Enlighten Us

Last weekend I watched Enlighten Us, a documentary about self-help speaker James Arthur Ray, who was convicted in the 2009 deaths of three participants in a sweat lodge endurance test that Ray organized and led.

The documentary traces Ray’s upbringing and rise to fame. Ray was charismatic and inspiring—his infectious positivity got people to overcome their fears and take control of and responsibility for their lives. He developed a national following, attracting more and more people to his speeches and workshops. In the documentary he is shown encouraging a woman to sing in public and urging people to walk on hot coals—cheering them on when they did so. Ray empowered thousands to change their lives for the better.

The 2009 sweat lodge was the culmination of a multi-day retreat. In recordings of Ray’s talk to participants prior to entering the lodge, he spoke frankly about the extreme heat they would experience, saying “you will feel like you are going to die.’’ He encouraged them to work through that feeling and by enduring what seemed unendurable, to come away feeling more confident and liberated.

Several participants described the experience in the sweat lodge as much more difficult than they imagined it would be. A few tried to leave and Ray urged them to stick it out.

In the end over a dozen people were hospitalized and three died. As the police and the FBI began questioning participants, Ray consulted attorneys who advised him to leave; he did so. The participants interviewed said they felt abandoned and bereft in their grief and confusion. They expected Ray to come to them, to help them process the tragedy, but he did not.

In discussing his decision to leave, Ray said he left on legal advice. “What would you have done?” he said, looking lost and deeply sad.

The crux of the issue is that James Arthur Ray’s followers put their trust in him not only as a self-help coach but as a spiritual leader. Certainly what he seemed to offer went way beyond coaching. His skill as a salesman was and is extraordinary. People put their trust in Ray, his methods and his advice, on the strength of his rhetoric and the power of his message.

An honest salesperson believes in what they are selling and is persuasive in demonstrating to people why the product is good for them. Ray, clearly, is an honest salesman. But his role in selling that message is essential transactional—you pitch a product, you get a sale, you move on to the next potential buyer. The salesperson bears little or no responsibility after the sale—the buyer is an adult after all, and has made their decision.

But Ray’s power as a speaker, and indeed anyone’s power, comes with the responsibility to understand and use it responsibly. Ray did not seem to recognize this. After the sweat lodge tragedy occurred, Ray consulted an attorney and left on the attorney’s advice, without checking on or caring for the people that he had led into a dangerous situation.

It is clear that the people who attended Ray’s seminars and who entered the sweat lodge that day, did not see Ray as a salesman conducting a transaction but as a leader with whom they had built a relationship. When the tragedy occurred, Ray’s followers expected him to seek them out and help them make sense of what had happened. Ray, who saw his relationship with the participants differently, did not do so.

At the end of the documentary, Ray is shown speaking to a group after his release from a two year sentence for the sweat lodge deaths. Ray repeatedly says, “I am responsible,” but qualifies these statements, pointing out that the participants were sane, rational adults who had chosen to be there, and that his conviction in the deaths was unprecedented. As valid as these qualifications are, they undermine his statement taking responsibility for the tragedy.

It is hard to face the truth when our actions have deeply hurt someone, and the temptation is to minimize our power to have done otherwise and blame others. But it is only by fully acknowledging our power to harm and our responsibility for doing so, that we can use that power intentionally to make things right.

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Beware the victim …

Most of us have been the victim of something or other at some time in our lives. Abusive relationships, natural disasters, or hard economic times—we have all experienced these or other hurtful things. What these situations have in common is that they were outside of our control at the time. We were not able to act to stop them.

This helplessness does not last, although the feeling of helplessness might. In fact, this is where the danger lies for ourselves and for others. When we continue to feel helpless long after the situation is over, our power, unrecognized by us, often expresses itself in destructive ways.

This habit of helplessness has many manifestations. When we see someone else who appears more fortunate (and the key word here is ‘appear’), we feel the unfairness of it very personally. “If I had only had the advantages that he’s had, what more could I have done with my life? How much more productive, happy, philanthropic could I have been?” And then … we do nothing. We take no action to get ourselves to that place, because we feel that nothing we do will make a difference.

