Interviews with Leaders from Mexico



Crea tu brújula mental:

Un paseo

por placer o negocio en la jungla social

If you would like to order the book in Spanish please E mail the publisher at:

In 2007 Maria Bustos, (a motivated and generous woman I supervised in the Post Graduate Program at the Georgetown Family Center) called to say she had talked to a publisher, Heberto Ruz, who loved the wide range of ideas in the book and had read it in one week.

Mario Bustos had talked to Francisco Gonzalez, the general director of USEM and he brought in Heberto Ruz.

You can see there was no master plan. This project just emerged from people talking about possibilities.

I am deeply grateful for all those who were interviewed and to their family and friends for Overall it takes real courage to tell your story. It takes courage to be open and not overly restrained about what has been important in how we adapt to the twists and turns that life offers. 
Life offers lessons to us all and hopefully we can learn a few of them from interesting others.

Below are the interview from Francesco Piazzesi, Mario Buzzolini, Victor Lichtinguer, Don Lorenzo Servitje,  Ernesto Valenzuela,  Maria Terersa Arango, Sabina Berman,

Francesco Piazzesi

franchesco p

AMS- I am so pleased to meet you after all I have heard about you. I congratulate you on receiving a medal from President Felipe De Jesus Calderon this past Monday for your company ADOBE HOME AID and its work with sustainable housing.

FP – Thank you.  How would you like to organize this interview?

AMS- Often I just ask people to tell me about their passion and what they wanted to do and then we find out how the family fits into their life story.  How did you find your passion?

FP –Let me start with one step behind. I started in a family business. I worked in a family business. (ITAL Mexican). We make construction equipment and we produce the big gray blocks.

I always had a bug inside to help the people in the community. Perhaps this is due to my romanticism or perhaps because life has brought me a lot of opportunities.   I ask my students, why are you here instead of in Africa?  Why – there must be a higher reason?  It is more than luck.  There must be a higher reason not to be born and die at three years of age. It is not just luck

Carlos Slim is not just lucky.  So why are we here? That is the question.

I always try to help people.  I like to get into something that can help people.

That has always been there since I was a student.

AMS -Where are you in your family of origin?

FP – I have an older half sister.  She is the daughter of my mother. My mother became a widow in Italy during the war. Then she married my father. The oldest of my brothers, Paolo, was born in Italy and three others were born in Mexico. One brother died of leukemia at 20 or so, 30 years ago or something like that.  I was 16 at the time.  Then there was Mario and then I was born.  I am the baby of the family.

AMS- We call the younger one, the charming one. Often the parents are beguiled by that child. The youngest have a special ability to bring people into harmony.

I thought, as you were talking, about the role of tragedy in a family in forging loyalty and caring for others. Who knows, perhaps the value of looking out for others might help avoid future tragedy?

FP- In college there was an organization to help people bring water to those who were without fresh water for drinking. I thought, let’s go there. People would say what are you doing there?

After that I worked in the family business. Then in 1985 I said, we need a construction method to help the poorest people build a house. So we looked around and found all this fantastic technology. It was great, except for the price. Then we found some equipment to make this fantastic adobe. But it did not go to the poor families. The well off wanted it for the most expensive homes with swimming pools.  We had worked to make the construction equipment for this adobe material available at a low cost, but the poorer people did not want it.  The well off people wanted it for their beautiful homes.  It was funny.

The poor people wanted to have the cement block.  Adobe was for poor people they said. I could not control these people.  I could say two things 1) you have to pay and 2) you have to work to have a home. “No,” they would just tell me, “My congressman said I would get it for free.”  I would say, “Bring him here and talk to him here.  We have enough money for ten houses and you have to pay so another ten families can have homes. You have to pay and work to make that possible.”

This was fantastic. Here was my passion: to see how the people work with the equipment and thereby transform. It is amazing how these families transform.

We come to the community and they were in these cardboard houses. We stayed with the families for a couple of days.  Then we found that the people who work and take the stress while building the new house change. We went back to see how both they and the houses are doing.

The family of the cardboard house and family living in the new house are completely different.

We did this from 1985 to 1997.  Its like you took the family of the old house and you put them in a rocket to Juniper and a new family returns.

Two hurricanes occurred in Chiapas and wiped out many peoples lives and homes. During Hurricane Pauline, ten thousand people lost their homes in one night.

We were working with the government to rebuild. A Gift for Peace was one of the organizations which helped enable the building of these homes. We did this cautiously with an exchange program.  “You bring your guns and we will give you the help to build your homes.” [Not sure what guns have to do with it.  Will the readers?]

We were there when the hurricane struck.

These people lost their cardboard houses in one night. We worked with the government in a program to rebuild.  I knew we would be able to bring them the opportunity to build their home.  We worked and built 40,000 homes that the families also helped build.

We bring the actors and the materials together. The actors have specific expertise in home building: technology, financial, NGO’s and the local and national government agencies.

We did not manage the money, we asked for the needed supplies. We would say we need 10,000 pounds of concrete, and it was there.  We asked for ten trucks and they were there.

AMS – What a difference from Katrina.

FP – Yes everyone helped. The World Bank and Habitat for Humanity were all involved.  We did his from 1997 to December of last year.  Everything was done as philanthropy.

Five years ago I said we have made possible the largest self built housing development in the world. How can we do Chiapas again?  We tried to put together a model to explain what we had done. We actually did not know how it happened. The angels helped us for sure.

We tried to help the poorer people and found that our models would work for ten or so houses but then something went wrong.  But we could not make it happen for larger numbers of homes.

I tried to figure out the model in my free time but realistically I had no time to attend to it. I would go to the office, and the phone would ring and I saw it could not happen in this way.

Therefore I decided that going back to the university was the only way to work on this model and devote enough time to make it happen. I asked the dean at my university about doing a Ph.D. in this area. It would be focused on how to make a community sustainable through the self build housing market.

The Dean said let me check with the faculty. Finally, after we fought a little he said OK, you can start. And then it took me five years to put together all these areas of knowledge.

I had to learn about micro credit and apply it to housing.  I learned all this at the university and changed the PhD to sustaible housing microfinance.  Then we worked with NGOs. They said you can work in these areas.  This work resulted in the award that president Caldron gave me this past Sunday.

The angels are still around here. The phone rings and the national commission of housing wants me to do this and that. They have heard about our work and want us to go here and there. So now all the parts are coming together.

A government trust would say, “We have the funds for 5,000 houses, start building.  We have head about your program and we are deeply interested in this.”

It is fantastic. In a way it’s like a miracle.

AMS – You observed and saw this happen and knew that you had to put all the details out clearly. And that took you five years to get your PhD.  You have still stuck with your original thesis.  The people have to work and participate and everyone gets to profit.

FP- Yes it’s a win-win situation. We say that the families and community must work together with the other partners.  All those involved must profit from the arrangement so it can be a win-win situation.

AMS-I will go back to you family situation and consider how your family leaving Italy and immigrating to another country might also have also impressed on you how families need to work together to make difficult things possible.

FP – I am thinking about what you are saying.   My father was the only son and was about to inherit not a large fortune, but he was to inherit everything and be well off.

Something that you said is picking on my mind now.

My uncles and his friends said “Mario, why go to the university as you are going to inherit a fortune and you do not have to work.

My dad said, “I like engineering and building roads.”  So he went to the University of Piazza.

Then the war came along and he lost everything. He said he came to this country with $7.00 and a suit.  This was not exactly true. They had something left after the war.

My mother was a widow of the first husband.  The first husband was a marine captain. Now it was war time, and his ship was attacked.  All the marines died during this attack. That was the end, so she was alone with little Rosanna. Fortunately she met my father and they married.

Her family lived near where the Italian marble was mined. Some of her uncles had gone to Mexico to sell marble.  One of her uncles said come here. Mexico is very peaceful, and there are lots of opportunities, the people are very nice. My father said well, I have to go there.

My father had been in jail for 3 years after the war.  He had been like a regional governor. In Italy he had this position of being in charge of many regional counties. He was a public servant that they took and put in jail.   He had done nothing wrong. My mother said what are you doing? What is the evidence? She fought for his release during those years. My mother showed that there was nothing wrong with the work he had been doing, and secured his release.

AMS – Your mother also fights for what is right.

FP – My father was very disappointed in his government.  This was in 1949.  My father said my government did not support me. So I will see what is going on in Mexico.  My father came here and then wrote to my mother and said, I do not know what you are going to do but I am going to stay here in Mexico.  My father was very nice and charming and a good taste for art and was a very knowledgeable guy.

AMS – Your Dad was also ready to change.  He also set his wife free.  He seemed very mature in setting people free, even his wife was free to decide.  You follow this principle you are setting people free to make up their own mind if they want to build a home or not. People are free to choose.

FP – Yes, as you can see my mother was a very tough woman. To my father money was something; it was like a glass of wine. My mother was careful; she took care of every cent.

AMS- They were opposites that were attracted.

FP – My father worked for the state building roads in Tabasco.  It was a jungle.  My father said I saw some equipment in Italy that produced block and so he ordered this equipment. He could see it was a good business and so he began the family business and my mother took care of the money.

I can see there is a link between the generations. I can see that money is a link. It is not the reason I am here for money. But money deserves respect.

AMS- You were going to circle back to Carlos Slim?

FP- One day my friend told me, you are going to be seated next to Don Lorenzo. He will ask, tell me a bit about who you are and what you do.

So I made a special block for the occasion.  Talking about equipment would not be anything.  After all he makes equipment to make bread all around the world. So when he asked me what do I do I said I make equipment to make block and I showed him a block that has BIMBO on it.  I told him about the project.  This was before I had the PhD. I said I need the money for this project for the people.  Then he said he would help with all but the money.  He gave me the contacts, the networking to produce the housing for the poor.

Then Don Lorenzo called one day. It was shocking.  Especially to my brother who thought I was teasing.  But we talked about the project.  What is the issue here, he asked?  Financing, I said.  He said you can not hold out your hand saying give me, give me forever. No, you need sustainable financing.  Let me think about it. He called later to say “Come to Carlos Slim’s house.”

When I came he said, Hello Francisco, how is the sustainable market? Don Lornezo told me about your project. What kind of market are we talking about? I said, well, we are talking 5 million families, 25 million people, and $5,000 for each house to be built so we are talking about 30 billion dollars.   In how many years do you want to do this? He asked me. In ten years, I replied. “No”, he said, “you need to do it in 5 years.” So he said to my student Tony, ”Put together the company that can do this work with cement, and all the other things necessary and let’s see what you can work out.”

We got together in a second meeting. I said, we are going to the community and motivate them to get out of the cardboard house and they have to do things. It will not be all us doing it.

Two days later Don Lorenzo called me.    I said, first we need the will of the people, and then we can get the money.  Then I went back to Don Lorenzo and he said to me.  Ten thousand here is fantastic but it’s not going to work unless you can build millions of houses. How are you going to solve the problem in Mexico, not in just one community?

Building millions of houses requires 40 billion dollars.It’s just too much money.  The government will say we have so many other problems. People are living in the cardboard houses and so I can do nothing more for them.  So I saw that all the players had to be motivated to change and work together.

AMS – It did not come as a vision to you in one moment, it was part of a dialogue with others. Do you have a drawing of your model?

I am going to go back to your mother and father for a moment.  The drawing puts the details of the plan together in a picture that is easy to understand.  I would say the logical left brain is a bit like the logic of doing the tasks like your Mom did.  You’re Dad

might have been good at the big picture, the right brain side. He was more of a big picture person and your Mom provided more of the logical details needed in planning.

FP- You always have to figure out how to bring the actors together.

The people need solutions: they need the bankers, the technology to make a better world, but they need money.  Bankers need clients.  The NGOs need the community. They work with the government and the people. Everyone has to have a reason to work together. All of them need the other partners. Then the structure can work for everyone.

AMS – A family will produce emergent leaders.  In this community perhaps you see the most viable leaders emerge?

FP – Yes, we see that this happens. We do not have to fight to see who arises.  Someone says, we have to talk.

AMS – In a big group often you can see that 10 % will lead, 70% will go along and 20% oppose.

FP- I think more oppose.

AMS – How do you deal with the resistance?

FP – If you do not want to come along, do not worry.  We switched the tone. If you do not want to work there is not a problem.  We will only be here for those who want to work.  We only need one.

Most of the time the leader was a woman, as the female sees the house as a place where the children will be raised. The male thinks only about how much the house will cost. The female says this is my home, I will work for it.

The leader of the first community said,  “My home, not my house, is worth gold”.

AMS – What I hear in your values is that this is each person’s free decision to make.  If you do not want to do it that is OK.  But to give the people freedom to choose and take responsibility is a key.  This is a key to unlock incredible resources.

FP – Yes, even my family was wondering if this was good thing. They thought I was wasting my time.  Even my PhD was a waste, as I could be doing more work for the company.

AMS – Also your story fits into the framework for the Mindful Compass: See what needs to be done to deal with resistance, using your knowledge, and be willing to stand alone.

FP – I knew I needed to get my PhD in micro economics.  I phoned my university where I had been teaching social responsibility and began to work on developing this model.  I have had 25 years of teaching social responsibilities. I want to promote great minds that are willing to do something.

Draft of the model: It is a six sided model with feedback loops between all parties.

Communities ————————————–Government

NGOs————————————————Financial system


AMS – What are your favorite books?

FP – My favorite books are history. I love the book about Anita Roddick, the head of The Body Shop. Anita died last Sept.(23 October194210 September2007)  She was willing to help the people and pay fairly for their work.

I admire people who do something for the community and for society.   Some students say “Well we are not lerning about Robert Murdoch. That is because he is not doing

something worth while for society.  If you are here thinking you want to make a lot of money then you are in the wrong course.  You are here to learn how to learn and learn to be a better person.  Then you can make more money.

AMS – How long have you been teaching?

FP- I have been teaching for 25 years. I started with one math teacher who said, you can teach. He made me his assistant, then he died. He was 70 something. But he died in the middle of the course.  So the university told me you need to finish the course.  The first time I tought I was timid. But after that I said if I could live by teaching I would,

but you can not live by teaching.

AMS – You have such chrisma and enthusiasm, what a fabulous teacher you are.

I hope your class can be seen instead of the soap operas. You are far better than the actors on the soaps. It would be great fun if you were available for people on the web. It would be much more inspiring.

FP- I love Mother Theresa but there is something missing there.  There are many rich men and who cares.  Its good to find people that you admire to learn from.

AMS -How about your family.

FP – I have been married for 35 years. I have three daughters.

One girl, Alexandra, is going to finsh architecture school.  I named Rafelia in memory of my brother.  She has all the family mentally kidnapped.  She thinks a lot and comes up with something incredible to say to the family.  Franchesca, the little one, is the happiness of the house.

Victoria, my wife, is a very religious person.  She finds Don Lorenzo at church every morning. She says he sends you his regards and wonders where you were.

There is another thing I am not sure how to make sense of.   I was kidnapped.

I was beaten terribly. I was left with a lot of pain and had to see many doctors.

The first question was why this terrible thing happened to me. But then after time I understood it was not wise to ask this question.

The Dr said “Try not to do sports because of your back. Have a very relaxed

Life”. Then I said “So then do I commit suicide?” I started to work on myself.

I lerned to ski with the family again, not every year but a bit at a time.  And I did it.

AMS- You said this also about your family of origin.  There was also not a reason for those tragedies.  Your mother’s first husband died, your br’other died.

If you see life as a process then something else will arise. We are not frozen in the past.

By naming your daughter after your brother you signal that this is not a tragedy.

Your brothers life energy will go on.  He will continue to be an inspiration in the family.

FP – I am glad you put this in as it makes our life more human.

AMS – We all have challenges and if we can overcome them and still be as charming as you are, it is an inspiration to others.

Thank you-

Mindful Compass Points

(1)  The ability to define a vision: ClearlyFrancesco Piazzesi has a deep commitment to enabling others to do well. He has also thought a great deal about  where this urge to be useful to others comes from. Obviously not a majority of people are as inspired to make a difference as he is.  I always had a bug inside to help the people in the community. Perhaps this is due to my romanticism or perhaps because life has brought me a lot of opportunities.”   Over the years he found ways to contribute, yet his biggest contribution took the longest to bring to life.  Initially he was in the right place at the right time with more of an unstructured idea than with a detailed plan. It took him five years of effort to get his PhD and see the plan brought fully to life. The details of any vision are often the sticking point, and the difference between great success and failure.  In making his vision a reality he had to answer the following questions:

(1) What are the rewards for going in this or that direction?

(2) Who will oppose me, and for what reasons?

(3) Where can I build alliances?

(4) What are the incentives to each participant for making these changes?

Much of accomplishing his vision required that he be in dialogue with others and be able to navigate the social relationship system with comfort.   I suggested that due to his being a youngest he would have greater self assurance, all things being equal, than other sibling positions. I also suggested that due to the tragedies in his family of origin he had a stronger instinct to be helpful to others who were less fortunate.

Francesco Piazzesi is a rare individual who could see a need and be able to understand how to motivate others to build a system which can operate in different areas of the world.  The system he developed provided not only housing, but opportunity for incredible changes in the fabric of the social system itself.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system: All systems will resist change. It is not personal.  It is part of the adaptive response to the new. Francesco Piazzesi describes beautifully the back and forth with his family over his business ideas and his returning to school to get his PhD. We can see that even if it was difficult for him to manage the criticism he could sense that the others wanted his energy more for the family business than as a criticism of him.   Again in conversations with the top business leaders he was able to hear their preferences, as one way to go and then sort out what path would be the most useful. He seems to have had little negative reactivity to the opinions of others. His sense of humor is always communicated in these meetings and reduces the tension.

Early on when his brother died he asked the why question for which there is no real answer.  And then again after being kidnapped he starts to ask this question and realizes that will take him down a useless road and comes to put his energy into moving forward with his physical rehabilitation rather than lingering over the past whys.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge:Francesco Piazzesi has an automatic, internal guidance system, or compass, which enabled him to know what to do in social situations.  His basic intuition and instinct, based on his experiences, also incorporates his analytical thinking.  Therefore he considers the ideas about the link between his family dynamics and his interest in social responsibilities. We can watch as he puts these pieces together in a meaningful linked map about how family values arise.

In this way he is building his more Mindful Compass.

(4)The ability to be separate: In listening to his story I could sense his ability to separate out while listening to others’ ideas.  Because he is very adept at being social and describes his interactions well with others it may take a moment to see how adroitly he allows others to be free, leaving himself alone to await their decision. The story of how his father did this with his mother is a key insight into this process of setting the others free and at the same time making them responsible for their decisions.  It takes time for anyone to organize their life stories into more meaning-filled connections but in this interview I could see it happening in real time. At another level when he was kidnapped there would have to have a deeply courageous ability to be totally alone to come out without bitterness from a tormenting situation.

Both of these events are testimony to the need to strengthen our ability to be alone to both think for ourselves and manage the encounters with others without letting the others determine who we are.

In addition Francesco Piazzesi has investigated knowledge from other disciplines and read widely. During his life he has picked out people to learn from. Obviously being in the area of social responsibility has involved being alone to consider the deep emotional nature of problems.

Today, complex problems threatening our environment may be the biggest stress-makers we humans face. There is no consensus about who must do what, and who will bear the costs of so doing. When there are no simple answers, the group gets anxious, and it becomes more crucial to find leaders who can stand alone and enable people to come together to solve problems by taking needed action for our long term survival.

Appreciation for the Interviews

First, I would like to deeply thank the very kind and generous individuals who were willing to be interviewed.

Each had the intention that others might benefit from their experience.

Each was aware that acquiring meaning from life’s challenges requires reflection.

Of course all of us would benefit from re-understanding what has influenced the twists and turns of life, but to do so we must risk misunderstandings (with the interviewer, the audience, the self) in the attempt to be reflective and open.  Therefore, being open is for the few and the brave.

