It’s Open Education Week, so I last week I worked with my colleague David Kernohan to describe the way JISC-funded work is contributing to developing this space. I started by looking for a definition of open education and was surprised to find that most of the definitions are really about open educational resources. It wasn't what I expected: surely there is a lot more to the concept of open education than that? And fundamentally, I thought we’d got past a content-centric view of learning? Content is important to learning: it reflects practice, enables practice, it feeds practice and is produced by practice: this much I was trying to say in a blog post about process and product. But content is just part of learning and teaching, surely? If so much of the interest around content is its relation to practice and new learning opportunities, where is the clear articulation of this as the focus of open education?

Luckily, one of the few good definitions is on the open education week website:

"Open education is about sharing, reducing barriers and increasing access in education.  It includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education (such as learning materials, course materials, videos of lectures, assessment tools, research, study groups, textbooks, etc.).  Open education seeks to create a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so, where everyone, everywhere is able to access affordable, educationally and culturally appropriate opportunities to gain whatever knowledge or training they desire." (source URL)

What's not to like?

That's the question, really. My picture of the space is that it is full of tensions and risks. The definition doesn't quite capture the space as I see it: the vision is lovely, but the reality might be bloodier. Feedback suggests that my Story of (O)pen (a blog post on my team's work blog) doesn't surface the difficulties of open, or explore the ways in which open approaches might challenge the status quo. That's very true, so perhaps I should share a more nuanced view of openness. It's very much in my mind that open isn't always easy, and perhaps I should try to state that more clearly. It’s the new business models for providing learning opportunities that concerned me in a previous post: Why Open Education is Dangerous. Are the ideals of open education a trojan horse for commercial interests to undermine publicly funded institutions? What is driving the interest, is it on the inside or the outside of "education"? Am I a reactionary for wanting to preserve some of the strengths of a public education system? In other words, I see there are opportunities, but what are the threats? Is education on the edge of the abyss, or the edge of a reformation? If the castle of "education as we know it" is under seige, is “openness” in education the dragon or the knight in shining armour?

I wanted to share these questions with other people this week. I like visuals and diagrams and infographics so I sat down to draw my own picture of the open education space.

Here is my first attempt:

openedspace ambrouk 1


It takes as its starting point that the digital era changes the time and place that learning happens and that learning providers are having to adjust. It's the adjusting, redesigning, reorchestrating that is important here.

I shared it with David, who then pointed out that whilst mine told one kind of story, it didn’t show the changed experience of the learner. So he developed his own picture.

And then David and I decided there might be something useful we could do here, so I sent both our pictures to another colleague, Lawrie Phipps. And then, while Lawrie was thinking, I made another picture that built on David’s.

openedspace ambrouk 2


This tried to more explictly show the economic angle: when money changes hands between learners, providers and educational employers. And it starts to hint at the issues that concern me around of unpaid labour, volunteering and moonlighting educationalists … though I would need to do a lot more to draw that out. Perhaps that's another picture.

In the meantime, Lawrie made his own picture. It bore some uncanny resemblences to my reworking of David's picture, like blurring the distinction between resources and connectivity.

This was getting interesting now. It seems we three do see the open education space in a similar way, but have differences about the important features and what the story is worth telling. We all discussed our pictures on skype. I realised from Lawrie that my first image wasn’t specifically about open education, it tells the story of the changes in education, and mentions of openness could be left out at this stage. And I was still thinking about what David had raised about what difference this makes to the learners.

So I revised my first picture again to be more explicit about what I mean, and particularly to draw out that I think there are threats as well as opportunities in this space.

openedspace ambrouk 3


It doesn't have the learner at the heart, but I realised that is not where I see the tensions. I think the learner benefits from the openness, and indvidual educators have choices in how they react. The area of most difficulty is in how established educational institutions respond to the opportunities and threats in this space. In fact, that is the subject of four new case studies I have overseen on institutional approaches to openness. Now I feel I'm getting to a picture that really expresses how I see the open education space.

So …

Apparently the phrase “eat your own dogfood” is not a good advert for practising what you preach, so my colleague Josh tells me, these days it’s all about drinking your own champagne.


This photo is (c) Lawrie Phipps.

The hand apparently belongs to Simon Ball. Not sure of the brand of champagne. Sure looks good though.

* * *

Would you like to join us in our toast to the benefits of thinking in the open, by joining in? Make your own picture of openedspace and blog and tweet it!

