Insightful Reading: Benefits of Reading with Goodwill in a Hurried Age

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We’ve just returned from a great one-day symposium about Close Reading, organised by Billy Clark and Paul Cobley of Middlesex University. Here are some of our thoughts on its benefits for Personal and Professional Development:

Repeatedly we are reminded about the importance of reading. There has been much research pointing to the benefits to physical and psychological health. Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agencynotes that reading can help prevent conditions such as stress, depression:

“people who read for pleasure regularly report fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers. Large scale studies in the U.S. show that being more engaged with reading, along with other hobbies, is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incidents of dementia.”

A recent survey of 1,500 adult readers found that 76% of them said that reading improves their life and helps them feel good. Josie Billington, at the Centre for Research Into Reading at the University of Liverpool, adds that it has also been shown to improve empathy and increase social support:

“In addition to enhancing willingness and ability to communicate with others, reading helps promote respect for and tolerance of others’ views. “

“Readers find it easier to make decisions, plan, and prioritize, and this may be because they are more able to recognize that difficulty and setback are unavoidable aspects of human life.”

The benefits of reading go beyond health and social issues. These benefits can also be a powerful tool for Leadership Development. Top entrepreneurs and key political figures make reading a major part of their daily lifestyle: Warren Buffett, for instance, devotes about 80% of each day to reading. Bill Gates reads a book a week while Elon Musk, when asked how he learned to build rockets, he said “I read books”.

Barrack Obama is also an avid reader and recalled in a recent interview that his interest in public service and politics merged with the idea of storytelling as it enabled him to “learn how to listen to people’s stories” and “find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts”.

These intelligent readers are not just isolated examples. A study of 1,200 wealthy people found that they all have a dedication to reading in common. They do not just read anything. They are highly selective about what they read and prefer to be educated to being entertained or reading for killing time. They see books as a powerful gateway to learning and knowledge. 

Indeed, when surveying what scholars and practitioners have to say about the benefits of reading for Leadership Development, we found that it can serve two functions. At a personal level, books can expand awareness of world around us and enhance our understanding of our own life. At a society level, they may help us in questioning the roles of our institutions and of those people who administer them and how we, individually and collectively, should find and create meaning for ourselves and our fellow humans. These are questions any worker, in any sector, face today. In summary, reading can:

  • Sharpen intelligence and broaden perspectives
  • Allow us to examine how people think, judge and act.
  • Make people better communicators or conversationalists
  • Improve emotional intelligence
  • Expand mind and create a new path for self
  • Enhance our thoughts and actions
  • Build and deepen relationships through shared learning
  • Give us (and our organisations) a sense of place in the expanse of human history
  • Offer a lifelong learning toolbox to think about ourselves and the world

You are how you read

As important as acquiring a healthy habit of reading carefully selected books is attending to how we read them. This is particularly key in times when ‘power-reading’ is highly promoted across the web (think about the many articles with tips on how-to-read-so-many-books-a-day-or-week-or-year) and when there is a growing attention-deficit disorder, making us more susceptible to information overload (often of fake news and half-truths).



So we may start to read more, but how well are we reading? And what is the reading doing for us?

Is it purportedly providing a list of quick-fix formulas or is it helping us think about our own thinking and the thinking of others?

At The Keynes Centre we work with a type of reading – and we actually extend the term ‘reading’ to other types of ‘texts’, including films – that is both ‘slow’ and ‘close’. We call it Reading with Goodwill, following John Maynard Keynes who believed that:

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“A reader should acquire a wide general acquaintance with books as such, so to speak. He should approach them with all his senses; he should know their touch and their smell. He should learn how to take them in his hands, rustle their pages and reach in a few seconds a first intuitive impression of what they contain. He should, in the course of time, have touched many thousands, at least ten times as many as he really reads. He should cast an eye over books as a shepherd over sheep, and judge them with the rapid, searching glance with which a cattle-dealer eyes cattle. He should live with more books than he reads, with a penumbra of unread pages, of which he knows the general character and content, fluttering round him…”
(‘On Reading Books’, broadcast on the BBC Radio on 1 June 1936)

How to Read with Goodwill?

© MIKE O’DONNELL

Reading with Goodwill requires entering in two types of dialogue: one with yourself and one with the author. A third type of dialogue, with peers, may come in when you are reading as part of a Reading circle or even a Book Club.

There are many ways of engaging in these two types of dialogue and one particular method we like is Close Reading.

