Stephen Grosz talks about The Examined Life

The psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz has written a remarkable best-seller, a collection of stories based on his meetings with patients. I found it inspiring hearing him speak at the Chiswick Book Festival.

Grosz has a humble, calming and reassuring manner, is genuinely curious and seems to care in an understated and measured way.

Quoting from his book, Grosz said, “We feel unable to go forward and yet we believe that there must be a way. “I want to change, but not if it means changing,” a patient once said to me in complete innocence. Because my work is about helping people to change, this book is about change. And because change and loss are deeply connected- there cannot be change without loss – loss haunts this book.”

Given that all professions have success criteria, I asked him what success was for him as a psychoanalyst. His answer was most thoughtful and forthcoming. Success can be understood in terms of, say, reduction in anxiety, being more at peace with yourself, etc. But he also quoted Winnicott that in relationships we fail to understand the other person, but this shouldn’t worry us. We succeed by failing.

It struck me afterwards, on reflection, that what makes Grosz successful is helping others tell their stories by holding the moment and the space in which they can find their authentic voice. In this sense, Grocz is an author who derives authority from the authenticity of the other.

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Liberal Judaism offers a third-way (article written in my role of Chairman of Liberal Judaism, and published in The Jewish Chronicle 160514)

The growth of the Charedi and secular sections of our community identified by the recent JPR community survey has been much remarked upon. Much less noted has been growth by almost a third of those identifying as progressive.

These figures hide a huge “churn”. Nevertheless, they demonstrate the ability of Liberal Judaism – in the words of a once famous beer advertisement – to reach the Jews other denominations cannot reach.

The trend is confirmed by the increase in the number of Liberal Jewish communities. In the past few weeks we have seen new Liberal communities established in Suffolk and York, bringing the total number to 40. Over 300 people attended our largest ever biennial conference last weekend.

Membership numbers are up, engagement is growing and finances are robust. But the impact of Liberal Judaism is not just about numbers.
Over the years, Progressive Judaism has broken numerous taboos, appointing the first women rabbis, the first openly LGBT rabbis, providing mixed-faith blessings and welcoming the children of such couples on an equal basis, regardless of the gender of the Jewish parent.

Why? Not to annoy more traditional sections of the community nor to modernise for modernity’s sake, but because we believe Judaism must be about positive action, not bloodlines.

It was not enough for Liberal Jews to bless same-sex couples in our synagogues. We put our values into action by playing a leading role in the campaign that has led to the introduction of equal marriage legislation for everyone. It is therefore a matter of great pride for us that one of the country’s very first same sex marriages was blessed by a Liberal rabbi.

It is the same compulsion to put Jewish values into action that has led us to become the first Living Wage certified synagogal movement in the country, for our communities sign up for Fairtrade goods and for our synagogues to go Green.

I realise that this is a manifesto which may alarm other sections of the community. I hope that they will understand that, whatever our disagreements, they are “for the sake of heaven”.

Our biennial conference last weekend was entitled “Radical Roots – Relevant Responses”. Judaism has always been a progressive religion, even within the Orthodox tradition, such as the transition from patrilineality in the Torah to the matrilineality generally followed today.

Progression is present in the rulings of rabbis through the ages which have constantly sought to reinterpret halachah to ensure its relevance to the modern world.

The challenge that Liberal Judaism has accepted for itself and which, during my five years as its chair, has shaped my actions, is to offer a form of Judaism which “opts in” to the modern world.

But we cannot opt in at the expense of opting out of the Jewish community. That is why I have made it a key tenet of my approach that -whatever our disagreements – Liberal Judaism plays its full part in the communal world. We can only exercise influence where we take a seat at the table.

So, as I enter my last year as chair, these are the challenges I set for Liberal Judaism: first, we need to collaborate better within our own Progressive community – Liberal and Reform. Already, we represent over a third of affiliated Jews; the more we work together, the stronger our voice.
Second, we need to provide support for our young people that is premised not on what we are against – fighting antisemitism and anti-Israeli sentiment – but what we are for – the positive role of Judaism in society at large.