Being open is the only way to calibrate one’s Mindful Compass.  Being more objective about our past is learning, and it is a self defining process. Here we are expanding knowledge and building useful strategies for continuing to be thoughtful individuals in complex, emotional, living systems.

We know that our social relationships affect habits and values, and are grateful to those individuals willing to tell us how they develop in relationships.

<span style=”font-family:Times

New Roman;”>Interview with Don Lorenzo Servitje

I had the great honor of interviewing the founder of Grupo Bimbo, Don Lorenzo Servitje. At 89 his mind is alive with ideas. His ability to express himself I found almost poetic. Two things stood out in the interview: one, a deep appreciation for strong values and,  a fundamental understanding of the importance of past relationships on the future.

(The assumption is that those willing to learn from the past will have more complex thought process.  It may be that is that brain connections are influenced by family connections. That is the greater the connections between people, the greater the behavioral flexibility.  Flexible people are also less likely to be blinded by emotional reactions. Some have suggested that understanding your families past, without judgment, is likely to reduce one’s level of anxiety.)

Talk about complexity, his company was established in Mexico City in 1945 and over time, Grupo Bimbo, has become one of the three largest bakeries in the world in terms of production and sales volume.  They supply over one million points of sales in eighteen different countries, requiring them to deliver products daily to an outlet or a factory. The distant equivalent to traveling around the globe about 46 times a day. The company is committed to high productivity and responsible community projects such as reforestation. They reported sales of $5.9 billion dollars in 2006.  They have 76 plants and operate three trading agencies. (As an exercise think of what it would require of you to see and lead successfully in a system of this complexity.)

As I understand it, Don Lorenzo Servitje also helped found the society for entrepreneurs, USEM.  USEM organizes web seminars, distant learning and various kinds of meetings bringing new ideas to business people. It was through this organization and its director, Francisco Gonzalez, that I was invited to interview Don Lorenzo Servitje.

My first question was: How did your family encourage him to be a leader?

Don Lorenzo Servitje said that he was not sure if his family thought he would be a good leader but that his mother had a very high opinion of him. Her ideas were based on some facts, as he was usually second or third in his class in school.  He noted, that “I was not afraid to talk with people and I was able to perform well. My mother was my main interest as my father died when I was 18.”

I asked Don Lorenzo Servitje, “Are you the oldest son in your family?”  He noted that, “I had an older brother but he died when I was four years old and then I became the oldest son. I also had a sister who was three years younger and two younger brothers. One was ten years younger and the other eleven years younger.  They were like sons to me, in a way.  Years later, one of them said I was like his father. The death of my father in 1936 forced me to go ahead.  My mother and I had worked in the pastry shop with my father.  Now, it was up to us to support the family. We were in the pastry business for nine years.  I saved money.  Then together with a friend, and a cousin, we formed the industrial business of Bimbo.”

I was interested in how much he had learned by running a small business, the pastry shop with his father. I told him that my son-in-law, Michael Mauboussin, (More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places) had explained business dynamics to me back in 1991. Michael helped me understand my family business by talking about how to capitalize and run a small lemonade stand. For example, I had never considered that a business had to continue to earn over the cost of capital for things the business owned clear and free, like the land the stand was on.  Nor had I put enough energy into the ways one had to save to keep the stand looking good and to expand dynamically.

I asked Don Lorenzo Servitje if he had a vision of the future when he made the decision to invest in Bimbo. He said that he and his colleagues had developed experience between 1940 and 1945 supplying companies throughout South America.  That experience, coupled with people who trusted him and planned with him, was the launching pad for the industrial baking business, Bimbo.  He explained: “We took our savings and borrowed an equal amount of money to make this happen.  It has grown over the years.  During this period my mother remained as an owner of the company.  Then she remarried at the age of 63.”

Don Lorenzo Servitje continued: “I was 26 when I married. We had eight children. There were six girls in a row and then two sons. The youngest son is an original thinker.  He has a special gift for business. He went to Stanford and was the first in his class. He is far better than I am.”

I told him that we all hope that our children will do better than we do. If our children do better perhaps we have done something right.  In essence part of collecting family stories is to encourage other people to do well by understanding how real people have become successful leaders and overcome hardships. It is encouraging for others to know that successful individuals have overcome difficulties like the early loss of a father.

We talked a bit about how the early loss of a father is a common theme in American politics today. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama grew up without their fathers’ influence. It would seem that both men want to be better fathers, both in their families and for their country.

(In my book I highlight that some of us are leaders by default we had to rise up and lead when difficult things happen. Others are natural leaders who rise up without trauma or serious losses.  One way is not necessarily superior to another. I developed The Mindful Compass to point out that leaders are those who have a vision and are willing to act with knowledge, even if they have to act alone. Leaders have the courage to overcome challenges. If they are mindful of their impact on others and can also enable others to become leaders then they are mature leaders.)

I noted that Don Lorenzo Servitje also seems to have become the father for his siblings, family and company and perhaps for the people of Mexico.

Don Lorenzo Servitje then said, “I am too old.  I am 89. I lost my wife six years ago. Carmen was 80. She left me without advice.”

I said “Perhaps that is a gift.  It could be.  Suppose she told you to marry again?” I said. And he replied:  “I am faithful. She was a very wise woman and a very sweet woman.  I have suffered many times because of the business. But I was a workaholic. She held everything together.  She was a very typical housewife. She loved to be at home with the children. She was the queen of the house. I had no problems with the children or the home. She was a very responsible woman and I suffer in her absence.”

I was not sure that his wife Carmen would like it if he were suffering.  I was sure I did not want him to suffer any more than necessary so I said, “I would like it if her memory made you happy.”  He thought for a moment and said “Her loss is a very sweet pain.”

I asked him what he would say to the young people in Mexico that they might carry in their hearts as important principles.   He said:  “One, keep your faith, be good Christians.

Two, work hard and be wary of distractions and a frivolous life.   Three, learning is important.  I love to read lots of books.  My life has been study and work.  I am a very plain man.”

I noted that perhaps a simple man can see the simple truth.

Don Lorenzo Servitje said, “I see what I think is right and I keep on going.”

“Were your parent’s family religious?” I asked.

“My mother’s family was more religious than my father’s family.  I know my extended family. I have pictures and stories as I researched my family back to 1770. They were mostly working in the fields.  They were peasants.”

“What made you do family research?” I asked.

“I was traveling to Spain often. My family was from Spain and as a hobby I looked for the origins of my family in the records of the Churches. I learned many curious things about the family.”

I noted that in my years as a family therapist I had found that healthier and stronger people just automatically were more interested in family history and knew more about their family roots. These people are often more accepting of different kinds of people as they see all the variations possible in four or five generations in a family.

Don Lorenzo Servitje said “I talked with my children about their ancestors. Also I took my children to Spain to see where the ancestors lived. I also showed them where I lived when I was a young boy.”

It is not easy to go visit the homes of your very distant relatives. I told him about my visit to Ireland and how I had felt uneasy in a town where several generations ago the family I am related to had a fight between the older and younger brother. When I was in the town of the younger brother’s family I became ill. When I was in the older brother’s home town I was fine.  Was I sensitive to a fight that occurred over a hundred and fifty years ago?  Perhaps by going back to these two places I was more able to accept my own sensitivities.  It takes time to understand and respect the difficulties people have lived with over the generations.

Then Don Lorenzo Servitje showed me some photos from his family research.

“Here you can see a picture in 1976, and then seventeen years later the same group of children has grown up. This is the place I was born in 1924. This is the house of my father.  This is the wedding invitation of my mother. My brother was very handsome. Here is a picture of my brother and me and here is one of myself and my sister in the house where we grew up. Here is a picture 50 years later.

My sister died before my wife. My other brother died after my father. Yes, I lost two brothers and my sister, the youngest one died two years ago. Such is life.

Here is a picture of my wife when we were young. One of my granddaughters is a painter. Here you see a picture of a grandchild and then you can see into the past and there is my wife.”  I said, “Your granddaughter is an artist who paints dramatically the connections between people.  Some might say its all in the genes.”  I did not have time to elaborate on this thought but I did think she must understand the family emotional process at a deep level where the past is folded into the future. The past does not determine the future but it influences and reminds us of our connections to others.

My interview with Servitje concluded when he had to leave for a meeting.

I said, “Yes, people still need you. I appreciate so much the time for this interview and meeting you in your home. I think this interview will demonstrate the importance of family for a life well lived.”

Don Lorenzo Servitje’s Mindful Compass Points

(1)  The ability to define a vision: Don Lorenzo Servitje allows us to see how his vision for a larger company arose out of his experiences with his family’s smaller pastry business.  It was not that he started with this vision.  It happened as part of his personal growth with others.  When he had an opportunity to expand into the industrial arena he had also built a trustworthy team which he kept with him over the years.

The early death of his brother and then his father were pivotal events. They are high stress events for everyone.  Most difficult for families is dealing with and adapting to the loss of the primary wage earner. It is a threat for most families. Many people have found their lives torn asunder following the loss of a father.  The fact that his family could keep going and did so well testifies to the resiliency in the larger family system.  In his case the loss may have forced him to make responsible decisions at an early age. His decisions to work in the family pastry shop were made as much to support his family as they were to build his career.

Obvious Don Lorenzo Servitje became the leader of his family, and business yet he gives a great deal of credit for success to his mother, his other business partners and to his son in the next generation. His wife was in the middle of it all and was a very wise woman who was his responsible partner in life.  Although he misses her mightily he keeps contributing to society in many unknown ways. It seems in his nature to play down the work he does and to build up others.

Caring about others is a very deep value that also resonates with his religious values.  Therefore we hear consistent values which are being converted into actions. There is little interest in finding love and approval but more in getting any job done well.

Don Lorenzo Servitje is a leader with instinct. He seems to know just what the best action to take is, and then he just does it. His common sense attitudes lead him to spend time and energy investigating the past generations of family members.  This is an unusual action for a person to take in our society.  It is the sign of a leader who can look way beyond the short term. Here is a leader who knows that if something is important then he must find the way to do and have fun in the process.  He discovers his family roots and shares this knowledge with his children, taking them to Spain to see where past generations of the family lived and walking in their footsteps.

It is easy to see how he can inspire others in his work settings and also in his family. He seems to deeply enjoy his work.  He also gives his Christian religion a great deal of credit for all he does and hopes that future generations will also keep true to these time tested values.

Mature leaders look beyond charisma to find sustaining principles and values promoting courage and steadfastness in their lives. Don Lorenzo Servitje leads by example.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system: Overcoming obstacles is not something that Don Lorenzo Servitje focused on. We know that he overcame the early loss of his father without bitterness or longing. His attitude of just doing what needs to be done, despite the difficulty, gives us a glimpse of man who chooses to do his work without focusing on the difficulties. He seems to be a contented man who is at ease with himself and with all kinds of other people.  Any obstacles are overcome without making them into a big deal. I could see this in his ability to change his attitude about the loss of his wife. He was able to focus on her positive qualities and to let go of the sadness saying, “Her loss is a very sweet pain.”

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge: Few people have shown the ability to build a successful family and business network as complex as that ofDon Lorenzo Servitje.  *(I wondered how much his business ability was influenced by his ability to deeply understand his multigenerational family.)

Apparently from an early age Don Lorenzo Servitje was able to perform and be at ease with people. He recognized the importance of his family relationships on his ability to function well.  He was clear that his mother’s ability to see him in a positive light was significant for him. There is no way of knowing exactly what enabled him to understand the importance of the family history.

We can call it intuition or common sense to understand that the past has an impact on the future.  Many people indulge in short term thinking about the family believing that only this generation is important.  People move away from those they consider difficult people or hard to reach family members.  In the business world this tendency to cut off from the problem people in the family could convert to a tendency to walk away from difficult decisions, or to refuse to deal with difficult people, or with difficult jobs.

(4)The ability to be separate: Although Don Lorenzo Servitje did not talk about the usefulness of being alone to think, plan and take time to reflect on deeper values, obviously he has done so.  Nothing tests people’s ability to stand alone more than loss. Even if one overcomes the sadness due to loss once, it does not mean that people will be able to do so in the future.

There are many reasons people find to carry on after the loss of a spouse.  With eight children, many grandchildren and great grandchildren, the love and fun of his family life is displayed thought his home.  Clearly the quality of the relationships surrounding him is a major factor in his well functioning life. Another factor is that he loves his work and other projects.

Don Lorenzo Servitje has lived to see many of his closes family members die and has found the needed reasons be a resource to the remaining family members. Some people might have become more sensitive to loss with age.  But here is a man who has the ability, the resiliency to deal gracefully with loss.

Those who have been able to deal with the loss of loved ones have had to learn to stand alone.  Although some may call this an assumption, I suggest that the ability to stand alone is increased when one has dealt well with the death of a loved one.

Don Lorenzo Servitje has had to deal with the death of family members from the time he was a young man, obviously he has done so in many ways which have transformed the losses into reasons for carrying on and honoring those who have gone before.


My interview with, Mario Buzzolini, a telecommunications leader in Mexico, continues the tradition of learning for self and allowing others to listen and apply these stories to their own experiences.

I was again struck with how long it takes for people to understand about the pressure on people in their own family and how useful this kind of understanding is in a seeing how deeply our values are rooted. What are the forces that encourage leaders to take risks and in which thoughtful actions are rooted?

In the book, Leadership Can be Taught, Sharon Daloz Parks takes readers into the classroom of Harvard leadership maven, Ronald Heifetz.  Heifetz uses the students’ own experiences in solving problems people face in the workplace.  He defines leadership as the capacity to mobilize people to respond to challenges and suggests that the bottom line for leaders is the capacity to foster collective.

Ronald Heifetz notes the key factor that makes or breaks leaders notes is, the quality of one’s capacity to be fully present, comprehend what is happening, hold steady in the field of action and make choices about when and how to intervene from within the social group.

The case study method is an inductive way of analyzing concepts that may apply across multiple contexts. John Dewey and other educators have argued that adults learn best from their experiences. I think this interview follow in this tradition.


Mario Buzzolini –

MB -We have been in the business of producing telecom equipment for 12 years now.

AMS- What made you decide to be an entrepreneur?

MB- I studied computer systems at the university then went to work for IBM for a year. I wanted to have my own business, like my father and my grandmother.

Both of them learned to stand alone to accomplish things.

It is amazing when you realize that 50% of the population of Mexico lives in poverty.

This is one of the main reasons I thought that the telecom business would be useful to the Mexican people because it would bring communication methods to the distant parts of Mexico. This is one way to alter the future for the poor people in Mexico.

AMS – And so first you went to work for a big company?

MB –Yes, I wanted to do it more like my father and grandmother had.  But I knew I had to learn how the others had done it since I had no money, no contacts.  So I started learning from others. At first I wondered how companies could be so efficient being so big. You had to ask the manager of your manager and so on before anything could be done. But it was here that I started making contacts and seeing what part of the industry I wanted to work in.  I knew that a big company was not for me in the long run.  I found my interest was in telecommunications and decided to start a small company to make the equipment.

AMS- You started a small company like a CISCO?

MB- Well, yes in away, my company is a telecom company. First, I wanted to create a different kind of company. I wanted to have the people who worked there be as passionate about what we did as I was.  I tried to create a culture of loyalty and put the emphasis on making a big investment in the customer.  I wanted the best people, people who wanted to be successful by doing a great job. We all have to have a passion for our work.

AMS – I think you are the first person to tell me that their grandmother influenced them.

Are there are two people in your family who are good examples of leaders who did something very unusual?

MB- My father and grandmother were each wonderful examples of a leader who could learn from others.

My grandparents were political refugees during the Italian civil war. My grandfather had poor health.  There were 6 children to take care of, so my grandmother, who had come from Barcelona, was a housewife with no occupation, had to go to work.  She decided to sell life insurance door to door.  She and her sons built one of the largest insurance brokerage agencies in Mexico.

My grandmother was a very strong and unusual woman. She worked until she was very old.  When her time was over she stopped working, went to the hospital and died.

AMS – I would like to be like that too.

AMS – I am not sure what you might know about how your grandfather influenced his wife?  Often the husbands and wives teach each other about business.  We see that in the Clintons’ run for the presidency in the United States now.

MB – I am not sure how but probably they did influence each other.

AMS- How many siblings did your grandparents have?

MB -. My mother was the 4th, and the first girl. There were three sons and three daughters.

AMS – Did you grow up close to your grandmother?

MB – Yes, I am the first grandson and so I was close to my grandmother.

AMS – You were the favorite but I imagine you got some pressure with the love.

MB – Yes, pressure to do well.

AMS – Tell me about your mom and your grandmother’s relationship.

MB – I could not tell who my grandmother’s favorite was.  They all seem to love and have respect for each other.

AMS – Did the youngest have the best position?

MB – He now is running the biggest insurance brokerage business in Mexico.

AMS –That is interesting a reversal of what one might expect.   Often the oldest would be a traditionalist and continue to work in the family business.  But you, an oldest, branched out into a new business, while the youngest in the generation above you, stayed in the family business.

MB – To me the most important thing is that you love what you do.

AMS – Yes, and it was partially your family which had that values enabling choice.

Therefore that gave you the freedom to do what you wanted to do.

How do you think your father influenced you?

MB – My father was a builder, an architect. He had his own business. He started it before he finished the university. With the exception of 2 or 3 years, he didn’t work for anyone else.  My father did try to get me to work for him, and I did for a brief period of time.   I decided that this was not my real passion.

One of my brother’s is a designer and the other one is in the illustration business.

AMS – Your family seems to value diversity. That is another marker for a higher level of maturity.

MB – I am sure my father wished I would work for him but then he gave me a lot of support. Perhaps in the beginning it was hard for him.

AMS – This is another marker for a leader. One who is willing to take a risk, (break into new territory) and stand alone to go in his or her direction.

MB – In the beginning it was very hard. We started from nothing and once in a while I would think perhaps I should go back and work with my father.

AMS – How long did it take for you to know you were successful.

MB – By the end of the first year we had good contracts and things started to take off very fast. The telecom business is something new in Mexico.  Just to start in the networks and telecommunication business we had a big, open market and not much competition.  We were in the right place at the right time.  Telecom is a very complicated business and things change very fast.  You have to say on top of things.

AMS – Are you married now?

MB – No, I am still single.

AMS – Do you think you made a decision to postpone marriage because your business needed you?

MB – Possibly.

AMS – Bill Gates had that problem too. Eventually he found the right person and I am sure you will too.  Do you have sisters?

MB – No, only brothers.

AMS – Do you find it easier to work with men rather than woman?

MB – No I like to work with woman. I focus on what they know.

AMS – My first husband had no sisters and found that woman were mysterious.

MB – In Mexico we are very paternalistic and many men do not like to work with woman.

AMS – Women working has created a tremendous upheaval in society. Today woman have far fewer children. This is a very different era from that of our grandparents.

Being a leader means you also have to adapt well to changes in society.

What do you consider to be the biggest problem facing Mexico today?

MB – The biggest problem in Mexico is the inequality in wealth. Over 50% of people in Mexico live in poverty.  The richest man in the world lives and works in Mexico.

AMS – What would you say to Carlos Slim if you could have a conversation with him?

I wonder about this because I think that there are two main ways that people change.

One, is the influence one person has on another. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are good examples of how people influence one another.

The other is, you change the rules and that changes society in some unknown ways.

MB – I think you have to change the rules and that will change the people.

I know Carlos Slim and Bill Gates are very generous. They are very good business people but it’s not enough.  We have to change the rules.  They are not mercenaries but it’s not enough. Clearly, we have to change the rules.

AMS – One example happened in Ireland. They had high unemployment and low savings rates.  So they decided to give people 20% on their money if they would keep it in the bank for five years. 60% of people decided to do it. This altered how the people behaved and now they have low unemployment and an increase in intellectual capital.

I have also wondered how come Mexico is not growing like China.  The Chinese changed the rules.

