Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Do colleges and universities have the right idea?

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action."
- Herbert Spencer

A well-educated person may be stoked full of knowledge. But so is an encyclopedia. Unused encyclopedias are used as door stops, baby booster seats and as starters for bonfires.

Most college students have a fair idea of what they want to do once they graduate. Postgrads have a clearer idea. Many of those college students who don't have much of an idea of what they want to do with the knowledge and skills they learn will end up returning to college again or bouncing from one job to another after graduation, looking for the perfect fit.

The whole purpose of education is to prepare young people to do what they must and what they want to do as adults. If education fails that purpose, it prepares biological encyclopedias.

Preparing a young person to be able to function well as an adult is more than simply expecting the young person to make up his or her mind about what they want to do. Options must be discussed and, if possible, introductions in the form of internships give the young person exposure to future possibilities. Young adults too often in the past have made life altering decisions based on the flimsiest of information.

Schools must also motivate their students to make choices and to develop the kinds of work habits that are required in the after-school environment. One reason that employers continue to seek new employees with experience is that new graduates often do not have the attitude needed to succeed in the working world. They can work, as evidenced by their success with their in-school studies. Employers want long term work habits, attitudes and ethics, which students recently graduated may not have.

What if the student is lazy? Colleges and universities are designed to weed out those who don't work. What they may not be designed to do is to prepare their student charges for what working life is like. A recent graduate may have a terrible time getting a job, but a relatively easy time if he must find a new job with a few years of experience behind him.

The future of each college student is determined while the students are in classes. What better quality schools do is not to fail the lazy students but to motivate every student to do what is necessary to succeed, both in school and in the working world.

Not every post-high school institution sees that as their objective. The "top" schools fail the less motivated students, making their grads more desirable in the workplace. Some schools graduate those whose averages may not be as good as those of the top schools, but their grads may be better prepared to function in society because they were raised up in college instead of failed out.

The top schools may graduate future leaders of industry, politics and religion, but the schools of lesser renown graduate more of the kind of people who keep their country on track toward its collective goals. They graduate more people who really matter to the world.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to raise up every young person to reach his or her potential.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, October 30, 2006

The enemy within may do us in

"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve, then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tiny blasts of tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us"
- Walt Kelly, The Pogo (comics) Papers, 1952 (1913-1973)

Edited version: "There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that...the enemy...may be us."

My edit did not change the meaning of the quote. But it may have cut away the distractions that could have caused many readers to miss Pogo-creator Kelly's point.

Most of us will know at least one person, perhaps many people, who are their won worst enemy. They cheat, then carry around with them the burden of guilt. They smoke knowing that smoking will likely shorten their life for any of dozens of reasons (including poisons and carcinogens in tobacco).

The commit mean or selfish acts against their neighbours, then criticize them for not being more caring and friendly.

They dislike their job and say they only do it for the money, then criticize their employer for employing them for exactly the same reason.

They refuse to trust anyone, then can't understand why others don't trust them.

They look out for their own best interests at all times, but consider that others who do the same are short-sighted, selfish, possibly arrogant.

They refuse to vote because they believe their vote doesn't count, then complain about the representatives who are elected by the people who do believe theirs matters.

Nations characterize themselves in similar ways. One country invades another on trumped up charges they secretly know are false, then takes offence when the invaded country and others consider them bullies.

Another country believes that its relatively small population means that no one will pay any attention to its voice on the international stage, such as the United Nations where each country has the same one vote and where each representative has equal access to the media.

We project for ourselves the image that we want to be, whether we be an individual or a state. If we project an image that is less than flattering, then we should not be surprised if others take us less than seriously, something far less than positive.

We can be our own worst enemy. We can also be our own best friend. That's not a selfish or destructive friend, but a courageous and constructive one.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, we choose who we want to be. Over time, those who know us adopt a characterization of us according to the image that we project.

That image can be changed for the better, but only if we are prepared to be honest with ourselves and behave in ways that will consistently project the image we want people to have of us.

That in itself may be the greatest act of courage.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to give people the tools to be who they can be, who they want to be.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Iroquois wisdom the rest of us missed

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
- Iroquois Nation Maxim

Who in the world does that? Well, the Iroquois, for one.

Assuming one generation at 25 years, seven generations would be 175 years. There is likely something mystical about the number seven to the Iroquois, but leave that aside.

Governments today are not likely to plan ahead one generation let alone seven. Why not one generation? The reins of power would likely have changed hands a few times during that period.

People in western countries want immediate gratification, no matter what the cost in the future. What heroes of the international corporate community the heads of WorldCom and Enron were for a few short years.

Most major crimes are committed for a short term goal.

The new government of Canada abrogated its commitment to the international community by walking away from the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement its predecessor was one of the first in the world to sign. The new government has a new plan--a better plan! The new plan won't need to be evaluated until 2050, by which time all the present government representatives will be dead.

House mortgages can now run 30 to 35 years, most of the working lifespan of a young person just leaving college. Major (expensive) new vehicle purchases can have loans that run for seven or more years, longer than most people want to own the same vehicle. People who make such commitments indenture themselves voluntarily for large portions of their working lives, without giving their future much thought.

