The Challenges of “Imagined History” – Part II Reply

By Chris Simmons

Recently, I introduced my loyal readers to the concept of “Imagined History.” We now need to revisit this issue so I may add additional depth and context to this important subject.

“Imagined History” does not occur for singular strategic issues like the American Revolutionary War. Quite the opposite, it occurs simultaneously on as many as four distinct levels: societal, regional, special interests, and personal. Over time, these overlapping narratives weave real events together with perceptions, assumptions, personal preferences, misinformation, and disinformation. The result is a distorted world view with significant consequences.

Perhaps the penultimate case study in “Imagined History” is the very fractured worldview held by Cuban Master spy, Ana Belen Montes. The highest-ranking Cuban agent ever caught and imprisoned by the United States, I led the Defense Department’s months’ long interrogation that followed her arrest. Never before had I witnessed an individual so completely able to rationalize and (mentally) segment events. In some arenas, she even held beliefs and values that contradicted one another. I believe it was this imagined history that enabled her to thrive in a world of massive self denial.

I observed many other spies, as well as innumerable Al-Qaeda terrorists, display similar patterns of anti-social behavior paired with belief systems derived from a multi-tiered integration of imagined histories.

In more “everyday” situations, the dangers of this phenomenon arise from the impairment of personal interactions. The filters and biases created and sustained by these imagined realties guarantee the misinterpretation of others’ actions and intentions. In some scenarios, the intensity of these filters and biases render one unable to anticipate the future behavior of others. This can eventually constrict one’s choices so severely that you are left simply reacting to circumstances created by everyone else.

Evaluate the means, motives, opportunities, and demonstrated behavior of others and their intentions will reveal themselves. However, one must be free from filters, biases, and imagined histories to succeed in such behavioral analysis.

Author’s Note: Disinformation is false or inaccurate information deliberately spread with the goal of making legitimate information useless. It is inherently different from misinformation, which is spreading information that is unintentionally false.

Neuroscience Reveals The Deep Power of Human Empathy Reply


An old philosophical question asks: is there any such thing as a selfless act?

Cynics answer no, because any apparently selfless act is always tacitly showing off what ‘good’ people we are.

Even if no one else knows about the act, the good feeling you get yourself from helping someone else means a selfless act is never really entirely selfless.

But perhaps cynics will be impressed by recent neuroscientific studies which demonstrate in the living mind the enormous human capacity for empathy.

Holding hands

In a brand new experiment, participants were first put in an fMRI machine and shown a series of ‘X’s and ‘O’s on a screen (Beckes et al., 2013).

The ‘X’s indicated there was a 17% chance they would get a mild electric shock through the ankle, while the ‘O’s indicated they were safe (for the moment).

The scans of participants’ brains showed that when there was a chance they were about to receive a shock, the parts of the brain that are involved in threat response became more active. This was as expected.

The twist was that sometimes participants held hands with a close friend, and it was their friend that received the shock, and not themselves.

What the researchers then saw was that the activity in people’s brains was almost identical when their friend was about to receive the shock as when they themselves were about to receive it.

In comparison, there was relatively little activity in the threat response regions when they held a stranger’s hand.

One of the study’s authors, James Coan explained:  “The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar. The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

Mere presence

So the brain scanner could ‘see’ people empathising with their friends, but can it see whether this empathy does any good?

That’s what was examined in a previous study with a similar procedure—except this time participants were husband and wife (Coan et al., 2006).

The question was: would it make any difference to the brains of people who were about to receive an electric shock whether or not they were holding their spouse’s hand?

Indeed it did. When people held their spouse’s hand, as opposed to that of a stranger, the threat response regions of the brain were significantly less active than otherwise.

And, the better the marital relationship, the greater the positive effect of holding hands with their partners.

Subsequent studies showed that the other person only needs to be in the room for the threat response regions to quieten.(sic)

Connected minds

We all know from personal experience how gut-wrenching it is to watch the suffering of someone we love. And we all know that, when we are suffering ourselves, it’s better to have someone around that we love.

But it’s fascinating to see these fundamental aspects of what makes us human occurring right there, deep in the living mind.

The Challenges of “Imagined History” 1

Refusing to let facts get in the way of a good belief system

By Chris Simmons

I’ve long witnessed a widespread phenomenon I call “Imagined History.” Simply put, it is one’s past as we would have liked it to have been. It’s a perverse form of nostalgia in which we look back and see our actions – and those of our ancestors — as more enlightened and nobler than they actually were.

Wars provide virtually unlimited opportunities for us, collectively, to whitewash our past and re-invent ourselves. For example, Americans’ perceptions of the Revolutionary War — THE event that gave birth to the United States — are grossly distorted. I offer as evidence three fundamental truths about the war to which most present-day Americans are oblivious.

1. An estimated 70% of all colonists opposed or were neutral on the issue of independence from Great Britain. Thus, the present-day liberty of the United   States rests, in part, squarely on the shoulders of a small group of malcontent colonists.

2.  I said in part because long forgotten is the role that France, Spain, and the Netherlands filled in secretly providing supplies, ammunition, and weaponry to the revolutionaries starting in early 1776. More specifically, France provided 90% of the gunpower used by the patriots throughout the war. As a result, George Washington’s triumph at Yorktown was as much a French victory as it was “American.”

3.  The October 1781 surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown did NOT end the war. The conflict dragged on for two more years before finally ending with the September 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Poet Lucille Clifton was right:  “the saddest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.” History itself is neither good nor bad. Events – life-altering or mundane – occur because of the means, motives, and opportunities capitalized upon by individuals. Recasting these actions to make us feel better about ourselves or others actually has a long-term debilitating effect. When we deceive ourselves about where we’ve been, how can we really understand who we are?

Additionally, when we fail to accept the past as it actually occurred, we sabotage our ability to foresee opportunities and challenges. Having lost this “forecasting” skill, we become unable to shape our future and fall victim to our imagined histories.

Leadership is Example: A Lesson From Legendary Coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant Reply

It Don’t Cost Nothin’ To Be Nice

By Larry Burton, Senior Writer for Bleacher Report

Here’s a reprint of an article I wrote for another publication several years ago. 

At a Touchdown Club meeting many years before his death, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant told the following story:

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player and I was havin’ trouble finding the place. Getting hungry I spied an old cinder block building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.”

“I pull up, go in and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?” I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today? He says, “You probably won’t like it here, today we’re having chitlins, collared greens and black eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.” They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

“I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was and he says, yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good. And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.  As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay.

The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one and shook his hand and left.”

“I met the kid I was lookin’ for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

“Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on see some others while I’m down there.”

“Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama?” And I said, “Yes I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come. And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?” And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.” Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s house cat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him.”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.  “I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breakin’ your word to someone.”

“When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now; and he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that woulda made Dreamland proud and I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.”

“I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.”

Well Coach, we haven’t forgotten you or the simple lessons you taught not just your players, but everyone who would take the time to listen to you.

Larry Burton, Panama City Beach, Florida

Is Your “Significant Other” Losing That Lovin’ Feelin’? Reply

How to Determine if Rocky Shoals May Be Ahead

By Chris Simmons

We’ve all been there. You’re in a great relationship when you realize something has changed. He doesn’t bring you flowers like he used to do. The compliments and sweet words she once spread freely like wildflowers are now as rare as a desert rose. Everything else seems the same but things are definitely different. Is your relationship in trouble? Maybe…

Regarding her previously abundant praise, is she normally stingy with compliments for everyone or are you being singled out? If it’s the former, it could be problematic, although there are techniques to help nurture and guide positive behavior.

However, if he intentionally stopped bringing flowers or she is willfully withholding compliments, you could have a problem. I say “could” because people often withhold or deny taking an action as a passive-aggressive form of rejection. But before arriving at such a conclusion, several issues must be addressed.

  1. First, you must create a baseline of your SO’s regular behavior and mannerisms. People are creatures of habit, so your partner will display very consistent behavior patterns and a clearly defined collection of “core” mannerisms. Once you’ve created this baseline, think back to when the flowers/compliments/etc ended. A change in behavior reveals that a significant event has occurred (and not necessarily a bad incident, as positive actions can affect the baseline as well). Now determine what unique event(s) occurred during that period. There was a “triggering event(s)” that served as the catalyst for your SO to end their gracious acts. (Remember: A triggering event can be a decision by your SO, but there would still be signs preceding this event).
  2. As humans, we are predisposed to use verbal and nonverbal messaging to over-communicate everything. We build “communications clusters” around words and their supporting body language and utterances. In essence, you see and hear every message in three ways. (For more on this theme, see: Three Simple Steps to Becoming More Influential – Instantly! Recall the body language and other nonverbals used when your SO showered you with flowers or compliments. Did the entire cluster stop or simply one facet of your SO’s behavior?
  3. Were the “lost” affirmations replaced by other positive behaviors? If this is the case, your SO may have simply replaced a behavior that was uncomfortable/ unaffordable with deeds that he/she found more palatable.
  4. Examine your own behavior. Did you send signals that could have been misinterpreted? Did you start taking your SO’s acts for granted or lead him/her to feel that you saw their actions as an expectation or entitlement?

Getting to the truth isn’t easy. It requires careful and consistent attention to your SO as well as a time investment. That said, your SO will tell you EVERYTHING they want, need, and desire. All you need to do is listen to their words and utterances as you watch their body language and behavior. Relationships are living things. Just as a distressed plant shows signs that it’s endangered, so do we. Read the signals all around you. Maybe your relationship isn’t dying – perhaps it just needs a bigger pot, more water, or direct sunlight.

Moved Around, Ripped Out, Messed Up: Has This International Life Damaged My Children? 1

by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

This year it hit me broadside.

Standing in my entryway, eagerly opening up holiday greeting cards from around the world, I held a family Christmas collage from a friend in my hands. There they were: the crowds of folks gathered for one child’s wedding; a smiling circle cheering another child’s academic achievement; lines of friends there for another child’s community concert. I skimmed the lines about neighbors and friends who rushed in when there was a crisis, and wiped my forehead, now pumping hot blood, astonished by my gut reaction.

Pain. Pain for my children.

Story continues here:

RESEARCH REPORT: How Song Selection Can Be a Driving Distraction 1

Listening to Certain Types of Music Can Increase Driver Errors

By Ann Lukits, Wall Street Journal

Fumbling with the buttons to find a good song while driving has been linked to increased risk of crashes, but is listening to that song risky? It depends on the music, says a report to be published in the October issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention. The study found teenage drivers who played their own music had significantly more traffic violations compared with background music designed by the researchers to minimize driving distractions, or no music.

Researchers at Ben-GurionUniversity in Israel recruited 85 drivers about 18 years old; just over half were male. The subjects were each assigned to drive six challenging road trips that were about 40 minutes long, accompanied by an experienced driving instructor. Music was played on four trips, two with selections from the drivers’ playlists, mostly fast-paced vocals, and two with background music, which was a blend of easy listening, soft rock and light jazz in instrumental and vocal arrangements designed to increase driver safety. No music was played on two trips. Subjects rated their mood after each trip and in-car data recorders analyzed driver behavior and errors.

All 85 subjects committed at least three errors in one or more of the six trips; 27 received a verbal warning and 17 required steering or braking by an instructor to prevent an accident. When the music was their own, 98% made errors; without the music, 92% made errors; and while listening to the safe-driving music, 77% made errors. Speeding, following too closely, inappropriate lane use, one-handed driving and weaving were the common violations.

The male subjects were more aggressive drivers and made more serious errors than female subjects. The teens played their own music at a very loud volume but significantly decreased the sound level when listening to the safe-driving music, researchers said. Mood ratings were highest on trips with driver-preferred music.

Caveat: The participants were unfamiliar with the vehicles and instructors and their performance likely represents their most lawful driving behavior, researchers said.

Source: Background music as a risk factor for distraction among young-novice drivers

Strike A Powerful Pose: Posture Can Determine Who’s a Hero, Who’s a Wimp 1

By Sue Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal

Video:  How the ‘Power Pose’ Could Change Your Career

Can how you stand or sit affect your success?

New research shows posture has a bigger impact on body and mind than previously believed. Striking a powerful, expansive pose actually changes a person’s hormones and behavior, just as if he or she had real power.

Merely practicing a “power pose” for a few minutes in private—such as standing tall and leaning slightly forward with hands at one’s side, or leaning forward over a desk with hands planted firmly on its surface—led to higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in study participants. These physiological changes are linked to better performance and more confident, assertive behavior, recent studies show.

Marketing executive Katy Keim used to step back from listeners during presentations or conversations, resting her weight on her back foot with her hands clasped in front of her, twirling her ring. She was often surprised when people asked if she was nervous, says Ms. Keim, chief marketing officer of San Francisco-based Lithium, a firm that builds online communities for clients’ brands. After she began working with a coach to improve her skills and saw herself on video, she realized her posture “was slightly standoffish” and didn’t look strong, she says.

In addition to standing straighter, with her hands at her side, the 5-foot-1 executive began getting up from the table when speaking at meetings. “When I’m sitting at a table of men, I feel petite. Standing up is a dynamic change for me,” she says, sending a message: “I want to command your attention. I want you to get off your BlackBerrys and smartphones and listen to what I have to say.” During a three-hour meeting last week where she made a presentation, she says, she noticed no one picked up a smartphone.

Striking a powerful pose can reduce symptoms of stress, says Dana Carney, an assistant professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Subjects in a recent study she headed were guided for five minutes into either high-power poses or low-power postures, slumping or leaning back with arms or ankles crossed. They then delivered a videotaped speech before critical evaluators dressed in white lab coats and holding clipboards. Those who had practiced a power pose before the speech showed lower cortisol and fewer outward signs of stress, such as anxious smiles or biting a lip.

Assuming an expansive body position can also increase testosterone, which tends to boost confidence and aggressive behavior, according to another study co-authored by Dr. Carney. Subjects who struck power poses for two minutes had higher testosterone levels later and were more likely to take a gamble when given the chance. Some 86% of high-power posers risked losing $2 they were given in return for a 50-50 chance of doubling it, compared with 60% of low-power posers who took the bet, according to the 2010 study, published in the journal Psychological Science.

Power posing is also linked to improved performance. In another study published last year, led by Amy J.C. Cuddy, an associate professor of business administration at HarvardBusinessSchool, participants who struck power poses for several minutes before beginning a mock job interview received better reviews and were more likely to be chosen for hire—even though the evaluators had never seen them in the poses.

Other research links power posing before a college-entrance exam to improved scores, Dr. Carney says.

Researchers are studying why the effects of the power pose linger after a person returns to a normal, relaxed stance. One theory: It may prompt lingering changes in voice pitch or facial expression.

Most speakers aren’t aware of the signals they send through body language, says Kelly Decker, president of Decker Communications, a San Francisco coaching, training and consulting firm. “We pick up habits, such as walking into a meeting and sitting down with our shoulders slumped, and we don’t even think about it.”

Steven Murray says seeing himself on video last year when he was working with Decker coaches helped him realize that “you’re broadcasting nonverbal information to listeners from the moment you step up to the podium.” Mr. Murray, president of Direct Energy Residential, an energy company based in Houston, says he learned to adjust his posture, leaning slightly forward rather than standing straight upright in the authoritative stance he formerly used as a military officer. “Leaning forward really engages people” and helps get his message across, he says.

Hunching over a smartphone before a meeting or presentation may be self-defeating, because it forces the user into a low-power pose, according to a recent study led by Maarten Bos, then a postdoctoral research fellow at HarvardBusinessSchool. Participants were assigned to complete several tasks on one of four gadgets—a hand-held device, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop. Then, the researcher tested subjects’ willingness to interrupt another person, a power-related behavior. He left each subject alone in the room with instructions to come get him if he didn’t return in five minutes. Subjects who worked on the hand-held device waited significantly longer before interrupting him, compared with those on desktops, and some didn’t come out at all, suggesting their low-power posture sparked feelings of powerlessness.

Breaking old body-language habits takes practice, sometimes years. Pamela Lentz used to wave her hands while speaking on her job as a principal at a management-consulting firm, making some co-workers “think I was too emotional or too passionate,” says Ms. Lentz, a Leesburg, Va., management consultant. She also tended to fold her arms across her chest while listening, drawing criticism that she lacked presence. “It looks as if you are withdrawing from the conversation,” she says. Her body language was holding her back in her career, colleagues told her.

She worked with executive coach Tim Allard on changing her posture and movements. “We wanted her to project calmness and confidence,” says Mr. Allard, co-owner of Odyssey Inc., a Charlottesville, Va., executive and business consulting firm. He videotaped her and, with Ms. Lentz’s permission, asked her subordinates for feedback.

Ms. Lentz began leaning forward and placing her hands firmly on the table when speaking. She also put an elastic band around her wrist and snapped it now and then when her hands were hidden under a table or desk, to remind her to keep them still when she began speaking.

Gradually, as she practiced the new habits, says Ms. Lentz, “I felt more in control, and I was having more impact in the discussions.” She was soon promoted to partner.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at