Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Indigenous Women Take the Lead in Idle No More

by , Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/indigenous-women-take-lead-idle-no-more

Kristin Moe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Kristin writes about climate, grassroots movements, and social change.

A woman stops traffic at an Idle No More event in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Tamara Herman.

Late last year, amid the the rallies, dances, blockades, and furious tweeting that accompanied the burgeoning Idle No More movement, a young native woman was kidnapped by two Caucasian men in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was two days after Christmas.

They drove her out to a remote wooded area where they raped and strangled her. According to one report, the men told her that they’d done this before, and intended to do it again. They allegedly said, “You Indians deserve to lose your treaty rights.”

The story was not widely reported in the press, maybe because the woman, publicly known as “Angela Smith,” is indigenous, or maybe because violence against indigenous women happens so frequently that it’s rarely considered news.

Which is what makes the very fact of Idle No More’s female leadership so significant.

Across Canada, indigenous women are continuing a tradition of leadership that existed before colonization, and in spite of a political system which, over the last 150 years, has made every attempt to prevent them from having power.

While the stated goal of Idle No More is “education and the revitalization of indigenous peoples through awareness and empowerment,” according to a press release issued by the group on January 10, the rights of indigenous women appear to be an inherent part of that revitalization.

The movement - which has swept North America and inspired solidarity actions all over the world - was initiated by four women: Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdams, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson.

It gained early momentum around the hunger strike maintained by another woman, Chief of the Attawapiskat, Theresa Spence.

“It’s not coincidental that women are initiating this movement,” says Kiera-Dawn Kolson, 26, a Dene activist from Northwest Territories who has spoken at and helped organize Idle No More events since the movement began.

She’s Greenpeace’s Arctic Campaigner, a motivational speaker, facilitator, singer/songwriter, and performer.

On a recent day of action, Kolson watched excitedly from her hometown of Yellowknife as image after image of rallies streamed in from all over Canada.

She noticed a pattern: From Ontario to Nunavut, from Saskatchewan to the Yukon, the images showed young women in the roles of organizers and spokespeople.

She’s energized, but not surprised. “So many of our communities were and are still matriarchal societies,” she says. In many communities across the country, it was - and, in some hopeful instances, still is - the grandmothers who called the shots.

And while each society is different, they all shared the same fate under Canada’s Indian Act, an all-encompassing piece of legislation that had devastating ramifications for women; created by white men with Victorian values, the Act explicitly excluded women from most forms of power and even made their identity as “Indians” contingent on their husbands.

Nearly a hundred and forty years later, in Canada and all over the world, young indigenous women (as well as transgendered youth) are some of the most heavily brutalized segments of the population.

In some provinces, native women are seven times more likely to be murdered than their non-indigenous counterparts.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), 582 women were murdered or disappeared between 2000 and 2010 - and many more cases are unreported. No one knows how much the number has risen since then; the project apparently stalled after the Harper government cut NWAC’s research funding.

Kolson has been active in NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit project, which compiles data on missing and murdered women and works to spread awareness about the issue. Building on NWAC’s research, Human Rights Watch has recently taken up the cause, and is mounting an investigation of its own.

Meanwhile, Kolson lives with the knowledge that her identity puts her in danger. In college, she was careful to choose only classes that took place during the day so she wouldn’t have to walk alone at night.

“Angela Smith” was left alone in the frozen woods after her attack, and the two men drove away. They never believed she’d live. They were wrong: not only did she survive, she walked the four hours back to her town, and her story has come to symbolize strength in the face of unimaginable violence. We hope she is healing.

As Idle No More continues to gain traction, its women leaders work to make visible the systems - of political power, racism, and economic injustice - that oppress all native people. For them, these are not abstract issues; each of these pieces contributes to a society where their bodies, and those of their sisters and daughters, are targets.

The name “Idle No More” is new, but the struggle is as old as Canada. It stands firmly in the tradition of human rights movements led by those most oppressed: the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., the Independence movement in India, and the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

Its female leadership is a testament to the ability of women to reclaim power in the face of oppression, and to the resilience, over centuries, of a people for whom assimilation is not an option.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How Workers Laid Off from a Chicago Factory Took It Over Themselves

#65 Coverby , Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/how-cooperatives-are-driving-the-new-economy/chicago-factory-workers

Laura Flanders wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. 

Laura is a former host of Air America, and founder and host of GRITtv. 

She is the author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, and Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians. 

She writes regularly for The Nation and the Guardian and appears as a regular guest on MSNBC.

Four years ago, as the recession took hold and layoffs around the country were approaching 500,000 a month, a group of workers in Chicago saved a factory and inspired a nation.

Fired by their boss, they occupied instead of leaving. Fired by a second boss, they occupied and formed a worker’s cooperative. Now they are worker-owners of a load of equipment and they’re setting up a factory in a new location.

All they want to do is to get back to making and selling windows. It shouldn’t be this hard to keep good jobs in Chicago, but “A cooperative can be a way of surviving, of moving forward,” says Armando Robles, one of the workers.

Robles was one of 250 workers fired in December 2008 without notice or severance by Republic Windows and Doors when the company announced it was closing its Chicago factory. The company said that it could no longer operate because it had lost its line of credit with Bank of America.

The irony of the situation was clear. Bank of America had received billions in government bailouts to keep the economy working, and yet the Republic workers were being laid off without their entitled payments and benefits.

Supported by their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Robles and his fellow workers voted to resist. They occupied the plant for six days, winning back pay, severance, and time for a new company to take ownership.

Generating thousands of articles and news reports about their fight, they encouraged a downcast nation, even an incoming U.S. president.

At a press conference during the factory occupation, then President-elect Barack Obama declared: “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago, with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … I think they are absolutely right.”

The public relations potential, combined with the prospect of stimulus spending and a green economy boom, spurred Serious Energy of California to take over the former Republic plant in February 2009.

Among the investors in the new business was Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based firm, with close ties to (among others), then White House Chief of Staff (soon to be Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel.

With $15 million from Mesirow alone, Serious looked forward to landing substantial federal and city contracts.

Two years later, those contracts were yet to materialize. The ballyhooed green economy? Chicago’s grand green retrofitting scheme? They were nowhere in sight, and city and state spending was essentially on ice.

By the end of 2009, only 20 of the Republic workers had been hired back. In February 2012, Serious announced it, too, was closing the Chicago factory and selling off the machines.

This time, Robles et al. only needed to occupy for a matter of hours before management agreed to a deal. Serious agreed to give the workers the first option to buy the plant’s equipment and 90 days to come up with a bid.

“Republic walked away from our jobs. Serious walked away from our jobs, but we are not walking away from our jobs,” said Melvin Macklin, who had worked at the plant for more than a decade.

