Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Recollection on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood's 50th Anniversary

On days when I take lunch in my apartment, I often listen to podcasts.  Today’s listen was a 1984 Interview by “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross of US Children’s Television personality, Fred Rogers.  His popular program on US National Public Radio, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, debuted 50 years ago. In responding to a question about why his program was so popular, Mr. Rogers reflected,  “Every one of us longs to be in touch with honesty… I think we’re really attracted to people who will share some of their real self with us.”  The reach of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was brought home to me when two NUS Residential College Four colleagues, one from Singapore and another from Lebanon, told me they had watched it.
In 1982, the US Association for the Club of Rome held an event to commemorate publication of The Limits to Growth. The occasion also celebrated publication of the Association’s commemorative book, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future. Making it Happen…, was intended to make the Club of Rome’s message appealing to Americans, who had recently elected a pro-growth conservative Republican as their President. It drew parallels between the Club’s message and President Reagan’s Inaugural Address “Americans are too big to dream small dreams…” It described the lives of Americans, including some US Club of Rome Members, whose lives exemplified positive, affirming sustainable development visions.
In introducing the book, I asked members of the audience who had participated in the project to stand.  More 50 rose as I described the book’s message. Each audience member had received a copy and so all could view our “Bookazine” formatted highlights, which included illustrations, poetry, cartoons, and short biographies of contributors  (entitled “who am I?”) as I was speaking.

Why did the 1984 Terry Gross interview, to which I listened while taking lunch, bring back this 1982 memory?  Writing about my address, the Washington Post reporter said little about the substance, merely noting the book characterized contributors as “living exemplary lives.”  Rather what had attracted his attention was that my appearance, words and mode of speaking  “bore an eerie resemblance to Television’s Mr. Rogers.”  Later I wrote a short note to Mr. Rogers, mentioning the reporter’s message and accompanied it with a signed copy of the book.  As I would have expected, he responded kindly. However, as far as I know, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future, never made it onto the recommended reading list for viewers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.   

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why you should practice and be prepared to administer The Heimlich Maneuver

Many years ago I was attending a luncheon organized by the biomedical section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  The speaker was Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was just winning recognition for a new procedure to prevent choking to death from a foreign object (food) or phlegm obstructing the throat. Dr. Heimlich explained how he had discovered the method through studying the pneumatic physiology of the lungs.  He showed a film that demonstrated the method, which entails clasping the victim under the rib cage and compressing, producing a flow of air from the lungs that clears the passage. 
Now there are excellent online videos that demonstrate the method.  You should check them out, practice, and be prepared to act if someone experiences chocking, especially giving notice by placing one hand on her or his throat.
Not long after not after I attended Dr. Heimlich’s luncheon address and film, my daughter was stricken with severe bronchitis. See seemed ok, apart from needing bet rest and I was walking to the car when she appeared on the back porch of our home. Having heard my description of Dr. Heimlich’s speech she held her hand to her throat, giving the signal that she couldn’t breathe. I rushed up to the porch, cleared her throat so she could breathe and then sped with her to the nearest hospital emergency room.  Her life was saved.
Some time later , my wife and I were enjoying a steak dinner in my Washington apartment, overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. She attempted to swallow an overlarge piece of steak and it became lodged in her throat.  She couldn't breathe and immediately raised her hand to her throat – the choking signal.  I immediately got behind her, compressed her abdomen and cleared her throat.  Though Dr. Heimlich advised taking a chocking patient to the emergency room for further evaluation, she felt fine. We both had a second glass of good red wine and finished our evening.
 Whenever I hear someone who seems to be choking, I am still likely to jump up and be ready to render assistance.  My children call me “Heimlich Man” – a family joke.  I don’t mind.  Had I not attended Dr. Heimlich’s lecture, my (now former) wife and daughter might be dead.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Balaton Group" Members - bonded and empowered by face-to-face conversations

