The lost ones

Above the city, a falcon faces the landscape below, her ghostly feathers shifting among the clouds. Her eyes – glittering, diamond-like, judge. What is in her mind? What does she see? A thousand souls shadowing the hot pavement, rubber against cement, pacing, smiling, crying, yelling, staring into the clouds, searching for falcons.

The sweat of this land lies in the canals, wiping the dust off the deserted soil, flowing ever eastward into the morass of the white sky. A shouldering heat rises from the caverns below, those haunted dens of black and light, where dreams are born but never pass away. In the steel homes above, children sleep in the mist, fighting battles against foes of ink, transforming into winged heroes just for one night, again and again.

Against all instincts, the cougar prowls the sidewalk for prey. Hearing the whispers of old ladies, the scornful breath of the aged and wise, the cougar slinks in the alleyways and the hidden places between lines, where he discovers to his surprise that he never left.

Einstein’s Triangle

I spent most of the day reading up on Albert Einstein and his relationship with Mileva Maric and Elsa Lowenthal. Some pretty interesting observations, although by no means do these explain anything.

  1. Albert and his girlfriend Mileva got pregnant shortly after Albert graduated from university, but this baby disappeared when Albert was 23 years old and his girlfriend Mileva was 27. They didn’t get married (in January of 1903) for at least a year after the disappearance of their daughter, who is said to either have been given up for adoption or died in infancy, although neither spoke of the situation. Mileva ended up having the baby by herself at her parent’s house in Novi Sad, Serbia (where she was from).
  2. Mileva failed the graduation exam in 1900 (which Albert passed) – and ended up staying in school and retaking the exam a year later (while three months pregnant). After Albert graduated, he couldn’t find a job for at least two years, and only secured a permanent position (at the patent office) in 1903 (when he was 24 years old).
  3. in 1902 (when he was 23) Albert formed a discussion group called “The Olympia Society” in which a core group of his friends got together to talk about philosophy and physics. His girlfriend and later wife would attend although not participate. The group lasted until 1905 – until the last of his friends had left Switzerland.
  4. During all of this time (from the above observations), from the moment that Albert graduated until 1905, he had been working on his PhD thesis. Not surprisingly, the year he received his thesis he also published a collage of reviews and scientific papers espousing specific theories he had been thinking about during his studies. This is apparent, as from 1900 until 1905 he only published 67 pages worth of papers, but in one year published a staggering 79 pages of papers and reviews. He married Mileva in 1903 (after securing his permanent job). It’s unclear if he started his PhD immediately after graduating or if he waited until he found his job at the patent office (in 1902, after the birth of his child).
  5. However, it wasn’t until he was 29 (in 1908) that he found a position teaching at the University of Bern. I’m unclear what exactly he did between getting his PhD and finding a position as a teacher, although it is clear that he spent a great amount of time writing and publishing articles with the Annalen der Physik. Unlike later publications, these were written papers and not lectures, so it seems he wasn’t teaching during this time.
  6. After he found a position teaching, many of his papers were either co-authored or were transcripts of actual talks and lectures he gave.
  7. Somehow (I’m still tracing together details), between 1914-1919 he and his wife had separated, finally divorcing in 1919. Their second son was born in 1910 (when Albert was 31). In 1910, he was already deeply unhappy with his marriage to Mileva, as he wrote to his “high school sweetheart” Marie and told her that he thought of her “every spare minute”. At this point, his older son was a toddler and his second son was a mewling baby. However, by 1914 he was so unhappy that he actually started a romantic liaison with his cousin Elsa (who was three years older than him).
  8. At this time, Elsa was raising two children on her own in Berlin, and when Albert and Mileva moved to Berlin in 1914 he must have immediately started spending time with her and her family (although he had been reaquainted with Elsa two years earlier). So shortly after moving to Berlin, Mileva took her children back to Zurich.
  9. In 1913, Mileva had her children baptized as Orthodox Christians, while Albert (to his death) remained nonreligious. Albert was raised by secular Jews, attended Catholic schools while growing up, although he did have great affinity for Jewish people. He claims to have been trained in both the Bible and the Talmud, which would have meant he either attended some kind of Jewish school outside of his elementary schools or his family practiced more than he ever admitted – or he self-trained himself (which is highly probable, given his personality).
  10. Strangest of all (for me) is that by the time his second wife had died (in 1936), he doesn’t appear to have reconnected in any significant fashion with his ex-wife, although his son (Hans Albert) moved to the United States 5 years from Switzerland after his father moved to the US in 1933 from Germany. Mileva, however, stayed in Zurich until her death.

My main concern in this investigation is to discover how his relationships with the three women in his life affected his research, as well as how the impact of the children in his life (his three children and Elsa’s two children) impacted him and affected his research. Elsa claims in an interview that he discovered relativity while locking himself in an upstairs room for two weeks, while she had to bring him food. I guess it’s nice to claim things like that, but the fact is he didn’t reconnect with Elsa until 1912, but he started writing about relativity in 1905 and published his first significant paper on general relativity in 1911. How much of Einstein is a myth (or ‘fake news’) is hard to glean immediately.

How he transformed from a very well-appreciated academic to a foofy-haired genius is still something I’m slightly confused about, but I’m guessing it had more to do with politics, the American media, and Albert’s controversial relationship with Robert Millikan (the president of Caltech, a deeply militaristic patriot, a fellow Nobel laureate, a military researcher who developed weapons for the US army during World War I, a eugenicist who believed in the greatness of Nordic civilization, and most famously a research who became famous because he ‘doctored’ the results of the experiment for which he was awarded the Nobel) as well as his relationship with many Hollywood elites (such as Charlie Chaplin) than it had to do with anything he actually wrote.

Volcanoes and Villages

doing some research on the Paektu Volcano in China/North Korea —  

  1. Known as Changbaishan 长白山, a famous tourist location in Jilin province – very famous in both Chinese and Korean history, literature, and the mythology
  2. 150 kilometers from the volcano to my wife’s hometown (Qidaogou 七道沟)
  3. Known as the birthplace of the dude who founded the Korean Empire, Dangun, as well as the birthplace of the progenitor of the clan which eventually conquered China and created the Qing dynasty, Bukuri Yongson (of the Aisin Gioro people)
  4. In the caldera of the explosion created in 945 A.D. is a lake called “Heaven’s Lake”
  5. Interestingly, the first major Korean kingdom known as the Goguryeo (from where we get the name Korea) ended after the nobles and royalty left their country to take residence in another kingdom someways down south – in the 10th century, about 50-100 years after the volcano erupted and caused ash and ice to cover the entire country within a 120 km radius for almost 3 years, and even caused snow to fall in May once year
  6. Some perspective – the eruption at Pompeii was a 5 on the VEI scale (Volcanic Explosivity Index), while the Paektu eruption was a 7 on the Index, making it one of the most devastating eruptions in history
  7. The Aisin Gioro claim their progenitor Bukuri Yongson was born from a virgin on the mountain; three heavenly maidens were bathing in the lake at the top of the mountain (which formed after the eruption), and a magpie dropped some red fruit near one of the heavenly maidens (Fekulen) who ate the fruit and became pregnant with a son
  8. The fruit itself was a god transformed by the Emperor of Heaven, and the magpie was also a transformed god
  9. Bukuri took a boat down from the mountain, and when he came to a group of men fighting he pacified them, told them his story and his clan, and from there consolidated their power until they finally conquered the Ming dynasty
  10. The Goryeo dynasty (not to be compared with the Gorguryeo, whose nobles fled to Goryeo after the eruption) which basically gained power after the volcano erupted — recorded in their books that the Jurchens (who were what eventually became of the Aisin Gioro, or so they claim) were forced to live on the other side of the Yalu River from the volcano, making me wonder if they were remnants of the Gorguryeo who failed to assimilate into the Goryeo
  11. So what started as a worried research into the impact zone of the volcano (should North Korea conduct a nuclear test too close to the volcano, and hence cause some ash damage near my wife’s hometown) appears to have much more importance than I initially realized–
  12. Final thoughts: it could be argued that if the eruption did not happen, the Manchu people (the Jurchens) would never had had an impetus to invade and conquer China. I mean, if your land was a volcanic wasteland, would you stay? Having traveled to that area several times, I can say the land takes a lot of work, the mountains are precipitously dangerous and confusing, and it’s even rumored that when the founder of the current Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was out on his military march to found his empire, he got lost in the forest not far from Paektu Volcano (around 90 miles away) where he was so hungry because he couldn’t find anything to eat, that his troops killed one of their horses for their dinner

pages referenced,127.9695787,39168a,35y,72.92t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x5e34aef69343d173:0x29f9d45614652dce!8m2!3d41.9930214!4d128.0774546?hl=en

Anna and the King, or when I learned my boss was a king

First, a true story. Before my trip in 2003, I perused the local library for any information on China, and all I could find were pictures of men and women dressed in blue uniforms, riding bikes from a book published in the mid 1980s. China wasn’t in the news, wasn’t a rising power, but most importantly to me was different, a literal Wild West for a native Californian who had grown up in the Silicon Valley during the 80s. In many ways, my experience mirrored Anna Leonowen’s experience in Thailand during the 1860s (she also thought her employment in Siam would be a romantic excursion), and continues to mirror the experiences of expatriates working in China even today. I would like to explore the dichotomies presented in the story of Anna Leonowens (told by Peter Krikes, Steve Meerson, and directed by Andy Tennant in the film, Anna and the King) through three rules (or quotes from the film) as well as the impact of those rules had I known and practiced them during my first year.

Rule #1: “Best not to assume too much.” In the beginning of the film, the prime minister of Siam chastises Anna for jumping to conclusions she may be swaying the king towards changing his policies, when in fact he was just being polite. In her book, Leonowens remarks with stunning audacity (even to the end of her five-year stint in Siam) at the brutality of the culture, the uncivilized manners of the king and his ministers, and the horrifying treatment of the common people with an attitude that would do her contemporary Harriet Beecher Stowe proud. Even in the film, Anna (portrayed by Jodie Foster) presents an image of a woman far more interested in securing the rights of women forced to serve as wives for the king than the bloated attitudes she taught her son to convey to appointed princes, illustrated when he shoved the prince of the country because of an insulting remark.

When I first arrived in China, I came saddled with a college education (worth around $100,000), a three-month EFL certificate to teach English, as well as six months teaching experience in a local community center in Chicago. However, when I arrived at the city where I was supposed to teach, my guide told me to stay on the train. Five hours later, I got off the train in a tiny mountain town near the border of Russia, escorted to my “apartment” (the operating room of the school’s former dental clinic, complete with chair and instruments), and a day later I was dumped unceremoniously in front of thirty-five toddlers and told to teach them English. No book. No introduction. No experience.

Little did I know that my boss knew as little as I did. I was selected for my position through a third party. When arriving at the newly-built school, they did not even have enough time to prepare a room or the prescience to issue me a proper visa; they were forced to bribe the police just to keep me in-country. Just as I made wrong assumptions, Anna was far more concerned with the rights of the women under her care, and she seemed to care little that Thailand was suffering from the brutal border violence in Burma, or hardly respected the stress of a man with thirty-two wives and eighty-two children. During Anna’s five years with the king, he also lost his favorite daughter to cholera, saw his beloved younger brother die, and even through his trials managed to turn Siam from a medieval kingdom to a country that embraced free trade and European education.

Rule #2: “Most people see the world as they are, not as it is.” Perhaps Anna should have shone the mirror back on herself, rather than criticizing the people of Siam for their acceptance of slavery. Her conclusion shows promise of transformation: “…or perhaps that is my weakness.” Even King Mongkut, according to Anna’s book, viewed her little more than a servant, having no concept of the suffragette popularized from John Stuart Mill. However, the world must be seen from both perspectives, the observer and the observed, as in the space between observer and observed is reality.

When I returned to the United States in 2004, I remarked to my family and friends that during my employment as a kindergarten teacher, I was little more than an indentured servant. I was locked behind the gates of the school (much as Anna was in the palace compound). Services were forced outside of my contract (similar to Anna’s translation and editing services, in addition to her tutoring of the prince and her teaching of the king’s 82 children and wives). I was also used as a marketing ploy for the school because of my white face, blond hair, and blue eyes (just as Anna was used when asked to serve as a third party to the governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring).

After ten years of living in China, perhaps I should not be surprised that the way I was treated was much the same as any other employee. At the time I saw corruption and nepotism; I now understand the realities of an ancient culture suddenly forced to adopt suits and ties. Just as there is beauty in the culture of coffee shop meetings and neighborhood potlucks, there is also beauty in morning employee exercises and the midnight blaring of disco boomboxes in the community square.

Rule #3: “They are the ways of one world.” By the end of the film, Anna has grown, throw aside her colonial attitude and adopted Thai life. While Anna’s real life was starkly different (she left Thailand a sick, tired woman, and a royal court that breathed relief at her departure), the film presents a vision all foreign workers should embrace. One culture is no better than another; difference must be judged according to the fruits, and fruits must be sampled carefully with an open mind.

When I left China in 2004, I had been through a gauntlet: moved to three different schools over one year, never teaching the same students for more than four weeks at a time, one fired colleague, one colleague that fled the school during the middle of the night, police raids on the school campus, and learning how to jump the school fence during the night so I could write e-mails to my parents. Seven of my colleagues angry, bitter, disillusioned or fired by the Chinese leaders who simply reflected Chinese values, and me? I had no desire to return to that country again.

Years later I realized that had I kept a more open mind during my time, I might have had a stronger impact on those I touched. King Mongkut’s final words about Anna were that she was a “difficult woman,” and while his son Chulalongkorn appreciated Anna’s diligence, he agreed with his father her impact was minimal, given her frequent desire to accost and challenge the king on matters of court legality. During the last month of my employment, I was also called “difficult” through my attempt to speak for those I felt were being unfairly charged by my boss.

Or when I learned my boss was a king. Midway through her service to the king as governess in 1864, Anna plead from the king to have an increase in salary, to which he bluntly refused and then followed up shortly after with a request for her resignation (feeling he would lose face if he fired her, as he did hire her). She denied him and over the years the king grew to bear her, culminating her time in Siam with a refusal to act as an intermediary in the writing of a letter to Sir John Bowring, a source of sensitivity for the king given his close relationship with the governor and desire to not hurt Bowring’s feelings (Bowring, 2011). After being forced from the palace by armed guard, Anna finally deigned to write a letter to Bowring, but only of sentiment (not of any substance). She returned to England; a year later, the king died, giving the throne to his son Chulalongkorn (Anna’s pupil).

Real life clashes harshly with the romantic image of Anna in the film, which ends in a slow waltz under a moonlit gazebo, the king and Anna embraced, tears rolling down their faces, the forbidden love of a god and mortal woman hand-in-hand hidden behind their eyes. King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) sadly recounts in the last line of the film of the love his father held for Anna, and the good she did for Thailand, giving power and authority to Anna’s transformation.

Near the end of my first year in China, I remember walking into my boss’ office to say hello. He was sitting behind his desk wearing his favorite turtle-skin glasses, playing Counter-Strike (a popular computer game among Chinese youth). I asked him how he was doing, and he gruffly looked up at me, smiled, nodded, and then went back to his game. Leaving the office almost as quickly as I entered, I could hear the bullets clatter from his gun to the ground, and the sound of his rifle reloading. I had caught my boss in a rather unrefined moment, yet was also reminded of the enormous authority he wielded. He knew he had power. I judged, to my shame.

The assumptions foreign workers make discredit them; their insistence on viewing the world through their particular cultural lens becomes a burden; but their transformation into holistic learners to respect and even admire culture, is the defining characteristic that sets them apart from others. Kings may be kings, servants servants, but beauty is always found when one is neither, but a learner.


Bowring, P. (2011). Sir John Bowring: The imperial role of a lifelong radical. Asian Affairs, 42(3):419- 429.

Leonowens, A.H. (1870). The English governess at the Siamese court: Being recollections of the six years in the royal palace at Bangkok. Retrieved from

Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).


Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.


Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Holism and idealism: a different paradigm

Standing in front of a crowd of around 600 students seated in an auditorium, I held up my hand to silence them. In the quiet atmosphere of nervous silence, one of the girls sitting in the front row looked at the test and began to explain (in a rather loud voice) her displeasure at the nature of the test, speaking in a loud voice and prompting students behind her to peer over their desks like curious cranes at the little squawking bird flapping her wings. In all my years of teaching, that girl wasn’t the last outburst during a test I encountered – but never had I witnessed such an emotional reaction to an exam. Little did I know how important the test was in Chinese culture, even as I angrily told the girl she had to leave the auditorium (and therefore, I most likely sealed her fate). I probably should have realized the importance the next semester when one of my students (again, sitting in the front row) began crying over her test paper as she stared with huge weepy eyes at an abstract diagram of vocabulary and pictures, continuing her sad session until she had to pull out a handkerchief and wipe away her tears.

According to Gao and Watkins, student achievement is a public event in China, measured chiefly by the exam at the end of the year. Most teachers (according to Gao and Watkin’s research) view their job as teachers in five key areas (listed from student-centered to teacher-centered): Conduct guidance, attitude promotion, ability development, exam preparation, and knowledge delivery. To generate data, the authors used a mapping-plane as well as Kember’s “conception of teaching” as a guide (1997), then based on interviews and a questionnaire (School Physics Teachers’ Conceptions of Teaching, SPTCT) generated responses from student-centered to teacher-centered from keywords and phrases. Kember’s “conception of teaching” involves six separate categories: the essence of learning, the essence of teaching, the role of the teacher, outcomes, content, and teaching methodology.

While the authors are critical of China’s test-culture, they also recognize that the system has lasted for more than 1,000 years (from the Tang Dynasty), when the Kefu was used in order to promote scholars into positions of the government, and lasts to this day known as the gaokao (high school test). Gao and Watkins suggest two different orientations from their research: a cultivating orientation (composed of conduct guidance, attitude promotion, and ability development) and a moulding [sic] orientation (composed of exam preparation and knowledge delivery). While the authors do show comparisons between the variant orientations and western models of teaching, they also recognize the uniqueness of the five key areas, due to the complex context of China’s history and culture. However, while western models of teacher are generally centered around knowledge transmission, they do not contain the holism embedded in Chinese methods. Hence, for the teacher aiming to work in China a new paradigm of teaching must be recognized.

Teachers of Chinese students (even Chinese students abroad) would do well to remember Han Yu’s words from the Tang Dynasty: “What is a teacher? A teacher is the one who shows you the way of being human, teaches you the knowledge and enlightens you when you are confused” (Shi Shuo, published 1973). In China, the teacher is admired; this admiration does not come from vacant authoritarianism, but from the tradition of teaching as an Ideal. Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, considered the goal of teaching to achieve ren (or humaneness, a self-actualizing state that can only be achieved through holistic scholarship). Teachers from the western tradition look back on Socrates in admiration: a man constantly surrounded by eager learners, seeking to unravel the secrets of the universe who in his self-centered idealism caused so much disharmony in his society that he was forced to commit suicide; his pupils continued his tradition of critical scholarship, breaking down structures and unmooring their minds from the proverbial dock of history, into Aristotle’s dream. Confucius, on the other hand, relished in harmony, died an old man happily surrounded by his pupils who eagerly copied his words into what would become the most powerful continuation of culture on the planet.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching; Learning and Instruction. Journal of EARLI, 7(3):255-275.

Liu, Z. (1973). The way of being a teacher in China – the way of teachers. Taipei: Chung Hwa Book Co. LTD.



Professional isolation: the mysteries of teacher collegiality

A city is a lonely place. Towers of steel and artifice, standing side-by-side in the horizon, surrounded by throngs of hearts and souls all begging for some semblance of meaning to be found in passing shadows. In many ways, teaching in a class is much the same – a profession of multiple shifting persona, learners filtering through the educational system to some mysterious end, staying awhile and then walking out the door. For the teacher, Fallon and Barnett argue, professional isolation is a reality. Teachers become experts in their particular environments, astride mental carriages of their own design; while they may pass by another carriage on the road to learning (and perhaps throw a wave or two) they remain safely ensconced in their particular spheres. Fallon and Barnett argue, however, that the professional isolation of a teacher is supported by the organizational structure of the school, and so with restructuring that isolation can become collaboration. The authors set about an experiment wherein they conducted interviews at a school, prompting the teachers to use their weekly meetings not as trials-by-fire (as faculty meetings go) but as creative and collaborative storytelling sessions, devising ways to build leadership capacity and begin the “shifting of professional boundaries.”

Fallon and Barnett’s goal was to encourage the teachers at the school to move from Little’s weak collegiality into strong collegiality (1990). Weak collegiality is defined by the literature as sharing, storytelling, and assistance, while strong collegiality is defined as joint work. To do this, the teachers restructured the leadership at the school, endowing those with power and authority as “sponsors” while lifting up normal teachers as “champions” (intending, of course, to encourage sponsors to uplift the teachers rather than use their authority to demean them). In their weekly meetings, they discovered new strategies to interact more frequently, although perhaps not to the end the authors desired.

Fallon and Barnett recognized that the key failure in the experiment was the lack of value. When instituting any change, the members of that change must have a value commitment, as values are core to critical discourse, which in turn is required for what Lavie calls a “discourse of possibilities” (2006). Smith (1996) also argues that “critical collaboration” is necessary in order to, as the authors explain, increase the level of collegiality from weak to strong as “critical collaboration” allows for collaboration to grow rather than fester, or what Fullon and Hargreaves term “comfortable collegiality” (1992). Of the five discourses Fallon and Barnett discuss (culture, effectiveness, school-as-community, restructuring, and critical) I believe the foundation is effectiveness, with school-as-community as a goal, culture/critical as mediators, and restructuring as methodology.

In my work as a teacher, I fully recognize the simplicity and ease of weak collegiality. Encouraging another teacher to change without the necessity of a systematic restructuring towards effectiveness is like trying to move a mountain. Furthermore, in a multicultural setting culture acts like temporal variables altering the streams and paths constantly lending credence to a critical understanding of how culture interacts with effectiveness. The restructuring model must be centered around the goal, if the goal is for the school-as-community.

I have often shared my ideas with other teachers, and they have shared their ideas with me. We have “comfortable collegiality,” but in order to truly be effective we need organizational restructuring. Setting up classes so that we can visit other teachers’ classes, writing personal evaluations, meeting school standards, and being able to critique department rules in a positive, encouraging, and non-threatening capacity are all key to an organizational restructure. Lightening the load of the leadership by delegating tasks (with reward, such as reputation/additional pay), squashing the vertical threshold by inviting leaders to informal events, but most of all creating community as a role model within the cohort of teachers and encouraging community within the classroom – with using culture not as a hammer but rather as a language, learning to communicate with each other through the heart.

Fullan, M.G., & Hargreaves, A. (1992). What is worth fighting for? Working together for your school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

Lavié, J.M. (2006). Academic discourses on school-based teacher collaboration: Revisiting the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(5):773-805.

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teacher College Record, 91(4):509-534.

Smith, B. (1996). What did we mean when we argued for “critical collaborative communities”? In J. Smyth (Comp.), Schools as critical collaborative communities. Adelaide, Australia: The Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching.

The Teacher’s Identity: a review of Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”

My first “real” teaching experience was standing in front of a crowd of four year-old children, holding up cards of colors and numbers, and then dancing until my audience was giggling so hard that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. While not all teachers may have had origin stories as kindergarten teachers, my journey into the teaching profession began quite unexpectedly. What you realize (even as a kindergarten teacher) is that teaching begins with relationship and only after a relationship has been established can learning take place. When the eyes of the teacher lock with the child and there is a spark of trust – then, only then – can learning begin.

As children grow older into adults, they fashion more poetic and artistic ways of learning, but in the end relationship continues to be the keystone, even in university and postgraduate studies. Parker Palmer recognizes this key fact, as the thesis to the book “The Courage To Teach” centers around the community that grows and is watered by the teacher. Even though I teach in a different country, culture, and sometimes language, the relationship between student and teacher is still tantamount, albeit interpreted and visualized differently. Even though expectations for what that relationship means may differ from culture to culture, the student and teacher can never be separated.

As a teacher, I have struggled with the concept of who I am as a teacher. Am I an instructor? Am I a friend? Am I a spiritual guide to help my students reach the next plateau in their lives? Am I the sage on the mountain, or the muse that whispers secrets into the hearts of learners while remaining at a distance to observe a transformed life? Palmer explains that the core of a teacher lies in his or her identity. “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.” (p. 12) In other words, identity forms the central axis upon which teachers revolve around: how far they can grow, their possibilities of self-actualization, how they relate to their subject material, and the extent to which students can grow under their tutelage. However, teachers are not the impact mechanism which affects students, according to Palmer; rather, once the teacher identifies the work of teaching as a vocation where “deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet,” (p. 30) then the result is what Palmer describes as good teaching. Good teaching is the penultimate goal, because the beauty of education lies in the subject-based classroom, where ideas are met with passion from both teacher and student. While Palmer wouldn’t necessarily say that the content of the lesson is more important than the teacher, neither would he say that the teacher is deserving of authority because of privilege or status; rather, in the mashing of paradox and fulfillment, within that tempestuous storm lies the diligence of purity and true knowledge, keys to unlocking true learning.

Perhaps the most insidious barrier to true learning is the atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers often complain of toxic environments, where students are uncompromisingly stalwart in erecting and rebuilding barriers to learning the teacher attempts to pursue. Sometimes these barriers are as simple as a consistently snide attitude toward the material of the class, and sometimes these barriers are as poisonous as repeated attempts to derail other students through an elaborately orchestrated coup. However, such grand dreams of Hell are merely illusions from the teacher’s fear, transformed into monsters and shadows that if not countered lead to a true malformation of bad teaching, where the teacher loses all credibility in not only the students but in himself or herself as a bearer of knowledge. Palmer classifies this barrier as “the teacher’s fearful heart” (p. 47), and reflects that the only true counter to fear is a change in attitude. Rather than combating the toxicity of the environment, the teacher should treat good teaching not as benefiting the student, but rather as benefiting the teacher. “Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.” (p. 49) However, Palmer doesn’t say that the teacher shouldn’t attempt to care for the students, as “a good teacher is someone who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken – so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence” (p. 46). In other words, a teacher has priority, but if the teacher is at risk of falling to fear, confidence falters and only the strongest student survives, if survival can even be called a hope.

Wisdom is generally found in paradox. Many view this as the “wise man’s crutch,” with popular sentiments such as “during peace, prepare for war,” or “the wise man knows he is not wise.” Simplistic philosophical algorithms which propound great thoughts by abusing the existence of unspoken space are the sage’s artillery. As a teacher, I am held to account to the things I teach and often see myself on that distant high hill; what the wise man on the hill often fails to perceive however, is that while he chose solitude over community (as many scholars do), he stands out as he is the only one on that hill. According to Palmer, paradox is the key to good teaching; creating environments of tension in which learning can occur. He mentions six different kinds of environments of paradox: protected but open, inviting but dangerous, self-led in community, realistically archetypal, a community encouraging solitude, and a place of active discourse and quiet reflection (p. 76-78). Tension is the key to unlocking potential; tension for tension’s sake does not create potentials, but neither does tension for learning’s sake. Rather, exercising one’s abilities in the medium between light and dark, while aiming the mind at a goal allows one to critically assess the virtual environment, and through that assessment, self-knowledge is increased, which when utilized as a source of energy, helps create bridges over rivers of mystery and encourages us forward into the mist. In the end, the ability to learn can never come from any other but the self. However, the teacher must take full responsibility over the environmental design.

Palmer asserts strongly his Quaker identity, and perhaps nowhere stronger is his dedication to his faith in his preaching of the community of truth. As a teacher, I operate primarily in community but also outside of it – a class is a scheduled activity, required by the state, encouraged by the culture, and associated with shame and honor in the social spectrum. The student has no choice over the material studied, nor choice over the tasks assigned, and no choice over the time of the prescribed learning nor the length of that learning. In a true community the voice of the many act as one, but in a classroom, community cannot be understood in traditional terms; if purported as such, such definitions serve only to act as a rationalization for a more positive teacher and student relationship rather than a communal activity. For this reason, Palmer explores the concept of community not as a commune of individuals but rather as “the community of truth, the grace of great things, the transcendent subject, the ‘Secret that sits in the middle and knows,” and the sacredness of soil that Palmer believes community is rooted in not as physical and objective fact but as the numinous energy at the heart of reality, which binds all together, teacher and student alike. (p. 112) While this definition may seem obscure and philosophical, heis not claiming that community shouldn’t be held accountable as a collection of individuals working in harmony, but rather the spirit of community must be central to the reason why all parties are gathered. In other words – attitude. The classroom cannot be understood as a social requirement without the prescience of why and how that gathering of hearts and minds is necessary for personal growth. Even a person who hates learning must find an apple in a dry orchard if he seeks to become more than what he was; for this reason, community doesn’t spring out of the ground like a well of water; a teacher must, like a focusing iris pointing a laser of light at a spot on a wall, create an atmosphere of an “eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” (p. 105) For Palmer, that conversation deals with a particular subject, but I believe the teacher, as a leader, must also know how to wield the power of the iris wisely; a teacher does not exist in a vacuum.

In our modern society, we are inundated with data. Wikipedia boasts millions of pages of information, our liberal arts colleges offer hundreds of different majors, each major holding under its wings several different disciplines, even a field such as engineering must now be understood as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, structural engineering, coastal engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. The university has responded to this and does its best to offer as comprehensive an education as possible. Palmer asserts that what has happened in our society because of the rise of data collection is backward; rather than being more knowledgeable, we are less; rather than having more skill, we have trouble knowing how to actually process the data into action. Furthermore, in the university, classes often operate from one of two poles: where the teacher is a bastion of knowledge, or where the teacher workshops the students into pseudo-professors where every emotion or thought has value, regardless of the extrinsic value those ideas carry. Palmer’s solution then, is to offer less meaningless data, but data of value to the community. “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data.” (p. 130) Hence, the responsibility lies on the teacher to carefully select information for a course that not only is aligned, but mindful that both the learners and the tutor are members of an intricate biological microcosm that grows and changes from the things touched, sensed, and experienced. Hence, the goal of education should neither be the holy hand grenade of knowledge from Heaven’s ambassador, nor should the goal of education be for students to play Battleship with their texts and hope to sink their opponent’s navy. In the center of everything lies the passionate subject, a bendable but intractable member of the learning society which is strategically selected by the teacher while at the same time open to interpretation. After all, the subject won’t go away if a student interprets it into oblivion, but that interpretation may reveal a deeper secret about the student previously unrealized, as long as the student is able to focus on the step-process of the latter obliviated idea.

Teaching is a personal art. Teachers draw from their lives stories, metaphors, experiences, emotions, and fears, in this complex interplay of personal elements a unique teaching methodology is practiced. Each teacher carries different variables into the classroom, and as such, rubrics, selection of curriculum, even priorities and time schedules differ from class to class. One teacher telling another teacher how to teach better can be explained by thinking of an image of a bird telling a beaver how to build a better home out of sticks. While both the bird and the beaver use the branches of a tree to build their homes, they are not the same creature and have different goals even though both are trying to provide for their families. Given these barriers to discussion, how can one teacher benefit from the experience of another teacher, without feeling the need to clone himself after that teacher? Palmer outlines a three-pronged process, which I will restate as preparedness, sacredness, and reflective paraphrasing. (p. 156-160). Preparedness concerns the full background of an issue, even data which might seem non-relevant. Sacredness is an attitude of pure exploration of situation and methodology. Reflective paraphrasing is the final step in the process where the listener tells the focus what she or he said, along with clarifying questions and non-confrontational observations. While these three methods may be useful in bridging the gap between teachers and allowing them a space in which to conceptualize themselves in a different environment, Palmer asserts the necessity for educational leaders to encourage dialogue. “Good talk about good teaching is unlikely to happen if presidents and principals, deans and department chairs, and others who have influence without position do not expect it and invite it into being.” (p. 160) Palmer’s premise, from the beginning of the book to the end, maintains a healthy accountability for those in power, whether those people are the teachers in charge of their classrooms or the leaders in charge of their teachers. As a person who has influence without position, I am encouraged by Palmer’s words.

The dread word for any teacher is invariably reform. It’s not that teachers are enemies of reform, but reform means change and forced systematic change is not a teacher’s bread and butter; much like the amputation of a limb, teachers view reform as a soldier might leer at a medic holding an axe in his hands. Teachers spend a lifetime developing strategies for use in the classrooms – elaborate rituals, choice texts, personal philosophies that others would find ludicrous outside of the tiny spec of wood, metal, and paper that comprises the classroom. Teachers spend countless hours pouring over evaluations, trying to come up with crazy theories in the sometimes haphazard goal of shaping lumps of teeny, naïve, and hormonal creatures into something their societies can be proud of on both an intellectual and a social level. So when words like “educational reform” get thrown around from other teachers (especially those outside the system) often the result is met with cold distance, apprehensiveness, or even outright rejection. Palmer recognizes the inherent weaknesses of reform, especially as reform tends more or less to be institutional rather than carrying intrinsic value. Hence, for Palmer the strategy is not to find ways of incorporating reform within the teacher’s life, but rather reforming the concept of the movement. To illustrate the reformed movement, Palmer uses four stages: institutional rejection in community, establishing support systems and a shared vision, opening goals and vision for public critique, and establishing a reward system outside of institutional values. (p. 172) Rather than working through the institution, Palmer asserts that a movement has value as “movements have the power to alter the logic of organizations because an organization is, at bottom, a system of social sanctions: do this and you will be punished; do that and you will be rewarded.” (p. 186) However, given the foundation of an institution lies in punishment and reward rather than passion and community, movements are to the institution what a shot of morphine is to a man bleeding on the battlefield: a second chance, a reawakening, and a re-purposing of “the power within each of us that in communion with powers beyond ourselves, co-creates the world, for better or worse.” (p. 189)

As a teacher in China, there are further challenges. I don’t have the space to talk in details, but there are five cardinal concepts of social intelligence of great importance in Chinese society: mianzi (face – impression management/self-presentation), wuxing/wulun (holism – social cognition/information identity), guanxi (relationship – attunement/interaction awareness), renqing (favor – influence/behavioral affectation), and yuan (fate – concern/interest management). Teaching in China affords me space; as a foreigner, I am not privy to the intrinsic culture, but I am aware that the culture where I live is far more attuned to social intelligence than my own and as a teacher I must train myself to be keenly aware or face the consequences. I bring this topic up because while Palmer’s model of teaching works well in a Judeo-Christian culture based in the sophistry of Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith, the Chinese worldview towards education is very different, founded in the entirely different philosophical petri dish of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. While Palmer identifies areas of improvement for the vocation of a teacher, most teachers would welcome his suggestions even though they might balk at their own responsibility to change; in China, I’m afraid many if not most teachers would find Palmer’s suggestions not only amazingly out-of-touch with the ideals of the teacher, but unusable except in particular situations where western ideas are more welcome and schools have been incentivized to test out alternate theories.

