Tag Archives: global citizen

East-West Exchange Has A Much Longer History Than Assumed

Part of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 13th-century copy of an ancient road map, with Rome at center.

February 7, 2017

In this age of growing nationalistic reaction to globalization and the effects of international trade upon nations, it’s good to step back and gain a broader historical perspective about mutual influences that have occurred from antiquity. This new book by Michael Scott, Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity, provides that needed perspective. And it reminds us that interconnection and interdependence has always existed throughout history, but has become a daily, living reality in our global community.

Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Peter Thonemann, Scott’s book presents an illuminating and fascinating exploration of the multitude of connections and communications between Eastern and Western societies — long before the Silk Road: “From Carthage and Rome through Iran and Afghanistan to Xiaanyang and the Ganges basin.”

In his review, Thonemann writes:

Three and a half thousand miles east of Athens, near the modern city of Bhopal in central India, stands a brown sandstone pillar, 21 feet tall. Carved into its surface is a seven-line Prakrit-language inscription from the late second century B.C., giving us a fleeting glimpse into a life of unimaginable strangeness and wonder. “This Garuda-pillar of Vasudeva, the god of gods, was constructed here by Heliodoros the devotee, son of Dion, of Taxila, the Greek ambassador who came from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, prospering in his fourteenth regnal year.”

Heliodoros the Greek ambassador: what a person to find in central India! We are all too accustomed to think of ancient history as the history of Greece and Rome, with Europe and the Mediterranean at its center. But as Michael Scott reminds us in his sweeping “Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity,” the Greco-Roman world formed only a small part of a vast, interconnected network of highly sophisticated and literate Old World cultures, stretching from Carthage and Rome in the west through Iran and Afghanistan to Xianyang and the Ganges basin in the east.

These far-flung societies engaged in a long, slow-moving conversation with one another. The pillar of Heliodoros shows us a Greek from northern Pakistan proudly proclaiming his status as a “devotee” of the Indian god Vasudeva-Krishna. A century earlier, the Indian king Ashoka had placed a long inscription at the Greek city of Alexandria in Arachosia (modern Kandahar, Afghanistan), proclaiming his Buddhist faith in immaculate Hellenistic Greek prose; a century later, 120 merchant ships were sailing from Roman ports on the Red Sea to the Indian subcontinent each year. Mr. Scott’s book is an ambitious attempt to evoke this “big” ancient world, from the sixth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Continue reading

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Our Human Contradictions…At Year’s End

December 27, 2016
A few end-of-year thoughts, stirred by a recent NPR report about the ways our universe is likely to end, eventually. It reminded me that we organic entities, endowed with consciousness, are but specks on a planet that itself, is just a speck in this vast galaxy; just one of billions of galaxies. If we grasp that reality, we see how foolish we humans are: All in the same boat, all heading for demise and the infinite unknown. But rather than unite with love and joy and caring, and in the embrace of our common state – and fate – we descend into petty slights, grievances, anger, resentments, hatred. Never forgiving, never letting go. And, of course, we kill each other, as well. That’s what we do, whether in our family relationships, our own society, or throughout the world. Yes, as Shakespeare wrote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Credit: BBC

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Prejudice Reduced After Just Brief Periods of Meditation

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 10.57.28 AMApril 19, 2016

This new research is both interesting and encouraging: It found that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

Before describing this particular study, I want to point out that one important implication of this research, in my view, is that prejudices of all sorts are learned and conditioned from a variety of social and cultural forces; and, they can be consciously altered. Knowing this is especially important in our current era of reactive prejudice towards those who are “different,” and whose presence is becoming more visible as our society becomes increasingly diverse.

Regarding this study, the lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (e.g., love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g., contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: CPD Archive

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post

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Behind the Climate Victory; a Human Victory?

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.37.39 AMJanuary 5, 2016

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A guest post from John Friedman, who heads corporate responsibility communications worldwide for Sodexo Group. John blogs on sustainability for The Huffington Post, and is a leading writer on corporate responsibility and sustainable business. He’s the author of PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build A Sustainable Brand.

Now that the fireworks have faded along with some of the afterglow from the very successful COP21 meeting in Paris we must begin in earnest in deciding what 2016 will bring. With guarded optimism I read articles summarizing the year and for the most part they reflect a renewed hope and optimism that comes from the global agreement not only on efforts to cap global temperatures to increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also the ‘stretch target’ of 1.5 degrees.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework. They recognize that we must continue to improve quality of life and social justice for more and more (ideally all) people within the constraints of our very resilient planet’s ability to replenish and restore (some) natural resources.

They bear repeating here:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What happened in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. And we can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, fighting corruption, etc.) Continue reading

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Look Over Your Shoulder: Generation Z is Rising!

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.54.40 PMMarch 31, 2015

“These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Generation X and the aging baby boomers often have trouble understanding and dealing with the millennials. But now, Alexandra Levit’s article in the New York Times calls attention to the rise of Generation Z. Take note, in case you forgot: Everyone grows up and everyone becomes older. Levit writes, “While executives have been fretting over the millennials, though, a new generation is growing up behind the scenes — Generation Z (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask). Within the next three years, Gen Zers will be the college grads in my audiences, and they are poised to be somewhat different from the millennials.” Moreover, “These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Levit describes her own encounter with them and, more seriously, points out some of their attitudes, values and behavior regarding work, diversity, and activism on issues that concern them. They are the future, and the older generations would do well to pay attention to them — and maybe even learn something from them. She writes:

I recall the exact moment the temperature changed in the workplace. It was 2005, and I was speaking to an audience of 100 young professionals. I was relating my experiences building a career as a Gen Xer (born 1964-79) in a world of traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-63).

Every time I threw out phrases like “paying your dues” and “playing the game,” the audience stared at me blankly. This was not the reaction I had come to expect from early twentysomethings. Usually they took notes on how they could get ahead in corporate America as quickly as possible. Continue reading

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The Rapid Transformation of American Families

Screen shot 2015-03-30 at 10.50.17 AMMarch 24, 2015

A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center shows the continued evolution underway in the American families. It finds that less than half of children who are less than 18 years old live with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. The Pew report finds that this is a notable change from 1960, when the figure was 73%; and in 1980, when it was 61%.

 A good illustration of this is the rapid diversification of Astoria, Queens, as described in this recent NPR report. It shows the steady transformation of a traditionally Greek and Italian community to a highly diverse international population.

These findings join with the steady rise of multi-ethnic Americans, and the growth of diversity of our population from nation of origin. They show that American culture and society is becoming more mixed and diverse, both individually and within families.

The Pew analysis was based on the American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census data. It found, for example, that

Americans are delaying marriage, and more may be foregoing the institution altogether. At the same time, the share of children born outside of marriage now stands at 41%, up from just 5% in 1960. While debate continues as to whether divorce rates have been rising or falling in recent decades, it’s clear that in the longer term, the share of people who have been previously married is rising, as is remarriage. According to our analysis, today 15% of children are living with two parents who are in a remarriage.

This summary from Pew contains visual depictions of these changes.

Photo credit: CPD Archive

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Emerging Leadership Needs Of The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 9.35.56 AMA fascinating study by the Hay Group and German futurists at Z-Punkt identifies six trends that their research indicates will shape leadership needs in the years ahead.

I think their findings about leadership needs are very consistent with an ongoing, significant evolution in all sectors of society and in individual lives today, towards heightened collaboration, connection, emotional attunement to others, interdependency and diversity.

The report, Leadership 2030, speaks of the rise of the “altorocentric” leader: In a Washington Post interview by Jena McGregor, Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group, explains that “Altrocentric” means “…focusing on others. Such a leader doesn’t put himself at the very center. He knows he needs to listen to other people. He knows he needs to be intellectually curious and emotionally open. He knows that he needs empathy to do the job, not just in order to be a good person.” And, “…leaders in the future need to have a full understanding, and also an emotional understanding, of diversity.”

Vielmetter points out that “…positional power and hierarchical power will become smaller. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organization.” Perhaps most significantly, “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever — this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself.”

Regarding the younger generation, he adds that, “With the Baby Boomer generation, you understood you climb up the ladder and you’re the boss at the end. The new generation has less and less interest to do this….for them it’s just not so important to become the boss. That causes a big problem for organizations. They offer people big jobs, and they don’t want them. They value their private life more.”

For McGregor’s full interview with Vielmetter, click here.

