Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

09 MAY, 2014

An Animated Ode to What a Dog Can Teach Us About the Meaning of Life

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Mastering the art of unselfconscious presence.

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness,” Mary Oliver wrote in her exquisite Dog Songs, “our own is increased. It is no small gift.” Dogs have inspired literature, been muses to art, and garnered the label of “genius.” But the true gift of Dog — the gentle and ineffable essence of dogness — remains precisely that capacity for unselfconscious joyfulness. In a world obsessed with productivity, Dog might be our greatest gateway to pure presence.

That’s exactly what British singer, songwriter, and guitarist Nat Johnson captures with equal parts playfulness and poignancy in her single Dog — an homage not to Dog as a creature or a pet but as a disposition to the world, a way of life.

Oh, yes, and there’s an impossibly wonderful animated music video for added delight:

Complement Dog, which is also available on iTunes and Bandcamp, with this lovely animated adaptation of Bob Dylan’s If Dogs Run Free, then revisit Jim Homans’s breath-stopping meditation on what dogs are for.

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29 APRIL, 2014

How to Move People with Integrity: The Art of Persuasion, Animated

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“Like it or not, we’re all in sales right now… whether we’re teachers or art directors or in healthcare.”

“Temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion,” Joseph Conrad wrote in his reflection on writing and the role of the artist. And yet it seems to be through our temperaments, not our rational deliberation, that we absorb so many of our impressions. But how can we shape our own impressions upon the temperaments of others — how can we master the art of persuasion?

Author Dan Pink has previously explored the psychology of what actually motivates us. In this RSA short based on his book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (public library; UK), which also looked at the benefits of being an “ambivert” and “problem-finder,” Pink explains how three fundamental human qualities — attunement (the ability to take another’s point of view), buoyancy (remaining resilient in the face of rejection), and clarity (helping others make it through the “murk of information”) — lie at the heart of persuading, influencing, and moving people:

Pair with this animation of Pink on why autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the keys to motivation and this closer look at To Sell Is Human.

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28 APRIL, 2014

George Saunders on the Power of Kindness, Animated

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“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

In May of 2013, celebrated author and MacArthur “genius” George Saunders took the podium at Syracuse University and delivered a masterpiece of that singular modern package of bequeathable wisdom, the commencement address. A year later, his speech was adapted in Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness (public library), delicately designed and hand-lettered by Chelsea Cardinal. It follows in the footsteps of other commencement-addresses-turned-books, such as Neil Gaiman on the resilience of the creative spirit, Ann Patchett on storytelling and belonging, David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life, Anna Quindlen on the essentials of a happy life, and the recent compendium of Kurt Vonnegut’s magnificent commencement addresses.

With his gentle wisdom and disarming warmth, Saunders manages to dissolve some of our most deeply engrained culturally conditioned cynicism into a soft and expansive awareness of the greatest gift one human being can give another — those sacred exchanges that take place in a moment of time, often mundane and fleeting, but echo across a lifetime with inextinguishable luminosity.

In this immeasurably wonderful animated teaser for the book, narrated by Saunders himself, illustrator Tim Bierbaum brings to life the author’s words:

I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

But kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness is a beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Jack Kerouac on kindness, then revisit more of the greatest commencement addresses ever given: Joseph Brodsky on winning the game of life, Bill Watterson on not selling out, Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life, and more gems from , and Kurt Vonnegut.

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