Michael Mulligan, head of Thatcher School, presents the three most important question we can ask teenagers. Excellent questions, and we should ask these to adults too:
Who tells us who we are?
Where do we want to go with our lives?
How do we want to get there?
Question one is important because forces are lined up (internet, television, movies, advertising, just for starters) that tell us who we are is not about how hard we work, how curious we are, or how much we are willing to make a positive difference to others and to our world in distress. No, these forces say: You are what you wear, what you buy, how thin or buff you are, how many like you (on Facebook or anything else) – or for the elite college bound crowd – where you go to college. When we focus on the wrong things, we create these conditions for monumental cynicism in our kids. Our children need to learn that they are important not for reasons of appearance but for reasons of substance.
Question two is important because if we believe that the only thing that matters is college and job status then how can we not end up frustrated, angry, and lonely? Where we want to go with our lives is intrinsically linked to the question of what leads us to fulfillment and happiness? For most of us the answer is passion. We all know we are in the right jobs when how long we work at something is driven by interest and not only about earning a paycheck. The truth is that we are all going to have to work hard to succeed in life, and if that is the case, let’s us at least try to work hard on things that matter and that we care about.
Question three may be the most important because how we get anywhere is as critical as where we end up. Kids cheat in school because they think grades are more important than what they learn. They take short-cuts because they believe the longer, harder path has no value or because they are afraid of stumbling or of being seen as someone who stumbles. They are mean or cruel or uncaring often because they do not like themselves; they feel they cannot make the grade that will earn them a spot at That College. They begin to see others as competitors for those spots – not as fellow-journeyers. Diminished self-respect skulks alongside little respect for others. No one wins.
Donald Trump is surrounding himself with people who appear to be obsessed with short term profit taking, disregard for Constitutional principles, the trampling of the environment and military-minded xenophobia.
As this plays out for the next few years, we’ll be better positioned to see how much of the DNC governance of the past 8 years was empty rhetoric on these same issues. I’m not saying that there aren’t differences. In fact, I’m terrified that we are about travel backwards on many serious issues.
On the other hand, we’ve come from 8 years of an administration that was quite friendly to Wall Street, Health Insurers, Telecoms and other big industries that have essentially become consumer gouging monopolies or worse. Where was the DNC-led outcry as fracking became commonplace, as drones hit numerous innocents abroad, as we waged undeclared war on at least 6 Middle Eastern countries, and where government spying on U.S. citizens in the absence of probable cause continued to be business as usual? Did we cry out in protest as our state and federal governments approved budgets that crushed the abilities of schools to hire excellent teachers and provide them with necessary supplies. Did we speak out on the “war on drugs,” which destroys the lives of many non-violent users who crave street drugs that for the most part have legal equivalents peddled by Big Pharma?
Pseudoinefficacy: We are willing to help one person, but less willing when there are multitudes we cannot help
Compelling 2015 research by Paul Slovic and others shows that we are often likely to help a person in need, but we are much less likely to help that person when our attention is simultaneously directed toward other people that we are unable to help. The fact that there are multitudes in need dampens our willingness to help a person we are most assuredly in a position to help.
Here is the summary of the research:
In a great many situations where we are asked to aid persons whose lives are endangered, we are not able to help everyone. What are the emotional and motivational consequences of “not helping all”? In a series of experiments, we demonstrate that negative affect arising from children that could not be helped decreases the warm glow of positive feeling associated with aiding the children who can be helped. This demotivation from the children outside of our reach may be a form of “pseudoinefficacy” that is non-rational. We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help.
The article is titled, “The psychology of greed: 3 attitudes that explain the worst behaviors of the 1 percent.” The thesis is that the upper class tend toward narcissism — and their sense of entitlement appears to be growing. The three telltale signs: 1) It’s all about me, me, me. 2) It’s all about lazy-ass people who refuse to work. 3) It’s all about waiting for the free market to work its fairy magic.
Eric Barker offer a well researched post on how to deal with social anxiety. Here’s an excerpt:
- Mindfulness recommends “noting” troublesome thoughts like fear. Recognize and accept them to let them go.
- Neuroscience advocates “labeling.” (Frankly, this is a lot like noting but backed by some PhDs and an fMRI.)
- Stoicism has “premeditation.” That’s when you ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and realize it’s not that bad.
- Neuroscience also recommends “reappraisal.” This is reinterpreting your feelings with a new story that makes them less scary.
A random bunch of tips? Nope. So what do they all have in common? You gotta use your brain. You gotta think. Some might reply, “I am thinking, I’m thinking about all the awful stuff that could happen if I embarrass myself. In fact, I can’t STOP thinking about it!” But you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. Fight or flight. Like an animal would.
Here’s something Barker’s article that I didn’t appreciate. Intense mental focus “smothers” anxiety.
When your thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex — is highly engaged, it slams the brakes on feelings. And you can use this trick deliberately. Anything that gets you thinking actively can smother anxiety.
This makes perfect sense, given the limited scope of attention. If you fill your head with challenging problem solving, there simply isn’t room for anxiety. Barker suggests that one thing to focus your mind on is your fears–face your fears, and it will keep anxiety at bay. Barker reminds that we are not our thoughts. Therefore, instead of saying, “I’m feeling anxious,” say say, “There is anxiety.” Instead, note the existence of scary thoughts.
I’ll keep this advice in mind.
Societies worldwide are suffering epidemics of mental illness because “human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart,” writes George Monbiot at The Guardian.
“Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.” The consequence? “[P]lagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness.”
Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.
Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.
Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.
At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.