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More Research Finds Humans Are Hardwired For Empathy and Connection

Screen shot 2013-09-28 at 9.01.15 AMResearch evidence continues to mount that humans are hardwired for empathy and connection. Despite our surface differences and conflicts, both minor and major, we are one, beneath those differences, like organs of the same body. But we haven’t evolved enough quite yet to enact that truth. The latest research, from a University of Virginia study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscienceindicates that we experience people who we become close to as, essentially, our own selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said lead researcher James Coan. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans (fMRIs), the study found find that “Our self comes to include the people we feel close to.” He added, “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

“It’s essentially a breakdown of self and other; our self comes to include the people we become close to,” Coan said. “If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.” And, “A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources,” he said. “Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal.”

The research underscores that humans need to have friends and allies who they can side with and see as being the same as themselves. And, as people spend more time together, they become more similar.

In my view, that indicates that our essential “sameness” emerges as we become familiar with people whom we initially experience as “different,” or threatening. Hopefully, we will continue to evolve in that directions before fear of “the other” and self-interest destroy us.

The research summary in Science News describes how the research was conducted: Continue reading

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Great Companies Will Add Value More Than Extract It

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 5.47.22 PMAn insightful article in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, highlights the fact that many of the highly touted business consultants and authors — who describe high performing companies and why they will remain so — are, well…often flat wrong.

Schwartz writes that the most striking example involves Microsoft, which renowned consultant Jim Collins and his co-author of Great by Choice, Morten T. Hansen, cited, Schwartz points out, as “a great performer, and Apple, which they cite as the comparative laggard. Yes, you read that right. Here’s why: the 15-year period the authors happened to examine was 1987 to 2002.”

Schwartz asks, “How could so much research miss the mark by so far?” He explains that “…huge changes in technology in the last decade have redefined what it takes to be successful – elevating factors like the role of disruptive innovation, quickness to market and speed of responsiveness to competitors. What worked for Microsoft in the era that Mr. Collins and Mr. Hansen studied proved to be wholly inadequate to compete with Apple in the era that immediately followed.”

The prime reason Schwartz cites for getting it wrong is “the definition Mr. Collins uses for greatness…Maximizing returns for shareholders over a given period of time is narrow, one-dimensional and woefully insufficient. In an increasingly complex and interdependent world, a truly great company requires a far richer mix of qualities.”

In contrast, Schwartz emphasizes that “A company’s greatness is grounded in doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and the least harm. It is neither first nor foremost about maximizing short-term return for shareholders. Rather, it is about investing in and valuing all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, the community and the planet – in order to generate the greatest value over the longest term for all parties, including the shareholders.”

That’s the key.

For Schwartz’s complete article, click here.

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How To Align Your Money, Personal Values and Sustainability

This is a guest post by Brian Kaminer, founder of Talgra, which provides consultation to people on ways to create positive social and environmental change, through aligning money and values with investing. It was previously published on Green Money.

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My Roadmap

After 17 years in the brokerage business at a boutique trading firm, I got the chance to explore areas that were of greater personal interest to me and felt in alignment with my values. Sustainability quickly got my attention and my role as the father of three boys also furthered my interest on the topic. I initially focused on resource / energy conservation and solar energy for about 2 years. After learning about the concept of Slow Money and attending various conferences in 2010, my awareness about the role of money and investing was elevated to a new level. Since then I have immersed myself in this field while working to commit financial resources to support my core values and understanding of sustainability. This is very much an evolving and rewarding personal process.

While doing so, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of information and resources available on this subject. It seems to be exponentially growing in content and visibility. Organizing and connecting what I have been learning has increased my understanding of the field and presented the opportunity to share this with others by creating a resource document. This process enables me to see the bigger picture.

Towards that, I created the Money and Impact Investing Directory Continue reading

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The Life and Work of Albert Hirschman

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.59.46 AMI’ve long-admired the writings of economist and public intellectual Albert O. Hirschman, who died a few months ago at 97. In addition to his ideas, he had a remarkable, little publicized and heroic life during World War II, as this New York Times obituary reveals. And this essay by Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal shows how Hirschman offered some interesting perspectives about the role of dissent, relevant to politics and organizations. Lowenstein writes, “Once you start looking at the world through the Hirschman lens, the paradigm of exit and voice is all around. Suppose you are unhappy at work: Should you complain to the boss or simply quit? Or maybe you are the boss: How much should you mollify employees—or customers—to keep them from leaving? It might depend on the presence of a third Hirschman factor: loyalty. Broadly speaking, markets are all about exit, while politics deals in voice. What Hirschman grasped is that the strongest organizations (in either sphere) foster exit as well as voice.”

The complete essay: Continue reading

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Two Voices Of Sanity In Our Political Culture

Screen shot 2013-04-22 at 10.07.26 AMIn their recent join writings, the American Enterprise Institute’s Normal Ornstein and the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Mann, reflecting a center-right and center-left perspective, offer thoughtful critiques and analyses regarding the drift towards irrational and extremist positions in politics today. In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, they examine the roots of the current, continuing gridlock. In it, they point out that “…serious debates about policy avenues in these areas are impossible if half the political arena believes that climate change is a hoax, and if one political party is animated by the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge and the Mitt Romney vision of a nation of 53 percent makers and 47 percent takers.” And, that “…the broader pathologies in our politics remain. For all the problems that existed in previous decades, in a system designed not to act with dispatch, there was a strong political center, with responsible bipartisan leadership. The same cannot be said today.”

For the complete article, click here.

 

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Can True Solitude Be Found In A Wired World?

This article, by AP writer Martha Irvine, highlights an issue worth deeper exploration: the simultaneous upside and downside of being always wired. Especially its impact on both well-being and a sense of interconnection, of community. The latter is visible during Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our lives.

She writes:

When was the last time you were alone, and unwired? Really, truly by yourself. Just you and your thoughts — no cellphone, no tablet, no laptop. Many of us crave that kind of solitude, though in an increasingly wired world, it’s a rare commodity. We check texts and emails, and update our online status, at any hour — when we’re lying in bed or sitting at stop lights or on trains. Sometimes, we even do so when we’re on the toilet.

We feel obligated, yes. But we’re also fascinated with this connectedness, constantly tinkering and checking in — an obsession that’s starting to get pushback from a small but growing legion of tech users who are feeling the need to unplug and get away.

“What might have felt like an obligation at first has become an addiction. It’s almost as if we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves,” says Camille Preston, a tech and communication consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

“It’s easier to keep doing, than it is to be in stillness.”

One could argue that, in this economy, Continue reading

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Richard Branson Calls For A “B Team” Of Business Leaders

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Richard Branson’s ideas are always worth attention. Here, he calls for a “B Team:” A small group of business leaders who will campaign for reforms to make capitalism more oriented to the long term and socially more responsible. He’s always been on the forefront of ideas and actions that promote joining successful business enterprises with contributing to the social good. In this article from The Economist, he describes a new venture that he calls the “B Team:”

SLOWING down seems to be the last thing on Sir Richard Branson’s mind. Since turning 62 in July, the bearded British entrepreneur has as usual been making headlines around the world. On October 3rd he celebrated victory in a campaign to overturn the British government’s decision to strip Virgin Trains, of which his Virgin Group owns 51%, of the West Coast main-line rail franchise. The government now admits it got its sums wrong, as Sir Richard had claimed, and the bidding process will be rerun (see article). Recently Sir Richard has also been in the news for (among other things) urging Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to end America’s war on drugs; declaring his intention to visit Mars; and parking a mock-up of the new Upper Class bar from his transatlantic aircraft outside the New York Stock Exchange. From there he promoted his latest book (“Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School”) and led a discussion with his Twitter followers. The subject under discussion was: “How can business change the world for the better?”

This last topic has become increasingly central to Brand Branson in the past few years—although social activism has been part of Sir Richard’s repertoire since he opened advice centres for students in the 1960s. Under Virgin Unite, its charitable arm, his corporate empire has become a leader in the booming business of “cause marketing” (aligning brands with charities). Continue reading

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Wealthy People Less Likely To Help Others In Times Of Trouble

 

Some new research finds that less well-off people tend to reach out to each other in times of trouble, but the more affluent opt for comfort in their material wealth and possessions. In a study conducted at UC Berkeley, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the rich are ” more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” according to the lead author, Paul Piff. One interpretation is that the more wealthy take comfort in material possessions when threatened by feelings of chaos, crisis or disruption in their environment. The study was described in this Science Daily summary:

Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study from UC Berkeley suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions. “In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class — defined by both household income and education — and social behavior. Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and human-made disasters, including economic recessions, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes. Continue reading

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Green Leadership — What Is It?

