2014: “Don´t hold back! Animate. Validate. Elevate.”

Esa SaarinenLudwig Wittgenstein said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” From this it follows that adding new words to one´s vocabulary (or a new connotation for a known word) can broaden one´s mind. Therefore, giving a “proper name” to a phenomenon at hand can fundamentally change and deepen our understanding of that same “thing”.

This is exactly what happened to me on December 7th, 2013. It was the last onsite period of MAPP 13/14´s first semester – and we had the great pleasure of having Esa Saarinen as a guest lecturer. Esa is one of Finland´s most widely acclaimed philosophers. With this post, (among other things) I´d like to give him massive kudos:

  • First, for being a really cordial person.
  • Second, for gracefully sporting a style that makes Lapo Elkann look like an old spinster.
  • Third, and foremost, I´d like to thank him for giving me a new word: “Holding Back”.

Systems Intelligence

But first things first. Together with a colleague, Esa has developed and endorses what he calls Systems Intelligence – an extension of systems thinking. In his own words, Systems Intelligence is…

[…] “intelligent behaviour in the context of complex systems involving interaction and feedback. A subject acting with Systems Intelligence engages successfully and productively with the holistic feedback mechanisms of her environment. She perceives herself as part of a whole, the influence of the whole upon herself as well as her own influence upon the whole. By observing her own interdependence in the feedback intensive environment, she is able to act intelligently.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 4)
“The Systems Intelligence approach stems from a deep belief in the human potential. In its positive overtones and strive towards flourishment, as opposed to avoiding pitfalls or neutralizing negatives, Systems Intelligence runs parallel to Positive Organizational Scholarship and to Positive Psychology.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 7)

Holding Back

Now, a central tenet in Systems Intelligence is the notion of “Holding Back”:

“The concept refers to mutually aggregating spirals which lead people to hold back contributions they could make because others hold back contributions they could make. We believe such systems are fundamental to human interaction – indeed, our conviction is that human interaction has a tendency to slide into systems of holding back unless conscious effort is launched to counter this tendency. A negative dance of holding back will prevail unless it is countered time and again.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007, p. 26)
“We speak of ‘Systems of Holding Back’, and of ‘Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance’. The subject holds back what would benefit the other because the other first holds back from me what would benefit me. Systems Of Holding Back gain momentum […] because there is a bias in human mental constitution to be more aware of the contributions others fail to make to me than of the contributions I fail to make to others.” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2008, p. 824)

A simple example for the phenomenon of “Holding Back”: a young man wants to say “I love you” to a young woman – but refrains from doing so out of fear that the feeling is not mutually. Unfortunately, it´s exactly the same for her. As a consequence, they break up after some time…

Now obviously, this is not something entirely new to me. I´ve experienced things like this myself – and I see similar occurrences on a regular basis when working as a coach. But the term “Holding Back” has induced an elevated level of understanding, a new kind of clarity – and the desire to explore this phenomenon; particularly: what we can do about it…

I´ve decided to make only one New Year´s resolution: 2014 is going to be my year of “Not Holding Back”. I´m going to monitor my behavior closely – and when I detect “Holding Back”, I´m going to figure out why – and then do something about it. 2014 is going to be my personal “Year of Kindness”. I will try hard to be a more considerate person. And I´m going to do it systematically – turning it into a personal change project. My mantra: “Don´t hold back!. Animate. Validate. Elevate.” Keep your eyes peeled, there´s something coming up…

But for now, I wish you an exceptional New Year´s celebration and a happy and healthy year 2o14! 

Don´t hold back

References

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E.  (2007). Systems intelligent leadership. In R.P. Hämäläinen & E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems intelligence in leadership and everyday life (pp 3-38). Espoo: Helsinki University of Technology.

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2008). Systems intelligence – the way forward? A note on Ackoff’s’ why few organizations adopt systems thinking’. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 25(6), 821-825.

On Elevation, Admiration, the Goosebumps, and Mandela

ElevationRecently, I´ve written a post on Jonathan Haidt´s research on the emotion of awe. Closely connected to this emotion is the feeling of elevation. In fact, Haidt posits that elevation oftentimes is a result of experiencing awe. Here´s what he has to say on elevation in one of his research articles on that topic:

“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.

According to Haidt, elevation can be distinguished from another ‘other-praising’ emotion: admiration. In his words:

“If elevation is a response to moral excellence that does not benefit the self, […] what is the emotional response to non-moral excellence? What do people feel when they see extraordinary displays of skill, talent, or achievement? We nominate the term admiration.”

The following 3-minute Youtube clip invokes a feeling within me that seems to be a blend of both elevation and admiration. It is an African flash mob song performed by the Soweto Gospel Choir in memory and honor of the late Nelson Mandela.* Obviously, I do not understand one word – but I googled it and supposedly it means something like “Bon Voyage” or “Godspeed”. I feel admiration just by listening to the beautiful voices – but there´s also something else. I´m deeply touched and moved to tears even though I do not know what the lyrics are about. ** But just by watching and listening, you can almost physically touch the love that those singers feel for “Madiba”.

Enjoy!

* Actually, it´s a commercial – but who cares…
** So far, this has happened just once in my life. That time, it was the song “Kawaipunahele” by Hawaiian singer Keali’i Reichel.

Awe without Shock: The Nature of Awesome!

Little Guru - AweWhile psychology for the first hundred years of its existence as an academic discipline has very much focused on the negative spectrum of human emotions (fear, guilt, anger etc.), positive psychology looks mostly to the favorable end of that range. On the very far side of the positive sphere lies an emotion which hasn´t really gotten a lot of attention – until one of our MAPP lecturers, Jonathan Haidt, came along. This is emotion is awe. You can see what awe looks like on the face of the Little Guru. It´s a picture I took while he was watching his first display of fireworks ever. You can sense the unique blend of joy, fascination – and fear.

The element of fear marks the crucial difference compared to my wife´s facial expression: she´s seen a lot of fireworks in her life, so she´s just delighted; the angst is missing. Here´s what Haidt has to say on awe in an academic paper on that subject:

Two appraisals are present in all clear cases of awe: perceived vastness and a need for accommodation, defined as an inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structures.

Furthermore: “Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways”. In addition, Haidt lists five appraisals that account for the “hedonic tone” of the awe experience:

  • threat
  • beauty
  • exceptional ability
  • virtue
  • supernatural

So obviously we can experience awe e.g., via beholding forces of nature, a beautiful piece of artRoger Federer playing tennis, by experiences such as might have happened to Paul (a.k.a. Saul), and also by witnessing acts of great virtue – as in this video of Team Hoyt (get a Kleenex first if you´ve never seen this before…).

If you´d like to learn more: Jonathan was featured on Oprah a while ago – and he also gave a TED talk touching these issues by the name of “Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence”: