Skip to content

Bartleby – The secrets of successful listening | Business | The Economist

Hostage negotiators usually work in teams, but the lead negotiator is the only one who talks. “What we teach is that the second person in the team doesn’t really talk at all, because if they are busy thinking about the next question to ask, they aren’t really listening,”

Bartleby – The secrets of successful listening | Business | The Economist

Bartleby
The secrets of successful listening

Lessons from a hostage negotiator. Hear, hearBusinessJan 23rd 2021 edition


Jan 21st 2021

“When people talk, listen completely.” Those words of Ernest Hemingway might be a pretty good guiding principle for many managers, as might the dictum enunciated by Zeno of Citium, a Greek philosopher: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” For people like being listened to.Listen to this story

Some firms use a technique known as a “listening circle” in which participants are encouraged to talk openly and honestly about the issues they face (such as problems with colleagues). In such a circle, only one person can talk at a time and there is no interruption. A study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who had taken part in a listening circle subsequently suffered less social anxiety and had fewer worries about work-related matters than those who did not.

Listening has been critical to the career of Richard Mullender, who was a British police officer for 30 years. Eventually he became a hostage negotiator, dealing with everything from suicide interventions to international kidnaps. By the end of his stint in uniform, he was the lead trainer for the Metropolitan Police’s hostage-negotiation unit.

When he left the force in 2007, he realised that his skills might be applicable in the business world. So he set up a firm called the Listening Institute. Mr Mullender defines listening as “the identification, selection and interpretation of the key words that turn information into intelligence”. It is crucial to all effective communication.

Plenty of people think that good listening is about nodding your head or keeping eye contact. But that is not really listening, Mr Mullender argues. A good listener is always looking for facts, emotions and indications of the interlocutor’s values. And when it comes to a negotiation, people are looking for an outcome. The aim of listening is to ascertain what the other side is trying to achieve.

Another important point to bear in mind is that, when you talk, you are not listening. “Every time you share an opinion, you give out information about yourself,” Mr Mullender says. In contrast, a good listener, by keeping quiet, gains an edge over his or her counterpart.

Hostage negotiators usually work in teams, but the lead negotiator is the only one who talks. “What we teach is that the second person in the team doesn’t really talk at all, because if they are busy thinking about the next question to ask, they aren’t really listening,” Mr Mullender explains.

The mistake many people make is to ask too many questions, rather than letting the other person talk. The listener’s focus should be on analysis. If you are trying to persuade someone to do something, you need to know what their beliefs are. If someone is upset, you need to assess their emotional state.

Of course, a listener needs to speak occasionally. One approach is to make an assessment of what the other person is telling you and then check it with them (“It seems to me that what you want is X”). That gives the other party a sense that they are being understood. The fundamental aim is to build up a relationship so the other person likes you and trusts you, Mr Mullender says.

The pandemic has meant that most business conversations now take place on the phone or online. Precious few in-person meetings occur. Some might think this makes listening more difficult; it is harder to pick up the subtle cues that people reveal in their facial expressions and body language.

But Mr Mullender says that too much is made of body language. It is much easier to understand someone if you can hear them but not see them, than if you can see but not hear them. He prefers to negotiate by telephone.

Another key to good listening is paying attention and avoiding distraction. In the information age, it is all too easy for focus to drift to a news headline, a TikTok video or the latest outrage on Twitter. In another study in the Harvard Business Review, participants paired with distracted listeners felt more anxious than those who received full attention.

The lockdown has increased the need for managers to listen to workers, since the opportunities for casual conversation have dwindled. Mr Mullender thinks that many people have become frustrated in their isolation, which can lead to stress and anger. He thinks there may be a business opportunity in helping managers listen more efficiently, so they can enhance employee well-being. After a year of isolation, many workers would probably love the chance to be heard.

The Kind of Love That Makes People Happiest – The Atlantic

HOW TO BUILD A LIFE The Type of Love That Makes People Happiest When it comes to lasting romance, passion has nothing on friendship.

The Kind of Love That Makes People Happiest – The Atlantic

HOW TO BUILD A LIFE

The Type of Love That Makes People Happiest

When it comes to lasting romance, passion has nothing on friendship.ARTHUR C. BROOKS6:00 AM ET

Two people ride a tandem bicycle, the wheels of which are smiley faces.
JAN BUCHCZIK

How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.


“Ithink i may have met my future wife,” I told my father on the phone, “but there are a few issues.” To be precise: I met the woman in question on a weeklong trip to Europe, she lived in Spain, we’d only been on a couple of dates, and we didn’t speak a word of the same language. Obviously, I told my amused father, “she has no idea I plan to marry her.” But I was 24 and lovestruck, and none of that stopped me from embarking on a quixotic romantic adventure. After a year punctuated by two frustratingly short visits, I quit my job in New York and moved to Barcelona with a plan to learn the language and a prayer that when she could actually understand me, she might love me.

