Search term: brene brown

2 Great Women, 2 Great Online Courses –> Debbie Millman on Creating Visual Narratives & Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability …*


An Online Skillshare Class by Debbie Millman

Knowmads delight * here are two super exciting courses from some mighty intelligent and inspirational women.

Debbie Millman has a new course on SkillshareThe Art of the Story: Creating Visual Narratives, aimed at anyone with “a love of language, a passion for art, and a desire to bring them together.”

Join one of design’s most beloved advocates for a class exploring visual stories. Debbie Millman is world-renowned as the host of Design Matters, co-founder of SVA’s Masters in Branding program, president of the consultant group Sterling Brands, and an award-winning author and artist.

Learn how to craft a narrative, edit your writing, find inspiration in history, and experiment with materials. Plus, this class features an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Debbie’s personal collection of favorite visual stories, books, art objects, and more.

This class is ideal for designers, writers, and everyone with a story to tell. 

. . . *

Meanwhile on Udemy, Brené Brown is offering a course on the Power of Vulnerability aimed at “anyone interested in learning more about vulnerability and how to live wholeheartedly.”

By the end of the course, you will be able to 1) Explain how to cultivate shame resilience—the key to developing a sense of worth and belonging, 2) Discuss vulnerability as the origin point for innovation, adaptability, accountability, and visionary leadership, 3) Discuss emotional armory—how to avoid feeling vulnerable; myths of vulnerability—common misconceptions about weakness, trust, and self-sufficiency; and vulnerability triggers—recognizing what makes us shut down, and how we can change, 4) Summarize the 10 guideposts of wholehearted living—essential skills for becoming fully engaged in life.

I think these two courses would complement one another extremely well. The need for courage in creativity, and the ways in which shame and fear of failure harm the creative process are all topics that Debbie has addressed from her perspective as an artist on numerous occasions. In fact just last week, I featured Debbie (and Brené!) talking about wholeheartedness and courage. So why not learn how to harness your vulnerability as you learn to create visual narratives?

I’m enrolling this instant. Join me?

Dr. Brené Brown On The Power of Empathy …*

Enjoy this lovely short animation on the power of empathy, excerpted from Brené Brown‘s speech at the RSA  where she explains why embracing vulnerability is critical to human flourishing. 

RSA Shorts – The Power of Empathy | Published December 10, 2013, on YouTube.

Brené Brown On Why Embracing Vulnerability Is Critical To Human Flourishing…*

“Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” 

In this splendid talk given at the RSA, research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, highlights the tension between the behaviors spurred by our culture of scarcity– a culture of never enough–and the critical function of vulnerability in human flourishing. We live in a culture shaped by fear and blame, argues Brown; everywhere around us, the dominant questions framing the discourse in virtually all areas of society are: “What should I be afraid of today?” and, “Who’s to blame?” Our instinctual response to this culture of scarcity is to armor up in an attempt to protect ourselves from being rejected and hurt.

We wake up in the morning and we armor up and we put it on and say, “I’m going to go out into the world, I’m basically going to kick some ass, I’m not going to let anyone see who I am and in doing so, I can protect myself against the things that hurt the most–judgment, criticism, fear, blame, ridicule. I’m going to armor up and I’m going to be safe.” 

This armor takes on many facets–perfectionism, intellectualizing, etc.–but at its core, the armor serves the same function for everyone: to protect our sense of being lovable, and being acceptable and being worth connection; to avoid feeling like we’re not enough. The issue, as Brown points out, is that, as the research shows, “vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity and empathy.” Essentially, the strategy that we are using to protect and nurture our sense of love, acceptance, and connection–putting an armor on–is keeping us from reaching those very goals in an authentic and fulfilling manner.

What can we do to move in a more positive direction? Brown suggests three focal points for rethinking…* our behaviors:

  1. Learn to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Act on empathy.
  2. Learn to move past blame and focus on accountability .
  3. Learn to differentiate between behavior (guilt) and self (shame). Guilt mobilizes individuals for positive action, while “shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

EMPATHY vs. SYMPATHY

Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people. So to respond empathically, I would need to try to understand [that person’s] perspective, stay out of judgment, recognize what [they’re] feeling and kind of communicate it back: “Oh, shit. I hate that.” or “Oh God, There’s nothing worse than___.” That’s empathy. Empathy is, “I’m feeling with you.”

