Monthly Archives: May 2015

Altruism – the wish that other people may be happy – Matthieu Ricard

This week I went to the Action for Happiness talk with Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist Monk, Photographer and Author.  He is on his book tour talking about his new book  Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World.  I was very excited to have the opportunity to see him in London and I even got a photo with him at the end :))  Most people bought the book and had it signed, I decided at the end I wanted a photo, I like to be different!

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I waited alone in the queue of 800 plus people waiting to go in to see Matthieu Ricard.  I thought I might see a few people I know (most of the people I did know where inside volunteering, Shamash Alidina, Manuel Kraus, Jo Marshall).  I waited and what struck me, me included was that nobody was talking to each other.  I thought people at an event on happiness and altruism might be a bit more friendly and talkative.  I was wrong most people looked tired and serious.  Until I spotted one person I met 2 weeks ago at the Wake Up and Heart of London Sangha event for entrepreneurs.  I invited him to join the queue with me and he offered me his tea, which was very kind I thought because I did actually want some tea.

There were a lot of people at the event, people needed to be seated upstairs in the venue.  The sound upstairs was not working so people came downstairs.  An observation I made was, again this was a talk about altruism, helping others.  Most people seemed to be in their own worlds, a few people a guy that volunteers for Positive news and another lady were bringing chairs out for extra people to be seated.  I decided to help them and ask people to move inside to the sides to make more room.  Leadership is something you do before waiting to be asked to do it, I was not asked to help, but I could see there was a need to make people more comfortable.  Most of us are so absorbed in our own problems, inner world, we do not see around us.

This week I am going to be a little lazy and share the transcript with you from Matthieu’s Ted talk, he said some of the same stuff at the talk I went to.  I have highlighted some key points in bold if you want to scan the transcript.

0:11

So we humans have an extraordinary potential for goodness, but also an immense power to do harm. Any tool can be used to build or to destroy. That all depends on our motivation. Therefore, it is all the more important to foster an altruistic motivation rather than a selfish one.

0:41

So now we indeed are facing many challenges in our times. Those could be personal challenges. Our own mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. There’s also societal challenges: poverty in the midst of plenty, inequalities, conflict, injustice. And then there are the new challenges, which we don’t expect. Ten thousand years ago, there were about five million human beings on Earth. Whatever they could do, the Earth’s resilience would soon heal human activities. After the Industrial and Technological Revolutions, that’s not the same anymore. We are now the major agent of impact on our Earth. We enter the Anthropocene, the era of human beings. So in a way, if we were to say we need to continue this endless growth, endless use of material resources, it’s like if this man was saying — and I heard a former head of state, I won’t mention who, saying — “Five years ago, we were at the edge of the precipice. Today we made a big step forward.” So this edge is the same that has been defined by scientists as the planetary boundaries. And within those boundaries, they can carry a number of factors. We can still prosper, humanity can still prosper for 150,000 years if we keep the same stability of climate as in the Holocene for the last 10,000 years. But this depends on choosing a voluntary simplicity, growing qualitatively, not quantitatively.

2:35

So in 1900, as you can see, we were well within the limits of safety. Now, in 1950 came the great acceleration. Now hold your breath, not too long, to imagine what comes next. Now we have vastly overrun some of the planetary boundaries. Just to take biodiversity, at the current rate, by 2050, 30 percent of all species on Earth will have disappeared. Even if we keep their DNA in some fridge, that’s not going to be reversible. So here I am sitting in front of a 7,000-meter-high, 21,000-foot glacier in Bhutan. At the Third Pole, 2,000 glaciers are melting fast, faster than the Arctic.

3:28

So what can we do in that situation? Well, however complex politically, economically, scientifically the question of the environment is, it simply boils down to a question of altruism versus selfishness. I’m a Marxist of the Groucho tendency. (Laughter) Groucho Marx said, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” (Laughter) Unfortunately, I heard the billionaire Steve Forbes, on Fox News, saying exactly the same thing, but seriously. He was told about the rise of the ocean, and he said, “I find it absurd to change my behavior today for something that will happen in a hundred years.” So if you don’t care for future generations, just go for it.

