‘Opinions’ is one of the hot-button topics of today due in large measure to the impact of President Trump’s behaviour as presidential candidate and president of the United States.The combination of Mr Trump and social media has created the ‘perfect opinion storm’ which continuously engulfs the news media and claims attention from all of us. There has been no U.S. president like Mr Trump for the daily impact he has had on us in the way he has changed the ‘climate of opinion’ about opinions. A major effect of ‘Storm Trump’ is that his behaviour has single-handily legitimated the expression of any ‘opinion’ and his example has validated the sense of entitlement to ‘my opinion’ no matter how outrageous, discriminatory, or ill-founded. He has brought confusion to political discourse and provoked the normally restrained news media into calling him a liar, describing his statements as lies, and characterising his behaviour in the strongest personality terms. Trump-as-role-model challenges us to think about how we form, hold and use opinions – an unintended benefit perhaps, but one we should not (cannot?) forego. The crisis he has unleashed has also gifted us an opportunity (or forced the necessity?) to bring some clarity to the confusing field of opinion-making. A Case Example We can use Mr Trump himself as a case study for us to think about shaping our opinions and, specifically, whether we form the opinion that he lies. Keeping a grip on truth in the midst of ‘Storm Trump’ demands much effort and diligence, more than most of us can sustain. In time, we can expect that even the rolling audits which various news media and political websites are compiling on the truthfulness of his words and deeds will become demanding. Many people will have an opinion about Mr Trump’s behaviour such is his impact worldwide and this poses the question as to how this opinion was formed or acquired. And, if we do not have an opinion already about the status of his endless flow of claims we decide, one way or another, where we stand on Mr Trump relationship to truth in a way that we have not had to do about most U.S. presidents. We have two options: opt out or engage our minds. For many, even at this early stage of Mr Trump’s presidency, his behaviour is too much and it is already a question of ‘tuning it out’ to preserve peace of mind. Alternatively, his opinions behaviour requires economizing on our attention – coming to a sustainable assessment of it so that we need not think about his every turn.
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 Agency, notes 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 … Read More
Virginia Woolf was born on this day, 25th January 1882. Visit Chapter 3 of our E-book ‘The Lives of a Mind’ for more about this great mind and her friendship with John Maynard Keynes Click on the Image below to visit E-Book:
A beautiful quote and cartoon about the power of reading, shared with us by one of the participants in our Reading for Change Book Club this morning.
Usually New Year Resolutions aren’t kept and, unfortunately, as a result of the ‘failure’ people frequently feel bad about themselves and often judge themselves harshly as, for example, lacking in ‘willpower’. By now many will be saying “January is gone and I haven’t cut out sugar from my diet’; ‘I promised to read more, but February is here and I haven’t gone past the first Chapter’; ‘The year has barely begun and I am already bringing work home every evening’; and so forth. January-February is that time of the year when people use social media to share short pieces about why resolutions fail to bring about change, how to overcome this, and about letting go unnecessary recriminations about oneself. Barbara Rapaport, of Real-time Perspectives, has recently offered some useful tips in her blog and it is a worthwhile read. In this post, Barbara reminds us that “Studies show that a quarter of us have already thrown in the towel, and only eight percent of resolvers will actually follow through on their resolutions successfully”. Also, self-criticism doesn’t do anybody any good and it is too easy, as well as wrong, unnecessary and unhelpful, to be judgmental about ourselves. Misplaced guilt is a destructive power for our well-being. There’s no need for it. The problem lies elsewhere. The Real Problem with New Year Resolutions When we make commitments to reflect, reboot and move towards a better version of ourselves in the form of New Year Resolutions our behavior is unlikely to change by virtue of just making a resolution. The important question is why? Making New Year Resolutions is too superficial an approach to change: to change our behavior we must change our minds and change how we think and how we make meaning of our lives. Such resolutions are ineffective for changing behaviours because there is a ‘Hidden Commitment’ competing with the ‘Visible Commitment’ of the New Year Resolution. This idea has been proposed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, of Harvard University. In their research, they found that the ‘Hidden/Competing Commitment’ is underpinned by a ‘Big Assumption’, which maintains a balance between Hidden Commitment and the Visible Commitment. The result is unchanged minds and, therefore, unchanged behaviours. Heading to the Mental Gym: The Good Reading Resolution While many New Year Resolutions are focused on issues such as weight loss, we at The Keynes Centre suggest that Change Resolutions should also be focused on improving mental fitness – that is, growing our minds through effectively transforming how we think about ourselves, personally and professionally. Reading, for instance, is a great mental fitness exercise. It improves vocabulary and knowledge and offers a way to relax and reduce stress, and, helps enlarge people’s mentalities. It also builds confidence, capabilities and self-esteem. The ‘Good Reading’ Resolution is another common one that frequently falls by the wayside. The Kegan-Lahey idea can be used to work out the real reasons (Competing Commitments and Big Assumptions) rather than pseudo-reasons, e.g. that ‘I lack willpower/time/opportunity/mental capability’, for which we frequently settle. … Read More
