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To close season, ‘New Yorker’ staff writer Osnos shares stories of renewing American principles

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Evan Osnos spent part of his career as a foreign correspondent, reporting in places like Cairo, China and Baghdad. Once, in Myanmar, he was smuggled into the country by the rebel army in the middle of the night.

“I will tell you it would have made me very nervous, except that the soldier who was driving me spent most of the time asking me how he might get a date with Taylor Swift,” said Osnos, a staff writer at The New Yorker specializing in politics and foreign affairs.

In his many, more serious conversations abroad, Osnos found himself defending America’s virtues, saying that despite the country’s flaws and grave mistakes, U.S. citizens had a fundamental commitment to truth, law and morality. But, after he returned home in 2013, he said, quoting John Gunther, an American journalist and author, he felt like a man from Mars.

Some of the changes were subtle. When he passed by Brooks Brothers, a men’s clothing store, he noticed some of the suits in the window had an American flag pin pre-implanted in the lapel. Osnos had never seen such a pin on one of their suits before, so he reached out and asked the company, who said they started doing it in 2007. 

“I did notice that 2007 was the year in which Barack Obama was getting lambasted for not wearing a flag pin in his lapel,” Osnos said.

Other changes were more wide-reaching. He noticed 9/11 altered American’s perceptions, such as a poll in 2016 finding that on average, people thought the U.S. population is one-sixth Muslim, while it is, in fact, one-one hundreth. He was also shocked at how the country viewed gun control.

“As a country, somehow we had come to live with the phenomenon of public shootings in our most vulnerable places, in schools, in public areas,” Osnos said. “Even though they were happening on average nearly three times as often as they had been the year I went abroad.”

But Osnos’ biggest surprise was how much less faith people had in law and politics. 

“Of course, the notion of a shared truth — mental commons we might call — had fractured before our eyes, and we were seeing it play out in our politics in 2016, and eventually, in 2020,” Osnos said. “But the signs of what we were seeing were very visible to us long before the COVID pandemic, before the murder of George Floyd.”

Osnos asked himself if he had been wrong all those years when he told people in other countries about American values. So, Osnos went on the road back to places he lived before, to find out what Americans thought, and what was being done to reverse these trends toward mistrust.

Those travels informed his latest book: Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury, which will hit shelves on Sept. 9. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Amphitheater, Osnos presented his lecture, titled “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us,” concluding the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series and Week Nine’s theme of “Resilience.” 

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Osnos discussed the work of three people across the U.S. who are trying, and sometimes succeeding, to better America’s commitments to morality and truth. As well as working at The New Yorker, Osnos is a National Book Award-winning author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China; this was the first talk he’s given about his forthcoming Wildland. For Wildland, Osnos chose to explore places he already lived because he knew their past. The first place he went was Chicago, where a lot of his family is from.

“Chicago is the great American city. It is at once real and flawed, and in a constant permanent state of becoming,” Osnos said. “Chicago is the place, as Frederick Jackson Turner put it a century ago, where all the forces of the nation intersect. And, in many respects, I think that description stays true today, both for better and for worse.”

Chicago, Osnos said, is also one of the most segregated cities in America, with most of the white population living in the downtown area. 

Enter Jamal Cole, a community organizer from the south side of Chicago. As a child, Cole was struck by how people spoke in church, how preachers could make their messages strike deeper and how he, himself, could use these same techniques. 

Cole’s father, Osnos said, was addicted to drugs, and the family moved constantly. 

“Statistically speaking, Jamal Cole was not set up to succeed. He was coming of age in a country in which one-third of Black men become involved in the criminal justice system. He entered the 21st century in a country that has more prisoners than farmers,” Osnos said. “But, Jamal was also allergic to the assumptions people had about him and what was possible.”

In high school, a guidance counselor told Cole to give up on going to college and to join a trade school or the military. Cole, instead, stole pages out of the counselor’s books about different colleges, and applied, Osnos said, “almost at random.” He was accepted to Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska.

After graduating and eventually landing a job in information technology, and then as a network administrator at a trading firm at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Cole volunteered on the side at the Cook County Jail and mentored juvenile offenders. He noticed that few of these young men, despite being born and raised in Chicago, had ever spent more than a few hours in the downtown area, even though they lived close by. When he asked the mentees where they were from, they would say the names of their neighborhood, and never Chicago. Cole asked why, and they said it was because there were no Black people in downtown Chicago, and they identified more with their own neighborhoods. To help each neighborhood connect with different areas of the city, Cole helped create My Block, My Hood, My City, also called M3. The organization began by taking young people to explore areas of the city they had never been before — waste treatment plants, homeless shelters and a chiropractor’s office. They even went scuba diving together. As the organization expanded, they took on more ambitious projects, such as a program where new police officers go on tours of neighborhoods guided by the young people who live there.

“A lot of the cops really don’t know the neighborhoods until they get there in a moment of crisis. This was giving both of them an opportunity to have a conversation, for some shared experience outside the confines of those moments,” Osnos said. “As he put it to me, ‘It’s a skill that neither side really has.’ ”

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

COVID-19 brought a whole host of new programs for Cole, who had to figure out how to do his work in safe ways. So Cole had the young people make wellness packages for the elderly, filled with items like hand sanitizer. M3 also partnered with a call center for seniors to train the young community members to work the phone, and if they did well, they could earn an internship.

When protests rose from all parts of Chicago after George Floyd’s murder, Cole turned to the relationships, with police and the community, he had built.

“It was no panacea, let’s be blunt,” Osnos said, “but it was, at least, a basis for some mutual understanding.”

His work even received attention from Oprah Winfrey, who gave Cole $500,000. Cole hoped to raise $1 million for M3, and ended up raising $10 million.

“To Jamal Cole, I realized, resilience is really not just fortitude, though he has that in spades,” Osnos said. “It is a strength derived from some other attributes, other muscles to use his words, like empathy and creativity, and the clarity to say with total conviction that his life deserves a greater share of what this country has to offer than he has so far received.”

The second person he discussed with was Jeffrey D. Grant, a former lawyer. 

“It’s not a story that’s easy to like, necessarily,” Osnos said. “The lessons in his life force us, however, to talk pretty honestly about some of the moral questions facing this country and what it will take to solve them.”

In the 1990s, Grant owned a law firm in Westchester County.

“As a lawyer, he specialized in real estate work, in corporate work, and he regarded himself, to use his words, as an assassin,” Osnos said. “His philosophy, as he put it to me bluntly, was ‘Win. Win. Win.’ ”

In his 40s, Grant’s life began unraveling. He was becoming erratic and was addicted to Demerol, a painkiller. He stole money from his clients, and after 9/11, he falsely claimed his office was destroyed in the attacks to receive aid. When the IRS discovered his lies, he served 14 months in prison.

“Grant had been disbarred, largely cut off from his old world — and that, he will tell you, saved his life,” Osnos said. “He had undergone an awakening of a kind that Bryan Stevenson, civil rights lawyer, describes as the power of getting proximate, getting close to people who are vulnerable, people who are suffering, people who are living a life outside of your own.”

After prison, he volunteered at the same rehab organization that helped him, and eventually became an executive of Family Reentry, an organization that helps people coming out of prison and their families, and later earned a degree in divinity at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

“Jeff Grant, in one form or another, had come to recognize that the problems in his life were not about Demerol; they were not about the events of 9/11. They were born of deeper fault lines in himself and in the culture that he represented and he inhabited,” Osnos said. “And frankly, one that is common in many of the most powerful corners of American life: The instinct to win, win, win.”

The third person Osnos discussed was Katey Lauer in West Virginia. The political makeup of the state changed drastically while Osnos was abroad, from three generations of Democratic control, to the state voting mostly for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“It forces people to ask: What would it take to restore confidence in government in rural parts of this country in places where people feel as if they have become, to use Jamal Cole’s word, disconnected?” Osnos said.

Lauer was an environmental activist who had become demoralized after she was routinely outmatched and outspent. In one instance, the mining industry sponsored a program called “Coal in the Classroom.” In this program, they had a workbook on economics for children decorated with “a smiling lump of coal with arms and legs opening the door to a bank.”

“It was a wake-up call for her. She said, ‘We’re done knocking on the door of the Capitol. We need to win positions of power ourselves,’ ” Osnos said.

Although her state went for Trump in the presidential election, Lauer noticed that all the counties had chosen Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. She also noticed how Democrats in Washington were mischaracterizing West Virginian voters, simply writing them off as ignorant. These points showed Lauer that West Virginia was turning against mainstream politics. 

Lauer was reassured this was the case in February 2018 during statewide teacher strikes. West Virginia paid teachers some of the lowest wages in the country, and the striking teachers demanded a 5% raise. When they succeeded, the strike spread to other Republican states and even other industries. Osnos said 2018 saw the most strikes since President Ronald Reagan was elected. So Lauer created the organization West Virginia Can’t Wait, whose goal is to go against mainstream politics all the way down the ballot.

“They avoided the term progressive,” Osnos said, “because they knew that in West Virginia, that would hold them back. There were people who just recoiled from the language of progressive politics. They said, ‘Let’s focus instead on the matter on the page. Let’s focus on the details of the issues, not on the labels we give ourselves or give others.’ ”

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

The organization found 93 candidates, half of whom were under 40, for races across the state and broke the state’s record of most small donors with 2,449. In contrast, the incumbent governor had 13.

“It will not shock you to discover that they eventually ran up against the limits of what might be possible at this moment in West Virginia politics in the 2020 election,” Osnos said. “The incumbent Gov. Jim Justice prevailed, and Donald Trump expanded his lead.”

Lauer was surprised that despite the organization’s losses, 18 more people committed to run for office within the state.

“She said one of the dimensions of the culture war that we’re fighting in this country is urban versus rural, and the idea that we should and can write people off; that there are ‘our’ kinds of people and ‘their’ kinds of people,” Osnos said. “And as long as we believe that, she said, we are putting ourselves into warring tribes, and we will never be able to reconcile.”

So, was Osnos wrong, or lying, when told people in other countries about American values?

“By the end of this process, I realized I was writing this for my kids, actually — because I needed them to see and to know of a period in which I do think we lost sight of our moral aspirations, our moral ambitions,” Osnos said. “We were drifting broadside to the judgments of history. And I think we have set out, in fact, to find our way back. And that gives me confidence.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Osnos how people should go about looking at different countries and cultures through a different lens, especially with the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“There is a natural temptation to want to organize our world into convenient assignments of guilt and innocence,” Osnos said.

He also said the war in Afghanistan had an impact on American soil, especially small towns, which had more than twice the deaths of soldiers per capita than big cities. 

“This is the result of a project that has been limping along longer than it should have,” Osnos said. “And we allowed it to in this country, partly because this was not a war fought by all Americans. It was a war fought by a tiny sliver — less than one-half of 1% of Americans — and the rest of us didn’t have to bring the usual political pressure to bear.”

University Hospitals’ Adan charts course of resilience, from self-care to compassion

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Françoise Adan, chief whole health and wellbeing officer for University Hospitals, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Françoise Adan danced and clapped along with the audience to Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive”: “As long as I have love to give, I will survive. I have all my life to live, all my love to give, I will survive.”

“This is my song. I love this song,” Adan said.

Then Adan shifted the energy. She guided the Amphitheater audience through meditation, to find a comfortable position, to close their eyes and pay attention to their breath as it was, and try not to change anything. Then she said to visualize an image of peace, whether it was a word, symbol, or an area or person they loved. Then she asked them to silently repeat a simple affirmation: I am peaceful and present.

Then Adan told the audience to open their eyes. 

“Today, I will share with you some tools and some tips to build your resilience,” Adan said. “I will give you hope, but I will also challenge you with a call for action.”

Adan is the chief whole health and wellbeing officer for University Hospitals, as well as the director for the UH Connor Integrative Health Network based in Cleveland. At 10:30 a.m. Aug. 24 in the Amp, Adan discussed the foundational pieces of resilience, which start from self-care and end with compassion, and how people could build this skill within themselves. This was the second lecture of Week Nine’s theme of “Resilience.”

Adan has worked as a psychiatrist for about 25 years, with around 35,000 hours spent one-on-one with patients. 

“People are incredible. They taught me so much and still amazed me by how humans are resilient. People get beaten, betrayed. They feel scared, anxious, overwhelmed, anxious, guilty, sad and so much more,” Adan said. “Somehow, they emerge. Somehow, they stand back up. Somehow, they move forward and, often, thrive.”

Over those years, she learned resilience is the “ultimate equalizer.” She defined resilience as the ability to bounce back up, adapt and cope.

“I’ve seen people having everything, but, at some point in their life, in some circumstances, they don’t know how to cope anymore,” Adan said. “I’ve seen people who have nothing, who live in incredible circumstances, but, again, somehow, they find the courage, the resilience, just to take one more step.”

She also said resilience means refusing to be the victim. Resilience means choosing to spend energy on finding a solution, rather than blaming others or themselves. Resilience is a skill, which means people can get better at it. 

This all starts with self-care — and the most important word in that phrase, she said, is “self.”

“I know, often people don’t like this word,” Adan said. “We take better care of our car or dog or work or friends or children than ourselves.”

People have to take care of themselves on their best days and, especially, she said, on their worst. Self-care means doing the basics, like eating more vegetables, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. The U.S. especially needs more sleep, she said, because 70% of the population is sleep-deprived. 

One of the biggest aspects of self-care is managing stress, and the first way to cope with anxieties that Adan delved into was mindfulness. She said 80% of primary care visits are due to conditions either caused by stress or exacerbated by it. 

She then quoted Mark Twain: “I had a lot of worries in my life — most never happened.”

This is where mindfulness comes into play.

“(Mindfulness) is to be in the present as an observer. We’re not in the past. ‘What could have happened, would have happened, should have happened,’ often leads to regrets and sorrow,” Adan said. “We’re not in the future, the to-do list, the worries that lead to anxiety. We are in the present, as an active observer.”

Françoise Adan, chief whole health and wellbeing officer for University Hospitals, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Mindfulness allows people to see problems as they are, instead of amplifying them. 

The second way to manage stress is to realign priority. As inspirational speaker Virginia Brett said, “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Adan conceded that it is tough for her to say no.

“What I do,” Adan said, “is I don’t say yes right away. So what I do, I say, ‘Let me get back to you tomorrow.’ It gives me an opportunity to think. ‘Do I really want to do this? Do I feel like I have to do this? How does that fit in my schedule in my life?’ ”

Unlike checking a pulse or blood pressure, resilience has no surefire measure. The best way, Adan has found, to check a person’s “resilience pulse” was to ask them two sets of questions. The first: “When I am at my best, when things come easily, when I’m in my zone, how do I feel? How do I behave? What do I do?”

“For me, when things come easily, I have a great sense of humor,” Adan said. “I have a good sense of perspective, and it’s easy for me to make decisions.”

Then she asks the opposite: “When I’m at my worst, when I feel I can’t take it anymore, when the next step just seems too much, who am I? How do I behave? Where do I feel it?”

“For me, easy, I’m someone I don’t like,” Adan said. “I am judgmental, cynical, critical, impatient. Everybody. Is. So. Slow!”

Self-awareness, she said, is the key to creating resilience. This means knowing what makes us feel better, and what makes us feel worse.

“Most of us, as we are not in our zone, when we are acting at our worst, we actually do more of what’s hurting us, instead of what’s helping us,” Adan said.

Resilient people, she said, have three main characteristics. The first is that they accept life as it is — which, she said, gives people the ability to move on and not think of themselves as the victim. Instead, people who accept life as it is can spend more energy trying to change it. 

And the second characteristic is that they are positive, which Adan said is the “unstoppable hunt to look for what is right.”

Having a positive mindset is not the same as being optimistic, though. 

“We all know the analogy of the glass half-full or half-empty. We all know that seeing it half full is better, but positive people go even beyond that,” Adan said. “Even if there is not that much water, there’s still a glass. There is no glass? I have my hand. I can make a cup.”

The last characteristic of resilient people is they have purpose. This doesn’t mean they have a world-changing plan, like curing all diseases, she said, but small purposes, like being a good neighbor or friend. 

She quoted Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning: “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“I have a fancy title. I have a great job. I have a good income. And at the end of the day,” Adan said, “ ‘I have all my love to give, all my life to live,’ and for me, that is my purpose — to be loved and to love.”

The last step of resilience is compassion. Compassion is different from empathy, though, because empathy, she said, means envisioning oneself in another’s shoes, while compassion means doing something to help. 

“The amazing thing is being compassionate, being a listener, looking at someone in her eyes, smiling, is actually replenishing yourself,” Adan said. “So, people who are compassionate experience less burnout — not the other way around — which, to me, is incredible.”

