Dartmouth Presidential Lectures: President Jim Yong Kim

Dartmouth Presidential Lectures: President Jim Yong Kim

CAROL FOLT: Greetings everybody. It’s a pleasure
to welcome you to the second of Dartmouth’s Presidential Lecture Series this summer. My
name is Carol Folt, and I’m the provost at Dartmouth, and it’s my pleasure to introduce
today’s speaker, President Jim Yong Kim. Now, he’s not a person that needs much of
an introduction to this office ñ I mean to this group. We’ve all had a chance to get
to know President Kim this last year. At this time last year, he was starting off, getting
to know what sophomore summer is like; and now he’s experiencing his second sophomore
summer with all of us here. We all know him very well through his work
as a physician, an anthropologist, as his work as a humanitarian, the cofounder of Partners
in Health, and former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization.
But we also know him as a pretty good performer in the Dartmouth Idol. We know him as a great
fan on the sideline of virtually every activity that the students take place. We see him in
the lecture halls that are beingÖand the talks that are being given across campus,
and he’s been also teaching in a lot of classes already this year. So I thought, well what do you not know about
him that I can tell you? So I started thinking, well maybe you don’t know what he did when
he was a student. Unlike Dartmouth students, he didn’t have a sophomore summer where you’re
studying languages and learning about antiquities and chemistry and government and economics.
He had to go and make a living for his next year in school. So, I asked him, “What did you do in your
sophomore summer?” And so his sophomore summer, he had his first job, was working at the Heinz
Ketchup factory in Muscatine, Iowa, where he was a very strong worker on the gravy-making
line. He stayed there for just a month, and then he took a different job, where he was
working as a waiter in a local restaurant. And I think we’ve decided that this is one
of the key factors that has led him to be a president at Dartmouth. He says that he
learned to do at that job a Peach Melba flambÈ while carrying a large tray of food and entertaining
his customers all the time. So, please welcome our multitasking president
for this lecture. [Applause] PRESIDENT KIM: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks
very much. Thank you. Thank you. It’s great to, great to see all
of you. First of all, I want to thank a group of people that we’ve been working with over
the last year, the Higher Education Study Group. Many of them are here in the audience
today. And with the Higher Education Study Group, we’ve been asking some very, very basic
questions. When I came here, um, the question I asked was, “What are we doing to 18- to
24-year-old minds?” Part of it was that I had been reading some
of the literature that suggested that 18- to 24-year-old minds are involved in much
more intensive neuronal connection and formation than we’d ever thought before. In other words,
the 18- to 24-year-old period is far more important and plastic in terms of creating
new connections than we ever thought. But, we felt that at the end of the year we
had to bring it together somehow, and this is my own very personal effort to take you
through what we know about the developing mind and-and how that might have a direct
impact on you sophomores who are here this summer. So I thought I’d start talking about what
my own aspirations were at about this time. Now, this wasÖby the time I was a sophomore,
I had, I was forced to give up this aspiration; but for most of my childhood, I wanted to
be a professional basketball player. Five-foot-ten Korean kid from Iowa, this very rational choice
that I was making, to think that I was going to be able to join the NBA. But, you know, one of the great things about
this job is that, despite the fact that I never made it as an athlete, I’m now, like,
sort of the owner/president of thirty-four sports teams, right? And so I get to go to practices. I get toÖ
I actually this year got to scrimmage with both the women’sÖ the women’s volleyball
and the women’s basketball team. The men’s basketball team even lets me shoot the ball
a few times. The football team lets me throw- and I throw out the first pitch. This is just
great. Any my own sense was thatÖas I wanted to
be an athlete when I was a kid, my own sense was that my own son, Thomas, who’s ten years
old, who does a lot of these things with me ñ my own sense was that Thomas was really
developing a better image of his father, really looking up to me because, you know, I get
to, you know, go and do the pep talk before the football game. Well, this is what Thomas thinks of my own
efforts. [Laughter] Now, uh, you can see hereÖthis is Diego,
one of our great linebackers. He noticed it, and he thought it was very funny that Thomas
was doing that. I told Thomas after I saw this picture, I said, “Thomas, you know, I
might show this to students and some audience.” He said, “Dad! What about the reputation?”
And I said, “Oh, don’t worry, Thomas, I think my reputation will be fine if I show this
picture.” And he said, “No, not your reputation! My reputation!” Well, one of the things that we know about
aspirations is that you’ve got to have very high ones, and your aspirations should be
high from the very beginning. So every day that I’m here as president talking with all
of you as students, you should know that I’m constantly thinking about what I tell Thomas.
And, interestingly, the things that I’ve learned this year about the developing mind has actually
changed the way I talk to Thomas about things. Things we understand about the importance
of persistence; things we understand about not making conclusions too early about the
nature of a person’s talent. So, this is the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows.
And if you look at this particular really outstanding group of young people ñ Ben Campbell
down here on the left was a mentee of mine, and he is now off working on outcomes measurement
for global health in a group that’s led by a classmate of mine out in Seattle. Over on
the right, J.R. was a proud member of the Alpha Delta fraternity ñ AD ñ and now he’s
at law school. Next to him is Jessica Guthrie, who got one of the most coveted positions
now for-for graduates, so she’s doing Teach for America. Next to her is Matt Applegate,
who’s working on Wall Street. In the top left corner is Will Schpero. Will is now my Presidential
Fellow, and I want to thank him in this setting for doing a huge part of the research that
led to this particular talk. Now, the interesting thing is, as you talk
to the people who are selecting these young people, you might think that every single
one of the things that they’re doing have a completely different set of things they
were looking for. The striking thing was actually how similar they are. If you look at Teach
for America ñ Teach for America probably does this as well as anybody ñ they have
seven traits that they’re looking for. And not only do they have seven traits that they’re
looking for, they actually measure those traits in their applicants. Moreover, they follow
the development of those traits as you’re teaching in the schools; and if they find
that one or another of those traits are actually more correlated to success than the other,
then they re-weight those traits in looking at the next group of people who might be coming
in. So there is a lot of work being done these
days on looking for the kinds of traits, what I would call “habits of the mind.” Different
skill sets, of course, but habits of the mind more importantly in what they’re looking for
in individual people. So, what is a habit of the mind? The reason I was so attracted to this particular
way of thinking about skills, this particular way of thinking about the attributes of students,
is that they’ve now in psychology been working very hard to continually put a finer point.
It’s not just discipline or the ability to finish a task. The notion of persistence is
extremely important, and persistence now is the focus of a lot of different work. If you
have some time this summer, the popularization of the importance of persistence was written
by Malcolm Gladwell in a book called Outliers. Creativity, independence, empathy, managing
impulsivity, taking responsible risks, metacognition ñ thinking about thinking ñ there are more
of them; but with each of them, they’re trying to put a finer point on it. What is it? Can
it be studied? Are there underlying neurophysiological correlates of these qualities? This is a list of sixteen of them. I like
this particular list because it points out things that you wouldn’t think about. Look
at the one here on the top right, and I’ll read it for you: “Responding with wonderment
and awe.” Now you think is that just kind of a corny way of, of talking about the life
and skills? I actually think what they mean here is the, is the- is taking the anti-cynicism
pill. You know, cynicism has grown; we know that.
Young people are more cynical these days, and partly the reasons for that might be,
might be veryÖbut a lot of people agree that using different kinds of measures, young people
are a little bit more cynical. But here’s my experience with cynicism. You
know, Tracy Kidder, who wrote that great book about Paul Farmer that included some of the
work we did at Partners in Health. Tracy is one of the great writers living today. Tracy
followed us all over the world and listened to us tell him, “But, you know, Tracy we can
do this. We can change the way people treat MDR, drug-resistant TB. We can change the
way people think about HIV.” And he kept coming up with more or less cynical
ways of saying, “No, come on, that’s not possible. You can’tÖ how can you even think that that’s
possible?” After about a year of doing this, he looked
at me and he said, “Well, Jim, I guess what I realized is that cynicism is the last refuge
of the coward.” Responding with wonderment and awe to new
information I think is really important, but how do we think about it? It’s not just about
making you naÔve. It’s not making you react joyfully or artificially to different kinds
of information. I think that this is worth study. Cynicism is also probably correlated with
a part of the brain. We couldn’t find much literature on that; but what does that mean,
and what kinds of experiences would it shut you off to if you were overly cynical? Now, um, one of the things, uh, that-that
is important, then, with these habits of the mind is you have to ask ourselves questions.
Are the habits teachable? Are they critical for your lives? Why are these habits important
to me? And, you know, um, I’m taking a step and taking my own risk. I’m getting into areas
in which I’m not a specialist. I’m not a brain scientist. I’m not a social psychologist.
But this kind of information made a lot of sense to me as I thought about what I would
want to tell a group of sophomores in the sophomore summer. Finally, uh, this is the most important question.
This is a very important period in your lives. A lot of things come together in the sophomore
summer. Somebody explained to me the other day what the “X Factor” is and how it comes
together in the sophomore summer. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is you’re halfway through,
and you have a chance now to consciously think about the habits of your own mind and what
you can do to prepare yourself for great success in whatever you choose to do, whether it’s
graduate school, whether you want to write a dissertation on Shakespeare, or whether
you want to work in an investment bank. It’s just striking to me how many of these habits
are things that everybody looking to employ or, uh, admit graduates are looking for. SoÖvery interesting study. I’m actually not
quite sure where it was done, but the professors who did this study were all Dartmouth professors
when they did the study. I suspect this was Dartmouth students, although it’s not clear. What they did was they did MRIs before freshmen
started a school and then about six months and a year later. And, uh, these are complicated
diagrams. The point of the study ñ and the authors were Abigail Baird and her colleague,
who has left Dartmouth and is now at Vassar ñ but they were a very important group here.
And it’s just a small study of nineteen college freshmen beginning fall term and then six
months later and then a year later. What it showed was that there was a very significant
increase in what they called “voxel intensity,” and they go into depth about thinking about
what that means. Their conclusion is that these are white matter changes. So, you’re
actually changing the structure of your brain in a very short period of time. Their, uh,
conclusion was that young people with very much actively developing brains are exposed
to a completely different social context, and that social pressure ñ understanding
the new situation, uh, understanding how to deal with it ñ actually creates new neuronal
connections. So the point is, even at this stage, you are
actively making new neuronal connections, and it’s partly up to you to choose what kind
of connections you want to make. Now, hearing that there was this study going
on and that others had been studying brains through functional MRI, I volunteered; and
I said, “You know, if freshmen brains are changing that much, if first-year student
brains are changing that much in their exposure to Dartmouth College, maybe my brain will
change too.” So I talked to a person at Massachusetts Mental
Health Center who was a Dartmouth ’82 graduate, and so we decided to do a MRI of my brain
before coming to Dartmouth and after I got here. So this is my brain before coming to Dartmouth.
You can tellÖ there’s a um, -red is kind of indicative of stress ñ so you can tell
there’s kind of a deep, kind of a crimson hue to this brain prior to me coming to Dartmouth,
and this is the change over time. [Laughter]
So bleeding green is actually a physiological phenomenon that you can see. But, you know, one of the things that you
might ask of these kinds of studies is, surely, I mean, I’m sure we’ve gotten, we’ve advanced
a lot. But things like human empathy, those transcend human physiology. Those are, those
are parts of the human soul that you can’t study. Well, you know, in fact they are studying
them, and-and in fact, in this particular set of MRIs is very closely correlated to
notion that you can diagram, you can watch empathy, and you can see it happening on a
functional MRI in front of you. So this is a study from Jean Decety and colleagues
at the University of Washington that was done in 2004; and the subjects were given a series
of photographs where different things were happening to body parts, and some of them
very, very painful. The results showed that perceiving and assessing painful situations
in others was associated with significant bilateral changes in activity in several regions.