Also called ‘Close Analysis‘ and ‘Explication de texte‘, this method is commonly associated with New Criticism within Literary Studies. It experienced great popularity in the period between 1930s and 1970s. For us, it should never go out of fashion.

Since then, there have been various debates ranging from its efficacy in meticulously analysing elementary features of a text to its failure in taking into account historical context. We will not get into these debates, but you can get a sense of these here and here. Suffice it to say how we have been using Close Reading in our Personal Professional Development programmes:

For us, Close Reading is more than a literary technique – it is an etiquette of reading, an (ethical) attitude for engaging in a dialogue with yourself and with authors. It is a tool of genuine dialogue which has the below features:

  • Taking responsibility for the reading encounter – understanding that both yourself and the author are ‘meaning-making systems’, i.e. you are both trying to make sense of the world
  • Slowing down the mind while reading – read with a pen/pencil in hand, annotate, “break down the book”
  • Observing your reactions to the ideas as you engage with the thinking of the author – use the power of journaling to capture and record these observations and the subsequent reflections and evaluations
  • Posing questions and working out answers – this is a crucial way to read to understand (not read to ‘critically’ react to) an author’s point of view or argument – he/she might be working out their ideas – stay with him/her, be patient!
  • Practicing using the author’s ideas – Once the author’s main ideas are really understood, you can decide whether you want to make them your own and use them for better thinking, judging and relating to other people

Ultimately, Close Reading is about attending to your own reading and thinking and discovering what happens when you think and engage with another ‘thinking’ being. You will then see that the learnings from your reading encounter translate to ‘the business of life’ as Virginia Woolf noted in her great book A Room of One’s Own:

“since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life”.

There is a truthfulness involved in reading with goodwill, or close/slow reading – a relationship of agreement, if only temporary for the duration of the reading experience , between the reader and the book– as we attend to both our reading and the author’s writing.

For this reason, in all our programmes, we think of our approach to Close Reading in terms of a metaphor taken from the book of a friend, Garrett Barden, called Towards Self-Meaning (1969):

“If you are trying to teach someone how to drive a car there comes a point when you have to vacate the driving the seat and let the learner take your place. Eventually the learner has to teach himself. Certainly he can profit from the hints that the experienced driver gives him, but in the end he must drive himself.”

Our approach to Close Reading, then, is something like the hints the experienced driver can give.

Off you go driving…


The Keynes CentreInsightful Reading: Benefits of Reading with Goodwill in a Hurried Age

Happy 134th Birthday John Maynrd Keynes!

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john maynard keynes, lydia lopokova

© Mike O’Donnell

John Maynard Keynes was born on this day, 5 June 1883. He went on to become one of the most influential thinkers and international statesmen of the 20th century.

Keynes was a firm believer of the power of theories in guiding how we think and relate to people.

His life was an exemplary journey of transformation as he escaped from powerful (old) ways of thinking about problems and worked out a new way of thinking which revolutionized how we think about major issues.

The journey of this real ‘Thought Leader’ illustrates what our Transformative Thinking approach stands for and underpins all the work we do here at The Keynes Centre:

To change our world we must move from thinking through the minds of others into thinking for ourselves and taking responsibility for creating our own Leadership Minds.

Visit our award-nominee Interactive E-book John Maynard Keynes: The Lives of a Mind to explore the many facets of John Maynard Keynes’s life:



The Keynes CentreHappy 134th Birthday John Maynrd Keynes!

Congrats to our Reading for Change 2016/17 Group!

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Best wishes to our Book Club group who finished their Reading for Change programme last night! For eight months
participants read six mind-stimulating books, engaged in thought-provoking facilitated dialogues, and journaled about their experience. We hope you found the learning as insightful as we did!

Congratulations to Fergus, Martha, Gerard, Evan, Clare, Con, Kevin, Niamh, Garret and Daniel! We look forward to working with you again.

Dr Assumpta O’Kane and participants discuss Leadership Growth through Adult Mental Development.

Many thanks to The Keynes Centre Team for their dedication and hard work and to Tim Clarke, from Waterstones Cork, for the great partnership for a second year.


Interested in Growing your Leadership Mind in a unique way?

The next Book Club series begins in September 2017. Expressions of interest are now being taken and early booking is advised as limited spaces available.

To secure your place, click here. For more details on this unique Leadership Programme, click here.

