Pay Attention, Class. . .
The biggest fear of being
K I N D
is someone will
. . .funny,
T H A T
continues to be my
daily prayer. . .
BE KIND WHENEVER POSSIBLE. IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE
Who Cares - What Matters
Pay Attention, Class. . .
The biggest fear of being
K I N D
is someone will
. . .funny,
T H A T
continues to be my
daily prayer. . .
BE KIND WHENEVER POSSIBLE. IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE
COVID19 pushed me back to books
(not that I have ever given them up)
but I’m way ahead of my yearly quota. . .
I even went back to an old one I read
nearly 45 years ago:
THE LORD OF THE FLIES
In the novel Lord of the Flies, a group of young boys are shipwrecked on an island and eventually turn savagely against each other. The book is a cautionary tale about humanity’s underlying cruelty and the need for civilization to tame our darker impulses—a message that resonates with many people today.
But that’s not what happened to a real-life group of shipwrecked kidsin 1965. Unlike the fictional Lord of the Flies characters, they developed a game plan for survival that was cooperative, fun, and peaceful, resulting in lifelong friendships.
In other words, the boys didn’t turn into devils when left on their own—far from it!
The journalist, Jill Suttie recently wrote about how Dutch historian Rutger Bregman recounts this story in his new book Humankind, arguing against the Lord of the Flies’s unreasonably dim picture of humanity. The key message in Bregman’s book is that humans are basically good, when left to their own devices.
That’s not to say there aren’t characters who will act badly, especially if encouraged (or manipulated) to do so or when under duress. But the vast majority of us are happy to work together cooperatively. This, he writes, is the only possible conclusion to make from the scientific and historical evidence.
And, he argues, it’s something we desperately need to understand if we want to work together toward creating a better society for all; especially during these pandemic times.
Some of the most famous evidence for our pessimistic view of human nature comes from the Stanford Prison Experiment done by Philip Zimbardo in the early 1970s. In this experiment, Zimbardo brought students into a lab and had them act out roles as prisoners and guards. Soon the experiment turned sour, as guards began acting too harshly toward prisoners, and it had to be shut down.
The experimenters concluded that people are sadistic underneath veneers of normalcy and can easily be manipulated to do harm. But Bregman points out that the results came about because the “guards” were encouraged from the start to be harsh toward “prisoners.” By enacting their roles, they thought they were contributing to science—a kind and helpful intent. Also, one student “prisoner” in the experiment, who supposedly “broke down” and had to be removed, confessed to faking his hysteria in order to get back to studying. The whole study and its conclusions were misrepresented.
“What’s fascinating is that most guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment remained hesitant to apply ‘tough tactics’ at all, even under mounting pressure,” writes Bregman. In fact, a later “prison experiment” mounted by the BBC, where guards were not told what to do, had very different results. The guards soon became reluctant to take on their authoritarian roles and became friendly with “prisoners” instead.
Actually, research suggests that people are quite unwilling to harm others—even in war situations—without strong coercion, which explains why leaving people to their own devices would produce different results.
Bregman takes readers through many experiments and events that seem to point to our flawed natures, and debunks them one by one. For example, we learn that the famous story about Kitty Genovese—a woman who was brutally raped and murdered in Queens, New York, while neighbors supposedly did nothing to help—is largely fiction, perpetuated by the New York Times coverage of her death. It turns out that the Times’s claim about 37 heartless bystanders was false, and people did come to her aid, including a neighbor who held her while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Still, this story of unconcerned bystanders is retold over and over as proof of human indifference and, like the Stanford Prison Experiment, graces many social psychology textbooks. Therein lies the problem.
The danger in continuing to repeat false conclusions from flawed research is that it feeds a narrative that doesn’t serve us. People hearing these findings start to believe that sadists lurk among us and they can’t trust others, when most of the time they can. It also supports the idea that only through strict social control from on high—dictatorships or police states, for example—can we stop our communities from devolving into chaos. Humankind: A Hopeful History(Little, Brown and Company, 2020, 480 pages)
According to Bregman, it’s important to understand that our true nature is (mostly) good, because it can encourage us to create institutions with less hierarchical structures and less stifling leadership. And these ways of organizing ourselves can have better outcomes.
For example, he highlights the home nursing program Buurtzorg, created first in the Netherlands, in which nurses cut out the management and created a cooperative that has been cost-effective and provides better patient care. He mentions city governments in Brazil that enacted public budgeting processes—where citizens had more say in how city funds were spent—that resulted in more health care spending, fewer infant deaths, and more civic engagement. And, he writes, schools that are less punitive and more cooperative, and allow students to be more in charge of their education, help improve students’ intrinsic motivation—one of the most important factors for learning.
The “tragedy of the commons”—the idea that public resources shared by many (like air, water, and land) can be depleted if people use them in a self-interested way—has long been an influential idea in economics. But Bregman points to the work of Elinor Ostrom, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, who studied how people around the world actually manage the commons when left to their own devices. Her research paved the way for understanding that once certain elements are present, people act cooperatively and don’t require social control—a finding that resonateswith many economists today.
This positive view of human nature can inform us about how police should handle crime prevention and prison reform, too, writes Bregman. Too often people believe that getting “tough on crime” and giving harsh prison sentences are what lead to crime reduction. But, Bregman argues, police departments that follow tough-on-crime tactics (like arresting people for minor violations) increase incarceration rates without reducing crime. Meanwhile, prisons that treat their prisoners humanely—by keeping sentences short and focusing on creating a more natural, community-based system inside the walls of the prison—prevent more crime and recidivism and are more cost-effective than those that don’t.
The book is full of other fascinating examples of places and programs being remade based on human goodness and trust. Bregman’s take-home message is that our better nature will win out, if we can only recognize its ubiquity.
That means recognizing the potential for goodness in everyone, even groups of people who look, think, or act differently from us whom we might be prejudiced against. One way to do so, research suggests, is to work on building positive contact across groups—like friendships and cooperative work relationships—that will increase our trust for others.
