Living by the Book

Full disclosure: I am forever on a self-improvement quest, working on becoming a better person inside out. My pursuit of self-improvement is both external and inward-looking; superficial and profound. On a superficial level, I am always in search of that perfect lipstick, that ideal hairstyle or that ultimate black dress. However, striving to look better is not so difficult: get a beauty makeover by a makeup professional at any good department store and you can leave looking good (minus a few hundred dollars on all the lotions and potions to help the cause). On a deeper level, improving oneself and becoming a better person takes more work. While it takes much more time and effort than a quick stop at the beauty consultant's, the good news is that internal self-improvement does not cost a penny. Moved by a desire for self-betterment, I always turn to books that will inspire my personal growth, enhance my understanding of the world and help me lead a positive, more fulfilling life. That is no easy task. In an increasingly complex and unpredictable world, faced with endless violence, terrorism, paucity and wars, how can we maintain our mental equilibrium and lead enriched lives? Short answer: by being A Force for Good, Reclaiming Conversation, and Altruism. You are absolutely correct if you guessed that these are titles of books. I highly recommend perusing these new additions to our library's collection if you are one to make New Year’s resolutions or desire to make some positive changes in the new year.

A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World by Daniel Goleman
A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World by Daniel Goleman is mostly based on interviews granted by the Dalai Lama in various places around the world, including Princeton, New Jersey. I had read Goleman’s earlier, well-researched and engrossing book, Emotional Intelligence, where Goleman asserted that our Intelligence Quotient (IQ) takes a second place to our Emotional Quotient (EQ) when it comes to determining success in our careers or our personal relationships. Simply put, a higher EQ enables us to recognize our emotions and control our reactions, helping us to manage conflict, be better listeners, and express our feelings "... appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward their common goals." Regardless of how our neurons are hard-wired, as per Goleman, we have the ability to develop our emotional intelligence and attain emotional mastery. Excuse the digression, but I am a Goleman fan and was eager to read his newest book! A longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, a writer, a psychologist and a science journalist, Goleman was eminently suited for the job of inscribing the Dalai Lama's vision for a better world. Goleman shares the Dalai Lama's compassion-driven ethics as they apply to today's social, environmental, and political issues. Whether it is global warming or world-wide conflicts generated by ethnic hatred, Goleman writes that the force for good envisioned by the Dalai Lama "... begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future from a sorry retread of the past, ..., we need to transform our own minds--weaken the pull of our destructive emotions and so strengthen our better natures." Goleman cites examples of the Dalai Lama's vision at work with actual examples of people and projects that are helping to turn the Dalai Lama's vision into reality.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
Living in the digital age and a tad too attached to my smart phone, I guiltily started reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. Turkle, a professor at MIT, trained as a sociologist and a clinical psychologist, examines how we lose our ability to connect to others and destroy our creativity and productivity by constantly using our electronic devices to entertain and inform us. Turkle makes a strong case for face-to-face conversation with other human beings which she believes is extremely important in order for us to develop empathy and good listening skills. And, she rightly notes, it is through family conversations that children connect with their parents and learn important social skills that they will need throughout their lives. Reviewing this book for the New York Times Book ReviewNote 1Franzen, Jonathan. "Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’." The New York Times. 28 Sept. 2015., Jonathan Franzen writes this book is Turkle's "call to arms" against our capitulation to digital technology. Turkle's depth and breadth of research is exhaustive and her psychological insights are spot on. For example, Turkle remarks on the superficiality of our connection with others online as we post enviable pictures and create idealized selves. She states, "We hide from each other even as we're constantly connected to each other. For on our screens, we are tempted to present ourselves as we would like to be. Of course, performance is part of any meeting, anywhere, but online and at our leisure, it is easy to compose, edit and improve as we revise." Upon finishing this book, I was relieved that smart phones were not so ubiquitous when my children were growing up, and I have resolved to stop playing Candy Crush while on the phone with my mother!

Altruism: The Power Of Compassion To Change Yourself And The World by Matthieu Ricard
"An overlong but vigorous gloss on the Dalai Lama’s famous remark, 'My religion is kindness'"Note 2Kirkus Reviews. Little, Brown, 15 May 2015. Kirkus Review: Altruism. is the dismissive first line of the Kirkus review, that most stringent of review sources. Altruism: The Power Of Compassion To Change Yourself And The World by Matthieu Ricard is a hefty tome at 849 pages, of which 149 pages are dedicated to notes. Despite its bulk, the chapters are short and the writing is lucid and well argued. Ricard's previous book, Happiness: a Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, was a self-help guide on finding true and lasting happiness. In that book, the author differentiated fleeting happiness caused by instant wish fulfillment and enduring happiness which has to be cultivated through practice. In this recent book, Ricard, a former molecular biologist and a Buddhist monk, makes a detailed and thorough case for altruism. Citing scientific papers, and current events, Ricard posits that altruism is an essential part of human nature, "...a natural manifestation of human kindness, for which we all have potential, despite multiple, often selfish, motivations that run through and sometimes dominate our minds." He further asserts that this innate desire in human beings to help others should be cultivated and enhanced more than ever if we are to make the world a better place. Ricard presents positive examples where people chose to act altruistically, benefitting both themselves as well as the society they live in. Ricard revisits his earlier theme of happiness, concluding that "Real happiness is entwined with altruisms, since it is part of an essential kindness that is accompanied by a profound desire that everyone flourishes in life." I could not agree more with the last line of the Kirkus review: "Inspirational in all the right ways but a challenge to get through it all."Note 3Kirkus Reviews. Little, Brown, 15 May 2015. Kirkus Review: Altruism. This is not a book to be finished in one reading but to be used more as an inspirational resource to be consulted when in need of an emotional pick-me-up.

Wishing all of you a healthy and fulfilling new year!

-Rina B.


Note 1Franzen, Jonathan. "Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’." The New York Times. 28 Sept. 2015.

Note 2 Kirkus Reviews. Little, Brown, 15 May 2015. Kirkus Review: Altruism.

Note 3 Kirkus Reviews. Little, Brown, 15 May 2015. Kirkus Review: Altruism.


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