Tag empathy

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy …*

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

If you draw a series of parallel lines closely together, and then another series across them at an angle, you have the simplest visual example of the dialectical process. Cross-hatching as they call it. You have the first series of line, then you have the second series in opposition to the first. But out of the two you get a series of diamonds.

Now, if you look at these diamonds, remembering that every one has had to be drawn, you are overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the task. The diamonds are like the future we work for. Yet, courage. The first series of lines is there. All we have to do is to cross them.

– John Berger, A Painter of our Times, 1958


In a fascinating article recently published on The Greater Good Science CenterWhen Courage Goes Bad, Jeremy Adam Smith examines Cynthia Pury’s research on courage–how we experience, perceive and attribute it to others. Courage, it turns out, is often used as a currency of power–we attribute it to those who share our goals while withholding it from those whom we perceive as being outside our self-defined groups.

In the article, Adam Smith examines a recent social media post which stated, “As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism, and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery looks like!” The post was accompanied by a picture of toy soldiers and went viral, being shared almost a million times. This is a prime example of how we tend to frame courage as a zero-sum game–by calling Caitlyn Jenner courageous, the author of that social media post felt we were detracting from the ‘real’ courage of American armed forces. The withholding of attributing courage to someone’s actions is very much linked to an absence of empathy for their experience. The good news is that how we frame courage is very much a choice. We can choose to see it as a finite resource and guard it jealously only for our own self-perceived groups, or we can choose to acknowledge the vast plurality of human experiences and understand that ultimately, courage depends on the series of lines we each choose to cross.

. . . *

Pury’s research suggests that courage is something we grant to validate certain goals and withhold to invalidate others. While it might seem as though Jenner and an American soldier could both be courageous, in fact we appear to feel a strong impulse to treat courage like a finite resource that goes to some people but not others. Just as we sometimes withhold empathy or compassion from out-groups, so we will refuse to grant that people can be courageous if we don’t approve of their goals or values.

[ … ] 

Pury’s research has found that courage is more likely to emerge when a person sees a meaningful goal and then believes he or she has the ability to achieve that goal, a product of cognitive appraisal she calls “process courage.”

A man is more likely to run into a burning building to save kittens if he has the training and equipment to do so. A man who runs into the building without those things might be seen as courageous—but not, perhaps, very smart. A third man who has the training and equipment but doesn’t see saving kittens as a worthy goal would simply stand on the sidelines. So whether to take action depends on a person’s goals, as well as evaluations of personal risk and his own ability to achieve the goal.

But how will observers view that private decision? Here’s where things get interesting—and debatable.

Much, argued Pury, depends on whether other people share the goal in question. To the community of people who have transitioned from one sex to the other, Jenner is a hero: an accomplished male athlete who was willing to embrace a new celebrity identity as a woman. In this view, it took personal courage to go public with a very intimate decision—and by doing so, pave the way for others with less social power and wealth to follow the same path. She had the resources to create an image for others to pursue.

The conservative reaction was very different. To conservatives, Jenner’s goal—to raise the visibility of transgendered people—is socially destructive.

To a degree, it’s a problem of empathy and group affiliation. “If it’s your lived life, you know that that transition is really important and you value that goal because you’ve pursued it yourself,” said Pury. You would also know firsthand all the barriers and hostility that Jenner would face. Knowing something about her struggle might make her courageous in your eyes.

But to conservatives, all of that pales in comparison to the goal of maintaining rigid barriers between men and women, a dichotomy on which they say the American family depends. In the pages of the National Review, Doug French framed courage as resistance to the trend Jenner represents.

“By refusing to speak, we contribute to the notion that even conservatives understand that something is wrong—something is shameful—about our own deepest beliefs,” he writes. French (an Iraq veteran) is not willing to attribute courage to Jenner, instead granting it to members of his own self-defined group, people who share his values, experiences, and goals.

Source: When Courage Goes Bad by Jeremy Adam Smith via The Greater Good, published July 16, 2015

{ Empathy Is a Choice …* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be

{ Empathy Is a Choice ...* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be | rethinked.org

“Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” 

In a recently published article, psychologists Daryl CameronMichael Inzlicht, and William A. Cunningham dispute the notion that empathy is a limited commodity, making the much more compelling argument that empathy is a choice.

We believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.

The co-authors highlight several studies which show that the absence of empathy is linked to extrinsic and context-specific factors. By disproving the idea that our failures of empathy are linked to inherent limits in our capacity for the emotion, these studies offer an inspiring and compelling case for choosing to empathize.

. . . * 

Two decades ago, the psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues conducted a study that showed that if people expected their empathy to cost them significant money or time, they would avoid situations that they believed would trigger it. More recently, one of us, Daryl Cameron, along with the psychologist Keith Payne, conducted an experiment to see if similar motivational factors could explain why we seem more empathetic to single victims than to large numbers of them.

Participants in this study read about either one or eight child refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. Half of the participants were led to expect that they would be asked to make a donation to the refugee or refugees, whereas the other half were not. When there was no financial cost involved in feeling empathy, people felt more empathy for the eight children than for the one child, reversing the usual bias. If insensitivity to mass suffering stemmed from an intrinsic limit to empathy, such financial factors shouldn’t have made a difference.

. . . *

Some kinds of people seem generally less likely to feel empathy for others — for instance, powerful people. An experiment conducted by one of us, Michael Inzlicht, along with the researchers Jeremy Hogeveen and Sukhvinder Obhi, found that even people temporarily assigned to high-power roles showed brain activity consistent with lower empathy.

But such experimental manipulations surely cannot change a person’s underlying empathic capacity; something else must be to blame. And other research suggests that the blame lies with a simple change in motivation: People with a higher sense of power exhibit less empathy because they have less incentive to interact with others.

. . . *

Likewise, in another recent study, the psychologists Karina Schumann, Jamil Zaki and Carol S. Dweck found that when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded, it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.

C H O O S E   E M P A T H Y   . . . *

Source: Empathy Is Actually a Choice via New York Times, published July 10, 2015

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco …*

Dear rethinkers,

An apology is in order as we’ve gone rather silent on the blog these past two weeks! We’re back to our regular posting schedule and you can look forward to our daily posts. To jazz up our apology, thought I’d share a “lost and found” poem I’ve made from assembled graffiti spotted around San Francisco. Excuse the dubious image quality, all photographs were snapped on the go with my aging and tired phone.

Enjoy & rethink …* 


Kill your TV and read

Dream

Ask questions

Listen

Comfort kills

Travel this young moment in pursuit of magic

Create a glory ride

Expect a miracle

Why?

I hope

Love can outlast everything


A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

IMG_4598

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

. . .

Dedicated to Grateful Greg & Pierre, whoever and wherever you are, and rethinkers …* everywhere

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

“I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.” – Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder …*

"I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism." -Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder ...* |rethinked.org

I may be a bit biased here but I could not be any more excited to share Dominic’s interview today. Dominic Randolph is the Headmaster of the Riverdale Country School, where he has been prototyping various ways to rethink what it means to learn to and for change–notably by exploring the intersections of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology with education. He is the co-founder of our team and, on a more personal note, my father and one of my very best friends. Connect with Dominic on Twitter @daar17.

What was the last experiment you ran? 

Changing spaces where I work. Finding small “in-between” spaces to work with my computer. Changing work spaces all the time. Not being in a fixed spot.

 

What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?

Life is fear and finding ways to embrace fear. I believe that we all have a “Woody Allen voice” in our heads constantly narrating our anxieties. I think you achieve things by listening to the voice indeed, but basically ignoring it. Things tend to turn out most of the time quite well, but the little voice assumes the worst. Acting positively and confidentially mitigates the voice’s affect on one’s decisions. And yet, without the voice, the fear, life would not be as amusing nor would one do anything really. It is the comparison between the status quo of the “little worried voice” and taking action that makes you feel a sense of achievement.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.

 

What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade

Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” is one of the most provocative, elegant and most difficult to employ idea that I have come across in the last decade. The other one would be “design thinking” that I read in Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and on Tim Brown’s blog “Design Thinking”. The concepts of human-centered design, prototyping and divergent thought as elements of design thinking have changed my life.

 

Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?

I often think that the most transformational moments are not the most groundbreaking or the most striking. They are small moments that lead to change. The most transformational moments in my life were dinner debates with my aunt, mother and brother while growing up and meeting, Kris, my future wife, and Elsa, my future daughter, at a small gallery in Sarlat, France.