And third, we need to resist the temptation to see the Jewish community as a continuum from strictly Orthodox to secular, with Progressive Judaism somewhere along the route. Instead, Progressive Judaism has the potential to offer the “third way”, which enables Jews, wherever they live and however they identify with their religion, to continue to be fulfilled as both Jews and participants in the wider world.

Third Way:

Liberal Judaism Biennial:

WUPJ President visits UK:

Liberal leader advocates federation:

Rabbi Julia Neuberger moves to West London:

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To MOOC or not to MOOC: Martin Bean and Mary Beard in discussion on The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 040314

Sarah Montague: Now then, 250,000 people have signed up to take courses from Britain’s universities online via the website FutureLearn. It was set up a few months ago by the Open University in 20 British universities.
In the States, MOOCs (as they’re known) have been unbelievably popular. At Harvard more people signed up for them in a single year than graduated in its entire 378 year history. But since the first ones a couple of years ago, some of its early pioneers who were inspired by what they saw as MOOCs power to do good in the world, have been horrified by what they describe as its hijacking at home.
Mitch Duneier is a sociology professor at Princeton University. He was one of the first MOOC superstars. I interviewed him for a Radio 4 documentary series that I’d been doing, called “My Teacher is an App” and he told me that he loved teaching to people in a 113 countries, that it had been a highlight of his career, but he is now so worried about the effect of MOOCs on universities and colleges in the States that he’s stopped doing them.
Michell Duneier: It’s very clear to me that the agenda of some is to take these classes and to use them to cut back on funding for state universities. I had quite frankly become embarrassed to be associated with a movement that increasingly was looking like it was going to be putting colleagues and future professors out of business.
Sarah Montague: So what effect will their arrival here in the UK have on universities and colleges here. We’re joined by Martin Bean, who is Vice Chancellor of the Open University and it’s one of the organisations behind the FutureLearn MOOC platform online, and by Mary Beard who is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge. Good morning to you both.
Martin Bean: Morning Sarah.
Mary Beard: Hi!
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard, what do you reckon will happen as a result of MOOC’s arrival here? I mean obviously people could have done them online in the United States but there is an argument that if you could be taught by one of the best professors in the country, why go to a second rate university or college?
Mary Beard: Well I think there’s a danger and you know it’s early days yet, there’s a danger that what we’ll do is create a new division between the privileged few who actually get to meet their professors, who listen to their lectures, who argue with them, who have their exams marked by their professors – and on the other hand the unprivileged mass who just see some star professor on the internet, have an internet chat room to go to and have a computer marked assignment at the end. And I think we’re in danger of confusing here really the transmission of knowledge – which I suspect MOOCs are quite good at – and education. Education is about eyeball and interaction and it’s not really about having an assignment on Hamlet marked by multiple choice by computer.
Sarah Montague: Martin Bean, what about that charge that it’ll end up with a system where rich kids get taught by professors and poor kids get taught by computer?
Martin Bean: Yes, I think it’s really important that we don’t define quality based on mode Sarah. I mean I think if we focus on the learner, these courses are free, open to anyone regardless of age, wealth or educational background and they really don’t replace a degree but are a fantastic opportunity to sample one. And from FutureLearn, the early students coming out, 94% of them would recommend taking one to a friend. And you know the ability to open up. This week for example we’ve got Shakespeare and His World from the University of Warwick being offered and Discover Dentistry from the University of Sheffield.
Sarah Montague: Before you come back on that Professor Beard, Martin Bean, I said at the outset there’s 250,000 people I know have enrolled with FutureLearn which is tiny compared with the impact in the States. Is that because you don’t have the likes of Oxford and Cambridge among your 20 universities? And they are the sort of headline grabbers.
Martin Bean: No, absolutely not. We only really started offering our first courses in October, just a little while ago and we’ve already got 450,000 course enrolments, a 190 countries. So as I’ve often said, we might be a little bit late to the dance but we’re going to be very focused on the quality of the learner experience. I don’t think the future of MOOCs will be bigger is always better. I think it’ll be the quality of the experience that you can offer, Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard.
Mary Beard: Martin’s been very judicious there really because MOOCs as an adjunct or a taster available free and for anyone, I think that’s wonderful and I think there isn’t anybody really in higher education who doesn’t think that it’s exciting to think about how we can use the internet to share what we offer more widely. The problem is when the MOOC turns out to be all you get and it’s a substitute for the kind of face to face, eyeball to eyeball interaction that the OU for example has, got a very long history in distance learning, has always added into their courses.
Sarah Montague: And that’s been one of the problems in the States hasn’t it Martin Bean, where actually with the best of intentions, everybody looked at this and thought, isn’t it incredible? We can reach people with an education that they’re not getting. But it’s this argument that actually it was hijacked at home, that universities struggling to fund courses were thinking, look we can put on a video course instead and just have our professor as a glorified teaching assistant.
Martin Bean: Yes, and that’s where I think people have got it wrong and I agree with Mary. You know MOOCs can’t be seen as an alternative to great discourse of tutors spending time with students interacting in a Socratic way and I think universities or higher education institutions that think that somehow they can give up great teaching by substituting it with MOOC like courses are sadly wrong Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Professor Beard, have you looked at the MOOCs that are online that the FutureLearn do?
Mary Beard: Yes, yes. I haven’t looked at FutureLearn actually, I’ve looked at – I’ve had some involvement with some in the States and you know I – you can’t possibly say that they are all bad or all good. Just – all education is varied. I think what worries me is the kind of the cult of the star lecturer that they kind of build-up you know that the star lecturer -
Sarah Montague: Do you know it’s the point on the star lecturer Mary Beard we’ll have to leave it at. Martin Bean and Mary Beard, thank you.

