Inspiration

On Story Engineering

I recently finished reading Story Engineering – Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be particularly insightful:

Here then, at the most introductory level of definition, and in no particular order, are the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling: 1. CONCEPT—The idea or seed that evolves into a platform for a story. Best and most empowering when expressed as a “what if?” question. The answer leads to further “what if?” questions in a branching and descending hierarchy. and the collective whole of those choices and answers becomes your story. 2. CHARACTER—Don’t leave home without one. Every story needs a hero. We don’t need to like him (contrary to what your high school composition teacher told you), but we do need to root for him. 3. THEME—Yes, it’s like putting smoke into a bottle, but it can be done. Not to be confused with concept, theme is what your story is illuminating about real life. 4. STRUCTURE—What comes first, what comes next, and so forth and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published. 5. SCENE EXECUTION—You can know the game, but if you can’t play it well you can’t win. A story is a series of scenes with some connective tissue in place. And there are principles and guidelines to make them work. 6. WRITING VOICE-The coat of paint, or if you prefer, the suit of clothes, that delivers the story to the reader. The biggest risk here is letting your writing voice get in the way. Less is more. Sparingly clever or sparsely eloquent is even better.

A concept, it could be said—and it should be viewed this way—is something that asks a question. The answer to the question is your story.

Knowing the narrative goal in your storytelling is everything. It is the most powerful gift you can bestow upon your story, and yourself. Your concept clearly and compellingly stated, is the first step in your journey toward knowing and then pursuing that goal.

The Seven Key Characterization Variables Surface affectations and personality, Backstory, Character arc, Inner demons and conflicts, Worldview, Goals and motivations, Decisions, actions, and behaviors.

In the first dimension of character (which includes the list above). what you show the reader about your character simply exists. You leave it to the reader to assign meaning…In the second dimension of character, the reader learns the reason for choices and behaviors that define outward perception, or the effort to control it, which may or may not align with any meaning the reader has assigned to it on her own. In the third dimension of character, all of the choices made at the first-dimension level become subordinated to more important choices and behaviors made when greater weight and consequences are at stake.

To put it in its most simple terms, theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What it says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges, and experiences it presents. Theme can be a broad topical arena, or it can be a specific stance on anything human beings experience in life.

 

These aren’t words as much as they are realms…dimensions…essences fundamental qualities. Compelling: Will anyone care about your story?…Hero: Yeah, you know you need a protagonist, blah blah blah. But is your lead character actually heroic? In what way?…Conflict: Nobody wants to read about a walk in the park. Really, they don’t. What opposes your hero’s quest?…Context: The most overlooked and taken-for-granted nuance in storytelling. What is the contextual subtext at any given moment in your story?…Architecture: That sound you hear is me once again beating this drum. Does your story unfold with a proper setup?…Resolution: Does the end of your story deliver an emotional payload to the reader? Does it make sense?

On a closing note:

You are a writer. And now, you are an enlightened writer. Take a moment to celebrate that fact. And then get back to work. The rest is out of your hands. The inner reward is the gift of life itself. Writers are scribes of the human experience. To write about life we must see it and feel it, and in a way that eludes most. We are not better people in any way—read the biographies of great writers and this becomes crystal clear—but we are alive in a way that others are not. We are all about meaning. About subtext. We notice what others don’t. If the purpose of the human experience is to immerse ourselves in growth and enlightenment, moving closer and closer to whatever spiritual truth you seek-hopefully have a few laughs and a few tears along the way—wearing the nametag of a writer makes that experience more vivid. We’re hands-on with life, and in the process of committing our observations to the page we add value to it for others…So, go out there and write with passion and insight. But always write with pleasure and fulfillment in the knowledge that you matter. And whatever your writing dream, keep the Six Core Competencies close at all times. They will set you free of the self-imposed limits others suffer. The ceiling is gone, vanished forever. Live the dream. Write your story. Then become one.

A recommended read in the areas of writing and storytelling.

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On Benjamin Franklin

I recently finished reading Benjamin Franklin – An American Life – by Walter Isaacson.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. Americas first great publicist, he was. in his life and in his writings, consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona. portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity.

Franklin has a particular resonance in twenty-first-century America. A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity, he would have felt right at home in the information revolution, and his unabashed striving to be part of an upwardly mobile meritocracy made him, in social critic David Brooks’s phrase, “our founding Yuppie.” We can easily imagine having a beer with him after work, showing him how to use the latest digital device, sharing the business plan for a new venture, and discussing the most recent political scandals or policy ideas. He would laugh at the latest joke about a priest and a rabbi, or about a farmer s daughter. We would admire both his earnestness and his self-aware irony. And we would relate to the way he tried to balance, sometimes uneasily, the pursuit of reputation. wealth, earthly virtues, and spiritual values.

This appreciation of books was one of the traits shared by the Puritanism of Mather and the Enlightenment of Locke, worlds that would combine in the character of Benjamin Franklin.

The primary value of his “Dissertation” He’s in what it reveals about Franklins fitful willingness to abandon Puritan theology. As a young man, he had read John Locke, Lord Shaftesbury, Joseph Addison, and others who embraced the freethinking religion and Enlightenment philosophy of deism, which held that each individual could best discover the truth about God through reason and studying nature, rather than through blind faith in received doctrines and divine revelation.

There were four rules: 1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe. 2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being. 3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty. 4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever.

The other sins on his list were, in order: seeming uninterested. speaking too much about your own life, prying for personal secrets (“an unpardonable rudeness”), telling long and pointless stories (“old folks are most subject to this error, which is one chief reason their company is so often shunned”), contradicting or disputing someone directly, ridiculing or railing against things except in small witty doses (“it’s like salt, a little of which in some cases gives relish, but if thrown on by handfuls spoils all”), and spreading scandal (though he would later write lighthearted defenses of gossip).

First he made a list of twelve virtues he thought desirable, and to each he appended a short definition: Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; (i.e., waste nothing). Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

This attitude, and his lack of grounding in theoretical math and physics, is why Franklin, ingenious as he was, was no Galileo or Newton. He was a practical experimenter more than a systematic theorist. As with his moral and religious philosophy, Franklin’s scientific work was distinguished less for its abstract theoretical sophistication than for its focus on finding out facts and putting them to use.

But as much as he loved his scientific pursuits, Franklin felt that they were no more worthy than endeavors in the field of public affairs. Around this time, his friend the politician and naturalist Cadwallader Colden also retired and declared his intention to devote himself full-time to “philosophical amusements,” the term used in the eighteenth century for scientific experiments. “Let not your love of philosophical amusements have more than its due weight with you,” Franklin urged in response. “Had Newton been pilot but of a single common ship, the finest of his discoveries would scarce have excused or atoned for his abandoning the helm one hour in time of danger; how much less if she had carried the fate of the Commonwealth.” So Franklin would soon apply his scientific style of reasoning— experimental, pragmatic—not only to nature but also to public affairs. These political pursuits would be enhanced by the fame he had gained as a scientist. The scientist and statesman would henceforth be interwoven, each strand reinforcing the other, until it could be said of him. in the two-part epigram that the French statesman Turgot composed, “He snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants.”

