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Monthly Archives: April 2015

NYC to finally recognize It was home to a slave market

New York – Most people think of slavery and slave markets as being peculiar to our Southern states and being strictly a “Southern crime against humanity.” But New Yorkers are finally going to have to acknowledge their own role in the trade in human beings.

Big money trades hands every day in New York’s financial district, and to fortune-seekers, Wall Street is seen as the epitome of the successful. But it has been this way since the 1700s, except back then, trading wasn’t limited to shiploads of dry goods and merchandise.

Few people know that for the first half of the 18th century, New York City was the home of a slave market. That will soon change when a marker is posted at the corner of Wall Street and Water Street, acknowledging the existence of a slave market that was the “official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings.”

The marker will be unveiled at the 150th anniversary of the Juneteenth Celebration on June 19, 2015. “The slaves of that time and place helped build City Hall,” city councilman Jumaane Williams told WNYC. “Their lives should be celebrated and their deaths should be mourned.” The project will cost the city around $5,000. “In the $70 billion city budget, that’s like losing a quarter,” Williams said. “And the significance of it is priceless.”

Early 1600s in New Amsterdam included enslaved Africans

The original city map called the Castello Plan from 1660  showing the wall (Wall Street  today)  on ...

The original city map called the Castello Plan from 1660, showing the wall (Wall Street, today), on the right side.
Jacques Cortelyou, General Governor of Nieuw Amsterdam

Many companies we are familiar with today, like New York Life and J.P. Morgan Chase profited from the city’s slave trade which was in existence two years after the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1626. In 1626, The West India Company brought 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam. This bit of information may shock many, but it is true that white Europeans and enslaved Africans arrived in New York, then called New Amsterdam, at about the same time.

By the time 1700 rolled around, there were 5,000 people in New York, and 750 of them were enslaved Africans. But the numbers were to grow as the city grew. Over the following 50 years, several thousand slaves were added to the population. Slavery built Lower Manhattan, literally, from the ground up.

It was the slaves that cleared the land, widened Native American trails, turning them into roads, like Broadway, and constructing the wall that would become Wall Street today. Women slaves worked as domestics, and many slave children were bought by white colonial families and taught to do household chores.

Bringing order to the business – How the market got started

The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655. By Howard Pyle 1917.

The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655. By Howard Pyle 1917.
Howard Pyle (1917)

New York fell under British Control in 1664, and proved to be even bigger traders in human cargo, so that by the end of the century, there were 10,727 blacks in what is now New York City and Westchester County, with 77.3 percent of them being slaves.

You will notice from the above figures that not all the blacks were slaves. A small number were actually freedmen. New Yorkers in later years would say with a certain amount of pride that they treated their slaves with compassion and benevolence, much different than the slaves held by Southerners.

During this period, many families, to make extra money would send their slaves out into the city to rent themselves out, for short-term labor, and sometimes, for periods of several days. But city officials began to hear complaints from some of the whites that there were too many of the black laborers walking around on the streets, mingling with each other, and there were fears a rebellion could be brewing.

City fathers took the problem to heart and by 1711 had put an end to slaves roaming around looking for work for their master’s profit. A wooden pier had been constructed at the corner of Wall Street and the East River. It was soon to become known as the city’s slave market. Ships coming from the Caribbean would dock and the slaves would be marched through the streets to be sold at the Wall Street market. That market was to run for 51-years.

Because slaves were considered property, and were sold as such, interested buyers, and those “just interested,” could inspect the goods. This would lead to men inspecting the musculature of the men and doing a lot of inspecting of the women in their “private parts.” It was surely an indignity and ugly experience for the slaves.

New York City’s involvement in the slave trade rivaled the South

 Slave sale  Charleston  South Carolina   wood engraving  by an unknown engraver  page taken from th...

“Slave sale, Charleston, South Carolina,” wood engraving, by an unknown engraver, page taken from the Illustrated London News, 1856. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. It has been said that New York City’s slave market rivaled Charleston’s slave market.
unknown (after Eyre Crowe)

Chris Cobb, is an independent scholar, and contributed his knowledge in preparing the marker to be unveiled next month. Last year, he testified before City Council about the legacy of slavery in the city. Explaining how the city profited from the slave market, he said, “It was a city-run slave market because they wanted to collect tax revenue on every person who was bought and sold there,” he added, “And the city hired slaves to do work like building roads.” The slaves were a valuable asset, both for their monetary value, and the work they did.