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The Courage to Be – according to Paul Tillich

The Protestant existentialist theologian Paul Tillich summed up “the courage to be”: the courage to be part of a larger whole, the courage to stand alone, and the courage to accept the fact that we are carried by the creative power of being in which every creature participates.

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Government Communication Service: a new dawn?

Alex Aiken’s New Year message for Government communications is spot on. Building on last year’s Whitehall capability reviews, top ministers and civil servants are recognising that government communications are a critical strategic asset to any government. It’s great to see professional development being given renewed emphasis. Even more encouraging is appreciation that government communications can and should draw from a wider talent pool.

If you take my communications team at The Open University, you can see how communications is fast evolving to be more proactive, integrated and interactive. To be even more effective, engagement needs to be better targeted, deeper and more meaningful. That’s what we learnt with our very successful Three Words marketing and communications campaign, which started in social media networks and engaged OU students to speak in their own terms about their experience of studying at the OU.

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Stephen Ward the Musical: entertaining and troubling

Congratulations to the cast and production team for Stephen Ward, the musical, now being performed at the Aldwych Theatre! Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the music, Richard Eyre directed it, and Stephen Mear choreographed it. Alexander Hanson authoritatively plays Ward, Charlotte Spencer Christine Keeler and Charlotte Blackledge Mandy Rice-Davies. A great evening’s entertainment, mingled rightly with a nagging sense of unfinished business. Stephen Ward is portrayed as the Profumo Affair’s biggest victim. Lloyd Webber said at the launch, “There are people who feel it was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that ever happened.”

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Barclays boss, Antony Jenkins, on rebuilding trust

Antony Jenkins, Barclays CEO, guest editor on The Today Programme, has said that it could take up to ten years to rebuild trust in Barclays (1). Jenkins is ushering in big changes, and one of them is a change of mind-set and speaking to values that promote responsible business.