And there is ñ this is- this is a hotly debated topic ñ but there is this notion that when
you see others experiencing something like a painful situation, you actually reactivate
the part in your brain ñ you have a mirror impact ñ and that that’s actually the foundation
of empathy. So they’ve also studied this in monkeys, and
it turns out that neurons in monkeys fire not only when they themselves perform an action
but also when they watch another monkey do the same thing. So, it’s, uh, it’s just the
beginnings, but what it suggests to me is that we’re getting more and more and more
precise about finding the neurophysiological basis of things as seemingly, um, non-corporeal
ñ seemingly related to the soul ñ as empathy. Now, this is another study that looked at
male subjects aged 8 to 27 ñ this was done by Ellen Greimel and her associates at University
Hospital in Aachen, Germany ñ and it looked at changes over time of empathy centers. And
it’s a complicated study- suffice it to say that what it showed was that over time, your
ability to feel empathic can grow. Now why is it important to have your ability
to be empathic grow over time? Well, there’s a great group of ñ as you guys all know ñ
Psychology and Brain Science people here; and over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been
assisted quite a bit by people like David Bucci and Todd Heatherton, and this is from
a paper that Professor Heatherton is working on right now. Empathy is critical because we are fundamentally
social beings. Let me put it in terms of anthropology. You know, what we seem to see ñ twenty, thirty
thousand years back in the anthropological record ñ is that, uh, that the advantage
that human beings had is very likely to have been cooperation and, I think, moreover, empathy.
We have found the bones of very old people, that’s tens of thousands of years old, that
were clearly inflicted with an enormous handicap; but even in those days, when conditions were
very difficult, they kept this person alive for a very long time, didn’t just abandon
this person. I would argue that human beings’ ability to feel empathy is critical for many
things. Professor Heatherton talks about four components
of the social brain, and you all have it; and in order to be competent socially, you
need to have a sense of yourself. You need to have a theory of mind ñ meaning, you have
to understand that other people have their own mind and are developing independent observations
and evaluations of you. You need to use that information to detect threats, and you need
to be able to regulate and change your behavior in response. Now, I’ve had lots of people tell me that
empathy among young people is going down, and there are controversial studies that suggest
that the ability of our young people to feel empathy is going down with a curve that looks,
you know, very convincing, like that. In speaking with professors in the Psychology and Brain
Science Department, we know that this information is very, is very, um, controversial; and I
would argue that this information is also very much counter to my own experience. This was two of our people ñ Kimberly Gagnon
from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Kurt Rhynhart, also, Dr. Kurt Rhynhart from
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center ñ in Hinche, a small town outside of Haiti, where I’ve
been many times working on a Partners in Health project. You know, there’s no question that
there has been a tremendous growth in your ñ you students ñ compassion for others,
in my view. You’re interested in thinking about the lives of Africans. Somehow the closeness
that this community feels with disasters that are happening in far-off places, seems to
belie to me the notion that empathy is going down. But, I don’t think it’s enough just
to pat ourselves on the back by saying there’s a growth of interest in, you know, service,
and there’s a level- extraordinary interest in Teach for America, medical schools reporting
that people are interested in global ñ I don’t think that’s enough. And I think that it’s important to use your
empathy muscle every day. Now, let meÖis it possible to use your empathy muscle? Is
it something that you develop? Well, Professor Heatherton argues that there is a reserve
of the ability to feel empathy for others that you can actually develop over time. Now, I’ve had a unique and wonderful experience
of actually being trained how to do that, because as an anthropology grad student, you
do something called ethnography, participant-observation ethnography. The whole point of ethnography
is that you put yourself into a completely foreign situation, and you sit there and you
suspend all of your own assumptions about how the world works and what’s normal and
what’s reasonable, and you work and work and work to try to understand how that particular
group sees the world. As you write about it, that’s your thesis; that’s the work of anthropology. My belief is that every one of you has to
be, in some form, anthropologists. That’s the world you’re going out into. You’re going
out into a world where people have very different assumptions, and it happens here on campus
as well. We have done a lot of work to increase the
diversity of Dartmouth College, and we are one of the most diverse campuses around. But
it’s not going to help you if you only stay around the people who you’re comfortable with.
There is no question that having groups here on campus where you feel comfortable is really
important, but also ñ think of it this way ñ it’s not about just not hanging with your
people. It’s notÖthere’s nothing simple about it. It’s about finding ways to start here,
developing your empathy muscles which you’ll use for the rest of your life. And I would
argue that your empathy muscles can get flabby over time. So not only does empathy have a neurophysiological
correlate, I believe, with every fiber of my body, that you can develop it, and moreover,
that it’s critically important for you to develop it. Why? Well, this is a picture of me in Peru in 1994.
This was my second ethnographic experience; my first was to go back to Korea, learn a
language I had- I had forgotten completely after I came here at the age of five. I went
back to Peru and learned another language ñ Spanish. More than anything else, though, I wanted
to show you this picture to show that at one point in my life I actually did have hair.
[Audience: Laughter] And, ever since that time ñ this was 1994 ñ I worked very, very
hard to try to understand how Peruvian children in this case, but how Peruvians understood
drug-resistant tuberculosis, how Peruvians understood the nature of social organizations
and bureaucracies like the Peruvian Ministry of Health. Any of the higher-order things that we have
in this life ñ art; music, especially in the form of orchestras; universities and colleges
like Dartmouth College ñ have their foundation, I would argue, at least at some point in empathy.