Returning to the Iroquois quotation, how would this maxim be passed along through the generations so that it could be followed? This saying, like all such statements of collected wisdom, would be passed to younger generations when they were children.

In the absence of teaching of collected wisdom to all children today, we have situations where people, in effect, enslave themselves or imprison themselves for short term gain.

No matter how many parents and grandparents pass the collected wisdom of their families down to children as they should, the messages are not reaching enough kids today.

The only way to ensure that the same wise lessons reach everyone is to include it in school curriculum.

This is where I will stop because I will otherwise be accused of promoting my book, which has the answers and solutions to these problems. Accused by those who have no interest in making the lives of the younger generation better than they had themselves. Or maybe they have a vested interest in keeping children ignorant so that they can be hoodwinked the way many of their parents have been.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to get the word out to as many as possible before our countries impoversh themselves.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Assorted quotes: Do it yourself gem hunt

Today I have so many good quotations ahead of me that I will take the opportunity to let others speak their minds and you can sort the gems yourself.

The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of
the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.
- Robert Lynd, writer (1879-1949)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
- Anais Nin, modernist writer of short stories and novels (1903-1977)

"Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues, not by the power of those which subdue him."
- William Carleton, Irish author (1794-1869)

"Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another."
- Marquis de Condorcet, French mathematician and philosopher (1743-1794)

Literature encourages tolerance - bigots and fanatics seldom have any use for the arts, because they're so preoccupied with their beliefs and actions that they can't see them also as possibilities.
- Northrop Frye, Canadian writer (1912-1991)

"Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing."
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer (1918- )

Friday, October 27, 2006

The best way to ease your troubled life

It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one's own suffering.
- Robert Lynd, writer (1879-1949)

Aye, there's the rub.

How can I help others with their suffering if I can't help myself?

By helping others.

Everybody has problems. Most people have problems we never know about because they don't make them public. But they have them all right.

Everyone knows one or more people who help others, so much so that they can be said to be selfless. Sometimes they are considered to be community heroes.

Have you every spoken to one of these people? Without exception, they are concerned about how they can help others and rarely mention anything about their own problems. Because their own problems are not important to them.

They don't suffer with their own problems because they know they are helping others with their more severe problems.

Think that's hard? Try it. It's not.

Nothing lightens your life load more than helping others who need it.

There's one more thing, something you may consider questionable. Three things, actually. First, these people feel better about themselves than they did before beginning to help others. Second, they seem to be able to manage their own problems much easier. Third, some mysterious form of "good luck" seems to befall them, such that good things happen to them when they need it most.

I'm not saying that God helps them. I don't really believe that.

I think it's the Tooth Fairy.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help you lessen the hurt of your problems by focussing your attention on helping others.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Thursday, October 26, 2006

People who pretend can be the best of liars

"You cannot wake a man who is pretending to be asleep."
- Somali proverb

This quotation has so many layers of meaning that its limit depends on your imagination.

First is the surface layer. Almost any sleeping person can be awakened with certain sounds or by poking them. Someone who is pretending to be asleep, however, may not be aware of this, so may continue to pretend to be asleep when the common methods of waking people are tried. After all, they have something to lose by "waking" because their pretence was put on to avoid something they would have to do if awake.

Then there is the matter of pretending itself. Successful pretending is a matter of self discipline. Children playing together often pretend, but everyone participating knows that the pretence is not real life. It is what it is until everyone decides that it's not.

Children can be made to have false memories, which may be cognitively related to pretending. Some dastardly accusations have been levelled against innocent people as a result of testimony made by children who had false memories of molestation, rape and physical and emotional abuse implanted in their brains by supposedly well-meaning social workers or police. Opposing evidence given in court by a child can be done, using expert testimony about how children's memories can be poisoned, but it's an expensive process.

Did the children believe the stories, in a pretend sort of way, then accept them as fact when they became part of their memory? Children, after all, don't have much in the way of long term memory, as everything that happens to them is either now or in the recent past.

Adults master the art or skill of pretending because their reputations often depend on it. Once one exaggeration or lie has been told, a whole scenario or even a whole past life sometimes must be committed to memory and mtaintained so that the prevarication is never revealed inadvertently.

Some people act like quite different individuals when they are at home compared to when they are at work. They may act still differently at church, at a party or in a social club or restaurant. Each of these personae require an advanced set of pretended memories.

I once knew a woman who, though not dominant in social settings, was at least chatty. Especially when in her own home, she was a different person, it seemed, depending on who she recognized as the most important person in the room. As a new important person entered the room, the previous important person was suddenly non-existent while her full attention (along with a seemingly different persona) was applied to the new important person.

There was nothing psychologically dysfunctional about this woman. It would be more true to say that she had a persona and accompanying attitude to apply to every life situation in which she usually found herself. Or for every person she considered important to her. She didn't believe she was a different person, but she did act quite differently, often changing her whole persona within a couple of seconds, including voice, body language, gestures and deferences.

Some people live their whole lives pretending to be someone they know, deep down inside, that they are not. These people may be gregarious and friendly, but likely have few close friends because they can't even face themselves in the mirror honestly.