Politically motivated politicians continue denying man-made climate change and it’s devastating harm. They reject the need for alternative energy sources that could stem the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. They gasp when hearing the word “sustainability.” They block efforts to deal with these or other significant challenges. Nevertheless, many businesses and even the military are seeking solutions to these threats to our economy, way of life, and our national security.

But creating successful, sustainable practices and policies, and the long-term vision they require is complex. The above challenges are interwoven with vested interests of those seeking deregulation or new tax laws that enables continued profit for themselves, at the expense of the larger society. Investment in infrastructure or human capital is ignored.

Positive solutions call for “green leadership.” In business, successful, sustainable practices rest upon an internal foundation, a mindset of emotional and mental perspectives, values and capacities. This mindset helps create sustainable, growth-oriented practices that contribute to long-term security and development for all.

In this post I describe what a green leadership mindset consists of. Part 2 describes what it looks like in practice, and how leaders can learn to build it.

Business and Military Organizations Embrace Reality

To better understand the rise of green leadership, consider that climate change is recognized and being addressed by many decision-makers, despite the deniers. For example, The Economist and others recently focused on the melting Arctic, the sea level rise and ways to deal with long-term implications. Companies research and invest in alternative energy technologies, and receive federal support, though the latter is opposed by fossil fuel-funded politicians, including Mitt Romney, who has called wind and solar power “…two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative energy.” Nevertheless, research abounds. Companies continue to explore innovations for increasing solar energy efficiency, for example.

The military recognizes the national security threat Continue reading

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Why the Republicans’ View of “Success” Is a Path to Self-Destruction

After watching the recent Republican debates, last week’s New Hampshire primary and the campaigning since then, I’m convinced that the GOP is on a path to self-destruction. And that’s regrettable. It deprives the country of a serious debate over different views about the roles of government, business, labor and citizens in general in dealing with the problems we face. Of course, that debate would assume that there’s an agreed-upon set of realities about the current world.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order. It’s more likely that Mitt Romney, if he’s the candidate, and his party will present a vision that’s largely disconnected from — even denies — facts and realities about today’s world. Therefore, they’re likely to offer solutions to problems that derive from their alternate reality.

One way to explain this oddity is from a political psychology perspective. That is, let’s examine the emotional attitudes and beliefs that may underlie the Republican Party’s view of reality and the solutions they offer to problems as they define them. For example, the party appears wedded to a singular view of what “success” in life is, and should be. And yet, that vision is increasingly disconnected from emerging new realities. Those point to the need for a broader, more inclusive view of success in today’s world, and how to achieve it.

The New Normal

You’ve probably noticed the following: Continue reading

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Why Our Political Culture Looks Insane

The ugly spectacle of political gridlock reflects a political culture best described as insane. It’s increasingly disconnected from realities of our current world. We’re living in the midst of massive, worldwide transformation towards a highly intertwined and increasingly transparent world. The impact of this transformation is visible in economic shifts, new political movements, changing social norms and personal values, business practices and in individual behavior.

The products of this transformation call for policies and actions that respond to them in pragmatic, positive ways. But here in the U.S., our political culture of both left and right operates as though these new realities either don’t exist or don’t matter; as though the old order still prevails.

Examples of the political insanity include:

  • From the left, President Obama is attacked for not achieving and pushing for a more progressive agenda, despite a range of accomplishments that he’s achieved. But the greater insanity is that he’s operating with the new “requirement” instituted by Republicans: That every piece of legislation must now be able to overcome a filibuster threat, rather than be hammered out through compromise and then subjected to a majority vote.
  • On the right, the Republican/Tea Party vilifies Obama’s “socialist,” “anti-American” or — in Newt Gingrich’s description — “Kenyan, anti-colonialist” agenda, despite an ironic reality to the contrary: President Obama’s policies and behavior are much closer to those of a moderate Republican of yore; the kind that doesn’t exist anymore.
  • Then there’s the ongoing clown show — Republican presidential hopefuls who argue for returning to policies that — as data show — have created the economic mess we’re now in. Moreover, they try to outdo each other to embrace anti-science, anti-knowledge positions, whether about climate change or evolution; and they vocally embrace anti-human rights positions when those rights concern gays and lesbians.

Contrast the above positions and policy objectives with some of the transformations whose impact is increasingly visible in everyone’s lives. On the surface, they appear disparate; unrelated. But collectively, you can see a theme: A rising change of mentality. That is, a mixture of values, world outlook, emotional attitudes, and conduct. It’s simultaneously a response to and a driver of the rise of interconnection and interdependency. And it has cascading political, economic and social implications.

Here are some of the seemingly unrelated shifts that reflect the reality of today’s world: Continue reading

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Why It’s Hard To Find Your “Life Purpose”

Every being is intended to be on earth for a certain purpose.”
— Sa’di, 12th Century Persian poet

I’m often asked, “Why can’t I find the purpose of my life?” Over the decades I’ve heard many men and women — whether they’re psychotherapy patients working to build healthier lives or business executive trying to create healthier leadership — say at some point that they don’t know what they’re really here, for, on this planet. They’re not necessarily religious or spiritually inclined, but they feel a longing for that “certain something” that defines and integrates their lives.

Many turn to the various books and programs purport to identify their life’s purpose, but most come away dissatisfied. No closer than they were before, they identify with Bono’s plaintive cry in the U2’s song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

And yet, many do find and live in harmony with their life’s purpose. Here are some of my observations about why many don’t, and how they differ from those who do.

First, I think everyone feels a pull towards some defining purpose to his or her life, no matter how much it may have become shrouded over along the way. In fact, you can say that all forms of life, all natural phenomena, have some purpose. There’s always movement or evolution towards some kind of outcome or fulfillment — whether it’s a tree that produces fruit or clouds that form to produce rain. But we humans become so enraptured by our daily activity, engagements, goals and so forth, that our awareness of our own unique life purpose is easily dimmed.

And there are consequences to not knowing or finding your purpose. I often see men�and women who’ve become successful in their work or relationships — their outer lives — and yet they feel hollow, empty, unfulfilled. They describe feeling “off-track” in some way, or incomplete, despite a conventionally successful life. Sometimes they wonder if they’ve been on the “wrong” path all along — chosen the wrong career, or the wrong life partner. Or that perhaps they Continue reading

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The GoodMakers Street Team — A Mother Watches Young Activists Empower Global Change

The following is a guest blog by Tilo Ponder, a Los Angeles based Writer/Producer of documentary films. �Tilo Ponder has spent her career as a catalyst for dynamic and integrated campaigns across all media, working with major�entertainment and consumer brands in her 20+ years of working in�the advertising agency world. Given the chance to parlay that experience into a more purposeful existence, she co-founded GoodMakers Films. �Tilo’s intense passion is�a driving force behind�GoodMakers Films,�a�non-profit organization which creates�dynamic�promotional�documentaries that empower charities to get their message�out to a�global audience. �tilo@goodmakersfilms.org

When my 21-year-old daughter suddenly left�NYU Tisch a year and a half ago and came home to Los Angeles, she didn�t really know what she was returning to do — only that she was deeply concerned about how rapidly the deteriorating economy was impacting the world around her. She reported that her college friends were feeling anxious and depressed, some of them dropping out of school as their parents, who had lost their jobs, were unable to keep up with tuition payments.� In our home, we were scrambling to keep everything going, but were committed to keeping our daughter in college, no matter what.� My husband is a�freelance commercial director, I was at an ad agency heading up production and also running our own production company. Add to this, managing investment properties in other states, shuttling our 5-year-old son to pre-school and sports activities, while also supporting an 18-year-old daughter living in Scotland and a 2-hour daily work commute — our lives were jam-packed, but worked somehow.Our daughter�s announcement that she was taking a �semester break� created unrest and an ominous feeling that a small piece of our intricately maneuvered lives were being un-wedged in a dangerous way. I secretly wondered why she couldn�t just stay put.� Having tucked her away at a good college, I had assumed that she’d be set for 4-5 years, and that afterwards she�d be on her way to a prosperous career.� I challenged her assertions that her generation was apathetic and directionless, citing how it was her generation that only a year earlier ensured our nation�s first black president because of their passionate involvement in the final days of the campaign.� My daughter�agreed on that point, but added that after so much build up to��change� and the subsequent downfall of a global economy, her�generation had even less to believe in than before.

