Power & Care: essential 21st-century Leadership competencies

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Alaa Murabit, M.D.

His Holiness the 14th
Dalai Lama and Alaa Murabit, M.D.

It is not so long ago that the word “power” would ever be in the same sentence as “care.” But that is so last century! At the recent Mind & Life Dialogue Europe, held in Brussels, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama hosted scientists, religious leaders, economists and artists for three days to discuss the need for “care” to be one of the most important competencies of the 21st century leader. Our era, HHDL emphasized cannot afford the world wars that marked the past century. Instead, he made the appeal for a century of peace. Today scientists know that mammals are hardwired for care and have observed the chimpanzee in which not only mothers but the entire community all participate in the nurturing of a newborn, including Alpha males. Humans, however, have tended to compartmentalize roles along sharply drawn gender lines. When moderator, Scilla Elsworthy, asked HHDL how to bring masculine and feminine elements back into balance, he responded that love and compassion are always key factors as long as they are not bound up with attachment, but rather a genuine concern for others’ well being. With practice, he said, it can become effortless. This is important to cultivate because in our interconnected world we are dependent on others, “so it’s in our interest to pay heed to their welfare.” Because HHDL is pro-active his main concern is always about educating our youth. Neuroscience can now map distinct brain areas such as cognition, affect or emotions, as well as perspective taking. The latter is a crucial competency–i.e. that of taking into account other cultures. That is why a tool such as imaginement® which came out of my teaching non-western cultures a both community college and universities for the past 25 years is useful. I have have guided and observed firsthand how young adult students develop their perspective-taking through cultivating their imagination opening them up to true social justice: that developing the intelligence requires cultivating the imagination which, as John Dewey points out, is not telling others how to improve their lives but developing a “faith in the social utility of encouraging every individual to make his own choice intelligent.”
*origninal watercolor by the author, Terri McNichol


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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.


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.



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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Howard C. Nusbaum on the Science of Wisdom: Practical Benefits for Students

In a recent interview, University of Chicago Professor of Psychology, Howard C. C. Nusbaum talked about his early research particularly related to the ways in which experience changes us and how these experiences change us. As an artist art-historian my ears are naturally attuned to topics around perception, attention, and learning and the like that Nusbaum said engaged him as well. For the past 25 years, my community college students’ essays about looking at art objects in a museum became the basis of my research on their thinking processes about their museum experiences—not just what they knew about another culture but more how they came to know. Nusbaum’s current research interests have expanded to include wisdom along with a new course, Understanding Wisdom. For Nusbaum, being wise is not being all-knowing, but rather being in possession of epistemic humility: one who is knowledgeable in his or her field but also cognizant that it is only one piece, not the entire puzzle. Such a person is open to new and expanded knowledge rather than closed off to others thinking they know all that there is to know. Professor Nusbaum also sees value relativism as an offshoot of epistemic humility; i.e. the ability to appreciate “different people’s values as having importance in their lives and importance for their decisions and processing of information.” In my research, I have identified a similar quality in the students through the jing “reverence” they bring to the museum art objects and recording their careful and reflective thinking revealing a process of evaluative judgments.

On his recent trip to China, Nusbaum meeting with middle school educators was reminded of Philosopher of Education John Dewey’s sojourn in China (1919-21) and the emphasis Dewey placed on learning skills and knowledge in an applied setting. The “second Confucius”—as the Chinese referred to Dewey—was a proponent of “hands on” or experiential learning and saw democracy intertwined with the one ultimate ethical ideal of humanity, the latter being the foundational Confucian concept of altruistic moral conduct.

From my own reading, Dewey deeply admired traditional Chinese culture and the way in which the Dao, or The Way, was the standard of perfection for the individual to emulate and cultivate as modeled by the Sage Kings of antiquity. For the Chinese, intelligence alone was not enough for a successful career at court for great emphasis was placed on learning and the arts as the path to both authority and wisdom. From my background as Chinese art historian, the role of the arts played in this process was key for the ritualizing practice of the Three Perfections—calligraphy, poetry, painting— over one’s lifetime was as essential to a scholar- bureaucrat’s portfolio of excellence as was passing the civil examinations. Composing a poem or putting brush to paper by a person of the Dao gave coherent form to patterns unseen before so that they could be shared with as well as appreciated by one’s peers which underscored the communal as well as innovative aspects of practical wisdom. “The success of the Chinese literati tradition of politicized self-cultivation—that of becoming an “inner sage, outer king,” paid off: the scholar-bureaucrats were successful in administering the world’s largest economy and sustaining it over two millennia (private conversation Henry Rosemont, Jr.).”

Link here to the Jean Matelski-Boulware’s interview with Howard C. Nusbaum, an excerpt from the documentary film The Science of Wisdom: http://wisdomresearch.org/forums/t/1531.aspx#

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Lois Dodd Exhibit, NYC, 2015. Recent Paintings

