Thursday, November 26, 2015

Good TV

Television has evolved into a rather sophisticated creature. Not only can you watch what you want, when you want, as much as you want, but there’s a veritable feast of programming at your fingertips. In the past, you might have commented on a particular program that was ‘good TV’ but these days television has kicked things up a notch. TV has moved from, as Jim Collins would say, from good to great.

The news for those who have the time and inclination is that watching high-quality television dramas (such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The West Wing’) can increase your emotional intelligence. Well, according to a new study, and depending how you look at it.

Melissa Dahl presents the findings, with a grain of salt, on New York magazine. Study participants were asked to watch either a television drama or a non-fiction program before taking a test to measure their emotional intelligence, which involved judging the emotions displayed in images of human eyes. The empathy scores of people who watched the television drama were higher than those who watched the non-fiction program (who happened to score higher than people who didn’t watch anything at all).

As Dahl points out, these findings mirror the results of a similar study in relation to reading that claimed that reading can increase empathy. The explanation provided by one study was that people who were ‘emotionally transported’ by something they were reading (putting themselves in someone else’s shoes) became more empathetic, while non-transported readers became less empathetic.

But hold on a minute – does that just mean that reading fiction makes you more empathetic, or if people with empathy simply read more? And in the case of television – isn’t it obvious that we might feel a little more connected, and therefore empathetic, as a result of siding with or against characters in a good-quality drama, than we might feel if we were watching the National Geographic channel? “Do what you will with this new research,” says Dahl. I will.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Game of Consequences

Norman Ellis turned my life around when I was 15 years old.

We stayed friends until he died of dementia last year.

His daughter Gill Belchetz has written a wonderful book – her first.  “A Game of Consequences’ - Every action has a consequence.

The stories range from Leeds to Lahore, from Mombasa to Paris and yet, somehow, are interlinked.

The proceeds from this great book will go to charities leading the fight against dementia.

Buy the book, give copies to your friends and family.  Help make a difference to the 850,000 dementia sufferers in the UK and elsewhere.

‘A Game of Consequences' is available on Amazon.

Thank you for helping.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jonah Lomu (1975-2015)

New Zealand and the sports world is mourning the death at age 40 of rugby superstar Jonah Lomu, from complications associated with the kidney disease he had long been afflicted with. Jonah was a great man, on the field and in life. I was at the Rugby World Cup semi-final in South Africa in 1995 for the All Blacks’ game against England. Jonah touched the ball seven times in the game and scored four tries, including arguably the most famous try in rugby history when Jonah ran over Mike Catt on the way to the try line. It’s said that this was the moment that prompted Rupert Murdoch to buy the television rights for southern hemisphere rugby. (See all of Jonah’s 15 World Rugby Cup tries here).

Jonah was a frequent visitor to my Auckland home, and a friend to my daughter Bex. I’ll never forget one get-together we had in San Francisco in 1998. In August last year I wrote a tribute to Robin Williams who had just died, recounting a memorable photo shoot with the actor and the rugby player. The postscript to this story happened that night at the end-of-event party for the State of the World Conference in the penthouse of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. The room was stacked with political leaders, US Senators, Nobel Prize winners, captains of industry, change agents…and the person they all wanted to meet was Jonah. He stood in a corner of this famous hotel suite, the last person in the room to elevate their own importance, and received people with the grace and humility that characterized his life.

It has been written that Jonah was the most famous New Zealander, perhaps more so than Ed Hillary, or aviator Jean Batten who was the most famous woman in the world at her time of epic flights over lonely oceans. It’s a sort of academic exercise, a fame counter, but it does in one way serve to place Jonah Lomu in a pantheon of supernovas who have inspired our purpose. If New Zealand’s purpose is to “win the world from the edge,” then Jonah Lomu is on the team, forever wearing the #11 jersey.

Vale, Jonah Lomu.

Photo credit: Kevin Stent, Sunday Star Times, 1998

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Heart Informs the Brain

The heart and brain are our two most vital organs. We need them to function physically, but also mentally and emotionally. While scientists have developed a good understanding of how the two organs communicate with each other, there is now emerging research on how this interaction affects our consciousness.

Arjun Walia summarizes some of the fascinating research recently undertaken by the HeartMath Institute. We often think of the brain as the command center, responsible for how our whole body functions, but scientists now know that the heart in fact sends more signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart. The heart therefore affects how we think and function emotionally; conscious awareness comes from the brain and heart working together.

Perhaps this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. From everyday experience we know that when we are calm and the heart beats steadily, we are more able to think clearly. When we are in a stressful situation or panicking, our heart tends to race and our clarity of thought is hindered making it more difficult to think, remember or learn. So different emotional states send different signals to the brain and affect our cognitive functions.

But what isn’t well understood is where these emotional states come from in the first place. Research in this area poses really interesting questions about consciousness and how it interplays with the material world. Is consciousness a product of the brain or a receiver of it?

The science out there is complicated and relates to quantum mechanics. But essentially, how we think about the world around us affects the way we see and interact with it. This can also create a collective consciousness which is stubbornly difficult to challenge even when many individuals may have a different view of the world. Given the idea of consciousness is rather abstract (and even spiritual) it seems a little strange to see it analyzed scientifically as a state of matter. But understanding how we interact with the world around us will help us to better comprehend one another and perhaps develop a more empathetic, emotionally aware society.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015


Rocking Rod is back. Last year’s Time was the hors d’oeuvre. This month’s Another Country is the main course. 15 original songs… rock, tender ballads, reggae, blues, upbeat and nostalgic at the same time…Batman, Superman, Spiderman is for Cameron and grandsons/young sons everywhere.

Youngest son turned me on to HBO’s The Jinx. An amazing documentary series about Robert Durst. A classic. Compulsive viewing.


The Lion in Winter

“I did it at one time…you can’t do something forever. I did it once, and I can do other things now. But I can’t do that.”

Bob Dylan said that (see Wednesday’s blog).

A poignant but positive take on growing older.

Yesterday was fun.

Tomorrow will be too.

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