In the time between the first layoff and the second, the workers and their families became aware of other options.

As it happens, after appearing together with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on GRITtv, Robles and United Electrical field organizer Leah Fried sat down with The Working World, a nonprofit that has helped start and maintain worker cooperatives in Argentina and other parts of Latin America.

With help from The Working World and advice from colleagues in the co-op movement in the United States and abroad, on May 30, 2012, Robles, Macklin and 22 colleagues founded New Era Windows, LLC, a worker-run cooperative incorporated in Illinois to manufacture what they promise will be “quality, affordable windows.”

Despite the initial agreement, it was not until last August, many months and some intense struggle later, that Serious finally agreed to let New Era buy the factory equipment.

The struggle was partly political - Serious had to be pressured to keep its pledge to the workers - but it was largely financial. The new worker-owners decided that they would earn equal wages and have equal votes in decision-making.

They also agreed to each contribute a fee of $1,000 to “buy in.” At 58, Macklin borrowed some of his buy-in from a nephew, but he says that the stretch to raise the money was worth it.

“It’s not just about profits,” he says - it’s about sustaining communities, keeping jobs in places where people need them.

“There will be no big, fat-cat salaries, no CEOs, CFOs and COOs to pay, so our bottom line will be easier. We already know how to make the best windows … we don’t know for sure it’ll be successful, but we didn’t know the occupation would be successful - I thought I was going to jail. Unless we step out and try, we’ll never know.”

The workers took the leap, but investors have been less inclined to follow. In spite of preparing a business plan and reaching out to social impact investors, the co-op has thus far been unable to attract venture capital.

Even with the collateral of the equipment, the workers have been unable to win any loans. The $500,000 they were able to raise for the purchase came from a single source, The Working World.

“It’s awesome that they’ve done it - this is as grassroots as it gets,” says Brendan Martin, founder and director of The Working World. “But to reverse the rules of capital, you need capital. It’s not enough for workers to realize they have opportunity; resources also have to come to them.”

“There should be governmental help to keep factories open and allow the workers to try to keep their jobs,” says Robles. “When there is no government help, at least there should be social help, community help, anything. The loss to a community is overwhelming when a whole factory closes.”

Why support the co-ops in your community? The benefits might be further-reaching than you think.
President Obama knew as much four years ago, at that Chicago press conference. The Chicago workers’ experience was reflective of a national situation, he said.

“When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system".

"But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street.”

You’d think that helping a minority-run green business in a high-unemployment community would be a smart way to help those celebrated “people on Main Street,” but so far, no money has come out of those doors.

Absent a rational industrial policy from the government, and a smart new stimulus package, the New Era experiment is in the hands of the market.

For almost a year, the workers have hung on, living off their severance, unemployment, and sweat. Their new factory’s almost set up; they hope to start selling early this year, and they’re looking for customers.

More information at newerawindows.com

Sunday, December 29, 2013

For Land and Life: 25 Stories of Indigenous Resilience That you Might’ve Missed in 2013

by , Climate Connections: http://climate-connections.org/2013/12/15/for-land-and-life-25-stories-of-indigenous-resilience-that-you-mightve-missed-in-2013/

New Zealanders celebrate their country's endor...
New Zealanders celebrate their country's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the sheer number of abuses and attacks that Indigenous Peoples face around the world, we don’t often come by stories of hope and resilience.

Stories that speak of long-fought struggles coming to a just end, peaceful exchanges between Nations who live in different parts of the world, and assertions of Traditional authority that governments and corporations simply accept without challenge or condition. 

Here’s a few of those stories that you might have missed over the past 12 months. Here’s to 25,000 more stories just like them! 

An Ainu-Maori Exchange

A group of 7 Ainu youth, accompanied by 3 Ainu committee members and 3 interpreters, traveled to New Zealand in order to study the various ambitious endeavors of the Maori people who have successfully revitalized their rights as Indigenous People while living with strength in the society of New Zealand.

After successfully carrying out a major online fundraiser to pay for the journey, the Ainu - who are themselves struggling to revitalize their culture, language and identity - reported a very positive experience during their stay.

As explored on the Ainu Maori Exchange activity website, the Ainu learned a language teaching method called Te Ataarangi, sat down with the Maori Party - Whangaehu Marae, visited several Maori-based schools and businesses as well as television and radio stations and many different historical sites. 

An Alternative Currency 

Esquimalt First Nation, in an effort to reform the monetary system, unveiled a new barter currency on their territory known as Tetlas.

Similar to a gift certificate, the Tetla was developed by the organization Tetla Tsetsuwatil to assist economic development in the S’amuna’ Nation and other native nations, and to encourage trade with non-natives and among non-natives. More than two dozen businesses now accept the alternative currency. 

Indigenous millennium development goals

Colombia’s indigenous organizations revealed five new ‘millennium development goals’ (MDGs), presenting the world’s first national framework for realizing indigenous rights in response to the Millennium Declaration.

The move challenged the country’s authorities to record their progress in meeting the new targets, which include the protection of indigenous territory; the implementation of free, prior and informed consent protocols and the ‘institutional redesign’ of the state in its relations with Indigenous Peoples. 

Occupying Brazil’s House of Representatives

In Brazil, approximately 700 indigenous leaders occupied the country’s House of Representatives in a concerted effort to stop the nomination process for the Special Committee on PEC 215, a proposal that would transfer from the federal government to the National Congress the authority to approve the demarcation of traditional lands.

Despite a heavy-handed response from police officers and security personnel, the Indigenous leaders held their ground until the government representatives took appropriate action. 

The little school of liberty

Thousands of people from around the world descended on Chiapas for the Zapatistas’ first organizing school, called la escuelita de libertad, which means the little school of liberty.

Originally the group allotted for only 500 students, but so many people wished to enroll that they opened an additional 1,200 slots for the week-long school. While attending the escuelita, students lived with a family in a rebel zapatista community and participated both in the school and in the daily life of the community.

This year, the EZLN also announced the creation of a traveling Indigenous seminar to provide a forum “in which the Indigenous Peoples of the continent can be heard by those who have an attentive and respectful ear for their word, their history, and their resistance.” The announcement was supported by more than 30 Indigenous organizations and governments. 

In Defense of Medicine

The Matsés Peoples, in order to protect the medicines from bio-prospectors, decided not to translate their Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia to English or Spanish.

The Matsés are writing the Encyclopedia in order to preserve and propagate their traditional systems of medicine for future generations - of Matsés. 

“Original Nations” passports

An historic ceremony was held outside the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne, Australia for the issuing of “Original Nations” passports and West Papuan visas in conjunction with the West Papua Freedom Flotilla.