In each of these cases of adult pretending, there is no point trying to wake the pretending sleeper. The best way to cope is to find a way to avoid having to deal with that person. At least any more than is necessary. They almost never change, unless they have some epiphany which changes their lives for them. You won't likely be around for that.

Bill Allin
'Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to find the honesty within.
Learn more at http://billallin.com/

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How laughter can alienate people

Nothing is so impenetrable as laughter in a language you don't understand.
- William G. Golding, novelist (1911-1993)

Setting aside the mystery of the language of laughter and my natural aversion to absolutes (nothing is so...), when you are part of a group that begins to laugh based on something one member of the group has said in a language you don't understand, your reaction can be quite negative. Even those who pretend to not care have difficulty hiding their hurt feelings.

Many of us assume that the speaker made a comment that would reflect badly on us, the outsider. While this would not be a likely event, we see enough of such situations on television to believe that it could be possible.

People who speak a different language than us likely also belong to a different culture. Even if we knew what the speaker had said, it might not be funny to us because humour varies greatly by culture.

When we are among people who speak a different language than us, as their first language, we understand that we will comprehend very little. However, when those people laugh at something hilarious that one of them has said, that laughter alienates us to a much greater extent than not understanding the language itself.

The psychology of that is debatable, but my take would be that at a time we most need to feel the embrace and acceptance of a group with whom we cannot communicate with words, having them enjoy themselves through laughter while we are excluded drives a spike into our emotions because we feel more different than ever.

The lesson is to include everyone who is part of a group, no matter what their difference with us because excluding them from something could be hurtful.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to encourage acceptance of those with differences to make everyone more emotionally comfortable. Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, October 23, 2006

Don't let the pendulum hit you

"Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly."
- Robert Schuller

That makes sense. Then why did Dr. Schuller feel it necessary to say it?

The western world is based on strong capitalist values, perhaps stronger than other parts of the world. In the world of western business, failure is not an option.

Either you succeed or you lie about responsibility for what went wrong. You always strive to be at the top of the heap because the pinnacle means power and wealth, the prime motives of capitalism.

What has percolated down from the upper echelons of business power is not the desire to work to the best of one's ability, but the need to avoid failure. People these days will do or say anything to avoid the label. Contact a company about warranty on a product that has failed you and you will be told how you did something wrong to break the product.

Failure can also mean the loss of the nest egg of funds that people have saved over the years and intend to use to support themselves in their retirement.

Doing nothing is the easiest way to avoid failing.

The trouble is that, despite how popular that notion is, doing nothing is as devastating to an individual as it is to a business or a nation.

There is no such thing as the status quo when it comes to long term options. Nothing stays the same. Everything either changes for the better or it gets worse by itself (sometimes with help).

But can't we make mistakes--drastic mistakes--by changing? Of course. The best example of that is to ask people how they feel about the way they voted in past elections.

What we don't realize is that life is like the pendulum of a clock. The pendulum looks pretty sitting still behind the glass box, but it won't help you to learn the correct time if it's stationary. By making mistakes, we learn the wrong way to do things so that we can change for the better the next time.

A pendulum swings as far one way as the other. So the people who experience the worst tragedy in their lives are capable of the greatest appreciation for good times. (That capability is sometimes not realized, but it exists.)

Even our emotions are pendulum-like. A person who laughs heartily will also experience grief with the greatest intensity. You likely know some people who don't have much fun in life, but they don't feel crushed when something bad happens either. The emotional pendulum swings as far to one side as it does to the other. There are no exceptions among mentally healthy people.

It serves us well to understand our bad times as learning experiences, preparing us for doing better later. We can remember that in our time of grief, a time of equal happiness will eventually come to us.

Should we be suspicious when we experience good times, knowing that bad times will inevitably follow? Not necessarily. If we know that bad times are a possibility, we can prepare for them. Having the ability to cope with bad times is what gets people through them easiest.

Those who can't cope with bad times remain hurt (I call them "damaged"), often for the rest of their lives.

Yes, we can teach coping mechanisms. Parents, teachers and employers can teach them. But do they?

If not, we can be certain that everyone learns these by having them taught in school.

Do people really graduate from the School of Hard Knocks? Yes, but the learning process is very slow.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to teach the best lessons in regular schools and put the School of Hard Knocks out of business.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The world is real because we made it

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to
find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a
necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as
fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
- John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)

Muir lived at the beginning of the age when people began to take vacations. Before his time, vacations were something only the rich could afford because people didn't get paid to be away from work.

When off work and still healthy, people wanted to get out of the cities and into the wilderness. House trailers and Recreational Vehicles (RVs) were invented and people left cities in droves each weekend and during their summer vacations.

They tended to go two places, the mountains or to water (lakes, rivers, streams, seaside). Travel to exotic destinations was far too costly and took too much time.

Today, city people also go to mountains and to water. They build second homes in suburban developments on mountainsides and tear down forests to create suburban homes away from home beside water. Second homes (cottages, camps, cabins) destroy more wilderness area and animal habitat than urban sprawl does. A recent study in the US (conducted by a Canadian university team using satellite photos) showed that US cities had expanded very little over the past three decades--mostly they filled in empty land within their boundaries. Second properties are what are making wilderness and farmland disappear.

