Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kissing, No thanks

As I was driving into work I turned on my car radio and found myself in the middle of an interview with Hans Michael Klein on BBC News. If the name is not familiar it is because he is the Chair of the Knigge Society in Germany. The society is devoted to etiquette or correct behavior. I became curious and also found an article on MailOnline. The Knigge Society feels there is too much cheek kissing in the workplace. Mr. Klein indicated that he has gotten many complaints about all this kissing to excess. In calling for a halt, he said; “This is valid immediately. There should be no more kissing, at least not in the office.” I am glad he allowed for exceptions. It is easy to slip into national stereotyping on this, but I am resisting even though in the BBC interview Mr. Klein blamed this new trend on the Italians and Latin Americans. Of course, this news puts the economic crisis and war in Afghanistan in proper perspective. Let’s face it – this is a more manageable issue. If I understood Mr. Klein, this could all be handled by people maintaining the 60cm “Socially defined distance zone.” Even if I personally tend to drop to 30 or 40cm in my social distance, I can still understand what he is promoting. A final comment by Mr. Klein in the MailOnline article was that “This was not the German way and it was an affectation of the ‘Shickmicki’ set – or the ‘in-crowd’.” So, now you have a bonus that you can use the next time you are in the middle of cocktail chatter. Just attribute something to the “Shickmicki set” and you will impress all your friends.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coming Back

So I started thinking about my comeback posting on “Worldwide Sy.” I know, I know, I’ve been away for quite a while. Maybe it was inspired by this headline on TMZ: Vanilli - Plotting COMEBACK with Famous DJ.” The Vanilli (real name – Fab Morvan) is of course half of Milli Vanilli, and the famous DJ is one named The Alchemist, apparently Eminem’s favorite. Now, it hasn’t been 21 years for me, just 11 months. But I am returning, although not to lip-syncing.

So, why now? Of course, it is always speculation when you try to answer this kind of question. It could be anything from greater insight into my mother’s impact on my life to the debt ceiling crisis. Being surrounded by shrinks, anything I give as a reason will be questioned. The most obvious is my impending retirement from my job as CEO of JF&CS after almost 18 years. Looking to a new stage provides, aside from fear, the opportunity to do things you like. I really have enjoyed doing this blog. A new stage also promotes an increase in narcissism, and blog entries can certainly encourage that pursuit. But the blog, for me, has been an opportunity to share new perceptions, quirks I’ve noticed in the world, and experiences and insight that hold a kind of crispness and newness. Now that I won’t be working numerous hours a week, I will have the time to write, and maybe notice more things.

There have been many famous comebacks. Bill Clinton wasn't really away for that long, but still is the contemporary example of the "Comeback Kid." Of course, there are also a host of others who did take a long time; Elvis Presley, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen was away from the spotlight for 15 years, but made a spectacular return. He is my model, so you should expect an album, DVD, and world tour.

It will be good to get back. In the immortal words of Leonard Cohen, "It's time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Failure of Empathy

I don’t know if you had a chance to read Thomas Friedman’s piece in the New York Times on August 7th. The column entitled “Steal this Movie” was about a new Israeli documentary, “Precious Life,” by the Gaza reporter for Israel’s TV Channel 10 news, Shlomi Eldar. It tells the story of a 4 month old Palestinian baby suffering from a rare immune deficiency who is treated successfully in an Israeli hospital. The child’s surgery which cost $55,000 was paid for by an Israeli Jew whose own son was killed during military service. What makes this a story different from the expected heart-felt tale is the Palestinian mother’s proclamation after the surgery that she hopes the baby will grow up to be a suicide bomber to help recover Jerusalem. This statement at first discouraged the director Eldar from completing the movie, but then against the backdrop of the war in Gaza he decided to complete the movie as an account of not only mutual hatred, but also the less visible substrate of compassion in both lands.

Friedman’s column reminded me of the HBO documentary “To Die in Jerusalem” directed by the Israeli filmmaker Hilla Medalia. This film provides a compelling look at two mothers who both became victims of hatred, but were unable to reconcile in their grief. The film is an attempt to bring the two together. One is the mother of 17 year old Israeli Rachel Levy killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The other is the mother of 18 year old Ayat al-Akhras who was the bomber and who also died during this act. The mothers who live only four miles apart could not be brought together physically, and had to talk with each other via satellite TV. They never bridge the physical distance or the emotion that keeps them apart. In watching the film you want the mothers to understand each other’s loss and grief, but they can never quite achieve this.

The notion that it is human empathy that allows us to live together is tested in these two stories. The failure of this empathy has been demonstrated all too often in history; from the many holocausts and genocides to the meaning of acts in war, as in the case of Hiroshima. As a psychologist, one reads many articles about the importance of empathy in psychotherapy, but many fewer works on re-building empathy across societies so that people different from ourselves are not just regarded as “the other.” It sets a challenging, but important goal for those us who work in human services.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Is There a Dystopia in your Future?