Falling in love was Sturm und Drang: euphoric at times, but also risky, fraught, and emotionally draining. The long-distance relationship before I moved to Spain was filled with agonizing phone calls, unintelligible letters, and constant misunderstandings. I certainly didn’t need a social scientist with a Ph.D.—future me—to present young me with scholarly evidence that a lot of unhappiness can attend the early stages of romantic passion. For example, if I had been shown the evidence that “destiny beliefs” about soul mates or love being meant to be can predict low forgiveness when paired with attachment anxiety, I would have said, “Well, duh.”

Falling in love can be exhilarating, but it isn’t the secret to happiness per se. You might more accurately say that falling in love is the start-up cost for happiness—an exhilarating but stressful stage we have to endure to get to the relationships that actually fulfill us.

Passionate love—the period of falling in love—often hijacks our brains in a way that can cause elation or the depths of despair. Thrilling, yes, but it can hardly be thought of as bringing contentment; indeed, during some historical periods it has even been connected to suicide.

And yet, romantic love has been scientifically shown to be one of the best predictors of happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has assessed the connection between people’s habits and their subsequent well-being since the late 1930s. Many of the patterns uncovered by the study are important but unsurprising: The happiest, healthiest people in old age didn’t smoke (or quit early in life), exercised, drank moderately or not at all, and stayed mentally active, among other patterns. But these habits pale in comparison with one big one: The most important predictors of late-life happiness are stable relationships—and, especially, a long romantic partnership. The healthiest participants at age 80 tend to have been most satisfied in their relationships at age 50.

In other words, the secret to happiness isn’t falling in love; it’s staying in love. This does not mean just sticking together legally: Research shows that being married only accounts for 2 percent of subjective well-being later in life. The important thing for well-being is relationship satisfaction, and that depends on what psychologists call “companionate love”—love based less on passionate highs and lows and more on stable affection, mutual understanding, and commitment.

You might think “companionate love” sounds a little, well, disappointing. I certainly did the first time I heard it, on the heels of the amateur romantic comedy I described above. I did not move to Barcelona like a knight errant in search of “companionate love,” I can assure you. But let me finish the story: She said yes—actually, —and we have been happily married for 30 years. Our communication has improved—we text at least 20 times a day—and it turns out that we don’t just love each other; we like each other, too. Once and always my romantic love, she is also my best friend.

Being rooted in friendship is the reason that companionate love creates true happiness. Passionate love, which relies on attraction, does not typically last beyond the novelty of the relationship. Companionate love relies on its very familiarity. As one researcher bluntly summarizes the evidence in the Journal of Happiness Studies, “The well-being benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend.”

Promiscuous roosters notwithstanding, the romance of companionate love seems to make people happiest when it’s monogamous. I say this as a social scientist, not a moralist: In 2004, a survey of 16,000 American adults found that for men and women alike, “The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be 1.”

The deep friendship of companionate love should not be exclusive, however. In 2007, researchers at the University of Michigan found that married people aged 22 to 79 who said they had at least two close friends—meaning at least one besides their spouse—had higher levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem and lower levels of depression than spouses who did not have close friends outside their marriage. In other words, long-term companionate love might be necessary, but isn’t sufficient for happiness.

It will be no surprise to you that while I love reading Shakespeare, Pablo Neruda, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning on passionate love, my Spanish romance is best expressed by Miguel de Cervantes. In Don Quixote, Cervantes gives the hero this song about his beloved Dulcinea:

The divine Tobosan, fair
Dulcinea, claims me whole;
Nothing can her image tear;
’Tis one substance with my soul.

This conveys the intensity of passionate love perfectly. But when it comes to happiness, it is important to heed the un-poetic Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote, “It is not the absence of love but the absence of friendship that makes marriages unhappy.” True, Nietzsche never married, and was reportedly rebuffed in proposals three times by the same woman. (Nihilism isn’t much of an aphrodisiac, it seems.) He is correct nonetheless.

As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

David Foster Wallace

San Francisco’s Ridiculous Renaming Spree – The Atlantic

On January 26, the San Francisco school board announced that dozens of public schools must be renamed. The figures that do not meet the board’s standards include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Revere, and Dianne Feinstein. A panel had determined that the 44 schools—more than one-third of the city’s total—were named after figures guilty of being, variously, colonizers; slave owners; exploiters of workers; oppressors of women, children, or queer and transgender people; people connected to human rights or environmental abuses; and espousers of racist beliefs. This holier-than-thou crusade is typical for San Francisco, which in recent years has traded in its freak flag to march under the banner of brain-dead political correctness. Aside from providing invaluable ammunition to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the more than 70 million Trump supporters whose most extreme caricatures of liberals have now been confirmed, renaming the schools is likely to cost the already deeply indebted district millions of dollars, and will not help a single disadvantaged student or actually advance the cause of racial justice. The nation’s reckoning about its racist past might have positive aspects, but exercises in Maoist “constructive self-criticism” are not among them.