4:24

So one of the main challenges of our times is to reconcile three time scales: the short term of the economy, the ups and downs of the stock market, the end-of-the-year accounts; the midterm of the quality of life — what is the quality every moment of our life, over 10 years and 20 years? — and the long term of the environment. When the environmentalists speak with economists, it’s like a schizophrenic dialogue, completely incoherent. They don’t speak the same language. Now, for the last 10 years, I went around the world meeting economists, scientists, neuroscientists, environmentalists, philosophers, thinkers in the Himalayas, all over the place. It seems to me, there’s only one concept that can reconcile those three time scales. It is simply having more consideration for others. If you have more consideration for others, you will have a caring economics, where finance is at the service of society and not society at the service of finance. You will not play at the casino with the resources that people have entrusted you with. If you have more consideration for others, you will make sure that you remedy inequality, that you bring some kind of well-being within society, in education, at the workplace. Otherwise, a nation that is the most powerful and the richest but everyone is miserable, what’s the point? And if you have more consideration for others, you are not going to ransack that planet that we have and at the current rate, we don’t have three planets to continue that way.

6:04

So the question is, okay, altruism is the answer, it’s not just a novel ideal, but can it be a real, pragmatic solution? And first of all, does it exist, true altruism, or are we so selfish? So some philosophers thought we were irredeemably selfish. But are we really all just like rascals? That’s good news, isn’t it? Many philosophers, like Hobbes, have said so. But not everyone looks like a rascal. Or is man a wolf for man? But this guy doesn’t seem too bad. He’s one of my friends in Tibet. He’s very kind. So now, we love cooperation. There’s no better joy than working together, is there? And then not only humans. Then, of course, there’s the struggle for life, the survival of the fittest, social Darwinism. But in evolution, cooperation — though competition exists, of course — cooperation has to be much more creative to go to increased levels of complexity. We are super-cooperators and we should even go further.

7:26

So now, on top of that, the quality of human relationships. The OECD did a survey among 10 factors, including income, everything. The first one that people said, that’s the main thing for my happiness, is quality of social relationships. Not only in humans. And look at those great-grandmothers. So now, this idea that if we go deep within, we are irredeemably selfish, this is armchair science. There is not a single sociological study, psychological study, that’s ever shown that. Rather, the opposite. My friend, Daniel Batson, spent a whole life putting people in the lab in very complex situations. And of course we are sometimes selfish, and some people more than others. But he found that systematically, no matter what, there’s a significant number of people who do behave altruistically, no matter what. If you see someone deeply wounded, great suffering, you might just help out of empathic distress — you can’t stand it, so it’s better to help than to keep on looking at that person. So we tested all that, and in the end, he said, clearly people can be altruistic. So that’s good news. And even further, we should look at the banality of goodness. Now look at here. When we come out, we aren’t going to say, “That’s so nice. There was no fistfight while this mob was thinking about altruism.” No, that’s expected, isn’t it? If there was a fistfight, we would speak of that for months. So the banality of goodness is something that doesn’t attract your attention, but it exists.

9:10

Now, look at this. So some psychologists said, when I tell them I run 140 humanitarian projects in the Himalayas that give me so much joy, they said, “Oh, I see, you work for the warm glow. That is not altruistic. You just feel good.” You think this guy, when he jumped in front of the train, he thought, “I’m going to feel so good when this is over?” (Laughter) But that’s not the end of it. They say, well, but when you interviewed him, he said, “I had no choice. I had to jump, of course.” He has no choice. Automatic behavior. It’s neither selfish nor altruistic. No choice? Well of course, this guy’s not going to think for half an hour, “Should I give my hand? Not give my hand?” He does it. There is a choice, but it’s obvious, it’s immediate. And then, also, there he had a choice. (Laughter)

10:09

There are people who had choice, like Pastor André Trocmé and his wife, and the whole village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France. For the whole Second World War, they saved 3,500 Jews, gave them shelter, brought them to Switzerland, against all odds, at the risk of their lives and those of their family. So altruism does exist.

10:28

So what is altruism? It is the wish: May others be happy and find the cause of happiness. Now, empathy is the affective resonance or cognitive resonance that tells you, this person is joyful, this person suffers. But empathy alone is not sufficient. If you keep on being confronted with suffering, you might have empathic distress, burnout, so you need the greater sphere of loving-kindness. With Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute of Leipzig, we showed that the brain networks for empathy and loving-kindness are different. Now, that’s all well done, so we got that from evolution, from maternal care, parental love, but we need to extend that. It can be extended even to other species.