For myself as a scholar living in a foreign country, I have come to recognize that Palmer presents two significant challenges to me: firstly, that in order to function as a teacher in China, I must relearn basic concepts about human action. Not only does Palmer explain the inherent spirituality of the teaching profession, but he does so in a way that revitalizes old ideas in new colors. I must learn this language of human action, how to interpret what I see before me, and how to speak that language in such a way that I know who exactly I am, how my fears root me to inaction or backward thinking, how to approach the paradox of east and west and use that so that I can create a more positive learning environment. Concepts like mianzi and renqing are extraordinarily powerful as relationship modulators, while wuxing, guanxi, and yuan establish even the expectations of my own work. Mianzi and wulun alters/limits the extent to which I can affect change among my students, wuxing and yuan influences the amount of power I have as an influencer without position, and guanxi changes the nature of promotion, benefits, and even the concept of the movement.

Secondly, while I do believe that I have the spiritual gift of teaching, I don’t believe I am currently investing myself in it to the fullest extent.  While the culture is challenging, I am not naïve enough to believe the system would be any better in another place – so Palmer speaks directly to my attitude and the necessity for me to be a light to others, no matter how dark the island may be.

Managing worldview polarity: Gerzon and the art of leading through conflict

Gerzon begins his book “Leading through conflict” (2006) by outlining three different kinds of leaders: the demagogue, the manager, and the mediator, however these simple classifications don’t do justice to his meaning. The demagogue is Gerzon’s example of a leader who operates in the field of conflict but rather than using conflict for organizational transformation, uses conflict for personal self-gain. The manager is the myopic leader who operates primarily in the short-term (p.43-44) and who is limited by his frame of reference (p. 32), while the mediator isn’t necessarily a figure but rather a set of skill development that the manager or demagogue can use in order to transform themselves. One of the key problems at my university has been the demagogic systematization model of leadership for the professors in the graduate and post-graduate programs, wherein to keep their funding they must compete with one another as tiny demagogues in tiny kingdoms. This has created spillover into the students, as they often take the role of the manager and are forced into compartmentalized cultures of short-term bursts, without the power to actually affect the demagogic system one way or the other.

In order to counter this negative environment, I would like to divide Gerzon’s ideas into developmental stages and action-step processes. The four developmental stages are: systems thinking, presence, conscious conversation, and dialogue, while the four action-step processes are integral vision, inquiry, bridging, and innovation. I will give a short illustration of how these work together in my own personal context. I will look at how to manage the the worldview conflict between the national staff and a foreign expert who disagree on educational philosophy, namely in the way scores are given to students, as the Chinese worldview regarding scores often differs greatly with western ideals.

As a mediator (being trained in the stages and steps above), I must first position myself properly so that I can clearly understand each side’s point-of-view (p. 77). This can be achieved as simply as relating to national staff as a third party or even as an observer. Then I must begin the process of identifying stakeholders and relating to each stakeholder the realities of the situation from both sides (p. 91). During this process however, I must center myself in self-reflection so that my actions translate into engagement rather than disengagement or fear with an illusion of apathy (p. 112). Once I have established myself an an integral authority comes the hard work: discovering the source of discontent on both sides through a gentle journey of questioning and using those answers to paint a story, nothing more (p. 124). There are two key developmental stages that must occur within me, however: I must treat each conversation as a relationship (p. 144), working towards mutual transformation (myself and the conflicted party), and I must discipline myself to question even the most basic assumptions I might hold about the situation (p. 172). Finally, there must be an implicit agreement within both parties for the accomplishment of a finite goal (p. 191 as example), as any strategies can only come out of the process of discussion while in recognition that the conflict exists (p. 211).

When I utilized this method in my work, the following occurred. After positioning myself an an authority on both parties, I was able to gain the trust of both (miraculously). I explained the complexities of the problem to both parties from each point-of-view, namely the Chinese mentality about scores coming from the culture of the gaokao (national exam), and the American mentality about scores coming from the grade-point average system. After convincing both that I truly wanted to be involved in the solution, I began the process of asking where the tension lay. The American was offended by the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude, while she did not even consider it a problem; she felt that was her job. Therefore, I had to present each case to the other and help each agree that mutual transformation was most beneficial, even though I had my doubts about the stubbornness of both parties to be reciprocal. However, to my amazement, both parties were willing to bend once they understood each other’s reasoning, and while a perfect triage wasn’t the result, both were transformed. The Chinese staffer was less critical about her assessment of the American’s methodologies, and the American was less sensitive about the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude. The healing process is still happening, but I believe with the gentle care of a healer, both will come through.


ASP Integral vision – positioning oneself geometrically so that all sides of the issue are visible, “Instead of staying ‘in your seat, climb the stairs’ and view the situation from a higher level – ‘a bird’s eye view.’” (p. 77)

DS Systems thinking – finding connections between disparate elements within a complex system, “the consciousness of each stakeholder [must be] raised about the complexity of the issue.” (p. 91)

DS Presence – self-reflected awareness translated into engagement, “Despite the range of methods for catalyzing presence, virtually all of them combine one of two paradoxical elements: disciplined, focused ritual or utterly authentic spontaneity.” (p. 112)

ASP Inquiry – context-driven questioning, painting a story. “True listening involves entering the perspective of another human being.” (p. 124)

DS Conscious conversation – relationship-orientated discourse towards mutual transformation, “when sender and recipient become truly interactive, with each able to shape the relationship, it is no longer mere communication. It can become a conversation.” (p. 144)

DS Dialogue – not a skill or activity, but a capacity, “While they claimed to want ‘dialogue’ they ultimately failed to practice one of its cardinal principals: questioning assumptions.” (p. 172)

ASP Bridging – bi-acculturation process of taking two worldviews and merging towards a finite goal, example of Soviet/American film directors coming together to crush the Soviet/American stereotypes found in their relative film industries (p. 191)

ASP Innovation – ideas come from exploration of conflict, “Mediators are ready to change the rules of the system… they do not ask how to ‘alleviate’ it or ‘minimize’ it. They ask how to ‘end’ it by redesigning the system that causes or perpetuates it.” (p. 211)

“Fix the process, not the problem.” (p. 222)


Gerzon, M. (2006). Leading through conflict. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

OSP: Strength-building in the classroom

 In March of 2014, I met students at a Starbucks coffee shop for a period of three days. During my interviews with the students, I asked each student a series of questions, one question which was directly related to their five strengths (according to Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). During the question process, once I wrote down the five strengths, I made a mental note of each and altered the questionnaire process to conduct an experiment with each student.

In total, I asked the same five questions of around 120 students in my attempt to assess each students’ level of fluency in speaking English. In previous interviews I had conducted, I also asked the same five questions of my students with the difference being the wording of of each question being the same. For the experiment I conducted in March of 2014 however, I altered each question to match the strengths of each of my students, and I discovered that students were not only willing to share their ideas with me, but were excited to do so. I also discovered that during this process, I was energized. After four hours of interviews, I felt more excited than I had been all day, and given my introvert nature I was quite surprised.

During the course of the semester I had my students complete several assessments. Among those assessments were Buckingham & Clifton’s StrengthsFinder (2001), Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors (2006), as well as the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I wanted to test whether there was a connection between the three assessments. During the course of the semester, I also took these assessments to judge if there was a way for me to improve myself in selected areas of my vocation. This paper is an explanation of the results, as well as a collection of recommendations for educators seeking to learn how to implement assessments in their classes effectively, use Strengths-based theories as positive reinforcements and teaching aids, and how to address personal goals of improving varying areas addressed by assessments.


I examined approximately 120 students from a top-tier Chinese university. 42% of the students examined were females, while 69% of the students were males. About 35% of the students were originally from the Tianjin-Hebei area, another 35% were from the provinces of Shandong, Henan, Anhui, and Shanxi, while the other roughly 30% were from other provinces. Students were from 15 different Master’s programs, with approximately 30% from the School of Chemical Technology, 25% from the school of Mechanical Engineering, 10% from the School of Automation, 10% from the School of Civil Engineering, with the remaining 40% from a collection of about 12 different schools. In total, students came from approximately 43 different majors. Around 78% of the students came from engineering-related majors; the other 21% came from applied engineering in cross-disciplinary fields.

Students were Master’s-level scholars in their first or second year of study (out of a total three years) and were studying on government scholarship (tuition-free). In addition, students were members of laboratories from which they received monthly stipends (data is not available) varying from around $49-$98 per month, depending on the student cohort project group. At the university, students were selected by advising professors to take part in research projects and receive a certain stipend, depending on size of the research fund given to the professor, the number of students chosen to help in the research, and the academic scholarship the student earned.

Students had an average age of 23.68 years. While the classes and assessments were conducted in English (except for the StrengthsFinder), only 25% of the students had an acceptable level of spoken English when the project began (above beginner level), with the other 75% of students queried beginner level or below. While student levels of English may have improved over the course of the semester, most assessments were given at the beginning of term. More details are in the Appendix.


StrengthsFinder. In my survey of 120 students, the most exceptional strength was Responsibility, with almost 7% of the students being in their top five strengths. The top three strengths for my engineering students were Responsibility (6.8%), Harmony (6.5%), and Learner (6.3%), while the bottom three strengths were Competition (0.51%), Maximizer (0.51%), and Consistency (0.34%). A sharp drop occurred between the top three strengths and the fourth highest strength (Focus, at 5.1%), lending some credibility to the validity of the top three strengths. The StrengthsFinder test was a test translated into Chinese. While I was not able to personally vouch for every question on the test (I did not translate the test), not one student contacted me with any problems in taking the test; the questions were straight-forwardly translated, with little to doubt. However, the test was free (and as such, it cannot be endorsed by Gallup), and while it served in function for the identification of the five key strengths, the test results listed the top five strengths in alphabetical order rather than by ranked score, and were a supplement to the main focus of the test. I have listed the full results of the scores for all 120 students in the Appendix.

Career Anchors. In contrast to the variety of the StrengthsFinder assessment, Schein’s Career Anchors assessment is far more limited. In my survey of 120 engineering students, I found that the top three anchors were Technical (21%), Lifestyle (19%), and Stability (18%). Similar to the StrengthsFinder assessment, there was a sharp delineation between the top three anchors and the bottom five anchors, with the fourth anchor as Independence (12%), while the following anchors scoring far below my expectations Managerial (9.8%), Service (8.6%), Creativity (6%), and most surprising, Challenge at the bottom of the list (5%). Some of the test may have been invalid, as the test given to the students was not endorsed by Schein, but inspired by his concept of Career Anchors. While I can safely vouch for the validity of the test from myself (my scores were accurate), given that the test was entirely in English it is possible students mistranslated portions of the test when trying to interpret.

Myers-Briggs. The most unconventional of the assessments I gave my students was the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology. I designed the test myself, designed primarily from a collection of various theoretical approaches to the assessment based on the following principles: introvert/extrovert as a function of energy gain/depletion, intuition/sensory as a function of gathering information, thinking/feeling as a function of making decisions/reaching conclusions, and judging/perceiving as a function of lifestyle. The test was a simplified form, wherein each category had an odd number of dyadic statements from 9-11, where the participant selected the statement that fit him or her best (greater than 51%), and then tabulated the column’s statements to designate the appropriate letter. In the past I have used this test with strikingly accurate results, although my participant level of English was much higher than my engineering students; hence, the results are somewhat flawed; the amount of time given in class to arrive at the four-letter conclusion was barely forty-five minutes, and while there were some questions, my experience with my students this term was that compared with previous student cohorts, their level of listening/reading comprehension was far below the average.

However, the results were rather fascinating as a majority of students calculated themselves as the type ISFJ (25%) and ISTJ (21%), following with ISFP (7.6%, a huge drop) and ESFP (6.7%, a surprising statistic given the engineering background of most of my students). The bottom four types were INTP (2.5%), ENTP (1.7%), ENTJ (less than 1%), and ESTP (with a striking 0% of students). The full results are listed in the Appendix.

The “white elephant in the room” regarding all assessments is the paradox between impression and honesty. Many times participants of assessments will select choices that are either composed of a rational thought-process associating false attributives of self-perception or societal expectations. Regardless of these outliers, the results are still helpful as they inform the researcher of either importance or virtual importance these assessment categories have in particular cultures, whether they are national cultures, generational cultures, or organizational cultures.


Previous impressions can often discolor and even distort the greatest intentions. In reviewing the results of the assessments, the most surprising results were in direct contravention to my previous assumptions about the Chinese educational culture. Growing up in California, Asian culture (to me) was terrifying competitive, to the point where many of my Asian-American friends would not be allowed to leave their homes during schooldays, and would only be given one or two hours on Saturdy to leave the house and visit family. While my impressions are obviously infected with generalizations and stereotypes, there is significant experiential clout to support the thesis of Asian competitiveness as a carried over tradition from China and other Asian countries which maintain strict governmental testing cultures (Yang, 2011). Given that competitive is a necessary element in traditional Chinese society, I thought that competition would be a strength built into students from a young age, but according to my results, not only is competition a very rare strength among many Chinese students, is it a non-existent strength, barely registering at even a half percentile in the surveyed student population.

However, there is also significant proof that (at least in the schools of engineering at my top-tier school) most students view tests as barriers rather than knowledge assessments; when querying my students from last year on their test-taking methodologies, a majority of students responded that upon taking the test, they merely guessed and did not even take the time to consider the question (even though they had ample time, many of them left the test site early). The scores are reflective of this strategy, as nearly 55% of the students who took the final English written exam failed (below a 60%), and nearly 75% of the students who took the final English reading comprehension test failed, with the highest score at 82%. Furthermore, the reading comprehension test was divided into two tests, where the test with the highest score would be entered into the student’s grade. While the test-taking cultures at my university may be unique, when I taught at a previous top-tier university my students’ main incentive for scoring high on tests was an improvement of their GPA for entrance into foreign university MA/PhD programs; when the incentive for GPA was not present, most students did not participate in activities for their own benefit, and if the student took a difficult class with the danger of lowering their GPA, the traditional tactic was to drop the class.

I could write a book on exploring the unique attributes of the StrengthsFinder results. Other curiosities for me include the lack of students possessing the strength of consistency and woo (especially given China’s unique face culture and the necessity of guanxi for social relationships), while the greatest strength by far was that of Responsibility, showing up as a top five strength in nearly 40 students’ inventories. The concept of Individualization was at 4% (24 students), coming in at #11 (out of 35 possible strengths) for student strengths, a surprising statistic that deserves more time to explore. One item of interest is that within the 24 students who reported Individualization as being in their top five strengths, only four of those students also reported Harmony as being within their top five strengths; while Harmony was reported in 38 out of 120 students as a strength, quite often Harmony was not associated with Individualization. Given China’s focus on self-cultivation and self-actualization, perhaps there is merit to the concept that the “harmonious society” purported by both Confucius and modern political theory is little more than a surface behavior meant as a force of stability rather than a personal value. However, as Harmony is the second highest strength reported, societal and cultural mechanisms must exist to support the development of Harmony as a strength.

According to the results of the Career Anchors assessment, not only was Lifestyle at nearly 18% of student anchors (the second highest), independence was at 12%. Had I not had an experience in 2009 which prompted me to question my understanding of Chinese culture (in which I was let go from a job with the statement, “In China, work is work, family is family” after missing a canceled class for my own wedding, in which the school forgot about the date), I might question the high Lifestyle anchor given the perception that most Chinese families utilize the grandparents to raise the children while the parents both work, in some cases in other cities. Nevertheless, Career Anchors do not operate on a practical level but an ideal level – according to Schein (2006), Career Anchors are the deeply emotional limits we allow ourselves to move within our careers; the incentive and drive we have to achieve, and the support beams to protect us from our fears.

Scoring as the fourth highest anchor (above Managerial and Challenge) was Independence at 12%. Further research needs to be done to explore this strange statistic; perhaps the fault lies in the test group – engineers, often working alone in laboratories under the instruction of a professor who only communicates by e-mail and is rarely seen once or maybe twice a term, my students must learn to cope on their own and perhaps as they also see their cohort project work as training for their future jobs, Independence becomes a requisite of success. However, given the fundamental nature of Career Anchors as deep-seated emotional cores of vocation, I have my doubts; in my time in China, I have increasingly become aware of a subtext of virulent individuality within the culture that asserts itself on a subliminal level through cynicism to the system, and on a visible level with the refusal to identify on a heart-level with ideologies (although surface agreements are quite common) and instead freely develop ideas aware from the political norm.

Finally, the Myers-Briggs assessment showed that most of my engineering students were intensely introverted, with a significant proportion of extroverts misplaced (noted from my questions of whether or not they enjoyed their major, the majority of extroverts responded that they did not and were seeking other means for a career outside of their degree). Engineering as a field of study seems to encourage (at least within my Chinese university) a disposition of introversion, sensory information, and action-oriented judging lifestyles. In previous studies I have noted an almost 50/50 with regards to the various typologies, although previous participants were members of a much broader pool of disciplines (including the liberal arts). However, I am curious about the statistic regarding the type ISTJ, as nearly 70% of those students received a very poor score in their English fluency level, indicating that during the assessment process they may not have understood the statements.

Philosophical foundations

According to Buckingham and Clifton (2001), vocation must be positioned according to strength, not weakness. The reason I gave my students assessments (and the reason I took those same assessments) was to evaluate cross-cultural viability, validity, and practical application of those three assessments. Students engaged in graduate or post-graduate work are training for their future careers – at my university more than others, given the increased presence of key laboratory recruiting programs engaging students and professors. For this reason, having a clear understanding of how strengths, anchors, and personality types affect one’s potential job choice is important.

However, in my research I did not find any conclusive connections between the three assessments. Anchors had little to no connection with Gallup’s 35 strengths, and while Schein’s Career Anchor of technical/function could be associated with the Myers-Briggs introvert type, my conclusions are far from conclusive, given how anchors function not as personality indicators but as spatial checkpoints in the mind that determines the limitations/exponential growth of career mobility. The usage of assessments therefore, is more helpful than not, given the variety of assistance they can give in determining factors of relevance for vocation. In my own assessments, my top five strengths (in order) were Strategic, Connectedness, Learner, Ideation, and Individualization. My top three Career Anchors were Service, Technical/functional, and Lifestyle. My personality type was INFP. No one student in the entire 120 matched me strength for strength, anchor for anchor, and only four students shared my personality typology (sadly, students who have done very poorly in my class this term!). I also discovered that no one student shared the same strengths as another student, rarely were the anchors related to a confluence of strengths, and quite often the personality typology from students who shared the same four letters held entirely different strengths and anchors.

Given that people are a resource that should be developed (Hardy, 1990), I believe that the use of a combination of assessments will help students grow in self-awareness, more fully able to recognize false patterns and set the student on a path to a new foundation for future aspirations. While Benner most aptly speaks of the “false self” as originating from the sinful nature and separation from God (2004), in China such discussions cannot be contained within the classroom given the sensitive political climate. However, I believe it is pertinent to help students scale the false patterns in their life given by society, family, even personal weakness resulting in the development of emotional security protocols meant to protect from growth. Bridges claims that transitions are a natural state, a function that continually occurs in one’s life regardless of desire for change or the lack of (2004); just as I am currently in a transition (Seeberger, 2014), so many of my students are also likely in some stage of transition. As a teacher, I am increasingly seeing my job not as a lecturer but as a guide for developing through transition from one stage to the next stage, whether that transition occurs in the formation of skills for critical consideration, practical skills for the workplace or international market, or even the honest helping hand of an older, hopefully wiser, scholar interested in the same basic necessaries of life as any other honest student.

Hardy believes that human work should be a form of justice (1990), in which vocation is not only for the purpose of spreading sacred love to all people but that the love itself is justice in a world that shows little concern for the neighbor. Career anchors function as the core of self-image in vocational assessment (Schein, 2006), and as vocation when embraced becomes a kind of self-actualization (Hardy), vocation becomes an expression of identity, community, and perhaps even one’s spiritual gifts (Benner, 2004). Methodology for learning how to perceive oneself away from the false self requires intense meditation, humility, divine contemplation, and solitude, and has resulted in the development of the RBS (Real Best Self), a practical methodology of coming to terms with tacit and misunderstood truths over a period of several months (Roberts et al., 2005). While the RBS does have limitations (it does not, for example, evaluate inconsistencies as it is strengths-based), the RBS is a good practice for those desiring to know themselves more fully.


Another important denominator for my work in vocational self-development in understanding how cultures operate in different areas of the world (in my situation, China). Specifically, the data acquired in this project has been important to my own understanding of China (or misunderstanding, perhaps). Several factors have arisen because of this study that will change not only how I view my own vocation but how I help my students prepare for theirs.

Context is important, even within micro-cultures. Many of my errors in curriculum planning and change agency strategies for encouraging personal development resulted from a generalization about Chinese culture that I have now discovered is false. As Lewis states, generalizations can often lead to egregious errors as well as the posturing of oneself within a cultural black hole (1996). Thankfully, my research has alerted me to such errors. For example, in order to encourage students to pursue high grades, I posted grades on the door after each class and handed out scores to groups instead of individuals. While this activity did create consensus within the student groups (clarity of expectation was supported as students discussed the scores) it no doubt created unfair forms of anxiety; based on my research, the far better method would be to focus on the independent initiative within each student, while allowing for group consensus in discussion but not creating a nervous atmosphere due to a majority of students unable to cope properly with the competitive nature of the class. While students at my previous university embraced competition as a natural reaction to the environment of being the top university in China, students at my current school do not share the same aspirations or fears.

Self-cultivation. Moral development is exceptionally important to Chinese students, as recognized in previous research I have done (Seeberger, 2012), however I was unaware of the extent of important until this term when I was researching Chinese culture and found that nearly every major philosophical system in China is focused on moral development (Gerstner, 2011; McDonald, 2011). Growing up in the United States, by the time I was in college I had a good idea of what I actually wanted to do, but many of my students even by the graduate level had no answer for this question when I asked them in their initial interviews. Part of this is no doubt an effect of the prescribed roles within relationships that people feel they must abide by (Yi & Ye, 2003), but much also comes from a belief that non-action will lead to greater perceptive and mental powers (Gerstner); students in my classes are maestros of knowing when to hold their tongues, respecting the gentle and fragile relationship that often exists within authority figures (teachers) and followers (Bai & Roberts, 2011). Therefore, as a figure of authority, I must make it my primary task to help students learn how to self-cultivate, particularly in the practical areas of moral development (rather than the postulations of theoretical concepts); in other words, practical ethics.

Strength-building at the core. Most academics are focused on information sharing; very few academics have strategized their curriculum to take advantage of student strengths, and then use the classroom as a vessel to help bring those students closer to their gifts. Academics primarily views itself as a gift for mankind, rather than seeing itself as a method for mankind’s gifts to be explored. In my courses this term, I made some small headway into strengths-building, but my goals were primarily investigative. In the future, I hope to bring strengths-building into stronger array, by implementing individual and group meditative strategies for understanding the self and where the self fits into the strengths given to each. Furthermore, I hope to escalate strengths-building into incorporating strategies of students developing each other not only peer-to-peer, but within small work groups. In my work as an English teacher, I am given leeway to designing personal curriculum (rather than relying on state-sanctioned textbooks) and I mean to take advantage of that. This term I have been focused on helping students develop a code of ethics, but of what use is a code of ethics when the student does not know himself or herself? Having students work through an RBS-styled project, as well as using that knowledge to develop opinions about subjects relating to ethics will be an increasingly important venture for me to pursue.

I will also be intentionally using my strengths (Str/Cnnctdnss/Learnr/Ideation/Indvdualzation) in more intentional ways, and encouraging students to do the same within the context of our class. For example, to build my strength of strategy I must give myself time to carefully consider various options, collect data, and review the data so I can better formulate a conceptual framework for future iterations.

To build my strength of connectedness, I must endeavor to get to know certain students on a personal basis and make more of an effort to decentralize the class from a lecture environment and settle into a more personal, close environment where I am given more opportunities to interface with individual ideas (even at the expense of certain students who do not wish to take advantage).

To build my strength of a learner, I must seek to constantly be open to new ideas, even ideas that go against everything I know – by fastidiously asking questions and rewiring my intellectual capacity for renewal instead of dwelling in the knowledge I already have.

To build my strength of ideation, I must continually attempt new ideas in my classes, even at the expense of failure; while making myself even more aware of other ideas already in the field of teaching and adopting a willingness of openness regarding those ideas.

To build my strength of individualization, I must focus on the more intimate relationship between teacher and student, and attempt to personally connect with certain students who desire that connection, and not worry about students who don’t. In the past, I have thrown myself against the tide by attempting to be everything to everyone, while trying to maintain that intimacy – inevitably, though, this results in a thin veneer barely visible, where I am lost in the crowd of faces as I try to give a piece of myself to everything. In the end, I disappear, but I do not actually reappear on the other side, dissolving like mist.


I agree wholly with Benner when he states that transition cannot occur without divine help (2004). However, in my positive as an educator in a public university in China (even as an educator in an educational institution), I can only pray that my ability to operate as a positive influence comes through my life, in my actions, in my smile, in the interactions I have on a day-to-day basis with students, faculty, and even friends. When Hardy states that vocation is not only an act of the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, but also that the second great commandment is a form of justice in itself (1990), I can’t help but wonder how that translates across cultures. What does “love” look like to the average Chinese student?

Elmer states that Christ is the only culture that can reach across national boundaries, as believing in Christ is the only way to truly transform and begin the process of transition (2006). If Christ is the only capable change agent of moving seamlessly across culture, how can I emulate him in my daily walk and my daily work? Traditional change agency theory postulates only for the temporal; organizational closeness and synergy between the change agent and the target are as close as classical theory approaches to the concept of true transformation (Lunenberg, 2010). Even Hardy claims that the Christian worker must promote “what is true, noble, and worthy in human life,” but so often even those basic cultural perceptions are grounded in the culture into which we are born (Adler, 1997). How can we (or I) hope to cross that divide?

I believe in the end it comes down to Connectedness, straight from Buckingham and Clifton’s mouth (2001). At least for me. My ability to draw away the wall between myself and those I interact is the answer I have been given for bridging that divide, for addressing those childhood passions, natural emanations, and positive emotions people carry inside them which eventually if watered translate into strengths. Each person has been given capabilities to address the divide between the justice of Christ and our daily walk. If I ignore this strength, I will continually butt my head against a wall, but if I embrace this particular strength and build it through practice, assessment, and and self-debrief, I believe I can begin to unlock the potential inside me that will operate no matter where I find myself.

In the end, vocation is not a job; vocation is not even a career; vocation is a mindset and a promise. The true self emerges, the false selves fall away, transition comes as natural as breathing, and each day is a form of justice unto itself whereupon you embrace the challenges of the world in the best well you know how – through your strengths and the gifts given to you (or me) by God. My vocation becomes my anchor, and while I may not be strong enough to carry my anchor with me as I walk through life, I will grow stronger in the process and learn how to work within the path laid before me. You cannot be everything to all men; only Christ can. However, you can be something to many men, and that is worth striving for.


Adler, N. (1997). International dimensions of organizational behavior, 3rd ed. Cincinnati, OH: South- Western College Publishing.

Bai, X.Z., & Roberts, W. (2011). Taoism and its model of traits of successful leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):724-739.

Benner, D. (2004). The gift of being yourself: the sacred to self-discovery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. (2nd ed.) Lifelong: Kindle.

Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. Gallup: Kindle.

Elmer, D. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christlike humility. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Gerstner, A. (2011). Leadership and organizational patterns in the Daodejing. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):675-684.

Hardy, L. (1990). The fabric of this world: Inquiries into calling, career choice, and the design of human work. Wm. B. Eerdsmans: Kindle.

Lewis, R.D. (1996). When cultures collide: Leading across cultures (3rd ed). Boston: Nicholas Brealey.

Lunenburg, F.C. (2010). Managing change: the role of the change agent. International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration, 13(1).

McDonald, P. (2011). Maoism versus Confucianism: ideological influences on Chinese business leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):632-646.

Roberts, L.M., Spreitzer, G., Dutton, J., Quinn, R., Heaphy, E., & Barker, B. (2005). How to play to your strengths. Harvard Business Review, January: Reprint R0501G.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook. Wiley: Kindle.

Seeberger, B. (2014). Book review: Transitions. Unpublished.

Seeberger, B. (2012). Summative evaluation of Advanced Writing: assessment, methodology, and recommendation. Unpublished.

Yang, W. (2011). Paper tigers. New York Magazine. accessed on May 3, 2014:

Yi, J., & Ye, S. (2003). The Haier way: the making of a Chinese business leader and a global brand. Paramus, NJ: Homa and Sekey Books.

星期五中文课:第一章 (zhang1=chapter)

yi2 da4 dui1
        我有一大堆问题 (因为我的问题太多了),因为我住在中国 

        夏天太热了,我的身上粘粘的 (因为我出了很多汗)
        年糕(nian2gao1=rice cakes)吃起来粘粘的,很好吃

        填表(tian2biao3=fill the form, biao3=form)的时候需要签名

ca1diao4 (mo3diao4=wipe away [abstract form])

        时代广场卖很多电子产品(chan3pin3=products, shang1pin3=commodities, 商品)

        他问我一个很尴尬的问题 (问我是不是一个星期没换(huan4=change)衣服(yi1fu)了)
        为什么你看起来很尴尬?/为什么你的表情(biao3qing2=facial expression)很尴尬?

        带着睡袋帐篷去露营(lu4ying2=camping) [你什么时候露过营?] / [ying2di4=campsite)
        名胜古迹(ming2sheng4 gu3ji4=historical site)

        到了月底(yue4di3=end of month),我们没剩下(sheng4xia4=left over [VERB])多少钱
        吵架(chao3jia4=fight using words/da3jia4=physical)以后,没剩下多少个朋友了

        在中国要是你挑战(tiao3zhan4=challenge)老师(的话=attitude designates meaning),  你会很麻烦(ma2fan=troublesome)

        要是学生旅行(lv3xing2=travel)可以住(zhu4)在青年旅舍(=youth hostel)
        旅舍有公共(gong1gong4=public)的厨房(chu2fang2=kitchen),公共的洗衣机(xi3yi1ji1=washing machine),房间很大,可以付(fu4=pay)一张床(chuang2=bed)的钱

(以后写故事)。。。待续(dai4xu4=to be continued)…

Discovering cultural acumen through social science

Project GLOBE defines itself as: a network of 170 social scientists and management scholars from 61 cultures throughout the world, working in a coordinated long-term effort to examine the interrelationships between societal culture, organizational culture and practices, and organizational leadership. The meta-goal of the Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Program is to develop an empirically based theory to describe, understand, and predict the impact of cultural variables on leadership and organizational processes and the effectiveness of these processes. (GLOBE monograph, Cultural influences on leadership and organizations) Both Mansour Javidan and Robert House are key members of GLOBE and are important members of the content of what I wish to discuss in this article, as they wrote “Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE.” (2001) Javidan is the current director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and House is known for being the author of the Path-Goal theory (which attempts to explain the relationship between leader and follower in the workplace).

Understanding GLOBE’s mission statement is important in understanding GLOBE’s stance on becoming a culturally proficient manager in a global organization. In Javidan and House’s article, the authors define cultural acumen as: the knowledge about cultural differences, knowing similarities among countries, understanding the implications of differences, and using and developing culturally appropriate skills. However, while GLOBE maintains that their goals are to “understand and appreciate cultural values, practices, and subtleties in different parts of the world,” their chief source of inspiration for the cultural dimensions comes from Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social scientist who categorized cultural differences around the world into four basic categories, all of which are included within GLOBE’s cultural dimensions along with five additional dimensions.

GLOBE’s cultural dimensions are assertiveness, future orientation, gender differentiation (Hofstede’s masculinity), uncertainty avoidance, power distance, collectivism-individualism, in-group collectivism, performance orientation, and human orientation. These cultural dimensions are what Javidan and House term motivators, or desires in a particular occupation, very similar to Edgar Schein’s career anchors (2006), except that unlike the concept of career anchors which deal primarily in workplace progression, cultural dimension motivators are an unchangeable Spinozan concept that is chiefly defined by the worker’s home culture. GLOBE’s definition of culture, therefore, is: “a set of shared values and beliefs.”

To appreciate Javidan and House’s presentation of GLOBE’s cultural dimensions, one must first recognize that they are writing from a positional bias. For example, in the article Javidan and House address the issue of performance orientation by describing strong performance oriented cultures are moving towards “deliverable results” while weak performance oriented cultures function “without any commitments or desire for results.” Living in a foreign country myself, I will be the first to admit my bias every time I step into the classroom; I feel guilt when I cannot identify and rigorously defend the results of my pedagogy, and I often reflect upon the Chinese staff at my school with a certain amount of contempt as I cannot visually ascertain and intuit that they are seeking results, and therefore view them in a lesser light as being less or not committed at all.

Therefore, for me as an expatriate educator to operate from a bias even though I have lived in this country for almost ten years and then to read about American scholars promoting a positional bias in cultural acumen, I find myself at a loss. For many Chinese teachers at my university, the concept of “deliverable results” is achieved not through the score of a test or even from the personal learning of a student, but rather from the value of the classroom relationship being maintained and the harmony of each in his or her station upholding that station to the best of his or her ability. One of my students flatly told me that when a teacher assigns him homework, he does not do the homework for himself but rather for the teacher, as a gift to the teacher. In such an environment, how can we possibly assign the concept of performance orientation, when what we perceive to be green is actually blue?

Javidan and House describe the concept of uncertainty avoidance as “the society’s reliance on social norms and procedures to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.” Even approaching this description I am at a loss for how to interpret the culture in which I live. The survey example question that Javidan and House utilize is: “In this society [China, for example], societal requirements and instructions are spelled out in detail so citizens know what they are expected to do,” with a question breadth between 1 (strongly disagree) to 8 (strongly agree). In other words, cultures that score high in uncertainty avoidance are “focused on facts” while countries low in uncertainty avoidance operate “without clear conclusions.” Is this really the case?