Bregman lists several other tips at the end of his book that people can use to see the goodness in humanity—things like “When in doubt, trust first,” “Temper your empathy, train your compassion,” and “Avoid the news.” If we take the view that we are born to be good, we can make a society that is fairer and freer for all, he says. That doesn’t take optimism; it just takes paying attention to science and experience.
“To believe that people are hardwired to be kind isn’t sentimental or naïve. On the contrary, it’s courageous and realistic to believe in peace and forgiveness,” he writes.
And this leaves us where. . . ?
that’s better than maybe what we’ve been imagining
with all of the unrest that’s making us feel anything but
r e s t f u l
because the evidence-based data
is kind of letting us know
that there’s some serious
i n h e r e n t
goodness in each of us. . .
S T I L L :
OR DO I. . .
I really like to talk
I use my mouth for a living
and the least of it
is what I do on
SUNDAY MORNINGS. . .
I talk to dozen of people every day
in a hospice setting
in talking with people about
CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE
for their loved ones
who’d like to get married
and want me to be their officiant
to my friends
to my family
to just about everyone I pass
in a store
or at the gas station. . .
if I could only be paid by the
(and I’m not even talking about the texting and emailing)
I like talking
LISTENING THING. . .
I pride myself on my
but I think it’s always worth
c h e c k i n g
DO THAT A LOT
especially when I’m feeling a little
Time Required: At least 10 minutes. Try to make time for this practice at least once per week.
Find a quiet place where you can talk with a conversation partner without interruption or distraction. Invite him or her to share what’s on his or her mind. As he or she does so, try to follow the steps below. You don’t need to cover every step, but the more you do cover, the more effective this practice is likely to be.
P a r a p h r a s e
Once the other person has finished expressing a thought, paraphrase what he or she said to make sure you understand and to show that you are paying attention. Helpful ways to paraphrase include “What I hear you saying is…,” “It sounds like…,” and “If I understand you right….”
When appropriate, ask questions to encourage the other person to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. Avoid jumping to conclusions about what the other person means. Instead, ask questions to clarify his or her meaning, such as, “When you say_____, do you mean_____?”
If the other person voices negative feelings, strive to validate these feelings rather than questioning or defending against them. For example, if the speaker expresses frustration, try to consider why he or she feels that way, regardless of whether you think that feeling is justified or whether you would feel that way yourself were you in his or her position. You might respond, “I can sense that you’re feeling frustrated,” and even “I can understand how that situation could cause frustration.”
Use engaged body language
Show that you are engaged and interested by making eye contact, nodding, facing the other person, and maintaining an open and relaxed body posture. Avoid attending to distractions in your environment or checking your phone. Be mindful of your facial expressions: Avoid expressions that might communicate disapproval or disgust.
Your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective and accept it for what it is, even if you disagree with it. Try not to interrupt with counter-arguments or mentally prepare a rebuttal while the other person is speaking.
Avoid giving advice
Problem-solving is likely to be more effective after both conversation partners understand one another’s perspective and feel heard. Moving too quickly into advice-giving can be counterproductive.
After the other person has had a chance to speak and you have engaged in the active listening steps above, ask if it’s okay for you to share your perspective. When sharing your perspective, express yourself as clearly as possible using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel overwhelmed when you don’t help out around the house”). It may also be helpful, when relevant, to express empathy for the other person’s perspective (e.g., “I know you’ve been very busy lately and don’t mean to leave me hanging…”).
Often we’ll listen to a conversation partner without really hearing him or her. In the process, we miss opportunities to connect with that person—and even risk making him or her feel neglected, disrespected, and resentful.
This exercise helps you express active interest in what the other person has to say and make him or her feel heard—a way to foster empathy and connection. This technique is especially well-suited for difficult conversations (such as arguments with a spouse) and for expressing support. Research suggests that using this technique can help others feel more understood and improve relationship satisfaction.
Active listening helps listeners better understand others’ perspectives and helps speakers feel more understood and less threatened. This technique can prevent miscommunication and spare hurt feelings on both sides. By improving communication and preventing arguments from escalating, active listening can make relationships more enduring and satisfying. Practicing active listening with someone close to you can also help you listen better when interacting with other people in your life, such as students, co-workers, or roommates.
Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.
Participants had brief conversations (about their biggest disappointment with their university) with someone trained to engage in active listening, someone who gave them advice, or someone who gave simple acknowledgments of their point of view. Participants who received active listening reported feeling more understood at the end of the conversation.
Instructions adapted from: Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S.L. (1994). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Active Listening involves approaching a conversation with a genuine desire to understand the other person’s feelings and perspective, without judgment or defensiveness. When you engage in Active Listening, you tune into what your conversation partner is communicating with their words and body language. How well do you feel and understand what others are feeling? Take the Empathy quiz (at Greater Good in Action) to find out.
take a few moments to
no one will be judging you
no one will share your answers
no one will make you feel embarrassed
B U T
you just may find
that what I know
what I know I know
what I’d bet my life that I know
I don’t always ACT like I know at all
W H I C H
is why I like to do a check up
from the EARS UP
I’d like to know that when I tell you,
“YEAH, I HEAR YA”
I really do
and I’m inviting you as
A CARING CATALYST
to do the same. . .
Do you hear me?
It’s really getting tougher
to figure things out
WHAT TO DO
WHAT NOT TO DO
WHAT DIRECTION YOU SHOULD TAKE
WHAT WAY YOU SHOULD STAY CLEAR
K N O W I N G
because sure enough
it’s not what it was
608 months ago. . .
it just doesn’t feel like we’re pieces of a puzzle
or pieces of a puzzle out of the box
but more like pieces of a puzzle out of the box
WITH THE WRONG PICTURE
to work from
as we attempt to put it
all back together again
when it feels like
A G A I N. . .
it just might be time
to not so much shuffle the cards
but get a brand new
D E C K
I recently read an article BY JILL SUTTIE, a frequent contributor to Greater Good Magazine that kind of suggested why have a card
(even an ace in the hole)
when you can work with a brand new deck. . .
