"There use to be a point where I would be afraid of making mistakes. I’m no longer afraid of making mistakes. I make them every night during a performance. Something happens: I meant for my voice to go right and it went left instead. I meant for my voice to go up and it goes down, you know. Wherever my voice goes, wherever it takes me I just follow it. I just watch it. It leads me to whatever, you know. I trust it."
~Bobby McFerrin from Catching Song
photo by Erinc Salor (Taken with Instagram)
Paul Zak and the Neurology of Neighborly Exchange
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
A stoop sale in Brooklyn. (photo: click wrrr/Flickr)
Earlier this summer, I spent more money than I wanted to on camping equipment — hiking poles and other gear I won’t likely use off the trail. Maybe I should have asked a neighbor to borrow or rent their stuff instead. Not only would I have saved some dollar bills, but my brain might have gotten a neurological boost as well.
That’s according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak, who was recently quoted in The New York Times about the benefits of participating in neighborly economic transactions — for example, renting a pricey Roomba from someone down the street rather than buying one from a big box store. According to Zak:
"There is an underlying notion that if I rent my things in my house, I get to meet my neighbor, and if I’m walking the goods over, I get to meet them in person … We’re drawing on a desire in a fast-paced world to still have real connections to a community."
Krista interviewed Zak for "The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue," a show we produced in 2009 as the Great Recession was unfolding. He does research on oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter known as “the trust hormone” that’s commonly associated with breast feeding and childbirth but is also triggered by other forms of social bonding.
Zak’s work around trust and transactions reminds me of a different story altogether from Khalid Kamau, who was featured in our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic crisis. Kamau’s reflection about borrowing eggs and milk from a neighbor hints at a collective longing to belong to a supportive social fabric.
All of this has me wondering how and whether these trends might be playing out in your own life. Are you sharing or in some way participating in neighborly exchanges of goods and services? If so, have you experienced a greater sense of belonging or social connection as a result? Share your oxytocin story with us.
What Does WikiLeaks Reveal About Our Inner Selves?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
[Governments] used to be able to control what…newspapers and news organizations would do in part by informally controlling their access to information, by in essence saying, ‘If you go over the line, we’ll stop talking to you. We won’t invite you on to the press plane. We won’t give you a seat on the bus.’ And reporters behaved within certain parameters in part, because they do need that continued access. WikiLeaks doesn’t need a seat on the bus.
—Micah Sifry, executive editor of TechPresident.com on FutureTense
Micah Sifry’s commentary on the unfolding WikiLeaks story on the war in Afghanistan has gotten me thinking about questions of trust and relationship-building in and beyond the realm of journalism and politics. At its worst, needing to keep our “seat on the bus,” as Sifry puts it, can result in collusion and self-censoring. Information or, put differently, necessary truths, get squelched in favor of preserving expedient relationships.
Maybe we do this with family, friends, and loved ones — keep things to ourselves to maintain a connection, a sense of belonging, or simply to get our basic needs met. But coming at it from another direction, I believe there are moral and relational benefits to interdependence. Both sides have to consider each others’ needs. Empathy is triggered. No one party can act with reckless abandon. The work of peacebuilder and conflict transformation practitioner John Paul Lederach comes to mind here.
I wonder if the truths unearthed through WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan will galvanize a public response. NYU Journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen offers some sobering insight in his PressThink blog:
"We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs. My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect — not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget."
What do you think?
My Oxytocin Moment
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Our immersion into the world of neuroscience for this week’s program with Paul Zak has given me a label for one of the uplifting parts of my weekdays — my “oxytocin moment.” It’s the moment I exit work to pick up my 7-month-old son. Walking to the car, a rush of energy, excitement, and warmth comes over me as I eagerly anticipate how his smile widens when he recognizes me, and the giggle that bubbles up when I hug him and tickle him under the chin. I can’t get to him fast enough, and I’m certain one day a fender-bender will be the result of my mad dash to exit work and pick him up.
So now I interpret that rush to be a surge of oxytocin in my brain. The hormone has long been known for its role in childbirth and the mother/child bonding process that I acutely experience these days. But as Zak’s research is showing, it has other profound influences on broader social behavior, including our ability to trust. Since my brain fails to fire the neurons needed to comprehend neuroscience, I went looking for easily digestible descriptions of his work, and found a few helpful things.
His article, "The Neurobiology of Trust," in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American is a helpful overview, with simple visuals, of how he became interested in oxytocin’s relation to trust, how his experiment — the “Trust Game” — was conducted and its findings, and some of the implications of his research. Besides its impact on the field of economics, I’ll be curious to see if future insights emerge about oxytocin’s relationship to neurological disorders like schizophrenia or maladies such as social anxiety.
Also helpful, and fun, was a 2005 television segment from the Australian Broadcasting Company science program Catalyst. The reporter participates in Zak’s trust game as well as a related experiment using MRI imaging of his brain. He talks to Zak and other scientists about the biology of trust, from primates to humans.
And, given my current life status as a new mom, I enjoyed stumbling upon Hug the Monkey, a blog about the latest research and issues around oxytocin’s best-known function by science and technical writer Susan Kuchinskas.
Repossessing Virtue: Chery Cutler on the Art and Practice of Improvisation
» download (mp3, 16:11)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
I love to dance. After spending my work week plugged into screens, headphones, and all things Microsoft Outlook, I seek spirit and solace in movement. Most Saturdays you’ll find me sweating it out at an African dance class in downtown Minneapolis.
In April I traveled to the Pacific Northwest to participate in a weekend-long improvisational dance workshop on Vashon Island, near Seattle. To call it a dance workshop is actually something of a misnomer. I and my fellow improvisers weren’t there to perfect our dance technique. Our charge was to learn to listen without fear — or put differently, to practice the art of “creative listening” which is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment of an unscripted dance. I think that Jon Kabat-Zinn would give it a thumb’s up.
I was so jazzed by the experience of the workshop that a few days after I got back I decided to interview one of the facilitators, dance veteran Chery Cutler. In a book she co-authored, Creative Listening: Overcoming Fear in Life & Work, Chery describes creative listening as “learning to quiet fear and listen three-dimensionally — to one’s own inner voice, to others, and to the environment…”
Slight in stature but super-sized in spirit, Chery is now retired from Wesleyan University where she founded the dance department and worked as a professor for over three decades. She recently told me that past SOF guest Majora Carter took her class back in the day.
So much of what Chery says about improvisation and creative listening echoes the conversations we’ve been having as part of our Repossessing Virtue project. She calls this moment of economic collapse “an extremely exciting time” that has the potential to unleash creativity if we can just stop, listen, and resist the urge to willfully dance to the beat of our pesky fear-driven agendas.
We recently wrapped production on Living Differently, Beyond Economic Crisis — the latest installment in our Repossessing Virtue series. This program features the reflections of eight SOF listeners and scores of others online. Soon we’ll be posting more audio interviews to fatten the growing RV archive. I think this conversation with Chery makes for a nice addition to this growing chorus of voices. Let me know what you think.
[I’ve included a picture of my fellow creative listening improvisers here. As the lone Minnesota representative, I’m the only one wearing a coat — not quite fully trusting that it’s safe to venture outside without a down-filled garment. Chery is the one crouched in front, smiling broadly and wearing a black hoodie.]