Learning, politics, reading, Reflection, Technology

Summer Reading

This isn’t an exhaustive list – l read whodunits and lighthearted novels in the summer in addition to the endless newspapers and magazines – but some time ago I decided that hard cover and paperback books still count. Those pictured above are important and life changing.

With the Harari trio I started in the middle with Homo Deus as a Christmas present from family members who know I like this kind of thing. The second earlier one, Sapiens, was inspired by reading the first – and the last, 21 Lessons, was immediately on my must read list. I note that within days of publication it is already second on Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller List with its release only this September.

Harari can be described as a cultural historian and these three books deal with the the future, the past, and the present. He is insightful, opinionated and always provocative. Critical of both religion and politics for their insularity and selfcenterdness, he repeatedly says we need a new story for a global world. Journey of the Universe just might fill that role and I am curious whether he has read it. The authors are not cited in the index in any of them.

Journey of the Universe is a book, a movie – available via a website with that name – and also a conference at Yale in which the last book in the image is a Christian reflection on the story. It’s focused not solely on the planet but on an even bigger story. Author Brain Swimme is quoted on the back cover of Living Cosmology saying that mulling over the contents could be life changing. I agree. I don’t know whether all faith groups have responded to this – but they should. More on this in coming posts.

Leadership, media, Pausing, politics, Reflection

Different perspectives

Have a look at the cube above. Now look again and see if you can see it from a different perspective.  Most people can – but not see both views at the same time.  It’s lucky we can still do this with the cube because as political animals Americans seem to have lost it.

It gets worse.  Presidents and newscast hosts get involved in slanging matches and start competing for the “Bully of the Year” award.  People become very self-righteous for different reasons and with different reactions.  Some of us have high expectations of appropriateness and when we don’t see it, we become outraged.  Others follow the Twitterverse for its entertainment value.  Values are clearly in play.  Some feel discouraged, others feel helpless.  It’s one thing to deal with a surly adolescent or screaming child at home.  It’s another when you’re dealing with a leader of the free world.

As Tom Friedman observed recently in a New York Times article, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It’s more than disagreeing on facts. We seem to have graduated to disagreeing on values. How can people who have so much common history seem to be living on different planets?  The clue may lie in how we determine values as much as we do facts.  While even expertise is distrusted these days, a bit of expertise might now come in handy.  I turn to Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Righteous Mind.

Haidt’s premise – that we are intuitive first and rational second – has much in common with Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  Haigt as a social psychologist framed this concept in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis, using the analogy of the mind as a rider on an emotional and instinctive elephant.  He sees moral judgment based more on more on intuition than on conscious reasoning; it is automatic.  If we want to change other peoples’ minds, he says, we talk to their elephants.  It is through relationships with others not our arguments that different points of view have a chance of making an impact.  There is more than one way of looking at things and if you return to the original image and looks at it long enough, you can see it in two different ways.

After in-depth  research on moral thinking, Haidt has identified these moral foundations arising out of different cultures and historical traditions but now almost universal in presence – if not in emphasis:

  • Care: Ability to “feel the pain” of others, to show a nurturing kindness. The opposite is harm
  • Fairness: it can be interpreted in more than one way- equal treatment for all or proportionality.  The opposite is cheating.
  • Loyalty: our ability to form groups and put the needs of the group first. The opposite is betrayal.
  • Authority; respect for leadership and traditions. Its opposite is subversion.
  • Sanctity; respect for the physical body and the need to keep it pure and clean. Its opposite is degradation.
  • Liberty; individual freedom and hatred of bullying and domination  Its opposite is oppression.

It gets interesting when you start to apply these foundations to politics. Haidt notes that Democrats and Libertarians are strong on the first two and Libertarians especially on the last one – while Republicans value all six – giving politicians more road maps in how to appeal to voters. The “facts” may matter a good deal less to the elephant than the emotional response they arouse and we see lots of that going on right now.

I’ve also been reminded of another book whose title seems prescient – Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, published after his death.  A rabbi and psychotherapist, Friedman served as an advisor to six US presidents and it would be interesting to think what he would have to say to the current one.  Long before the current turmoil, be saw America as overcome by anxiety.  Both presidents and parents need to understand different roles as leaders.  I have zero confidence that the current leader would take Friedmans’ advice, but it might have some usefulness for the rest of us.  There’s room for more than one leader among us.

The leader’s role, Friedman says, is to be a non-anxious presence – to maintain one’s own integrity when facing sabotage – which any rise to power will automatically bring.  The real job is to maintain a sense of self while at the same time remaining connected to the opposition.  The very time one is under attack is the time not to react by hitting back in the same way.

Any emotional relationship involves a triangle. It can be three people – any parent has seen how the game plays out among mom, dad and teenager – or any two people or groups with an issue in which they disagree.  In an earlier work, Generation to Generation, Friedman explores how earlier generations become part of our triangles even after their deaths. Friedman notes that we are all part of multiple triangles simultaneously involving our jobs, our parents, our significant others, our finances, our health – and even our vacation preferences.  Three levels of government present another set.