Given that, I wasn�t prepared for what followed. Continue reading

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Obama’s Call to “Win the Future” Requires a New Definition of “Success”

When President Obama urged Americans to “win the future” in his recent SOTU address, he called upon the innovative, communal spirit that’s enabled us to “do great things.” Ironically, that part of his message exposes a glaring contradiction: How we’ve defined achieving “success” in our lives has become outmoded and maladaptive in our 21st Century world. To meet the challenges of our “Sputnik moment,” we need to revamp our thinking about what success is, as well as what psychological orientation is necessary to achieve it.

Consider this: The old, conventional view of a successful life is mostly defined by financial and self-interested criteria — getting, consuming and possessing for oneself. As Ronald Reagan once said about pursuing the “American dream” everyone “...wants to see an America in which people can get rich.”

But as President Obama pointed out in his address, “That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful.” The reality of today’s interconnected, highly interdependent world, greed is not good. It’s psychologically unhealthy; it undermines the values, mindset and actions people need to strengthen in order to meet the challenges we face as individuals and as a nation.

That is, our security, success and well-being now require strengthening communal values and behavior; working towards common goals, the common good. Acting on self-interest alone, especially in the pursuit of personal power, steady career advancement and money Continue reading

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The Rise of the New Global Elite

Chrystia Freeland has a very insightful, well-documented and researched analysis in The Atlantic about how the super-affluence of recent years has changed the meaning of wealth…and the implications for all of us. I’m posting it here for Progressive Impact readers.

She writes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he declared the rich different from you and me. But todays super-rich are also different from yesterdays: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunityand the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind.

If you happened to be watching NBC on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious. There, on the set ofMeet the Press, the host, David Gregory, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become very distorted. In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a significant recovery; the rest of the economy, by contrastincluding small businesses and a very significant amount of the labor forcewas stuck and still struggling. What we were seeing, he argued, was not a single economy at all, but rather fundamentally two separate types of economy, increasingly distinct and divergent.

This diagnosis, though alarming, was hardly unique: drawing attention to the divide….

Clickhere for the full article.

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Notes From Serbia: A Different Take On The Career Treadmill

The following is a guest post by Tijana Milosevic,a Belgrade-based freelance writer. Before returning to Serbia, Tijana received an MA degree from the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington DC and worked with various public diplomacy and international communications organizations in Washington. She currently lectures in media psychology and media research at Singidunum University for Media and Communications in Belgrade. Tijana was trained with the Radio Free Europe in Washington and BBC World in London. She is also the recipient of the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award and numerous Open Society Institute scholarships. tijana.milosevic@gmail.com


Coming from Serbia — a country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia — I wasnt fully aware of the notion of career anxiety when I came to Washington DC for my MA degree. Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year. A colleague of mine who was just turning twenty-seven raised his glass and voiced his fear: Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track.

I was twenty- three at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a career track, let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of twenty seven. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

While many Americans move out of their homes when theyre 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different. Countries are smaller, and if theres any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college. Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they arent expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties -without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US. These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as the treadmill feel- an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as harsh capitalistic, individualistic and above all alienated, as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children. In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldnt have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe – where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a human face.

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues have a huge mental health component, and therapists emphasize the importance of toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs.

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt equates careerism with lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide [] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends. One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee. Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism. I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as friends, people from my region would prefer to call acquaintances. The term friend cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from Eat, Pray, Love, a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves, Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bally after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps thats a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to do something spiritual, but the above quote shows theres something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for dolce far niente or the joy of doing nothing, runs high.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on Eat Pray Love by a 23-year old blogger: We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable. I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel– amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

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How Does Volunteerism Affect The Volunteer?

During our increasingly stretched-out holiday season, it’s easy to feel a bit cynical about people who suddenly want to do some volunteering. The staff of service organizations often wince at the prospect of receiving more offers of help than they actually need. “Where were you therest of the year?” they mutter silently.

To be fair, many people are not just a once- or twice-a-year volunteer. In fact, volunteering one’s time, service and expertise ison the rise among all age groups. For many, it’s an integral part of their lives, an expression of their core values. That’s raised a question in my mind: Does volunteering time and service impact the life of thevolunteer? And if so, how?

In recent years, I’ve researched this a bit through seminars we’ve held at the Center for Progressive Development for volunteers interested in exploring how their volunteering affects their personal and professional lives.

We’ve found that volunteer activity often reshapes or redirects people’s values, perspectives and even their life goals in several ways. It can spur new growth and awareness, both spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes the changes are slight, but clear — like the person who committed herself to ongoing work with a mission that she had initially chosen at random, in response to her company’s suggestion to employees that they consider volunteer service.

In other cases, the impact of volunteer work is more dramatic: changing the company one works for, or, asone man did, changing his Continue reading

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The 4.0 Career Is Coming: Are You Ready?

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Even in the midst of our economic disaster that’s hitting all but the wealthiest Americans, a transformation is continuing within people’s orientation to work. I call it the rise of the 4.0 career. ??This growing shift concerns how men and women think about and pursue their careers. It also defines the features of organizations that they want to work for and commit to. This shift that I describe below transcends its most visible form: Generation X’s and, especially, Generation Y’s attitudes and behavior in the workplace. Those are part of a broader shift whose origins are within men and women at the younger end of the baby boomer spectrum.

I first encountered this while interviewing yuppies (remember them?) in the 1980s for my book Modern Madness, about the emotional downside of career success. I often found that people would want to talk about a gnawing feeling of wanting something more “meaningful” from their work. They didn’t have quite the right language back then to express what that would look like other than feeling a gap between their personal values and the trade-offs they had to make to keep moving up in their careers and companies. The positive ideals of the 60s seemed to have trickled down into their yearnings, where they remained a kind of irritant.

Flashing forward 25 years, those people are now today’s midlife baby boomers. Their earlier irritation has bloomed into consciously expressed attitudes and behavior that have filtered down into the younger generations, where they’ve continued to evolve. Today, they’re reshaping how people think about and pursue their careers within today’s era of interconnection, constant networking and unpredictable change.

I’ll oversimplify for the sake of highlighting an evolution of people’s career orientations:

Career Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… And The Emerging 4.0

The 1.0 career describes Continue reading

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Is Serving The Common Good An “Un-American” Activity?

One likely spin-off from the recent election will be a creeping redefinition of programs and policies that serve the common good as “un-American.” Some of the Tea Party’s most vocal members, including Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others have already suggested having a “conversation” about privatizing or phasing out medicare, social security and even abolishing the Department of Education.

So I’d like to move the “conversation” along and state outright that, yes, promoting the common good is, indeed, un-American. And, that recognizing it as such is a good thing. Here’s why: The Republican/Tea Party’s stated vision for “taking America back” is a doctrine of extreme self-interest and greed. It both reflects and fuels what I described in a recent post as a “social psychosis” in personal and public life.

This “pro-American” vision is maladaptive to the realities of today’s world and our own changing society. Self-interest and the pursuit of individual power are twin agents for subversively undermining a healthy, thriving society. But that vision is likely to be with us for some time, with potentially devastating consequences.

However, there’s also a rising shift towards serving the larger common good throughout our society. I described the evidence for this in a subsequent post. And it is, indeed, un-American, with respect to the extreme Republican/Tea Party doctrine.

That is, serving the common good goes against grain of thinking that Continue reading

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Reasons Behind The Need To Portray Obama As Anti-American

Newt Gingrichs recent comments alleging that Obama’s is driven by “Kenyan anti-colonial” attitudes, when combined with increasingly bizarre statements from Tea Party candidates, suggest something that isnt apparent on the surface: That were witnessing the last gasp of a dying, descending set of attitudes and values regarding individual and public policy, including what it is to be an American.

I think these kinds of statements reflect growing desperation about sweeping changes in our society. That is, the country is steadily shifting towards a diverse population, and acceptance of that diversity. And, towards growing recognition of the need to serve the larger common good; that were all in the same boat in this globalized world, and we will stand or fall together, as President Obama recently stated.

But it just doesn’t look like that shift is happening at present, because the period we’re living through is one of a growing but temporary backlash against those changes, from people who view them with fears and a sense of loss. They should be understood, but not condoned or excused.

A good illustration of the reactionary thinking in response to steadily growing social change is the essay that Gingrich based his comments on A Forbes cover story on How Obama Thinks by Dinesh DSouza. A Columbia Journalism Review article by Ryan Chittum calls it a shameful piece on Obama as the Other, and The worst kind of smear journalism.

Chittum writes, How Obama Thinks is a gross piece of innuendoa fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia. Forbes for some reason gives Dinesh DSouza the cover and lots of space to froth about the notion popular in the right-wing fever swamps that Obama is an other; that he doesnt think like an American, that his actions benefit foreigners rather than Amurricans. Its too kind to call this innuendo. Its far too overt for that.

