Ponder

Making your world a better place

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Photo by izusek/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by izusek/iStock / Getty Images

A Word to Ponder for 2017: Hygge

The New York Times carried an article by Penelope Green on 12.24.2016 about the idea of getting cozy with friends and family. The story pointed out that the Danish practice of coziness is as integral to their culture as freedom is to Americans. I thought about that and wondered where the correlation was between the two cultural preferences, and rather than ponder that for too long, I kept reading, intent on learning more about hygge. The article defines hygge:

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah, like a football cheer in a Scandinavian accent) is the Danish word for cozy. It is also a national manifesto, nay, an obsession expressed in the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake and other people. But no strangers, as the Danes, apparently, are rather shy. Hygge is already such a thing in Britain that the Collins Dictionary proclaimed it one of the top 10 words of 2016, along with Brexit and Trumpism.

Candles, unscented, take front and center at all hygge events. The Danes burn twelve pounds of candle wax per person per year. The NYT story comments on the rampant use of fire as essential to hygge:

Where Americans see a fire hazard, the Danes see an antidepressant. The Danish word for spoilsport, Mr. Wiking notes, is lyseslukker, “which literally means, ‘one who puts out the candles.’”

As we venture out into this bold new year, brimming with possibilities and reeling with uncertainties, we can certainly add a heaping helping of hygge throughout the year to soften our days.

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rubble

No Matter How Small

There’s a short children’s story about an elephant who comes upon a small bird laying on its back with its spindly legs up in the air and its tiny feet stretched out as if ready to catch whatever falls. The elephant asks the bird, “What are you doing?’ The bird replies, “I heard that the sky is falling and I’m doing my part to hold it up.”

~

Every morning, I go to the online version of the Wall Street Journal to see what’s going on in the monied and not-so-monied pockets of the world. Aside from the sweep of financial news that we all need to keep up on, there’s always a few off-beat articles and opinion pieces that catch my attention. But it’s the daily collection of photos from around the world that nails my heart to the wall. Sometimes I hesitate before I open the page. I know I will see at least one image of war, human suffering or planetary devastation. That’s how the world looks. Sure, I could shield myself from this reality. It would be so easy to stay in my world, here in this little corner of America, where I live perched in the Berkeley Hills, often sitting on my porch, watching the occasional hawk soar over this peaceful canyon, high above the urban chaos, and oceans away from all that suffering.

Yet each morning, I open that page in the Wall Street Journal and let those photos drive nails through my heart. Why? If I cannot feel the pain of others, than how will I know to help? Rather than feel like my small life has no power against all these atrocities, I know I can do something, be it ever so small.

Here is a list of my favorite organizations that use the combined treasure, talent and time of their members to effect large-scale and lasting change to make the world a better place. And who knows, if you find something on this list that attracts your interest, you might feel better yourself, just for learning about all the good that’s going on in this big wide world of ours, and maybe discover a place where you can contribute your time, talent or treasure!

Clowns Without Borders

Clowns Without Borders (CWB-USA) is a non-profit organization which offers resilience through laughter. We aim to relieve the suffering of all persons, especially children, who live in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones and other situations of adversity. We partner with individuals and organizations to bring small teams of professional performing artists to share performances and workshops with children and their families in refugee camps, conflict zones, or with communities who have experienced trauma or crisis.

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.

Ashoka

Ashoka’s vision and understanding of the world comes from their experience in pioneering the field of social entrepreneurship over the last 35 years—finding, selecting, and supporting the world’s leading social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows). The network of more than 3,000 Ashoka Fellows is implementing system-changing solutions to human and environmental problems in 89 countries.

Our work with Ashoka Fellows helps us see patterns of social development across various fields, providing key levers and a new framework for living in the world as a changemaker. We help people see the world differently so they can do differently, fully participating in the new environment. For example, Ashoka is building and activating networks to create fundamental changes in the growing up experience of children and young people so that everyone can become a changemaker.

