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“Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking” – Our Interview with Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb …*

"Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking" - Our Interview with Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman Randolph

Today’s interview is very special to me as it comes from one of the teachers who has had the most dramatic and lasting impact on my thinking and understanding of the world. Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb is an Adjunct Lecturer at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies and Co-chair of the Culture, Power, Boundaries Seminar at Columbia University. She is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on the study of ideology and its connection to power and identity. She has developed and taught courses on Silence, Language and Culture, Migration and Identity, and Globalization. Her course on Silence and Identity has been one of the most paradigm shifting learning experiences of my entire academic career. Her work has been published in several journals, including American Anthropologist and Theory in Psychology, and in the absolutely fantastic volume she edited, Silence: The Currency of Power (Berghahn Books, 2006).

discover & rethink …* 

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

Thinking about silence. Going beyond the empty spaces it suggests at first and finding its role in human communication. And what I found, as you know, is that silence is at the root of meaning formation and of ideological manipulations.

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

My fears change form and substance depending on the unfinished business of day to day living versus long term plans. I deal with them with a combination of repression and understanding their underlying [here is the silence, again] causes.

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

A job well done.

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

The fact that atoms –and therefore we—are made up of mostly empty space, barely inhabited by electrons, etc.-  I refer you to a blog by Matt Strassler, a theoretical physicist who manages to open the world of quantum physics in conversational tones.

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

Each time I manage to witness the present.

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

Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking.

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

Yes:  Listen.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

All of the above.

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Jane Austen’s novels; Sharon Olds’ poetry; The film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” we both saw; and all films by Kaslowski, particularly his trilogy “White, Blue, and Red”

. . . * 

THANK YOU, PROFESSOR, ACHINO-LOEB!

“I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species” – Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife …*

"I suppose it's the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species" - Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Jennifer Beggs

Jennifer Beggs

I am super excited about today’s interview, which is a first of its kind on two fronts. Jennifer is our first woman interviewee (it was starting to feel a bit like a boy’s club in here), though far from the last—we’ve got plenty more splendidly inspiring women coming soon. The second first, is that Jennifer is a personal friend. We met in September on our very first day of the Camino and it was my pleasure and delight to share my walk with Jenny for several days as we walked together to Pamplona. Kind, caring, smart and insightful, Jennifer is a registered midwife from Sydney, Australia. I’ll let her introduce herself:

Being the eldest of four and blessed with a wonderful mother, the nurturing gene came through strongly in me. Becoming a mother and a midwife were written in the stars. My children are my greatest education and joy, and my work with women during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood has provided great satisfaction.

What really drives me though, is creating and making things. I have had this powerful urge since I was a child and have potted, painted, photographed, sculpted, crafted and designed intensely for short periods in my life. For much longer stretches I have had to attend to paying bills and raising children, but I have usually had some creative project going on the sidelines. It is however a calling that I have not yet succeeded in fully answering,….or is it perhaps just my ego reaching for something sexier?

What was the last experiment you ran?

I run micro experiments all the time, like brushing my teeth with my brush in my left hand instead of my right; saying “Hi” to people walking towards me on my daily walks (sadly many will instinctively avoid eye contact); varying my interactions with the world and seeing what happens. I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species. Having largely conquered basic survival (if we’re lucky), we search for meaning, connection and wholeness. In the West, and increasingly globally, we are all implored by self-help books, gurus and advertisers to do better and be better; the best of it sometimes leads to healthier and happier lives, the worst, to dissatisfaction and anxiety. Buddhist philosophy increasingly makes sense to me. In the last few years I’ve been enjoying practicing yoga and taking some long walks. Being a bit of a restless soul, I like change, discovery and adventure.

I’m fascinated by the science of nutrition, gut flora and bioscience and soak up any information that I can. I recently saw ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau which documented Damon’s experiment changing his diet to include 30-40 tsp of sugar daily, which is equal to that of the average Western diet. These sugars were hidden in foods that many would consider to be a “healthy” diet. The results were alarming. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been trying to stick to the ‘5:2 diet’ developed by doctor, writer and journalist Michael  Mosley. I’ve had some success in dropping a few kgs. In addition to weight control, many studies have suggested that having a couple of lean days per week confers other health benefits. So far the best and simplest advice that I have heard is summed up elegantly by Michael Pollan who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

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

In my life I have been privileged with safety, plenty and love. Of course, I have fears common to many of losing loved ones. The fear that will have me lying awake at night with catastrophic rumination, is of something happening to one of my children, now young men. I have dealt with this by being completely candid with them about the kind of life choices I hope they’ll make in general, and naming the fears I have for them in specific circumstances. In short, I put my fears on the table and have a good look at them with them. Those conversations, though sometimes tense, have usually been very beneficial as we came to understand each other. I didn’t pretend with them; if I felt afraid for them I said so and said why. They didn’t always agree with me but they understood and respected that my fears came from great love. I recognize that ultimately I have to let go and trust them. I stand in awe of the great human beings that they are and feel blessed every day at having the privilege of being their mum.