San Francisco’s Ridiculous Renaming Spree – The Atlantic

The Holier-Than-Thou Crusade in San Francisco

The city’s move to rename schools will provide invaluable ammunition to Fox News.

FEBRUARY 2, 2021

Gary KamiyaAuthor and journalist

An illustration of a sign for Roosevelt Middle School with "Roosevelt" crossed out
AP / THE ATLANTIC

San Francisco has issued its latest grand moral decree, and bad ex-presidents would be quaking in their coffins—if they could stop laughing.

On January 26, the San Francisco school board announced that dozens of public schools must be renamed. The figures that do not meet the board’s standards include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Revere, and Dianne Feinstein. A panel had determined that the 44 schools—more than one-third of the city’s total—were named after figures guilty of being, variously, colonizers; slave owners; exploiters of workers; oppressors of women, children, or queer and transgender people; people connected to human rights or environmental abuses; and espousers of racist beliefs.

This holier-than-thou crusade is typical for San Francisco, which in recent years has traded in its freak flag to march under the banner of brain-dead political correctness. Aside from providing invaluable ammunition to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the more than 70 million Trump supporters whose most extreme caricatures of liberals have now been confirmed, renaming the schools is likely to cost the already deeply indebted district millions of dollars, and will not help a single disadvantaged student or actually advance the cause of racial justice. The nation’s reckoning about its racist past might have positive aspects, but exercises in Maoist “constructive self-criticism” are not among them.

The School Names Advisory Committee was created in 2018 by the San Francisco Board of Education. Although the committee of community members and school-board staff was supposed to “engage the larger San Francisco community in a sustained discussion regarding public school names,” no such engagement ever took place. The “blue-ribbon panel” did its own “research” (using that term lightly) and issued its own rulings. In keeping with the incorruptible, Robespierre-like spirit of our revolutionary times, the committee decreed that one sin (being a colonizer or slave owner, using an “inappropriate” word, and so on) was all that was required to send a figure to the guillotine. Once that decision was made, the severed heads rolled into the gutter of history. Since Washington was a slave owner and, in the words of the committee, “the majority of [Lincoln’s] policies proved detrimental” to Native peoples, the leader who won America’s war of independence and the one who saved the union and issued the Emancipation Proclamation were dispatched without further discussion. The decision to rename Abraham Lincoln High took five seconds; George Washington took 12.

The decision process was a joke. The committee’s research seems to have consisted mostly of cursory Google searches, and the sources cited were primarily Wikipedia entries or similar. Historians were not consulted. Embarrassing errors of interpretation were made, as well as rudimentary factual errors. Robert Louis Stevenson, perhaps the most beloved literary figure in the city’s history, was canceled because in a poem titled “Foreign Children” in his famous collection A Child’s Garden of Verses, he used the rhyming word Japanee for Japanese. Paul Revere Elementary School ended up on the renaming list because, during the discussion, a committee member misread a History.com article as claiming that Revere had taken part in an expedition that stole the lands of the Penobscot Indians. In fact, the article described Revere’s role in the Penobscot Expedition, a disastrous American military campaign against the British during the Revolutionary War. (That expedition was named after a bay in Maine.) But no one bothered to check, the committee voted to rename the school, and by order of the San Francisco school board Paul Revere will now ride into oblivion.  

The committee also failed to consistently apply its one-strike-and-you’re-out rule. When one member questioned whether Malcolm X Academy should be renamed in light of the fact that Malcolm was once a pimp, and therefore subjugated women, the committee decided that his later career redeemed his earlier missteps. Yet no such exceptions were made for Lincoln, Jefferson, and others on the list.

In its rush to sweep historical evildoers off the stage, the committee erased much of San Francisco and California’s Hispanic heritage. Not just Father Junípero Serra, the spiritual head of Spain’s colonizing expedition, but also José Ortega, who as a member of the Portolá expedition discovered San Francisco Bay, and other Spanish- and Mexican-era figures, had their names removed from schools because they engaged in or were associated with actions that harmed Native Americans. No one disputes that every colonizing group in California, from the Spanish to the Mexicans to the Americans (who engaged in actual genocide), had a dreadful record with Native peoples. But for all its supposed ethnic sensitivity, the committee seems not to have been concerned about removing Latin figures.

