Tag humanity

{ 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 

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.


The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.


The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.


I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.


Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.


I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.


At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”


Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.


How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?



  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono


  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan


  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 


{ 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!

The Empathic Potential of Storytelling – Creating Spaces to Exchange Stories with Strangers & Cultivate Empathy…*

The Empathic Potential of Storytelling - Creating Spaces to Exchange Stories with Strangers & Cultivate Empathy...*  | rethinked.org

“I think we need to think about bringing empathy into our every day lives in a very sort of habitual way. Socrates said that the way we live a wise and good life was to know thyself. And we’ve generally thought of that as being about being self-reflective, looking in at ourselves. It’s been about introspection. But I think, in the 21st century, we need to recognize that to know thyself is something that can also be achieved by stepping outside yourself, by discovering other people’s lives. And I think empathy is the way to revolutionize our own philosophies of life, to become more outrospective and to create the revolution of human relationships that I think we so desperately need.” – Roman Krznaric

Tune in to any news outlet today and the urgency of Krznaric’s message about our need to bring empathy into our every day lives and revolutionize human relationships should be quite clear. We need to create, nurture and seek out spaces where we may step outside ourselves and discover the lives of other people. We need platforms that allow us to appraise the “Other,” not as a collection of labels, stereotypes and prejudices, but as fellow dreamers and worriers–as human beings, full of hopes and fears, longings and potential. We need tools and spaces to recognize ourselves in strangers. Here are three such spaces, each exploring, in its own way, the power of storytelling to nurture empathy.


20 Day Stranger  }

20 Day Stranger is an iPhone app that reveals intimate, shared connections between two anonymous individuals. It’s a mobile experience that exchanges one person’s experience of the world with another’s, while preserving anonymity on both sides.

For 20 days, you and a stranger will experience the world in your own way, together. You’ll never know who it is or exactly where they are, but we hope it will reveal enough about someone to build your imagination of their life… and more broadly, the imagination of strangers everywhere.

20 Day Stranger from Playful Systems on Vimeo.


Judged.co }

It started when Catherine Hoke, founder of Defy Ventures, asked: “What if you were only known for the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life?” The 1,500 attendees of Brooklyn Beta, a popular tech conference, fell silent with the question. How do ex-convicts get past their troubled beginnings? The stigma of conviction? The judgment of others? Can former criminals really change their hustle? Is it possible for people to make a 180-degree turn, change their habits, and start over? Defy is finding the answers by helping ex-convicts start their own businesses, and giving them a chance to change their path and repave their future. So, what does that have to do with us? We’re not criminals. We’ve led privileged lives and make a living as creatives. But Catherine’s mission struck a chord with us. So we decided to get involved. To talk to Defy Ventures graduates and hear their stories. To use our talents to make sure as many people as possible are inspired by what organizations like Defy are doing. And, maybe most importantly, to add depth and meaning to an often commercial or superficial virtual world. Over the months that passed, the stories kept resonating in our heads. Defy graduates didn’t have the opportunities we did. But they now have the power to impact the lives of the next generation. By bringing these positive role models into the spotlight, we have the chance to contribute to something real. Something good. Something that goes far beyond appearance, all the way to inspiration. Listen to these stories. We think they’ll inspire you too.



Narrative 4 is a global organization headed up by some of the world’s most renowned and influential authors, artists and community leaders who have come together to promote empathy through the exchange of stories. In an effort to break down barriers and shatter stereotypes, N4 encourages people to walk in each other’s shoes and prove that not only does every story matter, every life matters.

Narrative4 from Narrative 4 on Vimeo.


Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life …*

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life ...*  | rethinked.org

“Herein is my formulation of the good life: Using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.” -Martin Seligman, 161

Last week we looked at the idea set forth by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, that engaging in experiences that produce flow may be a way to build psychological capital. You might recall that achieving flow depends on several factors, key among which, the matching of a challenge to engage your unique and personal strengths. Today, let’s look at what Positive Psychology has to say about these strengths –how we identify, cultivate and exercise them.


