Keeping the Social in Social Media

 

Generally this blog is about the psychology of being human, and in to provide some help in making changes to become the best humans we can be.  I enjoy sharing resources and experiences of people I know as well as my own. After all, we’re all on this road together. On a good day maybe readers can gain a bit of Positive Psychology or increase their EQ or Emotional Intelligence.

Sometimes I do comment on events in the news, or on cultural developments that gradually affect us all, sooner or later.  There isn’t any doubt that one of the most profound technical developments, next to the personal computer, is the proliferation of social media. Every aspect of our lives are being shaped by it whether it is keeping in touch with friends, families and co-workers; business and commercial or political influences.

There are lots of jokes about Tweeters telling their followers about the great triple latte they are drinking. And Facebook has provided a forum for sharing everything from the ridiculous to the sublime and everything in between. I have colleagues that are very skilled at developing business connections on Linked In. And of course the list goes on.

When I first joined the Facebook contingent, I intended it more as a business tool.  And I do have business connections on it and find helpful in keeping up with the publishing aspect of my business. But what is probably more rewarding and interesting to me are the friends and acquaintances that have formed a sort of “net” of community and commentary. I have reconnected with childhood friends and relatives that live at a distance, most still living in the part of the country where I grew up, and I love hearing from them.

I confess to also liking silly cat pictures and the occasional funny video of someone’s dog bringing in the mail or howling with the toddler. Pictures of new babies, friends’ kids and grandkids are precious and provide a way of keeping up with family developments. I seldom post pictures because I am technically challenged and am too lazy to figure it out. It’s a trick that my grown children haven’t taught me yet.

It’s interesting to me how varied the opinions and perspectives are. Sometimes those opinions get pretty heated, especially around election time.  And of course political and religious views continue to be posted, along with the suggestion that “friends” click on the “Like” button.

I am a defender of the right to free speech that is outlined in the Bill of Rights. So just as I think that a man has the right to wear his drawers drooping off his behind, but wish he wouldn’t, so it is that I think everyone has a right (unless it is harming someone) to post what they want.  But sometimes I really wish they wouldn’t.

This morning when I checked out Facebook and saw two consecutive posts made by a distant friend, I had that same reaction. The first one was one I have seen before from a page entitled something like “wanting to hit people on the side of the head.” It advocates making drug testing mandatory for welfare recipients; the reader could click “Like” if they agreed. The second post was a picture that was followed by a message to click “Like” if they followed Jesus.

Is it just me or is this at least ironic if not offensive? It promotes a stereotype of poor people that is a tad shocking if not ignorant of the facts.  Could we force the lawmakers who would draft and pass such a bill also be subjected to mandatory drug testing? Many of the drug addicts I have treated over the years were well educated, professionals, none of whom were on welfare. Addiction is a painful and awful affliction, and no class or group of people is exempt.

Then to follow that post with another one about following Jesus is really too much. Is there some newly discovered, mean-spirited and hateful addendum to the Gospels that I don’t know about? Was there a mis-translation of “God is Love?”  1 John 4:8, if you want to look it up. I don’t remember a reference to Jesus hitting anyone on the head.  Is the Son of Man suddenly a member of a political party, or promoting a particular agenda? I could have sworn that the message of love and forgiveness is available to every human, regardless of race, creed or financial circumstances.

Americans in particular seem fond on invoking the Almighty’s favor and applying it to our favorite causes or passions. In the process, we shape God in our image. We seem to think that whether we are waging war or a football game, He is on OUR side. This never made any sense to me, although I understand the temptation. My theology doesn’t include a god who prefers blondes over brunettes or jerseys that are blue instead of orange. I can’t believe that certain people are excluded because of their race, nationality or lifestyle or because they face East to pray instead of West. And I don’t believe that our bombs are blessed.

Of course this is my perspective, and I will respect your right to express yours as well.  As a friend of mine would say, it’s all grist for the mill. And it’s what keeps the conversation, as well as life, interesting. I am happy to read your comments.

Beware the Pedestals!

Almost any day you’d care to look, the news offers opportunity to reflect on humankind and the meanings of life. Just as the heat of a national election is cooling down, and the approach of the “fiscal cliff” is looming, we hear breaking news of the fall from grace of another hero.