Victimhood also comes with a sense that resources are scarce, and it is essential to protect what we have. We protect our fragile sense of self by highlighting ways we are better–more moral, more worthy, more honorable–than others. The popularity of many news and reality shows is a result of precisely this tendency. “Wow, thank heavens I don’t have that problem!” “What a horrible human being to do that to someone.” “I would never wear that much makeup!”

That need to protect can lead us to act aggressively towards others, whether or not they are behaving aggressively toward us. Building walls, arming ourselves—literally or figuratively—all create barriers between ourselves and the threatening other. It stems from an intense feeling of victimhood, of powerlessness.

But no adult human being is powerless—except in extraordinary circumstances. We all have immense power for good or for evil. And by denying this power, we avoid the responsibility of using it thoughtfully to do what we believe is right, and to restrain ourselves from lashing out and hurting others. The feeling of powerlessness is not a comfortable feeling, but it can seem insurmountable and so lead to doing nothing—or doing the wrong thing.

At various times in our lives, we are—all of us—the victim of circumstances, or other’s rash or aggressive actions. But being a victim, remaining in that state of (seeming) powerlessness, is not only miserable for us, but it also sets us up to victimize others.

We all have power—and we are all responsible for how we use that power. Let us use it in a positive way, to move toward what we should and could be as human beings.

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#FOECast – What shape should a new effort take?

Today’s question for FOECast’s Ideation Week is: What shape should a new effort take?

As far as the process by which a product is created, the discussion in the Google Doc is an excellent exploration of the possibilities.  As a library director who is interested in technology but by no means an expert, I can better speak to the product I would find most useful.

The Horizon Report was highly curated, with a list of trends, when they were expected to peak, and brief and detailed explanations of them and their potential impact on education. The way the Report was organized made it easy for me as the reader to quickly find what I needed and as much as I needed, and no more.

It would be helpful for one or more of the FOECast’s products to be as highly structured, descriptive and concise as was the Horizon Report, however wide-ranging and broad-based the underlying process. When determining goals for the year or developing a multi-year strategic plan, a Report-style product would come in handy.

The FOECast process would be public, with invitations to join and contribute to the discussion. On the product side, experts would evaluate, cull, categorize and curate, using their knowledge and experience to create a product or products that can be easily used by libraries, schools, museums and other organizations.

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#FOECast – What forecasting methods should we consider?

Today’s question for FOECast’s Ideation Week is: What forecasting methods should we consider?

I am far less qualified to address this question than yesterday’s. But in reading a few of the resources that Bryan provided, I’ll offer a few thoughts.

The environmental scan is a useful snapshot of the current situation, and provides insights into what needs to change in order to move to a desired future. For libraries, OCLC, Ithaka and ACRL  research publications have been most helpful in this regard. As a forecasting method, however, it is limited, particularly at a time in which innovations are created, shared and judged useful (or not) very quickly.  Environmental scans are useful to determine where we are, useful in going forward, but forward to … what?

The Delphi method, in which a group of experts are polled to develop a list of emerging technologies, seems a more accurate method of forecasting. Experts pay attention to innovations in their fields, and this focus is invaluable in discerning trends in today’s information glut. The value in the Delphi method is to determine which technologies and technological directions are likely to prove useful in the short and medium term. What tools do we have now, and what tools are we likely to have in the future that will prove useful, even revolutionary?

But the Delphi method is not meant to provide the vision of what a desirable future looks like, for information technology, libraries, or anything else.  Knowing what the situation is now is essential, as is tracking the development and assessing the usefulness of technological and other tools that empower people to change things. Just as essential, however, is having a vision of the kind of future we want to create. As the present and technological tools change over time, so will this vision, in detail at least. But the values and principles we all seek to live by and for, should not change as rapidly. What are those values and principles that are our lodestar, that guide us in the tools we use and how we use them?