Mythical entities also fell under the fatal gaze of the Purity Police. El Dorado Elementary, named after a fantastical kingdom whose fame circulated among Spanish explorers in the early 16th century and whose Goldfinger-like ruler was allegedly ceremonially covered by his subjects with gold dust, also made the list. Citing the death of Native peoples that resulted from the Gold Rush, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a committee member said, “I don’t think the concept of greed and lust for gold is a concept we want our children to be given”—an idealistic, if possibly futile, position in a city whose median household income exceeds $100,000.  

The possibility that judging past figures by the standards of the present is both untenable and ethically suspect did not, apparently, occur to the committee. Nor did the committee decide that the towering achievements of Lincoln or Washington or Jefferson might just outweigh their shortcomings. It defended its crusade as part of America’s racial reckoning. As the committee chair, the first-grade teacher Jeremiah Jeffries, said, “This is important work. We’re in the middle of a reckoning as a country and a nation. We need to do our part.”

The board’s vote drew the ire of Mayor London Breed, who blasted the committee for wasting resources on such an exercise instead of trying to reopen the public schools. “Let’s bring the same urgency and focus on getting our kids back in the classroom, and then we can have that longer conversation about the future of school names,” she tweeted.  

To her credit, Breed suggested that the conversation be opened up to all the stakeholders in the city, including students. But she did not challenge the renaming campaign itself, only its timing and process. In fact, Breed and other city officials, and much of the city’s cultural intelligentsia, are partly to blame for this embarrassing episode. Promoting easy symbolic solutions to intractable societal problems, they have either endorsed earlier cultural-purification missions or said nothing about them at all. As a result, they have made it impossible to make any foundational arguments against those acts, and have created the slippery slope the city finds itself sliding down.

This debacle is just the latest example of “progressive” cultural censorship in a city once renowned as a bastion of free speech. Our purgative program began in 2018, when an 1894 statue titled Early Days was removed from a cluster of statues near city hall called the Pioneer Monument, at the behest of the city’s Indigenous activists. The piece, or at least most of it, was undeniably retrograde: It showed a Spanish priest looming above a cowering, seated Native American, with a debonair vaquero striking a proud pose nearby. The city’s art establishment remained silent as the statue was hauled away: The bloody 2017 riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee made it anathema on the left to question the destruction of monuments deemed objectionable by groups deemed to have standing. But the fact that Early Days was taken down without much opposition meant that the beliefs underlying the decision to remove such monuments, the issue of who gets to determine their fate, the implications of removing them, and the possible alternatives to removal were never seriously discussed. As the renaming debacle demonstrates, such a discussion is urgently needed.

Those who demand the removal of art like Early Days, or insist that schools named after objectionable figures must be renamed, are acting on the assumption either that the continued presence of these works and names in the public sphere constitutes an official endorsement of a racist, colonialist, or otherwise objectionable message, or that the messages they send are so hurtful that they must be erased. Both assumptions are weak.

Suppose a 400-year-old statue in a town square depicts something that has not been societally acceptable for centuries. Should that statue be removed? Is there any real point in publicly renouncing the ideology prevalent during, say, the era of the Salem witch trials? If 400 years of disapproval make renunciation and removal pointless, what about 300 years, or 200, or 100? More broadly, if a society roundly condemns the message of a statue, does it matter that the message is sent? Does anyone really believe that the presence of a statue constitutes an official endorsement of its ideological meaning? And if it doesn’t, why is the statue hurtful? Can people really be hurt by a message sent by a historic statue, arriving like ancient light from a star in a distant galaxy? And if they are, should their feelings take precedence over all others’? Who has standing in this debate? At what point is a monument’s historical value, as a record of the beliefs and sometimes bigotries of its time, more important than the hurtful message it allegedly sends?

The left, or at least the woke left, largely dismisses such questions. It has embraced a kind of maximum-semiotic approach to cultural artifacts, in which historical context and intent are irrelevant and all that matters is the free-floating message sent by a cultural object. This anything-can-be-offensive stance is combined with an identity-politics-driven, victim-centered ideology that makes people of color and historically oppressed groups the arbiters of whether a cultural object stays or goes. (Hey, it’s so much easier than actually working to improve their lot.) And their rulings cannot be appealed.

The don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry consequences of such an approach were displayed in 2019, when the San Francisco school board decided to paint over two WPA-era Victor Arnautoff murals at Washington High School on the grounds that they were racially insensitive. The first of the two frescoes, part of a 13-mural composition titled The Life of Washington, depicted Black enslaved people at Mount Vernon; the second showed white settlers stepping over a dead Native American on their way west. The board decided to destroy the murals because a few students and parents complained that the images were hurtful. But Arnautoff intended that those images tell the unvarnished truth about Washington and his age. Arnautoff, a Communist, wanted to show that the revered Father of Our Country was a slave owner, and that the westward expansion of the United States was achieved by slaughtering its first inhabitants. The insistence that the images be destroyed (this demand was later downgraded to painted over) was tantamount to declaring that any work of art that depicts a subject that might hurt someone’s feelings, even if the artist had the most subversive and radical intention, can legitimately be censored. (Notably, the two most notorious previous cases of attempted censorship of public art in San Francisco, the Coit Tower and Rincon Annex murals, also involved left-wing WPA-era artists, but those efforts were carried out by conservatives. San Francisco’s left is now doing the censoring.)

The school board’s decision to cover the murals, like the school-renaming fiasco, was met with international derision. But the board has not backed down, and the fate of the murals remains unresolved.

These are not academic issues. The way they are resolved affects daily life in San Francisco—and other places where activists are bluntly, and all too often crudely, rethinking how the past is represented. As a student of both the Spanish and Mexican eras and the horrors visited upon the state’s Native peoples, I always looked closely at Early Days as I walked past it, and I found it an oddly fascinating work. It reflected the backward beliefs of its time—which in itself made it a worthy object of study—but it also struck me that it was far from purely celebratory. White Americans of the late 19th century had a highly ambivalent attitude toward the Spanish padres and their fanatical religious zeal, and while their views of Native peoples were generally unenlightened, they were more complex than is sometimes imagined. Those ambiguities were part of Early Days. Wasn’t there something a little sinister about the Spanish priest? Now the statue is simply gone, and the empty space in the Pioneer Monument, intended to be a testament to racial enlightenment, feels instead like an ugly tear in the complex tapestry that makes up the city.

Like Early Days, Christopher Columbus, too, has now been torn out. For decades, as I walked around Coit Tower on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, I would go past a huge bronze statue of Columbus. The 12-foot, two-ton statue was commissioned by the city’s Italian American community, many of whom lived in nearby North Beach, and installed in 1957. I was, of course, well aware of Columbus’s grave shortcomings, and the fact that the European colonization of the Americas, like all colonizations throughout world history, resulted in mass slaughter and the destruction of Native cultures. But those facts did not prevent me from regarding the statue as an old and familiar acquaintance, which added its own aesthetic and historical grace note to my walks.

So I was shocked last June when during one of my walks I looked up to find that the statue of Columbus was gone. It turned out that during the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, the statue had been vandalized, and activists announced that they were going to take it down and throw it in the bay. The city abruptly removed it—but not as a tactical retreat. An arts-commission official said the statue was taken down because “it doesn’t align with San Francisco’s values or our commitment to racial justice.”

Soon after the city hastily dumped Columbus in the trash can of history, Juneteenth protesters in Golden Gate Park toppled an 1884 statue of Francis Scott Key, the first statue of the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the country. As police stood by, the protesters also felled a bust of Ulysses S. Grant and a statue of Father Junípero Serra. Key was a slave owner, as, briefly, was Grant; Serra was the spiritual head of Spain’s “Sacred Expedition” that colonized California. The city removed the fallen statues of Key, Grant, and Serra, leaving their final fate to be determined by a bureaucratic process to “assess the historic works in the collection that venerate individuals that do not reflect the city’s racial justice values,” according to a statement on the San Francisco arts-commission site. Don’t expect those statues to return.

The issue of what to do with monuments and school names can be more complex than the cartoonish excesses of the woke left might indicate. Art’s impact on the public weal should not be the sole or leading measure of its worth—that way Stalinist “socialist realism” lies—but in certain cases it cannot be ignored.

Few would want a statue of Hitler or Mussolini or Tojo to stand in a town square, even if it was erected in the 1930s and thus could be said to be a historical artifact. Many of the Confederate statues in the South were commissioned in the dark days after the end of Reconstruction, when the Ku Klux Klan ran riot, Black people were terrorized and lynched, and the mythology of the “Lost Cause” was born. To treat such objects as if they were simply neutral cultural artifacts is to willfully misread history. Some public art is arguably so detrimental to social cohesion that a civic conversation about what to do with it is desirable.

In any case, the answer does not have to be to remove the “bad” public artworks. They can be curated, with explanatory material placing them in historical context. (Early Days was curated, but inadequately.) They can be balanced with other works: A German friend told me that in Hamburg, city officials dealt with a Nazi-built memorial glorifying war by commissioning a counter-memorial that criticized it. These works can be moved to a historic monument site, or to a museum—making explicit their status as aesthetic or historical objects, not exemplars of city values.