There was an absorbing article in the June 14th New Yorker, Fresh Hell by Laura Hill. The article deals with “dystopian fiction for young readers.” I had certainly heard of utopian literature, but not dystopian writing. Wikipedia describes dystopian literature in these terms: “The utopia and its offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia. We have all read dystopian novels, although we didn’t know it at the time. Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World are good examples. They portray a negative view of the world in which a totalitarian government controls every level of human behavior. Hill describes a number of examples of young adult dystopian books; Uglies, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, etc. Although she identifies one main purpose of adult dystopian books as a warning of dangerous trends in current society, she believes current dystopian fiction for teens to be, in part, a reflection of adolescent disaffection. She wonders if this literature may be so present because kids are feeling over-supervised and over-scrutinized. It did strike me that a more obvious cause might be that we are all becoming more pessimistic about the future. It has become a frequent prophecy that our children’s futures will not have the abundance of  opportunities that ours had. The truism that the next generation is always better off than the previous may no longer be accurate. It is not hard to become convinced that all we have to look forward to is global warming, terrorism, and economic catastrophe. Not a pretty sight, or vision for that matter. A totalitarian dictatorship probably winds up being a relief in this kind of scenario. This new kids' literature may be reflecting our current attitude, if not a new reality.

So what can we as adults do? We could steer our kids to Grimm’s scariest fairy tales. At least they reveal a frightening past rather than a horrific future. There are always books like Pippi Longstocking. However, some have identified her as the source of Lizbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There may not be a lot of solutions in literature. Maybe we will just have to rely on attitude, outlook, and that old polarity of optimism-pessimism.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Love Unlimited Orchestra

Someone recently gave me a copy of a CD that featured famous hits by Barry White and The Love Unlimited Orchestra. Although I quickly wrapped it in plain brown paper, I have to admit that I love this music. I am a big fan of R&B. I am pretty self-conscious about the fact that in music I tend toward the promiscuous. I like Lou Rawls as much as I like Puccini. After all, they are both not embarrassed about being supremely sincere and passionate. If you think about it, how different is Barry White singing “Can’t get enough of your love, Babe” from Luciano Pavarotti pouring out his heart in the duet “In Questa Reggia” from Turandot? If you knew Italian you would see the similarity immediately. My son Josh once told me that he didn’t like Van Morrison because every song was different from the others. We differ on this because you never know what to expect from Van who can go from ballad to gospel as if one was a chorus for the other. It’s like having ten albums in one!

Anyway, back to the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Their biggest hit, probably never repeated, was Love’s Theme. So put it on your Ipod, close your eyes and you will be back in the 70’s with scenes from Shaft or Super Fly raising your adrenalin level. Take a break and be Isaac Hayes for a few minutes, or even Placido Domingo.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Peaceful afternoon at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery

There is a major advantage in living ( I stress "living" ) near Mt. Auburn Cemetery. You can visit the Cemetery no matter what mood you are in. Depressed - look at the flowers left at the crypts. Manic - run around the monumental tombs. Artistic - gaze on the Monet-like reflections in the small ponds. Poetic - read the inscriptions on the Victorian headstones. It is all there; the entire canvas of life and emotion. Here are some pictures I took today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How laughter, Cameron, and Clegg ruined my day

There was an interesting article on the Guardian website about the body language between David Cameron, the new British Prime Minister, and his coalition partner and political rival Nick Clegg. With Clegg now deputy to Cameron, he was clearly in the "one down" position. Much of the article was a demonstration of how their body language revealed this dominance hierarchy. I was particularly struck by one paragraph:

"One of the litmus tests of power relations is who laughs at whom. That's because laughter serves to elevate the status of the person who manages to elicit laughter, while it reduces the status of the person who does the laughing. During the press conference Clegg made a bold attempt to be amusing when he feigned hurt and pretended to be leaving. Cameron responded with a show of embarrassment, but he didn't laugh. But when Cameron made an amusing remark, Clegg cracked up. On the surface it all looked very jolly, but the underlying purpose of the levity was to sort out their status positions."

I had not known this behavioral observation. In fact, I became less Jolly when I started to think about who had laughed at my jokes, and who had broken me up. I became really chagrined when I remembered that the other day I had laughed uproariously at a joke made by the guy who was painting my house. On the other hand, the person at the supermarket deli counter never laughs at my jokes about cutting meat thin. Not only were status positions not getting sorted out, they were instead in chaos. The timing on this was bad because I was due to give remarks the next day at an event with more than two hundred people. Should I risk it and leave my jokes in? Of course, I would be too distracted by peering into the audience to see who was laughing and who was not. There was the nagging question of how to respond to the various other speakers who I was sure would make an attempt at humor. The right laugh  for the wrong person could clearly send a bad message. If only Cameron and Clegg were speaking at the event. They had this behavior signaling down pat.

Before paralysis set in, I turned quickly to a comforting article about the oil spill in the Gulf.