Rather than looking for someone who is building one school or one hospital, Ashoka looks for individuals who are changing the way children learn or the way healthcare is delivered, a process known as systems change. For example, Ashoka Fellow Kailash Satyarthi has acted to protect the rights of more than 83,000 children from 144 countries. It is largely because of Satyarthi's work and activism that the International Labour Organization adopted Convention No. 182 to prevent the worst forms of child labor, which is now a principal guideline for governments around the world. In 2014, Kailash received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Doctors Without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. Our actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

MSF was founded in Paris, France in 1971. Its principles are described in the organisation's founding charter. It is a non-profit, self-governed organisation. Today, MSF is a worldwide movement of 21 sections, 24 associations and various other offices. They are bound together by MSF International, based in Geneva, Switzerland, which provides coordination, information and support to the MSF Movement. Thousands of health professionals, logistical and administrative staff – most of whom are hired locally – work on programmes in some 69 countries worldwide.

MSF's work is based on humanitarian principles. We are committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently. We conduct our own evaluations on the ground to determine people’s needs. More than 90 per cent of our overall funding comes from millions of private sources, not governments.
MSF is neutral. We do not take sides in armed conflicts, we provide care on the basis of need, and we push for independent access to victims of conflict as required under international humanitarian law.
MSF medical teams often witness violence and neglect in the course of their work, largely in regions that receive scant international attention. At times, MSF may speak out publicly in an effort to bring a forgotten crisis to public attention, to alert the public to abuses occurring beyond the headlines, to criticise the inadequacies of the aid system, or to challenge the diversion of humanitarian aid for political interests.

World Justice Project

The World Justice Project® (WJP) is an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law around the world.

The work of the World Justice Project is founded on two premises: 1) the rule of law is the foundation of communities of peace, opportunity, and equity, and 2) multidisciplinary collaboration is the most effective way to advance the rule of law. Based on this, the WJP has three mutually-reinforcing lines of business: Research and Scholarship, the WJP Rule of Law Index, and Engagement initiatives.

Effective rule of law helps reduce corruption, improve public health, enhance education, lift people from poverty, and protect them from injustices and dangers large and small. Despite this, all over the world, people are denied basic rights to safety, freedom, and dignity because the rule of law is weak or non-existent. The natural environment is degraded when environmental protection laws are ignored. Women suffer abuse when they don't know they are protected by laws or when their access to justice is limited. Families suffer when parents are coerced into paying bribes to get their children admitted to public schools or to get them basic health care. Local and international businesses avoid investing in communities because of the lack of stable rules and regulations and excessive amounts of risk.

Rule of law means better public health, economic development, and political participation. It is the necessary ingredient to all forms of human endeavor, especially in communities of greatest need.

One of the ways the WJP achieves reforms in rule of law is through on-the-ground programs conducted with leaders of government, businesses, civil society and individuals across work disciplines in countries throughout the world. The WJP convenes these leaders to find common ground, to examine how the fundamental importance of the rule of law matters in the everyday lives of people in their own communities and to incubate rule of law reforms.

ShelterBox

The top priority of many aid organizations is to provide food, water and medical care to help people survive the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Without protection from the elements, survivors are at a higher risk as they await nourishment or medical attention. We recognized that little or no assistance was given in terms of proper shelter to help them through the first few days, weeks and months as they tried to rebuild their lives. Today, ShelterBox assists disaster survivors during the critical period following a disaster but preceding reconstruction.

To help them begin to rebuild their lives and communities, we deliver shelter and lifesaving supplies to the most vulnerable people.

Highly trained ShelterBox response teams distribute aid on the ground, working closely with local organizations, international aid agencies and a global network of volunteers.


Rotary International

Rotary is made up of three parts: at the heart of Rotary are our clubs, that are supported by Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation.

Rotary clubs bring together dedicated individuals to exchange ideas, build relationships, and take action.

