Who am I to say? As it is, I have no idea how to help any or all Afghan women be Afghan women. I must take photographs of Afghan women. American men would be disappointed at not having the above-mentioned exotic faces and tits to comment on. Voices rise, but he does what he has to do; he yells at them; the voices become more excited and angry than ever; he lifts his arms firmly, shouts the Afghans down, reaches out, pushes away a boy, and points to a woman, whose baby on her shoulder turns its head, sees me, and starts to cry.
The woman crouches miserably in the sand like a dark bird. Her husband comes forward, balling his fists at me, and the administrator puts a hand on his chest and pushes him back. He stands there looking at me. The administrator speaks to the woman rapidly and fiercely. Everyone is murmuring and watching my face. The woman removes her veil. She will not look at me.
I see her cheeks, her mouth. Her unbound hair. I move to one side and raise my camera. I believe I am taking good pictures. Thank you very much. I cannot prove this. Surviving Afghans would probably be forced into a more equitable system of distribution than currently exists. The women would receive as much food or as little as the men, we might hope. Surely the current culture of Afghanistan displaced an earlier one. There is thus no need for action.
Of course, the process of mastication and digestion is a little painful, but ah! They want guns to kill the Russians. That is what the mujahideen wanted most from Vollmann and America. Not so much the aid to the refugees, food, medical supplies. But guns. What this is most indicative of is the matter of autonomy.
Afghanistan was invaded. To the Russian's they were bringing literacy, civic consciousness, infrastructure, elevation of women. This sounds similar to American arguments for their, shall we call them conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is their autonomy was violated.
Certainly it's within reason for people worldwide to want the world to be healthier, more educated, more widely exposed to the advantages of technology and medicine. And while that line of thinking is often more rhetoric than reality, we still face the cumbersome task of violating a people's right to self-rule.
We want them to choose a society in which they have something similar to 1st Amendment rights, but voting people may see that as dangerous. We have a tendency to say, "you're doing it wrong" but to intervene would just produce a faction that wants to strike back at us with a more concentrated fervor. So a double bind presents itself in which we see their self-rule as perpetuating a humanitarian crisis of oppression and our intervention as a bringing about unsolvable chaos and the ire of those we tried to help.
This wasn't highly pronounced in the book, but I felt it was always stuck in the jaws of The Young Man. His rote questions come across as earnest, if a little calculated. The book is about failure; failure on his part to provide meaningful help, and failure on the Russian's part to accomplish their goals. But the failure is essential in understanding what is perhaps an unsolvable complexity. The Young Man was propelled by Good Intentions. And of course, we all know proverbially where that gets you.
The unfortunate consequence is a feeling of powerlessness; that to solve any one problem or even give a significant portion of aid, one has to start over with Universe and try to pick out the stray atoms that will lead to human immorality. All the same though, Vollmann gives us, if nothing else, textual distillations of humans. In their full authenticity: their sins, their innocence, their desperation to be free whatever that means , and their boundless generosity.
We see men that view women as house pets and a foreign American idealist as a man who must have the very best of their country.
It's telling that Vollmann's last scene in Afghanistan is one that depicts the Afghans fighting the Russians, fulfilling a purpose, and he simply watching, sick with dysentery. He is the thinking, capitulating Hamlet, they are the Name of Action. They have purpose, they have identity, they have a freedom he could not: They did not doubt themselves.
Post Script: Thought of doing a video review, but for various busy reasons and self-conscious reasons I took the easy way out. I may yet do one because this is the kind of book I like to promote on YouTube. Speaking of YouTube, in the initial blurb about this book I posted this video link.
Part 1 of a BBC documentary on Afghanistan. Part 2 can be found on other non-YouTube sites in full. View all 4 comments. Aug 29, Alexander Weber rated it really liked it Shelves: 4-stars. I have been a youth worker for the last two years. My efforts to make a difference in some of these youths lives, if I am to be honest, seems to me pretty pathetic.
The cycle of abuse and violence in our society is so strong I'm astonished at its powers. I feel like a failure against such an unbelievable force. He failed miserably and pathetically. I find the honesty and complexity of this story seriously b I have been a youth worker for the last two years. I find the honesty and complexity of this story seriously beautiful and real. So much more real than all the simple narratives that we love to digest in book, tv, movie, or even in our interpretations of our lives. I find his efforts to do something, and his shame at being so useless and his honesty in facing this shame extremely touching and personal.
Vollmann went to the Afghan border in unbidden and unconnected, a twenty-two year old thick with Wittgenstein and the desire as he put it, "to learn if there was a way to help people get across rivers. Overwhelmed by both unceasing demands and unceasing acts of generosity, he clung to his tape recorder, his camera and his self- Vollmann went to the Afghan border in unbidden and unconnected, a twenty-two year old thick with Wittgenstein and the desire as he put it, "to learn if there was a way to help people get across rivers.
Overwhelmed by both unceasing demands and unceasing acts of generosity, he clung to his tape recorder, his camera and his self-made version of an empirical method, determined to penetrate the conflict and bring back the data that would yield up his heroes after later analysis. Written between recollections and the time itself, the book is a portrait of intellectual self-consciousness, the knots of First World charity and encounter after encounter with men willing to fight "with their guns and everything" against any new wave of invaders, whatever language of legitimation they might be speaking this time.
Apr 06, Richard rated it really liked it. For chronicling an utter disaster, there's so much value in this book! I would recommend it to anyone interested in traveling abroad to "help" others or, really, traveling abroad in general. In some ways you could say this book is a failure. Young Vollmann makes a trip to "help" the Afghans, and quickly realizes and sometimes, painfully, doesn't realize until later that he has no idea what he's doing or getting into or how difficult he's been making things for other people.