 

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life leads to living a good life.

 

 COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Empathize with others–really try to put yourself in their shoes and listen well. Also, draw your thoughts out on a regular basis. Drawing is deeply human.

 

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can I be my better future self? What legacy will I choose to leave on this earth?

 

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Movies: Withnail and I by Bruce Robinson, En Sus Ojos by Juan Jose Campanella, Mifune’s Last Song by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, Naked by Mike Leigh

Books: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Le Citte Invisibili by Italo Calvino, Distant Relations by Carlos Fuentes, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Any short story by Alice Munro, La Peau du Chagrin by Balzac…

Music: GoldbergVariations played by Glenn Gould, Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones, Every Breaking Wave by U2, Ink by Coldplay, Heysatan by Sigur Ros, Wait it Out by Imogen Heap, Afterlife by Arcade Fire, Bien Avant by Benjamin Biolay, 400 Lux by Lorde, Creep by Radiohead…

Images: Morandi still lives, Piranesi etchings, Cartier-Bresson photographs, Cindy Sherman portraits, Klein blue paintings, Henry Moore sculptures…

THANK YOU, DOMINIC!

. . .

“I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open” – Our Interview With RAE, Artist …*

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

 

Chances are you’ve likely come across prolific Brooklyn based artist RAE‘s work before. If you’ve spent any time in NYC, it is almost a certainty that you’ve seen some of his stickers, installations or murals. RAE’s art is vibrant, colorful, dynamic and enigmatic and never fails to make me stop and smile when I chance upon it. I have often wondered about the person behind the art and reached out to RAE to ask him my nine questions about his heart, his fears and his notion of the good life. I am delighted that he agreed to participate in our interview series. His responses, as you’ll see below, are full of the same poetic whimsy, depth and energy as his artwork. You can connect with RAE on Twitter @RAE_BK or follow him on Instagram @rae_bk.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I have a cat that speaks to me. She told me she doesn’t want to lead such a nocturnal, lazy and mundane existence. So I made a hole in the bottom of my fence so she can go out and explore the neighborhood. I may take her to see Europe one of these days. In the beginning she was just going out for short trips but now she’s gone for days. I am about to outfit her with a small camera to see where she winds up and what she does in a day. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

I fear that more and more people will make decisions on social and/or political issues based on what their group or party affiliation supports rather than look at issues on a case by case basis.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Talk Talk Mural & Photograph by RAE

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I was in Ethiopia in 2014 and noticed there was pretty much no public spaces for kids to play. In Addis, the capital city, I finally spotted a playground but only one kid was inside playing while others watched from behind a small fence. The fence was one they could have easily climbed over and joined in but they chose not to. Instead they stared longingly at the one kid inside who was laughing and enjoying the zip-line ride and swings all to herself. Next to the entrance of the park was a security guard who told me that the playground belonged to the large hotel behind it and they only allowed guests staying there to use it. It was bitter sweet to see one child enjoying themselves so much while the others couldn’t even get a sniff of what it felt like to soar through the air just for the fun of it.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Allow yourself extra time and you can do the work of many alone.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

In high school I was a delivery boy at a butcher shop in Brooklyn then later became a deli counter person and then sort of an unofficial manager. I worked there for about 5 years. One day a lady who often shopped there asked me for help and after I assisted her she turned to me and said, “You’re really good at your job. Keep going the way you are and one day you’ll be manager of this place.” For the rest of the work day I kept staring through this large glass window into the back of the store where all the older butchers and meat packers worked. I kept thinking about how each one told me at one time or another of the big dreams they had. Some claimed they still planned on following through with them. I quit the next day.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

When I was younger I used to think a “good life” meant having what “you,” as an individual, wanted. Money, success, fame, etc, but as soon as I got a small taste of that I realized it feels very hollow if the people around you don’t have the means to at least make ends meet. So many hardworking people can’t pay the bills no matter how many hours they work in a week. Having the good life means being able to uplift others that want to do for themselves. I like it when someone gets an opportunity and makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there and pry that shit open.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN? 