It’s been too long that we’ve forgone all of the
c r a y o n s
in the box
when it’s obvious that we just don’t need
but also all of the nuances. . .
We all know folks who seem to have a deep sense of purpose. Whether working for racial justice, teaching children to read, making inspiring art, or collecting donations of masks and face shields for hospitals during the pandemic, they’ve found ways to blend their passion, talents, and care for the world in a way that infuses their lives with meaning.
Maybe it’s time we’ve stopped using a Compass
as a Clock. . .
Having a purpose in life is associated with all kinds of benefits. Research suggests that purpose is tied to having better health, longevity, and even economic success. It feels good to have a sense of purpose, knowing that you are using your skills to help others in a way that matters to you.
But how do you go about finding your purpose if it’s not obvious to you? Is it something you develop naturally over the course of a lifetime? Or are there steps you can take to encourage more purpose in your life? Are they NEVER changing or ALWAYS changing. . . ?
Likely both, says Kendall Bronk, a researcher who directs the Adolescent Moral Development Lab at Claremont Graduate University. People can find a sense of purpose organically—or through deliberate exercises and self-reflection. Sometimes, just having someone talk to you about what matters to you makes you think more intentionally about your life and your purpose, says Bronk.
In her work with adolescents, she’s found that some teens find purpose after experiencing hardship. Maybe a kid who has experienced racism decides to become a civil rights advocate. Or one who’s suffered severe illness decides to study medicine. Of course, experiences like poverty and illness are extremely hard to overcome without help from others. But Bronk’s research suggests that having a supportive social network—caring family members, like-minded friends, or mentors, for example—helps youth to reframe hardship as a challenge they can play a role in changing for the better. That might be true of adults, too.
While hardship can lead to purpose, most people probably find purpose in a more meandering way, says Bronk—through a combination of education, experience, and self-reflection, often helped along by encouragement from others. But finding your purpose can be jump-started, too, given the right tools. She and her colleagues have found that exercises aimed at uncovering your values, interests, and skills, as well as practicing positive emotions like gratitude, can help point you toward your purpose in life.
Here are some of her recommendations based on her research on purpose.
Purpose is all about applying your skills toward contributing to the greater good in a way that matters to you. So, identifying what you care about is an important first step.
In Greater Good’s Purpose Challenge, designed by Bronk and her team, high school seniors were asked to think about the world around them—their homes, communities, the world at large—and visualize what they would do if they had a magic wand and could change anything they wanted to change (and why). Afterward, they could use that reflection to consider more concrete steps they might take to contribute toward moving the world a little closer to that ideal.
A similar process is recommended for older adults by Jim Emerman of Encore.org, an organization that helps seniors find new purpose in life. Instead of envisioning an ideal future world, though, he suggests posing three questions to yourself:
By reflecting on these questions, he says, older adults can brainstorm ideas for repurposing skills and pursuing interests developed over a lifetime toward helping the world.
Sometimes it can be hard to single out one or two things that matter most to you because your circle of care and concern is far-ranging. Understanding what you value most may help you narrow down your purpose in life to something manageable that also truly resonates with you.
There are several good values surveys to choose from, including these three recommended by PositivePsychology.com: the Valued Living Questionnaire, the Portrait Values Questionnaire, and the Personal Values Questionnaire. All have been used in research studies and may be helpful to those who feel overwhelmed by all they want to change.
Bronk found that helping people prioritize their values is useful for finding purpose. The survey used in Greater Good’s purpose challenge—where students were asked to look at common values and rank which were most important, least important, and in between—has been shown to be effective in helping people clarify their purpose.
Once you’re clearer on your deepest values, Bronk recommends asking yourself: What do these values say about you as a person? How do these values influence your daily life? How might they relate to what you want to do with the rest of your life? Doing this exercise can help you discover how you can put your values to use.
We all have strengths and skills that we’ve developed over our lifetimes, which help make up our unique personalities. Yet some of us may be unsure of what we have to offer.
If we need help, a survey like the VIA Character Strengths Survey can be useful in identifying our personal strengths and embracing them more fully. Then, you can take the results and think about how you can apply them toward something you really care about.
But it can also be helpful to ask others—teachers, friends, family, colleagues, mentors—for input. In the Purpose Challenge, students were asked to send emails to five people who knew them well and to pose questions like:
Adults can do this if they need feedback, too—either formally or informally in conversation with trusted others. People who know you well may be able to see things in you that you don’t recognize in yourself, which can point you in unexpected directions. On the other hand, there is no need to overly rely on that feedback if it doesn’t resonate. Getting input is useful if it clarifies your strengths—not if it’s way off base.
Finding purpose involves more than just self-reflection. According to Bronk, it’s also about trying out new things and seeing how those activities enable you to use your skills to make a meaningful difference in the world. Volunteering in a community organization focused on something of interest to you could provide you with some experience and do good at the same time.
Working with an organization serving others can put you in touch with people who share your passions and inspire you. In fact, it’s easier to find and sustain purpose with others’ support—and a do-gooder network can introduce you to opportunities and a community that shares your concern. Volunteering has the added benefit of improving our health and longevity, at least for some people.
However, not all volunteer activities will lead to a sense of purpose. “Sometimes volunteering can be deadening,” warns Stanford University researcher Anne Colby. “It needs to be engaging. You have to feel you’re accomplishing something.” When you find a good match for you, volunteering will likely “feel right” in some way—not draining, but invigorating.
This exercise if particularly useful in conjunction with the magic-wand exercise described above. In Greater Good’s Purpose Challenge, high school students were asked to imagine themselves at 40 years of age if everything had gone as well as it could have in their lives. Then, they answered questions, like:
The why part is particularly important, because purposes usually emerges from our reasons for caring, says Bronk.