What's so great For chronicling an utter disaster, there's so much value in this book! What's so great about this book, though, is how he honestly explores his cluelessness and his failure. This story rings true in a way that most traveling journalism books don't. Afghanistan Picture Show is sort of the opposite, lifting the veil from that type of book to look as something deeper, becoming more useful and powerful as a result.
Vollmann homes in on all the embarrassments and errors he made and uses them to explore what motivated him to travel across the world to "help the Afghans" and how wrong his assumptions were about the kind of help he could provide and the kind of help they wanted. He also looks at the complicated moral calculus behind aid - why are we providing aid to some and not to others on a personal and larger level and what is the right way to provide it?
This is Vollmann's first book, so you won't get the masterful writing of his Seven Dreams series except maybe a short chapter on hiking in Alaska, which is beautiful - but you do get the thoughtful self-questioning and curiosity inherent in all of his work. Sep 07, Griffin Alexander rated it liked it Shelves: biographic-memoir , bill.
Well this book has certainly become topical once again given recent redeployments. BUT: Is this as good as the Vollmann you have come to love in his novels and more recent non-fiction? Is it worth reading for the comical fact that only about 70 pages of a book with Afghanistan in the title take place in Afghanistan?
Should it be your first voyage into Vollmann's work? DEPENDS—A lot of the themes here are also elsewhere, though here they are in their infancy; it does illuminate his intent Well this book has certainly become topical once again given recent redeployments. DEPENDS—A lot of the themes here are also elsewhere, though here they are in their infancy; it does illuminate his intent, that he is trying to do good and to understand, which hasn't changed since this book. This would be a weird place to start with Bill's enormous output, but I'd say judge it for yourself based on your reaction to this snippet from his new introduction to the Melville House edition if you feel for this perspective, you will feel for this book; however, if you find yourself too filled with the desire for swift and sanguine vengeance still, even as Bin Laden's remains are by now surely sodden rotten and devoured by fishes— then you probably will NOT feel for this book and its desire for some kind of however unsatisfied sense of understanding : Please let me tell you the obvious about Afghanistan: Every child and grandmother we kill makes us new enemies.
We will never "win" over there. I used to say that I hoped to see the September eleventh plotters all hunted down and killed. Now I am ashamed of having thought so. Osama bin Laden should have been put on trial instead of being gunned down. From what little I have read, he was wounded and helpless and they kept pumping lead into him. I would have liked to hear him explain why he did what he did. This is the first work of William T. Vollmann I've read, and I am really glad I started with this one.
If his other books are any similar I will enjoy reading them quite a lot. Vollmann's writing is funny even when he's serious, but not in a comical way, witty and captivating, making it hard to put away once you start reading. Yes, this book is about Afghanistan in the s.
An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World
More than that, it is about the young protagonist - Vollmann himself - who travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan t This is the first work of William T. More than that, it is about the young protagonist - Vollmann himself - who travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan to help fighting the Soviets, and about the experience he's made on that trip and the hard clash of ideals and reality. Definitely worth reading!
The prose is often vivid and insightful. William Vollmann pubblica questo libro nel , come resoconto di una splendida quanto fallimentare esperienza di vita che lo ha visto recarsi in Afghanistan negli anni dell'invasione russa. Durante il suo viaggio intervista i profughi, fa fotografie, fa nuove amicizie, si trascina nel caldo torrido seguendo i mujahiddin che, per quanto male equipaggiati, sono sempre un passo avanti a lui, prova paura e, soprattutto, un intenso senso di inadeguatezza davanti ai moltissimi profughi che gli chiedono aiuto, armi o visti per gli USA.
Feb 25, Eric added it. Best part of the book "This acceptance of reality — of the way things are, not pushing away the so-called bad, not pulling toward me or clinging to the so-called good — this is how I have changed, though if you had known me before I undertook this journey, I would appear no different now.
I have the same voice, mannerisms, skewed sense of humor; the same vulnerable lower back; and many of th Best part of the book "This acceptance of reality — of the way things are, not pushing away the so-called bad, not pulling toward me or clinging to the so-called good — this is how I have changed, though if you had known me before I undertook this journey, I would appear no different now. I have the same voice, mannerisms, skewed sense of humor; the same vulnerable lower back; and many of the same personal issues. Breathing in …breathing out…gives me a split second of distance from my thoughts.
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I that moments I can separate body from mind, sensation from reaction to sensation. But overall the book was good, worth a read. Feb 10, Antonio Vena rated it it was amazing. Un romanzo di formazione ma unico, la storia di un giovane Vollmann e il suo viaggio e sguardo nel Pakistan e nell'Afghanistan coinvolti ancora una volta nel Grande Gioco. Uno sguardo davvero ancora valido e utilissimo. Jul 08, Downward rated it liked it. Vollmann went to afghanistan to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. This book is a transcript of what are mostly his failures, based on his assumptions of what he COULD do to help.
It's really an examination of well meaning ignorance, as we have countless scenes of the afghan soldiers slowing down significantly so they don't leave vollmann begind, giving vollmann his rations so he doesnt starve, carrying him because he's afflicted with intestinal parasites. Vollmann is honest abo Vollmann went to afghanistan to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. Vollmann is honest about his flaws here and about his naivety about "saving the world" but he does do what journalists are supposed to do: he portrays a story from an in depth and rare point of view, that of the mujahideen v the soviets, while imbedded with mujahideen soldiers, most of whom think he's cia or a joke, or a joke of a cia agent.
I can not rate this as highly as "You Bright and Risen Angels", my favorite book by William Vollmann, but this was my first introduction to the author and a really spectacular, complicated, and motivating book to read as an early-twenty something. He recounts his experience post college-graduation, when he packed up his camera and headed to Afghanistan to help the Mujhadeen fight the soviets, and along with this journalistic reportage, mixes in reflections on his own childhood and any number of I can not rate this as highly as "You Bright and Risen Angels", my favorite book by William Vollmann, but this was my first introduction to the author and a really spectacular, complicated, and motivating book to read as an early-twenty something.
