This Makes Me Feel Human

You’ve heard or said it before. “This” is a constituent of the things you value most. It’s an essential aspect of living and I hope we all know it well.

We have common humanness check points. I think this is the beauty of us—shared humanity—we have something in common with everyone we meet.

Keep people away from boxes and labels. We like labeling (at a certain point it’s unavoidable), but when we do it constantly, we’re inadvertently doing it to ourselves. Once we say, “That person is [x] because of [y],” we’ve created an opposite. Assumedly, we are the opposite, the “non-[x]” person, and we’ve created a barrier. It’s isolating for ourselves and others.

What if we saw people as variations of ourselves? What does it really mean to feel human? What does the [x] person have in common with you, anyway?

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

Mother Teresa

People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

Anne Frank

The Art of Solitude

One’s inner voices become audible [and] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. – Wendell Berry

Psychologists can confirm that “fertile solitude” is the basic unit of a full and content life. It’s rejuvenating to slow things down, reflect inward, imagine, and create on our own terms. Solitude elicits original thought. It opens other corridors for our minds to wonder without interruption. It is clarity and emotion and simplicity on an undefinable, incommunicable plane.

If solitude is a natural state of being, it is one we must remember to revisit often. Loneliness is not defined by being alone. It is defined by feeling isolated and sad without friends or company. Yet sometimes being by ourselves is company enough, especially when the world feels too crowded already. Often the people we feel closest to are those that offer us the feeling of being by ourselves, because we have discovered a similar self in someone else.

L O S A N G E L E S

Even new beginnings take time. We tend to gravitate toward the familiar and the comfortable and the known, but we also crave change. What you will discover when you break away is that you cannot escape your past, but the distance makes it more malleable. It’s easier to rewrite the past when it’s far away in terms of time and geography.

You’ll see life in a different way. Reality alters with every transplant. You’ll realize you no longer feel like the person you were when you are in a new place, without the same people or surroundings. This is remarkably freeing. Don’t let yourself become trapped. There is always a way out. There is always a solution, but it often involves patience and perseverance and a ridiculous level of optimism.

Moral Arc of Justice

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Theodore Parker

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by global devastation and fall into pessimism. This is not an uncommon reaction to everything that’s going on in the world, especially right now.

I’m trying to wrap my head around our capacity for human compassion. Compassion is a universal value. There is an Ancient African philosophy called Ubuntu that is defined, according to Desmond Tutu (Archbishop of South Africa), as: a person is a person through other persons, that our humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with others’.

“How do we help people who really want to be joyful, who really want to see the world a better place? They look at the world and see the horrendous problems there are. And they face quite extraordinary adversity in their own lives. Why are you joyful even when you see these problems and have faced these challenges? …I mean, how do they have this calm in the midst of it all?”

Suffering. It’s a sensitive topic. The Dali Lama explains that so much of what causes heartache is our desire for things to be different than what they are. We have perceptions about our reality, and we judge them. For those who are suffering, forgive our happiness.

“Something is lacking. As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.”
― Dalai Lama XIVThe Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Feature: The G E T T Y

The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts

History (taken from www.getty.edu/about/whoweare/history)

The Getty is the legacy of the businessman and art collector J. Paul Getty, and his view that art is a civilizing influence in society. Throughout his adult life, he took greater and greater steps to make art available for the public’s education and enjoyment. In 1953, he established the J. Paul Getty Museum Trust. The following year the J. Paul Getty Museum opened in his ranch house in Malibu (today, Pacific Palisades).

Mr. Getty died in 1976, with most of his personal estate passing to the Trust in 1982. Drawing upon the vision Mr. Getty articulated in the Trust Indenture, the Trustees sought to make a greater contribution to the visual arts by expanding the Museum and its collections, and creating a range of new programs to serve the world of art. Reflecting this expanded mission, the Trust’s name was legally changed to the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1983.

Mr. Getty’s philanthropy enabled the construction of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and the Getty Center in Brentwood, the expansion of the collections of the Museum, and the creation of the four programs, which constitute “the Getty.”

Four Programs

The Getty is composed of four programs offering resources and expertise within research, conservation, education, and digital innovation.

The Getty Conservation Institute: “advances the practice of art and cultural heritage conservation worldwide.”

The Getty Foundation: “supports the understanding and preservation of the visual arts through strategic grant initiatives around the world.”

The J. Paul Getty Museum: “collects, presents, conserves, and interprets great works of art.”

*The Getty Research Institute: “conducts pioneering research in art history and the humanities.”

