Chanticleer Calls #5

I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. 

Henry David Thoreau


November 1, 1999

“Chanticleer* Calls”, a twice-monthly newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.

An older couple went to a doctor because they were having memory problems. The doctor reassured them that their problems were not serious and encouraged them to write notes to themselves to help them remember things.

That night the couple were watching TV when the woman got up to get a snack.

“Do you want anything?” she asked her husband.

“I’d love some ice cream,” he said. “Do you need to make a note of that?”

“Of course not,” she said. “I can remember ice cream.”

“Oh,could you put some nuts on it?”

“Sure.” she said.

“Do you need to make a note of that?”

“No. I can remember it. Ice cream and nuts.”

“Add some chocolate syrup, while you’re at it. Why don’t you write that down.”

“No, I can remember! Ice cream, nuts and chocolate syrup.”

The woman went into the kitchen and soon returned with a bowl of oatmeal on a tray.

“Hey,” said the man, “Where’s my toast!”

(from a reader)


Since Chanticleer last called, I spent a week in New York/New Jersey for my annual board meeting and dinner/lecture with the Institute of General Semantics. Ellen J. Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard and author of several books such as Mindfulness, spoke at this year’s event, held at The Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan.

Summarizing how she distinguishes “mindfulness” from “mindlessness”: A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics:

  • the continuous creation of new categories
  • openness to new information
  • and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.

Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by:

  • an entrapment in old categories
  • automatic behavior that precludes attending to new signals
  • and action that operates from a single perspective.

Not only do we as individuals get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers the same mindlessness. There is an awareness of this in science. Scientists proceed along a path gathering data that build on accepted wisdom. At some point someone turns everyone’s attention to a very different view of the previously acknowledged truth. This phenomenon happens frequently enough that scientists are generally not surprised by what is called a paradigm shift.

Langer’s research findings and notions about “mindfulness” parallel much of general semantics. She spoke, and has written, a lot about aging and the elderly, and how we (society and culture in general) encourage mindlessness. Among many factors, she maintains that we generally tend to deny the aging the opportunity to think for themselves and control their own choice-making.

Of course, the ‘problem’ isn’t so much with the elderly as much as it is with the accumulated buildup of “mindless” mindsets we (as a society and culture) learn and propogate from generation to generation.

She also had some very interesting (and critical) comments regarding the malady du jour of ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder, and particularly the gross over-prescribing of Ritalin. She felt it was quite inappropriate to label someone with a “disorder” simply because a person in authority (parent, teacher, etc.) becomes dissatisfied with someone’s level of apparent attention in one context. According to Langer, many of those diagnosed with ADD experience many, many contexts in which their attention is (appears to be) quite normal.
You might consider reading one of her books.

Three older ladies were discussing the travails of getting older. One said, “Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand in front of the refrigerator and can`t remember whether I need to put it away, or start making a sandwich.”

The second lady chimed in, “Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and can`t remember whether I was on my way up or on my way down.”

The third one responded, “Well, I`m glad I don`t have that problem — knock on wood.” She rapped her knuckles on the table and then said, “That must be the door, I`ll get it.”


Picture this …. you’re stopped at an intersection.

From behind, you feel the approaching thunderous mega bass of a vehicle with no respect for the aural environment of others. In your rearview mirror, you detect the front grill of a new, oversized pickup, pulsating with the intrusive, obnoxious noise … BOOM..BOOM..BOOM….” Your car vibrates from the resonating bass as it pulls alongside, and you hear nothing but the ear-splitting, bone-jarring sounds emanating from the truck.

Perturbed, you lower your window and glance aside to see what depraved excuse for humanity has invaded your serene space. In the front seat of the pickup, you see a man and a woman in their 70s or 80s, rocking out to what you believe to be Nat King Cole’s “Roll out those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer”.

The light turns green. They peel out, leaving rubber on the road, and your jaw on your chest.

The day after the Ellen Langer lecture, I had the privilege to serve as chairman of a one-day colloquium held at Pace University in lower Manhattan to further discuss the notions of “mindfulness” as related to general semantics and critical thinking.

(Okay, I can’t say that with a straight face. What “chairman” meant in this context was to simply introduce the presenters, watch the clock, make sure we maintained some semblance of a schedule, and suck my throat lozenges as inconspicuously as possible.)

The afternoon included a 90-minute “sensory awareness” segment, which included several enlightening guided awareness exercises. I’ve participated in dozens of similar sessions during general semantics workshops, and I’m always amazed at the immediate beneficial and relaxing results.