If you want to reuse any of my pictures please do! You would make me a very happy lady, after all, I am excitable about being citeable

* * *

#openeducationwk #openedspace

Images are Creative Commons BY. You can cite me as ambrouk

and they are on flickr: 1, 2, 3 or your can Download the files here: Openedspace_ambrouk_123


My mad idea: OpenTag

Supporting the ecosystem of open content content through a shared tag tool

This is an idea that has been buzzing about in the back of my head. Based on many many conversations with clever colleagues who will, no doubt, see the flaw in my plan. But here it is anyway. This will make little sense to people outside of educational technology.

We have a problem to solve:

In order to share educational resources more effectively, providers and users need a richer exchange of pedagogical and contextual metadata.

As I understand it, most repositories deal with Dublin Core metadata, some with variants on the richer IEEE LOM, such as UK LOM. The fields exist in the software. But just because a field exists doesn’t mean it has any information in it, or that the information is meaningful, or that the information is consistent with other repositories. The logic of what metadata should be shared is mostly agreed, but the extent to which each field is filled in, and with what vocabularies, is where the decisions are.

The question is about the consistency of the information collected about the resource, and how far other services can rely on there being that information in the metadata record.

For open content for education (OER if you want to call it that), I suggest there are several dimensions. Catherine Bruen from NDLR and myself sketched this out at the Oriole Retreat:


This diagram is DELIBERATELY not a definition of openness. It is a representation of the dimensions against which we judge “open”.. I deliberately include cost and access because as some readers might know, I wouldn’t rule out an ecosystem of resources free at the point of use, via oath, so that providers can have tracking information. Or a ubiquitous micropayments system that keeps costs down by providing usage data back to providers.  It’s not that these things are desirable compared to pure open. It’s that they might happen. I’m interested in what might happen as well as what we would like to happen. Reality is usually a compromise between vision and constraints.

I am thinking that the ideal is on the far edges, so that a very open OER has a larger image than a partly open one. So …  a resource might score highly on one, low on another.  We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Where is the information to map the resource against these dimensions? Well, the metadata is sometimes available from the depositor, though if the requirements are too onerous, the benefit of deposit vs the effort required can tip towards not depositing. Various solutions are being explored. For example, mandatory deposit (removing the element of choice), though often that reduces the metadata requirements on the depositor. Being able to incorporate metadata post-deposit helps, whether from the originator, from cataloguers and creators, or from re-users. The Learning Registry aims to derive metadata from multiple systems, aggregate it, and feed it back to the resource. SWORD makes deposit easier.

There is then, a question of what metadata is really required to meet the use cases (as explored in October 2010 ) in a way that gets a balance between depositor effort and user benefit. (Its that “reality is usually a compromise between vision and constraints” point again).

Services that do collect and display rich metadata often find that the richness gets lost on export. Because aggregators and other sorts third party services have not been able to rely on the metadata being there, so they haven’t built any functionality around it. It makes perfect sense: you don’t want a set of filters or icons that remain blank for most of the content in your service. You need, maybe, 50% completion for it to be useful to users rather than annoying.

To make the effort worth it you need:

  • A use case to build metadata for
  • Enough other services planning to use the same metadata
  • Enough content depositors willing to see the benefit in providing richer metadata

I think we have clearer use cases now than a few years ago

  • Use Case for End Use: OERu course authors
  • Use Case for Discovery: Learning Registry
  • Use Case for Deposit: into and between repository services such as Jorum and Connexions

In terms of enough services and enough depositors understanding the benefit of more consistent and complete metadata… I think we are getting there. The Learning Registry could potentially provide a driver for services starting to trust that they can rely on metadata being there. In fact have been thinking that this space is maturing quite fast. In November 2011. Kathi Fletcher’s OER roadmap work articulates this opportunity really well, and she’s working on OERPub which is like SWORD for OER.

So is this metadata issue worth another look?

Is there space for a shared solution to tagging open content for education with more consistent metadata?

The way tagging works is mostly like this:


You might even do a look up to an external authority file rather than create it yourself – this is the way Names works, for example.

So using that sort of model, what abouttaking some of the tagging job and creating a shared service for it? A service that accepts that different vocabularies will change at different speeds? That coordinates the provision of authority files in those areas that are key to educational content? That shares the work of creating more attractive tagging interfaces for different devices and third party systems? That gives third party developers information in one place about the extent of metadata they can expect to build for?