Never hold people to the high standards you set for yourself. You’ll be disappointed more often than not. And when you do find those that operate on the same level take note and appreciate rather than be jealous.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

I have several….

How big is the universe?
Will time travel ever be possible?
Will I ever get out of this life alive?
Would I trade in my life up to this point to start over again?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Books: “The Measure of a Man” by Martin Luther King Jr.
            “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt
Movies: Amores Perros, Dead Man, Little Odessa, Rocks With Wings (the documentary film)

. . . *

THANK YOU, RAE!

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Subway Sculpture & Photograph by RAE

 

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative …*

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be, whether we are listening to Big Bird’s take on life or Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon.

Stories remain central to understanding well after childhood. When people make judgments about right and wrong, even in politics or the jury box, they often do so as a result of a story that they construct about events that have happened. […] It’s just human nature.

-Stuart Brown in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately–those we tell, those we remember, those we believe, and those we feel compelled to challenge and rewrite. As Stuart Brown highlights above, stories are the key unit of understanding in human life. We look up at the sky and feel compelled to connect the stars with imaginary lines. Yet, the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in a single story are very real. If we are only able to view human identity–our own and that of others–through a single lens, we run the risk of falling prey to essentialism and a complete breakdown of any opportunity for empathy and true human connection.

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes  the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one preeminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. That we are not. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect–and denial–of the role of reasoning and choice, which follows from the recognition of our plural identities. 

– Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time)

How do we go beyond the single story or the first story that we create about ourselves and those around us? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of simply asking strangers and friends about their hearts and their stories. But I really am curious, how do you think we might go about getting a better sense of the plurality and fullness of each other’s identities? As I wait for your answers, here is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2009 TED talk, in which she poignantly addresses the perils of limiting ourselves to a single story.

So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.
. . . *
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
. . . * 
I have always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult, it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
. . . *
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and
to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
. . . *
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there’s never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story 

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It?

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would share an excerpt from a poignant opinion piece that Aja Monet published last week in response to the unfolding events in Baltimore:

A mother publicly beats her son “rioting” in the streets of Baltimore. The spectators weigh in on the subject. There are some things that are sacred. We ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. Mother is sacred. Children are where mother places dreams and visions not in some philosophical and ideological way but physically, very bodily. They are our offering and sacrifice. Our children are extensions of us, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. Who is loving our children if not us? Who is bearing them, protecting them, raising them? We cannot do this alone.

As a son tries to declare himself a man, to assert his right to express freedom and dignity, a mother aches with the conflict of wanting to protect him from this system. It is a system she knows is bent on beating him down and her down, too. It is upsetting because a Black mother knows what speaking up can result in for Black boys and girls. When we see any son or daughter die, it is our son and daughter that has died too. We do not want more casualties. Where is the depth in our rage? How do we expand the narrative verses simply shifting it?

Source: Aja Monet: The Love that Develops in a Foxhole

With her characteristic poignancy and powerful voice, Monet indirectly reminds us of something we would all do well to dwell on this Mother’s Day: that each of us–white, black, and every shade beyond and in between–starts out as a question mark. I think it’s a powerful trigger for empathy to think of the universal experience that all mothers have when they first become aware of the life growing inside them. Who will this child be? Who will he or she become? What will break and delight their heart? How will I protect that little heart and help it soar? Will she have my hands or her father’s eyes? What will he like? What world will she grow up in?

Before we learn the narrow and destructive cultural associations of color, we are all blobs of cells and potential deep in our mothers’ wombs. The questions continue, we are never ‘resolved’–we all live our lives amidst a profusion of doubts, hopes, fears, joys and pains. We all struggle to define ourselves and find our place in the world. We are, all throughout our lives, a question mark to ourselves and those around us. Trying to shove all this unknown and potential into reductive cultural categories is not only an inadequate appraisal of the fullness of the human being, but much more erosive and malignant, it obscures our common humanity and shared experience of the thrilling and complex business of humanness. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

Speaking of mothers and race, my earliest memory of race happened when I was four. My mother took me to the toy store and told me I could pick out any baby doll I wanted as long as it was a black doll. I threw a fit. I didn’t want a black baby doll, I wanted a white one. Clearly, I had already been exposed to ideas of race before this conscious memory since as a white little girl, I felt my dolls should be white too. My mother didn’t relent and when grumpily I picked one out, I decided I would name it Rose. My mother felt strongly that I should identify with humans and for a long time, race wasn’t really something I thought about. But I’ve come to realize that this stance of colorblindness comes from privilege–the privilege of having a mother who was relentless in trying to teach me to value people for their character rather than their skin color, but also the shameful and outrageous cultural privilege of being white. Where is the depth in our rage?