Of course, those of us who are a bit older can still find these questions valuable. However, says Bronk, older folks may want to reflect back rather than look ahead. She suggests we think about what we’ve always wanted to do but maybe couldn’t because of other obligations (like raising kids or pursuing a career). There seems to be something about seeing what you truly want for yourself and the world that can help bring you closer to achieving it, perhaps by focusing your attention on the people and experiences you encounter that may help you get there.
To find purpose, it helps to foster positive emotions, like awe and gratitude. That’s because each of these emotions is tied to well-being, caring about others, and finding meaning in life, which all help us focus on how we can contribute to the world.
In her study with young adults, Bronk found that practicing gratitude was particularly helpful in pointing students toward purpose. Reflecting on the blessings of their lives often leads young people to “pay it forward” in some way, which is how gratitude can lead to purpose.
There are many ways to cultivate awe and gratitude. Awe can be inspired by seeing the beauty in nature or recalling an inspirational moment. Gratitude can be practiced by keeping a gratitude journal or writing a gratitude letter to someone who helped you in life. Whatever tools you use, developing gratitude and awe has the added benefit of being good for your emotional well-being, which can give you the energy and motivation you need to carry out your purposeful goals.
LOOK TO THE PEOPLE YOU ADMIRE
Sometimes the people we admire most in life give us a clue to how we might want to contribute to a better world ourselves. Reading about the work of civil rights leaders or climate activists can give us a moral uplift that can serve as motivation for working toward the greater good.
However, sometimes looking at these larger-than-life examples can be too intimidating, says Bronk. If so, you can look for everyday people who are doing good in smaller ways. Maybe you have a friend who volunteers to collect food for the homeless or a colleague whose work in promoting social justice inspires you.
You don’t need fame to fulfill your purpose in life. You just need to look to your inner compass—and start taking small steps in the direction that means the most to you. . .BEGINNING YESTERDAY
AND YOU. . .
MUST BECOME IT’S GREATEST
(it’s the only thing that will literally give Purpose, PURPOSE)
that’ll shuffle the deck
and complete the puzzle
all at the same time. . .
Some Coffee Commercial, huh. . . ?
When I saw it this past week
somehow the first thought that came to my mind wasn’t,
“WOW, DO I WANT A CUP OF HOT COFFEE AT THIS VERY MOMENT!”
and then I researched it a little bit
AND THEN I RESEARCHED IT A LITTLE BIT MORE
and saw that it was Charlie Chaplin that actually made the speech
AND SAW THAT IT WAS CHARLIE CHAPLIN THAT ACTUALLY MADE THE SPEECH AS A CHARACTER THAT RESEMBLED HITLER
AND THEN I SAW THAT
“In “The Great Dictator”, Chaplin plays two identical characters – the Jewish Barber and Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel is a stand-in for Hitler. At the end of the movie, the Barber has replaced Hynkel and delivers the speech we hear in the commercial. Therefore, it’s not Hynkel/Hitler delivering the speech, it’s the Barber. Of course, the speech is really Chaplin’s plea for understanding.”
IT IS WAY MORE THAN JUST
IT IS WAY MORE THAN JUST
HOW YOU SEE THINGS
IT IS JUST THE WAY
(and that may be the toughest way of all to see things)
Without a doubt
. . .our life doesn’t come
(BUT IT DOES HAVE INSTRUCTORS)
or subtitles. . .
the seemingly non-existent subtitles
are ones you can’t read
or are in a foreign language
or much like life
. . .comes at you upside down
When all we really want to do is read
as we are read
We all want to help one another, human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Let us all unite!
as we are
. . .but that just might be too much to ask for
TOO MUCH TO
. . .rub your eyes again
b l i n k
(no subtitles necessary)
C O M P A S S I O N
never leaves with clean hands. . .
and the only time
OUT OF THE BOX
isn’t so great
is when it’s a
s a n d b o x
. . .just how much sand
is still in your sandbox
or has it all
l i t e r a l l y
been thrown away. . . ?
is upside down
and off its axis
seemingly with no hope of
r i g h t i n g
everyone seems to be grabbing for anything
that even remotely looks like
T H E I R S
JUST WEARING A MASK
will get you labeled
and that’ll negate you
in blink-of-the-eye-quickness. . .
CASE IN POINT:
(from two acquaintances in a Facebook Discussion)
This shouldn’t be a political post, but offending people appears almost as easy as blinking these days and seems to happen with a near similar frequency.
Today I met with my neurologist via zoom. We discussed the current condition of my health and the reality that heat is a destructive force in my life. Overheating complicates my already fragile central nervous system and causes frequent pseudo exacerbations and tailspins that are difficult to describe. I won’t bore you with the details, but the Dr. told me that I can’t risk going out and being near people who aren’t wearing masks in these ongoing days of Covid. If I were to get a fever, it would be “very, very bad” for me, let’s just leave it at that.
Now I don’t know each of your views pertaining to mask wearing and, honestly, I marvel at its political ties, though I know that I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m just trying to send a reminder that some of us aren’t in a position to ponder the political angles, we are just trying to keep our heads above water and would like to not be permanently confined to our homes, where it sometimes ironically seems that we might drown for lack of oxygen.
I encourage you to think of adorning a mask as if it were an empathy enhancer, regardless of any other benefits it may or may not have.
Stay healthy, friends. One day we will hug again
I think what is interesting about this conversation is that your highly trained doctor says to wear one, but my highly trained doctor says not too. It is what makes this part of the mask conversation so hard. I too, am considered extremely immune compromised but my doctor does not believe they protect us and in fact believes they are harming us more and providing an environment for more virus to grow. I work as an essential employee, have not been sick, wear mask in limited capacity and have stayed healthy. Many doctors believe that this is why we are seeing virus transmission go up in areas that are mandating it. Also on the flip side of this, my mother, who is asthmatic and my uncle who has COPD, cant wear them without getting deathly sick. It is a unique conversation to each individual, their unique situation and their health care providers feelings on it. It should not be mandated by any government entity for that reason. I respect what your doctor is telling you for you, but it can’t be something that is mandated for everyone. We do not know each person’s unique situation which why judgement to wear or not wear should be something we as individuals should not be passing and should be an individuals decision to do or not to do based on these specific factors. What could save your life, might take my mom’s life. This is a very real thing we need to see in the true light for what it is. It does mean that many people like you can’t be out in the general population right now, but it should not mean everyone has to wear a mask because of that. If you wear one and stay socially distant, you will stay safe. I am sorry that the health factors make life more difficult for you during this time
Wendy – Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I am of the opinion that some of your examples are the exception to the rule, but none the less, thanks for addressing the argument rather than attacking the individual. Tip of the cap to you.