Rotary International supports Rotary clubs worldwide by coordinating global programs, campaigns, and initiatives.

The Rotary Foundation uses generous donations to fund projects by Rotarians and our partners in communities around the world. As a nonprofit, all of the Foundation's funding comes from voluntary contributions made by Rotarians and friends who share our vision of a better world.

Together, Rotary clubs, Rotary International, and The Rotary Foundation work to make lasting improvements in our communities and around the world.

Rotary is made up of neighbors, community leaders, and global citizens uniting for the common good. With you, we can accomplish even more.

 

 

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The Nimitz Way trail in Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA. Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

The Nimitz Way trail in Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA. Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

The Way of Freedom

It is the main duty of government, if it is not
the sole duty of government, to provide means of
protection for all its citizens in the pursuit of happiness
against the obstacles, otherwise insurmountable,
which the selfishness of individuals
is liable to interpose to that pursuit. —Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.

~

Tilden Park traverses the top of the Berkeley Hills encompassing over 2,000 acres. Charles Lee Tilden, an attorney, local businessman and community organizer, led the way to make sure that this land would be preserved for future generations of Bay Area residents to enjoy. In 1936, during the severe economic times of the Great Depression, Tilden bought the first sixty acres of this land at $35 per acre to show his commitment and encourage others to contribute.

While at a friend’s house this weekend, I noticed a book on the shelf under the television: “The Conquering Tide, War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944” by Ian W. Toll. I picked it up to wander the contents, having heard of Ian Toll from a friend and therefore curious about his writings. I came across a photo of four military leaders of the time: Sutherland, Nimitz, Ghormley, and Harmon. Nimitz is seated at a table with the others standing either side. He’s pointing at a spot on the map spread across the table, no doubt going over battle strategy. Admiral Chester Nimitz is one of my personal heroes. I have a remote connection with him as a Rotarian. He joined the Rotary Club of Berkeley back in the 1920’s when he was Captain Nimitz and remained a member of Berkeley Rotary for the rest of his life. I am a member of that Club as well, and proud to know that Admiral Nimitz was a fellow Rotarian.

The Berkeley Rotary Peace Grove. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Rotary

The Berkeley Rotary Peace Grove. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Rotary

In 1955, our club planted a Peace Grove of one hundred Giant Sequoias at the top of the Nimitz Way trail at Tilden Park in Berkeley. Each year, Berkeley Rotary places a plaque at the foot of one of these great trees in honor of an individual or organization that has significantly contributed to world peace in the previous year.

At the end of the Nimitz Way is the abandoned Nike Ajax antiaircraft missile site. The trail leading to the Peace Grove is named after Admiral Nimitz because he often walked along this path in mindful solitude in the years after the War. He scattered wildflower seeds as he walked. This peaceful habit demonstrated his strong principles. One cannot simply say “Peace, brother,” as the flower children of the ‘60s chanted. Peace is more than a word. Like love, the words, “I love you,” carry no weight without action to back them up.

Nimitz knew that freedom does not come nor is it preserved by the inaction of those who merely sit at protests waving signs with words scrawled in bold letters: Peace. Love.

Words alone cannot stop the viral ways of violence nor the ignition of war. Nimitz used his prowess to lead an entire naval fleet to extinguish the flames of war and stand against those who threatened our freedom.

A friend once told me that to be successful in life, I should study battle plans of victorious generals. Nimitz taught me that peace comes to those who sow the seeds of freedom on soil hard won.

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Photo by TongRo Images/TongRo Images / Getty Images
Photo by TongRo Images/TongRo Images / Getty Images

Blossom

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

Anais Nin

~

And here's a quote by Anais Nin written many years ago (she was born in 1903 and died in 1977) that gives us more reason to pause:

The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.

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Chris, me, Elaine, Virginia. Spending time together as we have since childhood. The value of our time together just keeps going up.

