TIME foreign affairs

Why the Broadcasting Board of Governors Is Nothing Like RT

Russia Today Putin
An internal view of the former Russian RIA Novosti news agency headquarters, which is now Rossia Segodnya (Russia Today) global news agency since President Vladimir Putin signed a decree liquidating the former news agency, in the capital Moscow, on Dec, 12, 2013. Sefa Karacan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Media supported by the U.S. government may serve the nation's interests — but they still adhere to the highest standards of journalism.

This week, a stirring new documentary from the Voice of America called “AIDS: Living in the Shadows” made its world premiere at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. The 30-minute report — introduced by the British music legend and longtime AIDS activist Elton John — takes a global look at one of the most daunting side effects of AIDS: the stigma that makes its victims outcasts even within their own families.

The documentary takes audiences on a journey to Nigeria, Cambodia, Haiti, Uganda, Canada, and the United States to meet those living with HIV and AIDS. This is the most recent example of the excellent work done by VOA as it serves its audiences around the world while promoting the interests of the United States — in this case, helping halt a global pandemic.

Also this week, Time.com published an article regarding RT, an English-language propaganda outlet for the Kremlin. This article explored the many ways in which RT spreads distortions in support of the Russian government’s geopolitical aims, including outright lies that have prompted some of its top journalists to quit.

Amid all that, the article noted: “RT is neither the first nor the only outlet that exists to serve the state rather than its citizens. Nearly every major country has a thriving state-sponsored media. (The U.S. funds media organizations like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia that target foreign populations through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.)”

While it’s true that these media are, indeed, funded by the U.S. government, the arrangement differs in just about every other way from RT.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent federal agency that oversees civilian U.S. international media (USIM), including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The BBG is one of the world’s largest news-gathering and reporting enterprises, with 61 language services, 50 overseas news bureaus, 3,500 employees, and 1,500 stringers among the five media entities.

These networks are founded on the belief that it is in the interest of the United States to communicate directly with the people of the world and for the people of the world to have access to accurate information about local, regional, and global events, including in the United States. The VOA Charter asserts, “To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners.” Our international audiences turn to VOA and the other BBG-supported media because they count on their accuracy and reliability. If these media were to engage in propaganda or false reporting, our audiences would simply tune us out and we would not be able to accomplish our mission. This is why we work to meet the highest standards of reporting and journalistic integrity.

These standards are at the very heart of USIM. VOA’s journalistic code states, “VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. …Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts … Accuracy and balance are paramount, and together, they are VOA’s highest priority. …Though funded by the U.S. government, VOA airs all relevant facts and opinions on important news events and issues.”

The professional journalists around the world who work for our networks are tasked with presenting accurate and objective news and information for audiences in many countries where it is difficult or impossible to receive locally-produced, uncensored or unbiased programs. Our networks provide responsible discussion and open debate in places where this is rare in the media. And our reporters sometimes do so at great personal cost: One of our reporters in Pakistan was killed by the Taliban for doing his job in January 2012. Another reporter went missing in Syria in August 2012. One has stood up to harassment, slander and blackmail for her reporting on corruption in Azerbaijan, for which she was recently honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s “Courage in Journalism” award.

The credibility of USIM outlets is underscored by the many acclaimed, popular, private sector, and well-respected media that frequently cite our reporting. A few recent examples include a citation in the Wall Street Journal of a VOA story about corruption in Vietnam, a post in the New York Times China blog citing RFA’s reporting, a Washington Post article citing a Radio Liberty reporter, and the inclusion in this New York Times blog post of interviews of Russian citizens done by RFE/RL following the downing of MH17.

Our founding legislation mandates that our programs be conducted in accordance with the highest professional standards of broadcast journalism, and it provides guarantees against government interference in our journalists’ work; it also insists that our agency’s broadcasting standards be consistent with broad U.S. foreign policy objectives. The BBG’s mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. In the sense that informing international audiences with news that is consistently reliable and authoritative, accurate, objective, and comprehensive is beneficial to U.S. interests, yes — the BBG and its media do serve the state. However, by doing so through credible and balanced reporting, we serve both the state and the citizens of the world.

Shell is the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. If you are interested in learning more about the BBG and USIM, visit www.bbg.gov.

TIME politics

Montana Senator’s Plagiarism Scandal Has a Silver Lining

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Sen. Walsh's mental health may have nothing to do with lifting from other scholars, but the acknowledgement of PTSD and depression reveals a changing moment in politics.

Sen. John Walsh (D – Montana) is being accused of plagiarism for failing to properly cite the work of others in the master’s thesis he wrote while at the Army War College in 2007. Indeed, it has been widely reported that as much as a quarter of what the senator wrote—and presented as his own work—may have been the ideas and/or words of other prominent experts on Middle East policy.

When asked about this apparent transgression, Sen. Walsh stated that he believed he had done nothing wrong. He didn’t recall using sources improperly, but he is considering apologizing to scholars he failed to cite. A campaign aide for the senator acknowledged the plagiarism, but indicated that Sen. Walsh did not intend to deceive anyone and that his actions should be viewed in the context of a successful military career during which he was a highly decorated officer who served with distinction in the Montana National Guard. The aide noted that Sen. Walsh was going through a difficult period in 2007. One of the soldiers from his unit in Iraq had committed suicide during this time. The senator has acknowledged that he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He is currently taking antidepressant medication as part of this treatment.

We can’t know what Sen. Walsh intended when he failed to include citations for ideas that were not his when he wrote his thesis seven years ago. One indication of whether this act represents a flaw in the senator’s character, a lapse in judgment, or a failure to understand academic standards and practices is to look for a similar pattern of behavior—or lack thereof—across his life and career. Those on both sides of the political spectrum will be doing just that as this story unfolds.

Some are asking if there is a relationship between PTSD and plagiarism. There is none—at least not a direct one. There is, however, a clear relationship between the experience of trauma and possible impairment across a number of areas, including cognitive and emotional functioning. The relationship is even stronger if you experience repeated trauma. Imagine driving to work and having a head-on collision on the highway. Miraculously you walk away with no physical injuries, but others around you die. Imagine that this happens to you not once but several times over the course of several months or a year. You begin to have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and focusing. You might feel depressed, you might have flashbacks, and you most certainly will have guilt and possibly shame. Could this experience of repeated trauma affect your judgment or your ability to process information critical to your success in your relationships, at school, or in your career? Absolutely.

Though the consequences – if any – of Sen. Walsh’s actions in 2007 are yet to be determined, it is important that we continue to have conversations and discussions about the very real impact that trauma can have on someone’s long-term functioning. We need these discussions not because we should excuse behavior that is inappropriate, unethical or criminal, but because one in four Americans suffer from diagnosable mental health conditions, along with the trauma that often creates those conditions. Sometimes war causes these injuries, sometimes a natural disaster, or a rape, or an assault. Sometimes it is a bad role of the genetic dice that leads to significant impairment. Isn’t it better to discuss these issues openly and, by doing so, encourage appropriate care and relieve unnecessary suffering?

Perhaps one silver lining resulting from the last 13 years of war—and many tragic stories of those who have struggled upon their return from battle—is that we as a nation are becoming a bit more comfortable with the topic of mental health. Until now, few if any politicians or other public or military officials have been willing to admit they have a mental health issue, let alone suggest it may have clouded their judgment. Perhaps we are more willing to entertain the possibility that the cause of someone’s behavior just might be a bit more complicated than we think. After all, mental health is a part of the human condition. We all experience it, and sometimes the difference between being mentally sharp and healthy or not depends on whether we swerve the wrong way, are born with the wrong DNA or watch a buddy die in combat.

Barbara Van Dahlen, named to the TIME 100 in 2012, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour. A notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families, Dr. Van Dahlen has become a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans and their families.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 25

1. Reinventing Justice: Seventeen states are fixing prisons by using data-driven sentencing practices and focusing on keeping the most dangerous prisoners behind bars. The federal government should follow their lead.

By Nancy La Vigne, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations

2. Social media has permanently altered our control over what we say and do. We need a new definition of “public.”

By Anil Dash in The Message, a curated collection on Medium

3. This might be the world’s last chance to rescue Ukraine.

By the editors of the Washington Post

4. Water as a weapon: the next escalation in modern warfare.

By Sarah Goodyear at Next City

5. Work local: Reimagining offices to work more like neighborhoods.

By Max Chopovsky in Harvard Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Living

Why Teens Are Turning to Human Growth Hormones for the ‘Perfect’ Body

A generation aware of the risks of eating disorders now has performance-enhancing drugs available at a click--but not much information on their possible side effects.

