Thursday, January 21, 2010

Studies show compassion is a human instinct

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says that contrary to long-standing assertions that humans are inherently self-serving, new evidence suggests that we’re actually wired to be compassionate. Studies conducted by a number of preeminent specialists and universities demonstrate measurable responses in the human anatomy including changes in brainwaves, oxytocin levels, and non-verbal communication, suggesting that, “Compassion is deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body.” Certain parenting styles help the behavior along, particularly what the psychological community calls, “inductive parenting,” in which parents encourage children to consider the reasons why they have done harm and the kinds of effects their behavior has on others. “Parents can teach compassion by example,” Keltner says, explaining, “Human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Vision of the Dry Bones brings SIORA world jazz sound to Hebrew classics

World-acclaimed SIORA founders Phyllis Chapell and Dan Kleiman are all over the map with their international flavor and percussive instrumentation and Phyllis’ full-bodied vocals in eleven languages. Their latest release, "The Vision of the Dry Bones," a transnational representation of the Hebrew canon, departs from any classic interpretation into hip-shaking, body-swaying, soulful swings and jazz-centric beats. SIORA isn’t afraid to use a Samba style to spice up an Israeli ballad in MaNavu, or give a plaintive Yiddish song a heartbeat with rhythms from across the Jewish Diaspora in Papirossen. Inspired by a vision of the prophet Ezekiel of a vast expanse of dry bones gradually forming flesh and coming back to life, the message of "Dry Bones" seems to be that of tradition reinvented, breathing new and delicious breath, moving into the future with renewed vigor. Says Kleiman, “First the Jew in us asks why, then the jazz musician asks why not?”

Listen to Dry Bones here

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Florida Holocaust Museum curator wins FAM’s Innovator Award

Florida Holocaust Museum curator Erin Blankenship won 2009’s Florida Association of Museums (FAM) Innovator Award for her work curating the museum’s Courage and Compassion exhibit about the Bielski family, who saved over 1,200 Jews from certain execution during the Holocaust. The exhibit opened at the same time as the movie “Defiance”, telling the story of the Bielski brothers, premiered in theaters. Brendon Rennert, grandson of Tuvia Bielski, approached the museum about compiling the exhibit after hearing that the movie was in production.

The exhibition includes survivor testimonies, intricate models, and original artifacts, requiring extensive research by Blankenship to locate and build partnerships with family members, institutions, and survivors in order to acquire the right pieces. She even went as far as to coordinate an archeological dig of the Bielski family campsite in the Naliboki forest of Belarus.

“It is very rewarding being recognized by your peers,” Blankenship says, “so while it was a huge effort that really required a small team of people, I was very happy with the outcome and I feel very honored to have been given the opportunity to tell the story (on behalf of the FHM) of these extraordinary men and to have met the survivors and family.”

Read the press release about the award

Read Erin's bio

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Philadelphia choreographer gives Rwandan youth a reason to dance

Rebecca Davis is the founder and Artistic Director of Philadephia’s non-profit Rebecca Davis Dance Company. In 2008, she traveled to Rwanda to teach dance to child survivors of the 1994 genocide that annihilated over 10% of the country’s population in less than three months. When she returned last year, she found that the project’s sponsoring group was closed, the safe house where the boys were living was gone, and many of the children she taught were once again living on the streets. Together with a volunteer friend, Rebecca vowed to raise the mere $2.50 per day that it takes to send at least one of her students to boarding school, asking, “Why can’t we, as an international community, prevent mass murder, or at least protect its survivors?”

Rebecca has choreographed and taught in Canada, Russia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and the United States. More than your average dance company, Rebecca founded her namesake four years ago with the mission of deepening the public’s knowledge of classic literature, significant historical events and social issues, and to provide a pre-professional dance-theater training program for young dancers. In the summer of 2009, Rebecca lived in Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, developing a creative movement program for youth, which focused on the theme of reconciliation in a post-conflict country. The Rebecca Davis Dance Company is soon to offer a dance-exchange program with students from that country.

Read her story in Broad Street Review

Watch kids of the Unity Hip-Hop Group of Rwanda perform

Visit the Rebecca Davis Dance Company website

Read Rebecca's bio

Thursday, January 7, 2010

FYI: Thought Provoking, Useful, and Inspiring Items on the Web

Bard Prison Initiative helps prisoners choose better futures

Knowing that education is the best way to build peace, Bard College began Bard Prison Initiative in response to Congress’ 1994 elimination of Pell grants. The program encourages student prisoners, some of them serving life sentences for murder, to think objectively about the choices they make, and the ones they see others making, while enabling them to work their way toward college degrees. Prisoners take the same classes as other Bard students and earn the same degrees, reminding us that at any point in our lives, despite choices we’ve made in the past, we can choose an upright path.

