A Primer on Nobility and Civility

Summer 2017 saw the passing of two Asian scholars–giants in their field–Wm. Theordore de Bary and Henry Rosemont, Jr. Below is an excerpt from the preface of de Bary’s 2014 book Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good that should be required reading for those in leadership and those conservatives who recently back-pedaled on once staunchly held moral values that they are required of a religious leader and not a world leader.

Any serious education should prepare one to understand the ultimate claims made not only by Muslim suicide bombers but also by their Hindu and Buddhist counterparts, as well as the Japanese samurai warriors or the suicide pilots Mishima Yukio wrote about. It is a lot to do, but this book tries to make a start at sorting out some of the key civilizational issues. From this learning process we may hope to understand the appeal of different concepts of nobility as shared human ideals, the special attractiveness and lurking dangers these can hold for extreme forms of communalism and nationalism, and the civilities that in the longer run have helped to contain these dangers. On this basis we may also realize that there need be no inevitable clash of civilizations from irreducible cultural antagonisms but that from these diverse cultural and social traditions resources can be drawn on to cope with the challenges of environmental degradation, unrestrained economic competition, vicious political chauvinisms, and, more fundamentally, the deeper moral collapse and cultural despair that threaten world civilization in the twenty-first century…these features of society cannot be controlled simply by the charismatic force of noble individuals alone. But in early times the example of the truly noble leader was recognized as crucial to the restraint and containment of violence, insofar as that example spoke to the conscience of all, not just to the ruling elite. If I use the word “conscience” here, regardless of how human consciousnesses may have differed from age to age and place to place, it is because in the midst of cultural differences these concerns are recognized also as constants in human life, and are in some sense shared— as indeed common “human” concerns. Confucius spoke of this selfawareness as a sense of shame or as its corollary, a sense of self-respect, to which the ruler, if he be truly a leader, must appeal if he is not to rely on coercive means that eventually undo themselves. For Confucius this concept of true nobility and genuine leadership was a high calling. He did not underestimate the demands it laid on the educated person or man of learning who also bore the burden of leadership in society. In the Analects, he calls on the class of well-bred aristocrats known as shi in ancient China (somewhat like the knights or gentlemen of the medieval West) to put on the shining armor of moral virtue and public learning. It is said: “The shi must be stout-hearted and enduring, for his burden is heavy and his Way is long.

Humaneness is the burden he takes upon himself. Is it not heavy? Only in death does his Way come to an end. Is it not long?” (Analects 8:7). If today the concept of the public intellectual is upheld in contrast to the academician isolated in an ivory tower, we may draw some lessons, and possibly some inspiration, from the Asian ideals that survive, not as abstract ivory- tower ideals, but as having endured something of the long, conflicted struggle Confucius foresaw for the scholar “stout of heart” and “enduring” in the Way. Although one may well question whether such ideals can be taken as universals or eternal verities, one may still recognize the cases cited here as inspired attempts to grapple with perennial issues or persistent human dilemmas, worthy of our consideration even now in their very conflicted contexts. The “globalization” much talked about today is a case in point. Most often it refers to the persistent trend toward the unification of the world economy and the homogenization of culture in response to a spreading technology. But the universalization of values and standards of culture has been a feature of expanding civilizations since the dawn of history, and the problems attendant upon it (as well as the response to these) offer a perspective on the dilemmas of our own era.

If modernization is not simply to mean the extension to other peoples, in an unquestioned and uncritical way, of current trends in the West, then the globalization of knowledge must take into account the values and experiences of other major civilizations. Today, unfortunately, these values are poorly understood even in their original settings or homelands, because of the long disruption of native traditions and the radical reorientation of the educated leadership to other immediate goals or European ideologies. Generally speaking, such classic values have been known in modern times, if at all, through the revered classics and scriptures of major traditions, but their relevance and adaptability to modern circumstances remains unclear if these values are conceived simply in the abstract, without any understanding of the difficulties experienced historically in applying or practicing them. In other words, traditional values need to be understood as historically evolving, and in that process as marked by much ambiguity and contestation— contestation that has arisen especially in multicultural encounters, wherein ideals are almost always compromised by messy human complications.