China traditionally ranks very low on uncertainty avoidance charts, which would insinuate by Hofstede’s definition that mainland Chinese culture is philosophically relativistic and lacks organizational strength (1980). While I have struggled with conclusions in China (especially regarding job expectations), there are just as many unsaid expectations that are just as important and require a different ear to discern. Success and failure in China often revolve not around your ability to function in a given task, but your ability to discern what the task is and then complete the task. China is not any less specifically task-oriented than Germany, except in the language used to communicate the tasks.

Finally, Javidan and House explain that for societies weak in humane orientation “generosity is not a key criterion in the process” (for example, Spain), as “the process and message tend to be simpler, more direct, and less focused on being supportive or caring.” I dare anyone to walk up to a Spaniard or German and tell them directly that they are not being generous with their words, and listen to what he or she might have as a response. Growing up in a German home with a father who spoke German as a second-language, while the surface of the words may not sound supportive, there is a great deal of support in the meaning. As scholars we must take care with our bias that we do not delegitimize another culture just because we do not understand it.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Javidan, M., & House, R. (2001). Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE. Organizational Dynamics, 29(4):289-305.

Finding virtue among spamburgers and dim sum: Hofstede’s misplaced trust in Hong Kong culture as a Chinese cultural foundation

Hong Kong: 2010. My wife and I are walking under the colossal towers, moving between street and cloud as we escalate the Skyway, our eyes carefully scanning the perimeter of sidewalks and into glass-bound buildings for any kind of restaurant that would serve, well, Chinese food. After two hours of walking past spamburger joints and dim sum parlors, we give up and go into McDonalds. For an international city, Hong Kong is pretty barren of traditional Chinese restaurants. At the end of the week based on an internet recommendation, we head to Hong Kong’s premiere Chinese restaurant, the gaudy Jumbo Kingdom’s “Dragon Court”, but we barely start eating before we realize the food is cold and there isn’t a soul in the banquet hall except for us. Meanwhile, the cheers and hoopla from the upstairs “Topdeck” restaurant are in full furor, and for the next hour I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps I should learn to eat spam if I wanted to appreciate to true beauty of Hong Kong’s culture.

You can’t judge a culture from the warped struggle of trying to find a style of restaurant. My wife is from northern China, but she has a love for the spicy Sichuan pepper but has no taste for the sweet southern style. Our experience in Hong Kong was a memory I will never forget, for the one reason that I felt more at home than she did; growing up in San Francisco, Hong Kong is the reflection of my home of San Francisco, or perhaps San Francisco is America’s reflection of Hong Kong.

Geert Hofstede, in his article entitled “The Confucius Connection,” (1988) makes a striking comparison between traditional Confucian philosophy and Chinese culture, going so far as to equate the former as not only having tremendous influence on the development of the latter but also incredible influence on the day-to-day operations of Chinese cultures. Hofstede uses the Hong-Kong based CVS (Chinese Values Survey) to determine the rank of 20 different countries in regards to the importance of traditional Chinese values, according to four key principles commonly ascribed to Confucius: unequal relationships between people, the family as prototype for organization, self-reflective human benevolence (not treating others as you would not want yourself to be treated), and perseverance towards virtue according to one’s station. Hofstede terms these four principles (and the accompany CVS differential values) as being “Confucian dynamism,” a uniquely eastern concept (dealing with the societal search for virtue) as opposed to the unique western concept of “uncertainty avoidance” (the search for truth, as obviously in the east they have no concept of the search for absolute truth).

Last week in my class, I spoke with a student about the concept of the generation gap. He was concerned because he felt that his parents and grandparents did not understand him at all, because they grew up in a different time. Specifically, his grandparents and parents lived through the reign of Mao Zedong, and suffered through one of China’s most intense periods of all time: the Cultural Revolution. More than a revolution, the Cultural Revolution was a period of time when friends became enemies, family members disappeared, and traditional culture was thrown into the bonfires of a country already suffering under a famine that killed 1 out of every 20 people (in addition to normal deaths). Schools were closed down. Neighbors whipped neighbor in public courts, and anything not necessary (chairs, even) were either given to the state or used as kindling. When I talk about a generation gap between myself and my parents, I am referring to the Free Love movement of the 60s and the hippie generation of the 70s; my concept of generational gap is nowhere near as extreme as my students.

Certain areas were spared of the tragedy of China: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan, four areas which hold the top four slots of the CVS. According to a research project by Shen Jianping writing in the Journal of Moral Education (1998), the values among early adolescents in Taiwan and the mainland are starkly different, with adolescents from Taiwan favoring people-orientation and inter-personal relationships (CVS values) while mainland adolescents favoring task-oriented values toward service to society and country, predominantly Maoist/socialist values. Even when speaking with my Chinese tutor and reviewing flashcards developed for spoken Chinese in Taiwan, she constantly wrinkles her brow when we discuss certain cards: “We never say it that way here! I have never heard it…” Even certain cultural axioms listed on the cards are alien to her, and while I wouldn’t call her a traditionalist, she is a woman who is highly educated and respectful of the ancient customs of China and aware of the existence of certain concepts.

Hofstede uses his four cultural dimensions to show the stark differences between the Chinese Values Survey and his own culture measurement, going so far as to actually score all of Chinese culture on four Asian “countries”: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. Never mind that Hong Kong was ruled by the British for 100 years, that Taiwan was the bastion of the Confucian-based civil government chased off the mainland, that Japan isn’t even Chinese, and that Singapore is only 74% Chinese, with the rest coming from Malaysia (a Muslim culture) and India (a Hindi and Muslim culture). Hofstede makes his most blatant statement when he lumps the mainland into these other four cultures: “We can only infer that in spite of Maoism [emphasis mine], many Confucian values remain strong in the People’s Republic.” There is a danger in lumping together huge variations into a pool and then labeling them the same. When I first arrived in China I was convinced I would find people practicing taiqi on street corners and quoting Confucius in school for their finals. However, I discovered a far stranger situation: people practiced taiqi but only when the sky was dark, and people talked about Confucius only as a “silly old man.”

I admire Hofstede’s attempt for syngery. Hofstede quotes a worker of a U.S. corporation complaining of his East Asian regional manager (an expatriate American in Hong Kong who was not complying with certain company rules) to the president of the company, to which the president replied: “I fully agree. His behavior is stupid and against policy. I have only one question. From the time he worked in headquarters, I have known [him] to be an intelligent man. How can a man be so intelligent in Los Angeles and so stupid in Hong Kong?” Hofstede’s argument ends with a passionate interplay between Confucian dynamism (in his words, a uniquely eastern concept) and uncertainty avoidance (uniquely western). According to Hofstede, uncertainty avoidance is the search for absolute truth, where the polar opposite would be holding to a purely relativistic perspective, and Confucian dynamism is strictly a societal search for virtue.

Virtue, however, cannot be understood without truth, even if truth is written as subtext. Truth is the lifeblood of all philosophy, even truth that claims truth is changeable, because truth then would be self-defined (based on context). Virtue, then, becomes transformative in itself. Therefore virtue (according to Confucius) is also based on context, except in matters of the state which is absolute. Hofstede’s bias shows clearly by his claim that cultures which do not ascribe to his absolute truth must not ascribe to absolute truth at all, just as his claim that societies that do not seek virtue first cannot be found outside of Asia. While the United States may not hold to the specific cultural tenets of saving face and honoring your elders, societal virtue is just as important of a dream, regardless of whether American democracy is as valid to societal perfection as the Americans believe.


Hofstede, G. (1988). The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4):5-21.

Shen, J.P. (1998). Moral values held by early adolescents in Taiwan and mainland China. Journal of Moral Education, 27(2):191-207.

The art of cultural conditioning: A query into Geert Hofstede’s early work into culture

Geert Hofstede fascinates me. As a young man, he took a trip to Indonesia and England. The first time out of his native country of Holland, he was struck with how different people behaved, and over the next fifteen years he developed his theory of culture based on the research he performed while serving as a director of personnel research at IBM. During that time, he traveled to various IBM sites around the world and conducted interviews; realizing the vast information bank of culture that IBM had, he asked them if they would be willing to open up that bank for the purpose of more in-depth cultural research. They told him no, so he left the company and joined both INSEAD and EIASM, two centers for academic business research.

Hofstede’s most well-known academic work, “Motivation, Leadership, and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?” (1980) is a classic, as his paper introduced the four cultural dimensions that have since been applied to almost every rigorous study of culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, and masculinity. While many other researchers have expanded on the four (Javidan & House, 2001; Jackson, 2002; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998), Hofstede was one of the first academics to create a toolbox that academics could use to deconstruct and reconstruct a culture using a few simple tools, an analytic process which he called “cultural conditioning.”

Cultural conditioning, according to Hofstede, is the collective programming of a people group, according to family structure, education, religion, government, associations, law, literature, settlement patterns, scientific theories, architecture and buildings. These cultural conditions act as variables that differentiate one culture from the next, resulting in stark divergences between how a society views class structure (power distance), strength of organization (uncertainty avoidance), strength of identity (individualism-collectivism), and societal progress (masculinity).

His research took place between 1967 and 1973, using a 150-question survey, with 60 of those questions related indirectly to values and beliefs. Based on the results from approximately 2200 participants in 20 different language groups, along with an additional 400 managers queried between 1971-1973 Hofstede collated the index data for each question for each of his four dimensions of culture, finding statistically significant correlation among 31 national indicators. While it would be impossible to discover the source of Hofstede’s four dimensions (without asking him, of course), I find the need to associate a discrepancy of bias to Hofstede’s results given his indexing method used in the initial data collection, as data was collected inductively rather than deductively and inductive studies represent a certain bias on the part of the researcher.

More importantly, however, are Hofstede’s identification of particular cultural variables (a research track that seems to be lost in his later research) with leadership, motivation, and organization. For example, Hofstede explores the differences between Freud’s self-obligation (Austria) and Maslow’s self-actualization (United States) as differences in national motivation. He goes on to present three different leadership practices based on significant scholarship: Machiavelli’s strategic manipulation (Italy), More’s strategic idealism (England), and McGregor’s strategic participation (United States) as indicators and value systems of leadership. Finally, Hofstede addresses differences in organizational theory, using the examples of Weber’s formal structure (Germany) and Mao’s mutualist structure (PRC) of organizational management.

Hofstede’s original question of the relevancy of American theories in other countries is valid and important, but sadly a question that he doesn’t seem to ask again in his later research. Hofstede’s later research plays on his four cultural dimensions to such an extent, that the beauty of his initial analysis of variables is lost, and he becomes stuck in the miasma of his own Dutch cultural conditioning of identification rather than observation. I am not dense enough to recognize that were it not for his study of the four dimensions he would not have recognized the cultural variables, but his initial study was tainted with bias. For example, his description of the four cultural dimensions could be classified with the following table:

  Weak Strong
Power distance Classless Hierarchical
Uncertainty avoidance Relativism (dissipation) Organizational strength
Individualism-collectivism Lack of self Strength in identity
Masculinity No progress Progress

In many ways, Hofstede is a spiritual successor of other Dutch philosophers such as Spinoza (who claimed that people could not deviate from their design), Huizinga (who argued that history’s primary variable was cultural artifacts rather than more traditional concepts like war and disease), and Romein (who wrote that history had to be integrated in order to be valid). Hofstede attended the university of Gronigen as did Huizinga, although Spinoza (in a less official capacity as a participant in their study groups), Huizinga, and Romein all taught at the University of Leiden. Nevertheless, the bias that Hofstede presents in his cultural dimensions (strength versus weakness) is inimitably visible. Hofstede misses the key difference in his bias: that sometimes weakness is strength, or sometimes perceived weakness has nothing to do with perceived strength. As a general frame of reference, the four dimensions of culture have the inherent danger of misinterpreting the paradigm of a culture as being somewhere it is not.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Releasing the anchor of self-perception

The first time I heard the word career was in a high school business class. “You want to make sure you choose the right career, something you are really passionate in,” she said. “If you choose the wrong career, you may later come to regret that decision.” At the time I was sixteen years old. For years, I had been traveling with my parents to Amway conventions; most of these adventures I spent a majority of my time in the hotel room watching movies, swimming in the pool, or exploring the hotel for any secrets it might hold, but in recent years I had begun to attend the actual seminars, and when I turned 16 I bought my first IBO Kit (Independent Business Owner) and then presented my “business opportunity” to my biology teacher, Mr. Cross.

Mr. Cross was known as one of the strictest teachers in the school… or perhaps even the universe. Never smiling, his brow always settled in a comfortable suspension-bridge shaped arc, his bright eyes behind a set of thick glasses, his tall spindly body hovering over students like an ominous shadow. So I decided that he would be my first, because I do enjoy a challenge. I didn’t know it then, but he was also my last. No, he didn’t dissuade me from becoming a millionaire, but he did allow me into his home, he spoke with me not as a teacher but took me seriously, and he wasn’t intimidating at all. He revealed to me something that would later become part of my ethos: that being a teacher didn’t mean that when you left school you carried your job on your back, but outside of the classroom, a teacher was as real as any other man, someone who sat on his couch in his pajamas and watched late night sitcoms, or someone who despite bringing piles of work back to grade, relaxed with some jazz and a cup of tea. The career doesn’t make the man, I learned. The man makes the career.

Fifteen years later I stopped struggling. I became a teacher.

Edgar Schein, more famous for his organizational opus, “Organizational Culture and Leadership” (1992), also was the author of a self-assessment called “Career Anchors” (2006). Schein begins by describing the inner career as a “self-image of competencies, motives, and values” (Loc 85), where competencies are defined as talents and skills, motives defined as aspirations and hopes, and values defined as character, beliefs, and priorities. For Schein, the anchor is a self-assessment which allows a person to understand the drives of his or her inner career (the self-image), and then once understood can more easily manipulate the external career (horizontal, vertical, or inward steps toward advancement) to better suit the purposes of that particular anchor (of which Schein lists eight). The anchor acts as a stable force which provides momentum and direction for movement in an organization or company and allows the worker self-direction and awareness of why he or she is drawn to particular types of work, or why the worker’s dissatisfaction erupts in overcompensating time spent in hobbies, second jobs, or leisure activities (Loc 160).

As confusing and fragmented as it is, experience more than any other power transforms our abilities and goals. Schein focuses on self-assessment and believes that by defining and clarifying one’s primary career anchors, he or she can become more fully developed. Schein lists eight career anchors: 1)technical/functional, 2)general managerial, 3)autonomy/independence, 4)security/stability, 5)entrepreneurial creativity, 6)service/dedication to a cause, 7)pure challenge, and 8)lifestyle. For an organization to be truly efficient and utilize their staff, they need to treat career anchors as strengths. 1)Specialists should be utilized in areas that requires concentration and focus, 2)problem-solvers should be given direct access to conflict, 3)agents should be the external arm of the organization, 4)pillars should be embedded deep in the organizational and offered opportunities to solidify and recognize loyalty and thereby keep the organizational solid, 5)creators should be given the freedom, incentive, and support to be innovative, 6)influencers should be placed at strategic locations in the organization to serve in capacities which drive organizational ethical standards, 7)warriors should be positioned in the hardest zones of disagreement with goals firmly communicated and rules of compromise fully explored, and 8)integrators should be the barometers of health in an organization, queried at periodic times to make sure the organization is healthy and thriving. By transforming the self-assessment of career anchors into action-oriented positioning, an organization can more fully appreciate the diversity present instead of using the self-assessment tool as a repatriation tool or mere encouragement for a single worker to take his or her career more seriously.

Our self-perceptions are the primarily limitation of the career anchor as a tool. Before I took the assessment I read through his book and came to the conclusion that my career anchors be service/dedication to a cause, entrepreneurial creativity, and autonomy/independence, as I identified strongly with those three in my personal belief system. However, after taking the assessment, I discovered something surprising: my three top career anchors were actually service/dedication to a cause, lifestyle, and technical/functional. Initially when reading through the descriptions of lifestyle and technical/functional, I scoffed at both but for different reasons. I believed that people who tested as lifestyle were more concerned with a life free of responsibility, and that people who tested as technical/functional were droll and boring. However, I realized that my own self-perception was flawed, and that my actions were a stronger reflection than my ideals.

For years I struggled with the concept of career, ever since I first heard the word in my high school business class. I was a bookseller, a secretary, an undertaker (yes, I was), a videographer, a poet, a columnist, a projectionist, a lobbyist, a security guard, and a day care counselor. Nothing seemed to fit. “The rest of your life,” my high school business teacher might have said, “is defined by your choice of career.” Of course, she was wrong. Our lives are not defined by our careers; rather, we define our careers. The day I realized this, I was standing in front of a mirror, and on the other side of the mirror I saw Mr. Cross staring back at me, but with one difference: I was smiling.


Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook (Kindle version). San Francisco: Pfieffer.

A personal mythology

Depending only on our assumptions to understand a culture is dangerous. Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner (1996) state that the only way to manage cultural change is to use stories to rewrite our assumptions about implicit culture. In this short essay I am going to talk about assumptions I had about Chinese culture (based on my initial reactions to experiences I had), and then relate several stories that changed my mind, and through these experiences explain some of the key differences between an American upbringing and Chinese culture.

“The Funeral”

When I first came to China, I had an opportunity to attend a funeral in the mountainside. Even though this was a funeral, I was curious to know how funerals among Chinese Christians differed from funerals among American Christians. You see, I come from a culture where the dead are mourned in personal silence. God, for Americans, is a mystical calculator they keep in their pocket, who I have often imagined has the voice of the late Richard Harris; a great, mournful voice, apologizing for the blood of the world, and a bright piñata for our confusion and angst, opening his arms to the barbs we throw in our pain and guilt. However, in China I experienced a different kind of God, one that surrounded the crowd on the mountain in a warmth only because we were together, and uplifted each person there with the peace of a prosperous and unique future, promising each family a future of peace while also promising each family a future of struggle.

The United States comes from a strong background of Puritan beliefs, capitalistic philosophy, Enlightenment idealism, and postmodern sensibilities, while China comes from a background of Confucian ethics, taoist emotionalism, historical precedence, and socialist methodologies. Every artefact of culture invaded my brain and tried to make sense, but continually failed: Russian winter jackets, German cars, French superstores, Korean movies, American fast food, Japanese televisions, and English accents: for a country that prided itself on an immense history and sterling culture, how could so many other cultures have so much power? In the United States, Chinese culture had been relegated to cheap restaurants, Japanese culture to cheap cars, and European culture to out-of-date emotionalism, but in China foreign constructs held immense power. In China, the political, military, and artistic systems were Russian imports, the economic model an American import, and the social system was a fragment of Marxist ideology and failed dreams, touched with a bit of ancient Chinese sentimentalism. The values and underlying beliefs of the two countries were not even comparable, and that fascinated me.

“The Cup”

While I was working as an English teacher at Peking University, I was invited to be a guest judge for an English-speaking competition, and later as an honored guest for the televised finals. In the story above, I spoke about internal characteristics of both China and America (values and underlying beliefs), but in this story I will speak about the external characteristics (the arts). Art in China has a long history of emulation, from the long-standing tradition of learning how to paint landscapes by copying the masters, to the art of calligraphy, a beautiful discipline where the artist instills his or her passion into the brush and the tiniest variant of movement in the shape of a word is considered beautiful and unique. As I was sitting in my front-row seat at the televised finals of the competition, this emulation became magnified in everything, although strangely the emulation was not from the Chinese masters but from American television shows.

Whenever I look back on the recording of the competition finals, I swallow a bit of my pride. Every object on the set, everyone sitting in the arena-benches in the audience, and every activity the participants took part in looked American… except when the camera panned to me. Bigger than everyone around me, dressed in a yellow tweed jacket, and clapping and smiling out of sync, I was noticeably different from everyone else in the audience, who were sitting quietly with their hands in their laps, trying to blend in with the background, not making sudden movements, but becoming a part of the portrait of intense expectations. The CCTV Cup was a realization that even as a spectator, my basic instinct was to act like an American, to move to my own rhythm, even when the rest of the world was clapping at the same time.

“Work is Work”

I was nervous; previously she had refused to see me, take my calls, or even recognize my desires to communicate with her. Just a week before, we were on good terms; suddenly we were enemies, beholden on opposites sides of a battlefield without a choice. She could not look at me; I could only wonder what I had done wrong. “Family is family, work is work,” she told me in her office, sighing and shrugging her shoulders as if she held a great burden. “When you work in China, you must understand this.” A week before, I walked up the aisle of a conference hall of the Saixiang Hotel in Tianjin, a city not far from Beijing. When I embraced hands with my bride, I had little idea that my school, unbeknownst to me, forgot about the date of my wedding and scheduled a very expensive class on that very day, and because there was no teacher to teach that class, the school not only lost a huge amount of money but also a great deal of face, and something had to change.

According to Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner, cultures deviate between universalism and particularism in the development of rules, and the use of internal and external control mechanisms to enforce those rules. China, for example, is highly universalistic when it comes to developing rules but incredibly particularistic when it comes to enforcing them. Furthermore, the influence of Taoist philosophy on Chinese culture has engrained among people a dialectic of natural movement between dark and light, or that people naturally transform from something into something else rather the American perception that people are born a certain way and can never change. Nothing good can last, and nothing can really last; therefore, the only things that last are the things that must change and in changing they last. After I was let go from the school, I spent a long time in mourning and anger, even though I left one of the most dismal schools and ended up in the highest university in the country, not even one day after I was let go. The American in me was stunned, but no one else seemed surprised. The American in me demanded retribution and punishment, but the Chinese seeping into me transformed that rage and frustration into the most amazing thing: forgiveness.

“The Walking Street”

More than the impersonal attributes of rules and control however, are cultural issues that affect a person’s self-perception as well as emotional state. Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner also relate the cultural values of individualism and collectivism (self-perception), and neutral and affective (emotions). Growing up in the United States, I learned some very difficult lessons about not allowing other people to define what I believed about myself, and that I was fully in control of my emotions: no external force could or should govern my state of mind, unless I allowed it to. Like most people, I believed what I knew to be the truth; that either people thought that way, or wanted to think that way because they knew in the darkest part of their heart, they also knew it to be true.

Consider my surprise, then, when I took my teacher for coffee. Over the last couple of weeks, I felt there had been some tension between us, and being that she was my tutor, I wanted to make things right. I should have realized something was off when the moment we stepped outside of the cab, she started walking on the opposite side of the street, and when I moved toward her, she reacted and asked me to stay a few feet away from her, but to keep walking. Perhaps she wanted to play the part of a spy? No, actually. She was embarrassed that others seeing her would think she was my girlfriend.

Later that afternoon, after buying her some ice cream to assuage her frustration as well as drinking a cup of coffee to try and force my brain to interpret the events of the day, she told me that not only had I embarrassed her in class by asking too many questions, but that everyday she felt a creeping doom when she had to mentally prepare herself to teach me. And here I thought I was the model student! I had been praised by my professors in university for my unflinching dedication to learning and truth-seeking, but in China I was considered a brute, little better than a hoodlum looking for an easy pinch (a term of endearment, I thought). However, for many people in China, self-perception is a reflection of perceived expectations from other people, and emotions are contextually defined by those same perceived expectations. I thought that by inviting my teacher out for coffee, I could make it right, but it wasn’t until I realized that by trying to make it right, I was constantly making it worse. Only after I changed how I acted in front of her in the classroom, was she able to change how she acted in front of me.

“The Teahouse”

One winter, I visited a friend who lived in the city of Xi’an. A prominent surgeon and Party member, a couple of years before he stayed with my parents in California while he was doing a residency as a foreign expert and cancer researcher at Stanford University. He quickly became a close family friend. While visiting him in Xi’an, I believed that like great family friends, we would spend some time together, visiting the sites, having dinner together, and speaking of my family back in California and his life there. However to my surprise we spent most of the time entertaining his friends, drinking in teahouses, schmoozing up to officials, and only speaking to each other in the car as we moved from place to place. By the end of the trip, I was so confused, upset, and in pain from the massive headaches I suffered from the large amounts of tea I drank, but more importantly, I was jaded by our friendship, believing he had used me to uplift his position as a Party member so as to ensure his status as the “surgeon with the exotic foreign friend”.

Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner speak also of three very important cultural concepts: specific and diffuse (responsibility), achievement and ascription (status), and past, present, and future time (orientation). My experience with my friend allowed me a unique glimpse into a special situation. My reactions were pure examples of American perceptions of responsibility, status, and orientation. As a friend, we should (responsibility) have spent the time together, growing closer and laughing about old times, thereby solidifying our status as friends, and securing the future of our relationship. However, in the mind of my friend, he would owe me far more by the simple act of allowing me an opportunity to show him off to his friends, and that action would ensure for decades to come his appreciation and dedication to us as friends. Furthermore, the status I would afford him would be “change in the bank”, so that in the future if I needed a favor from him he would be more than happy to sacrifice his time and effort to help me, something that even my greatest of American friends would likely need a lot of convincing to even consider. Once I had realized this, I was embarrassed, but I suppose I can write that off as being too American about the whole situation.

“The Man with the Turtle-Skin Glasses”

My first year in China I worked at a kindergarten. My boss was a big man built like a football player, with broad shoulders, a belly of iron, and huge, square-framed glasses that he claimed were covered in turtle-skin (he said with pride). I remember walking into his office for the first time and being surprised: he was sitting at his computer desk, playing Counter Strike, a popular computer game where the player acts in the role of a counter-terrorist officer and runs around a map shooting terrorists in the head. He was older, in his fifties, respectable, but when I walked in he motioned me to sit in a wooden chair beside his desk and continued playing his game. When he was done, he turned to face me and asked me if I liked Chinese food, and what did I think of the cold buns they served in the school cafeteria for breakfast. I was too stunned to reply; eventually I gathered up my energy and said it was good; I waited for some time, but he didn’t have anything more to say, so then I collected myself and after making up an excuse, went back to my room, about ten feet away just down the hall.

As a final conclusion to this short essay, I want to talk a little about leaders and followers. I wouldn’t necessarily say my boss was a good leader (he had to flee the country two years later) but he was an ordinary leader who did what he believed was expected of him. He was an authority, he was rich, and in general he didn’t have a lot of expectations of others except to not embarrass him and work with the other staff. He was always there, but rarely did he make his presence known unless circumstances demanded, but if his presence was made known his shadow fell over everything. Aside from being less personable, he was more or less like any other non-exceptional leader I had ever known. He expected his staff to fulfill their duties, and they expected him to tell them what to do. Sure, certain intricacies were apparent: the lack of discussion when he made a decision, the sardonic and cleverly worded remarks from the staff when he wasn’t around (as well as some moaning), and the fear of what it might mean to have a relationship with him. We are all people of flesh and blood and more or less respond in similar ways. If we let it, culture has power over us, but if we master it, culture is merely another language to learn.

Transforming values

Society is fundamentally ruled by the powerful, who maintain their power by offering others security. The powerful offer physical security, personal security, familial security, and quite often moral security that is based out of how that particular powerful group views the family and how they view the interplay between different members of the community. Opposing this “security” is more often viewed as a threat to the whole and put down immediately. The Pope was a shining example of how a leader could offer both moral authority and security, while at the same time stand out as a monstrous vehicle of power and dictatorship, “the leader of the world.” However, the United States was one of the first forces to truly challenge the papacy, and they did so through offering not only moral authority but intellectual authority through their espousal of freedom as a human right. During the beginning of the United States, scholars and thinkers were obsessed with the motivational forces that ruled over the human soul, and today, those motivational forces have evolved to values-based leadership. Leaders recognize today that people mobilize not only from the recognition of their own human rights, but from leaders who offer a living model of those values of human rights.

“Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, / but leech-like to their fainting country cling, / rise like Lions after slumber / in unvanquishable number — / shake your chains to earth like dew / which in sleep had fallen on you — / ye are many — they are few.” (Shelley, 1819) Even in the 19th century, popular culture had begun to embrace the idea that values could transform the world. Shelley’s criticism that leaders were so distanced from their followers that they were blind, unfeeling, and stupid, was a bold thing to say when rulers still felt they had divine authority on their side. The idea that followers of a divine authority actually had chains was less a statement that people needed freedom, and more a claim that people had a right to live their own lives without being chained in the dreams of a leader who was blind.

Are one set of values any better than another set? How can you make a differentiation, without making a judgment? For example, we look at modern-day Sharia bound cultures, where women are forced to wear headdresses and covers so that they are not seen in public, when in fact many of those women support that culture and when westerners criticize those cultures, the westerners are the ones who are in turn criticized for being immoral. Do leaders need to stand for the values of their followers, or do they need to reframe those values and transform those under them? Should the leaders in closed countries such as China and Saudi Arabia seek to transform their countries to become more like other countries and their values, or should they seek to solidify themselves in favor of their own people’s values?

I often struggle with knowing where my values lie in the country I live. I am an ex-patriot, and for many people I come into contact with I am the first ex-patriot (or foreigner) they have ever met. When they see me and watch me, everything I do becomes everything the other world is. If I cry or scream or smile, I begin to form their own minds about the actions of people who are not Chinese. If I cheat or steal or sin, that is added to the value system of other countries, at least in the eyes of those who are watching me, in the exact same way that I erroneously attached the ethics and values of China to Tracy, that tiny little Chinese girl in my second-grade class, or how I also erroneously attached a judgment of Iran by observing the parents of my friend whose family fled to the United States in the 80s. However, I am an image of the West, and there is nothing I can do about that. The values I espouse become the main line in inquiry for anyone I meet, unless that person is lucky enough to meet someone else and grow their judgment set. As a leader however, the values I espouse are even more important, not because it should matter to me whether or not someone has a favorable opinion of the values of people from other countries, but because that will affect my effectiveness in reaching that person and trying to help them grow.

Ten myths of talent

According to Buckingham and Clifton (2001), talent is a relatively misunderstood and abused concept, especially in the workplace. In this short essay, I will explore ten myths about talent (and strength) that are emphasized in Buckingham and Clifton’s book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” which I have attempted to give a stronger emphasis than in presented in the book by relating several insights as popular myths modern culture has propagated about the power and paradox of talent.

Myth #1: “Self-improvement (and success) comes through cultivating and increasing abilities in a wide variety of necessary skills for the workplace according to standards of excellence in the industry.”

In our modern world, the myth of “skill gaps” and “areas of opportunity” is a widely propagated deterrent to maximizing on our greatest talents and turning those talents into strengths.  Companies and organizations encourage workers to retune their weaknesses into strengths instead of focusing their efforts on increasing the capacity of their workers’ strengths, in order to create a more balanced workforce, but in the end the only result is a rather mediocre set of employees that work not out of passion but need.

Myth #2: “Education and mentorship unlock inner potential for greatness and must be built slowly through expert advice and institutional programs.”

Talents are “recurring patterns of thought” that are identified through yearnings (childhood passions), instinct (natural actions), and satisfaction (positive emotions).  Education and mentorship may assist the transformation of talents into strengths, but each person has been designed or formed from a young age to respond in certain ways, our unique signature.  The catastrophe of modern education is that the focus on a multifarious liberal education based on societal temperaments has replaced the tutorial education of the past, and many students find themselves stuck like a broken gear in a machine they barely understand or know how to respond to and struggle through like itinerant farmers in a famine.

Myth #3: “Some people are born with the rare gene of genius; everyone else is ordinary and must accept that even with schooling and training, they may be able to get a good job but shouldn’t hope for any more.”

Talents must be reinforced with knowledge (factual and experiential) and skills (structural procedure).  Talent by itself is like a lump of clay, which when molded by hands (knowledge) into a visual piece of art (skill) transforms into a strength, which can then be focused in one’s work or career and used proficiently.  Every person in the universe has talent, just as every person in the universe has the ability to breathe.  Genius isn’t a cause but a result.

Myth #4: “A liberal education (education in a mixture of fields) guarantees and prepares students to be good stewards of an intellectual legacy, and is the most important element of showcasing intelligence and preparedness for a complex, challenging, and invigorating career.”

Our lives must be focused on our talents.  It is not enough to identify one’s own talents, but career, education, family, all these must point toward an end in which the talents we possess are of use.  While a liberal education may be exciting (much like trying out various hobbies can be invigorating) a liberal education cannot be the sole source of knowledge and skill, but must serve as a stepping stone in a direction to focus the energies of the student.

Myth #5: “Human potential is limitless; people have the capacity for brilliance in any field, as long as they follow the correct method, the right teacher, and are inspired by greatness.”

Talents are built into our biological systems, part of our unique blueprint as individuals.  Talents are not a mystical branch of the ether.  Talents are electrical impulses that jump back and forth between the canals of our brain, and as we get older we are awarded with fewer talents, while the ones that remain become stronger.  While human beings are limitless, a human being is not.  People have the capacity for brilliance, but not in everything, and while a good teacher can help them in the path to unlock their potential, people are ultimately responsible for their own progress.

Myth #6: “The trendsetters and world-changers possess a quality of rare talent that most people could never imagine of themselves; such talent comes as the result of extraordinary circumstances, forging people of incomparable mettle.”

Strengths are not born but must be built with talent, knowledge, and skill.  In most cases, the giants of the world are not any different from anyone else.  They were all children once, they all went through puberty and experienced their first kiss.  And they will all grow old, weary, and pass away into dust.  The only difference between the giants of the world and the giants of the next is knowing what they loved, and their focus on doing what they loved.

Myth #7: “Many factors contribute to a person’s profession and career, including education, age, experience, sex, as well as previous successes, failures, and relationships. These factors constitute a person’s primary currency in the realm of job value.”

Too often, we find ourselves in a position because of exterior circumstances beyond our control.  However, position must be according to strength, not any other factors, a motion easier to say than to do and often requiring sacrifice of comfort in order to find a place where we can be truly valued and feel our contributions have value.  External circumstances are hindrances, barriers, and arguments against our true value.

Myth #8: “Standards of excellence promote positive value in worker output, defined from years of experience, planning, and research; such hallmarks secure the foundation of a company or organization’s success, and help to forge a path into an uncertain future, presenting employees with a model to transform themselves toward.”

Each person has a unique collection of strengths, and so each person has to contribute in a slightly different way to be the most effective.  Companies that focus on creating a singular worker according to an ideal model will never capture the essence of effectiveness, as much as an organization that focuses on utilizing the unique strengths of each person in the beautiful way he or she was designed.  A person who is invigorated, passionate, and strong is infinitely more valuable than a person who is stretched, confused, and tired.