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

I believe in nature. We live in an incredible world that is complex and works beautifully. I surrender to this and remain fascinated by life. From witnessing women growing and birthing a child, to seeing my own babies through to adulthood, and my own life as it unfolds, I stand in awe of nature. For me there is no need to look for God, it is here in this wondrous life. When people are arrogant and think they are above and apart from the natural world is where disease and disaster starts. Again and again I’m taught the lesson that nature always wins, work with it, don’t fight it. We are a smart species and we have been incredibly inventive and resourceful to our great benefit. I remain hopeful that our innate good sense will help us to move towards harmony with the planet and all the life that inhabits it.

In my work I encounter sometime tens of women daily, each of them going through pregnancy so ordinary, yet so extraordinary for each of them. I try to stay present and encounter each woman afresh; giving her my full attention and care in the time that I have with her. I delight in that moment of connection, which may be just a shared smile, or may become a wonderful conversation.

Just last evening a woman told me about the birth of her last baby in the bathroom of a department store. She felt no pain, just simply noticed a foot emerging as she peed. Yes, breech! Wow! I said expecting a tale of trauma. Instead she laughed and told me, “I was the only one who was fine, everyone else panicked. Another woman raised the alarm. We had the security guards, cleaners and shop assistants all there. The head cleaner delivered the baby just as the ambulance arrived.” That funny, relaxed woman brightened my day.

That same evening there were tears as another woman nearing the end of her pregnancy revealed her sadness around the ambivalence of her baby’s father. He had let her down once again after she had given him another chance in the hope that her baby would know his father. Her own mother sat beside her, distressed to see her daughter in tears, imploring her in their mother tongue to not cry. “It’s ok to cry mum, sometimes I feel sad,” this brave woman said. Through her tears she explained, “My mother loves us too much.”

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

Quantum physics though I can’t even begin to understand it, is pretty mind blowing. The idea that our gut microbes affect our overall mental and physical health is incredible to me also.

Provocative? That there are people in this world who will kill for a belief, that there are people who rationalize and glorify immense greed and arrogance,… It’s disappointing beyond words. I guess if I’d studied more history this should have been no surprise to me, however I think 9/11 took away some of our innocence, it did for me anyway. I do believe though, that there is way more good than evil in this world.

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

I guess I’m still looking for a transformational moment, a blinding light; that would be kind of wonderful. Maybe I’m not the kind of person who has an epiphany, I tend towards pragmatism and skepticism where high emotion is involved. Perhaps transformation has been more glacial in my life and hence only recognizable with hindsight. Making big decisions such as having  a child, buying a house and even ending a marriage have always led me to a better place often from a low point in my life.

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

Tread lightly. Take what you need and leave enough to go around. Be thankful for your good luck and don’t take it for granted. Practice compassion, gratitude and kindness.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THRIVING AS A HUMAN BEING?

In each moment remember to breathe. Keep making courageous and responsible decisions. Make your life meaningful. Remain curious and open to life. Enjoy and love. Don’t waste time. Do it now.

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How do I bring my efforts into alignment with my passion ? Where best to direct my energy?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIE YOU RECOMMEND?

So many. I’m still excited by the magic of the big screen and in awe of the many talented filmmakers. I like feature length documentaries and international dramas. Documentaries I’ve loved include: Bill Cunningham New York; Babies; It Might Get Loud; 20 Feet from StardomSearching for Sugar ManThe Green Prince. Dramas, too many to mention. Off the top of my head, Lost in Translation; My Life as a DogRumble Fish; AmelieThe Spanish Apartment; Talk to HerCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBabette’s Feast… Each has left my world and my heart a little larger.

Some great fiction by Australian writers that I could recommend include Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey; Eucalyptus by Murray Bail; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; and Remembering Babylon by David Malouf.

