Kyle MacDonald and the Absence of Fear


One of our English teachers at the high school, Dee Peselli, invited a young man, author, traveler and opportunist Kyle MacDonald, to speak to her classes the other day in our auditorium. I have been so busy between the two buildings I work in that it was only by the stroke of good luck that I heard the Media Specialist talking about setting up the projector and the cameras for the speaker. When I asked her who was speaking, her response was “that paperclip guy.”

Last year, on a flight to Florida, I read an article in Reader’s Digest about a man who began a quest to trade a red paperclip in the hopes of getting something better. That man was MacDonald, and after a year of trading, he did indeed get something far better than a paperclip. He got a house, complete with deed and tax bill.

He also wrote a book about the experience, and part of what he does now is promote that book. The other part of what he does now is travel. Dee hooked up with him just because, as she put it, “His number was on the website, so I called.” Kyle happened to be passing through to Atlanta on Wednesday and asked if he could stop by to speak with our students. For two hours he answered questions about the process of trading a red paperclip for other objects and services until making the final trade for a house.

Peppered throughout his presentation, aside from a raucous slideshow, were some sagacious moments where the students asked him basic questions, like “where did this idea come from?” or “why do this?” His answers, which I guess are at the heart of the book, really struck a chord with the students. His motivation truly stemmed from an absence of fear. His dad had asked him this question:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

He wholeheartedly admits that the question is straight from Who Moved My Cheese, but still, it added such value to his idea, and it immediately dictated how he set out on this quest.

It reminds me of the posts that and the chatter that came out on the backchannels at NECC when Chris Lehmann began asking everyone “what is the worst possible consequence of your best idea?” The questions are similar in that both ask you to examine the sources of what is halting your progress, and then summarily dispose of that constraint.

How would we progress forward if we weren’t sometimes our own biggest enemy? I am sitting here trying to put together this presentation on Teaching with Tablet PC’s and introducing a group of 70+ teachers to the idea of creating and publishing content that is accessible to an audience wider than 150 students, yet I find myself holding a lot back due to the tendency for this to overwhelm people. Should that fear suspend what I think should be said and shown?

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