DSouzas distortions and lies are clearly designed to make Obama appear to be anti-American, and anti-white; someone different from us whos bent on carrying out the African tribal mission of his father (whom he met one time, briefly, at age 10). Chittums analysis and dissection of DSouzas story is worth reading. Heres the full article from the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Fooling “All of the People….”

Its quite an achievement: Todays Republicans members of the Party of Abraham Lincoln, after all — are steadily disproving one of Lincolns most quoted lines: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

The current version of the GOP is doing a good job at trying to fool all of the people, all of the time. And, with the help of many Democrats, who give new meaning to the term, fellow travelers.

Case in point: The issue of the soon-to-expire tax cuts for the rich. The Bush tax cut legislation of 2001 included a provision that they would expire at the end of 2010, and tax rates would then revert to 2000 levels. The Obama administration wants to keep the tax cuts in place for the middle class, who would benefit from them during this continued economic near-depression; but let them revert back to previous levels for those with very high incomes, when they expire at the end of this year.

But guess what? The Republicans, together with a number of Democrats, are fighting vigorously to preserve the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Republicans and their Democratic allies argue that its more beneficial to the economy to preserve the tax cuts for the wealthy those making over $2 million a year — because that would help small business.

Tell me, how many small business owners make that kind of income? And how would we make up for the loss of revenue? By taking away benefits for the middle and lower classes, in the form of food stamps and other benefits or services.

This is where trying to fool all of the people all of the time comes in: The entire argument is disguised in Orwellian terms, as necessary and good way to benefit everyone. Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman exposes this with a good analysis of the deception and corruption behind it all.

For example, he points out that continuing the tax cuts for the rich would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.

And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But thats the least of it: estimates are the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. (and) the average tax break for those lucky few the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year would be $3 million over the course of the next decade.

Krugman is right on target when he points out that

its hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and arent likely to spend a windfall. No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy.

He also points out that this reflects our corrupt political culture,

in which Congress wont take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So, what will prevail: The corruption, deception increasingly rampant in our culture disguised in Orwellian terms, as helping you, the average American? Or Lincolns observation?

Stay tuned.

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The Unspoken Source of Opposition to the Proposed Islamic Center

There’s one glaring omission in the stated opposition to the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero. It’s the unspoken implication that Islam is, by definition, a fanatical, terrorist religion.

As I read and hear about the reasons offered by those opposing the Center, they usually conclude with such descriptions as ”insensitive,” “inappropriate,” or “insulting” to the memory of those whose lives were lost in the 9-11 attacks. And yet, I haven’t heard any real explanation of what, exactly, would be ”insensitive,” and so forth, about the proposed presence of an Islamic Center in the vicinity of Ground Zero? The most they say or imply is that its presence would be wrong, by definition, because of its location. But those opposed don’t really say what that connection is, in their minds, that makes its location wrong or “unwise.”

To put this in a broader context, look at the recent speech by New York Mayor Bloomberg. He presented both a passionate and reasoned, principled explanation why it should be allowed; and why doing so is fully consistent with American values and history. Following that, President Obama affirmed much of the same set of principles in support of the Center — until he backtracked the next day, under the not-unexpected Republican and right-wing opposition.

Here’s what I believe is the unspoken source of the opposition: Equating fanatical, extremist Muslims with Muslims, per se. That’s why some have used the analogy of erecting a Nazi center next to a concentration camp. Or a monument to the KKK next to a civil rights memorial. The analogies are bizarre, and reveal the bigotry and ignorance behind them. That is, the heart of the argument against the presence of the Islamic Center is that it would be “insensitive” because the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks were Muslims. Now take that link to it’s conclusion. Aside from the fact that Muslims were among those killed in the attack, the opponents seem reluctant to state that they are arguing that Islam, as a faith, is embodied in the terrorist attacks. This would be like saying that because some Christians are fanatics, and some of those support killing of doctors who perform abortions, that therefore Christianity, per se, is a fanatical religion.

The triumph of emotional reactiveness and sentiment over our professed American values is very troubling. If the opponents to the Center acknowledged outright that they’re equating fanatical Muslims and the Muslim faith in general, at least they would demonstrate logical integrity — along, of course, with outright bigotry. But we would see what their true position is, rather than hearing them evade explaining just why they believe the presence of the Center would be “insensitive.” This closet prejudice reminds me of Colin Powell’s retort to those claiming that Obama was a secret Muslim, during the 2008 campaign. Powell asked what if Obama was, in fact, a Muslim? So what? What’s the point? The same questions should be asked today of those who couch their opposition in words that don’t make explicit their implied conclusion.

Mayor Bloomberg was right on target when he explained the higher principles and context of this issue. It’s worth reading. Click here for the full speech. Here’s a small portion of what he said.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ ’What beliefs do you hold?’

The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Well said, Mayor Bloomberg.

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Three Essential Pillars Of Health and Resiliency In Today’s World

Upgrade To Career 4.0; Practice Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

In a previous post I wrote that a key pathway to psychological health and resiliency in today’s world is learning to “forget yourself.” This post describes ways to do that in three important realms of your life – your work, your personal relationships, and your life “footprint.”

In the earlier post I explained that “forgetting yourself” doesn’t mean neglecting your own legitimate needs or concerns. Rather, it means letting go of our human tendency to overly dwell on ourselves – our own concerns, needs, desires, slights, complaints about others, and so on. Psychological health and resiliency in today’s world grows when you can do that and put your energies in the service of something larger than yourself: problems, needs and challenges that lie beyond your own personal, narrow self-interest.

That may sound like a paradox, but it’s based on a new reality: Today’s world is changing more rapidly than you can imagine and is becoming immensely interdependent, interconnected, unpredictable and unstable. In this new environment you can’t create or sustain a positive, healthy life through the old ways of reactive resiliency, of coping and hoping to rebound.

That is, chronic unhappiness, dysfunction and overt emotional disturbance lie in store for those who remain too locked into thinking about themselves and who use old solutions to achieve success in relationships and at work. For example, trying to achieve power and domination over others, and thinking you can hold on to that. Fearing collaboration and avoiding mutuality with people who are different from yourself, or with whom you have differences. Looking for ways to cope with stress and restore equilibrium or “balance” in your life. And overall, being absorbed by your own conflicts, disappointments and the like. The latter are inevitable, and dwelling on them is a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy, and blame. That’s a dead-end. The consequences are visible in people who are unable to handle career downturn, who experience mounting relationship conflicts and who suffer from a range of psychological problems like depression, boredom, stress, anxiety and self-undermining behavior.

In contrast, positive resiliency in today’s environment is the byproduct when you aim towards common goals, purposes or missions larger than just your own narrow self-interests. That keeps you nimble, flexible, and adaptive to change and unpredictable events that are part of our new era. Then, you’re creating true balance, between your “outer” and “inner” life.

Here are three ways you can move through self-interest. Each describes a shift, or evolution from the older, reactive form of resilience to the new, proactive form:

Upgrade your career to the 4.0 version; Practice “Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

Yeah, I know — those descriptions sound odd. Continue reading

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Political Pandering Continues To Trump Middle East Peace Advocacy

A major ongoing tragedy of American political culture is fear of the political consequences of even appearing to give equal weight to both Israeli and Palestinian concerns. Such fear always trumps advocacy of what is needed from both sides to create a lasting peace.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, describing the recent meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, provides a good example. With a tinge of ironic humor, Milbank writes that

A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender.

Milbank was referring to the Obama administrations decision four months ago to condemn Israel over a new settlement.

The Israel lobby reared up, Netanyahu denounced the administration’s actions, Republican leaders sided with Netanyahu, and Democrats ran for cover. So on Tuesday, Obama, routed and humiliated by his Israeli counterpart, invited Netanyahu back to the White House for what might be called the Oil of Olay Summit: It was all about saving face.

He continues:

The president, beaming in the Oval Office with a dour Netanyahu at his side, gushed about the “extraordinary friendship between our two countries.” He performed the Full Monty of pro-Israel pandering: “The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable” . . . “I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu” . . . “Our two countries are working cooperatively” . . . “unwavering in our commitment” . . . “our relationship has broadened” . . . “continuing to improve” . . . “We are committed to that special bond, and we are going to do what’s required to back that up.”

Milbank then targets the core problem, writing that

Obama came to office with an admirable hope of reviving Middle East peace efforts by appealing to the Arab world and positioning himself as more of an honest broker. But he has now learned the painful lesson that domestic politics won’t allow such a stand.