11:15

Now, if we want a more altruistic society, we need two things: individual change and societal change. So is individual change possible? Two thousand years of contemplative study said yes, it is. Now, 15 years of collaboration with neuroscience and epigenetics said yes, our brains change when you train in altruism. So I spent 120 hours in an MRI machine. This is the first time I went after two and a half hours. And then the result has been published in many scientific papers. It shows without ambiguity that there is structural change and functional change in the brain when you train the altruistic love. Just to give you an idea: this is the meditator at rest on the left, meditator in compassion meditation, you see all the activity, and then the control group at rest, nothing happened, in meditation, nothing happened. They have not been trained.

12:10

So do you need 50,000 hours of meditation? No, you don’t. Four weeks, 20 minutes a day, of caring, mindfulness meditation already brings a structural change in the brain compared to a control group. That’s only 20 minutes a day for four weeks.

12:28

Even with preschoolers — Richard Davidson did that in Madison. An eight-week program: gratitude, loving- kindness, cooperation, mindful breathing. You would say, “Oh, they’re just preschoolers.” Look after eight weeks, the pro-social behavior, that’s the blue line. And then comes the ultimate scientific test, the stickers test. Before, you determine for each child who is their best friend in the class, their least favorite child, an unknown child, and the sick child, and they have to give stickers away. So before the intervention, they give most of it to their best friend. Four, five years old, 20 minutes three times a week. After the intervention, no more discrimination: the same amount of stickers to their best friend and the least favorite child. That’s something we should do in all the schools in the world.

13:19

Now where do we go from there?

13:21

(Applause)

13:25

When the Dalai Lama heard that, he told Richard Davidson, “You go to 10 schools, 100 schools, the U.N., the whole world.”

13:31

So now where do we go from there? Individual change is possible. Now do we have to wait for an altruistic gene to be in the human race? That will take 50,000 years, too much for the environment. Fortunately, there is the evolution of culture. Cultures, as specialists have shown, change faster than genes. That’s the good news. Look, attitude towards war has dramatically changed over the years. So now individual change and cultural change mutually fashion each other, and yes, we can achieve a more altruistic society.

14:07

So where do we go from there? Myself, I will go back to the East. Now we treat 100,000 patients a year in our projects. We have 25,000 kids in school, four percent overhead. Some people say, “Well, your stuff works in practice, but does it work in theory?” There’s always positive deviance. So I will also go back to my hermitage to find the inner resources to better serve others.

14:31

But on the more global level, what can we do? We need three things. Enhancing cooperation: Cooperative learning in the school instead of competitive learning, Unconditional cooperation within corporations — there can be some competition between corporations, but not within. We need sustainable harmony. I love this term. Not sustainable growth anymore. Sustainable harmony means now we will reduce inequality. In the future, we do more with less, and we continue to grow qualitatively, not quantitatively. We need caring economics. The Homo economicus cannot deal with poverty in the midst of plenty, cannot deal with the problem of the common goods of the atmosphere, of the oceans. We need a caring economics. If you say economics should be compassionate, they say, “That’s not our job.” But if you say they don’t care, that looks bad. We need local commitment, global responsibility. We need to extend altruism to the other 1.6 million species. Sentient beings are co-citizens in this world. and we need to dare altruism.

15:45

So, long live the altruistic revolution. Viva la revolución de altruismo.

If you do not have time 30 second sketch note of his talk –

Matthieu in his talk this week shared data of how crime has gone down over the years.  However, people are more afraid now to let their kids play in the street than 30 years ago.  The media mostly shows the dark side of humanity and what has gone wrong.  We are afraid to talk to strangers and help each other.  The statistics show a different story.  If you do not believe the statistics, then maybe we need a middle ground.  I like what Adam Grant said at a previous Action for Happiness talk, he said to imagine that people have your best interests at heart and they want to help you.  He calls it Pronoia “the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being.”  We are so used to paranoia, that people are against us.

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With everything there can be a lot of talk, scientific evidence, intellectual debate, we can go round in circles with this.  Thinking we are better than others.  We are important etc etc.  For me the end of his talk was a little wow moment, how he with a group of volunteers shows compassion in action.  He showed us the work of the charity he has founded Karuna-Shechen  , this is what matters most to me, how we help ourselves and each other.  He is using his knowledge and wisdom to directly help people suffering.  For example, during this months book tour all money Karuna-Shechen receive this month is going directly to help people in Nepal.  I have donated a monthly amount.  If you want to donate please do 100% donations go to their projects.