Chris, me, Elaine, Virginia. Spending time together as we have since childhood. The value of our time together just keeps going up.

Time Well Spent

24 hours a day. That’s it. Spend them as you wish. No one can earn more hours than another. Time comes in equal shares. No one can increase their shares by shrewd investing nor can one steal hours from another. Time is the great equalizer.

What if money were doled out the same way? Every human being gets $24 dollars to spend each day and that’s it. No squirreling away a few coins for future use. You either spend it or you don’t. What’s leftover disappears, cosmically recycled into some grand pot. The next day you wake up and there’s another $24 to get by on.

If this were the case, that $24 would take on an entirely different value. You’d spend it with great care, taking into consideration the daily needs of your family, your community, and your natural surroundings. You would learn to wisely spend each dollar, balancing priorities against the constant changes of your daily existence.

A life well-lived = time well spent. The more you invest in time with your friends, family, and community, the greater the dividends: peace, joy, and good health.

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Image courtesy of craniaintelligence.com

Image courtesy of craniaintelligence.com

Repose

Every morning before I begin my day, I take a few minutes to set my intention. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and scan the horizon of my mind. I see the day lighting up, slowly, like a soft pink sunrise. I consider what my day will encompass, and how I can develop the best outcome, then my one-word intention surfaces.

There’s a difference between intention and a goal. Daily goals have to do with tasks. Intention has to do with how you go about achieving those tasks. Intention sets the tone and powerfully affects how you will feel as you go about your day and how you will affect those around you.

One word is enough. For example, take the word ‘curious’. If you set that as your intention, your day will be filled with discoveries. Or take the word, ‘grateful’, then you will notice all sorts of little things that boost your sense of gratitude. Or take the word, ‘significant’, then what is most important will surface as your day goes along.

Today, I set my intention with the word, ‘repose’. I always look up the word in the dictionary and check its origin to find out the deeper meaning. Here’s what I found: “Temporary rest from activity, excitement, or exertion. A state of peace. In art - harmonious arrangement of colors and forms, providing a restful visual effect. LATIN: repausare, ‘to pause’.

So there you have it. Press pause before you begin your day and then the rest of it will unfold at a pace you can handle.

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Photo by shutter_m/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by shutter_m/iStock / Getty Images

No Dropped Signals

Fleeting flakes of conversations speckled in the glow. Words tapping against the glass. Floating. Short strings of thoughts abruptly spit. Press send.

Messages received without a face. Letters etched upon a screen. Content pruned back. Character limits.

Limited character. Restricted. Waves splashing on shores of buried thoughts. No time to dig them out. A communication tsunami. Hand-held. Clipped-on. Ear-buds. Plugged-in. Tuned-in. High-volume. Press delete.

Can you see my face? Can you touch my hand? Can you hear my voice? Can you taste my meaning?

Come here. Sit at my table. Let’s dine together. Drinking our thoughts. Melting  words like butter. I want to see your crinkled face, your steady eyes, your careful smile. I want to hear the space between your words. No dropped signals.

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FDR Memorial

Do Your Part

“I think that we have every right and every reason to maintain as a national policy the fundamental moralities, the teachings of religion, the continuation of efforts to restore peace because some day, though the time may be distant, we can be of even greater help to a crippled humanity.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Fireside Chat
September 3, 1939

~

Lately I’ve been reading FDR’s Fireside Chats. Lessons on leadership abound. At the close of his broadcast on March 12, 1933, at the height of the financial crisis, and at the depths of despair for so many in America, he said, “Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith, you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.”

On May 7, 1933 he addressed the nation on the progress made to restore faith in the financial system. He established the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide the “opportunity of employment to a quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young men who have dependents, to let them go into forestry and flood-prevention work”.

He emphasized the importance of choosing a way to rebuild the economy based on fair play. He said that the alternative of simply allowing the banks to fail, businesses to close, and homes to go into foreclosure would not lead the country back to prosperity. He went on to explain, “I came to the conclusion that such a policy would be too much to ask the American people to bear. It involved not only a further loss of homes and farms and savings and wages, but also a loss of spiritual values - the loss of that sense of security for the present and the future that is so necessary to the peace and contentment of the individual and of his family.”

To lift the spirits of the people, FDR brought beer back to the table, “In addition to all this the Congress also passed legislation as you know authorizing the sale of beer in such states as desired it. That has already resulted in considerable reemployment, and incidentally it has provided for the federal government and for the states and much-needed tax revenue.”

His commentary on what is fair treatment toward our fellow man is threaded through each Fireside Chat. The hallmark of a great leader is knowing how to bring together the common concerns of the people by addressing their individual needs. FDR had a keen intuitive sense of how to make this happen. In a time of tremendous national upheaval and global turmoil, this man, who found himself at a crucial point in the history of the world, calmly assumed his position of authority with dignity and grace. He provided a timeless example for the rest of us to become leaders in our own communities, no matter our circumstance, no matter our limitations.

His words in the Fireside Chat of July 24, 1933 show another facet of his leadership skills - that of assigning a common cause that gives everyone a real sense of belonging:

 “There are, of course, men, a few of them, who might thwart this great common purpose by seeking selfish advantage. There are adequate penalties in the law, but I am now asking the cooperation that comes from opinion and from conscience. These are the only instruments we shall use in this great summer offensive against unemployment. But we shall use them to the limit to protect the willing from the laggard and to make the plan succeed.

In war in the gloom of night attack, soldiers wear a bright badge on their shoulders to be sure that comrades do not fire on comrades. On that principle, those who cooperate in this program must  know each other at a glance. That is why we have provided a badge of honor for this purpose, a simple design with a legend, We Do Our Part; and I ask that all those who join with me shall display that badge prominently. It is essential to our purpose.”

The program behind the motto was the National Recovery Administration (NRA) established in an attempt to create a code of conduct for American businesses that ensured fair competitive practices, improved labor standards, and increased wages. This program was the most controversial of Roosevelt’s New Deal and came to an end in less than two years. The National Archives’ website sums it up:

For a time, the NRA worked. It gave an air of confidence to the American people to overcome the fears of the Depression and the downward turn of wages and prices. However, once recovery began, hostility among businessmen grew with the daily annoyances of code enforcement. Within two years the NRA had developed many critics and by May 1935 was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The experiment of the NRA was generally put down as a failure. Nevertheless, the codes had set new standards for business and workers such as the 40-hour week and the end of child labor. The NRA also helped the growth of unions with the endorsement of collective bargaining.

The best lesson on leadership that FDR taught was that of courage. He understood how fear fuels aggression. He knew that to do nothing in the face of provocation, does nothing for the sake of peace.

In his Fireside Chat of December 29, 1940, he defined peace in terms that any citizen could understand, “They call it a ‘negotiated peace’. Nonsense! Is it a negotiated peace if a gang of outlaws surrounds your community and on threat of extermination makes you pay tribute to save your own skins? For such a dictated peace would be no peace at all.”

President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. Associated Press

President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. Associated Press

On June 6, 1944, FDR addressed the nation in a D-Day Prayer. This took courage for him to display his faith in such a public manner, but he wanted to pull the nation together in a powerful way that would show his conviction toward freedom, and that included freedom of religion. He recognized that everyone of us has a right to such freedoms and that those who foster intolerance pose a threat toward all.

He stated in his prayer, "With thy blessing we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances."

President Franklin Roosevelt faced some of the greatest challenges a leader has ever had to confront. He fought for the right for all to live a decent and peaceful life. His example in global leadership is one that we can continue to learn from and apply in our own communities.

~

You can read all thirty Fireside Chats at the FDR Library.

You can read an article in the Washington Post by Frank Ahrens, 2008, with links to audio versions of the Fireside Chats.

