News

The following are announcements and commentary from the institute regarding issues in the news and new developments at the institute. The commentary represents the opinions of individuals in the institute and this is identified in the by line.

Fake News, Paradigm of Fear & Sustainability

Fake News, Paradigm of Fear & Sustainability: Research Report on Climate Fear(s)

Abstract:

News manipulation is now a much-discussed reality of 21st century media ethics. Daniel Khaneman has identified that people have a tendency to respond to complex issues in a problematic manner – often making use of instincts (System 1 or S1) in knee jerk responses when a more rational (Systems 2 or S2) approach might be more appropriate. Simply put, human beings have a flawed process for problem structuring. In research carried out between 2015-16 with people engaged in and concerned with climate change, a series of interviews were undertaken concerning public attitudes to fear as a major force in the climate change debate.The results have paved the way to describing a process – the “paradigm of fear,” whereby fear can be weaponised in order to promote knee jerk responses to complex issues. The results of the research were published in a book (Formations of Terror) and a comic (Project Fear)* but lasting questions remain to be addressed: Is fear weaponised by lobbyists in order to promote public response? If fear is weaponised to prompt populations to change, is such action ethical and responsible? Do climate change activists have a responsibility to orientate arguments to the rational and reflective rather than the instinctive and automatic? Describing the formations of terror as a device for fear management, this paper explores the ways in which fear can and is used by all sides in the climate change debate and raises questions about the ethics of social manipulation for even the best of causes.

Simon Bell, United Kingdom

[Sen. Ed. Note: Bell prefers the title: “Fake News, Fear, Sustainability and the Paradigm of Fear: The Weaponization of Fear as a Lever for the Good?” ]

Much of this paper is drawn from and builds upon an earlier book. The fuller version of this paper is to be found in Bell, S. 2017. Formations of Terror. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars

*For more info: https://fearlessnessmovement.ning.com/blog/operation-project-fear-the-open-university-uk pp. 91-107

How can we be heard above the noise? A Mindful Story

How can we be heard above the noise?

By Simon Bell

At a time when the background noise of advocates shouting or braying seems to fill all space, it is hard to feel that we are heard. Here is a Mindful Story which may provide a clue or two about being heard. 

Heard Illustration

As with previous blogs, find time in your day to read and think. You will need about 20 minutes. 

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes. 

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story and look at the picture, let them into your mind. When you feel ready, look at the questions which follow: 

Heard

He was really dreading the meeting. It was a humiliation and a reprimand in camouflage. They had assembled three ‘Senior colleagues’ to ‘help him’ in his challenging task. Read this as meaning, three Seniors had been called away from their very-important-business in order to sort out the mess which he had been thought to be capable of sorting out himself. This was not good for his career prospects, morale or self-confidence. He felt totally deflated. 

Entering the anonymous meeting room, he found one Senior was already in place. With the presentation of calm confidence he did not feel he said ‘Morning!’ in a bright and cheerful, bushy-tail, Labrador-friendly manner. The Senior barely looked up from his pad. Not a good start.

Over the coming five minutes the two remaining VIPs arrived and took places confronting the position he had taken. It felt like an interview and not one for a promotion. The great ones talked among themselves and barely registered his presence. His heart sank further. Finally, the Head of Unit turned up, to ‘Chair’ the meeting. The Chair and potentially the judge and jury.

He was asked to set out the current situation. This felt helpful. He knew the context inside out and was happy to be able to put his side of the situation to them all. He did not want to whine but he felt that he had been put in a terrible situation. Essentially, he was a junior in charge of a herd of highly egotistical cats! No one could be told what to do. Everyone had to be cajoled and stroked into action. It had been the worst six months of his life. He had done his best, but it had not been a fair fight. If he had not been fully understood prior to the meeting he now had the chance to describe his side of things. He spoke into what felt like an unforgiving silence for five minutes or so. As the minutes went by the silence grew into what felt like hostile impatience. He faltered, intimidated by the vacuum of response, the lack of signals of register from his audience, he repeated himself and he gradually wound down. What had begun as a confident outline of a complex situation ended as a rambling waffle. Or that is how it felt.

Silence.

Then one of the Seniors’ looked up, smiled and, following a reflective cough, suggested that he would like to start by saying back to him essentially what he had just said, but from the point of view of the Senior’s understanding. Surprised he nodded, and the Senior began. In his repetition there was no judgement, no leaps to personal assessment; rather a seasoned and diligent reiteration with understanding of the story as told. The waffle and whinge were missing, but the main themes of the story remained.

In the same way that there was no judgement in the review, similarly there was no suggestion of redemption or kindness, no inflection of solution just the balanced and thoughtful understanding of what he had said.

In feeling heard in this way his emotions were suddenly and strangely close to elation and this astounded him. He had no idea why he felt so good, but he had not been judged. He was not saved but nor was he damned. He had been heard and this felt like a new experience to him. To be truly heard. His hell had been taken into another human being’s consciousness, listened to, processed and was now presented back to him, in a question, as an accurate account of the situation.

From this point of view, he knew that what would follow might be tough, might be difficult and might require a lot from him but it would be based on his real situation and his real feelings.

This was enough. More than enough, it was a new beginning.

Let the story sink in. When you are ready, here are the questions for you to consider:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story? 

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one. 

When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you? 

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

 Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? 

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you? 

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence? 

Don’t expect instant results from considering a mindful story. The whole point is that the story can act as a gateway to another level. Give yourself time to let the ideas which come from the story settle down. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas.

Artwork © Rachel Furze

Value of Agile: Does this kind of group work?

A report from the front line: A Sprint / Agile workshop.