We are also running a shorter reading programme this Summer called The Assumptive Dive. Explore with Professor Connell Fanning the sources of opinions and beliefs which silently shape our thinking and behaviour about key matters in human affairs. Programme starts in 20 June.

For more details, click here. To book your place, click here.


The Keynes CentreCongrats to our Reading for Change 2016/17 Group!

The Power of Metaphors for Communicating

The Keynes CentreWords Matter

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Metaphors are essential for conveying the intangibles of life – feelings, ideas, beauty. Great leaders understand this and it is part of their effect on people – how they affect people and induce them to share their vision.

David Brooks

© Mike O’Donnell

Most of the metaphors we use in our daily lives are dead. We hardly ever notice them. They have become clichés and we treat them (unconsciously) as literal.Hence the deadness of most communications.

So, when a fresh metaphor comes along, we sit up. It helps us understand something in a new way and think about it differently thereafter. Many today are looking to understand President Trump – how he thinks, how his mind works – and to convey that idea to others.  Few do well at it.

And David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist of the New York Times, has now given us one of the best so far about Trump’s thinking.

When he says that Trump’s thoughts are “often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar” we see President Trump in a different light.

Could we do better to convey the feeling of that mystery of mysteries?


The Keynes CentreThe Power of Metaphors for Communicating

When We Don’t Listen

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The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made a positive impact with her call in the TED Talk We Should All Be Feminists and in her pamphlet of the same title that for all our sakes we should all work towards gender equal cultures.

Recently, after she gave an interview to Kathy Newman on Channel 4 News (10 March 2017), a barrage of condemnation broke loose around her. The interviewer asked her if it mattered how one arrived at being a woman and, particularly, whether a trans-woman who grew up enjoying the privileges of being a man is any less a woman.

Here’s her response:

“When people talk about, “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women. I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences. It’s not about how we wear our hair or whether we have a vagina or a penis.

It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.

I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women because I don’t think that’s true.”

In an overall interview about a number of topics lasting only 4.5 minutes, this was reasonably clear, one might have thought, especially as she had been critical of the wrongful use of binary categories.

Her core point was about “the whole problem of gender” being about experiences – “the way the world treats us”. From that premise she explained that she did not see the experience of a (non-trans) woman as being the same as a man who has “been accorded those privileges that men” enjoy and then transition to becoming a woman.

© MIKE O’DONNELL – COURTSKETCHER.COM

How could the life experiences be the same? There is too much variability for that without crude aggregation of people. That is not much different from saying that the life experiences of everyone are different – no two people are exactly alike – a daily reality, one would think. It was sufficiently clear what she meant in the interview context, although it might have been clearer – and better for avoiding argy-bargy – had she qualified her statement about ‘us’ with the parenthetical adjective above, i.e., referred to ‘non-trans women’, rather tjan ‘women’.

Nevertheless, people rounded on her on the basis of the implication which they drew that her position was that trans-women aren’t ‘real women’ and she was called transphobic.

Adichie posted an elaboration on her Facebook:

“I see how my saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female could appear as if I was suggesting that one experience is more important than the other. Or that the experiences of trans women are less valid than those of women born female. I do not think so at all — I know that trans women can be vulnerable in ways that women born female are not. This, again, is a reason to not deny the differences.

Why does this even matter?

Because at issue is gender.

Gender is a problem not because of how we look or how we identify or how we feel but because of how the world treats us.

Girls are socialized in ways that are harmful to their sense of self – to reduce themselves, to cater to the egos of men, to think of their bodies as repositories of shame. As adult women, many struggle to overcome, to unlearn, much of that social conditioning.

….

A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own” (emphases added).

The point Adichie was making in the short interview does not require getting into debates over gender categories and classifications or the biological dimension of people diversity. Finally, Adichie’s goal, whether one agrees with it or not, was clear to anyone listening to her interview: gender equal cultures.

The hostility, which is now a feature of public ‘debate’ and does no good for anyone, certainly precludes any thoughtful engagement with the real issue at the core of her distinction: the different gendered life experiences people have, how they arise, how we process them, and their consequences for people.

The critics were not listening to Adichie who was making the simple, and obvious, observation that the life experiences of ‘trans women’ were different from the life experiences of ‘non-trans women’ even in today’s world. The critics were addressing the different question about who should be considered as a ‘women – a matter of categorisation about which Adichie did not say anything in the interview. Nevertheless they drew the inference that she said something she did not say and then proceeded to castigate her for their own statement.