MB – Yes, they have a capitalistic economy and a communist government.

AMS- What rules are you going to change?

MB – I don’t know how to promote the redistribution of wealth.  It is very complicated but you have to alter the whole system, its rules and how it’s organized in order to make it possible for people to do better.

It will take more time to know what the best solution will be.  But I do think we can sell new ideas and make new rules. People have to know what to do in their own space.  People have to think global and act global.

AMS- How has your family experience enabled you to think this way?

MB –My grandfather came from Italy to look for a fortune and he thought he was coming to America/Mexico.  He may have been confused about which country he was coming to but he made a success. My grandmother came from Barcelona. They all had to leave and find a new way after the war.

AMS – So you do not want to wait for a dictator to force changes in society? Sometimes people have to wait for the society to collapse before change can occur.  But you do not seem to want to wait for a new Mussolini to arise.

Do you know much about your great grandparents?

MB –No, because of the war many records were lost. After the war I didn’t know about my family in Italy and Spain.

AMS – Do you think because some of your family and their stories were lost, you have

a greater desire to make better family stories for the future?

MB – Yes, I have a great interest in understanding my family.

AMS – You also seem to have a great interest in problem solving.

I was also wondering about your thinking about being strategic in building your business.  How do you deal with people in your company and your customers?  Do you think about how to deal with people, or do you just do it at a gut level.

MD-   We have a joke in our office.  It is more important to know who than to know how.

Relationships are basic in your business. Your contacts are with humans and you have to have good relationships with other humans you are working with.

AMS – I will throw you a trick question. What do you do about people who are tricky and may be seeking power and money and are trying to fool people?

MB- I do not like those people.

AMS – I have heard that nice guys do not get ahead but you do not believe that?

MB- Our philosophy is to take care of people very well.  Our strategy is to have good relationships with others. It is an important part of our business. Our plan is to cultivate trustworthy relationship with our customers. You can not do that without good people working in your business.

AMS – How do you tell if people are having a good relationship with others?

MB- We have rules inside the company to make sure people are doing well by their customers.

AMS – You are looking for people who understand your philosophy.

MB- We hire good people.  The people who don’t believe in the importance of being in good relationships with other people leave.

AMS – Also you seem to set up an environment for leadership. You empower others to be leaders.

MB- I think you have to be a visionary, set up a philosophy and rules and work as a team. Then success will follow.

AMS – Did you play sports? And do you think sports helps people to learn how a team functions?

MB- Yes, I played soccer for 5 or 6 years and now I do extreme sports. I have a go cart and I like sky diving.

AMS – I am interested in what else, besides your family, may have influenced your leadership style?  What books do you read?

MB- I read novels and mysteries. My favorites are The Art of War

by Sun Tzu and The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

AMS – If only George Bush had read this book. As I recall it he said “only invade a country if you want to live there.”

MB- I also like books on Mexican history. I just read one on the civil war in Spain. It helped me understand my grandfather. I began to understand more of what he had been through. Before that I thought he was neurotic.

AMS – That’s a great example of one way to compensate when your family has lost its stories of the past.  Some people would just write off the family members who are difficult. It is not at all easy to take the time to understand the history that shaped the person who is hard to deal with.

MB- I had an opportunity to meet many of my cousins this week, and told them about the book.  They bought the book and also say now they see he was not neurotic.

AMS – Even though the person has died, your relationship with them can change as you know more about them and the situation they were in. People are forced into difficult situations that then alters their life.  It’s not just their personality.

I had a similar situation with my father being misunderstood in the family.  It took me a long time to stand up for my Dad in my family. His brother, my uncle, was mad at my father who drank after the war and just focused on that as his legacy.  I talked to my uncle about my father, and his mission in the war.  He was an intelligence officer, flying a B29 over Japan and planning the fire bombing of the civilian population.  This time in the service may have kept his children from becoming Japanese, but it cost him in terms of his personal life.  I said to my uncle, my dad went to war for you. You had flat feet, so you could not go to war. My uncle saw me differently after that.  I did not just go along with the way he saw my father and I used factual knowledge to alter the way the family saw him.

Knowledge can change families but it has to lived out in someone will take actions with others in the family.

MB- I am very curious about what you are doing. I can see how your family and your background influenced your situation today and tomorrow.

I never stopped to think about this and this is a very good opportunity.

I really like this exercise to understand your own situation at strategic times. You are you because of your circumstances.

AMS – I see our time is up. Thank you very much.

Now you are my brother.

MB- And you are my sister.

Mario Buzzolini Mindful Compass Points

(1)  The ability to define a vision: Mario Buzzolinihas found his passion in the telecom industry.  His vision satisfied two deep needs. One is to help the people of Mexico. His business makes it possible for poor people to have access to modern technology.  Two, he tell us he wants to do it more like my father and grandmother had done.

They were independent people.

His vision was to have his own business and he was willing to pay the price to learn from others successful people.  Spending time being an apprentice seems to be a part of a formula for anyone who hopes to become an expert.  One of his big questions that formed a backbone principle for him was to wonder: how could companies be so efficient being so big?  You have to ask the manager of your manager and so on before anything can be done.

Another theme we have heard from others is that there is not much ego involvement here as he notes, I was in the right place at the right time.

As an oldest and the oldest grandson he had many opportunities to take care of his younger siblings but I did not have time to ask the question if these experiences were instrumental in his being focused on talking care of his customers and his employees.

As with other people I have interviewed there were serious challenges that had to be overcome. His grandparents were caught up in the Spanish Civil war and immigrated as they saw more hope in a new land.  Often families who escape from difficult circumstances have strong reason to care for others. He has a business mind and found a business reason to care about others, the customer first.

In understanding how to motivate others and build a successful business, he puts himself as an important part of how his business will function. Dr. Bowen use to say it this way: “If I see a problem then I know I am somehow apart of it and a part of the solution.”

Although Mario Buzzolini has a vision of how his country could change he doesn’t know which rules to change.  He believes  that people at the local level might know more about what to do to improve their lives.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system: The main story of resistance to change was the self doubt that he had about starting his business in the first year.  At times he thought perhaps he should go back and work for his father.   But he stood firm and found his original ideas were planted in firm ground.   Now he has a  substantial business.

The second example concerned his relationship with his grandfather.  I am not sure if his grandfather was alive when Mario Buzzolini read a book that shed more light on who his grandfather was. Mario Buzzolinihad thought of his grandfather as a neurotic man but after reading and understanding the social forces his grandfather was up against,  he saw him in a new light.  He was then able to tell others in the family, who also may have had a negative impression about their grandfather. Many were able to reorganize the relationship with their grandfather, even if it was only in their minds.

Altering relationships based on factual knowledge and standing up to old negative ways of thinking about others usually is difficult to do. Emotional systems can be very stuck in “blaming” others for all of the so called problems.  His family seems to be able to move beyond the blaming dynamic and to see how systems operate.

By overcoming resistance Mario Buzzolini continues to be able to build his business and strengthen family and alliance within his work force.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge:At the end of the interviewMario Buzzolini remarks on how this interview has been a very good exercise. I am very curious about what you are doing. I can see how your family and your background influenced your situation today and tomorrow. I never stopped to think about this and this is a very good opportunity. I really like this exercise to understand your own situation at strategic times. You are you because of your circumstances.

It is not that easy for people to see how talking about family history and their values impacting on your life leads to system thinking, but he makes the leap easily.

Some of this may be due to his reading of history which often gives people a fundamental understanding of the many factors in social and economic change. It may also be that due to his large and complex family he can synthesize information well.  But all of this is speculation as to why  he has the ability to use and understand system ideas.

(4)The ability to be separate: If anyone is to start their own business it seems obvious that the individual will need to strengthen the ability to think for self.  Mario Buzzolini had the central insight that a successful business would have to be people centered.  His ability to pick good people and to enable them to understand his philosophy is evidence of how well he understands this process in his relationship with others.  He also is interested in considering the deep emotional nature of problems for the people of Mexico.

All of this has to be work that one does in his or her head before attempting to communicate it to others.

Considering actions need to be taken now so that the future will be better, is the kind of work that is high risk and has no promise of reward.  Perhaps this is one more reason to participate in extreme sports.  They are a physical way to warm up for the mental challenges one encounters in the risk and rewards of thinking systems. Once again Mario is alone and making an effort to anticipate and prepare well for the future.




AMS- I met you in 2004 and you made an impression on me as a very open man who was a long-term thinker. I also found you were a youngest in your family of origin which is an interesting position for a leader. The youngest has a different view of the family. They often take a non-traditional approach.  Sometimes the youngest is the prince, sometimes they bring joy to the family and sometimes they do not think that the family is all that important.

I wanted to interview you when we met but it’s taken this long for it to happen.  I have had good contact over these years with your wife, Mely. I am grateful to her for organizing the time for the interview.  Mely has been very helpful to Maria Bustos, who brought me to Mexico, and her work with the Endometriosis Society.

I am interested in your perception of the relationship forces that shaped you as a leader.

VL- We will start with the family. I am the youngest of 4 brothers. You are entirely right; I was the prince of the family. I was protected by my parents. The education I received was much more flexible than the one my brothers received. My parents were more mature and wiser and knew how to deal with things. They had all ready dealt with everything from my 3 brothers. So I am much freer than my brothers and more liberal in terms of believing that freedom and choice are the most important things that you can have.

My family was very happy, and both of my parents were very intelligent. My father was a doctor, very clear thinking and principled. He is respected as a doctor and as a human being.  He saw his patients as human beings, not as objects. When he retired I was shocked when I went to other doctors (he was my doctor when I was young) and they were so different.

My father is now 86 and he lives in another area.  Even thought I am somewhat famous as a politician, many people know me more as the son of my father.  When we meet they ask if I am the son of Dr. Lichtinger. I am very happy with that.

Perhaps you have forgotten as you also come from a partially immigrant family. But it is more important for the first generation to do well.

AMS- You also come from an immigrant family, when did your family come to Mexico.

VL- My father came in 1929.   He was born in 1921 and his family left Poland due to economic and political discrimination.  His family thought Mexico was still part of the Americas and so it was easy to come here first. They immediately come to Mexico City.

My grandfather was a salesman who went from town to town selling everything. He came to Latin America three or four years before my father and grandmother came. He liked it and saved his money and brought his family here.

My father was an incredible inspiration to me. He was an only child and very close to his mother.

My mother is a fanatic for knowledge. She studied to be a teacher after high school.  She was born in Mexico and was also from a Polish Mexican family. She was always unsatisfied as she wanted to know more.  When I started to go to kindergarten she started to study and now has earned two PhD’s in literature and philosophy.


At 9:00 to 9:30 at night she would read us classical novels, and fun books,  Shakespeare and Don Quixote. She read us the story of the boy who travels thorough time. She wanted us to be open minded. She wanted us to be cultured and knowledgeable and have many points of view.

I was so lucky to have these incredible parents. We would take these great trips in this big Buick and we would be fighting and shouting as we traveled along.

I also learned a lot from my bothers. I have three great brothers. One is very intelligent and others more human.

AMS – Darwin was right we have to have variation.

VL – I also learned from seeing their lives.  One married very young and not with the right woman. Another studied something he did not like. In that way I was able to learn things from them that also influenced my actions.

What else would you like to know?

AMS – I was thinking about how your family was capable of long term thinking. Some families that immigrate have a special ability to take a risk and make a better life when they see the conditions changing.  It took three of four years before the rest of your family could follow our grandfather. One of the family values and themes are the ability to take a risk when you see that things are changing.  You knew that you could take a risk and make a better life.

VL – Yes, people who are not satisfied have many choices. There are those that made the choice to stay in the terrible conditions.  Others were willing to take the risk to leave. Some of these people died.  All of the people in my family are risk takers.  We also have self esteem and we know that we can do it.  We have an incredible belief that if we make the sacrifices we know we can be successful.

One of the important things about leadership is that you believe in yourself, that you can make a difference. One of the important values is to want to change things to make a difference to improve other peoples’ lives.

My mother became very left. We became left together with my mother.  I was 16 or 17. She was 40. She became very dissatisfied and frustrated with politics. She became left but not the radical left.  She wanted to improve the well being of people and was willing to fight against injustice.  I had that feeling strongly too. Over time I have changed my political opinion about the various parties.

AMS- Are you saying your values might be maintained but your strategies change as to how you fit in with the various political parties.

VL – I must tell you I feel that I do not fit.

AMS – Is that an advantage?

VL – It might have to do with my rebelliousness and having ideas and strategies to do what I believe in but not feel that others represent me.

I have always felt a bit alone. Because I feel most people are very hypocritical.  I have lived an intense life for over fifty years with very strong values.  When I was in politics and back when I was in school I felt that way.  I still feel that way.

So the few people I think who have very deep principles are my best friends.  I have a lot of people who know me but very few friends.  I pick them very well.

I have never joined a party.  That is a mixture of feeling strongly that I don’t fit with a mixture of strategy as well.

I feel that most parties here lost their good intentions and objectives. They have lost their way. They have become out of focus for what they need to do.  They want power for power’s sake. Then when they arrive and have power they become very corrupt.

AMS –  I am thinking about wht you are saying in terms of the mindful compass that I developed.  You have hit on all the major points for being mindful of your direction within an emotional system composed of human beings.

Family systems theory has nine concepts to use to understand families. I thought it was too many to communicate to the general public.  My daughter challenged me to reduce it to two concepts. I figured I could do it in four points. The last point was the capacity to be alone. People tell me that I should change this point on the compass because being alone as a needed state for a leader will not sell.

VL – Having power is being alone. You can be wrong in your decisions but they are yours.  People are always telling you one thing and then another. I feel very good about being alone.  For me it’s kind of like a privilege.

I was a popular kid in school but I did not need people and I always looked for ways of being alone.

AMS – Do you mediate?

VL – No I do not in the formal sense. One of my brothers is very knowledgeable in this area.  When you are alone your brain can come up with great ideas.

AMS – How do you communicate your ideas into a team if you are alone?

VL – I was a water polo player. I was passing the ball and sharing the opportunity and I loved the idea that we were building something.  If you are a team player and you are not sure of your ideas and yourself you can not support your team mates.

AMS – They feel your anxiety.

VL – Yes, the anxiety and the uncertainty. Also I am a social and extraverted person and I enjoy being with people.

AMS – How about school?  When did you decide about school, etc.?

VL – I decided that I wanted to go to public college. I was in the small Catholic high school and I felt that they were trying to tell me wht to do and to brain wash me. They told me all the things I did were wrong.

I wanted to open up to the world and see all the different kinds of people. I went to a very good school and decided to study economics.

My father was worried as I did not like anything but philosophy but I did not want to starve as a philosopher.   So my father started to introduce me to his friends, one of whom was an economist.  He said, “You are listening to engineers, etc., but what the economy is doing is important in each of these areas.  If you are interested in the well being of people then study economics.”

My father’s career was not for me. He worked hard and woke up in the middle of the night and was not with his family all that much.

I started to study economics. First there were camps and they put you in cages. You are a Marxist or you are a Keynesian.

Keynes said in the long term you are dead. Yes, but I still wanted to know how our action now will influence the future.

I did this based on the fact that people change in the long term not in the short term.

Realistically, you can only make things slightly different than the way they were before.  For good and bad you make things different in slow steps until you cross some threshold. Then it seems like everything happened in a moment.

When it came to the environment, I cared about the long term.  We defend things for the long term and for the all people, not just one person.

After going to Stanford, I went to Africa and tried to help people in Mozambique. Then I got a chance to work for the UN as an economic counselor. It was 1987 and the environment was just beginning to be seen as important. A lot of things happened then.  The Berlin wall fell. During the cold war things were in an unproductive balance.  After the war a great deal more change was possible. The human rights movement gained momentum for woman, gays and the environment. These were the human rights needed to be granted after the French revolution. (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).

In 1987 I was not knowledgeable about the environment and may have been the least knowledgeable of the people at the UN.

A Swedish man, who I took as my guru, developed an interest in me. He said, “I see you are a leader, you are very passionate”. He was the Swedish Ambassador to Mexico, Ambassador Bo, and he invited me to Sweden.   He also took representatives from Indian, Venezuela and two other countries.  He showed us how the destruction of the environment caused the people to continue to suffer with no way out. We went to Sierra Leon, Rwanda and the Congo. Then in Sweden we looked at theory and how things worked. The prime minister of NorwayGro Harlem Brundtland was also important in my learning.    She was a wonderful woman. (Norwegian Minister for Environmental Affairs 1974-79, and became Norway’s first – and to date only – female Prime Minister February – October 1981) I also saw Al Gore as a congressman. He was there taking notes. I really respect him and the work he continues to do.

This was the first year of discussing the environment.

I realized that Mexico was a mess on the environment. I was working in the economic affairs department of the Mexican government. You could not see the buildings in Mexico City due to the air pollution. The gas had lead in it in the late eighties and early nineties.

I started to really care and began to work with NGOs to solve these problems.  Because of this work I was picked as the coordinator for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992).  I had to negotiate with the political people about how to clean rivers and how to keep water safe and the atmosphere as clean as possible.

After this work I resigned to form a consulting firm. I had been working for the government for 2 years.  I thought I could do more outside then inside the government.  But it was difficult to form this consulting firm so I joined with an American firm and we began to do some very good work.

Then in 1994 I was asked to be the representative from Mexico to work on the NAFTA environmental commission for the US, Canada and Mexico.  I was not appointed by the Mexican government, the commissioners themselves asked for me to be appointed.  I came to Canada and they said to me,  “Here is some money.  Now just make this commission function.”

We assembled a great team of fifty people.   One of the important issues was that DDT was still being used until 1997. We found the technology to measure how the isotopes of DDT traveled. We also proved that they were even to be found in the artic regions and that they would persist there for a hundred years.

In 1998 the government changed and I had no job.   I knew that the bigger the needed change the bigger the resistance to it.

Again, I went back to consulting. This time it was easier. Mr. Fox was elected and he approached me about becoming the Minister for the Environment.  My wife warned me it would not be easy and that I should not take the job.  But I knew that I might be able to make a difference in this position and so I went in with a lot of optimism.  I thought that President Fox would support my ideas.

The first month there I got rid of lot of people and brought in new people who had never been in the government.  There were 35,000 people in this one agency. My mission was to be honest and hold open meetings for the big group every week. Many had never even seen a minister much less had the chance to hear and see one.

I told them I would hold these big open meetings to give a message of pride, hope and the need for strength. My door would always be open for people to talk with me. For one hour after these big meetings anyone could come and talk to me.  I focused on what do you do with problems and how can I help solve problems. After one year people were clear about what their functions were.

However after the first month I went to Fox and asked for his support to bring more cooperation between the different ministries in order to focus on sustainable development. He said, “no,” he was not going to go in that direction. He thought that focusing on job creation alone would be his way of going.

After that meeting I wanted to quit but my wife said NO you took the job and now you have to stay with it.

I stayed with the ideas of sustainable development. My goal was to develop and grow without impacting negatively the environment and the people’s long term future.

After three years I left and the next president of Mexico, Calderon, took my place as the minister of the environment.  I had the opportunity to reinvent myself.  My three criteria for what I will do are:

1) Passion will lead me to work in areas where I will be successful

2) I must be knowledgeable about what I want to do

3)  I want to have a positive impact on a lot of lives.

AMS_ Thank you so much for your time and the energy and for your life focus. I am sure that we will hear interesting things about what you are doing in the not too distant future.


(1)  The ability to define a vision: Early on in Victor Lichtinger’s life he became aware of the impact of values on others.  He witnessed his father’s life as a humanitarian, and heard his mother passion about helping others.  These experiences plus the plight of his grandparents in leaving a country, where there was a gross lack of human rights, formed the reasons and passions for his future vision.  The deep values of helping improve people’s lives and to enable programs which will sustainable life on our planet arose from his families life experiences and take form in his actions.