I will leave you with something you can practice if you want to wish that other people be happy.  This comes from Meng who works at Google and runs the Search Inside Yourself programme.  He encourages you to spend 10 seconds an hour, silently wishing happiness for others around you.  Try this for a week, beginning with 10 seconds a day.  There are limitless places to practice this.  I like the suggestion I got from Nathanael Wolfe, to practice sending people compassion when you are in the park and walking around.

Happy weekend to you all 😉

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Death and your legacy if you want to have one…

Last Sunday I visited the Kensal Green Cemetery it is located in North West London and is one of the oldest (opened in 1833) and most distinguished public burial grounds.  I went to visit Mary Seacole’s grave and joined a cemetery tour that runs on a Sunday afternoon at 2pm.  The tour takes two and a half hours, you visit a small section of the 72 acres of grounds.  An unusual thing to do you are probably thinking, well the tour guide was a lady and on the tour was me and four other men.  Interesting gender observation of the higher ratio of men.  Not something you think to do on a weekend, take a tour around a cemetery.  I love London, as there are endless places to go, “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” (Samuel Johnson, 1777) photo 2-2

Walking around the cemetery it was like going back in time, there was hardly anyone there, so it was peaceful, you could hear the birds and during some moments feel the strong wind.  Walking past so many lives, stories, achievements, failures.  You see the graves that have been looked after and the graves that have been deserted.  During the tour some of the lives of the people in the graves came to life, with the stories that the guide told us.  There are 700 notable people buried there from the children of George III to the servants of Queen Victoria. Engineers and artists, politicians and preachers, scientists and sportsmen, writers and actors, doctors and lawyers, financiers and philanthropists and explorers.  I asked the tour guide if she knew where Mary Seacole’s grave was and she was not sure, so I did not find what I was looking for, I have contacted the Mary Seacole society to find out where her grave is.  I will be going back to see if I can find her grave next time.  photo 1-2

Death is something we do not really discuss in society, until we are confronted by death and have no choice.  This leaves us shocked, confused and unprepared for when it does happen.  When I was studying counselling I came across the grief cycle by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969.  This is a model that goes through the stages of grief from her book ‘On Death & Dying’, published in 1969, in which she explained her now classically regarded ‘five stages of grief’.  This model is often referred to when working in change management with people in organisations.  Change is happening all the time, if we notice what is happening and are present we can see this.  If we are somewhere else, living in the past or the future, we are shocked when we are brought to reality with our relationships at home or work.

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Another famous book called ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogal Rinpoche (1992) encourages us to reflect on life and death and being prepared, and aware that death will come:

“when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.” 

 

Questions to ask yourself-

– Are you swept away by an ‘active laziness’? It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues? (Sogyal Rinpoche)

– Do you use death as a guide to help you with your work? (“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Steve Job’s)

– Have you thought about your last moment and how you want it to be, will you accept it and smile or resist it and frown? (Sogyal Rinpoche)

– Do you have a legacy?  Do you want one?  What will it be?

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How to find Mary Seacole’s Grave-

Here are some tips:  Mary is buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, 679-681 Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London NW10 5NY.  Nearest Tube Station is Kensal Green.  Tel: 020 8969 1145.  Office open 9-4.30pm – they have a fact sheet on Mary and are happy to direct to the grave.  Mary Seacole’s grave number is 6830.  To find her grave once at the main Cemetery,  turn right into the Catholic Cemetery, carry on until you reach the chapel (on the right), turn left at the  chapel and follow the path to the first crossroad, then turn right and walk a small way (look for graves numbered around 6829)  and Mary’s grave is over to the right – it stands out from many of the others as it has a renovated headstone.

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Happiness, Laughter Yoga and Wake up London, Heart of London Sangha

To begin thank you again to all the people, who give me encouragement and inspiration to write this blog.  Sometimes I think I am lucky, I get to choose how I spend my time and where I put my energy.  Last week I was asked to volunteer at the Museum of Happiness, second event on ‘Exploring Happiness: An Afternoon of Talks, Workshops and More!’.  I  have been to quite a few workshops in my time.  One of my values is learning, so I can overdo it and go to lots of events.  These days I try to go to less events and try to do more by writing, and sharing my work with others instead.  So I debated going to this event on a Saturday.  I was asked by my friend Shamash one of the co-founder’s and author of 7 books, including the latest one  The Mindful Way through Stress .