Among Franklin’s cards was his fame, and he was among a long line of statesmen, from Richelieu to Metternich to Kissinger, to realize that with celebrity came cachet, and with that came influence.

“Franklin had won,” writes Carl Van Doren, “a diplomatic campaign equal in results to Saratoga.” The Yale historian Edmund Morgan goes even further, calling it “the greatest diplomatic victory the United States has ever achieved.” With the possible exception of the creation of the NATO alliance, that assessment maybe true, though it partly points up the paucity of American successes over the years at bargaining tables, whether in Versailles after World War I or in Paris at the end of the Vietnam War. At the very least, it can be said that Franklin’s triumph permitted America the possibility of an outright victory in its war for independence while conceding no lasting entanglements that would encumber it as a new nation.

First, he was far more comfortable with democracy than most of the delegates, who tended to regard the word and concept as dangerous rather than desirable…Second, he was, by far, the most traveled of the delegates, and he knew not only the nations of Europe but the thirteen states, appreciating both what they had in common and how they differed…Third, and what would prove most important of all, he embodied a spirit of Enlightenment tolerance and pragmatic compromise.

There are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects,.. And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits.

At times, Adams charged, Franklin was hypocritical, a poor negotiator, and a misguided politician. But his essay also included some of the most nuanced words of appreciation written by any contemporary: Franklin had a great genius, original, sagacious and inventive, capable of discoveries in science no less than of improvement in the fine arts and the mechanical arts. He had a vast imagination … He had with at will. He had a humor that, when he pleased, was delicate and delightful. He had a satire that was good-natured or caustic, Horace or Juvenal, Swift or Rabelais, at his pleasure. He had talents for irony, allegory and fable that he could adapt with great skill to the promotion of moral and political truth. He was a master of that infantile simplicity which the French call naivete, which never fails to charm.

Franklin’s belief that he could best serve God by serving his fellow man may strike some as mundane, but it was in truth a worthy creed that he deeply believed and faithfully followed. He was remarkably versatile in this service. He devised legislatures and lightning rods, lotteries and lending libraries. He sought practical ways to make stoves less smoky and commonwealths less corrupt. He organized neighborhood constabularies and international alliances. He combined two types of lenses to create bifocals and two concepts of representation to foster the nation’s federal compromise. As his friend the French statesman Turgot said in his famous epigram, Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis, he snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants. All of this made him the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become. Indeed, the roots of much of what distinguishes the nation can be found in Franklin: its cracker-barrel humor and wisdom; its technological ingenuity; its pluralistic tolerance; its ability to weave together individualism and community cooperation; its philosophical pragmatism; its celebration of meritocratic mobility; the idealistic streak ingrained in its foreign policy; and the Main Street (or Market Street) virtues that serve as the foundation for its civic values. He was egalitarian in what became the American sense: he approved of individuals making their way to wealth through diligence and talent, but opposed giving special privileges to people based on their birth. His focus tended to be on how ordinary issues affect everyday lives, and on how ordinary people could build a better society But that did not make him an ordinary man. Nor did it reflect a shallowness. On the contrary, his vision of how to build a new type of nation was both revolutionary and profound. Although he did not embody each and every transcendent or poetic ideal, he did embody the most practical and useful ones. That was his goal, and a worthy one it was. Through it all, he trusted the hearts and minds of his fellow leather-aprons more than he did those of any inbred elite. He saw middle-class values as a source of social strength, not as something to be derided. His guiding principle was a “dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people.” Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively. From the age of 21, when he first gathered his Junto, he held true to a fundamental ideal with unwavering and at times heroic fortitude: a faith in the wisdom of the common citizen that was manifest in an appreciation for democracy and an opposition to all forms of tyranny It was a noble ideal, one that was transcendent and poetic in its own way. And it turned out to be, as history proved, a practical and useful one as well.

A highly recommended read in the areas of leadership, history, politics, and humanity at large.

 

 

Letter from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son

I recently finished reading Letter from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by John Graham – written by George Horace Lorimer. This book was recommended by Shane Parrish of Farnam Street.

Below are key excerpts from this insightful book:

The first thing that any education ought to give a man is character, and the second thing is education.

There are two parts of a college education—the part that you get in the schoolroom from the professors, and the part that you get outside of it from the boys. That’s the really important part. For the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man.

College doesn’t make fools; it develops them. It doesn’t make bright men; it develops them. A fool will turn out a fool, whether he goes to college or not, though he’ll probably turn out a different sort of a fool. And a good, strong boy will turn out a bright, strong man whether he’s worn smooth in the grab-what-you-want-and-eat-standing-with-one-eye-skinned-for-the-dog school of the streets and stores, or polished up and slicked down in the give-your-order-to-the-waiter-and-get-a-sixteen-course-dinner school of the professors. But while the lack of a college education can’t keep No. 1 down, having it boosts No. 2 up.

It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.

Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice. It’s the fellow who knows enough about practice to test his theories for blow-holes that gives the world a shove ahead, and finds a fair margin of profit in shoving it.

The better trained they are the faster they find reasons for getting their salaries raised. The fellow who hasn’t had the training may be just as smart, but he’s apt to paw the air when he’s reaching for ideas.

It’s not what a man does during working-hours, but after them, that breaks down his health. A fellow and his business should be bosom friends in the office and sworn enemies out of it. A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o’clock every night and isn’t opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.

Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible. Procrastination is the longest word in the language, but there’s only one letter between its ends when they occupy their proper places in the alphabet.

A business man’s conversation should be regulated by fewer and simpler rules than any other function of the human animal. They are: Have something to say. Say it. Stop talking.

Remember that when you’re in the right you can afford to keep your temper, and that when you’re in the wrong you can’t afford to lose it.

A real salesman is one-part talk and nine-parts judgment; and he uses the nine-parts of judgment to tell when to use the one-part of talk.

Tact is the knack of keeping quiet at the right time; of being so agreeable yourself that no one can be disagreeable to you; of making inferiority feel like equality. A tactful man can pull the stinger from a bee without getting stung.

Some salesmen think that selling is like eating—to satisfy an existing appetite; but a good salesman is like a good cook—he can create an appetite when the buyer isn’t hungry.

A masterpiece that is filled with practical wisdom. A must read!

On Madame Curie

I recently finished reading Madame Curie – A Biography by Eve Curie – translated by Vincent Sheen. While I had some exposure to Madam Curie from my studies, this book further elevated my admiration for her not just as a scientist but as a visionary and a humanitarian at large.

