The Chinese publisher is Posts & Telecom Press, a leading publisher of business and non-fiction titles in China. The Chinese translation had been scheduled for publication in February 2020, but the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed publication. Given the continuing recovery in China that began in the last few weeks, the publisher is now positioning the book as an essential tool for Chinese leaders in all sectors to be able to restore trust of critical stakeholders that was lost in the pandemic.
As with the English edition, the Chinese edition is available as a physical book, an e-book, and an audio book. The Chinese language title is 从危到机: 危机中的决策之痛与领导之术, which translates roughly into English as From Danger to Opportunity: The Agony of Decision-Making and Leadership in Crisis.
The Chinese edition was translated from English by Xinyin Lu, deputy director of the Institute of Corporate Communication at the Academy of Media and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, and by Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, Chair Professor and Dean of the School of Government and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, the leading Chinese university specializing in journalism, communication, documentary filmmaking, and related disciplines. Dr. Dong also wrote the foreword to the Chinese edition.
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, translator and author of the foreword.
Translator Xinyin Lu
The Chinese edition of The Agony of Decision has been endorsed by:
Yang Yujun, dean of the Academy of Media and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, former head of the Information Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense of China, and former spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense of China. Both Yang and Dr. Dong are part of the Expert Committee for the COVID-19 pandemic in China.
Du Shaozhong, vice chair of All-China Environment Federation (ACEF), and former deputy director and spokesperson for the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
Wang Lianglan, former spokesperson for The National Medical Products Administration (the FDA of China)
Lv Dapeng, spokesperson for China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (NYSE: SNP, $1,217B market cap)
Wu Huanling, managing director of China Public Relations Association (CPRA), former vice president of General electric medical system (China) Co., Ltd.,
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong
The Chinese edition was made possible by Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, Chair Professor and Dean of the School of Government and Public Affairs, and Provost for Faculty of Professional Studies, Executive Education and Continuing Education at the Communication University of China.
Dr. Dong is also Vice Chairman of the China Public Relations Association (CPRA) and Vice Chair of Communication and Education, All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.
He is one of the official advisors for transparent governance, strategic communications and crisis management for the State Council Ministries.
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong conducting a television interview at Communication University of China, 2015
Prior to his current appointments, Dr. Dong was a presenter for the BBC World Service in London and a morning news anchor for the China Central Television (CCTV).
Dr. Dong was among the founders of Journalism School and the founding Chair and former director of the Institute of Public Relations and Strategic Communications at Tsinghua University. He is also a very popular professor of strategic communications for the prestigious EMBA, EDP and DBA programs at Tsinghua University.
He was appointed the Shorenstein Fellow on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in 2009, and most recently as an Eisenhower Fellow by the Eisenhower Fellowships in Philadelphia, USA.
In 2019, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership awarded Dr. Dong its Outstanding Leader Award in recognition of his consequential professional achievement that sets the standard to which other leaders may aspire; his use of strategic communication to change the world; and having inspired and empowered the next generation of leaders through teaching, mentoring, for their advocacy on behalf of others.
Logos president Helio Fred Garcia presenting the Logos Institute Outstanding Leader Award to Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, May, 2019
The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis is about how leaders and the organizations they lead can maintain reputation, trust, confidence, financial and operational strength, and competitive advantage in a crisis. First, by thinking clearly; second by making smart choices; and third by executing those choices effectively.
But making smart choices in a crisis can be agonizing.
The difference between leaders who handle crises well and those who handle crises poorly is mental readiness: the ability some leaders exhibit that allows them to make smart choices quickly in a crisis. And this ability creates real competitive advantage. One of the predictable patterns of crisis response is that the severity of the crisis event does not determine whether an organization and its leader get through a crisis effectively. Indeed, two organizations, similarly situated, can see dramatically different outcomes based on the quality and timeliness of their individual responses to the crisis events.
And the ability to respond effectively in a timely way is a consequence of mental readiness. This book is for leaders of organizations who need to be good stewards of reputation, trust, and confidence; and for those who advise those leaders, whether in public relations, or law, or other business disciplines.
Graphic of The Ten Most Common Mis-Steps in a Crisis, from the Chinese Edition of The Agony of Decsion
In 2018 The Agony of Decision was named one of the Best Crisis Management Books of All Time (#2 of 51) by the leading nonfiction book review site BookAuthority. It is currently listed #3 of 100 All-Time Best Crisis Management Books. BookAuthority uses a proprietary technology to identify and rate the best nonfiction books, using dozens of different signals, including public mentions, recommendations, ratings, sentiment, popularity and sales history.
The Agony of Decision has been adopted in a number of universities and professional schools in the United States and abroad.
Garcia was planning a teaching and speaking trip to China in conjunction with the publication of the Chinese edition. But the COVID-19 crisis in the United States makes such a visit impossible for the foreseeable future.
Logos Institute Thought Leadership in China
Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been a thought leader in China for nearly ten years.
In 2014 Power of Communication was published in Chinese by Pearson Education Asia Ltd in Hong Kong and Publishing House of Electronics Industry in Beijing under the title 沟通的力量.
In 1991, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia was invited to be an International Distinguished Scholar at Tsinghua University as part of an international exchange on crisis management among academics, business leaders, the government, and outside experts. Tsinghua is consistently named the top one or two university in China.
He also taught at a number of Chinese government ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and the Chinese Food and Drug Administration. And he did a workshop for the chief spokesperson of all the ministries. He also keynoted conferences for a number of non-governmental organizations and associations.
In 2015, in conjunction with the Chinese language publication of The Power of Communication, Garcia conducted an extensive teaching and speaking tour of China.
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As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to grow, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been advising clients and carefully studying communication by leaders across a range of sectors and forms of organization.
We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors and secretaries general, and public officials. And we have identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid inadvertent self-inflicted harm.
Seven Crises in One
One of the foundational principles of effective crisis management is to name the problem accurately and to understand the true scope and likely risk of the crisis.
I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is actually seven crises in one. Think of these as seven different dimensions of the crisis. There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others. The seven dimensions of COVID-19 are these:
Public Health Crisis: At its core COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Half a million people worldwide have gotten sick; tens of thousands have died. More will get sick and die before things get better. But now in the United States the public health crisis includes a healthcare delivery system that is being strained to the breaking point. As hospitals in epicenters begin to fill up, there’s also a shortage of medical equipment and personal protective gear. Health workers are at risk, as are other patients.
Business Crisis: COVID-19 presents a business problem for all forms of organizations. There is a cost impact, for most organizations a negative one. There is a revenue impact, mostly negative; for some potentially catastrophic. There is disruption of operations. There is an HR impact.
Economic Crisis: At the same time there is a significant economic crisis underway. The risk of falling into a major recession, very low two months ago, now is quite high. The markets have exhibited unprecedented volatility. Economic uncertainty is wearing on people and institutions.
Information Crisis: From the beginning of the pandemic there has been significant incorrect information, incomplete information, and in some cases intentionally misleading information in the information ecosystem. This information crisis leads to significant misunderstanding about who is at risk of contracting the illness, who can transmit it, and what precautions are appropriate.
Competence of Government Crisis: Not just in the U.S., but initially in China, Iran, and other nations the initial responses were bungled and the virus spread. In the U.S. we have yet to see a whole of government response. Rather, we’ve seen a fragments of government response. Only in the third week of March, and the third month of COVID-19 in the U.S., are there sufficient tests and testing sites. But there is insufficient personal protective equipment for health workers, and a shortage of hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, and masks in retail stores.
