Big Think Edge


PURPOSE: Set Goals, with John Amaechi

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, NBA basketball player John Amaechi shares with you the plan he created as a child to help him accomplish his dreams.

INNOVATION: Engage Your Team Through Gaming, with Jane McGonigal

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, game designer Jane McGonigal walks you through the ways in which gaming can lead to positive outcomes in the workplace.

LEADERSHIP: Overcome Obstacles, with Edward Norton

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton offers a mental strategy for pushing past anxiety and fear when taking on a new venture.

TALENT: Master Your Craft, with Malcolm Gladwell

If your goal is to become masterful at what you do, the formula is simple: stay focused and do your time. In this lesson from Big Think Edge, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell teaches you how.

Understand and Address Unconscious Bias, with Jennifer Brown

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, management expert Jennifer Brown, a diversity training consultant who works with leading companies, explores pitfalls and strategies for dealing with unconscious bias.

RISK MITIGATION: Risk Management Fundamentals, with Timothy Geithner

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner teaches the fundamentals of risk management, based on lessons learned during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

MILLENNIALS: Embrace Millennials' Values, with Jon Iwata

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

MASTERCLASS: What Does A Leader Do?, with Robert Kaplan

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Harvard professor and former Goldman Sachs executive Robert S. Kaplan explores three strategic key questions that leaders need to ask themselves.

Introducing Big Think Edge

Big Think's Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by thought leaders at the top of their game.

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When Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, it didn't just flatten houses and flood hospitals – it plunged the island into a darkness that many islanders have yet to emerge from, both literally and metaphorically.


The catastrophe sent the island into the longest blackout in US history. Six months after the disaster, many residents are still without access to power. “Such prolonged darkness is insidious to community mental health," says Oxiris Barbot, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Barbot visited the island as a relief worker two months after the disaster and found nearly everyone she met knew someone in their immediate circle or one degree removed who had contemplated or died by suicide. Preliminary data from Puerto Rico's health department suggests that suicides were up nearly a third in September and October compared to the same period for 2016.

Physicians know that extreme events can have negative impacts on mental health, causing symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But in a recent paper, researchers admitted that much is still unknown about the consequences of disasters on long-term behavioural health.

In Puerto Rico, most of the islanders were unable to evacuate and so weathered the full trauma of the storm. Some were isolated and without assistance for days or weeks afterwards. In the following months, many faced hardships such as bereavements, loss of income and limited access to fresh water and food.

living in darkness after a power shortage can affect mental health

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Carmen Correa uses a candle for light in her dark apartment as she deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 30, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It's an experience that could leave a lasting imprint. "Exposure to trauma not only affects you in the moment, it affects you for the rest of your life if you don't have access to support services that will help you develop effective coping skills," Barbot says.

But little is known about how survivors of extreme events respond relative to the help they receive, according to Sandro Galea, Dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. He says scientists need to investigate the most effective post-disaster responses to both physical and mental health challenges: "The stigma that you can just 'get over' mental illness remains. In truth, one can get over mental illness roughly the same way one can get over a broken bone by oneself – with difficulty, and likely in a way that will not result in proper healing."

Public health researchers need to invest in research that prepares health systems for the next extreme event, Galea says. The first step would be to identify at-risk populations from both a physical and mental health perspective. Then health workers could act to create resilience and mitigate the consequences in vulnerable communities.

Doing such research now, before the next hurricane hits, could reap significant financial savings in disaster response efforts. "The payoff is enormous," Galea says. "And if we ask the right questions, we can mitigate mental health consequences that cost people's lives."

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

  • A school in Michigan is being remodeled in a way to minimize the effect of a shooter should the worst happen.
  • It features limited sight lines, bullet proof windows, and doors that can be locked at the push of a button.
  • Some research casts doubt on how effective the plans will actually be.

America has a mental health, video game, single-parent household, lack of school prayer, violent television, gun violence problem. Every day, 100 Americans are killed by gun violence, and hundreds more are injured. While most of these shootings are not in public schools, it is the images of school children being mowed down in their innocence that sticks with us.

Despite widespread support for various gun control measures, they are currently political non-starters. Desperate for a solution, many people have turned to bulletproof backpacks among other curious solutions in an attempt to protect their children.

However, an architectural firm has decided to up the ante in this odd game; they have designed a school that is designed to minimize the impact of mass shootings.