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#FOECast – What Needs did the Horizon Report meet?

What was the Horizon Report? It was a set of reports published each year by the New Media Consortium, compiling the thoughts of leaders in information technology, education and libraries on the short and long-term trends in technology, and how they might affect education, from K-12 to higher education

The New Media Consortium folded some months ago, and Bryan Alexander rallied the troops to create FOEcast, to imagine and develop a new iteration of the Horizon Report.

This is Ideation Week for the FOEcast initiative, and today’s question is: What needs did the Horizon Report meet?

I learned of the Horizon Report several years ago when I worked at Wesleyan University Library—I don’t remember who told me about it but it was probably either Barbara Jones, who was Wesleyan University Librarian, or Mike Roy, Head of Academic Computing. Barbara and Mike were enthusiastic about the future of information technology and libraries, and eager to explore new technologies.

At Wesleyan, all of us in the Library and in IT followed technology and other trends through traditional articles, conferences and a variety of social media. But because the information came through so many different sources, in a partial and sometimes partisan manner, it was hard to know whether or not we were missing or discounting important trends, or overvaluing others.

The Horizon Report was invaluable as a compilation, in one authoritative document, of these trends and in particular how they were likely to impact education.  It explained technology terms we had heard but perhaps not fully understood through the year, and sparked ideas that librarians and academic computing staff could share with students and faculty. At Wesleyan, the Horizon Report served as a one-stop shop to learn about emerging technologies. We then used this information to plan for the coming year and determine which trends to pursue.

At Russell Library, Middletown, Connecticut’s public library, I continued to consult the Horizon Report. Public libraries serve the educational needs of people of all ages, from birth to old age. In this context, and particularly in the challenging fiscal environment of most public libraries, it was essential to know what technologies to focus our scarce money and time in pursuing. The Horizon Report provided this information in a format that was concise and easily understood.

I was shocked to learn of the demise of the New Media Consortium, and thrilled that Bryan Alexander and others have taken up the banner of developing a next-generation Horizon Report.

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Henry Steinkamp’s Civil War

Ohio and Indiana, 1862.

This Thanksgiving our stepmother Carolyn gave me copies of the letters of her great granduncle Henry Steinkamp. Carolyn’s father’s paternal grandmother, Angelina Magsig, was born Angelina Steinkamp in 1858. She was three years old when her older brother Henry enlisted in Company D of the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in October 1861.

Henry Steinkamp was born on April 7, 1842, in Woodville, Ohio. His parents, Margaret and Frederick Steinkamp, were born in Germany and as young adults emigrated to the United States and settled in Woodville. Henry was their oldest child.

The 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized in Fremont, Ohio in the fall of 1861, six months after the start of the Civil War.  Nineteen-year-old Henry Steinkamp was an early recruit.  The first few months the regiment spent at Camp Croghan, near Fremont, Ohio. In January 1862, they moved to Camp Chase outside Columbus.

Steinkamp describes the journey in a letter to his parents:

Camp Chase 16th Jan 1862

Dear father and mother I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know that we all arrived well at Camp Chase yesterday afternoon about 4 o’clock  we did not get along very fast on the road at first when we started the horse was not stout enough to pull up that hill on the other side of fremont bridge  we tried it twice but it was all in vain we had to go back and wait for an other engine  So we had two engines to pull us till clyde were we stopped about an our and then we started again with only one engine and it went first rate till about four miles from tiffin before they found out that we was lost behind.  We had to wait about an hour before they came back  it went very slow till we came to urbana were we stoped and made three trains of one and took the other road to Columbus  we arrived at Columbus at two oclock in the after noon where we got out of the cars with the knapsack on our back.  We marched four miles and a half to the camp  this was a hard march for the little boys

We found good shanties  our shanties are about 14 feet long and are warm  we have plenty of room  it is not very cold here  there was no snow here yet this winter  we only had dress parade to day and the chaplan prayed for us