And that feeds the continuing tragedy for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and for all of us. Our political leadership engages in one-sided political pandering, based largely on shoring up political support. In so doing, it fails to promote peace and reconciliation, which should be the aim. But doing the latter requires acknowledging that BOTH sides have engaged in destructive actions and atrocities, and that BOTH sides have legitimate, valid interests.

When one attempts to do so, however, one risks Continue reading

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Obama, Empathy And The Supreme Court Nominee

Well, people, it looks like the fight over the e-word has started again. Remember last year, when President Obama said that the capacity for empathy was an important criteria for selecting a Supreme Court nominee? He was quickly attacked by those who apparently heard empathy as a code word for some kind of ideological bias. And shortly after, Obama backed off from using the term.

Last June, I wrote here about why I thought he should keep on using the word empathy, not back away from it. I have a particular interest in the subject, having written about our national empathy deficit disorder in The Washington Post a few years ago — and which I recently updated on my Psychology Today blog. During last year’s Supreme Court nomination process, critics distorted what empathy is. It’s actually the capacity to experience what another person experiences. It’s what gives you the capacity for wisdom, perspective and sound judgment; not bias or distortion or being bamboozled into the other’s point of view.

Nevertheless, as Obama decides who to nominate as Justice Stevens replacement, its like Yogi Berra said: Its dj vu, all over again.

To wit:A recent article in The New York Times asks if Obama is looking for empathy by another name. The piece, by Peter Baker, points out that

A year after Mr. Obama made empathy one of his main criteria in picking his first Supreme Court justice, he is avoiding the word, which became radioactive, as he picks his second nominee. Instead, he says he wants someone with a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.

Baker goes on to say,

The issue is more than semantic. The president emphasizes that while adhering to the rule of law, judges should also be able to see life through the eyes of those who come before the bench. His critics call that a prescription for twisting decisions to reach a desired outcome..

The dispute became so contentious last year that even Mr. Obamas nominee for the court, Sonia Sotomayor, disavowed the notion of empathy during hearings before her confirmation, saying that judges cant rely on whats in their heart.

In the same vein, Lee Epstein, a constitutional scholar at the Northwestern University School of Law, said in the Times piece, You hear empathy and you dont think impartiality, judicial temperament.

And getting right to the heart (whoops, sorry!) of the matter,

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee. It seems to be calling again for judges to be less committed to fidelity to the law and calling for them to reach decisions that somehow endeavor to decide who ought to win.

All of this posturing should be exposed for the ignorance and manipulation it contains, and presented in hopes that the public will buy it. We need to emphasize why empathy is a plus, an inborn capacity, and the basis of healing the serious wounds in our global society, as Jeremy Rifkin has written in The Empathic Civilization. But asfar as the relevance of empathy to the Supreme Court issue, The Nations Katrina vanden Heuvel,writing in The Washington Post, put it in proper context:

Is it better to have a corporate stooge on the bench than someone capable of understanding how his or her decisions will affect 300 million fellow citizens? Better to have a biased judge than a humane one, a dishonest justice instead of one whos insightful? It goes to show how hysterical those critics have become about empathy.

Its sad and discouraging to witness fear-fueled distortions coming from elected officials and others. I hope that President Obama returns to his well-founded support for empathy as a criteria. It’s especially important at this time in our history when we need more, not less empathy, not only in a Supreme Court justice, but in our society at large, to help face and solve major problems that confront us – economically, socially, psychologically. As I wrote previously, in the Bible King Solomon asked God for a heart that listens. Notice that he didnt ask for a head that thinks. Continue reading

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world, I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesnt work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in todays world.

In this post Ill explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction: The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesnt really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, thats like defining a happy person as someone whos not depressed. Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a persons life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures. Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by parents, psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other siblings at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

Its no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture. A good one is the popular TV show, The Office. It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well. They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that hes loved; or low-self worth in a woman whos unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her.Of course its critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some. Thats a good starting point for adult psychological health, but its not sufficient. A well-adapted member of a community of other children and siblings within a psychological world of parents is not the same thing as a healthy adult. Especially not within todays interconnected, non-linear world.

So without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, youre left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • Whats the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism always lurking in the background of your mind while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being thats the new path to adult psychological health. But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about whats needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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The Psychology Of Public Policy

The other day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stirred up some interesting reactions. He said in a speech that Americans are faced with having to accept higher taxes or readjustments in programs like Medicare and Social Security, in order to avoid ever-increasing budget deficits that will be catastrophic.

Now I’m not an economist (see former Undersecretary of Commerce Ev Ehrlich’s blog for such matters). But I started thinking about Bernanke’s comments — and the reactions from some Republicans and assorted “anti-tax patriots” who came out with guns blazing (metaphorically….so far) — from a psychological perspective. I find some psychological attitudes and ideology about the role of individuals in society driving the reactions to what Bernanke raised. They’re visible as well in the angry, hostile response to the health care legislation and, more broadly, the fear and loathing of “government takeover.”

Here’s what Bernanke said:

“These choices are difficult, and it always seems easier to put them off — until the day they cannot be put off anymore. But unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.” And, “To avoid large and ultimately unsustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”

In The Washington Post story reporting Bernanke’s speech, writers Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomerypoint out that:

“…the economic downturn — with tumbling tax revenue, aggressive stimulus spending and rising safety-net payments such as unemployment insurance — has driven already large budget deficits to their highest level relative to the economy since the end of World War II. This has fueled public concern over how long the United States can sustain its fiscal policies.

The upshot of what we’re facing appears to be this: Our current way of life is unsustainable. So what’s a possible remedy, according to Bernanke and others? Raising taxes, not lowering them. Cuts in Medicare benefits. Raising the retirement age. And bringing rising health care costs down. To do any or all of that requires a different mentality about our responsibility and obligations to others in our society. And it’s not pleasant. That’s the psychology part.

That is, we’re highly attached to the ideology that we are and should be separate, isolated individuals; that each of us should look out for one’s own self-interest. And we define that largely by material acquisition and money. Hence, opposition to “redistribution” of wealth, even though that’s exactly what we do via taxes that support all the services that we expect society to give us. We also define our self-interest as psychologically healthy, mature, even; the hallmark of a succesful life. Those that don’t do as well are not my problem.

Except now they are: We’ve been hit with the reality that our world is so interconnected that someone else’s “problem” is also our own. Toconsider subordinating some of our personal wants and goals for the larger common good feels foreign and frightening. Yet that’s exactly what we’re faced with doing. It begins with shifting our mental perspectives towards recognizing that we’re all in the same boat — not just we Americans, but all of us in this global community. And it means stimulating the emotional counterpart of that perspective — the hard-wired capacity for empathy. And then, making the sacrifices that result from embracing the new realities. The economic collapse has made the need for those shifts very apparent. We’re faced with learning to sacrifice in ways that we’re not used to doing, in order to thrive as individuals and a society in the world as it now exists.

But such shifts meet with strong, ingrained resistance and denial. They’re fueled by unrealistic, almost delusional notions that pursuing self-interest at all costs will lead to success and well-being. So, for example, Republicans pounced on the suggestion of increasing taxes. They also went afterremarks byPaul A. Volcker earlier this week, who spoke very directly in favor of higher taxes. He said that the U.S. might have to consider a European-style sales tax, known as a value-added tax, to close the budget gap. He said “If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes.”

That’s a pretty direct, unvarnished statement of reality. But Republicans accused Obama of plotting a big tax hike, for nefarious purposes. ”To make up for the largest levels of spending and deficits in modern history, the Administration is laying the foundation for a large, misguided new tax, a first-time American VAT.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement.

Onward goes the struggle between facing reality and dealing with it, or not facing it….and still having to deal with it

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Welcome To The New “Real America”

In two recent New York Times columns, both Frank Rich and Charles M. Blow dug beneath the current surge of anger and right-wing extremism and came up with some penetrating insights about the sources of the outrage; insights that are also the tip of an iceberg: Both of their analyses reflect a broad, sweeping evolution within the mentality of men and women that’s been taking place beneath our feet for the last several years. Ill describe some of those broader changes below, but first lets look at what Rich and Blow describe.

Rich points out that the tsunami of anger today is illogical, in the sense that the health care legislation is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare. He also reminds us that the new anger and extremism predated the health care debate:

The first signs were the shrieks of traitor and off with his head at Palin rallies as Obamas election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since from Gov. Rick Perrys kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to You lie! piercing the presidents address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

Hes pointing out that major changes are occurring in the demographics of our country. These changes and others, concerning what people look for in relationships and in their careers — are beginning to have major impact on us psychologically, including our psychological health. For some, they generate tremendous fear that can give rise to hatred and aggression; a desire to take back our country.

