Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Via TED Talks / Pico Iyer: The talk that changed my life



The talk that changed my life

By Pico Iyer
Thirty-four years of working in the mass media have taught me one thing: never to trust the mass media. Not because of any hidden agenda or conspiracy but simply because the media is in the business of giving us what we want. And what we seem to want these days is wild gossip, distraction and entertainment 'round the clock. The only way to follow what's going on in the world is to never pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV, but merely to try to observe it on the human level first-hand, unmediated by screens.

So you're probably not surprised that I was liberated, blown open, when I heard Ricardo Semler’s TED Talk, "How to run a company with (almost) no rules." Really, its title should be, "How to live with the exactly right, emancipating rules." The minute the Brazilian CEO walks onto the red circle and says, as easily as hello, "On Mondays and Thursdays I learn how to die," I know I'm in the presence of a line of thinking that can change my life.

Mr. Semler’s not young, and melanoma runs in his family, so he has reason to think about the end, perhaps. But as he begins to unfold his vision of how to transform a company -- by encouraging workers to come and go as they please -- and then extends that vision to our schools, I realize that this highly practical, successful man of the very real world is simply challenging us to think about what’s difficult, and therefore necessary.

I haven't occupied a company setting since 1986; nothing could interest me less than profit curves or office management. But the grace of Mr. Semler's talk is that he's speaking about the "graph" of existence more than of spreadsheets; about making a life as much as making a living. And there's something invigorating about seeing this wisdom brought to us not by monk or formal philosopher or saint, but by elegant company director in black jacket. Leading a good and considered life, he shows us, need not be incompatible with laboring in an office block.

As those of us lucky enough to listen to the talk live, in a tent on the beach in Rio, heard Ricardo Semler at the end of a long day, after maybe sixty talks over the previous three days, many were stunned by single lines. He wasn't asking himself, "What do I want to be remembered for?" but "Why do I want to be remembered at all?" He was reminding us that we're always ready to turn to our work-related e-mails on Sunday evening yet slow to go to the movies on Monday afternoon. He kept taking us back to how "we measure ourselves, as humans," knowing that such a measure has to do with something deeper than the rocket fuel propellant systems, income-tax preparations and M.I.T. classes by which he’s long gained his livelihood.

It's the same message that the Buddha and Marcus Aurelius and Montaigne pass along, because Mr. Semler goes to cemeteries even on his birthday, as they might have done, thinking about what he'd do if he had only a few months to live. But he brings such ideas to the boardroom, the bedroom and the classroom, exactly the places where we’re most inclined to overlook them.

And nothing could be more urgent in an age when we spend less and less time addressing what's lasting and what’s real. We're always being told, rightly, to tend to our forests and to clean up our air; but we’re less often reminded to try to protect the wild spaces inside our imaginations (where the future will get made) or to clean up the skies in our souls (where toxins can be more poisonous than any external pollution). Even as we're so proud of filling our bodies with locally sourced, farm-to-table, organic food, we fill our minds with junk.

The world is as full of beauty and wisdom and hope as ever; I've seen that everywhere from Burma to New York City these past few months (and, in the past few weeks, in Bhutan and Alberta and Varanasi and rural Japan). Humans are no worse than we've ever been, even if we're not necessarily any better. And the only way we can imagine a better world is by going within. The only way we can make it happen is by bringing that imagining out into the world. Ricardo Semler inspires me as only a wise man can, and he gives me hope about translating his bracing wisdom into real life as only an accomplished master of the corporate sphere can do.
Watch "How to run a company with (almost) no rules"

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Via FB:(copied and pasted verbatim) important read.


Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder wrote: "Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so." Snyder's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says, "Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it."

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