He recounts his experience post college-graduation, when he packed up his camera and headed to Afghanistan to help the Mujhadeen fight the soviets, and along with this journalistic reportage, mixes in reflections on his own childhood and any number of other fantastic ruminations. He was motivated by a naive sense of idealism, helping the "freedom fighters".
This self-criticism woven into this story is so sharp and sweet in light of current American involvement in Afghanistan.
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Aug 22, DoctorM rated it liked it Shelves: central-asia , memoirs , hearts-of-darkness , out-in-the-colonies. I'm not a particular fan of Wm. Vollmann I mostly find him obnoxious and tedious but this isn't bad. Vollmann went off to Afghanistan at the very start of the s for reasons he couldn't really articulate. Save the World? Help the Oppressed? See something exciting and have an Adventure?
His adventures mostly came down to having dysentery and stumbling through other people's lives. It's a bleakly comic look at being a complete naif , I suppose, though the sad part is how little Vollmann ac I'm not a particular fan of Wm. It's a bleakly comic look at being a complete naif , I suppose, though the sad part is how little Vollmann actually learns or sees. There are some fine accounts from the early s by writers who went out to report on what was happening in Afghanistan Peregrine Hodson, Robt.
Kaplan, Rob Schultheis , but Vollmann's book is Seriously, is the tragedy of the Afghan people that their country was invaded by the Soviet Union; that a huge chunk of the population was forced to live in squalor in Pakistani refugee camps; that the rest of the world paid little attention, as so often happens to poor people in remote parts of the world? We limit possibilities unnecessarily if we suppose that the sentiment of Quis custodiet denies us the use of administrative law. We should rather retain the phrase as a perpetual reminder of fearful dangers we cannot avoid.
The great challenge facing us now is to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep custodians honest. We must find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks. The tragedy of the commons is involved in population problems in another way. Parents who bred too exuberantly would leave fewer descendants, not more, because they would be unable to care adequately for their children.
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David Lack and others have found that such a negative feedback demonstrably controls the fecundity of birds But men are not birds, and have not acted like them for millenniums, at least. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state 12 , and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons. In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement 13?
To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action. Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late , some 30 nations agreed to the following 14 : The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.
It is painful to have to deny categorically the validity of this right; denying it, one feels as uncomfortable as a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, who denied the reality of witches in the 17th century. At the present time, in liberal quarters, something like a taboo acts to inhibit criticism of the United Nations.
We should also join with Kingsley Davis 15 in attempting to get Planned Parenthood-World Population to see the error of its ways in embracing the same tragic ideal. It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience. The argument is straightforward and Darwinian. People vary. Confronted with appeals to limit breeding, some people will undoubtedly respond to the plea more than others. Those who have more children will produce a larger fraction of the next generation than those with more susceptible consciences.
The difference will be accentuated, generation by generation. The argument assumes that conscience or the desire for children no matter which is hereditary—but hereditary only in the most general formal sense. The result will be the same whether the attitude is transmitted through germ cells, or exosomatically, to use A.
The argument has here been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good—by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race. The long-term disadvantage of an appeal to conscience should be enough to condemn it; but has serious short-term disadvantages as well. What does he hear? The double bind may not always be so damaging, but it always endangers the mental health of anyone to whom it is applied.
To conjure up a conscience in others is tempting to anyone who wishes to extend his control beyond the legal limits. Leaders at the highest level succumb to this temptation. Has any President during the past generation failed to call on labor unions to moderate voluntarily their demands for higher wages, or to steel companies to honor voluntary guidelines on prices? I can recall none. The rhetoric used on such occasions is designed to produce feelings of guilt in noncooperators. For centuries it was assumed without proof that guilt was a valuable, perhaps even an indispensable, ingredient of the civilized life.
Now, in this post-Freudian world, we doubt it. One does not have to be a professional psychiatrist to see the consequences of anxiety. We in the Western world are just emerging from a dreadful two-centuries-long Dark Ages of Eros that was sustained partly by prohibition laws, but perhaps more effectively by the anxiety-generating mechanism of education. Alex Comfort has told the story well in The Anxiety Makers 19 ; it is not a pretty one.
Since proof is difficult, we may even concede that the results of anxiety may sometimes, from certain points of view, be desirable. The larger question we should ask is whether, as a matter of policy, we should ever encourage the use of a technique the tendency if not the intention of which is psychologically pathogenic.
We hear much talk these days of responsible parenthood; the coupled words are incorporated into the titles of some organizations devoted to birth control. But what is the meaning of the word responsibility in this context? Is it not merely a synonym for the word conscience? When we use the word responsibility in the absence of substantial sanctions are we not trying to browbeat a free man in a commons into acting against his own interest?
Responsibility is a verbal counterfeit for a substantial quid pro quo. It is an attempt to get something for nothing. If the word responsibility is to be used at all, I suggest that it be in the sense Charles Frankel uses it The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort.
Consider bank-robbing. The man who takes money from a bank acts as if the bank were a commons. How do we prevent such action? Certainly not by trying to control his behavior solely by a verbal appeal to his sense of responsibility. That we thereby infringe on the freedom of would-be robbers we neither deny nor regret.
The morality of bank-robbing is particularly easy to understand because we accept complete prohibition of this activity. But temperance also can be created by coercion. Taxing is a good coercive device. To keep downtown shoppers temperate in their use of parking space we introduce parking meters for short periods, and traffic fines for longer ones. We need not actually forbid a citizen to park as long as he wants to; we need merely make it increasingly expensive for him to do so. Not prohibition, but carefully biased options are what we offer him. A Madison Avenue man might call this persuasion; I prefer the greater candor of the word coercion.
Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now, but it need not forever be so. As with the four-letter words, its dirtiness can be cleansed away by exposure to the light, by saying it over and over without apology or embarrassment. To many, the word coercion implies arbitrary decisions of distant and irresponsible bureaucrats; but this is not a necessary part of its meaning.
The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected. To say that we mutually agree to coercion is not to say that we are required to enjoy it, or even to pretend we enjoy it. Who enjoys taxes? We all grumble about them. But we accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless. We institute and grumblingly support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons. An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable. With real estate and other material goods, the alternative we have chosen is the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance.
Is this system perfectly just? As a genetically trained biologist I deny that it is. It seems to me that, if there are to be differences in individual inheritance, legal possession should be perfectly correlated with biological inheritance—that those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power should legally inherit more. An idiot can inherit millions, and a trust fund can keep his estate intact. We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust—but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system.
The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin. It is one of the peculiarities of the warfare between reform and the status quo that it is thoughtlessly governed by a double standard. Whenever a reform measure is proposed it is often defeated when its opponents triumphantly discover a flaw in it. As Kingsley Davis has pointed out 21 , worshippers of the status quo sometimes imply that no reform is possible without unanimous agreement, an implication contrary to historical fact.
As nearly as I can make out, automatic rejection of proposed reforms is based on one of two unconscious assumptions: i that the status quo is perfect; or ii that the choice we face is between reform and no action; if the proposed reform is imperfect, we presumably should take no action at all, while we wait for a perfect proposal.
But we can never do nothing. That which we have done for thousands of years is also action. It also produces evils. Once we are aware that the status quo is action, we can then compare its discoverable advantages and disadvantages with the predicted advantages and disadvantages of the proposed reform, discounting as best we can for our lack of experience. On the basis of such a comparison, we can make a rational decision which will not involve the unworkable assumption that only perfect systems are tolerable.
As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another. First we abandoned the commons in food gathering, enclosing farm land and restricting pastures and hunting and fishing areas. These restrictions are still not complete throughout the world. Somewhat later we saw that the commons as a place for waste disposal would also have to be abandoned. Restrictions on the disposal of domestic sewage are widely accepted in the Western world; we are still struggling to close the commons to pollution by automobiles, factories, insecticide sprayers, fertilizing operations, and atomic energy installations.
In a still more embryonic state is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure. There is almost no restriction on the propagation of sound waves in the public medium. The shopping public is assaulted with mindless music, without its consent. Our government is paying out billions of dollars to create supersonic transport which will disturb 50, people for every one person who is whisked from coast to coast 3 hours faster. Advertisers muddy the airwaves of radio and television and pollute the view of travelers. We are a long way from outlawing the commons in matters of pleasure.
Is this because our Puritan inheritance makes us view pleasure as something of a sin, and pain that is, the pollution of advertising as the sign of virtue? Infringements made in the distant past are accepted because no contemporary complains of a loss. When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.
The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.
The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons. Learning is necessary in an environment of flux and uncertainty.
A maxim commonly uttered by biologists goes something like:. This is often not taken seriously by traditional denominational. Peter Senge , in The Fifth Discipline , gives insight to religious organizations. Adaptive learning and generative learning are both necessary. Adaptive learning is about responding to the changing environment,. Leadership Without Easy Answers. Ronald Heifetz. Heifetz makes the distinction between technical challenges and adaptive challenges.
Technical challenges are problems that can be fixed with technical answers and resources. They are relatively simple to fix and an expert or a lucky person can give the right answer that will solve the problem. Adaptive challenges are those for which no simple answer exists. Hefeitz identifies the need for the leader facing an adaptive challenge to create a holding environment. To offer or prescribe solutions from on high in order to alleviate the discomfort of the heat would preclude the people from being able to authentically engage and respond to the adaptive challenge.
A temptation for leaders can be to offer technical solutions. The disciplined, humble leader will not yield. This desire for an answer from a higher or external authority. Facing adaptive change is hard work in a discomfiting environment. When either the burden or the anxiety becomes too threatening. And there can be great immediate emotional reward. People can be comforted by a so-called strong leader. But there is another kind of strength. A good leader must have the strength to endure. If there is not enough distress or pressure,. If there is too much distress from disappointed expectations, the people can give up.
All of this regulated distress is in service to the end of helping create a learning organization. Both Senge and Heifetz affirm that the role of the leader for leading. The leader for change must be a learner who demonstrates. Cultivating spiritual connections among leaders and between leaders and God is at the heart of the discernment process for the Christian ministry of the presbytery. In the life of the church this is a spiritual discernment,. Prayer and spiritual attention.
My goal is to build a new expectation:. We do not need a plan for the next technical and programmatic steps as much as we need a plan for learning how to learn so that we can change continually, constantly adapting to the changing mission environment that surrounds us. The Presbytery of Los Ranchos needs to develop a new way. The Interview:. With the patents on several key drugs due to expire soon, his business desperately needs to become more entrepreneurial, particularly in its ability to form internal and external partnerships to reduce time-to-market. Yet his organization has a silo mentality, with highly competitive teams secretly working against one another.
How can Mike change the way thousands of people at his company think and behave every day? But changing behavior is hard, even for individuals, and even when new habits can mean the difference between life and death. In many studies of patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only one in nine people, on average, adopts healthier day-to-day habits.
So what about changing the way a whole organization behaves? During the last two decades, scientists have gained a new, far more accurate view of human nature and behavior change because of the integration of psychology the study of the human mind and human behavior and neuroscience the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. Imaging technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI and positron emission tomography PET , along with brain wave analysis technologies such as quantitative electroencephalography QEEG , have revealed hitherto unseen neural connections in the living human brain.
Advanced computer analysis of these connections has helped researchers develop an increasing body of theoretical work linking the brain the physical organ with the mind the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts, and perceives. The implications of this new research are particularly relevant for organizational leaders. That in turn helps explain why many leadership efforts and organizational change initiatives fall flat.