Some people have even proposed that the city has benefited from the slave trade in many other ways over the centuries. Professor Alan Singer of Hofstra University points out that besides the Africans being responsible for building the city’s infrastructure, as in roads, canals, bridges and more, He says the city was a “major stop on the transport of sugar and cotton. So New York bankers and New York merchants were making money on the transport and the sale of slave-produced commodities.”

By the 1800s, before the start of the American Civil war, New York City was as important as Charleston, South Carolina in the Triangular Trade, a network that sent slaves and the goods they produced in a continuous journey across the Atlantic to England, then Africa and again to North America. New York’s ties to the slave trade only ended with the end of the Civil War.

But the slave market had been long gone already, for much of the same reasons that something considered an eyesore is demolished today. Back then, the slave market blocked a nice view of the river and was bringing down property values.

 

 
 

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How to Be Emotionally Intelligent

CreditWesley Bedrosian for The New York Times

What makes a great leader? Knowledge, smarts and vision, to be sure. To that, Daniel Goleman, author of “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence,” would add the ability to identify and monitor emotions — your own and others’ — and to manage relationships. Qualities associated with such “emotional intelligence” distinguish the best leaders in the corporate world, according to Mr. Goleman, a former New York Times science reporter, a psychologist and co-director of a consortium at Rutgers University to foster research on the role emotional intelligence plays in excellence. He shares his short list of the competencies.

1. SELF-AWARENESS

Realistic self-confidence: You understand your own strengths and limitations; you operate from competence and know when to rely on someone else on the team.

Emotional insight: You understand your feelings. Being aware of what makes you angry, for instance, can help you manage that anger.

2. SELF-MANAGEMENT

Resilience: You stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets. You don’t brood or panic. In a crisis, people look to the leader for reassurance; if the leader is calm, they can be, too.

Emotional balance: You keep any distressful feelings in check — instead of blowing up at people, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is.

Self-motivation: You keep moving toward distant goals despite setbacks.

3. EMPATHY

Cognitive and emotional empathy: Because you understand other perspectives, you can put things in ways colleagues comprehend. And you welcome their questions, just to be sure. Cognitive empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication.

Good listening: You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda.

4. RELATIONSHIP SKILLS

Compelling communication: You put your points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated as well as clear about expectations.

Team playing: People feel relaxed working with you. One sign: They laugh easily around you.

 

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Rethinking the Placebo Effect: How Our Minds Actually Affect Our Bodies

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The startling physiological effects of loneliness, optimism, and meditation.

In 2013, Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a mind-bending debate on the nature of “nothing” — an inquiry that has occupied thinkers since the dawn of recorded thought and permeates everything from Hamlet’s iconic question to the boldest frontiers of quantum physics. That’s precisely what New Scientist editor-in-chief Jeremy Webb explores with a kaleidoscopic lens in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion(public library | IndieBound) — a terrific collection of essays and articles exploring everything from vacuum to the birth and death of the universe to how the concept of zero gained wide acceptance in the 17th century after being shunned as a dangerous innovation for 400 years. As Webb elegantly puts it, “nothing becomes a lens through which we can explore the universe around us and even what it is to be human. It reveals past attitudes and present thinking.”

Among the most intensely interesting pieces in the collection is one by science journalist Jo Marchant, who penned the fascinating story of the world’s oldest analog computer. Titled “Heal Thyself,” the piece explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies — an almost Gandhi-like proposition, except rooted in science rather than philosophy. Specifically, Marchant brings to light a striking new dimension of the placebo effect that runs counter to how the phenomenon has been conventionally explained. She writes:

It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself — rather than a particular drug — might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.

She cites a recent study at the Harvard Medical School, in which people with irritable bowel syndrome were given a placebo and informed that the pills were “made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes.” As Marchant notes, this is absolutely true, in a meta kind of way. What the researchers found was startling in its implications for medicine, philosophy, and spirituality — despite being aware they were taking placebos, the participants rated their symptoms as “moderately improved” on average. In other words, they knew what they were taking wasn’t a drug — it was a medical “nothing” — but the very consciousness of takingsomething made them experience fewer symptoms.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from ‘The Lion and the Bird.’ Click image for more.