In my cross-collaboration report for the Foreign Office, the first international report of its kind published in 2009, I singled out trust as a key driver in improving collaboration, not just between sectors, but with consumers and citizens. I researched the banking sector, particularly Lloyds Bank.

One of the risks identified by Dr. Roger Miles, an expert in risk strategy, is gaming behaviour, learning the rules of the game and playing up to them.

Organisations are rarely one homogeneous mass. A large bank can have competing cultures, where one of its strongest performing businesses – in terms of income generation- consciously or unconsciously sets its own rules, ignoring its corporate, espoused values. CEOs can set direction, but cannot by themselves change destination if the organisation is pulling in different directions. This is why, inspired by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations tradition, my theory of collaboration captures conscious as well as unconscious forces (2). Complexity science is illuminating for practitioners of organisational development because of the importance placed on the emergent, not just the planned. Every interaction produces consequences, opportunities as well as challenges, often unforeseen. These changes are difficult to “control” – but it is possible to respond appropriately to them.

Leaders are particularly vulnerable to the contradictions embodied by organisations. Antony Jenkins is very mindful of the challenges he faces in turning Barclays around. He rightly argues that leadership must happen at every level of an organisation.

The point he makes today is not just about reputation, and the time lag between a change in behaviour and changes in perception. One reason why it could take as long as a decade for Barclays to recover trust is public loss of confidence in the banking system, not just one bank. Barclays not only needs to get its own house in order, which under Antony Jenkins, it already seems to be doing, but ensure that acting collaboratively the banking sector sets itself standards to which it is seen time and time again to adhere. This requires not just PR, but living the brand inside out.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has spoken about how much some finance leaders are still “in denial”.

When asked what “strategic communications” means, I explain that all the different channels that make for communications activity are not a substitute for a clear articulation of how strategy, policy, operations and communications are fully aligned within an organisation. Organisations need communications directors, as much as they need finance directors and HR directors, for this strategic function, as well as the management of the communication resource.

With the energy sector under attack on prices, large dominant sectors are now more vulnerable to worsening reputation, and because of suspicion of collusion, are finding it more difficult to collaborate at a time when collaboration is most needed. Leaders need to shape the rules of the game, as well as play the game. Jenkins gets it. Do other CEOs?

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 revealed that under pressure systems can respond collaboratively to prevent further disruption. But what has not yet been demonstrated is how the banking sector is shaping its own cross-institutional reform. Banks will be even more trusted if the public saw that change was coming from within the sector, and not just being imposed from without.


(2) Eliat Aram and Dr. Mannie Sher, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, have helped me develop my thinking on collaboration through a professional network I established, Collaborative Strategies Network. I first worked with them when I was Chairman of Council at the institute, 2003 to 2007, a time of significant change and consolidation for the organisation itself.

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Public understanding of crime and justice: the campaign continues

Under the last Labour government, I was a senior civil servant, and in one of my roles, I was Director of Communications at what is now the Ministry of Justice. In many respects, both under the last government and in this one, MoJ is one of the most quietly reforming of departments – unglamorous yet critical to the evolution of our justice system, which ought to be the best in the world, yet struggles.

I worked closely with the then Lord Chancellor, the dynamic and forward-thinking Charlie Falconer, and Lord Chief Justice, Harry Woolf, who has since become a valuable source of insight to me on restorative justice and mediation.

The two of them were responsible for an important new constitutional settlement with the judiciary. I supported them by creating the first ever Head of Public Information to support the Lord Chief Justice. Society stands to gain by an independent judiciary, a modern one that can effectively communicate its purpose and plans. My other main challenges in that time were leading communications planning across Whitehall to support the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, where we won grudging acceptance from sceptics that government was ready to be open, and communicating significant changes in legal aid, though not on the scale of what has happened since.

Some sections of the media did themselves no favours on FoI by making vexatious requests. But I spent most of my time arguing the case for greater openness in government, even though many ministers and civil servants I worked with thought FoI was more trouble than it was worth. This was altogether the wrong attitude, in my view. We still have a “need to know”, rather than a “need to share” culture in government and large companies, and security and commercial confidence are best protected if boundaries between sensitive and public information are not blurred.