I have found that the more people’s vision is grounded in a positive relationship with family values the easier it is to sustain those values during difficult time.  It’s like the values have deep roots.  And we certainly see this in the story of his life.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system: The most challenging thing about resistance is its ability to turn people critical about others. This leads to negative and often harmful energy.  It can also promote emotional cutoff from individuals or even groups of people.

One of the things in the story of working for President Fox is how fabulous it was that his wife refused to go along with his initial reaction to the news that his vision would not be supported in the way he had hoped. By listening to his wife and forcing himself to reconsider and to rethink the advantages of staying in his job, he was able to make a large impact on the environmental program and in the department itself.

The importance of managing negative reactions to people can not be overstated.  Building a sustainable network came to be a significant factor in building a sustainable economy or a sustainable environment.  It has to be done with look at the future and the ability to be aware of and also to manage ones internal feeling states.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge: One of the interesting things was how his father taught him about the power of networking by example.  His father introduced him to other people in order to allow him to think more carefully about his future profession.

Often it’s hard for children to think under direct pressure from a parent. It is far easier to think without the emotional push of important others.

By widening the group of resourceful people his father began a trend that would be useful to Victory Lichtinger’s life in the future.  Creating a larger group to learn from has sustained his vision into and out of various enterprises.

(4)The ability to be separate: Once again we can see how crucial the ability to be separate is in determining one’s values. If one deeply believes in their values as Victor Lichtinger does, then it is far easier to deliver a profound and trustable message to people.

Victor Lichtinger’s notes: It might have to do with my rebelliousness and having ideas and strategies to do what I believe in but not feel that others represent me.

I have always felt a bit alone. Because I fell most people are very hypocritical.  I have lived an intense life for over fifty years with very strong values.  When I was in politics and back when I was in school I felt that way.  I still feel that way.

For those who are sensitive to and need love and approval the negative tide of reactions can often not be stemmed.

The willingness to go along with the social group is not just a problem for teenagers. The ability to experience being separate and being OK with that gut level feeling of loneliness is crucial to taking responsibility for difficult decision, and for staying in relationship with others when the opposition arises, as it will.


Ernesto Valenzuela a life partner for Deloitte. His family is from the western part of Mexico and he is a middle sibling.

AMS- Maria has great respect for you and your work and you’re your family over the years.  I think you know she brought me to Mexico to introduce my book to the people at USEM.

EV- Yes the USEM is a very good organization.  I know that many of the most important business people take their courses.

AMS- They have been very open to the ideas about how leaders emerge from families and they suggested fabulous people for me to interview.  The publisher, Herberto Ruz, who works with them will publish it in Spanish before it is published in English.

Perhaps the Mexican people are more curious about the importance of families?  Or I need an outgoing person like Maria, who can sell my book to for the English audience.

What kind of work are you now doing?

EV- I have been retired from Deloitte, for four years.  In one way I retired but I still am enjoying my work and therefore I am still helping a few of my former clients.  Some of these companies and people I have worked with for thirty years.  We work with all kinds of businesses.

Retired does not mean much of a change for me, as I immediately opened this office for my clients who wanted me to continue with them.

AMS- What would be the reason be for you to continue to work?

EV- I have a passion. The most important thing to me is that I am helping others. After all my clients are also doing good things and I would like to enable them to be even more successful. I really enjoy this kind of work.

AMS- I can understand that as I too am partially retired.  After many years of clinical work I wanted to take the knowledge that I had gained over many years and use it to enable others to show the path to leadership.

People who have been successful leaders are often very good observers and they understand the importance of relationships.

I am curious as to how your family fits with your goals and values. Often when we tell good stories about our experiences, people learn something of what you learned.

EV- I put down some ideas, since Maria gave me an overview of your interest.

First, I am very happy and comfortable with what I have done in my professional life. I do think God has helped me.

Next, I think a leader is born into it. He or she is developing in his way by what he sees at home, at school and what he sees at work. Leaders grow in the way he or she notices.

AMS- So you think a leader is a born observer?

EV – Yes, and a leader will be listening more than talking. He or she tries to guide people without imposing on them.  People do not feel that a real leader is someone who is ordering others about.

There were 80 people in the firm of Deloitte when I started here. Then by 2004 there were 4,000 people.  This is the growth that has happened in 37 years.

For twenty-seven years I have been a board member. No one else in Mexico has done this at such a young age. That’s important to me.

I am a financial advisor. People are mainly looking for mature people. They are not interested in just service. People are looking for personal guidance and a plan that is made for them as an individuals.  I have ten clients now and I do not want more people than this. If I grow too much I will lose quality.

As to people who influence me, when I was in school I had a teacher who gave me some good advice.  I was studying to be a bookkeeper. He said there was another level, the CPA level, and that I should aim for this goal. I thought about it and knew he was right and that I should go further.

I was born in Baja in 1942. It was 1959 when I finished my high school.  My father took us to Mexico City on the way to Acapulco. Our family is Acapulco lovers. When we stopped here, I greatly admired this city. When my father asked me where I would like to go to college, I said Mexico City. I admired the city then and now it has changed.  I live 30 minutes outside the city at this time. Back then there were only 5 million people living here. There was clean air and it was beautiful.

I moved here and I studied from 1960 to 1965.  At that time I was also working.  I studied 2 hours in the morning and 3 hours at night.  There was a good group of Mexican businessmen who had formed a company. I worked there for 5 years.  When I was studying I noticed that there were a lot of Americans doing business with us and so I decided to go get my masters at Georgetown University.

I loved my time at Georgetown. When I was there I met a man from Ernst and Young. I told him I would like to be involved in consulting to more companies rather than working for one company.  He said if I was to join them I would be paid the salary that I was making in my other job.

AMS – So you took a risk to join a new company?

EV- Yes, and it was a very good experience working there.  In Mexico it was expected that you should write a book as part of your degree.  So I went to the library of congress and wrote my thesis in 3 month.  Finally I became a registered accountant in 1968.

AMS – You trusted your mentors and your father trusted you?

EV- Yes, my father knew that I loved the city here and both my parents were fine with my decisions.  But here I am now watching the city I love changing for the worse due to smog etc.

AMS- Yes, there is a regression through out the world as there is smog in all big cities.

EV- To return to the importance of relationships, I am fortunate to have had mentors and a family who believed in me.

In 1972 I got married and after that my wife helped me a great deal. My wife is my first passion, then my family, and then my career.  If you have support from your family you do not have a limit to personal growth.

I have seen other brilliant people who have not done well as they have problems in their families. Some of these people were my supervisors. I saw their wives did not help them or the family, and so they did not do well. There were lots of divorces.

AMS – Perhaps one could say it is like the appearance of smog, as divorce and other problems increase with the increase in the numbers of people.  As the complexity is increasing, the problems are increasing too.

I was saying that yesterday at the meeting with the USEM people.  If you have problem in the family, these worries can go with you to work, and if you have problems at work they can go home with you.

EV- I could not agree more. In the Mexican branch of my company there are now 300 partners and I have mentored 150 of these people.

If anyone of these people call me I never say no, as I always make time to listen and help them sort out things. Yes, I sacrifice a little personal time.   But this is a very important responsibility.  When I retired in 2005 I have been able to take the time to play golf and enjoy time with my wife and son. My daughter has two children and she does not have time to play. I want to devote more time to being with my family.

An important decision in my life was when met my wife in 1971 and we were married six month later.

AMS- You found your passion and you took the risk.

Sometimes passion can help you to be successful, if you are good at evaluating risk.

EV- I know a lot of people at Deloitte.  There are 20,000 clients more or less, and with each one the issues are that you have to give good quality service.

AMS- Is this value, good service to others, a theme in the lives of your grandparents? Is there an interest in math, engineering service?

My father was a civil engineer. He did not like administration. He would rather work in the construction industry. He knows construction. I did not like construction but he loves it and he did a lot important land development.

My brother got involved in this area too.

I am the 3rd one born.  The first one was my sister then my brother then me. After me there were 4 more children, two younger brothers and then my two sisters.

AMS – That is a big family.

EV- Yes, and my youngest sister introduced me to my wife.

AMS – Were they at school together?

EV- They were at the university together. We married six month after we meet.

AMS- Did your mother approve of a such a quick marriage?

EV- Yes, my mother was worried that I was alone here in Mexico City. Then when my mother met her, she was very happy that I was going to marry her. I had only four girl friends in my life and she was the forth one.  The other ones are still my friends.

AMS- Yes, it’s important to keep your friends.  I often tease people and say it’s not good to treat your old friends like beer cans and throw them away.

What can you tell me about the kid of example your parents were for you?

EV- My mother is there for all of us all and now for forty grandchildren. Being there for people is an important value for me too. My mother’s families were farmers.  Next week she will be 87.

Eight years ago my father passed away.  My father’s family were usually were involved in business.  My grandfather was involved in baking tortillas and other foods.  He made the big ones and he also had a small packing company.  This was in the nineteen twenties.

AMS – Knowing how to run a small company is very important as here you learn the basics. I did not know the general principles of business so I asked my son-in-law to explain and he did it by looking at how you would run a lemonade stand.

EV- I also learned from a seeing how a small business is run as I use to keep the books for my grandfather.  Unfortunately he died young.

AMS- People who have had a family business have had to deal with the emotional side of the organization at home and at work.  Those who do not have the opportunity to see how a small family business operates may not realize how fast relationships at work can easily become intense, just like a family.  There are all kinds of loyalty issues and side taking just like in a family.  In a family business there is often no where to hide form the emotions about the business.

EV- I advise many people who have family business. I often have to help people to liquidate the business as the family is conflicted or will be better off to sell.  At times I am like an undertaker for the business.

I also help families organize the business into a new business if that is the way they want to go.

AMS – It is funny that you say you were like an undertaker. I think this is a good place to learn as you see the real difficulty people face in transitions.

My mentor/ boss at Georgetown University had a family business too. His father was an undertaker and ran the funeral home in a small town, Waverly, Tenn.  They also owned the furniture store there. I think he saw how families operated around a death.

The main thing I hear is that you have been helped by many people in your life.

EV- Yes, and it comes down to the only real thing I am doing is helping people. I do it in my way. For instance I do not give to people who are begging for money but I do pay the people who work for me very well.

AMS- You think it is important to pay well for performance?

EV- Yes, I appreciate the sacrifices that people make who are helping me. My secretary is very important to how well I do as is my gardener.

AMS- So you believe more in using the carrot more than in using the stick.

EV- Yes, I do believe in incentives and in recognizing people for what they avhe done.

AMS – I also like to reward people for actions.  I will give street people money but only if they will talk to me. I give a dollar if they will talk about how their family and if family members know where they are.  I did this to get over my fear of street people.

EV- Let me go back to beggars, As they are a real problem here in Mexico too.  I give money to private association through associations, as I think they can deal with the problems better than I can.

AMS- What do you see as the biggest problem in Mexico that you would like to help solve if you had unlimited recourses?

EV- To be honest, poverty we will always have.  The most urgent need here in the city is transportation. We are wasting so many man hours per day in trying to go from one point to another.  It is just not effective and wastes a great deal of energy.  From December to early March we have smog and then we have the rains and with this the winds come and get rid of the smog.

But still no matter the time of the year, the traffic is going to delay you and keep you from getting where you need to be and so time, energy and money is being wasted.

AMS- When we drove here I saw it hear it was a pollution day and people could not drive cars that were over ten years old. There were also police men everywhere checking on the cars.

EV- Yes. They are there not just for the traffic but also for the safety of the people. The police are checking to see who is in these cars.

This is an important part of the city. It is the center for the financials.  They do not want people coming in here with guns.  And that has been a problem.

AMS – Someone told me there was a 50% unemployment in Mexico.

EV –  Let  me show you the problems of the people in Mexico. I can draw this for you.  Here we are in the city and many people are coming here from the southern part of the country where there is a great deal of poverty.

They are coming to Mexico City to find work. If you go into the middle of Mexico you do not find poverty.  Some people from these areas are just travelers not leaving because of poverty.

AMS -So are you thinking about this big picture in looking at the transportation problems in Mexico City?  Are you thinking that if people could work on a big project like transportation, it could help all the people?

When I was in Disney World over Christmas I saw that they have a futuristic monorail. They have build these around airports in the U.S. Could you do something like that here?

EV- We do not have the funds put aside for transportation.  People who are working here are going to continue to suffer as there are no plans for transportation. We know where the bottle necks are but we have not developed a comprehensive plan.

AMS – Yesterday, I interviewed Francesco Piazzesi, he has been working on how to solve the housing problems for poor people.  He has developed a model based on how to reward business, governments, non profits and the people in the community to work together to build houses.

EV- Yes. I have heard that he is one of the people who has made a big differences. He is doing an amazing job.  We need more of this in the government.

We use to have 250 representatives but now because of some reason they have double the numbers of people working and whAt is it they are doing?

AMS – It seems that the entrepreneurs are more able to solve problems as they are more flexible and can do things quickly.

EV- Another issue is that unfortunately we have ten very important business men who run the largest corporations and there is no competition in these areas: TV, radio stations, newspapers, oil companies and the public transportations.

As you see we allow monopolies and people are not motivated to resolve this conflict of interest which would occur if there were more competition in business.  This is the way things have been, this is what we have. Many of us are fighting this old way of being.

There are foreign investors who would like to invest in our country but they can not because of the monopolies. They have permission to run the companies the way they do and it is set up so that no outsiders can break in.

I am not sure how long people have been dealing monopolies but I think for a long time.(Competition laws date back to the Roman Empire) I think in the U.S. broke up the oil and  steel companies first and then later other monopolies. (Modern competition law begins with the United States legislation of the Sherman Act of 1890 and the Clayton Act of 1914)

EV- We are still waiting for the government to change things.

AMS- It is an interesting point to ask under what conditions a government can change. There seems to be a tipping point in all systems where the rules change or people change.

I gave the example in Ireland where they found a tipping point when they offered people high interest for keeping their money in the bank.  No one knows which rule you put in will change. Now people in the US are trying to find the tipping point to stabilize the financial markets.

This is similar to what I do in listening to family members.

I challenge people to think about what they can do that will be different and might enable them to function more effectively.  They know and I know that change involves risk and uncertainty.

Ina family a leader usually arises because of a crisis.  Then one person is far more willing to work on their part of the problem. But its hard to change as each person risks with their own life. This is why we call them leaders.

Some very amazing and interesting things happen when one person is willing to be a leader.

EV- In Mexico we have what we hope to be and what we are now.  70% of the people have not been helped.

AMS – We can also look at what happen to China. They had a communist government but seemingly suddenly they decide we will let people have a business with little or no taxes. Rules make a difference but we do not know which ones to change.

EV- Competition needs good laws.  We are protecting the people who have already done well.  You have to change and to force the end of monopolies. Right now we are talking about the oil companies. They have been saying they should not be spending money on research.  They use all the money on current expenses. They did not use the money for thinking about how to be successful in the future.  They say there is oil in the deep sea but you have to go to 200 meters but we have not done that. We may run out of oil in the next few years as we have not though about the future.

AMS – Just as in families nothing change with out the crisis.  Also consider families do not know about their past as a way to prepare for the future.

EV- We will have the crisis.  People think today I have money. I do not need you. Today I do not have to cooperate with others.

AMS – Leaders do arise once in a while to take people into the future. There are not many of these leaders like in the US I would consider Lincoln and Roosevelt as very special leaders in time of crisis.

EV- Bill Clinton is respected here as in December of 1994 he supported Mexico with billions of dollars.  George Bush has not done as well by us.

AMS- Perhaps George Bush has not done as well by his family as Bill Clinton did?

EV- I do not know but I do know that what happens in America will impact Mexico.

AMS- We have talked about many interesting ideas today and I thank you so much for your time. Although we did not go into details about your family, clearly we have talked about the very similar problems and process that happen in one’s family which are also happening at work and in society.

Mindful Compass Points Ernesto Valenzuela

(1)  The ability to define a vision: Early onErnesto Valenzuela knew he was interested in a career that was different from his father’s path.  His father did not react to this difference but encouraged him to find his own path.  Ernesto Valenzuela was then freer to follow his directions about where he would go to school and how he would peruse his career.   He remarked that his mother’s only concern was that he would be lonely living away from his family and she was relieved when he found the right woman to marry.

Being a middle sibling in a large family Ernesto Valenzuela probably grew up, as many middle siblings do, knowing how to relate to a wide variety of people. He is able to listen to others, his father, his mentor, and to see the rewards for going further in school despite the costs in terms of working hard. Working hard and family support have been the two main factors that he see in supporting his successful career.

His career requires him to be a good listener and to enable people to think clearly about a plan to solve problems. Being able to navigate in the social world has come easily to him. His current visions involve continuing helping those who have been in relationships to him.  He has a vision of how to think about and solve problems at the social level and he knows how to build alliances to see that change can happen.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system:Ernesto Valenzuela talks more about the changes in society than the changes he witnessed in his family system.

Clearly he understands how the status quo is a strong force and that both people and organizations resist change. He humorously calls himself the undertaker when families have to make difficult decisions.  It may be that he uses this kind of humor to deflect anxiety. Since he is in conversations with the top business leaders he is able to hear their concerns about the future of Mexico and to consider different solutions.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge:Ernesto Valenzuela

knows what to do to enable people to solve problems. He understands the difficulty within system and has had a very positive experience in learning new ideas.

Both of us enjoyed considering the ideas that there is a link between family system dynamics and his interest in social dynamics. The past within his family has given him a great love and admiration for Mexico.  Ernesto Valenzuela is a spokesman for possible change that will make for interesting differences in society.

(4)The ability to be separate: Clearly he developed his values of loyalty to family and to his clients and those who work in his organization in his big family.  There was no negativity is his resolutions about the family. Therefore we can assume he was separate enough from problems that every family has to have, to not be negatively impacted by his father’s or grandfather’s deaths. Transitions are not a threat if people can be separate from the systems reactions to change.

It takes time for anyone to organize their life stories into direct links between family values and family events.   Ernesto Valenzuela seems to sense the connection between events and the impact of history on the future.

Clearly there is a need to strengthen the ability to be alone and think carefully about the future direction of one’s business life and one’s country.

The final question always is what am I am going to do about the problems that I see now?  Retirement has not changed his value of using his life energy effectively to make a significant difference in how the problems are addressed and solved.


The history of competition law reaches back further than the Roman Empire. The business practices of market traders, guilds and governments have always been subject to scrutiny, and sometimes severe sanctions. Since the twentieth century, competition law has become global. The two largest and most influential systems of competition regulation are United States antitrust law and European Community competition law.

Pauline made landfall on the Oaxacan coast at Puerto Angel on 10/8/97. This was a category 4 hurricane with winds at 180 mph. Damage was extensive including downed power lines, trees, washed out roads, broken windows, roofs, mudslides and water damage. In Huatulco there was some beach erosion, downed trees and broken windows. Roofs were removed from most homes in Puerto Angel and many windows broken. Zipolite was wiped out. [photos] This included Piña Palmera and the homes of all of its employees. There has been a great deal of support and plans are underway to rebuild the center.

The death count officially stands at 195, but church officials in Guerrero said that if unidentified bodies and those missing since the disaster struck are added, the number of dead would reach 500. The Red Cross reports that as of October 16, 2100 persons in the two states are still unaccounted for. Most are presumed dead.

About 400,000 have been left homeless in Oaxaca and Guerrero, and a third of Acapulco’s million inhabitants have been affected, most having been left without electricity or water. Tens of thousands who depended on tourism to earn a living are without work. Like all natural calamities, Paulina and its aftermath have highlighted social and material inequalities and magnified existing political flashpoints.