This session proved memorable primarily because of the four women who led us. The youngest appeared to be in her mid-50s. The others were specifically asked their ages.

The other three women who each took a 20-minute turn in leading the sensory awareness exercises were aged 82, 84 and 90.

The eldest was Charlotte Read, whom I’ve had the wonder of knowing for six years, so I’ve almost come to take her youthfulness for granted. In 1995, she led our workshop in a one-hour session non-verbal awareness session. During some preliminary stretching exercises, she shamed us all by doing some unremarkable things like standing flat-footed, bending from the waist, and touching her fingertips to the ground. She did this at age 85, and she did it in a very slow, very controlled, demonstration of limberness.

And just the day before, during our Board meeting, she asked several, “But what about …?” questions, and provided other cogent, insightful observations. She now needs two canes to motor herself around, but she still manages her ever-present backpack on her own.

Seeing her alongside these other women caused me once again to think to myself, “I need to update my ‘map’ of what 80 looks like.”

Do you ever stop to consider where your mental “maps” (or images, models, expectations, etc.) about something or someone come from? And do you consider updating, or changing, them as warranted based on your experience? And is your behavior complying with somebody else’s “map” of how you ‘should’ behave, or are you navigating based on a “map” of your own making, based on your own experiences, observations, reactions, etc?

Are you mindful or mindless in your “map-making”?


Follow-up(1) regarding “Hope Happens”:

Obscenity on ‘Hope’ fails to raise ruckus: CBS says there was “surprisingly little” reaction to the Oct. 14 episode of Chicago Hope in which Mark Harmon’s character said one of those famous dirty words you can’t say on television – in the phrase ” . . . [expletive] happens.” A show representative said the network received 40 calls in reaction, adding that there were twice as many complaints about a show a season or so back that featured breast-feeding. – Hartford Courant

Follow-up(2) – from “Roger,” who wrote for help regarding “groups vs. teams:”

Well my presentation went pretty good, my teacher was really pleased, and I must say that you were a big help to me. So thank you sooo much, I really appreciate it. Robert

[SS: The request was signed “Roger”; the thank you was signed “Robert”. Perhaps one associates with a “group”, and the other with a “team” ….?]

My embarrassingly-long response to Roger/Robert follows these thoughtful reactions from readers:

All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. Consider this: a group of rocks and a group of ants. The ants can be considered a team, but the rocks can not. The determinant is ACTION. Then, the biggest difference between good teams and bad teams is the effort put into choreographing the action. Or at least that’s the view from my knowledge-management addled brain. – in Phoenix

A group of people are a number of people, not necessarily with anything in common or the same goal. A team is more or less a unit of people with the same goal, as in baseball team. Your CD’s. I think alphabetical is practical. As time goes on we will forget dates, etc. But hopefully we all will remember the alphabet. It is as easy as ABC. – in Plano

I have never had ANY formal business classes, but it would appear to me that a “group” would be an assemblage of individuals having only certain characteristics in common (i.e. all men, all women, all employees, all singles), whereas a “team” would consist of individuals all displaying definitive attributes that allow them special insight into the subject at hand that they were chosen for (i.e. sports, mathematics, investing etc.). A “team” would have a common focus in problem solving where each participant lends his or her forte to the common good of goal attainment. A group would merely be an assemblage of individuals without a goal in mind. – in Seattle

My response to the “groups vs. teams” question:

Good morning, Roger. I just happened to be online and got your message. I’ll
offer some immediate thoughts, but, of course, without knowing the context
of your assignment/challenge, these may be way off the mark.

Regarding “the” (or rather “some of the possible”) differences between
“teams” and “groups” …. from the perspective of a Management class …

1. Remember we live in a world consisting of ‘things’ which can be
classified as:

– “not-words”, or
– “words”

Or, if you prefer, the classifications could be differentiated as:

– “things”, or
– “not-things”

Take for example, “dirt” or “soil” …. “dirt” (the word, the black marks on
your computer screen that you’re reading right now) could be classified as a
“word” or a “not-thing”. But if you went outside your dorm room or apartment
and rolled around in the dirt, you would be rolling around in something
which was not a word, but some”thing”. The word “dirt” serves as a symbol
for the stuff outside in which plants grow, but clearly the word “dirt” is
of an entirely different order or character or composition from the stuff
outside. And the symbol, or word, we use to refer to that stuff outside is
variable …. we can use “dirt” or “soil” or “humus” or the French
equivalent or German equivalent, etc.