Like other news flurries, the scandal and resignation of David Petraeus will eventually sort itself out and fade into the background of our collective awareness.  In saying that, I’m not minimizing the importance of his extramarital affair to him, his family and inner circle, and possibly even to national security. What occur to me are our general tendencies to make our heroes one dimensional rather than remembering that they are complex humans, as we all are.

Perhaps we want some icons to look up to.  Perhaps we are comforted in confronting the chaos of the world and our resulting feelings of fear and helplessness when we put someone up on a pedestal. We may enjoy being put on a pedestal ourselves and receiving the attention and adulation that comes with being considered a hero to someone…anyone. But I want to caution you about doing either one.

After all, there are many examples of this “pedestal practice” and what comes of it. Lance Armstrong comes to mind. As does Sandusky and the whole Penn State debacle that once uncovered, revealed the dangers of the worship and adulation of a university football coach and the program he built. Many men who lived on pedestals in “Happy Valley” will topple before that scandal finishes playing out. Several years ago a well respected scholar and college professor was arrested for soliciting sexual contact with a female minor, and an entire community and church was rocked to the core. A highly regarded female pastor confesses that she has been having an extramarital affair with a parishioner, and the families and church are devastated in the wake of it.

On a smaller scale, married partners sometimes have this “Pedestal Practice” going on. If you marry someone and you regard them as more successful, smarter, more desirable, more powerful, wealthier or more competent than you, you may place them on the pedestal and never claim your own abilities and power in the relationship.

Taking the passive or submissive stance then results in an imbalance of power. The woman or man who is up on the pedestal isn’t seen as fully human, and true emotional intimacy is not possible as a result.  Not a true partnership. And usually, sooner or later something will occur that results in toppling the pedestal by an affair or deception of some other kind, and divorce.

Our first reaction to such news is, “That’s impossible!” Surely some terrible mistake has occurred!  He/she wouldn’t or couldn’t do such a thing!  Scummy, evil, bad people do this! Notice that the implication is that we are all one or the other: good people or bad people. Of course the truth is that we are neither. Each of us has our strengths, even great and wonderful qualities. And each of us has our “shadows,” unconscious beliefs and feelings that when they remain unacknowledged or unexplored, have the tendency to rear up and we act them out.

It seems to me that when we put someone else on a pedestal, whether that person is a sports hero, a national figure, a revered leader or someone you personally know, they will plunge off that pedestal by revealing themselves (albeit unintentionally) to be flawed.  Or in our resentment or disappointment at seeing them to be only human after all, we knock them off their pedestals with a resounding whack.

And if you are living up on a pedestal, watch out!

 

Facing the Lion

“Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.”
~Anais Nin~

The events of the past week have provided an opportunity for me, as well as several million other people, to face fear and to observe how we deal with it. Hurricane Sandy, combined with a low flowing jet stream, created what some dubbed a “Frankenstorm” of gigantic and devastating proportions.

I must confess to being somewhat of a cynic about weather reports that are full of drama. It seems that even something as usually mundane as the weather has to bring in advertising dollars.  And on the local level, nothing very exciting has happened for months.

So when news of this threatening weather system began to build, I was not giving it much credence. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that I look at NOAA, the website for the National Weather Service, that I took notice.

After seeing that something certainly was brewing, and heading directly toward the mid-Atlantic, I turned on network news.  As I watched, I noticed that I was becoming increasingly anxious and alarmed.  Predictions of flooding and high winds brought back memories of hurricanes past, and some that really were devastating in terms of lives lost and property and environmental damage.

Talking with friends and family convinced me that I wasn’t the only one listening to the predictions, declarations of states of emergency, instructions for storm preparation, and making plans for coping with the worst. As I ran errands to buy supplies “just in case,” I found that many other people were on similar missions. Before the first drop of rain fell, shelves holding bread, water, batteries and flashlights looked like they had been raided by a proverbial horde of locusts.

When the wind and rain arrived, I was as prepared as I could be.  And I was also feeling pretty anxious. As it turned out, the worst thing that happened here was that I was without power throughout the evening until mid-morning the next day. The house was very quiet. Talk about being unplugged! I read my library book by flashlight (batteries had been on my list) and the place looked much warmer than it felt by candlelight.

Although some parts of the coast were hard hit and have sustained serious damage, my neighbors and I dodged the bullet. There will be some cleaning up to do, and some areas are still without power. Our lives will soon return to normal.