This dovetails into recent research confirming what Helen Keller fervently believed by putting some serious science behind the value of optimism. Marchant sums up the findings:

Realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress — the belief that we are at risk — triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.

What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too — feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself…

Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response — the opposite of fight-or-flight.

Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers” — people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them — have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.

Marchant notes that it’s as beneficial to amplify the world’s perceived positivity as it is to amplify our own — something known as our “self-enhancement bias,”a type of self-delusion that helps keep us sane. But the same applies to our attitudes toward others as well — they too can impact our physical health. She cites University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, who has dedicated his career to studying how social isolation affects individuals. Though solitude might be essential for great writing, being alone a special form of art, and single living the defining modality of our time, loneliness is a different thing altogether — a thing Cacioppo found to be toxic:

Being lonely increases the risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia, depression and death, whereas people who are satisfied with their social lives sleep better, age more slowly and respond better to vaccines. The effect is so strong that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking.

Illustration by Marianne Dubuc from ‘The Lion and the Bird.’ Click image for more.

Marchant quotes another researcher, Charles Raison at Atlanta’s Emory University, who studies mind–body interactions:

It’s probably the single most powerful behavioral finding in the world… People who have rich social lives and warm, open relationships don’t get sick and they live longer.

Marchant points to specific research by Cacioppo, who found that “in lonely people, genes involved in cortisol signaling and the inflammatory response were up-regulated, and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria were more active, too.” Marchant explains the findings and the essential caveat to them:

[Cacioppo] suggests that our bodies may have evolved so that in situations of perceived social isolation, they trigger branches of the immune system involved in wound healing and bacterial infection. An isolated person would be at greater risk of physical trauma, whereas being in a group might favor the immune responses necessary for fighting viruses, which spread easily between people in close contact.

Crucially, these differences relate most strongly to how lonely people think they are, rather than to the actual size of their social network. That also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, says Cacioppo, because being among hostile strangers can be just as dangerous as being alone. So ending loneliness is not about spending more time with people. Cacioppo thinks it is all about our attitude to others: lonely people become overly sensitive to social threats and come to see others as potentially dangerous. In a review of previous studies … he found that tackling this attitude reduced loneliness more effectively than giving people more opportunities for interaction, or teaching social skills.

Illustration by André François for ‘Little Boy Brown,’ a lovely vintage ode to childhood and loneliness. Click image for more.

Paradoxically, science suggests that one of the most important interventions to offer benefits that counter the ill effects of loneliness has to do with solitude — or, more precisely, regimented solitude in the form of meditation. Marchant notes that trials on the effects of meditation have been small — something I find troublesomely emblematic of the short-sightedness with which we approach mental health as we continue to prioritize the physical in both our clinical subsidies and our everyday lives (how many people have a workout routine compared to those with a meditation practice?); even within the study of mental health, the vast majority of medical research focuses on the effects of a physical substance — a drug of some sort — on the mind, with very little effort directed at understanding the effects of the mind on the physical body.

Still, the modest body of research on meditation is heartening. Marchant writes:

There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine recipients and people with cancer, protects against a relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV. Meditation might even slow the aging process. Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, get shorter every time a cell divides and so play a role in aging. Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues showed in 2011 that levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a control group.

As with social interaction, meditation probably works largely by influencing stress response pathways. People who meditate have lower cortisol levels, and one study showed they have changes in their amygdala, a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

If you’re intimidated by the time investment, take heart — fMRI studies show that as little as 11 hours of total training, or an hour every other day for three weeks, can produce structural changes in the brain. If you’re considering dipping your toes in the practice, I wholeheartedly recommend meditation teacher Tara Brach, who has changed my life.