Below are selected highlights from this masterpiece:

On the geopolitical environment Marie was born into:

Since then everything had been done to enforce the obedience of a Poland that refused to die…But in the other camp resistance was quick to organize. Disastrous experience had proved to the Poles that they had no chance of reconquering their liberty by force, at least for the moment. Their task was, therefore, to wait—and to thwart the dangers of those who wait, cowardice and discouragement. The battle, therefore, had changed ground. Its heroes were no longer those warriors armed with scythes who charged the Cossacks and died saying (like the celebrated Louis Narbutt): “What happiness to die for my country!” The new heroes were the intellectuals, the artists, priests, schoolteachers—those upon whom the mind of the new generation depended. Their courage consisted in forcing themselves to be hypocrites, and in supporting any humiliation rather than lose the places in which the Tsar still tolerated them—and from which they could secretly influence Polish youth, guide their compatriots.

On the early tragedies in her life:

Deprived of her mother’s tenderness and the protection of her eldest sister, the child grew older, without once complaining, in partial abandonment. She was proud but she was not resigned. And when she knelt in the Catholic church where she was used to going with her mother, she experienced the secret stir of revolt within her. She no longer invoked with the same love that God who had unjustly inflicted such terrible blows, who had slain what was gay or fanciful or sweet around her.

On her husband, Pierre:

Thus his (Pierre) was a strange and almost incredible adventure, for it mixed the essential aspiration of his mind into the movement of his heart. He felt himself drawn toward Marie by an impulse of love and at the same time by the highest necessity. He was even ready to sacrifice what people call happiness to another happiness known to him alone. He made Marie a proposal which at first seems fantastic, which might pass for a ruse or an approach, but which was characteristic of his nature. If Marie had no love for him, he asked, could she resolve upon a purely friendly arrangement at least, and work with him “in an apartment in the Rue Mouffetard, with windows giving on a garden, an apartment which could be divided into two independent parts?”

On their work together:

Let this certainty suffice for our curiosity and admiration. Let us not attempt to separate these creatures full of love, whose handwriting alternates and combines in the working notebooks covered with formulae, these creatures who were to sign nearly all their scientific publications together. They were to write “We found” and “We observed”; and when they were constrained by fact to distinguish between their parts, they were to employ this moving locution…”one of us”…

On celebrity aversion and humility:

The aversion which celebrity inspired in the Curies had still Other sources besides their passion for work or their fright at the loss of time. With Pierre, who was naturally detached, the attack of popularity encountered the resistance of principles he had always held. He hated hierarchies and classifications. He found it absurd that there should be “firsts” in a class, and the decorations which grown persons coveted seemed to him as superfluous as the medals awarded children in school. This attitude, which had made him refuse the Legion of Honor, was equally his in the realm of science. He was devoid of all spirit of competition, and in the “race for discoveries” he was able to endure being beaten by his colleagues without annoyance. “What difference does it make if I didn’t publish such-and-such a work,” he had the habit of saying, “since somebody else has published it ? This almost inhuman indifference had had a deep influence on Marie. But when she fled before the evidences of admiration it was not in order to imitate her husband and not to obey him. The war against fame was not a principle with her: it was an instinct. An irresistible timidity, a painful shrinking congealed her as soon as curious glances were fastened upon her, and even provoked disturbances which brought on dizziness and physical discomfort.

On opening the Insitut du Radium and advancing science:

This victory came upon its heroine when she was no longer either young or strong, and when she had lost her happiness. What did it matter, since she was surrounded by fresh forces. since enthusiastic scientists were at hand to aid her in the struggle? No, it was not too late. The glaziers were singing and whistling on every floor of the little white building. Above the entrance could already be read these words, cut into the stone: Institut du Radium, Pavillon Curie. Before these sturdy walls and this exalting inscription Marie evoked the words of Pasteur: If conquests useful to humanity touch your heart, if you stand amazed before the surprising effects of electric telegraphy, the daguerreotype, anesthesia and so many other admirable discoveries: if you are jealous of the part your country can claim in the further flowering of these wonders—take an interest, I urge upon you, in those holy dwellings to which the expressive name of laboratories is given. Ask that they be multiplied and adorned. They are the temples of the future, of wealth and well-being. It is there that humanity grows bigger, strengthens and betters itself. It learns there to read in the works of nature, works of progress and universal harmony, whereas its own works are too often those of barbarity, fanaticism and destruction.

On true scientific research:

A large number of my friends affirm, not without valid reasons, that if Pierre Curie and I had guaranteed our rights, we should have acquired the financial means necessary to the creation of a satisfactory radium institute, without encountering the obstacles which were a handicap to both of us, and which are still a handicap for me. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that we were right. Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without the slightest doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.

On her final moments:

Her last moments revealed the strength, the terrible resistance, of a creature whose fragility was only apparent, of her robust heart, trapped in a body from which all heat was departing, which continued to beat tirelessly, implacably…The young scientists sobbed before the inert apparatus at the Radium Institute. Georges Fournier, one of Marie’s favorite Students, wrote: “We have lost everything.”

A must read!

On Einstein

I recently finished reading Einstein – His Life and Universe – by Walter Isaacson. As introduced: “Looking back at a century that will be remembered for its willingness to break classical bonds, and looking ahead to an era that seeks to nurture the creativity needed for scientific innovation, one person stands out as a paramount icon of our age: the kindly refugee from oppression whose wild halo of hair, twinkling eyes, engaging humanity, and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius. Albert Einstein was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by a faith in the harmony of nature’s handiwork. His fascinating story, a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects the triumphs and tumults of the modern era.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found very perceptive:

On his approach:

His success came from questioning conventional wisdom, challenging authority, and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society. “It is important to foster individuality,” he said, “for only the individual can produce the new ideas.”‘ This outlook made Einstein a rebel with a reverence for the harmony of nature, one who had just the right blend of imagination and wisdom to transform our understanding of the universe. These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the twentieth century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

On using suspicion successfully:

Throughout the six decades of his scientific career, whether leading the quantum revolution or later resisting it, this attitude helped shape Einstein’s work. “His early suspicion of authority, which never wholly left him, was to prove of decisive importance,” said Banesh Hoffmann, who was a collaborator of Einstein’s in his later years. “Without it he would not have been able to develop the powerful independence of mind that gave him the courage to challenge established scientific beliefs and thereby revolutionize physics.”

On Einstein’s ability to pursue several ideas at once:

A Strength of Einstein’s mind was that it could juggle a variety of ideas simultaneously. Even as he was pondering dancing particles in a liquid, he had been wrestling with a different theory that involved moving bodies and the speed of light. A day or so after sending in his Brownian motion paper, he was talking to his friend Michele Besso when a new brainstorm struck. It would produce, as he wrote Habicht in his famous letter of that month, “a modification of the theory of space and time.”