Playing in the sandbox without getting
G R I T T Y
is not just possible or plausible
Sand in the box
is never the problem
It’s always the sand
the seemingly unremovable sand
on the hands
between the toes
in the shorts
in the eyes
that causes the
in the sandbox
has its place(S)
in the eyes
is never one of them
Sand in the box
is never the problem
as much as
s a n d
out of the box
We are way past the time
of playing nice
. . .it’s now time
Ever since early MARCH 2020
when we entered into our COVID19 Pandemic
our heads have been jammed back with
F A C T S
some somewhere in-between
and it’s all been enough to literally make your head
E X P L O D E
so when you think you are literally
going out of your mind
real it all back in
(no duct tape necessary)
You’re not alone—people around the world are depressed, anxious, and stressed, some more than others.
KIRA M. NEWMAN is the managing editor of GREATER GOOD which is all about reeling it all in as it appears to be falling all out shares with us some great DO’S and DON’T’S. . .
Epidemiologists and virologists around the world are scrambling to understand and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. There is another group of researchers who are concerned about a slightly different foe: the mental health pandemic.
Facing an infectious disease, we have been forced to maintain distance from each other, all while going through levels of fear, uncertainty, job loss, and grief that are unprecedented for many people.
“In an ironic twist, many of the strategies that are critical to ensuring our collective public health during this pandemic may put people at greater risk for . . . mental health issues,” write Frederick Buttell and Regardt J. Ferreira at Tulane University in a recent, special issue of the journal Psychological Trauma.
In brand-new studies coming out of China, Spain, the United States, and other countries, researchers are discovering in real time how we are collectively coping with this worldwide event. The results are not uplifting, but they aren’t surprising either. We are suffering, some of us worse than others. You don’t have to have lost a job or a loved one to be affected. Humans are complex, and so are emotional responses to the pandemic.
When this all started, we learned how viruses spread and how to wash our hands like pros. Now we have lessons to learn about what happens to mental health in a crisis like this, so we can find ways to address it.
As COVID-19 spread through China in January and February, researchers were already sending out questionnaires to citizens locked down in their homes. In half a dozen studies with over 10,000 respondents, they found that people were experiencing worse mental health problems than before the pandemic—high symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Up to half showed serious signs of depression (depending on the study), while up to 35 percent showed serious anxiety.
One survey followed over 1,700 people in 190 Chinese cities from late January to late February. During the height of the pandemic, their stress, anxiety, and depression didn’t change. Their symptoms of PTSD declined slightly—but they were still high enough to be worrisome. People weren’t getting worse, but they also didn’t seem to be getting used to pandemic life.
The results look no better in other countries. In late March, nearly 3,500 people were surveyed in Spain, when the country ranked second in the world in COVID-19 deaths. Many people met the criteria for clinical mental health problems: 19 percent for depression, almost a quarter for anxiety, and 16 percent for PTSD. Within a week after Slovenia declared an epidemic, over half of the thousands of people surveyed had high stress levels. In April, 14 percent of Americans were experiencing serious psychological distress, more than triple the rate in 2018.
And studies find that this stress and anxiety fuels poor sleep, creating a vicious cycle. The more we lay awake at night during the pandemic, rehashing worries we have no control over, the worse our mental health becomes.
Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have left many people isolated, so it makes sense that we would be feeling lonely. And, indeed, nearly 1 in 7 U.S. adults said they were often or always lonely in April 2020, up over 25 percent from 2018. But when another group of researchers surveyed over 1,500 people in the U.S., they were surprised to find “remarkable resilience.” Not only did people not become lonelier over time, but they actually gained a greater sense of support from others from January to April.
All the phone calls and video chats with family and friends may be helping, write Martina Luchetti and her coauthors from Florida State University, as well as a new sense of togetherness. “Many people have felt part of community-wide efforts to slow the spread of the virus. The feeling of . . . being in this together may increase resilience.”
However, this hasn’t been true for everyone. People who are younger or living alone, or who have a chronic health condition, are lonelier than other groups. In fact, one study in the U.S. in April and May (before any restrictions were lifted) found that almost two thirds of people under 30 had high levels of loneliness, and 37 percent felt they had low support from their family.
“Feeling cut off from social groups may lead one to feel vulnerable and pessimistic about one’s circumstances,” write Cindy H. Liu and her coauthors.
In early April, the United Nations called for immediate global action to combat the increasing violence against women and girls during the pandemic.
While older people have greater health risks from COVID-19, it seems to be younger people who are struggling emotionally. According to studies from Spain, China, and Slovenia, younger people tend to be more depressed, anxious, stressed, and traumatized in the era of COVID-19. The same is true for women, who may also be more lonely.
There’s no clear explanation for why this might be true, but researchers have some speculations. Women tend to have worse mental health in general, and certain stressors right now—like the added burden of caregiving and the risk of losing jobs—may fall more heavily on women.
For younger people, it could be the disruptions to their routines that are to blame, particularly for college students who have had to adjust to online schooling. In studies across both China and the United States, the more the pandemic was affecting people’s daily lives, the more anxious they felt.
Personality also influences how we fare in tough times. Two related traits that seem to matter during the pandemic are our ability to tolerate uncertainty and our ability to tolerate distress. While it’s hard for anyone to struggle or face the unknown, some people are less comfortable with it than others. And right now, it’s those people who seem to be ruminating more, feeling more afraid, and experiencing more depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
In studies across the world, researchers investigated what else might make people vulnerable to mental health problems during the pandemic. They found a few key factors that put people at risk.