The company, headquartered in Littlehampton, West Sussex, England, was founded by Anita Roddick and is known for its vegetable-based products ranging from Body Butter, Peppermint Foot Lotion, and Hemp. The Body Shop has emphasized its support for a wide range of issues around the globe. Its slogans included: Against Animal Testing, Support Community Trade, Activate Self Esteem, Defend Human Rights, and Protect Our Planet.[1] Roddick was awarded the 1991 World Vision Award for Development Initiative Award.[10] In 1993

Mario Buzzolini, director comercial de Grupo Lanw@re Telecomunicaciones

The Spanish Civil War was a major conflict in Spain that started after an attempted coup d’état committed by parts of the army against the government of the Second Spanish Republic. The Civil War devastated Spain from July 17, 1936 to April 1, 1939, ending with the victory of the rebels and the founding of a dictatorship led by the NationalistGeneral Francisco Franco. The supporters of the Republic, or Republicans (republicanos), gained the support of the Soviet Union and Mexico, while the followers of the Rebellion, nacionales (literally, “nationals” but rendered in the English bibliography as “nationalists”), received the support of the major EuropeanAxis powers of Italy and Germany and neighbouring Portugal.

Atrocities were committed on both sides during the war.[27] The use of terrorism against civilians foreshadowed World War II. At least 50,000 people were executed during the civil war.[28][29] In his recent, updated history of the Spanish Civil War, Antony Beevor “reckons Franco’s ensuing ‘white terror‘ claimed 200,000 lives.

Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818March 14, 1883) was a 19th century philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary. Often called the father of communism, Marx was both a scholar and a political activist. He addressed a wide range of political as well as social issues, but is best known for his analysis of history, summed up in the opening line of the Communist Manifesto (1848): “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. Marx believed that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, will produce internal tensions which will lead to its destruction. Just as capitalism replaced feudalism, capitalism itself will be displaced by communism, a classless society which emerges after a transitional period in which the state would be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.[1][2][3]

On the one hand, Marx argued for a systemic understanding of socioeconomic change. On this model, it is the structural contradictions within capitalism which necessitate its end, giving way to communism: economics derives from John Maynard Keynes, in particular his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), which ushered in contemporary macroeconomics as a distinct field. Keynes attempted to explain in broad theoretical detail why high labour-market unemployment might not be self-correcting due to low “effective demand” and why even price flexibility and monetary policy might be unavailing. Such terms as “revolutionary” have been applied to the book in its impact on economic analysis.

The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholicclergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights.



AMS – As you know I have been a student of Bikram yoga for six years now. I had encouraged Maria to find a studio where she too could discover the physical and mental benefits of this practice.  I know it has given me a tremendous advantage in terms of the mind body integration.  I was so pleased you opened this studio.  Now I can learn and relax here in Mexico. Did you open it a year ago?

UC – We opened almost a year ago.

AMS – I was very struck when Maria brought me to your studio. I was impressed with your calm and thoughtful energy.  Also, the people working here are very positive and encouraging. Therefore, I assume you must be a good leader, since the leader sets the tone for the system.  I wanted to interview you to find out how you came to be doing this work. What were the influences on you?

UC – Yes, it is interesting how it happens, and how life prepares you. Your purpose changes and defining yourself can be limiting.

Now I realize that everything is the way it is supposed to be. I can see many things that prepared me for this moment. I can recall these events. There is something that makes your life vibrate. I do not like to talk about your purpose in life. But I think it is important and that your path changes all the time. Once you define yourself by your job, you have limited yourself.

There are many things that I recall about my family’s influence on me. When I was four or five my grandmother practiced yoga and her teacher turned out to be Bikram’s brother. She used to take me to the fellowship where I would also pick up ides about yoga.

I grew up in Mexico. My family was living near the border with the US. My dad was working in the oil fields near Reynosa.  When I was 6 or 7 we moved to Mexico City.  Later I went to the university here.  Then after school I got a job with Reuters.

I have an older brother and two younger sisters. My brother lived in Paris and he has just moved back to Mexico. The sister next to me lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The youngest one lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

AMS- Your parents remained in Mexico City?

UC- Yes. My father left his body the day after I graduated from Bikram Yoga as a teacher. My mom is still alive.  She is 72.

My Dad was an engineer. He wanted us to go to college. I studied electrical engineering, as did my brother.

AMS – Were you doing Yoga on the side?

UC – There were two things that I learned young. One was to relax my body.  My mom learned how to breathe in order to have a natural childbirth. I was one of the first of my generation to use natural childbirth.  If I went to the dentist my mom would always say relax, breathe in, breathe out.  I grew up as more of an intellectual and did well in math and science.   But I always thought, breathe in and breathe out.

My family went to the Gold Coast where my father’s family lived. Most of my mom’s family was in Mexico City.  One time I heard a hypnotherapist give a speech. I am not sure why I was there by myself, but this man was saying you could use hypnosis instead of anesthesia. I volunteered and went to the stage and he laid me on my back and he hypnotized me.  After that he told me that I could do this and use it to study.  You try to let all the tension go. And if you ever hurt yourself just let the pain go. You imagine you have a towel and roll it up and let it absorb all the pain and then take it away.

A few days later I hurt my leg and tried it and it worked. I never told anyone, I just did it. I would relax myself and let the pain go away.  So early on I saw the power of the mind to heal.

AMS -How did you use it in school?

UC- I never had any problems in school. After I graduated I moved to New Zealand and ended up staying there for three years.

I had already met my beloved wife. Alexjandra. She was 16 and I was 19.  She attended the university and we went on vacation.  We did not get married for a long time. We meet in 1981.

AMS – So you are friends for life.

UC – Then she got pregnant and our son was born in 1988.  Ulysses was his name, like my name.

AMS – I associate this name with the Ulysses of literature?[1] Is it similar?

UC – Yes.

AMS- The book that tells of his journey, was the first book in all of literature in which the word “I” was used.

Leadership emerges because of the “I”.

Dr. Bowen, when he wrote his last chapter, an Epilogue, called it the Odyssey.  This was the title of his last chapter in the book, Family Evaluation: An Approach Based on Bowen Theory by

Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen

UC – I recall how when I was young and there were no other students with this name, so teachers remembered me.

My mother’s brothers also had this name.  My mom was one of nine children.  She was the third girl. There were five girls first and then five boys.

The brother next to her was named Ulysses.  Also my grandfather on my mom’s side was a Mason. This is a very important fraternal organization in Mexico.[2]

I am the third one of my cousins with this name.

My brother ws named after my father. My Dad said to my mom, People in the family are naming the kids after your grandfather.  Let’s call our son Ulysses. Now there are four of my cousins with this name.

After my son was born, we moved to Sydney. I was working for Reuters at the time.[3] I stayed with them for 15 years in sales and marketing.  I loved the job because it involved traveling and it was great to be able to create things. I had a very successful career.

After our marriage we moved to Australia.  Alexjandra got pregnant again and we had our second son Eric.

AMS- Was he named after Eric the Red?

UC – Yes!  In 1992 I was transferred from Sydney to Melbourne.  Eric was six weeks old when Ulysses, his older brother, contracted meningitis and left his body.  He was four.

You asked what made the transition and my son’s death was that transition point.

Doctors don’t know how you get this.  You can have it and it does no harm but if it travels to the brain it’s deadly.  He said my ear hurts one night and then by 5 in the morning he was in a coma.  The doctors said there was nothing that could be done.

I went into a total shock. I became a workaholic. My wife was also working very hard. After eight years we returned to Mexico City.  At the time I was a distant Catholic. I was a bit like an agnostic. I relate to God but religion didn’t make sense to me.  I was more into intellectual things.  I had also grown up in a city where you are in touch with injustice.

I am sharing this, because when he died I felt there was no God and I felt this great pain. I would wake up and say “How come I did not die.”   I wanted to die.  But we had Eric and we had to survive for him. My wife was working for Microsoft. I was traveling a lot in Latin America. I knew we had to spend time to figure out what was going on.   I was going to Costa Rica on a trip, so I said to my wife, “we should have a weekend vacation”.

We arrived in Costa Rica and were taking a catamaran to an island and go exploring and swimming.

An older woman attracted my attention. I asked what she was doing here. She said “I am studying Spanish”. She had long white hair to the waist. I couldn’t tell her age at the time. I asked, “Why are you studying Spanish,” and she said “I am on my way back to the university.” I asked what she did and she said she had fourteen professions.  “I am an artist, an engineer, a lawyer, etc.” “Which is your favorite?” I asked.   She said “Parapsychology”. “What is that?” I asked and she said “It’s about energy and beyond what you can sense.”   So I asked her questions for 16 hours.

My wife and I sat together at a table with this woman and talked.   Other people were swimming and touring the island. The woman started to tell me about how the world shifted through time. She said that my wife and I had suffered a big separation. We listened very carefully and asked questions. I went into a state of bliss and simply hoped that all this was true.

I wanted to know everything.  How did she know all these things? Toward the end I said I needed to know more.  She said it was not important. I also wanted to know who she was. I knew she was from Canada. Then she said “All I am here for is to plant a seed. You have something important to do. You do not need to know my phone number or anything.  You will find your way, don’t worry.

You will find it out. You don’t need to know me.  I have done my job.  You will find the people you need.”

The tour was over and we got on the bus. We were going back to San Jose. And then suddenly she got off the bus at a stoplight and I remained in this state of bliss.

AMS- The cure for separation anxiety is bliss.

UC- Perhaps! The next two days I found people in an exponential way.

I remained in the corporate world for the next six years and I was very successful. During this time I also became a Reiki master[4], a sun dancer,[5] and I met Jean Houston.[6] I stayed for 7 days at Jean Houston’s house.  I was also practicing yoga.  All of this happened in a very natural way.

One day I left the corporate world just like that.  I do know how or why all of this happened to change my family and my life, but the more I let go the more amazing things happen.

It has all been very amazing.  My path seemed to be a series of meditations. It seems that I am a manifestation of these things that go through me.

My desire is that more people can realize who they are and to share what I have received. All I can do is dedicate my life to be a vehicle of the creative spirit.

AMS- Thanks you so much for your time, your great energy and calm enthusiasm.

I will look forward to our next conversation.

Mindful Compass Points Ulises Calatayud Catano

(1)  The ability to define a vision: Ulises Catano vision is an evolving one which has deep roots in his family history.  We hear of his grandfather who was a well known Mason. Then his grandmother introduces him to the ideas of yoga and breathing early on. He uses his own experience to see wht works and wht does not. Since the ideas of hypnosis worked he incorporates them into his way of managing himself, without trying to sell it to others.

Ulises Catano has an older brother so he is in a sibling position that often allows the individual to seek new ways of contributing to society. His father stressed education and knowledge and that has continued to be an important part of his life. Clearly his vision was impacted by the sudden death of his son.

Often leaders find a vision as an effort to solve very serious issues that originate in the family. Death has been one of the main transitions for those who become leaders and were not born into the oldest leadership position.

His ability to relate well to people and above all to manage his own energy in relationship to people is wht has given him the leadership edge.  His successful studio and his standing in the world of yoga and spirituality have all been based on a long standing focus on his vision for himself, his family and society.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system:  We do not her that there was trauma in his family of origin or even in the past generations. There was not enough time to look at his larger system to see patterns of dealing with change but we can see the personal difficulty he and his wife had in coming to terms with the death of their son.

The decision to live on in order to provide a positive family for his son and later for his daughter seem to have lead him to look for a broader way to get through great difficulty.

Great teachers often teach through the example of this life. This is not an easy thing for anyone to do. No matter how often one tells the story of great personal pain and of overcoming adversity it often takes courage to reveal one’s private life. The good of living life as an example for others is well known.

Ulises Catano has the courage and the foresight to be his best to give freely of his knowledge and experience. He leads those who choose to follow in a more spiritual path to over come adversity and loss by using mind/ body awareness.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge: Ulises Catano has had a very positive experience in learning new ideas in personal relationships.  The first story is of learning from a woman whose name he never knew. This gives us the example of an increase in knowledge without an increase in dependency on any person.

Gaining knowledge without increasing dependency and discipleship is crucial in being a mature leader. It is a very valuable lesson. Many people become disciples and learn only in deeply dependent relationship, constantly looking to the other to tell them the right way to be and what the right thing to do is.

If we had more time there is a great deal more to be gained by understanding his family at deeper levels.

(4)The ability to be separate: Obviously the resolution of problems I his nuclear family was the uppermost priority for Ulises Catano.  He had to recognize the habit of becoming a workaholic and increasing the risk to his family by how he was originally dealing with the loss of his son. It is very tricky to be alone to work out ways of being in better contact with the important people in one’s life.

Ulises Catano was able to do this. He used the vacation time to renegotiate with his wife and to understand all that had gone on after the loss of his son or perhsp even before that.  There are no more difficult transitions than the death of a child and to figure out wht to do one is better off trying to separate out and reenter relationships at a different level.  Threats from the lack of approval or love can be handled far easier if one is more emotionally separate from the system and can think by using higher values and operate on principles.  Again this was a very touching story of one mans attempt to do just that.

[1] Ulysses), pronounced /oʊˈdɪsiəs/, was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer’s Iliad. King of Ithaca, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and son of Laërtes and Anticlea, Odysseus is renowned for his guile and resourcefulness (known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning) (see mētis, or “cunning intelligence”), and is most famous for the ten eventful years it took him to return home after the Trojan War.

[2] Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins (theorised to be anywhere from the time of the building of King Solomon’s Temple to the mid-1600s). Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around 5 million, with around 480,000 in England, Scotland and Ireland alone, and over 2,000,000 in the United States.[1][2] The various forms all share moral and metaphysical ideals, which include, in most cases, a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.[3]

[3] Reuters. (For the latest news, business, financial and investing news, including personal finance.)

[4] Reiki (ray-key) is a form of energy therapy, that when translated means “spiritually guided life-force energy”. It is a laying-on-of-hands form of energy healing that is believed to have existed thousands of years ago, and was rediscovered by Dr. Mikao Usui approximately 100 years ago. Reiki is provided by a certified practitioner who has been attuned to the Reiki energy. This process is achieved through an attunement by a certified Reiki Master/Teacher.

[5] The Sun Dance was the most spectacular and important religious ceremony of the Plains Indians of 19th-century North America, ordinarily held by each tribe once a year usually at the time of the Summer Solstice.

[6] Dr. Jean Houston, scholar, philosopher and researcher in human capacities, is one of the foremost visionary thinkers and doers of our time, one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement.


Maria Teresa Aramgo was hard at work behind the counter waiting on customers.  Each year there are fund raising events by those who support the Museo de Arte Popular. [1]

Maria teresa Arango

Every year many people who support the museum donate clothes, jewelry, and various items to be sold to raise money for the future.

I had been to see this museum and was very impressed with the incredible art, the happiness and the cheerful people working there.  I was looking forward to meeting Maria Teresa Aramgo. Maria walked over to say we would shop till she was ready for the interview.  She was a full of positive energy giving her customer focused service. I had

expect a more reserved museum founder and director.  But she is a unique individual. I could easily see how the way she is inspires people to move in positive directions without making a big deal of her role.  She was a good example of grace under pressure.

Once we were introduced, she led us over to a table, away from the crowds of bargain hunters. I explained how being a listener, as a family therapy therapist, for many years, had allowed me to see how small groups handled problems and that one person always emerged as a leader. Clearly no matter how much chaos, no matter how much craziness, eventually someone in the family got tired of it, became a leader, standing up for a principle that was more important then going along with more craziness.

Observing this dynamic I thought that by I cold enable people to see leadership as a process by creating a Mindful Compass that would include four main points.  When leaders tell me about in their life stories I see these four building blocks creating a

bridge from their family life to their work life.

People tell me: This is what I’m going to do. If you don’t like it O.K., I will just use my knowledge of relationships to figure out how to manage the resistance. I might have to stand alone and not cave into the lack of approval but I am standing up for a different way of seeing or doing things.  Some people say the Mindful Compass sounds a bit Machiavellian.[2]

MTA: That’s good.

AMS: I wanted to interview leaders who had never heard of family therapy, in order to collect their stories on how they learned to be leaders in their own family, and then took this knowledge to their work life and then into giving back to their communities. Leaders demonstrate the different ways that people build bridges with relationship knowledge.

MTA: Exactly. As example of people coming together to give back to their community is

The  Museum Board.  They are leaders all and have raised something like twenty million dollars to make this dream a reality.

AMS: Clearly you are a living example of a leader who can bring people together to accomplish goals.  People are drawn to specific goals that will make a meaningful change

in their community.  Therefore there is a lot of pressure on leaders to both articulate the mission and do it in a way that captures people’s hearts.

I am sure that people are drawn to the energy that you have, but they may know nothing of your journey as a leader.

I usually ask people to describe a little bit about their family of origin, and how people learned in their family about leading.  I am interested in who you admired as a youngster and how overall you learned from your family and then how that helped you in school, in your community, and now in your work.

MTA: I was born in Egypt from an Egyptian mother and a Belgium father.

My father was stationed in Congo and my parents had a romantic story.

He was in the Army and was a very gorgeous looking man. My father came to Egypt on

leave. After he met my mother, he left the army and stayed in Egypt. As I recall he liked

the sun in Egypt. He didn’t like Belgium. He adored the people in Belgium but he didn’t

like the rain.

AMS: What is your sibling position?

MTA: I’m an only child. Before my mother met my father she was married, and widowed from Egyptian man. Therefore I have two brothers who are Egyptian. One is dead and the other one is alive.

AMS: Which one died?

MTA: The older brother who died lived in Greece. He just died last year of cancer.

And the younger one is in Paris, he has a French wife. We all get adopted by the country

where we are.  Now I have been adopted by the Mexican people as I have a Mexican


AMS: That’s a wonderful way to see how moving form one country to another effects us.


MTA: I’ve been in Mexico now for the last, for the last 25 years. I have girls, one is 28,

the other one is 24. One of them works in the museum. She created what is called La Tienda del MAP, the Store of the MAP. She is doing wonderfully well. In addition we have opened a store in the airport. We represent 400 communities of artisans from all over Mexico.

AMS: That’s amazing.

MTA: We are selling much more than we ever expected, even in our best dreams.

AMS: How did this happen?

MTA: I think we’ve been very good at creating consciousness in the Mexican public

who were not aware of what wonders we have in Mexico. It really took a foreigner to see

and appreciate the incredible art that the people of Mexico have given us.  The people

seem to understand the deep value of the art  and you can see this in their enthusiasm.

The museum could have never made it if I were alone in my enthusiasm.

AMS: But you had the original idea?

MTA: The idea I had about 10 years ago. I talked to various people and we started creating it in 1999.

AMS: Where did you get the idea?

MTA: I have always loved art even when I was younger living in Egypt.

Then when I came to Mexico I started collecting different pieces. I had not much money.

My family was thrown out of Egypt with no money. My mother was an Egyptian

landowner in Egypt.: And the revolution didn’t like foreigners owning property in Egypt.

My father was a foreigner too so we were thrown out of Egypt.[3]

AMS: What year?

MTA: We left Egypt in 1963. We went to New York where my father found a job.

He was the manager of the St Regis Hotel in New York. In Egypt my father worked for a

Belgium man, he was the Vice-President of the company.  I learned to appreciate art

from both parents but not in from their businesses.

In Paris I studied at Corde de Leu, and I worked as an interpreter for UNESCO in special conferences. It helped that I spoke five languages.

Much of this experience helped me. I realized that in needed to have board with a

broad vision so when we founded the museum it was 1999 I put 70 members on the board. Some of the people help by bring in money and others bring in knowledge.  Everybody brings a lot of love, and dedication. Therefore you can see we have a group of awesome counselors. In addition we have a board of young people. That now number about 35-40.

The current President of the Board of young people is Fernanda Suárez.

I wanted her to take my place when I’m tired, which is right now.

AMS: She is a leader for tomorrow’s effort. This is what I am hoping that today’s stories of leaders will do, help prepare people for tomorrow problems.

Now what made you leave Egypt and come to Mexico?