On his background:

“A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way,” Einstein once said. “But,” he hastened to add, “intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience.” Einstein’s discovery of special relativity involved an intuition based on a decade of intellectual as well as personal experiences. The most important and obvious, I think, was his deep understanding and knowledge of theoretical physics. He was also helped by his ability to visualize thought experiments, which had been encouraged by his education in Aarau. Also, there was his grounding in philosophy: from Hume and Mach he had developed a skepticism about things that could not be observed. And this skepticism was enhanced by his innate rebellious tendency to question authority.

On his dual approach to his research:

In it Einstein pursued a two-fisted approach. On the one hand, he engaged in what was called a “physical strategy,” in which he tried to build the correct equations from a set of requirements dictated by his feel for the physics. At the same time, he pursued a “mathematical Strategy,” in which he tried to deduce the correct equations from the more formal math requirements using the tensor analysis that Grossmann and others recommended…Einstein’s “physical strategy” began with his mission to generalize the principle of relativity so that it applied to observers who were accelerating or moving in an arbitrary manner. Any gravitational field equation he devised would have to meet the following physical requirements: It must revert to Newtonian theory in the special case of weak and static gravitational fields. In other words, under certain normal conditions, his theory would describe Newton’s familiar laws of gravitation and motion. It should preserve the laws of classical physics, most notably the conservation of energy and momentum. It should satisfy the principle of equivalence, which holds that observations made by an observer who is uniformly accelerating would be equivalent to those made by an observer standing in a comparable gravitational field.

His peer’s on his discoveries:

Its equivalence to acceleration, and, Einstein asserted, the general relativity of all forms of motion. In the opinion of Paul Dirac, the Nobel laureate pioneer of quantum mechanics, it was “probably the greatest scientific discovery ever made.” Another of the great giants of twentieth-century physics. Max Born, called it “the greatest feat of human thinking about nature, the most amazing combination of philosophical penetration, physical intuition and mathematical skill The entire process had exhausted Einstein but left him elated. His marriage had collapsed and war was ravaging Europe, but Einstein was as happy as he would ever be. “My boldest dreams have now come true,” he exulted to Besso. ”General covariance. Mercury’s perihelion motion wonderfully precise.” He signed himself “contented but kaput.”

On his reaction to his discovery:

Einstein’s decision reflected a major transformation in his life. Until the completion and confirmation of his general theory of relativity, he had dedicated himself almost totally to science, to the exclusion even of his personal, familial, and societal relationships. But his time in Berlin had made him increasingly aware of his identity as a Jew. His reaction to the pervasive anti-Semitism was to feel even more connected— indeed, inextricably connected—to the culture and community of his people.

On his view about education:

The Times called it “the ever-present Edison questionnaire controversy,” and of course Einstein ran into it. A reporter asked him a question from the test. “What is the speed of sound?” If anyone understood the propagation of sound waves, it was Einstein. But he admitted that he did not “carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books” Then he made a larger point designed to disparage Edison’s view of education. “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think,” he said.

On challenging authority:

This wariness of authority reflected the most fundamental of all of Einstein’s moral principles: Freedom and individualism are necessary for creativity and imagination to flourish. He had demonstrated this as an impertinent young thinker, and he proclaimed the principle clearly in 1931. “I believe that the most important mission of the state is to protect the individual and to make it possible for him to develop into a creative personality,” he said.

On morality:

The foundation of that morality, he believed, was rising above the “merely personal” to five in a way that benefited humanity. There were times when he could be callous to those closest to him, which shows that, like the rest of us humans, he had flaws. Yet more than most people, he dedicated himself honestly and sometimes courageously to actions that he felt transcended selfish desires in order to encourage human progress and the preservation of individual freedoms. He was generally kind, good-natured, gentle, and unpretentious. When he and Elsa left for Japan in 1922, he offered her daughters some advice on how to lead a moral fife. “Use for yourself little,” he said, “but give to others much.”

On realism:

Einstein’s concept of realism had three main components: 1. His belief that a reality exists independent of our ability to observe it. As he put it in his autobiographical notes: “Physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed. In this sense one speaks of physical reality.’ ” 2. His belief in separability and locality. In other words, objects are located at certain points in spacetime, and this separability is part of what defines them. “If one abandons the assumption that what exists in different parts of space has its own independent, real existence, then I simply cannot see what it is that physics is supposed to describe,” he declared to Max Born. 3. His belief in strict causality, which implies certainty and classical determinism. The idea that probabilities play a role in reality was as disconcerting to him as the idea that our observations might play a role in collapsing those probabilities. “Some physicists. among them myself, cannot believe,” he said, “that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance.”

On his final moments:

The aneurysm, like a big blister, had burst, and Einstein died at age 76. At his bedside lay the draft of his undelivered speech for Israel Independence Day. “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew. but as a human being,” it began. Also by his bed were twelve pages of tightly written equations, littered with cross-outs and corrections. To the very end, he struggled to find his elusive unified field theory. And the final thing he wrote, before he went to sleep for the last time, was one more line of symbols and numbers that he hoped might get him, and the rest of us, just a little step closer to the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe.

His eulogy:

“No Other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of 20th century knowledge,” President Eisenhower declared. “Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.” The New York Times ran nine stories plus an editorial about his death the next day: “Man stands on this diminutive earth, gazes at the myriad stars and upon billowing oceans and tossing trees—and wonders. What does it all mean? How did it come about? The most thoughtful wonderer who appeared among us in three centuries has passed on in the person of Albert Einstein.”‘

On curiosity:

A tenet of Einstein’s faith was that nature was not cluttered with extraneous attributes. Thus, there must be a purpose to curiosity. For Einstein, it existed because it created minds that question, which produced an appreciation for the universe that he equated with religious feelings. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” he once explained. “One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”

On freedom:

Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit,” he said, “requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice.” Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government. he felt, and the mission of education.

On religion:

Einstein considered this feeling of reverence, this cosmic religion, to be the wellspring of all true art and science. It was what guided him. “When I am judging a theory,” he said, “I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way.” It is also what graced him with his beautiful mix of confidence and awe. He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos. the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.

A must read for all.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

I recently finished reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. As the back cover best summarizes: “Despite their infinite variety of incident, setting, and costume, the myths of the world offer only a limited number of responses to the riddle of life. In this book Joseph Campbell presents the composite hero. Apollo, the Frog King of the fairy tale, Wotan, the Buddha, and numerous other protagonists of folklore and religion enact simultaneously the various phases of their common story. The relationship of their timeless symbols to those rediscovered in dream by contemporary depth psychology is taken to those rediscovered in dream by contemporary depth psychology pared with the words of such spiritual leaders as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Lao-tse, and the “Old Men” of the Australian tribes. From behind a thousand faces the single hero emerges, archetype of all myth.”

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms. Such a one’s visions, ideas, and inspirations come pristine from the primary springs of human life and thought. Hence they are eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn. The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man—perfected, unspecific, universal man—he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.