All right? So, empathy is an important habit of the mind;
empathy is something that I think is teachable; empathy is something you have to work on developing
again and again forever; and empathy is critical to your success later in life. Taking another
person’s idea, judging it to be insufficient, and stating your own opinion is something
we teach you here, and it’s very important. You have to marry that skill with the ability
to, at any time, just stop and really try to experience the world from the shoes of
others; and, if you do it well, the little thing on your functional MRI is going to light
up brighter and brighter. Risk-taking. Risk-taking and managing impulsivity
are two very important habits of the mind, and it turns out that we now know a lot more
about the reward system for risk taking than ever before. And, this is a particular part
of theÖthere’s, there’s partÖthere’s light up in the frontal cortex, but there’s also
ñ in the middle of the brain there ñ is something called the nucleus accumbens. The
nucleus accumbens is really important in, in giving you a sense that you’re going to
get great reward from doing something. Now, that nucleus accumbens is regulated by
your prefrontal cortex, right? “Ah, man…I’m gonnaÖ” You know, if you, um,Ösexual excitement
lights up the nucleus accumbens. Food often lights up the nucleus accumbens. Thinking
that you’re going to reap huge financial reward ñ this has been studied; this is where this
study comes from ñ lights up the nucleus accumbens. What keeps it in, in check so that
you’re not always taking risks is the prefrontal cortex. Not surprisingly, if you look at nucleus accumbens
activity relative to orbital frontal cortexÖnow this is notÖthe orbital frontal context is
involved somewhat in, in impulsivity and the perception of reward. But what you can see
is, in the middle graphs in the gray, in adolescence, nucleus accumbens activity is relatively much
higher than prefrontal cortex, the orbital frontal cortex activity. All of this is to say that it seems that what
happens over time is that without the development of your prefrontal cortex, the ability to
think, to cognitively work through processes so that not only do you see the rush of the
possibility of great reward around any of these stimuli, but then you can also think
about: well, wait a minuteÖmaybe that’s not such a great idea after all. This is what you develop over time, and it,
and I would argue that this is one of the most important struggles that happen right
here on the Dartmouth College campus. Incidentally, alcohol tends to shut down your
prefrontal cortex, and alcohol tends to excite your nucleus accumbens. So things that you
think seem really cool and that will bring you great reward when you’re under the influence
of alcohol, are partly due to the fact that the relative control of these two centers
is shifted with alcohol. Now why am I saying this to you? Look. You
know, there are a lot, there’s a lot of risk taking that happens in the evenings under
the, under the influence of alcohol. When we say that taking responsible risks is important,
that’s not what I’m talking about. Right? This past spring, under the influence of alcohol,
one particular person jumped from the top stair in the basement of a fraternity and
landed on top of the pong table. The pong table broke and hit him in the head, knocked
him out and, in my view, almost killed him. Now, sitting at the top of the stair with
his prefrontal cortex wellÖsuppressed, he must have thought that it would be a great
idea to jump on top of that pong table. Right? Now, again, I don’t want to preach to you;
I’m not. I want you to know that this is what happens. I want you also to know that excessive
alcohol drinking actually makes you lose your, your uh, cells in that area of the brain that
is developing so rapidly here at Dartmouth College and is able to keep the nucleus accumbens
in check. Now, this is all good, well and good in terms
of the science; and in fact, I think you guys take a lot of great risks. You know, going
up into the mountains, and we’re about to, in a month or so, we’re going to be welcoming
the trippees. Those I think are really, really important risks. It’s really important to
take risks. And here’s what Jay Conger of Claremont McKenna College says about the importance
of taking responsible risks. I quote: “A leader builds trust in the goals and demonstrates
how these goals can be achieved. This is achieved through personal example, risk-taking, and
unconventional expertise. These qualities are made to appear extraordinary by the leaders,
demonstrating a total dedication and commitment to the cause and vision, and by engaging in
exemplary acts that are perceived by followers as involving great personal risk, cost, and
energy.” So I, I have experienced this ñ and I don’t
want to make this too much about me ñ but again, all I have, really, is my own experiences
to share with you, to try to, to convince you, that while, on the one hand you manage
impulsivity ñ let your prefrontal cortex work ñ you also know what it means to take
important risks that will benefit lots of different people. This is the 3 by 5 Initiative; some of you
have heard of it. It was my own involvement in the World Health Organization. What we
did was, we began thinking ñ this was in the summer of 2003. At that time, we knew
that about five million people needed treatment for HIV disease in developing countries. About
a hundred thousand people were on treatment. What we feared was that if we didn’t move
very, very quickly to treat people, we were going to have massive die-offs that would
profoundly affect the very core of many societies in southern Africa; and moreover, the argument
I kept making was, if we let all of these people die without even trying to treat them,
that act will morally define our generation. We will be known as the generation who did
have access to drugs, life-saving drugs, yet, because we thought it was too hard or too
complicated, we let millions of people die. So, when I got to the World Health Organization,
we thought about what we could do. I brought over a gentleman named Don Berwick. Some of
you who follow health care will know that he’s recently been named as the new head of
Medicare and Medicaid. I brought Don over to the World Health Organization and I said,
“Don, what do we need to do?” And he said, “You gotta set a target; you gotta set an
end date; and you gotta push, push, push to get people to react.” So, that, thereby became the 3 by 5 Initiative.
This was summer of 2003, and there had been a speech that the previous Director General
of WHO gave that said, “You know, about three million people should be on treatment by 2005.”