In thinking about fear and the power that it sometimes has in our lives, it’s easier to identify it when forces outside of us are threatening.  What I realized is that really it’s the thoughts that we have about those forces or circumstances that either build up the intensity of emotion, or dispel it.  Thinking of all the “what-ifs” sounds the alarm!  Imagining the worst causes stress hormones to course through your veins, even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

In facing fear, whether it is being evoked by weather reports or our own frequently visiting “inner demons” (usually habitual thoughts from the past), we need to face them squarely.  Ask yourself if there are concrete steps to take in order to ensure the best care possible for you and those you love. If so, make a list and do them immediately.  If not, then chances are you have a bad habit of negative thinking that has stirred up fear.

Give yourself what I call “Emotional First Aid” by taking 5 deep breaths and relaxing your muscles as you exhale.  Repeat throughout the day, as many times as you can think of it. Do a reality check with someone you trust and try to reframe your thoughts, or see them in a different light. You can also use EFT, a proven, effective method for releasing stressful emotions.

What really matters most in facing the Lion of Fear is that you are not avoiding it. Taking action will build your strength and resolve as you move forward through the challenges of life.

Photo: “Hurricane” by Victor Habbick

What is Greater than Genius?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed
in overalls and looks like work.”
~Thomas Edison~


This week the scientific world is celebrating the discovery of a sub-atomic particle that may be the key to the formation of stars, planets and eventually life after the Big Bang. Called the Higgs Boson, or god particle, many questions remain about the exact nature of this particle. When the news was announced in Switzerland, the audience of scientists applauded wildly.

Their excitement may be explained in part by the fact that it has taken the cooperation of thousands of scientists working over four decades to find the particle that is essential to seeing that there’s an invisible field that permeates the universe and gives mass to everything in it including stars and of course the atoms inside our bodies. This is a very big deal.

Now what I know about quantum physics you could put inside the eye and a gnat and it could still see.  But the thing that snagged my attention was the obvious joy and excitement expressed by what is usually a pretty staid and stoic group of human beings.  Scientists are cautious in their pronouncements about important discoveries.  Generally not prone to drama.

The other thing that struck me is that they have been looking for this sub-atomic particle for so long and that it has taken a huge army of people working steadily on the problems involved in finding it.  40 years!

It reminded me of Thomas Edison who worked doggedly on his invention of the electric light bulb. He and his associates worked on at least three thousand different theories to develop an efficient incandescent lamp. We admire his genius, but often overlook the years of work, trial and error that he required to finally succeed.  Most of his contemporaries had long since given up by that time.  He was quoted as saying, “”Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Does it sometimes seem to you that what you need to succeed is a unique and amazing idea?  Surely that would be the key to success, whether you want to invent something, meet a challenging goal, make a career change or start a new business.  It really is amazing when that figurative light bulb goes off in your mind.  But I think Edison and the quantum physicists would tell us that that is just a nanosecond of the story.

After the great idea, then it’s time to put on your overalls and get to work. And to expect to persevere in that work for a long time, if need be. Keeping focused on the target and then persevering despite setbacks and errors will get you to your goal eventually.  Those mistakes are essential to the process and must not deter you.

Can you imagine how many trials and errors Edison and the quantum physicists must have encountered?  And all of it provided feedback that enabled them to make the eventual changes that led to success possible.  Whatever achievement you are working on, find the support and inspiration you need to keep on your path. You can persevere and succeed. 

 

Life in the Movies

One of the pleasures of being home over a three day weekend is the luxury of time.  Last weekend I took some of that luxury to attend a gem of a movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  Directed by John Madden (who also directed “Shakespeare In Love”) it was well played by a notable cast of actors including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy.   My daughter has suggested that I am besotted with Judi Dench, and honestly, I won’t deny that.  But I’m guessing that even if you are not, you will enjoy “Marigold Hotel.”

My friend and I were discussing the film at length afterword over dinner.  The clerk who sold me the ticket guessed which movie we were there to see, no doubt because we fit into the demographic of the majority of the buyers.  We wondered if you have to be “of a certain age” to appreciate this movie?  I don’t know.  Certainly the starring cast was, for the most part.  But it seems to me that the themes were about life:  taking risks, life change, loss, friendship, resilience, coping with disappointment and facing the sometimes difficult truth about yourself.

The story is about 7 British people of retirement age, who for financial and other reasons answered an ad for The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India.  It was touted as a beautiful, ancient palatial residence for “the elderly and beautiful.”  Strangers to each other, they make the long, arduous journey to Jaipur, only to discover that the pictures of the hotel were photo shopped and the promised luxury was a figment of the young owner’s (Dev Patel) imagination.