On the Hero and the God:

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation—initiation—return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous : forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

On the Call to Adventure:

This first stage of the mythological journey-which we have designated the “call to adventure”-signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.

On the Ultimate Boon:

The gods and goddesses then are to be understood as embodiments and custodians of the elixir of Imperishable Being but not themselves the Ultimate in its primary state. What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining subStance. This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable; the names and forms of the deities who everywhere embody, dispense, and represent it come and go.

On the Master of the Two Worlds:

Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference. No matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they remain but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding. Hence the personality or personalities of God—whether represented in trinitarian, dualistic, or unitarian terms, in polytheistic. monotheistic, or henotheistic terms, pictorially or verbally, as documented fact or as apocalyptic vision—no one should attempt to read or interpret as the final thing. The problem of the theologian is to keep his symbol translucent, so that it may not block out the very light it is supposed to convey. ‘For then alone do we know God truly,” writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, “when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think of God.” And in the Kena Upanishad, in the same spirit: “To know is not to know; not to know is to know.” Mistaking a vehicle for its tenor may lead to the spilling not only of valueless ink, but of valuable blood.

From Psychology to Metaphysics:

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve. This is the power known to science as energy, to the Melanesians as mana, to the Sidoux Indians as wakonda, the Hindus as shakti, and the Christians as the power of God.

On the Childhood of the Human Hero:

In sum: the child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace. He is thrown inward to his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored. And this is a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone, or peasant. Fostered in the animal school, or, like Siegfried, below ground among the gnomes that nourish the roots of the tree of life, or again, alone in some little room (the story has been told a thousand ways), the young world-apprentice learns the lesson of the seed powers, which reside just beyond the sphere of the measured and the named.

The conclusion of the childhood cycle is the return or recognition of the hero, when, after the long period of obscurity, his true character is revealed. This event may precipitate a considerable crisis; for it amounts to an emergence of powers hitherto excluded from human life. Earlier patterns break to fragments or dissolve; disaster greets the eye. Yet after a moment of apparent havoc, the creative value of the new factor comes to view, and the world takes shape again in unsuspected glory. This theme of crucifixion-resurrection can be illustrated either on the body of the hero himself, or in his effects upon his world. The first alternative we find in the Pueblo story of the water jar.

On the Departure of the Hero:

The last act in the biography of the hero is that of the death or departure. Here the whole sense of the life is epitomized. Needless to say, the hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror; the first condition is reconciliation with the grave.

On Myth and Society:

Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Muller); as a repository of allegorical instruction, to shape the individual to his group (Durkheim); as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung); as the traditional vehicle of man’s profoundest metaphysical insights (Coomaraswamy); and as God’s Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all of these. The various judgments are determined by the viewpoints of the judges. For when scrutinized in terms not of what it is but of how it functions, of how it has served mankind in the past, of how it may serve today, mythology shows itself to be as amenable as life itself to the obsessions and requirements of the individual, the race, the age.

On the Hero Today:

The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. “Live,” Nietzsche says, “as though the day were here.” It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal—carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.

 

On Wild Swans

I recently finished reading Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China – by Jung Chang. This book was selected as our next reading within the Houston Nonfiction Book Club that I am a member of.

The author’s introduction outlines the driver behind writing this book and the stories that are about to follow:

But it was years before I wrote Wild Swans. Subconsciously, I resisted the idea of writing. I was unable to dig deep into my memory. In the violent Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, my family suffered atrociously. Both my father and my grandmother died painful deaths. I did not want to relive my grandmother’s years of untreated illness, my father’s imprisonment, and my mother’s kneeling on broken glass. The few lines I produced were superficial and lifeless. I was not happy with them. Then, in 1988, my mother came to London to stay with me. This was her first trip abroad.

I wanted her to enjoy herself thoroughly, and spent much time taking her out. After a short while, I noticed she was not having the time of her life. Something was on her mind; she was restless. One day, she declined a shopping trip, and settled at my black dining table on which a bouquet of golden daffodils shone. Cupping a mug of jasmine tea in her hands, she told me that what she most wanted to do was to talk to me.

My mother talked every day for months. For the first time in our lives, she told me about herself and about my grandmother. My grandmother, I learned, had been the concubine of a warlord general, and my mother had joined the Communist underground at the age of fifteen. Both of them had eventful lives in a China that was tossed about by wars, foreign invasions, revolutions, and then a totalitarian tyranny. In the general maelstrom they were involved in poignant romances. I learned about my mother’s ordeals, her close shaves with death, and her love for my father and emotional conflicts with him. I also came to know the agonizing details of my grandmother’s foot binding: how her feet had been crushed under a big stone when she was two to satisfy the standards of beauty of the day….

As I listened to my mother, I was overwhelmed by her longing to be understood by me. It also struck me that she would really love me to write. She seemed to know that writing was where my heart lay, and was encouraging me to fulfill my dreams. She did this not through making demands, which she never did, but by providing me with stories—and showing me how to face the past. Despite her having lived a life of suffering and torment, her stories were not unbearable or depressing. Underlying them was a fortitude that was all the time uplifting.

It was my mother who finally inspired me to write Wild Swans, the stories of my grandmother, my mother, and myself through the turbulence of twentieth-century China. For two years, I shed my fair share 01 tears, and tossed and turned through quite a few sleepless nights. I would not have persevered had it not been for the fact that by that time ; “I’d found a love that filled my life and cushioned me with a deep tranquility. Jon Halliday, my knight without armor, for his inner strength under the softest exterior is enough to conquer, is the most priceless treasure I have taken from my adopted country, Britain. He was there, and everything would be all right—everything, including the writing of Wild Swans.

Wild Swans turned out to be a success…The sad thing in this otherwise perfect happy ending is that Wild Swans is not allowed to be published in Mainland China. The regime seems to regard the book as a threat to the Communist Party’s power. Wild Swans is a personal story, but it reflects the history of twentieth-century China, from which the Party does not come out well. To justify its rule, the Party has dictated an official version of history, but Wild Swans does not tie that line. In particular, Wild Swans shows Mao to have criminally misruled the Chinese people, rather than being basically a good and great leader, as Peking decrees. Today, Mao’s portrait still hangs on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital, and across the vast cement expanse lies his corpse as an object of worship. The current leadership still upholds the myth of Mao— because it projects itself as his heir, and claims legitimacy from him. This is why publication of Wild Swans is banned in China. So is any mention of the book or of me in the media.

Since a significant portion of the book occurs during the beginnings of the communist era, there is a significant focus on Mao and his leadership/influence:

Mao made himself more godlike by shrouding himself in mystery. He always appeared remote, beyond human approach. He eschewed radio, and there was no television. Few people, except his court staff, ever had any contact with him. Even his colleagues at the very top only met him in a sort of formal audience. After Yan’an, my father only set eyes on him a few times, and then only at large-scale meetings. My mother only ever saw him once, when he came to Chengdu in 1958 and summoned all officials above Grade 18 to have a group photo taken with him. After the fiasco of the Great Leap Forward, he had disappeared almost completely.