This is the sort of development taking place in the open access repositories space, and I think we should think whether we are ready to do that for open content for education yet.


I’m pretty sure this would work with SWORD and with the learning registry. It’s another piece of the puzzle.

It is not a standard. It is not a vocabulary. It is a vocabulary service provider. It doesn't mandate, it doesn't validate (though validation tools could be built around it).

It can support the work of advocates of accessibility, open licensing, etc by giving them vocabularies they can build tools and validators around. They can build all sorts of "how open are you" tools. And they can use the vocabularies of self classification as collections/filter criteria, to include only those resources that meet their requirements.

It can support the work of third party providers by letting them see what they can expect from content providers. It brokers between provision and use of metadata.

The working groups might already exist – the vocabularies might already exist – for example the OER Commons Evaluation Tool for pedagogy, Creative Commons tools for licensing, and this sort of guidance. I would love to see a shared global subject vocabulary tool. Even just for the top 20-50 categories. Imagine what that could do for subject-based services! (It would need much more tagging than, obviously,  but it would help developers and intermediaries focus in on relevant collections from around the world).

Now to go back to the use cases. The same sorts of interfaces that are built to support tagging could also be used to provide filtering. So if the content HAS to be editable using free software, or it HAS to be for group teaching, or it HAS to be renderable to screen readers, there is a focus for where that use case gets articulated, and the arguments for meeting it get pushed around the network of content providers. Enhancements to consistent metadata would be use case driven.

Am I mad? Perhaps I'm feeling overly optimistic today.

Feedback very welcome … I don't know the "how", I just know the "what" and "why" and some of the "who".


Sheriff’s Story: life in open country

On wednesday this week I was in the "Open Country" symposium at ALT-C that I trailed in a previous post. I think video will be available of the whole session, including the much more articulate and evidence-informed colleagues Dave White and Helen Beetham. And of course, David Kernohan preachin and playing the banjo 😉

But I can't wait for the video before I share my career-limiting escapade.

Below are the words I delivered in the character of a Sheriff. Picture a third rate Reese Witherspoon who's eaten too many pies. There's a rough audio recording here too, thanks to Lou McGill, who also supplied the banjo. My character's speech comes first and is about 3 minutes long, after which I seem to have stepped back from the mic!

James Clay recorded an ALT-C beta interview with us afterwards.

David Kernohan's reflections are here (including a photo, yes). I'm still chewing over a better way to articulate my thoughts that sustainable infrastructure comes out of compromises, that the interactivity of the content is not really what's important to OER: its more about a trading balance between what people want to produce and what people want to use. One thing I feel strongly about is that its important for purists to preach their vision, but the real adoption of new practices is the story of the pragmatists. Unlike some, I don't find that depressing at all. I see it as social history vs the great men theory of history. Deep change takes time and its worth waiting for, but it also requires lots of compromises along the way.


Sheriff's Story

Howdy folks.

I’m the sheriff of this town. The keeper of law‘n’order. The boss.

There are two surprising things about me one is that I'm a lady sheriff the other is that my accent wonders all around the Americas like a stray dawg so I'll try to keep it a o k.

Anyhows, I'm here to tell y'all a bit about life in the wild west All you’ll mainly hear about are the outlaws and the cowboys. The heroes, the explorers, the ones who head off on their horses into the mountains armed only with a rifle. They come back with their stories, their reputations. They get the glory. I was a pioneer once. I shared their dreams. I’ve seen a lot of people lose their way, I’ve seen ambushes, I’ve seen in-fighting.

What I want now is stability and sustainability. You can’t build a community without compromise.

Stability. A stable town means somewhere people can live and work. We came here, following the promises of the gold rush, the oil prospectors, the preachers, in search of a better life And we find ourselves thousands of miles from home, from anything familiar. We create communities, we nurture our children, we raise oir cattle. We can’t all chase the gold rush. Only the strong and the brave have the appetite for adventure. Where would we be without our elders advising caution or our women keeping the children safe?

Sustainability. They head off into the open, seeking riches. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, who ensures the gloryboys families don’t starve over the winter? Who’s left to till the fields and mill the flour? The novelty wears off after the first failed harvest. The townspeople, that’s who. we learn again how to plant and harvest and cook in this barren land. There is a world to be built, and I’m here to keep the peace, to keep our fragile community safe within these foreign hills.