She said it in 2001, and she said it without really having a plan for getting there. So
we said, “Hey, the previous Director General already set the target. Let’s go after it.” And so we started this huge movement; talked
to everybody and said, “We gotta get to three million by 2005.” This was one of the most
controversial programs in the history of the World Health Organization. And what happened
was immediately everyone began talking about risk. I heard again and again and again, “Oh,
what are you doing? This is crazy; it’s so risky.” And I didn’t understand what was risky
about it. Nobody was on treatment; we wanted to set a goal; and we wanted to push the world
in a direction of saving lives. What they told me was, “The risk is, if it
fails, who will be blamed?” I said, “What do you mean?” “If it fails, somebody will be blamed, and
I don’t want to be blamed.” So I brashly said, “OK. If we fail, I’ll take
the blame. I’ll stand up and say it was my fault. You know, if we fail and I take the
blame, I suspect I’m going to be able to feed my children and do OK in life. It’s very important
to take this risk because it’s not about us; it’s about the people waiting for treatment.” So, the way it turned out was I actually did
end up taking the blame when we failed. We went from about 150,000 total, mostly in Brazil
ñ maybe a little bit more ñ about 50,000 on treatment in Africa ñ to 1.5 million people
on treatment by 2005. And I did what I said I’d do. I went on the air and I said, “I take
the blame.” You know, um, BBC did an interview and said, “Well, what do you say to those
people who didn’t get treatment?” I said, “Well, we apologize. We could have
worked harder. We could have done more. We apologize.” And so, I personally took the blame for everyone;
and when I came back to the office at the World Health Organization, everybody in the
office was furious at me, because by that time they had become convinced that no one
was at fault, that no one should take the blame, that this risk was a risk worth taking.
Look at the positive things that have happened. It turned out, though, that me actually taking
the blame was really good because everyone was ready to pounce on us and just attack
us for setting a target and missing the target; but because I went out and blamed myself before
anyone could do that, I started getting these notes from people all over the world saying,
“Hey, Jim, brilliant strategy. Take the blame before they can blame you.” [Laughter] Five and a half million people are on treatment
today, and we reached the target of three million by 2007; and so something that seemed
risky for me in the end was not risky at all, in my view. So doing things for others that
might then reflect negatively on you, because it was a risk for you, is a good thing. That
is something that is not just sort of looking at the possibility of great reward and letting
your nucleus accumbens take over, but it’s thinking hard about how to make the world
a better place. So, how does this translate to you? I would
argue that every single one of you are working with a theory of mind. In other words, you
have a sense of how smart you are, how smart other people are, whether you can get smarter,
what your capacity is; and I would argue that you have to think again about what your theory
of mind is. You have to really critically assess your own theory of mind, and here’s
an example. I just today was on the blog of Cal Newport,
Dartmouth Class of 2004, Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT; and he has written a lot
about success in college. He pointed me to ñ I didn’t know about this study before ñ
the work of Carol Dweck at Columbia University. She looked at, uh, the mindset of students
taking a General Chemistry class, and there were two kinds of students. One were the fixed-mindset
students who believed that their intelligence is just a fixed trait. They worry about how
clever they are. They don’t want to take on challenges and make mistakes. They don’t want
their own relative lack of, uh, intelligence to be exposed. The second one was a growth mindset, where
students think: No, it’s something that you can develop. And here’s the amazing thing: in Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, they found that the students who had the fixed-trait
mindset of how brains work did more, did poorly, compared to students who had the developing
framework, the notion that you can improve all the time. Moreover, they showed that when one of the
students got a bad grade, the ones who had the more fluid understanding of how people
can improve were able to respond with a better grade the next time. So on a very practical level ñ and this is
just the beginning ñ I-I want to stress that I’m just talking to you today about three
habits of the mind. Our working group on higher education ñ that’s going to become much larger
ñ we’re going to be working with everybody on campus. Bruce Sacerdote is here today;
has been one of our leaders. Tom Luxon is here in the audience today, another one of
our leaders. Tom is here, right? I thought I saw him- Yeah. We’reÖwe’re going to take, we’re going to
continue to take this further, and we want you guys to know about all of this. Who knew
that for General Chemistry the most important thing is to have the appropriate theory of
mind as you go into it? So, this is the beginning. We’re going to
keep, we’re going to continue to go, and, to go forward, and I want you to know that
I have a very clear, uh, motive behind doing this. Because I still believe in this, all
right? I talk about this all the time ñ people are sick of hearing me talk about it ñ but
I think that in the Convocation exercises in October of 1946, when John Sloan Dickey
said to the students, “The world’s troubles are your troublesÖbut since the troubles
of the world come from the hearts of men, there’s nothing wrong with the world that
better human beings cannot fix.” What we’re doing here is trying to build better
human beings, but it’s, a huge part of it is your responsibility. You have to be thinking,
in your own mind, these neural connections are being made all the time. Depending on
the inputs, depending on the stimuli, depending on the choices that I make, my mind is going
to develop in this way, or this way, or any other kinds of ways. You always have a chance to do it again. What
we’re finding is that neuroplasticity extends to very late in life. Exercise in people in
their seventies seems to create new neural connections even at that, uh, age. There was
an amazing study in the, um, that was done at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston
where they took eighty-year-olds through weight-training regimens that changed fundamentally their
ability to carry out the-the, uh activities of daily living. Now, I believe that that’s what we do here
at Dartmouth College. We are in the business of building the better human beings that can
take on the world’s troubles and make them better. But the really exciting thing for
me in studying with people like Tom and Bruce and Dave Bucci and Todd Heatherton is that,
not only is there a scientific basis to these ideas and feelings, but we can systematically
help you to develop those traits. You need to take your education into your
hands right now; this is the time to do it. How are you doing with those sixteen habits
of the mind? Put them on your wall. Think about it. Your theory of mind affects your
performance in chemistry class! It’s very, very important to get in the right frame of
mind, or an effective frame of mind for you, as you do it. You’ve got two years before you’re right here.
