For the CT Health Leadership Fellows Program this month, I've been reading Daniel Goleman's "What Makes a Leader?" In it, he asked, "Can Emotional Intelligence Be Learned?"
Being the social media person that I am, I wondered if we could look at this from a different angle, "Can empathy be taught online?"
My mind went to a few different videos. One was Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. The lecture is about an hour and a half long and is very powerful.
In the lecture he tells the audience:
OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And I think that’s absolutely lovely. And the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important. And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.
Perhaps the head fake, the indirect learning, or when it comes to learning emotional intelligence, some sort of 'heart fake' is part of how empathy is learned or how it can be taught. If we learn by doing, perhaps we lead by example. Perhaps what matters in social media is not the content of the post, but the feelings that surround it. Perhaps, to twist McLuhan, it isn't even the medium that's the message, but the emotions that surround the experience of the medium.
Two other videos come to mind, and I always link them together. They are by Jane McGonigal. The first is Gaming can make a better world. The second is The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.
In the first video she sets up the importance of gaming, and in the second, she makes it intensely personal. The second also ties nicely back to Goleman's article. McGonigal starts off the second video saying that she is a gamer and because of that, she likes to have goals.
In this, she comes close to capturing the five components of emotional intelligence at work, Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skill. She starts off by talking about the Top five regrets of the dying, all of which could me mitigated by playing more games.
She then explores the idea of post traumatic growth in contrast to post traumatic stress disorder. She notes that people experiencing post traumatic growth talk about how they end up doing things that make them happy, feeling closer to friends and family, better understanding who they really are, having a new sense of meaning and being more focused on goals and dreams. She notes that these are the opposite of the regrets of dying people, and I notice that they seem to mirror the five components of emotional intelligence at work.
So, what does it take to experience post traumatic growth? She talks about resiliency. As a side note, one of the Rabbis at the funeral I attended on Sunday made some comments about resiliency that sounded very similar. She described four types of resilience: physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience, and social resilience. In the video, she suggests ways to build up these resiliencies.
Again, as a social media person, I'm wondering if there are ways to build up these resiliencies online. Are there things that can be shared via social media that will help others build up these resiliencies?
When I think about so much that is shared online, it is about the content itself; people praising or cursing the President or members of Congress. People advocating for various issues. Yet perhaps this is not making a difference, or, even worse, it is having a different effect than intended. Are people just becoming more polarized, more offensive by focusing on the content?
Where does indirect learning and emotions around the medium fit in? This is a thought I've been focusing a lot since the shooting in Sandy Hook. I've avoided, as much as possible, news reports going into the horror of the event. Instead, I've focused on sharing stories of people helping one another. I've especially been interested in posting pictures of cute animals, particularly when they are helping others. For example, Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses has many images and stories, that I believe can help build some of the resiliencies that McGonigal talks about.
Can empathy be taught online? Perhaps; perhaps by focusing on head fakes about resiliency. I'm trying to bring some of that into my social media footprint. Are you? What sort of impact are you having online?
This weekend, I put together a bookcase. Some friends had purchased it a while ago, and then decided not to use it, so they gave it to us. It sat in the garage waiting for a weekend to be put together.
As I start bringing artifacts from my mother's house, from my childhood, down to Woodbridge, we needed more shelves, so I put the bookcase together. It was fairly quick and easy to do, and it now stands next to the kitchen.
On the top of the bookcase is a large old wooden bowl. The bowl is big enough to wash a baby in. At the bottom of the bookcase is an old pressure cooker. When I was a kid, we lived on a small farm. In the spring, my brothers, sister and I would join our parents in planting rows and rows of corn. When summer rolled around we would pick bags of corn, which we would sit around outside shucking. We would carry in trays of fresh picked, fresh shucked corn, which my mother would cook in the pressure cooker. You could cook a lot of corn quickly in a pressure cooker.
When the corn was done, my mother would slice the kernels off of the ears of corn in the large old wooden bowl, and then we would spoon it into pint sized freezer containers and fill up the freezer in the basement with frozen homegrown corn.
These old implements from my childhood of putting food by for the winter now serve as decorations, ready to be put into back service when the time calls. Yet unlike the antiques that I've seen in so many houses, these are artifacts of my childhood, ladened with stories and memories.
There is something about the trip from Woodbridge back to Stamford on the Merritt Parkway that brings about a certain level of reflection for me, and today was no different. During my normal commute, I drive a 1997 Nissan Altima. It gets decent mileage, but if I'm traveling some distance and my wife Kim isn't, I take the Prius which gets much better mileage.
The Prius has a display which indicates which engines are supplying power to the wheels and I like to pay attention to it. Can I safely adjust my driving to get the best mileage, keeping traffic conditions and speed limits in consideration?
For longer trips, I like to just put the car on cruise control, so the question becomes more complicated in terms of when to let cruise control manage the acceleration and when to take over myself. I also find cruise control adds to a contemplative aspect of driving, going with the flow.
So, I had crossed the Housatonic River by the Sikorsky Aircraft headquarters over the bridge that replaced the old singing bridge. I was climbing up the hill towards Trumbull as traffic slowed down more than expected. I pulled into the passing lane, and saw a car with fire pouring out beneath the engine. It was driving along, slowly, as if nothing drastic was going on. I looked over in horror but the driver did not see my reaction. I'm just not sure how you signal to a driver that their car is on fire.
A little while later, a red-tailed hawk swooped out in front of my car and circled back. Was it an omen, was he trying to tell me something? I saw a state trooper come flying the other direction with lights flashing. I hoped he was on his way to assist the driver.
I don't get back to Stamford very often. Mostly, I am pulled back by some memory manifesting itself into the present. Today was no exception. I was on my way to the funeral of a remarkable woman I had met when Kim was running for State Representative.
I wasn't exactly sure of the best way to get to the funeral so I had the GPS on. It took me past many old memories, reminding me of the turns I used to take; past a school one of my daughters attended, past a church where a friend was active, past the house of a former co-worker. I passed one construction site which I believe used to be the chinese restaurant I would sometimes go to with Kim and whichever daughters were around. Fiona, in particular, loved to look at the fish swimming in the aquarium as we waited for our meal.
So, I made it to the funeral, full of the concern for the driver I had passed, memories of my time in Stamford, all of it balanced with the effort to drive mindfully, to maximize mileage while driving safely and taking in all the experiences around me, including the flight of the red tailed hawk.
Yesterday, I stumbled across an interesting article, A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. It goes into detail about how a sensor was connected to one rat's brain, and the experiences were transmitted, over the internet, to another rat who learned from the experiences of the first rat.
My science fiction enthusiastic brain went wild thinking about the possibilities. While the starting point is with sensorimotor information, I wondered what else could be transmitted. While the starting point was rats, I wondered what could be done with humans, or even, interspecies communications. What would it be like to experience the sensorimotor feelings of a horse galloping? Could this information be stored and played at a later time, perhaps as an educational tool? Could I become a better pianist or guitarist by playing back sensorimotor recordings of great performers? Could this be added to albums, so I could not only listen to a great performance, but experience the sensory feelings of the performer during the performance?
And what about the use in dealing with conditions like Parkinson's disease or Essential Tremors: Could a researcher gain insight by playing back the sensorimotor recording of a person with these conditions? Could playing back the sensorimotor recordings of healthy people provide some sort of therapy for people with these conditions?
All of this, of course, is precursor to The Borg. What happens as people become more connected to a collective mind? The borg is portrayed negatively in terms of force assimilation, yet our society has always been based on collective experiences and action. The struggle between individual experience and collective experience is an age old struggle.
Last night, I went to see The Indigo Girls in concert in Northampton with my daughter who started her college career in Virginia. It was striking to think about the collective experience of young women around Northampton and how it compared with the collective experience of some of my daughter's classmates from the south. I wondered how many of my daughter's classmates sought to flee their southern collectives, not for more individuality, per se, but to join a collective that was more tolerant, more embracing of their individual experiences.
I remember, many years ago, gathering around a campfire, to sing songs. Singing around campfires is one of the earliest ways in which experiences were shared, in which the collective spread its common ideas. Yet even two decades ago, around the campfire, different modes of collective engagement were creeping in. Many of the songs we knew, we had learned on the radio, and not around previous campfires. The campfire itself, was most likely started using the remains of another way of sharing collective information, used newspapers. We shared our experiences from around the campfire when we returned to our homes and spoke with friends.
Last night, the individuals who had this shared experience had gained collective information other ways. They had listened to music online, perhaps sharing it online. The newspapers were largely replaced by sharing of news online. Perhaps the most striking change was the way the collective experience of the concert was shared. During the concert, people texted their friends. They called friends from their cellphones so their friends could listen in, or to leave a brief recording of the experience on their friends voicemail. Photographs and videos were taken, and I imagine, shared via social media.
As far as I know, no one had implements allowing them to have the same sensorimotor experiences as Amy Ray or Emily Saliers, yet this omission did not seem to lesson the very strong bond between the audience and the performers.
Progress marches onward and some day, perhaps, we will look back at how we have shared common experiences via pictures, sound recordings or the written word, as being as quaint as the gathering around the campfire many generations before. Yet we would do well to remember the words of John Donne, "No man is an island" and that each one of us should say, "For I am involved in mankind".
Another month starts and I hear a lot of people saying, I’m glad February’s over. And so it is March. Coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, or is it the other way around?
The Pope has retired, the Federal Budget is about to be sequestered and it’s a warm sunny day outside.
One friend posted on Facebook today, “’He gave back his ring, his cape, and his red papal shoes...’ This line on the news made me think of a Maurice Sendak book.” To that, I’ll add “Fla. man swallowed by a sinkhole is feared dead”, “Michigan governor clears way for state takeover of Detroit “, and “Chocolate covered marshmallow eggs recalled over salmonella concerns”.
Tonight, I will probably make a last minute trip to see the Inidigo Girls in Concert, go home and try to catch up on sleep tomorrow, and then head off to a funeral on Sunday. The fun just never stops.