Social Crisis: People’s lives have been upended; many people are losing or at risk of losing their jobs. Supermarket shelves are bare. Many companies have ordered employees to work from home; schools are closed or have gone to virtual learning. But there has also been a rise of incivility, insult, and violence against people who have been stigmatized. President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” has led to a wave of hate crimes against people perceived to be Asian or Asian-American.
Mental Health Crisis: Human beings are social animals, and social distancing is having an effect. Compound this with the fear of the illness, the rising rate of infections and fatalities, and the other dimensions of the crisis, people are fraught. They are fragile. And they need extra care. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for mental health professionals to volunteer to work with people not presently under their care to begin to meet this mental health need. I expect other governors will do the same.
Everything is Different
The unprecedented scope of the crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next. This crisis is unlike others. Among the differences:
This is unlike prior pandemics. This is the first global pandemic in a social media world. Recent pandemics were geographically contained. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was mostly confined to the Republic of Korea. Ebola was contained in the United States, and our military and public health experts were able to contain it in West Africa. And this is the first truly global pandemic in the lifetimes of most people in leadership positions.
This is unlike natural disasters. Most organizations are ready or can adapt to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. But those are generally geographically confined and are sudden but short in duration. COVID-19 is widespread and will continue for a very long time.
This is not like ordinary corporate crises. Most corporate crises are limited to a particular company, sector, or geography. But this one affects every organization. And unlike most corporate crises, this one has the additional dimensions of public health, economic risk, information challenges, competence of government, and social dislocation.
The situation is constantly changing. The scope of contagion, the government and society’s response to it, and our understanding of risk to ourselves are in constant flux. In a matter of days we saw an escalation from no large crowds to no crowds at all to stay-at-home orders to full lock-down orders.
This is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of work. As millions of American workers learn how to work from home, and as companies experiment with different modes of delivering products and services, the likelihood of a return to pre-COVID-19 conditions is not clear.
Crisis Response Best Practices
Most ineffective crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the leader in midst of crisis feel less vulnerable. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.
What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.
And that’s because of the way trust works.
A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc. Trust is what makes other elements of competitive advantage possible, from stock price to employee morale and productivity to support of regulators.
Trust, in turn, is the consequence of three related but slightly different things:
Promises fulfilled. These can be explicit promises, or implicit promises such as in a brand identity. If we are seen to break a promise, trust falls.
Expectations met. These can be expectations we set ourselves, such as by making promises. Or they can be expectations set by law or by government order. Or they can be expectations set by society. If we fail to meet expectations, trust falls.
Values lived. When those who matter to us experience us as living our stated values, the result is trust. If those who matter to us experience us as not living our stated values, trust falls.
And one of the patterns we notice is that it is much harder to restore trust once it has been lost than to maintain trust before it has been lost.
Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”
Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders.
The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do.
Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?
For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. To the level of all employees, or only those employees in this one facility, or only those employees who were present when something happened. We can inventory those granular expectations for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.
But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time: In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
What it means to care may be different from crisis to crisis, or from industry to industry. What it means to care in the early phases of the crisis may be different from what it means to care in the later phases of the crisis. But that we need to care doesn’t change.
The single largest predictor that trust will fall is the perception of indifference. And silence, when there is an expectation of caring, is interpreted by stakeholders as indifference. And it gives our adversaries, critics, media and social media, and trolls the ability to define us as uncaring, or incompetent, or as lacking integrity.
Applying Best Practices to COVID-19 Communication
As the Logos Institute team has studied institutional response to COVIID-19, we have derived these lessons applying the principle of caring to the pandemic.
Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values, or belief, or intent, or motivation. Don’t dive directly into the facts. Audiences are far more likely to read or listen, understand, and remember when the leader creates an emotional connection first, and that begins with the statement of values.
Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
Be direct: No euphemism. Euphemism is confusing to audiences, especially when under stress. If an employee has died because of COVID-19, say so.
Tell the truth: Avoid misleading half-truths. Remember that you’re in this for the long term. And eventually you’ll need employees to continue to want to work for you, and customers to want to do business with you. If you know that layoffs are likely, and you’re asked whether there will be layoffs, it may be tempting to say something literally true — “At this point there is no plan to lay people off.” This may be true, but the question was not about whether there is a plan but rather about whether there would be layoffs. A better response would be “We haven’t made a final decision, and we will do whatever we can to protect employees, but layoffs are a possibility.”
Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: public health, business crisis, economic crisis, information crisis, competence of government crisis, social crisis, and mental health crisis. It may be tempting to stay in a single frame, say, business crisis. But your stakeholders are experiencing all seven dimensions of the crisis.
Remember that expectations are dynamic. Yesterday’s expectations may not be helpful today. Calibrate against current expectations.
Communicate at multiple levels. Employees and other stakeholders need to hear from more than the CEO. At this point it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
Align on values; allow granular detail appropriate to each level. Whether the CEO or an EVP or VP or department head or project team leader, there should be alignment on the level of values, belief, intent, or motive. But at each level the granularity should be appropriate to the level of the leader doing the communication.
Convey a positive attitude that balances urgency against the provoking of panic. Effective leaders keep the focus on the future even while demonstrating urgency. But emotions themselves are contagious. Leaders need to stop short of provoking panic.
Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Arrogance makes empathy impossible, and it is empathy that gets leaders and organizations through a crisis. Leaders are often reluctant to express emotion or vulnerability. But the most effective ones do.
Get good at being on TV. Whether recording a video for public consumption or conducting a meeting via Zoom or Skype or GoToMeeting, leaders need to get good at communicating through a video camera.
Remember, people are feeling very fragile. People are scared; they’re worried about their jobs and their friends and their families. People’s work lives and personal lives have been upended. And some people are being stigmatized. Now is a time that calls for kindness. Effective leaders care.
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In 2011, Ewing co-founded the Teaching Business and Human Rights Forum, a unique platform for collaboration among individuals teaching business and human rights worldwide. The Forum has grown to include more than 300 members teaching business and human rights at some 150 institutions in 40 countries.
The Forum’s in-person Teaching Workshops provide an opportunity for teachers to learn from one another and share their experiences in the classroom. This year’s Workshop featured thematic sessions on “Teaching BHR and Environmental Rights,” “Emerging BHR Topics,” and “Current Developments in Tools for Accountability,” and discussions on “Launching a BHR Curriculum” and “Classroom Strategies for Teaching BHR.”
Ewing has taught the course Transnational Business and Human Rights at Columbia University since 2001. In 2019, he launched an advanced seminar – Managing Human Rights – at Columbia Law School. In the Classroom Strategies session, led by Ewing, he noted that
“We are at the point in the evolution of the discipline in which a comprehensive BHR curriculum would include an introductory course covering core topics, more advanced electives on specific topics, as well as clinical offerings that emphasize experiential learning.”
The Teaching Forum has proven to be a valuable resource promoting BHR education worldwide. More than 140 universities have added BHR courses or content to their curricula in the past decade. The multi-disciplinary subject is now being taught at schools of business, law and policy worldwide. Teaching Forum resources have been especially helpful for professors trying to make the case to their universities for creating new BHR courses, as well as for individuals already teaching the subject seeking to add new topics or teaching materials to their courses.
Ewing also edits the Teaching BHR Handbook (BHRHandbook.org), an online resource for teachers. For more information about the Teaching BHR Forum, visit TeachBHR.org.
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Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition, advancing common action among the world’s religious communities for peace. Logos Consulting Group has advised Religions for Peace as a pro bono publico client for more than 15 years, and Logos president Helio Fred Garcia has served on its Board of International Trustees for the past six years.
The global Religions for Peace network comprises a World Council of senior religious leaders from all regions of the world; six regional inter-religious councils and more than 90 national ones; and the Global Women of Faith Network and Global Interfaith Youth Network.
L to R: Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus of Oslow, Church of Norway, and Honorary President of Religions for Peace; Metropolitan Emanuel Adamakis, Vice President, Conference of European Churches; Cardinal Raymundo Assis, Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida, São Paulo, Brazil.
In mid-October 2017 Religions for Peace held its annual meeting of its World Council of religious leaders and its Board of International Trustees, as a strategy planning session for the next World Assembly of Religions for Peace, in 2019.
Dr. William H. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, briefing the meeting on the current state of Religions for Peace.
The theme of the meeting was “Advancing a Moral Alliance Among the World’s Religions for an Integral Ecology,” using a phrase that Pope Francis coined in a recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. The meeting began with a private audience with His Holiness, Pope Francis, in the Vatican.
His Holiness addressing the Religions for Peace World Council of Religious Leaders and Board of International Trustees in the Vatican
In his address to the Religions for Peace World Council and Board, His Holiness said,
“I express my esteem and appreciation for the work of Religions for Peace. You provide a valuable service to both religion and peace, for religions are bound by their very nature to promote peace through justice, fraternity, disarmament, and care for creation.
There is a need for a common and cooperative effort on the part of religions in promoting an integral ecology. The religions have the wherewithal to further a moral covenant that can promote respect for the dignity of the human person and care for creation.
Thanks be to God, in various parts of the world we have any number of good examples of the power of inter-religious cooperation to oppose violent conflicts, to advance sustainable development and to protect the earth. Let us continue along this path.”
Logos president Helio Fred Garcia meeting His Holiness, Pope Francis at the beginning of the Religions for Peace Board meeting.
L to R: Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Grand Mufti, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council; Cardinal Jean Louise Tauran, President, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican; Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, Dean, Department of Islamic Studies, Academy of Sciences, Iran; Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, UK, Kenya, India.
The two-day meeting featured substantive planning of critical issues to be addressed in the next World Assembly of Religions for Peace, held every seven to nine years, that brings together more than 2,000 religious leaders from all major faith communities in the world.
L to R: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Trustee, Professor, Columbia University, and Special Advisor, UN Secretary-General on Sustainable Development Goals; Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Grand Mufti, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council;Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus of Oslow, Church of Norway; Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria; Religions for Peace Secretary General Dr. William Vendley; and Mrs. Christine Brown, Trustee, and Chair, Institute of Healthy Air, Water, and Soil, Louisville, Kentucky.
The planning meeting in mid-October, 2017 included working groups in three separate work streams:
Conflict transformation: the use of religious leadership and religious community to stop violence being conducted in the name of religion; to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place; and to create social conditions for peace and stability in otherwise unstable parts of the world. Religions for Peace acknowledges the reality that religion is all-too-often being misused in support of violent threats to Peace – by extremists, by unscrupulous politicians, by the sensationalist media, and others. Through the years Religions for Peace has amassed a record of successful engagement in a number of conflict areas, including: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Burundi, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, South Africa, Sri Lanka, theMano River and Great Lakes African sub-regions, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and Syria.
Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, Dean, Department of Islamic Studies, Academy of Sciences, Iran, denouncing ISIS and others who hijack the identity of Islam to commit violence, and calling for all Islamic leaders to denounce violence in the name of Islam.
Sustainable development: equipping religious leaders and communities with the necessary resources and knowledge to address critical issues of health and well-being, education, climate action, and distribution of resources to reveal the potential inherent in all human communities. Extreme poverty threatens peace and human flourishing by depleting health, perpetuating existing inequalities, and jeopardizing access to basic human rights.
Jeffrey Sachs, Trustee, Professor, Columbia University and Special Advisor, UN Secretary-General on Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the challenges of sustainable development.
Protecting the earth: addressing climate change, safe drinking water, and other environmental challenges. Religions for Peace is faced with a clear moral imperative to respond to threats to the planet. For the world’s major religions, care for the earth is a religious obligation. Working with top climate scientists and development experts, Religions for Peacehas developed and deployed climate sensitive advocacy and action training materials across its global networks as well as implemented multi religious initiatives in partnership with other concerned entities—especially the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Vatican.
Logos President Helio Fred Garcia presenting a strategic path for religious leaders and communities to protect the earth.
Each working group developed a statement of problem, a proposed path forward to engage the world’s religious communities, and actionable steps to take between now and the World Assembly to show the impact that multi-religious cooperation can have on each of these challenges.
L to R Religions for Peace International Co-Moderators, Dr. Vinu Aram, Director, Shanti Ashram, India; Rev. Kosho Niwano, President-Designate, Rissho Kossei-kai, Japan.
These recommendations will now become part of the work coordinated by Religions for Peace’s International Secretariat, based at the United Nations in New York, and will be implemented through the six regional and more than 90 national inter-religious councils in the Religions for Peace network over the next two years. Results from that work will form the policy agenda for tenth World Assembly of Religions for Peace in 2019.
The Religions for Peace World Council of Religious Leaders, Board of International Trustees, and invited civic and foundation leaders, at the American Academy in Rome
Air War College is the senior U.S. Air Force professional military school. Annually, it prepares about 250 resident and over 5,000 nonresident senior students from all US military services, federal agencies, and 41 nations to lead in the strategic environment.
Garcia spoke on August 15, 2017 under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Leadership Communication Program.
Garcia spoke initially to all 250 resident students, mostly U.S. Air Force colonels, plus equivalent ranks from the other U.S. armed services and air force colonels from allied nations.
He later spent time in a number of the students’ cohort groups, ranging from 10 to 20 students each, answering questions and discussing related topics.
Here is segment 1 of the guest lecture, the introduction, where Garcia introduces the topic of leadership and communication:
Here is segment 2, on the application of strategy to communication:
Here is segment 3, on communication and warfighting, based on the adaptation of the U.S. Marine Corps doctrinal publication called Warfighting, which Garcia adapted in his book The Power of Communication:
Here is segment 4, where Garcia lays out a leadership communication planning tool that Logos Consulting Group uses with clients to help them assure that their communication is aligned with strategy and likely to achieve their desired purpose:
In segment 5, his conclusion, Garcia brings together themes from the prior segments and fields questions from the audience:
You can see the complete lecture here:
This was Garcia’s second major presentation to the U.S. Air Force in the past year. In December, 2016, he was the civilian keynote speaker at the U.S. Air Force Global Public Affairs Summit in Washington, DC.
Garcia delivered an equivalent Power of Communication workshop on August 31, 2017 to the U.S. Marine Corps General Officer Warfighting Program at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.
Garcia has taught and advised elements of the U.S. and allied armed services for 26 years. He has worked primarily with the U.S. Marine Corps, and also with a number of joint commands. He is currently a contract lecturer at the U.S. Defense Information School.
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This week the Donald Trump phenomenon seemed to reach a tipping point, with Republican leaders scrambling to prevent his continued wins in the primaries, and with debate discourse hitting new lows. Not only did we see him feign ignorance of David Duke and the KKK, but we were even treated to debate commentary about the relative size of the candidate’s genitals.
Trump: Not a Cause But a Consequence
But the rise of Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, and all the bipartisan angst it is creating, is not a cause but rather a consequence.