Monet continues:

This moment in history is a moment where we have no choice but to destroy and to create. When we talk about Baltimore, let us also talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. I walked into a poetry workshop of teenagers yesterday afternoon and I want to believe that the work we do is how we pick up the pieces of what’s left, how we sweep the debris after the soot of our suffering settles. We unravel before each other reaching for words. Americans only reach for things that are already in their hands. We asked that we stretch and grab what wasn’t already there; handed to us. I pleaded with my students, leap, take, grab, fly, clench, fist, and fight—revolt. We left the room a little heavier, with more arsenal, a sense of more self than we had walked in with, calloused palms and swift blows. This is our birthright, not a land or object. It is our ability to communicate our humanity. It is our soul. It is our right to imagine a world where we create the language for our liberation not merely to become literati but inventors. If language is how we arrange the world, how has it been used to limit our worldviews? How has it been used to expand it?

In generation hash tag, we use catchphrases and slogans more than meaning. If we aren’t making liberation and love a part of our everyday lifestyle, I want no part in your rhetoric, constantly adhering to and navigating the white gaze.

All lives matter. It stands as a shameful reminder of our systemic failures to protect, celebrate and uphold our sacredness as human beings that in 2015 we need to be reminded that black lives matter too. In the end, we all bleed the same color. Perhaps that’s a sentimental image, but we ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. I’m not advocating for colorblindness– race is an issue, we have made it so, let us talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. We are only given nine months reprieve before the world attempts to stuff us into its categories and define us. The categories are man-made and arbitrary but the consequences are tragically real and cut deep, in real flesh. Children die. Mothers weep. We, of all colors, need to rethink this. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

I leave you with the rallying call for disrupting the narrative from another poet.

Dis poem will not change things
Dis poem need to be changed
Dis poem is a rebirth of a people
Arizin’ awaking understandin’
Dis poem speak is speakin’ have spoken
Dis poem shall continue even when poets have stopped writin’
Dis poem shall survive you me it shall linger in history
In your mind, in time forever
Dis poem is time only time will tell
Dis poem is still not written, dis poem has no poet
Dis poem is just a part of the story
His-story her-story our-story the story still untold
Dis poem is now ringin talkin irritatin
Makin’ you want to stop it, but dis poem will not stop
Dis poem is long cannot be short
Dis poem cannot be tamed cannot be blamed
The story is still not told about dis poem

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories …*

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories ...* |rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Artist Unknown

A note on the upcoming interview series by way of yet another Camino anecdote (can you tell I’m getting restless?) One evening, in a minuscule town out in the countryside, I met Antonio. I went outside to take in the splendid night sky and there he was, rolling a cigarette in his blue poncho. I said hello and as he would immediately reply, I “went straight for the kill.” I asked him what broke and delighted his heart. He said I came on too strongly. You don’t just ask people about their hearts. Part of me understands and agrees, you have to earn people’s stories and their trust. But part of me thought why not? I’m sick of talking about the weather. For whatever reason, I didn’t relent. I think this sudden and uncharacteristic burst of boldness may have been linked to the remannts of adrenaline I still felt from my encounter a few hours before with a snarling unleashed and unaccompanied German Shepherd in the middle of the forest (the second of the only two times in the course of the entire Camino that I felt afraid–the first was on my very first day, when completely alone, I ran into a pack of cows the size of small dinosaurs standing in the middle of the road, complete with horns (be honest, did you know cows had horns?)) Anyway, back to Antonio and his blue poncho, who by now had lit his cigarette and was laughing at my child-like determination. He turned my question around and asked me about my heart. After I opened up and shared with him things I don’t get to talk about half as much as I’d like to with the people I actually know, he told me a splendid story about his childhood dog who had run away and when all of his family–all but Antonio–had given up hope of ever seeing her again, she showed up at the door. She died the next week, but as Antonio told me, it was a happy ending, because they were reunited.