Myth #9: “In order to maximize a person’s potential, the wheat must be cut away from the chaff.”

Learning how our weaknesses contribute positively to our strengths will help maximize our strengths instead of managing our weakness and wasting our potential.  Weaknesses stem from fundamental value decisions, and are part of the building blocks of our strengths.  Therefore, focusing on weakness means opportunities to maximize strengths are wasted.  Trying to separate the two inevitably causes a fracture in our strengths as well; however, focusing on the strength will generally transform the weakness into an asset.  For example, a worker who is lazy but incredibly creative, by putting opportunities for the worker to practice his creativity will transform his laziness into patience.

Myth #10: “Natural capacity and genius are shown at their highest in the image of the Renaissance Man, a person of flexible modus operandi who can seamlessly move from field to field in a quickly changing modern society, and who can understand a wide berth of disciplines and apply those across boundaries.”

You can’t and shouldn’t try to be the Everything in terms of strengths.  Focus on core strengths, and your effectiveness will be far greater, even if you are massively talented.  Leonardo da Vinci, while a great man, is celebrated far more for his art than his engineering, even though engineering was for many years his career and how he earned his keep.  We have faded notebooks of his engineering designs, but The Last Supper as evidence of his art.  There is a noticeable difference.  His art consumed him; had he not been a painter, we probably would never have known about his mechanical designs or his scientific theories.

Talents are a rare gift that each person born onto this earth possess, but which are left to despair to dry in the sun and wither away.  Only by possessing those talents and transforming them into strengths through careful study and critical praxis, and then pointing ourselves like an arrow in the right direction, will those strengths hit their mark.  The beauty of strengths is that unlike an arrow, they are a force of growth and beauty, and immediately upon hitting their mark, if watered will grow into a beautiful tree and bear fruit for everyone around us.

Intercultural immersion: synthesis

There are certain moments of sublime clarity I remember from my childhood. Sitting at home at the dinner table, the wax from two red candles burning between a baked turkey and a Chinese rice dish, and the prayers of my mother before the meal asking that God would watch over not only my brother and I during the school vacation, but also the Chinese family that lived with us as they were adapting to life in the United States. I remember visiting my friend from Iran and eating dinner with his family, studying the golden-framed paintings all over the house and trying to understand why a family would place so many sculptures in so many places. I remember a missionary from Thailand coming through the front door of our home, handing me a ball woven of hard bark, and telling me that this ball was a soccer ball for the village children where they worked, and every time I kicked that ball I saw myself in dusty fields with other kids, sharing together in sore, reddened feet and the abounding laughter of enlightened joy my peers could never experience in their insular lives. These experienced were profoundly formed by my experience growing up in a family where foreign cultural values were embraced alongside the basic American values of expressed democracy, Christian service, and the manifest destiny of spreading the love of our faith to the corners of the Earth. There is both a sanctity and a blindness to manifest destiny though. Historically a masonic concept, over time manifest destiny has come to mean more than spreading a democratic faith to the far side of the dusty world, but has transformed into an American ethic that provides both our salvation as a nation as well as the seeds of our destruction as a people devoid of weakness and riddled with ethnocentric attitudes in the vain quest to bring light to the huddled masses of shades outside our borders.

When I graduated from university, I had that same fire to reach the world for truth (perhaps I still do, albeit in a different way). Freshly christened with two shining degrees (and an online certificate) I took a plane to China, eager to embrace my destiny as an educated neophyte granted the wisdom only $200,000 could have bestowed. I believed in the fundamental goodness of the learning process, in the transformative power of Christian light to reach across national boundaries and yank people into a more pure outlook and even in the prospect that English could transfer that same manifest destiny from myself to my students. I had traveled to over sixteen different countries and been given a unique perspective on the world that most people would be envious of, and came from a cornbread American family that had the blessings of both urban and farmer philosophy, along with the revelatory message of Christ for the world. However, as Elmer (2006) and Lewis (1996) both stipulate in their respective volumes, I carried my culture on my metaphorical back, with the intent to teach rather than learn, to bestow rather than grow, and to perform rather than reform. The most striking difference between Elmer’s servant model and the model I took abroad was that Elmer’s servant serves through lowering his face to the ground and submitting, while in my first couple of years in China I was a paragon of virtue who expected the natives to submit to my knowledge and grow into a new paradigm. In a word, I was a monster, albeit a gentle beast who preferred to embrace before consuming.

When I began to teach at the Chinese university, inwardly my desire was to serve the students. At the beginning and end of each class, I queried the students as to what they wanted to learn, as the administration “had no expectations” (outwardly, in any case) and my singular desire was to both communicate the love of Christ through my actions of intensely desiring to help the students perform their language abilities beyond even my highest expectations. I desired to serve, and still today I carry that same dream, although Elmer (2006) has taught me that to truly serve, I must carry no attitudes of greater-than but instead always approach foreign culture as a less-than, and Lewis (1996) has taught me that regardless of appearances, the people I am interfacing with have grown up in a reality so far beyond my understanding that I could well be on another planet trying to convince the natives that green was red. In order to really reach the other side of the gorge, I have to first give up my image of what I think the other side must look like, close my eyes, and once I reach the other side of the bridge, carry no expectations except for my own necessity to listen to the sounds and take in the colors.

Strange, though. I grew up in California, near San Francisco, a city that once upon a time was 90% Chinese. Asian culture is almost second nature to most people in California, but it is also different. Over the last hundred years, political upheavals, wars, famines, deaths, and the passing of generations have altered the landscape of culture, to the point where I wonder sometimes if two or three generations ago the culture was even relatively the same. Lin Yutang, a Chinese scholar who wrote in the early 1900s during the first Republic of China, writes about Chinese culture in his book “My Country, My People,” and while many of his descriptions seem apt, they are also off-putting, bridging culture with words but separated by time. Lewis (1996) remarks about Chinese culture, expressing the power of taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism over people’s lives (Loc 9199), philosophies which are barely even recognized among today’s Chinese youth (due to Mao Zedong’s policy of using the volumes of Confucius from people’s homes as kindling during the Cultural Revolution); culture transforms over time and eventually fades, replaced by the shared experienced and trauma of a people (Loc 10068).

Many times I feel like Joseph, the Hebraic hero who found himself sold as a slave to a rich landowner in Egypt, and years later became the second highest-member of Pharoah’s court. Elmer (2006) provides a wonderful illustration of Joseph, encapsulating his cross-cultural work into a model: acceptance, trust, openness, and serving (Loc 1965). The divide is wide, but with perseverance, patience, and humility the divide can be crossed, even when culture changes faster than one might hope and the cross-cultural worker finds himself struggling against the tides of an ever-changing sea.

As a cross-cultural worker in China and an educator, I often find myself existing in the China Hand paradox. A China hand (Zhongguo Tong) is a foreigner who has lived in China so long, that many people (even Chinese people) are quick to acknowledge their vast experiences and wisdom of even Chinese culture; having lived in China for almost ten years, I most qualify for this illustrious title and the respect it engenders, even though my cultural awareness still lacks. How can I become a servant in a culture that desires to elevate me? I am reminded of Christ washing the feet of his disciples, kneeling down and wiping away the grime of dust, touching broken toenails, cleansing wounds and blisters, pushing the dirt-covered sweat from gnarled hair, perhaps even removing pebbles and rocks from between the toes. In a society of cleanliness and purity such as Israel, for a man of honor (a king, even) to step down and wash his servants’ feet must have been considered abominable, a breaking of custom and culture, much like what cross-cultural workers feel when they make the initial breach into an alien land and witness people doing things they had never even considered as proper behavior. My dream is to be like Christ, to be a servant first, and to truly respect the Chinese culture in a way that only Jesus could. To be a servant means to serve my family first, breaking out of the American perception of the man of the house and moving towards the Christ-like habit of serving others first without the expectation that my humility will engender my greatness, but rather humility for humility – a state of mind, and a pattern of living.

Intercultural immersion: an evaluation of personal variances

In my analysis of Elmer (2006) and Lewis (1996), I looked at the basic philosophy the two men brought to the conversation of cross-cultural work, focusing on the need for understanding a culture beyond just book knowledge, but having an intimate awareness – an empathy – of how that culture operates on a worldview level. In this second paper, I will discuss how these perspectives transform my own life as an educator and a cross-cultural worker, by discussing pertinent issues from both books, as well as illustrate some problematic issues that have occurred as a result of my transplant into Chinese culture. Most importantly, however, I will discuss the power that I wield as a cross-cultural worker, in not only shaping others around me but being transformed intimately by the collection of new ideas foreign cultures introduce.

Before I came to work overseas, I had several academic degrees: two bachelor degrees (one in English and another in Biblical studies), as well as two certifications (one for teaching English as a foreign language and one for international business). I also had studied the Chinese language extensively before coming to China for my professional career. I was not only highly qualified, but motivated to pass on that knowledge to others. However, one stipulation Elmer makes is that education in different countries carries different expectations (2006, Loc 879). In the United States (where I earned my degrees), certain expectations are held for both students and teachers: academic originality, reflected critical thought patterns, and willingness to participate in opinionated discussions. However, in China those three aspects of education do not actually exist, as students in high school are encouraged to emulate rather than create, elaborate rather than criticize, and listen rather than speak. Such basic principles built into a system that for a thousand years operated and evolved independently of other cultural educational systems provided a stark challenge as an educator, and still I struggle with today. I continue to struggle inwardly in putting aside my philosophy of education, in the hopes of helping the process of transformation inside my fundamentally different students.

Even if, however, an educator such as myself can grasp the invisible lines of cultural variants, the problem arises of actually understanding why. Elmer (2006) uses the example of learning not only from but learning with the target culture (Loc 1143). Empathy (learning with) functions separately from sympathy (learning from): while sympathy is an acknowledgment of a different experience from the perspective of oneself, empathy is an insertion of oneself into a different perspective; cross-cultural work requires empathy, because while sympathy will allow the cross-cultural worker to react more positively to situational problems, empathy allows the worker to transform a basic ethic to a new worldview, while retaining elements of the old. Elmer gives the example of Isaiah 28:33-39, in which God’s care for even the most common of workers (a wheat farmer) is so specific that the Lord of Creation steps down from his throne to instruct the farmer in the most basic of work, from planting barley to grinding the grain. The model of the wheat farmer is the model for the cross-cultural worker, who in working with others (who operate from a totally different outlook) must take the care to truly understand them to the detail that God takes with the common farmer.

Book knowledge and empathy can take the cross-cultural worker into the living room of another culture, but they cannot change the worker’s insecurities about stepping into a world that disagrees with his or her outlook. Lewis (1996) mentions that one of the most dangerous areas for cross-cultural workers exist in black holes, mental blocks that exist inside a mind that prohibit analysis of other cultures because of the isolation the worker received while living in his or her particular geographical home. “They wallow in powerful, all-encompassing ‘cultural black holes,’ core beliefs of such gravity that they cannot be questioned” (Loc 1859). Take the simple example of spitting: according to ancient Chinese philosophy, public spitting is similar to the practice of blowing one’s nose in the United States, a healthy activity that promotes flow in the body. On an empathic level, I can understand spitting on a public street because the pollution in China is so dangerous that walking outside for a few hours results in preparing a new wash (given how dirty the white shirt becomes), and so even thinking about the grime that is breathed in through the lungs on a daily basis is bewildering. However, I still cannot bring myself to spit on a public street, because of the barriers formed in my mind during the first and second grade of elementary school, when students who spit on the ground were sent to the principal’s office for a time-out; a cultural black hole, so strong as to induce a physical response of repulsion and a mental judgment when I see someone spitting on the sidewalk in China. The process for closing black holes is awareness – understanding how and why a worker responds a certain way, and then slowly working through a strategy of deconstruction and re-construction; identification is paramount, and after identification, the real work begins.

Just like Lewis (1996) and Elmer (2006), I suffer from stereotypical viewpoints. When Lewis describes Americans and Australians, not only is he crass but offensive (Loc 1749), and his description of the Austrians’ only national accomplishment being their obsession with paper recycling is meant in good humor but comes off like a stand-up insult (Loc 4144). Elmer’s encouragement to make “two or three local friends” (Loc 1359) is as insipid as it is ignorant (try twenty or thirty for real perspective), but regardless of these glaring holes in reasoning, all cross-cultural workers suffer from these problems, regardless of the worker being an American in China (such as myself) or a Chinese national or immigrant working in the United States. To deny these manifestations is to deny reality; that even the most educated, kindest soul carries baggage that they he or she never asked for, but is part of the basic building blocks of the intellect and must be trained accordingly.

Elmer’s call to model Christ (2006, Loc 1606) helps in this regard, as well as his recognition of the mystery that surrounds other cultures (Loc 1929) being a powerful and destructive force if not accepted willingly as God’s grace. Lewis (1996) explains that the power of history and the collective unconscious which exists within people groups is a force that all cross-cultural workers must not only be aware of, but submit themselves to, because the legacy of a people dramatically shapes “thoughts, attitudes, actions, values, plans, an a unique mindset” (Loc 10068) that most are unaware of, even if they have been educated in their own worldview. For myself, I must constantly be vigilant against generalizations, be continually humble in identifying my lack of understanding regarding foreign points-of-view, and live my life in constant prayer that God shapes me so that I am a force of healing rather than a force of fire when I interact with people who are most likely unaware of why there is friction but intensely aware that there is friction.

Intercultural immersion: an analysis of textual sources

One of the most humbling aspects of working cross-culturally is working with people from radically different backgrounds, and then inserting oneself into that pool of different mindsets and trying to make sense of it all. Duane Elmer and Richard Lewis have added to the cross-cultural conversation in their books Cross-Cultural Servanthood (2006) and When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures (1996). Both books attempt to explore the intersection between cultures, but while Elmer explores culture through his Christian vocation as a pastor and missionary, Lewis explores culture through his secular vocation as a teacher and businessman. While both authors approach the topic with radically different points-of-view, they do offer consensus on a select few areas, namely the need to separate oneself from the primary culture (home) so as to embrace the secondary culture (foreign), as well as emphasizing that while cultures can be different from each other, at the core cultures consist of people in their most fragile and malleable forms, capable of both corruption and beauty, no matter the culture or country.

While the old adage may be true: “people are just people no matter where they live,” cultures vary primarily because of three functions: history (collective experience), environment (physical surroundings), and language (communicated personalities). Lewis (1996) argues that cultures at their core function from a foundation of myth: “Germans believe in a world governed by Ordnung, where everything and everyone has a place in a grand design calculated to produce maximum efficiency” (Loc 1970). In his exposition of German culture, Lewis claims that this mythical perception of Ordnung permeates each person with the collective experience that is Germany, in the same way that Confucius permeates people from Asia (Loc 2904) and the establishment of the Napoleonic École normale supérieure defines how the French view leadership expectations (Loc 2016). From myths such as the Founding Fathers in the United States, to the old Viking Code in Sweden, to the tales of King Arthur and the Welsh stories of the Mabinogi in the United Kingdom, philosophies and cultural mythology form a very strong bond between people who claim a certain lineage, regardless of blood. Cultures may vary, but all people are flesh and blood and operate from a basic survival mechanism for the need of food, shelter, clothing, and security. Beyond even those four basic needs, people are connected through an even stronger link: their experience as human beings. Elmer (2006): “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (Loc 600). To only accept that people are different and move on is not enough; transformation, regardless of station, is what divides human beings from trees, mountains, and even animals. Elmer argues that true transformation comes from Jesus Christ, but while Christ is the inspiration, servanthood (through Christ) is the only truly cross-cultural attitude can that reach across the divide and transform people (Loc 1476). Cultural concepts of servanthood must be abandoned however, and instead Elmer relates serving to learning, “seeking out the knowledge of the people, learning from them, knowing their cultural values and then acting in ways to support the fabric of the culture” (Loc 1130). Serving others by honoring their ways fosters trust (Loc 947), and as trust operates different in each and every culture (Loc 855), the process for gaining trust must be inductive rather than deductive through experience and an approach of humility rather than superiority.

Intercultural competence is not only a process of education but of immersing oneself into a culture so as to embrace that culture personally. While cultures are different and can only be accessed through a humble attitude of learning, action within a culture must acknowledge the secondary as primary (see first paragraph), as cultures operate not only from a historical and environmental vantage, but also through a linguistic medium. Language is more than a mere collection of sounds, but contains an entirely different philosophical approach to life (Lewis, 1996) and often trains people to act in certain ways by altering personality to fit appropriateness of speech (Loc 2288). Beyond adapting to the personality of the culture however, Elmer (2006) also encourages the art of listening: “You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or with impressing the other, or are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or are debating about whether what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered” (Loc 1217). These two aspects of language (a sensitivity to spoken personality and listening to learn) constitute the two most immediate needs for intercultural competence, and if trained successfully would solve innumerable issues in cross-cultural work.

The most dangerous pitfall for cross-cultural workers, however, is adopting the mentalities of us versus them, superiority complexes, and stereotypical generalizations. Elmer and Lewis fall prey to all three of these issues in their books. Elmer (2006) struggles with perspectivism, a strategy he believes is helpful where a cross-cultural servant makes “two or three local friends” in order to find a basis to work from (Loc 1359), while Lewis (1996) falls much further into the pit, eradicating his reliability through multiple outlandish statements that were probably written more for satire than education, but come off oafish and insecure (Loc 1749, 2274, 2691, 6326, 9152, 9199). I won’t bother with rehashing his statements, but the selection in the latter sentence are only a few of Lewis’s egregious errors in generalization he happily bounds through the bulk of his otherwise very helpful cultural tome, a trivial selection of far more than I wish to list in this short essay.

Regardless of these trite statements from the two authors, their books are worth reading and studying, as both men acknowledge that the importance of understanding differences in culture are ingrained deeper than just etiquette and restaurant menus, but serve much deeper foundations, from politics (Lewis, Loc 2912), history (Loc 6982), and even differing perceptions of servanthood (Elmer). To cross that boundary between culture, to learn from another culture through the process of serving and transforming the self into a different perspective, is the first step to synergy, Elmer believes (Loc 1033), and synergy is the key to operating at full value when working abroad. Lewis (Loc 2314) believes that an international team can only operate at full power when each member of the team not only is willing to work with one another, but respects one another for who they are at their core. Core beliefs are not something a person can be induced to give up unwillingly, and quite often are so deeply built into the core mindset that awareness of those core beliefs is as foggy as the foreign culture; the goal then, is for the cultural worker to adapt him or herself to the culture they are either operating in or interfacing with, rather than expecting the secondary culture to transform around the primary culture.

Book review: The gift of being yourself, by David Benner

Transformation, according to Benner, cannot be achieved without a thorough knowledge of both self and God. Benner states, “truly transformational knowledge is always personal, never merely objective. It involves knowing of, not merely knowing about.” Benner uses the example of the Apostle Peter to explain transformational knowledge, as Peter is the disciple readers have the most intimate details of his personal struggle regarding accepting God’s call on his life. Benner concludes his chapter by stating, “the authentic transformation of the self… is at the core of Christian spirituality.” Knowledge has the ability to inform, but only God has the ability to transform.

To truly know God, however, means that one must be embrace God at the in the “depths, not in the abstraction of dusty theological propositions.” Benner emphasizes experience over knowledge, and believes that prayer and meditation are the keys to unlocking true transformation in Christ. Objective knowledge will never be as powerful as relationship-based knowing, as evidenced by the personal time the disciples spent with Jesus rather than spending that time as a school, much like the Jewish elite such as Saul. Before Saul truly understood himself, he had an experience with Christ, and so must anyone desiring the same.

The first step to knowing oneself, however, is to recognize that God’s knowledge is far-surpassing and deeper than any other, even personal knowledge of the self. Benner states, “The generative love of God was our origin. The embracing love of God sustains our existence. The inextinguishable love of God is the only hope for our fulfillment.” Therefore, Benner claims, God must be at the core of the self, but to allow God into the self means to accepting oneself in all the beauty and darkness. Acknowledging the sin nature of the self is tantamount, but equaling recognizing the love of God as important. Benner uses the example of a young Jewish woman who found Christ only after she embraced the courage God gave her in acknowledging parts of herself she had long been ashamed.

However, Benner believes, it is not enough to face darkness, but God’s desire is for the darkness to be fully embodied, embraced, and sanctified through that personal relationship. In order to face darkness one must recognize God’s love, as Benner states eloquently, “sin is more basic than what we do. Sin is who we are. In this regard, we could say that sin is fundamentally a matter of ontology (being), not simply morality. To be a human is to be a sinner.” Benner suggests the Enneagram, a personality profiler used to reflect on one’s “sins”, but instead of approaching as a psychological tool, he uses the tool to help one face deep, raw truths and through that profound process attain a mastery of the self so that one can approach God’s love with humility and transparency.

One of the terrible dangers, however, of confronting sin is that human beings have a habit of creating false selves. False selves are created so that sins are shielded, not recognized, or at worst, held in honor. Benner calls this “listening to the serpent,” a reference to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Often, false selves are created not because of fear of authenticity, but because of the desire to be more like the Creator God but without God as a figure of authority. Benner states, “paradoxically, Adam and Eve got what they wanted – to be like God without God, likeness that was based on independence rather than surrender.” A similar example would be if a child wanted desperately to be like his physical father; he wanted his strength, his intellect, and his kindness, but he did not want anything to do with his father and wanted to stay as far away as possible. “The false self is the tragic result of trying to steal something from God that we did not have to steal. Had we dared to trust God’s goodness, we would have discovered that everything we could ever most deeply long for would be ours in God.” The false self clothes man in illusion, and that illusion creates a circular necessity; only by revealing the false self and embracing vulnerability with God can one take the first step towards tearing down self-inflicted idols.

Once the false self is revealed, the next step Benner says is to “become your true self.” However, Benner is strong in stating that “the foundation of our identity resides in our life-giving relationship with the Source of Life. Any identity that exists apart from this relationship is an illusion.” Benner uses the example of Jesus needing solitude and meditation in order to find his true self, even though he understood clearly his purpose on the earth, even to the point of accepting death as a sacrifice for those who wished to kill him when he could have fled or returned to his family trade without incident. Benner explains that for the Christian, vocation is more than just a career or job, but must be grounded in identity, community, and an expression of the gifts God gave that person.

Our self-in-Christ is a self that fits perfectly because it is completely us. It is a self that allows us to be free of all anxiety regarding how we should be and who we are. And it allows us to be absolutely our self – unique not by virtue of our strivings for individuality but profoundly original simply because that is who and what we are.

I found Benner’s insights to be valuable, especially as I have always had some difficulty with setting time aside for prayer and meditation. Benner has encouraged me to take time throughout the day or the week to consider carefully my own experience with God, especially with regards to how God has gifted me in a unique way. I have always viewed my life holistically, as well as taken seriously the gifts God has given me, although I have had some trouble learning where and how to use those gifts most effectively. For example, my love of writing and my love of the imagination have often found a focus in writing stories, although the amount of discipline and solitude required for such an endeavor has been a constant challenge, one that has not benefited from a lack of solitude with God. I deeply want to serve God with the gifts I have been given, but some of my many “false selves” (as evidenced by the Enneagram) is my need to be special (fours) and my need to be perfect (ones); strangely enough, both Paul and Joseph are two of my strongest Biblical heroes, and Benner states that they suffer from the same false selves as I do. I am encouraged however, because both Paul and Joseph turned out as not only paragons of faith but through their deep flaws, transformed those around; Benner has encouraged me to study more about how they conquered their false selves.

The skills approach to leadership: lecture script

Do you believe that leaders are born, or that leaders can be trained?

This is one of the most pertinent issues in leadership today.  Do we choose our leaders based on how they make us feel (ie: charismatic leaders, such as President Obama) or based on their abilities as leaders, even if they are dull and not inspiring?


The skills approach to leadership claims that leaders can be trained and developed, and need only a few traits in order to grow and create results.  There are two central parts to the skills approach, which can be summed up in the Three Skills Approach and in the Five Capabilities.  These two approaches are not competitive but rather synergistic, as the Three Skills Approach outlines the kinds of skills a leader needs and the Five Capabilities explains how those skills operate and showcase on the battlefield of an organization.


The Three Skills are technical skills, conceptual skills, and human skills.  Think of technical skills as the know-how and the details of a particular kind of job, with human skills being people skills (or the abilities to communicate effectively with those you work for you), and finally conceptual skills being abilities aligned with strategy, visionary thinking, and seeing the Big Picture.


The Five capabilities begin with competencies, which are basic measures of effective performance, or how well leaders perform their skills in the organization.  In other words, competencies are the leaders aptitudes for generating results.


Individual attributes are trait-like and at first glance seem more aligned with behavioral tendencies, but unlike the trait approach to leadership which seeks out leaders based on whether they have particular attributes, individual attributes in the skills approach to leadership deal with intellectual abilities and how well the leader processes information, which unlike traits, is actually something that can be trained through practice, training, or education.


Leadership outcomes are essentially the limits of acceptable probability, which in layman’s terms deals with the social visibility the leader showcases based on how well he performs the functions of his duties; again, at first glance the outcome of a decision may seem like it is tied with the leader’s instrinsic qualities, but the skills approach argues that the outcome is based on how well the leadership performs, which is something can be improved over-time.  Performance is not a trait but a skill.


Career experiences are the skills gained in praxis; in other words, over-time the skills of a leader will grow.  So breaking down which skills are growing and in which situations will help the leader define how they are progressing upwards and help him understand what needs to improve.


Finally, environmental influences factor in heavily for the skills approach, as they are essentially contextual abilities such as flexibility and adaptability in different situations.  Sometimes these situations can be varying organizational or national cultures, while other times these situations can be reactionary skills; in other words, how well a leader knows a particular culture and how to interact with it, or the speed and efficacy a leader has in reacting to difficult situations.


I feel it is necessary to give you some background information on these two models of skill-based leadership.  The Three Skills were developed by Robert Katz in 1955 (who is still alive today, running a leadership consultancy out of Portola Valley, California) in an article he wrote entitled, “Skills of an Effective Administator.”  During the course of his life, he was a professor at Dartmouth, Harvard, and Stanford University.  He was the City Planning Commisioner of Portola Valley, the Director of the United States National Resources, Incorporated, as well as a Commisioner of Yosemite National Park.  Most of his work over the course of his life dealt with the training of public officials in positions of the United States government, post World War II.  His understanding of effective leadership cannot be dismissed from the system of government in which he worked, which was essentially a reformed British parliamentary system inspired by the French revolutionary ideals of a standard civil code, people’s representation, and military effectiveness, four ideals which are in truth, not common to many governments and cultures around the world.

The authors of the Five capabilities adds even more color to this very interesting picture.   Michael Mumford was and perhaps is the principal investigator of million dollar grants to the Department of Defense, as well as being the editor of Leadership Quarterly.  Stephen Zaccaro is one of the editors of the Journal of Military Psychology, as well as a professor at George Mason University, a university well-known to producing military scholars.  Edwin Fleishman was in the Navy and the Air Force for 12 years as a director of many psychological research labs, before becoming a full professor at George Mason University, and Thomas Jacobs is a professor at the National Defense University and the US Army Institute.

Military science and procedures for training officials and representatives of the United States government is therefore, a huge influence on the skills approach, and must be taken into consideration when thinking about how to move the skills approach across cultures.


What are the implications of these facts upon the skills approach, and how can we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the skills approach as a methodology leaders can incorporate into their lives and their organizations?

Firstly, let’s talk about some weaknesses.  The skills approach is severely lacking in intentionality. No where in the skills approach is there a question of why the leader wants power, and this is for good reason.  Government officials are trained to do a job, not to care necessarily about the implications of their work, and soldiers are trained to be obedient even if they disagree with the attitudes of their superiors.  So the skills approach lacks that foundational ethic of why the leader would even seek power, and assumes that everyone can learn to be a leader, even if they don’t want to be.

Secondly, the skills approach has an over-focus on intellectualism, without accountability.  What do I mean by this?  Leaders often make bad decisions but those bad decisions may be ignored because the result was a success.  The skills approach does not take into account the ethical implications of bad decisions if the end result was successful.

This means that fundamentally, the skills approach is positivist and slightly utilitarian.  Utilitarian leadership is the opposite of transformational leadership, because it assumes that people don’t necessarily have to grow, but only need to perform their duties for the benefits of others, creating a strange paradox within the skills approach that seems to encourage skill-building while ignoring heart-building.

Positively, the skills approach is progressive, focused on institutional growth and creating a stronger systematic approach to defining and creating leaders where there is only desert.  This makes the skills approach ideal for organizations suffering from the insidious disease of leadership succession.  Furthermore, the skills approach offers a great theoretical framework for building training programs, whether your organization is training managers or CEOs.  And finally, the malleability within the skills approach is such that even people without any training can become great leaders, as long as they are put into a program that takes them step-by-step and focuses on the long-term rather than the short-term.

The skills approach to leadership is for the long haul; is it not a simple solution, but an elegant system which over-time, slowly builds confidence and skills and creates effective, intelligent, and results-driven leaders.










Mao’s last poem: The dialectical journey from idealism to broken dreams, and the sorrow of the lone leader

Suffering from tuberculosis and schizophrenia, Feng Laiheng lay on his deathbed at the young age of 62, plagued with the nightmares of China’s Cultural Revolution and the persecution he received from Chairman Mao’s avenging angels, the Red Guards, because of a painting he completed almost 23 years before his death (Sullivan, 1996). In 1959, Feng Laiheng, known more popularly by his moniker Shi Lu, completed one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, Fighting in Northern Shaanxi. This “Chinese Van Gogh” (Jia, 2005) had created a bold landscape painting that hearkened back to Shi Lu’s admiration of the painter Shi Tao and his encapsulation of the lone daoist contemplating the vast emptiness of the universe in Waterfall on Mount Lu (17th century), except instead of the hero admiring everything and nothing, the hero in Shi Lu’s painting is standing in pyrrhic victory over the bones of his fallen comrades (Chang & Halliday, 2005), the sun filled with blood as a constant reminder to the Great Helmsman of the cost of change. Inspired by one of Mao’s personal poems (released in 1958 to the public), Fighting was a victory song of brutal and martial language (Appendix II:4-5), exclaiming both the tragedy of war and the power of a singular vision. Shi Lu encapsulated Mao Zedong’s mythic power as a leader in his painting: the utter loneliness of his character, contrasted with the roiling world beneath him, swirling in chaos, tragedy, and the lifeblood of people he had sworn himself (Chan, 2011).

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

In this paper, seven significant time periods of Mao Zedong’s life will be discussed, and in each time period I will discuss how, in my opinion, Mao saw himself change as a leader through the circumstances that impacted him (by discussing seven of his poems). Mao was an intensely personal but public man, his feelings both open to all for scrutiny and worship, but also closed even to himself. I will begin by discussing his coming into power as a Communist leader, and end with the events that eventually caused his downfall, with several significant events serving as descriptions of his leadership.

The lone hero. In 1925, Mao Zedong had left the honeymoon stage of his tenure as the representative of the Communist Party for the province of Hunan. After being criticized by Sergei Dalin (an envoy from Moscow shepherding many CCP activities in China), Mao was fired from his position and promptly joined the Nationalist Party (Chang & Halliday, 2005), fleeing from Shanghai back to his hometown for a brief respite, where he wrote the poem entitled Changsha, his first major poetic work and a startling clear account of his vision as a leader.

Mao’s poem Changsha introduces several core aspects of what would eventually define his unique model of leadership, the Lone Hero model. While he viewed companions as necessary to accomplish tasks (Appendix I:14), his particular dialectical materialistic point-of-view supposed that morality had less distinction with absolute principles of good and evil, but more distinction as a scale of transformation. “Who are our enemies, and who are our friends?” (Pye, 1976) For Mao, everything was mutually transformable, including enemies. For this reason, Mao states with vivacity that he “counted the mighty no more than muck” (Appendix I:22), showing a rare worldview that did not abide by the Confucian respect of authority in which the leader was a man of virtue, benevolence, and authoritarian sagacity (Chen & Lee, 2008), but instead was as malleable as “the waters” struck by Mao and his companions, in order to “stay the speeding boats” (Appendix I:24-25).

Another important attribute of Mao’s leadership philosophy was his loneliness (Tay, 1970). From the first line of the poem (“alone I stand”) to the end of the first stanza, Mao writes about his singular calling to save China from the calamity of the age (Tay, referencing the Huainanzi) and rule over the destiny of his country (Appendix I:13). Mao was very reticent in publishing his poems, whatever critics may accuse him of using his poetry to inspire his followers (there is no evidence of this), and agreed only when the aim would serve a political purpose (Li, 2010). Perhaps he saw in himself, the “man” referenced by the historian Ch’en Liang (Mao’s favorite author), who stated that “which heaven and earth and all the gods and spirits cannot change, is changed by man.” (Tay)

The philosopher. Mao was a trained classicist; from a young age to his elderly years, he was known to have slept on a “bed of books,” often sleeping on a custom-designed bed to make room for his library of Chinese classics next to his pillow (Chang & Halliday, 2005). One of the most well-read men of his age (at least in terms of Chinese classical education), Mao was also a prodigious philosopher and wrote a book on dialectical materialism called “On Contradiction” which claimed that the most basic law in the universe was the law of opposites (Chen & Lee, 2008). How did his philosophical discipline and his practice of writing poetry influence his practice of leadership?

One of Mao’s most famous poems was Snow (Appendix III), a verse he wrote after he had completed the Long March and effectively taken control of the Chinese Communist Party, or at least their military. In a moment of sublime meditation, Mao looked upon the lands north of the Great Wall, and imagined himself like the heroes of old: Qin Shihuang (who built the Great Wall), Han Wudi (founder of the Han Dynasty and the largest people group i China), Tang Taizong and Taizu of Song (the two kings of China’s “golden age”), and Genghis Khan (the only foreigner to conquer China).

However, his estimation of them, at least according to his poem, is quite low, stating quite plainly that both Qin Shihuang and Han Wudi were illiterate fools (Appendix III:17), Taizong and Taizu with shallow souls and petty appetites (19), and Genghis Khan as a man whose primary accomplishment was the fact he could shoot arrows better than any other man (22). Imagining himself as a conqueror, he planned to establish a base in Mongolia (Chang & Halliday, 2005), and perhaps much of his inspiration came from that feverish moment, looking upon the vastness of the Great Wall in the dead of winter, dreaming himself the prime hero of the ages, physical strength coupled with intellectual brilliance. The last line of his poem encapsulates perfectly his belief: “For truly great men look to this age alone” (Appendix III:24-25). In many ways Mao Zedong saw himself as one of the immortals, relating himself to the the intellectual hero of the Chinese classic Sanguo, Zhou Yu, through the art of alluding to another heroic poem, “Thoughts of the past at Red Cliff” (Tay, 1966).

