Influential Authors in My Life

Who have been the most influential authors in my life in recent years? It was a question I pondered while reading in a coffee shop on Nimman today. Four quickly came to mind. Here they are with the books I’ve read that got them on this list:

Robert Kegan: The Evolving Self (1982), In Over Our Heads (1998), How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work (2002), Immunity to Change (2009).

Fortunate to take his course at HGSE, Bob Kegan and his theory of adult development has had a profound influence on my life. Based on Constructive Developmental Theory (CDT), Kegan has developed a compelling and engaging way of looking at the way humans develop through adulthood. He observes that we construct meaning on a developmental scale, from less complex to more complex meaning making. And this complexity lies in our ability to take that which is subject to us (perceptions, emotions, viewpoints) and make it object; to get off the dance floor and look down from the balcony above. In my life, Kegan’s theory and books have helped me to “get on the balcony,” be an active participant in my own development, and embrace the complex situations of life and work abroad. I am also keenly interested in applying lessons from Kegan and CDT to my international classrooms at Payap.

Bill Robinson: Incarnate Leadership (2009), Leading People from the Middle (2010).

Somewhat of a no-brainer for me, Bill Robinson’s books have been influential for me because I am also so well-acquainted with the man behind the words. Having known Bill well while at Whitworth, I can hear his voice clearly in his writing. He embodies the lessons he writes about, which adds a certain gravitas to his books. The biggest takeaways for me in my life as a leader at Payap have been to love those I lead, live and be among them, live transparently and honestly, and seek to grow personally while empowering others to do the same.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Freedom From Fear (2005), Letters from Burma (2010), Voice of Hope (1997).

Her essays In Quest for Democracy and Freedom From Fear have the quintessential tone and content of a leader with integrity. She is both 100% gentle, calm, and peaceful and 100% fiery and tenacious. Her biography by Justin Wintle, Perfect Hostage, is also a great account of her life as Myanmar’s anchor and proponent for democracy and human rights. She spent 15 years over a 21-year time period under house arrest as she advocated for basic freedoms and rights amidst a brutal ruling regime. She’s been influential to me through her unrelenting courage to stand up to injustice and face her own deepest fears.

Parker Palmer: A Hidden Wholeness (2009), Let Your Life Speak (1999), The Heart of Higher Education (2010), To Know As We Are Known (1993).

Parker Palmer has been my favorite author since 2008 when I first read an essay of his called Leading from Within, which is also one of the chapters in Let Your Life Speak. I’m consistently refreshed, encouraged, and challenged to new depths by his voice. He’s a misfit of sorts, which I relate with. Part educator and academic, part activist, part spiritual writer and retreat leader – Palmer is a man with diverse interests and abilities which give him clarity as he embraces life’s deepest issues.

Honorable mentions include Sharon Daloz Parks, Jonathan Haidt, James Fowler, Gandhi,  and as of late, Martha Nussbaum.

What about you?


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One Response to Influential Authors in My Life

  1. Nathan says:

    Hey Ozzie,
    That looks like a good line-up. Thanks for the reviews… here are some of my own.

    The most recent author I’ve been influenced by is Robert M.W. Dixon. He has been studying Australian languages since the 1960s, and more recently he’s done work in Fiji and the Amazon. He’s been the head of several linguistics departments in Australia, and recently he and his assistant director left their institution for a smaller one because they didn’t like the direction the university was going. Two good books he wrote are Basic Linguistic Theory vol. 1: Methodology (2010), and Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker (1984). I like how he is personal and opinionated in his writing, and not afraid to give citations for people who have made mistakes. He also tries to get the reader excited about fieldwork, saying that that’s the only place real linguistics is learned. He includes a reading list of both modern books and classic ones, to show that we can learn from old things, too (like himself!). He criticizes missionaries, sometimes, but that’s ok as long as we can appreciate our differing goals and learn from the criticism.

    A second author that has stayed with me since 2008 is Jonathan Spence, in his book To Change China: Western Advisors in China, 1620-1960 (1969). Spence tells about the lives of missionaries, teachers, translators, doctors, and military advisors as they tried to help China convert and modernize. Many of the frustrations that they experienced also ring true with me. And he shows how the Chinese people viewed the advisors, how each had their own goals, and how often the advisors were the ones who were changed when they came to change China.

    A third one could be Michael West, in Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances (1960). He was an English teacher in India since the 1930s, and he’s uncommonly honest about the difficulties of teaching in hot weather, substandard classrooms, and with unmotivated students. So he gives advice on every part of the teaching process, explaining everything from how to do group activities in a too-large class, to how to make a storybook. I appreciate his candor and innovation.

    Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). I think I found this author as I was searching for blacks who opposed the New Deal. Be that as it may, I appreciate her work not so much for its place in the “canon”, but for her exuberance in writing. The essay “How it feels to be colored me” gives an idea of her confidence in not needing help from guilt-ridden whites and her feeling that in the stuff of our lives, we are all just human. But in Their Eyes Were Watching God, she has a full-fledged novel that alternates between poetic description and colorful dialect. I like the combination, and I like her determined description showing that good or bad, life goes on and we have to make the best of it.

    Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? (2012). Driscoll is the pastor of a mega-church in Seattle. (My family goes to the Portland branch, so they sent me a copy.) This book is essentially a commentary on Ephesians, filtered through the idea of finding our “true identity in Christ”. It’s helpful how he quotes the entire book of Ephesians in the chapter headings, and how he translates it into modern situations and concepts, somehow bridging theology, history, psychology, and life.

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