The flotilla convoy would go on to travel from Lake Eyre to West Papua, highlighting the abuse of human rights and land rights occurring in West Papua and reconnecting the Indigenous Peoples of West Papua and Australia. 

Assertions of Authority

Red Sucker Lake First Nation delivered a stop work order to Mega Precious Metals Inc. in Northern Manitoba.

The First Nation stated at the time that the company was operating illegally in its traditional territory. Mathias Colomb First Nation (MCCN) issued a similar order to Hudbay Mining and Smelting Co., Ltd. also in Manitoba. 

An independent republic

The Murrawarri Peoples took their first steps toward becoming an independent republic on their traditional unceded lands in northern New South Wales and Queensland, Australia.

After issuing a formal declaration, The Murrawarri established an interim government in preparation for a parliament that would consist of 54 representatives appointed by their respective ancestral family groups.

The Murrawarri Nation’s act of self-determination caught the attention of at least 27 other Indigenous Nations in Australia who requested Murrawarri’s declarations and constitution to use as templates for their own independence movements. 

The Tahltan said NO

The Tahltan People celebrated a decision by Fortune Minerals’ to halt mineral exploration activities on Klappan Mountain inside the Sacred Headwaters region of Northern British Columbia, Canada.

The decision came after several bold actions led by the Klabona Keepers including the delivery of an eviction notice, a blockade and the take over of a drilling site. 

Honouring the Two Row

A delegation of Haudenosaunee leaders traveled to the Netherlands on Haudenosaunee passports to participate in a ceremony honoring the 400 year old Two Row Wampum Treaty between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and The Netherlands.

The ceremony was held at the Tree of Peace which was planted by the late Mohawk elder Jake Swamp at Wijkpark Transvaal in The Hague in September 2006. 

A pilgrimage of hope

Offering solidarity to Indigenous Nations, five Carvers from the Lummi Nation set out on a journey up the Pacific North West Coast sending a message of Kwel’Hoy, or ‘We Draw The Line’ to the resource extraction industry.

With them, lain carefully on a flat bed, the Lummi carried a beautifully-carved 22-foot cedar totem pole for Indigenous communities to bless along the way.

Their journey gained international attention as a pilgrimage of hope, healing and determination for each of the embattled Indigenous Nations they visited. 

A summit of Indigenous communication

The Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication was held in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The important summit brought together indigenous media makers from various countries in Latin America to share their ideas and experiences and to continue planning the future of Indigenous multimedia communications. 

A return to the land

Ontario’s Springwater Provincial Park became the site of a new land reclamation after Ontario Parks took down its flagand changed the park’s status to non-operational - due to low visitation and funding.

A small group of people from several Indigenous nations set up a camp inside the park land, exercising Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, concerning the right to lands and resources that were once traditionally occupied.

It is the group’s goal to see Springwater as an educational and spiritual centre. So far, they’ve held full moon and drumming ceremonies, children’s programming and feasts.

Meanwhile, the Oshkimaadiziig Unity Camp continued to occupy nearby Awenda Provincial Park, an action that began, says camp spokesperson Kai Kai Kons,”as a result of the illegal surrenders of our inherent rights and traditional territories along with the policies and laws enforced upon our people where the Chippewa Tri Council and Canada are in breach of the 1764 Niagara Covenant Chain Belt.”

The group, part of a growing movement called ACTION - Anishinabek Confederacy To Invoke Our Nationhood, states that Awenda Provincial Park is situated on one of five traditional embassies known as Council Rock which is interwoven in the inter-tribal treaty between the Anishinabek and Haudenosaunee.

Other camps were set up throughout the year, including by theThe Lac Courte Oreilles band of Ojibwa in northern Wisconsin and The Algonquins of Barriere Lake within La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve in Quebec.

The well-known Unist’ot’en camp also continued their work to protect sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory in what is now British Colombia. 

Coming together as Nations

Evading the Indonesian navy, two tiny boats met near the Australia-Indonesia border to ceremonially reconnect the indigenous peoples of Australia and West Papua.

The ceremony was the pinnacle of a 5000km journey beginning in Lake Eyre, in which sacred water and ashes were carried and presented to West Papuan leaders.

The cultural exchange of Indigenous elders was held in secret, due to threats made by Indonesian government ministers and military officials who had stated that they would “take measures” against the peaceful exchange. 

Another welcomed victory

Two Indigenous communities from northern Saskatchewan were finally dropped from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s nuclear waste dump shortlist.

After several years of grassroots resistance spearheaded by the Committee for Future Generations and supported by other organizations, it was announced on Nov. 21 that both communities were unsuitable for further study. 

The Saami step forward

The Saami Peoples stepped forward to defend an area of great spiritual and cultural importance.

Walking alongside a group of non-indigenous activists, the Saami set up a roadblock to stop the UK-based mining company, Beowulf, which was planning to carry out a drilling program in the area known as Kallak (Saami: Gállok).

The blockade was dismantled on several occasions; however, that did not deter anyone from continuing to defend the land. Ultimately, the Saami and their allies were victorious in preventing Beowulf from moving ahead. 

The law of the Messi

A Messi villager in Papua New Guinea put up a “gorgor” at Nautilus’ proposed Solwara 1 experimental seabed mining project site. As a traditional law, the “gorgor protocol” prohibits any Ships or vessels by Nautilus from entering into the area that is protected by the “gorgor”.

If Nautilus breaches this area and enters illegally, the Messi “have ALL the right under kastom to destroy the vessels or ship,” commented Karabuspalau Kaiku on facebook.

“Elders and villagers from adjoining villages have caution[ed] the National Government to critically address the issue from the bottom up. Traditional law over the environment must be respected by foreigners,” Kaiku adds. 

Preserving history

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) celebrated the final return of the Hall Mountain Tract to tribal hands. Hall Mountain, a 108-acre tract of land, is the viewshed of the historic Cowee Mound site located six miles south of Franklin.

The Mound, a site of great cultural significance to the Tribe, was the largest, busiest diplomatic and commercial center for the Cherokee people and all Native people on the East Coast until the late 1700s. 

A place called PKOLS

WSÁNEC nations lead an action to reclaim the traditional name of PKOLS on what is now southern Vancouver Island. Originally known as Mount Douglas, PKOLS is an historically important meeting place and a part of the WSÁNEC creation story.

The Douglas Treaty was signed atop PKOLS in 1852. The action to reclaim the name, which signified the renewal of the original nation-to-nation treaty relationship, included a march and a re-enactment of the original treaty signing with governor James Douglas.

A joint Declaration reclaiming PKOLS was also signed and a permanent sign was installed. 

Defending the Great Lakes

After years of community opposition, the controversial plan to ship radioactive waste across the Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden was officially cancelled by the Swedish company, Studsvik.