Some people choose their vacation destinations based on where they can find the best shopping. Large cities love such people because they can target them for tourist income.

Many people decide to visit places where they can take pictures so they can tell their friends later about their experiences in foreign lands. Most expect to be treated, as paying guests, the way they would be treated in their home country rather than the way people live in the countries they visit. They want to see sights, not learn how the natives live.

Some take mini vacations, travelling to lodges beside lakes or to casinos where they can take their minds off their everyday lives for a few days.

Now I will ask you to take a moment and return to the top of this article and reread the quotation from John Muir. Then come back to this point.

Most people miss the message that Muir was trying to make. They don't want to make the mountains their fountains of life, the source of their connection to the real world. They take vacations that give them a bit of time to escape from the city rat race, but without the inconvenience of having to face the fact that there is very little that is natural about their lives. They recreate city environments in the wilderness because it's more familiar to them than nature.

They live in city dormatories, work long hours in city workshops, then convince themselves that what is outside of their cities is quite unimportant. They make themselves believe that there is no civilized life on earth other than in their cities. Nature is to be dominated. They learned that much in church, as children.

They have no concept of what mountains, lakes and trees can do to fulfill their lives.

They become confused about the existence of God because they can't find evidence of God in their man-made cities. No matter, some believe that they can create God in their own image. All they need is a few people who attest that God has spoken to them and has given them His word.

And they gather. They like gathering in the cities. It protects them from the wild and fearful nature that exists outside of their cities, out in the natural world.

In cities, they can build their own gods. Oddly, they don't understand the gods they create there either.

In cities, it's easy to suspect that all gods are false. Cities are artificial worlds in which only what is created by humans is real. If people can buy it, it's real.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to connect people with the real world they miss in their city-worlds.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Saturday, October 21, 2006

How you can shorten your life and have a painful old age

"You lose a lot of time hating people.
- Marian Anderson, ground-breaking African-American singer (1897–1993)

I'm going to go so far as to say that you lose a certain amount of your life, even by holding grudges. Let's walk through this thought process together.

First of all, in most cases hate is a one-sided affair. Emotional energy is expended by one person, with no possible gain, while the other (hated) party usually knows little and cares nothing about it.

In some cases, hatred is an active affair between two people who actually care a great deal about each other. This can be between brothers, other family members or (former) friends, for examples. Active hatred is a form of commitment to the other, though one to remain forever unrequited so that the hatred can be reformed into love.

Racial hatred (the term has survived enough to still be used though humans have no DNA differences that distinguish one so-called race from another) is a sign of fear. Those who hate "others" because of their differences harbour insecurities that can only be relieved through aggression or removed through intensive psychological reprogramming.

In order for hate to thrive in a body, the person must emit a fairly constant supply of epinephrine, a secretion of the adrenal glands, better known as Adrenaline. This is the same chemical that is produced to create our "fight or flight" response to stimuli that we perceive to be risky.

In other words, a hateful person is always "on guard," if not in fear. What for most of us would be a normal degree of caution as we move through our lives is intensified for the hater.

The opposite chemical to epinephrine (if they can be said to have opposites) would be dopamine, the feel-good chemical that helps to give us good sleep and that calms and soothes us when we are awake. Epinephrine and dopamine are never secreted together, as this would create a chemical conflict, which would result in chaos in the brain.

A hateful person--fuelled by epinephrine--will not sleep or even rest well, a consequence of which would be sleep deprivation, which has its own peculiar effects on behaviour (none of which are good and most are socially unacceptable). In the absence of dopamine, periods of happiness or satisfaction with life with be few or non-existent for the hater.

This one-sidedness of chemical production has the effect of having the body running full blast all the time. This means aging at a rate faster than normal. Faster aging means earlier cell breakdown (and cell suicide), shortening of DNA strands (with uncertain results) as cells divide (they normally shorten as we age) and likely an earlier death for the hateful person than for the average person who does not bear hate.

Holding a grudge is a milder form of the same emotion as hate. It has the same effect on the body, though likely to a lesser degree. Grudge-holding is always one-sided, so the other party seldom suffers at all.

The human body has incredibly strong resiliency. It can suffer abuse of many kinds and still carry on. However, what most people seem to be unaware of is that abuses of our body earlier in life tend to have a great impact 20, 30 or even 40 years later. By that time, most people have changed their harmful behaviour and have no idea why their health is causing them so much grief.

In short, hate and grudge-holding could make the Golden Years of life into years of pain and sorrow. By then, the former hater or grudge-holder will have forgotten the abuse of their own body years earlier and simply believe that their bad health is a matter of bad luck.

This is not to say that every senior with poor health once abused their body with hate or grudge-holding. That would be the reverse of the process I have described, and would be illogical and unsupportable. But...some.

It has wisely been said that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is forgiveness. Now you know it may lengthen your life or give you better health in your old age.

Besides, why expend emotional energy on someone who cares nothing for you?

