2019
June
07
Friday

“Pray and dance.”

Faith Michael, a defender for the Nigeria women’s national soccer team, says that’s what she does before every game, according to The New York Times.

She’ll be doing a lot of that in coming days, as the Women’s World Cup kicks off today in France.

It will be the biggest event in women’s soccer history. Total attendance is expected to top 1 million.

Such attention may help the sport change for the better, World Cup teams hope. It’s not so much about the game itself as about respect for the place of women’s soccer in a global context. 

Some countries have already made serious progress. In England, the fully pro Women’s Super League has wrapped up its first season.

Women’s national team players in Australia and Ireland have made progress fighting for higher pay and better treatment. The U.S. team has filed a federal lawsuit seeking equal pay.

But in many developing parts of the world – even soccer hotbeds like South America – women’s soccer still gets much less money and attention than men’s. 

Growing the women’s game where it is already big will eventually erode barriers where it isn’t, believes FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. Leading up to today’s first World Cup game, FIFA hosted a convention of sports and political leaders to discuss development of the women’s game and the positive impact it can have on female players at all levels.

“We need to understand the power that we have in this room and with this sport to change the lives of so many girls. Do not underestimate it,” former U.S. star Mia Hamm told the meeting. “I am a living example of what football can do.”

Now to our five stories for today, which include an examination of what healing looks like after a community deals with an event as traumatic as the Virginia Beach shooting, and a preview of the new Smithsonian hall of fossils, which has a surprisingly hopeful perspective on climate change.

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A deeper look

1. After a mass shooting, what does healing look like?

Life after trauma is not always what people assume. “Somehow when we survive, many people actually find that they have gained clarity and have a purpose,” one Las Vegas shooting survivor says.

Peter
Patrick Semansky/AP
Patricia Olds, a co-worker of LaQuita Brown, a victim of a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is comforted before carrying a cross bearing Ms. Brown's name to a nearby makeshift memorial June 2.

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Mike Cronk had a chance to run as gunfire rained down during the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre in Las Vegas. Instead of running, he stayed, pulling his wounded friend, Rob McIntosh, to safety. He then held a young stranger in his arms as he died.

Mr. Cronk took three months to sort things out. Sometimes he is in his truck driving, and the tears start flowing. “It just chokes you up, because so many people died and so many people are still hurting,” he says. “But I also don’t let it eat at me. I’m just thankful that I’m here to live my life, with purpose.”

It is precisely during such experiences that some people can find a way to heal, trauma experts say, and such trauma can become the soil of long-term personal growth and a richer experience of the human bonds that lie at our core.

“Before this, I was pretty quiet and shy, but ... I want people to know, no, you don’t have to let this change your life for the negative,” says Mr. Cronk. “You can use this as a power, a source, to get by and make an impact with other people.”

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1. After a mass shooting, what does healing look like?

There’s something strangely delicate about Gerard Lawson’s job.

As a counselor and trauma specialist, he’s volunteered in the past to help survivors of catastrophes, and he’s often been among the first to help trauma victims through the shock and numbing effects of experiencing violence and loss of life.

He was on the road to Virginia Beach, Virginia, this week, volunteering once again as its communities began to hold their first funerals and memorial services, offering his expertise to the survivors of the nation’s most recent mass shooting.

He says he still goes back and forth about whether it’s a good thing that he’s the kind of person who rushes into the midst of those experiencing such sudden loss. He drove to New York during 9/11 to help the Red Cross provide counseling for families amid their shattering grief. He was on campus when a mass shooter killed 32 and wounded 17 during the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg on April 16, 2007. After making sure his students and colleagues were safe, he immediately went to work, he says, setting out into the chaos to organize the university’s trauma teams.

These have affected his life and emotions as well. But sometimes, he and other trauma specialists note, it is precisely during such experiences that some people can find not only a way to heal, but also indeed discover the strange and paradoxical possibility that such trauma can become the soil of long-term personal growth, and a richer experience of the human bonds that lie at our core.

“When you have been through any event that causes you to reckon with your mortality, and you reassess what’s most important in your life, it can open up the possibility that I may want to engage in my life in a deeper, more meaningful way,” says Dr. Lawson, whose day job is training other counselors as a professor in the School of Education at Virginia Tech.

“I don’t want to seem like a Pollyanna and talk about that in the midst of the crises people are going through,” he continues. “But in the back of my mind, I do want to think about how do I position this person so that we establish a solid foundation today for them to build on, so that they have not only a great chance for recovery, but a really good chance to actually experience some of this kind of growth as well?”

Patrick Semansky/AP
A law enforcement official stands at an entrance to a municipal building on June 1, where 12 people were shot and killed the day before in Virginia Beach, Va. Mental health professionals note that more people are aware of the symptoms of trauma from such experiences and are seeking help for them.

With a series of mass shootings in the United States over the past few years, and after decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, health professionals say there has been a very important focus on those suffering from the physical and mental darts of post-traumatic stress disorder.

And as the acronym PTSD has become a part of the American cultural lexicon, such attention has served to help those who are diagnosed with it, experts say. More people are aware, and more people are seeking help for its isolating symptoms, including feelings of being misunderstood or pushed to the margins and forgotten.

Yet another symptom of PTSD is the tendency for survivors to begin to “overgeneralize” about the risks of living in the world. Sometimes trauma victims can begin to inflate and distort its dangers, often to an extent that becomes debilitating.

Yet, in fact, most human beings are actually remarkably resilient in the face of trauma, says Dr. Lawson, also the past president of the American Counseling Association. Some 70% to 80% of American adults experience the kind of trauma that could trigger PTSD, he and other experts say. But only 9% to 12%  experience the persistent, longer-lasting symptoms.

“One of the things that is a core belief of psychological first aid, and the model that most of us use in disaster mental health, is that this gap shows us that people are pretty resilient,” he says.

“And I believe that you have in you the skills that you need, the abilities that you need, the strength that you need to be able to overcome this trauma – let me help you access that.”

Almost as an inverse counterpoint to PTSD, many mental health professionals have made note of what they call the possibilities of “post-traumatic growth.” And with a growing body of concrete, evidence-based techniques that can effectively treat the aftereffects of trauma, many have also become more optimistic about the short- and long-term prognosis of those whose lives have been shattered by violence and sudden loss.

“Developmentally, I think there are now ways to handle situations like these,” says Samuel Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “And it starts with recognizing the depth of people’s shock and disbelief. Individuals, those directly as well as indirectly involved, need to mourn, and they especially need to participate in shared, community-based events.”

“Many times it’s very helpful to participate in rituals, whether it’s singing or the laying of flowers or participating in religious services, or any kind of spiritual experience,” continues Dr. Gladding, who has also volunteered with the Red Cross to offer counseling to survivors.