The world Americans live in now

TowerPinkster, an architecture firm based in Michigan, has designed a school for the hamlet of Fruitport. It features many design elements selected by the firm to limit the impact of a shooter. While the project won't be finished until 2021, some elements are already in place as part of the longterm $48 million remodeling effort.

The campus will feature a series of fire doors which can all be closed and locked with the pushing of a single button, to isolate an attacker in one area. Hallways will be slightly curved to cut off the shooter's line of sight; intermittent wing walls will dot the halls as well so that children might hide behind them. Similar barriers will exist behind classroom doors in hopes that teachers and students can hide in their rooms as well.

Lockers will no longer line walls, but instead, be located on islands in the middle of wide-open spaces. The stated benefit of this is to allow teachers to see the whole room without obstruction. The lockers will also be much shorter than most high school lockers. The building's windows will be covered in a bulletproof film.

Before you get too shocked by all this, Sandy Hook was recently rebuilt with an eye towards keeping people out, and the American Institute of Architects came up with several ideas to make schools less vulnerable to mass shootings last year.

Do people think this will actually work? What are experts saying?

The designs are mostly untested, and their effectiveness during an active shooter situation is still theoretical. The Center for American Progress, a non-partisan think tank, has data that suggests that making schools "hard targets" isn't very effective and has unwanted side effects on students. The center's experts, instead, suggest we do something about gun violence overall, in terms of policy — a common refrain from other researchers.

It should also be said that some are concerned that if the worst should happen, the same features that are supposed to protect students could make it harder for the police to apprehend the shooter. This isn't too farfetched, in 2003 SWAT team members blamed the design of a Frank Gehry building for delaying their capture of a shooter — it took seven hours.

The people who built the school in Fruitport are also quick to say that it isn't "impenetrable," but do suggest that the design could make a difference in an emergency.

Given the stance of the American Institute of Architects and the number of expert resources that TowerPinkster had to turn to, it is likely that we will see more schools like this before we see fewer. Additionally, some of the design choices were suggested by the National Institute of Crime Prevention's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program.

In a Kafkaesque vision of things that may be, Fruitport Superintendent Bob Szymoniak did say of the building's features: "These are going to be design elements that are just naturally part of buildings going into the future."

As the United States continues to grapple with gun violence, private actors are beginning to step in where policy has failed. While the actual effectiveness of a "massacre proof" school remains unknown, it is understandable why some people would turn to one for a feeling of security.

  • The way we communicate is dictated in part by the setting that that communication takes place in. You're supposed to tell your doctor everything; on the other hand, you wouldn't tell your business competitor much at all.
  • In academia, communication is supposed to be somewhat provocative. The reaction to a provocative idea can't be to silence the one expressing it, but to approach it from the other side of the argument. One way to think about this is that if you don't understand the other side of an issue, then you can't claim to understand the issue.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
  • Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
  • Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
  • Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.


Imagine everyday citizens engaging in the democratic process. What images spring to mind? Maybe you thought of town hall meetings where constituents address their representatives. Maybe you imagined mass sit-ins or marches in the streets to protest unpopular legislation. Maybe it's grassroot organizations gathering signatures for a popular referendum. Though they vary in means and intensity, all these have one thing in common: participation.

Participatory democracy is a democratic model that emphasizes civic engagement as paramount for a robust government. For many, it's both the "hallmark of social movements" and the gold standard of democracy.

But all that glitters may not be gold. While we can all point to historical moments in which participatory democracy was critical to necessary change, such activism can have deleterious effects on the health of a democracy, too. One such byproduct, political psychologist Diana Mutz argues, can be the lessening political tolerance.

Participation or deliberation?

In her book Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory Democracy, Mutz argues that participatory democracy is best supported by close-knit groups of like-minded people. Political activism requires fervor to rouse people to action. To support such passions, people surround themselves with others who believe in the cause and view it as unassailable.

Alternative voices and ideologies — what Mutz calls "cross-cutting exposures" — are counterproductive to participation because they don't reinforce the group's beliefs and may soften the image of the opposing side. This can dampen political zeal and discourage participation, particularly among those averse to conflict. To prevent this from happening, groups can become increasingly intolerant of the other side.

"You can have a coup and maximize levels of participation, but that wouldn't be a great thing to do. It wouldn't be a sign of health and that things were going well."

As the book's title suggests, deliberative democracy fosters a different outlook for those who practice it. This model looks toward deliberation, communication, compromise, and consensus as the signs of a resilient democracy. While official deliberation is the purview of politicians and members of the court, it's worth noting that deliberative democracy doesn't mean inactivity from constituents. It's a philosophy we can use in our daily lives, from community memberships to interactions on social media.