It is the predictable result of decades of degradation of political discourse, facilitated by a media more interested in grabbing an audience’s attention than in covering issues. And the worst part is that we should have seen it coming.
In fact, we could have seen it coming if we had known what to look for. And we should have known.
Even now as the frightening reality is finally being recognized, we seem to be grappling only with the symptom of the problem — what Trump says and how to prevent him from ever being in a position of authority — without recognizing that there’s a greater challenge that will continue regardless of how we address the immediate problem.
We can solve the Trump problem but still be as vulnerable to another authoritarian figure who energizes the disenfranchised, the angry, and the scared to similar effect.
Most educated Americans are familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four. That popular novel is based in a dystopian future in a continuous state of war, where an intrusive and authoritarian government keeps people uninformed, and where political language is intentionally misleading. So the Ministry of Peace wages war. The Ministry of Truth controls all information, news, propaganda, and art. The Ministry of Plenty rations food. Our term “Orwellian” refers to the use of language to convey the opposite of reality.
But most educated Americans are not familiar with the essay that served as the novel’s basis. Sadly, Politics and the English Language helps us understand the current state of the American body politic, and it isn’t pretty.
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties… – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The problem arises when politicians use language in a disingenuous way, asserting things they don’t necessarily believe and making arguments that may sound compelling but that logically don’t make sense.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”
But however damaging individual instances of political language, of insincere speech, or of intentionally misleading statements may be, it’s the effect of these that causes harm.
The central idea in Politics and the English Language is this:
Political speech has the effect of reducing citizens’ critical reasoning skills….
…This creates a self-perpetuating cycle…
…where as people become less discerning they become more susceptible to political speech…
…which further diminishes their critical reasoning skills…
…and so on…
…and so on…
…until a fully uninformed public creates conditions for authoritarian government to thrive.
A Cause Can Become an Effect, And So On:
It’s The Cycle That Matters
The key idea, though, is the relationship between cause and effect.
Orwell notes that an effect can become a cause, and a cause can become an effect. It’s the cycle that matters. And in the end the result is a citizenry that remains intentionally ignorant of the issues that matter, unaware of what is happening to them, and easily manipulated by politicians.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”
“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
The predictable result of this cycle is a citizenry that is easily manipulated, that becomes immune to persuasion by evidence and reasoning, and that doesn’t notice the multiple contradictions all around.
Identity-Protective Cognition Thesis
Three years ago Orwell’s argument that political language causes a decline in critical thinking was supported by research by professors at Yale, Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Oregon. Their study, Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, showed that math problems that seem to be about benign topics are easily solved by people with strongly held political views. But when the same math problems are framed in terms of polarized political issues — in this case, gun rights — both progressive-and-conservative-leaning participants have a very hard time getting the math right.
The authors conclude that
“Subjects [use] their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.”
A 2011 essay in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney on the neuroscience of political reasoning helps us understand why this is so. The piece begins with seminal research from the early fifties by famous Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger, who concluded:
“A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
“Since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”
“This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”
For example, Susan Harding, a professor of anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, who has written extensively about the religious right, explained a process called “revoicing.” She described revoicing as creating apparent structures of legitimacy and embedding within them positions, points of view, or ideologies that would not pass muster in actual legitimate institutions. She says that this revoicing process leads to controversial positions and institutions becoming mainstream by co-opting the symbols and vocabulary of the mainstream. She gives an example of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell:
“Falwell’s church ministries, media and political organizations, and educational institutions were, in effect, a hive of cultural workshops in which both fundamentalist and secular ideas, images, narratives, and practices were smelted, refashioned, melded, packaged, and distributed with spectacular success.
Falwell’s Lynchburg Baptist College morphed into a liberal arts college, Liberty Baptist College, and then into a university, Liberty University. The Museum of Earth and Life History on its campus occupied the cultural space of a museum of natural history, but recorded displays of man and beast with the assumptions of creation science rather than evolution. Liberty Godparent Homes converted a former home for unwed mothers into a staging ground for pro-life save-a-baby narratives that in turn revoiced feminist story lines in born-again Christian terms.
We can see this revoicing, this co-opting of mainstream symbols, vocabularies, and institutions, playing out over the last decade:
The Creation Museum, which has the look and feel of a science or natural history museum, but whose exhibits and educational material assert that the earth is only thousands of years old, that evolution is a fraud, and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.
The Intelligent Design Institute, which seems to be a think tank and educational organization is really a media and production group whose work is used to refute the scientific theory of evolution.
Fox News, ostensibly an objective news organization, but whose editorial focus in the promotion of conservative causes and candidates. It even has an appropriately Orwellian slogan, “We report, you decide.”
This process provides cover for those who would ignore mathematics, science, and observation and insist that reality is consistent with a particular political, social, or religious viewpoint. Take, for example, a fourth grade science quiz administered by a religiously-affiliated school in South Carolina. The student received a perfect grade for answers that would have been marked as incorrect in a school, religious or otherwise, with a mainstream science curriculum; in fact, some of the quiz’ questions would have been unintelligible in a more traditional science curriculum. But this approach is influencing millions of citizens and future voters.
At about the same time the revoicing discussion was taking place, the new late night comedy host Stephen Colbert coined the phrase Truthiness to describe political discourse. Parodying Fox News, he defined truthiness as preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Colbert put it, “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”
Sadly, what Colbert intended as a comedic take on misdirection has proven to be a defining element of much modern political debate. Candidates argue not the truth they know but the truth they wish, as if it were known.
Why All Heart Matters
Colbert differentiated between thinking with the brain and knowing with the heart. He actually hit on something profound about how humans make judgments, and why it’s so easy for political language to have the Orwellian effect.
“The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it.”
“That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”
“We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.”
“We have seen this trend for several decades, where for political expediency citizens have been conditioned to not trust any source of news that includes conclusions contrary to those consistent with a political point of view.”
We Apply Fight-or-Flight Reflexes
Not Only to Predators, But to Data Itself
Such citizens, who reflexively flee from the facts, are unlikely to be aware of, or even care about, contradictions among any candidate’s positions. Simultaneously holding two contrary positions, the very definition of absurdity, would ordinarily dismiss someone as not to be taken seriously. But in the political world such contradictions seem not to matter.
In such an environment citizens literally are unable to notice absurdities. But the same part of the brain, the Amygdala, that causes the flight response also causes the fight response. So any intruder is seen to be worthy of a fight. And violence tends to ensue.
And as the French philosopher Voltaire once warned, “those who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities.”
So within a week of Trump calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the country, we saw a rash of attacks on mosques and on people perceived to be Muslim or Arab. We have seen people removed from his rallies while being taunted by Trump from the podium, calling for his supporters to punch the person being removed in the face; to have the crowd strip people of their coats before sending them into the freezing weather. This week, after his flirtation with the KKK and white supremacists, we saw peaceful non-protesting black students ejected from his rallies, and at least one white supremacist leader assault a black woman as she was being removed from the rally.
“The single best predictor of Trump support in the GOP primary is the absence of a college degree. ”
“Diplomas are what Ron Brownstein calls the “new Republican fault line.” In 2012, Mitt Romney struggled for months to consolidate support because, even as he had clear support among college-educated Republicans, he fared worse among non-college voters.”
So there’s more than a passing coincidence in Trump’s cheering “I love the poorly educated!” after the Las Vegas caucuses.
“Voters who agreed with the statement “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5 percent more likely to prefer Trump. This feeling of powerlessness and voicelessness was a much better predictor of Trump support than age, race, college attainment, income, attitudes towards Muslims, illegal immigrants, or Hispanic identity.”