Next time you are in Washington, DC, you can visit FDR’s Memorial, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week because it is an outdoor installation.

~

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Cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Photo by Kathleen Franks

Cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Photo by Kathleen Franks

Bejeweled

a petal falls
you
across the table

Steve Sanfield

The following is an excerpt from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan:

[...] as in the Zen oxherding paintings, the herder has to return to the marketplace and be in the world, in relation to others. Ultimately, of course, we are never out-of-relationship, since we are interdependent, part of the Hindu vision of the world and universe as “the net of Indra,” in which each person is a jewel point in each corner of the net, reflecting all the other jewels.

[...] since we reflect each other and cannot hide who we really are when dealing with “the other” sitting across the table: the old raging father, the sad lover, or the whining child or cat. This very moment without escape, a petal falls, and there we are facing each other.

Steve Sanfield (b. 1940) is a fine American haiku poet, at home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Sanfield is a storyteller, folklorist, and editor of Zero: A Journal of Contemporary Buddhist Life and Thought. His collection of poetry includes, A New Way, Only the Ashes, and Crocuses in the Snow. He calls these poems “hoops” rather than “haiku” because they include the “season of the heart”, as in the Native American’s sacred hoop or circle.

~

Do you enjoy reading PONDER? If so, then please consider becoming a regular monthly sponsor. Your contribution from as little as $5 will help cover the cost of publication and the time it takes to research and write every issue. PONDER accepts no advertising.

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Hyde Park, London. Photo courtesy of thecleveland-hotel.com

Hyde Park, London. Photo courtesy of thecleveland-hotel.com

A Life to Call Our Own

“... a life worth living, and one we can call, despite all the difficulties and imperfections, our very own.”

David Whyte
The Three Marriages

David Whyte is a poet, author and lecturer. Here is more about his work from his website:

Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The author of seven books of poetry and three books of prose, David Whyte holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including living and working as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands and leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, Amazon and Himalaya. He brings this wealth of experience to his poetry, lectures and workshops.

His life as a poet has created a readership and listenership in three normally mutually exclusive areas: the literate world of readings that most poets inhabit, the psychological and theological worlds of philosophical enquiry and the world of vocation, work and organizational leadership.

An Associate Fellow at Said Business School at the University of Oxford, he is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, where he works with many European, American and international companies. In spring of 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Neumann College, Pennsylvania.

In organizational settings, using poetry and thoughtful commentary, he illustrates how we can foster qualities of courage and engagement; qualities needed if we are to respond to today’s call for increased creativity and adaptability in the workplace. He brings a unique and important contribution to our understanding of the nature of individual and organizational change, particularly through his unique perspectives on Conversational Leadership.

~

Do you enjoy reading PONDER? If so, then please consider becoming a regular monthly sponsor. Your contribution from as little as $5 will help cover the cost of publication and the time it takes to research and write every issue. PONDER accepts no advertising.

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Image courtesy of mandibeach.com

Image courtesy of mandibeach.com

Get Busy Building
  

    “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
    Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God”
Zora Neale Hurston, 1937

Women don't waste time waiting for their ship to come in, they get busy building it.

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'Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task.’ Photograph: Alamy. Courtesy of theguardian.com

'Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task.’ Photograph: Alamy. Courtesy of theguardian.com

Focus

If a camera is out of focus, it will produce an image that is not clearly defined, with necessary details obscured. In other words, information that the photographer could have conveyed is lost.

Our brains work like a camera. We take in images, information, and other stimuli and process it for further use. The dictionary defines the word “focus”: the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition. And in geometry: one of the fixed points from which the distances to any point of a given curve, such as an ellipse or parabola, are connected by a linear relation. Interestingly, the Latin origin for the geometric application of the word means, “domestic hearth’.

Our brains are our domestic hearth. This is where the home fires of our existence burn.