“But then they need to talk,” he adds. “And that’s a slower process than we would want it to be, but that’s just developmentally the way it is.”

More and more, many survivors are doing just that. Out from the solemn litanies of dates and names of places that now mark the nation’s experiences of domestic massacre, both survivors and mental health professionals have begun to express the strange paradoxes of life after trauma.

Mike Cronk had a chance to run as volley after volley rained down where he crouched with his friend, Rob McIntosh, in what became known as the “killing zone” at the Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre on the Las Vegas strip, where a single gunman shot and killed 58 and wounded 422 people on Oct. 1, 2017.  

Instead of running, he stayed, pulling his buddy, who was seriously wounded, to safety. He then held a young stranger in his arms, a man whose name he later learned was Quinton Robbins, staying with him as his life slipped away.  

A recently retired school teacher from Tok, Alaska, Mr. Cronk took three months to sort things out. He readied to go see the kids at the school. But he couldn’t. Sometimes he is in his truck driving, and the tears just start flowing.

“It just chokes you up, because so many people died and so many people are still hurting,” he says. “But I also don’t let it eat at me. I’m just thankful that I’m here to live my life, with purpose.”

“Before this, I was pretty quiet and shy, but now I get out there and I want people to know, no, you don’t have to let this change your life for the negative. You can use this as a power, a source, to get by and make an impact with other people.”

San Diego-based trauma counselor Shiva Ghaed, who also survived the Las Vegas shooting, has noticed this as well.

John Locher/AP/File
People carry flowers as they walk near the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino during a vigil for victims and survivors of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, April 1, 2018.

“There is a bit of controversy about the idea of post-traumatic growth, but somehow when we survive, many people actually find that they have gained clarity and have a purpose,” she says. “I wanted people to know that there is a great chance that you not only bounce back to baseline, which is what we call resilience, but that you can grow beyond it.”

Dr. Ghaed, a country music fan and a clinical psychologist for the U.S. military, immediately started a survivor group at a country music bar in San Diego, which drew dozens of survivors every Monday night for over a year.

She recalls how the connections people made had a transformative effect on those who gathered together, including a man who survived the Las Vegas shooting and who was bristling with rage about what had happened.

“By fostering forgiveness and talking about how these people had died in his arms in that open field, [his transformation] was amazing,” Dr. Ghaed says. “I think he found a greater sense of purpose and meaning in his life. It’s the way we honor the people we have lost – by truly living.”

There have been a proliferation of such online and real-time survivor groups, many patterned on The Rebels Project, a Facebook page started by survivors of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999. On this date every year, students hold a day of service at the school, and the The Rebels Project now has more than 1,100 mass shooting victims and survivors as members.

“Can you think of a better [response] to any mass shooter out there?” says Paula Reed, a Columbine survivor who teaches English. “You wanted to destroy us, and you made us into incredible forces for good in the world, that we might not have been if you hadn’t done that.”

“But it’s also what those kids would’ve wanted us to do,” continues Ms. Reed. The people she lost that day, Rachel Scott and Dan Rohrbaugh, “would not want me to curl into a ball and stop functioning. They would have wanted me to make their deaths mean something. They were too valuable to just let it be worthless.”

This year, on the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018, the rural community between Houston and Galveston, Texas, took a similar approach. It resisted media coverage. Only one parent had stood up to demand changes to gun laws. Instead, it commemorated the loss of eight students and two teachers that day with a day of service, including a communitywide pay-it-forward project.

Students participated in at least half a dozen community projects, and Sante Fe officials funded a “resiliency center,” open to anyone who needs help or just wants to talk.

“You’re doing your little part to help the community heal,” says Joe Giusti, a county commissioner and veteran deputy constable who lives in Santa Fe. “Even if you had no kids in the school or no friends harmed, people are doing their part. And sometimes it seems like a small thing, but people appreciate it, and it goes a really long way with people.”

“We are not built to see what we see sometimes,” Mr. Giusti adds. “But given the shooting drills in pretty darn near every school, kids have a mindset where they look at themselves in life as a protector, as a person who needs to step up and help. And you’re seeing more of that throughout the country: people jumping in, trying to help, refusing to be a victim.”

“The response from the community as a whole did restore your faith and the direction we are headed,” he says. “After a year, we’re still together, and it seems the bonds are even stronger.”

Kristina Anderson was sitting in her French class at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, when the gunman walked into her classroom and began to methodically shoot her teacher and fellow students. She fell to the floor and braced herself, burying her head in her arms, before feeling a bullet tear through her back. The gunman left, but then returned to kill those who survived. He shot her two more times.

Over a decade later, she’s still recounting those terrifying moments as she runs her nonprofit, The Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools, which partners with law enforcement agencies and first responders to help schools develop the most effective ways to survive an active shooter situation, and, like other groups, is helping to forge support networks for survivors.

“But I would say that, of all the different groups and communities that have helped me, first and foremost, I would go back to trained therapists who have been able to help me understand the ways that this shooting has impacted my life,” Ms. Anderson says.

“A lot of our general friends and family members are not always best suited to have those conversations, because they’re too emotionally attached to you and to your well-being,” she says. “So they may not want to talk about it, because they feel like they are going to make you unsettled or scared.”

She bristles sometimes when her story is characterized as a “triumph over tragedy,” which to her seems glib and clichéd. She still suffers from involuntary physical and emotional triggers that can disrupt her daily life.

But her recovery has included what health professionals call “cognitive process therapy,” which has especially helped her get through the kind of persistent emotional fear that danger is lurking everywhere – an “overgeneralization” reaction that those with PTSD often suffer.  

And she remembers one session with her therapist vividly – it was like a light went on. Often, when her parents call her at a time she doesn’t quite expect, her heart begins to palpitate and she’ll feel short of breath. “My thought is, someone must have died in my family.”

But she’s worked through these thoughts in her therapy sessions, even 10 years after her ordeal. “My therapist would ask me questions. ‘Has anything happened to your family since the shooting?’ And I remember thinking, no. ‘OK. Had anything happened prior to this shooting?’ No, nothing of that caliber. ‘So is your view of the world, is this reaction that you’re having, is this accurate?’ I’m like, no.”

It can be a long process and can sometimes require lifelong care, as survivors need to talk through such involuntary physical and emotional reactions.

“When you feel powerless, we’re going to work really hard to reinforce the fact that you get to make choices, you get to make decisions, you’re in charge,” says Dr. Lawson. “To the greatest extent possible, you are in charge of what’s going to happen next here. And that’s a piece that sort of sets the groundwork for the work that we’re going to do moving forward.”

Ms. Anderson worries that concepts like “post-traumatic growth” can stigmatize those who still struggle with PTSD.

“We shouldn’t hold people to the standard that one day, or one moment, we’re going to reach this epiphany,” she says. “That we will somehow put behind the trauma and the memory and the smells of that day.”