I like it beter here then I did in camp Croghan   we have beter water here  there are four regiments here now and anoter regiment is expected tomorrow  this is a very large camp but it was very mudy yesterday

There are three hundred and fifty secessionists here as prisoners and it takes forty gards every day and three or four hundred more are coming from the South in two or three day

This is all i know at present  I give my best respect to father mother Brother Sister and friends

My address is Henry Steinkamp  Camp Chase Com D  Captain N 72 regim

A month later the regiment was on the move again, moving by train and then boat to Paducah, Kentucky:

Camp Buckland

the 24th feb

Dear father and Mother

I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know that we all arrived safe at Paducah the 22nd day of feb at about 4 oclock in the afternoon and we stayed on the boat till yesterday morning and then we went into camp about ten rods from the river  we found a nice place for our camp  our camp is about a quarter of a mile from town  there are about 14000 men here at present  day before yesterday when we came here there were about thirty thousand here  Sixteen Steam boats loaded with Soldiers left here yesterday morning  they were all a going to Nashville in tenisee  we Supose that they are a fighting there to day and i will tell you that [they]our men took Columbus yesterday  they fetched a Steamboat here last night that they took there. Columbus is about forty miles from here  there are Soldiers coming in every day by thousands  Paducah is a nice city  the rebels have all left this place  about half of the houses are deserted  a great many of them are occupied by the Soldiers  i can not tell you yet how long we are going to stay here  we Started from Camp chase the 19th early in the morning and we got to Columbus at about ten oclock and then we got in the cars and rode all day till about 8 oclock in the evening we arrived at cincinnati  it rained and snowed all day till night and when we got out of the cares it was very dark and we had to march about a half a mile down to the boat and it was about ten oclock till we started and we run till 4 oclock in the morning when something of the engine broke  So we had to stop at madison indiana where we stoped about 6 hours and we went as fare as louisville where we stopped and got into an other boat  we had to march about 3 miles till we got to the other boat  Paducah is about 6 hundred miles from cincinnati

this is all i know at present

give my best respects to you all

i am truly your effectionate son

Henry Steinkamp

Regimental records indicate that a few weeks after the move to Paducah, the 72nd Ohio moved again to Savannah, Tennessee, near the Mississippi border, and a few days later, to Pittsburg Landing. It was here that the Confederates attacked the camp on April 6; the attack grew into the Battle of Shiloh. When the battle began Henry was one day shy of his 20th birthday. His story was recounted in a letter to Henry’s parents by his friend, Louis Ruppert:

Camp Shiloh, April 10th, 1862

My Friend Steinkamp:

I must write you instead your son Henry. Last Sunday morning 25,000 Rebels attacked our camp. Our regiment with a few others was called to the front. The battle lasted from Sunday 8 a. m. until Monday 4 p. m. Three regiments, the 48th, the 70th, and the 72nd which is ours, fought hard to keep the Rebels from the camp, but our force was too small.

Now my dear friend what I want to write about is your dear son Henry. We fought valiantly and also Captain Nuhfer’s company fought with us like men. After the battle had lasted about one and a half hours, Henry and I fought from behind a large tree. When Henry’s gun was made useless by a Rebel bullet, he threw it away and ran to camp to get another. He soon returned and stood with me behind the tree.

The Rebels had spotted our tree as a strategic point to be taken. Henry loaded his gun and while aiming a Rebel bullet pierced his left lung. He cried out “O good Lord, I am wounded.”

Being able to run he returned to the camp and layed down in our tent. When I arrived his clothes were red with his blood and he said “See, Louis, I am wounded, please write to my parents.” I promised and bandaged his wounds as good as I could, placed him on a blanket and brought him to the doctor who immediately attended to him. Then I helped him out of the turmoil to get to the steamer which was to take him to Savannah.

The bullet went through his chest and came out at his spine. I do not know how he is now as I did not see him since Sunday. I will try to find out about him and write you later; so, I cannot say whether he is living or dead. I have very little hope that he will survive. He was wounded a valiant hero for his country who fought to the last minute.