Sympathy is, “I’m feeling for you.” […] In Texas, in the South in general in the U.S., we have the worst saying ever, that just smacks and reeks of sympathy, which is, “Bless your heart.” Basically, what I’m saying is, “that sucks, but too bad and God is on my side.” So sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy and sympathy is also often how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle. 

[…]

We all need different things from empathy. There are no hard and fast rules about what empathy looks like or what it sounds like, but there is one that I will share with you from the research, it is: “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least’.” And we do it all the time because someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage”, “At least, you can get pregnant.” How does that feel? Awful. But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations, is we try to make things better instead of leaning into. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I rather you say, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. 

Sometimes, the most profound and eloquent examples of empathy happen without any words. And sometimes, not even with eye contact. To me, if I’m sitting next to you and I say, “Wow, I feel like the wheels are falling off right now and things are out of control.” And someone just puts their hand on top of my hand and squeezes–that says, with touch, I think, the two most important words in my work, which are: “Me too.”

BLAME vs. ACCOUNTABILITY

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expand all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. 

Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process: it means me calling you and saying, “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this,” and talking. It’s not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger, which is really hard, and blaming is really corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy, because when something happens and we’re hearing a story, we’re not really listening, we’re making connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. 

GUILT vs. SHAME

Shame is, “I’m bad.” And guilt is, “I did something bad.” So shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. The outcomes are hugely different. What we know from the research is that shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying. And, almost more importantly, we know that guilt is inversely correlated with those outcomes. Meaning the more someone is able to separate themselves from their behaviors, the less likely it is that they’ll end up suffering from these struggles. And the implications are huge, especially around parenting. As it turns out, there is a tremendous difference between, “You’re a bad girl” and, “You’re a great kid, but that was a bad choice.” 

When we see people change behaviors, make amends, when we see positive behavioral change, you can almost always trace it back to guilt. Guilt is uncomfortable but I’m a big fan of it because it’s cognitive dissonance–it’s, “I’ve done something, and I’m holding it up against my values and it doesn’t feel right.” That’s guilt.

Brown’s work and insights on the power of vulnerability link back directly to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Armoring up to protect the self is a fixed mindset strategy–it stems from a belief that traits are fixed: I have certain inherent character traits that make me lovable, acceptable and worthy of connection to a certain fixed point. And since these traits are fixed and static over time, my best course of action is to keep others from finding out what I’m really like. Shame and blame both come right out of the fixed mindset with its framework of judgment. Meanwhile, the ability to embrace vulnerability, to lean into it, stems directly from a growth mindset. It is a recognition that we as individuals have the agency and capacity to grow, to develop our ability for empathy, change and accountability. It is a willingness to learn new strategies for connection and accepting the risks of failure and pain that inherently comes with trying something new.

The Power of Vulnerability, via RSA, published July 4, 2013.

{ Kintsugi } A Beautiful Visual Metaphor To Help You “Fail Forward” …*

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they fill in the cracks with gold. They believe that when something is damaged, it becomes more beautiful.”

I came across this delightful quote earlier this week while reading an article about failing forward. These days, with the growing popularity and accessibility of methodologies like Design Thinking and Lean Startup, the concept of iteration–a slightly more glamorous variant of the term “failing forward”–has become increasingly mainstream. Given the critical role of failure in learning and innovation, I am all for this failure revolution. Yet, it is not failure for failure’s sake that we are celebrating but its transcendence. We try something; we fail; we pause and reflect on what we did and where we went wrong; and hopefully we are able to extract some valuable lesson(s) from the experience that will inform our decision-making and behavior in future scenarios.

The transcendence of failure–the movement from raw input (this does not work) to reflection (why did this not work?) to insight (this is where we went wrong/what we could have done differently), is a process. And all processes have an inherent emotional component that cannot be ignored or brushed aside. The emotional responses accompanying each failure will vary greatly based on the circumstances– from the inconsequential to the heartbreaking. The hardest failures to transcend, the ones that are most painful to reflect upon, work through and learn from are usually the ones that blur the boundaries between verb and noun–those instances where we find it difficult to separate our sense of self from our actions; where, “I failed” toes the line with, “I am a failure.”