This helps explain voters’ reports that they support Trump because he speaks what they feel.
There is also a fear of the other:
“Trump has clearly played on fears of non-white outsiders, by likening Mexican immigrants to rapists, promising to deport illegal immigrants and to build a wall between the U.S. and its neighbors, pledging to keep Muslims out of the country during the Syrian diaspora, and playing coy with his relationship with the KKK.”
“But he has also told a simple three-part narrative to attract the despondent demographic: America is losing; Donald Trump is a winner; and if Trump becomes president, America will become a winner, too. This Great Man Theory of political change, however, strikes others as potentially dangerous…”
Fourth, Trump voters want to wage war against outsiders, both those within and those beyond our borders. According to Matthew MacWilliams of University of Massachusetts, Amherst,
“The classic definition of authoritarianism implies a tradeoff — more security for less liberty — but MacWilliams says it’s also about identifying threatening outsiders and granting individuals special powers to pursue aggressive policies to destroy them. The best predictor of Trump support… [is] “authoritarianism … [and] a personal fear of terrorism” that best predicted Trump’s support across the state.”
“Trump’s foreign policy, like his policy for anything, is a muddle. He’s cautious toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet he told Fox News he would kill the families of ISIS members to stop their advance, something awfully close to a public pledge to commit war-crimes.”
“But it’s his domestic security policies that have been astonishingly hawkish. He’s promised to shut down mosques, keep a database of Muslims, and round up the children of illegal immigrants. Indeed, when you put it together, Trump’s hysterical promises to protect his white in-group from non-white outsiders looks like race-baiting…”
His support seems to be strongest in places with history of racial animosity:
“According to the New York Times’ Nate Cohn, who used data from Civis Analytics, Trump’s support is strongest from the Gulf Coast, through the Appalachian Mountains, to New York, among marginally attached Republicans (possibly former Democrats). It is a familiar map for some demographers, since it’s similar to a heat map of Google searches for racial slurs and jokes. “That Mr. Trump’s support is strong in similar areas does not prove that most or even many of his supporters are motivated by racial animus,” Cohn writes. “But it is consistent with the possibility that at least some are.”
And what to Trump voters care about? According to a Public Policy Polling survey of Trump voters in South Carolina,
70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital; only 20% who agree with it being taken down.
38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War; only 24% are glad the North won and 38% aren’t sure.
36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious; 30% are for the South, but Trump’s the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.
By an 80/9 spread, Trump voters support his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.
31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the United States as well, something no more than 17% of anyone else’s voters think is a good idea.
There’s also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else’s voters back.
Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States; 33% think it should be illegal. To put all the views toward Muslims in context, though, 32% of Trump voters continue to believe the policy of Japanese internment during World War II was a good one, compared to only 33% who oppose it and 35% who have no opinion one way or another.
Fixing The Body Politic
So what can the nation do to halt the decline and to make things better?
The first thing to note is that things will surely get worse before they get better.
The second is to recognize that there is no easy fix.
Again, Trump is not the problem. He’s the current symptom of the problem. South Carolina voters do not hold their positions BECAUSE of Trump. Trump is merely the person who happens to appeal to their views now.
Rather, the problem is that authoritarian government depends on uninformed, scared, and angry voters, who can channel their negative emotions toward others, and who see in their candidate some relief from their anxieties.
Orwell told us that. And we have seen it play out over the last few decades.
The problem is a body politic that is comfortable being uninformed and suspicious of facts, data and people with whom they don’t agree or connect.
But the problem arose because of the convergence of social, technological, political, economic, and demographic trends over decades. The solution is also decades-long. Regardless of who happens be be the next president.
The central question of our republic is this: Do we continue down the path where authoritarian government becomes both inevitable and seemingly natural, or do we recommit to actual democracy?
There is much we would need to do.
But over the long term, the only sustainable solution will be a restoration of a core founding value of education. Of elevating the ability of voters to think clearly and to discern carefully.
Indeed, founding father Thomas Jefferson called for education as the key to democracy.
Jefferson becomes the antidote to Orwell.
Jefferson: An Educated Citizenry
is Necessary for a Thriving Democracy
Throughout his life, including before and after serving as president, Jefferson noted that education is the key to accepting others and to exercising effective citizenship. (Indeed, on his tombstone, he lists only three accomplishments: author of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom; author of the Declaration of Independence; and founder of the University of Virginia. His term as president didn’t make the cut.)
Among his views on the relation between education and democracy:
“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”
And, as if in direct rebuke to Donald Trump:
“No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.”
“[I have] a conviction that science is important to the preservation of our republican government, and that it is also essential to its protection against foreign power.”
A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind
But of all the Jeffersonian notions, the one that most directly speaks to remedying the challenges Orwell describes is a little-remembered but central idea from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. In the opening paragraph, Jefferson describes why the Declaration was needed in the first place. He declared:
“…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
That decent respect for the opinions of mankind goes in many directions:
A decent respect by politicians for the opinions of citizens.
A decent respect by citizens of this nation for the opinions of those in other nations.
A decent respect by governments for the people.
But decent respect has been sorely missing in American politics for some time. Orwell called it…
Please note: Helio Fred Garcia is executive director of Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership; board chair of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; and an adjunct associate professor of management and communication at New York University School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication, where he teaches, among other things, communication ethics. But the views expressed here are solely his own and not necessarily reflective of any other entity.
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In communication, we learn that in order to be an effective leader we must first meet people where they are. In conflict resolution, we learn that in order to reach success we must also meet people where they are.
We must appeal to not just the demographics of the group but to what really matters to them. We must dig beyond the surface.
As the United Nations halts Syrian peace talks in Geneva, the prospects of a resolution or even a ceasefire in the near future are dim. The five-year ongoing conflict has been characterized by tremendous war crimes, atrocious violence and a dire humanitarian situation.
So what’s next for Syria? Are the international community, the Assad regime and the opposition truly ready for peace? The quickly interrupted beginnings to peace talks have fallen to intensified air raids by the Russians, coming to the aid of the Assad regime. As Aleppo continues to burn, what is the true prospect of peace for Syria?
Meet the Opposition
The web of actors involved in the prospective peace talks is expansive and complex. Jordan has reportedly assisted in the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria to draw the thin line between opposition groups and terrorist organizations.
While the self proclaimed Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliate, Jahbat Al-Nusra are the two strongest opposition groups in Syria, they are internationally recognized as terrorist organizations and are not invited to any UN backed peace talks. The two groups will not be included in talks yet both carry a significant weight in the Syrian conflict.
The most prominent countries involved in the opposition are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. Qatar and other Gulf countries have also been influential in talks alongside their longtime Saudi allies. Turkey and the United States also play integral roles.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long fought for regional dominance. Both Iran and Russia have come to the aid of Assad for their own regional advantages. Russia and Turkey have also had a strained relationship following the downing of Russia’s SU-21 Bomber in November 2015 by Turkish forces. The involvements of Hezbollah, the Syrian Kurdish Forces (PYD), along with other rebel faction group have also contributed to substantial tensions in the potential of talks.
The Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC), a Saudi-led opposition coalition has adamantly insisted that they will be involved in talk only if the Syrian government lifts sieges on rebel led towns or commit to a ceasefire. To the surprise of few, the Assad regime has not complied.
Assad Does Not Negotiate
While politics have taken the front seat, the reality of the situation in Syria is appalling. With more than half of the prewar population internally displaced or fleeing abroad, the Syrian people have endured extraordinary suffering at the hands of opposition groups, with Assad being no exception to the violence.