For one, people with poor health or chronic diseases tend to have higher symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, several studies found. Of course, this might be because these are also the people with greater health risks from COVID-19.
Your income and education matter, too. The less stable your income and the less educated you are, studies suggest, the more anxiety, depression, and stress you will experience. The pandemic is threatening the economy, affecting everyone’s financial future, but the situation is worse for people who were already struggling. In a very real sense, we’re not all in the same boat.
“It is an inescapable fact that people lower on the socioeconomic ladder are struggling more”
―David Sbarra, Ph.D.
A Pew survey of nearly 5,000 Americans in April found that the lowest-income people were most afraid of getting COVID-19, too. “[While] Americans may be struggling with the emotional challenges of the pandemic, it is an inescapable fact that people lower on the socioeconomic ladder are struggling more,” says psychologist David Sbarra.
Those unequal effects extend all the way to who lives and who dies.
In fact, Black people are more likely to be infected, less likely to be tested and treated, and less likely to survive if they get COVID-19. According to Andrea King Collier in an article for Greater Good, a history of racism means the Black community is confronting the pandemic with worse health, less access to care, and more distrust of the medical system.
That means they have more reason to be fearful for their own lives, and they are more likely to experience loss. In fact, Pew research suggests that more than a quarter of Black Americans know someone who was hospitalized or died from COVID-19, compared to 1 in 10 white Americans.
These hardships worsened after the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota. His death catalyzed nationwide protests for racial justice—but at the same time, many observers say, it made the pandemic even harder for many Black Americans.
“Black people have been hit on all sides with the threat of loss of life,” saysRiana Anderson, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “It is exhausting. Depleting. Depressing. And absolutely an additional stressor.” She argues that family and community support is a strength of the Black community, but physical distancing restrictions have made it more difficult to access that power.
Other people of color are suffering disproportionally under the pandemic, too. Nearly one-fifth of Latino adults were experiencing serious psychological distress in April 2020; the CDC estimates that Latinos make up over half of the U.S. agricultural workforce, a group of essential workers whose jobs put them at greater risk of infection. Discrimination against Asians has risen since the pandemic started in Wuhan, China.
YOUR WORK SITUATION MATTERS
One of the biggest disruptions to our daily lives today is how the pandemic has affected our work.
Doctors, nurses, and paramedics are taking on the urgent task of caring for COVID-19 patients, while other essential workers are putting themselves at risk to sell food, deliver mail, and pick up trash. Many office jobs have transitioned to remote work, asking employees to isolate at home, with many precariously juggling work and care for children or elders.
Other people have been unable to continue work during the pandemic, waiting for the time when they’ll be called back, while some have been laid off entirely. Unemployment in the U.S. more than quadrupled from February to April, leveling off in July at 10 percent.
A Chinese survey in mid-February examined some of these work situations, though not all. What was clear is that people who are unable to work temporarily—even if they don’t get laid off—have worse mental health. And while working in an office might seem risky, it was the people working from home who were actually more distressed and less satisfied with their lives.
There’s a lot we don’t have control over in this situation, which is stressful in and of itself. You may have some of the risk factors mentioned above, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But what can you control? That’s the first question to ask.
For example, research from 28 countries conducted in mid-March found that the more people used social media, the more fearful they were. Frequent social media users in China were more likely to feel both depressed and anxious at the same time. Part of the reason may be because, particularly when the pandemic was ramping up, it was the main topic of discussion online. If being on Facebook doesn’t feel good, consider putting limits on social media time.
Does that mean ignorance is bliss? No. Finding the right sources of information is key. In fact, Chinese people who were highly satisfied with the health information they got about COVID-19 tended to have lower stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Being informed helps reduce uncertainty and anxiety—but overloading ourselves with information can also be unsettling. Online or offline, reading news or imagining worst-case scenarios with family, the people who spent three or more hours a day focusing on COVID-19 were more anxious.
Besides taking breaks from news and social media, practicing basic safety and hygiene could go a long way for your mental health. In Chinese studies in January and February, people who engaged in proper hand washing, wore masks, and avoided sharing utensils tended to experience less depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD.
Since March, Greater Good has been sharing tips for well-being during COVID-19. For the most part, these are nothing new. In normal life and in a pandemic, we fare better when we try to stay connected in our relationships, cope with stress in healthy ways, and find a sense of agency.
But we can’t self-improve our way out of the pain and difficulty. What we’re going through right now is a trauma, or at least a major stressor on a global scale. This is one of those times when life really is harder by a little bit or a lot, depending on your situation. Feeling bad is part of being human—and right now, that’s something many of us need to face, even as we work to feel better, stay connected, and help others.
There are no quick fixes
literally is happening in real time
with no time for
trials or errors
evidence based data
r e s u l t s
It’s a blend of our
HEART AND HEAD
that’ll give us
the best of what we
to not just
but actually revive what COVID-19
THE HUMAN SPIRIT
How’s that for some
THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE
THE ONLY THING CERTAIN
and now, Ladies and Gentlemen
we can all collectively sigh
(rather dramatically LOUD):
. . .now what always isn’t so
c e r t a i n
and even more so in a constant flurry of
c h a n g e
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT
I found it’s not so much looking for
so much as asking the right
Q U E S T I O N
(and then, LISTENING)
CHRISTINE CARTER, a freelance journalist for THE GREATER GOOD helps us ASK THE QUESTIONS to not so much get to a reaction but a RESPONSE
Living with so much uncertainty is hard. Human beings crave information about the future in the same way we crave food, sex, and other primary rewards. Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty.
Research shows that job uncertainty, for example, tends to take a more significant toll on our health than actually losing our job. Similarly, research participants who were told that they had a 50% chance of receiving a painful electric shock felt far more anxious and agitated than participants who believed they were definitely going to receive the shock.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . .
It is no surprise, then, that there are entire industries devoted to filling in the blanks of our futures. See, for example, the popularity of astrology apps, or the prestige of management consultancies dedicated to strategic planning. Fundamentalist religions counter anxiety by providing us with unambiguous rules and absolute truths. Conspiracy theories provide us with simple explanations for complex phenomena.
But sometimes—maybe always—it’s more effective not to attempt to create certainty. Though evolution might have rigged our brains to resist uncertainty, we can never really know what the future will bring. And in improbable situations like the pandemic, which has massively disrupted our routines and utterly destroyed our best-laid plans, we need to learn to live with ambiguity. “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is,” wrote mathematician John Allen Paulos. “Knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
So how can we best cope when everything feels so out of control? Here are seven surprising strategies. . .
There’s no doubt: We are living through some severely challenging times. But resisting this current reality won’t help us recover, learn, grow, or feel better. Ironically, resistance prolongs our pain and difficulty by amplifying the challenging emotions we are feeling. There is real truth to the aphorism that what we resist persists. . . .
There’s an alternative. Instead of resisting, we can practice acceptance. Research by Kristin Neff and her colleagues has shown that acceptance—particularly self-acceptance—is a counterintuitive secret to happiness. Acceptance is about meeting life where it is and moving forward from there.
Because acceptance allows us to see the reality of the situation in the present moment, it frees us up to move forward, rather than remaining paralyzed (or made ineffective) by uncertainty, fear, or argument. To practice acceptance, we surrender our resistance to a problematic situation, and also to our emotions about the situation.
For example, you might find your marriage to be particularly challenging right now. Instead of criticizing or blaming your spouse—two tactics of resistance—you could calmly accept your marriage for the time being.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t feel frustrated anymore, or disappointed, or saddened by the state of things. A big part of acceptance is accepting how we feel about difficult circumstances (and difficult people) in our lives. But allowing our challenging marriage to be as it is right now—and acknowledging our feelings about it—puts us in a better position to move forward.
To be clear, acceptance is not the same as resignation. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that it will never get better. We don’t accept that things will stay the same forever; we only accept whatever is actually happening at the moment. We can work to make our marriage happier, while at the same time allowing the reality that right now, the relationship or the situation is complicated. Maybe it will get better, maybe it won’t. Practicing acceptance in the face of difficulty is hard, and it’s also the most effective way to move forward.
The best resource that you have right now for making a contribution to the world is YOU! When that resource is depleted, your most valuable asset is damaged. In other words: When we underinvest in our bodies, minds, or spirits, we destroy our most essential tools for leading our best lives.
We humans don’t do well when we defer maintenance on ourselves. We need to sustain the relationships that bring us connection and meaning. We must get enough sleep and rest when we are tired. We need to spend time having fun and playing, just for the joy of it. And here’s the biggest
Pssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssst of the Day there could ever be:
THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL
Don’t be confused: Self-care is not selfish. Selfishness is an anxious focus on the self. Selfish people tend to refer back to themselves a lot by using words like I, me, and mine. They pursue extrinsic goals, such as preserving their youthful beauty or cultivating an image of themselves on social media. They often hunger for more money, power, and approval from others, and they are often willing to pursue these things at the expense of other people or at the expense of their own integrity. That sort of self-focus is linked to stress, anxiety, depression, and health problems such as heart disease.
So, there’s no recommending selfishness, just a strong urging of self-care and personal growth.
One of the most important ways we can invest in ourselves is to comfort ourselves in healthy ways.
If we are to stay flexible, we need to feel safe and secure. When we feel uncertain or insecure, our brain tries to rescue us by activating our dopamine systems. This dopamine rush encourages us to seek rewards, making temptations more tempting. Think of this as your brain pushing you toward a comfort item. . .like an extra glass of wine instead of a reasonable bedtime. Or the entire pan of brownies. Or an extra little something in your Amazon cart.
But instead of turning to social media, junk food, or booze to soothe our rattled nerves, we do better when we preemptively comfort ourselves in healthy ways.
Make a list of healthy ways to comfort yourself. Can you mask up and go for a hike with a neighbor? Schedule a call with a friend? Reflect on what you are grateful for? Let yourself take a little nap? Perhaps you could seek out a hug or watch a funny YouTube video.
Those things may seem small—or even luxurious—but they enable us to be the people that we want to be.
Perhaps the most essential stress-reduction tactic that anyone has ever taught me is not to believe everything I think. In these seemingly unending, uncertain times, it’s really important not to believe thoughts that argue for the worst-case scenario (of which we are experts).
It can be helpful for us to consider worst-case scenarios so that we can weigh risks and actively prevent disaster. But when we believe these stressful thoughts, we tend to react emotionally as though the worst case is already happening in real life, rather than just in our heads. We grieve for things that we haven’t actually lost, and react to events that are not actually happening. This makes us feel threatened, afraid, and unsafe when we are simply alone with our thoughts. (IS ANY OF THIS RINGING A BELL YOU’D RATHER NOT HAVE HAD RUNG?)
Our negativity bias can also set us up for failure. Expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we expect the worst, we often feel too afraid or close-minded to seize opportunities or respond to challenges with creativity and grit.
Instead of buying into every stressful thought, we can actively imagine the best possible scenario. We can find silver linings to replace ruminations. This counters our natural tendency to overestimate risks and negative consequences.
The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty; it’s presence. Instead of imagining a scary and unknown future, we can bring our attention to our breath. From there, we can check in with ourselves. Every time we wash our hands, for example, we could ask ourselves: How are you doing right now?
Notice what emotions you are feeling, and where in your body you feel those emotions. Bring curiosity and acceptance to your experience.
Even when it feels like everything is out of our control, we can still control what we pay attention to. We can turn off our alerts to keep the news or social media from hijacking our awareness. We can drop our ruminations and negative fantasies by attending to what’s actually happening in our inner world, right now, here in the present.
Attending to what is happening within us at any given moment keeps a crappy external reality from determining our inner truth. It allows us to cultivate calm, open-mindedness, and non-reactivity.