She then shared one of the most important lessons of her life. In 1993, Adan interned at the Cleveland Clinic, and during one shift she hadn’t slept in 24 hours because of her work schedule. One of her patients was a 23-year-old mother of five children with three different fathers, who had a heart infection because of drug use. 

“I am exhausted and depleted and, you remember how I am (at my worst) — cynical, judgmental, feeling completely hopeless, and hopeless for her and for me,” Adan said. “I feel no ability to help her.”

The doctor stopped her and said, “Do you think she woke up yesterday and thought, ‘I’m going to screw this up’? We all do the best we can.”

“That moment was literally life-changing for me; realizing that this was where she was at that time. Having compassion was not only going to help her but help me,” Adan said. “The reality is we all do the best we can, sometimes great, sometimes not so great.”

Compassion, she said, also means taking care of oneself. 

“There is absolutely zero research confirming that beating ourselves up for whatever else we didn’t do is going to help us. Zero,” Adan said. “But we do it over and over and over again.”

She ended her lecture by talking about her time at Chautauqua. When she entered the front gates of the Institution, it was like she was entering a dream, where every stranger she passed looked her in the eye and said, “Hello!”

Then she asked the audience to think about this question: What is one thing from this summer they learned, and are willing to take back into the wild?

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Addario shares portraits of resilience

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NICK DANLAG  – STAFF WRITER

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario speaks about her life and career covering conflict and human rights issues on Monday in the Amphitheater, opening the week on “Resilience.” KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Before 9/11, most of the U.S. did not know anything about Afghanistan, including Lynsey Addario’s mom, so when the young photojournalist let her mother know she was going there in 2000, her mom simply said, “Sure, have a good time.”

What Addario, now a Pulitzer Prize winner, didn’t tell her mother was that she would be photographing the lives of women under Taliban rule, where photography was illegal. She had an escort of Afghan men who kept her safe and her work a secret.

“Some of the first women that I saw on the streets, actually the only women I saw on the street, were widows,” Addario said. “They were begging because they had no man to provide for them.”

Addario would have to swiftly take her camera out of her bag, take photos and hide the camera again each time she saw a photo worth taking. Some of these images projected on the Amphitheater screens above her, from secret schools for young girls to a woman giving birth in a hospital in Kabul with what Addario described as “rudimentary” equipment.

During her third trip to Afghanistan under Taliban rule, Addario’s taxi driver said he was going to a wedding, and she asked to join him. He agreed and led her to a basement of a big cement compound. The soundtrack of “Titanic” blasted, and women, in makeup and dresses, danced.

“I had never seen anything like this in three trips to Afghanistan under the Taliban,” Addario said. “It just made me realize that the human spirit continues on, and people really have to find forms of entertainment to keep themselves going.”

At 10:30 a.m. Aug. 23 in the Amp, Addario presented her lecture, “It’s What I Do: Documenting Resilience,” to begin the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Nine theme of “Resilience.” Addario told of her own journey of covering wars and her own kidnappings, how journalism and photography can change public perceptions and political wills, and the endless perseverance of the many people she has met over the years. Addario is a regular contributor for National Geographic, The New York Times and Time. Her New York Times best-selling memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War was a finalist for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize, chronicling her personal and professional life as a photojournalist in the post-9/11 world. She also published Of Love & War, a collection of photographs from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Addario went back to Afghanistan in 2009 and saw progress in the country. Women were graduating from a school of literature, hosting news shows, working as police and soldiers and driving cars. In 2009, though, the country had the highest maternal death rate in the world; the Badakhshan province had an even higher rate because there were few roads to travel by. She said it took some people 12 hours by donkey to get to the nearest clinic. One day in Badakhshan, Addario saw two women on the side of the road and knew “they were in trouble because they didn’t have a man (with them).”

One of the women was in labor and refused to get in the car with Addario because she needed her husband’s permission first to get in someone’s car. Addario asked one of her coworkers to take the car and find the woman’s husband — which she said wasn’t hard, because there was only one road. She then got the whole family in the car, and the baby was delivered safely in the clinic.

Addario also talked about girls who had defied their husbands. One girl was 13 and married to a man who was paralyzed; her only duty in life until she was 20 was to take care of him. When she asked for a divorce, the man’s family threw her in jail. Another girl, identified only as Bibi Aisha, ran away from her husband, and when she was caught, her husband cut off her nose and ears. She was later featured on the front page of The New York Times before she underwent surgery to have her nose and ears reconstructed.

And Addario’s first experience covering wars was during the Iraq War. She photographed people celebrating Saddam Hussein’s fall from power. 

“I took these initial pictures of euphoria: People celebrating, swimming in his palaces,” Addario said. “Saddam had diverted most of the water in the country for his own personal use, lakes around his palaces, and most Iraqis didn’t even have water at home.”

There was also a lot of chaos and looting after Hussein’s death; Addario showed a photo of a woman walking toward a factory covered in smoke. It was a propane factory where her husband worked.  Addario took the picture, then yelled to the woman that it was too dangerous to go close. The woman turned, looked at her, and said, “My husband is in there.” She kept walking.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario speaks about her life and career covering conflict and human rights issues on Monday in the Amphitheater, opening the week on “Resilience.” KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

She also photographed wounded U.S. soldiers. She witnessed and photographed the treatment of one particular soldier who had stepped on an IED, and later died. She was told she could not call the family to get permission to publish the photos. A few months later, she received a call from the soldier’s father, who asked her about his son’s death because the military had told him next to nothing.

“We had a, maybe, two-hour-long conversation. It was very tearful on both sides. I told him everything I remembered,” Addario said. 

The father later gave her permission to publish the photos, so long as they wouldn’t compromise his son’s identity. 

Addario told the story of her kidnapping in March 2011 in Libya. The Libyan government was not giving journalists visas to photograph the Civil War, so Addario snuck in through a river with a rebel army. When she was in the town of Ajdabiya, she, along with three other New York Times journalists, could see signs that the city was about to fall. Sounds of mortars were getting closer, dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s troops were closing in and civilians were fleeing. They had two cars, with two journalists in each car in case something went wrong. 

“The driver of the other car — his brother was shot at the front line,” Addario said. “And so suddenly in the middle of the battle, he pulled the car over and dumped everything they had on the side of the road, and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ ”

While they were leaving, Addario was the first to see the soldiers on the horizon. When she pointed them out, her companions laughed, because Gadhafi’s troops were in the other direction. But they were wrong, and the soldiers had flanked them in the desert. The driver panicked, stopped the car, got out and begged the soldiers not to shoot them because they were just journalists. 

They never saw him again.

“My colleagues were pulled out of the car. I, the only woman, was just left to sit in the car. That happened to me, actually, when I was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004; I guess they never really know what to do with a woman on the front line,” Addario said. “I’m watching my colleagues to the right getting roughed up.”

The rebel soldiers then opened fire on the government soldiers. 

“There was a wall of bullets coming at us. The car we were in was not armored. I knew I had to get out of the car,” Addario said. “I made the decision to lie down and crawl out the right side of the car toward my colleagues. Immediately, there was one Gadhafi’s troops on me, pulling at my cameras and, instinctively, I’m pulling back.”

Addario then realized she needed to let go of the camera, and both the journalists and troops all ran to the other side of a cement building. The government soldiers accused them of being spies and held a rifle to each of their heads.

“They put us down in the dirt,” Addario said. “We stared down, literally, the barrel of the rifle and begged for our lives. I remember looking to the right and seeing us all begging, and I, myself, was begging, ‘Please don’t shoot.’ Eventually, a commander came over and said, ‘You can’t shoot them, they’re American.’ ”

The four of them were then tied up and put in the back of a vehicle, “packed like sardines.”

“With my experience with war, I assume this is where they take me to rape me and, so, I just said ‘Please don’t hurt me,’ ” Addario said. “A soldier came up, punched me in the face and then they left us sitting on the front line for hours. For the first three days, we were all beaten, tied up, blindfolded, threatened with execution, repeatedly, and terrified, and this went on. I, the only woman, was groped. I was not raped, fortunately.”

Gadhafi later let them go free because he wanted to show the world he was a legitimate leader. The New York Times later sent a team to investigate what happened to the driver, but he was never found.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario speaks about her life and career covering conflict and human rights issues on Monday in the Amphitheater, opening the week on “Resilience.” KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Later, Addario worked in Sudan, covering the civil war in the country. On a small island, she met a 12-year-old boy, Chuol, who had seen his father burned alive by Sudanese government soldiers who were raiding his home. Chuol had jumped into the water with his grandmother and sister, and the three lived off of lily pads for two months, until they met Addario. Chuol was the man of the family, so it was his responsibility to take care of his grandmother and sister while going to a UNICEF school. The family’s goal was to get to Kenya so Chuol could pursue an education. Chuol, his sister and his grandmother did not know what happened to Chuol’s mother and other siblings. 

Addario tried to find her but only knew her name and village. Six months later, she got an assignment for a different publication to go to Lair — where Chuol was originally from — and realized his mother might be there. 

“So I went to Lair, and it was like killing fields,” Addario said. “There were skeletons everywhere and people had not eaten in months because there were no aid workers who had been providing to them.”

The next day, however, 17,000 people gathered for food from an aid agency. Addario doubted she could find Chuol’s mother in the crowd if she was there, but then a few of the workers said they found her. Addario approached the woman and asked her questions only Chuol’s mother would know the answers to. The woman knew them, and Addario realized she had found Chuol’s mother, and burst into tears.

Addario then met Chuol’s siblings and showed them the cover of the New York Times with a photo of  their brother. Addario filmed a video of the family for Chuol — his mother told him not to come to them until he graduated and got his education. When Addario then visited Chuol and showed him the video, “he was stoic, and I said, ‘Chuol, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I must get educated.’ ”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked Addario about her experience with the Taliban, and her thoughts on its recent takeover of Afghanistan.

During her three trips to the country under Taliban rule, Addario saw how oppressed Afghan citizens were. She has been making a lot of appearances on TV news channels and was on CNN the morning of the lecture. In one article she published in The Atlantic on Monday, she wrote about a “very grim future” for women in Afghanistan.

“I have been trying to show people,” Addario said, “Afghans love their country. They’ve been so happy to rebuild it over the last 20 years, and no one is happy to have to leave, but it is really a matter of life and death for most of them.”

She keeps in touch with people who helped her during her reporting, including a translator who was trampled at the Kabul Airport. 

“She lost control of her 2-year-old. She watched another baby get stepped on, and she doesn’t know if that baby is the baby who died on Saturday, but she’s super traumatized,” Addario said. “Everyone’s traumatized and really desperate, and so I am basically fielding those calls all day.”

Ewalt then asked Addario what keeps her going in her work, given she has seen the worst in humanity.

“Because I believe in it. I believe it’s important for issues to be documented. I believe it’s important for the international community to intervene when necessary. We’ve so many injustices, human rights abuses that go on in conflict and outside of conflict,” Addario said. “I think that good journalism holds people accountable.”

Duke’s Farahany explores dangers, promise of brain monitoring tech

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Nita Farahany, the founding director of The Duke Initiative for Science & Society, gives a remote morning lecture on the ethical implications of neurotech developments Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Nita Farahany started her Chautauqua lecture with an old adage: Don’t ever put anything in writing you don’t want to see on the front page of The New York Times. She said, however, this is outdated, and  soon people should not even think — let alone write — about anything they don’t want to be broadcasted. 

Humans have thousands of thoughts a day, she said, with specific neurons firing depending on what part of the brain the mind uses. 

“As a thought takes form, like a math calculation or a number or words, neurons are interacting in the brain, creating minuscule electrical discharges,” Farahany said. “When you’re in a dominant mental state like relaxation, hundreds of thousands of neurons are firing in the brain, creating concurrent electrical discharges and characteristic patterns that can be measured.”

At 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 19, Farahany’s pre-recorded lecture was streamed into the Amphitheater, concluding the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Eight theme, “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.” It was the first Amp lecture of the season delivered virtually due to the speaker’s health concerns.

Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and the founding director of The Duke Initiative for Science & Society and chair of the Duke master’s program in bioethics and science policy, discussed potential uses of brain monitoring, the ethical debates around companies and governments using it, and her own opinion that society should strive to protect self-determination of individual citizens around the technology — while also limiting the ability for organizations to take away people’s rights to their own thoughts.

Farahany showed the audience a recording of her own brain activity, which was an array of different colors constantly changing shades.

“What’s really interesting isn’t just how pretty my brain is. I do think I have a lovely brain,” Farahany said. “Actually, the fact is that those characteristic patterns can be decoded and parsed in great detail.”

Companies are heavily investing in brain monitoring technologies, such as video games where the controller is a person’s mind, cars that alert people when they are drowsy, robotic limbs that move from signals from the brain, swarms of military drones controlled by thoughts, and visible feedback to show people when they are focusing or in a state of mediation. 

Nita Farahany, the founding director of The Duke Initiative for Science & Society, gives a remote morning lecture on the ethical implications of neurotech developments Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“This can be really powerful for things like ADHD. Training with a video game using one of these headsets, trying to get a golf ball into a hole, it turns out, can be more powerful if you’re able to complete about 20 hours of one of these games than even being on some ADHD drugs,” Farahany said.

Jack Gallant, one of her favorite neuroscientists, published a study in 2011 in which people lay in a fMRI machine and watched a series of YouTube videos. The machine recorded the brain activity of the subjects, and Gallant was able to “decode,” Farahany said, their thoughts to recreate a rough image of what they were viewing. 

“He essentially built a dictionary, a library, an algorithm that can start to predict if you see this type of blood-oxygenation level, this is what it means in the brain. This is where the images are that you see,” Farahany said. “He then reconstructed, just based on brain activity alone, what the images were. They are a little bit blurry. It’s not a perfect representation, but it’s pretty remarkable.”

Previously, only doctors had the technology to see into the brain’s inner workings, but now, and more so in the future, everyday citizens will have access. 

“Which raises the question: Should you have direct access to this information? Should it go through an intermediary, somebody who can interpret it for you?” Farahany said. “Is there a right to self-access? If there is, is there a corollary right to be able to do more than just access your brain? Can you change it as well?”

In sports, any physical enhancements, such as performance-enhancing drugs, are considered to give the athlete an unfair advantage. Common belief is that competitions should be won through innate physical gifts and hard work.

“Is this just what we are doing in society, or what we’re doing in humanity?” Farahany said. “Aren’t we always trying to enhance our own brains? Is that just part of what it means to flourish as a human being?”

International chess competitions, Farahany said, have banned the use of memory-enhancing pills, because they give advantages to the user, and chess players are required to take drug tests before playing. 

And she said sports industries are not the only ones interested in brain-monitoring technologies. She said many tech companies like Facebook are “all-in.” The social media giant recently released an update on their computer-brain interface. In the study, they researched people who already had a brain chip to control epilepsy, and they were able to correctly predict what a person was going to say before they said it, which could be used for people with debilitating paralysis.

The time has come to recognize cognitive liberty so that we can embrace the promise of neurotechnology, while safeguarding human flourishing.”

—Nita Farahany
Founding Director,
The Duke Initiative for Science & Society 

Facebook has already bought Control Labs, a leading company in the field, and is working on actual reality games, which are video games that interact with real life — such as Pokémon GO — and virtual reality games that use only the players’ thoughts to play, as well as computers that do not use a keyboard or a mouse.

Elon Musk is another figure in the brain monitoring industry. Recently, Musk released a video of a chimp playing a simple video game through a brain-monitoring headset.

Some of the efforts have been noticeably well-intentioned, Farahany said. IKEA, for example, wanted to create affordable artsy rugs for art lovers, but when they released the products, lines turned into brawls and the products were immediately sold online for thousands of dollars, which is called scalping. 

So, IKEA used a technology that tracked a person’s mental reaction to art, and customers could only buy pieces that they had a noticeable mental engagement with. The process worked, Farahany said, and no fights occurred and none of the art was scalped later. 

Though IKEA and its customers had a good experience with the application of the technology, Farahany said neurological surveillance needs to be limited. 

“I, for one, am not ready to hand over the keys to my brain to be part of the greater surveillance economy that has been expanding so rapidly in recent years,” Farahany said. “Especially since it isn’t just corporations, but also governments, (which) are all in when it comes to investments in the human brain.”

Every brain is unique, and Farahany said each person has a “biometric identity” that could be used in the future to unlock a laptop, or for government identification purposes.

Some governments are already implementing the technology. In a class in China, students wore headsets that had different lights that would shine based on how focused they were. Not only would it shine on their head, but they were connected to a console in front of the teacher so they could easily be monitored. The data was shared with the school and parents. The government of China also had access to the data, but Farahany said it was unclear what they were using the information for. 