The setting of India becomes almost another character with its beautiful, blinding color and what appears to be an overwhelm of the senses.  It is the backdrop yet a vivid catalyst for the rather staid characters, presenting an unexpected challenge for their accustomed lifestyles, preferences, prejudices and dreams.

Especially interesting to me was how the different characters coped with their surprise and disappointments at what they found in Jaipur.  All of them, with the exception of the judge who had been born and raised there, must have been overwhelmed.  The unhappy wife who with her husband had lost their life savings which they invested in their daughter’s start-up business, hated India and refused to leave the hotel.  Her husband, making the best of it, ventured out and returned daily to report the beauty and novelty of the teeming city.  Evelyn, who was shocked to discover that her late husband had squandered their money and left her with nothing, ventured forth and found her first ever job.

The judge, who had grown up in the city, was returning to find the gay lover of his youth.  He had spent his life regretting that he had done nothing while his lover and family, in service to his wealthy family, were sent away in disgrace.  Having imagined that this had ruined his lover’s life, he had returned to find him if possible, and to make amends for his silence.

Like the characters in this story, the plans we make sometimes turn out to have a very different outcome than we planned.  Ironically there are gifts that only come with disappointment and failure.  The risks we take may not be as grand as choosing to retire in India.  Like Madge and Norman, we may still long for relationship and romance.  Or like the unhappily married couple, we may be adjusting to living with diminishing circumstances.  We may even live imprisoned by old regrets.  Certainly we all have shortcomings of our characters that we may face (or not).  The great news is that we can discover and develop our resilience and learn new skills at any age.

 

In The News: A Riff on Penn State

 

“May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace,
to do what others claim cannot be done.”
~The Fourth of a Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing~

 

As a citizen of PA I have been, like thousands of others, reeling in the wake of events that have occurred in our state over the past week.  A child sexual assault scandal has rocked a hallowed institution, and ended the careers of a number of powerful men.  Arrests have been made and further investigations are ongoing.

Besides being shocked and appalled by what has been happening under our very noses for many years, we hear expressions of outrage, disgust, fear and sorrow.  Personally I have felt them too.  Admittedly I am not a Penn State graduate, nor am I am fan of college football.  I follow sports only at Olympics time and whatever commentary or news is covered by NPR.  I have been known to go into a coma at the sound of football commentary on TV.  So my concerns don’t really extend to those entities.

What I think this is about is the assault on innocent children, and the abuse of power by people who apparently believe that sustaining  institutional structures and the cash cow of college football  (in this case) is more important than protecting those who are vulnerable, unprotected and have no power at all.

It isn’t even really about Penn State and college football;  unfortunately this misuse of power and scandal has besmirched the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, (probably every other church to some extent), other professional sports teams such as the Red Sox, and maybe even a local day care center in your community.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist or shocking you, what I am saying is that no group or community is immune to it.

These acts are not perpetrated by monsters, although we like to call them that.  They are not mentally ill people who have some “chemical imbalance” or brain dysfunction which keeps them unable to control their impulses.  They are ordinary people who make awful choices.  That they themselves were once similarly abused is likely the case.  However, they have other options for dealing with pain, rather than inflicting it on others.

And what about the silent witnesses?  They are ordinary people too.  People who look and live an awful lot like you and me.  And when you think about it, the witnesses by far out-number the monstrous perpetrators who inhabit so many nightmares.  And the situations of abuse that seem to go on and on before they are finally (if ever) reported, are only made possible by people who turn a blind eye.

In one of many conversations I had last week, someone suggested that the witnesses at Penn State didn’t call the police because they feared for their jobs.  As it turns out, their jobs would not be protected, at least in this state, because only certain occupational groups (teachers, counselors, doctors and nurses) have a duty to report.  Ironically, coaches who deal with hundreds of minors, do not.  Neither does John or Jill Q. Public.  So protecting one’s career and financial interests can certainly outweigh doing the moral or ethical thing without legal consequences.

It would certainly be uncomfortable to buck the power of the institution, to risk disapproval and maybe even the ire of those who are at the top of the heap, wielding the most power.  Lord knows it is uncomfortable standing up and opposing any existing order.  Most of us are way too invested in pleasing other people…especially our “superiors” or those we see as authorities or deities (with a small “d”).