Dates and anniversaries are always particularly hard for her. And after every mass shooting, like last week’s in Virginia Beach, she knows she is going to have to be vigilant, slowing down to focus on her thoughts.

“The hardest thing about being a survivor is that people assume that you wake up one day and everything’s OK,” Ms. Anderson says. “My recovery, I understand, is going to be a work-in-progress. I don’t always know what the issues will be, but the best we can do is allow ourselves the time to reflect on it, to go back into counseling, or to reach out to someone that you know, that you trust, who won’t make you feel like you should have moved past it.”

The terror attack at an office party in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2, 2015, really put her into a tailspin – the close proximity of the shooters to their victims made her own ordeal come flooding back.    

Alone in her basement apartment that night, she sobbed for hours, as distraught as she had been since the first year after those moments in a Virginia Tech classroom.  

But she did feel her own ability to make decisions, and she stepped out into the chilly evening and just walked, her mind racing.

The next morning, when she climbed out of bed, a thought that had been welling within her was still on her mind. She went to the whiteboard on her fridge, and wrote it down: “You wake up and you decide the world is good.”

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2. All of Britain's messy politics go on display in one little by-election

A by-election in Peterborough, England, is of limited import in itself. But it shows the current state of British politics in microcosm: the rise of the Brexit Party, frustration with the establishment, and a loss of trust in democracy.

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On Thursday, Britain’s Labour Party managed to defend its seat in the constituency of Peterborough, England. In and of itself, the victory is a small thing. But the way the contest played out shows the greater political tensions within Britain.

Foremost are the rise of the Brexit Party and the parallel, precipitous collapse in support for the ruling Conservatives. Mike Greene, the Brexit Party candidate and a longtime Conservative, only just lost to Labour’s Lisa Forbes, with 9,801 votes to her 10,484. The Conservative entry came in a relatively distant third at 7,243 votes – highlighting the vulnerability of Tory members of Parliament, especially in places like Peterborough that voted to leave the European Union and are furious that the job is unfinished.

Thursday’s vote may also have broken a psychological barrier for voters who hitherto stuck with the two main parties, says Rob Ford, a professor of politics. Before, they were afraid of wasting their ballot on smaller parties that are seen as unable to break the Tory-Labour duopoly. “You don’t have to hold your nose in a general election and vote for the Conservatives,” he says. “It can become a self-fulfilling belief.”

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All of Britain's messy politics go on display in one little by-election

In his blue suit and silvering hair, Mike Greene looks at home on the cathedral square in this English city where he grew up. Squint at his blue rosette as he shakes hands with voters and you might think this self-made millionaire and first-time candidate is stumping for the center-right Conservative Party, the party of Margaret Thatcher.

But the rosette Mr. Greene wears is turquoise, not blue, and he is standing for the Brexit Party, the newest disruptor in Britain’s fractious politics.

On Thursday, the party came within a whisker of taking Peterborough, a bellwether of national politics, from the opposition Labour Party. The margin of victory was 683 votes, and both Labour and Conservative saw double-digit falls in their share of the vote.

The by-election wasn’t the knockout blow that some had predicted after the Brexit Party – which arrived on the scene in February – came first in European Parliament elections last month. But its ability to pry voters here away from the ruling Conservatives shows vulnerability of Tory members of Parliament in seats that voted to leave the European Union and are furious that the job is unfinished.

“You should respect the will of the people,” says Melissa Walker, a banker on her lunch break. She said that the Conservatives’ handling of Brexit had “put her off for life” voting again for the party.

Thursday’s vote may also have broken a psychological barrier for voters who hitherto stuck with the two main parties, says Rob Ford, a professor of politics. Before, they were afraid of wasting their ballot on smaller parties that are seen as unable to break the Tory-Labour duopoly.

“You don’t have to hold your nose in a general election and vote for the Conservatives,” he says. “It can become a self-fulfilling belief.”

Breaking that barrier could make it harder for any party to command a future majority in Parliament and force them to build coalitions. This is the norm in European parliaments elected by proportional representation, where electoral caucuses tend to map onto national polls, says Mr. Ford, who studies populist parties in Europe.

That becomes much trickier in the British system, in which the MP who receives the most votes in a constituency – even if he or she does not get a majority – represents it. That produces results like that in Peterborough, where Labour received less than a third of the votes cast on Thursday. “Under our system, the effects [of multiparty voting] are much more unpredictable and chaotic,” Mr. Ford says.

May Day

For Theresa May, who steps down today as Conservative leader while remaining as prime minister until a new leader is selected next month, it’s another low point. Ms. May agreed last month to leave under pressure from party rivals, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is seen as the front-runner to replace her. Along with many in her party, Mr. Johnson opposed Ms. May over the deal she negotiated last year with the EU for Britain’s formal exit from the bloc, though he later voted for it in Parliament.

Some Conservatives see Mr. Johnson, despite his checkered record, as the only politician capable of outflanking Nigel Farage, the ebullient leader of the Brexit Party, on the basis that it takes an anti-EU populist to beat one. “The conviction among Euroskeptics in the party is that the big existential threat to the party comes from the Brexit Party,” says John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland.

Mr. Johnson already has the endorsement of President Donald Trump during his state visit this week, saying he would “make a great prime minister.” The president also praised Mr. Farage, a political ally, and suggested that he should take part in Britain’s future negotiations with the EU.

That Mr. Farage’s new party didn’t land its first seat in Parliament in Peterborough won’t calm Conservative nerves, given that its candidate, Paul Bristow, came in third with 7,243 votes. Lisa Forbes, the Labour candidate, got 10,484 votes, edging out Mr. Greene who polled 9,801.

“Nigel Farage’s leverage does not arise out of his ability to win seats,” says Mr. Curtice. “He’s the most influential politician in British politics even though he’s never won a seat.”

Wayne Fitzgerald, the chairman of the Peterborough Conservative Association, told Sky News that Parliament needed to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal, and that any Conservative MP who refused should be replaced. If not, he said, “Mr. Farage will sweep to 450 seats in the next general election.”

‘Democracy is broken’

Brexit Party activists say their run at Peterborough, a city of 200,000 that voted 61% to “leave” in the 2016 referendum, was a steep one since they had no voter data and relied on volunteers from outside the district to knock on doors. As the name suggests, the party’s message was laser-focused on Brexit; it issued no manifesto, as political parties routinely do in elections.

Interviews with a dozen or so voters showed the strength of feeling about the most divisive of issues, particularly among Conservatives angered by Ms. May’s broken promises.

“It looks like democracy is broken. I want to send a message to the government that we must leave the EU,” says Stuart Bowman, a retired IT professional.