Any triangle is a recipe for high anxiety – so the ones we are dealing with right now a perfect storm. In human terms, trying to change the relationship of the other sides of the triangle hardly ever works.  All of us, I suspect are trying to be more responsible than the other players. That doesn’t bring a solution – what it does bring is stress.  Anxiety is contagious and we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic.

What to do?  Friedman would say –

  • Self-differentiate. The only person’s behaviour we can change is our own.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and be playful. If this were a play or a novel, the modern scene would win prizes for farce of a very high order.  The fact that it is happening isn’t so great – but life is long and things change.
  • Focus on personal strengths and do what one can to enhance them. Let other people work on theirs.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on. There is a tendency to want to hide under a rock, but we can’t.
  • Be honest. Speak your piece but don’t fall into reciprocal slurring.
  • Question beliefs. Haidt notes that there is a difference between “What can I believe?” and “What must I believe?”
  • Live in the real world – not just the digital one – liars and cheaters are easier to spot there.

I like a quote from a recent memoir Safe Passage, by Ida Cook.  She and her sister helped many Jewish families escape the ravages of the second world war before it started.  She notes that when the war began, her 70-year-old father told the family that he was going to enroll as a stretcher bearer.  His wife replied that he was more likely to be on it than carrying it.  One of the sisters was worried about her father’s silence and projected that his feelings were hurt.  She said, “We think it is fine for you to want to be a stretcher bearer, Dad, even if mother thinks it is impractical”.  His reply would have gladdened Ed Friedman’s heart. He said, “I don’t care in the least what any of you think so long as I do what I think is right”.

We can stop being outraged.  We can stop being entertained.  We can stop expecting others to change.  We can stop being tired of foolishness.  We can start working on our own integrity and acting on it. We can also recognize that there is more than one perspective on the right thing –  giving some the right to emphasize some more than others and follow our own.


character, Leadership, politics, Reflection, self realization


Remember the lines from Julius Caesar

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them

One can watch leaders as The Independent did this weekend and make their own assessment of what leadership really is:

The German Chancellor,  Angela Merkel was born in a family of modest means.  Donald Trump was born to a wealthy one.  Both achieved greatness on their own though one started with additional advantage; and both had additional greatness come their way.

But as The Independent observes.  Angela Merkel has now become the leader of the free world – a role usually ascribed to the leader of the US. The current one has squandered what was thrust upon him.

What it says is that character and integrity matter. How one fulfils the role is what counts – not titles. Most of us have modest titles in life – if any!  But how we carry out those roles will matter in the long run.

effectiveness, Leadership, media, politics, Reflection, reporting, workplace



When you are a reporter for the New York Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and The Huffington Post and find yourself excluded from a White House Press conference this past Friday, you need help with bullying when it happens again.  So I looked online to find some advice:

 Act with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence

Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means holding your head high, keeping your back straight, walking briskly, looking around, and having a peaceful face and body. Staying aware also helps you to notice so that you can deal with it sooner rather than later.

Leave in a positive powerful way

 Leave in an assertive way, saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!”

Set Boundaries About Disrespectful or Unsafe Behavior

Your values are to have a welcoming and safe environment for everyone – and that being cruel or hurtful is wrong whether it happens in person, via social media, by texting, online or in any other way.

Use Your Voice

Leave and go to an adult to report what happened and get help as soon as possible.

Protect Your Feelings from Name-Calling and Hurtful Behavior

The reality is that, no matter how committed we are to safety and respect, not all places have the same commitment – and even when they do, people will still make mistakes. . . . saying, writing, emailing, or texting in ways that are hurtful to anyone makes problems bigger, not better.

Speak Up for Positive Inclusion

Being left out for reasons that have nothing to do with behavior is a major form of bullying

Be Persistent in Getting Help From Busy Adults

Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.

Use Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort

Help for the kid in us all:  Excerpted verbatim  from https://www.kidpower.org


politics, Reflection



It hasn’t been this interesting in a long time.

Women on the march – women silenced in the senate – reading letters and legal opinions on Facebook instead of looking at pictures of cats and cute babies – lawyers offering free services at airports. Has there ever been a time since Watergate when people are so interested in the evening news?

Of course, our Canadian Prime Minister got bumped from almost any mention in the New York times on the day of his Washigton visit this week. We Canadians can calm down and see how little we really matter in the scheme of things.   Of course our Canadian newspapers and media presented an alternate universe with its front page headlines, commentaries and photos.  But switch to the New York Times and PBS and we know more about Nordstrom’s merchandising policy that what will happen to the North American Free Trade Agreement.  The Israeli Prime Minister is likely to get the same not-with-it reception from the US Twittterer-in-Chief.

The groups that are totally forgotten these days are all those hurting Americans who saw their way of life disappearing and eroding without knowing what was happening.  Disruptive elements in societies used to happen slowly.  It took the mediaeval church a while to discover the disruptive power of the printing press that allowed people to form their own opinions when they could start to read things on their own.  We have come full circle when anything we read is now segmented in terms of interests, education, geography, politics and culture. I wonder to what extent all of us have been in a trance.