Finally, as Breed suggested, the fate of a city’s cultural heritage should not be decided either by a handful of community members or by bureaucrats. In my opinion, none of the monuments or artworks that were removed should have been, and few, if any, of the schools should have been renamed. But the opinion of any one individual should not carry more weight than anyone else’s. The mostly aesthetic and historical response to public monuments of people like me should not be dispositive, but neither should the ethical and political responses of those who say they are offended. These are civic questions, which should be determined by robust and open public debate.

In the end, self-righteous symbolic crusades like the school-renaming campaign must not be immune from criticism simply because they purport to fight racial injustice—that noble cause is debased by empty gestures that achieve nothing. Indeed, by creating conflict over trivial objectives—just turn on Fox News—they are more likely to harm the cause of societal progress and racial harmony than to advance it.

GARY KAMIYA is a writer and journalist based in San Francisco. He is the author of Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City and writes the history column “Portals of the Past” in the San Francisco Chronicle.

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

Charlemagne

The milk of human kindness – Agitu Gudeta was killed on December 29th | Obituary | The Economist

The milk of human kindness Agitu Gudeta was killed on December 29th The goat-herder and cheesemaker who became a symbol of integration in Italy was 42 Obituary Jan 9th 2021 edition

The milk of human kindness – Agitu Gudeta was killed on December 29th | Obituary | The Economist

The milk of human kindness
Agitu Gudeta was killed on December 29th

The goat-herder and cheesemaker who became a symbol of integration in Italy was 42ObituaryJan 9th 2021 edition


Jan 7th 2021

In all the world there was nothing as beautiful as a goat. As she sat among them on the steep wooded slopes of the Valle di Felice, watching them tussle and shimmy in the tall weeds, Agitu Gudeta rejoiced in their long shoulders and strong legs, their compactness and the grace of their horns, curving back like swords. When they came close, for they loved crowding round, she fondled their ears and kissed their noses, stroked their fine hair and basked in the sight of their faces gazing down on her against the clear Italian sky.

These were not just any goats, but Pezzata Mochena, the ancient piebald race of the high Alpine region near the Austrian border. They came in all goat-colours, but mostly streaked and patched with black or warm red-brown. In 2010, when she bought 15, they were almost extinct; within a decade she had 180, and knew the names and characters of every one of them. So she would chide Cinnamon, as she gently cleaned her udder, for sitting in muck again, and rebuke Kay for trying to climb into her car, and as she led them all out to pasture she would shush them like a congregation of children, blithely twirling her stick in her slim black hands.

Yes, she was black. The goats did not notice, as they also paid no attention to her tall African hat. But people certainly did. The Mochena region was a closed place, still inhabited by descendants of Bavarians who ate dumplings, lived in chalets and spoke a dialect of German. They distrusted all strangers, including the regular pedlars who sold fabric out of their vans. And they had never seen a black face except on Shrove Tuesday, when carnival was led by the betscho and betscha, one in a skirt, one with a tall goatskin hat and a false hump made of straw, both in blackface, who clowned to bring prosperity. Now here among them was a real black woman, an Ethiopian refugee, living in the mountains alone with her goats.

Well, she thought as she worked away, herding and milking and scrubbing, she could bring in prosperity too. Her parents had gone to California; she had come here. She had fled from Ethiopia in 2010 with nothing, determined to leave nostalgia behind and reinvent herself. Her work back there, menaced by trigger-happy police and a warrant for her arrest, had been to defend nomadic herders whose grazing lands were being grabbed and leased to corporations by the government. Neo-colonialism, in a word. But in Italy too land was being squandered, good green land, as people left. So she did what her herding grandparents would have done: put her goats on communal pastures that had been abandoned, and let their munching and manuring gradually restore them.

The Mochena breed were not abundant milkers, but she soon had milk and yogurt to sell. Then came cheese, eventually 15 different kinds adapted to local tastes—of which her special treasures were the primo sale, the first fresh salted ones, which tasted completely different in a week. Her dairy in Frassilongo, the nearest village, was in a building once intended as a primary school when there were still enough children in the valley. There she stirred the big vats of curds just as joyfully as she led her goats up the valley, and taught local girls to make cheese as she had learned it on courses in France. Nothing pleased her more than hearing people say her cheese was good. It won prizes. In Trento, the main town of the region, she ran a stall on market day and in 2020 opened a shop called La Capra Felice, the Happy Goat, which served Ethiopian coffee alongside all the dairy stuff. Happiness was her watchword: happy goats, happy customers, a happy place filled with local activity. She called it her philosophy of community.