In a rare show of unity, opponents to the plan included City mayors, U.S. Senators, environmental and nuclear groups, indigenous communities and other civil society groups. 

We won’t be silenced!

The Oglala Lakota passed a resolution opposing the proposed Otter Creek coal mine and Tongue River Railroad in their historical homelands of southeastern Montana.

The Oglala Lakota have thus far been excluded from any consultations despite the fact that the proposed mine site is an area of great cultural and historical significance containing countless burial sites, human remains, battle sites, stone features and artifacts.

In addition to calling for proper consultation, the Oglala Lakota called on all Tribal Nations who signed the Fort Laramie Treaty to stand with them in opposing the mine and railroad. 

A bittersweet victory

The Musqueam finally managed to bring a certain end to the months-long struggle to stop a condominium development atop the ancient village of cusnaum. The Musqueam recentlyworked out a deal to buy and preserve the site, also known as Marpole Midden, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

After 18 months of talks, community members announced plans to place permanent educational signage on the archaeological site, and likely commission several carved poles to honor the more than 4,000-year-old village. 

Sitting at a different table

As United Nations delegates gathered in Warsaw to craft a global climate treaty, indigenous leaders from across North America met half a world away. Their message: The solution to climate change will never come via UN talks.

The United Nations has always maintained a typical colonial stance when it comes to Indigenous Peoples and land; nevertheless the institution deserved a chance to prove itself. It simply failed to do the necessary work, a failure that we can no longer afford to ignore.

“The work that we have is for all of us to do,” said Vickie Downey, a clan mother at the Tesuque Pueblo in New Mexico. “We do this for our grandchildren.” 

Turning back the tide of colonialism

With the Idle No More movement in Canada waking up a sleeping giant, a second movement began to take shape known as the Indigenous Nationhood Movement.

A movement for “Indigenous nationhood, resurgence, and decolonization”, INM has grown into a vast circle of people connected through commitments to principled action supporting Indigenous nations in advancing, articulating, reclaiming, expressing, and asserting nationhood, raising up traditional governments, and reclaiming and reoccupying traditional homelands.

Like the Idle No More movement, INM is an immensely inspiring effort and one that shows great promise for the long road ahead. Indeed, Indigenous Peoples in Canada have once again set a strong example for all other Indigenous Peoples around the world, particularly those who have suffered the harsh burden of isolation and uncertainty in facing an all-too-familiar colonial beast.
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Clearer View on the Healing Power of the Arts

English: Healing Garden at Celebration Health.
Healing Garden at Celebration Health (Wikipedia)
by Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle and Miranda Lawry, University of Newcastle

Florence Nightingale was a practical, highly experienced nurse who advocated the role of beauty, aesthetics and nature in medical practice.

She believed buildings with windows, beautiful views, central courtyards and light were imperative for the healing process.

Nightingale’s insights resonate with current research initiatives associated with the burgeoning field of Arts Health - which links health communities and artists for mutual benefit.

In November, federal health minister Peter Dutton endorsed a National Arts and Health framework to support a coordinated approach to arts and health.

The new framework advocates collaborative partnerships between sectors and between the state and federal health systems - in the name of better outcomes for patients and health workers.

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows it’s good for patients and health workers to engage with the arts. What’s more, it provides artists with opportunities to exhibit, perform and engage in activities that promote inclusion, wellbeing and enriched lives.

What is Arts Health?

In Australia Arts Health has produced some significant outcomes for both patients and hospital staff and is at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research.

It combines insights from the visual arts, creative writing, design, architecture, medicine and alternative therapies - and its reach extends to hospitals, schools, aged-care facilities and clinics.

The US project Cirque De-Stress is a great example of what an Arts Health approach can achieve: it promotes stress reduction and mental health awareness through circus practice.

In another US initiative, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, Alzheimer’s patients are read poems from their childhood. The UK-based Music for Health and Wellbeing project is self-explanatory - and there are thousands of other health-inducing, life-affirming initiatives thriving around the world.

Evidence-based scientific studies have shown the benefits of Arts Health practice in job satisfaction among healthcare professionals, shorter hospital time for patients and improved facets of behaviour, including mental health, among residents of health care communities.

An innovative, flexible and varied field, Arts Health is a perfect medium through which to explore the multifaceted needs of the healthcare environment.

Why the view out the window matters

Over the last two decades, practitioners working in Australia have explored new terrain in Arts Health.

Miranda Lawry, co-author of this article, has spent extensive periods as an artist-in-residence at Newcastle hospitals.

She is a photographic artist interested in the work of Swedish healthcare design researcher Roger S. Ulrich, particularly his work on biophilia, that is, the health benefits of environments rich in natural views.

Following Ulrich, Lawry’s art has addressed the healing properties of the hospital window. New hospital buildings require specialist architecture, lighting and ventilation to house new technologies - but not necessarily many extensive or expansive windows.

From 2000 to 2003 Lawry was part of an Arts Health team that investigated new options providing patients and staff with views at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital. This was part of a larger project titled Vulnerable Bodies: Art, Architecture and the Public Body in a Hospital Environment.

The team explored research on healthcare environments that provide positive visual distractions as a means of promoting wellness by reducing stress.

The result, the “Sky Window” project, involved fitting corridor windows at the hospital with custom-made light boxes into which abstracted landscape images were placed.

The team worked with Dr Paul Thomas, then the Head of Nuclear Medicine at the hospital, and a gifted amateur photographer. Thomas' scenes formed the basis of the window images, demonstrating a symbiotic, highly engaged collaborative process between medical practitioner and artist.

Such projects challenge and replace the mundane, chocolate-box images that have traditionally been placed on the walls of hospital waiting rooms and corridors.

Lawry was also involved in the Moving the Royal, Framing the Memories project when the Royal Newcastle Hospital was closed in 2006. This addressed the response of staff to the closure of the iconic, beach-side hospital.

Inspired again by the healing properties of windows, Lawry asked staff to identify their favourite views, then photographed them for an installation in a prominent “memorial” space at the John Hunter Hospital - the site to which staff were transferred.

Staff were actively involved in this collaborative process, and endorsed the benefits of the project, including its role in assisting them to navigate change, to deal with loss, and to face their work-based futures with a sense of ownership.

“Moving the Royal Framing the Memories” installation at the Royal Newcastle Centre. Miranda Lawry

Arts health is thriving in Australia

In Australia, a leader internationally, Arts Health has a promising future and there are many organisations devoted to promoting its ideas.

The Institute for Creative Healthis a not-for-profit organisation that was established in 2006 as the Arts for Health Foundation.