MTA: There was a Belgium friend of my father, Cesar Balta, who was of Spanish origin. He created a chain of hotels, cafeterias and restaurants. He offered my father the vice-presidency of the St Regis. Father left us in Egypt to see how it would go and then we all came to New York.

AMS: How old were you?

MTA: I was 15, full of life. I finished my French degree in New York. I went to France and studied the history of ideas at the Lyceum de Louvre.

AMS: Then you came back to Mexico after you finished?

MTA: I came back to Mexico after 2 years in France from 1973 to 1975. I lived there

on my own.

AMS: You met your husband while you were there?

MTA: No, no I met my husband here in Mexico. It took him a long time to decide so

we had different boyfriends and girlfriends meanwhile. He was 39 when we got married.   A man who waits makes a very good husbands and fathers once he decides to get married.

AMS: You still fight with him about how he could improve a little?

MTA: Yes, no, maybe. He is too much of an idealist. I’m the realist one and he is the idealistic one. So maybe that’s what we fight about. I think that different backgrounds always make things more complicated.

AMS: Right. Any two people are complicated, but when backgrounds are different it is

more complicated.

AMS: And what about your grandparents?

MTA: My grandparents. Well, my father’s parents were originally from Syria.

My grandfather was a poet and a writer. My grandmother was from a well to do family. She had education.

AMS: And she had how many children? You father being which one?

MTA: My father was an only child. His mother who also a widow who remarried.

They lived in Belgium, in a place called Liege. I neve met my grandfather as he died befre I was born.  My grandmother I saw little of as she lived in Belgium.

I really don’t know much about her.

I know much more about my Egyptian family.

MTA: My mother was the youngest of 3 sisters. She had a brother who died and he was the youngest.

AMS: How old was he when he died?

MTA: He was young. I am not sure of his age.

AMS: Now it is getting more popular to go look for your family.  Our current democratic nominee for president Obama wrote a book called Dreams of My Father about his search for his family roots.   Perhaps he did’t want to have all the problems Bill Clinton had. So he went to see who his father was. That was very smart. But most of us, especially if we immigrate can lose track of the people in our family.

MTA: You think so? My father became very Egyptian.  He even learned to speak Arabic which is difficult for a Belgium.

AMS: People in your family have a good ear for language were any of them into music?

MTA: No, my brother who died was, had a factory of textiles. My other brother was a Doctor in research in Paris.  Now he is retired and he is very good at playing bridge.

In fact we all play bridge in our family. French education is very good to teach to

discipline your mind.

MTA: I think Mexico is one of the loveliest countries in the world. So when I married I

wanted to get to know the country.  So I really traveled through Mexico all over in a bus. This was a way no Mexican ever travels but it taught me a lot.

I was really inspired by Mexico. I thought what I saw was beautiful, and what I bought

was lovely. When I had a little bit more money I started a very good art collection which

in my house in Acapulco.  Then I started meeting local artisans because when you go

visit them and try to buy things from them they start to appreciate you.

Eventually I wanted to be on the jury for the national Arts and Crafts group.

They take a lot of pieces and you judge which ones are the best and you give them prices.

I went to do this with, a friend of my husband, who is now dead. He was called Donatieu Duperrier. Then they started inviting me all over Mexico to be a judge in those events.

I met a woman called Maria Teresa Pomar, who knows popular art in Mexico, and she

was my mentor. She wanted to create a museum. But she had no means to do it. Her

husband was in the communist party. So we were from very different worlds.

But we got along wonderfully and we worked to make this dream come true.

AMS: One of the things you said which stroke a very deep chord with me is and I find so

accurate is that the people in Mexico couldn’t appreciate the work of the Mexican natives.

This happens in many countries where the native people have been conquered.  It

happened in  Ireland and in the United States.  I my family history I belong to families of

both slaves and slave owners.  Even though I’m Irish, Maloney, I have Belgium ancestors

who came over and conquered the Irish.  The Brabazon family came over in about 1650

and participated in taking precious things away from the native people, including saying

Irish art was no good. The people in Ireland accepted this situation for many years.

MTA: Because you want to take over that culture, you impose your religion and language.

AMS: Exactly. The urge to conquer others seem deeply rooted in our biological instincts.

You don’t even think about it. But as time passes the old culture comes to be respected.

MTA: It is true. Also much of Mexican art came from the influence of the Spanish, from the outer world.  Both cultures have influenced Mexican art.

AMS: And you can see that?

MTA: Very easy.  The Spaniards were influenced by the people traveling from

old Asia and from China, and even Hong Kong. Art starts in the old

history and develops as you see one culture influences another. In Mexico

the peoples art starts when the pre Hispanic period finishes and when the modern period

starts.  There is a separation between the two worlds.

The Spanish bought Mexican art and the two arts become mixed.

You know it is a different thing when the people are forced to make some kind of art for


AMS: I have the idea that the more people know about their family the more connected

they are to history, the further they can see into the future.

Your past is somehow informing your vision for the future.

MTA: I remember my daughter, the one who is 28 years old, was always telling my

mother we know so little about your family. Why don’t you tell us more?

I never paid attention to it. I was not aware of the importance. I never gave it the

importance it should have.

AMS: This is a new problem as a hundred years ago most of us lived very close to many generations of our family.  But now everybody is breaking up. Now you only have 1.7 children in each family and there is so much more concern about knowing your past and how all that informs your future.

If I ask a hundred people, many people will not even know the last name or the story about what their grandparents did.  Perhsp this will change if people see it as important to their functioning and their future.

What is the impact you would like to make in Mexico?

MTA: I think that my impact can be seen in the sense that we are giving work to 8

million artists. Then you can add the impact on the surrounding communities.

We can easily influence 20 million. That is one fifth of the Mexican population.

And many of these people have 2 jobs. But if we can give one person a better job they

will not need to flee to the states or work the second job.

Also we have published a book called “Arte del Pueblo: Manos de Dios”.

Art of the People: Hands of God.[4] It was created for us by Carlos Fuentes, the writer.

He is part of the Board too.

AMS: When you have affected this many people do you think about making a story about

this for television?

MTA: I never could have thought I would have been able to speak so much. But for the last 3 years, I have spoken on TV, in books, I’ve written prologues to books… I have been doing something I’ve not been used to do.  I think it is very important that people know the story so that they can repeat it. And they can be inspired by it.

We still need to raise money and it is mostly the ladies who will do the work.

And this is our 5th year of holding this event.  This year we have raised more money

in one day that we did in three days last year.

I tell you very frankly I was not educated in philanthropy. My husband decided he was

going to educate me. So he infused the idea in me.

I had to do something for this country that has given me so much.

My husband is a very good teacher.

AMS: How do you think he taught you?

MTA: I made fun of him when he started something called el Centro Mexicano de

Filantropía. Mexican Center of Philanthrophy. He started that 20 years ago or more ago.

Eventually I said do you think you can teach me how to inspire people to give their

money and their time? He taught me wht he knew as he knew as Mexico has many


AMS: Are many of these philanthropist entrepreneurs?

MTA Yes, now my father-in-law started a wonderful business.

He came here when he was 14 years old, on a Spanish cargo ship. He

paid his way by working on the ship. Then he married a Spanish woman and they had 3 boys and 3 girls.  The 3 boys started what is now Wal-Mart.  Actually Wal-Mart bought out their stores.  They started a small shop and then enlarged it and then it grew and became a chain. The three brothers were a good combination.

AMS: Which number was your husband of the three of them?

MTA : He was the youngest.

AMS: The youngest is often the most charming and creative.

MTA: Yes, he is very creative and very charming.

AMS: Did he work with his dad and all his brothers and sisters in the business?

MTA: No, the sisters were married and had children.

AMS: What does he think about his family history?

MTA: He knows a lot as he hired someone to do an extensive family history.  He would

like to change the way people think and act. He thinks the most important people to try to

change are the people who are capable of learning about philanthropy.  He believes that

Mexico has a tremendous opportunity and tremendous problems.

AMS: The family is changing, with only 1.7 children in an average family,

the role of women is really changing. What do you think about that?

MTA: I’m not a feminist at all. I adore that men are very willing

to be polite and look after their wives and children.    But I realize this is not happening everywhere. I do not know what to do about this. I’m been taught by my parents in a very European way to be independent. Also my husband never wanted me to depend on him. So I take care of my own finances and of the house and I take care of the children. I have really done my own things. But his is also easier for me as he wants me to be independent.

I think there is no reason why a man should be better than a woman.

The government has given women more rights and this is good. Now, we have many women in the government. The Secretary of Education is a woman as is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

We have women in many, many jobs. We have ladies who are doctors, who are engineers, who are in computers; we have many women, who manage companies.

Social entrepreneurs are very much influencing the government.  Many non profits

work with the government.

I created the museum by talking with each administration. I have to speak to three different administrations and we have worked with the government of the City of Mexico

And we have worked with the Federal government through the Ministry of Education and

the Ministry of Culture and Art.  It has worked out beyond my dreams and it also

took a lot of fight. I had to be strategic as Mexican people are very polite.

They are afraid to say what they think. I’m very, very straight forward. And I usually say what I think. But somehow I have to talk people into supporting the museum to the raise

seven million pesos a year to keep, to keep the museum going.

AMS: That might be an interesting story to write up. How to approach different parts of

the population and the government.

MTA: I have had many people scolding me. How can you think of staying at home when

you’ve done what you’ve done? And the only thing I really want to do now is stay at

home. I’m marrying my child, my first daughter in a month and I want to be at home with

my family.

I would love to be a grandmother for a while and maybe I can think about writing,

but not for the moment.

AMS: That’s what happened to me. My first grandchild was born in 1993 and

then I thought I want to retire and write a book.  We are members of living systems that

influence our decisions.  The family is a system. Each one has a great deal of knowledge.

That is why I wanted to collect your story and other women’s story. Because it does help

to see what other people have done.

MTA: Wonder: I have always loved art even when I was younger living in Egypt.

Then when I came to Mexico I started collecting different pieces. I had not much money.

My family was thrown out of Egypt with no money. My mother was an Egyptian

landowner in Egypt.  The revolution didn’t like foreigners owning property in Egypt.

My father was a foreigner too so we were thrown out of Egypt. My family recovered and that is a good example.  But I’m not talking just about myself. I’m really talking about the board. These are the important people who have all played a very important part in helping us preserve art from and for the people.

AMS: The board has been like a family?

MTA: Yes, and I think that they all are a good examples for Mexican society of hwo to give back to your community.

AMS: I’m grateful to you for giving your time for this interview.

MTA:  This project for the museum has given me life again. I’ve really been very happy to be able to do this project. It has given me a whole lot of energy, a new life and it has given me a good reason to concentrate on healthy things and not focus on my problems.

AMS: That’s beautiful and a good example for all of us.

MTA: When you stop being a mother and are old then you have some time on your own

so dedicate it to what life has given you. To give back to others with pleasure

is so wonderful.  That is the reason why the museum project came out so well.

AMS: In your case love leads the way.

MTA: I agree, now back to the work.

(1)  The ability to define a vision:

Maria Teresa Arango tells us that she learned to deeply appreciate art

from both of her parents at a young age.  Her parents provided a good example and she then began collecting art on her own despite not having much money.  She spoke of her deep appreciation for how art has an impact on the awareness of people.  In addition she recognized that people often do not appreciate the deep value of art.

She set about the business of making it possible for more people to both appreciate what

the people of Mexico have produced, a profound gift from the artists to their country and then to also give deep recognition to the art and the artist.

Her vision of a museum for the Mexican people was further enriched by her ability to speak several languages and by working with a large organization like UNESCO.

To secure broad support in the country she put 70 members on the board. In addition she created a board of young people with the overarching goal of “creating consciousness in the Mexican public, for those not aware of what wonders we have in Mexico.”

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system:

When Maria Teresa Arango was young she saw her father have to leave Egypt and start over in new country.  He too had a vision and was unable to carry it out in Egypt. The resistance to further progress took the form of social problems.  Her family was able to adapt to this temporary set back and move on. As she noted her family members have been adopted by the nations they live in.

Upon coming to Mexico she took a bus tour to get to know the people and found that there was amazing art work that was un noticed by the people of Mexico.  This form of social resistance to the complexities of art and the people who produce the art is nothing new to those how have studied the history of ideas as Maria Terersa Arango has.

Those who can see and appreciate the process of resistance as natural have the upper hand in formulating ideas to overcome it. Those who take it personally and look at resistance as evil or even intentional will do less well in formulating strategies as they do not avhe clear idea of how resistance comes and goes.

The first mentor she found was Maria Teresa Pomar, who knew popular art in Mexico and who wanted to create a museum. But she lacked money and social standing as

her husband was in the communist party. Despite being so very different the two

woman overcame obstacles and  worked to make this dream come true.

In approaching the government there were many obstacles that she ran into but for every

bit of resistance there was energy to figure out how to move forward and overcome the


It is also important to face your own internal resistance to moving forward and making new decision.

As her daughter is getting married Maria Terersa Arango began to consider that

she might drop back from her full work schedule. As she told others about

this possibility over she found a new but not unexpected form of resistance.

“I have had many people scolding me. How can you think of staying at home when you’ve done what you’ve done?” Stay tuned as to exactly wht decision she will make.

If or one am sure that the decision will be based more on her internal compass than the upset in others.

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge:

Possibly the most complex example of having to use knowledge to connect with a wide variety of people is in her ongoing negotiations with the government to

support the museum.   Over the years Maria Terersa Arango has had to communicate well with three different administrations.

How would you think about relating tothe Ministry of Education and

the Ministry of Culture and Art?  She noted that it is hard to understand exactly what

people are thinking about as in as Mexican people are very polite and at times afraid to

say what they think. She is the opposite and is outspoken.  Despite this difference she was

able to talk people into supporting the museum. Not a small task.

I was encouraging her to write up her approach over these years, on how she managed

the inevitable complexity of relationships and political side talking that spells doom for

many projects.

(4)The ability to be separate:

Although this topic was not directly approached you can Maria Terersa Arango hint about it in the way she decided to take the bus trip around Mexico to get to know the people. This was decision that she made on her won and carried it out without support from others.  We can assume that being a leader requires people to make decision that others will not understand and approve of and sometimes the experience of standing alone is very deeply experienced. For other people standing alone is part of the day and part of the way one must operate to get tings done and therefore it is not as focused on.

Another way I try to gage who well people can stand alone is to note how much they know about their extended family. The assumption is that t if people are well connected to the past generations they will avhe an easier time undergoing challenging times. They will not put all of their eggs in one basket or rely on others for all the answerer but instead will develop a network of relationships and have a firm foundation in the relationships in their extended family.

Maria Teresa Arango talked about her knowledge of her extended family and saw the ability for people over the generations to enter and find hospitality in new countries and to form new national identities.  Her husband also ahs done a very detailed look at his family and understand the importance of such information to the future generations.


Interview with Sabina Berman

Driving through Mexico City on the way to see Sabina Berman I was thinking about the role of the arts, especially early theater to provoke and education.   Shakespeare was an entertaining, provocative educator, yet now the notion that entertaining could be educational has been laid to rest, except by revolutionaries.

sabina berman  and amsJPG

I knew that Sabina Berman was a famous playwright and perhaps a revolutionary. Consider this predicament I was facing.  Sabina Berman in one of her plays, Yankee, focused on interrogators and the interrogated.   I had not seen or read the play yet I was about to step onto a stage of sorts and ask her questions.[1] No doubt the question would only reveal my evolutionary take on the forces behind human behavior. Or what else, what kind of relationship would form in the questioning of the other?  I was sure it would be her time to play with the questioner and the questions.  This interview itself could become a play within a broader play.

One of my interests has been the gene like nature of stories, reflected in literature. My friend, David Slone Wilson, in his essay, “Evolutionary Social Construction” notes we constantly construct and reconstruct our selves to meet the needs of the situations we encounter, and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears for the future.[2]

In Love is a Story by Robert Sternberg, he considers the importance of narrative in human relationships. “How we behave toward our loved ones depends on whether we regard love as a fantasy story, a business story, a collector story, a horror story, a pornography story, and so on (26 different types are discussed).”

He reminds us that being able to construct personal stories has been shown to positively influence health. If ideas in story form could influence our mind body connections so much the better.

Literary works of art, like Hamlet span the ages and education us about psychological difficulties we can all learn from.   Sabina Berman both reflects and directs the psyche of the larger culture. Her insights may shock and dismay or provoke and lead to positive changes.

Driving into the area often referred to as the left bank in Mexico City, I noticed a park across from her home and a few people out strolling in the warm afternoon. After taking a moment to enjoying this little bit of nature, we took the elevator.  The door opened.  A smiling Sabina Berman welcomed us.  The playfulness began.

I immediately found her to be very open, disarming and delightful.  She is a very accomplished woman and still very, very curious.[3]

Possibly her curiosity enables her to see more than others can see.

I for one probably answered more questions than I asked.  Who was the interviewer and who the interviewed?  Socrates would not care, as he understood that matters of ethics and morals are the most challenging areas to engage in for any dialogue. [4]

How are we influenced to think ethically and morally in our families and in our society?

This is the most important question, although it may stay under ground, the question answered itself in our day-to-day behavior.

AMS: I have a couple of questions about the bridge between family life and one’s life direction but please feel free to go in any direction you choose.

I was wondering how early could you remember if and when you were just slightly different, thinking different, doing things a little bit different from others. Then I was wondering if or how did your family react to you?  I was also wondering if there were other people in your family who have been artists or who have stood out who have been leaders?

SB: As I remember, I did anything to be different and be noticed. I liked to see people react.  I was a very good student but at the same time, I was said to have behavioral problems.  I wanted to get the attention of my peers.  And I could sacrifice my teacher’s attention if I could get my peers to pay attention.

I am not sure why but I am the third child in the family.

AMS: How many were there all together?

Sabina: Four. There were two older brothers and a younger sister.

AMS: So you are the oldest daughter?

Sabina: But I was really depressed by my brothers.

AMS: How much older are they?

Sabina: One is four years older and the other one is seven years older.

AMS: And your mother didn’t rescue you or help you…

Sabina: She was too busy.  There were too many children and she worked.

My mother, always she told me the story of how I was born.  Said she wanted to have a girl.  Said she was going to take time off just to have a girl.  She didn’t work for a year.  This seemed very important to her in retrospect, because she worked all the time, and she liked working.

AMS: What kind of work?

Sabina: After I was born, she became a psychoanalyst.  Before that she was a

Criminologist.  She’s really is very happy.  This brings me to your second question.  My father was an engineer. They were both born in Poland and met in Mexico.   My father was thirty and she was eighteen and they married.  They did not really tell me the story of how they met.

AMS: Maybe romance wasn’t that important to your mother to tell you the story of how we fell in love?

Sabina: Our family is very intense, very Polish.  My parents clashed and then they got divorced.  Perhaps that is maybe why I don’t remember.

AMS: Sometimes the fighting creates enough distance to mange the perceived or real difference between the parents.  And then other times, no, it is too painful and the parents just drift apart.  Often married people continue the relationships and just find other women, other men, other relationships, or they just bury themselves in work.

In trying to understand relationship dynamics often we see that if parents fight there is less focus on the child and the child can grow up without as much involvement in the life of the parents.

Sabina: Absolutely…absolutely!  They gave me very attention but wanted me to work hard. The message in which they agreed was very simple and clear.  My father use to say, “The night is young”.

Sometimes I wanted to complain that I was working too hard.  I might be playing tennis five hours every day because he wanted me to be a champ.

My brother was a champ.  And the expectation was there when I went home.  If I complained he would say, “the night is young”.  So I worked it out and I mean, I really, really worked. Overall it was very useful!

Being an immigrant, especially in a country like Mexico you have to fit in.  There is a very open door, but once in the society is closed to immigrants. That secret has to be erased.  So my parents were very clear, you have to work to earn your place in society, you have to earn it.  So I go back to work as being a central value in the family.