Mr. Greene, the Brexit candidate, is a longtime Conservative supporter who has donated to local candidates. He said the party lost him on March 29, the day that Britain was due to leave the EU. “Democracy was taken away in that moment,” he says.

In April, European leaders agreed to extend Britain’s deadline to Oct. 31, while insisting that Ms. May’s withdrawal deal won’t be reopened. Among Brexit supporters, including a majority of Conservative members in national polls, there is strong support for Britain to leave by that date, with or without a formal agreement. Many MPs see a no-deal exit as a self-harming leap in the dark; Brexiters argue that Britain can switch to World Trade Organization rules.

Mr. Greene, a property investor and local philanthropist, takes this position. “We’ve been humiliated so much as a country, our position in negotiations have been so undermined that the only real basis that we can move forward is WTO and no deal,” he says.

Labour’s fence-sitting

Thursday’s by-election was triggered by the recall of Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who won in 2017 with a similarly narrow margin against an incumbent Conservative. She was jailed for lying in court about a speeding fine.

Holding Peterborough may be seen as a vindication of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to straddle the fence on Brexit, resisting pressure from “remain” voters to back a second referendum. Labour activists focused on local social and economic issues, not Brexit.

But other parties are snapping at Labour’s heels and making hay from its dithering on Brexit. The centrist Liberal Democrats, who support a second referendum, came in fourth with 4,159 votes, up 9% from the previous election; the Green Party, which polled well in the European Parliament election, also got more than 1,000 votes from disaffected left-leaning voters.

“I feel the Liberal Democrats have a clear ‘remain’ agenda,” says Lizzy Standbrook, a charity worker in Peterborough, after she cast her ballot in a leafy suburb. She previously voted Labour and expressed disappointment in its lack of leadership on Brexit.

While Labour should not be complacent, the bigger threat is to the Conservatives since more of their supporters are willing to switch, says Mr. Curtice. He put the rate of defection to the Brexit Party in the European Parliament election at over 75%, compared with around 40% of Labour voters who swung behind the Liberal Democrats or Greens, both of which are pro-remain.

Among both Brexit Party supporters and detractors, there was general agreement that the “leave” vote in 2016 was driven by concerns over immigration and a perceived strain on public services. Migrants have been moving to Peterborough for decades; Italians came after the war to work in brickyards, and South Asians moved here starting in the 1960s. More recently migrants have come from Eastern Europe, part of a trend that began in the 1990s.

“It’s not about closing our doors to people as much as looking at, can we give people the proper infrastructure,” says Mr. Greene. Asked what is the right level of migration, he hesitates, and his press officer stops the interview, saying that’s a national policy that’s still to be decided.

Not all Brexit supporters lean right on the political spectrum. Roy Leonard, a retired broadcaster, said he was previously a Liberal Democrat activist and political candidate. Standing on the square waving a Brexit flag, Mr. Leonard said he saw Britain’s newest party as a viable alternative, beyond its core issue of EU membership, that could appeal to left and right.

“Politics in this country, if it’s not broken then it’s severely injured,” he says. “We’re going to look at how we can change that.”

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3. Sharing your favorite food with the world isn’t easy. Ask Ethiopia.

In a globalized world, we’ve come to expect sushi in Argentina, K-pop in the U.K. But sharing bits of culture across borders can also raise tough questions about authenticity, fairness, and ownership.

Peter
Maheder Haileselassie/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
An employee piles each injera on top of another at Mama Fresh injera factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Inside the Mama Fresh factory in Addis Ababa, massive vats of fermenting liquid roil and bubble. After several days, when the mixture turns tart and elastic, it will be ladled onto vast griddles, cooked until the edges are crisp, and shipped around the world. This is injera: the spongy, sour bread at the heart of Ethiopian cuisine.

Its foundational ingredient, teff, is the smallest grain in the world, grown much the same way as it was 3,000 years ago. High-fiber, high-protein, and gluten-free, it has potential to be the next “superfood,” say fans around the globe.

Economically, that sounds like good news for Ethiopia. But teff’s ascent is also a lesson in the complications of having a beloved regional staple go global. The Ethiopian government, for instance, has battled a Dutch agronomist over a European patent on flour made of the ancient grain. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia itself, demand for teff flour continues to be so voracious that the government has been hesitant about allowing much to be exported, for fear that locals could be priced out of a pillar of their diets – and heritage.

“Sharing food with injera, it’s an intimate experience,” says Mirafesilase Hailu, marketing manager of the Mama Fresh factory. “It’s a central part of our culture.”

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Sharing your favorite food with the world isn’t easy. Ask Ethiopia.

Just before midnight every night, a truck rumbles out of a dusty industrial suburb of Ethiopia’s capital, bound for the airport with a precious cargo on board.

Inside, dozens of cartons are loaded with injera, the spongy, sour, pancake-like bread that is the foundation of Ethiopian cuisine.

By morning, it will be spread around the world: to the U.K. and the U.S., to Norway, Kuwait, and Canada. Every week, the Mama Fresh factory exports more than 20,000 pieces of its pillowy injera. It is a testament not only to the wingspan of Ethiopia’s vast diaspora and equally vast culinary empire, but also to the preciousness of the bread’s foundational ingredient: teff.

A tiny crumb of a grain native only to Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff has begun a global rise in recent years, with proponents saying the high-protein, high-fiber, gluten-free grain could be the world’s next “superfood.”

But teff’s ascent is also a lesson in the mixed blessing of being a prospective health food superstar. The Ethiopian government, for instance, has battled a Dutch agronomist over a European patent on flour made of the ancient grain. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia itself, demand for teff flour continues to be so voracious that the government has been hesitant about allowing much to be exported, for fear that locals could be priced out of their own staple.

“Teff has been discovered by the world, and this isn’t a bad thing,” says Zewdie Gebretsadik, a senior technical expert at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency who studies teff. “Let the world love it like we love it, but they must also recognize where it came from.” 

Maheder Haileselassie/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Teff is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine, providing more than 10% of daily calories on average.

Teff’s current woes began in 2004, when the Ethiopian government struck an agreement with a Dutch health food company to market teff to superfood-hungry consumers across Europe. As part of the deal, the company and its director, Jans Roosjen, took out a patent on teff flour. Critics called it ridiculous to patent a food “developed over millennia by Ethiopian farmers and community plant breeders,” as the Coalition Against Biopiracy wrote in 2004, dubbing the deal “most outrageous” in its Captain Hook Awards.

The Ethiopian government was meant to get a major cut of the profit from those sales. Instead, Mr. Roosjen’s company went belly up. But he still had the teff patent, which he began using to sell its products under other brand names, cutting the Ethiopian government out entirely.

“You can’t believe how strange it is to hear that the patent for your ancient grain is with a man in Europe,” says Mirafesilase Hailu, the marketing manager for Mama Fresh, the injera factory.