So, what do we need to keep Law n order?

I have to have a notion of the public good. Individuals will often want more than our little community can give them. There will be conflict, there will be deserters. Sometimes they will take people with them, I will let them go.

The goldrush is over. I have to manage the community. Their fighting. Their stealing. And I have to be thinking towards the future. I have to think about food production, trade and railroads.

I'll leave the outlaws and preachers to their work.

I have my own problems to deal with.


Are we in Open Country?


Tomorrow I head up into Open Country. Well, Yorkshire. Leeds to be precise. It's ALT-C – the time of year that learning technology types meet up and share ideas and experiences.

People that know me on twitter as @ambrouk will know that I am very interested in "open": open educational resources, open access, open scholarship, open source … all the opens. What I'm finding the most interesting is the tensions that take place between the idea of change and the mainstream adoption/adaption to it. It involves struggles between purism and pragmatism, a balance between innovation and implementation.

So I am really looking forward to speaking at a symposium on Wednesday with Helen Beetham, David Kernohan, and Dave White, where we will be asking "Are we in Open Country?"

Trailer, courtesy of David Kernohan

As part of my preparation I'm also planning to join the Paradox of Openness: the High Costs of Giving Online symposium on Tuesday, as I suspect there will be strong links between what they are exploring and what we want to look at.

If you're wondering what what my excuse is for The Hat (thank you Smiffys!) … lets just say I'm going to step in the spurred leather boots of a sheriff to explore how to move beyond the occasional expedition into Open Country into how to make life in the wild west stable and sustainable.



Rethinking HE?

Something has been making me uneasy recently in the thinking I am seeing around HE in "the current climate" (2 points for that phrase, right?). Obviously I only see a tiny corner of the debate and I don't read every blog post, but many in my twitter echochamber (5 points?) will recognise the issues below.

Who am I to talk?

I don't teach, but I have trained people. I'm not an academic, but I work in HE. I'm not a researcher but I know bad research when I see it. So I have a stake in this rethink in HE, not as an academic myself but as someone working in HE for 12 years. I should probably add that I myself did a Joint Hons in Philosophy and Literature (UEA), chaired the debating society, and set up a philosophy society. I love universities, right? Lets be clear about that. I care about HE.

But in a rather unacademic and unstructured order … here's some of what I think I think (I think) …

"Learning for learning's sake"

Ok, so you know Maslow's heirarchy? Well learning for learning's sake is right at the top of that. It's great. But it can only happen if all the other stages have been gone through, if the learner has some knowledge and skills to build on. This is probably Bloom's taxonomy or something, right? The buzz at the top is immense, I love it too. We should aim for it, it should be available to anyone with the lust to reach it. Children should be encouraged to keep that lust. Poorer students should be heavily subsidised and supported to reach the top. The top is important. But you can't built an education system around it.

The crisis is real (of course it's man-made)

There *is* a funding crisis. It's human-created, as all economic crises are. Nothing inevitable about the measures being taken: the UK government has decided that public expenditure must be cut (or appear to be cut), and that marketisation (aka privatisation) is the answer to … what? costs? quality? choice? flexibility? All of them at once, wham bam thankyou mam, know why didn't those stupid public sector drones think of that? (see a previous post).

This government is not going to wake up and change its mind about its fundamental perspective on publicly funded services: its agenda is very clear. We could be ostriches about it, we could provide as much marxist critique as we like, we can protest for sure, but we can't ignore that this is happening. We have to engage in decisions about priorities. Which brings me on to …

Education is social

An education system, as opposed to private tutors or charity-run schools of previous centuries, an education *system* is a social choice, funded by taxes, to invest in education. What does society need the system to do? Make children into adult citizens, workers (specialists and generalists), parents and carers. These are social priorities, not just those of businesses. Hospitals, GP surgeries, law courts, social work departments etc need specialist workers too. They are employers too. To equate "employer" with "souless capitalist" as some comments I've seen have implied, is to ignore that public services are huge employers themselves.

HE and employment

When universities educate doctors and civil engineers and broadcast journalists, they are not just teaching them facts, or just encouraging their lust for learning, they are teaching them how to do skilled jobs requiring specialist knowledge and practices.