AMS: Were your parents escaping from Poland during the war?

Sabina: My father came here because there was a lot of opportunity to study and work. This was somewhat before the war.

AMS: About what year would that have been?

Sabina: I think it was nineteen forty or thirty-nine.

AMS: Did he sense that Poland was becoming a very unfriendly environment?

Sabina: Yes, and that he should get out.

AMS: So he could anticipate the future.  Did he come with any of his family?

Sabina: No one, nobody!

AMS: So who stayed behind?

Sabina: You want to look at photographs?

This is my father and this is his mother. As you see, he stands out. He’s like a self-made man.  He’s very talented and very determined.

AMS: And this is your father and the siblings?  Is he the oldest in his family?

Sabina: I am not sure. He was the oldest child, yes.  There were five of them.  This one is the uncle. He came later to Mexico but most of them died.

AMS: Were they in the concentration camps?

Sabina: My father does not know.   He never got to know where they were.  The only one who escaped that he knows of was this sister. She came to live in New York.  Even thought she went through the concentration camp, she is very cultured.

AMS: It seems your father anticipated the future and was saved from the fate that happened to most of his family.  Yet he did not keep in contact with anybody except his one sister and his uncle?

Sabina: Yes, as a matter of fact, he used the expression, “nobody survived” which was not precise.

AMS: Perhaps it was too painful for him to look for these people.  He just assumed because of the tragedy that they were gone.  It can be just too hard to look.

Sabina: No, I think his greatest love were his mother and grandmother who were dead.  The sister was not very much in his conscience.

AMS: It’s interesting how he could escape and come here and then just make that assumption no one survives.

Sabina: He looked for them when I was very young.  I only remember he told me that he went through the UNESCO.  He tried all that stuff you know that the Jews did during and after the war.

AMS: But his uncle came here and found him?  And his sister later found him?

Sabina: Yes

AMS: How did they do it?

Sabina: The uncle went through the war in the Polish resistance. His sister somehow escaped Auschwitz.  What she told me is that she had a machine gun, as a twelve year old.  She tried to join the resistance and they said, “you’re too young” but she had no home, she didn’t want to go back to Auschwitz so she continued following the people in the resistance until they said OK, you have the machine gun so we’re going to train you.

Nevertheless, when I met her, the war had been too much and you could see that her image of herself was disturbed. She was very tortured, very resentful and always angry.  After the war she became a governess.

AMS: What year did you met her?

Sabina: I met her in 1990 or so when my sister and my cousins decided the new generation should have reunite. Then we learned that she hated my father.

AMS: O yes the rise of sibling rivalry, which comes to us from Adam and Eve’s children.

Sabina: My aunt felt that she deserved something because she went through the war.  My father didn’t believe so. Therefore it was very complicated.

AMS: Yes, even birds have this problem.  They squabble in the nest and probably they also blame each other.  We may never know if they think about what they do. More than once I have wonder if people think much about one what they do to one another.

Birds push each other out of the nest in an effort get more food or attention if you will. Each mother and father have to decide how much should I give to these guys and how much for me.

It was Robert Trivers who gets the credit for observing this common theme in social species. He developed the idea of parental investment and is one of the great names in evolutionary biology because of this.

The primitive question in social groups is, how much for the others and how much for me? It all boils down to is: “Am I going to survive or not.”

Every family has this problem to solve. But if you go through a war or something horrendous like that it can be even worse.  And if you have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome the effects of the war can linger for a long time complicating matters.

Your aunt sounds like she went through a difficult period where it becomes almost impossible to keep herself going in a “normal” way.

I saw this with my father who was an Intelligence Officer in the Second World War.  He was the first intelligence officer to fly in a B29s and gathered intelligence.  After a bombing raid they would exam the photographs and decided what were the targets that had been hit. Perhaps they guessed as to how many women and children may have been innocent bystanders of the war or they may not have wanted to know.   My father did a great job.  He got commendations and medals, but then after the war, he became a…

Sabina: …a communist terrorist?

AMS: Close, he was a terrorist of some kind.

Sabina: I’ll try not to, you know, to make a story.

AMS: I will have to write that one if you will not.  But of course it influenced my life and my choice of career.  I needed to understand human behavior.

Sabina: I was going to be a psychoanalyst but then I taught literature and became a writer.  I studied psychology and literature.

AMS: And your mother was a psychoanalyst?

Sabina: Yes

AMS: And still is…  Where is she living?

Sabina: In Mexico

AMS: And how old is she?

Sabina: Her name is Raquel Berman, Rachel in English. She’s 80

AMS: Eighty, and she’s still a psychoanalyst.  That is wonderful.

Sabina:  Her name is Jacqueline Berman

AMS: And your father?

Sabina: He died

AMS: What year?

Sabina: 1995

AMS: And what did he die from?

Sabina: Stroke

AMS: So, very quickly?

Sabina: No

AMS: A stroke and then he suffered?

Sabina: He lasted for seven years.

AMS: Seven years

Sabina: On and off, he was in and out of conscious.

AMS: Did your mother look after him?

Sabina: No, they were divorced.

AMS: Yes, that’s right they had the conflict, which didn’t help them. Then they found other people or they separated?

Sabina: They separated and then they found other people then they went back to each other.

AMS: Ah, that’s interesting.

Sabina: They were embarrassed to tell us about this.   But they were seeing each other. But they didn’t go to live together.  They decided they could be lovers.

AMS: So they never married anyone else?

Sabina: No

AMS: They had different relationships with people but nothing that really mattered as much as the fighting that they could have.  The fighting and the loving they could have with each other.  So when your father got sick, who took care of him?

Sabina: We cooperated.  But my mother, no, she’s not that type.  My brothers and I were taking turns.

AMS: Who emerged as the primary caretaker?

Sabina:  My older brother moved to my father’s house.

AMS: That’s how families are, eventually someone emerges and does what needs to be done, or things fall apart.  In well functioning families someone comes up to do the job.  If you don’t want to do the job, it’s ok because someone will come up and take the job.  How about your younger sister?

Sabina: My younger sister and I are very good friends.  She lives in New York.

She immigrated to America but we talk on the phone at least one hour every day.

About every month I go to New York or she comes here.

AMS: What does she do in New York?

Sabina: She is writing now about Mexican American artist.  She has her PhD in philosophy of art.

AMS: She is married with children?

Sabina: She has two children.

AMS: And do you have children?

Sabina: No I don’t.  She has two boys. They are fifteen and ten.

I never married by the civil law.  I’ve had three important men, in my life, so far.

AMS: How about your two brothers?

Sabina: My eldest brother never married.  My other brother married and had two children. The younger one died from a car accident three years ago.

AMS: That’s devastating

Sabina: Yes, his son was nineteen. The oldest one is a girl. She is very much like me.  She just finished at Harvard.  But she’s going to go into business instead of psychology.

Andrea: What will she know of your family? Your father’s family may be hard to find now.   He was not sentimental about his family but he treasured these pictures of his family. It sounds like he became a tough man.

Perhaps, we can speculate, he had to leave home at a too early age. When this happens it easy for people to become falsely over adequate.

I don’t know if that happened with your father. But he seems to say, “I don’t need my family.”  I have heard many men say, “I don’t need my family.” “I can do everything myself.”

Sabina: I think so. I didn’t know what words to use to describe it but he was distant,

perhaps even arrogant.   He was distant and he was like disenchanted from all human kindness.

He was not the life of the party but when he spoke his words were powerful.  He was such an anarchist. I use to laugh till I cried when he told me his morals about life.

AMS: So he was an anarchist because of what he saw with the Nazi’s, that human nature is evil much of the time.

Sabina: He saw that human nature could be molded to accept cruelty very easily.

AMS: I understand, under the proper circumstances.  A book that looks at how people can be easily molded is “The Lucifer Effect” by Phillip Zimbardo.  He organized the prison experiment at Stanford University to understand how the Nazi’s could do what they did to the population.  He recruited normal college students and half of them were guards and half were prisoners. Within three days the prisoners had forgotten their names.  The guards were mean and oppressive, humiliating them taking away every shred of identity that they had.  So in three days, they had even forgotten their names.

Amazed at this change Phillip Zimbardo brings his girlfriend to show her this amazing reaction. It was a version of what the Nazi’s would do.  And his girlfriend said, look if you carry this experiment out one more day, I will never see you again.  Not one more day.  Not in the name of science nothing.  It’s so horrible.

Sabina: These kinds of traumas can last for a long time.  I had a cousin who was compassionate but he seemed very disenchanted, even though he became rich.  I remember once I was eight and came and stayed in his house. I saw he had a small room where he slept. I was surprise as every night he was sleeping with the light on.  I asked my father, isn’t he crazy?  He said that this was a useless word. His behavior was probably because he must have been very afraid.

I was so moved to imagine this guy being by himself, there alone without family, and being scared.  Even with his gun he was scared.

My father could go on and just say things like that with a lot of insight about the very basic necessities of life.

You know it was not social skills at all. I think it was a way of being able to see himself in the person, on the other side.  He opened doors like this all the time.  We are the same. I recall him saying about a black man that he was so handsome.  It was not social skills it was the way of seeing himself on the other side.

AMS: To see the humanity…both positive and negative and not linger in a morbid way but to move on.  How did he earn a living?

Sabina: He was an engineer and later he built a screw factory.

AMS: What got him into a screw factory?

Sabina: My father was fascinated by how machines worked.  He was a wonderful genius, very inventive but not so great as an administrator.

AMS: Did he learn engineering in Poland?

Sabina: No, he came expressly to study here at seventeen. He went to the National University.

He falls in love with Lázaro Cárdenas, the president of Mexico at that time.[5] He was a socialist. The first time he saw him talking in the downtown area, he was saying, we need to put the lights on all over the country. So my father became a young socialist in Mexico, even though he was Jewish. My father was always telling me, I’m saved as in this country I have a future

In fact what made my father decide to stay in Mexico was hearing the leader of the socialist party youth speak, The party was ruling Mexico and this leader was Jewish, and that made my father fall in love with the country. This young man’s family built this building. Then many years later I came here and I bought this apartment.  And still today over half of the floors in this building are owned by this man’s family.

AMS: That’s a funny connection, a bit of synchronicity?   There is a great deal of interest in the unusual ways that we are connected to those who were of interest to our families.

It seems your father is a very highly intuitive man.  He notices changes in society.  One clue, he’s pretty sure, two clues, yes, that’s it, he leaves Poland and shows an interest in changing society through socialism. He seems to say in his actions: “I don’t have to worry about this decision. I am going to move on to the next thing.” He makes a judgment, leaves Poland, comes to Mexico, become an engineer, and builds a factory and around thirty years of age he meets your mother.

Sabina: No, he met my mother before he became the owner of his factory.  He meets my mother and then he has two children.  He knows he has to make more money and my mother, the daughter of an exiled entrepreneur, talks him in to building his own factory. So he builds a factory and they become rich. Sounds easy, and they used to say it was easy.

AMS: So after the two children, the boys are born he has a factory and then your mother is able to take off work for a year because she wants to have a girl.  Your Dad works harder and your Mom has time off.  That is my funny interpretation.

Sabina: It is funny, yes. Only it is only half true. My father expected to be the sole provider in the family. My mother worked out of her necessity to have her autonomous identity. Her words: autonomous identity.

Do you think she put the big pressure on him to be successful in order to have a girl?  And then when you’re born, the boys pick on you because you’re a girl?  It would kind of explain their picking on you.

Sabina: I’m not sure why they pick on me?

AMS: Well, my daughter has two boys and then two girls and then a boy.  I had two brothers, younger.  So I picked on my brothers.

Perhaps the overall explanation is that it is almost automatic for the oldest to pick on the youngest.  Men pick on women, some say because they are bigger and then they can control them and thereby have reproductive security.

These picking on or controlling behaviors are an advantage in adulthood in managing self in a group, at least from an evolutionary perspective therefore as children we need to practice.

Among my grandchildren I see how the girl wants to keep up with her brothers.  Before her younger sister was born she fit in with the boys by being a bit of a tomboy because she wants to be like them and they reject her and push her around.

Now if I am there things change.  I take on the boys and demand respect for the girl or threaten to turn them upside down. Often the mother is so busy she doesn’t have time to really pay attention to this ongoing conflict.

I can also see how triangles play out. The two boys are natural allies. The girl is on the outside.  Without somebody who is going to run interference, the girl is going to get hammered.  In her case, as in yours she had a sister and now she has an ally.

I’m not sure how much younger your sister is?

AMS: Ok, that’s interesting.  So you had to manage much longer than my granddaughter.  She only had to wait two years for an ally.  You had to wait until you were five.  So you had to develop a lot of strategies to deal with these powerful boys.  I guess your mother went back to work after you were born?

Sabina: Yes, but first she took another year off to nurse me and then she went back.

AMS: And who was there in the house for you as when you were young and growing up?  Did they have a caretaker?

Sabina: Yes, but they changed.

AMS: So you found books?

Sabina: Right, I love books!

AMS: Books, that’s what you found because you were good in school.

Sabina: Well in my household, there was no option…you had to have good grades.

AMS: To survive you have to be good at something. I’m a good tennis player, which helped me in school, as my grades were spotty, because I’m dyslexic.  I failed Spanish and Latin, as I could not repeat the proper sounds or words.  But a few teachers saw I had potential and encouraged me despite my learning disability. Sometimes people fit into the regiment of being good at school and they don’t develop their creative side.

Sabina: Right

AMS: What about you?  Did you have to develop a creative side or it just came?

Sabina: I think I was very much by myself. I remember thinking about things that did not make sense.  I remember thinking about the Bible.  Many nights I was asking myself and asking God, is this justice? Is this a correct to think about men and woman?

First, he created man then woman.   I felt that was a way to show prejudice against women.  And there are no heroes in the Bible.

AMS: Yes, and you noticed that you had this in your family. There is an inequality because of the age and size of your father who is the dominant man, and then you see this inequality sanctioned in the Bible.

Sabina: In this questioning state there is the beginning of my creativity. Different truths were presented which were not really true.  There were all these inconsistencies.

I have to really think things out.  And maybe I’m like my father in some ways, as I always doubted that the authorities, the teachers, knew the real truth.

AMS: That’s a wonderful thing.  There’s neurobiologist from Chili named Humberto Maturano and he says, “Question authority.”  Always seek more than one answer.  His contention was with increasing choices one’s brain becomes more creative, filling in the idea gaps with an artistic self.  To the artist often there is no ultimate truth just the momentary aha!  You were very young when you figured all this out.

Sabina: I was very much aware of inconsistencies.  Americans seem to search for information, very factual, while Mexicans are leery at heart.  Mexico is a mixture. We come from Polish roots in addition.   Therefore I want the attention on the untruth, of the so-called truth.

AMS: How did you develop this skill? Were you a good writer early on?  Did you write at eight or ten?  Did you write your own stories?

Sabina: I wrote poetry. I love the technology of writing. You draw letters that are sounds that become words that become imaginary things in your mind. I’m still fascinated everyday when I write with written language.

Andrea: I see this playfulness with sounds early on in my little grandchildren.  The sound of the word becomes a joke because of the twist in how it’s perceived initially and then in what it becomes.  Is this what you’re thinking about how there is a twist in the meaning of words?

Sabina: Yes, but also the word and its sound signify something greater or more natural.

If I found a word or story I liked I would want to tell my father or want to tell my mother and then they went, “ah.” They were very positive.

I use to come from school and tell them stories. I use to talk to my mother for an hour about stories that were completely false.  Now I know that she knew I was making things up but still she went “Ah.”

For me the big challenge was to make my mother and my father laugh.  They were always separate.

AMS: Did you wanted to make them laugh and perhaps love one another?  Or just to make them happy for the moment.

Sabina: To laugh and to love.I have to joke.  People cannot change that much but they can laugh.

AMS: So what you did with your parents, entertain them; you could do the rest of the world?  You could transfer that ability once you learned it from your built in audience.  Your parents were your first critics.  Fortunately they had a predisposition to admire you and appreciate your work.

Sabina: Absolutely, I have to thank God for that.  My two parents, even though they weren’t with each other could appreciate the work.  I was not feeling guilt for their separation. They didn’t fight for me. My parents and sister were integrated as good objects inside of me.  I learned to fend for myself and although I was popular, I knew I had to do the work.

AMS: You have the courage to perform and give others your truth. You seem to be saying this truth does not have to be the real truth, it’s just is your own truth.

Sabina: You know something I am having an insight. I cannot tolerate when there is somebody who needs negative energy.  I’m not the person who can perform like that.  I’m going just be very frank about it and say I don’t want to work with you.  But I’ve been wondering for a couple of years, why I’m so mean to those who try to influence me in this way.

AMS: Perhaps it is not easy to set a limit.  You set a limit with people who are critical because it’s not part of the way that you want to be or the way you learn. Perhaps you expect them to know that about you?

SB: It’s not part of the way that I prosper and I have nothing to give to people who are critical because they shown me their mind is closed.  If the door is closed, I can’t bother to open it.  It is a war I don’t want to fight.

But as you know, there are some people who really are very sly and rule over other people.  I do not always see this happening at first.

AMS: I try too hard and much of this is a waste of time.  You could easily divide people into two piles.  It might be fun as away to understand others.  There are always the people who like to complain and whine, and then there are the people who are going to do something positive.

Some will take action, accept responsibility and make some kind of a difference.  You can see that almost immediately when you ask people to help out.  As soon as they open their mouth, the critical people are other focused people. Once something goes wrong they look not to “what can I do” but to blame others and focus on what you are not doing right.  This is sweet trap for people who are trying to make the world a better place or the shadow of the parents happy.  I understand the trap.

And for you, you start out as a youth entertaining your parents and then your peers.  So was school a positive experience for you?

SB: I started in psychology but then I was not sure why I was there.  I had to study something, as I was eighteen year old.  And then I found theater.  There was a drama company.  I was there as a student but to work I had to sign an application to be a professional. So even though I had not been to a drama class in my life, so I signed to be a professional. I quit school to be an actress.

AMS: You were how old?

Sabina: I was eighteen

AMS: You were eighteen and did your father and mother have a fit?

Sabina: Yes, my father was not very happy.  He told me it was a mistake. There I was working in the theater and then I started writing for the theater.

AMS: What year was this when you began writing?  Did you have a muse?  Did you have a person who coached or inspired you?

Sabina: No

AMS: You just thought again?

Sabina: Of course, that was the most important. I remember the director.  He gave me an exercise, an improvisation with a monologue.  I said I prefer to memorize my own work than somebody else.

AMS: You were brave to say such a thing.

Sabina: I wrote the monologue, which was inspired by the Bible. I was talking to God.  But it was very tragic.  Eventually I started writing for my own company. After a year I gathered my own company. We won a tournament and the prize was to the country for several months.  And I knew then that this was my life, my passion.

AMS: What do you think the impact of your work on other people has been?

For me it’s important to communicate, so my texts are very clear. But for me theater has to be also much more than words. It has to capture the mind of the public –fascinate it with beauty—and they bodies to –that’s why I want them to laugh, to shake them in their seats.

First I made very abstract theater, philosophical. But I couldn’t achieve too much. So I changed, and what I do is –you might call it: social comedy. The comedy is with social themes.

In one way it’s interesting, because in some ways nobody gets it.  What I write is about the theater of the absurd.  You write about one thing and they think it is another.  It’s about a door that opens to some place and when you perform it people hear it and the door they saw went to another place.  I wanted to stop this talk about what they think they saw.  In one way a writer can become what are they talking about.

So I changed my world completely.  I always wrote comedy but now I write about the social scene.

AMS: What year about was this?  What was the social issue that you were having fun with?

Sabina: It began in the 1980s when gender issues were beginning to be important. Perhaps the country was ready to be shocked. This country is fantastic for that we invented the word machismo.

AMS: How did you do it?