It’s plenty of time to develop habits of the mind. You’re at the height of possibility
in terms of developing great habits of the mind. This is the time when neuronal connections
are being remade and remade, made and remade with great speed. You come here with great attributes. One of
the professors pointed out to me that often you have people with different kinds of characteristics;
you have one group with great analytic skills, and you have another group with great empathic
skills. Well, we’re lucky here at Dartmouth because we get to choose the ones who have
both. You guys come in here, for the most part, with both of those skills, both of those
traits. This is a really strong foundation. You all have a very strong foundation from
which to build. You can build empathy muscles, persistence
muscles, responding-with-wonderment-and-awe muscles; but you have to work at it every
day, and it’s worthwhile, and it never is going to end. You’ll have to do this for the
rest of your life. You know, I came here, stopped doing my work
in developing countries because I truly believed that by coming here and helping you develop
your habits of the mind, that we together would have a much greater impact on the world
that I ever could alone, or even with the small group that I worked with. Never forget the great words of Margaret Mead,
a famous anthropologist who, who passed away some years ago. She said, “Never doubt that
a small group of thoughtful, committed souls can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only
thing that ever has.” The faculty and I am with you every step of
the way to help you develop those habits of the mind that will allow you to take on the
world in whatever way you want; and as you know, I’m willing to do just about anything
to help you accomplish your goals. Thank you. [Applause] Carl Folt: I need to make an announcement
that I should have made at the start and that is- that if, hopefully, you have lots of questions,
if you would just fill out your note cards and pass them to the side, they’ll be transmitting
them to me up here to me on this iPad so that I can ask them to President Kim. We al- we
already have some of them. There will also be a broadcast of the lecture online, uh,
for people who would like to see it, and, um, we’re going to try to get to a number
of the questions in the time that we have. We’re also going to be looking, as Jim said,
to all of you to ways to really expand this lecture series, bring this kind of richness
throughout the year and to the sophomore summer. A number of students are already having dinner
tonight with quite a few faculty to talk about this so we’re really going to be looking to
you for your input, so put those kind of suggestions forward, as well. So, I’ll start with one
question, Jim. You talked about habits of the mind and I loved your example of as an
anthropologist learning empathy; that was really wonderfully vivid. And, I think you
talked about habits of the mind, risk taking as a doctor. As president, what habits of
the mind do you feel are particularly important or that you have been intentionally focusing
on? President Kim: I think the list of habits
of the mind for a president is about 25,000 and not just 16. You know, um, I think one
of the things that happens in, uh, institutions of higher education is that we tend to become
very conservative, especially because we have the greatest product on the face of the earth.
There is no question in my mind that the American college and university system is, by far,
the best in the world. So it is hard to tackle something like the
great, you know, 240-year-old institution of Dartmouth and talk about we need to take
some risks, we need to think about how we can make ourselves even better. But, you know,
the ability to withstand criticism, when you- to persist, in the face of criticism over
a kind of risk taking that I think is really important is, is maybe what I found is one
of the most important, but, but they’re all important. The anti-cynicism pill; all of
those, managing impulsivity. All those things are extremely important every day. And that’s
the point, the point is the point is it is not as if we have mastered them all and we
are telling the sophomores that they have to start on the process. Every single one
of us looks at these 16 traits and says, “oh my goodness, I need some work in some of those
areas,” and I feel the same way. I-I think the worse mistake I can make is
just to tell you about developing your habits of the mind and not working on it myself.
I think we all, um, have work to do. And for me, I am an incessant optimist in the sense
that I just believe in the improvability of human beings and the human condition. That’s why I keep showing you that John Sloan
Dickey comment all the time. That’s-that’s what you are here for and that’s what we are
here to help you do. Carol Folt: Optimism has to be a really important
habit of the mind- President Kim: Well, let me-let me go further,
Carol. I would say this. You know, one of the discussions I had with, uh, Tracy Kidder.
Tracy kept saying you, you know, guys are so optimistic and every piece of evidence
suggests that you should be pessimistic. People are poor, people are dying of hunger and-and
yet, you guys are optimistic about what you can do. One of the things I said to him, and
I don’t know how it quite fits in, but it-it rang true to me at the time and it rings true
to me now, and I just sort of said it to him. Was that, you know, when you are dealing with
really terrible situations with the poorest people on the planet, optimism is not the
result of rational decision making, optimism is a moral choice. Because if you’re in a
place like Haiti and everything is falling down around you and you chose to be pessimistic,
outcomes will be very bad for the people you work with. Now you know, it’s not to say you
should be wildly optimistic without being critical. The Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci,
used to talk about a, uh, um a pessimism of the intellect but an optimism of the spirit,
so that’s precisely the combination you need at a place like Dartmouth College. It’s not
hard though, I tell you, to be optimistic when you get to hang out with Dartmouth students
every day, I meant that- you know, you guys are a constant source of optimism for me. Carol Folt: What responsible risks should
we, as students, be taking? President Kim: Well, the most important risk
is to really put yourself outside of your comfort zone. And, um, you know one of the
things I was, uh, talking about just today with Professor Heatherton is that sometimes,
of the four qualities, the third one is the ability to understand threat. Sometimes students
that quality is heightened overly. You think that if you have a bad hair day, was the example
that everyone will notice. If you do something a little bit different from other people,
that other people will notice. I think it’s really important to do things like take courses
outside of your comfort zone. One of the areas that I have been looking
at with Brian Kennedy and Jeff James of uh-of, you know, here in the Hopkins Center and Brian
of the Hood Museum, is the importance of the Arts in developing intellectual capacity.