In fact, Assad has contributed significantly to the casualties and displacement of Syrians. If talks continue, Syrian delegation will be lead by Syrian Ambassador to the U.N., Bashar al Jaafari. While Assad’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mallem has confirmed the government’s desire to engage in peace talks, many question the true prospect of peace with Assad being involved in the talks. Does Assad even want peace?
If the prospect of peace involves Assad’s immediate and guaranteed departure, it is clear Assad wants no part. It is no coincidence that the beginning of peace talks was overshadowed by intense attacks on the opposition. Assad has repeatedly shown his lack of interest not only in meeting people where they are, but in any form of negotiation or resolution.
Bashar Al-Assad has not quivered in his no-negotiation policy, initially firing at peaceful protestors, igniting the conflict that continues to rage on today. Al-Assad has been able to withstand the surrounding revolutions in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
The involvement of Russia has allowed Assad to make significant territorial gains against the opposition. Yet at what cost? He has maintained control via brutality, zero tolerance to opposition, and the ruthless war crimes against his own people.
The Assad regime has committed grave violations of humanitarian law; the use of chemical weapons against its own people, the complete leveling of entire villages, the use of bomb barrels (with the backing of Russian air-strikes) and starvation as a political tool.
The chaos that today is Syria has manifested as a result of political instability and social unrest. The unrest cannot be viewed separately from Al-Assad’s authoritative regime. Terrorist organizations, most notably the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra, have aims far larger than the demise of the Al-Assad regime, yet the organizations have been successful in capitalizing on the unrest in Syria.
The peace talks were intended to follow a two-track negotiation. With governance and humanitarian subjects being the centers of the conversation. To believe that Assad will partake in the negotiation of his own departure not only threatens the chance of any productivity but also is sadly naive.
The parties will meet separately prior to having any form of conflict resolution together. Unfortunately, the prospect of peace is what U.N. mediator Staffan De Mistura has described as an already ‘uphill battle’, in which regional powers, opposition groups, international terrorist organizations and the Assad regime have all become heavily intertwined.
The fight for Syria cannot be resolved if the parties involved are not willing to go beyond their immediate concerns. Syrian President Al-Assad’s cabinet has shown little desire for peace, raising the question as to whether Syria can truly exist without his departure.
A simplistic view of the situation does not do justice to the complicated road ahead. The process to end the violence in Syria is multifaceted and carries social, ethnic, religious and political weight.
The parties that can find common ground for the future of Syria as a country will likely be more successful than those that are fighting to continue to their own personal reign over Syria. The world will be waiting for the resumption of talks, as the feeble prospect for peace in Syria continues to wither.
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On the hunt for contraband? Search no further than Yemen. Yemen: a land with a plethora of weapons for sale, lucrative smuggling ports, immense poverty and nearly a complete institutional breakdown. Not to mention a principal base for Al-Qaeda and increasingly ISIL operating out of the Arabian Peninsula.
So why is nobody talking about Yemen? While Syria has rightly taken a strong focus in international and political rhetoric, Yemen appears forgotten. Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken a strong interest in the failed state, yet many countries outside of the Arab world lacked to give Yemen adequate attention. Despite John Kerry’s meeting with exiled Yemeni President Hadi in Riyadh in May 2015, the U.S. political rhetoric surrounding the conflict has been limited.
Much like Syria, Yemen is host to a sectarian conflict exacerbated by terrorist organizations. The conflict in Yemen reveals a deeper understanding of world and regional politics and sets the stage to an increasingly volatile proxy war.
The conflict in Yemen exists between forces loyal to President Hadi, who is Sunni and backed by a Saudi-led coalition and a Shi’a rebel force known as Houthis backed by Iran. The Zaidi Shi’a Houthis are supported by Iran, despite the difference in Shi’a sects. The rebel force evokes fierce anti-American sentiments, calling for death to both the United States and Israel in their chants.
While the origins of the conflict are clear, the current state of the conflict has been complicated by international terrorist organizations and the financial and military backing of external actors, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran.
As stability in Yemen continues to deteriorate, the opportunity for organizations such as ISIL to gain control continues to rise. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) uses Yemen as a safe haven, feeding off of the lack of institution and the breakdown of order.
While civil war continues to rage, both AQAP and increasingly ISIL have exploited the chaos as an opportunity to gain a stronghold. Opposed to the Shiite Houthis, the terrorist organizations are using the destruction of the Shiite rebels to preach their distorted message of creating a Sunni caliphate.
The Proxy War: Saudi Arabia & Iran
In an attempt at regional influence, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have crucial interests at stake in Yemen. Saudi Arabia as the principal Sunni power in the region and Iran representing the key Shiite power. Much like both countries’ interest in Syria and Iraq, the fight for Yemen is not simply a geographic battle or a battle against terrorist organizations; the clash is sectarian, evoking a struggle between the two dominant sects in Islam.
For Saudi Arabia, Yemen remains an essential strategic location. Sharing a direct border, Saudi’s interest lies not only in the prospect of potential geographic expansion but over geographic access. Yemen offers Saudi Arabia direct access to the Arabian sea, giving the Gulf country an opportunity to a secure trade route that would avoid the volatile Strait of Hormuz.
With the recent Iranian uproar over the execution of Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia, the prospects of peace talks in Yemen has inevitably been stalled. Saudi Arabia insists the execution is a domestic issue. The Iranian storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran has only furthered the uproar in the region, forcing countries such as United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait to all stand strong with their Saudi allies. The Iranians accuse the Saudis of intentionally attacking their embassy in Yemen.
Weapons Without Words: The U.S. Policy Towards Yemen
The U.S.’s lack of public communication surrounding the conflict perhaps speaks louder than any words. The Obama Administration’s lack of explicit rhetoric surrounding Yemen despite the grave importance displays a resistance to show direct involvement in a perceived regional conflict.
A brief mention of Yemen as an Al Qaeda operative home base in the G20 Press Conference in Antalya Turkey (November 16, 2015). A reference to “situations like Yemen” in an Address on Iran at American University (August 5, 2015). A shared reference of Yemen with Somalia in the National Counterterrorism Center Address (December 17, 2015). Yet zero mention of Yemen in the United Nations General Assembly Speech (2015) or the Oval Office Speech on Foreign and Domestic Counter-Terrorism Strategy (December 6, 2015).
Despite Obama’s focus on Syria, Al Qaeda and ISIL in the mentioned speeches, the purpose of excluding Yemen is powerful. The Administration has been reluctant to show direct involvement, a communication policy inconsistent with their constant military supplying and support of the Saudi-led coalition. The United States has carried out drone strikes in Yemen in an attempt to destroy Al Qaeda. President Obama used Yemen as a model for U.S. counterterrorism strategy as recently as last September. However, the situation in Yemen has quickly deteriorated and become increasingly dire.
The long time alliance between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based in a secure supply of petroleum and military assistance. Although not an official member of the Saudi-led coalition, the United States has been a strong supporter of the coalition in intelligence sharing, weapon supplying as well as blockades.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations (OHCHR) has expressed grave concern over the tremendous amount of civilian deaths, exacerbated by the airstrikes. The multilayered conflict in Yemen has only worsened the already dire humanitarian situation. With a population of 26 million, three out of four of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.
According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), 14.4 million Yemenis are considered food insecure, with more than half of that number considered severely food insecure. While the United States has increased humanitarian assistance, the aid distribution is complicated by a lack of institution and organization.