The Asian ideals discussed here are thus seen as conflicted human values, conflicted in the same sense as in my earlier book, The Trouble with Confucianism. This book, which ranges widely over several civilizations and historical eras, can only be suggestive of how evolving concepts of leadership (“nobility”) and public morality (“civility”) in several Asian traditions may contribute to the humanizing of the current globalization process. It does not propose exact prescriptions for present problems, but may serve the purpose of general education in the face of the modern rush to find technical solutions, ready at hand but often oversimplified, to our current dilemmas. Without an awareness of people’s past experience in the implementation of their own ideal values, it will be difficult to see how anyone could be expected to recognize and cope with similar problems in the present. And unless some such awareness becomes part of the education of all, one can expect that the globalizing process may well be degrading, dehumanizing, and destructive of the earth, beyond anything seen in the past. My treatment of this theme includes reflections on the views expressed in classic texts of the major Asian traditions in India, China, and Japan. (Preface x-xi)

De Bary, Wm. Theodore. Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 14 October 2014.Copyright © 2004. Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.

 

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The Intergenerational Museum: Towards a Century of Dialogue

Museums are many things to many people, yet at their best museums offer up quiet spaces for looking and pondering. It should come as no surprise then that museum professionals, too, occasionally take a step back to look and assess their museum’s inner workings related to diversity, inclusion and equity. Last month, Greg Stevens, Director of Professional Development for the American Alliance of Museums, hosted “Getting Started With Working Across Generations,” a webinar on the intergenerational workplace covering five generations with the acknowledgement that the most recent, barely out of middle school, is “on deck”.

Museum colleagues Marsha Semmel, a Baby Boomer, and Millennial Sam Moore also joined Stevens, a self-described Baby Boomer/Gen X Cusper. The webinar’s guiding questions asked how to align the intergenerational workforce with the museum’s mission and at the same time acknowledge employee assets that sustain a flourishing workplace. The three skillfully modeled a collaboration marked by multi-directional cooperation, that of back and forth, as well as bottom up. For example, Millennial Sam Moore, in putting forth the concept of “reversed mentorship” expanded the conversation to imagine a workplace with individuals attuned to not one, but multi-directional flows of knowledge. The presenters deftly wove the strands of information from the latest research with those colored by personal experience—or as Moore summarily noted, relationships.

In the lead up to the museum webinar, I happened on a podcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s talk titled “Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in our World.” In it His Holiness said that although we cannot change past, we can learn from it in order to change the future. He pointed out that in the past century obstacles were often met with force. Now we are seeing a resurgence of the same in this century, which His Holiness attributes to past mistakes and negligence. Despite differences and conflicts that will always exist His Holiness insists that the 21st century can be the Century of Dialogue, one in which people come together in love as brothers and sisters. Only by working together will we find the means to reduce differences through dialogue stewarded by actions of mutual respect.

Museums lend themselves naturally to a stewardship model given their mission to collect, preserve and display the guiding “ideas” of the past for both the present and future generations for re-seeing, re-creating* their world. The webinar mirrored what His Holiness described as “genuine respect, genuine love” that goes into building trusting friendships. What then would the intergenerational workplace look like? It would be one that welcomes the “fresh eyes” brought to it by its youngest members with the more experienced members committed to guiding the younger generation as “elders” who support the younger generation emotionally.** In this way our young adults can take their rightful place in the workplace and globally in fulfilling what His Holiness envisions as the Century of Peace.

https://www.dalailama.com/videos/embracing-the-beauty-of-diversity-in-our-world
*Malcolm McIntosh notes this in his Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, pg.33.
** Doors drummer, Boomer, John Densmore. On “the 50th Anniversary of the greatest band, The Doors!” http://wapo.st/2y2UWEg

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China’s Selfie Emperor

A recent New York Times article bemoaned the number of MOMA visitors taking selfies in front of Van Gogh’s masterpiece “Starry Night.” Although cameras have only been around a few hundred years, Chinese collectors have been embedding themselves in masterpieces of art through affixing their personal signature seals–literally on the art itself–for over two millennia. For example, in the  detail below of the 13th century masterpiece “Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains” by the polymath bureaucrat, Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), there are a variety of collector seals including several  super-sized ones belonging to the “Selfie Emperor of all Selfies”, the Qing Dynasty Qianlong Emperor who reigned from 1735-1796. Qianlong considered himself quite the aesthete when it came to calligraphy and  painting. In

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light of his fondness for his own artistic ‘eye’ he wrote no less than 13 declarations on the painting opining on how brilliantly the artist painted the masterpiece. Emperor Qianlong also called the painter out for misaligning the two mountains in the painting that are actually located in Shandong Province. (I wrote a white paper analyzing this but that is another topic.) If photo-snapping at MOMA eclipsed a deeper kind of looking, it may be because of the human need to associate with an exceptional work of art and be one with the artist, if not in talent at least in mind. After all, selfie snappers are collectors, too, driven by a need to impress their friends of their good taste and show that they are true trendsetters up to speed on what is in vogue, up to the very moment. But it is the painting that has the last word and rewards the viewer–only the viewer that  really understands it with the eye. And that reward is what 20th century painter Charles Demuth called the “n’th whoopee of sight!”