The harbinger. 1961 was a tumultuous year for Mao Zedong. In the late 50s, Mao had attempted to force China into the position of a global superpower, through his policies of the Great Leap Forward. However, his policies backfired, and close to 30 million people died from famine, starvation, and disease. Mao’s own daughter grew sickly and diseased during the Great Leap, because she was forced to eat university rations and wasn’t allowed at her father’s table (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, in 1961 the CCP took action and ousted Mao as the president, electing Li Shaoqi in his place at a little place called Lushan, a retreat center for top government officials with a lake for swimming, nestled in the heart of the mountains. Two poems written in 1961 point to how Mao saw himself transforming as a leader, The Fairy Cave and Ode to the Plum Blossom, written four months apart from each other but showcasing a dangerous metamorphosis worthy of Kafka.

In August of 1961, the CCP met at the beautiful retreat of Lushan. As Mao and his comrades were swimming in the lake (even holding meetings in their swimsuits), there was a tense feeling in the air (Fenby, 2008). Mao was ignored by many of his former friends, and he began to form a dangerous liaison with his former enemy Lin Biao, a monstrous (but effective) man whose wife wrote of him that his greatest virtue was his ability to hate (Chang & Halliday, 2005). A few days after the retreat ended, Mao wrote a frightening poem, The Fairy Cave, in which he stated that beauty could only be found in danger: “On perilous peaks dwells beauty in her infinite variety” (Appendix V:4). Earlier in the poem, Mao wrote, “riotous clouds sweep past, swift and tranquil” alluding to his struggles at the Lushan Conference, but then he continued, “Nature has excelled herself in the Fairy Cave,” referring to the mythic cave of the Eight Immortals, buried deep within the mountains of Lushan.

Four months later during the harsh winter in which he daughter had returned home from school after having grown too sick to study, Mao wrote another poem, Ode to the Plum Blossoms (VI), in which he called himself the “harbinger of Spring” (VI:6). Calling upon the ancient forces of classical Chinese poetry, Mao related himself as the plum blossom, ushering in a rebirth of Nature (Tay, 1966).

The visionary. The last leadership element of Mao’s Lone Hero model would be his capacity for visionary leadership. In a strange way, Mao believed that he was fundamentally transformational in everything he did, if we understand his concept of transformation as being a social architect (as proposed by Bennis & Nanus, 1985) who designs and fashions a society through the demolition of the old. However, unlike Bennis & Nanus’s social architect, Mao saw trust as his reliability as “the desire to be worshiped” (Pye, 1976) rather than articulating consistency and straightforward direction. In Mao’s poem Swimming, he relates a Master stating, “Thus do things flow away!” (Appendix IV:9). In 1956, Mao had just obtained nuclear technology and told his inner circle, “we must control the earth!” (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, his aspirations for nuclear power went far beyond a simple arms race: being a superpower was a passion, a way for him to step beyond Soviet control (Fenby, 2008), a symbol of self-sufficiency. Much of Mao’s leadership decisions come with an attitude of risk, to where Mao even trivializes through arguments of dialectical logic (Pye).

Beyond turning China into a superpower, though, Mao sought to establish an immortal legacy for himself in his own country. Much of his poem, Swimming, relates his visionary dream to complete the project that Sun Yat-Sen (the first president of the Republic of China) began, but later was abandoned because of the rise of the warlords. Mao sees his dream of building the dam in mythic proportions, relating how even the mountain goddess will look in awe upon his creation (Appendix IV:18-19), foreshadowing the belief that he was equal to the gods and could alter the course of Nature as a chaotic harbinger of change, uniting a land that for thousands of years had been fractured.

Looking back on Mao Zedong’s leadership philosophy, much of what he believed was admirable: a man of vision to even rival the ancient mythic heroes, a force of change and transformation, a deeply educated mind with a passion for beauty, and a heroic nature which aims for the most basic of societal changes: elevating us to progress, so that we in turn can transform our world.

So what happened?

A refraction of logic: why talk about Mao’s leadership philosophy at all? Transformational leadership theory is most weak when viewed through examples of “heroic leadership” (Yukl, 1999), such as cases like Mao Zedong. Transformational leadership is easily abused, and the danger of transformational leaders is the lack of accountability; even today, scholars have not figured out acceptable ways to measure the factors and variables (Northouse, 2013). Even transformational leadership prophets (such as James MacGregor Burns) make the mistake of equating the best transformational leaders as an exercise of dictatorship in retrospect (2004), as evidenced by Burns’ two favorite transformational leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, presidents who are more or less equated as benevolent dictators or beloved princes.

Two final poems must be discussed, to find an answer to the enigma of Mao Zedong’s transformational leadership. In autumn of 1963, Mao and his inner circle finally made a move that would alter them forever: they broke away from Russia. For more than 50 years, the U.S.S.R. had infiltrated and controlled Chinese politics, from training the Nationalist army and supporting the Nationalist Assembly, to even writing checks for their Com-interns (such as Mao and his peers in the CCP) around China. But in 1963, Mao finally ideologically split from Russia, refusing to even speak with them any more about issues of political importance. To Mao, the day he split from Russia was a day of salvation. In the last poem Mao ever wrote, he proclaimed: “Don’t you know a triple pact was signed / under the bright autumn moon two years ago? / There’ll be plenty to eat, / potatoes piping hot, / beef-filled goulash” (Appendix VIII:14-20). But one line later, be bemoans, “Stop your windy nonsense! / Look, the world is being turned upside down” (21-22). Somehow, from the moment when he broke away from Russia, from that bright and beautiful autumn evening in 1963, to his last poem (1965), something went terribly wrong. Something had transformed Mao into the conquering hero he so despised; after he wrote that fateful final line, he never wrote another piece of poetry again. His lasting legacy would not be a poem, but the Cultural Revolution, the moment that took Shi Lu’s soul.

Guo Muoru: from friend to foe, to the end. Comrade Guo Muoru was one of a kind. An intellectual who fell in love with communism, he came from a long-line of scholars, was swept into revolutionary fervor, and became a close friend of Mao Zedong. Muoru went abroad to study in Japan (much like Sun Yat-Sen and Lu Xun, contemporaries of a generation before), married a Japanese Christian woman and had several children. When the war against Japan broke out, he returned to China while his wife stayed in Japan (she was not allowed to come with him), she discovered to her sadness that he had remarried and had several more children with his second wife. A fiery intellectual, Muoru wrote several treatises on the slave society of old China, and Mao became enamored of him, even going to far as to put Muoru’s diatribes into his own speeches as justification to rail against the old Confucian society.

However, in 1963, Guo Muoru wrote a poem criticizing Mao Zedong’s policies. Muoru’s son had just been sent to the countryside for re-education, and was upset enough to publicly humiliate Mao with a poem criticizing Mao’s divisive tactics in trying to destroy those who tried to take his power. Unlike other criticisms, Mao was incensed, relating Muoru like those “flies [that] dash themselves against the wall, humming without cease… shrilling… moaning… [trying to] topple the giant tree” (Appendix VII:1-7). At heart, Mao was an optimist, and he could not believe that people did not understand what he was trying to do; yet they did not. Not only did his peers not support him after the failure of the Great Leap, but his plans for turning China into a global superpower also failed, and his allies that he spent years nurturing and millions of currency supporting… most of them were toppled in revolutions much like his own. In his final poem, Mao (with a bit of sage-like wonder) writes, “Gunfire licks the heavens, / shells pit the earth… / a sparrow in his bush is scared stiff! / “This is one hell of a mess!” (VIII:6-9). In 1965, almost immediately after writing that poem, Mao Zedong began plans for the Cultural Revolution, setting up Cultural Revolution offices around the country, and preparing for the moment when he would unleash his “avenging angels” against his enemies.

A retrospective. The importance of maintaining healthy leadership philosophies is paramount, even equal with the work a leader does in his or her capacity. Mao Zedong transformed his country, but at great cost. Were he here today, he might even reply, “The cost was inevitable.” But was the cost for Mao’s soul worth it? In the end, he became like those leaders he laughed at in his poem, Snow. Violent dullards who only knew how to conquer and little else. By the end of Mao’s life, he was hanging on by a thread. Hundreds of mistresses later, four wives, and out of ten children, only three survived to adulthood. One of his sons died in the Korean War, two of his sons died or disappeared during the Chinese Civil War, and the rest of his children either died in infancy or were abandoned. Mao was a figure who was constantly in flux, never in one place for long, and obsessed with the idea that through dissolution could come re-imagination; even in his own life.

Mao Zedong was purity, if purity could be composed of the essence of change. Yet I have to question if the purity of philosophy as a leader is viable to long-lasting positive change, especially as a Christian who believes that God’s grace is immeasurable and Christ’s love can heal all wounds. Mao truly believed that he was above the par, and he longed for that spiritual connection that he absolved himself with every night, sleeping on his bed of books. He longed to be welcomed into the abodes of the gods, into the cave of the immortals, and into the annals of great men. There is nothing wrong with that by itself. All leaders desire legacy.

However, we do not live in a vacuum. Mao’s concept of the lone leader, while he was able to accomplish many things, in the end he could not save himself. None of us can. We are incapable of self-salvation, and we will always fail when we try. There is only one way of salvation, and that is to make peace with our Creator, and understand that while we may live in a world where destruction breeds life and life is destroyed, our path as living creatures lies along the road of love. As leaders, there is a humbling to that – we cannot live without community, and we cannot live without love. To go without one or the other lies the loneliness of lamentation. To go with – is beyond purity: the eternal.


Bennis, W.G., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: Strategies for taking charge. New York: Harper & Row.

Burns, J.M. (2004). Transforming leadership. New York: Grove Press.

Chan, D. (2011). Painting Mao’s words: An exercise in landscape painting by Lee Chun-yi. Modern China Studies, 18(2): 101-128.

Chang, J., & Halliday, J. (2005). Mao: The unknown story. New York: Anchor Books.

Chen, C.C., & Lee, Y.T. (2008). Leadership and management in China. Cambridge: Cambridge.

Fenby, J. (2008). The Penguin history of modern China: The fall and rise of a great power, 1850-2009. London: Penguin Books.

Jia, J. (2005). The reconstruction of a political icon: Shi Lu’s painting Fighting in Northern Shaanxi. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(4): 535-548.

Li, C.Y. (2010). The influence of ideology on the translation of Mao Zedong’s poems. Babilonia, 8(9): 109-116.

Mao, Z.D. (2007) Poems of Mao Zedong. Retrieved November 17th, 2013 from the World Wide Web:

Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pye, L.W. (1976). Mao Tse-tung’s leadership style. Political Science Quarterly, 91(2): 219-235.

Sullivan, M. (1996). Art and artists of the twentieth century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tay, C.N. (1966). From Snow to Plum Blossoms: A commentary on some poems by Mao Tse-tung. The Journal of Asian Studies, 25(2): 287-304.

Tay, C.N. (1970). Two poems of Mao Tse-tung in the light of Chinese literary tradition. The Journal of Asian Studies, 29(3): 633-656.

Yukl, G.A. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2): 285-305.


I. Changsha (1925)

II. Loushan Pass (1935)

III. Snow (1936)

IV. Swimming (1956)

V. The Fairy Cave (1961)

VI. Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961)

VII. Reply to Comrade Guo Muoru (1963)

VIII. Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

Conflict throughout history: Following the changing thread

From time immemorial, mankind has been in conflict with one another. And from time immemorial, mankind has desired to not be. Every loss of human life is a slight against us, and as death is the affliction of life, so life designates the necessity of death. Throughout history, philosophers have mused on the nature of conflict, and over time our basic understanding of conflict itself has evolved. Originally conflict for philosophy was a basic tenet of the physical and spiritual life, almost as if conflict was matter that had been woven into the universe. It was part of everything, plants, animals, rain, even the shadows cast from the sun. Today, our understanding of conflict is an intensely personal struggle, a struggle that many theorists are framing as a methodology for not only self-development, but a necessary requirement for a stronger society.

​        Heraclitus and Han Feizi claimed that conflict was woven into the universe and was part of everything, including all human relationships. However, much of the early theory of conflict states that it should be used by political or economic factions as a mechanism for development. Han Feizi, especially, believed that conflict was so prevalent between people that the only way to manage a society was to use conflict as an arbiter. Plato and Aristotle believed that conflict was a mechanism that should be used by the elite to either control followers (Plato) or as a defense mechanism to protect ones’ sovereign power from the masses (Aristotle). Augustine taught that conflict was endemic within each person as a mechanism of self-support, that with the acquisition of reason and knowledge self-conflict was tempered. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes believed that conflict was a mechanism for stability, although Machiavelli wrote that conflict should be used in order to generate social stability, while Hobbes believed that civil society was a passive effect of two forces in conflict.

​        Malthus stated that conflict was proportional to the population, and with an increase in population conflict would inevitably increase, being one of the first theorists to propose that science was related to social development rather than as mechanism for the securing of power. Smith continued this line of reasoning, by stating that within each person conflict was necessary as they drove themselves to self-interest. Finally, Darwin cemented the absolute nature of conflict by turning it from a mechanism of political machinations, to a science of observation in the eternal between between survival and growth. In general, discussions of conflict pre-Darwin characterized it primarily as a political or economic tool for stability, which kings, princes, lords, and intellectual leaders could use in order to establish themselves. However, after Darwin the study of conflict entered into a discussion of social and cultural scientific observation.

​        In the modern era of sociology, Gumplowicz expanded on the Darwinian concept of conflict by expanding the science to a study of not only natural and physical conflict but societal. Essentially, Gumplowicz transformed the study of conflict by tying the nature of his new science directly with context, claiming that conflict is the key force behind social and cultural evolution. Pareto, following the contextual relevance of Gumplowicz, stated that conflict (more particularly, revolutionary movements) was the key to national evolution, when one group of elites eventually replaced the old regime. Madison went into even more detail by cementing a system of checks and balances that not only utilized the conflict within political organizations, but fastened the conflict together, believing that the inherent conflict within the varying cultures of politics would create boundless progress and eventual stability.

​        Sumner, however, gave conflict a personal quality by claiming (in an eerily similar but non-sacred fashion as Aquinas) that only through the individual struggle against rivals, antagonists, and displacement, would people truly define themselves. Sumner personalized the nature of conflict. Whereas pre-Darwin conflict was seen as a mechanism or tool used by the powerful, post-Darwin conflict became a set of skills that people or factions could adopt in order to transform themselves, turning weaknesses into strengths. Ward built on Sumner’s ideas by claiming that the personal growth and stability of conflict was actually a function of social efficiency and relational stability (those being the end goals). Finally, Parsons entered into the debate and strongly stated that conflict had an ideal state which one could progress towards. While Parsons claimed that this ideal state was one free of deviance, other thinkers such as Mills and Dahrendorf criticized Parsons. Mills that that the equilibrium theory (conflict being counter-actions towards deviance) was actually self-destructive, as it served only as a defense of privilege rather than as an offense against oppression. Dahrendorf went so far as to state that the ideal state to work towards was actually deviance and abnormality, while equilibrium was the actual conflict of the age. Dahrendorf believed that change was a creative force which shattered the status quo (or equilibrium theory), and hence the true conflict of the age was the battle of progressing past old ideas into the new.

​        Perhaps it is oversimplification to arrange all of history within a few paragraphs. However, something has changed in the nature of conflict. There is truth to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun, but there is also truth in the capacity of self-improvement through constant reassessment and rebuilding. We are vessels of conflict: when we are born, we come bawling out of our mother’s womb; when we die we lay on our beds, gasping for that last breath of air. Our lives are defined by struggle, and our moments of glory are struggle in victory. Why should we seek to take that away? Why run away from conflict? Why not run toward it?

​        We are also creatures of sorrow and pain, and seek peace. While conflict may define who we are, we can never allow conflict to guide our hand, only understand it. Leaders who use conflict knowingly in order to create chaos where there is order are monsters, no matter their good intentions or selfish machinations. Love is the ultimate arbiter of conflict, because love is a concept that stands between two foes and offers warmth. Yet in our organizational models, where does love come into play? How can leaders truly love their followers without risking their own weaknesses? How can leaders show weakness for the purpose of gifting themselves without losing their organizations?

​        The evolution of conflict throughout history I have mentioned makes some starting claims. The first is that pre-Darwin, many thinkers believed that conflict existed as a tool or mechanism which was requisite in the field of politics and economics, which if used could propel people to change outwardly. The second is that post-Darwin, conflict became a set of skills that cultures, nations, governments, and eventually people could adopt into order to self-develop. Today, conflict continues to transform, and I foresee the future of conflict as being an intensely personal quest. Many thinkers teach conflict not as warring ideas between two parties, but as trainable skills for self-development. Scholars believe today that “conflict potential” is something that can be maximized for inter-personal growth. There are also many scholars today that teach about role specialization in organizations, not only as a way of complementing strengths but as a way of creating value networks that challenge one another. Conflict resolution and avoidance have been replaced by the science of conflict management, a way of looking at conflict that shows the ultimate potential of inter-cultural issues so that both cultures in the end can be maximized.

Two foxes and a hen: The mask of harmony and illusion of the masses

Imagine a dinner table. At the table sit two foxes and a hen, and all three are discussing what to have for dinner. The analogy of the two foxes and a hen is often used to describe the concept of “the tyranny of the majority,” a theory in political science that epitomizes the power of the masses over the elite and the power they wield over the existing regime in establishing change. While “the tyranny of the majority” has been hotly debated for hundreds of years (ever since John Adams coined the term in 1788), any discussion regarding the influence of mass movements and harmony in society cannot progress without acknowledging the power the masses have played in national movements throughout history. Some experiments in nation-building (such as the Weimar Republic and the Republic of China) have proven to be disastrous, with many blaming those failures on a dictator seizing the power of the masses to gain absolute power, while other experiments in nation-building (the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China) have like-wise proven wildly successful, resulting in the formation of two of the most powerful nations on this Earth. However, whereas in the United States a dictator did not seize the power of the masses, in China one did, and yet both have proven to be successful examples of statecraft and leadership.

​        It would be a mistake to simplify the past in terms of what we do not understand. Many have characterized the rise of Nazi Germany as the fault of a people who allowed a dictator to take control because they were tired and disenfranchised (which may have been true, given that a loaf of bread in 1919 cost 1 German mark, but by 1923 that same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks). However, the truth is that underneath the veil of a different time and culture, life was just as vibrant, with networks of various people in connection with each other (even in small villages), such as athletic clubs, religious organizations, charities, trade guilds and unions, and professional associations. In China before Mao Zedong, the country was perhaps even more vibrant, with a new literary era on the cusp of transforming word and art, modern technology and contemporary strategic theory introduced into the military, the establishment of universities and higher educational academies, a unified banking system, political and constitutional reform, as well as joining the international spectrum of athletes as a contender for the Olympics. The idea of a “mass society” composed of a “social void without attachments, alienated, rootless, and normless” is as fallacious as stating that dictators come to power because the people don’t want them to, but had no choice because the dictator seized this mysterious element in society and forced them to bend to his will. In most situations, the dictator is merely a sign of the culture, and the masses are an illusion used by political scientists to try and absolve the details of significance. While Hitler rose to power in Germany, similar movements inspired by race and despotism were taking place all over the world; Hitler may been at one side of the extremes, but he was not an outlier.

​        This discussion leads us to the question: if the masses are an illusion, then why did the 20th century see such an upswing of dictatorial governments and fascist tendencies? Societies are formed of complicated and amalgamated structures of inter-twining realities, and many of those realities influence one another like vines growing onto the trunk of a tree and branches joining with other trees to form multifarious organisms. It is not simple enough to say: the Great Depression allowed Roosevelt unprecedented power in changing the role of government, and neither is it simple enough to say that the struggle of China’s peasants empowered Mao Zedong in overcoming the Kuomintang elites. However, a more important question rises from this: how can we understand the complexities of culture, as well as train our leaders in the abilities to recognize and manage positive change in this hidden web of interests? As observers of other cultures and nations, how can we identify cultures of “false harmony” and prevent the volatility of violent revolution that inevitably will justify itself?

​        Many people see truth as an absolute concept, rooted in the interplay and consequences of moral quandaries as they unveil themselves in our chosen culture. When those consequences change, the subtle underpinnings of our morality may also shift, and if shifted too far in one direction may justify the radical movements we saw in the 20th century. The fallacious “cloaked outrage” that spurts out in revolutionary violence is a myth we used to absolve ourselves of the moral responsibility we have in guarding ourselves against own selfish desires for criminal justification or unethical ineptitude.

​        In China, one of the key political phrases of Hu Jintao was for his country to become a “harmonious society.” Overused, underestimated, and laughably hopeless, nevertheless it was the dream of the politiburo to wean China of inward tendencies towards social outbursts and contain the massive growth of a country heaving in an industrialized fervor from throwing itself off the mountain too quickly. The two foxes sit on the other side of the dinner table and have a staring contest with the hen, but who are the foxes and who is the hen? In political theory the foxes have often been considered as the masses, but in China logic defies and the masses are actually the hen, with the two clever foxes looking at the hen, knowing they could never withstand a full-frontal assault so they must play the angles.

​        We started this discussion trying to understand why the masses elected Hitler and Mao to be their defenders. However, what we have not recognized as yet is that Hitler and Mao understood exactly the play of the field and wielded the complexities brilliantly. Both men in their respective countries played people against one another, stole power from their contemporaries, and were intense intellectuals who understood and loved power. Leadership, as we can see, stands at the crossroads of the illusion of the masses. We believe that we live in a world that is free from the sins and madness of the 20th century, but we only delude ourselves. Napoleon believed that genius was the ability to recognize opportunity, but opportunity is more complicated than just random chance, but a nexus of circumstances sacrificing themselves on the same altar, under the shadow of the opportunist.

Multidimensionality in the follower dichotomy

James MacGregor Burns, for most of his life, has been known for his writings on transformational, transactional, and visionary leadership through his biographies of notable presidents. Burns even won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, making him an accepted expert on American leadership during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He also believes strongly that leaders, especially visionary leaders, are the cornerstone to change, as evidenced by his strong support of repealing the American constitutional amendment to limit terms of office. For this reason, when reading Burns’ theories, we must take into consideration the extreme importance he places on the singular individual in the sea of complexity. Burns’ model of multidimensionality in the follower-leader spectrum is a fascinating study of the various layers that exist in change agency, particularly those of systematic change.

​        Burns’ model of multidimensionality centers around the central conflict between two parties: the opposers and the innovators. Between the two parties lies the inheritors, or people who stand for the status quo. Innovators introduce radical change to the status quo, while opposers introduce gradual reform. Outside agents known as partners then mobilize opposers and innovators into smaller organizations known as coalition builders, who go in one of three different directions: as supporting agents of opposers or innovators, or into break-away factions known as splitters, moving in a different direction than either opposers or innovators. Sometimes splitters will return to the inheritors, but most of the time they form nonfunctional organizations that end up moving into passivity.

​        In addition to this already complex array of ideological individual groups, a group known as the passives sit outside the action, watching, observing, and only taking action in the form of inaction and only from operative incentive from coalition builders. Some of these passives move further away and form isolates, passives who want to take stronger action and become short-term followers of the coalition builders, but in the end are too separated from the process to make any significant difference and end up being alienated from the core group.

​        Traditional theories of the follower-leader dichotomy generally focus on a single follower and a single leader, whereas Burns’ model displays a huge array of various kinds of followers with differing incentives for action. He stresses that situation (context) and agency (leadership capabilities) are important in distinguishing the level of strength for each of the inheritor sub-groups; situation and agency must constantly be evaluated, and the sub-groups can drastically change if the context shifts or leadership changes hands.

​        Burns’ model focuses primarily on visionary leaders such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the nature of the US presidency as examples and warnings for models of transformational leadership. His positive models, however, are dictatorial, singular, and heroic, extremely strong in trait-based leadership. For this reason, I question whether Burns’ model of transformational leadership can be applicable in today’s late modern world, where traits such as servanthood, collaboration, role-based leadership, and the learning organization are a focus of many businesses, and the heroic qualities of the 20th century contain too little accountability, both legally and financially, to be acceptable models today.

​        Abstract models are tricky, because they can be misinterpreted and misused without context. Burns uses the example of F.D.R.’s presidency to explain multidimensionality. In my own experience, multidimensionality exists although because the contexts I operate in are different and the leader is different, the way I interpret sub-groups of the inheritors is going to be altered. For example, in my university the inheritors are the older teachers, enmeshed in more traditional methods of teaching. The innovators are more like the isolates, as they are not respected by the traditional authority or given power to make changes, while the vast majority are opposers (who seek gradual reform, by referring to the status quo and moving towards the outside innovators but not recognizing they are moving in that direction). Splitters are generally composed of innovators who have not been accepted by the inheritors or opposers, and the true people who have power in my situation are the partners. They have the most power because they control the flow of information from the innovators to the opposers, and finally directly into the belly of the beast: the inheritors.

​        In my situation in China, the dichotomy between leader and follow is still just as complex, but the rules are different. Multidimensionality exists, and for the leader in China it is terrifying. The rules are constantly changing, and leaders not only have to have a strong sense of where the various coalition builders are, but have to be keenly aware of the partners behind the scenes. In that way, leaders are not leaders as we know of in the west (as instigators of change) but more as moderators of various groups as they charge into the future, trimming the branches here and there to make way for the power of the partners as they, over-time, transform into the inheritors.

Genius out of time: Napoleon Bonaparte and his quest for the center of the universe

Napoleon died at the young age of 52. His contemporary and admirer, Thomas Jefferson, by comparison lived to the ripe age of 83 years old. While Napoleon died young for his time, during those brief 30 years when he served as an influential member of French leadership, he accomplished more than almost any other ruler did for any country, ever. He was a passionate fool, a discriminate student of strategy, and an indiscriminate follower of his own shadow. He was a genius, a man who remembered each incident in photographic clarity, who could recall numbers and statistics from newspapers, and take the whole and put them into rigorous use not only on the battlefield but in the bedroom. He recognized and embraced the trends of the time, and saw a vision no one on Earth could imagine: a people separated by nothing except the beauty of ideas. While he was a fervent disciple of nationalism, he could not separate the transformer from the transformation, and so in his vanity believed (as many a genius fall prey) he was France’s, and by proxy, the world’s savior. He believed, much like Alexander the Great, that all the lands from the Indies to the colonies would fall under his enormous intellect and unlock their vaults for his descendents. In return, he would give them everything he had. But at what price?

​        I find it impossible to relate the many aspects to which Napoleon enhanced and added to qualities of leadership we find indispensable in modern society. He empowered the bourgeoisie (the middle class) and thereby overruled the feudal system. He freed the serfs and in effect ended the feudal slavery that had existed for thousands of years (although he did not end slavery among the French colonies, a puzzle to this day). He established government schools that taught universal education, taught by teachers who were singularly schooled in the national ethic at a single university; in addition, schools required students wear uniforms, use the same textbooks, and attended classes that followed the same syllabus – all prerequisites for any successful school today. He not only centralized education, but he centralized law by introducing the Civil Code, a key aspect of law today and a descendent of the antiquated Roman law. He took these ideas and in each of his conquered territories (which stretched from Egypt to the border of Russia) he instituted them, forever changing the our paradigm of how government functions. He set his radical reforms into the fertile earth he himself had prepared, first by blasting the weeds out of the garden with his artillery, then by marrying his family into royalty, and finally by granting freedoms but requiring the use of the codes he himself had masterminded.

​        Napoleon famously claimed, while living his last years on the island of St. Helena, that he hoped in the future to spread the ideals of the American constitution to the rest of the world. Even to his death, he was a revolutionary and believed in the power of ideas to transform the world. However Napoleon was a transformational failure, for he failed to recognize that in transformation, not only the follower but also the leader must change through that fascinating interchange that occurs between the two agents. Napoleon also famously said that like Caesar, his last battle would be no different than the first. He was a genius, there is no doubt about that, but with that pride of intellect comes the vanity of invincibility. When he finally realized that it was the Russian army that was invincible and not himself, he lost heart and returned to Paris a broken man, only too happy to abdicate his honors to the next man in line.

​        Leadership is at its hardest, work that is both admired by others but in need of constant self-assessment. But if the leader doubts himself, how can he be confident of the outcome? Wellington said of Napoleon that the emperor was worth 40,000 soldiers alone, for his sheer charisma and belief in victory. Yet on St. Helena, even in the throes of arsenic poisoning and a tumor in stomach, he still managed to maintain that optimistic hope that the world could be changed for the better, with only the application of intellect. By the end of his life, he still was not able to recognize his pride as the center of his fall.

​        Unlike Napoleon, my work does not hold me in commands of regiments filled with 30,000 young men seeking to make a name for themselves in battle and earn wealth and immortality for their families. But like Napoleon, my work as a leader is solitary. While Napoleon’s work was solitary, it did not have to be… he chose it to be. The unique circumstances of his life gave him the opportunities of leading armies of a country he was not even a citizen. Napoleon by birth was Italian, spoke Italian, and only learned French when he was ten years old. He spoke French with a harsh accent, believed in the independence of his home, and was an inconstant spouse of Christ, believing less in a vibrant faith and more in the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings of finding a way to centralize social custom, political action, religious attitudes, and economic regulations.

​        Napoleon would fit right at home in our modern world. While such a fantasy would be impossible (for the modern world would not be the same without him), with his calculating mathematician’s mind Google or Microsoft might find him better company, and he might very well enjoy the experience more than he enjoyed his experience as an immigrant soldier seeking to apply his philosophy across the spectrum of the world, even to the chagrin of people mired in the traditions of the past.

​        My work as a teacher often finds me in the same situations, battling philosophies and wills of a different culture to my own, living in a land where handshakes and dinners are of a different sort than I might have experienced back home in California. Yet Napoleon’s biggest mistake was believing that his solitary existence was per-ordained by fate. But I should state this for posterity: Napoleon was not a vain man, only a stubborn one who had accepted that in order for success, he would have to make certain sacrifices and those sacrifices entitled him to putting up gates at the borders of his mind. I find that much of what Napoleon worked for and lived as very inspirational: he saw the gaps in the system and by taking advantage of opportunity (what many would classify as ‘luck’) he opened up new avenues. He understood the system in its complexity, and on the battlefield he understood the value of a great general. But in the end, he did not believe he himself had anything to gain from them.

​        Perhaps he didn’t have anything to gain from them. Or perhaps he had everything to gain, if he only opened up his heart to hear their voices add harmony to his song. Beethoven saw this, when he struck Napoleon’s name in dedication to his 3rd Symphony when the commander forced the Pope to crown him emperor at Notre Dame. For leaders, being able to listen, learn, and change is key to transformational leadership. Napoleon transformed his society, but failed to be transformed himself.

Righteous anger ex nihilo: A portrait of Mao Zedong

Much of what we know about Mao Zedong lies in legend: an abusive father, a beaten son and mother, brothers loved more than himself, a poor laborer whose mother gave him all the benefits she believed she never had; a sworn nihilist, learned and angry, angry at a world that never offered him what was offered others and which he took by force. Mao is a complicated subject, but less able to be completed in the breadth of this short space. A man by whose hand millions perished, who believed that might ruled over light, except when the light when preparing for the darkness. Mao was a man who by his own pen, claimed that the only path to the future lay in the ruins of the past, no matter how many perished in that dream. A lover and a tyrant, a reformer and a dreamer, he was hated, scorned, mocked, feared, and loved madly during his life. He was a model of transformation, but perhaps not the transformation where the people who emerge from the pool are the same who entered.

        ​Mao ran away from his homeland nightmares to the metropolis of Beijing, where for his first job he took the lowly position of a librarian at Beijing University. He loved books. Mao was known to sleep on a literal bed of books, with such prodigious notes that even today scholars are riddling out his messages in the margins to discover the man beneath the monster. He was Plato’s Philosopher King, a man who believed that only through ideological purification and struggle could a classless society emerge from the madness of the battle between the capitalists and the proletariat. He was a conceptual demagogue who was not afraid of giving violence in order to reach a greater end. But above all, he loved power; the power over his colleagues, the power over his lovers, and the power over his people. His weakness, if we could choose one, was that he spoke two languages: the language of polity in which he used conflict as a vehicle to transform his society, and the language of narcissism in which he used conflict as a vehicle to secure personal power. He knowingly fashioned conflict to crush his rivals, to halt emergent opposition, and to maintain power until his last breath. Even at his death, many considered him to be a god. Yet by his hand, perhaps more than any other ruler in China’s history, a country was transformed and yanked through time by at least two or three hundred years, ripped through the portal of sacrifice until all she could do was lay on the side of the road, crying and bandaging her own wounds while the rest of the world looked down upon her, amazed but unmoved.

​        Mao was an inconstant lover of Marx. He believed that only by being refined in the fire could a better civilization emerge. He believed that by destroying the relics of the past, by killing the heroes in the hearts of his people, and by the annihilation of the old world could the new world be born anew. Many of us would look down upon his work, the lasting legacy of his politic, with scorn; yet how many of us would repeat what he did on a smaller scale were we to restructure an organization? The Hundred Flowers movement was a government sponsored catharsis of free thinking, in which intellectuals spoke out for the first time in years about their beliefs, yearnings, and hopes for China’s future; at the end of the Hundred Flowers movement, Mao took a pair of shears and cut the heads off the flowers. He organized raids, imprisoned people for what they had said, and brutalized the people he had sworn to protect. Were he to be asked why he did this, he might reply that only through struggle would the classless society, free from the landlords, free from the old thinking, emerge. While we as leaders may not take just drastic measures or go to such lengths, how many times have leaders taken power only to cut down the heads of the old regime? For Mao, the inconsequential held incredible weight and power, and every little petal had to be taken into account.

​        I write this short meditation from my relative’s home in the countryside of northern China. I am here solely because of Mao Zedong. After the Hundred Flowers movement and his horrifying experiment where he canceled all school, gave high-school students weapons and badges and told them to question, arrest, and beat any intellectual they could find, and then sent them on a government sponsored field trip to every village in China to cleanse wrong thinking, an entire generation changed. This wasn’t a subtle change, like what happened to American youth when the news was allowed to carry an opinion; the change in China rocked the world of an entire generation, uprooting them from their families, charging them with a sacred quest, and turning the streets of China into a bloody sponsored rampage the likes we have not seen since young striplings took up muskets during the American Civil War.