Saudi Arabia’s recent internal issues prove a potential setback towards peace in Yemen. Iran’s denunciation of the execution of prominent Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has only aggravated pre existing tensions. Despite Iran’s trade ties with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf countries have been quick to take sides with Saudi Arabia. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran must proceed with caution as continued conflict in Yemen represents a broader continued conflict in the region.
Last month, my mentor and boss, Helio Fred Garcia, and I visited more than 20 organizations, including top universities and prestigious corporations, in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Tianjin.
During our visit, we have experienced different learning approaches and different cultural styles of lecture attendants. We had international students from joint-venture universities; Chinese students at top Chinese universities majoring in business (both MBA and Executive MBA), communication, and other liberal arts and sciences; senior PR managers from multinational groups; mid-career bankers from a national banking commission; and officials from local governments.
This post is the second in a series of posts on how to understand and overcome sociocultural obstacles. I learned three lessons about sociocultural and linguistic gaps during the Logos The Power of Communication China trip. In my last post I described the first gap: different languages. We can easily bridge the language gap by translation.
Today I will describe lessons about two other gaps that are harder to solve, although we constantly talk about them.
Lesson 2: Different Learning Approaches
In order to demonstrate how hard it is for audiences to pay attention, we showed many of our audiences the video Invisible Gorilla. You can click on it and watch before you keep reading. You will be surprised about your counting skills.
I first watched this video during my strategic communication course at New York University in the Public Relations and Corporate Communication Graduate Program.
In this 30-second video, six people – three in white shirts and three in black shirts – pass basketballs around. The task for the audience is to count the number of passes made by the people in white shirts, and spot a gorilla that strolls into the middle of the action, thumps its chest and then leaves.
At that time I had a robust discussion with my classmates about 1) why was it so hard to accurately count how many times the players passed the basketball and also to spot a gorilla among human beings, 2) how to understand cognitive tunneling, which is what makes the tasks so hard, and 3) what we could learn and apply to our work from that exercise.
This time in China, I discovered some interesting learning approaches beyond these three takeaways – each specific to different groups of people.
When we showed this video to a group of, let’s say, 50 people, there were always 15 who counted accurately, 10-ish who came close but got the number wrong, 10-ish who got close but chose a different number, 7-ish of some less-close number and two or three people who counted very wrong.
So one of our conclusions was “Counting numbers under 20 is not as easy as we thought it’d be.”
However, when we showed the video to a group of people including Ph.Ds in China, one of their conclusions was: “The answers could be plotted as a curve.”
This was the first time we discussed The Invisible Gorilla with PhDs. And this was the first time we received a response with the word “curve.” So, we responded with their language, “Gaussian distribution,” to acknowledge their worldview, to motivate them, to deepen the conversation.
After the count, we typically asked: “While you were counting how many times the players passed the basketball, did you see a gorilla?” People either saw it or did not see it, so when they watched the video again they either were proud of their observation skills or disappointed that they had missed the gorilla.
We played the same video to a group of mid-career bankers. When we rewound the video, they denied that they had missed the gorilla:” We saw it, but we didn’t think it was a real gorilla. Instead, it was a human with a gorilla costume.”
This was the first time we had showed bankers The Invisible Gorilla. This was also the first time the audience challenged the content of the video. We respected the different habits, so we reframed the “gorilla” as “a human in a gorilla costume” based on their descriptions, to keep the conversation going.
3) Heads of Communications
Our routine at the end of the discussion was – “Any other thoughts and comments?”
Typically audiences will respond with their opinions about their counting skills or the missing gorilla.
But when we showed the same video to a group of PR directors, heads of public affairs and senior PR managers — from Standard Chartered, General Motors, Estée Lauder Companies, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical Company and some other multinational enterprises — some of their final thoughts went far beyond the counting and the gorilla. Some of them knitted their brows and raised questions like “Are you manipulating us?”
They provided an interesting reason why the curve occurred, and why the gorilla, or the human with a gorilla costume, was overlooked. They insisted that the designer of the experiment manipulated the audience through putting a black gorilla among black-and-white-shirted players. They argued that since they concentrated on counting the passing of the white-shirt team, they could not pay attention to the black team and the black gorilla. If it had been a light brown gorilla, they would easily have dentified it.
How would you respond to this tricky question?
Lesson learned: “Understand your audience” appears in the slides we show to our clients. But we have to walk the talk and meet our audience by observing their approach and adopting their language.
Lesson 3: Different Cultural Styles
Before we landed in China, we thought we would face one group of audience – Chinese audience. To our surprise, our audience differed in certain ways: Some of them were shy but smart; some of them were as open like those in the States; some of them stayed in their own world, and it took us a long time to understand their thoughts.
I use the word “cultural style” to emphasize their subtle differences beyond imagination. To my surprise, I found in my research that Professor Dan Kahan of Yale Law School blogged this conception based on his study with his collaborators on Joseph Gusfield:
“The term “cultural style” is, for me, a way to describe these affinities. I have adapted it from Gusfield. I & collaborators use the concept and say more about it and how it relates to Gusfield in various places.…
Examples of these are cultural generations, such as the traditional and the modern; characterological types, such as ‘inner-directed and other-directed’; and reference orientations, such as ‘cosmopolitans and locals.’”
I agree with Kahan about how people differ from each other due to the difference of location or character and share the affinities with each other due to time or education background.
Below are the four main cultural styles during our trip:
1) Top Local University Style
We visited four of the top ten universities in China. Not to our surprise, the institutions are powerful. Here are some recent updates of some of them:
Tsinghua University celebrated its 104 anniversary this past Sunday and posted some old pictures of its famous alumni, including current President Xi (graduated from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Department and later got an LLD degree), former President Hu (graduated from the Water Conservancy Engineering Department); the governor of the People’s Bank of China Xiaochuan Zhou (got a Ph.D. degree in Automation and System Engineering), and the controversial Chinese-born American Nobel Physics Prize winner Chen-Ning Franklin Yang (received a Master’s Degree and later became an honored director).
Xi Jinping, as a student at Tsinghua University, and now as President of China
Shanghai Jiaotong University, through its School of Media and Design (at which we spoke) and the University of Southern California jointly established The Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry (ICCI). Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, visited the same campus we visited one month after our visit.
To our surprise, some of their current students were not as vocal as we expected. Lectures we held in the top local universities were much more silent than those we held in joint-venture universities, although we discovered later that they had brilliant thoughts. In general, they are proud about being “blue blood”, and they tend to appear modest but think aggressively. They were reluctant to share their personal opinions about some topics until we pushed them several times.
2) Joint-Venture University Style
Elite universities in China and other countries are already on the path of exploring partnerships with universities from other countries. For example:
In 2004, The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) was set up by the University of Nottingham (UK) with the cooperation of Zhejiang’s Wanli Education Group in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.
In 2006, the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) was jointly established by University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiao Tong University in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.
In 2012, Duke Kunshan University was organized as a collaboration between Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, with Wuhan University, and the city of Kunshan, Jiangsu Province.
Among joint-venture universities we visited in China this time, we were impressed with New York University Shanghai, Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and Sino-British College.
NYU Shanghai is NYU’s third degree-granting campus. Its enrollment started in Fall 2013, and now there are only Freshmen and Sophomores. Students are not only from China, or other Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines, but also from the States, Canada, France, Dubai and many other countries.
The Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies is a joint educational venture between the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University. It has been operating in Nanjing since 1986.