The fact that I graduated without any suitable skills to get me a job is NOT ok. Why should society support me doing three years following my lust, for me to fail the office angels test and have to lie my way into an admin job? I only managed to step onto the ladder of meaningful employment because I was lucky enough to get a job as a university research administrator working for a very forgiving staff development expert who tactfully registered me on an MS Office course on my second day.

Seriously, that is NOT ok. I was an engaged student, I worked in the bookshop and as an admin temp all through university. I should have been forced to do modules on common software, presentation skills, meetings, copyediting: the sorts of thing english graduates needed to know in the 90s when I graduated. Employability matters. It doesn't matter for the people at the top of the pile who's parents will arrange them internships. But it mattered to me.

We should value FE more

I went to FE college and a school sixth form at the same time, and ended up with 2 A levels from each. They were on the same campus but they were worlds apart. I wouldn't say the sixth form was any more academically rigorous than the FE college. College was a much better preparation for life, work and study than sixth form ever was. I can well imagine doing A levels then a degree at college, and providing the college was allowed to pay enough for good staff, I could have emerged with the same employability prospects as I did from university. The value of my degree only started to emerge 5-10 years into my working life. And I have been doing very thought-intensive jobs.

Decisions today

The financial situation today makes things different. What would I say to younger Amber if I met her today (in a feat of time travel)? Go to college. Work. Try to meet someone and have babies when you're young. (I'd also say: rent, don't buy, but that's another unwritten blog post). Then, when you'll really enjoy it, maybe when the kids are at school, go to university. Change path then. Strangely this is what my own mum did, she works for a university now and and she really does operate in the top of the triangle.


The learning technologist field is full of exciting new ways of teaching and learning. A disproportionate amount of examples of this brave new world come from masters-level cohorts, experimental settings, very well funded projects, very self-motivated learners, very motivated teachers/academics. These projects show how high up the triangle you can go with the right people in the right circumstances. Before they start trumpeting their success and calling for everyone to adopt their approaches they should be asking: is it scaleable? is it affordable? is it a priority? . Someone will have to make that decision. To flip the bird at the establishment for not taking on their innovations is to ignore that education system is social. In schools and colleges, and until recently in FE, it is about public expenditure and someone has to assess whether the innovation can be adopted on a wider scale.

Progress is often slower and more evolutionary than the thought leaders would like it to be, but progress is a long game. MOOCs, for example, are cool. Great.  But do they meet the public expenditure test? I don't think so. Sorry for being a killjoy. Perhaps they will in 5 years. So carry on, go for it, enjoy it, develop the models. And yes, get special funding to do it. But (as I said in my post on why open education is dangerous) don't equate "good" with "priority" – there are doctors to be trained out of these budgets too.

I think thats what I think (I think). I might have to lay low on twitter for a bit now, while I shield myself from the response.

My food for thought: Most recently I was prompted to write this post by this post from Mark Johnson which caught my attention. See this David Wiley post and comments an illustration of these sorts of debates, and my sparring partner David Kernohan's blog for the other side, along with Richard Hall's blog . And in the background, the wonderful Purpose/ed campaign which I have spectacularly failed to contribute to (until now, perhaps)

Why “open education” is dangerous

Before I start, let me just say a few things:

1) These are not the views of my employer. I often try to check what I say on behalf of my employer with colleagues so that what I say can be useful. I want to encourage a range of voices from within my job, but I keep being misinterpreted, and I'm finding it hard to get past people's expectations of what I'm saying. This post is just me, on my personal blog.

2) This might read a little angrily, and it won’t mean much to anyone outside my field of work, just ignore it if you don’t like it.

3) My views are as valid as anyone else’s,  I’ve been working in this field for 12 years, I’m not afraid of the politics, its taken me a long time to dare to write this post so please assume this is written from a position of knowledge, not of ignorance

4) I apologise that it is not carefully argued and referenced, I just HAVE to get this out of my system.


Here goes …

Are there problems with education?  Yes. Should we be talking about the purpose of education? Yes. Does it matter that people learn skills and knowledge to take them through life, enable them to work, and open up their eyes to other viewpoints? Yes. Does the education system, from nurseries through schools to colleges and universities, need to keep changing to reflect the needs of learners and society? Yes. Should universities look to new models of doing things in order to survive with reduced funding? Yes.

Is it important to help children achieve a good level of competency and grades in a range of subjects? Yes. Is it important to support the weak learners? Yes. Is it important to provide alternative methods of teaching and support for kids that are hard to reach? Yes.

