Sunday, November 06, 2022

A Book Review about Balance

Balance: How It Works and What It Means

Paul Thagard. 2022. Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-20558-0. 336 pages, including index. US$32.00 (hardcover).]

A laboratory balance is a simple, one- dimensional instrument dating back to ancient science. In its earliest form, the apparatus achieved balance with equal masses on both sides—adding mass to either side tipped it out of balance. Paul Thagard elaborates in his book Balance: How It Works and What It Means, that although the topic of balance dates to this ancient apparatus, it expands into immensely rich, multidimensional areas. In his book, the author first explains scientifically what balance is from a biological and medical perspective and then shifts into an evaluation of balance metaphors that help us fill in the gaps of our scientific knowledge—and whether these metaphors are strong, bogus, or even toxic to culture.

Inspired by Thagard’s own bout of vertigo, the first four chapters explain the science behind human balance and some of the common conditions that result as a breakdown of the mechanisms. He continues to use his personal experience with vertigo as an example, or the “experience of illusory motion: something seems to be moving even though it is not” (p. 42). This balance malfunction usually includes a mismatch of signals from all the neurological functions involved—the inner ear canals, vision, and hair cells send information to the brain—when vertigo occurs these signals do not match, thus creating a spinning sensation.

In the section linking balance to feelings, Thagard applies his balance mechanisms to the expanding field of mind and body, or the origins of consciousness. “My . . . theory explains why balance is usually unconscious but enters consciousness when problems arise. Unlike (other theories) my theory also explains why different imbalance experiences such as vertigo and nausea come with different feelings” (p. 105).

In chapter 5, Balance shifts to an explanation of metaphor and its role in understanding balance. Thagard states that literal mechanisms only explain basic biological and medical applications of balance, yet it is much richer than that. “But balance concepts flourish in other areas of human thought, including science (chemical equilibrium), medicine (balanced diet), psychology (stable personality), art (balanced composition), and philosophy (reflective equilibrium)” (p. 106).

In this lengthy analysis covering many subjects regarding balance, Thagard again references vertigo. Most notably in his analysis of the film Vertigo starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. His observation, “Hitchcock largely flubbed the science of vertigo, but he powerfully portrayed the balance disorder of dizziness triggered by heights. Just as effectively, he presented metaphorical vertigo provoked by uncertainty in romantic relationships and especially by astonishing events that have no explanation” (p. 232).

In conclusion, the author’s analysis of balance in philosophy challenges the assumption that being out of balance is not entirely negative—the idea of metabalance. This implies that “leading a meaningful life requires finding a balance between balance and imbalance” (p. 269). Thagard concludes by suggesting that a satisfying life requires an element of both.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Book Review about Healthcare Leadership


Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare: Evolution of a Revolution

Kay Kennedy, Lucy Leclerc, and Susan Campis. 2022. Morgan James Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-63195-553-2. 236 pages. US$18.95 (softcover).]

Nurses in a 21st century workforce encounter new and unique problems daily: complex technology, new medicines and treatments, and a constant pressure to meet higher standards with ever shrinking resources. Conquering these issues requires effective modern nursing leadership that meets a wider variety of needs than a traditional top-down style. Nurses Kay Kennedy, Lucy Leclerc, and Susan Campis assert that their new model of nursing leadership—the human-centered model—is up to the challenge.

“Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare embodies the principles of complexity science. It [is] different from traditional leadership in that the leader is embedded in the system. The influencers and innovators are those at the point of care” (p. 1). These three authors provide evidence for their leadership theory with a compelling Institutional Review Board- approved clinical study that yielded qualitative results. Results included anecdotes and narratives, along with literature studies and historical perspectives. Although they provide the reader with a citation to investigate the research study further, the authors’ study summary is somewhat limited. Improvements could include details that would make their conclusions more lucid; for example, the exact length of the study is omitted as well as details about the content of the focus groups. It is mentioned that they categorized the responses into a matrix and “coded” them, but this process is not explained thoroughly. Their arguments would be more compelling if more of the results were directly linked to the conclusions of their leadership model.

From this research study, the authors formulated their theory of leadership based on the idea that self- care, self-awareness, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence are all springboards upon which a leader embeds themself within a healthcare system. “Human- Centered Leaders require intentional development of skills that support the leader’s effectiveness and the ability to create a sustainable culture of Excellence, Trust and Caring” (p. 131). The authors’ outline the attributes of excellence as embodied by the Awakener: a motivator, coach, mentor, architect, and advocate (p. 131). They then list the characteristics of trust embodied by the Connector: collaborator, supporter, edge walker, engineer, and authentic communicator (p. 98). Concluding their leadership model by listing the components of caring embodied by the Upholder: mindful, others-oriented, emotionally aware, socially and organizationally aware, and personally well and healthy (p. 115). The authors’ primary argument is that a truly effective leader in nursing must have all these skills, as well as the ability to discern when it is appropriate to emphasize one over another.

Overall, Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare: Evolution of a Revolution is an excellent resource for nurses. However, the terms and language used assume the reader has experience in both healthcare and leadership. Including a quick-reference glossary with leadership terms and nursing acronyms would be helpful for someone new to both fields. Many skills described like reflective journaling, mindfulness, and appreciative inquiry are useful in developing leaders in other service professions aside from nursing. With this leadership model, Kennedy, Leclerc, and Campis have opened the door to their “evolution of a revolution.”

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.