In May 2018, the Ethiopian government announced it was bringing a case against Mr. Roosjen and his patent at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. Meanwhile, Mr. Roosjen went to Dutch courts to sue another Dutch company, Bakels, for selling its own teff products.

The company had argued that its methods of storing and processing teff were distinct. But in February, the Dutch court found that Mr. Roosjen’s patent hadn’t been valid to begin with. The case in Paris, meanwhile, which covers Belgium, Germany, Britain, Austria, and Italy, has not yet been decided. 

Maheder Haileselassie/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Before baking, teff flour mix will undergo fermentation for a few days. Here, an employee of Mama Fresh works in the factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Still, the victory in the Netherlands was mostly a symbolic win for the Ethiopians, since the country keeps a tight lid on teff exports. Until 2015, they were banned outright, and their status since has been murky.

Although Ethiopia produces the vast majority of the world’s teff, the country’s current production barely covers domestic needs, Dr. Gebretsadik says. And when a staple food becomes an international superfood, it can put a heavy strain on local supply, driving up prices. (This happened famously in Peru, the home of quinoa, in the early 2000s, though later studies showed it didn’t affect locals’ food security, as initially feared.)

“Our first priority has to be our own people,” he says. “If you don’t have money in your pocket, how can you give anything to a beggar who comes asking?”

Teff, indeed, provides two-thirds of the protein consumed by Ethiopians, and more than 10% of their calories. Just to continue meeting local demand, Dr. Gebretsadik says, the country’s supply needs to increase by 10% annually. To have enough to export, it needs to grow by at least 16%.

That’s a challenge for many reasons, not the least of which is teff’s puny size. The smallest grain in the world, a teff seed is about 1/100th the size of a kernel of wheat. Most sowing is done by hand – in part because teff slides through machines used for other grains – and most threshing is done by oxen. Overall, methods are little different from ones 3,000 years ago.

“The way teff is produced now is very tedious, much less efficient than other grains,” says Dr. Gebretsadik. “But you cannot stop Ethiopians from growing this food. When the Derg [the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia in the 1970s and ’80s] tried, they met hard resistance. People cannot live without this thing.”

Maheder Haileselassie/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Mirafesilase Hailu, marketing manager of Mama Fresh injera factory, is photographed in the factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Mama Fresh factory in Addis is proof of that laboriousness. Inside, massive vats of fermenting liquid – made from teff flour, yeast, and water – roil and bubble for several days until the mixture is tart and elastic. It is ladled onto vast griddles and cooked until the edges crisp. Then it is cooled and packed, ready to make its transatlantic journey. (Processed teff products like injera aren’t subject to the same export restrictions as the flour.)

“This country needs exports,” says Mr. Hailu, Mama Fresh’s marketing manager. “Right now European companies making teff products are getting it from places other than here, which is a strange thing to see.”

But for Mr. Hailu, like most Ethiopians, teff is far more than a prospective export.

“Sharing food with injera, it’s an intimate experience. It’s a central part of our culture,” he says. He points to the traditional practice of gursha, literally “mouthful” in Amharic, where family or friends literally feed each other morsels of food wrapped in injera.

For Dr. Gebretsadik, too, the reasons to improve teff farming, or to fight for it in court, have little to do with making the grain accessible to foreigners in search of a health fix. Instead, it’s about the people to whom it owes its long history, wherever they are today. 

“When I went to Russia to study many years ago, injera was the thing I was most homesick for,” he says. “The years became long without it.”

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4. American University in Kabul: Wielding soft power, in an age of war

Follow the U.S. admissions scandal and you’d think college is all about status. But to appreciate its true value, talk to Afghans getting a door- and perspective-opening American education in Kabul.

Peter
Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Afghan students from the American University of Afghanistan listen to their national anthem at a graduation ceremony May 21 on campus in western Kabul. Since 2006, the U.S.-funded institution has produced more than 1,250 graduates, who are taking on increasingly important leadership roles in Afghan government, business and society.

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American taxpayers are funding a long war in Afghanistan that kills both insurgents and civilians. But they are also paying for the American University of Afghanistan, which is offering Afghan students a perspective-changing American liberal arts education. Professors from America, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations teach a curriculum tailored to Afghan needs. Courses include conflict resolution, for example, and advanced election law.

The institution’s finances are being closely scrutinized, but in Kabul, students and officials are effusive about its successes. “You see the return on this investment every day, in the form of past graduates of the university that are now in substantial positions in government and the private sector,” says the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass. Waging war and boosting education are “different facets” of the U.S. approach to the “ongoing challenges of extremist ideology and terrorism,” he says.

Mohammad Anil Qasemi, wounded in a Taliban attack on the campus in 2016 and now in his third year studying business administration, sees the power of education in his country. “It teaches you less hatred, it teaches you more love, it teaches you more respect. It teaches you more tolerance and more solutions.”

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American University in Kabul: Wielding soft power, in an age of war

After gunmen stormed the American University of Afghanistan campus one night in August 2016, Mohammad Anil Qasemi found himself on a second-story window ledge, ready to jump.

The AUAF student never had the chance: An attacker tossed a grenade, and the explosion threw Mr. Qasemi to the ground with a shrapnel wound to the head and a multitude of broken bones.

As he lay there wounded, the student could not shake earlier words of warning from his father about attending the university: “Don’t go there, because the name ‘American’ itself is a danger.”

Mr. Qasemi survived, first outwitting Taliban insurgents who searched three times for him that night, and later enduring seven surgeries.

But the attack, which killed 13 people at the American-funded institution, points to the incongruous challenge for the United States of creating a top-flight university in Afghanistan, designed to produce future leaders, while at the same time waging the longest war in U.S. history.

Straddling that contradiction – of establishing a widely appreciated form of benevolent soft power while engaged in a kinetic war – are the Afghan students who say they relish an American-style liberal arts education.

“I want to see hundreds, and thousands, of places of enlightenment such as this one within my country,” says Mr. Qasemi, now in his third year studying business administration, in an interview with a handful of AUAF students behind the fortress-like walls of a new campus in western Kabul.

He notes the dilemma faced by all students here, as “civilians stuck in between parties that are at war.” Indeed, for the first time since the United Nations began keeping count a decade ago, the first three months of 2019 saw more civilians killed by U.S. and Afghan forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents.

“American foreign troops in Afghanistan are contributing to conflict, to violence, to murder of civilians and the terrorists,” says Mr. Qasemi. “And the American University of Afghanistan is contributing to civilization, education, and solutions for challenges, because we learn dialogue.”

‘Power of education’

While he supports the “elimination” of “terrorists” – a position challenged by some other students – Mr. Qasemi says his education has taught him not to hate even his attackers.

“That is what the power of education is,” says Mr. Qasemi. “It teaches you less hatred, it teaches you more love, it teaches you more respect. It teaches you more tolerance and more solutions.”