. . . *

THANK YOU, JENNY!

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

The starting point of my Zigzag Walk …*

 

Last week I wrote about Stephen Graham’s delightful little game of the Zigzag Walk, which is a framework for exploration that enhances opportunities for discovery and serendipity. The rules are quite simple: you select a starting point and from there turn left and then right at subsequents crossroads. Being in San Francisco for the first time, I was eager to try out this exercise for myself and spent part of Monday morning going on a Zigzag walk. I started at a corner a few streets down from the apartment where I am staying where, on the pavement, was engraved the phrase: ‘ask questions’. It seemed a particularly appropriate starting point.

My Zigzag Walk was a delightful experience which allowed me to get lost in the best way, discovering new streets and neighborhoods. It was also the perfect antidote to Google Maps. Since I’ve never been to San Francisco before, I have been relying pretty heavily on Google Maps to get me to where I need to be but I’ve noticed that whenever I ask it to lead me home it always highlights the same, and rather boring, route. I’ve since come to realize that this may be to help me avoid San Francisco’s many (and often ridiculously steep) hills. But I’m only here for a short time, I don’t want to keep going over the same route, even if it saves me from a few hills. I’d rather endure the slight discomfort of huffing and puffing my way up hills for the tradeoff of discovery and serendipitous discoveries in this beautiful city (sounds like a metaphor for something else…*) Until Google Maps puts out a “Serendipity” option on its routes (which, by the way, Google, please take note), the Zigzag Walk is a brilliant and free way to discover a city and its many hidden treasures.

e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

“Gratitude is the antidote to fear” – Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician …*

"Gratitude is the antidote to fear." - Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: David Schloss

Mario the Magician – photo credit: David Schloss

I first discovered Mario and his delightful take on magic by serendipitously watching a short video (now turned into a full length documentary) on his approach to magic. What really struck me about Mario, a self-described, “wandering traveler turned maker/magician,” is the level of artistry and invention that goes into each of his magic tricks. Mario is a true craftsman of magic, deriving pride and joy in creating his own clever and delightful contraptions. If you’re in or around NYC, you can book Mario to come enchant and awe your children with his uplifting, inventive, and highly interactive program for ages 4 to 10. And now, for everyone, here is Mario’s interview –the perfect way to infuse a hefty dose of wonder, gratitude and whimsy into your Friday and kick off the weekend on a magical note. Connect with Mario @MarioMagician.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I was trying to build an Easter egg finder. I found out that an Arduino micro controller can transmit an AM radio signal around 800Kz. Arduino has become a worldwide go-to tool for experimenting with electronics, and it’s super cheap. I had an idea to make an antenna contraption for kids, with analog gauges that swing like crazy when in proximity of a hidden Easter egg. I managed to squeeze the little transmitter into a plastic egg, but the receiver part was tricky. AM radio waves can get interference pretty easily. I tried to build a super simple receiver that would only pick up the specific station the Arduino transmitted. It was tough! Long story short, I ended up buying a children’s AM radio kit and replaced the tuning capacitor with a fixed one. I added little analog gauges from a 1980’s stereo and they swung around like crazy! It did work, though not as strong as I intended, and I didn’t make it in time for Easter Sunday. Ah well – next year!

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

Keeping my fear in control has been a major focus of mine over the past few years. Starting a family really brings life into full circle. I had to rewire my brain after my first child was born. You know, I spent my twenties breaking every rule I possibly could, and now in my thirties, I spend all my time trying to remember how to follow them again. Reviving the faith of my childhood has been the best life decision I’ve made. Faith in God, Christ, Universe. Because everything we see with our eyes is temporary. People will let you down, always. But people are imperfect for a reason. Innovation succeeds because of imperfection. We are at our best in the midst of crisis and fear. Running away from fear, I fail. Dwelling in my fear, I fail. In hard times, dwelling on things that I’m grateful for changes the direction of my fears. Gratitude is the antidote to fear.

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

Being out in the middle of America somewhere, lost in an antique indoor flea market, with 500 dollars cash in my pocket, holding my wife’s hand. In a parking lot at some small town classic car show. Chatting it up with some old man who rebuilt a VW beetle into a custom street machine, all from scratch. Holding my daughter up into the sunlight, swinging her as a street performer is playing his guitar on a Sunday afternoon. When I am about to perform a magic show, squished in a living room in Tribeca. These things delight my heart.