When we act as though we are powerless, we get trapped in narratives that leave us feeling angry, helpless, and trapped. And we start hoping other people will save us from our misery.
Although it can feel good when others dote on us, most rescuers don’t really help. Our friends might want to save us—because helping others makes people feel good—and their intentions may be noble. But rescuers tend to be better enablers than saviors. If we stay stuck, they get to keep their role as our hero, or they get to distract themselves from their own problems.
Rescuers tend to give us permission to avoid taking responsibility for our own lives. On the other hand, emotionally supportive friends (or therapists) see us as capable of solving our own problems. They ask questions that help us focus on what we do want instead of what we don’t.
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is”
―John Allen Paulos, mathematician
In short: To best cope with uncertainty, we need to stop complaining. When we drop our fixation on the problem, we can focus on the outcomes we desire. How can we make the best of this mess? What can we gain in this situation?
When we take responsibility for our lives, we trade the false power of victimhood for the real power that comes from creating the life we want.
Social psychologists define meaning, as it applies to our lives, as “an intellectual and emotional assessment of the degree to which we feel our lives have purpose, value, and impact.” We humans are best motivated by our significance to other people. We’ll work harder and longer and better—and feel happier about the work we are doing—when we know that someone else is benefiting from our efforts.
For example, teens who provide tangible, emotional, or informational support to people in crises tend to feel more strongly connected to their community. Research shows that we feel good when we stop thinking about ourselves so much and support others.
When we see something that needs improvement, our next step is to recognize what we personally can do to be a part of the solution. What skills and talents (or even just interests) can we bring to the issue? What really matters to us, and how can we be of service?
Meaning and purpose are wellsprings of hope. When the world feels scary or uncertain, knowing what meaning we have for others and feeling a sense of purpose can ground us better than anything else.
So, don’t just wait for this ordeal to be over. Don’t be resigned to your misery while we wait for a vaccine. What have you always wanted to do? What outcome are you hoping for? How can you make a real life in this? Live that life. How can you be A Caring Catalyst, NOW, not then or w h e n.
The only thing that’s constant is
C H A N G E
and the only thing
S T A Y S
the same. . .
e q u a t i o n
BE THE PROOF
in the always present
UNCERTAINITY. . .
Are you in need of a Commercial Break. . .
We all seem to be scrambling for
(not of our TV’s)
of our lives
that’ll not fast forward us through the Commercial
to get back to our regular program
S T O P
The Regular Scheduled Program
to literally give us a much needed
b r e a k
and show us
not what we need to buy
b u t
WHAT WE NEED TO HAVE
(and no, it’s not a Dodge Ram Truck)
After all of the
C L O C K S
have Ticked their
T O C K S
what we need is more than a program
or a commercial can promise or give
but just the same
the seeds to our fertile fields
can be found there
in the middle of both
EIGHTH DAY. . .
. . .so before your HOUR GLASS
c o n s i d e r
maybe not so much how you’d spend your
E I G H T H DAY
as how you’d
Just don’t put that in
and Plant it
. . .Harvest it
and take it to
for the Farmer in all of us
. . .it just could be
The Commercial Break
needed from this
I know. . .
I know what you’re thinking
N O W
and every 25th of every month
when I proclaim
(usually with a Christmas scene)
MERRY PRACTICE CHRISTMAS
(usually with how many more days until Christmas)
which usually elicits this resounding response:
But wait. . .
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
wasn’t my idea
so much as me picking up the
and making sure it flies
U N F U R L I N G L Y
before you. . .
Werther, an 1892 French opera with libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann, had an English translation published in 1894 by Elizabeth Beall Ginty. In the story, a group of children rehearses a Christmas song in July, to which a character responds: “When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season.” It is a translation of the French: “vous chantez Noël en juillet… c’est s’y prendre à l’avance.” This opera is based on Goethe‘s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Christmas features in the book, but July does not.
In 1935, the National Recreation Association’s journal Recreation described what a Christmas in July was like at a girl’s camp, writing that “all mystery and wonder surround this annual event.”
The term, if not the exact concept, was given national attention with the release of the Hollywood movie comedy Christmas in Julyin 1940, written and directed by Preston Sturges. In the story, a man is fooled into believing he has won $25,000 in an advertising slogan contest. He buys presents for family, friends, and neighbors, and proposes marriage to his girlfriend.
In 1942, the Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. celebrated Christmas in July with carols and the sermon “Christmas Presents in July”. They repeated it in 1943, with a Christmas tree covered with donations. The pastor explained that the special service was patterned after a program held each summer at his former church in Philadelphia, when the congregation would present Christmas gifts early to give ample time for their distribution to missions worldwide. It became an annual event, and in 1945, the service began to be broadcast over local radio.
The U.S. Post Office and U.S. Army and Navy officials, in conjunction with the American advertising and greeting card industries, threw a Christmas in July luncheon in New York in 1944 to promote an early Christmas mailing campaign for service men overseas during World War II. The luncheon was repeated in 1945.
American advertisers began using Christmas in July themes in print for summertime sales as early as 1950. In the United States, it is more often used as a marketing tool than an actual holiday. Television stations may choose to re-run Christmas specials, and many stores have Christmas in July sales. Some individuals choose to celebrate Christmas in July themselves, typically as an intentionally transparent excuse to have a party. This is in part because most bargainers tend to sell Christmas goods around July to make room for next year’s inventory. (from Wikipedia)
I KNOW. . .
TOO MUCH INFORMATION, Right. . . ?
It kind of puts the
B L A N K
B L I N K
But so too often
is not always
WE LIVE IN A SNOW GLOBE’D WORLD
often turned upside down
U N S E T T L E D
and just when we think we
GET THE MESSAGE
s i l e n t l y
“all is calm, all is bright. . .let heaven and nature sing,
JOY TO THE WORLD
So I don’t know what really
L I G H T S
your tree. . .
but whatever it is
make sure it stays lit in this dark world
and even better. . .
S H A R E D