Read the Jewish Daily Forward article

Chief investment strategist says Think Twice about the choices we make

Despite what our mothers tell us, following our gut is not always the best idea says Michael J. Mauboussin, chief investment strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and author of Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition. Called “an insightful, well-researched discussion of our all-too-familiar cognitive failures,” the book springboards from America’s current financial crisis to discuss what Mauboussin pinpoints as our nation’s eight most common mistakes. Mis-skills include looking for answers in the wrong places and misunderstanding cause and effect. "To make good decisions,” Mauboussin writes, “you frequently must think twice—and that's something our minds would rather not do."

Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition
By Michael J. Mauboussin
Harvard Business Press; 208 pp.; $29.95

Read the BusinessWeek review

Former Navy lieutenant smuggles Iraqi art out of Green Zone

Of all the hundreds of stories we read each week while carrying out the Art Not Hate mission, there are some that just really make our hearts pound. At a time when their nation is being ripped apart by war, Christopher Brownfield, a former Navy lieutenant, smuggled paintings by Iraqi artists out of the Green Zone, risking life and career for the betterment of these artists’ livelihood. After auctioning the paintings at New York’s Pomegranate Gallery and sending all of his proceeds back to the artists, he launched an online gallery (below) to sell the artwork. Not just a story about helping one’s fellow man, Brownfield’s actions are evidence of the persistence of the human spirit in the face of impossible odds.

Read the Forbes article
Visit Christopher’s online gallery

Scientists say human kindness is nature, not nurture

Human kindness: nurture or nature? These days, scientists across a spectrum of schools are saying nature. New evidence suggests that infants display helpful behavior even before their parents begin teaching them social norms. Furthermore, humans’ innate helpfulness may have stemmed from ancient humans’ need to cooperate in finding food and shelter, and protecting the safety of the group. “Humans putting their heads together in shared cooperative activities are thus the originators of human culture,” Dr. Tomasello, a developmental psychiatrist, writes.

Read the New York Times article

‘Hebrew Mamita’ spreads spoken-word against Jewish stereotypes

Spoken word artist Vanessa Hidary is inspiring beaming shmaykhels on the faces of audiences all over Manhattan and the Web. Calling herself The Hebrew Mamita, Hidary aims to shatter stereotypes about the daughters of Abraham, “Bigging up all people who are a little miffed, cause someone tells you don’t look like, or act like your people. Impossible. ‘Cause you are your people. You just tell them they don’t look…PERIOD!” Hidary’s solo show, “Culture Bandit”, garnered attention at festivals and playhouses from New York to Los Angeles, including The Roar Theatre Festival at Nuyorican Poets Café and The Los Angeles Women's Theater Festival.

Watch Vanessa perform
Visit her site

What A Wonderful World it is that brought us Louis Armstrong

Nothing speaks to the beauty of imperfection and inspires hope in the human heart like Louis Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World.” The gravel of his voice set aloft over airy strings, singing, “I hear babies cry/I watch them grow/They’ll learn much more/than I’ll ever know,” restores a certain sense faith in humanity’s ability to mend the wounds of hatred. Not all is lost, it says, Don’t lose hope. These are only growing pains.

Listen to “What a Wonderful World”

US futurologist says innovation is the economic way forward

The relationship between the human brain and the technology it creates is symbiotic, dynamic, and tied inextricably into world economy. US futurologist Jamais Cascio says in a culture like America’s, where innovation is the driving force of our economy, not only is failure inevitable—it’s necessary. In an interview with Viennese newspaper Die Presse, Cascio discusses America’s new wave of personalized technology, the necessity of trial and error, the future of the human brain, and the death of industrial Capitalism.

Read the interview

Monday, January 4, 2010

Six Mistakes Mankind Keeps Making Century After Century

  1. Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
  2. Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
  3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
  4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
  5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
  6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, lawyer, philosopher, 106 BC to 43 BC

These clear-eyed and crystalline words were written over 2,000 years ago by one of ancient Rome’s most revered and influential legislators. I often muse on these six points and try to embellish his simple litany of human blindness and stupidity…to no avail. The “Art Not Hate” project is a response to point five— it attempts to refine and develop our perception of both others and ourselves in the mix and mayhem of life. But, ironically, creative people can be as prejudiced and spiteful as those who do the world’s more mundane work (think Michael Richards [aka Kramer] on African Americans, and Mel Gibson on Jews). Nonetheless, when we create with others who are different from ourselves, there are inexplicable moments of empathy when we know that the person next to us shares our feelings and fate…and we are changed for the better.