On an intellectual level, it’s easy to tell oneself to reframe, to approach the failure as a learning opportunity, a gift in disguise, a growing pain. But having failed many times at many things, sometime rather catastrophically, I know all too well that in the midst of experiencing our most painful failures it can be extremely difficult to pay attention to our intellect. When you’ve spent a full week in the same pair of sweatpants unable to peel yourself off from your couch, it can be quite easy to become cynical about the idea of reframing failure. It may feel as though this particular failure is final, as though there is no redemption possible, no lessons to be learned; just a lifetime of mediocrity spent in your own failed company. I think that it is precisely in these times that the beautiful Japanese notion of kintsugi becomes a powerful aid and effective prompt to help us emotionally engage with the process of transcending failure.

What I find fascinating about the concept of kintsugi, which refers to the Japanese craft of fixing broken objects with gold or silver lacquer, is the fact that cracks and brokenness are highlighted and celebrated rather than dismissed or dissimulated. The broken object once repaired takes on a new value, becoming in some ways more appreciated than it was while intact.

I’ve been taking an online course taught by Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability in which she talks about the importance of finding good metaphors to talk about certain emotions–specifically shame–that we are incapable of speaking about on an intellectual level without our emotions taking over.

“People hear the word shame and they’ve got one of two responses; one, “I have no idea what you’re talking about and I’m pretty sure that happens to other people;” or two, “I know exactly what that is and I’m not talking about it.” We have a visceral reaction to the word shame.
Shame hates having words wrapped around it. When we speak shame, we cut it off at the knees. The reason metaphors are so helpful is because of our reactions to the word shame. And here’s the thing, if I talk to you intellectually about shame, I will lose you in about 10 minutes because you’ll know this is uncomfortable, it’s a little bit dark and it’s totally not relevant—”I don’t care what she’s saying.” It’s true if I intellectually talk to you about shame. If I walk you into shame, you’ll be like, “Oh hell yeah, this is relevant and I cannot hear a word you are saying because I am in shame.” Because shame is very much about the limbic system, it’s all about fight, flight and freeze. There’s no prefrontal cortex. If I’m staying up here in the prefrontal cortex, where we think, when that fight or flight system kicks in, our prefrontal cortex comes completely offline.”
-Brené Brown

I think kintsugi is an amazingly powerful visual metaphor to recall and focus on as we experience some of the most crushing and painful emotions that result from deep failures. The process of transcending failure is quite similar to the practice of repairing broken ceramic with golden bonding. The object having been repaired emerges more beautiful, more valuable than when it was intact. In the same manner to applying gold to the fragmented pieces, engaging in the process of transcending our failures allows us to grow, to come out stronger and wiser than before the failure.

Next time you find yourself unable to intellectually motivate yourself to engage with the process, I urge you to remember the beauty and the lesson of kintsugi.

Kintsugi: The Art of Broken Pieces from Greatcoat Films on Vimeo.

{ The Power & Potential of Stories } “I Was Seen By Many but Actually Known By Few | Every Single Life Matters Equally & Infinitely”…*

“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.[…] What else have I learned? I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength. […] And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice”

– Dave Isay

This week’s Friday Link Fest theme–the power and potential of stories–was set by my teammate Jenna with her post on Monday about the artistry and potential of storytelling–for learning, for empathy, for social activism, for relevance and self-empowerment. I then received the latest issue of New York Magazine, their fifth annual “Yesteryear Issue,” a collection of vignettes about old New York and delighted in losing myself in stories of a New York I have longed for but never known. Then two TED talks kept repeatedly popping up on my newsfeed, Monica Lewinsky’s talk on the price of shame and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s talk where he shares his TED Prize wish:

“that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world, so that anyone, anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being, which will then be archived for history.”

I loved the contrast between both talks, one about the risks and dark underside of a digital archive in a culture bent on shaming and public humiliation, the other on the immense potential of the Internet to act as a digital repository of human wisdom, dignity and compassion. Both talks were brilliant and urgent calls for courage, empathy and connection.

In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky bravely opens up about her experience of being “slut-shamed’ and publicly humiliated in the nascent era of online news and calls for a collective rethink of our contemporary culture of shame and humiliation which enables cyberbullying.

“Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long held value of compassion; compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit and empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy.” Shame cannot survive empathy. I’ve seem some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, friends, professionals and sometimes even strangers that saved me. Even empathy from one person can make a difference.

[ … ] 

“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”

– Monica Lewinsky

“Over the past couple of month, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, any time. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever. But at this very moment we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview. And then with one tap, upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress. That’s the easy part–the technology. The real challenge is up to you. To take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world.