Today the word focus comes up in regard to our ever-increasing need to find respite from the tsunami of information overload that we experience in our online lives. I often hear people complain about their overstuffed email inboxes. That conjures images in my mind of an actual mailbox with letters, advertising, and packages spilling out onto the ground only to be lost in the litter of our lives.

Thankfully, the Guardian ran an article this week about the problem of our modern-day information overload and how we can manage it and learn to focus our daily lives on taking better care of our brain which is getting the brunt of all this. If we do not allow ourselves the time to give our brains the chance to focus and clearly define each happening in our day, then our brains will not function at an optimum level. Just think, if everyone paid attention to the health of their brain, then how much better off the world would be.

Here is an excerpt:

Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist at Stanford, found that learning information while multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain. If students study and watch TV at the same time, for example, the information from their schoolwork goes into the striatum, a region specialised for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organised and categorised in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve. MIT’s Earl Miller adds, “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.” And it turns out the brain is very good at this deluding business.

[...]

Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour. By contrast, staying on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum, and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.

~

The article goes on to discuss a little history on how we used to receive mail once a day. There were merits in this mode of communication. It took  a long time to write a handwritten letter and it took a long time to get a reply. This allowed plenty of time for one’s brain to process the information trail.

However, I am not of the mind that we should go back to the good old days. Modern-day communication tools are opening up myriads of improvements in the way we connect on a global scale. All we have to do is learn the best way to use these new tools without sacrificing our well-being.

You can manage your virtual mailbox just like you manage your mailbox at home. When you get your mail out of the box, the first thing you do is look at the addressee and the sender. If it’s important to you and personal, you’ll open it first. Same thing with our virtual mail. Only difference is that the “mailman” shows up now every minute of the day. Here’s the catch: don’t let it pile up. Check your email regularly but don’t let it interrupt important tasks. And don’t forget your spam box. That’s like the lost and found of email. Once in a while, there’s something in there that got misplaced by the virtual mailman.

The takeaway for me on the article about how our brains process information is this: Focus. Take time to define what you're looking at. Let your brain properly file away information for later use.

Just like a big file cabinet, if you carelessly toss papers into it out of order, it takes hours to find what you need later, and sometimes files can get lost. Don’t let your brain become a broken down old file cabinet. One of the best things I ever learned from my first real job was to never have a box on your desk labeled, “To Be Filed”.

Press Pause

Photo courtesy of natgeocreative.com

Photo courtesy of natgeocreative.com

Identity

Midway between "It's all my fault" and "I don't deserve this" is where you will find your deep pool of strength.

Press pause

Photo courtesy of barnard.edu

Photo courtesy of barnard.edu

“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.”
― Margaret Mead

About Skin Color

Brain Pickings is an excellent newsletter on the human spirit written and curated by Maria Popova. This week, Ms. Popova published an article about Margaret Mead entitled, “On the Root of Racism and the Liability of Law Enforcement.” Popova extracted the choice kernels of truth from Ms. Meads’ experience as a world-renowned anthropologist.

Here is one kernel to savor and share:

Children’s initial response to the strange often is one of fear. A brown-skinned child, seeing a white person for the first time, may scream with fear. A white-skinned child, seeing a dark person for the first time, may also. If the screaming, fearful child is comforted, reassured and given a chance to learn to know and trust the stranger, he will have one kind of response — one of trust and expectation of friendship. But if his fear is unassuaged or is reinforced by the attitude of the older children and adults around him, he may come to hate what he has feared.

This is why it is so important in a multiracial world and a multiracial society like ours that children have many experiences with individuals of races different from their own. Only in this way can we hope surely to dispel their early fear of the strange and enable them to distinguish among individuals, caring for some and disliking others, not because they belong to a category of loved or hated people, but because of their own personality, as individuals.

~
To brush up on Margaret Mead’s remarkable life, here is a link to her biography from the Institute of Intercultural Studies.

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Cover photo by Kathleen Franks

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© 2014 - 2017 Kathleen Franks