10714399_10152725248900983_8866355716824582720_o I decided to go and I was surprised that about 60 people turned up, motivated and really wanting to be there.  I got to work with all the volunteers who were interesting and compassionate people, I was thankful to be part of the team.  I listened to the two main talks from TEDx speakers.  The first one was Susanna Halonen ‘Screw Finding Your Passion: Unlock It & Find Happiness at Work’.

She calls herself a happyologist, in the introduction of her book she says:

“ stop chasing your passion.  Instead look inwards and you will see that passion is right there, within you…you’ll notice that people have been engrained with the message that they must find their one and only passion.”  

She goes on to share the five keys that unlock the passionate way of being:

  1. Be the Authentic You
  2. Understand Your Why
  3. Master the Art of Learning
  4. Connect with Your Tribe
  5. Play with Your Strengths

These are the key points for being authentic-

  1. Identify what your values are, what is important to you and why.  Awareness and fully embracing your values is the first step to unlocking your passion. If you want to do this you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
  2. Have the courage to carry your values in your everyday life.
  3. Acknowledge that being the authentic you at work is what helps you to be your best performing, most passionate you.

If you want to explore this area further this is another interesting resource by Neil Crofts to help you explore What is my purpose?

The second TEDx speaker was Marisa Peer ‘The Happiness Code: Three secrets to make your brain work for you’ with internationally acclaimed  therapist, multiple bestselling author.  From her experience she shares a fundamental rule that all our emotional and personal problems come from us believing that we’re not ‘enough’ and she explains how to overcome it.  She teaches people to say ‘I am enough’ and get’s people to write this on their mirrors and put on their fridge doors.  She shares the stories where this has worked.  To find out more you can watch her TEDx talk-

I got to also meet Esteban there a friend of a friend Ben Rodrigas, who I met at the Wisdom2.0 conference in 2014.  Here I am with some face painting by Livi Lollipop with the wise Esteban.

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Later in the week I was going to be running a post-lunch energiser with Julie Whitehead on

Laughter Yoga.  Last year I trained for two days to teach laughter yoga so I suggested it to TMSDI to have this as part of their yearly networking day.  They said yes, so we delivered a surprise Laughter Yoga session to the delegates.  Julie began by asking whether people have enough laughter in their life?  The room was silent and the answer was no.  So they were ready to give it a go.  We shared a little bit about laughter:

LAUGHTER – ho ho ha ha ha
Laughter releases endorphins, giving us the ‘feel good factor’, acts as aerobic exercise providing internal jogging, unleashes inhibitions, encourages better communication.  Great team building tool for colleagues. Helps boost our immune system which fights disease.  Tones muscles, improves respiration and circulation.  Encourages positive thinking and creativity.  Relaxes the whole body by reducing stress and tension. laughter yoga at TMSDI

We practiced quite a few laughter yoga exercises to encourage childlike playfulness, helping us all to let go and connect with the present moment.  There were 40 of us laughing together, there is something about the group energy that makes the laughter experience together even more special than when we laugh alone or with one other person.  We had an extra nice group, ready to give it a go and participate, it was a pleasure to be able to do this, so thank you to the wonderful Julie for saying yes and giving it a go to run the session with me.

This is a poem Julie shared at the end of our session:

SMILE FOR YOU 

“Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu.When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too. I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin. When he smiled I realised I’d passed it on to him. I thought about that smile, then I realised it’s worth. A single smile just like mine, could travel round the earth. So, if you feel a smile begin don’t leave it undetected Let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!”

Also at the TMSDI network event was Dr Charles Margerison one of the founders of the Team Management Profile.  I have been accredited to use this team psychometric since 2006 and it is always great when you get to meet the creator.  I think his major role from the profile is a ‘creator-innovator’, the same as me.  His presentation was deep and thoughtful around the concept of existentialism and how we use our time.  He shared stories of people that had been successful, bringing to light ‘perception’, people that noticed something of more value than was already there.  For example, Heinz tomato ketchup was made from all the left over tomatoes that were going to be thrown away, Heinz found a different more valuable use for them.