A new survey from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 11% of the 3,705 high-schoolers surveyed reported “having used” synthetic human growth hormones without a prescription. This reflects that use may have more than doubled from when a similar survey was conducted four years ago. One in five teens even reported knowing at least one friend who uses a performance-enhancing drug (PEDs).

As an educator who works with children and teens around the country and a high school senior, we believe that more young people are turning to steroids and other PEDs for one reason: the constant pressure for both boys and girls to have a “perfect” body.

It’s common knowledge that girls are under tremendous pressure to conform to an unhealthy and unrealistically thin body image. It may seem odd that some girls would look to PEDs to achieve this “perfect” body, but a quick internet search reveals thousands of advertisements for steroids promising weight loss specifically for women. This generation of girls has grown up knowing about eating disorders and their potential health dangers. Is it possible that girls today are now seeking out drugs (that they can instantly buy online) because they think it will give them the edge to achieve the ideal body—without knowing their possible side affects?

For boys, the common assumption is that steroid use is associated with athletes. But there’s increased cultural pressure for all boys, not just athletes, to fit a hyper masculine body image. It begins early (for example, 6-year-old boys commonly believe they should have a six pack) and then intensifies as the boys get older. Combine that with our collective inability or unwillingness to give boys a language, and therefore permission, to talk about the pressure boys feel to conform to an unrealistic image of masculinity (as we regularly do for girls with cultural messages of femininity) and it’s almost impossible for boys to admit their shame and inadequacy. Consequently, they’re driven to solve the “problem” privately, however they can. In that light, taking PEDs for purely aesthetic reasons becomes a logical decision.

For high school athletes, it’s all about getting bigger and better. Almost every guy wants to gain weight and muscle. Even among non-athletes, many boys get teased for being skinny and small or having “moobs (“man boobs”). But just as constant is boys’ insistence that they can never share these humiliations publicly. In the rare times they do complain, adults hardly give it the serious consideration they do when girls are targeted in the same way.

In the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, a study (Prospective Associations of Concerns About Physique and the Development of Obesity, Binge Drinking, and Drug Use Among Adolescent Boys and Young Adult Men) reported that 18% of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They’re also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use. Though 18% might be on the low side, between 28% and 68% of young men at a normal weight perceive themselves to be underweight, according to the .

What’s the cost? The common assumption is that boys don’t care about being teased about body image the way girls do. We challenge that assumption and want to shift the conversation about PEDs and body image so we all believe boys have the right to receive the same empowering messages that girls get. We live in a culture that can undermine your sense of self by giving you one, almost impossible, image of an “acceptable” body. Boys, just like girls, have the right to know that. Boys, just like girls, have the right to acknowledge that it affects your sense of self and you have the right to talk about it without being dismissed or ridiculed. And finally, boys, just like girls, have the right to be educated about these issues so they don’t risk their physical health and emotional well being to chase an impossible ideal.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of Masterminds &Wingmen and Queen Bees & Wannabes. Keo Jamieson is a senior at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado.

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Stop Keeping College Athletes Poor and Trapped

Ed O''Bannon
Ed O'Bannon playing for the UCLA Bruins in 1995. O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA. J.D. Cuban—Getty Images

Without unions, college athletics will remain a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

A new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future.

Or at least that’s what you might believe based on the nuclear reaction a few months ago when a dapper man named Ramogi Huma attempted to destroy everything that America holds sacred with just such a proposal to unionize college athletes. His argument was simple: that college athletes should be classified as employees of their colleges and therefore receive certain basic benefits. He did not advocate player salaries, but only programs to minimize brain trauma risks among athletes, a raise in scholarship amounts, more financial assistance for sports-related injuries, an increase in graduation rates, and several other similar goals.

You would have thought he’d proposed dressing the Statue of Liberty in a star-spangled thong.

But Huma is not alone in his assault on the NCAA’s iron-fisted control of all things related to college athletics that might generate income (as befits their new motto: “If it earns, it’s ours.”). Other current and former college athletes are questioning the NCAA-brand Kool-Aid. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA — but not a cent for the players. Another class-action anti-trust suit has been filed to remove the cap on player compensation — currently limited to the value of the scholarship they receive, plus room and board — as an illegal restraint of trade.