"The idea is that people learn from one another," Mutz tells Big Think. "They learn arguments from the other side as well as learn more about the reasons behind their own views. [In turn], they develop a respect for the other side as well as moderate their own views."

Mutz's analysis leads her to support deliberation over activism in U.S. politics. She notes that the homogeneous networks required for activism can lead to positive changes — again, there are many historical examples to choose from. But such networks also risk developing intolerance and extremism within their ranks, examples of which are also readily available on both the right and left.

Meanwhile, the cross-cutting networks required for deliberative democracy offer a bounty of benefits, with the only risk being lowered levels of participation.

As Mutz writes: "Hearing the other side is also important for its indirect contributions to political tolerance. The capacity to see that there is more than one side to an issue, that political conflict is, in fact, a legitimate controversy with rationales on both sides, translates to greater willingness to extend civil liberties to even those groups whose political views one dislikes a great deal."

Of politics and summer camp

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Take that! A boxing bout between two members of a schoolboys' summer camp at Pendine, South Wales, takes place in a field within a ring of cheering campmates.

Of course, listening openly and honestly to the other side doesn't come naturally. Red versus blue. Religious versus secular. Rural versus cosmopolitan. We divide ourselves into polarized groups that seek to silence cross-cutting communication in the pursuit of political victory.

"The separation of the country into two teams discourages compromise and encourages an escalation of conflict," Lilliana Mason, assistant professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, writes in her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. "The cooperation and compromise required by democracy grow less attainable as partisan isolation and conflict increase."

Mason likens the current situation to Muzafer Sherif's famous Robbers Cave Experiment.

In the early 1950s, Sherif gathered a group of boys for a fun summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma. At least, that was the pretense. In reality, Sherif and his counselors were performing an experiment in intergroup conflict that would now be considered unethical.

The 20 boys were divided into two groups, the Rattlers and the Eagles. For a while, the counselors kept the groups separate, allowing the boys to bond only with their assigned teammates. Then the two groups were introduced to participate in a tournament. They played competitive games, such as baseball and tug-o-war, with the winning team promised the summer camp trophy.

Almost immediately, the boys identified members of the other team as intruders. As the tournament continued, the conflict escalated beyond sport. The Eagles burned a Rattlers flag. The Rattlers raided the Eagles' cabin. When asked to describe the other side, both groups showed in-group favoritism and out-group aggression.

Most troubling, the boys wholly assumed the identity of an Eagle or Rattler despite having never been either before that very summer.

"We, as modern Americans, probably like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated and tolerant than a group of fifth-grade boys from 1954. In many ways, of course, we are," Mason writes. "But the Rattlers and the Eagles have a lot more in common with today's Democrats and Republicans than we would like to believe."

Like at Robbers Cave, signs of incendiary conflict are easy to spot in U.S. politics today.

"Political Polarization in the American Public", Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 12, 2014)

A 2014 Pew survey found that the ideological overlap between Democrats and Republicans is much more distant than in the past. More Republicans lie further right of moderate Democrats than before and vice versa. The survey also found that partisan animosity had doubled since 1994.

In her book, Mason points to research that shows an "increasing number of partisans don't want party leaders to compromise," blame "the other party for all incivility in government," and abhor the idea of dating someone from outside their ideological group.

And let's not forget Congress, which has grown increasingly divided along ideological lines over the past 60 years.

A dose of daily deliberation

Painting by Charles Francois Jalabert (1819-1901) 1846. Beaux-Arts museum, Nimes, France. Photo by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images.

Horace, Virgil and Varius at the house of Maecenas.

A zero-sum mindset may be inevitable in a summer camp tournament, but it's detrimental if taken into wider society and politics. Yet if participatory democracy leads to the silencing of oppositional voices, a zero-sum mindset is exactly what we get. Conversely, creating networks that tolerate and support differing opinions offers non-zero benefits, like tolerance and an improvement of one's understanding of complicated issues.

Mutz wrote her book in 2006, but as she told us in our interview, the intervening years have only strengthened her resolve that deliberation improves democratic health:

"Right now, I'm definitely on the side of greater deliberation rather than just do whatever we can to maximize levels of participation. You can have a coup and maximize levels of participation, but that wouldn't be a great thing to do. It wouldn't be a sign of health and that things were going well. Democracy [must be] able to absorb differences in opinion and funnel them into a means of governing that people were okay with, even when their side didn't win."