“How does that affect human development? How does it quell the possibility of any dissidents or resistance, the ability to fantasize?” Farahany said. “How would that impact your ability to truly flourish, to grow, to think something novel and different?”

She said this will likely have a deep impact on children’s creativity and imaginations, and that most innovators have had their greatest ideas while their minds were wandering.

“I worry that we may have a slight increase in productivity; that is, the efficiency of the number of hours a person spends paying attention, and a plummeting result of the quality of their output as creativity starts to decline,” Farahany said.

Society, Farahany said, needs more protection around brain monitoring. Currently, there are no explicit protections around neurological surveillance in the U.S. Constitution. 

Nita Farahany, the founding director of The Duke Initiative for Science & Society, gives a remote morning lecture on the ethical implications of neurotech developments Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

But she also stressed the right for people to choose what kind of technology they would like for themselves, such as the keyboard-less computer or more effective ADHD treatment.

“The time has come to recognize cognitive liberty so that we can embrace the promise of neurotechnology, while safeguarding human flourishing,” Farahany said. 

As part of the Q-and-A session, which Farahany conducted live from her home in North Carolina, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked Farahany to talk more about IKEA using brain monitoring to sell art. When she discussed IKEA earlier in the lecture, as the audience reacted, an alarm went off in the distance.

“I also feel like,” Ewalt said, “that was Chautauqua just raising an alarm because of our love for the arts, as well as the implications of what that means, and measuring what loving art means, and who gets to define that.”

Farahany said the technology was first developed for museums, and scientists tracked the brain patterns of people viewing different works of art and asked them later how they felt about each. They noticed an innate reaction within the brain for pieces that the person likes. The technology was also used to recommend similar works of art. Farahany said it brings up the interesting question of what is defined as love.

“What does that do to how we think about our own appreciation of art, that you have to have an objective measure in your brain that somebody can visualize, and that that’s the true mark of what counts as appreciation?” Farahany said. “Our experience of appreciating art will start to be narrowed. It’s only if you love it that it counts. Well, actually, if I’m disgusted by it, then the artist has achieved something that they were trying to achieve as well, potentially.”

Neuroscientist Marlin explores how trauma can impact brain structures of future offspring

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Bianca Jones Marlin, principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, speaks Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

During World War II, the Netherlands faced nine months of starvation because the country decided to protest the transport of Nazi troops. The country’s future children would face a strange phenomenon: higher rates of metabolic issues like hypertension and diabetes.

“If there is no food, something like diabetes is actually adaptive. It’s beneficial. You’re able to hold onto the sugar that you are taking in, but when we’re living in the land of plenty, that’s when it becomes a problem,” said Bianca Jones Marlin. “So scientists started to see this emergence of a metabolic memory of the past living on (in people) who had never experienced the trauma.”

Marlin is the principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, where she researches the mechanism of transgenerational inheritance of environmental information. At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Marlin presented her lecture, titled “Nature, Nurture and the Science of Parenthood,” as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Eight’s theme of “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.” Marlin discussed her own research on oxytocin in the brains of mother and virgin mice, how fears can be passed down through generations, and what her work might entail for humans. 

Human babies show their emotions by laughing and crying, and other young mammals perform the same actions, especially when signaling for care. Take mice pups, which are the subject of much of Marlin’s work. These critters become cold very quickly, so whenever they are removed from the nest, they make ultrasonic vocalizations, which humans can’t hear, for help.

“I want you to know that it’s not allowed in the Marlin Lab to abuse mice,” Marlin said. “We use mice with such care and appreciation for the life that they give to us, so we can give life to humanity.”

While mother mice are quick to bring the young pups back to the nest, mice that have not given birth, which Marlin called virgin mice, are unlikely to do so. Virgin mice are more likely to leave the pups out in the cold, or sometimes cannibalize them. 

Bianca Jones Marlin, principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, speaks Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

So Marlin and other researchers wanted to know why there was this difference between mother and virgin mice, and where their brains vary. 

She thought oxytocin was at the center of all this. Oxytocin is released through activities like talking, eye contact and soft touch, but also during birth. 

“Given we see a change in virgins to mothers, is oxytocin the magical ingredient that makes that happen?” Marlin said. “Given the first sound that a mother will hear after birth is the sound of the litter crying, is the auditory cortex, which is the area of the brain that processes sound, the area in which the magic happens?”

Every three hours for three days, Marlin would inject a virgin mouse, while under anesthesia, with oxytocin. Throughout the days, Marlin would remove a pup from the nest and place it elsewhere in the cage. What her team found was that virgin mice, who formerly did not retrieve the pups, were learning to after they were  treated with oxytocin. The virgin mice would also have to be housed with mother mice for some time in order to achieve the best results. 

“I think this is a very important point when we think about parenthood, network, community and support,” Marlin said. “Nature has us set up to be expert caregivers, but not on our own. There’s a learning component, and there’s a communication and society component that’s essential.”

Marlin’s team mapped the oxytocin receptors in mice brains.

“We were astounded by what we saw,” Marlin said. “We saw oxytocin receptors in the left and oxytocin receptors in the right auditory cortex. However, when we looked at them together, we noticed something. There were more oxytocin receptors in the left brain than in the right.”

Bianca Jones Marlin, principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, speaks Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Marlin said the left side of the brain had twice the amount of receptors as the right. This sent “chills” through Marlin’s research team, because this meant they found “a communication center, that also expressed oxytocin receptors that was lateralized,” like human brains.

Then they wanted to make sure this change in oxytocin in mice brains was necessary for spurring on more retrieval of pups, so they deactivated that part of the brain in mother mice for a day. Mother mice that used to retrieve pups stopped doing so, and Marlin and her team found that the area of mice’s brains that told them to retrieve the pups was, indeed, the left auditory center. 

Marlin then talked about her own upbringing, and why she does her work. Her parents were foster parents, so she had many nonbiological siblings.

“When we went to bed, I would hear stories of why they were in foster care, stories of abuse, stories of neglect, stories of a broken system that had separated them from their parents when they didn’t need to be,” Marlin said, and noted her own family in the audience. “Now as an adult, I realized this is what motivated my work in parental care and parental behavior. So I thank them, and my mom is here, in the corner over there. Hi, Mom.”

Marlin’s research now focuses on how trauma in parents affects brain structures and sensory experiences in their future offspring, which is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

One of her studies involved almonds. She would put male mice in a cage; one side would have the scent of almonds and produce a small electric shock on the mice’s feet, while the other side had nothing. The male mice would avoid that side of the cage, and she noticed their offspring would, too. 

She ended with a quote from artist Kehinde Wiley: “We are wired to care about the needs of others. I think that is in our DNA.”

Bianca Jones Marlin, principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, speaks Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As part of the Q-and-A session, Amy Gardner, vice president of advancement and campaign director, asked Marlin if there was a difference between left- and right-handed mothers on the side of auditory perception in the brain. 

“The majority of the animals, 70% of the mice, who had the quieting of the left auditory hearing centers, did not retrieve, but there was 30% that consistently did,” Marlin said. “Similarly, when we silenced the right, a large percentage of them continued retrieving, but a small percentage didn’t.”

This leads her to believe that the same could be true for humans.

Gardner asked Marlin if there was a difference between how male mice retrieved pups versus female mice. 

Marlin said that while females took about 3-12 hours to start retrieving the pups after the oxytocin treatment, male mice took about three days. 

Gardner then asked Marlin if there was any research done on transgenics and the impact of structural racism. 

“We’re looking at a targeted approach. It’s a jump to really call a foot shock ‘trauma.’ I have all my students test the foot shocks and feel it on their hands,” Marlin said. “The mice are tested with the foot shock five times a day for three days, so 15 light foot shocks, 15 walking around on the carpet and touching a doorknob.”

But, Marlin said this could potentially change the mice’s sperm makeup and impact the second generation. 

“We could just think about the chronic stressors like systemic racism and how much more that could be affecting the brain and the body,” Marlin said. “That’s a question that is scary, but important.”

Ornstein, Leifman, Insel discuss depth of mental health crisis in U.S., ways forward

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

From left, Insel, Leifman and Ornstein join in conversation on mental health and the health care and justice systems in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Norman Ornstein had some questions for his Amphitheater audience: How many of them know someone who has a mental illness, and how many know someone with a very serious mental illness? Then he asked the people who did not raise their hands: Why were they lying? 

“The fact is that mental illness touches virtually every family in this society,” said Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the vice president of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation, named in memory of his son Matthew. 

And just like every family, Ornstein said, his own has been touched by mental illness.

“I’ll try and keep my composure as much as I can,” Ornstein said, “but our son, Matthew, was a brilliant, funny, warm and compassionate person who was a national champion high school debater, went to Princeton and excelled, was out in Hollywood having success when, at age 24, he had a psychotic break.”

Ornstein said his son and family went through 10 years of pain because of a broken system, from health care to court systems, that are not fit to support people with mental illness. His son was one of them, and “had no insight into the fact that he had an illness,” which is called anosognosia.

“He believed that for some reason, which he could not fathom, God had come for him and had taken his soul, but left his body behind inadvertently, and it was a struggle to recapture God’s grace and get back his soul,” Ornstein said. “The idea of taking medicine or getting treatment was anathema to him, because it would be taking the easy way out, and God would not approve.”

Ornstein was naive, he said, and thought medication would be a magic bullet. But in reality, it was one of many steps. 

“Now, for the rest of us, as we tried, we got no help from a system that did not provide any avenue for family members to intervene, but also left him on his own, because of the assumption that he was a person with freedom and agency,” Ornstein said. 

Ornstein said his son suffered from a “double whammy” of mental illness and cigarette addiction.

“He died in a hotel room of carbon monoxide poisoning. An accidental death, but a death that was not preordained, that did not have to happen,” Ornstein said. “And as my wife has said many times, he died with his civil liberties intact.”

His family and he had two options, he said: “Curl up in a ball into the corner and just grieve,” or, as President Joe Biden said, “Turn our grief into purpose.”

The fact is that mental illness touches virtually every family in this society.

—Norman Ornstein
Emeritus Scholar,
American Enterprise Institute

At 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 17 in the Amp, Ornstein joined Steven Leifman and Thomas Insel in a panel discussion about the state of mental health in the U.S. and ways forward through reforms in health care and criminal justice. Leifman is an associate administrative judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, and Insel is the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. The three spoke as part of Week Eight’s theme of “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.”

Leifman said most judges received no training on how to approach working with people with mental illness.

“The criminal justice system in America is the repository for many failed public policies, and there is no greater failed public policy than our treatment toward people with serious mental illnesses,” Leifman said. “But none of that was taught to me before I started.”

Early in Leifman’s career on the bench, he handled low-level charges for people who were still in custody. Most commonly, the people he saw in his court were defendants who had serious mental illnesses who did not know how to get out of jail.

As a young judge right before a trial, Insel was approached by the parents of the defendant. The mom was crying and the dad was shaking and begged him to do whatever he could to help their son. Their son was a nationally ranked debater in high school, a Harvard graduate and had been cycling through the criminal justice system. 

As a relatively new judge, Leifman thought he had more power than he actually did. 

“I deal in logic, and I knew if you got arrested and had a heart attack, there was an amazing health care system you would go to and you would get really good care, and I said, ‘Well, it must be the same for people with mental illnesses,’” Leifman said. “So I promised them that I would get their son help. The worst mistake I ever made as a judge.”

As Leifman started to go back to the courtroom, the mother stopped him, and said, “With all due respect, I think my son knows more about mental health than you do.” 

“Excuse me?” Leifman said. 

Her son was the former head of psychiatry at Jackson Memorial Hospital, until one day he had his first psychotic breakdown. He did not show up to work, thought he needed to be closer to God ­— which is called religious ideation — cashed in his life insurance policy, flew to Israel, was later deported for running around naked in the Orthodox sections of Jerusalem, and was now homeless.

In the trial, Leifman could see nothing wrong with the defendant; he was thoughtful and more respectful than the lawyers, to the point where Leifman thought that it might be the parents who were the problem. So Leifman asked him how, if there was nothing wrong with him, a Harvard-educated doctor ended up in his position. He triggered a psychotic breakdown in the defendant.

“It took me a long time to understand that I caused his psychotic episode. He never told me that he was a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and as soon as I said those words to him, his brilliant, fast mind made the assumption that I must have been part of the CIA conspiracy, because how else would I know?” Leifman said. “And the one person he thought he could trust in the courtroom, the judge, had let him down.”

Leifman later did what his predecessor told him to do and ordered psychological evaluations, and all three came back that the defendant was incompetent to stand trial and met the criteria for involuntary hospitalization. Leifman was about to order he be put in a mental hospital and put on medication, when a lawyer informed him that, as a local judge, he did not have the authority to do so. 

Leifman’s only option was to send him back into society.

“This is the state of our mental health system in America. Not only did I not fulfill the promise I had made to his parents, I put him at risk, I put the community at risk, I probably put my job at risk, God forbid, (if) he went out and did something terrible, or something terrible happened to him,” Leifman said. “But I followed the law that day.”

The criminal justice system in America is the repository for many failed public policies, and there is no greater failed public policy than our treatment toward people with serious mental illnesses. But none of that was taught to me before I started.

—Steven Leifman
Associate Administrative Judge,
Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida

Insel said stories like this are not the exception. For people in mental health crises, they are far more likely, he said, to go into the criminal justice system than into the health care system. 

But he said this wasn’t inevitable, and there are plenty of good treatments throughout the world and in the U.S. — and though a lot of the focus is put onto medications, they are only a small part of treatment. 

Fifty years ago, he said, people with mental illness were not funneled into the criminal justice system.

“We didn’t send people to jail,” Insel said. “We didn’t assume that this was the job of a judge or a warden or a prison. We actually had health care for them. We had a community mental health system — wasn’t perfect, lots of problems there, too little of it actually dealt with the people who had the greatest needs.”

In the 1850s, he said society moved people with mental illness from the prisons into hospitals. He said people were at least safe in these hospitals, but were not well treated in many places, though sometimes they were. Public support for these systems decayed into the 1900s, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said people with mental illness and people in these hospitals should no longer “be alien to our affections.”

“All of that changed in about 1980, when the Reagan Administration basically demolished the community mental health system, which wasn’t working all that great anyway,” Insel said. “By that time, it needed to be rebuilt, and they decided to simply gut it.”

Since then, Insel said, in the U.S., beds in hospitals dedicated for people with mental illness dropped from 600,000 to 39,000, while the amount of people has only gone up, especially within unhoused and formerly incarcerated populations. 

Insel said everyone sees pieces of this “extraordinary injustice,” from people who are homeless to overcrowded jails. 

“What we don’t understand is that much of the root cause of those social ills, and sometimes the extreme poverty that we hear about, is untreated mental illness,” Insel said. “Yet, this is entirely treatable. I shouldn’t say entirely, but it’s mostly treatable. We can do so much better if we care about it and if we know about it.”

In 2000, Leifman had meetings in Miami with police, health care workers and politicians who recognized the need for reforms around how institutions treated people with mental illness. Leifman worked to educate police officers on how to work with people in crisis through a 40-hour training program.

“Over the last 10 years, we kept data on the two largest agencies, Miami and Miami-Dade. Those two agencies alone handled 105,268 cases, and out of the 105,000-plus mental health cases, they only made 198 arrests,” Leifman said. “The number of arrests in Miami-Dade went from 118,000 arrests per year before our program to just 53,000. After we did all of our training,  the program saved the county 300 years of jail-bed days.”

What Leifman and others did not expect from their work was for the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder within police officers to go down. He said police officers often do not want to seek mental health treatment within their own department for fear of ridicule, so part of their reforms was creating a better pipeline for officers to seek treatment in other departments.

What we don’t understand is that much of the root cause of those social ills … is untreated mental illness. Yet, this is entirely treatable. I shouldn’t say entirely, but it’s mostly treatable. We can do so much better if we care about it and if we know about it.

—Thomas Insel
Former Director,
National Institute of Mental Health

Another reform making its way through on the federal level is the mental health crisis line, 988. Insel said that across the country, as soon as states enact it, people can call this number to receive mental health support from a nurse, a social worker and a peer, who Leifman called the “secret sauce of the program.”

“The first thing we have to do is not to convince someone to take medication. We have to convince somebody that they want to live,” Leifman said. “By the time they end up in jail with these illnesses, they’ve given up on life. They don’t really want to breathe. They’ve lost all hope. They have no dreams. They’ve been treated like garbage by all of us, and the systems that we send them to whether it’s civil or criminal,” Leifman said.