This is the key point, echoed in both Lewinsky and Isay’s talk, that technology is just a tool, a tremendously powerful tool, but that its power and potential comes entirely from us, the people that use it. Are we going to create a digital archive of shame and humiliation or a repository of empathy, dignity and human wisdom? The choice is ours and both talks remind us of the very tangible weight and responsibilities inherent in this choice.

“At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring, and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity. And maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important and maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

How might we start going about nurturing these types of conversations? Isay shares a few excellent ideas:

“Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment, where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country, records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine, mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down, not to talk about that conflict, but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so begin to build bonds of trust. Or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday. Or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life and how they want to be remembered. “

My 81 year-old grandfather is flying in from France next week and I absolutely can’t wait to try out the StoryCorps app with him!

A Simple Trick For Nurturing Better Relationships, Becoming a Better Listener & Growing Your Empathy Muscle …*

In this lovely animated short, Brené Brown, gives us a simple hack based on her research to enhance relationships, become a better listener and grow your empathy muscle: stop blaming. Sounds easy enough, and to some extent, it is.

How many of you go to that place—when something bad happens, the first thing you want to know is whose fault is it? I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault. Because why? Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control. […] But here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying, “hey, my feeling were really hurt about this,” and talking; not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. And blaming’s very corrosive in relationships. And it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens and we’re hearing the story, we’re not really listening, we’re in the place where I was, making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. – Brené Brown

One of the findings from Positive Psychology that struck me the most was the notion that venting negative feelings is actually completely counterproductive. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman highlights various studies disproving our culture’s view that airing grievances is cathartic:

Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac diseases and more anger. Anger is another domain in which the concept of emotional hydraulics was critically examined. America, in contrast to the venerable Eastern cultures, is a ventilationist society. We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. “Go ahead, make my day,” warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don’t express our rage, it will come out elsewhere—even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. (69)

The overt expression of hostility turns out to be the real culprit in the Type A-heart attack link. Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease. In one study, 255 medical students took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians twenty-five years later, the angriest had roughly five times as much heart disease as the least angry ones. In another study, men who had the highest risk of later heart attacks were just the ones with more explosive voices, more irritation when forced to wait, and more outwardly directed anger. In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings. Anger expression raises lower blood pressure for women as well. In contrasts, friendliness in reaction to trespass lowers it. (70)

Source: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment 

Since learning about this, I have made it a point to be more aware of the emotions I express and focus on. It’s not that I suppress or ignore negative emotions–I still get angry, frustrated, sad or whiny–but I try to be aware of what I’m feeling and when I notice one of these emotions, I ask myself what I can do about it; what I can learn from the experience that triggered the emotion? Then I fix what I can, make a mental note to avoid repeating any identified mistakes and I move on. If I’m having a really bad day or difficult time with something, I make myself move– either at the gym or I go for a long walk, which I’ve found really helpful in getting rid of the way negative emotions feel in one’s body. I also try not to complain to others. Whereas before I might have sought out a close friend to vent to after encountering some setback or upsetting situation–“can you believe this?!”–I now avoid such conversations; and, it turns out, I don’t miss them (and neither do my friends, it would seem).

I have noticed feeling markedly more serene overall and I’ve been surprised by how much easier it was to choose not to dwell or express my negative emotions than I had anticipated. Now, I’ll add blame to my list of negative emotions to let go of.

Try it for yourself and let me know how it works out for you …*

“The Etymology of Courage Relates to Wholeheartedness” …*

Here’s another lovely short interview with Debbie Millman (whom I’ve previously featured on rethinked * here, here and here). I love how honest and open she is about some of the deepest darkest fears that we often wrestle with in the solitude of private moments. I think it takes an admirable degree of courage, perhaps not coincidentally one of Debbie’s favorite themes, to open up publicly about one’s fears and insecurities, which she always seems to do with great insight and generosity.