Sino-British College is an international university college in Shanghai, China, jointly established by the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST), and nine British universities (The University of Bradford, The University of Huddersfield, The University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University, Liverpool John Moores University, Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Salford, The University of Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam University).
These three joint venture universities have built global classrooms with a global view, where students are open and comfortable hearing other opinions and sharing opinions themselves. The diversity of student and faculty kindled the diverse discussion we typically associate with academia.
3) Business Style (Communicators and Non-Communicators)
Business audiences tended to be more worldly and more serious. For example, when we talked about crisis management in a Corporate Social Responsibility Forum in Shanghai and showed a picture of an oil platform explosion to the communicators, participants immediately identified it as “BP”. It was self-evident. They were aware of what was happening in the crisis management field, even though they live in a country where people tend to whitewash scandals. Also, some of them asked tricky questions like “Is it a smart crisis strategy to find another crisis that will shift the focus and will thus save our company from the spotlight?”
Here is another sign of how seriously the business community takes professional development. When the largest residential real estate company in China (which has an office in New York) invited my boss, Helio Fred Garcia, to hold a speech about The Power of Communication, they not only offered a huge auditorium of 200 people, but also live broadcasted it to 40 other national offices. Each office was equipped with live broadcasted lecture and real-time slides. Each office had at least 20 attendants. And even though it was a Friday evening lecture, the company told us that they had an attendance rate of over 90 percent and that nobody left in the middle of the speech.
Executives at a Vanke regional office spending a Friday evening watching Prof. Garcia’s workshop via remote technology
4) Local Government Style
We coached 90 officials from Nanyang, a “small” city of 10 million residents in Henan Province.
They were being trained in crisis management because they were working on a huge national project “South–North Water Diversion”. (Think of the drought in California, and imagine diverting a major river 800 miles to California.) Due to this project, a huge amount of Nanyang residents had to relocate. So government officials were eager to be trained for if (or when) a crisis might happen.
Route of the Water Diversion Project to bring water from the South to the greater Beijing area
I did the simultaneous translation for the lecture. My observations are as follow:
The officials were focused on the lecture, even though the majority of them cannot understand English beyond “Hello” and “Thank you”.
They were the only group of people that were uniformly unfamiliar with Professor Garcia’s references to Greek tragedies. Every other group understood immediately when he referred Greek tragedies as the example that people remember bad things rather than good things. They were the only group of people that could not get our point of “Greek tragedies are all about choices — Do I kill my father and marry my mother?” Every other group, including students from universities and even engineers from big companies, laughed at the reference. The officials remained silent.
They were eager to share a Confucius quote, and insisted that I translate it simultaneously for Professor Garcia. They also expected his response and feedback to the Confucius quote. In other words, they were the group who seemed to ignore others culture, but emphasize their own culture.
Zeus hurling thunderbolts; Confucius
Lesson Learned: When social patterns and cultural differences are involved, we have to be very careful about what is happening to people who do not share the same learning approach and same cultural style as ours.
The two lessons we learned today are much harder than the first lesson. Accordingly, there is no single solution for each of these gaps. But one large takeaway from the trip is that we need to take seriously not only differences in language but also differences in learning approach and cultural style.
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We visited 15 prestigious universities and had many public events in four Chinese cities. Our audiences were from such disparate organizations as:
Top Chinese universities such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Communication University of China, Nankai University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Shanghai International Studies University;
Joint-venture universities such as New York University Shanghai, Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and Sino-British College;
3) Large corporations like Vanke, the largest residential real estate developer in China, and
4) Renowned media organizations like Shanghai Daily.
We dealt with varied groups of people, from 20-something college students to 70-something millionaires; from public relations majors to MBAs, and EMBAs; from journalists to government officials; from crisis managers to bankers and engineers…
As a result of this exchange, Logos Institute is now in discussion with several top universities for longer-term academic collaboration, but that is not the most valuable result of the trip.
Right of Prof. Garcia, in green, Dr. Xiaojun Qian, Professor and Assistant Dean, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua university; Left of Prof. Garcia, the publisher, Wendy Yang of Publishing House of Electronics Industry
We have built relationships with several institutions and companies for future cooperation, but again that is not the most valuable result.
As a communication practitioner, a tour observer and a translator, I discovered three lessons to be the most valuable outcome of the trip; lessons that can help us all to better understand, respect, and bridge the communication gap between different audiences.
We should understand, respect and bridge the gaps caused by:
Different learning approaches
Different cultural styles
These three lessons are universal and universally applicable.
Below I elaborate on the first lesson, different languages. In a subsequent post I will elaborate on each of the remaining two lessons.
Lesson 1: Different Languages
One obvious gap between the American author, Helio Fred Garcia, and the Chinese audience is language. We can easily overcome this obstacle by translation; translating both the slide content for visual reinforcement, and simultaneous or consecutive translation of the spoken word.
Some universities and organizations in Shanghai, and Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, did not require simultaneous or consecutive translation because most lecture attendants spoke fluent English.
But on most other occasions I translated the lecture, the Q&A session and even the meeting with deans, professors, or other leaders.
These two scenarios were easy to handle compared to the third scenario – The audience or the leader had the illusion that they were fluent in English, and then the misunderstanding came as expected.
This illusion of fluency has consequences, sometimes tragic, sometimes comical, but often just frustrating.
Throughout the trip, I discovered many of the challenges associated with the illusion of fluency. I offer just two representative examples:
1) “Publicity” or “Propaganda”?
Chinese is one of the three hardest-to-master languages in the world (The other two are Arabic and German).
One difficulty is its brevity. One Chinese character could easily have five or six meanings, so there could be various explanations for one Chinese word.
For instance, the Chinese word 宣传 (“Xuan Chuan”) can be accurately translated in English as both “propaganda” and “publicity.” In English the word “propaganda” is derogatory. But “publicity” is benign, if not commendatory. Because of this linguistic phenomenon, many Chinese cannot understand the subtle difference between publicity and propaganda. They interchangeably use them, just as Americans in a big city might interchangeably use “subway” and ”metro.”
To add to the confusion, there is a Chinese Central Government Department called the “Xuan Chuan Department.” Technically, it should be translated as “Department of Publicity.” However, because many Chinese conflate publicity and propaganda, they simply translate that department as “Department of Propaganda.” Many even prefer the word “propaganda” because, as one person confessed to me, it “looks premium and shows the translator’s profound English vocabulary.” This can create a deep sense of suspicion among native English speakers that “this Chinese Central Government Department does nothing else but propaganda.” Fortunately, the official name of this department is now “The Publicity Department.”
2) God uses [a] VPN (virtual private network)?
It is commonly acknowledged that many Chinese popular foods are hard to translate. CNN and HuffingtonPost featured some humorous accounts of this.
For example, “Fo Tiao Qiang” is a southern China dish or soup originating in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It contains shark fin, quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, abalone, chicken, Jinhua ham, pork tendon, ginseng, mushrooms, and taro. The literal meaning of the name is “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.” It is meant to suggest that the dish is so enticing that even Buddha would be unable to resist its lure, and would jump over the wall of his temple to be able to taste the soup.
But last month we saw the soup translated as “God uses VPN.” Some context: In China much of the internet is blocked behind a firewall. But Chinese people know how to access some of the forbidden parts — Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.– simply by using a virtual private network (VPN) to get past the firewall. The same Chinese words lead to dramatically different English translations.
So, the delicious dish traditionally translated as “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” on at least one menu is now rendered “God uses VPN.” How can we understand it without the context?
In my next post I’ll address the two remaining questions:
How to understand, respect and bridge the gaps caused by
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