Given the importance of deploying one’s character strengths in as many situations as possible throughout life to live fully and authentically, Seligman identified the need to create a comprehensive taxonomy of good character. He assembled a team and together they started poring through hundred of ancient texts from various times and cultures -“we read Aristotle and Plato, Aquinas and Augustine, the Old Testament and the Talmud, Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tze, Bushido (the samurai code), the Koran, Benjamin Franklin, and the Upanishads–some two hundred virtue catalogues in all.” (132) What they found were some ubiquitous virtues, valued across time and culture. These virtues, of which there are six, are: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; spirituality and transcendence. (133) Seligman and his team use the word ubiquitous rather than universal because there are some rare exceptions.

It is true that very rare exceptions can be found; the Ik, for example, do not appear to value kindness. Hence we call the strengths ubiquitous rather than universal and it is important that examples of the anthropological veto (“Well, the Ik don’t have it”) are rare and glaring. This means that quite a few of the strengths endorsed by contemporary Americans are not on our list: good looks, wealth, competitiveness, self-esteem, celebrity, uniqueness and the like. These strengths are certainly worthy of study, but they are not my immediate priority. My motive for this criterion is that I want my formulations of the good life to apply just as well to Japanese and to Iranians as to Americans. (140)

Of course, all of these virtues can mean many different things to different people and there are many ways of achieving them. Since Positive Psychology is based on empirical and scientific study, Seligman and his team had to push further and establish a system by which to identify the measurable and acquirable routes one takes to achieve the virtues–the strengths of character.

To be a virtuous person is to display, by acts of will, all or at least most of the six ubiquitous virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. There are several distinct routes to each of these six. For example, one can display the virtue of justice by acts of good citizenship, fairness, loyalty and teamwork, or humane leadership. I call these routes strengths, and unlike the abstract virtues, each of these strengths is measurable and acquirable. (137)


The first step then in creating a taxonomy of good character is to define the characteristics of the strengths. Seligman starts by highlighting the difference between strengths and talents:

Strengths, such as integrity, valor, originality, and kindness, are not the same thing as talents, such as perfect pitch, facial beauty, or lighting-fast sprinting speed. They are both topics of Positive Psychology and while they have many similarities, one clear difference is that strengths are moral traits, while talents are nonmoral. In addition, although the line is fuzzy, talents generally are not as buildable as strengths. True, you can improve your time in the hundred-meter dash by raising your rump higher in the starting position, you can wear makeup that makes you look prettier, or you can listen to a great deal of classical music and learn to guess the pitch correctly more often. I believe that these are only small improvements, though, augmenting a talent that already exists. Valor, originality, fairness and kindness, in contrast, can be built on even frail foundations, and I believe that with enough practice, persistence, good teaching and dedication, they can take root and flourish. (134)

Strengths are voluntary and involve choices about when to use them and whether to keep building them, but also whether to acquire them in the first place. Meanwhile, talents are relatively automatic, involve some choices, but only of those of whether to burnish it and where to employ it. Seligman then highlights eight additional criterion by which to identify strengths:

  1. Strengths are traits (137)
  2. Strengths are valued in their own right (137)
  3. Strengths are what parents wish for their newborns (137)
  4. Onlookers of strengths being displayed are often elevated and inspired rather than envious or jealous (138)
  5. The culture supports strengths by providing institutions, rituals, role models, parables, maxims and children’s stories. (138)
  6. Role models and paragons in the culture compellingly illustrate a strength or virtue. (138)
  7. Some of the strengths have prodigies, youngsters who display them early on and amazingly well. (138)
  8. Conversely, there exist idiots (from the Greek, for not socialized) with respect to a strength. (139)
  9. The strengths are ubiquitous. (139)


My favorite positive “intervention” is merely to ask you to take the VIA Strengths Survey, then think about which of these strengths are the ones you own and how you might use them every day. Quite astonishingly, your own ingenuity and your desire to lead the good life often take over from there, even if I step aside. (137) 

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website and under the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test, I did it and thought it was worth it. You will receive a 30 page detailed report of your character strengths in rank order. You will also learn about the benefits of each of your signature strengths, ways to cultivate them and avoid the pitfalls of mismanaging your aptitudes. 

