Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson et. al.

January 6, 2018

I don’t like confrontation. I have never asked for a raise – not because I think I don’t deserve one, but because I’m uncomfortable bringing up the subject. And I have never bought a car on my own – not because I don’t know which car I want, but because I’m not comfortable negotiating for it. I’m usually the peacemaker in my family and at work, too.

So I was very interested in reading “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” Second Edition (2012) by the co-founders of VitalSmarts, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I wanted to learn how to handle risky situations, like asking for a raise, suggesting a change at work, or talking with a family member.

“Crucial Conversations” is a practical, easy to read handbook to help people identify and initiate crucial conversations, those day-to-day conversations that have a big impact on your life, where there are opposing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions.

The book is based on two beliefs: first, the only person we can change is ourselves; and second, we create our own emotions. In effect, we are the ones who make ourselves angry, insulted, or uncomfortable, and we have the power to change how we feel.

With examples and scenarios, the authors lead us through a 7-step plan so that we can keep calm, keep others calm, and have successful crucial conversations.

  1. Start with heart: focus on what you really want. Don’t get distracted by winning an argument, punishing someone who disagrees, or keeping the peace. Look at challenges and skepticism as opportunities to convince others.
  2. Look for the moment a conversation becomes crucial. Lean to pay attention to your own physical, emotional, and behavioral signals, and watch for times when people react with aggression or silence.
  3. Make it safe to talk. When we react with aggression or silence, it is a sign that we feel unsafe. We can make people feel safe by apologizing when appropriate; using contracting don’t/do statements, like “I don’t want to suggest that the problem is yours. I do think it’s our problem;” and asking “Why do you want to do that?” to find the real reason why the two of you disagree.
  4. Separate fact from story. We tell ourselves stories about other people’s actions, often turning ourselves into victims (“It’s not my fault”), others into villains (“It’s all your fault”), or believing ourselves to be helpless (“There’s nothing else I can do”). Instead, stick to the facts and ask, “Why would a reasonable, decent person do what they are doing?” Then focus on what you really want and ask, “What would I do right now if I really wanted those results?”
  5. STATE your facts. Facts provide a safe beginning and are the more persuasive and less threatening than opinions.
  6. Explore others’ paths by asking what other people want. Use four listening tools: ask (“What do you mean? I’d really like to hear your opinion on this”), mirror (“You say you’re okay, but by the tone of your voice you seem upset” or “You look nervous. Are you sure?”), paraphrase (“Let me see if I have this right”), and, as a last resort, prime (“Are you thinking that maybe…?”).
  7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide (command, consult, vote, or consensus); assign specific tasks and deadlines, including what you don’t want; document decisions; and then follow up.

The sample scripts are really helpful and made me feel more prepared for stressful moments. For example, in response to criticism or negative feedback, you might say, “You know what? We need to talk about this. I’m glad you asked the question. Thank you for taking that risk. I appreciate the trust it shows in me.” Or when talking with an unenthusiastic patient or client, you might say “It sounds like you had a problem of some kind. Is that right?” Or when you disagree with someone else, you might say, “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

There are also links to online videos and exclusive content, including Style Under Stress test (I scored about what I expected: high on silence, low on violence). The book ends with 17 tough cases and ways to change our reactions to those situations.

So far, I’ve had two chances to practice crucial conversations techniques. At work I suggested a business change and at home I attempted to mediate between two arguing relatives. Neither conversations turned out as I hoped (one was interrupted and the other was hijacked by the need to repeat their opinions), but I’m working on it. I just need to practice more crucial conversations skills.


“Uprooted” by Albert Marrin

December 2, 2017

“Our government failed in its duty to protect the rights of everyone living in the United States,” declares Albert Marrin, author of “Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II” (2016). “Uprooted” examines how the influences of history, racism, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He also acknowledges philosophical questions about balancing liberty and security, and whether “the end justifies the means.”

