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Howard Gardner
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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

The Essential Assist

As is sometimes the case, I don't quite agree with the framing of the question. Apparently, Pres. Obama did not want to revisit the Gates-Crowley affair after his "stupidly" remark at the press conference. It was Michelle Obama and, I would guess, Valerie Jarrett who said to him, in effect, "You made this worse, now make it better."

From that point on, everyone behaved himself properly and the situation was rescued as much as it could be. So it is Pres. Obama's advisers who get the leadership award, or at least the "essential assist." As for the actual summit, we don't know what happened -- it was basically a photo op for the media. Only subsequent events will reveal whether there is a net positive, negative, or neutral outcome from this series of events.

This affair is one where "everything has already been said, but it has not yet been said by everybody." I would like to make one observation which was helpful to my own thinking. The affair is one that is elucidated by two of Malcolm Gladwell's books. Outliers tells us how, with thousands of hours of practice, one can become an expert. Crowley has expertise in being an effective police officer; Gates has expertise in transcending racial boundaries; Obama has expertise in reconciling opposing points of views and parties.

Yet in this case each of the participants relinquished his hard-won expertise to the Blink phenomenon. That is, each behaved on the basis of impulse, not of expertise: Gates, getting angry at a possible racial categorization by a "rogue cop"; Crowley getting angry at an uncooperative person at a time when a break-in was on his mind; Obama adopting a stereotype of overzealous cops. With the benefit of time and hindsight, each was able to block the "Blink" instinct and re-establish an area of expertise.

By Howard Gardner

 |  August 3, 2009; 12:53 PM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It's a police thing. When a cop feels his authority challenged, he can fall back on a murky 'disorderly conduct' charge to reassert it. Of course it gets kicked in court; there's no validity to it. The cop knew that going in. He was transparently in the wrong, and that's why you keep hearing about how threatened police officers feel in the execution of their duties -- they've got no other justification.

It's Crawley that should have been apologizing. His actions diminish the very authority he needs.

Posted by: Samson151 | August 4, 2009 11:07 AM
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"ttp://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/28779/

The photo that shows all one needs to know about Sgt. Crowley, and Barak Obama."

I agree. It shows that Sgt. Crowley (and hopefully. Prof. Gates) are moving forward from the incident, and Pres. Obama is wisely allowing the parties to reconcile without trying to hog the spotlight.

This is an example of what a good politician does - help others to reconcile differing views and step forward (in this case, literally).

Posted by: iamweaver | August 4, 2009 10:07 AM
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as a chinese student, this is the first time i read a english newspaper.
so amazing

Posted by: xiaoqian317 | August 4, 2009 7:13 AM
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http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/28779/

The photo that shows all one needs to know about Sgt. Crowley, and Barak Obama.

Posted by: mharwick | August 4, 2009 6:57 AM
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Sgt. Crowley was a supurb gentleman and Gates tried to smooth things over with his condesending joke about assisting Crowley's children to get into Harvard. Perhaps Crowley's children don't need assistance to get into a school run by the liberal elitists.
Obama first spoke out in a fashion unbecoming any president. He had no facts and he maligned the officers of the Cambridge Police Department. He then realized his blunder but tried to put a spin on it. Then when the firestorm would not end he did his usual performance. He did not apologize to the police department which shows what arrogance and narcissism combined does to one's judgment. A photo of Crowley helping Gates with his cane down steps at the White House shows Obama unconcerned and walking ahead. That photo is worth a thousand words about Obama's empty shell.

Posted by: mharwick | August 4, 2009 6:51 AM
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Man i wish the MSM would stick to facts and not convoluted diatribes that dodge the truth.

Fact: the witness says she never talked to Crowley at the scene. Crowley lies in his report that she told him she saw two black men with backpacks enter the house.

Fact: Gates was a jerk. He did not initially show his id. Fact: In the end presented id with his address on it. Crowley's dispatch tapes attest to this.At this point Crowley should have seen no crime had occured and left.

Fact: Gates never threatened any violence to himself or Crowley. Fact: Gates is 58 and walks with a cane.

Fact: Yelling at a cop is not a crime. Fact: Cops are paid(by taxpayers, black white and blue) and sworn to protect and serve.

Fact: Gates was arrested even though he committed no crime

Fact: Charges dropped, because no crime was committed...

Except false arrest.

Posted by: vernyuy | August 4, 2009 2:55 AM
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You SUSPECT it was Michelle and Jarrett who said WHAT to the President?

You suspect. You suspect what else? My God, what idiocy.


Posted by: kindfrazier | August 3, 2009 10:10 PM
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"So it is Pres. Obama's advisers who get the leadership award, or at least the 'essential assist.'"

Yes and no - I think Obama showed good leadership skills in that he listened to his advisers and (I hope) recognized they were right. Poor leadership would have been tearing ahead full steam without considering the advice his subordinates offer.

I find the idea of the "Blink" moment interesting though... When talking to prison inmates, we (our ministry team) usually talks about "reacting versus responding" and stressing the cognitive input from a response. We usually talk about "avoiding" "expertise" :).

Posted by: iamweaver | August 3, 2009 9:02 PM
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This is "scholarship" with the depth of a birdbath, certainly not worthy of a "Professor of Cognition."

This is today's Harvard? OMG.

Posted by: subscriptionsinbox | August 3, 2009 6:16 PM
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What amazes me is that Obama got away with throwing out his "teachable moment" comment for people to ponder over. I don't call that leadership. I call that being shrewd and political. He was briefed about the incident and he chose to address it, knowing there would be a negative reaction. I know he is still laughing about having the ability to say just a few words to distract people and then watch them run with it. That beer fest looked so absolutely fake. And he had to know those two men would show up in a suit, yet he and Biden sat there in their white shirts and trousers. I'm sure there is a message there, just not sure what it was. What I'm sure of is that his advisers should not get a leadership award. There was no leadership involved in this incident.

Posted by: mafox1 | August 3, 2009 5:10 PM
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So, I wonder Professor Gardner, what kind of social leader can overrule that "Blink" instinct? I've seen social entrepreneurs, with passion for their objective, contain the instinct, usually with a healthy measure of humor.

Posted by: teresaPaloAlto | August 3, 2009 3:25 PM
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