The questions I’m asking for these interviews are quite loaded. In fact, “what breaks and delights you heart?” is one of them. I’ve heard back from a few people that they simply don’t have answers to these questions but I’ve also received very enthusiastic, vulnerable and authentic responses from people who want to engage with these charged but essential questions we all grapple with. I encourage you to do the same. Ask someone about their heart. Ask them about their fears, their moments, their stories. The worst that can happen is they’ll politely decline. The best is that you’ll feel something real and wondrous as another human being gifts you with their stories and moments.

To get you excited for next week’s inaugural interview in the series, here are the questions I’m asking:

  • What was the last experiment you ran?
  • What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?
  • What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to?
  • What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade?
  • Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?
  • What does it mean to you to live a good life?
  • Could you share one piece of advice about the art of being human?
  • What is your driving question?
  • Any books or movies you recommend?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

{ FINAL ROUND OF THE RETHINKED*ANNEX PROJECT – APTITUDES FOR THE CONCEPTUAL AGE } 

It’s time to kick off the last stage of rethinked*annex: Aptitudes For the Conceptual Age. For those new to rethinked, rethinked*annex is a personal side project which I started two and a half years ago (already!) to see how some of the disciplines we have been focusing on in our team work could apply to the individual. The ultimate goal of our team is to rethink and engage with what it means to flourish as a human being in the twenty-first century—a modern take on an ancient question, what is the good life for man? We live in exciting times, a lot of the models and assumptions that upheld the status quo of old are crumbling in the face of accelerating change on all fronts–technological, medical, economic, etc. What does it mean to live and learn to change and for change? Our team has been exploring the possibilities of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology to help us formulate some avenues into this but I felt strongly that the tools we used for our professional aims should also be useful in enhancing our personal every day lives.

And so the idea for rethinked*annex was born– a sort of experiment on living, learning and becoming, which I’ve documented on the blog. I’ve been following a pretty simple format: pick out a few books on the subject; play around with some of the big ideas; find ways to apply them to my every day life and then report back on the experiments.

I am now ready to think about the convergences between these three fields (Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology) and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. What skills, strengths and mindsets have come up in all three cycles of my experiment? I’ve narrowed it down to five core capacities, which kept coming up over and over: empathy, creativity, making the ordinary unknown (and the willingness to navigate and embrace it), play and courage (to own and deploy one’s voice). So for this last phase, I’ve (very unscientifically) picked out a few books that deal with these various dimensions.

{ BOOKLIST } 

{ BEYOND ME, MYSELF & I – NEW INTERVIEW SERIES }

One nagging insecurity I’ve had throughout this project has been how self-centered it ultimately is. I’ve been exploring what Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology might contribute to my every day life. Of course, the goal is that some of the insights and lessons I’ve learned along the way will transfer outside of my particular circumstances and be of some use to you, but at the end of the day, it’s my thoughts, my feelings, my life, my observations…me, me, me. I’m getting sick and tired of thinking and writing about myself.

I’ve decided it was time to find out how other individuals are grappling with the question(s) of what it means to live a good life. I recently made a list of people I admire–people whose work and ideas have moved me, disrupted my beliefs and assumptions, provoked me to think more deeply and awed me in some form or other. Some of them are friends and some are total strangers, they come from everywhere in terms of geography and fields of inquiry—artists, designers, philosophers, writers, even a midwife. I’ve started reaching out to see if they would be willing to answer a set of questions that touch upon some of the themes that have obsessed me for most of my life and crystalized during the rethinked*annex project. I am floored by the responses. I assumed I wouldn’t hear back from a lot of these people I was ‘cold-emailing,’ but right away, I received enthusiastic answers from total strangers whose work I have admired for years. I am filled with gratitude and excitement for this new phase of the project. You can look forward to seeing their answers published on rethinked over the course of the next few months, starting next week.

There’s a Martin Amis quote from his book Time’s Arrow, which I’ve probably shared about five times over the past three years. I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing it but every few months, I have an experience that reminds me that these simple words ooze with truth when it comes to framing the “others:”

Mmm—people! It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay.

question & rethink …*

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

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http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

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