I am writing in my Ibis Styles hotel room, on a cold, rainy fall evening in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River. This morning, my Balaton Group colleagues and I concluded most recent of successive annual meetings on the shores of Lake Balaton that began in 1982.  The group’s mission “generating new research, new action and new solutions for sustainability” is aptly described on the Group’s website, and need not be repeated.  A display of several hundred book covers of volumes published by Balaton Group members exhibits the range of member interests and contributions. There is a short video, crafted by filmmaker John deGraaf that conveys the texture of our annual meeting, limited to about 50 members, that more closely resembles an extended-family gathering than a professional meeting.
At this year’s conference, a survey by Balaton Group co-founder Dennis Meadows provided a useful way of capturing this distinctive ambience. Members were given a sheet listing the names of the 50 plus participants.  We were asked to enumerate our conversations with other members according to the following scheme: (a) a pleasant, casual conversation (b) an extended conversation including new information that would be professionally useful  (c) an extended conversation containing contextual and theoretically relevant content that could very likely lead to a future professional collaboration.
Conversations typically took place during meals, in one-on-one conversations arranged by appointment; on the bus-rides to-and-from Budapest, and on long walks. In “category b” I also included “professional coaching” sessions.  I always have extended conversations of this nature with present and former “Donella Meadows” fellows, highly capable young professionals who are invited to join the meeting and discussions, with full funding.
Reviewing this compilation was illuminating, both about the meeting process and my own role. I had engaged in at least one-on-one or small group casual conversations with all but three participants.  There had been twenty or more extended conversations, including those with Donella Meadows Fellowship recipients. Two of these lasted more than two hours, and several consumed more than an hour. At least three are likely to be followed up with professional collaborations.
I came away from the meeting, exhausted, but also enriched and empowered, both professionally and personally.  The result was exactly what Donella and Dennis Meadows envisioned when they founded the Balaton Group. I am reminded of a quotation from Lee Kuan Yew School Dean Kishore Mahbubani that I have posted in my office.   One of the oldest truths about the human condition is that direct conversation always helps.  There is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Why reports of recent US Naval ship collisions puzzle and sadden me

As my students know, I spent five years on active duty in the US Navy. This was preceded by four years as a “Midshipman,” while attending Dartmouth College, prior to commissioning as an “Ensign” the most junior officer rank.
Three of my active duty years were “sea duty” on the USS Lansing, a 300 plus foot long radar picket destroyer (DER388). One of the most responsible duties of a naval officer at sea is standing “Officer Of the Deck” watches. I was also Officer of the Deck during general quarters and “special sea detail” (circumstances involving greater potential hazards to the ship like entering and leaving port
In the capacity of “officer of the deck” safety of the ship is one of his (or her)  primary responsibilities.  He is “on watch” quite literally. Officer of the Deck watches are particularly important during the hours from 10PM in the evening until 7 AM or so when the ship’s captain may be asleep or, at least, no on the ship’s bridge.
In discussion of the collisions with container ship and abstract speculations about causes of these two catastrophic collisions, why has been no mention the fact that respective officers of the deck failed to carry out their duties  Were they not on the bridge, looking about them, carrying out their primary mission ensuring the safety of their ships?  Along with the ship’s captains (who have – properl _y been targeted)  why have they not been mentioned as complicit in these happenings.  How could these  officers of the not have seen the huge bulk of a container ship and maneuvered to avoid it.  Why are discussions of these catastrophes couched in abstractions?  Was the officer of the deck not on deck?  Was he relying on some IT system rather than viewing the circumstances of this ship through the bridge window shields, anticipating the problem, summoning the captain to the bridge and, in the meantime taking the necessary evasive action.

Perhaps the US Navy has become a different organization, with different definitions of responsibility than when I served.  However I find it hard to understand why collisions between naval vessels and container ships could not have been avoided if officers of the deck and the captains who qualified them as watch standers had been following the practices and precautions that were viewed as imperatives during my years of active duty naval service.