Once you have taken the survey, Seligman’s next exercise is to evaluate your results–do the strengths the survey identified feel authentic to you?

Typically you will have five or fewer scores of 9 or 10, and these are your highest strengths, at least as your reported them. […] You will also have several low scores in the 4 (or lower) to 6 range, and these are your weaknesses.

Look at the list of your top five strengths. Most of these will feel authentic to you, but one or two of them may not be the real you. My strengths on this test were love of learning, perseverance, leadership, originality, and spirituality. Four of these feel like the real me, but leadership is not one. I can lead quite adequately if I am forced to, but it isn’t a strength that I own. When I use it, I feel drained, I count the hours until it is done, and I am delighted when the task is over and I’m back with my family.

I believe that each person possesses several signature strengths. These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting. Take your list of top strengths, and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
  • Continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try and stop me”)
  • Invigorating rather than exhaustion while using the strength
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.

If one or more of these apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. Use them as frequently as you can and in as many settings. If none of the signature criteria apply to one or two of your strengths, they may not be the aptitudes you want to deploy in work, love, play, and parenting. (160)



The first virtue cluster is wisdom. I have arranged the six routes to displaying wisdom and its necessary antecedent, knowledge, from the most developmentally basic (curiosity) up to the most mature (perspective). (140) 

  • Curiosity / Interest in the world
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgement / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
  • Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
  • Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  • Perspective


The strengths that make up courage reflect the open-eyed exercise of will toward the worthy ends that are not certain of attainment. To qualify as courage, such acts must be done in the face of strong adversity. This virtue is universally admired, and every culture has heroes who exemplify this virtue. I include valor, perseverance, and integrity as three ubiquitous routes to this virtue. (145)

  • Valor & Bravery
  • Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
  • Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty


The strengths here are displayed in positive social interaction with other people: friends, acquaintances, family members and also strangers. (148)

  • Kindness & Generosity
  • Loving & Allowing Oneself to Be Loved


These strengths show up in civic activities. They go beyond your one-on-one relationships to how you relate to larger groups, such as your family, your community, the nation, and the world. (149)

  • Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
  • Fairness & Equity
  • Leadership


As a core virtue, temperance refers to the appropriate and moderate expression of your appetites and wants. The temperate person does not suppress motives, but waits for opportunities to satisfy them so that harm in not done to self or others. (152)

  • Self-Control
  • Prudence / Discretion / Caution
  • Humility & Modesty


I use “transcendence” for the final cluster of strengths. This term is not popular throughout history—“spirituality” is the label of choice—but I wanted to avoid confusion between one of the specific strengths, spirituality, with the nonreligious strengths in this cluster, like enthusiasm and gratitude. By transcendence, I mean emotional strengths that reach outside and beyond you to connect you to something larger and more permanent: to other people, to the future, to evolution, to the divine, or to the universe. (154)

  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
  • Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
  • Forgiveness & Mercy
  • Playfulness & Humor
  • Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Friday Link Fest…*



Playtime is elusive, but also essential ~ via Boston Globe, published June 8, 2013.

How Awe Can Help Students Develop Purpose ~ Research suggests that inducing awe in the classroom might inspire kids to find a sense of purpose in life. via Greater Good Science Center, published June 11, 2013.

5 Points for Your Empathy Arsenal ~ The arguments you need to explain why empathy is a key to life-long learning. via Start Empathy, published May 28, 2012.

No Learning Without Feeling ~ via New York Times, published June 8, 2013.

Happiness Should Be a Verb ~  “Well-doing” is more precise than “well-being”. via Scientific American, published June 7, 2013.

The Myth of ‘Just Do It’ — rethinking…* the idea that we perform best when not thinking about what we are doing. via New York Times, published June 9, 2013.

Place & public health: the impact of architecture on wellbeing ~ Architecture helps shape the quality of our environments and can contribute to health and happiness, writes Karl Johnsonvia The Guardian, published June 11, 2013.

Ideo’s 3 Steps To A More Open, Innovative Mind ~ via Fast Company, published June 12, 2013.