But perhaps the most striking finding in exploring how our beliefs affect our bodies has to do with finding your purpose and, more than that, finding meaning in life. The most prominent studies in the field have defined purpose rather narrowly, as religious belief, but even so, the findings offer an undeniably intriguing signpost to further exploration. Marchant synthesizes the research, its criticism, and its broader implications:

In a study of 50 people with advanced lung cancer, those judged by their doctors to have high “spiritual faith” responded better to chemotherapy and survived longer. More than 40 percent were still alive after three years, compared with less than 10 percent of those judged to have little faith. Are your hackles rising? You’re not alone. Of all the research into the healing potential of thoughts and beliefs, studies into the effects of religion are the most controversial.

Critics of these studies … point out that many of them don’t adequately tease out other factors. For instance, religious people often have lower-risk lifestyles and churchgoers tend to enjoy strong social support, and seriously ill people are less likely to attend church.

[…]

Others think that what really matters is having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it might be. Having an idea of why you are here and what is important increases our sense of control over events, rendering them less stressful. In Saron’s three-month meditation study, the increase in levels of the enzyme that repairs telomeres correlated with an increased sense of control and an increased sense of purpose in life. In fact, Saron argues, this psychological shift may have been more important than the meditation itself. He points out that the participants were already keen meditators, so the study gave them the chance to spend three months doing something important to them. Spending more time doing what you love, whether it’s gardening or voluntary work, might have a similar effect on health. The big news from the study, Saron says, is “the profound impact of having the opportunity to live your life in a way that you find meaningful.”

Philosopher Daniel Dennett was right all along in asserting that the secret of happiness is to “find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Each of the essays in Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion is nothing short of fascinating. Complement them with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the science of “something” and “nothing.”

 

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Managing the Critical Voices Inside Your Head

At 8:20 am, my twelve-year-old daughter, Isabelle, was rushing to meet her ski group. She was 20 minutes late and stressed – she takes her skiing very seriously and was training for a race in a couple of days.Near the competition center, she ran into one of her coaches, Joey. He looked at her, then his watch. “If this were a race day,” he told her, with a disapproving scowl, “I would tell you to turn around and go home.”

His words stung and she burst into tears. A few moments later, she was greeted by another one of her coaches, Vicky, who saw how stressed she was.

“Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “This isn’t a race. It’s okay that you’re running a little late. You’ll just catch up with your group on top of the mountain.”

Two vastly different coaches, two vastly different responses. Who’s right? I bet you have an opinion.

But that’s not the point.

My advice to Isabelle? You will have Joeys in your life and you will have Vickys. They will show up as teachers, bosses, colleagues, and friends.

So, I said to her, it’s a good idea to get used to the different responses without getting thrown off balance. You can’t control how people respond to you, but you can control how you take them in and how you respond to them.

But let’s go one step deeper. The truth is, we all have a Joey and a Vicky inside, and they can both be useful.  Joey might seem unkind, but his high expectations and low tolerance for failure can be helpful in driving us to be our best. On the other hand, sometimes we need empathetic support. To some, Vicky may appear soft. But her comfort and reassurance can be useful, especially during times of stress.

Here’s the key: Be strategic and intentional about who you listen to  – and when – even if the voices are inside your head. In fact, especially if the voices are inside your head. Those can be the sneakiest. It’s pretty easy to call Joey a jerk and ignore him; it’s much harder to dismiss the voice in your head because, well, it’s you.

Try this tactic: when you hear the voices, give them names and personalities. Imagine a Joey on one side, a Vicky on the other.

  1. Notice the voices in your head as voices. A lot of the time, most of us simply believe what we hear – either from other people or from ourselves. If your inner voice calls you lazy, it’s hard not to think you’re lazy. It helps if you imagine it’s Joey calling you lazy instead.
  1. Resist the urge to judge whether the voices in your head are right. It’s impossible to know and it doesn’t matter anyway. Are you lazy? The truth is that you probably are, in some ways. And, in other ways, you’re not. But that’s not the right question.
  1. Instead, think about the outcome you want and ask this question: Is what this voice is saying — and how it’s saying it — useful right now? This is the same question you should be asking if you’re confronted by an actual Joey or Vicky. Is this voice helpful to me in this particular moment? If you think it’ll motivate you, listen to it. If it will demoralize you, don’t.

This is an important skill: the ability to ignore critical voices when they’re destructive, without discounting them entirely. They might be useful another time.

The goal is flexibility. Cultivate a varied group of critics and coaches, both internal and external. Be aware of who is speaking and when you should listen.