GRI Mission Statement

The Getty Research Institute is dedicated to furthering knowledge and advancing understanding of the visual arts and their various histories through its expertise, active collecting program, public programs, institutional collaborations, exhibitions, publications, digital services, and residential scholars programs. Its Research Library and Special Collections of rare materials and digital resources serve an international community of scholars and the interested public. The Institute’s activities and scholarly resources guide and sustain each other and together provide a unique environment for research, critical inquiry, and scholarly exchange.
. .

All available digital images at the Getty—that is, images in the public domain or with rights held by the Getty—can be used for any purpose. No permission is required.

What’s in Open Content?
Currently, there are over 100,000 images from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute available through the Open Content Program, including more than 72,000 from the Research Institute’s Foto Arte Minore archive, which features photographs of the art and architecture of Italy over 30 years by German photographer and scholar Max Hutzel (1913–1988). Other images include paintings, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, artists’ sketchbooks, watercolors, rare prints from the 16th through the 18th century, and 19th-century architectural drawings of cultural landmarks. [The Getty is] adding more images as high-quality digital files become available.

Access to Open Content Images
All of the images can be found on Getty Search Gateway, and the J. Paul Getty Museum images can also be accessed on the Museum’s Collection webpages.

*The GRI is where I will be working (12/4/2017 will be my first day). So much needs to be written; consider this your introduction.

Feature: Frank Gehry, an Outlier of Modern Architecture

“You can’t ignore history; you can’t escape it even if you want to. You might as well know where you come from, and you might as well know that everything has been done in some shape or form.” – Frank Gehry

Architecture as an art form can easily be overshadowed by the stringency of function. Yet everything about architect Frank Gehry challenges this status quo. His building designs are a testament to his philosophy. He wasn’t afraid to bend the rules—or the angles of his buildings.

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Frank Gehry is widely regarded as one of the most influential and revered figures in modern architecture, and I am fascinated to understand why. Innovation isn’t always met with widespread acceptance and accolade—especially during an artist’s lifetime—which is why I am intrigued by Gehry and the story behind his success.

My curiosity surfaced as a result of reading The Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, who explains successful people like Gehry “appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience.” Yet, Gladwell argues, they don’t. “They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy,” he explains.

“Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky—but all critical to making them who they are.”

I’m beginning to deconstruct, like Gladwell did with Bill Gates and others, the reason behind Gehry’s rising-from-nothing story.

Gehry was born Ephraim Owen Goldberg in Toronto on February 28, 1929 to immigrant Jewish parents, Sadie Thelma Caplanski and Irving Goldberg. [1] When Gehry was eight, his family moved to Timmins—a small mining town 428 miles north of Toronto—for his father’s business ventures distributing slot machines. In addition to bullying received by Polish children with anti-Semitic notions, Gehry recalls his emotionally unravelling father referring to him as “stupid” and “a day dreamer.” Irving doubted his son possessed any practical abilities to function in the world, abused him physically on occasion, and was seemingly convinced the boy would amount to very little. [1]

Gehry’s start in life and later outcome suggests yet another story of triumph against all odds, but there were key factors making this possible. Gladwell emphasizes:

“People don’t rise from nothing….It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

Unlike his father, Gehry’s mother believed in her son’s potential and pushed him as a child. She wanted to expose him to the culture she felt deprived of in her youth and brought him to museums and classical music events while they lived in Toronto. He also had grandparents in Toronto that “gave him the sense that the world was rich in possibility.” [1] Such a world was created through hours spent building small cities out of wooden blocks with his grandmother and through studying the Talmud with his grandfather, which taught him the importance of curiosity and critical thinking.

Due to his father’s failing health, the family moved to Los Angeles when Gehry was eighteen. This redefined everything—leading Gehry towards the right kinds of failures and eventual successes that brought him to where he is now.

I’m focusing on Gehry’s childhood because I believe we truly are products of our time. As a young adult, Gehry was uncertain of his career direction. He remembers asking himself, “What do I like? Where was I? What made me excited?” He then explains, “I remembered art, that I loved going to museums and I loved looking at paintings, loved listening to music. Those things came from my mother, who took me to concerts and museums. I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes.” [2]

Gehry’s decision could not have been more timely. He began his career while “Los Angeles was in the middle of a post-war housing boom, and the work of pioneering modernists like Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler were an exciting part of the city’s architectural scene.” [2] The distinctive asymmetrical designs celebrating Gehry’s aesthetic philosophy would’ve been meaningless without the starkly contrasting geometric forms of these predecessors.