The book begins with a brief history of Japan and the Pacific from the 1100s, including the rise of modern Japan in the 1860s with the abolition of the samurai class and the devastating effects of opium addition in China. Historical facts come to life with historic photos and newspaper headlines, poignant descriptions of war and imprisonment, bleak poetry, drawings by uprooted Japanese Americans, and photos of “sanitized” internment camps.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. In Hawaii, 1,037 “enemy aliens” were arrested, but the book downplays the effects of internment in Hawaii and doesn’t mention Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawaii at all, commenting that internment was less severe in Hawaii because Japanese Americans were needed as laborers and skilled engineers. On the West Coast, 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced to relocate, while other persecuted minorities (Jews, African Americans) focused on their own situations and did not speak out.

There are honest and unflinching recitations of prejudice, intolerance, fear-mongering, and a denial of humanity; racism sees only the collective, not the individual. Marrin is blunt about the prevalence of racism on all sides: In Japan, where they controlled information and speech, and used propaganda in schools to indoctrinate racial superiority (the Yamato Race); and in the West, where non-White races were inferior, interracial marriages were illegal, Native Americans were dehumanized, and Chinese immigrants were barred from citizenship.

Marrin shares stories of inspiring Hawaii-born nisei heroes, like Sergeant Hoichi “Bob” Kubo, a linguist who rescued 122 civilians who were captives of Japanese soldiers at Marpi Point, Saipan in 1944. He talks about Merrill’s Mauraders in India under General Frank D. Merrill; the 100th Infantry Battalion, with 1,432 Hawaii-born nisei who battled at Monte Casino, Italy in 1943; and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with 2,686 Hawaii-born Nisei and 1,200 mainlanders, including Captain Daniel Inouye (later a US Senator from Hawaii).

What really struck me about the “uprooting” was the power of words to shape reality. Words can be used to spare someone’s feelings or to deceive. The American government used innocuous names like “assembly centers” where Japanese Americans gathered, and “relocation camps” where Japanese Americans were imprisoned – which in reality were “concentration camps” or “internment camps,” surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Marrin writes, “History is not destiny; it describes the past but does not decide the future.” Was your family impacted by the Japanese internment camps during World War II? Did learning about the internment camps change your perspective about individual rights and public safety?

“The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking

November 4, 2017

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, according to studies and polls. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, believes that this is because the Danish people are obsessed with Hygge (pronounced HOO-GA), a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. They create an atmosphere of Hygge in their homes and workplaces, seek out Hygge experiences, celebrate Hygge moments.

In the simple and forthright book, “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” (2017), Wiking shares the principles of Hygge and how we can bring Hygge into our lives. Each chapter focuses on ways to bring Hygge into our lives, such as the use of light (candles, soothing pools of light) and small gatherings to comfort food and casual clothes, illustrated with cozy, colorful drawings.

“The factor that has the biggest effect on our happiness is social support,” Wiking declares. Or put another way, “The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” He highlights Denmark’s healthy work-life balance, a slower pace of life, free healthcare, free university education, and five weeks of paid holidays per year.

Wiking also includes polls and studies to backup the science of Hygge, as well as recipes, a Hygge emergency kit, and even directions to make woven heart decorations.

This is the Hygge Manifesto:

  1. Atmosphere. Turn down the lights.
  2. Presence. Be here now. Turn off the phone.
  3. Pleasure. Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy.
  4. Equality. “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
  5. Gratitude. Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
  6. Harmony. It’s not a competition. We already like you.
  7. Comfort. Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
  8. Truce. No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
  9. Togetherness. Build relationships and narratives.
  10. Shelter. This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and serenity.

For me, the best Hygge tip is to link what you buy with good experiences. For example, save money to buy something you really want, but wait until you have something to celebrate, so that you will be reminded of it every time you use it or remember it.

Wiking begins and ends with a socialist-leaning political agenda. He states that “the welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life.” He concludes that “One of the main reasons why Denmark does so well in international happiness surveys is the welfare state, as it reduces uncertainty, worries, and stress in the population.”

Denmark has cold winters, rainy days, and an abundance of darkness. Candles, lamps, fireplaces, warm sweaters, woolen socks, and hot soup can warm you inside and out. Hawaii, with its tropical weather, refreshing breezes, and abundance of sunshine is almost the complete opposite of Denmark.