George Albert also is wounded under his left arm, but his is able to go about. We won a glorious victory in that two day battle and fully destroyed the force of the Rebels. I hope that it was the last battle as we have seen enough dead and wounded. The last battle brought 24,000 dead and wounded in both armies.

George sends greetings; he will write you soon.

Kind greetings from L. Ruppert, Saddler.

Henry Steinkamp died of his wounds on April 10, 1862.

Louis Ruppert survived the war, leaving the service as a first sergeant. He died in Illinois on April 13, 1923, 61 years after recounting the death of his friend Henry Steinkamp. George Albert also survived long after the war ended, dying outside Toledo, Ohio in 1921.

Henry Steinkamp’s Civil War lasted six months and ended in his death. His family cherished his memory, saving his letters and honoring his service and sacrifice.


This presentation maps Henry Steinkamp’s journey from his home in Ohio to his final days in Tennessee, using contemporary maps by Alvin Jewett Johnson: http://prezi.com/b38sekknoaja/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

In the presentation, click on the > key to move from one screen to another, and the icon with arrows pointing away from each other to go to a full-screen version.

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In-Flight Adventures

At Cincinnati International Airport

I just got back from visiting family over Thanksgiving week. It was great to see everyone and share stories and memories. The last time I visited was 11 months ago, when I was driving across the country to my new home in Ketchikan, Alaska.  We had a lot of catching up to do!

I made travel reservations a few months ago, and managed to get flights from Ketchikan to Cincinnati, and back one week later, each way in one long day.  On November 18 I left Ketchikan and flew to Seattle. From Seattle I was to fly to Chicago, and then on to Cincinnati, getting there just before midnight.  The layovers were about 1.5 to 2 hours long—tight, but not very tight.

However, the Seattle-to-Chicago flight was almost 2 hours late—my flight to Cincinnati left just as we were touching down in Chicago. Ugh. But at least I—and a few fellow travelers who missed their connections—got a voucher for the airport hotel, dinner and breakfast. I got up the next morning and flew to Cincinnati without incident.

“OK,” I thought, “this was not so bad, and how often will it happen that there is an overnight delay?”

After a busy week visiting family and celebrating Thanksgiving, I left to go home on November 24. Cincinnati to Dallas/Fort Worth, then to Seattle and finally to Ketchikan around 8pm that evening.  I got to the airport in plenty of time.  After an aborted breakfast at The Local (a half hour after being seated no one had come to take my order, so I left) I flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, where I had a magnificent lunch at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.  I got to the gate for the flight to Seattle, and we boarded the plane. There were lots of families with small children aboard, and several older people in wheelchairs.

Several minutes after the door closed, the pilot announced that there would be a 20-minute delay in taking off—one of the plane’s tires was low.  About a half hour later the pilot came on again saying that the tire was flat and they would have to change it—it might take another hour or so. And 30 minutes later the pilot made another announcement, to let us know that both tires needed to be changed and we would have to deplane with all our carry-on luggage.  We did so, crowding into the gate that was already filling up with passengers for the next flight.  After another hour, the airline brought a cart with food and beverages to the gate.  This was not a good sign. The grumbling began, and children were starting to get tired and whiny. We were finally assigned a new plane and gate, and took off four hours after the scheduled departure time.

Everyone was tired and disgruntled. Small children were wailing–some angry, some just exhausted. The small boy next to me was feeling sick to his stomach, and every 45 minutes or so threw up into a bag his mother held for him. She and I commiserated about the situation. It was a four hour flight, and felt endless. We got to Seattle around 10pm.

So, another hotel voucher, with my Seattle to Ketchikan flight rebooked for the next morning. That flight was uneventful, even pleasant—there were many empty seats and we were able to stretch out. I got home a little after 9am that morning.

My father had said to me a few days earlier, “When you get back to Ketchikan you’ll walk in the door and say, ‘Whew, thank God!’” He was right. The Cincinnati visit was wonderful, but it was a grueling trip back to Ketchikan and I was very glad to be home.

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