In the video below, Debbie shares her views on design; branding; aspiring to overcome her fear of failure; and her admiration of Maira Kalman. Yet, what really caught my attention is an intriguing point about the difference between aiming to cultivate courage versus confidence, which Debbie makes while answering what living a good life means to her:

“Well, I’m going to spew all sorts of things now that are things that I aspire to, they’re not necessarily things that I can tell you, with my whole heart, I do. I just know that I’d like to do them more. And that is, to try to live without fear of failure. And so I like to think, I like to aspire to a place in my life where I wasn’t acting out of fear, I was only acting out of personal power. But that’s an aspiration, I am by far not doing that. I’d like to be able to live without feeling that it’s the last time I’m ever going to get an opportunity, because then that also creates a lot more insecurity—and you have to do this and you have to do that, and you have to do that because it’s never going to come your way again. I would have said a couple of months ago, I’d like to live with more confidence but I was talking to dani Shapiro, a great great writer; and Danni said that she actually doesn’t really think confidence is the key, that overly confident people or people with a lot of confidence tend to be really obnoxious and annoying. And that what’s more important is courage. So I’m sort of saying that, that I’d like to live with a sense of courage as opposed to fear. So those are the big things that I think about when I think about leading a full life.” – Debbie Millman

At this point in the conversation, one of the people at the table interjects, “Yeah, I was going to say that the etymology of courage it relates to wholeheartedness, so doing things wholeheartedly.” 

I loved this notion of courage and wholeheartedness stemming from the same root. I did a quick Google search to see for myself and one of the top results was this quote from Brene Brown, published in her bookI Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”

 . . . *

Debbie Millman on why design matters from Dumbo Feather on Vimeo.

[hat tip: Maira Kalman Lives From Courage via Explore]

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling ...* |rethinked.org - photograph: Elsa Fridman

 When researchers study the brains of people trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of others, they can actually see a difference in the brain activity depending on whether that person is trying to understand a friend versus a stranger. Even at the level of blood flowing through your brain, you treat people you know well differently than people you don’t. – Teens These Days, Always Changing Their Gray Matter

This week had me thinking about the role of connection and feelings of connectedness in decision-making processes. Some of the findings coming out of decision research, which I’ve featured below, raise some very intriguing and urgent questions about the role of empathy and the need to think more carefully about the types of narratives we craft when trying to motivate people to take action or trigger generous behaviors.

“It turns out that our engagement with a cause– it’s not about numbers, it’s not about classes of victims, it’s really about two things: First of all, it’s emotional and it’s with individuals. We have evolved, we are hardwired to feel a certain amount of empathy and connection but with one other person, whom we see, whom we can relate to, not with a hundred thousand people half a world away. The other thing is that we want to feel like we’re having an impact so we want some kind of a positive arch, we want to see a difference being made. And so when aid organizations talk about 5 million people at risk and make it sound terribly depressing, they’re precisely hitting the buttons that turn people off.”

In this Big Think video Nicholas Kristof explores the kinds of connections that link us to social and humanitarian causes and motivate us to give, participate and take action.

“Some of the research about our preference for helping individuals over classes of people comes from experiments where people were asked to contribute in some cases to this child–when it was used, was Rokia, a girl from West Africa–versus a large group of people, millions of people suffering malnutrition in Africa again. And of course, everybody wanted to contribute to Rokia, to that girl, they wanted to help that girl, they didn’t really care about the millions of people being malnourished. But what was striking is that even though we intellectually know that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic,” that the point at which we begin to be numbed, is when that number, is when N equals two. The moment you added not just Rokia but had a boy next to her and said, “you can help these two hungry kids,” then people were less likely to contribute than if it was just Rokia. Likewise, people are less likely to contribute to a fund to save kids from cancer if the same amount of money is going to save not one life but eight lives. There really is this bias to help an individual. So we have to figure out, obviously the needs are vast, so we have to figure out how to open these lines of communication to move people at an emotional level to help an individual; but then use that empathy then to broaden and to serve so many other people who need help.”

Kristof’s talk had me thinking about Brene Brown’s definition of empathy and how it compares in particular to sympathy: Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Since our ability to empathize with another person is so dependent on our ability to imagine what it must be like to experience a situation from that person’s point of view, I wonder if thinking about multiple people’s pain or needs makes the illusion that we can share in another’s subjective experience, that we can imagine what it feels like from their perspective, more fragile and difficult to buy into. Could it be that stories and aid campaigns that focus on a single individual drive empathy and consequently the necessary feelings of connection that trigger action while campaigns using groups of people drive sympathy and thus disconnection?

“One of the things that really struck me was there had been experiments that asked people to do some math equations, solve some math problems first, and it turns out that if you do that, that if you exercise the more rational parts of your brain, then you’re less empathetic, you’re less likely to contribute. Those of us who care about these issues, we need to figure out how to do a better job of storytelling about individuals and showing that there is a possibility of hope.”