I- When I looked at that information, I was blown away. For example, learning to play
the piano when you’re four is correlated with being better at conflict resolution when you’re
six. There are parts of your brain that light up simultaneously when you’re listening to
music that don’t light up simultaneously in-in other situations. So there’s something about
the Arts that’s really important. You know, for me, one of the things that I’ve
been intending to do and I-I am still intending to do it, is to, uh, begin exploring music
and art more myself, personally. I never did. I thought that the ability to draw was a fixed
trait. I tell you I thought that up until last year, when I saw people who were in a-a
drawing class for the very first time do beautiful work. So for the sake of your mind, take the
kinds of risks that put you into uncomfortable areas, that put you into areas that really
make you, and you can almost feel your neurons being remade. Those are great risks. Taking
risks that just seem to be exhilarating, especially under the influence of alcohol, I’d say, avoid
those risks. Carol Folt: Jim, related to what you just
said you, I-I, you know, bringing out the things you’ve been thinking about the arts,
uh, somebody writes how do you think the Humanities will be important in, uh, developing habits
of the mind? President Kim: Uh, you know, one of the things
I thought about is, what if we were to study the evolution of empathy during the process
of say taking a course in literature? I mean, so much of literature is about human empathy.
So much of-of uh literature is about getting deeply into the mindsets of these characters.
So that I think it happens everyday in the Humanities. That developing those habits of
the mind are critical. We just had a discussion today; um, Win Thompson is here today from
the American University of Kuwait. And I was telling him that there are universities in
Korea that have eliminated their Humanities because they think they need to focus on,
uh, on training the technocrats of the future. And in my discussions with Korean leaders,
I have said that is exactly the opposite of what they want to do. That where Korea is
now, economically, is that they have got to start being creative, they are not going to
make their, uh, future by copying other technologies and selling them more inexpensively. They
now have to come up with the new ideas, the cultural production and, to me, studying the
Humanities and the Arts is absolutely critical. You can map many of these traits, uh, habits
of the mind, onto the coursework that we are already doing, especially in the Humanities
and Arts, others as well, but especially, I think, in courses in the Humanities. Carol Folt: Okay, here’s a very serious one.
Between now and 19- Between now and 1994 what habits of the mind influenced- or were- or,
uh, caused something to happen to your hair? [Laughter] Can’t quite get that one. President Kim: If-if you can figure that one
out, you have a very bright future in- in the pharmaceutical industry. Yeah, yeah. Carol Folt: Okay, we’ll move on from that.
Um, This is a serious one, too. What do you believe the net effect of the Greek system
on- is on our campus empathy muscles? President Kim: Yeah. You know, I-I’m not in
the basements on Friday and Saturday nights, I don’t know what happens there. Um, I meet
with members of the Greek system all the time though and I hear them talk to me about how,
um, deep the connections they make among the brothers and sisters in the Greek system.
So I think it’s mixed, I think we have to be honest about it and say it’s mixed. I think
the, uh, closeness that people feel to people you get to know so well from your- the beginning
of your sophomore year, really, on as fraternity brothers and sorority sisters is tremendous.
And I think having those relationships for the rest of your life is really important.
But, I have then also heard, especially from women who’ve been in fraternity basements,
who say that a, um, a lack of empathy and a lack of respect sometimes is part of what
we see in those basements in the evening. And I would just invite all of the students
to think about that as we go forward. You know we make, and remake our campus all the
time and, uh, I-I what I can tell you is that instances when everyone knows that you are
letting your empathy muscles go flabby are not good. What are we going to do to step
in and-and change that formula? I don’t know, I can’t legislate it, I can’t dictate to you
what we are going to do. I can just tell you that if you let things happen that are obviously
a choice not to exercise your empathy muscle, they’re getting flabby and that’s going to
hurt you in the future. Carol Folt: Jim here’s one: Is humor an important
habit of the mind? President Kim: Absolutely, finding humor is
one of the 16 habits of the mind and, uh, I think it is really, really important. You
know one of the things that um-, I mean I- I have to say I get such a kick out of- out
of the humor that breaks, um, out on campus. The greatest comedians of all time are always
said to be the most brilliant people. It takes a really great mind to find humor in, uh,
ways that are compelling. I think it is really important. I think also laughter is incredibly
therapeutic. So, um, finding humor is terribly important. Carol Folt: There are quite a few here about
should we really thinking about implementing this on campus and so, people are asking things
like: how do you imagine we can put this into action in our courses? How can students who
are so busy doing so many other things learn to add in a-a thoughtful way of adding habits
of the mind? Or how can we actually support students in strengthening these habits? So,
what are your general thoughts about bringing this to campus? President Kim: You know, Carol, I don’t know,
and I think you know much better than I. I’m not sure, but I know that our own faculty
have a lot of great- every time I talk to faculty members about habits of the mind,
I hear things, we really work on this and this, and you know I have never really thought
of it in those terms. But isn’t it interesting that we are finding the neurophysiologic correlates
of things that we’re actually already doing? So, I don’t think that it’s a question of
saying we don’t do any of this and we’ve got to start. That is not the point at all, the
point is we do it, uh, we do it every day. This is why we are the number-one undergraduate
education in the United States. UmÖ no applause for that? [Applause] U.S. News and World Report
gets it wrong all the time with Dartmouth, this time they got it right, so we have to
give them- we have to give them their due. Well so, the point is we do it all the time
and I- I would argue that we already are developing habits of the mind, uh, better than anybody
else, that’s- that’s what I feel gives us our number-one ranking. But can we do it better? I think so, I think
if we’re intentional about it. I think maybe as you go into general Chemistry class, maybe
the first lecture is about the study and about the theory of the mind impacts the way you’re
going to do in Chemistry class. I am not sure what it is, but I have great faith that we
will figure it out. The strategic planning process we are going
through right now is going to be partly focused on figuring out how to do it. I would like to tell the rest of the world
that not- when you come to Dartmouth- that not only do you get the number-one undergraduate
education, not only do you learn everything from, um, Shakespeare to, uh, Physics, but
we are also everyday thinking about how to instill in our young people habits of the
mind that we know to be important for anything that they want to do going forward. Carol Folt: So, I’m going to ask two more.