This body’s primary goal is to establish long-term support for Arts Health advocacy, research and practice paradigms across health areas in general and to embed the arts in our approaches to health and wellbeing.

Likewise, Arts and Health Australia - an advocacy organisation dedicated to improving health through artistic engagement - held its sixth annual conference in Sydney on November 12-14.

Experts from all over the world - including medical researchers, medical, nursing and allied health professionals, art therapists, educators, policy-makers and artists - gathered to discuss best practice in arts and health.

The success of the conference went a long way to confirm the significance and robust future of Arts Health both in Australia and worldwide.

Marguerite Johnson receives funding from ARC DP Grant: DP120102425 (2012-2014).
Miranda Lawry received funding from Hunter New England Health.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

Building Urban Resilience

English: Deepwater Horizon oil spill at Chande...
Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Wikipedia)
Deden Rukmana, Jakarta Post: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/12/21/building-urban-resilience.html

In the last few years, the concept of resilience has rapidly become popular and is increasingly used in urban policy and strategies.

Resilience appears to be fast replacing sustainability.

The concept of sustainability has been at the forefront of urban policy discourse since the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations issued the concept of sustainable development in 1987.

Sustainability aims to minimize our impact on the environment, but has one small flaw. Sustainability puts the environment back into balance, but the way the environment behaves is difficult to predict. We are living in an environment with a heightened sense of uncertainty and unpredictability.

There are many environmental events that are out of control and we need to survive when the environment attacks us.

Urban resilience is the ability of urban communities to recover from disasters and disturbances in a sustainable way, maintain a good quality of life and increase its coping capacity to reduce the damages from an unpredictable disaster or disturbance. Resilient urban communities are better prepared for uncertainties and able to adapt to changing conditions.

The World Economic Forum (WCF) released its 2013 Global Risks Report and included a section on resilience in the report.

It is the first such report of the forum that discusses the global risks from the resilience perspective. The report identifies five components of national resilience that are applicable for the urban context.

The components are robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, response and recovery. Robustness refers to the ability to absorb and withstand disaster and disturbance. Redundancy is the excess capacity to enable the maintenance of core functions in the event of disasters and disturbances.

Resourcefulness involves the ability to adapt and respond flexibly to disaster and disturbances, and transform a negative impact into a positive one. Response means the ability to mobilize quickly in the face of disturbance. Recovery is the ability to regain normality after a disaster or disturbance.

Building urban resilience refers to the development of these five components in the urban system, including buildings, infrastructure and communities.

Building urban resilience is a long term program and requires coordination among stakeholders in the city including government agencies, private companies and residents to prepare for, withstand and recover stronger from disaster, disruptions and chronic stresses.

In May 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation announced the Centennial Challenge of 100 Resilient Cities. The foundation received nearly 400 applications from cities around the world ranging from thousand-year-old cities to mega-cities dealing with rapid urbanization.

A panel of judges, including former president Bill Clinton, reviewed the applications particularly on how the cities are approaching and planning for resilience and their commitment to building a resilient city.

On Dec. 3, the panel selected the first set of 33 cities for the foundation’s 100 Resilient Network.

The 33 selected cities include Semarang, Melbourne, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Ramalah, Rotterdam, Rome, Rio de Jainero, Mexico City and Dakar. These cities have implemented innovative programs and demonstrated positive results for resilience.

For example, New Orleans had experience from dealing with and rebounding from hurricanes Katrina and Isaac and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and learned important lessons about being a resilient city.

Similarly, New York City has learned valuable lessons from Hurricane Sandy and developed programs to protect its residents from coastal flooding and sea level rise that could lead to replicable models for other coastal cities.

Innovative programs for increasing resilience and lessons learned in recovering from disasters and catastrophes from those selected cities should be introduced to other cities for possible replication, including to Indonesian cities. Jakarta and other Indonesian cities should prepare for possible catastrophic disruptions and should develop systems to recover.

Semarang was selected because it has innovative programs to address flash floods and tidal flooding. These include rainwater harvesting, vetiver grass plantation, mangrove rehabilitation and early warning system for floods and vector-borne diseases.

Other Indonesian cities should learn from Semarang and other selected cities and have systems in place to recover, persist or even thrive amid disruptions.

The writer is associate professor and coordinator of the graduate program in Urban Studies and Planning at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia, USA.
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Riding the Bike Share Boom

by Clarence Eckerson, Jr, originally published by StreetFilms, Resilience.org:

Without a doubt, 2013 has been a banner year for bike-share in the United States. Major systems were implemented in New York City and Chicago, and many others debuted or expanded in other cities.

In fact, Citi Bike users have biked over 10 million miles and the system is closing in on 100,000 annual members!

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) has been studying 25 bike-share systems throughout the world, analyzing which ones perform the best and why.

That informed ITDP's Bike Share Planning Guide, which has copious data and fascinating charts to pore over, helping cities create bike-share systems that will thrive.

We were very happy to team up with ITDP to make this Streetfilm. It features a dozen bike-share systems and captures footage from an unprecedented number of bike-share cities in any one film.

Enjoy and download the report!

Monday, December 23, 2013

‘Building Resilience’: The 3rd C - Connection

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Wikipedia)

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library

This is the sixth installment in a series based upon the book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings” by Kenneth Ginsburg. Find Parts 1-4 at: www.tahoedailytribune.com, keyword “Resilience”.

While it is true that children with strong resilience are self-sufficient and independent, they are also interdependent with other people. Human connection provides reassurance that we will be okay despite tough times. 

But beyond times of crisis, connection also provides a higher level of security that gives us joy, and a comfortable base, that permits us to take chances that allow us to come closer to our full potential.

Children do best with multiple circles of connection to feel secure and protected at home, at school, and in the community. 

Children with close ties to family, friends, school, and community are more likely to have a solid sense of security that produces strong values and prevents them from seeking destructive alternatives.

Family is the central force in any child’s life, but connections to civic, educational, religious, and athletic groups can also increase a young person’s sense of belonging to a wider world and being safe within it.

One adult can make a critical difference in a child’s life. Resilience research and literature consistently demonstrate that guidance and support from a caring adult are pivotal in determining whether a young person can overcome challenges. 

Hopefully children will have several supportive people in their lives - parents, relatives, peers, teachers, coaches and clergy.

For parents, the crucial starting point is empathetic listening. Children need to feel listened to and respected. When we are empathetic toward children, we create an emotional safety net. They feel secure in coming to us with problems. 

When they are in trouble, they know we will listen without sarcasm, criticism, or blame. When they make a mistake, they know we will help them correct it without condemnation. 

Ginsburg very strongly points out that it is not our job to have all the answers: “Don’t worry, just listen. If you can be a sounding board, you will help him figure things out.” Give yourself the gift of losing the fantasy that you’re supposed to have all the answers.