What does Hygge mean to us in Hawaii? Could our ceiling fans, open lanais, tank tops, board shorts, slippers (flip-flops), scent of plumeria, and shaved ice, as stereotypical as they may be, reflect a Hawaii concept of Hygge?

“Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo

October 7, 2017

Two years ago, I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (2014). I tackled the clutter at home, donating 12 bags of gently-used clothes and 70 books; shredding 8 bags of old papers; and getting rid of 28 bags of trash. Tidying-up was only partly a success, because I could only tidy my things – everyone has to choose the things that make them happy.

Last year, I started a new job and I felt the need for some decluttering inspiration. I was happy to find that organization consultant and author Marie “KonMarie” Kondo wrote a follow-up book, “Spark Joy: Al Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up” (2016), translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.

“Spark Joy” is “a comprehensive and wonderfully simple compilation of the KonMarie Method. It is based on the idea that we should choose those things in your home and life that spark joy.

According to Kondo, “Only two skills are necessary to successfully put your house in order: the ability to keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest, and the ability to decide where to keep each thing you choose and always put it back in its place.” There are six basic rules of tidying up: 1. Commit yourself to tidying up. 2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle. 3. Finish discarding first. 4. Tidy by category, not location. 5. Follow the right order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany), then sentimental items. 6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy. “It might come in handy” is taboo.

Kondo takes us step-by-step to organizing our home, from the philosophical (tidying up is about facing ourselves) and the essential (fill your home with the things you love) to the basic (put everything in its place) and the practical (all clothes can be folded into squares). There are neat line drawings in calming pale blue (and cute white rabbits!) that illustrate tidying basics, like folding clothes and drawer organization. The graphics really help us visualize what an orderly space can look like. Kondo also shares her personal experiences and what she has learned from her clients.

Here are some “Spark Joy” tips for the rooms in your home:

* Personal space: Fill your personal space with the things you love.  “If it makes you happy, then the right choice is to keep it confidently, regardless of what anyone else says.” For small miscellany: place them on something, frame them, hang them somewhere unexpected, use them as wraps or covers. For posters or pictures: decorate storage spaces, closets, and cabinets.

* Closets: Fill your drawers to 90% full so you won’t feel compelled to fill up the space. Follow the four principles of storage: fold it, stand it upright, store in one spot, and divide your storage space into square compartments. Minimize storage furniture!

* Kitchen: Focus on the ease of cleaning, not the ease of use. Put nothing in the counters or around the sink and stove top. Put kitchen scraps for composting in the freezer. Sort kitchen komono into implements for eating, cooking tools, and food. Fill your refrigerator to about 70% full.

* Bathroom: “Store everything inside it in such a way that you won’t feel embarrassed if someone else happens to open it.”

* Entryway: Keep your entryway as clear as possible.

Kondo also offers sensible advice about living with others – and their stuff: “You don’t have to make yourself like someone else’s things. It’s enough just to be able to accept them.”

Slowly, between daily tasks and projects, I started to apply some of the tips and ideas in “Spark Joy” to my workspace and the office. I cleared the desktops and countertops, putting folders away before I go home. I learned to file papers right away, so that paperwork doesn’t accumulate. I added pictures of my family to remind me about why I work. Sparking joy at the office makes me I feel calmer and more in control.

How cluttered are your home and office? Do you surround yourself with the things that make you happy?

“Clouds of Memories” by Mona Kahele

September 2, 2017

“To have Hawaiian blood is to be Hawaiian, but to love one another whether Hawaiian or any other ethnicity is also to be Hawaiian at heart.”

“Clouds of Memories” (2006) by Native Hawaiian historian, educator, and community leader Mona Kapapaokeali‘i Kapule Kahele (1921-2006) offers an autobiographical glimpse into rural Hawaiian life and stories from remote areas, specifically life in South Kona from the 1939s to the 1990s. It is a collection of diary entries, legends learned from Kahele’s grandparents and kupuna, and line drawings and maps. The book is divided into 6 sections: diary entries, early years, place names and legends, Miloli‘i stories, Miloli‘i legends, and fishing traditions.