I surrender to the moment. I am most at peace when I have all my tools around my 1967 Bradley GT, and it’s NOT running. When I have pieces on the floor, not knowing why it’s not working. Why do I feel peace when I “should” be stressed? There is something that excites me in this situation. My scattered tools become cold water on a hot day. My unsolved problem, a meal that I take my time eating. It’s a form of meditation that gives me purpose. I surrender to unsolved problems, ones that will lead me to create something that might not yet exist in the world.

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

Being on Sesame Street. But before that… I overheard someone once after a magic show say that I was all hype and no show. It destroyed me. I went home broken. It really stung. I took that and spent two years building my own magic tricks. Using custom electronics, 3d printing, cigar boxes, cardboard, tape, hot glue, bottle caps, etc… Now I am still learning, but at least I didn’t give up. I took something that gave me a lot of fear, and turned it around. And that became me. It became my niche. My handmade props, my original routines and my integration of electronics into my art have started to bring me places I never imagined.

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

Living in truth. Truth with all your senses. Love. When you receive love it makes you feel supernatural. To love when you receive hate. Love when you receive hurt. Love when you feel cheated. Love when others have more than you. Letting go. Distinguishing what to let go. I know which are my greatest projects… the ones I was able to let go of at the end of the day. I could work through the night, but I wouldn’t be giving it my best. Not spreading yourself too thin. Focusing. Find what makes you lose sleep because you love it so much. Live in that. And grace. Always thinking the best of people. Doing unto others what you would want done to yourself. We forget this rule so much. I know I do – every time I’m driving on the West Side Highway in Manhattan! Haha!

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

I have a seven month old son named Bear Gideon. He is the happiest child I have ever seen. We put him on a swing at the park recently. He is really chubby and big for his age. He sat back on the chair like a chubby Buddha giggling as our daughter Gigi pushed him. I watched Gigi push him gently as he giggled more and more. Gigi and Bear live the art of being human. I’m looked at my wife, Katie, and thought, “Damn. We created these little creatures, and now they are entertaining themselves.” I think the art of being human is sacrifice. I honor great leaders who chose to really give rather than receive. I believe without any doubt that Jesus, this homeless man from a small town, died for humanity, then rose from the dead and disrupted everything. I believe Buddha has reincarnated many times. What am I trying to say? Katie and I have chosen a path to have and raise children. This is the most sacrificing decision we have ever made. I chose this path because I believe I have come across something great. A wife that completes me. A career that makes children laugh and believe in new things. I surrendered the idea of being the next Lance Burton or David Copperfield years ago. I loved magic so much that I started taking kids’ shows from other magicians who didn’t want them. Children’s magic is so often looked upon as secondary entertainment. Two years after that decision, we started paying our rent just doing magic. It wasn’t until then that I started realizing that the very thing I was running away from was the thing I was made to do. I LOVE performing for kids. I LOVE it.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

What will I make next week? How will I make it?

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Benny and Joon. Chaplin’s The Circus. YouTube videos of The Great Ballentine, George Carl, Steve Martin on Johnny Carson, Tommy Cooper.

. . . *

THANK YOU, MARIO!

“How can I make my life as full as possible?” – Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys …*

"How can I make my life as full as possible?" Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys ...* | rethinked.org

Alastair Humphreys

I am delighted to share our second interview, this time with adventurer and authorAlastair Humphreys. Among his various adventures, Alastair has biked around the world, walked across India and rowed the Atlantic. These days, he is working hard to help us rethink our rather narrow assumptions about adventures as epic time-consuming and costly expeditions in faraway places by pioneering the concept of microadventures for which he has been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Cheap, simple, yet effective, microadventures are “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home.” Alastair also runs a fabulous blog filled with inspiring and informative content which is sure to tickle and trigger your wanderlust. He has a delightful new film on vimeo about an imaginary journey round Scotland, linking together wild bothies and landscapes. Connect with Alastair on Twitter @Al_Humphreys.

 WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The microadventures I have been doing in the last few years have become very popular and people are now far more interested in me than they were back when I cycled round the world and was working hard to make a go of the world of epic expeditions. I find it amusing that people are more interested in me sleeping on my local hill for a night! So that felt like quite a big risk when I switched direction.

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

I fear getting old, wasting my opportunities and my potential. I am not sure I manage it very well. It makes me rather incapable of relaxing or having fun! I suppose I manage it by trying to do something about it: I don’t want to get old and regret things, so I try to just get on and do stuff rather than just dreaming about it.