​        During that serendipitous time, my father-in-law, the son of an intellectual and landowner, was sent to the frozen wastes of China’s north to work in a mine, barely seventeen years old. He married the mine boss’s daughter, they had a daughter, and later he moved his family back to the city of Tianjin where my wife grew up. There is not one person in this entire village (where I am writing from) who does not have emotions about Mao Zedong. It was his ideals that established this village, and everyone from my grandmother, to my three uncles, to my many, many cousins, have been affected by the singular political philosophy of a man who desired to transform his country. Does China exist in a classless society today? Has the old world of Confucius, the Imperial Throne, and long queues braided behind silky and wind-blown robes been destroyed?

​        The answer is yes to some, and no to others. Such is transformation. Transformation is not perfect, and carries the struggle and sacrifice by those who were forced through it willingly (or unwillingly). The scars of the past remain on the faces of my loved ones, and their triumphs and failures remain etched into the hillsides and broken villas of Qidaogou. To claim that transformation is without refinement is to claim that a caterpillar can become a butterfly without being wrapped in a slimy cocoon for weeks at a time. To claim that transformation can occur without the blood of the innocent or the tears of the rejected is to hope that a country or organization can persuade the old regime to gently give up their livelihoods.

​        I am not defending Mao Zedong. He was a man who believed in terror to achieve his ends. He was a pirate, a lord of thieves, and a master of manipulation. He loved his country, and he also loved the power she could give him. He loved books, reading, and writing poetry, and he loved old churches. But he brought his country from a feudal state in which the king was the son of God, a country that even creeping into the 20th century made eunuchs of men who would enter into the imperial government, and a country where the Dowager Empress made a boat out of stone just so she could spite the poor. Perhaps there were other ways of transforming and carrying China into the future, but we shall never know.

​        My child plays in the next room, dancing on a bed heated by the fires that cooked our dinner. Trees comb the mountains outside the house like a military buzz-cut, and my grandmother is gazing at my son in the kind of love that tragedy has no power over, not even transformational tragedy.

Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed: An experiment into crowd-sourcing the heart through art

The theater has had a long history of challenging the status quo. Even back to the days of ancient Greece, playwrights could become national heroes or national scoundrels based on the plays they wrote. In Elizabethan England, the production of Richard II on the stage of the Globe became so contentious that the theater was burned and later rebuilt, once the fervor had been silenced. Theater is a combination of collaboration, conflict, and art, with people acting out the part of conflict on a stage with each other and exploring what it means to die by the blade or come to terms with the social issues glaring the audience in the face. The theater has always been a place to either challenge the status quo or praise it; in this way, playwrights and directors are as much leaders as are presidents and prime ministers, because they lead through ideas and practical expose of the hidden shadow people are afraid to show in public.

        Hallie Flanagan, an observer of the American theater scene, wrote about the power of the theater to evoke the most primal of emotions; Harry Hopkins, the leader of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, then hired Flanagan based on her careful and brilliant insights to bring demoralized people across America the joy of free theater, eventually helping to bring about an end to the social plague of slumlords and decrepit capitalistic housing projects.

        Most astounding of all, however, was Augusto Boal. A Brazilian director, he sought to not only infuse his beliefs into the theater in order to enact social change, but to transform the theater scene into a place where people could not only voice their grievances but help alter the story itself, creating a method for collaboration in culture where patriarchal attitudes and qualities of singular power dominated. He encouraged the audience to step in and enact their own stories on the stage, creating a second voice in a traditionally monologuist artform.

        Augusto Boal was jailed for his efforts to encourage the people to speak out their grievances in a public arena. He did not return to his family for 15 years, being forced to leave the country after his prison sentence. However, in 1992 he was asked to come back in a much calmer environment and was hired by the government to become a correspondent to the people about inequalities in the country by using theater. His story is one of victory, but only after years of isolation and sadness of being separated from his home.

        In countries where the inequalities are enforced by the politics, is it possible for artists to thrive as leaders? Boal’s approach was bold, but perhaps too bold. He was not jailed and imprisoned because of his plays; he was jailed and imprisoned because the people wanted him to lead a rebellion against the government. He did not go seeking for that, but art is powerful and causes normally sane people to question the foundations they built their lives on, and temporarily become insane, open to paradigms they never even knew were possible. Great art fastens those paradigms to our experience, while other art gives us moments and then fades away. How can artists thrive in closed countries and continue to make a difference? Is defiance to authority an absolute in regards to altering the fate of oppression?

​        Art is held to the highest moral code in China. Artists like Ai Weiwei are held under house arrest, imprisoned, and never heard from again for 10 years. In a word: loudmouths don’t do well in China. They are cut down from top to bottom, and if they are not silenced, they only grow louder; at least that is the fear, and so the silencing grows more powerful with each new circumstance. I am keenly aware of the limits of art, and so are the artists. A visit to the Beijing 798 Art District showcases paintings and sculptures groaning in the excess of China’s grossly-expanding urbanization, in the starving capitalism that is consuming traditional culture, and the vast seas of people who don’t care. Art has become a contact point for the dispossessed spirit and a lost generation who find themselves without a compass, but that is as far as art can go. More creative leadership is needed, the kind of creative leadership that understands the dangerous context and knows how to both work within it as well as create change. Boal was imprisoned and exiled for 15 years; for a time, anyway, he shone.

An American theory of everything: Mutual self-actualization clothed in self-determination

I admit, I find Maslow’s triangle of appreciating needs satisfyingly secure as an American. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist and professor at a private college in New York City, was an extreme individualist. He was the first scholar to clearly state that human need was more than just material; he elevated psychology into spirituality. The psycho-spirituality of Maslow’s self-actualization, beginning with basic physiological needs, then increasing to security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization, was an answer to many prayers for a more evolved form of psychology that moved beyond the trait-like (and dogmatic) approach of behavioralism and tried to forget about the mythic and slimy fallacies Freudian psychology brought; Maslow brought humanity back into psychology.

​        The application of self-actualization to leadership is when a group of individuals together seek to become self-actualized together, thereby creating a space for mutual self-actualization. The leader, recognizing this basic drive for people to self-actualize, also pursues this with his followers and together they are able to move towards the penultimate point of human spirituality as a unit and a team, but ultimately is fueled by a personal desire for improvement. The commitment of mutual self-actualization within an organization is a commitment to a value than is higher than anyone one person, but has the capability to help each person “become everything that one is capable of becoming” and turn each person into change agents whose self-determination contingency (upon the group value) becomes a destiny. The keystone to the mystery of self-actualization is a concept known as effectance, which is an ability which if utilized properly, people can remain undeterred by the events that surround them if they have learned how to train themselves to continual growth in paradox. Effectance is the most important skill to have when pursuing self-actualization and any leader should be well-acquainted with the theory and methodology of training people to strengthen their effectance.

​        Maslow’s ideas, as heroic and idealistic as they sound, contain one major flaw, and that flaw is actually the strength the ideas are built upon: individualistic self-determination. When he was 20 years old, Maslow married his cousin and left his parents forever. He could not stand the sight or even the thought of his mother, and he hated his father for most of his life. As a child, his father had physically abused him, and his mother had both mentally and physically abused him severely. He hated himself as a child; a victim of extreme antisemitism, he forsook people and hid in the library, abandoned the faith of his parents and became an atheist (later seeking to revisit faith by comparing his self-actualization with an actual spiritual experience), and when he finally was free of his family, became a sexuality researcher for most of his life, trying to discover why a woman in a sexual relationship with a man, felt the need to show dominance over him through manipulation or ‘castration’ while at the same time yearn for his respect. He finally deduced that human sexual behavior was almost identical to primate behavior, and through these conclusions deemed that needs were less based on the materialistic needs of the enlightenment and more based on self-propagated conception of a deeper level, because he had noticed in his monkey studies that their sexual behavior was primarily driven less by natural instinct and more by social attitudes.

​        Two singularly important issues arise from this discussion. Firstly, in cultures where individualistic determination is not only taboo but undesired, his theory of social attitudes desiring self-actualization falls short. Secondly, the fact that his theories were derived primarily by analyzing sexual attitudes of domination and submission falls prey to the fallacy that perhaps not everyone’s self-determination is driven solely by their sexual propensities, but perhaps by a deeper and more fulfilling role, especially for people who have allowed the Holy Spirit into their lives and given their sexual being to God instead of using it for their own desired ends. I question as a leader, how it is possible to even use Maslow’s theories in countries where self-actualization is considered poor form, and what’s more, how to implement his theories as a Christian with self-actualization taking the place of Christ.

​        Maslow was the first psychologist to define “humanistic psychology” which was composed of the following five claims:
​                1. Humans cannot be reduced to parts.
​                2. Humans exist in a wholly human context.
​                3. Humans are continually conscious of context.
​                4. Human choice leads to responsibility.
​                5. Human intentionality is rooted in meaning and value.

​        Essentially, Maslow says that our actions are not rooted to context, but rather are rooted to meaning. Context is important for Maslow (as people exist in context), but in the end there is a greater desire, a “transpersonal” desire to self-actualize to a more spiritual-type of existence. For a person whose context is derived from his or her desires to self-actualize, the five claims of humanistic psychology carries tremendous weight. However, for a person whose self-perception (and even self-actualization) is derived entirely from their context, humanistic psychology is a vapid and empty set of statements that has little bearing on reality.

​        The Ideal Man, in Chinese philosophy, is someone who has achieved ren, or humaneness. Humaneness is Confucius’s mirror-image of Maslow’s self-actualization, but in the opposite direction. Harmonious, self-sacrificing, humble to a fault, an inveterate nepotist and a wholly functioning contextualist, the humane person in Chinese philosophy disdains anyone who attempts to self-actualize and berates them for their pride, cutting the head off before wings can be grown. Today, many western ideas have filled the halls of China and transformed many into those who seek self-actualization, but usually if those people want to pursue their dreams they must leave the country. And usually they do, fondly remembering their homeland, but never forgetting that in their homeland leaders are but specters who hover behind the curtains, and workers are the cogs in a giant socialist machine, spinning into eternity so that the state, an inhumane creation, can self-actualize and find spirituality in itself.

Symbols of a stateless society: Satyagraha, swaraj, and Gandhi’s vision-casting of a society without limits

Mohandas Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (venerable) Gandhi, was a man of complexities and paradox. Born into the Brahmin caste and into a wealthy merchant family, he became an expatriate in South Africa where he lived for most of his adult life, finally returning to India and by the end of his life advocating economic and political freedom from Great Britain and the abolition of the Indian state, with self-sustaining villages replacing the state government in a political philosophy known as swaraj. He wielded a two-armed approach to reform: satyagraha, which was a practical methodology and school of political philosophy teaching the art of self-suffering, patience and compassion as a means to an end, and the elimination of antagonisms (not antagonists); the second arm was known as swaraj, a political reform discharging the state from duties of rulership and granting power directly to independent villages, free from any power be they colonial or national. While the latter was never fully implemented (and thrown out by India’s national government), the former was used as a vehicle for showcasing the Indian desire for freedom from the British Empire and was a key factor in the reformation of Indian political philosophy for self-rule, including the desire for Pakistani and Sri Lankan independence from the Indian sub-continent.

        Gandhi understood the power of symbols. While he stood above most Indians (from his caste), he continually surrounded himself in community, and wherever he lived he worked with other Indians in energizing local expatriates or learning with each other what it meant to be Indian. For Gandhi, living in London or living in South Africa, knowing who he was and where he came from was incredibly important, but taking the lessons of cultures that he lived in was equally as important. He understood the power of the Indian mindset of disciplines and over the course of his life, satyagraha became more than just a methodology for achieving political results, but a life-calling and school of philosophy. Satyagraha and swaraj were more than just concepts like democracy or representative rule. They were living embodiments of being; they were transformative vehicles for people to grow in and within; they were catalysts for not only personal change, but national and cultural change. While satyagraha was the ethos to follow, swaraj was the gleaming model of perfection at the end once satyagraha had been practiced, mastered, and weaved into the being of each and every Indian. Gandhi embedded these two concepts with cultural power, and through that connected each man, woman, and child with a common goal. However, when his concepts are deconstructed, they show far more similarities to enlightenment and modernist philosophies than the holistic and religious observances of traditional Indian philosophies. Gandhi took the trappings and heartstrings of Indian philosophy and used it as a cloak for reforming political standards, even if he was a bit ahead of his time.

        The Salt March was Gandhi’s practical offspring of satyagraha, and the experiment of Bihar Village was the model for swaraj. However, much of Gandhi’s vision for India never came into the public arena. His Indian National Congress was criticized by many as an exercise in communism, and India’s independence has often been more attributed to the lack of funds for Great Britain to maintain her colonies than any movement Gandhi may have organized or any national consciousness he may have stirred. Gandhi was first and foremost a community organizer, secondly a philosopher, and thirdly an Indian. While I marvel at his dreams of reforming not only the landscape but the soul of his country, I wonder how effective change is when so much philosophy but so little accountability has been infused into the principles. Gandhi was known as ‘Venerable’ Gandhi, and was considered by many to be a sage; there were many cults that sprang up in India following him, which he not only accepted but nurtured in his discipleship of satyagrahis, or followers of satyagraha who studied in specific schools and had to follow highly regimented rules, more like a martial training centers for pacifism than a traditional Indian school of philosophy.

​        The concepts of satyagrahi and swaraj, while in theory sound invigorating, leaves me wondering if Gandhi’s place as a cultural icon bedeviled him from the start without proper criticism and conceptual reformation. Gandhi said at one point that he believed the Jewish people in Germany should adopt the standards of satyagraha in their quest for relief from Germany, even during the Holocaust when they were being baked alive in giant ovens, their remains tossed into ditches, and the German elites stealing their jewels, properties, and bank notes. I’m not sure when Gandhi lost sight of the objective, or when his objective ran so far ahead of him that he could not catch up.

        Contextualization is the dangerous middle-ground between all-out syncretization and cultural conformity. The tenets of contextualization consider a cultural principle that is considered to be absolutely good, and then clothe that principle in different words, robes, and philosophies to match the target culture. Contextualization has primarily been used in the spread of the Gospel, particularly from the United Kingdom and the United States, in the goal of teaching Christian ideals and tenets to various cultures that are predominately not based on Judeo-Christian foundations. The primary use of contextualization is to transport and transform belief systems.

​        When I look at Gandhi’s contextualization of modern principles into Indian culture, the philosophy he espouses seems more like the applique on a fancy robe, whereas the robe itself is composed of Marxist principles; at the basic level, Gandhi’s primary villain in the subjection of the Indian people lies in his own Hind Swaraj, with the claim that Indians are suffering because Great Britain has impoverished India by taking away their money, important jobs, and subjecting the people to a form of economic slavery. In essence, Gandhi’s claim is that the material wealth of India has been taken away by the Imperialists (the final evolution of capitalism) and so freeing India of the ‘capitalists’ makes Gandhi a tantamount Marxist who believes that Great Britain has engineered India’s degradation by offering her the trinkets of security in exchange for her soul, the material wealth of the country. For me, recognizing the source of leadership philosophy is key to unraveling the source of discontent and desire for change. We must analyze leadership suppositions for not only cultural foundations, but the underlying incentive for change and the proposed end goal of such changes.

A paradox of nonsense: Karl Marx and his fight for Utopian Neverland

In a very sad letter, Eleanor Marx wrote to Frederick Demuth, her bastard brother through the family maidservant, “I do not believe that you and I have been particularly bad people, and yet, dear Freddy, it really seems that all we gain is punishment.” (January 13th, 1893) Five years later, at the suggestion of her common-law husband, Karl Marx’s daughter committed suicide. Out of the 8 children Marx fathered, only four survived to adulthood; out of the surviving children, Eleanor and Laura both killed themselves (as well as Laura’s husband), and ‘Jennychen’ (Marx’s eldest daughter) died from bladder cancer, most likely stemming from either the environmental pollution of 19th century London or a smoking habit passed down from her father. Marx’s bastard son lived the longest but was never publicly claimed; that honor fell upon Marx’s best friend, Frederick Engels.

​ Reconciling these facts with the knowledge of his upbringing, being the son of two God-fearing Jews who constantly urged their son to consider the divine’s place in his life, who were encouraging, hopeful, and supportive, who sacrificed their heritage so that their children might have better lives, and who suffered under the same conditions as Marx did himself but even to the end of their lives remained filled with a surging joy – these facts leave me questioning how the lives of Marx and his family transformed into such tragedy. Marrying the daughter of a baron and inheriting the baron’s wealth, and being the best friend of a capitalist mill owner (Frederick Engels, who constantly helped Marx with his financial troubles – in addition to masquerading as a socialist caped crusader), the tragedy of Karl Marx may lie chiefly in his philosophy rather than his economic circumstances, which in turn, might answer some important questions about the impact that philosophy has on the concepts of socialist leadership.

If leadership is the response to human needs, then where do human needs come from? For Marx, human needs must be separated into two categories: artificial and fixed needs. Fixed needs are compelled upon people through the act of social formation, while artificial needs are unfairly created by capitalists, taking advantage of the desire for pleasure in order to subject people to products which are entirely unnecessary; the capitalists’ attempt to fleece their consumers of their livelihoods. In turn, capitalism then creates anger when the consumer lacks those particular products, and that anger is transformed into violence and a plethora of other sins, as wealth becomes a barometer for fulfillment and the lack of wealth becomes a letter of shame and deprivation. For Marx, need is fundamentally fueled by the lack of material goods, while want is fed by people hungry for what they do not have.

The original question: if leadership is the response to human needs, then how do leaders operate in a society where need is fundamentally ruled by a lack of material goods? Leaders take needs and transform those needs into values, which they use in order to carry their organizations forward to specific outcome measures and authentications, thereby legitimizing those values as agents of change. Individual needs, institutional values, and societal structures may influence those values to some degree, but in the end, the outcome measures and authentications the leader reviews and receives serve as the key indicators of success, and through this process of evaluation the leader is transformed and begins the process of needs translation into values once again. However, the key question is: if needs are chiefly fueled by a lack of material goods, what kind of values can be interpreted from those kinds of needs? Marx denied the spirit early in his life, even to the consternation of his ever-supportive parents. Marx was so anti-God that he viewed the philosopher Hegel as overly spiritual. It is no surprise then, that in socialist systems, spiritual values cannot be generated by leaders (even if they desperately desire them, like many leaders in China), as they do not view issues of the spirit as fundamental generators of fixed needs.

The paradox of Marx’s life floods into my life every single day. Working in a strongly socialist institution in China where issues of the spirit are denied as mere fantasy and teaching students who believe that the material, scientific world contains their nation’s hope, nevertheless both parties express extraordinary doubt. The government and media raised the alarm, decrying the lack of goodness in people’s hearts, that they seek only to better themselves and not their neighbors. Certain Confucian values are accepted, namely that of protecting your family, but the values of other philosophers such as Mencius and Laozi have been laughably shoved into the garbage bin of history, unfit for a country that seeks to conquer heaven. There is a fascination with the Monkey King, the deistic and mythic hero of Journey to the West (one of the four famous classical novels of China), a blond-haired wizard-monkey who conquers heaven, is imprisoned by the Buddha for doing so, and seeks redemption by becoming the slave of a man who tortures him for his transgressions of thought by shackling a crown of pain around his head; eventually the demon is cleansed and becomes a good man.

​ For modern Chinese socialists, however, the Monkey King is their own paradox: a creature both primal and evolved, both fighting against and bowing to the indomitable spiritual forces of the outside world, while maintaining himself and his philosophy throughout the affair and coming out as a singular individual and force of nature. While the Monkey King uses cosmic forces at his whim, his true desire is not to find peace with God, but rather to conquer his own weaknesses and become a god through a eerily similar materialistic philosophy that seems far more prevalent to the 19th century Marx.

​While Marx remained a staunch atheist for his whole life, the impact that had on his family was tremendous; even his children knew something was wrong and could not stand to live with that lack of certainty in their lives. Marx loved his father to his end, and I believe he truly believed in his father’s words when he told his son that one day he would transform the world and live a happy, healthy life if only he would accept the fullness of God’s wisdom and goodness in his life. Marx did the former, but not the latter; his life is a testament to his self-reliance on the savagery that he believed ruled reality.

Dagan: a world at your fingertips

I am attempting… to re-construct several of my stories into the world they were meant to be.

The process has been a longtime coming, and I am not sure if/when the completed project will be finished, but I have started on the basic skeleton. If I can find enough threads in the stories so far I may add to it, but I will also need to do some rethinking and rewriting. All just takes time.

Twine is a new program that is used to create hypertext stories, although I believe the more important value may be in constructing hypertext novels. Most hypertext stories are very short, taking the reader through short moments and highly programmed. The hypertext novel is just an evolution of the novel, where further stories outside of the main story can be explored and the world can be defined more deeply in ways that may help the reader appreciate the story more.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.


Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

G.B. Caird: The Placement of History Within Biblical Interpretation

Caird presents the reader with an alternate view of understanding the Bible. Whereas Bultmann focused on teaching the application of mythology within the Bible, Caird presents a study of words, or a study of eschatological proportion. Caird claims that the Bible is perhaps, a metaphor for existence and personal reflection. He proves this through different passages, and claims three conclusions about Biblical passages: 1) the Biblical writers believed in a beginning and an end, 2) the words expressed were metaphorical end-of-the-world language, and 3) people misinterpret these metaphors in the literal sense.

Caird understands the Bible in a historical and purpose sense. He believes the Bible should be read and understood in the historical mode. He also believes the intention of the author should be fully grasped, before interpretation. He views interpretative meaning as merely interpretation, and claims the interpretative events are metaphors for something else.

Also, Caird also asserts the eschatology of the words in the Bible – being that, they mean what they are. Therefore, when something is stated in a Biblical passage, then it is truth within that passage for that writer during that time. I believe this is a healthy way to understand the Bible, because you are not thrusting your own experience and your own intentions upon something that did not originate from you or your experience.

I, however, do believe that people can interpret Scripture to their own whims. But I classify this as interpretation, not as truth – the only truth being that eschatological reading based upon history and the intention of the author. Caird asserts any interpretation beyond what is true to history and the author is misinterpreted, and he continues by stating some problems this type of interpretation have caused, such as the ‘day of the Lord’ (Anno Domini) and the ‘latter end of days.’

Eschatology is important for understanding the Bible, especially if you believe the Bible was written by human hands and not divine hands. If you believe solely God wrote the Bible, then neither I, not Caird, can help you, because the divine cannot be questioned. However, if you are willing to believe that human hands wrote the Bible, and each author had their own intentions in writing his or her specific passage, and each author lived in a historical period with an experience and a judgment, then the application of eschatology is important. By understanding the placement and meaning of the words in the exegetical process through the application of eschatology, you can unravel the mysteries behind the lines and passages. There are patterns in the Bible, and the Biblical authors expressively used these patterns to their advantage. There are also literary expressions used throughout the Bible in pattern to other books that, if understood, reveal great details about what the author was intending to say about society and culture. Recognizing these facets is something Caird impressed upon the Biblical world. I thank him.

(This short essay was written for a class on Biblical methods and interpretation throughout Christian history.  Today my feelings are slightly different from when I wrote this back in 2002: using historical criticism of the Bible is a helpful tool, but beyond a tool, we must still rely on the authority of Jesus in our relationship with God as the prime end of how we should interpret the scriptures.  Understand cultural implications and the historical significance is important to illuminating the lessons intended within the specific work, but even our interpretations must be subjected to our own cultural worldview and interpretation of fact.)

Painted Skin, 画皮

Although based on a short story by Pu Songling called Painted Skin, the movie has very little to do with the original except for the chilling actions taken by some of the characters, such as the ripping of hearts from the chest, and a demon masquerading as a beautiful women by wearing human skin. That being said, Painted Skin is not such a scary movie, at least not as scary as the advertising promotes.

Scariness aside, Painted Skin is a multifaceted love triangle. It is a fantastic film, one with riveting action sequences, creative ideas and amazing special effects. There were moments watching it when I could not pull away. What is more exciting than a battle between ancient demons and super heroes, all based on the secret love for each other they hold inside? Although like most Chinese fantasy films, the composition is baroque and exaggerated, but that is part of the draw, especially since the turbulence is done so well.

What was most surprising though, was the accomplishment and wonder that comes from the movie. A film like this could have easily meandered into nihilism, but Painted Skin manages to stay afloat through the power (and destruction) that foolish, unbounded love can bring upon people, as well as through a healthy respect for the powers beyond this world. I had expected the film to end like most Chinese films, but Painted Skin does not disappoint.

The Last Fairyland

Memories of Old Beijing: the swirling, stone fairytale bridges of Beihai, crossing over crystal clear lagoons of budding flowers and jeweled rocks. People pace on the hillside, reading from the classics, while children run and hide in the caves beneath, playing hide and seek from their shadows. A long corridor of brightly painted wood shadows them as the readers descend from the hill, where they sit and watch the small waves curling in the vast lake beyond, little boats dotting the water like intrepid explorers. This is Beihai, the treasure land of Beijing.

I am walking up the hill, toward the towering and bulbous White Dagoba, the crown of a four hundred year old temple that was built from the lakeside to the top of the hill. There is a slight moment of vertigo, as the zigzagging stairs sway a bit, but I regain myself and continue the hike. Green, foudroyant sabina trees, strong and tall, shadow the staircase as I ascend, and fleeting birds dart from the tops of the trees. I am a little tired, after spending all morning wandering the halls of the Forbidden City, but being here in the middle of wildlife and quietude refreshes me.

I have spent the greater part of two weeks trying to find a picnic spot in Beijing. While it is not uncommon to see people eating happily away on the sidewalk of a busy street with a kebob of charred lamb between their teeth, I would hardly call that a picnic. A picnic is a time of joy and serenity, sitting on a mat while surrounded by beauty, letting the feelings of the day wash away while eating with family and friends. It seems I found the perfect place. As I walk up the hill, everyone is eating: there are five people sitting next to the temple wall with a bucket of fried chicken; further up there is a couple with a child eating some sausages and oranges. While there are no tables, people have turned the hillside into a dining room, leaning on trees, unwrapping sandwiches and perching themselves on smooth rocks, while sitting red tea and sending their gaze across the city. The whole island seems to be a giant picnic table, in the kindest and most beautiful sense of the word.

The view is incredible from the top. I recall the vistas of Anacortes, of northern Washington, with flourishing green islands amid ships and boats dotting the sea, tiny stars in a vast sky. This hillside used to be covered in a giant palace, once upon a time. Kublai Khan, during his reign as Emperor, built a wonderland called the Palace of the Moon (Guanghaidian), where he entertained visitors, and even entertained Marco Polo when the Italian came to visit China. Today the palace is gone, having been destroyed in an earthquake, and during the Ming dynasty the Yong’an Buddhist temple was built in its place, meant to honor a visiting Tibetan lama. During that same time, the Emperor Qianlong had a Rosetta-like stele erected on the hillside, which included Han, Manchurian, Mongolian, and Tibetan languages.

Descending the hill puts me in a kind of euphoria. I don’t realize until I have paid the small three yuan fee for a system of caves that labyrinths the entire northern part of the island, and find myself face-to-face with grim-faced bodhisattvas and craggy walls, little slits of light filtering in to light up the wry grins of these venerable holy men. They frighten me a little, but only a little. There is only so much a little clay man can do. I imagine myself as a little child racing through the caves, while my parents sit together on the crest of the hill sipping tea. It is all too reminiscent of Tom Sawyer’s Island.

At the bottom of the hill, pink, budding bunge flowers poke out from the ground, and the smell of mint-like sorboria fills the area. There are couples sitting by the lakeside on benches, hand in hand, watching the boats drift by. The Fangshan restaurant, famous for their Qing dynasty dishes, stands awkwardly out of time, and an imperial painted boat floats by, filled with Sunday families.

I make my way back to the entrance of the park, walking past the boating docks of floating paddle-boats and old rowboats. I would like to come back here someday and try them out. It looks fun.

The Circular City (Tuancheng), the ancient capital of the Yuan dynasty, confronts me as I exit the park. Once an island of pine trees, it later became an Imperial Palace, and then was destroyed when the Eight-Power Allied Forces entered Beijing. This surprises me: not even the might of the rest of the world was able to shake it, and while it was destroyed, it was again rebuilt and stands once more at the exit of this fairyland, once upon a time a model of where the gods were supposed to have lived.

Beihai, for thousands of years, has been a place of relaxation, thinking, and joy for the people of Beijing. Throughout the dynasties it was used as a pleasure palace for the rich and noble; then in the 20th century it became a place for revolutionary thinkers and reactionaries; finally in the 21st century, it has become a family paradise. No matter where you go, it is that small part of Beijing that has always spoken in a small voice to the heart of people, and been a place of meditation and contemplation. Even as a foreigner, it appeals to me a place of bursting creativity and reformed passions. This continues to mull through my head as I head into a taxi, and see the last mists of the lake disappear as the busyness of the streets rise into life.

Shadows of the Queen

“How much farther?” she asks me, her breath already starting to sound heavy. The air is thinner up here, and the cars less. A few pedestrians pace on the sidewalk, while a gentle evening breeze comes on, racing through the shadows of skyscrapers.

“I can see it, up there,” or at least I think I see the building. In truth, there are so many trees and buildings blocking the view, it’s hard to tell if the building up ahead is actually the tram center for Victoria Peak. We decided to take the Mid-Levels tour, a staggering 800 meter-long escalator that runs up the belly of Victoria Peak from the sea. It was mostly because last time we were in Hong Kong we wanted to go on the legendary stairway, but we failed to find the entrance.

However, this trip didn’t turn out much better. I look up to the mountain and see the giant square building that looks out on the horizon from the summit, and wonder if we will ever get there before the sun sets. We are wandering in the upper levels of the city, a dizzying blur of restaurants, rising streets, and apartment buildings that rise like dirks into the murky sky.

At least we managed to find the entrance. Located squarely at Central Station, one need only follow the elevated platform towards the mountain and then… walk up.


The island of Cheung Chau is a dream. We sit at a seaside restaurant, listening to the sounds of the waves lap against the anchored boats. The ferry that goes from Central Station to the island is setting out, leaving a wide wake that causes several of the neighboring boats to dangerous teeter to one side. It was an inexpensive and relaxing ride, taking about a half-hour. I spent a long time just sitting quietly and listening to the sound of the waves.

Cheung Chau is an island steeped in mystery and intrigue. Home to the famous Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave, it once was the Tortuga of Asia, being a safe bastion for hundreds of ships, and about 20,000 pirates. They were under the command of a warlord named “The Kid,” who harassed Qing dynasty officials for years until he was offered a position in the government, when he relented of his ways and became an enforcer against piracy. The unique shape of the island provided that the pirates could anchor their boats on the opposite side, and the heavy mist that often cloaks the area provided for an almost unstoppable army.

The island is also famous to having an enormous number of dogs, many of them wild. When we took our walk to the Cheung Po Tsai cave later that afternoon, we passed by a group of dogs that were hiding out in a local cemetery. They approached us, and we froze, feeling like wolf meat. However, they merely crossed the road and disappeared into the jungle, and we continued on our way.


The sun has nearly set; we are now climbing. Somewhere down the road we missed the tram, and every now and then we can see it climbing the green hills toward the Peak. The road has risen to about a thirty degree angle, and we are putting everything into just staying balanced. The roads in Cheung Chau were much nicer; as we scaled the hills of the island, we were walking through a fairyland of luxurious abodes, a literal amalgamation of British architectural styles reminiscent of Tianjin. Here, finally on the Mid-Levels, the multi-million dollar apartments rise high above our heads and disappear into the mist, the tops covered by gray fog and burning electric lights.

“There!” I proclaim, and then with a sinking feeling realize what is ahead.

She looks at me, sweet as anything. I’m not sure she knows what I’m putting her through. This was supposed to be a romantic outing, but it’s turning out to be worse than a high school P.E. Class.

As the road ends, a trail begins. We step over the chain and find ourselves looking at an even steeper incline.

“Is this ok?” I am exasperated. Such an ordeal, but what seems like just a simple request: see the top of Victoria Peak, but rather than going on the usual tourist buses, find our own way there. Such idealism seems to have gotten us into a bit of trouble.

She smiles. “Let’s go!” I admire her optimism.

As we scale the mountain, the barking of dogs echo across the hills. The Mid-Levels are home to some of the most expensive homes in the world, at least for their miniature size. Millionaires are lucky to own a single flat. Much of the upper-class Hong Kong citizens employ workers from the Philippines as maids, and own a dog or two. We didn’t know it at the time, but discovered later that this was a secret trail known to the owners of those dogs and their dog-walkers, as they were the only hikers we met on the trail. That, and the sound of our feet.


Two days before we were scaling a different kind of mountain. Located in the furthest south you can go in Hong Kong near the city of Aberdeen, Ocean Park is an amusement park known for two things: an endangered species zoo/aquarium, as well as roller coasters that not only have awesome speeds and hills, but are built in Hong Kong-style: into the hills.

Riding on a 1.5 kilometer gondola cable-car system takes fun-goers from one end of the park to the other, scaling a high mountain with an unprecedented view, and letting people off near the summit, where they must climb down to either the rides portion of the park (which also houses a number of aquariums) or make their way through a series of labyrinthine escalators to the lower parking lot.

The top of the park gives a great view of Aberdeen, as well as the vast sea that spreads out to the south. At the low price of about 240 Hong Kong dollars (that’s about 31 US dollars) the trip was one of our most memorable, viewing giant pandas, riding roller coasters, and taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful panoramas on the island.


The sun has set. As we climbed through verdant woods, the sun set into the horizon and fell below the sea. We climbed high enough to across the tops of the Mid-Level apartments, witnessing light fall on their side and turn into a kaleidoscope of steel and glass.

It’s windy on the peak, but we’ve found shelter at the top of the mall, where the only sound is the air whistling through our jackets. It’s beautiful here; the night sky has made it clear it will not be held back by modern technologies, with stars glimmering above our heads, shining through sparse clouds.

The horizon of Hong Kong is glorious, and it’s no wonder why it is memorable. We hold hands and look out across a sea of lights, until they are swallowed up in darkness.