And it also helps explain the success of companies like Toyota and Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation, whose shop-floor or meeting-room practices resonate deeply with the innate predispositions of the human brain. Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science can lead and influence mindful change: organizational transformation that takes into account the physiological nature of the brain, and the ways in which it predisposes people to resist some forms of leadership and accept others.
This does not imply that management — of change or anything else — is a science. There is a great deal of art and craft in it. But several conclusions about organizational change can be drawn that make the art and craft far more effective. These conclusions would have been considered counterintuitive or downright wrong only a few years ago. Change is pain. Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort. Change efforts based on incentive and threat the carrot and the stick rarely succeed in the long run. Humanism is overrated.
Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain. Expectation shapes reality. Attention density shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution. Changing the way others go about their work is harder than he has expected. New advances in neuroscience provide insight into why change can be so difficult, and there are several key findings. The first has to do with the nature of human memory and its relationship to conscious attention. This kind of memory activates the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive part of the brain.
The basal ganglia, on the other hand, are invoked by routine, familiar activity, like putting an often-purchased product into a supermarket cart without consciously paying attention, and perhaps without later remembering having picked it out. This part of the brain, located near the core, is where neural circuits of long-standing habit are formed and held.
It requires much less energy to function than working memory does, in part because it seamlessly links simple behaviors from brain modules that have already been shaped by extensive training and experience. The basal ganglia can function exceedingly well without conscious thought in any routine activity. Therefore, any activity conducted repetitively to the point of becoming a habit will tend to get pushed down into the basal ganglia, the habit-center part of the brain.
This frees up the processing resources of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex must now be used to keep track of the action. Many travelers never want to undergo this experience. Similarly, for those used to an automatic transmission, the first time driving a car with a standard transmission can be a nerve-wracking experience.
Indeed, the basal ganglia area operates like an automatic transmission, shifting among patterns of deeply held thought. The same cognitive dynamics come into play when people face other types of stressful experiences, including any strategic or organizational change.
Much of what managers do in the workplace — how they sell ideas, run meetings, manage others, and communicate — is so well routinized that the basal ganglia are running the show. Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. This often leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable.
So they do what they can to avoid change. The second reason change is hard relates to basic brain functioning. When a child or an adult, for that matter is promised a sweet-tasting treat and then discovers it tastes salty or bitter, the brain emits strong signals that use a lot of energy, showing up in imaging technology as dramatic bursts of light. Edmund Rolls first illustrated this at Oxford University in the early s, with a study involving monkeys. These error signals are generated by a part of the brain called the orbital frontal cortex. The amygdala and the orbital frontal cortex are among the oldest parts of the mammal brain, remnants of evolutionary history.
When these parts of the brain are activated, they draw metabolic energy away from the prefrontal region, which promotes and supports higher intellectual functions. Error detection signals can thus push people to become emotional and to act more impulsively: Animal instincts take over. People with the syndrome known as obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD have error detection circuits that have gone into overdrive.
The individual knows, on one level, that the message is incorrect. Even among people without OCD, just trying to change a routine behavior sends out strong messages in the brain that something is not right. It takes a strong will to push past such mental activity — and the same is true on the level of organizational change. The brain sends out powerful messages that something is wrong, and the capacity for higher thought is decreased.
Change itself thus amplifies stress and discomfort; and managers who may not, from their position in the hierarchy, perceive the same events in the same way that subordinates perceive them tend to underestimate the challenges inherent in implementation. The field emerged in the s and was led by psychologist B. Skinner and advertising executive John B.
Present the right incentives, and the desired change will naturally occur. Yet there is plenty of evidence from both clinical research and workplace observation that change efforts based on typical incentives and threats the carrot and the stick rarely succeed in the long run.
For example, when people routinely come late to meetings, a manager may reprimand them. This may chasten latecomers in the short run, but it also draws their attention away from work and back to the problems that led to lateness in the first place. Another manager might choose to reward people who show up on time with public recognition or better assignments; for those who are late, this too raises anxiety and reinforces the neural patterns associated with the habitual problem. The carrot and stick are alive and well. The next big field to emerge in psychology after behaviorism was the humanist movement of the s and s.
Also called the person-centered approach, the field was inspired by such thinkers as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This school of thought assumed that self-esteem, emotional needs, and values could provide leverage for changing behavior. The prevailing model of humanist psychology involved helping people reach their potential through self-actualization — bringing forth hidden capacities and aspirations. Therapists and trainers left behind the carrot and stick and focused on empathy. In theory, an effective solution might well emerge from the person-centered approach.
But there is rarely time to go through this process with employees, and no guarantee that it will produce the desired results. True self-actualization might simply lead someone to quit his or her job. Moreover, in practice, the humanist approach leads to an emphasis on persuasion. It assumes that if people receive correct information about what they are doing wrong, and the right incentives are in place, they will automatically change. But the human brain can behave like a 2-year-old: Tell it what to do and it automatically pushes back.
Partly this phenomenon is a function of homeostasis the natural movement of any organism toward equilibrium and away from change , but it also reflects the fact that brains are pattern-making organs with an innate desire to create novel connections. When people solve a problem themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters like adrenaline. This phenomenon provides a scientific basis for some of the practices of leadership coaching. Rather than lecturing and providing solutions, effective coaches ask pertinent questions and support their clients in working out solutions on their own.
The power of changing behavior by asking questions goes back to Socrates, but even the Socratic method can backfire when it is wielded by someone in authority who is trying to convince others of a particular solution or answer. Newborns experience a form of empathy, and at six months, well before they can speak, infants experience advanced socially oriented emotions like jealousy. People can detect the difference between authentic inquiry and an effort to persuade them.
