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Below you will find a list and brief descriptions of the six workshops that I conducted for Elder Week, 2008, held at DCCC.  
 

If we're so wonderful, why don't they like us?: America and Americans seen from abroad, and what we can do to re-build bridges

To my amazement, I receive more invitations from groups and organizations in the area for my presentation “If  we are so wonderful, why don’t they like us? America and Americans as seen from abroad,” than for any other topic, and every time I wonder what I can say and do to create a lively, thoughtful discussion without offending anyone.  Every single time, women and men of all socio-economic and political backgrounds have responded very positively and participated actively in the discussion of a very sensitive subject, especially since Sept. 11, and even more so now with the US economy going into a recession.  The workshop presents hard facts and strongly held views by well-known writers about those in power in Washington, DC, and the result of their politics on this country, financially and psychologically, not to mention the many problems we are now facing worldwide.  Example: “We have lost this war [in Iraq . . . We have not stymied Islamist terror.  We have not constructed a democratic model for the Middle East” (Andrew Sullivan, Dec. 17, 2007).
 
However, I also present voices that have not given up hope, in spite of deeply troubling concerns, such as the recent New Year’s editorial of the New York Times: "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. . . .  We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably.  Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America."  I always end the program with an exercise that asks, “If you were president, what would you do to re-build bridges?”  And upon hearing their comments, I often ask myself why those  thoughtful and even wise participants did not run for president in the past.  We would live in a less troubled world.
I journal--therefore I am: From the cave paintings of Lascaux via Columbus' diaries and modern journals to Internet blogs

“For centuries and in many diverse cultures, journals have been kept by peasants and princes for a variety of purposes. For some, journals were tools for recording scientific observations, questions, and data. For others, journal writing was a way to record important cultural events, religious experiences, societal developments, or political protest.  Still some used journals as a vehicle for self-analysis and introspection” (Jill Torrey Emmons, “A History of Journal Writing,” 2007). 
 
After presenting a short history of journal writing, I then shared some excerpts from journals of discovery that include powerful scientific, artistic, and philosophical insights (like Leonardo da Vinci) all the way to the latest news and political revelations and diatribes (on DailyKos.com), while also presenting samples from famous diarists (like Anne Frank) and more infamous chroniclers of events (like Lee Harvey Oswald).  To build upon these examples, the participants of Elder Week 2008 then wrote and shared excerpts from a journal that they began writing near the end of the workshop.  To encourage their success in the future, I introduced the participants to some practical tips on the DO's and DON'Ts of journal writing:
 
Example: Avoid traps like making journal writing into a chore and using journal writing for problems and not for solutions. Instead, focus on developing a centering ritual, and write because you want to write, not because you have to.  Create a positive feedback loop, learn from your own experiences, and remember that a journal is more than a diary.  It’s your life, your story.

What American are not supposed to read: A review of some of the best literary works, all challenged, censored, or banned

"Book burning is the practice of ceremoniously destroying by fire one or more copies of a book or other written material, [incl. records, videos, and CDs which are also ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded].  The practice, usually carried out in public, is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material.  Books can be also destroyed in secret, like millions of books in the former Soviet Eastern Bloc" (Wikipedia.org). 
 
For this Elder Week 2008 workshop, I presented a history of literary and artistic censorship as carried out in different cultures and societies, from the ancient Chinese via the book burnings during the Third Reich, all the way up to the challenging of books and other forms of art that occur in the United States and around the globe to this day.   
 
In order to show the wide range of societies throughout history that censored and/or destroyed art, and the materials they banned, I presented a PowerPoint documentation called "International Censorship: Banned books and art, forbidden films and plays, and suppressed documents and ideas throughout history."  Click here to view this multimedia presentation.    
One of the driving forces for the annual "Banned Book Week," sponsored by the American Library Association and other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, is the awareness that freedom must be nurtured, even if it is painful at times.  Judy Blume expressed this concern, but also her hope for the future, when she wrote: “It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me.  It is the books that will never be written.  The books that will never be read.  And all due to the fear of censorship.  As always, young readers will be the real losers.”  

We are what we say: The influence of language on our professional and personal lives

For this Elder Week workshop, I used a different approach.  Instead of giving an overview into the research on how language influences our lives, I focused on specific questions to guide the audience through a process of self-discovery, based on their own experiences.  I covered the following topics: 
 
(1) mutual respect and honesty in one’s communication; (2) different levels and tones of voice dependent on one’s target audience; (3) effective, ethical, and results-oriented communication; (4) gossip and things people say behind each other’s back; (5) humor which often hides deeply seated pain; (6) derogatory terms for women, men, and a wide-range of minorities; (7) “us” versus “them” thinking; (8) and activating language to use words more caringly and thoughtfully to empower oneself and others equally.
 
I appreciated the fact that many participants openly shared experiences that they had to endure, and found it encouraging that many of the Seniors were willing to share practical solutions so that if they were to get into a similar situation in the future, they would know how to turn these negative situations into positive experiences for both partners involved in the communication process.
 
Respecting other viewpoints: How to live and work with difficult people

As part of the Elder Week 2008 series, I conducted my interactive workshop, "How to deal with difficult people," which I have based on the “win-win” philosophy and tailored to specific needs of the target audience.  The workshop utilized effective communication and conflict resolution techniques to encourage all participants to look at themselves honestly, learn to communicate more effectively, and respect other viewpoints without wanting to change people—working toward more functional professional and personal relationships.
 
I designed the program to work toward six learning outcomes, tailored to encourage all participants to (1) reconsider their views on "difficult people"; (2) recognize that we are all part of that group of people who may be considered "difficult" by some or many others; (3) find ways of speaking with authenticity and clarity; (4) follow the win-win philosophy; (5) listen to each other, even when someone appears unreasonable; and (6) move beyond any barriers when communicating with people who may appear to act, think, and feel differently from us.
 
Don't blow your nose in Japan: International communication for travelers

While traveling overseas, many American visitors appear puzzled, amused, sometimes even annoyed by what they experience in other cultures.  Little do they know that they are being judged in the same way by their counterparts abroad.  As part of the Elder Week 2008 series, I was invited to present this informative and amusing "hands-on" program which focuses on effective communication skills, while expanding awareness of different social values and encouraging the avoidance of ethnocentric judgments
 
During the interactive workshop, I gave an overview of some of the wide-ranging customs around the world while inviting participants to practice a number of greetings and customs from different cultures and share some of their experiences.  As part of the educational journey, I presented an entertaining quiz on international communication which tested the participants' knowledge on various customs in the following countries and cultures: Africa, Austria, Belgium, China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Middle East, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.  If you would like to find out why one would definitely not want to blow one's nose in Japan, participate in the next workshop.  I'll bring a box of Kleenex!