Mao, the emperor, fitted one of the patterns of Chinese history: the leader of a nationwide peasant uprising who swept away a rotten dynasty and became a wise new emperor exercising absolute authority. And, in a sense, Mao could be said to have earned his g god-emperor status. He was responsible for ending the civil war and bringing peace and stability, which the Chinese always yearned for—so much that they said “It’s better to be a dog in peacetime than a human being in war.” It was under Mao that China became a power to be reckoned with in the world, and many Chinese stopped feeling ashamed and humiliated at being Chinese, which meant a tremendous amount to them. In reality, Mao turned China back to the days of the Middle Kingdom and, with the help of the United States, to isolation from the world. He enabled the Chinese to feel great and superior again. by blinding them to the world outside. Nonetheless, national pride was so important to the Chinese that much of the population was genuinely grateful to Mao, and did not find the cult of his personality offensive, certainly not at first. The near total lack of access to information and the systematic feeding of disinformation meant that most Chinese had no way to discriminate between Mao’s successes and his failures, or to identify the relative role of Mao and other leaders in the Communists’ achievements.

Fear was never absent in the building up of Mao’s cult. Many people had been reduced to a state where they did not dare even to think, in case their thoughts came out involuntarily. Even if they did entertain unorthodox ideas, few mentioned them to their children, as they might blurt out something to other children, which could brine disaster to themselves as well as their parents.

Following his death:

In the days after Mao’s death, I did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his “philosophy really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need—or desire?—for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history, and that in order to make history “class enemies” had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?

But Mao’s theory might just be the extension of his personality. He was, it seemed to me, really a restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out many of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship. That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred. But how much individual responsibility ordinary people should share, I could not decide.

The other hallmark of Maoism, it seemed to me, was the reign of ignorance. Because of his calculation that the cultured class were an easy target for a population that was largely illiterate, because of his own deep resentment of formal education and the educated, because of his megalomania, which led to his scorn for the great figures of Chinese culture, and because of his contempt for the areas of Chinese civilization that he did not understand, such as architecture, art, and music, Mao destroyed much of the country’s cultural heritage. He left behind not only a brutalized nation, but also an ugly land with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.

China has become an altogether different place since I left. At the end of 1978, the Communist Party dumped Mao’s “class struggle.” Social outcasts, including the “class enemies” in my book, were rehabilitated; among them were my mother’s friend?; from Manchuria who had been branded “counterrevolutionaries” in 1955. Official discrimination against them and their families stopped. They were able to leave their hard physical labor, and were given much better jobs. Many were invited into the Communist Party and made officials. Yulin, my great-uncle, and his wife and children were allowed back to Jinzhou from the countryside in 1950. He became the chief accountant in a medicine company, and she the headmistress of a kindergarten.

Verdicts clearing the victims were drawn up and lodged in their files. The old incriminating records were taken out and burned. In every organization across China, bonfires were lit to consume these flimsy pieces of paper that had ruined countless lives.

A must read both as a personal story and for its historical and political significance.

On Daring Greatly Through Vulnerability

In 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic” in France, with the following notable passage, known as the “The Man in the Arena”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust ally in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again. because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….

It is from this speech that Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, titled her book – on How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead.

So what exactly is vulnerability, and why should we care about it?

Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness since the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that: only we can make.

To further understand vulnerability, Brené turned to the flip side of the equation:

The people that are the most resistant to shame, and who have an intrinsic sense of self-worth, actively engage in the activities on the left, and let go of the ones on the right:

1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think

2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

4.Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

5.Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

6.Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

7.Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”

10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

Brené expands further, that this group of people – promoters of wholehearted living – embrace the antidote of the never enough culture:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking. Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

While we may have started as vulnerable, as we grow up we find ways to defend and protect ourselves from vulnerability and its associated potential disappointments, we put on armor and Brené identifies the three most common types:

The three forms of shielding that I am about to introduce are what I refer to as the “common vulnerability arsenal” because I have found that we all incorporate them into our personal armor in some way. These include foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness; perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame; and numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.

She then goes on to provide some practical strategies that we can use to disarm ourselves:

Practicing Gratitude: 1. Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. 2. Be grateful for what you have. 3. Don’t squander joy.

Appreciate the beauty of cracks: Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move…Perfection is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval…Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities…

Setting Boundaries Finding True Comfort and Cultivating Spirit: Learning how to actually feel their feelings.  Staying mindful about numbing behaviors (they struggled too). Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.

Vulnerability is key to two of the most important elements of our lives, trust and love:

Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement. Trust isn’t a grand gesture—it’s a growing marble collection.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow. A connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal. and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged. healed, and rare.

Brené acknowledges that being vulnerable is not easy, but it is never a sign of weakness:

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.

How do we develop shame resilience? Brené suggests four steps, and while they may not be executed sequentially they will yield the desired effect of healing and empathy:

1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?

2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations hat are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you;

3. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.

4. Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

As we embark on our Daring Greatly journey, we will be faced with difficulties:

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands. The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arm’s reach. This realization changed everything. That’s the wife and mother and friend that I now strive to be. I want our home to be a place where we can be our bravest selves and our most fearful selves. Where we practice difficult conversations and share our shaming moments from school and work. I want to look at Steve and my kids and say, “I’m with you. In the arena. And when we fail, we’ll fail together, while daring greatly.” We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.

And criticism…

When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism.

There are numerous lessons, in Daring Greatly, that apply directly to the corporate environment:

First, on employee engagement:

My corporate talks almost always focus on inspired leadership or creativity and innovation. The most significant problems that everyone from C-level executives to the front-line folks talk to me about stem from disengagement, the lack of feedback, the fear of staying relevant amid rapid change. and the need for clarity of purpose. If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize work. When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation…Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring.

Second, on corporate culture:

One way to think about the three components of scarcity and how they influence culture is to reflect upon the following questions. As you’re reading the questions, it’s helpful to keep in mind any culture or social system that you’re a part of, whether your classroom, your family, your community, or maybe your work team:

1. Shame: Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or to keep people in line? Is self-worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance? Are blaming and finger-pointing norms? Are put-downs and name-calling rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfectionism an issue?

2. Comparison: Healthy competition can be beneficial, but is there constant overt or covert comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used as measurement of everyone else’s worth?

3. Disengagement: Are people afraid to take risks or try new things? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences, and ideas? Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening? Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?

Third, on effective feedback:

Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. This is true whether we give, receive, or solicit feedback. And the vulnerability doesn’t go away even if we’re trained and experienced in offering and give us the advantage of knowing that we can survive the exposure and uncertainty, and that it’s worth the risk.