It was a crazy life, up at 6am to milk, then to the dairy or the shop, then up to the pasture, milking again, dairy again, paperwork, bed. It used all her strength, she adored it, and her sheer energy won the locals over. Journalists from around the world came to see her in her jeans, cami-top and Ethiopian hat, a symbol of integration for all of Italy. For the first eight years she could tell them, with her joyous smile, that there had never been any trouble. Suspicion, yes, at first. But actual trouble, no. And she had been lucky. After high school she had studied sociology in Rome and Trento on a scholarship, so she already spoke good Italian, and though she had returned to Ethiopia afterwards her Italian residency papers were still in order. In Trento, she still had friends. During last year’s lockdown friends old and new passed word that she had a lot of perishable stock to clear, and everything was sold.

Yet there had always been more difficult neighbours: bears and wolves, which she scared away with bangers, and a few thugs, fans of hard-right politicians, who rode motorbikes among the goats or set their dogs on them. In 2018 a man came into the barn as she cleaned the milking machine, seized her by the shoulder and told her to go back home. Another sliced the udder from one of her loveliest pure-white goats. She had blamed wolves at first. It felt safer now to move down from her secluded mountain shelter to Plankerhof, a hamlet near Frassilongo, to a flat beside the church.

The intruders said her goats had damaged their property. They also objected to the African refugees and migrants she took on to help when she was busiest. That was her latest project, to use a fine resource that was being wasted, just like the land. She would find young men with permission to stay, but no work, and teach them to look after goats. Naturally they could handle it; they were refugees. Local jobless lads might want to join in too, and they could even form co-operatives—her teeming mind running ahead of itself, as usual. She began by taking on one young man at a time, from Ghana or Mali, hoping to transform them into goat-lovers as fervent as herself. From the start, as they climbed up to pasture, she would ask them: “Are you happy?” They had to be, she felt. But it was not so for Suleiman from Ghana, who just after Christmas argued with her about unpaid wages, and ended by killing her.

Evading the police, he fled up to the barn and tried to lose himself among the goats. But they were hungry and agitated by the absence of their mistress, and did not welcome him. Once he was taken away, the good neighbours of Frassilongo trudged through the snow to feed them. ■

This article appeared in the Obituary section of the print edition under the headline “The milk of human kindness”

What Moving House Can Do for Your Happiness – The Atlantic

HOW TO BUILD A LIFE Find the Place You Love. Then Move There. If where you live isn’t truly your home, and you have the resources to make a change, it could do wonders for your happiness.

What Moving House Can Do for Your Happiness – The Atlantic

HOW TO BUILD A LIFE

Find the Place You Love. Then Move There.

If where you live isn’t truly your home, and you have the resources to make a change, it could do wonders for your happiness.ARTHUR C. BROOKS

A man sits on a stool in front of a large globe, looking for a place to put a pin with a smiley face on it
JAN BUCHCZIK

How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.


Several years ago, I was sitting on a flight to San Francisco, when my seatmate, a man a little older than me, struck up a conversation. Perhaps you hate it when that happens; I love it. In addition to being an extrovert, I’m a social scientist, so I’m always fascinated by what I can learn about people through conversations. Have you ever wanted to know how I come up with column topics? Now you know.

The man told me he was on his way home from seeing his family in Minnesota, where he had grown up. As an adult, he had pulled up stakes, left the bone-chilling winters behind, and moved to Northern California, where he had no connections at all. He raved about the professional opportunities and great weather where he now lived, comparing them favorably to the landlocked, snowy place in which he was raised.

Something in his words sounded tinny and hollow to me. I pondered this for a moment, and then asked him, “Do you ever miss Minnesota?” He didn’t answer for a minute or two, and looked away, and I noticed that his eyes had become shiny. Softly, he said, “Minnesota will always be my home.”

Perhaps you can relate to my seatmate: feeling out of place, and as though where you live is not truly your home. That might be especially true today, when so many people have been involuntarily displaced by the pandemic or are stuck in living situations not of their own choosing.

But this upheaval could also provide an opportunity. As the economy changes, and quarantine has revealed that many jobs can be performed remotely, you might find yourself with more geographic flexibility than you have had in a long time. If you’re uncomfortable with the status quo, this time when life has been paused might be just the impetus you need to make you consider a change of place. This year could be the chance for you to move to the place where your heart resides.

There is a word for love of a place: topophiliapopularized by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in 1974 as all of “the human being’s affective ties with the material environment.” In other words, it is the warm feelings you get from a place. It is a vivid, emotional, and personal experience, and it leads to unexplainable affections. One of my fellow Seattle natives made this point to me when he said he hated the rain in Boston but not Seattle. Why? “Only Seattle rain is nice.”

In his book A Reenchanted World, the sociologist James William Gibson defines topophilia as a spiritual connection, especially with nature. Oladele Ogunseitan, a microbiologist at the University of California at Irvine, demonstrates topophilia by showing that people are attracted to both objective and subjective—even unconscious—criteria. My friend’s affinity for the “Seattle rain” is probably fueled by what Ogunseitan calls “synesthetic tendency,” or the way particular, ordinary sensory perceptions affect our memory and emotions. If the smell of a fresh-cooked pie, the sound of a train whistle at night, or the feeling of a crisp autumn wind evokes a visceral memory of a particular place, you are experiencing a synesthetic tendency.