Um, and I’m also going to encourage people to keep sending in questions because these
will really help us as we go forward and think about incorporating habits of the mind in
curriculum and other conversations. So, don’t stop sending them. But, here’s a questions
about another John, not John Sloane Dickey, but this time it’s John Ledyard. Let me just
see. Uh, it says: What do you think John Ledyard would do if you told him he could not swim
in the river? [Laughter] Carol Folt: But, you don’t have to answer
that exactly! President Kim: So, so let me tell you exactly
what I think. I-I didn’t know John Ledyard, I-I heard he was a great guy. But, this is
all about using both your pre-frontal cortex and trying to keep it in check as you think
about things like the Connecticut River. Look, I- you know, um, I’ve said to you many, many
times, I can’t legislate behavior. But what we did was, we did a very rigorous study.
I-I called Jim Wright- I talked to Jim Wright about this- we did a very rigorous study of
what happens in the Connecticut River. And here’s what we found out: 1) the current in
the Connecticut River changes all the time and from second to second because as they
open and close the docks, 2) there is debris in the Connecticut River that flows past at
very unpredictable times, especially at times when the open and close the docks. The, uh,
water off the edge of the Connecticut River is murky and very deep. Having lifeguards, this is what we were told,
having lifeguards on the deck is really an illusion because if you go down we can’t find
you, especially if the river is flowing. So, the choice that we had to make was do we put
lifeguards out there and pretend as if we can save people if something bad happens.
Or do we make a statement, and again, as a public health person, I have got to listen
to experts and listen to the research or just be honest with you and say, look, it is not
safe to-to swim there. You don’t know when the docks are going to be opened and closed;
you don’t know when debris is going to fall down and if you are swimming under water and
something hits you, we can’t save you. Now what I also said though, was I understand
very much the desire to swim in the Connecticut, I understand that, so we’re starting a process
now, and- what I- what I told our team was, “let’s look everywhere.” You know, what about
land locked countries in, uh, Europe? They must have figured out some way of making rivers
safe to swim in. So what I can promise you is that for next year is we are going to scour
the globe to try to find some way to make it safe so that you can swim in the Connecticut
River. But, you know, maybe this is the downside
of having a doctor and a public health person as your president. I look at the data and
then I have to make a judgment based on whether I think it is safe for you and-and the judgment
in our view was, uh, was absolutely overwhelming. We couldn’t put a system out there pretending
it was safe when we knew it wasn’t. That’s the answer to that question, sorry about that.
And it’s hard to find humor in that, I’ll-I’ll tell you. [Laughter] Carol Folt: I’m going to end with one that
is a really wonderful question. Do you think Hanover is a bubble? I sometimes have trouble
thinking about the world’s troubles as my own because I feel I am not connected in the
world. President Kim: Yeah, so that’s your task.
Hanover’s not a bubble. It- it doesn’t have to be a bubble. You know, I think, when I
talk to people about what was the greatest thing about the Great Issues class? You all
know this is about us trying to reinvigorate the Great Issues class, um, most people say
to me, “well it taught us about bias in the media.” Now, back in those days very few newspapers
came to Hanover and so one of the projects for people in the Great Issues class was to
follow an issue over the course of the year. They read The Daily Worker, they read The
New York Times, and they read The Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune was conservative,
The Daily Worker, of course, was very liberal and The New York Times was somewhere in the
middle. And, I’m told again and again by alums that bias in the media was a great lesson
for Great Issues. Now, I don’t think that’s something that is
unknown to students today, students today have access to so much information all over
the world, you know, up to the minute, YouTube videos. I think there is the sense that there
are just a lot of different perspectives and you don’t quite know which one is true or
not true. I think students have that already, but then that’s the separate question. You’re not living in a bubble in a sense that
you have access to the outside world all the time. But what do we do with it? How do we
make us of that? You know, getting out of here, having different kinds of experiences
is really important, but everyday right here, we can demonstrate that we are not living
in a bubble. You know in Haiti, they know about Dartmouth,
Dartmouth students raised more money for Haiti relief than any other group of students in
the country. We’ve had- [Applause] You know, our- our doctors and nurses were
on the ground within 72 hours after the earthquake, it took other organizations weeks to get set
up. So we reached out from the bubble with an act of compassion that is remembered to
this day by those in Haiti and others people who watched. So, it’s not a bubble because
of physical location anymore, it’s a choice that we make of whether sitting here in Hanover,
New Hampshire with all the great things we that have whether we allow it to be a bubble
or not, so I think it’s up to us. Carol Folt: Well, thank you, everybody and
thank you, Jim. President Kim: Thank you. Thank you.


  1. I found this while searching for the Dartmouth 5 Wall Worksheet with no success.
    I couldn't stop watching this guy. He's such a compelling speaker.

  2. Instead of critizising you could inspire young people .I neither know your profection nor you.I mean no disrespect,but this sounds to me as what a control freak would say.Plus,"young people" is vague and unspesific

  3. It is so refreshing to hear a university president speak with such interdisciplinary perspectives! "Optimism is a moral choice" is one of the greatest things I have ever heard, especially when it leaves room for a pessimism of the intellect. Sticking to notions of what is or isn't plausible in terms of changing the world is what has been paralyzing our generation (probably the best educated yet in the history of the world) from improving circumstances. Everyone should see this!

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