Some of us have felt victimized by disruptive change.  When that happens, it is common to look for a savior who will deliver us from all the pain.  It’s an even better solution if our world is primarily reality TV – where losers are much more prevalent than winners and seem like our kind of people.  We can let somebody else figure it out. But when that doesn’t happen, we become disillusioned but eventually we wake up –  it can take a long time though.  Often all it brings is more disillusionment and more pain.

Others of us have been totally distracted by our own concerns – maybe the best gym, the best recipe – and suddenly woken up to find ourselves in a different place.  What happened?  What do we do now?  Everyone from the press to ordinary citizens reacts with hysteria.  It’s only after a month of what might be now seen as a farce rather than a tragedy that we are starting to respond.  We haven’t been victimized.  We just haven’t been paying attention to things that matter.

Responding rather than reacting is now on the agenda and it always takes time. Reflection is not something most of us do too often.  Usually coming out the other side does mean lowering both the tone of voice and the temperature.  But it doesn’t allow us to avoid paying attention.  At least we’re doing that now.

character, effectiveness, politics, Reflection



It’s interesting that women can be silenced but men can be allowed to go on reading the same thing.  But it’s also a reminder that we have to continue to be activists no matter what our gender.  I was glad to see the suggestion in a recent New York Times that this is an analog process as well as a digital one and there were a few reminders for any of us no matter what country we live in

  • Educate ourselves by reading legislative documents – not just people’s commentaries on them
  • Know who our political representatives are at municipal, state or provincial and national levels. Visit their websites and read their newsletters.
  • When we have strong views on issues, let politicians know.  Visit their office, phone them. Individual letters make much more impact than polls and questionnaires. Ringing phones have more momentum than tweets.
  • Join advocacy groups that work on things we care about and support their advocacy efforts
  • Let companies know when we question their political support – give them positive as well as negative feedback
  • Most of all – when we know that information is questionable when we hear friends utter it, respond – but gently rather than stridently.  By saying, I notice. . . . ,  I wonder . . . . we allow both ourselves and others their integrity.  We’re going to have to keep that in mind when we inhabit divided states.
Leadership, politics, Reflection, reporting



image1The press is fond of buzzwords and buzzfeeds. In a Twitter age, fast is quicker than deep. Like millions I have a personal Twitter account but my idea of its use is so 1990s. I make it a place to post a link a longer piece of writing that I hope contains some substance.  But I am clearly not part of the Twitteratti.

The idea of a president whose chief method of communication is Tweets ought to be so bizarre that we should burst out laughing and go away.  But the press – which should be at the head of the line on this exit – has turned these ramblings into news and has become its main conduit for those of us who have not become a certain leader’s Twitter “followers”.

In the game of “follow the leader”, there are options.  I remember my mother trying to persuade my son who was four years old at the time to eat something he didn’t like.  She cited several people she thought he would be impressed by saying. Mr. X eats broccoli.  Mrs. Y. eats broccoli.  His response was “I’m not playing”.  We do have choices here.

It’s a problem.  How do you stop bullying or exposure to lies?  You can walk away and ignore it, which many of us seem to be doing – saying we simply want to get on with our own life and focus on whatever grabs us – food, fitness, fun perhaps.  We can blame change.  What happened to the role of religion, or the strength of the family, or the economy before the rise of technology caused the loss of manufacturing?  Or we can invent new buzzwords and think we’re done.

Fake news – as Tabitha Southey notes in this morning’s Globe and Mail needs clarification

  • It’s not sloppy news that lacks validation by thorough research of reliable sources
  • It’s not news we would rather not hear or that we don’t like
  • It’s not news that contains simple mistakes that are improperly fact checked and can be corrected. While someone’s name is misspelled, the person named is rightly upset, but this can be set right.

What Southey goes on to identify is the use of stories that are totally false.  An example is a reprint from a newspaper that doesn’t exist, a location that does not exist, a headline and a story that is totally false.  It’s fake in every way.  These are the pieces currently attributed to Russian Intelligence.  If other publications or social media platforms present them or reprint them, what they are spreading is lies.  As I said in the previous post, the news creates reality for us by choosing what we will see.

The news I read every day is something I care deeply about.  I want its sources to be reliable and valid.  That doesn’t mean I like or agree with everything I read. But I want every reporter or commentator to aim for the truth.  Let’s get real.   What fake news contains is lies.  When public figures or the press dismiss lies as fake news or post truth and suggest we’ve dealt with it, they are saying that lies and truth are interchangeable. What is truth?  Does it matter?

I watched the press conference of the incoming president this week.   The bunch of reporters waving their hands to try to get attention reminded me of a primary classroom. Where was the West Wing’s Allison Janney when we needed her?  It was every man and woman for himself/herself to try to get the scoop.

But do the press have any sense of corporation social responsibility when one of their number is not chosen to ask a question – that might be valid – but openly bullied.  Remember the strategy of S.I. Hayakawa who cut the wires in a student protest to change the dynamic. Whether he was right or wrong, it was an immediate response.  Suppose the reporters with one accord had simply stood up and quietly left the room? Now that would have been a story.  What such an action requires of course is a united commitment to finding the truth –  that treating others in ways that one would want to be treated matters – and standing together as the fourth estate matters for us all.