Einstein’s Problem-Solving Formula, And Why You’re Doing It All Wrong ~ via Fast Company, published March 26, 2013.

Innovation Is 1% Inspiration, 99% Perspiration ~ It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. via Forbes, published June 13, 2013.


Office Frontiers ~ NeoCon fair: rethinking…* workplace solutions to enhance collaboration & boost productivity. via Metropolis Magazine, published June 2013.

Who Made That? The New York Times Magazine 2013 Innovations Issue ~ via New York Times, published June 7, 2013.

The National Gallery Makes 25,000 Images of Artwork Freely Available Online ~ via Open Culture, published June 11, 2013.

Seeking Wisdom: 7 Dangers Of Human Virtue by Mahatma Gandhi ~ via Teach Thought, published June 11, 2013.

Ahhh, Music To My… Eyes? ~ Sonic Sculptures by Martin Klimas. via Scientific American, published June 3, 2013.


Empathy 101: Parents: Start by sharing, not by asking ~ via Ashoka, published October 13, 2011.

A Look Inside Japan’s Suh-weet Underground Automated Bicycle Server ~ Eco Cycle Anti-Seismic Underground Bicycle Park. via Core77, published June 10, 2013.

Daniel Goleman on Different Kinds of Empathy ~ via bvo.com, published January 26, 2011.

The Enormous Opportunity In Educating And Empowering Girls ~ Girl Rising is a documentary featuring nine girls from nine countries as they seek out an education. via FastCo.Exist, published June 13, 2013.

Fruit snack Gogo squeeZ Addresses Playfulness Deficit with New Campaign ~ Wherever You Go, Go Playfully. via FastCoCreate, published June 11, 2013.

21st Century Masters Create Their Own Fields ~ via Big Think, published May 12, 2013.

Rethinking…* Homelessness & Artistic Expression ~ Starving Artists Project

There’s now a record 46,000 homeless people in New York City struggling to communicate their very basic need for help, the need for food, the need for shelter, the need to be recognized. They reach out through the only means they have: scraps of cardboard and their own creativity. Sadly, we don’t even look, we’ve been subconsciously trained to ignore even the passionate cries for help of the homeless to go completely unnoticed. But what if there was a way to change this by changing the way we interpret these messages. After observing the creation of these signs, it became clear that these were not just messages, but rather heartfelt, beautiful pieces of handmade human expression. These were in every way individual pieces of art. We made it our mission to redirect these artful cries for help away from the streets to a forum where they could be properly seen and appreciated to inspire change.

Starving Artists Project is a social art initiative giving the NYC homeless community’s artistic cries for help a larger platform to inspire greater action.  Founded by Thompson Harrell & Nick Zafonte, the Starving Artists Project is based on the recognition that the signs for help of homeless people are “not just messages, but rather heartfelt, beautiful pieces of handmade human expression”, which led to their mission: “to redirect their artful cries for help from the streets to a forum where they can be properly appreciated, giving the homeless a more powerful voice, to bring about a more profound change.” Partnering up with world-renowned photographer, Andrew Zuckerman, Starving Artists Project photographed nearly thirty artists and collected their messages. The collection made its debut at the Dumbo Art Center in Brooklyn, NY, with the artists there to be recognized by the public.

Enjoy & rethink…*

(The Starving Artists Project Film from Thompson Harrell on Vimeo.)


John John

By John John

Shavar Stora

By Shavar Stora

Head over to StarvingArtistsProject.com for more pictures of the artists and their work.

(images via: starvingartistproject.com)

…* {The Childish Creature}

I’ve had the poet on my mind ever since watching John Lloyd’s animated TED talk on the invisible, where he ends with a quote from W.H. Auden: ‘We are here on Earth to help others. What the others are here for, I’ve NO idea.’  Here are four (I, VIII, XXI, & XXV) of the 27 sonnets that make up Auden’s In Time of War, that I was (serendipitously) reading yesterday ~


Love Me sticker by Curtis Kulig, photograph my own.


So from the years the gifts were showered; each

Ran off with his at once into his life:

Bee took the politics that make a hive,

Fish swam as fish, peach settled as peach.