Comfort with multiple voices is particularly important if you are a manager. You need to be able to be Joey or Vicky, depending on the situation. Sometimes, people need to feel your high expectations and disapproval. Other times, they need your gentleness and empathy. Don’t default to one or the other. Pause to assess what’s needed and then make a choice.

“It’s hard,” Isabelle told me after we spoke about the different voices and messages they brought with them, “How do I stop from thinking Joey is just a jerk? Or that I’m lame for being late?”

“He might be a jerk and you may be lame,” I said, “but not because he said so. Here’s the question: Will you be more likely to be on time tomorrow because of what he said?”

“Yes,” she conceded. “But it felt terrible.”

“And, when you feel terrible, can you hear Vicky’s voice too?”

“Yes,” she said, beginning to smile.

“Then it’s a good thing you have two coaches,” I told her.

Because sometimes, both voices are the perfect combination.


Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds (February 2015). To receive an email when he posts, click here.

 
 

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The Best Leaders Are Insatiable Learners

Nearly a quarter century ago, at a gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, John W. Gardner delivered a speech that may be one of the most quietly influential speeches in the history of American business — a text that has been photocopied, passed along, underlined, and linked to by senior executives in some of the most important companies and organizations in the world. I wonder, though, how many of these leaders (and the business world more broadly) have truly embraced the lessons he shared that day.

Gardner, who died in 2002 at the age of 89, was a legendary public intellectual and civic reformer — a celebrated Stanford professor, an architect of the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson, founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector. His speech on November 10, 1990, was delivered to a meeting of McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm whose advice has shaped the fortunes of the world’s richest and most powerful companies. But his focus that day was on neither money nor power. It was on what he called “Personal Renewal,” the urgent need for leaders who wish to make a difference and stay effective to commit themselves to continue learning and growing. Gardner was so serious about this learning imperative, so determined that the message would get through, that he wrote the speech out in advance because he wanted “every sentence to hit its target.”

What was his message? “We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit,” he said. “Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day ‘How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?’ I said ‘Let me count the ways.’ Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves—are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits?”

So what is the opposite of boredom, the personal attribute that allows individuals to keep learning, growing, and changing, to escape their fixed attitudes and habits? “Not anything as narrow as ambition,” Gardner told the ambitious McKinsey strategists. “After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die.” He then offered a simple maxim to guide the accomplished leaders in the room. “Be interested,” he urged them. “Everyone wants to be interesting, but the vitalizing thing is to be interested…As the proverb says, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’”

In these head-spinning times, even more so than when John Gardner offered his timeless advice, the challenge for leaders is not to out-hustle, out-muscle, or out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and get there before anyone else does. The best leaders I’ve gotten to know aren’t just the boldest thinkers; they are the most insatiable learners.

Roy Spence, perhaps the most interested (and interesting) advertising executive I’ve ever met, recently published a book called The 10 Essential Hugs of Life, a funny and moving take on the roots of success. Among his wise and folksy pieces of advice (“Hug your failures,” “Hug your fears,” “Hug yourself”) is a call to “Hug your firsts” — to seek out new sources of inspiration, to visit a lab whose work you don’t really understand, to attend a conference you shouldn’t be at. “When you’re a kid,” he says, “every day is full of firsts, full of new experiences. As you get older, your firsts become fewer and fewer. If you want to stay young, you have to work to keep trying new things.”

Spence cites as one of his inspirations management guru Jim Collins, who, as a young Stanford professor, sought advice and counsel from his learned colleague John Gardner. What did Spence learn from Collins? “You’re only as young as the new things you do,” he writes, “the number of ‘firsts’ in your days and weeks.” Ask any educator and they’ll agree: We learn the most when we encounter people who are the least like us. Then ask yourself: Don’t you spend most of your time with people who are exactly like you? Colleagues from the same company, peers from the same industry, friends from the same profession and neighborhood?

It takes a real sense of personal commitment, especially after you’ve arrived at a position of power and responsibility, to push yourself to grow and challenge conventional wisdom. Which is why two of the most important questions leaders face are as simple as they are profound: Are you learning, as an organization and as an individual, as fast as the world is changing? Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting? Remember, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

 
 

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