Founded by a former Afghan higher education minister, Sharif Fayez, and welcoming students in 2006 – five years after U.S. military forces orchestrated the overthrow of the archconservative Taliban – AUAF has produced more than 1,250 graduates from every province in the country.

Professors from America, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations teach a curriculum tailored to Afghan needs. Courses include conflict resolution, for example, and advanced election law. Classes in Islamic art taught by the renowned historian Michael Barry, formerly a professor at Princeton, reveal Afghanistan’s critical historical role.

At graduation ceremonies on May 21, scores of bright young Afghans were applauded by their families – many of them dressed in traditional, conservative dress – as they collected their diplomas. On the banner above the main stage, in one corner, was the symbol for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the words: “From the American People.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
A female graduate is given a celebratory hug by a family member as more than 100 Afghan students from the American University of Afghanistan receive their diplomas at a graduation ceremony, May 21, 2019, in western Kabul.

“The American University is providing a high education to the sons and daughters of the Afghan people,” said Mohammad Arif Noorzai, a former minister of water and energy from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, whose son earned a diploma. “Through this university, our country and the United States will get connected to each other.”

Students and graduates describe a chain reaction of positive impacts from their education here. Many had to overcome skepticism about going to an “American” school portrayed by the Taliban as a “Christian” university bent on destroying Islam.

“When you come out of these doors, beyond these walls, it is a totally different environment,” says Shafiqa Khpalwak, a third-year political science student and columnist for the BBC Pashto language service.

“You have to prove that you are still a good girl, a good Muslim, a nationalist. You are not lobbying for America, you are not their spy, you are not their agent,” says Ms. Khpalwak, who is from Paktia, south of Kabul.

AUAF “opens the door to the world for you, and you’re faced with different people from different backgrounds,” says Ms. Khpalwak. “Then you become more open-minded. You dream big, you want more, you are a different person.”

The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the 2016 attack, but its operatives praised the results as a strike at the “enemy” and the “Americanization” of Afghanistan. There was, nevertheless, a mosque on the original campus, and another is under construction on the new campus. Among those killed were an instructor of Islamic law and a devout student who led Muslim prayers.

“If you meet someone, you can tell if someone graduated from American University. Their English is great, and the way they think about things,” says a European official in Kabul.

“It’s a very apolitical soft power,” says the official, who requested anonymity. “You have a lot of people who are also very critical of the Americans, to be honest, but who are saying this university does not have a political agenda, and that spreading good liberal arts education is not indoctrinating you in an American-style way.”

Management issues

Still, an American and an Australian professor kidnapped in mid-2016 are still being held. And the university faces other issues that could jeopardize its future.

The latest quarterly report to the U.S. Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), on April 30, stated that AUAF “had lost more than $63 million since 2012” – roughly one-third of U.S. funding since the university was chartered in 2004.

Audits spanning eight years found “a history of mismanagement, lack of controls, and financial instability,” according to SIGAR. The university “was not sustainable in its present form,” and “posed a clear and present risk to taxpayer funds.”

Investigations continue, and SIGAR reported that the university signed a 19-page agreement on March 29 with USAID suspension officials “to deal with long-standing management and accountability issues.”

The AUAF rejected the charges of “missing millions” in a May 31 statement and noted that the university is “widely considered the single most important and visible legacy of development spending in Afghanistan,” which has created the “backbone of a new generation of Afghan leaders.”

At the recent graduation ceremony, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, extolled the value of the university in an interview.

“You see the return on this investment every day, in the form of past graduates of the university that are now in substantial positions in government and the private sector,” he says. Waging war and boosting education are “different facets” of the U.S. approach to the “ongoing challenges of extremist ideology and terrorism.”

Dilemma for families

Students say the first challenge of attending AUAF – and the first impact they feel – is often at home.

“My family are supportive of education, but I must say – and the girls here can also attest – when it comes to the American University, the name ‘American’ is included, and you are studying with boys, [so] it puts them in a dilemma,” says Onaba Payab, the first AUAF valedictorian, who later studied under a Fulbright scholarship in California and is now the AUAF director of advancement.

“It’s not that they don’t want it, but it’s the peer pressure they feel from society – ‘Oh, who is going to marry your daughter? And is she a nice person when she graduates?’” says Ms. Payab.

In her case, every one of her 60 or so cousins and uncles criticized her decision to attend AUAF, she says. But today their own daughters are studying at university, and she has become a family decision-maker.

“Right now my father – even if he is buying land in my hometown in Logar, even small things happening in my family – he asks and consults me,” says Ms. Payab. “But a few years ago that didn’t exist. So I can clearly see the impact the education in this university has on me.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Afghan students sit near a mosque under construction during final exams at the American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul, May 16, 2019. Many have had to overcome skepticism about going to an “American” school portrayed by the Taliban as a “Christian” university bent on destroying Islam.

AUAF influence stretches beyond families, says Zainab Azizi, a graduating law student who is a World Economic Forum “Global Shaper,” a platform for youth volunteers that maintains a hub in Kabul.

“The standards built here are being learned by other institutions in Kabul, and that is a huge impact on Afghanistan’s future and its politics, and a huge impact on the mindset of people,” says Ms. Azizi.

“Whether from business, computer science, politics, law, or the judiciary ... that ‘Americanization,’ as some people call it, is an enlightenment to all Afghans,” says Ms. Azizi. Graduates “do better services for their own communities. ... They are transferring their own knowledge, that professionalism they have learned here.”

Beyond American University

And that should be shared beyond AUAF walls, says Hameedullah Hassani, the graduating student body president, who is also a student at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Institute of Diplomacy.

“We don’t want them to establish more [American] universities here; we want them to spend that money to strengthen our universities here,” to ensure future sustainability, says Mr. Hameedullah.

One result would be more dialogue in politics, rather than the violence. Student elections provide an example, where two best friends might be vying for votes.

“After one week, they are again best friends,” says Mr. Hameedullah. “In the broader aspect of Afghanistan, we have competition in rural areas and provinces, with guns. But [at AUAF] the competitions are with words, and the competitors accept and respect each other’s ideas.”

Given the choice, some also prefer the AUAF model over more war.

“As an Afghan, I want more education centers from America, rather than bombarding us,” says Ms. Khpalwak. “Please make more universities like this. ... Shower us with knowledge, with books and the arts, not with bombs.”

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5. How T. rex can make you think about the future

The challenge of climate change can feel overwhelming because it is so big in scale. A new Smithsonian exhibition aims to provide a sense of agency by acquainting visitors with the concept of deep time.

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The new fossil hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is not your average dinosaur exhibit. Rather than focusing on “the age of dinosaurs,” the offerings on display in “The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils – Deep Time” span 3.7 billion years.