Charles is an advocate of action learning.  He used to think you had to learn to act.  Professor Reginald Revans the originator of action learning said to him “why don’t you take some action and you will learn something.”  Most of the learning we acquire is from our experiences.  What new experiences can you have today, tomorrow, next week?  He ended his talk with saying:  “think about the right thing to do“, sometimes the right thing is not appreciated straight away or even during your lifetime.  He encouraged us all to be a little more daring and take some risks.  He is a unique character and really got into the laughter yoga exercises! maxresdefault

To close the day, I had been invited by Esteban to an evening talk in Covent Garden close by to where I was in Leicester Square.  I went to ‘ A Wake Up and Heart of London Sangha event for Mindful Entrepreneurs: Practising Together’.  This was facilitated by the two leads of the two groups Carol Wilkins and Joe Holtaway.  They both follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Han, a favourite teacher of mine. He encourages people to practice mindfulness meditation together through a sangha:

“In practicing together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice. With the support of the community, we can practice to cultivate peace and joy within and around us, as a gift for all of those whom we love and care for. We can cultivate our solidity and freedom – solid in our deepest aspiration and free from our fears, misunderstandings and our suffering.”

I enjoyed the meditation together and it was interesting to hear about how people are running their business with mindfulness and some of the difficulties they are having and how as a group we could encourage and support each other.  This was the first meeting they had together, with a wish to continue.

Enjoy your weekend and leave any comments you have on my blog if you would like to.

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Equality & Diversity – a subject often talked a lot about, with little change, although we change the name once in a while, progress is slow but steady.

The area of equality and diversity, is one that I have been interested in for the last two decades.  Why are some people treated one way and others treated another way?  This behaviour can be conscious or unconscious, sometimes based on the biases we have collected during our life experiences.  Research has found that we have an ‘affinity bias’, where we like people that are the same or similar to us.  When we have had a negative experience with a particular group; be it race, disability, gender, sexual orientation we can start to build prejudices against people due to one or a few negative experiences.  Then we can start to label others from the same group in the same way.  We feel more comfortable with people who share the same background, values and interests as we do.  When we encounter difference it can feel a little uncomfortable and slightly harder work, so we can decide whether to make the effort to understand and get to know these people or keep life simple and stay with what we know.  In groups we sometimes can exclude those people that are quieter, more introvert, look different, speak differently, the list is endless.  Sometimes we do this to others consciously or unconsciously, and sometimes it happens to us.  Needless to say we do not like it when it happens to us, but we can justify the way we treat others as acceptable.

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I have been a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology Diversity and Inclusion at Work Group since it started around 2009 I think, where I have met some of the leading researchers and academics in the UK and internationally, discussing and exploring this area.  Two weeks ago I attended an event at Queen Mary, University of London from ‘The Centre for Research in Equality & Diversity’ (CRED).  They were celebrating their 10 year anniversary, with a special talk by Professor Myrtle Bell from the University of Texas, a diversity scholar in the field of human resource management.  I valued her sharing her history with us and talking about her grandmother who was a slave.  It was the first time I had seen somebody talk so openly about race and their history.   I was privileged to be there to listen and hear first hand about race, slavery, America and what we can all do.

She said:

“If a person is seeking a job at a restaurant, their race might be used to determine whether they get a front-of-house job or a back-of-house job. It may even determine whether they should get a job at all.

“Research from the US has found that if you have a black sounding name, you have to send 50 per cent more resumes to get a positive response than an equally qualified person with a white sounding name. Most troubling of all, the research found that having a white sounding name was – for a black person – equivalent to having an additional eight years of employment experience.”

Myrtle also spoke about sex as a surface level characteristic that persists as a discriminatory factor in terms of hiring and placement decisions for low-skilled work.

“Imagine a person is looking for a job at a hotel. One might use their sex to determine whether this person gets a house-keeping job, or a valet job. These decisions affect the wage gap. A house-keeper cleans a lot of toilets; gets no tips. A valet – almost in exchange for releasing your luggage – gets a lot of tips. Why does this housekeeper have to be a housekeeper? If she can push a heavy vacuum cleaner, she can easily pull a piece of luggage. It’s not related to strength, but the way we think about men and women – we still think about them very, very differently.”

Myrtle said that while much valuable work has been done in the United States and Europe, there remains much to do if we are to eradicate racism.  I was surprised to hear that there is no overall sexual discrimination legislation in the US.  If you are gay or assumed to be gay you could loose your job.  In this day and age from what they call a first world country, educated, with money it is surprising the legislation is stuck in the middle ages.