I reported to the Permanent Secretary, Sir Alex Allan, who as Tony Blair’s e-Envoy, first appointed me in 2000 as the UK Government’s new Director of e-Communications.

This period in my career revived a life-long interest in social policy, especially reform of the criminal justice system. I was a member of the National Criminal Justice Board, representing the communications function of Home Office, MoJ and Crown Prosecution Service, and led internal consultancy on collaboration among all the main criminal justice agencies in England and Wales for what was the Office for Criminal Justice Reform.

But it was my work as a consultant at Cornerstone Global Associates in support of advocacy and business development for the restorative justice expert and pioneer John McDonald, at ProActive ReSolutions, that is still the most far-reaching. John McDonald took me under his wing in training Lancashire Constabulary develop their officers’ skills in implementing restorative justice.

Under the Coalition Government, I worked as a private sector consultant making the case for the wider adoption of restorative justice, conducting primary and secondary research that brought me into contact with MoJ ministers, police forces, Restorative Justice Council and Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology. I supported a wider coalition, led by the Restorative Justice Council, that led to changes in legislation, and a marked shift in the institutional response to restorative justice.

The tide has turned on restorative justice, partly for economic, political and professional reasons. Economic, because pressure on public spending means reducing court and other costs. Political, because the last Labour government was timid about reform in this area, fearing a backlash from right-wing media. The Daily Mail has good instincts on public anxiety on many issues, but I think that it does not understand the cycle of emotions that victims of crime go through. Anger is certainly part of the response, and rightly so, but other emotions also come into play, to which media and officialdom are all too often insensitive. Victims of crime suffer a triple whammy: the crime itself, the authorities’ often clunky response to it, and media and society’s either sensationalist or resigned response to it. Lacking is emotional intelligence, and a process for managing response over time.

There is a deep desire to understand what has happened, to make sense of it, if not forgive, at least accept, obtain justice, and move on. Restorative justice is not a substitute for custodial sentences for some crimes, but even with serious crimes, it can make a difference.

All political parties need to confront the deeper issues relating to crime and punishment, in a way that both acknowledges the experience of victims of crime and crime’s wider impact on families and communities, and fosters a positive environment for addressing the consequences of crime.

I know from former colleagues and more recent contacts in the criminal justice system that there is an ongoing debate on the future of police and crime commissioners. My advice to all political parties is to lay off the Chief Constables and concentrate instead on building a better, deeper public understanding of crime and its resolution. That’s where real leadership lies.

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Western governments and business be warned: security/liberty – the debate that won’t go away

There was never an end of ideology, even with the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is always ideology: it is just that some ideologies are worth preserving because they do the least harm, and even some good, in the right measure.

Western liberal democracy has its own ideology, a combination of the exercise of legitimate power, pursuit of national interests, and a commitment to universal values, including freedom and democracy. Cynics and opponents will see this mix as inherently contradictory, but it is the secret to lasting stability. Democracy’s dynamic quality is its biggest source of strength, even though it does not aways feel that way. Terrorists, organised crime and opponents of democracy all seek a false order where difference is stifled and life is devalued.

No system can improve on the combination offered by a properly functioning liberal democracy, especially when leaders lead on the basis of public trust and confidence.

Not surprisingly, the diplomatic services of Western powers pick and mix between political and economic realism and high-minded values. This is as much an art as a science. The late Robin Cook’s mistake in articulating “ethical foreign policy” was to put all expectations in one basket: idealism is easily undermined by hard cases. But an ethical core to foreign policy is a prerequisite for differentiating liberal democracy from other systems.

One cornerstone of liberal democracy is public trust in states and corporates, and their leaders’s skill in managing boundaries and avoiding excessive power and influence. Power is earned. Leaders in a liberal democracy are custodians. The citizen fights back against all forms of tyranny, external and internal. Humanity always ultimately wins against abusers and misusers of power.