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

People achieving extraordinary things in their field. This often manifests itself through elite sport, but I also loved the film The Theory of Everything for those reasons. I’m also really moved by wild, empty, quiet and beautiful places. I wanted to combine wilderness and doing something extraordinary through my expeditions.

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

I’m not sure this is quite what you are looking for, but the increase in our sedentary lifestyles, screen addiction, getting fat and unfit and disconnected from the world’s wild places all make me frightened, sad, angry, and determined not to end up that way myself.


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

Climbing on my bike outside my front door to cycle round the world was a key moment. A minute before I was someone who had never done anything exciting, but dreamed of it. And now, here I was, actually doing it.

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

To make the most of your potential and your opportunities. To be kind and to make the world a little better than you found it. To laugh a lot with friends.

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

When you look at successful people, do not make the mistake of thinking that they are better than you in anyway. And do not make the mistake of equating success with guaranteed happiness.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION? 

How can I make my life as full as possible?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventure-reading-101/

…*

Thank you, Alastair!

“Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it.” – Our Interview with Warren Berger …*

"Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it." - Our Interview with Warren Berger ...* | rethinked.org

I first heard of Warren Berger (previously featured on rethinked …* here and here) when he reached out to me several months ago to ask if he could feature a question I had asked, here on the blog, on how we might go about learning to thrive and flourish within the tensions and contradictions that border human existence on his splendid and endlessly fascinating website A More Beautiful Question. (How’s that for a shameless ‘humble brag’?) And then I noticed Warren popping up all over the place with incredibly intelligent and insightful articles on things that keep me up at night and make me excited to wake up in the morning– the power of questions, design, and creativity, to name just a few–on Fast Company, Big Think or Harvard Business Review. Warren is an author, speaker and self-described “questionologist.” His latest book is the wonderful A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (2014). I couldn’t be more excited about kicking off our new interview series with Warren’s interview. It seems particularly appropriate to begin with the answers of a man obsessed by and dedicated to (beautiful) questions. Connect with Warren on Twitter @GlimmerGuy.

 

What was the last experiment you ran? 

I write about the power of questioning. Recently, I looked around at other people and groups who are interested in this subject. They might ordinarily be thought of as my “competitors.” I decided to do an experiment bringing all of us together around a unified event, called “Question Week.” I would say the experiment was a modest success. With most experiments, I think you have to go through iterations, learning as you go; and that’s the case here. I’m going to keep building on this idea of unifying different people and groups around this common theme.

 

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

Like so many people, I have a fear of failure and rejection. I have come to believe that one of the ways to manage this fear is to have honest conversations with yourself and it starts with asking yourself some questions about your fear. Why do you fear a certain outcome? How likely is that to happen? If it does happen, what’s the worst part of that outcome, in your mind? And if the worst happened, how would you recover? I picked up on some of these questions from the author/entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, who also suggests you ask yourself, “What if I do nothing—what kind of outcome will that lead to?” This tends to make you realize that the real failure is doing nothing. There’s another question I love, which is popular in Silicon Valley—“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?” It allows your mind to let go of the fear, if only temporarily, and envision the boldest possibilities.

 

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

Animals. It breaks my heart to see how they are often treated and it delights me to see how wonderful and loving they can be, in spite of it all. (Also, the New York Giants –they break my heart a lot, but they’ve provided more than a few moments of sheer delight).

 

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

Lots of them, too many to single one out. I recently saw a play called “Hamilton” that was a hip hop telling of the immigrant story of Alexander Hamilton; amazing. I recently read the Adam Grant book “Give and Take,” which suggests (very persuasively) that there is incredible power in giving and that nice guys can actually finish first, even in business. In my own work the most provocative idea I’ve come across is the notion that questions are currently rising in value while answers are declining in value.

 

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

The day I decided to leave my magazine editor job and go to work for myself, as a writer. I thought, at the time, it might be a temporary thing. That was 28 years ago and I haven’t had a proper job since.

 

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

I think it’s about balancing two things: Enjoying the limited time each of us has and, at the same time, trying to bring something positive into the world, on an ongoing basis. If you can find a way to do both at the same time, then you’re living a good life.

 

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

Keep questioning and learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species and we should take full advantage of it.

 

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How might I help, in some way, to encourage more questioning?

 

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND? 