She gave us the analogy of diversity hats, for us to open our eyes and notice what is happening and work for change.  She teaches students to get their diversity hat on, take responsibility, talk about the difference, include others and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Pete Jones a bias psychologist, alongside Tinu Cornish have put a factsheet on bias together.  I remember Pete telling me the story of what he noticed while coming to London and doing work for the Metropolitan Police.  He said it was striking how you notice all the street cleaners are mostly Black and most of the people in suits are White.  You see this again when you notice people at the top of an organisation.  Who is at the top of organisations?  Mostly white men, where is the diversity?  Where and when can you wear your diversity hat? Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 15.13.22

CRED asked delegates to write one word, on what does equality and diversity mean to them.  A pretty difficult task, a variety of answers followed; my favourite was ‘don’t be an asshole’ and ‘thriving’.  My response was a little boring, but I got two words in there ‘human-being’ If you want to see more go to twitter and use #CRED2015 #QMUL.

Last week I visited the exhibition by Marlene Dumas at Tate Modern, called ‘The Image as Burden’.  Dumas grew up in South Africa during the time of apartheid.  Her intense, psychologically charged works explore themes of sexuality, love, death and shame, often referencing art history, popular culture and current affairs.

‘Secondhand images’, she has said, ‘can generate first-hand emotions.’ Dumas never paints directly from life, yet life in all its complexity is right there on the canvas. Her subjects are drawn from both public and personal references and include her daughter and herself, as well as recognisable faces such as Amy Winehouse, Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, even Osama bin Laden. The results are often intimate and at times controversial, where politics become erotic and portraits become political. She plays with the imagination of her viewers, their preconceptions and fears.

One of the images that struck me was duplicated twice side by side, one was white and one was black.  The same picture, two different colours used.  The colour of your race can impact your whole life and the choices available and how people perceive you and their reactions to you.  At the end of the exhibition I visited the shop and saw a copy of the Spike Lee film ‘Do the Right Thing.’  This was one of the inspirations for her work.  I went away and watched it and was surprised I had not seen it before in the 90’s.  The film brings to life prejudice and racism, from all the different races and the consequences.  Definitely one to watch! marlene-dumas-new-edit

And finally I want to bring to your attention another example, two nurses one white and one black.  I spent a decade working in the NHS and it was during that time when I was working with Elizabeth Anionwu on ‘Ethnic Monitoring Training’ in 2003 that I became aware of Mary Seacole. Most people know about Florence Nightingale very little know about Mary Seacole who is buried in London in Kensal Green cemetery.  One day I want to go and visit her graveside.  She was a nurse, hotelier, boarding house keeper, author, and world traveller.  Why is she not recognised for the contributions she made:

“I trust that England will not forget one who nursed the sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.” Sir William Howard Russell, War Correspondent The Times Newspaper, 1857

by Albert Charles Challen, oil on panel, 1869

by Albert Charles Challen, oil on panel, 1869

Travelling was Mary’s passion. In 1850 she travelled to Panama to visit her brother. When a cholera epidemic struck and the American doctor could not cope, Mary single-handedly tookover caring for the patients. Back in Jamaica, Mary looked after the victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1853 and the British army asked her to provide nursing services at their headquarters at Up-Park Camp in Kingston.  In 1853 war broke out in the Crimea and the following year at the age of 49, Mary travelled to London to offer her services to nurse soldiers alongside Florence Nightingale who had just left for Scutari. Despite her glowing references from senior medics in Jamaica and Panama her offer of help was rejected five times. Refusing to succumb to discrimination Mary raised the funds for her passage to the Crimea where in 1855 she set up the British Hotel, very close to the war zone. Here she provided soldiers with food and nursing care that included a morning dispensary.

She often rode out to the front line with ‘baskets of medicines of her own preparation’ to treat the sick and wounded of both sides on the battlefields. She acted as a surgeon as well as administering natural remedies.

The Mary Seacole statue, which almost certainly will be unveiled in the autumn of 2015, will be the first statue of a named black woman in the UK. It will stand 10 feet tall in a prime position outside St Thomas’ Hospital, directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. It will be seen by millions of people a year.  If you want to find out more read Lisa Rodrigues blog, she talks about being an ambassador for the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal

To close, what is the new name for Equality & Diversity, is it Inclusion, what does that mean, is there another word?  Can we stop changing names and start changing our attitudes, beliefs and biases?