Unfortunately, elected officials and media personalities play up incivility and the sense of national crisis for ratings and attention, respectively. That certainly doesn't help promote deliberation, but as Mutz reminded us, people perceive political polarization to be much higher than it actually is. In our daily lives, deliberative democracy is more commonplace than we realize and something we can promote in our communities and social groups.

Remember that 2014 Pew survey that found increased levels of partisan animosity? Its results showed the divide to be strongest among those most engaged and active in politics. The majority of those surveyed did not hold uniform left or right views, did not see the opposing party as an existential threat, and believed in the deliberative process in government. In other words, the extremes were pulling hard at the poles.

Then there's social media. The popular narrative is that social media is a morass of political hatred and clashing identities. But most social media posts have nothing to do with politics. An analysis of Facebook posts from September 2016, the middle of an election year, found the most popular topics centered on football, Halloween, Labor Day, country music, and slow cookers.

And what of political partisanship and prejudice? In an analysis of polarization and ideological identity, Mason found that labels like "liberal" and "conservative" had less to do with values and policy attitudes – as the majority of Americans agree on a substantial number of issues – and more to do with social group identification.

Yes, we all know those maps that media personalities dust off every election year, the ones that show the U.S. carved up into competing camps of red and blue. The reality is far more intricate and complex, and Americans' intolerance for the other side varies substantially from place to place and across demographics.

So while participation has its place, a healthy democracy requires deliberation, a recognition of the other side's point of view, and the willingness to compromise. Tolerance may not make for good TV or catchy political slogans, but it's something we all can foster in our own social groups.

Understanding what tolerance means in a highly polarized America

  • At Big Think Edge this week, we delve into ways you can make your conversations sing. So to speak.
  • Learn a valuable lesson about psychopaths, from diagnosed psychopath (and neuroscientsit) James Fallon.
  • If you're not a subscriber yet, join Big Think Edge today. Boost your skills with our 7-day free trial.


To get what you want — to get what everyone wants — learn the 3 levels of listening with Michelle Tillis Lederman's video lesson this week at Big Think Edge. Former Facebook investor Roger McNamee helps you revisit your past decisions to make sure they still make sense and support your goals and beliefs (it's something he knows a lot about).

In Deep Dives this week, you'll learn how conversations can go so much better than they often have, with 36 questions that'll make anyone fall in love. You'll also learn how to handle psychopaths with care, under the tutelage of neuroscientist James Fallon, who is a diagnosed psychopath.

Building relationships through likability: Listen to understand (the 3 levels of listening), with Michelle Lederman

Photo: Joel Mwakasege via Unsplash

Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability, explains how to develop listening skills that can help you establish strong, mutually beneficial relationships. Much of our listening involves matching up another person's story to what's happened in our own lives, and that's fine, but it's just first-level listening. Lederman introduces you to the next two levels, in which your understanding deepens and areas of overlapping interest and goals emerge, pointing the way toward a productive connection that works for everyone.

Available September 16 in Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

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Fix your mistakes: How to revisit your decisions and realign them to your values, with Roger McNamee

Roger McNamee is the author of Zucked, and he tells an illuminating story of how his faith in Facebook lasted longer than it should have. An opinion or a decision is a hypothesis, he suggests, that may just seem correct for now. However, conflicting evidence can pop up at any time, and you do yourself no favors by ignoring it even if—especially if—it undermines your belief. McNamee's tale will have you re-examining your own past decisions in the hopes of never finding yourself, as he did, on the wrong side of what you believe to be right.

"GOOD DECISION-MAKERS THINK LIKE REAL-TIME ANTHROPOLOGISTS."

– ROGER MCNAMEE

Available September 18 in Boost Your Analytical Intelligence

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Deep Dive: No more awkward conversations

We all want to have better, more meaningful conversations, right? That's what comedian, actor, and podcaster Pete Holmes asks in a Deep Dive this week called "Do Your Conversations Fall Flat? Do a 180 by Fostering Intimacy." Holmes shares some of his methods for helping podcast guests open up and be real, from his declaring the conversation a safe space to his trust in the benefits of artful interruption.

What if you want to connect with a total stranger? Psychologist Arthur Aaron's got just the thing for getting intimate with someone else, and fast: 36 questions designed to help you fall in love with anyone.

Available September 16 in Deep Dives

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