So linguistically, words act as variables which refer to “something else”,
and the “something else” can be some “thing” which is not a word (like the
dirt outside), or the “something else” can be some other word. You have a
word (or symbol) which points to or refers to something else, a “referent”.
When you fill in the variable with some word, you more or less have a

x = the stuff outside in which plants grow

Let x = “dirt”

“dirt” (the word) = the stuff outside in which plants grow

Or, let x = “soil”

“soil” (the word) = the stuff outside in which plants grow


The point to remember: “The word is not the thing.”

2. Regarding “group” as opposed to “team”, would you say that “group” and
“team” belong to the category of “things” or “not-things”; or “words” or

3. If you said that “group” and “team” refer to “things” and “not-words”, I
would say I disagree. I would say that “group” and “team” serve simply as
different words which may, or may not, refer to a given referent.

In other ‘words’ (ha ha), the difference between “group” and “team” is, in
my view, purely one of definition …. the difference is whatever you say it
is. In the context of an academic class, the definition may be dictated by a
textbook, professor, etc.

But here’s my thinking ….

Let’s say you work with four other people …. Roger, Bob, Mike, Michelle,
and Marie. These individuals have names, and these names (also serving as
symbols) refer to human beings of a specific height, weight, appearance,
etc., who each consist of a certain mix of chemicals and water, etc. In
other words, the individuals humans exist, take up physical dimensions, can
be observed, etc.

Now you ask the question …. “do I work in a ‘group’?”, or “do I work in a

And I would ask, “Does a ‘group’ exist, as “Roger” (the human being who
physically exists) exists? Can you see, or hear, or smell, a ‘group’ “? And,
“How much space does a ‘team’ occupy? Is a ‘team’ heavier than a ‘group’?”

Again, “the word is not the thing” .

On a non-verbal level, we can easily differentiate these two ‘things’:

– the dirt outside in which plants grow
– from “Roger”, the human being who sits in front of his computer reading
this message

Can we likewise differentiate “group” from “team” on a non-verbal level?

I would say, “No”. The differences between “group” and “team” exist only on
a verbal level … the differences are what we say they are, or how we
define them verbally.

4. Now, since I worked in management at a large corporation for several
years, I suspect that in your particular situation, in the context of an
academic class, the following *might* be some of the differences your profes
sor or textbook are trying to make:

“Group” – may imply a collection of individuals (let’s say Roger, Bob, Mike,
Michelle, and Marie) who work in the same area, performing duties or
functions which may or may not inter-relate with each other, who may or may
not be coordinated in their efforts, who may or may not consider the impact
of their work on the work of the others, who may or may not have a
particular pride or loyalty to their work, who may achieve individual
success with or without the assistance and cooperation of the others, etc.

“Team” – may imply a collection of individuals (let’s say Roger, Bob, Mike,
Michelle, and Marie) who work in the same area and have an awareness of what
the other individuals are doing, who share a collective sense of a common
purpose or objective, who have some type of clearly defined individual
responsibilities, who depend on each other with some level of trust and
confidence, who succeed or fail all together, who function cooperatively,

Roger, is this along the lines of what you’re attempting to define and

5. Something to think about and perhaps discuss in your class … if you
indeed define “groups” and “teams” similarly to what I just defined … if
you say that in your particular work setting Roger, Bob, Mike, Michelle, and
Marie constitute a “team” instead of a group, that they behave in the manner
that you’ve defined a “team” …. what about outside of the work area? What
if they go out to lunch together – would they still be considered a “team”?
What if they each brought their spouses to lunch with them …. would they
still be a “team”? What if they happened to run into each other at the
movies, if the five of them were standing in line to buy tickets would they
be a “team”? What if Mike and Michelle call in sick to work on Monday – do
Roger and Bob and Marie still constitute a “team”?

As you can see, once you start making these types of verbal differences, you
can almost literally “define” yourself into a sanitarium. I hope this
gives you some thoughts to consider, and perhaps figure out for your
purposes which differences do indeed make a difference.

From my perspective, the important difference is not in the definition
between what you call a “team” versus what you call a “group”, but the
critical thing is – How do Roger, Bob, Mike, Michelle, and Marie behave in
the work area in order to best achieve the purposes and goals set by
management? The differences which make a difference are in their behaviors –
not in the words you use to define their behaviors.

Best wishes in your class. If you have time, I’d be interested to know how
your talk goes.

Steve Stockdale