Orcs in the CBD

I stepped through the portal and felt an ethereal sense wash over me, as if I had donned a new skin and personality. There were dragons playing among waterfalls and sharp crags before me, and I could hear the sound of battle-axes and war cries from the distance. A faint green hue flooded the room, giving the walls an ancient, decrepit look. Painted onto the walls was an elaborate mural showcasing a great war between men, beasts, and even fouler things, with magical energies swirling about their strange horned mounts and a sky torn open by a rift. Before I could take another step into the maelstrom, however, a waitress cheerfully greeted me and asked me how many to seat.

Welcome to Azeroth. Or Beijing. Anyways, what’s the difference?

I suppose China is famous for their themed restaurants. There is that one restaurant near my house that is Mao-flavored, with a giant portrait of the great leader looming over every table, and little red flags draped across the railings like a parade. Then there is the Mexican cantina, complete with Gaudi lanterns and long, pitted wooden tables full of beer and popping fajitas. Near the Yonghe Gong Temple, there is a small dive called The Rive (clever, being that it overlooks a canal) with long couches, fruity icees, and art books and magazines shelved into deep-brown shelves, just like an old college locale. I think, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a World of Warcraft restaurant, inspired by the famous online computer game. It was an experience, no doubt, that I will want to try again, just for the sheer audacity of it.

The menu was a colorful selection of dishes from the game. Just to prove their point that these were really Azeroth dishes (Azeroth is the game world), below each featured dish is a picture of a character actually hunting down the particular foul magical beastie, and then a beautiful photo of the cooked creature, with salivating spices and colors to match. The price for the food was also very decent, being that the dishes that are prepared are so unique. I believe my favorite dish was the plate of lamb-something-or-other, that was basically a plate piled high with lamb tenderly cooked still on the bone.

The owner was kind enough to sit down and have a chat with me. Yuan Yuan and his partner, Tao, started the restaurant a mere two months ago, after they had been burned out selling Olympic souvenirs and made enough money to actually, “do what they wanted to do, and just have fun.” They wanted a place to make their dreams of playing the game a reality, and also give other players a chance to not only immerse themselves in the culture of the game, but connect with each other on a real level, meet each other, get together for special gatherings, and even find love. Once a month, the World of Warcraft restaurant has a Cosplay gathering, when players can come to eat and party with their friends dressed up as their heroes from the game. Already there have been several romances that have gone that extra mile, thanks to Yuan Yuan and Tao’s efforts to host these special gatherings.

After our conversation, Yuan Yuan took me around the restaurant and allowed me to take some pictures, showing me the mural his friend painted, that even showcased his cousin and his cousin’s wife on the wall (as their characters, of course, in heroic repose), as well as the many friends who have come and given their pictures to the walls of the restaurant. The restaurant also features computers with World of Warcraft loaded on them that customers are free to play on (as long as they have an account for the game). Finally, he took me to a special part of the wall where players post messages to each other, a community board of hellos and requests to meet up in the game sometime.

As a night out, it truly was a unique one, “Blizzard Restaurant” will be hard to forget. You can find the World of Warcraft restaurant by taking the Line 2 subway to Chaoyang Men, and then taking bus 846 to the Gaojing Baiyun Shichang (高井白云市场), or taking the Line 1 subway to Sihui Dong and then taking bus 648 or 488 to the same stop (or alternatively, taking a cab to the address). My suggestion, if you’d like to save about 50-90 kuai. Once you find the Baiyun Shichang, the restaurant is located through the front gate, at the back. It is visible from the street, with a very long sign and a number of orcs looking very happy with some very sharp weapons.

Address: 暴雪餐厅:朝阳路高井白云市场内 Tel: 8576-8949 (local Beijing number)

Price range: Dishes cost anywhere from 10 kuai to 50 kuai, on your fancy. Some are more.

Postmodern Fantasy Literature: an overview of contemporary ideas

Lecture Goal: Give a broad view of contemporary American fantasy literature and where the ideas came from


1. Sword and sorcery in the 30s-60s, based on Weird Tales and Lord of the Rings

Weird Tales in the 1920s, born from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu)

Fantasy, horror, myth, and swordplay – Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard

Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the idea of true adventure, from Conan


2. Heroic fantasy and dark magic in the 70s, 80s and 90s, based on Dungeons and Dragons (1975)

Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone, combination of heroic myth and popular fantasy

Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber, and castles, dungeons, monsters and sorcerors

Tanith Lee, emergence of dark fantasy based on authors like Mervyne Peake with Gormenghast

Emergence of allegory, deep symbolism and heavy themes with Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and Patricia McKillip (Riddle-Master)


3. The American-style journey novel in the 90s and 2000s, based on The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and the journey novel “Wheel of Time”

Terry Goodkind and the emergence of Mass-produced epic fantasy

George R.R. Martin, the anti-Lord of the Rings, beginning of the New Weird with China Mieville


4. Urban fantasy novels in post-2000 era, based on Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and urban fantasy

Anne Rice to Laurell K. Hamilton, and contemporary urban vampires and faeries, Wiccan stories

The Fantastic City and the New Weird, with China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer


5. Literary fantasy

Breaking out of the genre, with Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower, combining different forms

The movement of fantasy to break free from genre


Questions to ask at the end:

1) What was the first magazine to have sword and sorcery? 6) Where does Harry Potter take place?

2) Who created Fafhrd? 7) What is the religion about magic?

3) What was the game that inspired heroic fantasy? 8) What old idea does urban fantasy use?

4) The Wheel of Time was what kind of novel? 9) What did Octavia Butler break out of?

5) What happened to fantasy novels after Terry Goodkind? 10) What is current fantasy literature trying to do?


words to put on the board:

contemporary fantasy


Edgar Allen Poe

H.P. Lovecraft



Invented world

Sword and Sorcery

Weird Tales

Lord of the Rings

Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone

Dungeons and Dragons


Tanith Lee

Mervyn Peake


Ursula LeGuin

Patricia McKillip



Journey novel

The Wheel of Time


New Weird

China Mieville


Harry Potter

urban fantasy





Jeff VanderMeer


Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

Literary fantasy


The Prodigal Son of Jixian

The Prodigal Son of Jixian is a play I wrote back in 2008, for a show my then-school (New Century Language and Culture Center) put on to showcase student talent in speaking the Chinese language. I wrote this basic script, and then each student performing in the play took his or her lines and translated those lines into Chinese, and then our troupe performed the play for the school.

This play is roughly based off of the Biblical parable, “the prodigal son,” although deviates a bit as this story takes place around the turn of the new millennium in China.


The Prodigal Son of Jixian


Narrator: (8 parts)

Father: (26 lines)

Older Daughter: (15 lines)

Younger Son: (21 lines)

Contractor: (6 lines)

Fast Blaze/Ms. Liu: (12 lines)

Wild Kitty/Ms. Chen: (8 lines)


Prologue The Prodigal Son

(Enter Narrator)

NARRATOR: Welcome to our play. Some of you have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son. Tonight we give you the story with new clothes. Our story begins in Jixian, near the city of Tianjin, with a businessman and his two children, an older daughter and his younger, impatient son. The older daughter helps her father everyday, cleaning the home, cooking food, and taking care of household business, but the younger son plays everyday, not listening to his father or his sister, returning home late in the evening, and spending his father’s money. He does not go to school, but spends his days at the internet café, playing games and smoking cigarettes. This is the story of his life. This is the story of how he became a good man.


Act 1 Leaving Jixian

(Enter Father and Daughter. Daughter is just doing some housework, and Father is arriving home from work.)

DAUGHTER: Good evening, Dad. How was work?

FATHER: Good. That young man from your college came to visit. Do you remember him? The handsome one?

DAUGHTER (exasperated): Oh, please, Dad. You know I don’t have time for that. Everything I do here, with Mom gone…

FATHER: Fine, fine. Have you seen your brother around? I need to tell him something.

DAUGHTER: He’s been gone all day. He left this morning, said he was going outside to smoke. He has not returned home yet.

FATHER: You don’t know where he went?

DAUGHTER: He’s probably at that internet bar, the Great Wall Café.

FATHER: Go down there are tell him to come home for dinner. I have something important to say to both of you.


(Exit Father)

(Enter Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the older daughter went to the internet café. Her brother was sleeping next to a pile of cigarettes. She told him to wake up, but he refused. She was very angry. She slapped him and carried him home. His eyes were very red, and he was not in a good mood. The family sat down for dinner.


(Enter Father. The family is sitting down for a nice dinner.)

FATHER: Next week, because of the holiday, my workers are going back to their hometowns. Because it will be a very busy week for travel, we can go to see your Aunt in the mountains.

DAUGHTER: That is great! I miss her so much. Is Cousin Li going to come home from Beijing?

FATHER: I heard, but I do not know. He is very busy. He has a really great job, you know.

SON: I’m not going.

FATHER: Of course you are going. What are you going to do here? You need some mountain air.

SON: I’m not going.

DAUGHTER: You’re crazy! Everyday you spend our money, eat our food, but do nothing! You don’t go to school, you don’t work, and you’re lazy.

FATHER: Please, daughter, he is still very young.

SON: I’m leaving.

FATHER: See? I told you. He is already growing up.

SON: You. I’m leaving you. I’m leaving Jixian. I’m leaving this house, and this stupid family.


SON: I have friends in Shanghai.

DAUGHTER: They are his internet friends, Dad. He doesn’t know their real names.

SON: I want my money, and I want the car. It’s mine, anyways, you bought it for me.

DAUGHTER: If you graduate from school, but you have never gone to class!

FATHER: It’s ok, daughter. This is his decision.

SON: I am leaving tonight.

FATHER: Be safe, son.

(Exit Father and Daughter)


Act II In Shanghai

NARRATOR: That evening, his son drove to Shanghai. It was a long drive, but the son finally felt happy. Finally, he could do as his pleased. No domineering sister, no one telling him what to do. No old father, no dead mother. And money, lots and lots of money. He felt like a king. He would become a king. The king of Shanghai.


(Enter Fast Blaze)

FAST: Hey, buddy. What’s up?

SON: Are you Fast Blaze? From the Superman Chat?

FAST: Yeah, buddy. You want to go have some fun?

SON: Yeah!

FAST: You got cash?

SON: I’m loaded!

FAST: Great, really great. Follow me…


NARRATOR: The two new friends went out into the night. They gambled at the best places, smoked at the richest bars, drove down the fastest streets. They were children of the night, and they were happy. That night they found a hotel, and they slept at the top of the hotel. They watched TV all night, ate the most expensive food, and when the morning came, they slept all day. That night they met Wild Kitty.


(Enter Wild Kitty)

KITTY: Hey, Blaze.

FAST: Hey Kitty.

KITTY: Who is this guy?

FAST: This is “Prodigal”. Remember? He’s the guy from Jixian with the rich Dad.

KITTY: Hey, Prodigal! You’re here! So great! You want to have some fun?

SON: Yeah! Is that possible?

KITTY: I got a place in Shanghai. You can make money fast. Lots of money. Important guys come to my place. If they like you, you might get a job for them, and make more money. What do you think?

SON: This is more than my Dad ever gave me. This is so great.

(Exit Wild Kitty and Fast Blaze)


NARRATOR: The son joined Wild Kitty’s company. He worked hard and made lots of money. He spent money fast, bought houses, cars, love, everything he ever wanted. He was at the top of the world. Then one day, everything died.


(Enter Son. He is groggy and lying on the ground.)

(Enter Blaze. She looks angry. She walks over and kicks the Son.)

FAST: Hey! Where’s my money?!

SON: What? Where? What’s going on?

FAST: Where’s my money? You owe me 40,000 kuai! Last week I told you to pay up, or else I’d kill you!

SON: Wait! I’ve got your money right here…

(He looks in his pants, but his wallet is gone.)

My wallet, my money, it’s all gone…

FAST: I should kill you because of that! But I’m a generous woman. But don’t think you can work on these streets anymore. You will never again be able to get a job in this city. Leave, disappear, I don’t care. I don’t want to see your face again.

(Exit Fast)


Narrator: The son knew he had problems. He started to beg on the streets for money, but when no one would look at him, he started stealing food from trashcans. One day he saw himself in a mirror and started to cry. He stood up and took a job at as a city worker, making streets in the hot sun, wearing broken shoes. Everyday his body became black, and at night he slept on the ground with other dirty men who stayed up all night drinking. After six months of working, he still had not received any money, so he went to see his boss.


(Enter Contractor)

SON: Hey, Boss.

CONTRACTOR: Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?

SON: Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, please forgive your stupid worker, but your worker wanted to ask you a stupid question.

CONTRACTOR: I’m a busy woman! Ask me now.

SON: When do I get paid?

CONTRACTOR: Paid? You want money?

(She laughs.)

You see all those other men? You think they have money? You’re all the same. Don’t forget it.

SON: But the job…

CONTRACTOR: Where do you think you are? You are lucky to have a job and food to eat. Don’t come to me with your problems. You think I have money? I have no money! You think you have problems? I have problems!

(The contractor is getting a little angry.)

You workers, you are all the same. Give us money, give us food. There isn’t enough! If you don’t like it, go home, go back to the farm. Eat your own tomatoes! Don’t beg me for mine!

SON: Terribly sorry, please excuse your stupid worker.

(Exit Contractor)


Act III The Return

NARRATOR: The son looked into his own heart and finally understood what he must do. He must return to his father and ask for forgiveness, and become his worker to pay off his debt. That was the only way he could become a good man. Soon, the son left his job, and got on a train to return home. However, because he had no money, he had to hide in the train, but when he was found, he had to find another train or another bus, or a stranger to take him in his truck. It took him many days to return home. And then one day, he saw his home. He felt so sad, but he knew what he must do.


(Enter Father)

FATHER: My son! My son!

(He runs out to embrace him.)

SON (weeping and kneeling before him): I am sorry, father. No, do not call me your son. I am a stupid, stupid man. I lost all your money, I lost your car, I lost your face. I am nothing. I only ask you to let me work for you as a worker, and I will give you all your money back.

FATHER: Ms. Chen!

(Enter Ms. Chen)

Bring my best jacket. Ms. Liu!

(Enter Ms. Liu)

Prepare dinner immediately, and call all the family! We are going to have a great feast!

SON: I don’t understand…

FATHER: You are returned my son. Please come inside and rest until dinner.

(Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen make preparations for the feast.)

(Exit Father and Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the father put on a huge feast. Tables and tables of food, music and songs for the guests, and the son seated at the front of the table. His father was so happy seeing him sitting there, smiling like the sun. The Daughter, meanwhile, was working late at the office. As she came home, she heard the music and saw the lights of the feast.


(Enter Daughter)

DAUGHTER: What is going on?

CHEN: Your brother has returned.

DAUGHTER: My brother…

LIU: Your father prepared a huge feast and invited all the family. We tried to call you, but your phone was turned off.

DAUGHTER: I was at the office…

my brother is home? He has been in Shanghai for two years. He never called, never sent a letter, and my father invites all the family for a big feast?

CHEN: Just go in, Miss. He will be happy to see you.

DAUGHTER: I will not.

LIU (to Ms. Chen): His children are all the same.

(Daughter storms out.)


(Enter Father.)

FATHER: Was that my daughter?

CHEN: Yes, it was. She went out to the garden.

FATHER: What was wrong? I heard yelling.

LIU: She was angry, sir.

FATHER: Angry? Why?

CHEN: She’s not far.

FATHER: I’ll talk to her. You two go inside and serve the guests.

(Exit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen)


(Enter Daughter)

FATHER: Daughter, what is wrong?

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to talk about it.

FATHER: Is it because of your brother?

(She is silent.)

Don’t you understand? He has come home!

DAUGHTER (in anger): I have given this home everything! I have given you everything! You have never given me a feast, you have never even given me a party! But this stupid boy, who stole your money, your car, our family’s respect, he comes back and you throw him the biggest party of the year! I knew you loved him more than me when you gave him the car, but now…

FATHER: Oh, daughter… everything I have is yours. My love I give you, my home I give you, you are the best dream an old man can wish for. But your brother, he died when he left, do you see? We lost him. He died…

(Pause for dramatic impact.)

but now he is alive. Come to the feast, and see him. Eat with us, because he was lost, but now, he is found.

Summoner: a card game using a traditional poker deck

This game pits two magicians against each other. They have the power to throw spells at each other, or to summon monsters to their side. This game follows the elemental pattern found in the game ELEMENT*, but with the exception that it is a duel, not a race.

Any royal card can be combined with one element card. Each royal has a different defense: Jack (10), Queen (11), King (12), Ace (x2 of coupled card), and Joker (5 defense) (x2 attack). They have the benefit of being permanent cards and not simple spells, yet they can also die. Once attached to an element, they cannot be re-attached.

Players start at 100 life.

Any number (up to five) of element cards can be combined into a spell (if they are combinable). The defender can defend if he has the proper defense cards.

Player may either cast spell or attack for move.

Spells and creatures are different. Spells can directly attack the player, whereas creatures must attack creatures first.

If a card is stolen by opponent, it is always shown. If put into play, it is horizontal, not vertical.

Players may block attacks with spells, just as they can block spells with spells. Players may have ten cards in their hand. There are special creatures, which have unique powers.

*The following map shows which elements have mastery over which elements.  Players can designate spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts to whichever elements they desire.  Water and Earth are compatible, as are Air and Fire.

Water Fire

Fire Earth

Earth Air

Air Water


K Q J A Jo Name Def. +Att. Special
2 Emperor 24 12
2 Empress 22 11
2 Overlord 20 10
2 Ranger *3 *2-5
2 Prophet 10 *3
3 Dragon King 36 24
3 Horned Queen 33 22
3 Beast 30 20
3 Shambler *4 *3-5
4 God 48 36
4 Goddess 44 33
4 Angel 40 30
4 Titan *5 *4
1 1 Spirit 15 Possess enemy creature, one attack after possession, death to spirit
2 1 Poltergeist 20 Sacrifice to render enemy creature catatonic for 5 rounds
3 1 Vampire 10 Turns element cards into separate creatures, who die when v. dies
4 1 Necromancer 15 Same as above, except creatures do not die with necromancer
3 2 Eldar 20 Same as vampire
4 2 Dark Lord 25 Same as necromancer
4 3 Dark Emperor 30 Like necromancer; can transform creatures into elemental spells
1 1 Warlord 18 +1 to all allies
2 1 Barbarian 25 20 Splash damage
3 1 Conqueror 35 20 -1 defense/attack on defending creatures
3 2 Eternal Warrior 30 25 2 lives
4 1 Commander 40 10 +1 to all allies, -1 to all enemies
4 2 Lord 50 10 Same as commander
4 3 Shōgun 60 10 Same as commander except +2 allies, -2 enemies
1 1 Thief 10 Steal 1 card from opponent’s hand and put immediately into play
2 1 Gambit 15 Look at opponent’s hand
3 1 Cardshark 20 Force opponent to get a new hand
3 2 Wormtongue 25 Trade hands with opponent; both visible
4 1 Morning Sword 1 Give to creature, +10 att.
4 2 Zenith Knife 1 Give to creature, +20 att.
4 3 Dusk Blade 1 Give to creature, +30 att.
1 1 Priest 10 Raises fallen companion but is sacrificed/creature goes to hand
2 1 Bishop 15 Same as priest
3 1 Cardinal 20 Same as priest
3 2 Black Cardinal 20 10 Same as priest
4 1 Pope 30 Raises fallen companion
4 2 Black Pope 30 10 Same as Pope
1 1 Spirit
1 2 Wisp 1 Sacrifice self to block spell/attack
1 3 Will O’Wisp 1 Sacrifice self to reflect damage from spell/attack
2 3 Whisper 1 Sacrifice self to convert damage into healing from spell/attack
1 4 Way 1 Sacrifice self to heal +10
2 4 Weirding Way 1 Sacrifice self to heal +20
3 4 Ghostling 1 Sacrifice self to heal +30
1 1 Courtesan 10 Keep eleven cards in hand
2 1 Mistress 15 Keep twelve cards in hand
3 1 Concubine 20 Keep thirteen cards in hand
3 2 Royal Concubine 25 Keep fourteen cards in hand
4 1 Muse 30 Keep fifteen cards in hand
4 2 Beauty 35 Non-queen creatures cannot attack
4 3 Succubus 40 Non-queen creatures must attack next available turn and after, are buried
1 1 Amazon 20 Attack twice in one round
2 1 Siren 15 Next non-queen creature who attacks dies after attack
3 1 Medusa 15 Paralyzes target non-queen creature for 1 round
3 2 Witch 10 Change element of player attacking card (1 card)
4 1 Silver Band 1 Give to creature, +5 def., +5 att.
4 2 Golden Band 1 Give to creature, +10 def., +10 att.
4 3 Mithril Band 1 Give to creature, +15 def., +15 att.
1 1 Priestess 10 Cast similar element card as healing to creature after battle to prevent death (if possible)
2 1 High Priestess 15 Cast similar element as self to heal player (not a creature)
3 1 Sacrifice 1 Sacrifice self to resurrect fallen creature into battle
3 2 Holy Sacrifice 1 Sacrifice self to resurrect three creatures into battle
4 1 Minstrel Permanent +5 att. and +5 def. to all creatures on battlefield
4 2 Bard Permanent +10 att. and +10 def. to all creatures on battlefield
1 1 Warlord
1 2 Swordsman 20 5 Attacks first
1 3 Grenadier 1 25 Boom damage; sacrifice
2 3 Boom Daddy 20 10 Boom damage; non-sacrifice
1 4 Berserker 30 20 Must attack every round
2 4 Champion 45 25 Must attack highest creature
3 4 Prince 65 35 Can only attack if watches King die in battle; berserker
1 1 Courtesan
1 2 Sword-Maiden 15 5 Attacks first
1 3 Shield-Maiden 50
2 3 Messenger 20 *2 Attacks first
1 4 Severant 10 While in play, causes linked enemy creature to turn on owner
2 4 Splitter 10 Any enemy creature to attack loses half attack and defense
3 4 Sleeper 10 Forces enemy creature asleep; creature dies in 5 rounds if not woken
1 1 Archer 15 5 Attacks two simultaneous targets
2 1 Knifer 10 10 Dodges physical attacks
3 1 Bladesinger 15 10 Any creature receiving damage cannot act for one round
3 2 Shadow N/A Takes on attributes of enemy creature; if creature dies, shadow dies
4 1 Glorious Armor 1 Give to creature, +10 def.
4 2 Heaven Armor 1 Give to creature, +20 def.
4 3 Starlight Armor 1 Give to creature, +30 def.
1 1 Herald 10 Both players may look at the next five cards in their decks
2 1 Missionary 10 Change element of enemy creature
3 1 Blessing 10 Sacrifice to change all presently played cards to specific element
3 2 Prophecy 10 Control opponent’s next move; sacrifice Prophecy
4 1 Minor Elemental *4 *4
4 2 Major Elemental *5 *5
1 1 Thief
1 2 Hero 50 40 Only lasts one round
1 3 Merchant 10 Trades elements between creatures
2 3 Blinder 10 Nullifies target creature’s attack for 3 rounds
1 4 Studded Crown 1 Give to King, +20 def., +20 att.
2 4 Thorned Crown 1 Give to King, +30 def., +30 att.; dies in three rounds
3 4 Banded Crown 1 Give to King, +40 def., +40 att.; if opponent casts same element spell beyond 10 damage, King perishes
1 1 Amazon
1 2 Slave 10 Links to target creature; boosts +10 att., +10 def.; if creature dies, is captured
1 3 Mother 20 Each player round, has a child (5/5); must be coupled with a male
2 3 Teacher 10 Each round, can add +1 att. +1 def. to target creature (permanent)
1 4 Robe of Chains 1 Give to Queen, +50 def., +50 att.; cannot attack
2 4 Silk Robe 1 Give to Queen, dodges all physical attacks, but def. -5
3 4 Jeweled Robe 1 Give to Queen, cannot be attacked by non-queen creatures; +10 def.
1 1 Archer
1 2 Gunslinger 20 Has six bullets (+5 att.); can choose to fire as many as wanted
1 3 Obsession 1 Give to creature, takes either att. or def. and adds it to the other side, save 1 point
2 3 Poet 10 Sacrifices self to write libel poem, forcing enemy to skip one turn
1 4 Knife Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, +30 att., damages player by 5 every attack
2 4 Crystal Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, +10 def., +10 att.; gauntlets shatter after 2 rounds
3 4 Glowing Gauntlets 1 Give to Jack, *4 att., then *3 att., then *2 att., and only +10 att.
1 1 Comedian 10 Neither player may physically attack while in play
2 1 Pop Star 10 Opponent cannot physically attack while in play
3 1 Cosmic Wind 10 Sacrifices self to give +25 att., +25 def. to all creatures in play
3 2 Dark Wind 10 Sacrifices self to wipe battlefield clean of all creatures
4 1 Memory 10 Sacrifices self to give both players the same health, using a rounded (up) average of both
4 2 Apology 10 Sacrifices self to bring both players back to 100 life
2 2 Roc 50 *4 Roc must be the only creature in play to attack or defend
2 2 Pegasus 20 15 Cannot attack; if linked with Hero, Hero is unblockable
2 2 Werewolf 30 20 Can only be killed by an ace creature; can only attack, cannot defend
2 2 Manticore 20 Poisonous attack; enemy loses 1 life every round, even after Manticore dies; poison counters can be stacked
2 2 Unicorn 25 25 Sacrifice self to resurrect dying (killed in play with unicorn) creature; automatically heals +10/round
2 2 Minotaur 35 20 Attack first
2 2 Sphinx 5 Cannot be vanquished except by a single deity (Major); otherwise, every player round one enemy creature dies
2 2 Hydra 10/10 Counts as two creatures; if both are not destroyed, then one destroyed becomes two more, etc.
2 2 Jabberwocky 21 Attacks five times
2 2 Phoenix Cannot die except by a water deity (Major); while in play, creatures cannot die; every 5 rounds, 1 round powers disappear
3 3 Gargoyle 35 20 Can only attack in player phase; only defend in opponent phase
3 3 Centipede 50 25 Can only be killed by being down to 1 life, then being hit by a spell
3 3 Vilkacis 40 30 Opposite of werewolf; can only defend
3 3 Firebird 10 Heals all players by +10 each round
3 3 Bolla 25 5 Devours target creature
3 3 Fenrir 45 35 Can be bound by fusion of earth, fire, air, and water elements in a spell (5 rounds)
4 4 Basilisk 10 Any creature attacking it dies immediately; spells cast by enemy cause them to lose 20 life; can also be destroyed by abilities
4 4 Jormungand 55 40 While in play, both players suffer -5 poison/round; air does *4 damage against him
4 4 Surt 50 35 Must be equipped with fire element; global boom damage
4 4 Echidna 20 20 Every round spawns a 15/15 creature, until 6 are spawned
4 4 Kulshedra 50 45 Only accessible if Bolla in game for 12 rounds and queen and ace added to Bolla for mutation
4 4 Lotan *7 *7 Cannot attack; while in play, water element is nullified


Xun, Dreaming of Lost Names

I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife.

“The present passes step by step,” Lu Xun states, meditating on the temporal, changing, and suffering nature of the world. Relaxing with my wife and son by Weiming Hu in the shadow of Ciji Temple, I am swept in the immediacy and evolution of moments, as if the passing of people through the reflection on the lake were a mirror to another world where time could be rewound and marched backwards. The remaining walls of Ciji Temple show that the present world is unrelenting; pockmarked and fading paint the only memories of her fabled past, when people would stoop by the stone altars and press flame and smoke into their hopes and dreams.

Overlooking a pond while standing on a lotus-pod bridge, I cannot agree with Lu Xun about the suffering of the world. Lily-pads float on the surface of the water, and tiny skittering waterhoppers bounce across the translucent surface, living in an impossible dream of speed and haze. The reflections of the terraced rocks and spaces of rippling blue skies to the small creatures are not the only constants; for a good portion of their life, my figure standing on the lotus-pod bridge becomes an anchor to them, much like watching a tree grow, strengthen against the wind, and shed yellow leaves in autumn. Suffering is inconsequential to the process of time, existing only as a cloud marking the passage of life from one evolution into the next.

If suffering is an inconstant spouse, of what use is education? Learning is the process of uncovering truths, not only about the world but about ourselves. Students are the phalanx of learning, charging forward bravely into the unknown with no expectations. Lu Xun described the brave students of Peking University as “tolling alone in the caverns of wind and dust deep at the bottom of the sea,” and in my mind looking at the surface of the lake from beneath, I begin to understand his meaning. The waterhoppers cause ripples in the water, and the image of Ciji Temple shudders, the red walls and carved altars shrugging as if held by a fierce wind. As I rise to the surface of the water, images between the past and the present shift into one: mendicants kneeling by curls of gray smoke and scholars in long robes are replaced by the sound of a bicycle bell and the flash of a camera.

Emerging from the lake, the world has changed: sky-tall construction cranes towering behind green mesh shielding shoot dust into the sky, students with golden cards rush by with apocalyptic fear pressed into their cheeks, multinational sandwich kiosks hide behind forgotten and overgrown gardens, and an electric buzz permeates the ether: the sound of oil burned into flame and lightning humming through crisscrossed optical pathways. And yet, although the future has arrived I find myself on the dry shore, smiling and viewing the landscape with pride and joy, much unlike the dismal parades of Lu Xun’s dread and phantasmagoria.

Lu Xun always believed that the goal of education was to be “properly adapted to the individual to develop each person’s personality,” and everyday our society seems to be moving closer and closer to this tenable dream. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to pass, but we are on our way. “I am living among men,” Lu Xun remarks when reflecting on his proud time at Peking University, as his students gave him the hope to press forward, even in the dismal hour of warlords and massacres. Our times are lighter and more hopeful today; let us remember that and dare to dream.

Book Review: Upside Down

The essence of servant leadership comes from Christ and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in their inter-relatedness, diversity, and old world “Early Christian” equality. The disciples and the life of Jesus are our direct models for how to utilize these principles in a very direct way for the church, to eliminate the spread of the “McChristians” and develop a huge network of people who know their individual callings, and are working towards the establishment of the kingdom of God.

There are several focii in the book: on Jesus as the ideal servant leader, the disciples as the servant leaders he taught through modeling, and the equality (and hence, servant leadership qualities) shared by the Early Christians. The qualities of a leader are: intimacy with Christ, being above reproach, solitary authenticity, rooted and growing in grace, submitting to authority, but above all, leading others through developing and equipping them with their God-given gifts, and then releasing them.

Rinehart is in danger of being labeled a polytheist. Beyond the odd relationship between the trinity he espouses, his servant leadership model seems primarily aimed at increasing the size of the church of believers, as he intimates that servant leadership is primarily relegated to Christians who are working for the church. However, his commitment remains to discovering how the scriptures root all Christians in the concepts of servant leadership, and his discoveries are insightful and sometimes amazing, specifically when he mentions that “serving” appears over 250 times in the New Testament. It makes one wonder why more scholars have not caught onto this, unless they have but did not have the benefit of Rinehart’s paradigm.

My desire is to see a model of servant leadership that has no goal but to serve, and I believed I had found that in Rinehart, but ultimately, his focus was less on the debt we owe to God for our lives, and more on the Christianization (in a good way) of society; thus the incentive for us to be salt and light having a purpose beyond that of being a servant, but of the expansion of all believers. However, Rinehart has done tremendous work in bringing in context verses from the Bible which talk about servant leadership in a very accessible way, as well as explaining how New Testament servants were very different from Old Testament heroes because of the influence of Christ. Most intriguing to me was the extent which Christ went in teaching his followers practically how to be servant leaders, something definitely to emulate.

Bibliographic information/citation

Rinehart, S.T. (1998). Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership. Colorado Springs: Navpress.

The Bonds of Friendship

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with several universal themes, although the most important of these themes are of the mystery of death and the conflict of friendship. As I sit here and write out my thoughts, I am barraged with a sense of a message beyond an ordinary story – a message that reaches out and connects with even my own life. The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with some concepts that are prevalent even today, in our modern society. Our modern world, just like the ancient world, deals with suffering, death, love, and friendship – these universalities that create what we call humanity. And the Epic of Gilgamesh contains some valuable lessons for us, even in an age where the past seems like an idyllic barbarism.

I remember an argument with one of my best friends when I was growing up in San Francisco. We were part of a choir, and the time of the year came when all of the choir members needed to raise money for a summer, international singing tour. The competition was fierce – and most of the tension was between my friend David and myself. At the end of the competition, I had made the most money, and David did something peculiar. He did not speak to me for six months, quiet as stone. I remember feeling betrayed. I was continually haunted by his silence, and I thirsted to understand why something like competition could drive a person to abandon something as great as what we had.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods create Enkidu the savage man, to compete with the monumental and harsh King Gilgamesh. Within this tale of friendship and conflict, we see the beauty of competition and of the forgiving and bridging of friendship. Enkidu was created because the people were afraid of Gilgamesh, and requested to the gods that they be given some relief from his magnificent personality. Enkidu provided exactly that – an outlet for Gilgamesh and his energy. Enkidu approached Gilgamesh and challenged him on his brutal and insensitive activities, and the two of them began to fight. They fought so hard that buildings shook like an earthquake moving through the land, and they fought throughout the entire city. The Epic states, “the doorposts trembled and the wall shook.” Eventually, Gilgamesh won the fight, and Enkidu lowered his anger and the two embraced and became friends. This perhaps, was Gilgamesh’s only friend, for Enkidu was the only one who had the power to challenge Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh knew this.

David and I eventually made up, and admitted to each other how silly our silence had been. I had been afraid to speak to him because I believed him angry with me, and he was afraid to speak to me because he was afraid that I was afraid of him being angry. Our competition brought us farther apart, but when we were willing to sit down with each other and work out the details of the problem, we realized how silly our conflict had truly been. Gilgamesh reveals a true secret of life: most conflict is rather silly, and problems can be amended with a simple embrace and a courtesy of friendship. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought, they held a respect and awe for each other than transcended the deepest hate they could have had. David and I continued our friendship, and we overcame many obstacles in our path of friendship through the simple embrace of love.

David’s parents were strict, and his father perhaps the strictest and most stubborn father I ever knew. David and I used to square off with him, especially when his father would tell David he was not allowed to participate in certain activities or act in a certain way because of a challenge of superiority with the father position. David and I used to wrestle his father, until he laughed so hard that he eventually gave up his claim.