“A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies” The New York Times. Sunday Review, Editorial Notebook. September 24, 2017. A version of this editorial appears in print on September 24, 2017, on Page SR8 of the New York edition with the headline: A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies

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Lessons Learned from Millennials

Perhaps you attended a session on millennials at the annual conference of New Jersey Organization Development professionals held May 4 in Newark, NJ. The workshop “Lessons Learned from millennials—Deep Seeing, Inspired Thinking” was based on my college student essays that I collected over the past 25 years. It also grew out of my professional teacher development using imaginement®, a tool for assessing attentional seeing and the thinking process it engenders at the museum. What fascinated me is that millennials demonstrated the capacity for higher-order thinking when it came to looking at artifacts particularly from Asian cultures.

Reading student essays about their encounter with an Asian art object over the past 25 years has introduced me to the field of attentional science and the research of Neuroscientist Adele Diamond, Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science.[1]

In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science. The student essays can be assessed against neurological studies that specifically map the brain areas of complex cognitive abilities that rely on the brain’s prefrontal cortex when a viewer stops to give full attention to a museum art object. These essays provide the evidence that art educators have always championed from their observations in the classroom. Diamond’s research shows demonstrative evidence of  focusing the attention such as looking at an art object increases inhibitory control, working memory with the interdisciplinary outcome of flexible cognition.What does this mean? The actual brain area that lights up when we truly focus our attention is not the primal part of the brain–the brain stem–that we tap for automatic information but instead bounces up to the prefrontal cortex whereby we slow down to think for a more thoughtful, cogent response. This is a state of mental “experiments:” disassembling and reassembling content information in creative and new ways through the alternation of content data and the imagination, and, generating often what are playfully remixed conclusions, replete with new possibilities.[2]  Once having had a complete, integrated cognitive and creative experience expanded by the imagination only then do we build flexible cognition that operates in all areas of our professional and personal lives.

What is key here is the role of the imagination: only then is our thinking expanded with a long reach capable of taking into account history as well as the inestimable future; only after we have made a beginning on having the “inner dialogue” are we capable of the outer dialogue to enter into cooperative collaborations at the workplace. Looking at art is not just waking up our consciousness, but aligning with the consciousness of a past master and together–creator and viewer–forming a third consciousness.

[1]Adele Diamond’s research on the science of attention identifies three Executive Functions, (EFs): inhibitory control, working memory and flexible cognition.

[2] Diamond’s Executive Function working memory aligns with John Dewey’s description of the process of the alternation of factual content with imagination that result in new interpretations and insightful judgments in How We Think, (1939)

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The Beacon Dims on Women’s Rights, Human Rights

When candidate Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp who would have expected it would instead get an infusion of former Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil executives bolstered by clean coal and fossil fuel lobbyists. With tax cuts coming for the rich including tax breaks from healthcare costs, women, children, the poor and older Americans can now expect to shoulder the burden.

Moreover, women are suffering fresh assaults on their safety and dignity worldwide, a warning sounded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the opening of a two-week conference and annual gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women. Where the United States has historically been seen as a beacon for Human Rights globally, just days into his new administration President Donald Trump’s “global gag rule” cut US funding to groups that offer abortion services. No surprise that this emboldened his Russian counterpart a few weeks later to ease punishment for domestic violence. Jail time is now reserved for the seriously bloodied woman whereas a ‘less’ serious assault or first offense now only results in a fine.

With its focus on women’s economic empowerment, particularly in the changing world of work, the Commission on the Status of Women will turn its attention to pay inequality and paid parental leave. Under the umbrella of gender quality, the United Nations has set its global goal for 2030. Otherwise, according to the International Labour Organization’s recent labor study, without stronger measures it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap (1).

As for the American poor who stand to lose health coverage in the revised healthcare bill, Republican Jason Chaffetz proffered a solution: give up your phone and pay your health premiums. And if there is still not enough to pay that premium the House Oversight Committee Chair might also recommend a scaled down diet. Just as the GOP administration dishes American poverty, and science on climate change, it also dismisses in the name of ‘big government’ worldwide poverty and famine. As the UN reports today “in a perfect storm, the Trump administration is reportedly seeking deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine.” Once the largest funder to the UN contributing $10 billion to various UN agencies as UNICEF, World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency, it is reported that President Trump wants to cut that amount by 50% taking away the last lifeline of the world’s most vulnerable (2).