Some questions to ponder when considering how connected your children are to family and the broader world include:

- Do we build a sense of physical safety and emotional security within our home?
- Do my children know that I am absolutely crazy in love with them?
- Do I understand that the challenges my children will put me through on their path toward independence are normal developmental phases or will I take them so personally that our relationship will be harmed?
- Do I allow my children to have and express all types of emotions or do I suppress unpleasant feelings?
- Are they learning that going to other people for emotional support during difficult times is productive or shameful?
- Do we do everything to address conflict within our family and work to resolve problems rather than let them fester?
- Do we have a television and entertainment center in almost every room or do we create common space where our family shares time together?
- Do I encourage my children to take pride in the various ethnic, religious, or cultural groups to which we belong?
- Do I jealously guard my children from developing close relationships with others or do I foster healthy relationships that I know will reinforce my positive messages?
- Do I protect my friends’ and neighbors’ children, just as I hope they will protect mine?
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

‘Building Resilience’: The 2nd C: Confidence

Confidence (Photo credit: glsims99)

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave., Truckee. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library.

This is the fifth installment in a series based upon the book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens.” Find Parts 1-4 at www.tahoedailytribune.com, keyword “Resilience.”

Last week, I covered the foundational C of developing competence. The second C of confidence is rooted in competence. Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Why is confidence so important? It feels good, of course, to know that you can do something well. 

Confidence is especially critical to children because it is necessary to navigating childhood and adolescence successfully and safely, a journey that involves taking risks every step of the way - walking into a new school for the first time, trying to make friends, or looking foolish by speaking up in class or not making the team.

Without authentic confidence, children will not take necessary risks. With authentic confidence, they will feel like they have some degree of power over their environment and are more likely to persevere and have an optimistic outlook instead of feeling passive and powerless.  

Ginsburg takes great pains to differentiate between confidence and self-esteem. He feels as if the self-esteem movement may have done more harm than good over the past 30 years, in that it is externally driven by parents and teachers.

It is as if adults can construct a child’s self-esteem by telling him three times a day that he is terrific, beautiful or brilliant. Children are not dumb; they can see through empty words and labels. Ginsburg has nothing against self-esteem, but he wants it to be deep-seated, authentic and permanent.  

Children who experience their own competence and know they are safe and protected develop a deep-seated security that promotes the confidence to face and cope with challenges. 

When parents support children in finding their own islands of competence and building on them, they prepare the kids to gain enough confidence to try new ventures and trust their abilities to make sound choices.

According to Ginsburg, there are three major ways that we can instill confidence in our children - catch them being good, offer genuine praise, and set reasonable expectations.

In thinking about your children’s degree of confidence, consider the following questions:

- So I see the best in my children so that they can see the best in themselves?
- Do I clearly express that I expect the best qualities (not achievements, but personal qualities such as fairness, integrity, persistence and kindness) in them?
- Do I help them recognize what they have done right or well?
- Do I treat them as an incapable child or as a youngster who is learning to navigate their world?
- Do I praise them often enough? Do I praise them honestly about specific achievements or do I give such diffuse praise that it doesn’t seem authentic?
- Do I catch them being good when they are generous, helpful, and kind or when they do something without being asked or cajoled?
- Do I encourage them to strive just a bit farther because I believe they can succeed? Do I hold realistically high expectations?
- Do I unintentionally push them to take on more than they can realistically handle, causing them to stumble and lose confidence?
- When I need to criticize or correct them, do I focus only on what they are doing wrong or do I remind them that they are capable of doing well?
- Do I avoid instilling shame in my children?
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

‘Building Resilience’: Importance of Building Competence

How does this thing work?
How does this thing work? (Photo credit: Thingo)
by Teri Andrews Rinne, Tahoe Daily Tribune: http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/northshore/nnews/8523533-113/competence-child-skills-building 

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave., Truckee. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library.

This is the fourth installment in a series based upon the book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens.” Find part one here, part two here and part three here.

Kenneth Ginsburg argues that competence is the first of the 7 Crucial Cs is the bedrock or foundation of resilience. Without genuine competence, it is unlikely that the other 6 Cs could be developed.

Competence is the ability or know how to handle situations effectively. It’s not a vague feeling or hunch that “I can do this.” Competence is acquired through actual experience. 

Children can’t become competent without first developing a set of skills that allows them to trust their judgments, make responsible choices and face difficult situations.

How can parents or other involved adults foster competence? According to Ginsburg, the first thing we need to get out of the way and realize that normal child development occurs because children are wired to build new knowledge and skills from each experience.   

Second, we need to understand that play is one of the major jobs of childhood. We must allow plenty of time for free child-driven play, the most effective type of play for children to discover their competence in the world.

Third, competence is enhanced or hindered by the way we communicate and interact with children. New skills and abilities are reinforced when adults praise and notice them. If criticism is given harshly it can undermine a child’s ability to gain competence.

When criticism is offered as constructive, targeted feedback, it can enhance growing competence. We should also avoid lecturing mode as much as possible. Though our advice is offered with good intentions, it can undermines children’s growing competence.

We need to help them develop solutions for themselves, steering them toward making their own wise, safe decisions in the face of peer pressure.

Fourth, If we are to prepare children to thrive in the future, we must think beyond grades and extra-curriculars as the only way to measure authentic success. Instead, we need to value tenacity, love of learning, and creativity.

In thinking about your children’s competence and how to fortify it, ask yourself:

- Do I help my children focus on their strengths and build on them?    
- Do I notice what they do well or do I focus on their mistakes?
- When I need to point out a mistake, am I clear and focused or do I communicate that I believe they always mess up?    
- Do I help them recognize what they have going for themselves?    
- Am I helping them build the educational, social, and stress‐reduction skills necessary to make them competent in the real world?   
- Do I communicate in a way that empowers my children to make their own decisions or do I undermine their sense of competence by giving them information in ways they can’t grasp? In other words, do I lecture them or do I facilitate their thinking?   
- Do I let them make safe mistakes so they have the opportunity to right themselves or do I try to protect them from every trip and fall?   
- As I try to protect him, does my interference mistakenly send the message, “I don’t think you can handle this?”   
- If I have more than one child, do I recognize the competencies of each without comparison to siblings?
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Monday, December 16, 2013

‘Building Resilience:’ Model Healthy Resilience Strategies

Forum: Women and Girls: The Visible Force of R...
Forum: Women and Girls: The Visible Force of Resilience (Photo credit: UNISDR Photo Gallery)
by Teri Andrews Rinne, Tahoe Daily Tribune: http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/northshore/nnews/8354490-113/resilience-healthy-stress-parents

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library.