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help people find better health through healthier thinking.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Friday, October 20, 2006

When opportunity comes knocking

"The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes."
- Benjamin Disraeli

Not much has changed since Disraeli was prime minister of Britain in the 19th century. People still wait for their ship to come in or for opportunity to come knocking.

Most die still waiting patiently, wondering why opportunity visited others so often but passed them over.

Disraeli was not one to wait. Nor are those to whom opportunity visits. They assess what they have, where they want to be, then head off to achieve it.

Opp0rtunity does not come knocking, nor does everyone have a ship that comes in some time or another during their lives. It's a myth.

The "secret" is not just to be ready, but to get started on the road.

Few businesses today succeed unless their proprietors have considerable knowledge of business practices, including accounting, sales and promotion. That requires study, if not actual hands-on work in the field.

Artists labour in relative obscurity, in bleak and sparse accommodations, without enough food to gain weight for at least ten years before gaining any degree of recognition. Most who try fail along the way and drop out to join the establishment train.

Every day people get offered "opportunities" on the internet to make fortunes with very little investment and almost no work. Those wealthy entrepreneurs who sell these investment opportunities really work extremely long days to bring in meagre incomes. They struggle to survive just as most people do. Their lazy investors transform themselves into victims.

If you want your ship to come in, you had better own the ship. If you want opportunity to come knocking, you had better carry the door down the road with you, dressed in boots and hard hat, ready to hit opportunity on the head with your door when you find it.

Success doesn't come to those with great dreams. It comes to those who can get their dreams out of their heads and into their hands. And from their into the hands of others.

Otherwise those dreams are just fantasies.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to get more dreams onto the streets.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Finding the spark of genius within you

"You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think."
- Mortimer Adler, American educator and philosopher (1902-2001)

Busy people believe they accomplish a great deal. And they do, if you measure completing tasks as accomplishments.

What we call genius may not be superior intelligence at all, but a different way of organizing thoughts and thought patterns. That takes time.

Albert Einstein was convinced that every baby is born a genius. It may well be true that every baby born with a healthy brain has that potential.

Something over the ensuing few years knocks that potential away so that most children are conformists by their early school years. The more involved with activities they are--the busier they are--the more they are apt to be social conformists and hardliners as adults.

Thinkers tend to be social misfits--not that the reverse is necessarily true. Thinkers spend more time alone, building with their minds, creating, rebuilding, reshaping, continually making something more. Thinkers are not necessarily loners, they simply spend some due amount of time alone with their own thoughts and mental castles.

It's not by accident that a large majority of good writers do most of their work alone. Artists, including musicians, tend to spend great amounts of time shaping their craft and crafting their shape in their own lonely cells.

Thinking requires time, a commodity so precious that most people today claim to have litttle of it to spare. Therein lie great lessons.

Just as Olympic athletes are great because they have taken great amounts of time to develop their skills, often practising alone for hours each day, thinkers become great by practising alone.

A thinker may be alone, but never lonely. There is, after all, too much to think about: thoughts not yet thought, castles not yet devised, symphonies of thought not yet written, universes of thought not yet explored.

Take time to do nothing. If you can handle the alone-ness, your brain will...think.

Think enough and you will find the genius within you. The spark is alive.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help you find the genius within you.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

To tell the truth or not

The folks who know the truth aren't talking.
The ones who don't have a clue, you can't shut them up.
- Tom Waits

Why is that? Some say that people who don't know much need to talk to fill time so that others don't discover how little they know. Maybe not.

Some people who know the truth remain quiet because they know if they speak up they will be subject to criticism or attack from those who want untruths to be accepted.

People with the greatest knowledge about the meaning of life and how to live a full and rewarding life tell few others because they will be the objects of ridicule or harrassment from organized religions.

Knowing the truth, in some circumstances, can be a liability. When the choice is between whistle-blowing or keeping the truth about misappropriations of company funds, for example, the resulting anxiety may be from real or potential threats, or from twangs of conscience for keeping quiet about something that is clearly illegal.

Knowing the truth brings with it greater responsibility than remaining ignorant of it. And yet, ignorance brings no rewards except those that result from self-deception.

Negotiating the road of life can be hard work. The easiest way to do it is with a clear conscience, no matter what the consequences. The alternatives cause too much internal stress.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to make the whole truth more palatable.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's your inalienable right to become a legend

The most tyrannical of governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right to his thoughts.
- Baruch Spinoza, philosopher (1632-1677)

Many disagree with Spinoza. Of course they are the people who want to have the right to air their own opinions while stifling the opinions of others.

But is the right of each person to air his or her opinions what Spinoza advocates?

Closer inspection reveals that he believes each person has a right--an inalienable right--"to his thoughts." Not to express them, just to have them.

Well, what good is that? We can all think what we like, so long as we don't spout it out to the world, can't we?

Not quite. There are those who grant you the right to an opinion, then try to brainwash you to accept theirs as their own. Advertising agencies, political parties and charismatic religious groups and their respective followers are among these. They are such experts at manipulating minds that to go against some is the equivalent of having someone say that you were a fool to buy a blue-coloured car when red is obviously the only colour worth having.