And were successful at the first endeavor;

The hour of birth their only time at college,

They were content with their precocious knowledge,

And knew their station and were good for ever.


Till finally there came a childish creature

On whom the years could model any feature,

And fake with ease a leopard or a dove;


Who by the lightest wind was changed and shaken,

And who looked for truth and was continually mistaken,

And envied his few friends and chose his love.



He turned his field into a meeting-place,

And grew the tolerant ironic eye,

And formed the mobile money-changer’s face,

And found the notion of equality.


And strangers were as brothers to his clocks,

And with his spires he made a human sky;

Museums stored his learning like a box,

And paper watched his money like a spy.


It grew so fast his life was overgrown,

And he forgot what once it had been made for,

And gathered into crowds and was alone,


And lived expensively and did without,

And could not find the earth which he had paid for,

Nor feel the love that he knew all about.



The life of man is never quite completed;

The daring and the chatter will go on:

But, as an artist feels his power gone,

These walk the earth and know themselves defeated.


Some could not bear nor break the young and mourn for

The wounded myths that once made nations good,

Some lost a world they never understood,

Some saw too clearly all that man was born for.


Loss is their shadow-wife, Anxiety

Receives them like a grand hotel; but where

They may regret they must; their life, to hear


The call of the forbidden cities, see

The stranger watch them with a happy stare,

And Freedom hostile in each home and tree.



Nothing is given: we must find our law.

Great building jostle in the sun for domination;

Behind them stretch like sorry vegetation

The low recessive houses of the poor.


We have no destiny assigned us:

Nothing is certain but the body; we plan

To better ourselves; the hospitals alone remind us

Of the equality of man.


Children are really loved here, even by police:

They speak of years before the big were lonely,

And will be lost.


And only

The brass bands throbbing in the parks foretell

Some future reign of happiness and peace.


We learn to pity and rebel.



Source:  McClatchy, J.D., ed. W.H. Auden: The Voice of the Poet. New York: Random House Audiobooks, 1999. Print.

on hidden love notes


The last time I went to a gallery was three or four months ago when I tried to see Rammellzze’s The Letter Racers at the Susanne Geiss gallery. I say tried, because I never made it to the show. I arrived at the gallery to find the door closed. I rang the doorbell and a very sleek, slightly pissed-off girl answered. She told me they were closed for the next two hours, and when I come back to use the other door. I don’t like to wait and by then I was feeling a strange mix of intimidation and irritation. But this was Rammellzee so I decided I would stick it out, and come back in two hours. The gallery is on Grand Street, prime street art neighborhood, so I started walking around, scanning the streets as I went; getting in my ‘graffiti journey’ mode: entering a portal of love, despair, needs, dreams and obsessions that scream so loudly for attention that I make abstraction of all other things tangible: the people around me, the noises, the chaos, time, myself. When I came out of my “graffiti trance”, four and a half hours had passed and the gallery had closed. I was disappointed not to have seen the Letter Racers but I would not have changed anything about that afternoon, where I discovered myriad touching and provoking street art.

I am not trying to raise the debate over the merits of institutionalized, ‘elitist’ art versus popular, gritty, street art. I find the dispute futile, and believe both models have their place; anyway, one could not exist without the other (but this is a complex conversation for another post). An article today on how the city of Säo Paulo is lifting its five year ban on billboard advertising as long as the advertising is in the form of  “graffiti”, made me ponder the state of  co-optation of graffiti and street art as a guerilla marketing technique. But when my cat lost interest and walked away, I changed gears and started reminiscing about what street art means to me and how integral it is and has been to my education, or formation, as a rethinker.

I don’t remember when it started, maybe five or six years ago, this impulse to seek out graffiti. It had been going on for a while when it became something more than a passing hobby, evolving into a full blown mode of life. Walking around, looking at all the ‘notes’–the images, texts and other forms of imprints-from other people, who share my city and my condition of being human, has become something of an addiction for me, it’s become a necessary part of my well-being, making me feel deeply grounded in my own skin and connected to the rest of humanity. There is something about the use of the street as a medium that always communicates, to me, anyway, the “mammalian” nature (was absorbed with Christopher Hitchens’ quotes yesterday…so some of his terms and obsessions are going to come through…) of the artist behind the piece. I always think of the individual–that cauldron of dreams, needs, imagination, love, desires, obsessions, anxiety, drives and emotion, all wrapped up in our porous, puncturable and decaying skins—that cared enough to make the piece. In that sense, street art, in whatever form it takes, is a way to make “others” “people” and “humanity’ immediately accessible and tangible.