By Simon Bell

There were about 50 of us attending the Agile workshop, nice hotel, good venue and the 50 represent a good gender and age balance. From young Post Docs to senior Professors, a mighty array of mind power and some very successful people. We have been told that the winning project will receive funding or a very good prospect of it. A useful means to gain funding for good ideas?

Agile Illustration

We were gathered in an unruly mob and the workshop began with talks which were (purposefully?) not very informative. Little was really clear, but we were provided with the notion of the Sprint and Agile processes (which were constantly mentioned). The approaches were presented as something of a silver bullet answering all need and yet fun and quick. Agile was promoted as a means to achieve the induction of innovation. This was not questioned by those gathered at the time. We were all too polite?

Then it all kicks off. The first group work is unstructured creation with pens, paper, Post-it notes and Lego. This is a whole group exercise.

Problems emerge right away. By the way, the notion that this is a problem is a problem. I have a feeling that the process was intended to cause most of the mayhem and doubt it sowed. The unhappy learning maybe was also intended? Who can say, the territory of bluff and counter bluff between expertise and inanity remains unchartered.

The access to the tables of ‘stuff’ was too limited, we were clustered three deep and our ability to access Post-it notes, write on them and put them down for others to read, to read other people’s ideas and make connections was too brief and too crushed. No time to ponder, talk and make.

The gregarious and noisy personalities took over, all other types were lost and either milled around, collected like dross around noisy orators or wandered off in a hopeless kind of way. What follows was a disorganized milling around into groups. This inevitably resulted in clustering around alphas (all males so far as I could see) and that felt (and looked) gross. The egos of the dominant rose and rose, all others were left to look on as a kind of audience to sprint-celebs.

What is it that we were supposed to be doing again? Noise takes the place of thought. Poor group formation follows. This is because there are too few tables for small groups to form around, we cannot disaggregate and as a result some of the groups are huge conglomerations.

The forming groups are noisy and led by dominant types again. Much confusion is in the room and the first sense of panic in what is concretizing as a mob is tangible. What is evident in the room psyche are thoughts like: “I may not fit”, “How do I get my stuff in?”, “where is my space?” The more disgruntled delegates I subsequently find are thinking thoughts like: “what a waste of my time!”, “when can I leave?”, “what the hell is the point of this?” As I say, these thoughts are not just mine but come from many others I speak to subsequently.

At some unintelligible ‘point’ in the proceedings we are stopped, go back to our chairs and are asked to listen to a ‘provocation’. I am not sure how we are provoked at this point. The talk is largely the reminiscence and successfication of those who have won big in the past. It is a kind of public preening, presumably intended to make us all feel that we too can be a success. When this is done there is more milling around and trying to find a ‘sale’ for your idea. The original exercise with which we started the day seems lost and redundant. Quite how anyone is supposed to have got an idea from this is obscure to me. Again, I feel panic. What is my idea? How has it emerged from what I have seen and heard? I have no idea and am empty and clueless. Now I do feel truly stupid.

The selling of ideas process is achieved by the individual creation of mini posters which we are supposed to hold to our chests and then, mill about, reading each others ‘chests’ in what feels like a kind of inappropriate, voyeuristic sandwich-man activity. I should note that this feels like a very undignified and rather belittling process to me.

The facilitators seem to think it all tremendous fun and a great way to pass the time. I am aware of acute embarrassment in the room, and it is not just me. If there is an introvert at the event, they have surely left by this time or died of shame. But, maybe this incarnation of the sprint method does not recognize the value of quiet thinkers to provide any good ideas? What follows again is desperate clustering around big, confident themes and, again, commensurate big, confident (at least loud), middle aged, males; the sprint-rock-stars.

If we are looking for new ideas, I doubt we will find them. What we are doing is playing to those who are outgoing, powerful, confident and have already got ideas.

At last I find someone staring at my chest who looks more worried than me. We go away from the rest, find a quite place and have a comradely chat and, when we have conversed and come to agreement about how we are to play this game we join up with three other confused looking people who are similarly perplexed. We agree that we will try to work up our ideas into a plan. I think our plan and our work together is good but it was the only good 15 minutes of a very long day.

The worst was yet to come. The final provocation occurred and a ‘panel’ of the great and good (are they really?) told us that we were underperforming, not meeting the brief, wasting money and well, not much good really. How they know this I am not sure. How does this evaluation impact the room? Well, clearly it is a contrived piece of provocation presumably intended to infuriate and prompt us to action. The facilitators seem not just to misunderstand the difference between the conditions for rapid creativity and chaos, they also misunderstand the difference between provocation and insult. I thought we all ground our teeth and were too well mannered (or shocked) to respond. One or two eloquent colleagues shot back but one could see that in this Kafkaesque situation all response was seen as expected moaning and all complaint as weakness. There was no room to move against the system.

Day 2. Yes, there were two days for the process. The second day went a lot better than the first day. Mainly because we have got over the hump of being ‘challenged’, ‘provoked’, and ‘threatened’. Most of the second day was spent being left alone. Do we see wisdom at last? Thoughts emerge in the silence and not the scrum?

To do small team work was a kind of bliss. Did I begin to love my jailer? Our small group of refugees from the first day organized and facilitated ourselves and did our best to ignore the official facilitators of the event. We came up with a project which seemed interesting to us. This emerged despite and not because of the process.

As a final note, the last part of the workshop was for each team to present the combined work to the self-professed ‘experts’ in the format of a ‘Dragon’s den’ performance.

I left.

A useful antidote to this kind of thing can be found at the Bayswater Institute Wisdom in Groups event.

Artwork © Rachel Furze