During my school days, I was reluctant to participate in many of the activities offered. However, I was elected to be the proposer in a debate entitled, “Travel Broadens the Mind and Stimulates the Intellect.”

Having just returned from a trip to Amsterdam, and being forced to endure certain unplanned experiences, I am thinking that there may be more to travel than postulated in the title of this debating topic.

Amsterdam via Istanbul

Last week, I was travelling with my daughter Daniella who has given me permission to blog about this recent episode in our life. In order to save about R1000, we decided to take the route to Amsterdam on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, instead of taking the direct flight offered by KLM.

We arrived at Istanbul at about 11 pm with our scheduled connecting flight listed as being three hours later. I knew that Dubai was a massive airport, but was surprised to find the distance between disembarking from the plane and the transit lounge at Istanbul was also a considerable distance.

As we had been sitting on the plane for about 11 hours, I decided not to take the escalators when walking up and down the stairs. After all, I had been sitting and needed the exercise. So, by the time we arrived at the transit lounge, I was really tired and very surprised to see there was limited seating. Most of that was already occupied.

After some searching, I found a spot to sit and rest until I felt it was time to move to the gate from which the next stage of our trip would leave. I looked around to find my daughter. She was nowhere to be seen. “Well,” I thought, “She is an able-bodied, sound of mind middle-aged women, with her own passport, her own seating ticket, and her own luggage. She must have made her way to catch the next flight.” I presumed she had spent the time looking at the shops and made her own way to the following stage of the journey.

The Unexpected and Unanticipated Reality

When I arrived at the relevant gate, I was mildly surprised to find that passengers had already started to enter the plane. There was no sign of Daniella. I was looking forward to seeing her when I arrived at my seat. But the place was empty.

Some mild anxiety started to arise in my mind and my body. I went to find out from the cabin crew when the plane would be leaving. “In about 25 minutes,” was the answer.

You do get one hour of free wi-fi at Istanbul airport, but I had not been successful in applying the code and achieving connectivity, so I asked the cabin steward if I could use his phone. He was most obliging, and I could feel my heart pumping as the phone was ringing, and I was awaiting a response from my offspring. But there was no answer.

“Could they make an announcement?” I asked the steward. That was out of the question. What could be done? Was I to fly off to Amsterdam without my daughter? I had heard of a young woman who had been offered drugs in that part of the world and had never returned home. Was I to lose my progeny in the Middle East due to my negligence? “Should I be looking after my daughter? Or, should she be looking after her octogenarian mother?” I asked myself.

And as I went back to my seat, the adjacent passengers started asking me questions. I felt humiliated in having to admit I had lost my daughter. Maybe they thought I was totally irresponsible. Or maybe they thought she was totally stupid. Which is better? Which is worse?

And then the doors started to close. The plane began to taxi. Here was an empty seat, and no daughter. I had to gather together all my theoretical knowledge on how to cope with this trauma. I was grateful for my practice of mindfulness and set about turning into my feelings while meditating. Realising that there was absolutely nothing I could do in the present situation, I concentrated on calming myself down.

I Arrive Alone in Amsterdam

On arrival in Amsterdam, I was relieved to find a WhatsApp message from my son who lives in this beautiful city. He had received a phone call from Daniella. Yes, she had missed the flight! He had booked her on the following flight. She would be arriving in a couple of hours.

This information was vaguely reassuring. Now I needed to find Daniella’s luggage. I waited and waited for it to appear, but it did not arrive. In fact, it only arrived the next day. But worse was to come!

Because she did not turn up for the flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam, Daniella’s return flight was automatically cancelled. She booked and paid for an alternative return flight via Nairobi. On her return, her flight leaving Amsterdam was delayed. She missed her connection to Cape Town and spent 5 hours as a guest of Kenya Airways in Nairobi, thus missing a day of work when she arrived home.

The Bonus

Travel does indeed broaden the mind, and it does teach you lessons on how to look after yourself at the same time!

 

“Education should not only train people to solve problems and sharpen their intelligence but, more importantly, to be good human beings.” ~ Matthieu Ricard

#10

Chatting to a friend yesterday, I was surprised to hear from her an evaluation of her grandson’s education. “He is a brilliant student and recently qualified as an accountant,” she said. “But, when I spoke about #10, he did not know what I was talking about. And to make matters worse, “she added, “he has never even heard of Downing Street. I really do not understand what education today is all about!”  She reflected on her own background in the arts and her fund of general knowledge. I could not help thinking, “Is this really what is important in this day and age? Does a lack of a piece of factual knowledge give us the permission to condemn the contemporary system of education?”

I managed to refrain myself from vocalising my thoughts. I acted sympathetically. While not agreeing with her statement, I did manage to stop myself from disagreeing. However, more importantly, I started to ponder the primary requirements of contemporary education.

My Thoughts on Contemporary Education

Ken Robinson on TED

The first place to which my mind travelled was to the TED talk given by Ken Robinson which is one of the most popular of all time.   It has achieved  62 164 165 viewings. the main point of Robinson’s presentation was the enormous value of training in creativity, rather than the presence of a vast factual knowledge base.

Scenario Planners advocate Thinking Skills

In a recent blog, I have spoken about the work done by the scenario planners Chantelle Illusbury and Clem   They have put a great deal of work into developing a system which encourages the students to practice their logical thinking skills.

Understanding our own Biases

Another recent blog of mine talks about the work that Johnathan Haidt is doing on American campuses to enhance the students thinking of racial, class and gender issues. He focuses on giving the learner the skills to become aware of their own unconscious biases.

Evolution of Goals of Education

The next thought that came to my mind was, “Is it appropriate for us ladies, who were born more than 80 years ago, to use the educational models of our growing years as an example for the present generation?” Seventy years of history has been added to the available information since our school days. To say there has been an information explosion is an understatement. What percentage of the school curriculum should be devoted to technology? Our teachers did not have to worry about finding space in the curriculum for computer usage when I was a scholar.

Contemporary Goals in Education

At the stage, I decided it was time to do some research and bring ‘Mr Google’ into the act. My query in the search engine was, “What are the Education Goals of Today?  Here is what I found in the first article I accessed.  While this is an arbitrary choice, It is sufficiently broad in scope and progressive in orientation for me to use as a starting point.

The School Around Us suggests the following as education goals:

  • Learn how to learn, for life by being aware of multiple resources
  • Discover the whole self by reflection and introspection
  • Exploring and practising basic skills by understanding the interaction of all things
  • Practice responsible and knowledgeable citizenship

I rather like how The School Around Us reflects on the spiritual aspect of Holistic Education. “It is not a traditional school, in that the “basics” include matters of the spirit, the body, the heart, as well as the mind. Academics are certainly important, but they are only part of the “basics”.

Current Events Meeting promotes Further Ideas

At our U3A current events meeting this week in September 2019 the facilitator opened with a challenge. “Why do you think,” he enquired, “the British politicians are having such a hard time getting together making a decision.   The British Parliament has so many well educated and experienced politicians, yet they seem unable to form an agreement on this matter despite being led by three different Prime Ministers in the past three years?”

I did recognise our leader was being intentionally provocative. My thoughts were, “These experienced British Politicians may be well educated, but that does not mean they are necessarily rational in their behaviour. Each of us has our biases which may well not be founded on logical thought.”

Coda

While going to do my shopping this morning, I was stopped at a pedestrian crossing by a school teacher who was ushering her primary school class to cross the road. She failed to share my greeting, offered while I patiently waited for the last child to cross the street. As she moved on, I was anticipating a friendly wave or some acknowledgement for my wait. I was disappointed. She merely walked on with never a gesture of appreciation. I wonder what sort of education she experienced! And, I wonder if she knows where 10 Downing Street is situated!

 

I studied psychology in the 1950’s.  It was one of my majors for my BA degree. Today I was reminded on two discrete occasions about concepts I had studied six decades ago, which had not been part of my consciousness for many years.

Two Different Reminders

The first idea was mentioned in conversation by my croquet colleague who brought up the topic of lobotomy as a cure for depression.  Later, I received in my email an article from Big Think Edge on self-actualization.

My Gut Reaction

I was aware of my gut reaction when I became cognisant of these two diverse topics.   I remembered that lobotomy had become grossly discredited, while self-actualization evoked feelings of positivity.  I needed to follow up to verify my unconscious reaction to being reminded of these two concepts.

Lobotomy

It is for good reason that the brain operation known as lobotomy would evoke a feeling of disgust.   This intrusive brain surgery, performed under local anaesthetic, involved making two incisions into the skull, just behind the eyes, so that nerves of the frontal lobes could be severed.

The aim of this procedure was to relieve symptoms of distress displayed by mental illness.  It became thoroughly discredited only after many thousands of operations in both the UK and America during the 1940’s and the 1950’s.

How Effective was this Operation?

There was no cure in those days for people who were consigned to a mental asylum.  Once a patient entered the ward of such an institution, it became a virtual life sentence.  Following this procedure, it was found that 1/3 patients improved, 1/3 became worse, and 1/3 remained the same.   No research was ever conducted, and there was no follow up to this radical and irreversible surgical procedure.

Looking back, it is incredible that the medical profession sanctioned this irreversible operation.  The neurosurgeon would cut into a healthy brain to perform this procedure which today is considered an aberration.

What will our Grandchildren think about Today’s Medicine?

It makes one stop to ask, “I wonder if we are today performing medical procedure which may be considered horrific by our grandchildren!” Maybe we are.  It could be that chemotherapy will, in the future, be regarded as unnecessarily invasive. While this cancer treatment targets the fast growing cells of the tumour, it also destructs some healthy cells such as the hair follicles.   Maybe in 50 years’ time, this cure may be judged in the same way as we judge lobotomy today!

Self-Actualisation

How well I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which culminated in the need for self-actualization.  I was excited when I first heard of this concept, and this feeling was re-evoked today.

As this diagram illustrates, it is postulated that man needs to satisfy his basic needs for food, water, and sleep at the most basic level.  When these life maintaining needs have been adequately gratified, then the next levels for safety, health and employment require sustenance. Subsequently, we have to cater to our social needs for friends and family. Having this level dealt with successfully, we proceed to achieve friendships and acquire the respect of our peer group.  Finally, we have this ultimate need for self-actualization; to achieve contentment and a feeling of fulfilment.

Latest Research on Self-Actualisation

When I received today’s email from Big Think, I was amazed to discover a report of new research performed in the past few years updating and reinforcing the merit of Maslow’s top postulated human need.

Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, has published a study that updates Maslow’s work.  Modern statistical methods have identified ten specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.

Kaufman utilized surveys of over 500 subjects and identified ten characteristics that each make a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.  They are:

  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation
  • Acceptance
  • Authenticity
  • Equanimity
  • Purpose
  • Efficient Perception of Reality
  • Humanitarianism
  • Peak Experiences
  • Good Moral Intuition
  • Creative Spirit

What is particularly interesting about these qualities is that they tie in so well with the newest research into today’s favoured field of Humanistic Psychology.  In addition, these are the qualities cherished by those of us who practice Mindfulness! Those who search for Happiness!

In Kaufmann’s words

“A good way to start is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. ”

You can take his Test

To take the test of self-actualization yourself, go to Barry Scott Kaufman’s website.

Valuing Self-Actualisation

It is very satisfying to have the opportunity to review the manner in which the concept of self-actualization has re-emerged so many decades later.  Unlike lobotomy this concept has stood the test of time.

Enriching my Understanding

In fact, it has given me an insight into my understanding of myself.  Those of you who have been reading my blogs for the past few months may recall my ponderings regarding my competitiveness. I have often wondered why it is that at my advanced stage of life, I still need to enter competitions to demonstrate my prowess at the game of croquet.  Now I have some insight.  Of course, it is all about self-actualization!

 

It is not often that I read a book that I am unable to put down.   A book in which I continue to the next chapter even though I have mentally decided to switch off the light and go to sleep when I am at the end of reading the present one.   However, I recently found such a work entitled, “Rise and Kill First”, written by award winning author and military historian Ronen Bergman.

A Sad Truth

As readable and exciting as are the anecdotes of the Mossad, Israel’s well-known intelligence agency, just how tragic are the long terms results of these elaborate technological plans and detailed strategies for targeted killings.    It is indeed sad that the endless tactical victories of the secret agency result in no long term solutions, and frequently result in unexpected negative events.

Whilst this book is replete with multiple stories of the ingenious ways in which Israel’s enemies are targeted, I will share but two examples.    Anyone in my age group will probably remember the headlines which dominated the press at the time of both the Munich Olympics Assassinations of the Israeli sportsmen in 1972, as well as the Entebbe Raid in 1977 when an Israeli plane was hijacked.

Munich Olympics 1972

Operation Wrath of God had been set in motion by Golda Meir to avenge the terror attack on the Israeli team at the Olympic Games in Munich.   Ail Hasan Salameh was the chief of operations for the Palestinian terrorist group Black September and in addition one of the architects of the Munich Olympics Massacre.   This tragic incident at an international event to promote sportsmanship caused considerable humiliation to Israel when 11 of their athletes lost their life.   An attempted assassination of Salameh was made in Norway after the disastrous attack but had proved a Public Relations disaster when the wrong man was targeted and killed.   6 years later this arch-enemy of Israel was living in Beirut leading the life of a playboy who frequented the gym, and he again reached the top of the Mossad’s hit list.

The initial plan was to investigate his daily routine at the gym where he was befriended by a spy who had detailed knowledge of his comings and goings.   However after considerable time and effort tracking him in that environment, it was decided that there was too much security at the gym, so an alternative method needed to be found.

Such a strategy was devised around a sophisticated technique of targeted shooting from close range.   Salameh would be targeted whilst driving through Beirut with his entourage of cars and bodyguards.   A special device was created to perform the task.   It was an explosive which necessitated the pressing of a button at the exact moment the targeted car passed a significant point.  A precise practice procedure was required.    Rehearsing this task, necessitated acute manual dexterity.   The appointed operatives could not get the timing right.  However, a female administrative staff member observed the problem the men were having.   “Why don’t you let me try, she asked?”   She timed it perfectly several times in a row, consequently being awarded the job.

Rinah arrived in Beirut on October 1978 assuming the role of an assistant to Palestinian orphans in a refugee camp.   For the two months, she worked there she managed to gain information about Salameh’s movements by posing as a painter in her flat overlooking his residence.  Other members of her team arrived in January the following year, one with a British passport and the other with a Canadian one.   Additional operatives managed to smuggle the explosives into Beirut by sea.  The scene was set.

When Salameh finished his lunch on January 22 1979, he drove down the street from his flat, carefully observed by the Israeli team.   When he passed the Volkswagen they were waiting for him.  Rina pressed the button and the explosion killed the target.    Success was achieved six years after the Munich devastation.

Entebbe Hi-Jacking

Wadie Hadad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had planned the hi-jack of an Air-France plane travelling from Tel-Aviv in 1977.  It was forced to land in Entebbe and 248 hostages were taken.   The demand was to free 40 Palestinian and affiliated militants imprisoned in Israel as well as 13 prisoners in other countries in exchange for hostages.

Whilst the daring rescue mission staged by the Israelis was successful in preventing the death of the passengers of this plane, the stress and anguish caused to the Israeli’s was a good enough reason for wishing to assassinate the master planner.

The Mossad exploited its close knowledge of Hadad by managing to exchange his toothpaste for an identical tube which contained a lethal toxin.   This dental cleanser had been developed by the Israeli Institute of Biological Research.   Each time the targeted individual brushed his teeth, a minute amount of the toxin would enter his bloodstream and eventually build up sufficient strength to kill him.

When he developed hepatitis and abdominal spasms Hadad was admitted to hospital in Bagdad and treated with antibiotics.   There was no improvement in his multiple grave symptoms.   The local doctors were at a loss and Arafat gave instructions to send the patient to East Germany, who were at that time great admirers of the PLO, for treatment.   He was admitted to a prestigious hospital which catered to members of the intelligentsia.   His condition deteriorated further despite the best treatment available and after ten days he died.    Whilst the Mossad was suspected, there was no evidence of how Hadad had suffered such an ignominious death.

Some Concluding Comments

The two anecdotes above illustrate the ingenuity of the planning of targeted assassinations.   Despite the apparent success of many of these plots, the tragedy is that little has been achieved in any long term arrangement for Palestinians and Israelis to live peaceably side by side.

President Trump (4th week April 2019) has now advised that at the end of Ramadan he will announce his long-awaited plan for Peace between Israel and Palestine.   The public has been warned that major concessions will have to be made by both parties in this ongoing conflict.