How to find Mary Seacole’s Grave-

Here are some tips:  Mary is buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, 679-681 Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London NW10 5NY.  Nearest Tube Station is Kensal Green.  Tel: 020 8969 1145.  Office open 9-4.30pm – they have a fact sheet on Mary and are happy to direct to the grave.  Mary Seacole’s grave number is 6830.  To find her grave once at the main Cemetery,  turn right into the Catholic Cemetery, carry on until you reach the chapel (on the right), turn left at the  chapel and follow the path to the first crossroad, then turn right and walk a small way (look for graves numbered around 6829)  and Mary’s grave is over to the right – it stands out from many of the others as it has a renovated headstone.

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The Science of Awe and Happiness

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Dacher Keltner at the Facebook day on Compassion.  He is the founder of the wonderful resource that is the Greater Good Science Centre   affiliated with the University of California Berkeley.   Their mission is to share “the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.”  They bring the science to everyone in laymans terms, out of the journals, readable and accessible for the Greater Good. 11021501_1032548076775339_7654141530162080764_o

I was introduced to Dacher’s work on Awe at last years conference in the US.  It was not something that I had heard academics talk about in the UK, so I was listening deeply to his talk and insights.  I was lucky enough to see him again sharing his good work with the Facebook and Wisdom community in 2015.  He began by giving us his definition of Awe:” being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” (2009) Followed by a brief history from Protagoras’s origin story to Max Weber (1905) and political awe.  Awe was originally something we associated with divine beings.  In 1757 Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher wrote about how we feel sublime (awe) in our everyday experiences of life and not just our relationship with God.  Currently at Berkley they are studying people’s narratives of awe, people share extraordinary experiences they have had, although frequently awe is described in response to everyday experiences we encounter. 11034369_1025591857470961_125969728909191542_o

They have found studies showing the awe-altruism link, spending time present in things that are larger than we are, encourages a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness towards others.  In the consumerist lives we live in, it is all ‘me,me,me’ and when we do not get what we want instantly we can all get impatient that our needs are not being met.  We are so important, that we always want to be heard and what we think and know, is more important than another person.  So our ego’s are constantly being bombarded and boosted with the messages we get from the media and society.  To balance this it could be good practice to realise how small we are in this big world around us, where we are all inter-connected.  Opening our eyes to this connection with nature and others in awe experiences alone or with others could be good for our health.  I am all for practising increasing our wellbeing when times are ok and good, to help us in the tougher more painful times we will experience.

In the Berkley lab they have been studying one branch of the immune system called cytokine system.  They are chemical messengers, produced by cells in damaged tissues. Cytokines evoke an inflammatory response, which is important for killing pathogens and healing wounds.  Research in Psychology is showing that a hyperactive cytokine response can result in chronic sickness and vulnerability to disease.  Jennifer Stellar did some work highlighting of all the positive emotions we experience, only awe predicted reduced levels of cytokines. 10845591_1025591800804300_1708689584248563800_o

If you want to explore more on the Science of Happiness you can take the MOOC (Massive, Open, Online, Course) Free course on the science of happiness from some of the experts in the field.  At times like these I love technology, bringing us closer to the knowledge and wisdom available, where money and our location is no longer an excuse.  Information is available so much of it, we are bombarded, this course could change your life for the better or you can also try out another course Science of Happiness – The 30 Days Happiness Program with Manuel Kraus.

If online courses are not your thing and you will be in London on the 9th May you can explore happiness live with real human-beings, in real time with co-founder Shamash Alidina and The Musuem of Happiness event.

If you want to find out more about Awe you can watch one of Dacher’s talks here-

To close, gratitude to the awesome 😉 Dacher for his work and practising what he preaches.  He talks about ‘seeking more daily awe’, what can you do to create more awe experiences in your day or your week?  Share them and comment on the blog below.

Happy bank holiday to those of you in the UK, a very good opportunity to practice getting out there in nature and consuming some awe experiences for the Greater Good!

Recording of Facebook presentation on the Science of Happiness and Awe: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/59295100 or Slides from presentation: http://bit.ly/1x1s3my

Reference-

Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015, January 19). Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Discrete Positive EmotionsPredict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines.
Emotion. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000033

The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept (2007)-http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/dacherkeltner/docs/shiota.2007.pdf 

 

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