It is always a deeply empathetic experience, to seek out and find love notes to humanity left by complete stranger. It was the day that my grandmother passed away that ‘graffiti journeys’ really entered my life. I got the call early in the morning. It felt like someone had violently ripped out whatever center I had. I didnt know what I was feeling or how to deal with it, so I just left my apartment and started walking. I scanned the streets, furiously searching for every bit of paint, ink, chalk, or paper ‘calling’ to be seen, as I walked. And so I spent the entire day following one ‘love note’ after another, feeling the joy and despair of the people that had left them, making abstraction of everything within myself to exist in the immediate moment–within the organic, dirty, smelly and infinitely beautiful palimspest of humanity that is NYC. It made me feel better.

I have always been deeply moved by various forms and expressions of art, but static images (discounting photography) have only made me cry twice. Once, in the Louvre, in front of a Fragonard painting, and once on the streets of New York, in front of this anonymous tag:

I have noticed a strange paradox about New Yorkers and the vibes of the streets here. We’re often described as unfriendly, hurried, blazé, dirty and frenetic, which we are. But there is also a special atmosphere of respect for the whimsical, the authentic, and the sacred, however one chooses to define that. When I had cried in the Louvre, it had been in a moment of strong and overwhelming emotion that was quickly tempered by the stares of other tourists. But here, on Prince and Bowery, as I experienced a similar moment of being deeply touched, there were no stares. The city, with its unquenchable energy, pace and life, went on, just as it always does. It was comforting.

The term Street Art today is as broad as “Art”, which, I suppose, means gallery, or rather, institutionalized art. Street art goes far beyond the graffiti tags and throw-ups to which the term owes its roots—from urban hactivist like Florian Rivière, yarn-bomber, Agata Olek, reversed graffiti or “grime” artist  Paul Curtis (aka Moose),  Iranian stencil artists Icy & Scot, street art installation and photography artist Slinkachu, JR’s Inside Out project to Blu‘s wall-painted animations (Muto & BIG BANG BIG BOOM)—street art is everywhere, taking all sorts of existing and new forms, and more often than not, driven by the desire to jolt individuals and communities out of their routines and acceptance of the status quo to collectively rethink our human experiences.

Would love to hear about your experiences of street art/favorite artists and obsessions!

On the Things that Haunt Us




Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I “haunt.”

So begins André Breton’s Nadja, perhaps the best embodiment of the spirit and attitudes of the Surrealist movement. It’s an interesting question, who am I? So much of how you answer has to do with who you are, and what you understand the question to mean. Is it whom I haunt? Or is it what I’ve accomplished; what I think I am; what I want to be; what others think I am; what haunts me? Who am I? It’s an eternal question and no single response can exist. But it’s worthwhile to think about because your answers mean so much to how you conceive of and interact with others and the world around you.

A few days ago we were writing about the absence of public collective spaces in which to reflect, as a community, on our experiences of self and existence in a deep, meaningful and productive context. Perhaps it is because we lack this sense of having a right, place and time to talk about our meaningful ideas and violent obsessions surrounding existence and humanity that we often resort to surface-level small talk when meeting new people. This is not to say that talking superficially about our education, our professional backgrounds, where were from, what we like to do in our free time, what sports teams won last night and what the weather will be like tomorrow are not interesting conversations, but they reveal so very little about how we truly exist in the everyday. Why don’t we discuss the ideas that matter most to us in those beautiful opportunities we have to engage with strangers? Why don’t we seek to have our models, ideas, beliefs and systems challenged by another’s perspective and collectively re-imagined in the course of these brief impromptu exchanges? Of course these conversations might not be well suited to the fleeting contexts in which they occur but that should not been seen as a barrier. Rather, it is a call to action to rethink ways in which to integrate the exchange of deep, meaningful ideas into short and spontaneous interactions.

