Archive for the ‘soul’ Category

Why he’s winning: leadership, judgement, and stonking oratory

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For some, including for Time magazine’s Joe Klein, Obama’s rise and campaign management has been bewildering.  Klein’s recent article captures beautifully the personal qualities and decisions made that have generated such momentum for the Obama campaign.  For example, Obama’s policy of ‘no dramatics’ within his campaign team paid off in the primaries against Clinton.  And his instinctive judgement calls as to when leadership could most effectively be deployed enabled him to reflect on the issue of race in America, and neutralise Jeremiah Wright, in a speech followed by a press conference; and, it enabled him to keep his cool during the banking bail-out fiasco.

Here’s how Klein finishes up -

If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn’t he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn’t he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about “the fierce urgency of now,” to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.

If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into “teachable moments.” He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I’ve seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven’t seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

Bingo.

‘Hot drinks all round!’ How to make friends and influence people

Friday, October 24, 2008

From today’s Guardian -

A steaming hot drink may be all it takes to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, psychologists have found.

Holding a warm cup of coffee was enough to make people think strangers were more welcoming and trustworthy, while a cold drink had the opposite effect, a study found.

The warmth of a drink also influenced whether people were more likely to be selfish or give to others, researchers report in the journal Science. A team led by John Bargh at the University of Colorado set about testing whether hot and iced drinks influenced perceptions of others after noting how frequently “warm” and “cold” are used to describe personalities.

In one test, 41 volunteers were asked to hold a cup of coffee while they took an escalator to a fourth-floor lab. Once there, they were asked to read about a fictional character and give their impression of them. The test was then repeated using an iced coffee drink.

The psychologists found the volunteers perceived the fictional strangers as significantly warmer characters after holding the hot drink.

Consuming for the economy or the future?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4′s Thought for the Day yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt -

Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.

Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.

We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.

Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.

The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.

‘A Brighter Day Will Come’

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here’s another stunner of a non-Obama-Campaign, campaigning video -

What was that I said?

A beautiful political campaign video

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There’s no question this is a defining moment in American history: more of the same, but worse vs. change for the better.

Brilliant – Barack get’s rolled in the right place

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

- the Replubican Convention. Enjoy!

The Wild Driveway Story

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Copyright Franke James.  Read the full story here.

A word from the wise – JK Rowling’s Address to Harvard Graduates 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An excerpt on how imagination facilitates empathy -

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind. I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares about some of the things I saw, heard and read. And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before. Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

Land (and ecological) rights will be the new frontier

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who owns land? Indeed, can one rightfully claim ownership of what were originally, before the rise of homo sapiens, ‘neutral’, ‘free’, or ‘unclaimed’ places? These are profound questions, ones that go right to the root of Western, industrialised, secular society.

You may have read in the media recently about the ‘previously uncontacted tribe’ in the Amazon (although the organisation that campaigns on their behalf, Survival International, never claimed the tribe was ‘previously uncontacted’).

Survival campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, one tribe of which, the Amazon Makuxi Indians, lives on a specially demarcated reserve. The official recognition hasn’t stopped a local farmer from using his political muscle and resources to intimidate them, however.  Here is troubling footage of what is happening to the Makuxi, conveying in a small way what has been happening for centuries all over the world; don’t watch it if you’re squeamish or young.

No doubt, rising oil prices, biofuels, the cost of food etc. are all playing their part in pressuring farmers and landowners. But what’s been happening in the Amazon, in Zimbabwe (land grabbing farmland ‘back from’ whites), Botswana (diamond prospecting ousting the Kalahari Bushmen) and elsewhere could just be the thin end of the wedge.

I suspect that people’s rights in relation to what some call ‘ecological services’ – healthy water, air, soil and, I’d perhaps add, experiences of wildness – will be the next frontier for those interested in society’s development, i.e. coming historically after democratic, women’s and civil rights progress in European and US social trajectories.


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