Some people will disagree with your opinion, but "fight to the death for your right to hold it." The name for this type of argument escapes me, but an equivalent argument would be "Darling! I don't want to say that your dress is out of style, but..." It's a form of put-down that works well in most circumstances. If the quote in this paragraph seems familiar, then you know how it has been used in recent years. If you know it was Voltaire who said it first, then you know the depth of skill at debating and philosophy of the man who originated the saying "I disagree with everything you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."

In those countries, workplaces or families where strong efforts are made to stifle opinions other than those of the leader (Kim Il Jong is their poster child), the followers learn to not even think an opinion for fear that it might escape their lips. Those situations, such as that in North Korea today, are tyrannical to the extreme.

Wouldn't it be best to simply remain dumb, thus avoidng the chance of having an opinion someone else might attack? That kind of thinking is for those who want to live in pens, stalls and corrals. You know some of them. They are Establishment suck-ups.

Without dissent, those with a lust for power become dictators. Dictatorships can even exist within democracies (of which we have abundant evidence today) so long as enough people let those with a lust for power have their own way.

Having and expressing your own opinion is one of the few ways that you can ensure that your life has had meaning. The most influential people in history (among them Spinoza, Voltaire, Van Gogh, Leonardo, and so on) were considered troublemakers in their own times.

Their lives were uphill struggles, yet they live on in the minds of many because they dared to have opinions that differed from those of the most powerful among them.

No one lives on as a legend by being the same as everyone else or by following the party line.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help you form good opinions you can hold against the storms of oppression.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can you breathe nature in?

One day's exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers' plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.
- John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)

Muir was such a tree-hugger, wasn't he? Who really cares about those huge piles of rocks. Surely postcards and National Geographic movies are enough.

Eighty-five percent of North Americans live in cities or urban areas today. That leaves 15 percent spread around a huge land area. Many city dwellers rarely get out of the city. Some escape to a cottage by a lake or to a forest or meadowland, only to convert their "natural" escape environment into surburan properties, cutting down trees, building huge cabins, installing satellite dishes and high speed internet. They take the city into the country, then convert the countryside to be what they are most familiar with.

It's what city people do in the city.

Meanwhile, that steadily diminishing 15 percent try to hold the line to prevent the nature they love so desperately from being destroyed, from being plowed under to build factory farms or suburb-like getaways.

As societies, we have become so alienated from nature that we take it for granted that the natural environment away from cities should be transformed into city-substitutes as we see fit or as we see the need to make ourselves more comfortable in our escapes.

To very few people, John Muir expressed more than simply a love of mountains. Beneath the surface is an expression of the level of spirituality he reached by being able to touch real nature, to be able to breathe it in, to make himself part of it (rather than making it a part of him).

Muir campaigned to save trees, mountains, streams and other components of nature. What he should have been trying to save was people.

When people speak of being able to breathe in nature, you know that they have reached a higher level of humanity than their neighbours who can't appreciate what it means. It means they have a very different concept of God than those neighbours.

However, those who are at that level seldom want to proselytize others to join them. Only followers of conventional religions do that.

The exalted ones avoid conflict because it has no purpose for their lives. Or their being.

They are who they can be.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to bring the people to the mountains so they can breathe in nature before it's lost to them.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mother Teresa's drop in the ocean

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
- Mother Teresa, (1910-1997)

I prefer to think of myself as a drop into the ocean, one that enters from outside, but once there looks like the others.

If you have seen slow motion pictures of milk dropping into a bowl of milk or of water dropping into a bowl of water, you will recall that it makes a splash. Then it creates little waves that seem to go on endlessly.

While my birth didn't make much of a splash, the ripples that followed gained momentum through the years, as the tiny waves of a drop into the ocean or a bowl of liquid would develop.

The ocean itself would be little different if I had never splashed into it. But not so the world.

In my funbling and stumbling way, I have managed to touch the lives of many people. Some considered me a twit, an insignificant drop of protoplasm. Those people I learned to disregard, once I overcame my shock of rejection in my early years and pity later on. The waves I have generated in my life will never reach them. But then, they don't want to be reached because, despite their bravado and arrogance, they live in constant fear of being exposed as being imperfect or incompetent.

The lives of some people are better for their having known me. Most of those people I have not seen for years. Very few expressed any gratitude for what I did for them or for how much better their lives are for having known me. Word reached me from a few, sometimes in odd ways.

I gave them hope. A secret ingredient that many were lacking and few others they knew could give them. I instilled confidence in a few. They made incredible changes in their lives to become people they had not even dared to dream they could be earlier.

For the vast majority of people I have known in my life, I was but another stepping stone on their road.

When my little wave reached them, I was there when they needed someone.

I made a difference. I was there.

If you want to make a difference in the ocean of lives around you, be there when someone needs you. Better still, be there before they need you so that they won't stumble and have to grab onto you to avoid a fall.

Some will still be there for you when you need them. Not many, but enough.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to be there when you need life support.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rack! Are you listening?

"Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery."
- Dr. Joyce Brothers, psychologist and author

Dr. Brothers is an oddball at the best of times. She became a household name decades ago when it was found that she and other contestants on a quiz show cheated (were given answers before the show began).