It is worth reflecting on your strongest positive synesthetic tendencies—and the place they remind you of. They are a good guide to your topophilic ideal, and thus an important factor to be aware of as you design a physical future in line with your happiness. It is notable that one of the world’s most famous happiness experts, Tal Ben-Shahar, left a teaching position at Harvard University several years ago, where he had created the university’s then-most-popular class, to return to his native Israel—because he felt the pull of his homeland.

Topophilia might not be associated with your childhood home, however. For me, all synesthetic tendencies take me not to Seattle but to Barcelona, the city where I lived in my 20s, where I got married, and the only place I have returned to year after year (except for 2020, due to the pandemic). In my life here in the United States, smells and sights will sometimes remind me of my neighborhood in Barcelona and the first home my wife and I shared there. The sound of the Catalan language (the native tongue of Barcelona, which I learned as a younger man) is like music to me.

But, of course, it’s not as simple as identifying your ideal home and uprooting your whole life to go there. Moving is costly and scary.

You probably have your own Barcelona or Minnesota, somewhere that has a highly topophilic place in your heart. Perhaps you sometimes daydream about going back—but then you snap out of it. Moving is a huge commitment, and not one to be made on a synesthetic whim. The cost of a big move is prohibitive for many people who might like to find a new home. Even if work and family circumstances make it possible, the idea of starting a new job, making new friends, changing schools, facing the DMV—it’s too much for many.

I have moved between states or countries 11 times in my adult life—once as recently as 2019—and it is always hard. Far more taxing than the logistics is the social adjustment. It came as no surprise to me to read one Dutch and German study showing that recent movers report having more unhappy days in a two-week testing period than people who hadn’t moved.

Perhaps for these reasons, in recent years people have been moving less and less, according to U.S. Census data. In 1964, the year I was born, more than 20 percent of the population changed homes. In 2000, it was a little over 16 percent. In 2019, it was under 10 percent.

But the social costs of moving are manageable. People often commit errors when they move that make them feel more lonely and isolated than is necessary. For example, the Dutch researchers found that when people move, they tend to spend less time than people who already live in that place on “active leisure” like exercise and hobbies, and more time on the computer. It’s hard to imagine something more self-destructive than looking at social media when you are lonely.

In her book This Is Where You Belong, the author Melody Warnick looks at the evidence on moving and happiness and argues that a large part of the unhappiness people suffer at the outset of arriving in a new place can be mitigated or avoided with a number of practices, including actively exploring your new neighborhood instead of holing up in a new home, doing the things that made you happy in your old home, and socializing with new people. If you are asking how one can socialize when no one invites you anywhere, the answer is to start having people you meet over to your place. I can vouch for this idea: When we move, we make it a point to have at least two dinners at our house per month in the first year. It helps a lot.

Furthermore, “moving” is relative. For some, the topophilic ideal—or the only financially manageable option, under current circumstances—might be to a neighborhood just across town. Smaller moves mitigate social costs as well as economic costs, and could still provide happiness benefits. Perhaps the other neighborhood has more space, or is closer to loved ones—or maybe it just has nicer rain.

Perhaps the biggest barrier for you is the sheer audacity of moving for a feeling. The reward from moving just because you want to is hard to defend logically. Some people will think you are crazy, which brings me to my last point.

Some years ago, I wrote a textbook on social entrepreneurship. Among the entrepreneurs I studied, I noticed a tendency to put personal capital at risk in exchange for explosive rewards—rewards that can be hard to see at the time the risk is taken, but that the entrepreneurs intuitively feel will come. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter described the entrepreneur’s impulse, “there is the dream and the will to found a private kingdom.”

Not everyone is a business starter, of course. But you can still be an entrepreneur in the truest sense, occupied in the enterprise of building your life, your private kingdom. And sometimes, that means risking your emotional capital for explosive rewards that you feel in your heart will come.

The Rise Of Putin : Planet Money : NPR

Vladimir Putin has been running Russia since 2000 when he was first elected as President. How did a former KGB officer make his way up to the top seat? Was it political prowess or luck? In this episode, Throughline dives into the life of Vladimir Putin and tries to understand how he became Russia’s new “tsar.”

The Rise Of Putin : Planet Money : NPR

If you would like to read more on the topic, here’s a list:

[HOONIGAN] Gymkhana 2020: Travis Pastrana Takeover; Ultimate Hometown Shred in an 862hp Subaru STI – YouTube

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson