Thoughful Reads

Lloyd Davies has a write up from a talk by Theordore Zeldin on the art of conversation, both face-to-face and online.

conversation is an art, so there is no guaranteed way of becoming a good conversationalist and everyone develops their own style. Until recently people had to fit into fixed categories. Now the individual is accepted and the mystery is what is going on for you.

So challenge yourself – the question is not what do you want to talk about, but what do you want to converse about, what do you want to share.

Ethan Zuckerman comments on the the book Brand New Justice, by branding expert Simon Anholt. But this is not marketing brands, but countries as brands. What does a country mean to a person, what brand does it carry. How can a country change thier branding, change the perception in the mind of potential visitors or investors. In London, you can see a conscious effort taking place to bring people back in after the July bombings. But this can be seen as a short term blip; how about countries that have a long history of negative branding, how do they turn themselves around. Ask yourself – is Croatia a war-set country that you cnanot visit, or a beautiful holiday destination? Anholt uses the ‘Nation Brand Hexagon’ to measure countries: ” which evaluates a national brand on six key characteristics, as well as a ranking score based on a sum of all those scores”. By measuring, it allows a country to put in a framework to change.

From the New Yorker, an article looking at the evolving admissions policy of the US Ivy League, primarily Harvard. When the university changed to standard entry tests in 1905, it was a pure merit test, based on academic ability. There were no other criteria present. But quickly this lead to an undesirable situation as perceived by the leading social class of the time. In 1922, personal characteristics started to come into play – the university was looking for certain types of people, not just academically successful ones. This was still going in the 1960’s:

At Harvard, the key figure in that same period was Wilbur Bender, who, as the dean of admissions, had a preference for “the boy with some athletic interests and abilities, the boy with physical vigor and coordination and grace.” Bender, Karabel tells us, believed that if Harvard continued to suffer on the football field it would contribute to the school’s reputation as a place with “no college spirit, few good fellows, and no vigorous, healthy social life,” not to mention a “surfeit of ‘pansies,’ ‘decadent esthetes’ and ‘precious sophisticates.’ ” Bender concentrated on improving Harvard’s techniques for evaluating “intangibles” and, in particular, its “ability to detect homosexual tendencies and serious psychiatric problems.”

And the process is still there today, but maybe not so obvious! There is still a personal selection criteria going on – will the student fit in, will they be successful And not just successful in college, but in life. For many of the top universities, that is a key measure of success. The article goes onto explore success of graduates post-college as being one of the reasons why subjectivity apppears to work. You can see the same practice in the UK – especially with grade ‘inflation’, where so many people are getting multiple A grades – the personal characteristics come into play and subjective choice can always be challenged.

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