Movies: Crumb. Fargo. Boogie Nights. Hud. Books: A Fan’s Notes. Seabiscuit. The Basketball Diaries. Bird by Bird.

…*

THANK YOU, WARREN …*

Tune in this coming Friday for our interview with (micro)adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

{ 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 …*

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom …*

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

 

A few months ago, I quoted a poignant observation found in an article written by Joshua Freedman who was reflecting on his own mistakes, notably his failures of empathy, in dealing with his son’s constant procrastination when it came to doing his homework.

Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll remember to take that all-important pause and ask myself: I wonder what’s really going on for him right now? That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy, and it’s a game changer.

Freedman’s article was published on Start Empathy, which is the blog of an Ashoka initiative dedicated to building a future in which every child masters empathy. Empathy is a critical component of thriving relationships and in an increasingly volatile environment of accelerating change, it is especially urgent that we help our children understand and activate their capacity for empathy. One of the most impactful ways to help children understand empathy is to model it ourselves in our interactions with them. It starts with listening and a genuine curiosity and openness to understanding each child’s point of view and experience. Which is exactly what Colorado teacher Kyle Schwartz does in her third grade classroom. Schwartz has been asking her students to finish the phrase, “I wish my teacher knew….” and after recently joining Twitter, she has been posting photographs of her students responses. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew is now being used by teachers everywhere. Here is a wonderful example of how easy and accessible it is to model and infuse empathy in the classroom. Bravo, Ms. Schwartz!

Source: What Poor Students Wished Their Teachers Knew About Them 

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ Rethinking Engagement } Cultivating the Rage to Master, Job Crafting & the Impact of Our Environments on Motivation …*

This week had me thinking about motivation and engagement: how do we trigger, cultivate and enhance our level of engagement and that of our students. It started a few weeks ago when reading 7 Secrets Top Athletes Can Teach You About Being The Best At Anything, I learned of a fascinating term coined by psychologist Ellen Winner: RAGE TO MASTER. The rage to master is a term that Winner coined to describe a common trait found amongst child prodigies– an obsessive and insatiable desire to become better at something. I found fairly little more information on this concept and would really appreciate it if any of you could point me to an article or other online resource that gives a bit more context around the term.

Anyway, the reason engagement and motivation emerged as a theme for me this week, is because as I was walking around thinking about the rage to master, I walked past a public school which stopped me dead in my tracks. The building looked so dreadful: square, brown, with heavy meshed bars on the windows, that at first I thought I had stumbled upon a prison. I happened to be thinking about Winner’s Rage to Master at that precise moment, wondering what strategies and influences might help children develop this insatiable desire for improvement, and the contrast between what I was thinking about and this building where students go to learn and flourish every day really took me aback.

I understand that there are issues of safety, especially in places such as Manhattan and that funding is limited, but there must be accessible alternatives to this block of brown and grills that would be more conducive to cultivating passionate engaged students, obsessed with learning and mastery.

. . . *

So how might we go about starting to hack our way to creating more opportunities for increased motivation and engagement? Well, the Association for Psychological Science highlights new research that suggests that Just Feeling Like Part of A Team Increases Motivation on Challenging Tasks

Across five experiments Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton concluded that even subtle suggestions of being part of a team dramatically increased people’s motivation and enjoyment in relation to difficult tasks, leading to greater perseverance and engagement and even higher levels of performance.

“Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” says Walton.

Carr and Walton hypothesized that a sense of working together would fuel intrinsic motivation by turning a tedious task from work into play.

 . . . * 

Earlier this week, my father gave me some interesting prompts for job crafting from the School of Life — Roman Krznaric’s How To Find Fulfilling Work and the 100 Questions: Work Edition Kit:

100 carefully composed questions designed to help you start a conversation about you and your working life. Use them to sharpen your understanding of who you are and what you should be asking of the world of work.

I haven’t gotten around to reading the book yet, but each morning this week I’ve spent about a half hour picking out some cards and thinking about my answers to the questions. I’ve really enjoyed the exercise, finding that it allows me to think about my work life from completely new angles that I would not have considered on my own. For example, all of the cards are broken up into several categories, and this morning I was reflecting on a prompt about what I would have to do in my working life to make my children proud. Because I’m not at all thinking about any potential future children, this is not a question I would have asked myself nor is it an angle I would have considered when thinking about how to craft my career. Yet, after spending some time with the question this morning, I found it was quite a productive prompt that allowed me to expand how I frame and approach the concept of a meaningful career.

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