But what I want to remind you of is that there is tremendous power in the simple witnessing of anything you see or hear.  There must be some sociological law that serves as the counterpart of nuclear physics which says that anything being observed is changed just by that process of being observed.

Can even one single individual change the world order?  Yes, I have to believe that we can.  The fate of one potential victim or one injured victim can be changed if we are willing to endure our own discomfort and stand up, dial a phone number and say, “I have seen this, or I have heard this, or I have reason to be concerned about this. “

Institutions of power can only abuse that power if the witnesses are all complicit in denying what they have seen and heard and been concerned about.  One individual, especially when joined by others, can topple the biggest house of cards.  You may think it is foolish to believe, but history is rife with examples of those who dared to speak up and of those who did not.  The consequences are clear, and the children are still suffering.

 

 

The Hurricane’s Gift, Or Best Laid Plans

 

It was certainly not the day that I had expected.  And it was not the day that I had planned.  But the day that I was given, delivered by a rainy and gusty hurricane, turned out to be the perfect day after all.

Very early this morning I was awakened by the power going off.  Not really a sound, but a sudden lack of sound.  All the humming of the household appliances, electronics and gadgets suddenly stopping.  Since it was barely light, I went back to sleep.  Later when I got up and dressed, I was wondering what would happen to the day that I had been looking forward to so much.  The torrents of rain, which had been falling all night, seemed to be letting up.  But the wind was ferocious at times, whipping at the branches in the oak trees outside my window.

A phone call confirmed that the plans that I had made with friends were cancelled because of the power outage.  And as fiercely as the wind was blowing, there was no telling when it would be operational again.  As it turned out, not until early evening.

There was a strange feeling that ensued.  All the morning routines seem to involve electricity somehow.  Coffee?  I can’t imagine starting my day without it, but there was no way to brew it.  I almost always turn on the radio to NPR first thing in the morning, but that was out.  No way to check TV news for word on the hurricane or the damage it had left in its wake.  Our power grid was part of the damage.

I have to confess that getting coffee was a priority.  Perhaps a nearby Starbucks had electricity, and I was willing to take a car ride to find out.  Cars and trucks were driving by, so I knew that conditions on the streets were at least safe enough to be passable.  And sure enough, my “Jonesing” after a cup of Joe was soon enough taken care of.  One caffeine fix later, the day stretched out before me.

The wind was blowing, and the oppressive humidity before the hurricane was gone.  I sat in the silence of the house, listening to the branches and leaves moving in the wind.  The curtains fluttered and the cool air was soothing.

My journal is a frequent companion to my early hours, but I had not written in it for a full week.  Unusual, but understandable since I had had a week of one demand after another.  A full work schedule, a family crisis, plus two houseguests, accompanied by Mudslide, the greyhound, had filled it up.  I was busy, stressed and preoccupied with the events of the week.  My houseguests went on their way.  And now that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do but be with myself,  I realized that I was extremely tired.

And so, after listening to the silence, I began to listen to myself and to write.  As the day went on, and thoughts and questions continued to occur to me, I came back to write.  I held the cat and watched the wind blow the trees around.  I decided to read a couple of magazines that I subscribe to but often don’t get around to reading.  Found an interesting article on intuition, which I have been thinking about lately.

And then I took a nap.  I can’t remember when I last did that.  For some reason I seem to have lost the ability to nap during the day.  I used to nap routinely when my children were at home, especially when they were small,  but not in recent years.  The phone rang, but I let it go to voicemail, and went back to sleep.

After getting up and writing some more and reading more of the magazine, I heard that small “thud” that signals the return of power.  For awhile I was reluctant to turn anything on, but finally the light at my desk because the daylight was fading.  I walked around the house, noticing the flashing digital clocks and the hum of the refrigerator.  And then after awhile I turned the computer on in order to write this post.  But I have decided not to check my email, or Facebook or Twitter.  I don’t feel the need to call anyone.  The radio and television are still quiet, and I think I’m going to leave them that way until tomorrow.

There is something about the silence that is deeply restful.  And something about living without the distraction of electronic screens that renders a sense of peace.  Being disconnected from the world is a good thing, at least in small doses.  I wonder what an extended vacation from electronics might offer.

I do know this:  sometimes when the plans that we make are scuttled, and Mother Nature has shown her power (and her complete indifference to those plans) it is a good thing.  The Quakers may say that this day was an example of Divine Order.   I believe that it is.