The critics were operating, in the metaphor of Virginia Woolf In a Room of One’s Own (1929), from the red heat of emotion rather than the white light of truth in relation to Adichie’s broadcast interview. They seemed to be listening to react, not to understand her points and engage in a genuine dialogue with her.

How often does this happen in conversations every day, not just in direct conversation with some person, but also during indirect conversation with an author we are reading or in correspondence with someone?

There was no dialogue with Adichie in the case above. Dialogue involves listening, first of all, and inquiring of the other with an attitude of being open to a change of mind on the basis of the interchange.

A dialogue would surely have been more enlightening for the rest of us if less immediately gratifying of some immediate needs for the critics.


The Keynes CentreWhen We Don’t Listen

Reflections on Writing

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

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“Almost all good writing begins with a need in the author to explain something to himself – a strong emotion, a childhood terror – a line of reasoning that needs testing on paper or the re-examination of circumstance to be sure that it justifies a general statement. This last kind of need produces the nuts and bolts group …”

John Kenneth Galbraith (emphasis added)

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“If you want to know whether you are thinking rightly, put your thoughts into words. In the very attempt to do this you will find yourselves, consciously or unconsciously, using logical forms. Logic compels us to throw our meaning into distinct propositions, and our reasonings into distinct steps.

It makes us conscious of all the implied assumptions on which we are proceeding, and which, if not true, vitiate the entire process.

It makes us aware what extent of doctrine we commit ourselves to by any course of reasoning, and obliges us to look the implied premises in the face, and make up our minds whether we can stand to them.

It makes our opinions consistent with themselves and with one another, and forces us to think clearly, even when it cannot make us think correctly. It is true that error may be consistent and systematic as well as truth; but this is not the common case.

It is no small advantage to see clearly the principles and consequences involved in our opinions, and which we must either accept, or else abandon those opinions. We are much nearer to finding truth when we search for it in broad daylight. Error, pursued rigorously to all that is implied in it, seldom fails to get detected by coming into collision with some known and admitted fact.”

John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address, University of St. Andrews, 1867

“Writing a story or novel is one way of discovering sequence in the experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writers life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves to connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train maker curve, slowing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect”.

Eudora Welty, One Writers Beginnings, Faber, London, 1985

“I am just now beginning to discover the difficulty of expressing one idea’s on paper. As long as it consists solely of description it is pretty easy; but where reasoning comes into play, to make a proper connection, a clearness and a moderate fluency, is to me, as I have said, a difficulty of which I had no idea”.

Charles Darwin, from Desmond & Moore, Darwin; 183


The Keynes CentreReflections on Writing

How to Journal for Personal Professional Development

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

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Increasingly, people are discovering the value of journaling for Personal Professional Development. Some have still to discover its power.

As we observed in our previous post about Journaling, using a Journal is long recognised a most helpful tool for reflection – it is a powerful way for getting to know oneself more deeply – and creatively – ideas will come which otherwise would not surface in the hurly-burly of daily life. Writing will help focus your thoughts and clarify your thinking. A Journal can be used as a record of your thinking, ideas, insights, questions, and concerns and will also show your developmental journey.

Journaling:

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1. The first, and most important, point to make about Journaling is that it is about setting aside a time and space to attend to yourself – something we all too often do not give ourselves in the modern world. It is a difficult but worthwhile habit or discipline to develop the attentiveness to our inner self. And it is essential to commit to it – we will have little enough time to be with ourselves when all is said and done.

2. Solitude is not easy to bear or to achieve. Nowadays we have to arrange for it. We can be apprehensive of being alone with ourselves, in a place and time without noise, traffic, television, phones …… Being busy is not only habitual but enticing – it can be used to protect ourselves from our inner selves. Solitude is not loneliness or aloneness: I am with myself – and who better company than myself?

3. Your goal in journaling is to be with yourself in dialogue so as to surface the thoughts from ‘the back or your mind’ which are blocked by the immediate preoccupations of the everyday. Journaling is an aid to help you listen to yourself. Do not give in to the temptation to run away by daydreaming or snoozing or other escape. Instead learn to enjoy having some time and space to be in good company – your own. Over time we will learn to listen to ourselves, appreciate its values and many benefits, and come to look forward to it.

4. Therefore write easily, happily and freely. It is not about being judgmental about yourself (or others) in any way – silence that ‘inner critic’. Do not limit your explorations. Flow. The practice is to hear your inner self – the wise one of you – by removing yourself from the prison of your daily preoccupations and thoughts. It is a healing and growing process.