While 988 responders will have a direct line to the police, they will not have a police officer with them when they first arrive on the scene. 

“We know that about 6% of calls will require police involvement. But that means 94% of the time, we’re going to handle this in a different way,” Insel said. 

Leifman said the next reform which might be added is more virtual crisis response. He said people in rural areas may not have access to a quick response from 988, so adding a way of treatment through phone could increase accessibility. 

Then Leifman talked about a project in the works with the University of South Florida. Leifman’s team asked them to identify a smaller group of repeat offenders with mental illness. He expected a group of 1,000 people, but USF narrowed the group down to 97 people who, over five years, were arrested 2,200 times, spent 27,000 days in Dade County Jail and cost taxpayers $14.7 million.

“Whether you’re a compassionate, empathetic person who just is horrified by this — which we all should be — or you’re really concerned about your taxes, we are all on the same page on this, because we are wasting it,” Leifman said. “Do you know what it costs in America for this problem? Over a trillion dollars a year to incarcerate this population in direct and indirect costs. Seventy percent of the people in jail have a mental illness, or substance use disorder, or both.”

Leifman said the work has been so successful that one of the jails in the area was closed because fewer people with mental illness were funneled into the system and more formerly incarcerated people received the help they needed. This is saving Miami-Dade County $12 million a year.

From left, Leifman, Insel and Ornstein discuss health care and justice systems in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

And because the work was so successful, Leifman and his group were approved funding for a new short-term mental health service. It is a seven-story building with 200 beds, with every service needed, from a crisis stabilization unit to a short-term residential facility, primary, dental and eye clinic, a tattoo remover, a courtroom, and programs run by people with mental illnesses to teach self-sufficiency.

“Instead of just kicking people to the curb once we’ve adjudicated their case, we will gently reintegrate them back into the community with the support that they need to maintain their recovery,” Leifman said. “People can recover. This is not a death sentence.”

The three panelists want more people to get involved in this work.

“We just have to start thinking about these like other illnesses,” Leifman said. “You wouldn’t let someone with cancer or heart disease lay out on the street and walk by them. And I don’t know why we’re not madder about it. I don’t want to be the angriest man in the room. It is so offensive because we, as judges and the police, we see this every single day.”

Story science scholar Fletcher shares how literature heightens human emotions

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Angus Fletcher, author of Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature, delivers his lecture “A Key to Futures Vast: Using Literature to Unlock the Secrets of Your Brain” on Monday in the Amphitheater, opening Week Eight’s Chautauqua Lecture Series theme of “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.” DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

When Angus Fletcher was in his 20s, studying and working in theater, he was called in to solve a dispute between an actor and a director. The actor was playing Hamlet and did not think it was authentic for any person to say their private thoughts aloud, so he wanted to come on stage, say nothing, and do a thinking pose for each soliloquy. The director was not pleased by this, to say the least. 

So Fletcher helped them settle on a compromise: The actor could do his thinking pose, while the words of the soliloquy were projected on the wall behind him. 

“The audience sees the silent Hamlet, and they see the words, and they think, ‘We’re supposed to be reading these words. Aloud,’ ” said Fletcher, a professor of story science at Ohio State University. “What was so amazing about it was to me, this was a moment of human creativity. It was a moment where we had all come together — the director, the actor, the audience — to do something unplanned.”

Fletcher wanted to recreate this scene in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater, so Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” speech appeared on the hanging projector screens. The audience laughed, and then read it as one.

The Amp’s atmosphere seemed a little lighter after this, and Fletcher said experiencing stories, especially tragedies, and trying new activities can spur on creativity. 

As well as being a professor, Fletcher is the author of Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 16 in the Amp, Fletcher presented his lecture, titled “A Key to Futures Vast: Using Literature to Unlock the Secrets of Your Brain,” as the first presentation of Week Eight’s theme of “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.” Fletcher explored the duality of the human brain, the power of emotions in making decisions, and how people can utilize literature to heighten the mind’s best qualities. 

What’s the secret to the human brain, and how do people capitalize the good, while minimizing the bad? This is the question that carried Fletcher to his neurophysiology studies at the University of Michigan Medical School. There, he and other scholars looked at the individual neurons of the brain, cutting the organ open to discover how it worked. 

“I had insight into cracking the secret of our brain’s power,” Fletcher said, “and that insight started with the realization that we were thinking about the brain wrong.”

Scientists used to believe the mind was a computer: the eyes took in data; memory stored it; and the mind used logic to act on it. Emotions, many believed, were misfires of the brain — simply errors. 

This is not the case, as Fletcher said. For starters, the human brain can only take in a few data points at a time, while computers can take in “zillions.” This limitation of the brain is why three ideas usually feel like a perfect amount put forth in a presentation or a book. 

While humans cannot compute thousands of points of data in a second, mankind does have positive emotions that can fuel some of humanity’s best actions.

“Where would we be in this world without love and generosity and hope?” Fletcher said. 

What makes the brain special is creativity, and this is why Fletcher studied the arts and got his doctorate studying Shakespeare at Yale University.

“There’s so much emotion and creativity in paint, in literature, in music, in dance,” Fletcher said.

Then Fletcher posed another question: When are you more likely to do something — when you think something is good or when you feel something is good? He said for most people in most instances, it is the latter. 

“Feeling is such a crucial driver of passion that we almost never do something when we just think it is important,” Fletcher said. “We have to convince our emotions by tapping into our brain’s desire to do the right thing.”

Negative emotions, like traumatic fear and grief, tell people to stop, and positive emotions, like love and happiness, tell people to go. He described this as a “go and no-go switch.” This switch, he said, is “the most important thing in our head.”

“So if you want to understand human behavior, and if you aspire, as I do, to change your own behavior, it all starts with understanding our emotions,” Fletcher said.

Artists, Fletcher said, have fine-tuned these remarkably complex emotions, all the way back to Greek tragedies. He said some people have asked why tragedies and sad stories are popular, and why people do not watch happy stories to feel better.

One possible reason, he said, is that tragedies purge the feeling of trauma, or are cathartic. In his research with veterans, he has seen the utility of tragedy at work. 

“I was a skeptic because I have seen firsthand the depths of trauma, and how tractable it is, and how deeply it cuts through the human brain, and I have met and worked with many veterans, and the idea of going to see a play can somehow have a profound effect on the human brain seemed unlikely,” Fletcher said. “As I saw myself firsthand, the effects of tragedy can be emotionally cathartic.” 

The original audience and writers of Greek tragedies were veterans, Fletcher said, and dealt with the same subjects that present-day veterans have to process. Watching these plays often helped start to alleviate the worst symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as flashbacks. 

These stories helped people process trauma where scientists couldn’t, he said. The plays worked because they approached tough subjects differently. 

“In real life, trauma hits us without warning — we have no time to brace or protect ourselves or shield our minds,” Fletcher said. “On stage, however, we can see trauma coming before it arrives.”

In Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus, the tragic ending is told at the beginning of the play through oracles or prophecy. So when the tragedy happens to the character, Fletcher said, the brain thinks “I have seen this before. I’ve gone through this already.” This gives the brain the cognitive feeling of being a survivor. 

As survivors, the audience can figuratively reach out to the character with empathy.

“One of the most effective ways for us to heal from trauma is to assist someone else through their trauma. This feeling of helping someone else builds what is called self-efficacy in the brain,” Fletcher said. “It is the reason that Greek tragedy is so effective at helping military veterans — because it gives them the experience of reaching out and saying, ‘I have been there before’ in a safe space, and starting to unlock their own mental feelings of self-efficacy.”

Fletcher ended with two thoughts. The first was that society is spending too much money and energy on computers.

“Computers and artificial intelligence are often portrayed today as these mighty, invincible machines, poised to take over the globe,” Fletcher said. “But as anyone who has worked up close with AI will tell you, it is extremely fragile.”

Artificial intelligence depends entirely on large amounts of transparent data and stable environments, he said, “and guess what environment isn’t transparent and stable: Life.”

“The human brain has evolved emotion and creativity,” Fletcher said. “Emotion and creativity can work with low, and even no, data.”

The second was that education needs to focus on art. Fletcher said even in arts and literature classes, schools emphasize critical thinking over creativity and exploration. 

“School is neglecting the major psychological needs and major psychological strengths of students’ human brains,” Fletcher said.

So how can people attend to these needs and strengths?

“Well,” Fletcher said, “it’s gonna be a challenge. But lucky for us, we have just the tool to get the job done. That marvelous, go-go-go, creative force we call our brain.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer, asked Fletcher how people can proactively use the arts to help heal trauma from the pandemic. 

Fletcher said human connections are frayed, to say the least, by the pandemic, and connections are created through empathy. He said empathy must be practiced, and one way to do this is by reading books written by authors with a variety of perspectives.

People often say Fletcher’s craziest idea is that he never assigns books for his literature classes. Instead, he asks his students what books they enjoy or what authors they respect, and he gives them the “scientific tools” to explore them in a therapeutic way. This practice has made the books they read very diverse and shifts the balance of power away from him and toward the students. 

“The point here is that literature did not function as something to be imposed, and literature does not generate empathy by being imposed,” Fletcher said. “The best thing about going to the library is the feeling of opportunity, of choice, of thinking, ‘I could take any book off the shelf here I want,’ and see all those human minds on their shelves, and think that I can have a conversation and a friendship with any of them.”

And he said adults have to be models for students and younger people.

“What you are doing now as an adult in the world is modeling courage,” Fletcher said, “modeling curiosity, modeling empathy, modeling behaviors — not modeling knowledge.”

Harvard’s Henderson discusses need to reimagine capitalism to better society

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Rebecca M. Henderson, author of “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” speaks Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The world is burning. Temperatures are rising, countries are flooding and democracy seems to be failing. So, Rebecca Henderson asked, why not get rid of capitalism, which many believe to be driving much of the harm to the planet?

“Free markets are, I believe, one of the great drivers of human progress,” said Henderson, one of 25 University Professors at Harvard. “Genuinely free markets, where prices reflect the real costs, where everyone can play, where the rules of the game are respected, have generated untold prosperity and opportunity.”

To decarbonize the economy, remanage the agricultural system, create “not millions, but billions of good jobs and to reimagine capitalism,” she said, people must first rethink the role of the firm. She said the philosophy of business people for decades has been that maximizing profits inherently betters society. 

“Business people have fundamentally believed that putting their heads down and maximizing profits creates jobs, airplane trips, lights to go on and incredible innovation,” Henderson said.

Instead, the goal of firms should be to make the world a different, better place, and those purpose-driven organizations have performed extremely well. 

“These firms are not only feasible but often significantly more creative, innovative and strategically adept than conventional firms,” Henderson said.

Henderson holds the John and Natty McArthur University Professorship on the faculty of Harvard Business School and is a Research Fellow at the National Bureau for Economic Research, which is a sustainability adviser to several of the world’s largest companies. Her book Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire was shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey 2020 Business Book of the Year Award.  At 10:30 a.m. Aug. 12 in the Amphitheater, Henderson presented the last lecture of Week Seven’s theme of “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” She discussed fundamental changes companies need to make, the power and innovation of purpose-driven businesses and trends within industries and investors toward more sustainable, equitable models. 

The top 10% of companies are twice as productive as the bottom 10%.

“I spent 20 years in windowless conference rooms trying to make this result go away,” Henderson said. “Seriously, we controlled for differences in education, in location, in market and price-cost margin. It could not be that some firms were simply better managed.”

But Henderson was wrong. 

“We now are quite sure,” Henderson said, “that those firms that use high-performance work systems, that treat employees with dignity and respect, that give them the resources they need to do their job, that communicate widely, that delegated authority, are very significantly more productive than their rivals.”

And psychologists have found that when the beliefs of employees match those of the leadership, morale and productivity increase. When leaders have great business minds and their thoughts are in line with their workers, great things can happen. Take Elon Musk, for example, whose early gamble on electric vehicles pushed the industry ahead an estimated five to 10 years. 

“It is not a coincidence that Elon Musk is so rich,” Henderson said. “Elon Musk went into electric vehicles 10 years before anyone else thought there was a business there. Why? Because he wanted to change the world. He built, now, one of the most valuable companies in the world off the wild idea that the future might be different from today.”

Japan-based Toyota, too, had the initially wild idea of delegating power to the bottom of their organization, listening to their workers’ ideas about how the cars should be made, and their business sprouted, while Western companies took 25 years to catch up with the practice. 

“Purpose gives you both productivity and authentic commitment to work, intrinsic motivation and deep levels of trust,” Henderson said. “So you have an organization that can respond and is flexible, and the vision to see beyond because the world is changing.”

For 20 years of her career, Henderson studied why some businesses could not respond effectively to shifts in the industry. 

“I spent six months of my life trying to persuade Nokia that Apple was a serious threat. At the time, they were sending a million cell phones a week. So here’s the results of 20 years of research in three minutes. Are you ready?” Henderson said. “I learned that change is really hard.”

She said firms tend to deny the world is changing.

“They’re always the last time that you need to do something different,” Henderson said. “When they’ve worked out the world is changing and they say ‘OK, alright, putting in renewables is profitable.’ They tell you that they are too busy, they don’t have the right people and somebody else can lead the way.”

Purpose-driven businesses, on the other hand, often have high levels of trust from employees and innovative leadership.

“Every time I found a firm that has really changed, and believe me I was looking for them after working with Kodak and Nokia,” Henderson said, “they turned out to be emotionally committed to making a difference in the world.”

While governments have a large role to play, the private sector has to lead the change of capitalism.

“We don’t have the perfect government — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re having a few political problems,” Henderson said. “Having the private sector as an ally, having the sector stand up and say, ‘You know, I think that voting rights are actually a good idea,’ (creates change).”

Historically, businesses have stepped up when governments didn’t.

“In Denmark, in the 19th century, it was a businessman who suggested maybe, maybe business should be in partnership with labor and with government to build a society that worked for everyone,” Henderson said.

After World War II, businesses in Japan and Germany committed themselves to be inclusive to all, and remain as some of the most equal, and thriving, economies. 

This trend of the private businesses leading the way can still be seen today with industry using palm oils. Unsustainable palm oil, Henderson said, is an “environmental disaster,” causing massive deforestation and land poisoning, as well as poor treatment of the workforce. So Unilever, a British multinational consumer goods company, wanted to change to 100% sustainably-grown palm oil. The problem was, Henderson said, this alternative was 80% more expensive. 

So the company went to industry rivals and discussed an industry-wide commitment to using more sustainable palm oils, which were more expensive, but reduced the number of carbon footprints. Sixty-seven percent of the world’s public traders of palm oil companies signed up to grow only sustainable goods.

“Seven to eight years ago, I thought this might change the world, that industry-wide voluntary cooperation was how we were going to solve the problems we faced was wrong. So were a bunch of other people. I will tell you that they made a lot of progress,” Henderson said. “In the Amazon before the new Brazilian administration, deforestation almost stopped because the big growers were selling to big firms who only wanted good stuff.”

It’s not just companies expanding their actions against climate change. 

“A bunch of investors are saying, ‘You know, I appreciate the profits, but the bit about destroying the planet and my society, I’m not so keen on that. Could I please put my money in firms that don’t do that?’ ” Henderson said. 

So what can people do? Henderson said to eat less meat, fly less and insulate houses. She said those in leadership have to be courageous and take the first steps. She said employees need to act from where they are and also get politically involved. 

“It’s easy to think the world is driven by heroes because that’s how our minds work. We want to think the civil rights movement was because of Martin Luther King Jr. or that India found its independence because of Dr. Ghandi — and of course, individuals make a difference,” Henderson said. “(But) when you dig deep in every organization, every social movement, there are thousands of people driving change.”

She ended by telling the Amp audience not to despair.

“Despair is easy … It’s easy to think of humans as greedy and selfish and short-sighted, but humans are amazing. We have the technology and the resources to solve the problems that we face,” Henderson said. “At least my own experience has been that trying to change things is way more fun than giving into despair.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked Henderson how COVID-19 has changed the way that firms think. 

“In the beginning, my colleagues thought I had lost my mind. I think they liked me, so they were very polite about it, but you could tell they thought I had gone off the deep end,” Henderson said. “A year ago, one of my colleagues formally apologized to me. They said, ‘Rebecca, you were right the whole time.’ ”

In the past, Henderson said she was a fringe speaker, receiving low ratings from the audience. Recently, she is routinely top-rated, and she said that is not because she is doing anything different. Now, more people lean forward when she speaks about climate change and ask her how they can get involved. 