Sabina: I made a comedy about the admiration of the patriarch in a fundamentally humorous, paradoxical way.  Then we made a movie out of how they cut up woman. I made a company about Machismo. Between (Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woma)

AMS: I am interested in how society has changed.  I too saw a lot of change in the way people live their lives and what they value.   I saw amazing changes.  First, I was divorced in 1973 and I noticed almost half of my friends were also divorced. It was almost like herd behavior.  The relationship between men and woman was disturbed.

First, there were the sixties, woman began using birth control and working and then there was a large increase in divorce rates.  It appeared to be independent decision but in society as reflected in the arts, the relationship between men and women was disturbed.

The women’s movement began, as did the civil rights movement.  Some kind of tipping point occurred.  I wondered what was the impetus for social change now?

I happened upon, Jack Calhoun’s work.  He did the population studies for the U.N.  and said the population would increase until the year 2024.  If there were not changes in reproductive behavior, there would be great difficulty in keeping the population at a sustainable level.

Calhoun predicted that family life would change dramatically and that three quarters of women would be divorced from reproduction.   Women will have to become procreated instead of biologically created.  If this strategy is successful eventually the population will decrease to a sustainable level.

Creative people produce additional social space.  We use to explore physical space but now we are exploring social space.

Based on the structure of the life of early humans Calhoun thought the family of the future would consist of loose networks of twelve adults and eighteen children.

I had an Aha!  Our instincts to survive and to adapt to changing conditions could be influencing the structure of the family.  At any point in time people can say the world is going to be like this forever.  This becomes crazy making.  So I became very interested in self-organizing systems.  I was interested in people who had a method to guess about the future plus enable the population to adapt to change.

Sabina: You think there is a race for wisdom.  I think you were saying that the anthill was wise?

Andrea: The wisdom of the hive shows us how self-organizing works. There is no top down plan.  The emergence of an adaptive response by the group demonstrates that the group can know without being told what to do.

People put a lot of faith in reason, yet it is hard to prove that your thoughts occur before your brain fires. Libet’s research was a shock.[6] He showed that our thinking is a half a second behind our readiness for action.  The talking, thinking brain is often autobiographical rather than leading the way.

The exceptions are when you say no to some habit. I’m going to quit this… I’m not going to do this instead. Then yes, the mind can lead the way through inhibition.

I like to ask, if you have all the power, how are you going to change Mexico? How do you think you could influence the system as it is now?

Sabina: You’re asking me?

Andrea: Yeah, I’m asking you, but you don’t have to answer right now.  But this is what you’re doing in your writing. You use entertaining information to help people see.

I think that people who know more about their past see more about the future, as they understand history and their roots.  You’re using entertainment to help influence people?


I use erotic information. Information that is full of life. That tends towards life.  This is one of my life decisions.  If I am going to something I will move towards the erotic. Fiction is important but I also have a program and it transforms me too. Last week we had transsexual people on Mexican TV for a whole hour.  These were people who were going to get married.  For me that was entertainment and a big service. For this small minority people, that is a service as people get to know them as real. It opens the mind of people.

We are not yet with the values of New York or San Francisco but we have the Internet. The world is going to be more and more globalized, even here in Mexico.

We are not using the ideas within our country. We are having the invasion of ideas from the outside. We are paralyzed. We have a bit of democracy but now that we have it we are paralyzed.  We are afraid of change. Mexico is more conservative now than it ws four years ago.  What about what it is that is happening here. I am trying to look at this.

Poverty is our deepest problem. Rich people are very convinced that they can make a change but it is not happening

Because we come from a long tradition of political power, Mexicans are overly concerned with power.   Power seems more important than before and now we have elected a democracy.

And yet we are still so afraid of change.  People are more conservative now than they were years ago.  And what about what happens all around us, the social stuff.  What about the people?  How can we speak to what is happening around us.[7]

Andrea: Democracy at its best represents the wisdom of the crowd, but it is dependent on information, which is autonomous. When we are overly influenced we act like a non-thinking herd of cows.

If any democracy were cut off from the rest of the world, it would be similar to the nuclear family cut off from their extended family. The problems become more intense in smaller systems with no or little outside influence.

Are you saying Mexico is more cut off from the rest of the world than the US?  Perhaps the lack of information is due to the large numbers of people living in poverty? But you are saying the intellectual, the ones who could know better, are afraid to see and to act?

Sabina: Because we come from a dictatorship, part of the dictatorship has a legacy of maintaining power, political power.  Everybody wants to be the president of Mexico.

Americans wants to be many things, some want to be artists, or rock stars.  There are lots of place where one can excel, although there is still prejudice and social injustice.

Andrea: That’s true.

Sabina: Mexico is very much obsessed about power.  So that becomes the main discussion.

Andrea: And I come here as a stranger and I say Mexico is complicated, who could have a vision of how to make things better?

Sabina: You think it possible?

Andrea: Perhaps a new way of being in this country will not come through powerful people but from the grass roots efforts to promote opportunity for ordinary people.

Sometimes America is called the land of opportunity, as it is possible for poor people to rise up.  In a capitalistic way people are able to solve problems at the local level.  This is how I became interested in the entrepreneurs culture here in Mexico.

So far the Mexican government has not been able to figure out how to solve the problems of transportation, the tendency of monopolies to dominate, the increasing levels of pollution and as you said the crushing poverty.

Perhaps there is no one smart enough to create a better path and therefore I would come to the conclusion that power doesn’t matter.

What might make a difference is a practical approach to the problems that people can understand.  This is how leaders stand out from the crowd. They find the pulse of what people can accept, and then lead them forward into an unknown future.

Abraham Lincoln did this incredibly well. People could not accept that slavery was evil so he framed it as the importance of preserving the union.  Now we see Obama and Hillary Clinton trying to attract followers through their ideas.

Sabina: Absolutely…  That’s wonderful all the problems that we have today we think are about power.  Instead you think it’s about ideas.

Andrea: Ideas have a very different kind of power. They are more like a virus. No one can control them. They are everywhere and nowhere. Ideas, if they are entertaining, like yours, open the mind in unknown ways.  Ideas also create a social space, which is now becoming more important than physical space.

I see our time has run down.

I hope we can continue this conversation. We began to open many of Pandora’s boxes. Thanks you for giving us your time and insights. It has been fun to know a little more about you.

Sabina: You are welcome and I will look at your website.

Sabina Berman’s Mindful Compass

(1) The ability to define a vision:

Sabina Berman was young when he discovered the fun of entertaining her peers.  Early on she discovered a love of poetry and her fascination with the written language.  She discovered how to bring love and laughter into the lives of her parents.  She would come home form school and tell the stories that delighted and amused.  Perhaps it was only natural that when she had the opportunity to quit college and become a professional person in the theater she happily took the chance.

You can be entertaining and technically excellent but without a profound way of understanding the world you will never be great.

Where does the profound nature of her work reside? She tells is that she still has an overarching sense of curiosity and wonder?  At a young age she was questioning in her mind all things that just did not make sense to her.  Her highly developed sense of justice was useful in question everything around her even God’s fairness. It was this deep curiosity that she credits with beginning her sense about her own creativity.  Much of her work has been focused on the ”untruth” of the so-called truth.

“For me it’s important to communicate, so my texts are very clear. But for me theater has to be also much more than words. It has to capture the mind of the public –fascinate it with beauty—and they bodies to –that’s why I want them to laugh, to shake them in their seats.”

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system:

As we hear in her story her first real encounter was when her parents were resisting her having a more low-keyed life as student.  She was given a push to work hard from her parents. “The night is young,” her Dad would say.  Eventually she notes, “I learned to fend for myself and although I was popular, I knew I had to do the work.“

When she was eighteen she decided to quite college and work in the theater.

Her father was not very happy.  He told her it was a mistake.  Nevertheless she began to work in the theater and writing for the theater and anew life opened up.

Another insight she had about resistance is that when people are negative she cannot keep try and win them over. Eventually she was able to say NO to such people.

I’m going just be very frank about it and say I don’t want to work with you.  But I’ve been wondering for a couple of years, why I’m so mean to those who try to influence me in this way.

“It’s not part of the way that I prosper and I have nothing to give to people who are critical because they shown me their mind is closed.  If the door is closed, I can’t bother to open it.  It is a war I don’t want to fight.”

“But as you know, there are some people who really are very sly and rule over other people.  I do not always see this happening at first.”

(3)The ability to connect and use systems knowledge:

Having a mother who is an analyst should give you a foot up in understanding human nature. You could say that writing for the theater is clear evidence of one’s profound understanding of human nature.

Another question is what you do with your understanding. How integrated is it in any ones ability to act on knowledge or to take a stand in their social communities.

Sabina Berman continues to participate and is acting to alter injustice in the social arrangements of our era.  She is living out her profound understanding of human nature.

Sabina Berman continues to provocatively communicate and perhaps even slightly intrude on people’s comfort level. She enlightens people in the way she dramatizes the predicaments of the lives by being deep and elusive.

“In one way it isinteresting, because in some ways nobody gets it.  What I write is about the theater of the absurd.  You write about one thing and they think it is another.  It’s about a door that opens to some place and when you perform it people hear it and the door they saw went to another place.  I wanted to stop this talk about what they think they saw.  In one way a writer can become what are they talking about.”

“The country was ready to be shocked. This country is fantastic for that we invented the word machismo.”

(4)The ability to be separate: In Sabina Berman’s talent the world can be seen as it is and yet separation from that world is basic to see the tensions in a new way.

Being an artist may always require a tolerance in one’s soul for being misunderstood.  The true artist has the ability to separate and still deeply strike a cord with the audience.  This happens to a few as they arise above the tendency to give into the audience, to being bought and sold by the local social truths and the need for approval.  The North Star is her true ability to be a part of the social while being deeply separate from it.

Sabina Berman’s tells us is she is alone in the creative spirit and rejoices returning again and again to entertain and possibly educate us before withdrawing again to muse.

[1] The Theatre of Sabina Berman: The Agony of Ecstasy and Other Plays introduces and makes accessible to an English-speaking audience the work of the contemporary Mexican playwright Sabina Berman. The book contains translations of the four plays that established Berman’s career: The Agony of Ecstasy, Yankee, Puzzle, and Heresy. An introduction by Adam Versényi provides a critical assessment of each play, a discussion of the specific problems of translation involved, and placement of Berman’s work in the larger Mexican and Latin American context.

It is evident that Sabina Berman’s theatrical acumen matches the depth of her dramatic design whether it is the sheer variety of techniques from song to staged tableau that appear in The Agony of Ecstasy; the physicalization of what it means to be interrogated and to interrogate in Yankee; the final enigmatic image of a soldier alone on stage, silently aiming his firearm at an undefined threat that potentially emanates from the audience in Puzzle; or the manner in which the family narrates its own “heretical” actions in Heresy. It is the combination of theatrical technique with universal themes of self-definition that cuts across cultures and ultimately makes these plays translatable.

[2] The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, Edited by Johathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson

[3] Sabina Berman is Mexico’s most commercially successful and critically acclaimed playwright. She has won the Mexican National Theatre Prize an unprecedented four times and has written film scripts, poetry, prose, and journalism in addition to her work for the stage. Her collection of interviews with Mexican women in positions of power, Mujeres y poder,won the 2000 National Journalism Award. She recently wrote director Jorge Fons’ new movie about the murders on the border of Juarez and the adaptation of “The History of Love” for director Alfonso Cuarón.

Theater in the Americas Robert A. Schanke, series editor

“During the past twenty years, Berman has become the most prolific, original, and daring of her theatrical generation. . . . Her productions [reveal] a fine flair for dialogue, a predilection for black humor and irony, distrust of all official discourse, an interest in personal and national identity, a need to transgress sexual and theatrical boundaries, and a profound awareness of the inherently theatrical nature of Mexican history and politics.”

—Jacqueline E. Bixler, from her essay, “From Ecstasy to Heresy: The Theatre of Sabina Berman”

Sabina Berman is Mexico’s most commercially successful and critically acclaimed playwright. She has won the Mexican National Theatre Prize an unprecedented four times and has written film scripts, poetry, prose, and journalism in addition to her work for the stage. Her collection of interviews with Mexican women in positions of power, Mujeres y poder, won the 2000 National Journalism Award. She recently wrote director Jorge Fons’ new movie about the murders on the border of Juarez and the adaptation of “The History of Love” for director Alfonso Cuarón.

[4] Socrates believed that there were different kinds of knowledge, important and trivial. The most important of all knowledge is “how best to live.” He posits that this is not easily answered, and most people live in shameful ignorance regarding matters of ethics and morals.

Through his method of powerfully questioning his students, he seeks to guide them to discover the subject matter rather than simply telling them what they need to know. The goals of education are to know what you can; and, even more importantly, to know what you do not know.

[5] Lázaro Cárdenas was born into a lower-middle class family in the village of Jiquilpan, Michoacán. He supported his family (including his mother and seven younger siblings) from age 16 after the death of his father. By the age of 18 he had worked as a tax collector, a printer’s devil, and a jailkeeper. Although he left school at the age of eleven, he used every opportunity to educate himself and read widely throughout his life, especially works of history.

Cárdenas originally set his sights at becoming a teacher, but was drawn into politics and the military during the Mexican Revolution after Victoriano Huerta overthrew President Francisco Madero. He backed Plutarco Elías Calles, and after Calles became president, Cárdenas became governor of Michoacán in 1928. He became known for his progressive program of building roads and schools, promoting education, land reform and social security.

After establishing himself in the presidency, in 1936 Cárdenas had Calles and dozens of his corrupt associates arrested or deported to the United States, a decision that was greeted with great enthusiasm by the majority of the Mexican public.

Cárdenas subsequently decreed the end of the use of capital punishment (in Mexico, usually in the form of a firing squad). Capital punishment has been banned in Mexico since that time. The control of the republic by Cárdenas and the PRI predecessor Partido de la Revolución Mexicana without widespread bloodshed effectively signalled the end of rebellions that began with the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Cárdenas is considered by many historians to be the creator of a political system that lasted in Mexico until the end of the 1980s. Central to this project was the organization of corporatist structures for trade unions, campesino (peasant) organizations, and middle-class professionals and office workers within the reorganized ruling party, now renamed the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM).

During Cárdenas’s presidency, the government expropriated and redistributed millions of acres of hacienda land to peasants, and urban and industrial workers gained unprecedented unionization rights and wage increases. The railway Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México was nationalized in 1938 and put under a “workers administration”. However, Cardenas and subsequent presidents also used the PRM and its successor, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, to maintain political control; leaders of the worker and campesino organizations delivered votes and suppressed protests in exchange for personal favors and concessions to their constituencies. Also central to Cárdenas’s project were nationalistic economic policies involving Mexico’s vast oil production, which had soared following strikes in 1910 in the area known as the “Golden Lane,” near Tampico, and which made Mexico the world’s second-largest oil producer by 1921, supplying approximately 20 percent of domestic demand in the United States.

of March 18, 1938, Cárdenas nationalized Mexico’s petroleum reserves and expropriated the equipment of the foreign oil companies in Mexico. The announcement inspired a spontaneous six-hour parade in Mexico City; it was followed by a national fund-raising campaign to compensate the companies. The company that Cárdenas founded, Petróleos Mexicanos (or Pemex), would later be a model for other nations seeking greater control over their own oil and natural gas resources and is the most important source of income for the country, despite weakening finances. Seeing the need to assure the technical expertise needed to run it, Cárdenas founded the National Polytechnic Institute.

Lázaro Cárdenas was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for the year of 1955.

[6] Libet, (2004)”Mind Time”

[7] Murders in the “Backyard”: Sabina Berman Examines Juárez
By Marina T. Crouse

The first scene of Sabina Berman’s new screenplay, “Backyard,” is set in a strip of desert known as Las lomas del poleo outside the Mexican border city of Juárez. A woman’s body is found half buried in the sand. Although the mangled and decomposing corpse is unrecognizable, the uniform she wears reveals the name of the multinational corporation which owns the maquiladora or in-bond assembly plant where she worked. While photographers, reporters and investigators circle and pace around the body, the camera pulls away to gaze out at the incongruous backdrop of transnational corporate office buildings and juxtaposed shantytowns that make up a large part of Juárez, perched just below El Paso along the U.S.–Mexican border.

Since the early 1990s, Juárez has been under siege. Over the past decade roughly 385 women have been killed, often in sadistic and gruesome ways, and about 1,200 more have been reported missing. “Backyard” is a screenplay that explores the circumstances of these unresolved murders and the way in which they have been normalized in everyday life in Juárez. Berman’s text probes the reluctance and apparent refusal of both the Mexican and U.S. governments, as well as the multinational corporations that run the maquiladoras, to properly investigate the murders and bring those responsible to justice.

In the discussion that followed the reading of her screenplay, Berman stated that she wanted to situate Juárez as a cosmopolitan city, however contradictory and flawed. She also highlighted the fact that despite the status of Juárez as a border metropolis with a thriving drug trade and sex industry as well as a large internal migrant population that comes to work in the maquiladoras, Juárez remains a place of intense poverty and social injustice. The political instability and corruption that has come out of Juárez’s condition as a major industrial center is illustrated in Berman’s screenplay by the continuous struggle for power between the cronies of the multinational corporations and the local political bosses.

Also locked within this battle are those activists who, often against all odds, try to unravel the mysteries and inconsistencies surrounding these crimes and the identities of the perpetrators. This volatile situation reveals how deeply Juárez is affected by and involved in the politics of globalization. What is most interesting in this text is the way in which Berman pushes the audience to think about the way in which Juárez and its inhabitants are imagined from outside, as well as the way in which they imagine themselves.

Since the early 1980s, Berman has been one of Mexico’s most prolific and successful playwrights, and has significantly contributed to the rejuvenation and continued development of Mexican theater both nationally and internationally. The recipient of numerous awards, Berman has won the national playwright award from the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Institute of Fine Arts) four times in five years. In addition to being the best-known and most performed playwright in Mexico, Berman is also an accomplished director, producer, novelist, essayist and poet and has written and performed several plays for children.

Sabina Berman is UC Berkeley’s Writer in Residence for the spring 2005 semester. She presented a reading of her new screenplay Backyard in a talk titled ”Theater Crossing Borders“ on February 1, 2005, in Stephens Hall


[2] Machiavelli was born in May 3,1469 in the city-state of Florence, Italy. He was the second son of Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli and his wife. Education left him with a thorough knowledge of the Latin and Italian classics. Machiavelli was born into a tumultuous era, in which Popes were leading armies and wealthy city-states of Italy were falling one after another into the hands of foreign powers — France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. It was a time of constantly shifting alliances, condottieri who changed sides without warning, and governments rising and falling in the space of a few weeks. Perhaps most significantly during this erratic upheaval, the rise of Lutheranism culminated in the sack of Rome in 1527 at the hands of rampaging German soldiers, the first time that had occurred in nearly twelve centuries.

[3] The Egyptian economy was dominated by private capital until the revolution of 1952, which replaced the monarchy with a republic. The new government began to reorganize the economy along socialist lines in the late 1950s. The state played an increasing role in economic development through its management of the agricultural sector after the land reforms of 1952 and 1961. These reforms limited the amount of land an individual or family could own. In the early 1960s the government nationalized much of the industrial, financial, and commercial sectors of the economy.



To read the interview on Anna Zarnecki, please click over to

Anna Zarnecki has been the President of the Mexican Red Cross and the International Red Cross

If you would like to hear the interviews  just paste the links into your browser , the transcription follows the interviews.

Eventually we hope the book will be available on Amazon’s Kindel.

Xóchilt Gálvez

Ana Zarneki
Sabina Berman

Ernesto Valenzuela

Jorge Esteve

Mario Buzzolini

Francesco Piazzesi

Lorenzo Servitje

Please enjoy reading the interviews with some of the fascinating people I interviewed in Mexico.  I have been fortunate to learn a great deal by being curious, asking questions and having fun.