She's right and she's wrong, I think. I disagree that listening is a form of flattery. However, my opinion on this particular matter may not be worth much because I think of flattery as lying.

She is right about the value of listening. People like others who will listen to them.

Listening is a way to make a friend, provided that the speaker doesn't take advantage, of course. Listening is a way to learn, especially about matters or points of view that are not readily available from other sources.

Listening is a way to grow. Listening is one of the main tools of learning for young children, an important path by which they learn what the world they are growing into is like.

However, there is a second part to learning by listening or to making a friend by listening. The speaker must also agree to give the listener his or her due time to speak and be listened to. Without that opportunity to reply or to deliver our own position on a topic, we lose interest in the speaker and the topic.

That's why some children misbehave in class. They reach their limit of what they can take in by listening and become as frustrated as a trussed-up pig because they have energy they can no longer release by simply listening. Listening is energy intensive, but once the limit is reached what follows becomes a form of psychologist torture.

Listening is a matter of respect. Listening is a sign of respect as we sometimes listen to what someone has to say simply because we feel we owe them that much respect.

The problem arises when the respect shown to someone else is not returned.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to show respect by listening back.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rules are...What are rules for anyway?

If moral behavior were simply following rules, we could program a computer to be moral.
- Samuel P. Ginder, US navy captain

Very little about life is a matter of simply following rules.

For one thing, if everyone followed the same set of rules we would have cities filled with automatons. Creative people, innovators, artists, those with exceptional talent in any field would disappear. They are all different and part of their lives involves breaking or going beyond rules.

For another thing, there is no such thing as the perfect rule, one that fits every situation including a wide set of variables. We have laws, for example, but we need judges to interpret the laws as well as to pass judgment since in some cases even the intent of the person can determine innocence or guilt.

It's not true that rules were made to be broken. That saying is almost always used by people who should be following rules but refuse to do so.

Rules were made to be followed, but with flexibility. A police officer stopped a friend of mine to ask him why he was travelling at the speed limit when everyone else on the highway was going 20 kilometres (about 12.5 miles) per hour faster. The officer told my friend that he was impeding the flow of traffic, so should speed up or take another route. (My friend, a bit of a miser, follows the speed limits because it saves on fuel, so he was offended by being singled out for obeying the law.)

Rules may also be arbitrary. The "socially correct" movement is an example where people with a bent toward bigotry themselves attempt to control the behaviour of others whom they claim act in prejudicial ways.

Some people have a different way of looking at rules. Their attitude is: If I do it, then it must be right, no matter what the stupid rules say.

Rules are intended to be guidelines that help us navigate through the stew of social interaction with our fellow humans. They aren't perfect. We aren't perfect.

The rules aren't perfect. Work with it.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to put life in perspective.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fragile balloons of fear

"To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity."
- Douglas Adams

Why on earth should we offer sincereity and integrity to others when we see so little of it coming our way?

Because goodness has to begin somewhere.

The forces that want to enslave us, take away our rights and fill us with fear are all around. Their message finds its way to us without problem. The nasty people we meet are wrecking their own lives because they can't cope with it.

If you want to eat, plant a garden. If you want others to eat, help them plant their own gardens and teach them how to grow what they need.

If those who want the world to be right shrink at the apparent might of the forces that want us to fear, we will all be afraid.

What we may not realize is how fragile those forces of fear are. Their might, their courage and bravery are nothing more than bravado. If they were confident, would they need to keep reminding us about how powerful they are?

You don't need a pat on the back to do something good. The person who benefits from your good deed needs only your good example to follow to "pass it forward." Your reward is seeing your own goodness passed along.

Get that ball rolling in your own neighbourhood.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to get people to pass the good word as readily as they pass bad news.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Think Pennsylvania

"Education will never be as expensive as ignorance."
- Anonymous

I must veer away from my usual practice and express this clearly as my personal opinion.

Most, if not all, of the ills of today, both personal and social (community, national, international) would be greatly reduced and many would disappear altogether if a reasonable level of social teaching were to take place in every country.

Terrorism, for example, is on the minds of many people. Yet the methods practised by so-called terrorists would be clearly seen as anti-social if the values of the majority of people were taught to every child.

Terrorism happens in the United States every day, for example, but it may be called gang warfare, mob murder or a psycho on the loose. They dress differently from the terrorists who struck the World Trade Centers and who bomb restaurants in Israel or mosques in Iraq.

These are not moral values in the sense of being related to a religion. These are widely held and respected human values. There is no society, tribe or cult in the world today that abides by mass murder, as in the habit of the terrorists. We can include the Hutus of Rwanda in that, as even they would rather put their genocidal past behind them and live in peace and harmony with their Tutsi neighbours.

Every terrorist of today is taught, thoroughly and meticulously, the reasons why suicide bombing is necessary, worthwhile, an act of courage and heroism that is supported by God. The lessons taught to a majority of children, that murder is wrong and mass murder is even more wrong, does not get imprinted on the brains of suicide bombers because the lessons are not taught to them thoroughly.

This is not rocket science. It's human nature.