“My material comes from my relatives on a hearsay basis and to me it is just like the clouds: they can paint an interesting story,” Kahele writes. “The clouds tell me more things than you can ever imagine. The formations that take place are out of this world.” She reveals, “All through the years, I kept these stories as my treasures. To me they mean a lifetime that cannot be repeated.”

Throughout “Clouds of Memories,” we see Kahele’s love of writing and her keen interest in writing down legends and stories to share (her grandmother Lokalia would save old scraps of paper and iron them for Kahale to write on). We feel her matter-of-fact acceptance about adapting to harsh living conditions, such as an abusive father, poverty, little food or water, and hard work. And we witness Kahele’s compassion, her devotion to children (from 1947 to 1959, they raised 23 children!).

Through diary entries, we learn that Kahele was born at Nāpo‘opo‘o (“the great dents,” named after two hollows in the land that were once fresh water ponds) in South Kona, Hawaii in 1921. Kahele’s family relied on the land for food and trade, and she grew up in relative poverty. According to hānai tradition, she was fostered with her father’s adopted mother, Tūtū Mele, and rescued from abuse by her paternal grandmother, Tūtū Lokalia. They moved to Hilo and stayed with relatives, until an uncle helped them find a small home of their own.

She married Abel, who came from the fishing village of Miloli‘i. They adopted a son and daughter, Danford and Dolly. They farmed coffee, avocados, and mangoes, until Kahele became sick and temporarily wheelchair-bound.

Kahele retells stories learned from kūpuna in Miloli‘i in 1946, written in Hawaiian and translated into English. The stories and legends reinforce Hawaiian beliefs about that the gods and ‘aumakua were benevolent and would help people, like the stories of Ānuenue, a princess of the rainbow; Kanuha, whose ‘aumakua rescued him from the people of the sea; Lilinoe and Waihua‘i, who were transformed into pools so the people would have water; and Kū‘ula and Hinapukui‘a, who heard the prayers from a poor village and helped them because of the villagers’ kindness. These stories reinforce the Hawaiian values of self-sacrifice and compassion in response to suffering and misfortune.

For me, Kahele’s acceptance of poverty and abuse is distressing, but the reality that young women and girls were abused by Westerners in the 1700s is heartbreaking. Kahele states with brutal honesty that in Nāpo‘opo‘o, they talk about “…the women folk who were enticed and taken aboard ship by Captain Cook’s men where they were raped and beaten. Some of the women were beaten badly because they wouldn’t do what the sailors wanted them to do. Some of them died and were thrown overboard into the water… Some of these women became pregnant. Others became very sick…” She states clearly, “Some young girls were stolen by the crew and taken aboard, raped, and held captive.”

Through her memories, we can experience the fear of family, the land that is not prosperous, the wrong-doings against the innocent, contrasted with Kahele’s own life in her caring for children, caring for the land as a farmer, and her determination to make sure that voices are heard.

“The Tyranny of Meritocracy” by Lani Guinier

August 5, 2017

When I was a student, the goal of finishing high school was getting into college. We focused on earning good grades and high test scores to make us more appealing to college admissions officers. When my son started school, I started to question the content and number of standardized tests that students are required to take, before they even reach high school.

I didn’t really question the validity of standardized tests themselves, until I read “The Tyranny of Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America” (2015) by author and law professor Lani Guinier. It made me realize that I had bought into the idea of standardized tests as measuring intelligence and future success, when in many ways standardized tests are a snapshot of a student’s parents’ success.

“The Tyranny of Meritocracy” challenges us to adjust our understanding of the value of test scores to college admissions, in order to better reflect what we want to value in a democratic society.  It advocates that we shift from promoting testocratic merit (prioritizing individualized testing and competition) to democratic merit (prioritizing group collaboration and community contribution).

According to Guinier, most American universities are admissions-driven. They focus on the single moment of admission, rather than selecting students who will be active citizens in a democratic society. The best illustration of this shift in thinking comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s “New Yorker” article titled “Getting In,” which compares the United States and Canada university admissions process: the United States selection process is like a modeling agency that recruits people who are already beautiful, while the Canada selection process is like the Marine Corps that is confident that basic training will turn everyone into a soldier.

