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OD Flashbacks: I Hope You Leave Your Brain to Harvard

OD Flashbacks provides a glimpse into the history of our profession and our organization. Have a memory you'd like to share? Contact communication@odnetwork.org

Quixotic…or A Calling?

by Irv Rubin, PhD, OD Network Member

During the mid-late 1960’s Jane Howard, with one exception, experienced firsthand a large host of T-groups across the globe. In her book, Please Touch, she shared her perspective on the power of T-groups and their potential for enabling/supporting social change. The “one exception” was the tape she reviewed of a T-group she was not invited to attend. The chapter you’ll find copied below, entitled “I Hope You Leave Your Brain to Harvard,” reflects her perspective on what, at the time, was referred to as T-Group 15.

That article has been buried in a box of my “stuff” that has gone unopened for over two decades and multiple moves covering tens of thousands of miles. I have no rational explanation for exactly why I saved this particular chapter. The ego-driven explanation is obvious; I was one of the trainers, along with Jack Jones, of that T-group. Either way, I’ve long since given up in believing in “mere coincidence.”  

For finding this article comes on the heals of having had the opportunity, as an OD elder, to share with my colleagues at the OD Network 2017 Conference some OD flashbacks—truths imbedded in me by some of our founding fathers. Those flashbacks took the form of TED-talk style session whose title was a hypothetical headline that appeared on the front page of the NY Times…in October of 2025! That headline blared out: “ODN Is Nominated For A Nobel Peace Prize!”

The driving force behind T-Group 15 and a future NY Times front page headline may well be reflective of Don Quixote having been an OD consultant who was full of “foolishly impractical, lofty, rash, romantic ideals.” Or they could be the driving force of a calling—a journey guided by the challenge of the North Star David Cooperrider laid before our feet as OD practitioners.

I, for one, hope that OD Network’s series of “OD Flashbacks” serves to support and encourage current and future OD practitioners to keep our field focused on what may appear at first glance to be “quixotic callings.”

I Hope You Leave Your Brain to Harvard

Originally published in Please Touch: A Guided Tour of the Human Potential Movement by Jane Howard.

A remarkable interracial encounter took place in January 1969 in the Boston studio of radio station WBZ. Eight people spent twenty-two hours together, nonstop, in what became a celebrated program called “T-Group 15,” so named because it was edited down to fifteen consecutive, commercial-free hours.

WBZ persuaded four white members of the city’s School Committee, an organization not legendary for its attention to black neighborhoods, to meet with four black parents. The black parents represented an ad hoc committee to boycott the system and take over control of their children’s schools. The issue was decentralization; the mood was acrimony. Even in Boston, where the ingredients in the ethnic melting pot never really have melted, a more polarized gathering could hardly have been arranged.

I heard a tape of that show. Its star — at first its villain — was Louise Day Hicks, chronic member and sometime chairman of the School Committee. I did a story on Mrs. Hicks when she ran for mayor of Boston in 1967. A large white woman who often wears kelly green, she lives in a large green house in a neighborhood scarcely less Irish than Dublin. She has long championed such conservative sentiments as “Boston for Bostonians!” and “Neighborhood Schools for Neighborhood Children!,” which her plentiful adversaries take to mean white schools for white children and never mind the others. In Roxbury and in Boston's black neighborhoods, her name symbolizes racism.

“I hope you leave your brain to Harvard,” said one of the black men to Mrs. Hicks in the course of the T-group broadcast, “so we can really get a look into that brain, because there's some curious things going on in your head.”

It turned out in the course of those twenty-two hours that nobody had much idea what was going on in anyone else's head. At first the eight people sat far apart from each other. Only very gradually could their trainers, Irwin Rubin, an MIT professor, and Jack Jones, a graduate student at Boston University, persuade them to inch closer together. A third human relations expert, MIT professor Malcolm Knowles, was narrator. He introduced the program as “the most profound experiment ever attempted in broadcasting.” He said that in its course the T-group members would “tear at the walls of race, education and personal communications, and in so doing lay bare many of the barriers built into each of us.”

Rubin started the wall-tearing by playing some records, asking the group to listen carefully to the lyrics. One was the droning, haunting song of the Beatles, accompanied with Indian instruments, that laments the idea of lost love and the tragedy of people who hide themselves behind a “wall of illusion.” The T-group members to whom this music seemed new paid dutiful attention. They did not find it easy to oblige, however, when they were asked by Rubin to tell what the song meant in their own words.

“That the blacks and whites are going to marry and conquer the world?”

“That there were two lovers who were in love?”

“No,” said Rubin patiently, “but rather what's going to happen to love that's grown cold. That maybe someday we'll realize that somebody's going to make us change, and that the power to change is within each one of us.”

“But I question whether there ever really was any love between us,” said one of the black women. “I agree that nobody's going to change us but ourselves, but I'm wondering whether we ever really did love each other. In fact, I have serious doubts about it.”

“My concern,” said Rubin after a time, “is that we're not going to solve any problems out there until we deal with the barriers that are in here.”

And so, in a space seventeen by seventeen feet, over a period of nearly a full day, the barriers were assaulted. It turned out that the blacks and whites eventually could see each other as individuals, unconnected with their official roles. It turned out that Mrs. Hicks was sick and tired of being considered a scapegoat. It turned out that several of the whites really wanted to know (even as late as January 1969) the semantic difference between “Negro” and “black.” They were as attentive as children at story hour when a black woman told them how “the generations born in slavery had no history. There was no one to say ‘Boy, I knew your grandpa.’ As far as that boy was concerned, he had no grandpa. He had nothing except what his mother gave him, which was an expurgated version of Christianity, taking out most of the love and militancy and leaving in just the humility.”

It even dawned on the participants that regardless of their official roles, they all, more importantly, were parents concerned with the welfare of their children. In time they came to see that their opposite numbers “didn't come from Mars, aren't anarchists who’ll go back planting bombs.” As one among them said, “we do have these ridiculous illusions and myths about each other” — illusions which in a shorter time than twenty-two hours might never have been dislodged.

But the great rapprochement occurred between Mrs. Hicks and Mrs. Elizabeth Bristol, an imposing black woman. Rubin asked the group members if they would care to “give each other something.” Mrs. Hicks volunteered, “I'll give to Elizabeth. I admire her honesty, her forthrightness, her down-to-earthness, and I would hope to give her some compassion and understanding of the problem.”

Then Mrs. Bristol told at length how her own feelings had altered in those hours. “I still say she has a long way to go,” she said of Mrs. Hicks, “but ... I think she has changed her opinion of black people ... and I'll tell you this, I'm glad now that I can talk with some degree of knowledge about Louise Day Hicks. Even if I don't agree with your opinions on certain issues, I can see you as an individual and not as someone to fight — as someone I can pick up the phone and call, and say ‘Mrs. Hicks, this is Mrs. Bristol, can I have your ear?’”

When the seventeen by seventeen room was emptied, after the twenty-two hours, Louise Day Hicks offered to give anybody who might need one a ride home in her car. Before she left she asked Elizabeth Bristol: “Will you call me?”

“I sure will,” said Mrs. Bristol.

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