Trust is not a fluffy concept but real and exacting. Government and corporate communications are easily undermined if trust is not maintained at three levels:

- Trust in the accuracy of what is said
- Trust in the ability to get done what is promised
- Trust in leaders being on the same wavelength as those they ostensibly serve

These are as much the working tools of a civilised society as actual institutions and their levers of power.

The last level of trust is frequently forgotten by the functionaries in government departments and large companies because they do not see beyond their immediate task, and reduce the rest of the world to one homogeneous mass to be ignored or manipulated. If leaders are to keep public confidence, they need to respond not just to the needs of their organisations but to the needs of those they serve.

British and US governments are losing the PR battle because they are not addressing what matters to most people in the post-Snowden security/liberty debate. They rightly address the threat of terrorism and organised crime, but it is not a choice between security and liberty, but a combination of the two that will defeat democracy’s enemies.

PR battles do not matter in their own right. They matter because they are often symptomatic of a wider malaise. If British and US governments are to be strategic, rather than just tactical – and this includes the security chiefs who went before the UK Parliament’s intelligence committee- they must realise that they need to act on revitalising and reframing the public debate.

The security/liberty debate will not go away in 2014, much as some in governments and their state machines wish it would. Looking back on my earlier journalistic and government career, I remember sceptics and critics of the environment movement saying that the environment agenda would run its course. It did not, and evolved into something even stronger, sustaintainable development, which in turn evolved into something stronger still, the battle against climate change. Our world will implode if we do not deal with the two cancers: global warming and an untamed surveillance society that erodes all bonds of trust.

Governments and large companies should confront the deeper issues, not the media. They cannot spin their way out of growing suspicion and disillusion by a growing section of the public. They should take heed of the latest campaign for digital rights (see link below).

We need a more informed and intelligent debate that governments and corporates themselves are keen to conduct, or to have conducted by an independent commission and public consultation, based on a real and shared understanding and appreciation of the risks and opportunities. The authorities can only emerge more effective and secure in their public support as a result.

Apart from anything else that might come from it, this proactive approach to embracing a more open debate would show that our leaders care enough about what makes liberal democracy different, and want to stop the steady erosion of trust between those who govern and those who are governed. I wonder whether or where this appears on any government or security services risk register. But for the good of our society, this risk should be better managed.

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“Strategic” is here to stay: LinkedIn survey on most used buzzwords

LinkedIn certainly knows how to have its cake and eat it. First, it develops an extraordinary network that keeps growing, by encouraging its users to promote their expertise and experience. And now bombards us with requests to “endorse” others (I’m fine with that: you can still be discerning). Second, it conducts annual surveys to reflect back which words we use- or more apparently, over-use. “Over-use” is a loaded term: you could just say “favourite”.

This year’s favourites are “strategic”, “creative” and “responsible”. I don’t quite follow the logic of some reports that then go on to claim employers won’t be interested. On the contrary: if there is evidence to support the claim, my advice is: go for it! The word “strategic” is indeed over-used in some organisations, but so too generally are the words “peace”, “success”, “prosperity”. Yes, over-use of certain words devalues their currency. I once had a boss at the BBC who signed ALL her communications, Love …

I think one should be sparing with the word “love” and “friend”, though it’s probably too late for Facebook to reverse its policy on “friends”. The Open University’s Secretary, Fraser Woodburn is a role model for measured use of language: the whole university knows Fraser’s “fine” means “good”, as it should. So an “excellent” from Fraser is truly worth receiving as feedback, because he doesn’t hand out compliments like confetti.

Overall, good can come in using words such as “strategic”‘, “creative” and “responsible” because it shows intent.

I would be delighted if 21st century society were to become more strategic, more creative, more responsible, provided it’s not just words, but actions. At the beginning was the word…

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