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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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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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President Obama’s Farewell Speech, January 10, 2017

President Obama gave in his farewell speech a unifying label for all Americans –that of “citizen.” This perhaps is in sharp contrast to that idealistic Obama of many years ago in a convention speech exclaiming there are no blue states or red states but only the United States of America. Yet under its “united” moniker we Americans are often swirling in a soup of contrasts: Republicans vs. Democrats; whites vs. blacks; immigrants vs. native-born; young vs. old, etc. As the administration of the first black President who cut his political teeth on community organizing transitions to that of a wealthy, white real estate tycoon there is no mistaking the heightened sense of anxiety both here and abroad in these uncertain, complex times. Yet I’m reminded that the American poet Robert Pinsky, former US Poet Laureate, would remain unfazed. Instead I think he would see these events actually in line with a longstanding American memory and what he learned of the American psyche in reading American poetry. In his essay “Poetry and American Memory”, Pinsky writes

…the greatness of American culture is its ability to make it up as it goes along taking disparate elements and synthesizing resulting in such cultural products that range from the improvisational transcendent jazz of Charlie Parker to the embarrassing, dumbness of a Super Bowl halftime show. To recognize such continuities should be to acknowledge that the alleged absence of memory is an illusion: cultural artifacts, high or low, successful or failed, shining or dismal, draw on recollection. The supposed American lack of historical sense is itself in part a national myth or delusion: the nobility of Parker’s music and the half-time jumble are both acts of memory, as all cultural deeds must be.

Pinsky points out the characteristically American forms of memory concentrated on such themes as
the fragility of community, the mystery of isolation, and a peculiar elegiac quality that is almost self-contradictory in its yearning toward a past that in one way seems forgotten and sealed off, yet in another way is determinant, powerfully haunting the present.

As in the past, the arts are ever that much more essential to America not only as drivers of its outstanding creativity and innovation, but also to shore and strengthen our cultural identity as “Citizens.”

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pinsky/memory.htm

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How museums cultivate the imagination

Can art from ancient civilizations be relevant to young adult visitors, particularly Generation X and Y students? Can these objects prompt thinking or experiences relevant to the present day and tap the “capacities of the heart” that Michael Gallagher identifies in addition to wonder—such as “searching,” “listening” and “receptivity?” What might these capacities add to the museum experiences that would inform various experiences in everyday life? One way would be toward a disposition of deep listening and being receptive to others, rather than imposing our pre-conceived notions of what is, or should be. How does viewing and interacting with art objects contribute to this disposition? The Philosopher of Education, John Dewey, describes the process as that of cultivating the imagination and its resulting outcome as “intelligent sympathy” or good will.   Dewey explains what he means by intelligent sympathy:

Sympathy as a desirable quality is something more than mere feeling;

it is a cultivated imagination for what men have in common and a rebellion

at whatever necessarily divides them.

The important thing to keep in mind is that for Dewey it is a sincere benevolence—not meant to mask the feigned benevolence in an attempt to control another, but honor the other in thinking and feeling freely seeking and humbly allow them in finding whatever they themselves choose. An added value of cultivating the imagination is what Kant observed is that the mind’s awareness of freedom grows with trust in the power of the imagination.

An excerpt from “THE ART MUSEUM AS LABORATORY FOR REIMAGINING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE” Theresa McNichol in Positive Design and Appreciative Construction: From Sustainable Development to Sustainable Value Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 3, 177–193 Copyright r 2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 1475-9152/doi:10.1108/S1475-9152(2010)0000003014

Updated research findings will be reported in forthcoming article late 2016.

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Giorgio Morandi’s Cosmos

A former painting student of mine can’t understand why painters like me are excited about the two concurrent Giorgio Morandi exhibitions in New York. How can one explain to the uninitiated that standing before a Morandi painting is like having a spiritual experience.

morandi-1

As New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, writes a Morandi painting is a “universe on a tabletop.” Similarly, consider the painting “Six Persimmons” by the Zen painter MuQi (13th century). It cannot be explained, it can only be contemplated. The Chinese art scholar, James Cahill, invites his students to just LOOK at it. If you would like to give it a try: see his youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X7NzvEnDhs

But if you can, go see the Morandi paintings in New York and be mesmerized.

six-persimmons

 

Credit Morandi images: https://lepulci.wordpress.com/tag/still-life/ Credit Mu Qi Six Persimmons: http://tinyurl.com/pqyqp6o

Roberta Smith: http://tinyurl.com/qjzz2t9

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