It’s important to share how you and others experience the everyday, and we (cultural we) rarely do. How we live, what it means to be us, every day, to be human, to deal with our need for meaning, that is something that every single person on this planet grapples with. From the slums of Calcutta to the skyscrapers of New York, we all deal with being human every day.

Take a second and concentrate on what goes through your mind as you think about the word  PEOPLE.

For most of us, when we think of people, we think either of the individuals in our immediate reality–our friends, family and acquaintances–or we think of people as an abstraction–People, statistics, the billions of others we know share our planet but never see. And that’s very problematic because it reinforces the often perceived binary of humanity as unchangeably divided between we and them.

That imagined dualism is a big part of how we start to dehumanize them, the ‘others’–all those people who aren’t us, and who have problems, beliefs, and systems we want to ignore because they threaten our own model of existence and reality. When there is a we and a them how can humanity move forward? All hierarchies–social, cultural, geographic, economic, etc. are man made, they are systems to deal with reality in ways that fit the dominant definition of it. The need and desire for all to be aware and keep in mind that every single person experiences existence through our shared human condition and that we are all entitled to flourish, feel safe, nurtured and valued is not about institutions. It’s not hippie, communist, utopist, or other -ist propaganda, it’s a core belief that every single human life is equally valuable. It’s an attempt to move past all the institutions that govern our existence and to see other people as they are: so like us. We all have our unique mix of dreams, desires, needs, fears and characteristics but we are all human.

Perhaps by being aware of and remembering our own humanness–all our dreams, obsessions, all those moments, people and things that have haunted us and made us realize that we are part of something much larger, messier, more interwoven, complex and glorious than we are usually aware of in our every day–we will become more aware and focused on the fact that everyone else shares this quality of being human. By accepting the complexity and the similarities we begin to live out our commitment to empathy more authentically.

The connections between haunting and identity provide fertile ground for salient insights about the individual in the everyday. You can learn a lot about a person from looking at their stuff, all those things they possess. What kind of insights could emerge from looking at the things that people possess inside their heads–all those fragments of existence, that have touched them and which they have stored in some part of themselves? Stuff defined as the remnants of life, those moments that tangibly affect us long after the incident in time in which they occur has passed and that have changed, in whatever way, our perception: people, objects, memories, photographs, experiences, knowledge, rituals, sounds, images, places, smells, ideas, passions, beliefs, questions, scars, dreams, obsessions and desires.

We designed a questionnaire which aimed to foreground points of salience in one’s belief system and existence that one might not be consciously aware of in their everyday experiences. Our Index, once answered becomes a collage of the stuff (as defined above) that is meaningful to us. It becomes a reminder of the wonder of small moments and the joys of connecting with others and the world around us. By making us aware of the human qualities of our existence, it reminds us of our shared condition with other people and renews our focus on the role of empathy in living our lives.

Could the questionnaire also become a starting point for redesigning small talk to be more stimulating, productive and empathetic? A list of topics and ideas to choose from when chatting with strangers. Placed side by side these indexes of various individuals’ collections of things that have haunted them will, at the very least, present a beautiful, vibrant and diverse recording of humanity and the human existence.

Without further ado, an experience in self & empathy:


List and describe, in any format you chose-lists, essays, paragraphs, pictures, video, songs, poems, etc.,–the things, people and moments that have been most haunting in your life in the categories below. It is up to you to delineate and define ‘haunting’ in whichever way you choose.




Images (paintings/photographs/mental images)











What haunting means to you

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We’d love to know what your Haunting Index looks like. Share it with us in the comments section or if it’s too big or elaborate for the comments send us a link to your images/video/website/however you chose to represent the things that have haunted you and we will feature it on our blog. And check back for our own Haunting Indexes.

Last but not least, did we mention that the Index is a great memory generator. Let the memories flood as you try to think of what haunts and haunted you. Relive and see, like projections on the wall, old and gold flashes of moments that have really mattered thus far.

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