This is the third in a series of articles about “Building Resilience,” for the first installment click here, for the second, click here.

Last week, I covered the first bottom line of resilience, according to Kenneth Ginsburg, author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens:” Young people will be resilient when the important adults in their lives believe in them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.

Now for the second bottom line, where the rubber meets the road: As the important adults in young people’s lives, what we do to model healthy resilience strategies is more important than anything we say about them, especially as parents. 

“Do as I say, not as I do” is simply not as effective as modeling the resilient mindset during stressful times.

Whether they are toddlers or teens, children observe parents closely. If we show them negative ways of coping with our own stress, they will follow our example.

Ginsburg explains: “If we rant at the driver who cut into our traffic lane, our kids will assume that road rage is acceptable. If we drink heavily after work each evening, we’re sending the message that alcohol is an acceptable stress reliever. If we binge on junk food whenever we are anxious, they are likely to do the same.”

On the other hand, if parents talk about their anger or discuss how the day’s work was tense and exhausting, they send the message that talking about frustration and stress is a healthy way to vent. 

Or they can practice yoga, or go for a run or a hike after a bad day at work, taking time for themselves to relax before rushing to make dinner.

As parents, we are the models who demonstrate healthy coping strategies. We’re the ones who, through our example, make it safe to admit vulnerability and personal limitations. 

When we acknowledge and address problems, we reject stigma associated with imperfection. When we reach our limits and reach out to others, we model that strong people seek support and guidance.

The well-being of your child rests on your health and personal resilience. Caring for yourself is not selfish - it is a selfless and strategic act of good parenting. Parenting is a long-haul proposition. Burnout is simply not an option. 

Maintaining your interests, addressing your needs, and relieving your stress with healthy coping strategies are precisely what give you the energy to give to others.

According to Ginsburg, the greatest gift you can give your child is to live a balanced life and to demonstrate that when life inevitably offers you challenges, you take the active steps needed to get back on track.

He offers a 10-point plan to help manage stress divided into four parts: tackling the problem, taking care of myself, dealing with emotions, and making the world a better place available at www.fosteringresilience.com.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

There are Seven Crucial ‘Cs’ in ‘Building Resilience’

week 24 - Resilience
Resilience (Photo: Sweet Dreamz Design)

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave., Truckee. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library.

This is the second installment in a series based upon the book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens.” For the first installment, click here.

When we speak of resilience, what exactly do we mean? 

Kenneth Ginsburg, author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens,” defines it as the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances, allowing children to exist in this less-than-perfect world, while moving forward with optimism and confidence.

Indeed, today’s world can be a frightening place - illness, death, divorce, crime, war, natural disasters, and terrorism. But keep in mind that yesterday’s world was a frightening place as well.

As we grow older, it seems as if the haze of nostalgia paints our childhood as perhaps more idyllic than it actually was. 

Growing up in the 1970s, I lived in fear of being kidnapped by a serial killer or perishing in a nuclear holocaust; the Vietnam War and Watergate also cast a pallor that was inescapable, even for the pint-sized version of me. 

Given just how impressionable children are, we need to parent with perspective, love and understanding, rather than in ways that might foster fear, paranoia or cynicism.

Despite our best efforts, it is also not possible to protect our children from the daily stresses of life either. However, we can provide them with the tools they need to respond to the challenges and adversities of life. 

Children and teens need to develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. They need to be resilient in order to succeed in life.

Toward that end, Ginsburg has defined seven crucial “C’s” to help develop our children’s resilience: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. We will explore these concepts in more depth over the next seven weeks.

Before delving into each of these concepts individually, it is also good to note what Ginsburg considers to be the bottom line, underpinning the whole path toward resilience: Young people will be resilient when the important adults in their lives believe in them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.

However, he is quick to point out that unconditional belief is not blind acceptance. It means that we are not going anywhere and our love is a constant stable force from which children can draw security and confidence.

When we speak of “holding a child to high expectations,” it does not refer to demanding high grades or athletic excellence, although it is reasonable to expect a good effort. Rather, it is about always expecting your child to live up to the core values and essential goodness you know lies within. 

Children who know the important adults in their life, (parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, etc.) always see the best within them will live up to those expectations.
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Let’s Bring the Polymath - and the Dabblers - Back

Kircher's magnetic clock
Kircher's magnetic clock (Wikipedia)
by Samuel Arbesman, Wired: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/12/165191/?cid=co15721404

I noticed recently that books with the phrase “The Last Man Who Knew Everything” all share in common that their subjects lived during the period close to the Scientific Revolution, roughly between 1550 to 1700.

The examples I own are about Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in 1602; Thomas Young, who studied topics such as optics and philology and was born in 1773; and Philadelphia area professor Joseph Leidy, who was born in 1823.
The scientific revolution killed our ability to know everything

It’s as if the Scientific Revolution - and the knowledge it spawned - killed the ability to know everything.

Before then, it was not only possible to be a generalist or polymath (someone with a wide range of expertise) - but the weaving together of different disciplines was actually rather unexceptional.

The Ancients discussed topics such as ethics, biology, and metaphysics alongside each other. The Babylonian Talmud discusses everything from astronomy and biology to morality and law, weaving them together into a single compendium.

So what changed? Scientific knowledge exploded in size, mainly due to the application of the scientific method to our surroundings.

As that knowledge base and its domain experts grew exponentially, we began classifying and ordering all that we understood - from the classification taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus to manuals for categorizing mental disease.

We made sense of our world by dividing information into manageable portions and distinct areas of proficiency.

But as people began to specialize, knowledge became fragmented. We chose to know more and more about less and less. We may have expanded what we as a society know - but it was at the price of no single individual being able to truly know it all.
We may have expanded what we as a society know - but it was at the price of no one being able to truly know it all.

Now, we obviously require specialized experts (as opposed to dilettantes) to solve specific problems; think about the field of medicine, for example.

Yet the most exciting inventions occur at the boundaries of disciplines, among those who can bring different ideas from different fields together. As Robert Twigger noted, “Invention fights specialisation at every turn.”

In fact, some of the most exciting advancements in computing right now come from the field of deep learning - which itself draws from multiple fields: neuroscience, cognitive psychology, machine learning, natural language/ linguistics, computer vision, mathematics - to make the next step of AI possible. Companies such as Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are all involved.

But frankly, this kind of interdisciplinary approach isn’t happening more broadly in corporations, let alone in academia. There are institutional barriers (nearly all training, and data, lives in silos) as well as cognitive and biological ones.

Even though the information storage capacity in our brains is vast (multiple petabytes), we eventually bump up against what we can truly understand (what some call The End of Insight) - or we just can’t hold all the relevant knowledge in our heads.