There are important marches on schedule: please get out there and participate. Make an action plan to call and write letters regularly to your legislators. Get a copy of Sam Daley-Harris’ Reclaiming Our Democracy and follow his advice on activism. Finally, print this quote and read daily:

We’re not passengers on Spaceship Earth. We’re the crew.
~Rusty Schweickart

1.http://www.thedailystar.net/world/north-america/womens-rights-under-assault-un-1376200
2. http://www.undispatch.com/cuts-un-20-million-face-unprecedented-famine/

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2017 On Entering an Age of Uncertainty

Below is a copy of my guest blog for the Organizational Development Collaborative for a Flourishing World ODCFW posted on ODCFW.org, January 32, 2017

As a year-end special program, a New York radio station invited listeners to participate in paired on-air conversations. One segment featured an intergenerational exchange; a female twenty-year-old was paired with a septuagenarian (1). When asked what in particular marked their generations, the latter pointed to the Vietnam War as the defining event of his generation, whereas the former summarized and defined her generation in one word—uncertainty.

Coincidentally, results released the same day from a survey of UK chief financial officers assigned uncertainty to describing the “new normal.” Although optimism in that country is up since the summer Brexit vote, it remains to be seen what Brexit’s impact will be over the long haul (2). Here in the states, uncertainty also hangs in the balance with a new administration. One thing that is certain is that organizations will want to manage change that is transformational.

The intergenerational on-air dialogue may very well have contributed a spark to the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, by harking back to the 1968 protests against the Vietnam war. What began this year as a one-city event for human rights mushroomed into a global phenomenon attracting individuals and organizations committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion and representing the rights and voices of progressive people around the world. The registered tally was 673 “official” sister marches across the United States and around the world on January 21. Moreover, participation far exceeded expectations: at the rally in Trenton NJ, 4000 additional marchers showed up in solidarity with the 2000 registered marchers.

True to its pledge that the march not be “a sprint, but a marathon” the national organizers posted its initiative the following day: 10 ACTIONS IN 100 DAYS (3). That is why we see the timing of ODCFW’s website launch at this time as an auspicious rallying point for organization development (OD) professionals to lead momentous change in the business world, as both internal and external consultants by facilitating meaningful collaborations that are transformational.

Collaboration, as Syracuse University Professor James Haywood Rolling, Jr., writes, is key to elevated change resulting in enduring human achievements (4). Who better than OD professionals who have always been proactive in the workplace by inspiring and supporting others to lead the way for sustainable, flourishing workplaces and communities? As women—as well as men and youth—affirmed at the March, we are not going backwards. Instead, let this be the year that we move toward a more equitable world for the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the world, all of which are for everyone.

(1) WNYC Brian Lehrer Show “Fresh, Non-Politics Conversation Starters for the New Year” December 28, 2016.
http://www.wnyc.org/story/fresh-non-politics-conversation-starters-new-year
(2) “UK firms’ finance bosses say uncertainty is ‘new normal’”.
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38453908
(3) https://www.womensmarch.com/100/
(4) Rolling, J. H., Jr. (2017). The Challenge of Change. Art Education, 70[1], 4-6

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Uncertain Times: to compete or cooperate?

This is a repost of an essay written in 2012.

Michael Kaiser, Director of the Kennedy Center, is often fearless when it comes to speaking out about the value of cultural organizations in good times and bad. In fact, I think he would agree that they are paramount in the current economy to kick start creativity. Throw those economic impact studies aside, he would say, because now science can back up such claims. For example, recent studies in neuroscience provides new information about the brain and why art and looking at art is so important for an innovative society. For one thing, art can help move human beings to being more socially cooperative rather than just being competitive. Michael Gazzaniga writes about the work of developmental and comparative psychologists Henrike Moll and Michael Tomasello, who have suggested the Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis, name after Lev Vygotsky, an early 20th century Russian psychologist by proposing that while cognition in general was driven mainly by social competition, other aspects of cognition that they consider to be unique to humans (the cognitive skills of shared goals, joint attention, joint intentions, and cooperative communication), were driven by or were constituted of, social cooperation, which is needed to create such thing as complex technologies, cultural institutions, and systems of symbols, and not by social competition.* Surely competition has its place–to get that ‘A’, land that job, earn a promotion–but eventually what drives innovation is social cooperation that taps an entirely different type of cognition of the “higher self.” So this weekend walk on the wild side: take in an art exhibit, visit a museum, or go to a play. Who knows –you may being doing something that’s good for the economy, or even humanity.

Gazzaniga, M. 2011. Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. NY: Harper Collins.
Moll, H., Tomasello, M. (2007). “Cooperation and Human Cognition: The Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362 (1480), 639-648.

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