Fourth, on leadership – walking the talk:

The space between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) is the value gap, or what I call “the disengagement divide.” It’s where we lose our employees, our clients, our students, our teachers, our congregations, and even our own children. We can take big steps—we can even make a running jump to cross the widening value fissures that we face at home, work, and school—but at some point, when that divide broadens to a certain critical degree we’re goners. That’s why dehumanizing cultures foster the highest levels of disengagement—they create value gaps that actual humans can’t hope to successfully navigate.

As with the people we lead in a corporate setting, walking the talk at home as parents is also consequential:

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.

On a concluding note:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive. but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation—with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

I would highly recommend this bestselling book, as well as the associated TED talk, which ranks as one of the most watched of all times.

On The Slight Edge

I recently finished reading The Slight Edge – Secret to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “The Slight Edge is not just more good information. It’s not another self-help success book packed with some revolutionary “new best way” of doing things. You don’t need that. Nobody needs that. All the “new and better” information is already available and has been for years. This book is designed to help you use that information. This book is what I wish will help you take whatever information you want, whatever how-to’s or strategies or goals or aspiration you want.”

2- “A positive philosophy turns into a positive attitude, which turns into positive actions, which turns into positive results, which turns into a positive lifestyle. A negative philosophy turns into a negative attitude, which turns into negative actions, which turns into negative results, which turns into a negative lifestyle.”

3- “By and large, people are looking in the wrong places. They are looking for a breakthrough, looking for that amazing “quantum leap”—the philosophy of the craps table and roulette wheel. I don’t believe they’ll ever find it. I’ve had colossal failures, and I’ve had remarkable successes, and my experience is, neither one happens in quantum leaps. They happen through the Slight Edge…That the things you do every single day,  the things that don’t look dramatic, that don’t even look like they matter, do matter. That they not only make a difference—they make all the difference.”

4- “It’s easy to have everything you ever wanted in your life. Every action you need to take to make any and all of your dreams come true is easy. So why is it, then, that the masses are unhappy, unhealthy and financially bound? Every action that any of these goals requires is easy to do. Here’s the problem: every action that is easy to do, is also easy not to do. Why are these simple yet crucial things easy not to do? Because if you don’t do them, they won’t kill you … at least, not today. You won’t suffer, or fail or blow it—today. Something is easy not to do when it won’t bankrupt you, destroy your career. ruin your relationships or wreck your health—today. What’s more, not doing it is usually more comfortable than doing it would be. But that simple, seemingly insignificant error in judgment, compounded over time, will kill you. It will destroy you and ruin your chances for success. You can count on it. It’s the Slight Edge. That’s the choice you face every day, every hour: A simple, positive action, repeated over time. A simple error in judgment, repeated over time. You can always count on the Slight Edge. And unless you make it work for you, the Slight Edge will work against you.”

5- “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. “Progressive” means success is a process, not a destination. It’s something you experience gradually, over time. And here’s how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work’s already done. When you get to the point where everyone else can see your results, tell you what good choices you’ve made, notice your good fortune, slap you on the back and tell you how lucky you are, the critical Slight Edge you actually made those choices, nobody noticed but you. And even you wouldn’t have noticed—unless you understood the Slight Edge. Invisible results.”

6- “The right choices and wrong choices you make at the moment will have little or no noticeable impact on how your day goes for you. Nor tomorrow, nor the next day. No applause, no cheers, no screams, no life-or-death results played out in Technicolor. But it is precisely those very same, undramatic. seemingly insignificant actions that, when compounded over time. will dramatically affect how your life turns out. So, where’s the drama? It comes at the end of the story, when the credits start to roll—which comes not in two hours but in two years. Or, depending on what Slight Edge and what particular story we’re talking about, perhaps twelve years, or twenty-two.”

7- “No success is immediate. Nor is any failure instantaneous. They are both products of the Slight Edge. The truth of quantum leaps is that they are not larger than life: they’re submicroscopic. The actual term “quantum leap” comes from particle physics, where it does not refer to a huge, epic jump. It refers to the fact that energy, after a period of time. epic jump. It refers to the fact that energy, after a period off time. will suddenly appear at another level, without our having been able to observe how it got there. It is an exact description of how the water hyacinth moves from day twenty-nine to day thirty. An exact description of how the frog’s certain death by drowning was suddenly transformed into salvation by butter.”

8- “No matter in what arena in life or work or play—the difference between winning and losing, the gap that separates success and failure, is so slight, so subtle, most never see it. Superman may leap tall buildings at a single bound. Here on earth, we win through the Slight Edge.”

9- “One of the quickest and most direct routes to getting yourself up and onto the success curve is to get out of the past. Review the past, but only for the purpose of making a better plan. Review it. understand and take responsibility for the errors you’ve made, and use it as a tool to do differently in the future. And don’t spend a great deal time doing even that!—the future is a far better tool than the past. m the past. Devote some serious, focused time and effort into designing a crystal-clear picture of where you’re going. In the second part of this book, we’ll take a look at specific ways to help you do exactly that. For now, I’ll just say this: when you do have a clear picture of the future and consciously put time every day into letting yourself be drawn forward by that future, it will pull you through whatever friction and static you encounter in the present—and whatever tugging and clutching you may feel from the past…You can’t change the past. You can change the future. Would you rather be influenced by something you can’t change, or something you can?”

10- “In my line of work, I talk a lot about success in financial terms. But genuine success is a far greater issue than purely financial health. A genuinely successful life means your health, your family relationships, your career, your spirituality, your sense of fulfillment, your legacy and the impact you have on the world. It’s all these things and more. And the best thing about genuine success is that it spreads! Success in any one of these areas begins to affect all the others, too. Improve your health and you improve your all the others, too. Improve your health and you improve your relationships; work on your personal development and you have an impact on your career. Everything affects everything.”

11- “Book smarts, street smarts. Learning by study, learning by doing. Read about it, apply it, see it in action, take that practical doing. Read about it, apply it, see it in action, take that practical experience back to my reading, deepen my understanding, take that deeper understanding back to my activity … it’s a never-ending cycle, each aspect of learning feeding the other. Like climbing a ladder: right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. Can you imagine trying to climb a ladder with only your right foot? The two work together. What’s more they not only work better together, each amplifying the other, but the truth is, they really cannot work separately. At least not for long. You can’t go to the top based purely on knowledge learned in study; you can’t go to the top purely through knowledge gleaned through action. The two have to work together. You study, and then you do activity. The activity changes your frame of reference. and now you are in a place where you can learn more. Then you learn more, and it gives you more insight into what you experienced in your activity, so now you re-approach activity with more insight. And back and forth, it goes. This back-and-forth rhythm is worth noting. It is the rhythm of success.”

12- “Having compassion and having direction are not mutually exclusive: they just take careful thought and discernment. You’re not judging those people; you’re simply asking yourself to be honest about whether or not those relationships are empowering you and helping to support your purpose and realize your dreams.”