By showcasing geologic eras that telescope across eons, the exhibition offers a humbling perspective of where humans fit into the mind-boggling time scale. By helping visitors to understand the geologic scale of humanity’s recent impact on the planet, museum creators hope to inspire action on climate change. “The No. 1 question we get from visitors is ‘What can I do?’” says Siobhan Starrs, the exhibition’s project manager. “It feels so big. Just like time feels big. The scale of our impact feels unmanageable.”

Embracing a deep time perspective that looks to the future can help to inspire action, says ecosystem ecologist Elena Bennett. “There’s something about thinking a long way off or thinking kind of radically that just jolts people out of their every day,” she says, “whether that’s their everyday skepticism or their everyday arguments or whatever it is that we do on an everyday basis.”

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How T. rex can make you think about the future

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s new fossil hall is more than a collection of dinosaur bones – it’s a time machine.

To travel forward through time, select the rear entrance. To go backward in time, walk through the front doors. Either way, visitors to tomorrow’s opening of “The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils – Deep Time” will traverse 3.7 billion years. During that time span, Earth experienced five mass extinctions due to climate changes. The most recent one, triggered by a meteor collision 66 million years ago, accounts for the towering T. rex skeleton in the main gallery.

By showcasing geologic eras that telescope across eons, the exhibition offers a humbling perspective of where humans fit into the mind-boggling time scale. It also makes explicit connections between past climate change and present-day global warming influenced by Earth’s relatively recent dominant species. Yet the exhibition presents a surprising tone: optimism.

Contrary to fear-based narratives that we’re about to go the way of the stegosaurus, the museum tells its time-traveling visitors they can change their future. It’s a hope-based model of environmental messaging that, according to some, is the most effective way to spark individual action.

“The No. 1 question we get from visitors is ‘What can I do?’” says Siobhan Starrs, the exhibition’s project manager. “It feels so big. Just like time feels big. The scale of our impact feels unmanageable. ... So we want to inspire people. We’re not going to direct what you can do, but we can show you what other people are doing.”

But first, the world’s largest museum of natural history aims to arouse a sense of awe.

The 31,000-square-foot space includes miniature dioramas, interactive screen displays, and fossilized bones that visitors can touch. The exhibition features dinosaurs with claws like the X-Men’s Wolverine, a lifelike recreation of a coral reef during the Permian geologic period, and fossilized cockroaches that serve as a reminder that the hardy insect will outlast even “The Simpsons.”

Carolyn Kaster/AP
A detail of the T. rex skeleton is seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History during a media preview of a new fossil hall in Washington on June 4. The museum will reopen its dinosaur and fossil hall to the public on June 8 after a seven-year, $110 million overhaul.

During a preview tour of the exhibition, Ms. Starrs points to a diplodocus skeleton whose rollercoaster-shaped contour ends with an elongated neck sloping up to the second-floor railing. With a twinkling smile, she says previous exhibitions portrayed the loping creatures as having drooping tails. Now its tail seems to swish in stylish cursive, reflecting what scientists now know about the role of their stiff tendons.

That’s just one example of how the fossil hall, originally founded in 1911, has updated the science of its exhibits as part of a $110 million overhaul. (The renovation includes a $35 million donation by David Koch, who made his fortune in the petroleum refinery business.) During the project’s seven-year development, Ms. Starrs' team also reconceived the exhibition to offer a deep-time chronology of Earth’s development. They say that perspective helps illuminate the geologic scale of humanity’s recent impact on the planet.

“Hope is the tone that we’ve tried to achieve because we know a sober and scientific assessment of what’s going on now leaves you pretty apprehensive about the future because we have already set in motion really big changes,” says paleontologist Scott Wing, a member of the exhibition’s core team. “There’s also no reason from the fossil record to feel that we’ve endangered life on Earth as a whole, or even really ourselves. We seem to be pretty resilient and the technology we have is pretty good at buffering us from bad environments.”

The museum’s urgent-yet-optimistic message is a stark contrast to apocalyptic stories that often dominate news headlines. For example, this week the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, an Australian think tank, declared a “high likelihood of human civilization coming to end” following a cycle of accelerated warming beginning as soon as 2050. The Australian report depicts the sort of “social breakdown and outright chaos” that makes “Mad Max” seem like a documentary.

But that worst-case scenario is predicated on an assumption of dire positive feedback effects in the climate system. The Hall of Fossils includes an example of what positive feedback effects look like. Around 250 million years ago, a self-perpetuating, intensifying loop of greenhouse gas emissions led to a mass extinction – over a period of tens of thousands of years.

“That event was probably originally triggered by volcanic carbon,” says Mr. Wing. “At some point there was a reservoir of organic carbon, like methane, in the seafloor that was triggered to be released as a result of the warming that already happened.”

He notes that he doesn’t think we’re close to anything like that scenario at the moment.

“There is a competition to be gloomy about the future which sounds newsworthy and wise, when in fact it’s the optimists who’ve been right,” says Matt Ridley, a British science journalist who takes a lukewarm – and somewhat controversial – view of dire climate predictions. His 2010 book, “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves,” emphasizes the potential for human ingenuity to solve and mitigate environmental problems.

“The idea that we won’t find a way to solve problems caused by climate change seems to me implausible,” Mr. Ridley says. “That doesn't mean we should give up and hope it happens naturally. But it does mean we should step forward optimistically, because the alternative is a counsel of despair which demotivates people rather than encourages them.”

The Age of Humans gallery inside the fossil hall is designed to inspire action. Big-screen videos and interactive kiosk displays show visitors how to emulate individuals who have proactively tackled environmental problems. For example, Afroz Shah, a lawyer in Mumbai, India, enlisted hundreds of neighbors to help him clear 4,500 tons of trash from Versova beach. Before the cleanup, the beach looked something like the trash-compactor scene in “Star Wars.” Afterward it was possible to see the sand once again.

Ecosystem ecologist Elena Bennett has cataloged more than 500 examples of similar bright spots in her Seeds of a Good Anthropocene project. She stresses the importance of initiatives that, like the beach cleanup in India, have a scale-up effect. Ms. Bennett, an associate professor in the McGill School of Environment in Montreal, also believes that positive stories (but not utopian ones) galvanize individuals more than scare tactics do. It’s helpful, she says, to embrace a deep time perspective that looks to the future.

“There’s something about thinking a long way off or thinking kind of radically that just jolts people out of their every day, whether that's their everyday skepticism or their everyday arguments or whatever it is that we do on an everyday basis,” says Professor Bennett.

Next to the Age of Humans gallery there’s a long bench where visitors can sit next to a bronze statue of Charles Darwin. It’s a place to contemplate, perhaps, the museum’s narrative about Earth’s past, present, and future.