Some of the biggest leaps in science and industry have emerged from the integration of separate fields. When the study of electricity and of magnetism coalesced to become the science of electromagnetism, the field gave us the electric motor and generator, which in turn sparked the Industrial Revolution. To understand how to better drive organizational change, we turn to another nexus, this time between neuroscience and contemporary physics.
Neurons communicate with each other through a type of electrochemical signaling that is driven by the movement of ions such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. These ions travel through channels within the brain that are, at their narrowest point, only a little more than a single ion wide. This means that the brain is a quantum environment, and is therefore subject to all the surprising laws of quantum mechanics.
The QZE was described in by the physicist George Sudarshan at the University of Texas at Austin, and has been experimentally verified many times since. The QZE is related to the established observer effect of quantum physics: The behavior and position of any atom-sized entity, such as an atom, an electron, or an ion, appears to change when that entity is observed. This in turn is linked to the probabilistic nature of such entities. The quantum laws that govern the observed behaviors of subatomic particles, and also the observed behaviors of all larger systems built out of them, are expressed in terms of probability waves, which are affected in specific ways by observations made upon the system.
In the Quantum Zeno Effect, when any system is observed in a sufficiently rapid, repetitive fashion, the rate at which that system changes is reduced. One classic experiment involved observing beryllium atoms that could decay from a high-energy to a low-energy state. Applied to neuroscience, the QZE states that the mental act of focusing attention stabilizes the associated brain circuits.
Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. Cognitive scientists have known for 20 years that the brain is capable of significant internal change in response to environmental changes, a dramatic finding when it was first made. We now also know that the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus. Attention continually reshapes the patterns of the brain. In business, professionals in different functions — finance, operations, legal, research and development, marketing, design, and human resources — have physiological differences that prevent them from seeing the world the same way.
This can be well demonstrated by the placebo effect. Tell people they have been administered a pain-reducing agent and they experience a marked and systematic reduction in pain, despite the fact that they have received a completely inert substance, a sugar pill. One study in by Robert C. Price and Dr. Schwartz are currently working to demonstrate that the Quantum Zeno Effect explains these findings. People experience what they expect to experience. The fact that our expectations, whether conscious or buried in our deeper brain centers, can play such a large role in perception has significant implications.
Two individuals working on the same customer service telephone line could hold different mental maps of the same customers. The first, seeing customers only as troubled children, would hear only complaints that needed to be allayed; the second, seeing them as busy but intelligent professionals, would hear valuable suggestions for improving a product or service. How, then, would you go about facilitating change?
The impact of mental maps suggests that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behavior change requires a large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of event or experience that allows people to provoke themselves, in effect, to change their attitudes and expectations more quickly and dramatically than they normally would.
One study found sudden bursts of high-frequency 40 Hz oscillations gamma waves in the brain appearing just prior to moments of insight. This oscillation is conducive to creating links across many parts of the brain. The same study found the right anterior superior temporal gyrus being activated. This part of the brain is involved in perceiving and processing music, spatial and structural relations such as those in a building or painting , and other complex aspects of the environment.
The findings suggest that at a moment of insight, a complex set of new connections is being created. For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions.
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This is true for several reasons. First, people will experience the adrenaline-like rush of insight only if they go through the process of making connections themselves. The moment of insight is well known to be a positive and energizing experience. This rush of energy may be central to facilitating change: It helps fight against the internal and external forces trying to keep change from occurring, including the fear response of the amygdala. Second, neural networks are influenced moment to moment by genes, experiences, and varying patterns of attention. Although all people have some broad functions in common, in truth everyone has a unique brain architecture.
Human brains are so complex and individual that there is little point in trying to work out how another person ought to reorganize his or her thinking. It is far more effective and efficient to help others come to their own insights. Accomplishing this feat requires self-observation. The term attention density is increasingly used to define the amount of attention paid to a particular mental experience over a specific time.
The greater the concentration on a specific idea or mental experience, the higher the attention density. In quantum physics terms, attention density brings the QZE into play and causes new brain circuitry to be stabilized and thus developed. Were the ideas no good in the first place? Or did you just not pay enough attention? Denise Bane, and Richard E. Kopelman found that a training program alone increased productivity 28 percent, but the addition of follow-up coaching to the training increased productivity 88 percent.
Further research is needed to help us better understand how much attention is required to facilitate long-term change and in what kind of format the requisite training can be delivered to foster better performance. For chronically late people, habits like carrying two timepieces — one fast and the other accurate — or routinely trying to arrive 20 minutes early to meetings may be effective precisely because they focus conscious attention on the improved result. With an attention model, learning becomes possible through many media, not just in a classroom.
Also, given the small capacity of working memory, many small bites of learning, digested over time, may be more efficient than large blocks of time spent in workshops. Martin Seligman , founder of the positive psychology movement and former president of the American Psychological Association, recently studied 47 severely depressed individuals. The study involved two unusual components. First, participants focused their attention on things that were proven to increase happiness — specifically, an exercise called the three blessings, in which people wrote down three things that had gone well that day — instead of on the source or nature of their unhappiness, which is where many mental health interventions focus.
Second, communities were allowed to form, which encouraged people to pay attention to the happiness-inducing exercises. Depression in 94 percent of the participants dropped significantly, from clinically severe to clinically mild-to-moderate symptoms. The impact was similar to the effects of medication and cognitive therapy combined. Perhaps any behavior change brought about by leaders, managers, therapists, trainers, or coaches is primarily a function of their ability to induce others to focus their attention on specific ideas , closely enough, often enough, and for a long enough time.
Start by leaving problem behaviors in the past; focus on identifying and creating new behaviors. Over time, these may shape the dominant pathways in the brain. This is achieved through a solution-focused questioning approach that facilitates self-insight, rather than through advice-giving. If Mike regularly asked Rob about his progress, it would remind Rob to give this new thought more attention. In a world with so many distractions, and with new mental maps potentially being created every second in the brain, one of the biggest challenges is being able to focus enough attention on any one idea.
