esteem is tied to our relationship to other people (i.e., leading them), or based on the behavior of other people in any way, then we run the risk of having to manipulate them in order to preserve our tenuous grip on self-esteem. However, if we are confident of our worth and efficacy independently of our role as leaders, then we are more free to treat others with respect and compassion.
For Stefan Molyneux, leadership is about inspiring people. In his words, “the kind of leadership that I aspire to…is motivating people to excellence in virtue and excellence in self-knowledge, and I think that the ideal of leadership is self-obsolescence. You want to motivate people to replace your leadership with their own self-motivated leadership…[T]he true definition of excellence is self-knowledge, self-actualization, and philosophical wisdom.”
But “motivating people” is easier said than done. What is the best way to motivate people? In Molyneux’s formulation, motivation is about demonstration: “[T]he way that you motivate people in what I do is…as simple as putting a thin person on the cover of a diet book. You show people the results that you are trying to motivate them to achieve…you have to embody those results as best you can. And so you want to show them the “after” picture. You see on those websites “I got ripped in four weeks,” and there’s some pasty guy in a basement and some bronzed and ripped guy on a beach. You have the before and after, and everybody—prior to being motivated in the realm of wisdom or virtue—is the ‘before’ picture. I know that I was. And you have a look at the after picture, and you say, ‘Do I want that?’ The way that you motivate people is to embody the goal that you’re trying to achieve.” Molyneux believes that if we genuinely desire to help others, and if we have something of real value to offer them, then we will draw people to ourselves who are interested in what we have to offer.
Molyneux even strives to carry his theory of motivation into the realm of parenting. He wouldn’t exactly say that the goal of parenting is to “inspire children to excellence,” but he likes the idea of using what he calls “positive economics” in childrearing. He assumes that children are basically rational and want to please their parents, and that they can be motivated by encouragement and enthusiasm much more effectively and positively than by punishment and withdrawal. Molyneux has long been skeptical of traditional ideas about the need for punishing or “disciplining” children, but since becoming a father some 15 months ago, he finds the concept of “discipline” almost completely incomprehensible. “It is astonishing the degree to which children mimic their parents…Dozens of times a day I will catch [my daughter] doing something that I’m doing, or I’ll say something and she’ll echo it—even if I’m not talking to her…She’s listening to everything. She’s observing everything.” With children it seems, the “need” for punishment (or some other form of “negative economics”) actually has more to do with the behavior of the parents. “[T]he leadership that we bring to our children will, in many ways, help to determine the kind of leadership that they expect—or perhaps re-create—in their own lives as adults.” Garbage in, garbage out.
In an interview with Profitable Podcaster, Molyneux said that two of the most important characteristics of effective leadership are trust and consistency. For Molyneux “trust” goes both ways. Of course leaders themselves must be trustworthy, but Molyneux also believe that leaders should demonstrate trust in the generosity and good nature of other people. One of the ways he does this is by making all of his content available without charge and relying on voluntary donations to sustain both Freedomain Radio and his personal finances.
Moral consistency is certainly a qualification for good leadership, but Molyneux strives for consistency in other areas as well. He uses his reliance on donations to help motivate himself to consistently produce stimulating material. With most people used to getting things on the Internet for free, and with the vast array of alternatives available, Molyneux knows that he must continue to provide value for his listeners, as everyone is completely free to take their “business” elsewhere.
In his everyday interactions with people, Molyneux also strives for humility. “To the degree that people would hold me in high regard or high esteem, it is absolutely essential for me to not express any kind of superiority to people. If there’s one thing that I want to get right every time I interact with people, [it] is to not give them a sense that I am hurling down tablets from on high…I really do believe that to be treated as an equal by someone who you hold in high esteem is a very empowering thing.” He recounts a story about a time when he met a particular role model of his. Much to his disappointment, he found this man (a prominent psychologist who should have known better) to be arrogant and condescending. In podcasts or listener conversations, Molyneux makes a conscious effort to remind people that he struggles with the same challenges as everyone else. He says that if he is “ahead” of anyone, it is only because he started down the road of philosophy in self-knowledge sooner, and with all the resources available today (“particularly on the web”), people should be able to replicate his successes much more quickly.
Leadership definitely has its challenges. Like any online forum, Freedomain Radio has had to deal with at least its fair share of trolls and spammers. And because of the controversial aspects of some of the ideas it addresses, a few of those trolls have not limited themselves to anonymous online encounters. But Molyneux says the biggest challenge he has faced has been learning how to “deal with a community that is inhabited by such a wide divergence of knowledge bases and skill sets and experience.” On the one hand are the people who have been in the conversation for a long time and understand the complexities of the topics discussed on the show, but on the other end of the spectrum are a lot of people who only started listening recently. And of course there is the full range of experience in between. “I want to have the online community friendly to the people who have been around for a long time, because many of them are friends. But it also has to be friendly to the people who are just starting out, and friendly to all the people in the middle.”
Summary and Conclusion
Stefan Molyneux doesn’t often think of himself as a leader. He said that’s hard to do when most of his day is spent responding to e-mails, editing and uploading files, and tinkering with computer code. The majority of his work consists of this type of “management,” rather than some kind of glorious leadership “position.” But even the more exciting aspects of his job don’t include telling other people what to do. “[F]undamentally I just aim to be a kind of lighthouse. It is a stormy sea out there that we all swim in, and I try to [help] people…see that at the end of this process—or at least as far as I’ve gotten in the path of self-knowledge and wisdom—there is some peace and some joy…” Molyneux brags a lot about his listeners: “[Y]ou people are just incredible…It’s a completely beautiful thing that there are these little meteors of light and truth hitting the world over, that are causing people to wake up to truth, to reason, to philosophy… [and] to distance themselves from superstition and from irrationality and so on. It’s an incredible thing to…be part of. I’m really proud of the good that’s being done in the world.”
The following is a list of my favorite podcasts from Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio, for those in search of his best material or a condensed stream:
Note: “The Best of Freedomain Radio” has been changed from a POST to a PAGE. The new page can be accessed by clicking the link above, or by clicking here.
Every few weeks it happens again. I have two tests in the morning and one the following evening, plus two papers due within the next three days. Everything in school seems to come due at the same time.
Like others I have struggled against the shadowy beast of procrastination, and when it comes to this topic it often feels like something is wrong with me. But even when I restructure my life and frame of mind to try to keep from procrastinating, it always seems to come back. I can try to write papers, study for tests, or work on projects early, but that doesn’t work. We either haven’t covered all the material for the upcoming test, and so studying is premature, or the project hasn’t been assigned, and so beginning it early is pointless.
Part of the problem is that teachers and professors procrastinate too. Students have a hard time knowing how to adjust their work because some professors take a long time to hand back prior assignments. Other professors are slow to return emails. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that; I just think teachers should be held to the same standard as their students. We lose big points if an assignment is late or we’re not ready for a test. But when a professor returns papers later than promised or gets stuck in traffic and is late to class, they lose…popularity? the respect of their students? That difference is hardly fair, especially considering who is paying and who is being paid.
You would think that sometime in their hundred or more years of existence, public universities would have figured out how to keep tests from all being on the same day—if catering to students’ needs was part of their goal. However, as it stands I think we can safely say that if an institution goes a hundred years without solving a fairly simple “problem,” then it must not consider massively inconveniencing its students to be a problem.
With the structure of universities, the procrastination of teachers, and the general lameness of school curricula (both at the high school and university level) working against them, students are bound to “procrastinate”—and that’s not even accounting for psychological roots of actual procrastination. After the first three causes, psychology makes procrastination at school almost inevitable. Maybe the self-blame isn’t as warranted as I thought.