Rich points out that:

Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans havent had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Then, in a similar analysis, Charles M. Blow writes in his column:

Its an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of take our country back. The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasnt existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bills most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. Its enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

Blow cites a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found Tea Party members to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the countrys demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and less educated … than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack. Blow points out that this is at the very time

when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.

Well said. Mounting demographic and psychological research are confirming and extending what Rich and Blow describe. In fact, several strands of change have been underway and coalescing into a changing psychology of people their emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values regarding work and relationships, and behavior towards people in need or who suffer loss. These are shifts within a wide range of thought, feelings and actions. Here are some of them: Continue reading

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Thoughts On Political Intolerance and Bigotry In Today’s Culture

In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the G.O.P. has become

…theparty of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a racist and asserted that he has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obamas economic policies: Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

And over the weekend, such civil rights leaders as John Lewis were subjected to racial slurs; Congressman Barney Franks was slammed with homophobic labels as he walked to the Capitol. Much of this occurred with the egging on of Republican House members, shouting and sign-waving from the balcony, as they watched Tea Party members engaging in what Michael Steele described as just “stupid things” being said by “idiots.” But they aren’t. They are statements of bigotry and racism.

The interesting thing, psychologically, is what propels this in 2010, and how pervasive such intolerance is, in our country. I think it may be more widespread in appearance than in reality, however, though it certainly looks like the former. And Herbert is dead-on when he writes,

…it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

I think the real trends across our culture are in opposite directions — towards greater, not lesser tolerance; towards awareness that we’re all interconnected in this globalized world, and that we rise or fall together, as a species. Continue reading

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Awakening The Common Good In Our Self-Serving Culture

The eminent historian Tony Judt, author of the seminal work Postwar, about the dynamics of Europe since World War II, has written an important new book, in my view, Ill Fares the Land. The New York Times has called it a bleak assessment of the selfishness and materialism that have taken root in Western societies (that) will stick to your feet and muddy your floors. But the Times adds that Ill Fares the Land is also optimistic, raw and patriotic in its sense of what countries like the United States and Britain have meant and can continue to mean to their people and to the world.

In his review, Dwight Garner explains that Judt is describing the political and intellectual landscape in Britain and the United States since the 1980s, the Reagan-Thatcher era, and he worries about an increasing and uncritical adulation of wealth for its own sake. What matters, he writes, is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is, and he sees growing and destabilizing inequality almost everywhere.

Its heartening to see at least one public intellectual a vanishing breed lay out in a direct, forceful argument the accumulating toll of greed and self-centeredness that has dominated our recent political and social landscape. Judt describes these themes as elevated to a cult by Know Nothings, States Rightists, anti-tax campaigners and most recently the radio talk show demagogues of the Republican Right.

Judt observes, for example, that the notion that taxes might be a contribution to the provision of collective goods that individuals could never afford in isolation (roads, firemen, policemen, schools, lamp posts, post offices, not to mention soldiers, warships, and weapons) is rarely considered. Click here for the full Times review.

I think Judts theme about serving the common good is growing throughout our culture. Its increasingly visible, for example, in the recognition that humans are wired for empathy and for serving something larger than their just their own needs — many of which are socially conditioned to begin with and fuel self-centeredness and narcissism.

In that vein I wrote about healing our empathy deficit disorder in my previous post, and author Jeremy Rifkin has argued much more broadly and in great depth about the rise of an empathic civilization” in his major, well-documented new book.

I also see the awakening of interconnectedness and service to the common good increasingly visible in the rise of a new business model one that combines having impact on the common good as well as achieving financial success. The green business movement incorporates much of this emergence, as well as related trends towards sustainable investment, social entrepreneurialism and venture philanthropy. I would add to those the growing recognition of the need for a psychologically healthy management cultures, as well.

Interesting, also, in Judts book is his argument that the left and right have switched sides, in a sense. That is, he explains that today the right pursues radical goals, and has abandoned the social moderation which served it so well from Disraeli to Heath, Theodore Rooseveltto Nelson Rockefeller. He argues that its now the left that is trying to conserve the institutions, legislation, services and rights that we have inherited from the great age of 20th-century reform. For another interesting take on the reversal of the left and right from the 1960s to the present, see economist Ev Ehrlichs two-part essay on his blog, Ev Ehrlich’sEveryday Economics.

It sounds lame, but true: Were sure living through some interesting times.

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Healing Our “Empathy Deficit Disorder”

You may not realize it, but a great number of people suffer from EDD. And no, I don’t mean ADD or ED. It stands for Empathy Deficit Disorder.

I made it up, so you won’t find it listed in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Given that normal variations of mood and temperament are increasingly redefined as “disorders,” Im hesitant to suggest adding another one. But this ones real. It’s based on my decades of experience as a business psychologist, psychotherapist and researcher, from which I’ve concluded that EDD is a pervasive but overlooked condition. And it has profound consequences for the mental health of individuals and of our society.

Our increasingly polarized social and political culture over the past year has prompted me to post this — an expansion and revision of an article I wrote for The Washington Post a couple of years ago about our nationwide empathy deficit. It’s worse than ever, but ignored as a psychological disturbance by most of my colleagues in the mental health professions.

First, some explanation of what I mean by EDD: People who suffer from it are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from themselves. That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication failure in intimate relationships, and of the adversarial attitudes including hatred towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from one’s own.

Take the man who reported to me that his wife was complaining that Continue reading

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“Terrorism” — A Politically Useful Label?

The distinctions we’re hearing between”terrorism” and “criminal acts” go beyond the issue of whether to try certain defendants in military or civilian courts. It appears that when it serves the Cheney/Tea Party political purposes, some acts of murder and destructiveness against Americans — attempted or consumated — are called “terrorism,” while other similar acts – such as those of Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, killing someone in a suicide mission; or Amy Bishop, the professor who shot and killed several colleagues when denied tenure — are labeled as simply criminal acts of individual, emotionally disturbed people.

Aside from understanding the psychology of people engaging in such acts (an important issue, itself), whether they act as individuals or part of an organized group, many in the media appear to swallow this portrayal whole – accepting and repeating the same alleged distinction. Even Homeland Security Secretay Napolitano has joined in, recently stating on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, for example, that Joseph Stack’s actions were those of a “lone wolf,” carrying out a “personal agenda.”

Of course, all this gives more cred to part of the right wing’s core agenda – convincing the public that the Obama administration is “soft” on terrorism, despite all the hard evidence to the contrary. The recent uproar over Cheney The Daughter’s portrayal of some Justice Department lawyers as part of the “al-Qaeda 7” is another example of this strategy. Unfortunately, Napolitano, as well as some journalists and politicians, are playing right into this by trying to make a politically safe but dubious distinction between certain “terrorist acts” and “terrorism.”

An interesting distinction, perhaps, except to those who end up dead either way.

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Behind the Obama Nobel Prize “Outrage”

I think the reasons suggested for the uproar over President Obamas Nobel Peace Prize miss a deeper issue. First, no one would dispute that Mr. Obama has not yet achieved the level of contribution to world peace that other honorees have. He, himself, acknowledged that. Critics of both right and left argue that the reward reflects an unhealthy cult of personality, and that his rock star status has overwhelmed better judgment. Some point to the Europeans apparent delight at sticking it to Dubya. And, needless to say, racism is part of the angry outbursts as well.

But theres a missing source of the outcry. Its probably less conscious; certainly less articulated. Its that the award gave a new focal point for mounting fears generated by a profound shift the world is undergoing on many fronts: The economic meltdown; global dangers and threats; the impact of climate change. Its an interlocking world, in which everyone has to figure out how to compete and collaborate with everybody else. And its a diverse world – not out there, somewhere, but right here in peoples community and workplace. Moreover, shifts in how people conduct their social, sexual and individual lives are visible all around.

In todays new era of tumultuous change, were shifting from an environment of old-style command and control, in private relationships, careers, and organizations, to collaborate and cooperate.

This wave-change, this new reality that the future has arrived, is very hard to digest for some. Im not referring, here, to the Fox crowd — the right-wing commentators and pundits. Most probably know better; and know whats going on throughout our society and the world. They may not like the changes taking place perhaps symbolized for them by a black man in the White House. But theyve chosen to exploit fears among segments of the public hardest hit by these massive changes. Theyre exploiting them for their own avarice and self-promotion. Continue reading

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Psychologically Unhealthy Management: A Human Rights Violation?