Upon entering into the main exhibit room at at Alexandre Gallery from icy NYC cityscape outside, one is immediately hit with nature’s brilliant colors captured on paintings hanging inside. It takes a few moments to separate them out—a fiery sugar maple tree at its autumnal peak, a Christmas amaryllis dominating its frame. The vermilions and cadmium reds are contrasted with a cacophony of acid greens that eventually coalesce into a melodic fugue. Yet once settled into the gallery space, it’s the bleak but luminous shades of pink and gray sugaring the winter landscape with snow reminding the viewer that it is still winter outside. But have no fear. The painter Lois Dodd graciously positions the viewer in a warm southern window looking out at the winterscapes some of which are sharply etched in the architectural lines of windows and houses while others are softly blanketed with filmy layers of pink and gray layers of atmosphere. Going from painting to painting is a different vista viewed from different windows—or one aptly titled “Reflected Light on Brick Wall” with the light shaped by the window’s frame cast upon a solid brick wall that results in a tripartite meditation on variations of brick tones in reflected light. In another painting, anemic house plants huddle on a shelf at the window doing their best to absorb some light from the falling snow outside mirroring our own winter weary spirits. But catching sight of the pruned apple tree is a much-needed reminder of the promise of spring—it is dormant for now but the tree’s pink trunk hints at buds that have been gathering strength all winter in the alternation of freezing and thawing temperatures that will produce the burst of blossoms in another two months or so. So feed your soul, feed your psyche all the while in the accompaniment of Mother Nature’s dance and a luminous light captured in the strokes of the brush of the amazing painter, Lois Dodd. Pay a visit to Alexandre Gallery, if not in person, online at
http://www.alexandregallery.com/current-exhibition/. For a rare treat read an interview with the artist: http://paintingperceptions.com/featured-interviews/conversation-with-lois-dodd

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College Art Association Meets in New York City

New York’s Fashion Week may be all the rage this week, but last week artists, art historians and educators from all over the world worked it at College Art Association’s annual meeting in the Big Apple. While it was impossible to attend all the sessions, the ones I did delivered big time and I heard the same from other colleagues who followed different tracks. On COLOR—participants were treated to amazing images of cutting edge designs from students at Art Institute of Chicago, and later asked to stretch our perceptions by looking at a 3-D color map in contrast to the flat 2D one we normally employ. At a Getty Institute session, attendees were challenged to reconsider and reframe museum leadership skills in a global context. Similarly, other sessions sought to apply a global “lens” to other perspectives those of and from the “Other;” and not just “non-Western” voices but also from the perspectives of post-Colonial peoples such as Guatemala and India. A session considering Islamic contemporary art began by examining just what is “Islamic”–Arab, Persian, Mediterranean, or Muhammadan—all terms that demonstrate a moving brush rather than a fixed point, or as one historian aptly put it “just where does the North meet the East?” The term “contemporary” turned problematic as well for its very use implies something implemented in the past; yet, if it is also to be inclusive it requires bringing a comprehensive (or narrow) frame to works of the “now” distinguished from those of the archival past. From there, it was on to a session on “Realism” to hear nineteenth-century art historians cover topics ranging from its beginnings with Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) on up to the present day. As summarized by Gabriel Weisberg, “realism” is still a slippery term about works seemingly concrete but decidedly abstract. The latter was demonstrated in both Burton Silverman’s (b. 19280) study and painting of the Jazz Musician. Silverman who joined the panel told his process of working directly from the model for both works. While there is no mistaking both study and finished painting are one and the same individual, there is a marked difference in their handling: the realized painting’s subject is younger, slimmer and more upright as if looking expectantly into his future, while the musician in the study is older, stockier a bit more collapsed into his relaxed pose—or is it one of acceptance that comes over a long time of finally coming to terms with an endless string of false starts, career setbacks and rejections, encapsulating, at least for this viewer, Weisberg’s “fictive illusion.” (to be continued)

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Minding The Big Pivot

Last week opened with my attending a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony held on the Monmouth University campus on Monday and wrapping up with a Friday morning program at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute of Sustainable Enterprise.  There I heard author Andrew Winston (Green to Gold), internationally recognized economist, present to a gathering of ecologically-minded individuals on his latest book The Big Pivot with the sober warning that we have passed the economic tipping point of the earth’s available resources. As incongruent as these two events might appear at first by being paired in the same blog, they are also inextricably linked in a very deep way.

Andrew Winston began by showing images as evidence of climate change: a polar bear hanging on for dear life with its two front paws to a small ice floe. He contrasted this ‘free range’ bear with images of the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Sandy in 2013 and Irene two years prior that those of us who live on the eastern seaboard know only too well. To drive home China’s burgeoning development, Winston used an  image of the skyscrapers of Manhattan that was duplicated 30 times on a single slide. As if anticipating the government report on climate change today, Winston told the audience we are past the time of debating about climate change—it is here (last week’s images on national television of Florida should convince anyone just looking at what a foot rainfall fraught— swelling waterways, entire roads uplifted and bridges washed away). All is not doom and gloom, however, for Winston offers a ten step plan that comes under the three buckets: Vision, Collaboration, Policy. Although there needs to be a sea change, Winston is confident it can be done with a change in perception.  He reminded his audience that the main forms used in accounting—Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet –have come down to us from the Middle Ages. A radical change to these forms could cause a major shift in perception that would alter exactly what gets analyzed and what gets measured.

Getting back to our Tibetan Buddhist ceremony on Monday: seven monks performed the Empowerment Prayers to both Bodhisattva Manjushri worshiped for his Wisdom, and Medicine Buddha who is dedicated to healing through removing all obstacles. On this particular day it was concentrated on removing obstacles on the Monmouth University campus and by extension, all campuses in New Jersey and the rest of the world. The obstacles are not in the form of physical things, but are the mental afflictions that keep human beings mired in the cycle of suffering of samsara through their ignorance, hatred and greed.  Reining in the mental afflictions begins with a shift in perception that can have a big ripple effect hopefully as far as the Arctic in time for a polar bear that is helplessly adrift.

The Big Pivot at http://amzn.to/1j0kqP1

Also, check out Jeana Wirtenberg’s Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy with a forward by Winston: http://amzn.to/1fRt4oMImage

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