Predictably, the NCAA is against any scheme to get college players paid, claiming that unionizing will “completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone to attend college.” Attend, but not necessarily complete, especially if you suffer any long-term injury. Because if you don’t compete, you don’t complete.

And the NCAA has the backing from some powerful Washington, D.C. politicians who, according to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), worry about strikes that will “destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it.” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) also chimed in: “I haven’t looked at the specifics of this and what would be required, but having formally chaired the House Education and Workforce Committee and worked with the National Labor Relations Act for the last 30 years, I find it a bit bizarre.”

Nothing more reassuring than someone who acknowledges he hasn’t really “looked at the specifics” but has an opinion anyway.

Well, Senator, here are some specifics:

  • Last year, NCAA March Madness made $1 billion for CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
  • The NCAA takes in more than $6 billion a year.
  • The NCAA president made $1.7 million last year.
  • The NCAA top ten basketball coaches earn salaries that range from $2,200,000 to $9,682,032.

While these coaches and executives may deserve these amounts, they shouldn’t earn them while the 18-to-21-year-old kid who plays every game and risks a permanent career-ending injury gets only scholarship money — money that can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore.

The irony is that the NCAA and other supporters claim it will sully the purity of college sports — desecrating our image of it as a youthful clash of school rivalries that always ends at the malt shop with school songs being sung and innocent flirting between boys in letterman jackets and girls with pert ponytails and chastity rings. In reality, what makes college sports such a powerful symbol in our culture is that they represent our attempt to impose fairness on an otherwise unfair world. Fair play, sportsmanship, and good-natured rivalry are lofty goals to live by. By treating the athletes like indentured servants, we’re tarnishing that symbol and reducing college sports to just another exploitation of workers, no better than a sweat shop.

Everyone’s hope was that once these inequities were exposed, the NCAA would do the right thing. That hasn’t happened on a meaningful scale. Instead, they battle in court, issue press releases, and appeal to Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

The athletes are left with the choice of either crossing their fingers and hoping their fairy godmothers will convince the NCAA to give up money that it doesn’t have to, or of forming a collective bargaining group to negotiate from a place of unified strength.

Most Americans agree that the athletes are being short-changed. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believed that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believed athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The Love: Unions can be like a protective parent arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The Hate: Unions can be like a bossy spouse who complains about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw from the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Which raises the question: How will things change?

When I was a young, handsome player at UCLA, with a full head of hair and a pocket full of nothing, I sometimes had a friend scalp my game tickets so I could have a little spending money. I couldn’t afford a car, which scholarship students in other disciplines could because they were permitted to have jobs, so I couldn’t go anywhere. I got bored just sitting around my dorm room and frustrated wandering around Westwood, passing shops in which I couldn’t afford to buy anything.

How will things change? It’s possible the NCAA will eventually capitulate to these common-sense requests, but since it hasn’t so far, the only reason it would change its mind now would be because of the threat of the union. Either way, the union will have caused positive change for these young athletes. But without a union, these student-athletes will be without any advocates and will always be at the whim of the NCAA and the colleges and universities that profit from them.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Opinion

The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

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Archive Holdings Inc.—Getty Images

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining "forever."

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-square-foot apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of – except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply… well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television drama, Satisfaction, which premiered on the USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term “uncoupling” (yuck).

marriage

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43 percent, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach – marriage licenses granted on a five, seven, 10 or 30-year arms, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21 percent said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

In total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 – and 53 percent percent of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40 percent said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, told me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “reup” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The United States has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000 percent over the last four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried-but-cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56 percent of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the last decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner – we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69 percent, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and longterm unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball – or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

 

TIME psychology

Team Building: How to Use Moneyball at the Office to Build Great Teams

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, his exhaustive study of great teams and leaders.

He holds Nucor up as a prime example of perfect team building. These guys were so devoted they chased lazy employees out of the factory.

Via Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t:

The Nucor system did not aim to turn lazy people into hard workers, but to create an environment where hardworking people would thrive and lazy workers would either jump or get thrown right off the bus. In one extreme case, workers chased a lazy teammate right out of the plant with an angle iron.

And the best people are worth it.