In the same way, Gilgamesh and Enkidu overcame many obstacles. Both of these men were children of the gods, more than mere mortals. Gilgamesh was a demigod, born from the union of an immortal and a mortal, and Enkidu was sculpted directly into being without a mother or father. They constantly struggled with the gods and the superior attitude of the gods. Humbaba, the guardian of Cedar Mountain, symbolized a victory for Gilgamesh and Enkidu against their parents, the gods. Humbaba was the form of the strength of the gods, and the two friends, through many trials, overcame the great beast and cut off its head. The gods were angered, but the two friends relished in their victory, and became well known in the land for the victory. They stood for independent thought and freedom from the oppressive gods.

David overcame his father at times, and seemed to rise above the small being that he was often cast as being. Although we both knew that his father still cared deeply, just as the gods did in the Epic, we also knew that a victory for David meant that he could step up to his father and look him in the eyes and tell him he was strong and he was not weak. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, perhaps, strove for the same thing – recognition from their parents for their strength. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu had cut down the tallest tree, Enkidu said, “My friend, we have cut down the towering Cedar whose top scrapes the sky… let them carry it to Nippur, the Euphrates will carry it down, Nippur will rejoice.” They searched for meaning in their lives – and they found it by revealing their true strength, that of independence.

Before I left for college in the summer of 1999, David was diagnosed with lymphatic nodal cancer. He felt alone. His friends didn’t visit him anymore, and everyday he listened to the voices in his head that told him he was dying. I visited David anytime I possibly could. Instead of going home like I normally would, and watching television or reading a book or going out, I visited David and tried to be the best friend that I could be. I could tell that inside he was very confused, but didn’t release that anxiety, especially around me. I was going through something similar – how could a friend of mine be dying, so early, so young, and so innocent? The answer wasn’t logical, or even acceptable. Therefore, I contained myself to visiting him anytime I could, so that I could understand and perhaps by my presence, soothe his pain. Questions blazed through my mind – what was death, and what happened after death, and what kind of being had the authority to prescribe something like this death? I couldn’t answer any of these questions. The only comfort I had was visiting David, taking him out to lunch, and having the kind of conversation we had before this happened. Sometimes I would ask him how the treatments were going. I was sympathetic, and confused.

In the Epic, Enkidu becomes very sick, for the gods curse him. Gilgamesh goes through similar trials as I faced – confusion, misunderstanding, and silence. Gilgamesh tried to be a friend to Enkidu during this time, although he found the process very hard. Enkidu is also confused and angry – he curses even the door, and he curses every friend he ever had in the world, from his lover, to his parents, to his best friend. Gilgamesh is beside him most of the time (for awhile he disappears because he is unable to approach Enkidu), and tries to be a comfort. And when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns his death deeply, so deeply that he prescribes a vast, new life to live – the quest for immortality.

David survived his cancer. He is still going through the fading stages of the sickness now, and must maintain his diet and visit the doctors every now and then to receive a new statement. My story was different. I was changed, because my best friend almost died. This left a gap within me – an understanding of not understanding. I became almost obsessed with understanding death and the purpose of death. A few years later, I took a job at a local funeral home, where my work was the gathering of dead bodies and the transportation of bodies to morgues. This was my journey, and perhaps where I learned my finest lesson about death. Everyday I was forced to view the face of someone who had lived, and now has died, and I was forced to touch them and bind them in a ceremonial outfit, noble enough for the afterlife.

Gilgamesh searched the world for immortality. He traveled to the other side of the world, to the world of the dead, beyond the River of the Dead, to find the one man granted immortality by the gods. He traveled through mountains that contained no light, he traveled through the realms of the scorpion kings, he traveled through the gardens of the divine winemaker, and he traveled to the ferryman who ferried souls across the River of the Dead to meet the immortal Utnapishtim. And when he met this immortal, Gilgamesh learned that immortality was not something that could be gained by human effort, but only by the will of the gods. Gilgamesh went through several trials, and failed every trial before him. Utterly, at the end, Gilgamesh was left with the singular lesson of the mystery of death.

Life is a beautiful and glorious thing. Friendship offers a person a sort of enhanced life, like a drug that is so strong that when it leaves, the bond is broken and death seems almost too inevitable. Gilgamesh felt this with Enkidu – he learned to love his life. He was still King Gilgamesh, but his energies were not devoted to ruining the lives of his people, but rather were funneled into a friendship that he believed would last forever. But that friendship dissolved, and he became distressed by the concept of death. He received a different kind of death – that of separation, and felt the inevitable of such things coming to him. So he searched for immortality, perhaps to alleviate his worries about Enkidu, or perhaps to prove that he still could be above the gods and stand equal with his parents. But in the end, Gilgamesh realized that death is not anything that can be controlled by a work of man. Death comes when death comes, and is not for the decision of the mortal who awaits it. Gilgamesh’s final thoughts rested on his mortal accomplishments. “Go up Urshanabi (the ferryman), onto the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly – is not even the core of the brick structure of kiln-fired brick, and did not the seven sages themselves lay out its plan!”

I came to the same realization during my own discovery and travels. That death is inevitable, and is not something we can control. My older brother died when he was two years old, as a baby in his sleep. My grandmother lived until she was 95 years old, in perfect health. However, when she was sent to the hospital because of a cold, she died because of too much lactose and sugar consumption. The Epic of Gilgamesh brings out some of the most important questions in life – the vast importance of friendship, the inevitability of death, and the acceptance of life as being beautiful and treasured.

Katheder Socialismus

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The title of this essay is a German phrase meaning “socialism of the chair.” In 1872, a group of German economists argued for the use of state funds for the bettering of the working classes, and were labeled as the Katheder Socialismus in satire. I mean, in this essay, to speak of the national socialistic movements in Italy and Germany after World War I, but first you, the reader, must understand some very basic concepts of this present world that I speak.

After the period of time historians call the Reformation, the Church was no longer the Church, but now the church, in lower case letters. A central authority was broken across the landmass of Europe, and secular governments began to advertise nationalism in the stead of the church. Nationalism became a cry across the shattered fragments of Europe, a cultural unification of people with the same history, the same family, and the same blood. Nationalism replaced religion in many countries, and although the church was still supported, the power of God became less and the power of a supreme leader of the country became the ruling construct.

Nationalism began a breakdown of divine rule slowly, first by a gentle subjugation into the population of thought, and finally with violent revolution and war. After the Napoleonic wars and the Council of Vienna, it became obvious that with the breaking of the church, monarchy as a statement of rule was impossible. Even in monarchies, nationalism arose and threatened to topple the governmental regimes. Such regimes as the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II were a common occurrence in the post Napoleonic world – a monarchy under the control of a nationalistic ideal. Just because the national government is destroyed does not mean that nationalism was going to die – nationalism was not only a governmental institution, but primarily nationalism began as a philosophy and still continues to this day as a policy – a unifying and centralized philosophy of borderland importance.

The Council of Vienna was a disaster because the leaders were afraid of a new world. They were afraid of a world without the monarchy and the aristocracy and the church – but already the Catholic church had been broken, the various denominations had formed beneath the Reformation, and people viewed themselves not as Christians but now as French, English, Italians, Germans, and other nationalistic creations.

So what does any of this have to do with national socialism? One of the principal causes of World War I, in my opinion, was the separatist movement of nations. Countries needed to discover their limits of power, and therefore war was inevitable. Countries took the philosophy of mannerism to an extreme, and created national mannerisms, not only in social realms but also economic, political, and religious realms. Countries began to hold grudges against each other – but this time, on a massive, nationalistic scale. Philosophy and political ideology differed from the country to country, and the sparks began to grow from a single grain of ancient ash until a firestorm engulfed all of Europe when the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. A leader had been maliciously murdered, and countries felt threatened. The nationalists gathered their arms, and prepared to lay down all those grudges they had kept hidden in their hearts for years.

So they fought. Bravo, you nationalistic pigs. At the end of the war, these pigs had grown so weak and so limp from the wounds of each other’s bullets that they slumped down into the mud and almost gave up. And the countries of Italy and Germany were in the lead – fallen, aged, and weak. The cost of arms for the war, and the cost of the lives of the men who had died in the war shook these two countries to the core. Their governments struggled with the economy, but could not even protect their own streets from vandals and bandits. This is where the story begins, first on the balmy shores of Italy, and then into the wooden plains of the shattered, Germanic tribes.

Italy was still a monarchy at the end of the war. Rome was the political capital of Italy, ruled by a King. The Pope still ruled the church from the Vatican after World War I, and had significant power over the activities of the church throughout Europe. However, the country was in shambles. After the war, the Italian treasury was depleted, and could not support even the most menial of protection. Jobs could not be properly compensated for; so many people did not work. The veterans of the war were left without help, thrown back into Italy with only their shirt and a pair of slummy shoes. Capitalism began to rise as a source of money, and the aristocracy still clung wildly to their land.

With the creation of the industrial state (a state relying on industry as a source of income), capitalism rose like a flood. The mass marketing of material became commonplace, and required a need for general workers. One could say that industrialism replaced serfdom, in a sense, because the workers were generally given low wages and were not compensated for their families, often forced to work 12 to 18 hour work days without a break, at extremely poor rates of pay. Out of this environment rose Marxism and communism – or a form of government in which the workers (or majority) rule instead of a noble aristocracy. Marxism was a common threat to nationalistic governments and especially to nationalistic philosophy, and as most countries were nationalistic, communism was not an idle threat. With the expansion of industrialism and the increase of workers, Marxism became a popular ideology among the common man. Workers joined together in Socialist (or Marxist) organizations, often political but also revolutionary, and rebelled against the industrial, capitalist system.

With the additional lack of Italy’s treasuring, and the common occurrence of a worker’s strike (refusal to work), Italy was in the slumps. A young man, a political activist by blood, gathered together bored and agitated veterans from the surrounding Italian countryside and formed a brute squad to put down these worker strikes. This man’s name was Benito Mussolini, and his specialized task force of ex-soldiers was known as the Fascists. The term fascism is derived from the fasces, an ancient roman symbol of authority and power – a bundle of rods strapped around an axe-head. Mussolini and his group were extreme nationalists, and enemies of communism. Eventually, his group grew to such strength that he marched into Rome and in a seizure of fear or perhaps enlightenment, the weak King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini as a Premier in the government, ruling over much of the government.

During Mussolini’s rule as a premier, he began to drastically alter the Italian governmental influence over the people. He held a strict policy of discipline and control over the government, and increased governmental power to include power over economic, social, and eventually religious (he made a treaty with the Pope). He created what is called, the corporate state, or a government that controls everything economic and political. He controlled wages of the factories. He controlled the import and export of goods. He silenced all opposition to the Fascist party. He controlled and aided the capitalistic classes of Italy, and moved forward in modernization and production. His ideology was focused on the national symbol of Italy, strung together with a militant organization and a disciplined philosophy.

The rise of Fascist Italy is of no surprise. Just as Napoleon was able to wrest power away from France into a single dictatorship, Italy has copied the idea. When a country is weak and the government cannot protect nor aid its people, the people seek a new government. And in times of weakness people will always cling to strength, such as Mussolini’s Fascist brute squads. In addition, Italy’s surviving soldiers, the veterans, prowled the countryside trying to gain back what they once had. Unable to find a job, they landed themselves on plots of unused or rarely used land, and started to build a life for themselves, but they were not accepted. The landowners and the capitalists vied to throw them off the land and turn them to beggars. Mussolini offered these veterans a way out of the slums of Italy and into the big picture, where they believed they belonged (after all, they had given their lives for Italy). Hundreds of thousands of veterans prowled the Italian countryside, and eagerly embraced Mussolini’s cure. In addition, the economy was being hurt – in the winter of 1920 several hundred factories went on strike. Production halted dramatically, and the people felt it. So Mussolini began to put down these rebellions against the industrial state, and he was not only accepted by the capitalists and the aristocracy, but by the common people who were not in the factories, but rather needed the products that the factories put out. He was a hero. He was Italy’s hero, and they embraced him like a father.

Germany followed in suit, although they traveled on a much more difficult path. Since Germany had been a leader in World War I, and was defeated by the Allies, Germany was harshly treated after the war. Large chunks of Germany were handed off to different member countries of the Allies, and severe restrictions on the German economy were enacted to prevent any future threats of battle. Germany was surrounded by raving dogs that bit and clawed at Germany, just to itch the wounds more. And Germany was also affected by nationalism; just as every other country was affected.

Germany was humble in the face of the rest of the European nations that hated her. Leaders like Gustav Stresemann and Friedrich Ebert were calm, and tried to reconcile with the surrounding nations of France, Russia, England, and the League of Nations. Eventually, Germany was even admitted into the League of Nations, and was also a major economic supporter of this new world after the major world war.

However, the internal Germany was not doing well – the economic loss after the war coupled with the impositions of the League of Nations upon Germany as war repercussions led Germany down a bad road with money. Many veterans were unemployed, like in Italy, and much of Germany had been cut off, such as the Ruhr Valley, one of Germany’s most prosperous economic fields. People were disenchanted with life, and communism was a major threat in the political spectrum. As I said before, when countries are weak, the people search for a new government. Germany was divided into a number of prevalent governmental powers vying for control: a communist party, a Roman Catholic party, a socialist party (different from the communist party, mostly composed of small business and professional workers), the nationalist party, and the national socialist party (the Nazi party).

In the elections after Hitler had become Chancellor of the Parliament, his Nazi party gained 17 million votes – more than half of the proper votes for political power. Thus, the Nazi party came into power – the national socialists, to be more exact.

Hitler is complicated. He was a sign of his culture – he was an ardent nationalist, a believer in the superiority of his blood and his country. He understood the problems of his country and sought to remedy them by making Germany strong and economically independent. Like much of Europe at the time, he was also an advocate for the superiority of his own kind and the people who supported him – his country. He sought to destroy any person who stood in his way. Hitler is infamous for the destruction of almost half of the population of the Jews during World War II – noted solemnly today as the Holocaust. The Nazi Party is demonized and Hitler is set in the same room as the Devil himself.

Adolf Hitler began his political life much like Mussolini. He was a political activist, a rebellious thinker, and an artist. He frequented taverns and beer halls, where the veterans, the ex-soldiers of Germany would drown themselves into a cup of mead, and tell them that their lives were not lost. Hitler would frequent the universities and would speak with the always disenchanted university students, and tell them he had a solution for Germany’s problems. He eventually, with this cast of veterans and students, formed a popular political party, and some of his closest friends became power players such as propagandists, managers, and idea gurus. He advocated extreme nationalism, and sought to unify people under a common banner, as well as playing the superiority tactics of the contemporary world.

It is interesting to me how modern historians still view an age only fifty years ago with such twisted notions of the truth. I’ve read books over my life on the Fascist and Nazi parties, and of the characters of Mussolini and Hitler. These books have utterly demonized these two men and their ideas for what they believed to be truth – and never have the historians questioned their own ideas of truth and their own countries. I view Mussolini and Hitler as pieces of their culture – not demons, but rather advents and examples of the world they lived in. When Hitler was placing Jews in concentration camps, Russia was doing the same thing to their own Jews and the Gypsies in their special, unique way. They were also staunchly against writers, musicians, and artists, who had a different opinion of the world than they themselves held. France placed foreigners and Jews in concentration camps. The United States placed their own citizens in concentration camps, and also sent atomic bombs over cities of thousands, and perhaps even millions, and decimated an entire culture. Turkey slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and Italy even sent their own citizens and Jews to concentration camps.

I will continue to be amazed, I think. Italy and Germany were united of out nothing extraordinary. They were united because of a shambling population, and an unused soldiery. Their militant governments happened because the soldiers of the first war were left without anything, much like the Vietnam War in the recent decades of the United States. They were united out of nationalism, and a spreading ideal of a population placed within segmented borders trying to discover who they were and why they were. Perhaps today, after the two major world wars, we have discovered that our nationalistic dreams were nothing but the beginning of the world trying to discover who they truly are.

The Phoenix Blossom

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Renaissance is a period in history that boggles us. The Renaissance is perhaps, the quintessential period of time before the Reformation, which eventually led to the Enlightenment. The Renaissance is a period of time re-instituting an ancient belief in the human spirit, “the spirit of the Renaissance,” drawn from the days of the olden city-states of the Grecian world. But historians are left perplexed why the Renaissance came about, and how. To many scholars, the Renaissance burgeoned because of a total acknowledgment of the human spirit as a more divine force than of the divine forces in the church. Many scholars agree that the Renaissance came about because of a group of brilliant individuals inspired by some general trend – the artists and poets and musicians of the Italian and Germanic states. I wish to delve even further than these scholars, and attack what I believe was the central nexus of thoughts for the inspiration of the Renaissance: Florence.

But first, I must shed some background light on the city-state, and the apparatus of which this “Flower of Italy” sprang into so much of an inspiration to the figures of the artistic Renaissance. Perhaps, the major cause of Florence’s power rested in the fall of the Byzantine Empire, when the Turks invaded and conquered the fragile and politically torn city. Actually, we should move farther back, before the Christian Crusades, in the tenth century when Byzantine was disheveled because of a conspiracy over an iconoclastic ideal. During this time, many of the artists of Byzantium emigrated from the city onto the lands of Italy, where they took residence. They moved throughout the countryside, to Rome, and father up to Florence, Venice, and Milan. Many took residence in the countryside, where they could practice their art without resistance from the church.

It was during this time that the Byzantium style of art – that of gold, fresco, and extraordinary color, invaded the mainland of not only Italy, but the Holy Roman Empire. In Italy, this style of art became well-known and accepted. These immigrated artists began to teach others about the Byzantine style. The Church, as well, was beginning to grow past the signatories of the Holy Roman Empire, and the fallen Byzantium. The Church began to utilize the Byzantium style to adorn their churches, and artists became a high price and a worthy profession.

Also in Italy, the Romanesque style of art became a common staple among artists. The Romanesque style was a combination of native Italian and Byzant art, a coalescing of art from Nordic, Celtic, Byzant, and Turkish styles of art. The Romanesque style emphasized ornamental and decorative patterns, spirals, ribbons, and expressive lines.

Farther north, in the Holy Roman Empire, in central France, the great cathedrals were being built, or already were built. Many of these cathedrals, such as Chartres and Notre Dame, used Roman figurine-sculpture (the Holy Roman Empire) to adorn the walls and the high ceilings. These sculptures were humanistic in every sense – inspired by the architects and sculptors of Rome; they emphasized the natural body and the divine sense of being of the saints. Eventually, as the Byzantine art spread up into France, the Gothic style, as it was called, came down, partly due to intrigue, and partly due to a political upheaval in France that dismounted Louis VII from the throne of France, and began the unstable period of the Angevin Empire. The Gothic artists moved down to Italy to learn the Byzantine and Romanesque styles of art, and the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved up to learn the Gothic style.

In this coalition of artists and art, especially the converging of Byzant and Gothic art, a new realization was formed. Artists who were native to the Byzant art began to experiment in the humanistic Gothic style, merging the two. When Byzantium finally fell, by this time the interest and artistic endeavors had moved beyond the golden city. For years, the cities of Florence, Venice, and Milan, had been re-routing the trade routes to Byzantium. Because of the political strife in Byzantium, traders wanted less to do with the fallen city, and instead, began to trade with these emerging Italian city-states. One cannot say a certain city was any faster than any other in regards to recognizing the stream of artistic thought. One can say that it was in central and northern Italy that this new thought began to emerge – the precise place where the Gothic artists and the Byzant/Romanesque artists were sure to meet.

Venice and Milan were both very important cities in the world of the Renaissance, although they did not hold more importance that the politically unstable city-state of Florence, the “flower of Italy.” Florence is located between the two cities, a natural trade route between Venice, Milan, and Rome. During the political unrest of a fallen Byzantium, and of a reforming Empire to the north, the Italian cities broke away and formed their own governments and lands. They formed militias and took surrounding lands in their control. They stayed out of each other’s pockets, generally. Most of the strife in these cities was inner – other people vying for power among the city governments.

For a majority of her Renaissance life, Florence was ruled by the family Medici. The Medici family refused to actually take a significant title in the ruling of Florence when they came into power, and instead, began to branch out as bankers, artisans, and patrons to the arts. In the years 1270 through 1280, Florence had an economic boom. The population increased, new buildings and structures were designed and implemented, and an influx of Angevin (Gothic) artists moved into the city because of the prosperity. The merchant guilds grew to such power, that in the ten years of the economic boom, they gained power over the government and formed the arti maggiori and the arti minori.

The arti maggiori was composed of seven guilds: lawyers, notaries, clothiers, wool-crafters, silk merchants, money dealers, and furriers. The arti minori was composed of twenty-five less important shopkeeping and artisan guilds. Five of these guilds were asked to take part in governance of the city, known as the arti medie. Guilds were often formed out of families. The father would apprentice his son and daughter in the craft, whatever that certain craft may be. And the knowledge would pass onto the next generation, and so forth.

The most well-known figure of the Renaissance was Petrarch. In our contemporary society, we know Petrarch mostly for his love poetry, but more importantly, Petrarch was a teacher. He believed in the revitalization of the Greek Classical culture, and taught his pupils an enthusiasm on Classical learning. He would often bring in people from Byzantium to teach his pupils the importance of classical learning. However, he was not the only one interested in humanism and the classical studies. Because of the influx of Gothic art (what remained of the humanistic studies of the Roman Empire), others began to take interest as well.

The Church had begun to take an interest in classical studies, and began to adorn the Byzantine styled sanctuaries with Gothic art. The artists Cimabue and his pupil Giotto were major benefactors and inspirations to this new influx of art. The artist Gentile de Fabriano, a man who specialized in Romanesque and Byzantine art, trained a man named Jacopo Bellini, who later with the artist Antonio Vivarini, was to create an artist academy in Venice to train young pupils. Some of the pupils of this Venetian academy were no less than Giovanni Bellini and Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and Giorgione Barbarelli. Giovanni Bellini, the son of Jacopo Bellini, trained Titian Vecelli and Tintoretto. These are names that will forever be remembered in the archives of Renaissance art. Their work can be found across all of Italy, from Rome all the way into the northern tip of Milan.

Perhaps the most important person, in the entire Renaissance, was a man named Cosimo de Medici. He was a man of his time, a banker who loved the classical studies more than anything. He was a wealthy man and the leader of Florence during the classical revival and humanism period. He bought many classical manuscripts and brought Greek and Roman sculptures to his city, for the education of his citizens and those in his surrounding countryside. He founded the first public library in the convent of San Marco, where the Renaissance artists Fra Angelico, his pupil Fra Filippi Lippi, and his son Filippino Lippi, had painted art that was soon to sweep the entire citizenry of Florence. Their artwork was one of a combination of Byzantine, Romanesque, and the progressive and controversial Gothic art.

Cosimo was also a worthy patron of the arts. Perhaps one reason why Florence was the leader in the Renaissance is not because of some divine happening or miracle of the mind, but because of money. Because of the trade increase in Florence and the fall of Byzantium, Florence now traded much in that classical trade which flourished prior in Byzantium – mainly, gold, silk, and stone. Merchant guilds sprang from the dust around Florence that specialized in goldsmithing, clothing, and stonework. Many of these families that specialized in the art of goldsmithing, especially, were adequate and able artists, who wished to move beyond mere Romanesque decoration, and move into a more lively and volatile field: painting and sculpture. Cosimo de Medici was a patron to many of these up-and-coming artists. The architect Brunelleschi, the painters Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi and the sculptors Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia were among his most brilliant of artists that he acted as patron. And he was not the only patron of the arts – but he did act as a sufficient role-model for the rest of the city. Many other wealthy men and women in Florence became patrons, because of Cosimo’s influence.

These men, especially Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Ghiberti, became teachers in Florence, and took in many pupils. They taught this art of classical studies and classical art, with the infusion of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic art. They created workshops for young students to come and study with them. Sandro Botticelli was the work of one of these workshops. His teacher was Fra Filippo Lippi. Botticelli then trained Fra Filippo Lippi’s son, Filippino Lippi, in the art. And these three were not the only teachers. Their forming of workshops within the urbanized Florence became commonplace. Some of the most important teachers of the Renaissance were Domenico Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Veracchio, and Pietro Perugrino (a pupil of Veracchio).

It can be argued that Lorenzo de Medici, otherwise known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, was the most important influence of the Renaissance, besides his father, Cosimo. However, in my respective opinion, Lorenzo could never have become the great man that he was if not for his father. It’s really a matter of opinion, in that sense. Lorenzo de Medici was perhaps the greatest patron of the arts in Florence. He not only supported ventures within his own city, but he also had ventures as far as Milan, and had formed artistic workshops and artistic communities in these two respective cities. Beneath Lorenzo’s guidance and money, the most well-known and crafted of artists emerged: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto. These four were not the only artists that Lorenzo supported, but were perhaps the most well-known in their time. During this time of the Medici patronage, the Church was also acting in full, scouring Florence, Milan, and Venice for artists, architects, and sculptors to help build the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and flourish the church with art.

Leonardo da Vinci was trained by Andrea del Verocchio and the scientist Toscanelli. He was a versatile man, and stood for a true Renaissance man: not only a man of the arts, but of science, philosophy, and theology. Leonardo was also a politician, and a resourceful teacher. He established a school for his particular brand of art – combination of biology, mathematics, and artistic aesthetics, named after his respective self. He also was an architect and an engineer, who helped create siege engines and towers for Florence during the brief exile of Lorenzo de Medici. He was a man who loved his city more than anything, beyond petty politics and empirical disagreements.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was twenty years younger than Leonardo da Vinci, and through most of his life, strove to meet his awesome figure. He was trained by Ghirlandaio, and received the support of Lorenzo as a patron. He was a brilliant sculptor, and completed miracle after miracle, what other sculptors dare not do. His most inspiring work, the Pieta, was carved out of a single block of marble. This was a block of marble that no other sculptor in the entire city of Venice was willing to touch, because of its beauty, danger, and impossibility. Michelangelo was also a spiritual man who loved the Church. Although he was not the only artist who painted in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he was the first, and the inspiration for many more following him. Michelangelo’s wife, Vittoria Colonna, was also a brilliant painter.

Raphael Sanzio, many consider to be the greatest painter of his time. He was trained under the auspices of Pietro Perugrino, otherwise known as Pietro Venucci. Raphael was a genius, who died young at the age of thirty-seven. His most ambitious works were done in Rome, under the work of the Pope.

By the time that Raphael dominated the artistic scene, the Medici of Florence was dying away. When Lorenzo the Magnificent died, the patronage of Florence fell apart, and the artists and sculptors and scientists left Florence to head to more amiable places. Florence was not a very nice place to live anyways – the corruption and familial practice of constant exilement was not something than most Florentines enjoyed. Even the Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence for his political views.

However, in Rome, the Medici family still reigned. In fact, during the Medici control over Florence, many of the Medici had succeeded as Pope and other important positions such as Cardinals and Bishops. So, when Lorenzo died, and the patronage of Florence fell, the arms of Rome welcomed the artists. Venice and Milan continued to thrive for many more years. The Renaissance, by this time, had solidified in the north, where it had been expanding its influence in the French and Germanic areas. When the Gothic artists moved south, the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved north, to establish what would be the next Renaissance in the northern areas.

In addition to the artists of the Renaissance, advancements in humanistic music, theology, and science were advocated. Music began to expand into more territories, besides the monastical and troubadour tunes of the pre-Renaissance. Palestrina and Monteverdi were main figures of the musical rise in the Renaissance, writing sensual and more complicated themes. Politics also rose, especially in the form of Machiavelli and his book, The Prince. A secular humanism had invaded Italy, and expanded itself in the attitude of the people of Italy.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the Renaissance was the patronage of certain powerful men, and the shifting of ideas and trade routes. The urbanization of Florence, Venice, and Milan was also very key in the expansion of thought. When people gather together in meeting, ideas become communal, and science, technology, art, and religion grow and evolve. People are no longer alone; farming on isolated terraces, but instead are face-to-face with each other everyday. They walk on the same streets, drink the same water, and feel the same pain that their next-door neighbor feels.

Florence was the center of activity for the Renaissance world. Within Florence came a rebirth of ideas from a past world forgotten because of war, hate, and culturalization. And with the culmination and coalescing of ideas, Florence became the leader in the grafting of the humanistic qualities to the modern world. To this day, Florence remains the capture of a period of time when men were not afraid to dream. To this day, we call Florence, the “Flower of Italy,” and make pilgrimages to the ancient city in unabashed wonder at the works completed. For walking through Florence, is like walking through a field of knowledge, so unadulterated, that it shines.



DeWald, Ernest, Italian Painting, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1961

Gilbert, Creighton, Michelangelo, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1967

Steedman, Amy, Knights of Art, T.C. & E.C. Jack 1907

Leadership Integrity

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on organizational behavior I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Worldwide, the issue about leadership is Integrity — “We want our leaders to have integrity.”

Psycho-spiritual dynamics:

  1. Acceptance: people are desperate to be accepted by others
  2. Achievement: if people can’t achieve they will get ill; God built us to achieve
  3. Significance: feeling of being here not by accident; three basic human requirements

Normal (secular) teaching about significance:  Aim for Blue Ocean, when you will pitch your business; in which there are not so many products, so you can achieve a niche; but the Blue Ocean is everyday disappearing faster and faster

Our treatment of others gives or takes away significance.  We have these things already in Christ; our goal should be to teach others they already have these because of Jesus.  These three aspects are twisted in humanity; in Christ they are fulfilled and healthy. Even outside of Christ, the Christian principles can still be applied through leadership.

The key to success and behavior is how you behave within an organization.

  • ‘Coal face’ — where the rubber hit’s the road; the reality
  • Christian organizations do not do well; we are not leading, we are trailing

We must always be aware that the organization is composed of the human element.

  1. Human behavior within the setting
  2. The organization itself
  3. The relationship between the human and the organization

‘The Big Eye’ — the big overview; being able to discern the subtle paradigms that operate within an organization: Organizational behavior is their DNA.  Change is successful through incremental change, not massive and major change.

  1. ‘Soldiering’ – when the workers agree to work together under their capability
  2. ‘Piece-rate’ – earnings are now related to the pieces you make
  3. ‘Esprit de corps’ – spirit of the upper management
  4. ‘Span of control’ – the upper management having command and controlling without question the employees
  5. ‘Vac job’ – holiday work
  6.  Rules — stifles creativity but creates clear expectations
  7. Divisions — narrows specialization and forces limitations; soul destroying
  8. Hierarchy — creates judgment (good and bad, hard worker and lazy) among workers
  9. Technical — the resolution of what merit becomes has no standard; technical competence is standard

Therefore, advancement is narrowed to certain kinds of people; copies.

  1. Rights — Lack of identity for workers
  2. Documentation — Policy ends up mastering the organization

The idea of ‘employee satisfaction’ was a paradigm shift in business — which leads to the question, what mistakes are we making today that will require another paradigm shift?

X=Modernists (Traditional Leadership), Y=Post-Modernists (Servant Leadership)

‘You can lead a horse to water — you can’t force it to drink.’  We should resist the spirit of poverty which says ‘I am nothing and I am no one.’

  • Maslow: Not a Christian source, but still has a lot of wisdom.
  •  FISH (a study about fun in the workplace)

We are currently in a Post-Literate culture. People are only interested in seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, touching it.  Story is the currency of this age.

  • The Dream Society (book about the future in 20 years), Rolf Jenson

Thoughts today:

1. Overview on how various secular and perhaps ungodly systems can be used in order to propose systemic change to organizational behavior, perhaps in a Christ-like way.

2. A background of organizational history which is focused on seeing the wisdom in traditional forms of systematic theory and historical and cultural blindness, and how we should use a positivistic point of view in viewing the future and believing we can personally change it.

3. Trying to capture and critique contemporary society and culture in the lens of how we move forward through organizational evolution and past paradigms.

4. Trying to understand how to implement this kind of traditional organizational structure in a classroom setting, to encourage students to learn on their own and take responsibility for their lives rather than being spoon-fed information and regurgitating stuff.

Emergent Leadership

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on servant leadership I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Leadership is: serving; influential; role-modeling; influencing people; creating a context for human flourishing; communication and modeling; discipline; situational but consistent; transformational; an embodiment of what others desire to follow; visionary; trustworthy; inspiring; and equipped and empowered.

  1. Maximizing potential in people
  2. Serve people so that they can grow
  3. Raising the morality of the organization 

Leadership is NOT about telling people what to do.

The leader must always have followers. Followers are volunteers.  There is a human agreement between the leader and the followers — in which the leader thanks the followers; the realization that nothing could happen without the team.

Leadership is never imposed; it is only gained.  If leadership is something that influences, then icons become global leaders.  Often we become reactive: what we see we don’t like, we do not want to become.

Most times our views of leadership are shaped by Thought-Leaders.  Leadership is not highly looked upon, across the whole world.

Leadership is idealized.  The ideal motif of the leader is replicated throughout humanity; projected upon icons (who may not be leaders at all).  Within Christian leadership, God-like Energy is projected upon the clergy by those below them. Humans want to be told how to live, not how to grow.

All people can affect a small portion of society, that eventually will go on to change other elements. There are things we can do.

Leadership is Power. How do we tap into the power dynamic in a healthy way? The moment a person has power, there is a psychological response, both in the holder and the recipient of power.

Some people desperately want to be leaders, for all of the wrong reasons.  Christ, therefore, becomes our central figure as leaders.  The trend of rising cynicism drives toxicity into people’s lives — that the world is slowly dying, and so we begin to focus on the death of our souls.

  1. A shift in power = where the workers now demand control of their own lives, rather than being in control by their work.
  2. Changing contract = jobs are now longer for one’s entire life — but short-term.

This shift of power is leaning towards China and the East. Now western blue-collar needs to re-train, and workers in the west need to specialize.

Eventually, the Farmers in China will disappear and become the workers of New Industry — once they realize how they have relocated all of their Farmers to the cities.

The West will eventually become major Specialists, and will be forced to become the idea people of the rest of the world.

Because of this we need to train companies how to be innovative. If they cannot innovate in the long-run, they will die.

Perhaps in the future this will cause the United States and the west to become the manufacturers.  There is a desperate need for excellent leadership.

What is we are sitting on a powerhouse, and we just don’t know how to let it loose? What could happen?  The days of the Heroic Leader needs to come to an end. The heroic nature of it is in releasing the organization. The Cult of the CEO is dead.

Leadership becomes facilitative, the forward journey for people, fabric, and company.