The Brilliance of Hearts

This talk is officially called Tan Le – My Immigration Story – and it is that, an immigration story, but it is also much, much more.

It is a story of tradition and war and fear and upheaval, a story of displacement and escape, a story of love and hope and perseverance and family and hardship and the forging of a human spirit.

A truly inspiring story.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

Let’s Dance

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s easy to believe in war and injustice

in greed and corruption

in hatred and prejudice and violence.

It’s harder to believe in equity and justice and unity and peace.

But once upon a time…

Slavery was the norm – nobody thought it unreasonable that one human being own another.

Everybody believed women were inferior to men.

White people were genuinely thought to be superior to everyone else.

Appendicitis was usually a death sentence…

The thought of human beings flying was ludicrous and nobody had ever dreamed people all over the world could communicate almost instantaneously…

All change happens because at the very, very start someone believes it is possible.

We see what we believe so if we believe something is possible then we will search and search until we find the way to make it a reality – for better or worse.

So – while peace, love, understanding, equity, and justice might not be that easy to envisage, the first step in attaining any of those things is to believe they are attainable.  Strain your ears until you hear the music and then – dance…



We all value trustworthiness.

Most of us try to be trustworthy ourselves and we look for it in others. When other people fail to be worthy of our trust, we chide ourselves for trusting and determine never to trust anyone ever again.

Maybe there’ s another way to look at it.

Clearly it’s foolish to insist that trustworthiness exists when we have evidence to the contrary – however the solution is not to stop trusting.

It’s like fool’s gold.

If you were a miner who found some iron pyrite and mistook it for gold, the experience might make you a little more circumspect the next time you thought you’d hit the mother-lode, but it wouldn’t stop you mining and looking for real gold.

Because you’d know that real gold also exists and is worth the search. Just like trustworthiness.

And who knows, given that human beings respond so often to expectation, perhaps searching for trustworthiness can also actually help it to develop in places it has shaky roots?

Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.  – Booker T. Washington



Human Nature – A Conceptual Framework – III

Schillings is presenting Clever Hans to the au...

Presenting Clever Hans to an audience

In 1904, a German mathematics teacher by the name of Mr. von Osten, believed that he had taught his horse, Hans, to add, subtract, multiply and divide. As if that wasn’t enough, Clever Hans, as the horse became known, could also spell, read, solve problems of musical harmony and answer personal questions – all with taps of his hoof.

Mr. von Osten didn’t use Hans to make money and was quite happy to absent himself when Hans was being asked questions. Clever Hans was a world-wide phenomenon. In September, 1904, The New York Times ran an article on Clever Hans – Berlin’s Wonderful Horse: He Can Do Almost Everything but Talk – How was he taught?

The German government appointed The Hans Commission to investigate the claims made about this horse. This team was led by Carl Stumpf, the philosopher and psychologist, and included the director of the Berlin zoological gardens, a vet, a circus manager, a Cavalry officer, and a number of school teachers.  In 1904, this team concluded that there was no fraud involved and that indeed Hans the Horse could do all the things his master claimed.

The Hans Commission passed the investigation over to Oskar Pfungst – an associate of Stumpf.  Pfungst confirmed the findings of the Commission – there really was no fraud involved, however, he also discovered that clever as Hans was, he wasn’t really the wonder horse he appeared to be.

Pfungst discovered, after many tests, that Hans could only get the correct answer, if the asker knew the answer. Once Pfungst realised this, he changed the focus of his study from the horse to the questioners, and it was here that he made some very important discoveries.

Pfungst found that the reason Hans could answer questions was that the questioners all exhibited a number of subtle, involuntary and unconscious signals that the horse could ‘read’.  For example, a common occurrence was that as Clever Hans’ taps approached the correct answer, all questioners would display tell-tale postural and facial signs of tension that were released as the horse made the final tap.  This was how Hans knew he had arrived at the correct answer. Neither consciousness of the possibility of giving these signals nor attempts not to give them were successful.  These are involuntary cues in the truest sense of the word.

Without fail, according to Pfungst, questioners give hints and cues that are interpreted by the respondent.  This phenomenon became known as the Clever Hans Effect. Even today,  comparative psychologists – who study animal behaviour – generally test animals in isolation to avoid this effect.

Human being are equally susceptible to the Clever Hans Effect.  Our expectations are not just vague, harmless whims but can actually influence outcomes and as such deserve some serious attention…

TomorrowHuman Nature – A Conceptual Framework – IV