What does the bar-headed goose have to teach us about striking spiritual balance in our lives? Is the separation of church and state really as fundamental to the constitution as everyone thinks it is? When is stress really a good thing?
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I didn’t want to go in the first place. As my 92-year-old student likes to quote: Travelling is for peasants.
But my wife convinced me with simple arithmetic. Four tickets to bring three kids and son-in-law home or two tickets to visit them. No-brainer.
So I went grudgingly, confirming in the end the truism that some of life’s most profound moments come not only unexpected but against our will.
Our first stop was the 9/11 museum. I marveled at the artistic vision that had conceived the memorial pools, the water channeling down in rivulets that mirrored the face of the fallen towers, the continuous downward rush balanced by the redemptive feeling of water — the source of life — returning to the heart of the world. Here there was solace, closure, and consolation.
But a very different feeling accosted me inside. Almost upon entering the doors a single word brandished itself across my mind’s eye: Holocaust.
Let me explain.
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What bad calls in baseball teach us about global terrorism, climate change, and the leadership to face the real problems that threaten civilized society
Baseball aficionados will not soon forget the game played on June 2, 2010, at Comerica Park between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga should have become the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. Instead, the first base umpire called Indians batter Jason Donald safe at first base, handing Mr. Galarraga the lesser distinction as winning pitcher of baseball’s most “Imperfect Game.”
The question on everyone’s mind was, justifiably: How could this happen?
In an interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, Etan Green of Stanford Business School offered this thesis based on her research team’s observation and analysis of over a million pitches:
“If you’re an umpire and you’re unsure about what the correct call is and you’re given a choice between one call that’s particularly consequential and one call that’s relatively inconsequential, they will more or less preserve the status quo.”
This says a lot about the process of calling plays, which is much more of an art than a science. It also suggests applications that extend far beyond the field of athletics.
Readers of a certain age may remember an old Goodyear tire commercial with the tag line, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” The applications transcend auto repair, as Shaomin Li, professor of international business at Virginia’s Old Dominion University discovered on a business trip to Taiwan.
As he was being chauffeured from one venue to the next, Professor Li noticed that his host always backed into parking lot spaces, opting for often tricky and laborious maneuvering over the simpler method of pulling straight forward. Detecting a wider pattern of behavior, Professor Li conducted his own experiment. He discovered that 88% of Chinese drivers back in when they park, in contrast to 6% of American drivers.
“All of a sudden,” recounts Professor Li, “I said, gee — isn’t this delayed gratification?”
We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on a single study, but this observation does not appear in a vacuum. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell investigates the popular stereotype that transplanted Asians excel academically and professionally in contrast to homegrown Americans.
Mr. Gladwell discovered that the stereotype is much more accurate among southern Chinese than among northern Chinese, and he identifies a single reason for the difference.
In an old stand-up routine, comedian Steve Martin proposed his way to get out of anything with two simple words: I forgot. As in the statement, “I forgot bank robbery is a crime.” Absurdly funny, since we’ve all learned by middle school that ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.
Even those who consider themselves religious are quite capable of rationalizing their way around almost any moral impediment. People whose aversion to murder makes them challenge the morality of capital punishment may be equally passionate in their support for euthanasia, partial-birth abortion, and the “selected non-treatment” of handicapped newborns.
Even the most righteous among us are not immune from moral indiscretion. As the sages taught: Most people are guilty of theft; a few are guilty of sexual immorality; and everyone is guilty of loshon hara (malicious gossip).
So what makes some of us more moral than others? Is moral conduct simply the absorption of cultural values or submission to some doctrinal code? Are we nothing more than products of our environment, or is there some moral imperative programmed into the human psyche that we can channel through sheer force of will? Why is the path of virtue often so hard to find and why, even in moments of moral clarity, do we experience such dissonance between our minds and our hearts?