Can online learning be a rich learning experience? Yes. Can academics use their autonomy for the public good, beyond their taught courses and their job description? Yes. Can developers build engaging environments and tools and content that help people think and learn differently? Yes.

Do developed countries have an ethical responsibility to at the very least not obstruct the socio-economic development in other countries? Yes.

Should universities take a role in society and the world, beyond just providing degrees and doing funded research? Yes.

However there are some things which trouble me about pursuing “open education” as a big agenda in the UK in this current political environment.

Is it important to find new ways of stretching the very able? Is it urgent to find new social learning models for well educated self motivated learners? Are degrees as important as school level qualifications for improving class diversity in the workplace? Are learners who have laptops, mobile phones, web2.0 skills, professional networks and the motivation and time to learn really the priority here?

At a time when the very notion of state-funded education is under attack, is it really a good idea to go about presenting the break-up of the education system as an opportunity to try out risky ideas?

At a time when the UK government thinks that unpaid amateurs can do the work of paid professionals, in “the big society”, is it really a good idea to build a shadow system of unpaid work, reliant on the cognitive surplus of people in the pay of the at-risk state education system (if we can even dare to call HE state system any more)

I don’t doubt that many of the motivations behind the “open ed” crowd are good. Maybe I’m feeling left out. Certainly while they were off on their conferences, I was on maternity leave, and I came back to find this lively group of people suddenly in my field of vision, writing blog posts, doing pilot projects, debating the possibilities. But over time I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with what they might be opening the door to.

Experiment, communicate, be passionate. But don't make anything taboo: don't exclude the pragmatists, the cautious implementators, the people who refuse to be swept along by your enthusiasm. Most of all, be very careful what you wish for. Because you might just get it and I'm not sure you'll like it.

Concepts are like Tardises

Pat Parslow has recently written about the difficulty of tying down concepts: "From this 50,000’ view, a major part of the ‘size’ of the topic has just become almost vanishingly small. Step far enough back, defining your parameters appropriately, and you can genuinely make the ‘problem’ smaller by taking a larger view." …
He goes on to say: "I am prepared to be convinced that there are concepts (or topics) which are clearly and cleanly defined – I am just not in a position to be able to identify any. When trying to identify the meaning of a set of words, I always find that there are more and more links to other things the more closely I look. How about you?"
From Pat Parslow's post "how big is my topic?"

Well, this rings very true.

I think language allows us to treat a concept as a black box, a contained meaning to be built on in our making sense of the world. We don't unpack the black box unless that is the focus of our investigation. If a person is at all curious, they realise that if you peer inside any black box you'll find a world like a tardis. Beauty. Society. Dialectical Materialism. The same goes for things: Beefburgers. Clouds. Vanish Stain Remover. Tell me a thing and I betcha it's someone somewhere's job to design/find/analyse/sell/etc that very thing. There is always more depth and texture to everything, if you're receptive to it.

In his concept of the semantic river, Wittgenstein imagined concepts as boulders, rocks, stones, pebbles and grit in a moving river. The top layer churns constantly, defining its edges as it rubs against the next stone, constant change, very reactive to the water currents. The biggest deepest layer takes the longest, but slowly slowly the layers above and beside shape its edges and define it. I love this metaphor for the way events and experiences churn our conceptual understanding of reality: concepts are fluid.

So a concept is rarely as simple as we signpost, and it isn't really static. It's a construct to make thinking possible.

It reminds me of being on a train through towns and suburbs, staring into people's gardens and houses. How can that garden, that kitchen, that street, that school, be as full of life and meaningful as my garden, kitchen, street, school where I grew up. Every life is a black box until you show any curiosity, and empathy. Deciding to believe in the depth of other people's lives is liberating. But you can't live too empathetically all the time, you can't feel raw to other people's lives: it eats you up. You can't soak up everyone's sorrows, it exhausts you and makes you unable to live well yourself.

You should believe that every life has as much depth as yours but you can't factor it in to your everyday life, any more than you can unpack every concept in everday language.

We have to abstract and simplify in order to operate competently in the world. That shorthand is never the whole story and we shouldn't let our language trick us into forgetting that no concept lasts forever. That's also why we should fight over meaning, not out of pedantry, but because concepts are what drive us to act. Rights, fairness, poverty, privilege: these concepts should be re-owned, re-defined and acted on, again and again: this is what drives progress.