Leaders can make a big difference by gently reminding others about their useful insights, and thus eliciting attention that otherwise would not be paid. Thomas B. At the organizational level, Mike wants to change the way thousands of people think. A common approach would be to identify the current attitudes across the group through some sort of cultural survey. The hope would be that identifying the source of the problem would help solve it. Based on what we now know about the brain, a better alternative would be for Mike to paint a broad picture of being more entrepreneurial, without specifically identifying the changes that individuals will need to make.
Mike would then get his team to focus their attention on their own insights, by facilitating discussions and activities that involve being entrepreneurial. He also needs to catch the team when they get sidetracked and gently bring them back. Is the answer to all the challenges of change just to focus people on solutions instead of problems, let them come to their own answers, and keep them focused on their insights?
And some of the most successful management change practices have this type of principle ingrained in them. In both of these approaches, in workplace sessions that occur weekly or even daily, people systematically talk about the means for making things better, training their brains to make new connections. If you took an fMRI scan of a Springfield or Toyota employee when that person joined the company and again after 10 years on the job, the two scans might reveal very different patterns.
Few managers are comfortable putting these principles into practice, however. Our management models are based on the OLD premise that knowledge is power. For many executives, leading others in such a new way may be a bigger change, and therefore challenge, than driving on the other side of the road. As Peter F. Drucker said,. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn. In the knowledge economy, where people are being paid to think, and with constant change, there is more pressure than ever to improve how we learn.
Perhaps these findings about the brain can start to pull back the curtain on a new world of productivity improvement: in our ability to bring about positive, lasting change in ourselves, in our families, in our workplaces, and in society itself. Leadership development still involves a lot of guesswork. Neuroscience research is helping fill in critical gaps.
There are been some big surprises in the research. Noticing a weak signal requires that you quiet the overall activation of the brain, which requires minimizing anxiety which is why we have better ideas when we feel happy , and reducing general neural activity. No wonder the brainstorming session is usually so ineffective.
Rethinking our understanding of how we solve complex problems could save thousands of hours wasted in dead-end meetings. The bad news is this system has limited capacity and tires remarkably easily with use. This is a good thing, as strong emotions reduce the processing power needed for deliberate thinking — and inhibit insights too. Studies show that the braking system is activated when one labels an emotion in simple words. The trouble is, people prefer not to talk about emotions, and suppress them instead.
However, other studies show that suppressing an emotional expression backfires , making the emotion more intense, affecting memory , and creating a threat response in others. Leaders, who deal with intense emotions all day, could do well to develop techniques that truly keep them cool under pressure. Research by Naomi Eisenberger has shown that the brain treats social pain much like physical pain. One study showed that Tylenol reduced social pain more than a placebo. Social rewards, too, are often treated like physical rewards in the brain: giving positive feedback or treating someone fairly can activate reward centers the same or more than financial windfalls.
Continuez dans cette voie! Vous voyez M. Je suis un universitaire qui a les yeux ouverts. Faudrait bien que notre prochain leader en soit un VRAI. Il faut fonder un projet sur des raisons plus nobles et plus pratiques. Bonne chance M. Boisclair et je nous souhaite que vous deveniez le grand leader dont nous avons tant besoin! GBoisvert said…. The notes reminded him of why he wanted to be president, he liked to say. He called them his most intimate link to the people he governed.
Gone were the post-inaugural thank you notes. People wrote because their problems demanded immediate attention, and yet the process of governing the nation was so slow that Obama sometimes felt powerless to help them. I had learned firsthand that people tended to write to the president when their circumstances turned dire, sealing a prayer into an envelope as a matter of last resort.
Months after these people wrote to the president, when I mentioned their letters to Obama, he remembered the details of their lives. Their letters had shaped his speeches and informed his policies, but it was their personal stories that stuck with him. He became familiar with many of the same issues that would flood his mail 25 years later: housing calamities, chronic unemployment and struggling schools.
He was skinny and boyish, a good listener, if still a bit naive; and some of the older women in the housing projects made a habit of inviting him into their homes and cooking for him. He looked around their apartments, keeping a log of maintenance issues, and then delivered that list to the landlords. He helped arrange meetings with city housing officials to talk about asbestos problems. He established a tenants rights organization, founded a job-training program and led a tutoring group that prepared students for college.
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
A collection of cartoons of the president. Now he was the most powerful politician of all — but fixing problems seemed more difficult and satisfaction more elusive. He had yet to make progress on key campaign promises to reform education and immigration. Just this past week, his jobs bill failed to move forward in the Senate. Meanwhile, the letters kept coming. The president said he wondered whether a community organizer might have an easier time responding to them. An aide walked into the Oval Office and pointed at her watch.
Our time was up. The day was almost over. Later that night, he would sit down on his couch, open the folder and find missives from rural Arkansas and downtown Detroit, notes of inspiration and devastation. He would read all 10 letters and reply to one or two. Sending a response still allowed him to provide one thing immediate and concrete. Posso guardare le montagne senza il desiderio di scalarle. Ora posso lasciarmi conquistare da loro. Per questo siamo attratti dalle montagne. Continuano a venire. Era accompagnato da un discepolo, anche lui un rinunciatario. Le montagne sono sempre generose.
Vogliamo eliminare le armi?
Prima risolviamo la questione morale. Guardiamoci allo specchio. Non ci sono dubbi che nel corso degli ultimi millenni abbiamo fatto enormi progessi. Ora siamo persino capaci di clonare la vita. Idee assurde di qualche fachiro seduto su un letto di chiodi? Per niente. Si tratta di non continuare incoscientemente nella direzione in cui siamo al momento. Allora fermiamoci. Immaginiamoci il nostro momento di ora dalla prospettiva dei nostri pronipoti. Come sarebbe il giorno senza la notte? La vita senza la morte? O il Bene? Se Bush riuscisse, come ha promesso, a eliminare il Male dal mondo?