We’re all waiting for a lucky break, hoping we were born at the right point in time, trying to fall back on the right kind of internalized support from our childhood, and trusting we failed at the right things.

When we worry we’ve missed choice opportunities or fear we aren’t good enough to live up to the opportunities when they finally come our way, we must keep in mind that it takes a very unique combination of timing, upbringing, location, and cultivated talent for every past story of success.

“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success—the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history—with a society that provides opportunities for all.” – M. Gladwell

References

[1] Goldberger, Paul. (2015). Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

[2] “Biography and Video Interview of Frank Gehry at Academy of Achievement”. achievement.org. Retrieved 10-15-17. 

Image source

Featured Image and video trailer: Copyright © 2017 MasterClass / Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture

Frank Gehry Walt Disney Concert Hall: Photograph – Kurgusal. Sketch – Gehry Partners.

The Power of Habit and Alcoholics Anonymous

“the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change.”
― Charles Duhigg

Another recommended read: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Multiple sections deserve coverage, but among numerous insights, Charles Duhigg uses Alcoholics Anonymous as a tested example of cultivating powerful lasting change. Researchers have been studying AA for years to uncover the reasons underlying its success.

“AA, in essence, is a giant machine for changing habit loops. And though the habits associated with alcoholism are extreme, the lessons AA provides demonstrate how almost any habit—even the most obstinate—can be changed.”

This section of Duhigg’s book correlates with the Boston AA chapter in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, so I’ve included some quotes in italics to keep it interesting.

But first, the Duhigg habit loop. He breaks it down into three simple steps: “there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”

habit-loop

“Normally a gifted cynic, with a keen bullshit-antenna, Gately needed over a year to pinpoint the ways in which he feels like Boston AA really is actually sub-rosa dogmatic. You’re not supposed to pick up any sort of altering Substance, of course; that goes without saying; but the Fellowship’s official line is that if you do slip or drift or fuck up or forget and go Out There for a night and absorb a Substance and get all your Disease’s triggers pulled again they want you to know they not only invite but urge you to come on back to meetings as quickly as possible.”

Habits cannot be eradicated, according to Duhigg, but they can be replaced by identifying our daily cues, routines, and rewards. “Habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted,” he explains.

“when people with AA time strongly advise you to keep coming you nod robotically and keep coming, and you sweep floors and scrub out ashtrays and fill stained steel urns with hideous coffee, and you keep getting ritually down on your big knees every morning and night asking for help from a sky that still seems a burnished shield against all who would ask aid of it—how can you pray to a ‘God’ you believe only morons believe in, still?—but the old guys say it doesn’t yet matter what you believe or don’t believe, Just Do It they say, and like a shock-trained organism without any kind of independent human will you do exactly like you’re told.”

At its core, the “old guys” know, there is more to habit formation. Duhiggs explains researchers at the Alcohol Research Group in California interviewed individuals in AA and noticed a pattern. “Over and over again, alcoholics said the same thing: Identifying cues and choosing new routines is important, but without another ingredient, the new habits never fully took hold. The secret, the alcoholics said, was God.”

Researchers worked to approach this secret ingredient more objectively. “It was belief itself that made a difference,” Duhiggs explains. “Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives.” Similar studies correlated. “Belief seems critical,” said Tonigan, a University of New Mexico researcher. “You don’t have to believe in God, but you do need the capacity to believe that things will get better.”

“If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs—and becomes automatic—it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable.”

Another key element: belief emerges with the help of a group.

“Identify means empathize. Identifying, unless you’ve got a stake in Comparing, isn’t very hard to do, here. Because if you sit up front and listen hard, all the speakers’ stories of decline and fall and surrender are basically alike, and like your own…”

“that makes AA so effective—the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe—happens whenever people come together to help one another change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”

“You have to want to take the suggestions, want to abide by the traditions of anonymity, humility, surrender to the Group conscience. If you don’t obey, nobody will kick you out. They won’t have to. You’ll end up kicking yourself out, if you steer by your own sick will.”

Duhiggs goes to great lengths explaining a simple truth: we all possess the power to transform through habit. Deliberate effort eventually becomes automated response—it’s a matter of repetition, conviction, and support—just like fully comprehending Infinite Jest will eventually feel automatic after hours of reading, right? TBD on that.

Featured image (book cover design) and Habit Loop illustrations by Anton Ioukhnovets. Copyright © 2012 by Charles Duhigg.