5. Some ‘journalists’ find it a good practice to create a space– both mental and physical – apart from hustle and bustle in which to engage in their journaling without intrusions. This can even be outdoors in a pleasant setting. Keep it a simple, uncluttered, non-distractive place. You may find it helpful to decorate it simply with an abstract object of beauty, a nice candle, a piece of text – to help focus early on – use a pleasing notebook and pen and whatever works for you.

6. Because it is so easy today for this space to be taken, or given, away planning for this and scheduling it regularly is recommended. It is a sacred place for you to dwell for a while with yourself. There is no need to be apologetic in any way or to anyone: protect that opportunity to attend to yourself – you need it.

7. Simplicity and regularity – even for a short period (15 minutes, rather than an hour sporadically) – is the key.

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8. You may find it helpful to start and, perhaps, end with a ‘prayer’ (not necessarily religious) – some words spoken (quietly; even addressed only to self) – to settle and orient oneself to your forthcoming exploration. Because we go into a private area does not mean it is quiet – you are there and you bring your baggage – anxieties, worries, fears, memories, angers and so much more – there are internal distractions as well as external distractions to be left behind.

9. Use visualisation to put all the baggage in a box and then leave them at the door as you go in. Do not worry! The box will still be there when you come out – you can trust it won’t run away. You can collect the baggage afterwards to take with you, if you choose, or leave there – indeed take it to the garbage bin and throw it in it. Feel the freedom. In the room give yourself just that space for yourself: you deserve it.

10. Set aside all restraints of writing style, literacy, grammar, spelling and so on. Your journal is only for you, do not be judgmental – it is a tool, a good tool and it works: trust it.

11. Use questions if you are unclear for the moment. Note your doubts, uncertainties and matters not sure about (but remember 2 above). Questions are also effective prompts.

12. Write what is truthful for you. Journaling is about honesty, not saying what you think you should say or what you think other people would expect. No one is going to know. Any other use of a journal will corrupt the process and only you will be fooled.

13. Many find it beneficial to start their days with their journaling ritual. The experience created doesn’t cease when you close your journal – it will accompany you through your day and orient your thoughts for the better; it will enable you to live actively and mindfully in the world.

14. Some also find it of benefit to carry their journal with them during their day so as to engage with it as thoughts surface, as they unexpectedly do.

Dialogue with Others:

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1. The ‘power of two’ is a power to be used for development and creativity.

2. Pairs can read or watch something together or individually. Then, after each has done their reflective journaling on the experience in private, they can come together to share insights surfaced in their journaling.

3. It is not necessary to share what has been written in the journals, although that too can be done if people are sufficiently close. There is no need to share what you have written for this to work. Initially, it may be better to identify a set of questions arising from the experience and reflections.

4. The important thing is that this is an aid to practice listening to another (see 1 above), for moving towards a shared understanding of how you both think.

5. Avoid any elements of competitiveness, one-upmanship, rowing, adversarial and winning style: a dialogue is not about proving yourself right and your partner wrong. Those needs should be addressed elsewhere.

6. Sharing your ideas on a common experience is a way of living which supports, encourages ans guides each party to the dialogue.

Obstacles:

There is no end to the barriers we put up to being in our own company

  • don’t trust it’s private
  • a dog to walk
  • not experience value so think waste of time
  • fear of knowing oneself
  • feel foolish writing to oneself

and so on : list your own here


The Keynes CentreHow to Journal for Personal Professional Development

Our first Through the Lens of Arendt Film Club comes to an end

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Best wishes to our first Film Club group who finished their Through the Lens of Arendt Film Club Programme last night.

Big thanks for the great dialogues and engagement throughout the Programme. We hope you found the five sessions as insightful as we did!

Click here to see more photos

We would also like to thank Andrew Cromie and Eileen Cole, from the Southern Chapter of the MBA Association of Ireland for the great partnership.

Prof. Connell Fanning, Eileen Cole, Dr. Laura Aguiar, Dr. Assumpta O’Kane and Andrew Cromie

We will be running this this unique Leadership Development Programme later this year. Expressions of Interest are now open.

Register Your Interest Here


The Keynes CentreOur first Through the Lens of Arendt Film Club comes to an end

Wise Words from an Outstanding Mind

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

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Wise words from the outstanding writer, Norma Maclean – useful for thinking about Leadership Development and Growth Mindsets


The Keynes CentreWise Words from an Outstanding Mind