“A lot of museums see their role as being over and above just places that are repositories for the material of human history,” says Alistair Brown, policy director for the London-based Museums Association. “Museums are social spaces. They are places that people go to engage with other people, with their families, with their friends, but also with strangers whom you wouldn’t interact with in normal society. That's very important to that idea about inspiring debates and reflection.”

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The Monitor's View

When rules are not enough to curb corruption

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In global rankings of the least-corrupt countries, much of Europe has long stood out, especially in the Nordic nations. They have strong institutions and rule of law. Yet recent scandals in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Austria have triggered a rethink of what really deters corruption. Punishment alone can seldom motivate people to be proactive in preventing corruption.

An alternative approach, now being adopted in many institutions, is to appeal to people’s integrity, reinforcing the idea that each individual’s conscience can make a difference. New data backs up this approach. In a survey of employees in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, more than 90% said an ethical working place with transparent and fair practices is more important than a salary increase or a promotion.

Rules, codes of conducts, and punishment are indeed not enough to curb corruption. Individual integrity must be nurtured. Or, as the Nordic Business Ethics Network puts it, “When considering the issues of right and wrong, we should more often look in the mirror rather than in a lawbook.”

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When rules are not enough to curb corruption

In global rankings of the least-corrupt countries, much of Europe has long stood out, especially in the Nordic nations. They have strong institutions and rule of law. Yet recent scandals in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Austria have triggered a rethink of what really deters corruption. Punishment alone, concluded a Transparency International report last year, can seldom motivate people to be proactive in preventing corruption.

To detect corruption, the report states, people who know about it must take action and cooperate with authorities. Yet such people who “face a sanctions-only approach may be inclined to refuse such cooperation. In such situations, actors may fear disproportionate punishment, and prefer to cover up problems.”

An alternative approach, now being adopted in many institutions, is to appeal to people’s integrity, reinforcing the idea that each individual’s conscience can make a difference. Many workplaces, for example, hand out “integrity awards” to employees who have lifted up ethical norms and behavior.

New data from the Nordic Business Ethics Network backs up this approach. In a survey of employees in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, more than 90% said an ethical working place with transparent and fair practices is more important than a salary increase or a promotion. Yes, earning more money matters less than working in a moral environment. The survey’s authors say honest dialogue, respect, and a speak-up culture are key to encouraging people to act out of integrity.

One of Europe’s best examples of a rapid shift in thinking about corruption took place in Spain in 2013. After a scandal hit the ruling People’s Party, a social movement known as Indignados began to demand reforms in politics and government. To many voters, the issue of corruption is now as important as the economy.

This collective moral awakening, writes Spanish researcher Elisa Elliott Alonso, marked a sea change in how Spaniards think about corruption. “The previous acceptance of corruption as a despicable but inevitable part of politics morphed into the view that corruption represents a serious moral degeneration of the whole political system.”

Rules, codes of conducts, and punishment are indeed not enough to curb corruption. Individual integrity must be nurtured. Or, as the Nordic Business Ethics Network puts it, “When considering the issues of right and wrong, we should more often look in the mirror rather than in a lawbook.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Enjoying more than just the game

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Today’s contributor, an avid board gamer, shares how rethinking his motives at the game table from a spiritual perspective has brought a fuller sense of joy and satisfaction to his activities.

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Enjoying more than just the game

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Most people have some sort of hobby; mine is board games. Playing, collecting, and even just researching a new board game are all fun for me! At one point, I had started going to a weekly meetup in my city so I could play more. After a while, though, I was no longer having fun.

Finally, as I was driving to another meetup one evening, I realized that my main motive for going was just to devour more and more games. I had become consumed, and the realization was truly sobering. How had I let my joy at gathering with friends become an excessive, almost compulsive effort to just get games in?

I saw that I had gotten confused about where real satisfaction comes from. So I pulled the car over in a nearby neighborhood and started to pray. This was a natural response for me because I’d seen throughout my life that prayer that reflects a deep willingness to hear, feel, and trust God is always helpful.

Almost immediately, a passage by an author I love, Mary Baker Eddy, came to thought. In a warm letter to a branch Church of Christ, Scientist, that had given a very thoughtful financial gift to another Christian Science church, she wrote: “Goodness never fails to receive its reward, for goodness makes life a blessing. As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 165).

I saw that this clearly laid out a basis for true satisfaction: not through trying to get stuff or consume activities, but in giving! All of a sudden, I thought, “Why not spend this evening focused on giving at the game table?” I was eager to see if I could do this.

The Gospel of John records Jesus as saying: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (13:34, 35). The love Jesus had for God, and God’s love for His entire creation, were reflected in Jesus’ love for others. This love wasn’t simply being a kind person; it was having a clear perception of others as God knows us all, as the spiritual expressions of divine Spirit. This divinely impelled love brought healing and redemption to countless people.

That love is without limit, because its source, God, divine Love, is limitless. And His love is expressed in all of God’s spiritual sons and daughters, and is not dependent on certain activities or people. It is here today for all of us.

That night, my goal was to live love, rather than just get through as many games as I could. And it turned out to be a wonderful evening.

One particular incident still stands out to me: In the middle of a game, one person got very angry, declaring that he wished he hadn’t sunk his time into playing. In situations like this before, I’d gotten very nervous and been unsure how to handle them. But this evening I felt guided by Christly, healing love in my response. Afterward, this person thanked me for how I handled the incident and said he appreciated getting to play in such a calm, inclusive atmosphere.

The rest of the evening felt markedly friendly, and satisfying, too. And since then, I’ve felt a greater sense of peace in social gatherings. It’s been a joy to plan evenings based around living love, welcoming new and old friends, and seeing them through that lens of Spirit as God’s expressions. I still play games, but it’s not my primary goal. And I must say, I feel a much more present sense of wholeness and happiness than I ever did before.

Clearly, working through my fixation on playing games is a pretty small issue given all that’s going on in the world. But more and more I’m realizing that how we face the little things in life – whether a personal hobby, how we interact in our relationships, how we behave at work, or how we think about government – all add up to how much good we’re contributing to the world we share. And that is worth paying attention to.

Our fundamental purpose as God’s children is to express God – to let His goodness shine in and through us. In one of her poems, Mrs. Eddy wrote, “Who doth His will – His likeness still – / Is satisfied” (“Poems,” p. 79). Each of us can let a desire to shine with the love of God, which brings a deeper sense of truth, health, and happiness, motivate us in all our activities.

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All together now

Kin Cheung/AP
Participants compete in a dragon boat race as part of celebrations marking the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, held throughout Hong Kong, June 7. Dragon boat races are in remembrance of Chu Yuan, an ancient Chinese scholar-statesman, who drowned in 277 B.C. while denouncing government corruption.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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( June 10th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back Monday, when we’ll have a look at how trees might be able to save cities.

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