Yes, they’re that much better. There are Michael Jordans in every industry.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

There are enormous and well-documented differences between the best and worst performers in numerous endeavors. Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who has spent his career studying greatness and genius, concludes: “No matter where you look, the same story can be told, with only minor adjustments. Identify the 10 percent who have contributed the most to some endeavor, whether it be songs, poems, paintings, patents, articles, legislation, battles, films, designs, or anything else. Count all the accomplishments that they have to their credit. Now tally the achievements of the remaining 90 percent who struggled in the same area of achievement. The first tally will equal or surpass the second tally. Period.”

Office workers are no different.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

…superior workers in jobs requiring low skill produced 19 percent more than average workers, superior workers in jobs requiring high skill were 32 percent more productive, and for professionals and managers, superior performance produced 48 percent more output than average performers.

And the above is probably just worthless and depressing information to almost everyone reading this.

You know why?

 

Most people don’t work with the top 2 percent

You’re probably shocked some of your co-workers can dress themselves and find the door out of the house in the morning.

With good reason. A lot of people are just plain dumb.

Via Competitive Advantage Through People: Unleashing the Power of the Work Force:

In an article reporting the declining position of the United States in world trade in telecommunications equipment, the New York Telephone company reported that “it tested 57,000 job applicants in 1987 and found 54,900, or 96.3%, lacked basic skills in math, reading, and reasoning.” A human resource planning document prepared at the Bank of America in 1990 reported that “Chemical Bank in New York must interview 40 applicants to find one who can be successfully trained as a teller”; “at Pacific Bell in Los Angeles, 95% of the 3,500 people who recently took a competency test for entry-level jobs not requiring a high school education failed”; and “at Motorola,80% of its applicants cannot pass a simple 7th grade English comprehension or 5th grade math test. At Bell South in Atlanta, fewer than 1 in 10 applicants meet all qualification standards.”

This is why team building can be a nightmare and most advice is useless: Everyone says “get the best” and that’s rarely an option.

What’s a far more realistic approach?

How do you find diamonds in the rough?

How can you do Moneyball in the average workplace and find the undervalued players who already surround you?

 

Look For The Round Peg In The Square Hole

Research shows we give too much weight to individual personality and efforts and too little to context.

Put an A player in an impossible role and PRESTO! — watch them become indistinguishable from a C player.

This is what the investigative commission realized after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy — NASA was so badly organized that it made good employees into poor performers.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

…the Columbia Accident Investigation board was dismayed to see that, although most of the people had been changed, the same system produced the same mistakes 17 years earlier–it was a system that made it difficult for smart people to do smart things.

Look for the obviously bright people who are struggling in spots where they’re all but set up to fail.

When you’re team building, those are the people you want to steal.

This is how Brad Bird made the Pixar film “The Incredibles.” He targeted the brilliant but floundering.

In an interview with McKinsey Quarterly he said:

I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

And with that he made a great movie and helped keep innovation alive at Pixar.

 

He Makes Ten Times As Many Errors? PERFECT!

You might want to consider that employee who makes ten times as many errors.

Seriously.

Teams that reported 10 times the number of errors had the best leadership and best coworker relationships.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

In the mid-1990s, Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmundson, and the Harvard physicians funding her research, were flabbergasted when nurse questionnaires showed that the units with bestleadership and best coworker relationships reported making 10 times more errors than the worst.

Huh?

Everybody makes errors. These teams actually reported them all. So they learned. And got better. And trusted each other.

The real danger was the people who were sweeping errors under the rug — but those are the people who got the best reviews from bosses.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

Edmondson and colleague Anita Tucker concluded that those nurses whom doctors and administrators saw as most talented unwittingly caused the same mistakes to happen over and over. These “ideal” nurses quietly adjust to inadequate materials without complaint, silently correct others’ mistakes without confronting error-makers, create the impression that they never fail, and find ways to quietly do the job without questioning flawed practices. These nurses get sterling evaluations, but their silence and ability to disguise and work around problems undermine organizational learning.

We rarely get the obvious A players.

But the true A players are not always obvious.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 28: A Spiritual Retreat

Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014.
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014. Yagiz Karahan—Reuters

Without silence, we cannot hear the voice of our deepest inner soul or of our well reasoned minds.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

I’m writing this piece at 5am after spending the whole night in what can be called a spiritual retreat (itikaf in Arabic). Thousands of millions of Muslims worldwide spend a day or a few days in the last ten nights of Ramadan secluded away from worldliness to focus solely on their relationship with God.

