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How Nelson Mandela used language to build a nation

John's reflections, leadership Leave a comment

A moving scene from the movie Invictus portrays a tense conversation between President Nelson Mandela and Jason Tshabalala, his intense security chief. At issue is Mandela’s decision to employ some of the highly qualified white bodyguards trained under his predecessor during the brutal apartheid regime.  On the morning when the white men report to take up their duties with the new regime, the black guards—who had not been informed prior to this noteworthy event—react with shock and disdain. Visibly agitated, the security chief storms into the president’s office to demand an explanation. Mandela calmly makes clear his desire to be protected by a multiracial team, one that should include highly qualified members … Continue reading

Touching the heart with language

John's reflections Leave a comment

Last week, I wrote that narrative-based discourse is more effective than rational argumentation for convincing any audience. One of the primary reasons for this is simply that story reaches people on an emotional level. Only with story can we touch another human being’s head and heart simultaneously.  The “head and heart” argument for narrative caused me to think also about language. In particular, it brought to mind one of my favorite notions about crossing cultures, from Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”   As we will explain … Continue reading

Story and persuasion

John's reflections, Storytelling Leave a comment

Last time, I wrote about how Tim Bilodeau of Medicines for Humanity came to understand that narrative-based speeches are the most effective way to reach an audience. This week, I explain this phenomenon in more detail and tell why I believe storytelling is a human being’s most effective tool for changing minds and moving others to action.  How we convince others: In a general sense, there are three ways to persuade another person, a group or an audience: coercion (force or threat), argumentation (using reason and rational discourse that appeal to people’s logic and intellect), and narrative (telling stories that engage others and move them to action).   Let’s examine each … Continue reading

The struggles that build character and help us grow (cont.)

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In last week’s post, I outlined my belief that we grow ourselves and our brains by taking on challenges in areas that do not come easily to us. In part, I used my own business school education as a case in point, explaining that the learning which I found most satisfying seemed to come in subject areas where I had to struggle more than in others. I also commented that I have seen the same phenomenon in my twenty years of teaching and coaching. My most satisfying experiences are often not with the most “talented” individuals, but with those who reflect, work hard, challenge themselves, and stretch the most, regardless of … Continue reading

Learning, struggling, building character, and expanding our minds

John's reflections Leave a comment

This week, some brief—and a bit more personal—reflections on the value of our mental challenges and struggles, and how they help us develop our mental capacities. To paraphrase Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, modern research is demonstrating that our intelligence is not fixed. The more we challenge ourselves to learn in varying ways, and the more we struggle to acquire knowledge, the more we teach our brains to grow.  In the last post, we saw the story of a 57 year-old man who “failed” at learning French but completely revitalized his brain in the process. The individual in question, William Alexander, discovered the effect of his linguistic struggles by measuring his neural activity … Continue reading

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