The list of men I admire in the movies is quite long. It goes from Lon Chaney Sr. to Gable to Tracy to Fredric March. It includes Robert Mitchum, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Lon Chaney Jr., Michael Douglas, Tyrone Power, James Garner, Burt Lancaster, Yves Montand, Colin Firth, Albert Finney, Robert De Niro, Robert Preston, Paul Newman, Peter O’Toole, Gregory Peck, Maximilian Schell, and Gary Oldman.
My favorite movie actor is William Holden. On-screen, Holden is handsome, graceful, charming, and funny. He is tough and resourceful enough to handle himself in any type of predicament. In a range of films from Golden Boy to The Bridge on the River Kwai and Sabrina, from Sunset Boulevard to Stalag 17 and The Wild Bunch, Holden could do it all. I knew that developing a style like his was not practical. He was an original and tough to imitate. Plus, the scripts in those days were tailored for him. Writers today, in most cases, don’t necessarily write for a particular actor. But what I wouldn’t give to have been born in 1925 or so, to have survived the war and gone on to a career in films in that golden age of the 1940s and 50s.
A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region’s tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.
At the city’s apex in 1050, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what became the United States, bigger than London or Paris at the time. Its colorful wooden homes and monuments rose along the eastern side of the Mississippi, eventually spreading across the river to St. Louis. One particularly magnificent structure, known today as Monk’s Mound, marked the center of downtown. It towered 30 meters over an enormous central plaza and had three dramatic ascending levels, each covered in ceremonial buildings. Standing on the highest level, a person speaking loudly could be heard all the way across the Grand Plaza below. Flanking Monk’s Mound to the west was a circle of tall wooden poles, dubbed Woodhenge, that marked the solstices.
A recent ad for the InterContinental hotel brand, a lush video set in London, features an interview with Kathryn Sargent, the first woman master tailor to open her own shop on Savile Row. “The whole experience of making a beautiful garment for someone,” Sargent tells the camera, as she expertly marks a piece of wool, “empathy is at the heart of that.” The video is titled, for YouTube purposes, “Stories of the InterContinental® Life Presents: Empathy—A Bespoke Connection”; it is accompanied by the “Rewards of Empathy” episode of InterContinental’s podcast, which features another discussion with Sargent and culminates in, as the episode’s notes put it, “a chat with a pair of philosophy experts about the rewards of empathy in our daily lives.”
the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the crowd, “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”
Growing up, Michelle said, she and Barack learned important lessons from their families about “dignity and decency” and “gratitude and humility.” “At the end of the day,” she said, “when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.”
Research in cognitive science reveals the former First Lady is right: Power exposes your true character. It releases inhibitions and sets your inner self free. If you’re a jerk when you gain power, you’ll become more of one. If you’re a mensch, you’ll get nicer. So if you happen to all of a sudden become president, or at least president of your lab or book club, what inner self will come out?
Psychologists generally define power as control over others, by providing or withholding resources, without social interference. Tapping your true nature, though, begins with feeling powerful. Getting the corner office boosts creativity and reduces conformity.
In a 2008 experiment, undergraduates were asked either to recall a time they had power over someone or to recall a time someone had power over them.1 Then they were asked to draw an alien creature. Some were shown an example creature that had wings. When feeling powerless, seeing a creature with wings increased the chance a student would add wings to his own creature, a demonstration of conformity. Those made to feel powerful, however, remained unaffected by the example, following their own creative urges.
Jack Ma is one of China’s richest men, with a fortune valued at nearly $30 billion. As executive chairman of Alibaba Group, he leads the dominant force in Chinese e-commerce, a company with a market value of $264 billion and some 450 million customers. A global ambassador for Chinese business, he spent 800 hours aloft last year—visiting princes, Presidents, and Prime Ministers and lots of mere businesspeople too. “A professional pilot cannot travel that much, or so I’m told,” he boasts.
Even so, the rich and powerful people who meet with Ma tend to come away from the experience with a fresh nugget of information, either about him or about the still poorly understood digital conglomerate he started with a bunch of friends 18 years ago in the provincial coastal city of Hangzhou. Jim Kim, a physician who is the president of the World Bank, met Ma four years ago over a dinner lasting more than three hours and was startled to find the billionaire wearing sandals, holding Buddhist prayer beads, and sitting cross-legged on his chair. Kim was so taken with Ma’s passion for facilitating global trade by focusing on small-business people that he’s rethinking his international development organization’s approach.
Others are moved by Ma’s humanity. Jean Liu, president of Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi Chuxing, has known Ma for years and considers him a mentor. (Alibaba is a Didi shareholder.) She recently learned, through family connections rather than from Ma, about how he repeatedly visited a seamstress he had met after learning she was ill. Says Liu: “He genuinely cares about the people around him.”
Then there’s the President of the United States, who met Ma for the first time a few weeks before his Inauguration. “Trump didn’t know that much about Alibaba,” reports company president Michael Evans, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Asia hand who helped set up the powwow. “He was fascinated to hear that Chinese consumers are interested in buying from U.S. small businesses. I don’t think that had occurred to him.” Ma used the sit-down to make a bold promise—that Alibaba would help create 1 million jobs in the U.S. over five years. The pronouncement was music to the President-elect’s ears. “It was a great meeting,” he declared before the cameras in the lobby of Trump Tower, a beaming Ma beside him. “Jack and I are going to do some great things.”