I think Kristoff raises a very worthy challenge about the need to craft better stories. You may remember a video I shared on here last month that looked precisely at How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …* The short video examines the link between empathy, the narrative arc, neurochemistry and behavior by focusing on some of the findings emerging from Paul Zak‘s, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, research:

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

. . . *

Now for a different aspect of decision-making, on New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, in her article 4 Steps to Making an Overwhelming Decision Easy, Melissa Dahl highlights a recent study on the best decision-making strategy to adopt when faced with multiple options that “all seem kind of okay, like when you’re choosing a health-care plan or looking for a new apartment.”

Tibor Besedes at the Georgia Institute of Technology led a study — published recently in The Review of Economics and Statistics — that pitted three decision-making strategies against each other, and the best strategy was the one that treated the process like a tournament, 
  1. Divide the options into piles of four
  2. Choose the best option from each pile
  3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile
  4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections

Curating Ideas & Possibilities

Have you browsed our collection of videos on the ideas that inspire, intrigue and influence us?

 

We’re constantly adding inspiring videos we find so be sure to check back for new ones

DESIGN

John Hockenberry: Why We Are All Designers TED 2012

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds I

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds II

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds III

Stefan Sagmeister Shares Happy Design TED 2004

Tim Brown Urges Designers to Think Big TEDGlobal 2009

 

WONDER

8,000 Chinese Lanterns Over Poznan, Poland 2011

Muto: A Wall-Painted Animation by BLU 2008

BIG BANG BIG BOOM ~ Wall-Painted Animation by BLU 2010

Western Spaghetti by PES 2008

Pixels by Patrick Jean 2010

Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland

Water Drop Filmed in 10,000 Frames Per Second

Experience the Walker Library of Human Imagination

One Year in 40 Seconds eirikso.com 2008

A Young Glenn Gould Plays Bach 

Duke Ellington Plays for Joan Miro

Neil Pasricha “The 3 A’s of Awesome” TEDxToronto 2010

Theo Jansen Creates a New Creature TED 2007

How Wings Are Attached To the Back of Angels Craig Welsh 2008

1894 boxing cats- Thomas Edison

Fabian Hemmert: The Shape-Shifting Future of the Mobile Phone TEDxBerlin 2010

Coloring Bach ~ Evan Shinner

Salvado Dali – Mike Wallace Interview I (1958)

Marcel Duchamp ~ Anemic Cinema (1926)

 

PSYCHOLOGY

Tal Ben-Shahar: Positive Psychology – The Science of Happiness 2006 Brainy Acts lecture

Five Ways To Become Happier Today Tal Ben-Shahar on Big Think 2009

Big Think Interview with Tal Ben-Shahar 2012

Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice TEDglobal 2005

The Dalai Lama talks about compassion 2010 talks at Stanford 

Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology TED 2004

Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts 

Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow TED 2004

 

CREATIVITY

Tim Brown on Creativity and Play Serious Play 2008

Why Man Creates I by Saul Bass 1968

Why Man Creates II by Saul Bass 1968

Dark Side of the Lens by Mickey Smith 

 

EDUCATION

Can Character Be Taught? Aspen Ideas Festival 2012 Panel Discussion with Dominic Randolph, Paul Tough, Andrea Mitchell & Russel Shaw

Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms RSA Animate

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution! TED 2010

Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity TED 2006

Dan Meyer: Math Class Needs a Makeover TEDxNYED 2010

Emily Piloton Teaching Design for Change TEDGlobal 2010

 

STORYTELLING

Chris Abani Muses on Humanity TED 2008

Chimamanda Adichie on The Danger of A Single Story TEDGlobal 2009

Susan Conley on The Power of Story TEDxDirigo

 

DATA

Jer Thorp: Make Data More Human TEDxVancouver 2011

 

TECHNOLOGY

Pranav Mistry: The Thrilling Potential of SixthSense Technology TEDIndia 2009

ZeroN: An Amazing, Gravity Defying New Interactive Technology from the MIT Tangible Media Group

 

Videos

        We’re constantly adding inspiring videos we find so be sure to check back for new ones! DESIGN John Hockenberry: Why We Are All Designers TED 2012 Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds I Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds II Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds III Stefan Sagmeister Shares Happy Design TED 2004 Tim…

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