Still, we needn’t despair. There are ways to foster a culture of interdisciplinarity in a fragmented world.

We Need to Focus on the Tools, Not the Fields

Several years ago, a team of scientists examined hundreds of millions of clicks on scientific papers in order to discern the “clickstream” - the path readers take from one page to the next.

This data revealed patterns of how people moved from one subject area to the next.

For example, nursing connects medicine to the fields of psychology and education. Organic chemistry bridges physical chemistry and analytic chemistry; economics is tightly intertwined with sociology and law; and the field of music stands quite distinct.

Of course, these are oversimplifications. Music incorporates concepts from physics and psychology while economics draws heavily from mathematics.

But it’s one way to explore the interconnected nature of ideas, and it reminds us that we need to identify the tools necessary to bridge different domains and place them into a connected framework.

Let’s take a simple analogy. What do the following things have in common: doing Sudoku, constructing crossword puzzles, conducting logistics for large companies, playing Super Mario Brothers?

Well, in content terms, not much. They appear to be a collection of tasks that are easy to understand but not master. And it turns out that they’re all hard in a specific way: They’re what are known in theoretical computer science as NP-complete problems.

Knowing this means each of these problems can be converted into a version of the other - I can construct a Sudoku puzzle that, if solved, could potentially shed light on how Walmart should route its delivery trucks.

Simply put, there are fields that have a certain generalizability, and their organizing ideas and tools can be used to find relationships between disparate areas.

The most basic example of such a field is mathematics. As Eugene Wigner stated in his 1960 paper The Unreasonably Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

Mathematics is a gift, an unbelievably useful tool for understanding our surroundings.

We Need To Think in Terms of Modules and Protocols

Take the science of complexity. It’s an attempt to abstract complex systems to their relevant interacting components, and then create a mathematical formalism that can explain the phenomenon being examined.
Whether referred to as protocols, standards, or interfaces, modules can only interact and be interoperable if they use a common set of protocols.

A complex system often has many interconnecting units that are themselves made up of many pieces. These larger units, which often have a certain degree of independence and internal sophistication, are known as modules.

The property of modularity is a hallmark of many complex systems, from those in biology to programming. But an additional feature of these modular systems - often more abstract than the individual components - is how the pieces interact.

LEGO pieces can be combined in multiple ways. But what allows them to interact effectively is the shape and structure of the bricks - the bundle of properties that allow them to snap together easily.

Similarly, multitudes of personal computers, massive servers, phones, and appliances can all connect to the Internet. What allows them to do this is the use of a common protocol, in this case the Internet Protocol (IP).

Whether referred to as protocols, standards, or interfaces, modules can vary, but can only interact - and be interoperable - if they use a common set of protocols.

Such modularity is not just a feature of physical systems. We need it for information, too.

Think of the usefulness of websites like If This Then That (“Lincoln logs for your online life”) allowing “ingredients” like email, photos, RSS feeds, notes, weather updates, calendars, activity, and now location to be connected into meaningful recipes.

IFTTT is important because information is most useful when modules can be connected. And the same is true with knowledge.

Distinct fields act like modules: complex, intricate, and complete with their own terminology and jargon. These features act as hurdles to interaction, and we can only interconnect the domains by building a set of common protocols.

This is exactly what the tools of mathematics and complex systems are: protocols. Not only do such tools allow someone to work in multiple disciplines - making it possible, once again, to be a generalist - they demand that similarities between different domains be made explicit.

This suggests that learning how to code is not enough to change how we think. Yes, coding does provide a certain structure to one’s thoughts.

But there is a more important - and often ignored aspect - behind programming: through code, and the recognition that algorithmic similarity occurs over and over, we can see the similarities between different spheres of knowledge.

Far from being a tech-centric perspective, coding connects ideas across fields. IFTTT is important because information is most useful when modules can be connected.

And We Need to Embrace the Machines

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s investing partner, refers to the mental models required to understand the world - and that can be plugged into different situations - as a “latticework of models”.

When suitably abstracted, these models can provide a powerful way of understanding many phenomena that might on the surface seem unrelated. Though an expert is a good guide along the way, these models are the tools that allow us to jump from field to field.

And machines can help, acting as partners in generalism.

Some people are not happy with this idea. But we need to welcome the tools that will allow us to more effectively manage the rapid growth of knowledge and prevent the balkanization of fields.

As knowledge grows, we must increasingly rely on computers. This is not a new insight; in 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote the seminal “As We May Think” essay in The Atlantic describing the need for a machine:
But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers - conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial … The difficulty seems to be … not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.
The problem of hidden knowledge (also discussed in my book The Half-Life of Facts) continues to grow.

And now we have the Internet, and search, and big data which both surface, and hide, knowledge. As a way of addressing this problem of growing knowledge, Bush proposed a “memex” device, a type of rudimentary web browser.

But we can go further than browsing. Computers can help us generate new knowledge. It could be in proving mathematical theorems. It could be in finding papers that, when combined, yield new discoveries.

It could be in taking different people’s annotations and finding unexpected connections between them. No matter what forms such discovery takes, though, it is clear that the crafts and tools of mathematics and computing will finally allow for the return of the generalist.
* * *
The startup world is beating academics at their own game.

Where are all the generalists, anyway? They’re not really thriving in academia; for the most part, they’ve gone elsewhere to find their place, and one of these places is business.

In the realm of data science at least, the startup world is beating academics at their own game when we consider examples such as Google and Facebook or Bit.ly and Misfit Wearables.

Videogame companies are also promoting this stitching-together of fields. Maxis (a subsidiary of Electronics Arts), the company that makes SimCity, Spore, and the Sims, is full of people who bounce from topic to topic, incorporating information from seemingly unrelated fields.

Want to know why the steepest incline of streets in the newest version of SimCity is a certain number of degrees? It’s because the developers took the time to examine the steepest inclines in the world and based their coding of this information on that knowledge.

More generally, the world of business and entrepreneurship actively encourages those who see connections between disciplines. One who can recognize a relationship between two disparate fields of ideas will more likely come up with the next, big, new thing. That’s investment gold.

So how do we train people for this kind of thinking? The Girl Scouts once offered a fascinating merit badge: the Dabbler badge. This allowed a young scout who wanted to do a little bit of everything to not only generalize, but to be recognized for that achievement.

Perhaps it’s time for the academic and business equivalent of the Dabbler badge: a way to acknowledge and foster those dabbling in different ideas, all the way from gradeschool to late career.

Specialization is clearly on the rise. It’s time for the generalist and the polymath to rise once again. Society needs to make a place for these Last Men and Women to Know Everything, and we need to go beyond the rhetoric of education reform to focus on the right tools that will make this happen.
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