“The pandemic, I thought it might blur this whole agenda; that people would be too busy to think,” Henderson said. “But, in fact, what it’s done, I think, is made us viscerally aware of how things can change like that.”

She says every indicator shows there has been a shift in how investors and businesses think. 

“I hold the pandemic responsible for that,” Henderson said, “and the massive floods, fires in California and floods in Bangladesh. I really think that concatenation of events has really, really changed things.”

Atlanta Federal Reserve’s Bostic shares need to create economy that serves all

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Raphael W. Bostic, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, delivers his lecture “An Economy that Works for All” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Maximum employment is not straightforward, and it is not helpful that Merriam-Webster has three definitions for maximum: the greatest quantity or value attainable or attained; an upper limit allowed (as by a legal authority) or allowable (as by the circumstances of a particular case); and the largest of a set of numbers.

“All three of these definitions,” said Raphael W. Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve of Atlanta, “make clear that setting a benchmark for the successful attainment of maximum employment requires figuring out what that greatest quantity or largest number is.”

In the short and medium term, maximum employment can be achieved when everyone who wants a job gets one. 

“Now this, obviously, can’t be true at every moment in time,” Bostic said. “In a dynamic economy like the United States, hundreds of thousands of jobs are created and lost every month.”

Because finding a new job takes time, the unemployment rates will never truly be zero, even when the economy is at its strongest. 

In the longer term, Bostic said, maximum employment will look different.

“The shorter route, opportunities, tend to be constrained by a person’s training, experience, the availability of jobs, and so on,” Bostic said. “But over time, these things will change in positive ways so that economic potential can increase. If we realize these changes in the longer run, then maximum employment means everyone has the opportunity for gainful employment, not just in any job but, rather, in work that is consistent with their full potential.”

And this is integral to the Federal Reserve of Atlanta’s “more colloquial tagline,” he said: An economy that works for everyone.

Raphael W. Bostic, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, delivers his lecture “An Economy that Works for All” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

“This has required us to examine a basic question: For whom is the economy not working? To put it another way: Who is being held back from fully participating in the economy?” Bostic said. “If we are truly going to make meaningful progress toward our maximum employment goal, the people and communities who are the answers to these questions need attention.”

At 10:30 a.m. Aug. 11 in the Amphitheater, Bostic presented his lecture, titled “An Economy that Works for All,” for the Chautauqua Lecture Series in partnership with the African American Heritage House as part of Week Seven’s theme of “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” Bostic discussed what demographics are held back from fully participating in the economy, actions the Federal Reserve and other groups are taking and the roles every person plays in creating a financial system that serves everyone. 

Early in his career, Bostic sat on a jury. There was little doubt the defendant was guilty of shooting three, all nonfatal. As the trial went on, it became clear to Bostic and the other jurors that the man could barely read or write. He got 20 years in prison without parole, and he was happy because he thought he got off easy. 

“As a research economist, I’m trained not to lean too heavily on anecdotes like this. But for me, the case was emblematic of the way our entrenched structures have left too many of our fellow citizens from being well served,” Bostic said. “The point is, you don’t need to feel sorry for this man to grasp the reality, a greater reality, that he was one more case of someone who was not well-served by our society.”

Stories like these are backed up by data. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that, since 1972, the average rate of unemployment for Black men 20 years and older is twice the rate for white men in the same age group. 

“These gaps are simply too persistent and too wide, really, to explain away as individual differences in motivation, or innate skills, or talent,” Bostic said. “No, these differences are the bitter fruit of flaws in the system that underlie our employment market.”

These differences in employment, Bostic said, are also reflected in access to education and job training, as well as getting loans to start small businesses.

But, things were looking up, at least before COVID-19. Bostic said Black workers were just beginning “to make material headway in the labor market, late into their recovery from the Great Recession.”

Atlanta Federal Reserve economists took a look at the data, and found that COVID-19 largely reversed that progress. Similarly, they discovered, the lack of progress over the last few decades was due to structural inequalities — not the cyclical punches of economic downturns, but consistent lack of opportunity. These trends are more than just data, Bostic said, and are “insidious” in the ways they affect individuals and families. The median Black household receives 60 cents, and Hispanic households 74 cents, per dollar that a white household receives. These figures have not changed much in the past 55 years.

The average white family has eight times the wealth of the average Black family and five times the wealth of the average Hispanic family.

Geography and gender also play a large part in how the economy impacts a person. Rural areas have half the employment growth compared to cities. With older populations having fewer children and younger residents leaving to find work elsewhere, many rural economies are struggling.

If you think it’s burdensome to provide better workforce development, craft policies to dismantle benefit cliffs and the like, remember that the social and financial costs of sitting still are substantial, and, in some cases, they’re higher.

—Raphael W. Bostic
President, 
Federal Reserve of Atlanta

“I will note that this reality also exists just a stone’s throw from where we stand, or where I stand and you sit today. Jamestown, just down the road, is a classic example of this unfortunate dynamic,” Bostic said.

Rural communities are also disadvantaged online. Seventeen percent of people in rural communities do not have access to broadband internet, compared to 1% of people in urban communities. And women still receive less pay and experience less upward mobility. 

“The COVID pandemic, unfortunately, has exacerbated (these inequalities as) pre-existing weaknesses in our economy,” Bostic said, “just as it exploited pre-existing conditions in individual human bodies.”

Bostic said women work in more fields that require on-site involvement and direct contact with people, so COVID-19’s shutdowns disproportionately affected them. Women are also expected to raise children, so when schools closed down, many mothers left their jobs to take care of their young children. 

To help address these inequalities, the Federal Reserve has deepened its efforts on many fronts.

In terms of research, the Federal Reserve created webinars where experts in different fields discuss structural racism. One of the most interesting pieces of history Bostic has learned from these webinars was regarding the GI Bill after WWII, where Black men received few benefits. Of the 3,200 houses created under the bill in 13 Mississippi counties, two went to Black men. The counties’ collective Black population came to 40%. 

“The GI Bill’s approach to implementation locked African American veterans from this path to affordable homeownership,” Bostic said, “and in turn, and importantly, from the seeds of intergenerational wealth.”

And, Bostic said, each person has a role to play in creating a more equitable economy. He said people often have big, far-reaching plans to solve all the nation’s problems, and when those plans do not pan out, they give up.

He shared a story of one of his employees as an example of playing a unique role. This employee was not high up on the leadership ladder, but planned and implemented an internship program where students from a local high school would come to work at the Fed. 

Bostic also said sharing information is integral.

“Just learning about opportunities and knowing the general rules of the game can help someone immensely,” he said. “As studies tell us, low-income high school students and rural students face these kinds of information gaps that often keep them from applying for scholarships and avenues to more selective colleges.”

Bostic ended his lecture by stressing the importance of action.

Raphael W. Bostic, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, delivers his lecture “An Economy that Works for All” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

“If you think it’s burdensome to provide better workforce development, craft policies to dismantle benefit cliffs and the like,” Bostic said, “remember that the social and financial costs of sitting still are substantial, and, in some cases, they’re higher.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Bostic what his opinion was of American Enterprise Institute President Robert Doar’s claim on Tuesday that poverty, especially child poverty, has dramatically reduced since the 1960s and increasing minimum wage would hurt the economy. 

When it comes to poverty, “I think that is right,” Bostic said. “Poverty has declined since the worst (point) of the situation in this country. The question that I always ask myself is: What’s the level of poverty we should be OK with?”

Bostic also said increasing the minimum wage does put more financial strain on employers, but it also gives more money to workers. There’s no obvious answer. 

“Every community has got to weigh these two, and have a conversation about what value we’d rather place on solving one problem versus the other,” Bostic said. “Reasonable people can come out on both sides, depending on where they think more value will arise. I know that’s probably not what you guys want to hear, but I think that’s the right answer. These are hard questions, and what we need is thoughtful people to come together with goodness in their hearts to try to reach a conclusion.”

AEI’s Doar discusses success of America’s action against poverty

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Robert Doar, president and Morgridge Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, delivers his lecture “Poverty in America Before and After COVID” Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

The tale of government action against poverty is almost always told in a pessimistic tone. President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “The federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.” In March, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Poverty in America has become a death sentence.” 

Both are wrong, according to Robert Doar, Morgridge Scholar and president of American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank.

“In fact, accurate, more complete, data on the real condition of American households reveals more optimism about our safety net than pessimism,” Doar said. “Since the 1990s our country has made remarkable, yet often overlooked, strides, to improve the lives of millions of low-income Americans.”

Poverty has been defined, since the 1960s, as a family of three earning less than $21,000 a year and a family of four earning less than $25,700 a year. He said politicians and the media often use statistics that do not take into consideration government aid. When aid is considered, he said, the picture painted is very different.

When taking this into consideration, Doar said child poverty has decreased from 16% to 4% in the last 30 years, and Americans in the bottom 20% of income have experienced a 91% cumulative growth in their incomes. 

“Our war on poverty is largely over, and a success,” Doar said. “Now, this might seem like an overstatement, but it really isn’t. In terms of the goal we set for ourselves, historically and consistently, to get the poorest Americans above a certain standard of material well-being, we’ve clearly succeeded.”

Poverty, however, is not the end of the story, he said. Americans in the lower middle class need more, and different, support that promotes greater skills, higher wages, more jobs and faster economic growth.

“Families just above the poverty line face difficult challenges. They are not safely in the middle class,” Doar said. “Public policy ought to be focused on helping them move up. But public policy also needs to recognize that the challenge we face now is not to end poverty — we did that — but to help people move up.”

Doar joined AEI in 2014, after serving in leadership positions for more than 20 years in the social service programs of New York and New York City under Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10 in the Amphitheater, Doar presented his lecture, “Poverty in America Before and After COVID-19,” as part of Week Seven’s theme of “The State of The Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” 

He discussed how social programs need to require and reward work, how effective American aid has been for low-income citizens, and how politicians should be hesitant to keep COVID-19 financial relief measures into the future. 

Doar has thought for a long time that experts are misleading the public about poverty in the country. 

“Experts were purposely pessimistic about our successes, even when they knew the truth. They were afraid to say too much because they worry that the good news will make further spending harder for them to justify,” Doar said. “Now, that may be an understandable political strategy, but it’s also dishonest — and, I think, unhelpful to those who we really want to help, because the pessimistic rhetoric focuses our attention on the wrong problem.”

He said the key to the success of the movement against poverty has been a bipartisan understanding that the best way to help the most vulnerable is to give government aid and to encourage people to work. One example of this bipartisanship was when President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich worked together in 1996 on reforms that established an expectation of work for cash-assistance recipients, as well as other efforts.

“Since then, these supports have been greatly expanded. This combination of requiring and rewarding work is what produced the precipitous decline in poverty for everyone, and for children,” Doar said. “We have learned that it takes work and support to lift a family out of poverty.”

The benefits of these measures are not limited to income. They include better health, stronger communities, greater social standing, less substance abuse and more parental support. 

And family is a large factor in a person’s likelihood of coming out of poverty. Doar said children in single-parent households have a higher likelihood of not finishing high school, and higher instances of teen pregnancy and incarceration. 

“It is vital that we speak honestly about these challenges, with young people especially, and dedicate ourselves to alleviating the challenges of single parenthood by encouraging greater participation and support from the nonresident parent,” Doar said.

Over the past 30 years, rates of teen pregnancy have decreased in large numbers, from 100 in 10,000 to 16 in 10,000.

The economy is another large factor in poverty. 

“As anybody who works in social services will tell you,” Doar said, “it’s much easier to help struggling families when the economy is strong.”

In 2008, the financial crisis made it much harder for struggling families to move up the financial ladder. But from 2017 to 2019, the U.S. saw the lowest rates of poverty ever, he said, “no matter how you measure it.”

Then the pandemic came. With the large absence of jobs, the government had to give out aid, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, enhanced unemployment benefits and direct stimulus payments. These efforts kept millions out of poverty.

“I am certain, and any academic would be certain, that when we look back at income, savings and consumption data for Americans during the pandemic,” Doar said, “we will find, for those at the bottom, their resources increased significantly, and did not decline, as you would expect.”

Doar said while the costs were necessary for the short term, these measures can become problematic in the long term. 

“I hope the system will return to the way it was before the crisis,” Doar said. “We do not need enormous benefits flowing to nonworking, able-bodied adults in a world in which jobs are available.”

The Biden Administration and other high-ranking Democrats, Doar said, are interested in making many of these aid programs permanent. He said these programs take the emphasis off of work, which has been a proven part of raising people out of poverty.

“Our success in responding to the COVID crisis,” Doar said, “may lead us to forget the lessons we learned prior to it, and undermine our focus on work, leading, I’m afraid, in the long term, to less employment, and as a result, more family dysfunction, and higher poverty rates.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Amit Taneja, senior vice president and chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) officer, asked Doar to talk about inequality in regards to poverty.

In his work with poverty, Doar doesn’t focus on inequality. One reason Doar thinks a focus on inequality is counterproductive is that the people he served in state and local government did not focus on it.

“When I would see people coming in seeking assistance, their focus was not on the difference between them and me or the difference between them and wealthy people,” Doar said. “Their focus was on getting ahead, getting a start. They respected achievement. They honored people that had been very successful. They weren’t really interested in the inequality discussion; they just wanted to start.”

Another reason, he said, is “efforts to address inequality risk harming the economic growth that produces opportunities for low-income Americans.”

“I don’t want to dismiss it completely, because there are aspects of our current condition that are troubling,” Doar said. “But I think it’s a distraction from what we really need to focus on. I’ve said we’ve been successful in poverty alleviation, raising people’s material well-being. What we’re not doing well is helping people move to the next step, building the skills they need so that their incomes can rise, and they can become safely middle class.”

‘Marketplace’ senior reporter Nancy Marshall-Genzer explores state of economy

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Nancy Marshall-Genzer, senior reporter for American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” speaks Monday in the Amphitheater, opening the theme of “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

If Warren Buffett was on a desert island and only had access to one indicator to see how well the economy is faring, he would choose freight rail. This is because, as Nancy Marshall-Genzer said, what society moves on those trains is the economy. 

“I started loving trains when my kids were little. They grew out of it. I didn’t,” said Marshall-Genzer, senior reporter at American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” a nonprofit news organization that promotes economic intelligence. “Those intermodal trains are just running with the consumer goods that people are demanding, and that’s a good sign. It shows that people have money to spend, and they’re willing to spend it.”

In July 2021, freight rail was up 3% from the same month in 2020, though it has been harder to gauge how well of an indicator freight is this year. This is because many U.S. ports are backed up with ships, in part because the Suez Canal was blocked for a week earlier this year due to a ship running aground. 

August, Marshall-Genzer said, will be a very important month for the U.S. economy because products for Christmas will start arriving. If they arrive late, because of labor shortages or problems at ports, stores will offset the shortages by raising prices. 

At “Marketplace,” Marshall-Genzer reports “on the intersection of Washington and Wall Street, explaining how the decisions made here impact your wallet,” according to her bio on the nonprofit’s website. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 9 in the Amphitheater, Marshall-Genzer explored several indicators, from freight rails to consumer spending, of how well the economy is doing and why those aspects are believed to be important. This was the first lecture of Week Seven’s theme of “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?”

The six indicators Marshall-Genzer delved into were consumer spending, freight rail, consumer confidence, inflation, unemployment rates and GDP.

The second indicator was consumer spending, which drives 70% of the U.S. economy. 

In June 2021, consumer spending had grown 1%, though it dropped one-tenth of a percent in May. She said this recent increase is mainly attributed to growing comfort among consumers who are spending money for restaurants, airlines and hotels. 

The COVID-19 Delta variant, she said, may cause consumers to spend less money in the coming months — though economists predict a massive uptick in spending, as much as 9%, after the pandemic because people have saved up money during COVID-19. Marshall-Genzer said this would be the largest increase in the indicator since 1946, right after World War II ended.

The third indicator was consumer confidence. In the Consumer Confidence Index by The Conference Board, economists interview 3,000 consumers a month, and ask them about their views on the economy and their own financial situations, such as how secure they, and people they know, are in their jobs; if they would consider buying a house; and their thoughts on the stock market. They found optimism has grown from June to July.

She said expectations about inflation are especially important.

“If they expect prices to increase, they go to their bosses and say, ‘I want a raise.’ Their boss gives them a raise. The boss may pass that cost onto his consumers or her consumers, and they end up paying higher prices,” Marshall-Genzer said. “That’s called the wage-price spiral.”

The fourth indicator was inflation. She said older and less-educated Americans tend to expect higher inflation.

“Now that makes sense, because many of them are living on fixed incomes,” Marshall-Genzer said. “So, they tend to track prices more closely.”