Changing the college admissions process. Instead of relying on standardized tests, Guinier asserts that we should consider a holistic admissions review, one in which “any individual’s potential is told both in the context of race and class, as well as the important role of mentorship, and the ability to work together.” She advocates more peer-to-peer instruction (pairing up students to discuss problems, so that students learn concepts and not just formulas) and peer collaboration (creating smaller study groups so that positive peer pressure encourages everyone to learn).

Collaboration, not competition. Guinier concludes that society needs to shift its emphasis from the individual to the group, from working alone to working inclusively, and from intelligence to communication. The ultimate objective of universities is responsible and engaged citizens, not workers. “Meaningful participation in a democratic society depends upon citizens who are willing to develop and utilize these three skills: collaborative problem solving, independent thinking, and creative leadership.”

Counter to the traditional American belief in the self-made man and the ideal that we can succeed through hard work, determination, and courage alone, Guinier creates a compelling and thought-provoking argument about the need to emphasize hard work and group effort, instead of “innate” ability and natural intelligence.

What is your experience with the college admissions process? Do you think that it works or do you think it is flawed? What do we expect from university graduates and how should universities help them succeed?

“A Prophecy Fulfilled” by Lance Tominaga

July 1, 2017

Clarence T.C. Ching was a frail, sickly child, but his father made a bold prediction about him: “If he survives, he will become an important, prosperous and outstanding man, and he will help the rest of the family.”

I didn’t realize his fragile beginning, the pressure to succeed, or the scope of his legacy until I read “A Prophecy Fulfilled: The Story of Clarence T.C. Ching” (2009) by a biography commissioned by The Clarence T.C. Foundation and written by writer Lance Tominaga. Ching helped his own family and also had lasting impact on Hawaii communities.

In this short biography, we see glimpses of his personal and business life. Clarence Thing Chock Ching (1912-1985) was born in Anahola, Kauai to Ching Hook and Hee Kam Sing. He was raised on Confucianist ideals of loving others, which was reinforced by the Christian ideal of charity. He was a champion boxer and graduated from St. Louis School in 1932. He married Dorothy “Dot” Sau Pung Tom, and raised three children.

I would have liked to read more personal anecdotes about Ching and his life in his own words, but we do learn that he was modest, unassuming, generous, visionary, and led with quiet decisiveness. He did not need to take credit for his philanthropy. He shared his wealth with his 10 siblings and his wife’s 9 siblings, and he shared his time and thoughtfulness with Governor John A. Burns and nonprofit boards like St. Francis Medical Center, St. Louis School, and Chaminade University.

In business, he was an astute risk-taker who dreamed big and kept his word. In 1956, Ching and his business partner Kan Jung Luke purchased Damon Tract in Kaloaloa for $4.5 million, and in 1957 he bought the ahupua‘a of Moanalua from Sam Damon for $9 million with a handshake deal. He helped develop affordable housing (Moanalua Hillside Apartments, Moanalua Gardens, Lakeside, Kukui Gardens), envisioned Honolulu Country Club, co-founded Hawaii National Bank in 1060, was a driving force behind Chinese Cultural Plaza, and had the foresight to recommend St. Francis Medical Center West (now Hawaii Medical Center West) in Leeward, rather than Pearl City.

Clarence has left an inspiring legacy. The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation continues to fund education and human services. His story reminds us of the value of connections (a network of St. Louis School alumni), keeping your word, and giving back to the community. “I have been blessed with good fortune in this community,” Ching stated. “I consider the Kukui project an opportunity to discharge this obligation.”

In fact, Ching’s philanthropy and generosity touched my life in ways that I didn’t know before. My husband grew up in Kukui Gardens and ate at restaurants in the Chinese Cultural Plaza, and his parents purchased an apartment in Moanalua, along the Honolulu Country Club. Honolulu would be a very different place today without his influence, vision, and open-heartedness.