Every year, I look forward to this spiritual retreat, no matter how short, because it offers an opportunity to just hit the pause button on the hectic life that I, like so many others, live. The retreat is made up of long and thoughtful prayer, chanting of God’s names and praises, recitation of the Qur’an, contemplation of prophetic sayings and biographies, and so on. It is an experience in spiritual immersion where the minutes and hours seem to matter very little other than to organize one’s devotions.

The benefit to this retreat is that it truly brings comfort to the soul. As the Qur’an says, “Surely, in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility” (13:28). The Qur’an recited is so soothing for the soul. God’s names chanted in rhythmic tone with people you come to love is an awesome feeling. But, it’s also something more than that — it’s a supernatural presence that you begin to warm up to over the course of the retreat. It’s a presence that seems to be there all along, but really comes alive, or we become alive to it, when there is complete focus and attention on the spiritual. “God is with you wheresoever you may be” and “We [meaning the majestic ‘We’] are closer to you than your jugular vein,” says God in the Qur’an (57:4 and 50:16).

In this way, the mind and soul receive new openings whereby realities begin to become clearer. It is no coincidence that the Prophet Muhammad first received revelation when he was in deep, deep contemplation and after many years of regularly engaging in a spiritual retreat off in the mountains.

Beyond, the experience, engaging in a spiritual retreat also forces one to live an examined life — to truly reflect on the life lived and the life that is yet to be lived. Being away from the world and focused on matters of the soul makes you take a long hard look in the spiritual mirror. The character and habits you have acquired, the addictions and preoccupations you have developed, and so on come into full focus. The early Muslim sage and second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab (d.644), used to say: “Take yourself to account before you are taken to account.” Meaning, from a believer’s perspective, before that inevitable day of standing before God arrives after death, the believer should examine the state of their faith and the book of their deeds. Where goodness is found, steadfastness is prescribed; where shortcomings are found, reform is needed before it’s too late.

In these times that we live in, there seems to be a social need if not obligation to spend sometime in retreat as individuals and as communities. The world in an age of technology can be so overwhelmingly consuming that sometimes it’s hard to find even a minute to think and reflect. We’re used to so much stimulation that quietude almost feels unnerving. But, without silence we cannot hear the voice of our deepest inner soul or of our well reasoned minds. We simply need to disconnect in order to reconnect.

And, as a community, retreats might help us elevate ourselves to a collectively higher spiritual and ethical plane. Too often we get stuck accepting the norm or simply defending ourselves from the “outside” world. Sometimes, and increasingly so, we need to be honest and self-critical of where we are and where we should be as a religious community.

If the 1.6 billion Muslims went on a spiritual retreat together, I think we’d discover that there are many reforms we need to undertake and that our problems are not just some Western conspiracy theory. There is too much bloodshed, too much unhealthy patriarchy, and too little prioritizing of social justice in our community today. Small and silly issues are debated many times over while big and much more serious issues — by any measure including what the Qur’an prioritizes as issues of concern for believers — are woefully neglected.

I pray and hope, against all hope, that the collective experience of a spiritual retreat this Ramadan will move us toward greater introspection and better days ahead. But, for any sort of social reform to happen, it will require a few good women and men to take the serious issues more seriously and to leave off childish games of deflection and blame.

“Let there arise out of you a group of people who invite to all that is good, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong,” commands the Qur’an (3:104). It is high time we, as Muslims, heed this command by supporting good wherever it is happening and by initiating the good wherever we find it to be lacking. It takes courage, wisdom, and much more. But, it all begins with introspection that comes out of a much needed spiritual retreat.

TIME feminism

I Really, Truly, Fully Hate ‘Women Against Feminism’—But…

Bob Aylott—Getty Images

While the world should certainly have respect for feminism, I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity.

The worst part about writing everything you’re about to read has been the ever-present thought, Please God, do not let Women Against Feminism think that I am even remotely on their side. I will never, ever, be “against feminism” – whatever that means. But I’d like to have a chat about it, a moment to engage in a little womansplaining.