The Core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (CORE PCE), was up 3.5% in July, the biggest gain since December 1991, which is over the target of 2% inflation. 

As a journalist, all I can really do, with the help of these economists, is make some educated guesses, and hope consumers keep doing their job, spending, safely, even if they have to wear a mask.

—Nancy Marshall-Genzer
Senior reporter, 
“Marketplace”

The fifth indicator was GDP, gross domestic product. This year during the second quarter, the GDP grew, she said, “at a screaming 6.5% annualized rate.” Marshall-Genzer said this was due to restaurants and music venues opening, and people spending money, as well as government loans to small businesses

“GDP won’t stop growing after this summer. This is partly because of the all-important holiday shopping season. Retailers are planning for and hoping for lots of retail consumer spending,” Marshall-Genzer said.

The sixth indicator was unemployment rates. In July 2021, the U.S. unemployment rate, she said, was 5.5%, which is 6 million people less than at the start of COVID-19. 

“There are more than 9 million job openings across the country, and roughly one unemployed American for each of those jobs, but employers say they still can’t find enough workers,” Marshall-Genzer said. “So what’s going on?”

She attributed people not taking these openings to how long looking for a new job takes, fears about COVID-19, and unemployment benefits. Marshall-Genzer said more people are not returning to the jobs they were laid off from, and job searches can sometimes take months. She also said some people are hesitant to return to fields where they have regular close contact with strangers, especially given the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. 

Unemployment benefits, which were raised during the pandemic, are being reeled in by the state governments to encourage people to work again, she said.

“It’s not clear yet if that’s worked,” Marshall-Genzer said. “Maybe because we don’t have all the data. We’ll know a lot more in the middle of the month when we get state-level jobs data.”

Though other factors, which Marshall-Genzer called wildcards, can prove economists’ predictions wrong. The biggest wildcard is COVID-19.

“If consumers need to stop going out to eat, cancel their trips, the economy would take it,” Marshall-Genzer said.

Marshall-Genzer ended her lecture by talking about about her own work.

“I hope this wasn’t too nerdy for you but I really do like freight trains, and I love diving into the details,” Marshall-Genzer said. “As a journalist, all I can really do, with the help of these economists, is make some educated guesses, and hope consumers keep doing their job, spending, safely, even if they have to wear a mask.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Emily Morris, senior vice president and chief brand officer, asked Marshall-Genzer if more affluent people are more represented in consumer indexes. 

Marshall-Genzer said this was the case. 

“It’s really hard to get polls right,” Marshall-Genzer said. “It’s hard to reach people who are struggling.”

During one story she reported on for “Marketplace,” Marshall-Genzer looked for an American who was struggling to pay for health care. The person she found had been putting off gallbladder surgery because they couldn’t afford it.

“When she finally did get insurance, it cost $4,000, and she’s still paying off that debt,” Marshall-Genzer said. “She has slipped discs in her back. She has skin problems. She needs a root canal. She’s doing all that.”

And Marshall-Genzer was lucky to be able to interview that person. 

“It is equally hard to reach low-income people, and they’re the people that we worry about the most,” Marshall-Genzer said.

Courtney Cogburn discusses utility of virtual reality to understand complexities of racism

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Courtney Cogburn, co-director of the Columbia School of Social Work’s Justice, Equity, Technology Lab, explores the possibilities and limitations of VR as a tool for empathy Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Courtney Cogburn began her work with virtual reality, she had never put on a VR headset. But she was intrigued by the technology, especially when it came to cultivating empathy. As Chris Milk, the CEO of the VR company Within, said, “Virtual reality is the ultimate empathy machine.”

“I wanted to build on this adage of walking a mile in someone’s shoes. If you could just walk a mile in my shoes, might you understand racism differently than me just explaining it to you, or you just reading about it?” Cogburn said.

Cogburn is a transdisciplinary scholar, combining the fields of psychology, education, computer science and many others.

“That approach suggests that there’s not one discipline that can solve the types of problems that we’re trying to solve,” Cogburn said. “It also acknowledges that I, alone, can’t fix these complicated issues. I use teams of people, lots of conversations, lots of points of input, to help me think about and address the complexities of racism in our society.”

And she has professionally engaged with racism for 20 years. She said when she talks to audiences, she isn’t seeking approval — or even support. Cogburn seeks for people to question and examine their own beliefs.

“Racism must be framed and understood as being multidimensional. It’s not one thing. It’s not just something that happens between people. It exists in our structures and systems and in our cultures,” Cogburn said. “When we’re thinking about this intersection of empathy, racism and race, it’s important for us to think about that it’s not just about relationships between us. It’s about how these things manifest as a part of our socio-cultural fabric.”

Cogburn is an associate professor of social work at Columbia University and co-director of the Columbia School of Social Work’s Justice, Equity, Technology Lab. She is the lead creator of “1000 Cut Journey,” an immersive virtual reality experience simulating racism, discrimination and systemic brutality. 

At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Amphitheater, Cogburn gave the last Chautauqua Lecture Series presentation of Week Six, themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.” She explored her own work with the VR experience “1000 Cut Journey,” the impact it had on participants and how the technology is not a magic pill, but rather a start to people exploring, and questioning, their own perceptions. 

Cogburn said racial justice requires people to understand racism. Racism, she said, is not an abstract concept, but a very visceral one. She then quoted author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates: “But for all of our phrasing, race relations, racial chasm, racial justice … serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it lodges brains, blocks airways, tips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.”

White people tend to mis-estimate the impact racism has on society, often underestimating racial wealth gaps and overestimating progress made, Cogburn said. Some white people want to be seen helping, coming to protests and acting as advocates over social media, but still do not have an accurate idea of racism.

“I often joke that if I were to hand out cute stickers that said ‘Not Racist,’ you could wear that proudly, and people would know you’re a good person and you’re not racist, whether that’s true or not,” Cogburn said. “But that’s an investment in how you’re seen. That’s an investment about whether people think you’re a good person. That’s not working against racism.”

These people, she said, are the target audience of “1000 Cut Journey” because they believe in racial justice, but do not truly understand the impact of racism. Her VR experience takes a person through three moments in the life of an avatar named Michael Sterling (a hybrid of Michael Brown and Alton Sterling, both Black men killed by police): a child playing in a classroom, a teenager going to a game and a young adult applying for a job. Throughout the experience, the user is constantly shown mirrors so they remember who they are playing as and are encouraged to move and interact with the world.

Courtney Cogburn, co-director of the Columbia School of Social Work’s Justice, Equity, Technology Lab, explores the possibilities and limitations of VR as a tool for empathy Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“You’re not an observer; you’re in it,” Cogburn said. “This is your environment. You have to use this body in ways that you choose and see fit, even if we’re goading you in particular directions. So it’s important for you to use the body that you’re in, in order to feel connected to it.”

Cogburn then showed footage of the first VR experience. The user views life through the perspective of the avatar as a young child, able to move his hands around as if they were their own. They are placed in a classroom and are able to play with the blocks in front of them and listen to the other children, who are all white, talking. 

“The children say things like, ‘Mike, throw the fireball, throw the scary black fireball.’ Black is always the scariest. What we’re representing here is the ways in which a racial narrative enters our psyches at a very young age,” Cogburn said. “Even if we fancy ourselves colorblind — ‘I don’t like to talk about race. I just see people as human.’ — we live in a world that’s giving us messages about race and value and worth that get absorbed by our children.”

When the avatar throws a block, the teacher, a white female, yells at him, and only him, even though the other children were throwing blocks, too.

“We know empirically that Black boys, in particular, are disciplined more harshly for the same behaviors in classrooms, and we wanted to represent that in this experience,” Cogburn said.

As young as 3 years old, children start to categorize people by gender, age and race. At 5, they start to associate values with those categories, such as what girls are expected to do and how certain races act. 

“If that is happening across the board developmentally for all of our children — and we’re refusing to talk about and engage race and its significance in our society — what meaning, what conclusions would they draw about where we are and who we are, as a people, as a society, as it relates to race, if we aren’t actively intervening?” Cogburn asked.

The second VR experience starts in the avatar’s bedroom as a teenager. The avatar can walk around his bedroom, which has some sports memorabilia, and toss a basketball. A phone rings from behind the avatar, prompting the user to pick it up and answer. It’s one of the avatar’s basketball teammates, asking if they can walk over to their game together. The avatar’s mother then calls to him from downstairs, and the scene then transitions. His mother is watching the news and tells him to change his clothes because the police are looking for someone that looks like him. The avatar’s teammate, who is white, tells him not to worry about it, and that the mother is overreacting. His mother then tells the avatar to remember what happened to his brother.

“We’re representing a mother having to be hypervigilant about what her child is wearing, out of fear of what might happen to him if he has an interaction with the police,” Cogburn said, “and a white friend who doesn’t quite get it — about the significance of what the mother is asking or requesting.”

The avatar changes clothes and the experience then shifts to an outside setting, where he greets his neighbors and talks to his friend. Suddenly, police appear, all yelling at the user at once, telling them to get on the ground. 

“And you, the user, have a choice to make. Do you get down on your knees and raise your hands in the air? Most people do,” Cogburn said. “In that moment where you’re yelling, and there’s chaos in the neighborhood, and your neighbors are yelling at you, the lights go out and it goes dark, and it gets quiet.”

That section ends with a quote from the avatar’s mother: “Just do what you have to do to get home alive.”

“Not everyone has to explain that to their children. Not everyone has to fear an encounter with the police in quite the same way,” Cogburn said. “Not everyone really understands how you can have an encounter with the police and then be confused about what’s happening because you’re not the person they’re looking for.”

Courtney Cogburn, co-director of the Columbia School of Social Work’s Justice, Equity, Technology Lab, explores the possibilities and limitations of VR as a tool for empathy Thursday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In the last scenario, an adult avatar is at a job interview in an office that is, Cogburn said, “decidedly white,” from the workers to the paintings of the founders on the wall. The receptionist is rude and dismissive to the user, quickly telling them to put their resume in the holder, without looking at them. If the user is paying attention, they can see a Yale logo on the resume, which Cogburn said gives the user the impression they are qualified for the job. They then sit next to another applicant, who is white. The interviewer automatically assumes the other person is the Yale applicant. When he says he is not and points to the avatar, the boss looks over. 

“It’s the first time that the interviewer returns to acknowledge your presence at all. He has completely ignored that you’re there, prior to that point,” Cogburn said.

One VR user, a white woman, held out her hand during this whole interaction. The boss never shook it. 

“The visual of this woman waiting to be seen and acknowledged was just so striking to me, in this moment, when you had been completely disregarded,” Cogburn said. “And in some ways, given the goals of the VR, we’ve made you feel invisible and unseen.”

And Cogburn was surprised by how much more aware the participants were of themselves. 

“Even though we were attempting to make you feel like a Black man by wearing a headset, we often find that people, especially white people, say they feel more white,” Cogburn said. “They’re more salient of just how different their day-to-day experience is by embodying an experience that’s very different than their own. ”

She said to achieve greater racial justice, empathy is not sufficient. People must understand themselves and their own thoughts and biases. They also must come to conversations with an open mind, and be willing to be uncomfortable. 

“If you come to a conversation, and you’re resolved, and you think you have it all figured out, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind,” Cogburn said. “If you enter a conversation about racism, thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t understand it. Maybe I’m missing something,’ we’ll end up in a very different place.”

She then shared three stories of people who used her VR experience. The first was a white, female colleague from Columbia. Weeks after playing “1000 Cut Journey,” she passed by a police officer.

“She got scared. And she said her palms started sweating, her heart rate increased,” Cogburn said. “She said to me, ‘I’ve never been afraid of the police. I’ve never had a reason to be. But in that moment, I was afraid.’ ”

Cogburn wants people to keep thinking about the experience, and have it conjure more than an immediate emotional reaction. 

The second was the story of a Black colleague at Columbia. He played it during a party celebrating the completion of the project and knew it dealt with racism. Nobody told him, however, that it involved the police.

When he got to the section where the police yelled at the avatar, he tried to take off the headset, but finished the experience. Later, when Cogburn asked what happened, her colleague said he was afraid, and because of the noise of the party, he couldn’t hear the police’s orders. 

“That’s how real that felt to him,” Cogburn said.

The last was from a white woman from London. She did not say much immediately after the experience but messaged Cogburn a short time later. 

“She said, ‘(Michael Sterling) is a part of me now. I just received the story about police violence in the UK, it was a rapper talking about his experience,’ ” Cogburn said. “And she said, ‘I didn’t read that as an intellectual engagement with the media. It became personal.’ ”

Cogburn ended her lecture by sharing questions she wants Chautauquans to discuss on their porches, like, “Where are my points of tension or resistance in my thinking about racism?” and “Are racial groups better or worse off because of their own efforts?”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Amit Taneja, senior vice president and chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) officer, asked Cogburn if she has partnered with police, like Wednesday lecturer Jackie Acho.

Cogburn said she is not interested in using VR as a way to train police. 

“In my experience working with police departments, there’s been an unwillingness to grapple with race and racism explicitly,” Cogburn said. “In my two decades-plus of doing this work, we can’t dance around it. We have to name it, we have to take it head-on. I don’t have any interest in sugar-coating or changing or pretending that that’s not central.”

She has been asked to talk to police. Other members of her team went with the intent to talk about race, but the police department wanted to talk about empathy and harm reduction in much more general terms.

“There was just this resistance to it,” Cogburn said.

Taneja then asked Cogburn to talk about her understanding of critical race theory and how the term can be helpful in continuing dialogue about race and racism.

Cogburn said critical race theory is simply an acknowledgment that race is a factor in society, both historically and contemporary. 

“Critical race theory simply asks us to consider race as a part of our analysis. How has race contributed to what we’re observing in society? If we’re thinking about COVID rates, if we’re thinking about incarceration, if we’re thinking about health care, it’s saying, ‘Don’t ignore race as a factor that might be coloring what we’re seeing in terms of those outcomes,’ ” Cogburn said. “That’s it.”

Author, consultant Jackie Acho delves into empathy work with Cleveland Police

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Jackie Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life delivers her lecture “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Climbing the corporate ladder often comes with increased time away from family and children, leading to fractured homes. Jackie Acho, president of strategy and leadership consulting firm The Acho Group, says career success also can cause people to sacrifice their physical health, spending long hours sitting down and shorter times sleeping. 

But there is also a “shadow cost,” as Acho calls it, of more workers becoming disengaged, tired and unable to muster empathy in the workplace. 

“Sapped empathy isn’t fatal in the short term unless you carry a gun,” Acho said. “What I’ve learned in working with the Cleveland Police for six years is that they aren’t so different from the rest of us. And that’s what’s both reassuring and scary.”

Acho works with the Cleveland Police Department to foster more empathy from within, and to connect officers with the community. She has found reform is more effective when it is driven from within the police department, and not from outside. 

Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life, presented her lecture at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4 in the Amphitheater. It was titled “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do with It?” and was part of Week Six’s theme of “Building a Culture of Empathy.” She explored the complexities of righting a 160-year-old ship, featuring voice clips from Cleveland community members and detectives, one of whom came on stage for the Q-and-A session. 

Empathy wasn’t Acho’s starting point. In 1994, she earned her doctorate in chemistry at MIT.

“Logic. Data. Cold, hard facts. That’s what we valued. Every clever question seemed worthy of investigation,” Acho said.

It wasn’t until she had children that Acho said she “woke up to empathy.” This surge in empathy in parents is physiological. Research has shown parts of the brain tied to empathy lit up when new parents were shown pictures of newborns, “proving what our grandmothers could have told us all along; hands-on caring grows empathy,” Acho said.

She defined empathy as “the ability to understand the feelings of someone else, and have an appropriate emotional response.” Acho said the last part is important — and overlooked. 

She said empathy often gets a bad name because it is confused with when people project emotions onto others or simply listen to how it affects them.

“Empathy is relational. Empathy is mutual. Empathy is sitting with, not necessarily solving, not taking your own trip,” Acho said. “Of course, you can offer perspective if it’s wanted and sometimes that’s helpful. But also, sometimes, it’s healing just to truly be heard.”

The first part of empathy is affective empathy, also called emotional or primitive empathy. 

“That was the first to develop in us as babies before we had words to communicate our needs,” Acho said. “We heard a lot about that yesterday with chimpanzees with Dr. de Waal. Hopefully, someone responded when you were an infant and you had needs, so that primitive part of empathy got a good foundation in you.”

Jackie Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life delivers her lecture “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The second is cognitive empathy, which requires a person to imagine the perspective of the other person. Both need to be developed for effective communication.