13- “For a goal to come true: You must write it down, make it specific and give it a deadline; You must look at it every day; You must understand and pay the price; You must have a plan to start with.”

14- “You Start with a plan, then go through the process of continuous learning through both study and doing, adjusting all the time through the kaizen of plan, do, review and then adjust—like a rocket to the moon, off track ninety-seven percent of the time. your gyroscope feeding information to your dream computer to bring you back on track … You need a first plan so you can get to our second plan, so you can get to your third plan, so you can get to your fourth plan…Your starting plan is not the plan that will ultimately get you there … but you need it so you have a place to start.”   

15- “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do; they put the Slight Edge to work for them, rather than against hem, every day. They refuse to let themselves be swayed by their feelings, moods or attitudes; they rule their lives by their philosophies, and do what it takes to get the job done, whether they feel like it or not.”

16- “Successful people never blame circumstances or other people; instead, they take full responsibility for their lives. They use the past as a lesson but do not dwell in it, and instead, let themselves be pulled up and forward by the compelling force of the future. They know that the path that leads to the success curve and the one that leads to the failure curve are only a hair’s breadth apart. separated only by the distinction of simple, “insignificant” actions that are just as easy not to do as they are to do—and that this difference will ultimately make all the difference.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

The Slight Edge

On Liberating the Corporate Soul

I recently finished reading Liberating The Corporate Soul – Building a Visionary Organization – by Richard Barrett.

Below are key excerpts from the books that I found particularly insightful:

1- “I started out with two ideas. The first idea was that organizational transformation must look and feel a lot like personal transformation. The second idea was that the values held by successful companies must be similar to the values held by successful individuals. These two ideas led me on a journey of discovery that gladdened my heart. I not only found these two theses to be correct but also found underneath the tough rhetoric of Wall Street a small but growing number of successful businesses that live by values that are concordant with the highest moral and ethical principles. This book celebrates their success and provides a road map and tools for those who want to travel the same path.”

2- “Corporate transformation begins with a shift in the values and behaviors of the leadership. Corporations don’t transform. People do. Corporate transformation is fundamentally about personal transformation. It will happen only if there is a willingness on the part of the leader and all those in authority to live according to values that are less focused on self-interest and more focused on the common good. For transformation to be success^l the espoused values and behaviors must become pervasive throughout the organization.”

3- “The key characteristics of long-lasting companies that have superior financial performance are summarized as follows. A strong, positive, values-driven culture A lasting commitment to learning and self-renewal continual adaptation based on feedback from internal and external environments Strategic alliances with internal and external partners, customers, and suppliers A willingness to take risks and experiment A balanced, values-based approach to measuring performance.”

4- “The basic reason why companies find it difficult to develop these characteristics is that they operate from the mental model of the organization as a machine. More and more organizations are making the transition to the mental model of a machine with a mind, but very few have made it to the model of the organization as a living entity. Consequently, most companies seek only to satisfy their physical and emotional needs.”

5- “Self-interest and the single-minded pursuit of accumulation of wealth are at the heart of our current crisis. Fueled by greed, businesses all over the world are engaged in the wholesale exploitation of the Earth and its people. What is extraordinary is lat they are doing it in collusion with society.”

6- “There are millions of people around the world embracing this new responsibility. They are turning from “What’s in it for me?” as their unconscious world view, to consciously embracing “What’s best for the common good?” Many of these people are business leaders. Companies around the world are beginning to recognize that their future is intimately linked to peace, prosperity for all, and environmental stewardship.”

7- “Our proficiency in expressing our creativity falls off as e accept other’s opinions and evaluations of what is good and )ad, right and wrong. Our education systems have much to answer in this arena.”

8- “The pathway to creativity begins with employee participation. T\ere are five stages to participation—invitation, engagement. reflection, listening, and implementation. When an organization attempts participation for the first time, it needs to take care to complete all the steps. At the beginning, it is important to i let all employees know that they are being invited to share their ideas and that their opinions are important. The engagement begins when employees are presented with information about he situation at hand and have the opportunity to ask questions”

9- “The challenge for leaders is to build an organizational culture that maximizes the development of human potential and strategic alliances while working within the framework of acceptable values and behaviors that relate to the type of activity, the dominant professional discipline, and the mores of the local community.”

10- “Companies that operate with values that support the common good are able to maintain morale, commitment, and loyalty even during difficult times. When staff reductions are necessary because of a downturn in sales, companies that operate from the higher levels of consciousness explore ways to share the burden. If this doesn’t work, layoffs are handled with compassion and caring.”

11- “When an organization moves from being profit-driven to being values-driven, it does not mean that it suddenly regards profit as unimportant. On the contrary. Profit remains a fundamental objective. In values-driven organizations the profit motive is contained within an overarching ethical framework. Limits are drawn as to what the organization will and will not do to make an extra dollar.”

12- “I would submit therefore that it is not the sharing of an organizational mission or vision that creates cohesion, but the creation of opportunities within the organizational mission for every individual find work that corresponds to his or her personal mission or vision.”

13- “The first three categories of the Balanced Need Scorecard represent the primary needs of an organization: Corporate Survival—profits, finance, and funding; Corporate Fitness— productivity, quality, and efficiency; and Customer/Supplier Relations—sales, service, and product excellence…’The next three categories support these front-line needs. They include Corporate Evolution—participation, innovation, and creativity; Corporate Culture—vision, mission, values, and employee fulfillment; and Society and Community Contribution—social and environmental responsibility, being of service, and making a difference.”

14- “For trust to blossom and flourish, there must be shared values and mutual accountability, nurtured by cooperation and friendship. Above all, there must be a strong sense of working together for the good of the whole. Therefore, to grow trust, an organization must first grow community. The foundation of community is sociability (measure of sincere friendliness among members of community) and solidarity (measure of a community’s ability to pursue shared objectives quickly and effectively regardless of personal ties).”

15- “A leader is someone who holds a vision and courageously pursues that vision in such a way that it resonates with the souls of people.”

16- “To find real happiness at work, I had learned that I had to stop putting my energy into pleasing my boss, competing with others, and being the best. I had to release my unconscious fears about being valued and respected and pass through transformation.^ When I was free of the fears that were driving my competitive behavior, I was able to be my true self and be my own person. Only then was I able to discover my true passion and the joy of working in service to others.”

17- “The critical factors in successful transformations are (a) the management team’s commitment to modeling the new values and behaviors; (b) integrating the new values into the structural incentives of the human resource processes of the organization; (c) building psychological ownership by involving employees in defining the mission, vision, and values and the Balanced Needs Scorecard objectives and targets; (d) helping employees to think like owners; and (e) assigning responsibilities and developing structural mechanisms to support innovation, learning, and cultural renewal.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Liberating the Corporate Soul