My issues with an ascendant strain of feminism—wherein attacks and likes and tweets and retweets are substitutes for thought, and actually reading what someone wrote—did not begin with The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a good place to start. Back in June, Slate published a piece about adults reading books meant for kids, making the case that we should read more sophisticated, age-appropriate material. Three days later, Medium published a response entitled “Why Criticizing Young Adult Fiction is Sexist.” If irritation were fatal, I’d have perished where I sat.

But my patience around other purportedly feminist issues had been tried in smaller ways.

Like last year, when Sheryl Sandberg declared that the word “bossy” needed to be reclaimed. #BanBossy, the moms on my Facebook feed chorused, bragging about how they were going to teach their daughters that being bossy was actually great. Now, there is a reasonable conversation to be had about how women’s assertiveness is not valued, but #BanBossy was not my idea of a conversation. It was a cheap commodification of something more complicated.

#BanBossy was just one of the feminist flavors on Facebook that I tasted and immediately wanted to spit out. There is also the persistent complaint about airbrushing in magazines, as if fashion magazines have ever promised to be a woman’s friend, as if someone were forcing us to buy them. I’m not a fan of airbrushing any more than I am a fan of violent pornography, but I refuse to be surprised or upset that it’s at the heart of the beauty industry, and I don’t look to Anna Wintour for my sense of self-worth. When Jezebel offered $10,000 for the unretouched photos of Lena Dunham’s photos in Vogue, I cried to the heavens, “Wake me up when it’s over.” My celestial alarm clock remains unrung.

The UC-Santa Barbara shooting was a rallying point for many feminists, but even as I watched Elliot Rodger on YouTube saying horribly misogynist things, I couldn’t get behind the idea that he’d done what he did because of an endemic hatred of women. My mind, skidding over the insanity, found traction on the issues of guns and deteriorating mental illness. But according to my social media feeds, I had gone to the wrong place. “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you,” proclaimed one status. After a Wall Street Journal opinion piece drew a psychological connection between the shooting and the entertainment industry, blame shifted haphazardly from the shooter to Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen.

The theme continued last month when Benjamin Wallace profiled Terry Richardson for New York Magazine. (I know Wallace, but have not seen him in more than ten years). Whatever I think of Richardson, Wallace had written clearly and thoroughly about a complicated subject. His reporting had also uncovered new allegations. The headline—“Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?”— seemed a reasonable way to suggest culpability without getting sued.

So I was surprised by the attacks on him. Guardian writer and feminist journalist Jessica Valenti tweeted “Maybe Terry Richardson will lay off coercing girls now that he got such a huge BJ from NYMAG.” Jezebel reported that Wallace withheld portions of an interview with a source so he could “placate the powerful.” Really? Or was it possible that reporting and writing about a convoluted situation involving lots of people didn’t lead to simple conclusions? Of course a discussion about that wouldn’t be as exciting or as tidy as accusations of a hidden agenda.

In some ways, the tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant. Fifteen hundred women are murdered each year by their male partners; one in five female students in America has been sexually assaulted during her college tenure; and women who write about such issues are stalked and threatened. Never mind the discrepancies in the workplace or household. We need feminism. Still, the pain that we experience as women—even physical—does not give us the right to tell people there’s one way to think or feel, or to assume that we have some god-like understanding of everyone’s motivations. Believe me, I have walked out of at least one Judd Apatow movie because I didn’t enjoy his female characters, but I do not believe the man belongs anywhere near a conversation about mass murder.

A few months ago, I read Nassim Nicholas Talib’s The Black Swan. One passage in particular sticks with me: “Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories…” I think about what’s going on in Nigeria right now. Hundreds of girls have been kidnapped; less reported is that fact that their male counterparts have been murdered. #bringbackourgirls is effectively telling the majority of Americans the story of Nigeria—not because it is an accurate or complete story, but because feminism helps us to categorize and make sense out of what is actually chaos.

I have always called myself a feminist and have no plans to quit. But while I think that the world should certainly have respect for feminism, I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity. Right now we are in a loop of “This is good.” “This is bad.” “This person is sexist.” The internet and its outrage machine are to blame for some of this lashing out. So is the human desire to lay blame, shouting “It is you who did this! You who thinks adults shouldn’t read teen books! You who make movies where not-so-hot guys get hot girls! You who wrote an article about a bad person and didn’t say he was as bad as I think he is!”

I think back to the Facebook comment about the Santa Barbara shooting: “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you.” I suppose the thing that is wrong with me is that while I can’t escape the urge to categorize, I am aware of its potential to become pathological.