Four years ago, U.N. SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan appointed Harvard professor John G. Ruggie to be Special Representative on business & human rights. This new mission was chargedwith investigating human rights abuses by transnational corporations and otherbusiness enterprises. Since then, its focused on such areas as discrimination,pesticide poisoning, child labor, drinking water contamination, sexual abuse,and the displacement of indigenous peoples.

But I think another,largely overlooked category of corporate behavior deserves inclusion as a humanrights violation: Management practices that damage the mental health of a companys own employees.?? Unhealthymanagement and leadership harms employees and, therefore, their workperformance. Most everyone is familiar with the damaging effects of abusive, hostile, arrogant and narcissistic bosses; of manipulative or deceitful leadership behavior, often directed by senior management towards each other; workaholic demands that result in burnout and diminished productivity; intimidation and threats, subtle and overt; public denigration and humiliation; destructive political maneuvering and closet discrimination. The list goes on.

Typical consequences for individuals include depression, rage, severe stress or anxiety, withdrawal, paranoia and, increasingly, lawsuits.

As a consultant to business leadership and a psychotherapist for 30 years, Ive helped people at both end of the spectrum — from the mailroom to the corporate suite — deal with the consequences. Moreover, Ive seen an increase of such practices since the economic meltdown began in September 2008.

Unhealthy leadership and the culture it spawns Continue reading

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“Birthers” and The Black Man In The White House

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson has a great piece about the paranoia of the “birther” movement — those, including members of Congress, who claim that President Obama was not born in the US, is an alien, not an American citizen, a “Manchurian candidate” after all, and so forth. http://tinyurl.com/ktstgj

A recent poll shows that the overwhelming majority of those who believe in this conspiracy are Southern Republicans. I think it’s pretty clear what’s behind this movement, and why some members of Congress go along with it; or refuse to repudiate it. It’s the simple fact that we’ve elected an African-American President of the United States. As Chris Matthews has pointed out on “Hardball,” this alleged “controversy” is not about documentation; it’s about pigmentation.

That’s a polite way of saying “racism.” I think the “birther” believers are really saying to themselves (and to each other) “Oh my God, there’s a black man in the White House!” So they’ve got to de-legitimize him.I hope that more public figures expose this for what it is, and not skirt the issue. Or give credence to it, as Lou Dobbs has been doing on CNN. The larger issue, though, is that our country is undergoing massive transition and evolution in many areas. We are moving away from a dominant white male culture. It’s estimated that in about 40 years white people will be in the minority. Already, five states have non-white majorities.

This is our future — we’re headed towards a multi-racial, multi-ethnic America. While the fears of those who view this as threatening can be understood, the expression of those fears through hatred, conspiracy theories and potential violence should not be tolerated.

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The Casualties of War…Coming Home

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquezs mom dialed his sergeant at FortCarson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much.

He always packed a gun.

It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb, said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

So begins “The Casualties of War,” by Dave Philipps, which appeared recently in the Colorado Gazette

It was forwarded to me by my old friend David Addlestone, who founded the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, DC and led it for many years, until stepping down in 2008. Addlestone whom the American Bar Association called a Human Rights Herowho dedicated his entire professional career to vindicating the rights of the often scorned warriors…has fought for veterans legal rights for decades, going back to the Vietnam era.

So its no surprise that he would be calling attention to this latest human rights tragedy underway regarding the mental health of our returning veterans and the behavior their psychological condition provokes.

Philipps article documents chilling accounts of the emotional damage suffered by many vets, often leading to violence, murder and self-destructive behavior both while on duty and especially after the vets return to normalcy. Unfortunately the military appears to not take very seriously — and even eggs on, in some cases — the mental traumas that the returning soldiers bring with them. See the rest of Philipps article at http://tinyurl.com/ngo3hz

Our elected officials and our institutions need to address this, perhaps with a war-to-peace transition program Continue reading

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Values and Behavior Are Evolving Towards Success & Service To Others

Great Nicholas Kristof piece in NYT about Scott Harrison’s Charity: Water http://bit.ly/yfRgm

I interviewed Scott for an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2007 and was impressed with his ability to put his business and media savvy and talents in the service of addressing a humanitarian problem.

Even more impressive and significant is his personal story arc: From an awakening out of a self-centered life; which led to an unexpected, almost serendipity experience; which led, in turn, to creating a successful venture — one thats having tremendous impact on people who are deprived of something as basic as clean water. http://www.charitywater.org

Im finding that people like Scott are emblematic of a growing evolution within personal values and behavior, today: Redefining success away from self-centeredness, greed and purely personal gain; and towards using your talents to serve the common good. My study of this evolution suggests that it reflects an emerging new definition of psychological health that fits the needs of our post-globalized era.

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Obama should keep using the word “empathy”

President Obama recently shifted away from speaking about empathy as an important quality in a Supreme Court justice, in favor of an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live. A nice phrase, but I think he should stick with empathy, and not let the Right redefine the term as theyve been doing.

I feel compelled to weigh in on this in part because I introduced the term empathy deficit disorder in an article I wrote in the Washington Post in the recent past.There, I argued that our culture suffers from a dearth of empathy; absolutely necessary today for effective functioning, as individuals or a society, within our interconnected, post-globalized world.

Consider this: In the Bible King Solomon asked God for a heart that listens. Notice that he didnt ask for a head that thinks. Theres a reason: The head repository of the mind is more akin to a processor of information within a logical framework and sequence; like a computer program. It uses reason without context or real world judgment.

In contrast, the heart symbolizes the repository of wisdom; of judgment. And thats based on the accumulation of life experience, broadened perspectives, and tested values, including the consequences of the behavior they generate. Overall, it derives from a leavened character.

Empathy is central to judgment and wisdom. Its the capacity to step outside of yourself and experience the world of the other from the inside, so to speak. Its different from sympathy, which is based on identifying with something another person experiences; that is, relating it to your own self. For example, I feel sympathetic to her situation because thats what I felt when it happened to me.

But suppose you cant relate it to your own experience? Thats where empathy is critical, because it means stepping inside the mindset and emotional experience of the other person. With that immersion, you can make more judicious, fair, and wise assessments in relation to your actions — whether towards friend, foe, or someone whos neither.

In the Bible, God grants Solomons request, in the form of wisdom in your heart. Note He didnt say, wisdom in your head. He gave him discernment in administering justice. Further, it was said that the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart.

The Right is trying to redefine empathy to mean — at best — personal emotional preferences; at worst, irrational emotion that drives behavior. Using this shift, they then advocate fact-based judgments, devoid of anything emotional. They are wrong in both efforts.

If an important matter in your life was being adjudicated, would you rather come before someone with a developed capacity for empathy, and who can access it in the service of administering justice; or, someone following a flow-chart of logical sequence as the basis for deciding the proper administration of justice?

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Psychological Resiliency Needs Redefinition In Today’s Chaotic World

Much talk in the media about the need to be “resilient” in the face of economic meltdown, career uncertainties, stress at home and work, etc. The conventional advice – like trying to “balance” work and life, managing your stress with proper exercise, diet, meditation, and focusing on positive thoughts and feelings to help you cope with it all — good stuff, per se, but it’s not going to help very much in this current world, which is transforming beneath our feet in ways that can be hard to fathom or deal with.

Conventional solutions aren’t effective because they point you to coping and managing with conventional conflicts. Our changing world requires much more of a proactive position – perspectives, emotional attitudes and actions that address a new reality: that our lives and well-being are totally interconnected, globally. We succeed or fail at work and in relationships to the extent that we can, in effect, “forget ourselves,” and focus on serving the larger, common good. It sounds like a paradox, but we’re all global citizens now, and whatever attitudes and actions support positive engagement — other people, co-workers, or missions larger than our own narrow self-interest – they circle back to increase success and security in our own lives.

 

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“Recession Anxiety”

We see increasing media reports about people suffering from “recession anxiety,” depression, and even worse. Apparently, stemming from the global economic meltdown and what it’s done to our sense of stability; our expectations of continued “success” in life. I think these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. We’re living in a world that has been changing in front of our eyes, and is creating new psychological and behavioral challenges for everyone.

In this post-globalized, totally interconnected world, our old definitions of the psychologically healthy adult no longer fit. We need new thinking, new criteria about what constitutes healthy emotional attitudes, behavior, mental perspectives, and personal values in today’s world. I think thatoutward success and internal well-being are interwoven with responsibilities for the common good – the larger human community and the planet. We’re all global citizens, now. That shift calls for a new picture of psychological health and how to build it, individually and socially.

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