Last month we attended the 7th Global Drucker Forum in Vienna. This year’s theme was Claiming Our Humanity – Managing in the Digital Age. Most panel discussions focused on the idea of a paradigm shift being brought about by rapid technological developments. This new way of thinking about connections between people, about human interactions, and about human conditions is requiring that workers create value with their minds and directs attention to the need to understand people and how they relate to work. The second best panel in our opinion, Humans First – Technology Second (Day 2: Plenary 6), discussed three key elements of humanity that no machine can ever replace. The first is the ability for self-reflection. This demands time and space, something that senior executives, especially CEOs, seemed to lack in this period of rapid changes in interconnectedness. This reminds us of a point made by Professor Robert Kegan of Harvard University: “Reflective thinking requires a mental ‘place’ to stand apart from, or outside of, a durably created idea, thought, fact or description.”  Sherry Turkle, one of the speakers who has recently published Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, highlighted the importance of solitude. This is when one can potentially learn to think for oneself and develop a stable sense of self. In other (metaphorical) words, ‘a room of one’s own’, as Virginia Woolf put in 1928, is needed because, without this, “those seas would be unsailed and those fertile lands a desert”. This is a space where we can exercise our minds and hear the dialogue of “me with myself”, in the words of Hannah Arendt, one of the most original thinkers. This room is key and is becoming of greater importance and urgency. The other two elements, to put yourself in the place of the other and to encourage good conversations, brought to our mind some wise words from Arendt. Although writing about totalitarianism, her insights resonates with much of what was discussed during the Forum. Thinking from the perspective of others was strongly associated with the word empathy  during the Forum, but we prefer Arendt’s image of ‘training the imagination to go visiting the standpoint of others’, which is about asking yourself how the world would look if you saw it from a different position. Whilst visiting promotes understanding, empathy may obstruct it, according to Arendt: “By empathizing with another, I erase all difference. But when I visit another place, I experience the disorientation that lets me understand just how different the world looks from different perspectives. “ But visiting requires ‘thinking without banisters’, as she put it, that is, thinking without “categories and formulas that are deeply ingrained in our mind but whose basis of experience has long been forgotten” . The more you visit, the more representative your opinion will be. Visiting, therefore, is not about consensus or agreeing with another’s opinion. Rather, it is about plurality, about understanding the diversity of people. As a result, you will move … Read More
Since The Keynes Centre at UCC announced its forthcoming Book Club for the Autumn 2015 Season, we’ve had requests for suggestions about worthwhile readings over the Summer. Our first recommendation is David Brooks, The Road to Character, 2015. Published a few weeks ago, this book has already generated a buzz in the reading world in the U.S. and is a good summer read. David Brooks is the renowned Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times. Unlike many Opinion writers, Brooks’s columns often draw on his reading repertoire, which is wide, deep and reflective, rather than just responding immediately to current events. This makes him good company for a Summer read. Opinion columnists generally don’t admit to what Brooks does: “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter that I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am.” Then he had an epiphany as he realised that he had spent too much time cultivating what he calls “the résumé virtues” – the skills you list on your résumé – rather than “the eulogy virtues” – the Character-istics that are talked about at your funeral. Brooks sets himself the goal of recovering the “vast moral vocabulary and set of moral tools developed over centuries and handed down over generation to generation.” As he said “I wrote, to be honest, to save my own soul”. His method is to use the contrast between ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues’ with biographical sketches to explore how people overcame the powerful pull of the résumé to achieve “selflessness, generosity and self-sacrifice”. He wants us to shift from what Economics calls ‘positional goods’ (only ‘good’ because no one else has them, like exclusive clubs and events), i.e. the ephemeral status, trophies and toys which maybe pursued ‘thoughtlessly, in the sense of Arendt, to cultivating values and meanings, i.e. who we are and our relationships with others and our world, which constitute the substantive in human affairs and living. This is a transformation from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’ of ourselves, from what we think we have to what we actually are. Although he does not say so directly, Brooks would like us to remember that happiness is not a lasting condition and to regard the résumé virtues as the source of happiness is a false god. For example, we now know from brain science that even (happy) memories are constructed by us as we are now, i.e., what we want them to be for us now, rather than entities stored away as if in a mental filing cabinet. We like what The Economist said about this book: “If you want to be reassured that you are special, you will hate this book. But if you like thoughtful polemics, it is worth logging off Facebook to read it.” THE BROOKS ‘CHARACTER’ CONVERSATION The Keynes Centre Book Club has compiled some reading resources (links in orange) which we hope … Read More