Anche se volessi, non potrei dimenticarmi della loro presenza e di una storia che gli indiani raccontano ai bambini a proposito dei corvi. Thich Nhat Hanh, il monaco vietnamita, lo dice bene a proposito di un tavolo, un tavolino piccolo e basso come quello su cui scrivo. O dagli uomini o dalla natura stessa. Come il sentirci divisi dai nostrisimili. Gli uni sono prigionieri, gli altri no; maStrada spera che le simili mutilazioni, le simili ferite li riavvicineranno.
Il dialogo aiuta enormemente a risolvere i conflitti. Un cecchino palestinese uccide una donna israeliana in una macchina, gli israeliani reagiscono ammazzando due palestinesi, un palestinese si imbottisce di tritolo e va afarsi saltare in aria assieme a una decina di giovani israeliani in una pizzeria; gli israeliani mandano un elicottero a bombardare un pulmino carico di palestinesi, i palestinesi… e avanti di questo passo.
Fin quando? Tutti gli israeliani? Tutte le bombe? Certo: ogni conflitto ha le sue cause, e queste vanno affrontate. Ma che fare? Tutti assieme possiamo fare migliaia di cose. Lentamente bisognal iberarcene. Dobbiamo cambiare atteggiamento. Educhiamo i figli ad essere onesti, non furbi. Alla lunga, anche questo fa una grossa differenza. Soprattutto dobbiamo fermarci, prenderci tempo per riflettere, per stare in silenzio. Facciamo lo stesso. A volte ognuno per conto suo, a volte tutti assieme.
Allora: Buon Viaggio! Sia fuori che dentro. Tiziano Terzani. In breve, vale il motto: il fine giustifica i mezzi. Mustering the courage to interrogate reality is a central function of a leader. And that requires the courage to face three realities at once. First, what values do we stand for — and are there gaps between those values and how we actually behave? This is huge. Early on, I began to understand that people want to be a certain way, but they often act in ways that go against their desires.
A person may have a desired value of honesty, but in reality, they may cheat a little, lie a little, and act in a way counter to the value that they speak so highly of. It is a subtle issue of character. A leader is one who can enter a situation and point out the differences between hoping to act with certain values and actually implementing those values.
The modern leader takes actions that allow people to adapt to challenge so as to survive. The modern leader recognizes that social problems are embedded in history, custom, special interests, and competing interests. Everyday, a leader has the chance to say,. It is a timeless question without a simple answer.
Based on interviews with more than 40 top leaders, the authors. And some of the harshest crucible experiences illuminate a hidden and suppressed area of the soul for instance, episodes of illness or violence. But, luckily, not all crucible experiences are traumatic. They can involve a positive, if deeply challenging, experience such as having a demanding boss or mentor. So, how do leaders cope and learn from these difficult situations? Any leader —Obama, Bush, Clinton, et al— faces challenges. It behooves any leader to study crisis management before he or she is put to the test.
History is replete with examples of leaders who have faced crisis and how they ultimately prevailed or failed. By: Adam L. Pradeep knows what you like and why you like it. Take the sleek, slick iPad. You might say Pradeep was born to plumb the depths of our minds. As he holds court on a small stage in a ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, Pradeep seems to relish the spotlight. Swizzle-stick thin and topped with unruly jet-black hair, the effusive year-old is sharply dressed, from his spectacles to his black jacket and red-and-black silk shirt, and all the way down to his shiny boots.
He stands out, needless to say, from the collective geekdom gathered at this egghead advertising fest. Over the coming months, Neuro-Focus plans to give away Mynds to home panelists across the country. Consumers will be paid to wear them while they watch TV, head to movie theaters, or shop at the mall.
NeuroFocus data crunchers can then identify the products and brands that are the most appealing and the ones whose packaging and labels are dreary turnoffs , the characters in a Hollywood film that engender the strongest emotional attachments, and the exact second viewers tune out an ad. Pradeep and his team in Berkeley are hardly the first to make a direct connection between brain function and how it determines consumer behavior. Advertisers, marketers, and product developers have deployed social psychology for decades to influence whether you buy Coke or Pepsi, or a small or an extra-large popcorn.
Like the feather weight of that mobile phone? Suddenly gravitating to a new kind of beer at the store? Inexplicably craving a bag of Cheetos? NeuroFocus, however, promises something deeper, with unprecedented access into the nooks and crannies of the subconscious. The hope that neuroscience can provide more accurate results than traditional focus groups and other traditional market research is why Citi, Google, HP, and Microsoft, as well as soda companies, brewers, retailers, manufacturers, and media companies have all become NeuroFocus clients in the past six years.
When salty-snack purveyor Frito-Lay looked to increase sales of its single-serve calorie snacks to women, it tapped NeuroFocus, whose research informed new packaging and a new ad campaign. California Olive Ranch had NeuroFocus test its olive-oil labels for maximum appeal. These corporations vary widely, but they share a fundamental goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire.
Orange cheese dust. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand. Frito-Lay leveraged that information into its advertising campaign for Cheetos, which has made the most of the mess. While evolving in tandem with advances in neuroscience, the field owes much to a study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in to investigate the power of brand perception on consumer taste preferences.
Based on the famous Coke vs. Pepsi tests of yesteryear, volunteers had their brains scanned in an MRI as they sampled each beverage. When they did know, however, most preferred Coke, and their brain scans showed a great deal of activity in the cranial areas associated with memory and emotion. For starters, the MRI is bulkier, harder to administer, and expensive. MRIs provide beautiful, high-resolution pictures, ideal for identifying tumors and other abnormalities, but they are useless for tracking quick-hit reactions. For example, imagine that you are asked to generate an action verb in response to the word ball.
Within milliseconds, your brain has absorbed the request.