Sarah Miller writes for NewYorker.com and The Hairpin, among other outlets, and has published two novels, Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl.

TIME Disasters

Fear of Flying: Don’t Be Fooled By the Scary News—Air Travel Is as Safe as Ever

If you're like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. But you've reached the wrong conclusion.

+ READ ARTICLE

The news from the skies couldn’t get grimmer. In just the week since Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was brought down by a missile strike in Ukraine, killing 298 people, two more planes have gone down or gone missing: On July 23, a TransAsia flight crashed off Taiwan, killing 58 people, probably due to turbulence caused by typhoon Matmo; this morning an Air Algerie plane with 116 people aboard disappeared from radar and is thought to have crashed off of Mali, another possible victim of weather. And all of this comes in the wake of the still-mysterious March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Air flight 370, with 239 people aboard.

If you’re like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. And, like most people, you’ve reached the wrong conclusion.

Human beings are very good at a lot of things, but we’re terrible when it comes to risk assessment. That’s not our fault; we’re wired that way. If the tiger comes from one patch of the forest, you avoid that patch. If snakes are in one fruit tree you never return to it. But the modern world presents a whole lot more complexity than our still slowly developing brains are equipped to handle. And few things flummox us more than airplanes.

Start with the fact that we can’t wrap our brains around how they work in the first place. Yes, there are engines and lift and flaps and who-knows what all keeping them up. But the fact is, a fully loaded 747 weighs 975,000 lbs and attains a top speed of 570 mph at altitudes exceeding 6.5 mi. That kind of machine just shouldn’t work and so we always half-assume it won’t.

There is, too, the much discussed helplessness attendant to buckling yourself into an airline seat, obeying all the rules about seat backs and tray tables and turning off electronic equipment and when you can jolly well get up to go to the bathroom. When you’re behind the wheel, you feel like you’re in control. When an anonymous pilot is at the stick, you feel like little more than cargo.

The occasional rash of disasters like the recent ones don’t help matters any. But the fact is, those are just statistical clusters — the airline equivalent of a few people in one country developing a rare form of cancer, which gets people looking for an environmental toxin or some other cause, when in fact it may just be random numbers at play. Yes, flying into a war zone or the teeth of a typhoon is going to increase the danger that something very bad is going to happen to you. But avoid those obvious no-go zones and the odds are very good you’ll be just fine.

In 2010, according to a report by the U.N.’s Civil Aviation Organization, there were a breathtaking 30,566,513 commercial departures worldwide. Yet, according to an authoritative site that tracks all departures and arrivals, there were only 12 crashes of planes carrying more than 18 people and only three of them resulted in more than 99 fatalities. Those deaths were an unspeakable tragedy for the people who lost their lives and the families they left behind, but in the cold calculus of probability, they’re less than a rounding error compared to all the people who flew aboard those 30.5 million flights.

Despite such low individual odds, one thing that scares us off of airplanes is the unavoidably uneven distribution of the crashes that do occur. So the 35 commercial accidents in 1968 and 1969, the 34 in 1972 and 1973, and the 33 in 1989, would have likely had a lot of people reaching for their car keys and hitting the roads instead. And it’s worse when one of the crashes is especially notorious — such as the Dec. 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which directly preceded 1989′s string of comparatively bad luck.

The Sept. 11 attacks, of course, are the darkest example of all. The two flights that brought down the World Trade Towers alone top the list of the world’s worst air disasters, with the 2,907 deaths easily outdistancing the two-plane runway accident that claimed 583 lives on Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1977.

Air travel suffered badly in the wake of Sept. 11, but so, it turned out, did some of the people who avoided the planes. From October to December 2001 there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than there had been in that same period the year before — the simple result of more people being on the road. “It was called the 9/11 effect,” David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor of the Harvard School of Public Health, told me for my 2007 book Simplexity. Nearly 3,000 people died as a direct result of the attacks and a third again as an indirect one.

Air travel, surely, is not risk free, but it’s hardly a new observation to say that nothing is. Statistical clusters do smooth out over even a relatively short period of time and what feels like a grave danger today will seem relatively benign again tomorrow. The tragedy of the lives lost on the recent crashes is a very real thing; but so is the low likelihood of any one person suffering the same sorrowful end.

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