“If we train people in cognitive empathy, and they don’t have a good foundation of affective empathy, it simply teaches them to manipulate, or worse,” Acho said. “The definition of a psychopath is someone who has super high cognitive empathy, but no ability to feel.”

In a ride-along with the Cleveland Police in 2017, Acho saw firsthand the responsibilities police face. The neighborhoods in which they work suffer from years of disinvestment and redlining. Acho also said the tools police have aren’t enough to fix the issues they see every day. 

“Police are often the last touch points of humanity in a system where schools are failing,” Acho said. “Toxicity and intergenerational trauma make it hard for citizens to thrive.”

This seemingly “endless stream of pain” can make people shut down, but Acho said many in the community appreciated the work of the police. During this ride-along, she accompanied the police on a call to a foster mother whose child had thrown a brick at a lamppost. The situation was calm when police arrived, but there were still deeper problems. 

“No one was solving the fact that this was her sixth home, she was only 11, her foster sisters erased the music on her phone and she was already heavily medicated for ADHD,” Acho said. “It seemed like she needed a hug more than anything, and she accepted one from me. I’ve often thought about how little good that helps against the thrashing waves of her life.”

The 4th District of Cleveland, in which Acho did her ride-along, is statistically the most violent in the city.

“Like many challenged areas, the 4th District is a place where we as a country have redlined, disinvested and left generations to fend for themselves without clean, lead- and mold-free homes, good schools or adequate grocery stores,” Acho said.

She then shared with the audience a video of community leader Marilyn Burns. Burns talked about her role in the community, which included simply listening.

Jackie Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life delivers her lecture “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“One of the biggest elephants in the room where I live is mental health. It’s so much going on, with one episode of something going on to the next episode. People are constantly coming to me, asking for advice, needing a resource, needing whatever prayer, whatever it might be,” Burns said. “Maybe they just want to cry, just sit there for a while and just say, ‘Thank you for just being here.’ ”

Acho then shared a video clip of Cleveland Police 4th District Commander Brandon Kutz. He said the district has 90,000 people, which is one-fourth of the city, and the department receives around 71,000 calls annually. 

The district has 220 police, detectives and supervisors. 

“The 4th District, even though we’re very busy, and it can be very violent at times, is also a place that has amazing neighborhoods,” Kutz said. “Amazing people living here and working here. People that are passionate about life and about wanting to have a safe and productive neighborhood.”

Kutz makes it a point to connect officers with the community.

“You’re going from one person in crisis to the next person in crisis and people in crisis are not having a normal day, “ Kutz said. “It’s really important for me to make sure that my officers remember what ordinary looks like, and the people that are not in crisis in this district that need their service and need them to be there.”

A video played of Detective Michael Williams explaining day-to-day routines of officers. Patrol officers answer calls from citizens, ranging from alarms and car accidents to more serious crimes like assaults or shootings. 

“But when we’re not answering calls, then we focus on community policing, and that goes from stopping playing basketball with the kids to just stopping at somebody’s house who’s having a barbecue, and just really talking together,” Williams said. 

Lastly, Acho showed Detective Chris Gibbons, a longtime Cleveland police officer who works in employee assistance.

“I came down here and was just kind of overwhelmed with what was on our plate, the empathy, crushing things to officers we’re dealing with on a daily basis. And I just became overwhelmed,” Gibbons said. 

Gibbons said he made an effort to make himself and other officers more proactive, rather than reactive, and to strengthen relationships between the police and the community every day.

Jackie Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life delivers her lecture “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Acho’s work with the Cleveland Police began in 2014 after she gave a TEDx talk about empathy and Gibbons called her. 

“I nearly dropped the phone. My experience of the police to that point was getting pulled over for speeding,” Acho said. 

She had also been watching the news and saw the coverage of the shooting of Tamir Rice and the chase in Cleveland that left Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams dead. She said Gibbons was intensely interested in reducing fear and stress for police and citizens. 

So Acho agreed to help and created an in-depth engagement survey for employees focused on empathy. She joked to Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams that surely the department had done a survey before. 

“(He said) never. Not in the 160-year history of the Cleveland Police, at least up to that point anyway,” Acho said. “We didn’t use the ‘E’ word at first, but the chief understood what we aimed to do, and Commander Kutz raised his hand to start. The initial scores were painful to absorb. To be honest, it wasn’t much worse than other organizations we’ve seen because, remember, most workplaces are painful.” 

Acho then talked and showed videos about actions the police department took. They created a five-point leadership model, which broke down leadership traits, such as vision of the future and connection to the community, and then chose people within the building who modeled one or more of those traits. They also choose people for an innovation team who could represent everyone in the building, so people of all experience levels, races and genders felt included. 

“There wasn’t anything we couldn’t overcome, because somebody on the team had an answer for it, which was amazing,” Kutz said. 

By creating this model, Acho said, the department didn’t have to guess who would be the best leaders, and also who to hire and fire. 

“I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. Good cops are in it for service. They want to help and when they get to a scene, they can’t slink down in their chair and say, ‘He’ll take care of it,’ ” Acho said. “They have to problem-solve. They work in diverse teams; their lives depend on the person riding next to them.”

They also streamlined peer recognition, meaning good officers would be promptly rewarded, created a better system for mandatory overtime, fixed lighting in hallways and built a breakroom. 

“Some of that may sound superficial, but when I first showed up, the bathrooms didn’t even have locks. There wasn’t always toilet paper,” Acho said. “How can we ask people to risk their lives if it feels like we don’t care about them at all?”

The department also included meditation and yoga practices for the officers, which gave many officers the space and ability to process the trauma they experienced almost daily. 

Jackie Acho, author of Currency of Empathy: The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life delivers her lecture “The Future of Policing: What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

And what did all of these do? A lot, Acho said. From 2017 to 2018, complaints from the community dropped 42%, and there was a 29% drop in use of force by officers. And 53% of all police officer transfers were into the 4th District.

“A lot of that is because they heard about the work that we’re doing,” Lutz said. “I’ve heard all kinds of positive feedback from the people that came back here that maybe left before. They couldn’t believe it was the same district that they had left five years ago.”

And they tackled major issues, such as race and the police’s relationship with communities. 

Williams, who grew up in the 4th District, worked during the months after George Floyd’s murder. 

“With everything that’s been going on within the past year and a half, it has been sort of difficult, because I am a young, African American male. But at the same token, I’m also a police officer,” Williams said. “People expected me to disown the police department and just throw everything I had going on and come join them and what was going on. When that didn’t happen, then I became every name in the book but my real name.”

Acho has been through a lot along with the police department, and she looks forward to more. 

“I also know personally how the work-family balance in this country can take a toll on people’s health. We burn the candle at both ends and still volunteer to help parents, friends, others in the community,” Acho said. “Take good care of you. You can’t give what you don’t have, including empathy.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Kutz joined Acho on stage. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked them to unpack the phrase “defund the police,” and how society can get greater budgetary resources dedicated to empathy. 

“I think the term ‘defund the police’ is scary,” Kutz said. “I think it causes fear in our cities. Our residents are scared of that. The truth is, we are needed. There’s enough violence and mayhem and chaos going on in the city that we need more police officers than we have now to deal with what we have.”

He believes other government agencies, such as social services, need more funding and support.

“These other government agencies should get the funding and support they need to have an impact in the community,” Kutz said. “If they’re out there doing that work, it makes our work a lot easier. We can focus on the things that are most important, as far as law enforcement in the community and leave the social services to the experts in that.”

Acho agreed.

“The only thing that I would say is a lot of what we did didn’t cost a lot of money, that has more to do with where we put our attention,” Acho said. “So I don’t think it would be a big stretch to fund empathy work in other police departments.”

Primatologist Frans de Waal discusses nature of empathy in humans, apes

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Human faces aren’t much different from our distant cousins. Apes have similar facial muscles, able to make even the most subtle expressions that people do. This is why, as primatologist and ethnologist Frans de Waal said, humans are basically apes. 

Society was not always willing to accept this fact. Charles Darwin wrote a book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, comparing the expression of man to apes, and it was the only book of his that did not get reprinted for around 100 years. 

de Waal said this is because animals were seen as more similar to machines than people, and were not capable of emotion. One researcher, Jan van Hooff, studied the human-esque smile and laugh of apes and found that apes were more likely to laugh while relaxed and playing. 

de Waal then showed a video of a researcher tickling a baby chimpanzee that was on his lap. 

“Young chimps and young bonobos have the same tickling spots as children,” de Waal said. “They have the same tendency of trying to push your hands away, but then waiting for them to come back.”

de Waal is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the psychology department at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves. At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3 in the Amphitheater, de Waal discussed the empathic nature of social animals and the many similarities between humans and other beings, as well as his own research with bonobos, historically called pygmy chimpanzees.

Sense of humor

“If I were a young student now, I would probably start studying sense of humor in the primate,” de Waal said. “If you have a dog at home — unless it’s an old boring dog … (you know that) dogs have a sense of humor when they’re younger. … They have these playful responses to unexpected events.”

de Waal showed another video. A man performed a magic trick for an orangutan, and after the trick, the animal looked very surprised, let out an amused laugh, then rolled backward.

The next video featured a mother and son chimpanzee. The son is using the only rocks to open his nuts, so the mother starts grooming him. de Waal said chimps usually return groomings, so when her son lets go of the rocks to groom her and looks away, she gives a mischievous smile and laughs, taking the rocks for herself. 

In de Waal’s own study, one of his coworkers put on a panther mask and continually popped his head out of the bushes, frightening and angering the chimps. When he stood up and took off the mask, the apes started laughing.

“At unexpected moments, that’s also what happens in humans, humor. The punchline of a joke is an unexpected ending at unexpected moments,” de Waal said. “In gorillas and chimpanzees, you may have a high-ranking male, a fully adult male, who gets chased by a baby, and has this laugh face as if he thinks it’s awfully funny to be chased by a little baby.”

And human laughter is very close to chimpanzees. Laughter makes people lose control of their bodies, making them weep, breathe hard and fall down. He then showed a video of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton. Clinton starts hysterically laughing, crying, moving around and leaning on Yeltsin, who also starts laughing and crying along with the audience. 

“Laughter is a social thing, and that’s why you cannot stop laughing when you see somebody’s laughing,” de Waal said.

Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, speaks Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Conflict resolution

de Waal started his research studies with conflict resolution. Two male chimpanzees fought, met on top of a tree and embraced and kissed. He said this was the way the chimps resolved a conflict. They aren’t the only animals to have processes of moving past conflict within groups.

“They depend on each other. They depend on their relationships. They need to fix relationships when they’re broken,” de Waal said. “So in social living animals — and many of them are — you cannot just walk away from a problem; you need to fix the problem.”

After having and resolving conflict, two chimps often become more attracted or friendly to each other.

This same trend can be seen in young human children, too. de Waal said when children get into fights in the playground and reconnect afterward through play, they tend to be closer. 

Adults usually reconcile their differences with conversations. One famous example is President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. After McCain criticized Obama publicly and the two had been disagreeing for around two years, Obama approached McCain on the Senate floor, shook his hand and made a face of regret. de Waal said this budging lip face is common in humans, and also in chimpanzees. 

“It’s an expression of regret, or of losing. It’s a very common expression in humans,” de Waal said. “It’s a human male expression. It doesn’t occur in women. It’s either because women never regret anything, or because they don’t have the expression.”

Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Nature of empathy

Empathy has two layers, de Waal said: The emotion, or body, channel and the cognitive channel. The second requires understanding the problems of the other and is seen in humans and animals with large brains, such as dolphins, elephants and apes. 

The first is more physical, such as laughter spreading through a room, or one baby’s cries making a plane full of babies cry. In humans, de Waal said research has shown this physical empathy is seen more in young girls than boys. 

The contagious nature of yawning is also caused by physical empathy, which is seen in animals from dogs to fish.

“If you want to get the Nobel Prize, you discover why animals and humans yawn, because we really don’t know,” de Waal said.

In one study, chimps watched videos of other chimps yawning, which caused them to yawn. They were more likely to yawn, however, if they saw a chimp they knew yawning, and humans are the same way. 

“Empathy is very biased to individuals who are familiar and similar,” de Waal said. “That has a negative side, meaning that we have a lot of trouble with empathy for individuals who are not like us; for example, different language groups, different races, different ages, different genders.”

And empathy has to be fostered in apes. In a research center in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, orphan chimps were often sold in local markets, and researchers brought back as many as they could to the center. These orphan chimps reconciled with other chimps half as much as ones reared by their mother.

“That fits a bit with the human data — that if you are raised in deprivation of contact, which is what happens sometimes with the orphans, you have more trouble having empathy for others,” de Waal said.

Chimps can learn later in life, and de Waal said the orphans can slowly catch up to their counterparts. 

Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Social experiments

de Waal then showed multiple videos of experiments to see how chimps behaved when given a choice to help another chimp. One experiment showed that chimps, given the choice of a green object that would feed them and the other chimp, would more likely choose that option than the other, which would only feed themselves.

They were more likely to choose the green option if the other chimp made a fuss, but less likely if the other chimp got too obnoxious, such as slamming the cage or screeching for long periods. 

And de Waal was part of the team that first learned about capuchin monkeys’ devotion to fairness. 

“No one had expected this phenomena. We had not expected it, by the way,” de Waal said. “We discovered, by accident while working with capuchin monkeys, that they care about what somebody else is getting.”

His team put the capuchin monkeys in cages next to each other and gave them different food for completing a given task. The one who received less tasty food, such as cucumbers instead of grapes, would yell and often refuse to do the task.

One video, which he said was downloaded 200 million times, showed two capuchin monkeys receiving different foods. The researchers would hand them each a rock and when the animals handed them back, one would receive a grape, which the monkeys liked, and the other would receive a piece of cucumber. 

As the video went on, the capuchin monkey that received a cucumber became angrier and angrier, hitting the rock on the cage, trying to rip the barrier down and throwing the cucumber back at the researcher, all while the other capuchin monkey never made a noise. 

His team received a letter from a philosopher saying that animals could not have empathy, because empathy was invented during the French Revolution. de Waal believes morality is based on basic emotions.

“That’s why our moral reactions are so emotional. We get upset about morality because the emotions are involved,” de Waal said. “It’s not like it’s some sort of principle that has been formulated by some old philosophers in Paris or something. That’s not how morality works. It bases itself on these very basic emotions.”

Human children also have a similar reaction to unfairness. One mother who watched the video recreated the experiment with her young children, giving her son a cookie and her daughter half of one. The daughter immediately started crying and dropped the treat on the ground. 

Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, speaks Tuesday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Mama’s last hug

Chimpanzees have both patriarchs and matriarchs. The males in charge gain their power through physical dominance in their peak years, whereas females gain power through social connections, often becoming more powerful as they get older. This is the reason Mama, the chimpanzee in de Waal’s book, was able to rule her group for around 40 years. 

When Mama was dying, researcher Jan van Hooff entered her cage to say goodbye. de Waal said researchers never enter animals’ cages, especially chimpanzees, who can be three- to five-times stronger than humans. 

But because Mama was dying, and van Hooff had known her for so long, he entered the cage. Mama smiled at him, and reached out and patted the back of his head. de Waal said this is a common gesture chimpanzees do to calm each other, and van Hooff was probably nervous going into the cage.

“Mama noticed, and she is the kind of figure who will immediately calm you down if you’re upset,” de Waal said. “So I think that’s what’s going on here, is that it’s not only that he’s saying goodbye to her, but that she’s calming him down.”

While people know chimps understand when other chimps die, scientists are not sure if the animals understand their own mortality.

“They sometimes don’t eat for a week or they’re very upset when somebody dies, and they know it’s irreversible. But whether they have an understanding of their own mortality — that is not something we know,” de Waal said. “I’m not 100% sure that for Mama, this was a farewell. That was a farewell for van Hooff, but maybe not for her.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, asked de Waal how other chimps in her group reacted to Mama’s death.

He said that zoos in the past used to dispose of the bodies of dead animals without showing the others. They have changed that procedure for animals that show signs of understanding death, such as chimpanzees.

The researchers let the other chimps in to see Mama’s body. Some of the male ones took longer to recognize that she was dead, while females were quicker and gentler with her body.

One female, which Mama adopted and raised, was very protective of the body, not letting others near it.

“They also were completely silent,” de Waal said. “The interesting thing is, chimpanzees are not normally silent.”

‘Dear Sugar’ columnist Cheryl Strayed explores ways to craft more empathy

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and co-host of the “Dear Sugars” podcast, speaks Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Cheryl Strayed is an empath, meaning she intensely feels the emotions of other people. As a child, whenever her sister was hurt and crying, Strayed cried harder. “What would happen is that my mother would come to help us, and she would invariably go to comfort me because I was crying way harder than my sister,” Strayed said.

Her empathy led her to a love of literature. 

“Whether you’re writing about yourself as a character or a fictional character, you can’t do it without having empathy for that fictional person that you are writing about,” said Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which was the first selection of Oprah’s second book club.

Empathy also led her to “Dear Sugar,” her initially anonymous internet advice column on The Rumpus, where strangers would ask her questions. The column was started by Steve Almond, who asked Strayed to take it over because nobody read it; the job came with no paycheck. 

She wasn’t a psychologist or a therapist, but she said she essentially prepared her whole life for this endeavor through writing and reading. 

“I trusted my gut, and I started writing the column,” Strayed said. “I was going to put the full force of that spirit that wept and wailed when my sister got hurt, into helping other people.”

She then quoted James Baldwin: “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connect me with all the people who were alive or who had ever been alive.”

As well as being a renowned author, Strayed is the host of The New York Times podcast “Dear Sugars” and has been published in the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon and The Sun, among others. She is also the author of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, which is a collection of the best “Dear Sugar” columns. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday in the Amphitheater, Strayed opened the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Six theme on “Building a Culture of Empathy.” She explored how society can create more empathy, and also the great need to heal from generational suffering. 

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and co-host of the “Dear Sugars” podcast, speaks Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Risk vulnerability

Strayed had strips of paper in a coffee cup on the Amp stage. The papers had answers to the question, “How do we build a culture of empathy?” She first pulled one that said to risk vulnerability. 

“What I mean about vulnerability is really quite simply telling the truths about yourself as often as possible and as boldly as possible,” Strayed said. “We are very often afraid to do that, for the simple reason that we will be shamed or condemned or shunned or told that we’re not right; we’re not OK; we’re bad; go sit in the corner.”

People often assume showing vulnerability is a form of weakness. Strayed said in order to revise this assumption, people need to start sharing truths about who they are.

“Empathy lies in that moment where you speak your true sentence, where you dare to slip out from behind a façade,” Strayed said.

During writing workshops, Strayed often sees her students decide what their classmates are like early on. As the class continues, and they explore questions about love and other subjects, these assumptions are disproved and the students feel connected, often saying that it is like magic, that this group of people somehow came together.

“I always say, ‘I hate to break it to you — this is not magic,’ ” Strayed said. “It’s not magic. It just feels like magic, because you assume that that’s not what happens when we’re honest with each other. The way you make magic is to be vulnerable.”

She admits sharing personal information is always scary. In Wild, Strayed wrote about the healing journey along the Pacific Crest Trail she embarked on after her mother died, and after spreading her mother’s ashes. 

“I was scattering her ashes that were more like little pebbles, and I came to this point where I just have the last little bit in my hand and I could not let them go. They were the last material aspect of my mother. The last bit of her in the physical realm,” Strayed said. “I couldn’t drop them and let them go into the dirt, I wouldn’t let them go into the wind. So what I did is I put them to my mouth and I swallowed them.”

The crowd in the Amp murmured to each other, some even gasping.

“Some of you did what I did when I wrote that sentence. It was as if I had been electrocuted. I jumped from the computer and the first thought that came to my mind was, ‘That’s too much. You will delete that line before this book is published because it’s too much,’ ” Strayed said.

She didn’t delete the line.

“I realized this is the work of writing. This is the work of empathy in the world. It is to say the sentence you are most afraid to say because other people need to hear it,” Strayed said.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and co-host of the “Dear Sugars” podcast, speaks Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Unconditional positive regard

Strayed said people need to accept each other for who they are, even if they disagree. She practiced this aspect of empathy many times in her column. She’s had people tell her about lying to their partners, cheating, screaming at their children and even one woman who flung her child onto the lawn. 

She said listening without judgment is almost always the right move. 

“It opens up space for you, in your own heart, in your own life, in your own living to see who you are, and it opens up space for their truths, and it empowers that person to change, to have empathy for themselves and make change,” Strayed said.

Strayed said she first heard the phrase “unconditional positive regard” in her late 20s when she worked at a middle school. The main goal of her work was to ensure the girls in the community would graduate high school. The primary reasons why many girls do not finish high school are pregnancy and incarceration, so Strayed simply did fun activities with the girls, such as rock climbing and making food for homeless shelters.

“When I first started the job, my coworker said to me, ‘We hold the girls in unconditional positive regard,’ ” Strayed said. “I love that part of the phrase: We hold them. So, what that meant is, whatever was true in their lives, I wasn’t going to shame or judge them go for it.”

A little empathy went a long way in Strayed’s former job. 

“Their parents were drug addicts. Their parents were incarcerated. Their parents had abandoned them. Their parents had done what we all identify as bad things, and there was no way that a child whose parent has done that has not internalized that,” Strayed said. “The transformative act of being able to treat somebody who lives in that kind of profound shame is immeasurable.”

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and co-host of the “Dear Sugars” podcast, speaks Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Heal wounds

Healing, Strayed said, goes further than bettering ourselves and feeling happier: It impacts the world. 

“When I see certain leaders of our nation speaking, I think, ‘You were really wounded as a child,’ ” Strayed said. “And we are all paying the price, because we wound others in places we are wounded — unless we heal that wound.”

Strayed saw this in her father, who would beat her mother and siblings. 

“We didn’t have a funeral for him because he wasn’t, I mean — it’s a horrible sentence to say out loud, but nobody loved him when he died,” Strayed said, “and it was because he didn’t heal his wounds.”

All of Strayed’s siblings were estranged from her father before he died. Her own estrangement came with an exception: “ ‘All you have to do is say you’re sorry. All you have to do is acknowledge where you’re wounded.’ And because he didn’t do that work, he died alone and nobody grieved him.”

To become more empathetic toward others, people need more empathy for themselves. She said emotional wounds often get passed down to children, and this intergenerational sorrow is hard to curb. 

Though, she said, love is also passed down. 

“The way you love the people in your life changes their lives,” Strayed said.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and co-host of the “Dear Sugars” podcast, speaks Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Ask yourself: What kind of person do I want to be?

Strayed has two children, both of whom wanted to go para-gliding, an activity where one is strapped to a professional and flown down a mountain. She and her husband used every parenting trick in the book to convince the children they couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, her sons used every pestering trick in the book, too.

So Strayed was honest with her sons. She said she knew them, and after she paid the money, she knew they would back out at the last moment.

Her son disagreed, saying that he did not want to be the kind of person to not do something because it scared him. Strayed was shocked by this maturity and paid for the para-gliding.

“They did,” Strayed said. “They went up there. They leapt into the sky. They landed and they had these kinds of smiles on their faces that I hope that you all do when you reckon with that question of who you want to be, and you live it, and you leap.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Vice President of Advancement and Campaign Director of the Chautauqua Foundation Amy Gardner asked Strayed what other strips of paper were in her coffee cup. 

The first was to use one’s own power to help others.

“You can say, ‘I’m going to help. I’m going to tell my story. I’m also going to make space for you to tell your story and ask other people to listen to it,’ ” Strayed said.

The second was to apologize.

“When you have to ask for forgiveness, when you practice asking for forgiveness, you feel how humbling, painful and embarrassing that can be,” Strayed said. “I think we can look at others with more kindness and generosity, when (you know what it is like when) you’re the one who’s doing the apology.”

Former ‘New Yorker’ cartoon editor Bob Mankoff draws on career to talk visual humor

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Bob Mankoff, former cartoon editor for the New Yorker, gives a morning lecture about his life and career as a cartoonist Wednesday July 29, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A singular cartoon gave Bob Mankoff the money to put his daughter through college. It’s of a businessman on the phone, looking at a planner. The caption reads: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?”

Mankoff, the former comic editor of The New Yorker, said comedy helps people cope with growing older. Mankoff shared three jokes he came up with when he turned 70.

“I’m 70. The good news is, it could be worse. The bad news is, it will be.”

“I’m 70. The good news is, 70 is the new 50. The bad news is, dead is not the new alive.”

“When you’re 70 and you’re a guy, you wake up stiff everywhere but where you want to be.”

Now, at 77, Mankoff runs a website called cartooncollections.com, the largest online compilation of cartoons in the world which serves as the definitive archive and online store for cartoons. He also runs the humor section of the online magazine Air Mail. At 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, Mankoff presented his lecture, titled “Laughing All The Way: My Life In Cartoons,” as part of Week Five’s theme of  “The Authentic Comedic Voice: A Week in Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” He explored his life journey and career path, as well as the ins and outs of creating cartoons.

Mankoff grew up Jewish, but he said he didn’t get his jokes out of the Talmud. He got them from the Catskills — listening to Jewish comics like Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Lewis and Buddy Hackett.

“When I was courting my third, last and best wife — who is not Jewish — I thought I was having this normal conversation. She said, ‘Why are you arguing?’ and I said, ‘I’m not arguing, I’m Jewish,’ ” Mankoff said. “There’s an old saying, ‘Two Jews, three arguments.’ I think that arguing, that frame of mind, is part of what’s essential to humor and comedy.”

Mankoff didn’t become a comedian because there were few accessible comedy clubs during that time. So instead, while attending the High School of Music & Art, Manhattan, he doodled a lot — particularly with dots, one of the first styles he developed as a cartoonist. 

“This is something I would just do. I have no idea why I did it, but I did it. So I drew these kinds of images to pass the time,” Mankoff said. “Later, that would actually become my style.”

Next to Mankoff in his senior yearbook was Edward Burak, who in his picture held a pipe. Mankoff looked him up later and realized he is now called the dean of American pipe makers.

“Then I thought, ‘What could I have accomplished?’ ” Mankoff said. “I saw him with a pipe, I could have stole that bit. I could have been the dean. But that wasn’t the case. ”

Bob Mankoff, former cartoon editor for the New Yorker, gives a morning lecture about his life and career as a cartoonist Wednesday July 29, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Instead of creating pipes, Mankoff went to Syracuse University. He showed a picture of himself in college.

“People look at that picture and say, ‘Did you do drugs?’ And what I say is, ‘Not enough,’ ” Mankoff said. “If I had a time machine, I would go back and do — not a lot, but more than I did.”

In graduate school, Mankoff studied experimental psychology. He never went to class, except for tests, and one day he walked into the final late, wearing leg weights — because, he now thinks, he wanted to be able to dunk a basketball. He took one of the blue books, sat down, and the instructor came over and asked who the hell he was. Mankoff said, “I could ask you the same question.”

“This whole class, in their blue books, breaks into laughter,” Mankoff said. “It’s just so great — because humor is a kind of courage to say the joke. And for that moment, you’re liberated. For that moment, all of the bullshit is blown away.”

Later, Mankoff was on the cusp of earning his doctorate — “the world’s longest cusp,” he said. He knew he wanted to quit and become a cartoonist, but his parents wanted him to get a job.

Eventually, they loosened their expectations. Mankoff’s mother said she didn’t care what he was, as long as he was the best. He could even be a garbage man. 

“I said, ‘You know, Mom, in New York City, there are over 12,000 garbage workers. That’s hard. That’s really hard, to be the best. You ever see how some of these guys can unload and identify garbage from non-garbage?’ ” Mankoff said.

His father considered Mankoff’s proposed career, but he said newspapers “already had people to do that.”

“I said, ‘But one of them might die. All I got to do is read the obits. And then I’m johnny-on-the-spot, and I got that guy’s job,’ ” Mankoff said. 

Bob Mankoff, former cartoon editor for the New Yorker, gives a morning lecture about his life and career as a cartoonist Wednesday July 29, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mankoff quit psychology and began pitching 10 to 15 cartoons a week to different newspapers. The Saturday Review was one of the first publishers to accept his cartoons. It was of a jester chained in a cell, telling the guard, “Please tell the king that I remember the punchline.” It took him around eight hours to draw this particular cartoon in his early dot style. 

And he used a technical pen during this time. Sometimes students ask Mankoff what kinds of pens he uses, and he always says, “Get one with ideas in it. The pen is not the critical thing here.”

“I submitted and submitted and submitted to The New Yorker between ‘73 and ‘77. Now sometimes I say I submitted 2,000 cartoons and sometimes I say 500. I don’t know,” Mankoff said. “Rejection, rejection, rejection, I had my whole bathroom papered with (rejection letters).”

Like many young artists, Mankoff got his start by being influenced by and imitating other artists — in his case European cartoons. These ones didn’t have captions and had a far-reaching audience because, like silent movies, they could reach anyone no matter what language they spoke.

These wordless cartoons often relied on logic and piecing together the joke. He shared a few: one was a man who was eating his breakfast and reading a newspaper that was coming straight out of a printing press, and another was a woman carrying three buckets, two labeled “H” and one labeled “O.”

Later in his career, Mankoff switched to relying more on captions. One cartoon he shared was of a man and woman in a living room. The caption read, “I’m sorry, dear. I wasn’t listening. Could you repeat everything you’ve said since we’ve been married?”

“One of my ideas is just to take something and exaggerate it to its endpoint,” Mankoff said. “It’s a truth that comes out through exaggeration, and a lie, in a way.”

Another cartoon he created had the caption “Yes, you did catch us at a bad time.” The drawing was of a man, hiding at the side of a couch, answering the phone, while his wife shoots a gun at him. Another was a man and a woman in a bed, and the man asks, “What do you think of some-sex marriage?”

Sometimes Mankoff will know there is a joke somewhere within a common phrase, like “same-sex marriage,” and be patient.

“I’ll write the phrase down, and that joke will not be there immediately,” Mankoff said. “Eventually your unconscious mind, when you’re a comic or comedian or cartoonist, is always, always working on it.”

Mankoff, like many cartoonists and comedians, will often make jokes about current events and issues.

“I don’t try to hit it straight on,” Mankoff said. “I try to look at it a different way. I’m not an editorial cartoonist. I try to look at the human foibles behind it all.”

Comedy naturally targets hard topics like health care, he said, because humor is always about sadness.

He then showed a cartoon of people waiting in line to get into heaven, obviously impatient, while in the background, others zoom through a gate labeled “E-Z pass.” Another cartoon’s caption was “The military’s solution to last week’s puzzle.” The drawing was simply “KABOOM.” 

Bob Mankoff, former cartoon editor for the New Yorker, gives a morning lecture about his life and career as a cartoonist Wednesday July 29, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“You are mashing up different frames of reference. You’re putting things together that don’t usually go together,” Mankoff said. “I think John Locke said judgment is about making very fine distinctions between things that are very close. Humor is about bringing things that are very disparate together.” 

Mankoff had several rules when he judged cartoon submissions for The New Yorker. The first: originality is overrated.

“What people like is novelty within a frame that they’re used to,” Mankoff said. “That’s why all jokes sort of sound like other jokes in some way.”

Every art relies on clichés, from love songs to action movies, and he said every artist uses a common cliché at least once in their career.    

The second rule was to play favorites, as in favorite cartoonists. The audience wants to see the same people again and again, as well as see them grow as artists, but this plays into the next rule: Not so much that nobody else gets to play.

His last rule was to keep in mind location. The New Yorker, he said, was an empathetic newspaper that covered harsh topics, so the bar is much higher than in other publications. 

The Rejection Collection specifically publishes cartoons that would never make it into The New Yorker, such as a ventriloquist, drunk, whose puppet is also throwing up.

He ended his lecture by stressing simplicity, with a simple cartoon. It was of a sign that said “Stop and Think,” and two people saying, “It sort of makes you stop and think.”

“I hope I have made you stop and think a little bit, but more importantly, laugh,” he said.

As part of the Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Mankoff how the digital age has changed the cartoon field.

Mankoff said the rise of the internet has created a mix of a golden and lead age for cartoonists. On one hand, cartoonists can reach such a wide audience now without the need of going through a publisher. On the other hand, most of the money their work creates goes toward social media sites, and not the artists. 

This is one of the reasons Mankoff created cartooncollections.com. His website helps artists copyright their own work, and also earn money.

Hill asked Mankoff what his advice is to young people dreaming of becoming cartoonists or graphic designers.

“I would often say, especially if there were young people in the audience,” said Mankoff, to the laughter and applause of listeners. “I didn’t mean that joke. For you, it’s too late. But, there’s always reincarnation, next time around.”

He said it is hard, that they would have to put in as much energy as possible when they are young and have the energy to stay up late and meet deadlines. 

“The office will always be there. Don’t do the office first. Use your energy for it,” Mankoff said. 

He quoted Wayne Gretzky: “You miss all the shots you don’t take.”

“As a parent, you should definitely let them take that shot, support them,” Mankoff said. “You’ll really never regret it because some of them will be successful and they’ll be eternally grateful to you for giving them that chance.”

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