Would you blow yourself up and kill a bunch of innocent and unarmed strangers in the process? For most people, the answer would be no. For the remainder, the lessons that you learned were not taught to them thoroughly enough.

What we want our children to be when they grow up, we must teach them as children. If we want all adults to observe the same aversion to anti-social behaviours, we must teach every child the same lessons.

There is nothing to disagree with here. Teaching otherwise--as is done today in terrorist cells--is a crminal act in every country in the world.

The bad guys are doing what the rest of us are shy about doing, teaching young people. They have no competition from society as a whole, other than the incompetent police and military who are not trained to cope with any situation involving children or non-conventional crime.

In the United States today, one citizen in ten is behind bars. The lessons are not being taught. While the numbers are lower in other countries, the percentage of incarcerated people in most western countries is far too high.

Teach the children. Teach every one. Teach even those who don't want to pay attention. The message will get through to them.

Your life or the life of your child may depend on it.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to spread the word before it's too late for everyone.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why so many messages get misinterpreted

"The thing that upsets people is not what happens but what they think it means."
- Epictetus, Stoic philosopher of ancient Greece (born into slavery, his real name is unknown--epiktetos in Greek means "acquired.") (55–c.135)

Of course every message we receive must be interpreted by us as to determine its meaning and its impact on us.

But what if what we think a message means is not what the speaker or writer intended?

First of all, written messages may be more readily misinterpreted than spoken messages. It has been said that spoken messages come with facial expressions and body language that make misinterpretation less likely. It's also significant--but rarely mentioned--that face to face communication allows the speaker to react quickly if the receiver seems to have misinterpreted the message, while quick reaction is impossible with written messages.

There are people who read the first sentence of a written message and develop a mind set about the whole message based on those few words. What follows will simply confirm the reader's expectations, or the reader will interpret what follows in such a way as to ensure that the message is understood that way.

Some read through a whole message, but by the time they finish they can only remember the final sentence, so that is what they take as significant, how the final sentence impacts them.

These two ways of understanding messages explain why instructors recommend that any strong message should begin with something positive and end with something positive, preferably with the two positives being different from each other. Some call them warm fuzzies.

Some will fix on one sentence in a message--for no well-understood reason--and interpret the whole message based on that one sentence. That one sentence is all they remember, so that is all that counts to them. Heaven help the writer who uses irony when the reader is one of these. One sentence can easily be taken out of context in such a way that the message is understand as completely different from what the writer intended.

A few will even take part of a sentence--nothing else-- and twist the interpretation of the rest of the message around that. This practice is often used by those who want to blindside the writer with arguments that have nothing to do with the topic but more to do with the political agenda they want to convey. These mud slinger want to disrupt and upset people more than anything else.

Can we ever educate people in such a way that written messages will seldom be misunderstood? This is highly unlikely. I have received high marks on postgraduate papers I wrote that were misguided or weak and poor marks on well researched and presented papers. The differences were in the minds of the markers. Interestingly, I never received a poor mark on a live presentation that was made to a group, even if the material was the same as might have received a lower mark in written-only form.

Now comes the part that is hard to swallow. We can write messages that are so thorough that they are extremely difficult for the reader to misinterpret. However, these tend to be so long that the reader will get bored or annoyed at how much they must read.

Well, this would be a good point to stop then, wouldn't it?

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' long enough to be understood, easy enough to read and cheap enough for everyone to benefit from it.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Civil servants messing with private citizens

Wherever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.
- Harry S. Truman, 33rd US president (1884-1972)

Is that a logical contradiction committed by the former US president?

No, he meant that the dictatorship would be within the government bureaucracy, not in the world outside.

In order for people in government bureaucracies to feel confident enough to make decisions, they must be given the freedom to fail without having their heads chopped off (literally or figuratively). If only the top levels of the bureaucracy can make decisions that matter, very little moves and nothing much happens.

An example would be the old Soviet Union where any decisions made by the lower or middle echelon people could be overturned without reason by those above if the people at the top so chose. Citizens were known to have to go through sometimes dozens of layers of civil servants and endless paperwork in order to be able to do something, such as attend a conference in their discipline outside their country.

Might that internal dictatorship have a use? Only if it is a benificient dictatorship, which has almost never happened in history--power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Mistakes and foulups are an inherent part of bureaucracies. A few weeks ago I phoned our income tax ministry (in Canada) to see what I had to do to have a change made to past tax returns (I had a right to more money back). I was told to write a letter, listing the necessary information, but that forms would not be necessary. Yesterday I received a notice informing me that I would have to submit eight completed forms of each of two different types, plus submit a total of 96 receipts.

I have the receipts and the work is worth the refund, but I feel insulted that one government representative says one thing, then when I act on it another says something different. That's insulting and annoying. But not atypical for civil servants.

I will phone the person who sent the recent letter and ask why the extra caution when I had received different information in a phone call. In the case of any doubt on a matter of money (especially) it's best to speak with a live person about a problem. Messages are received and processed differently by people over the phone than they are on paper.

People behave differently. People think differently. People react differently. If everyone were the same, it would be a dictatorship in which little was accomplished.

Give them the benefit of the doubt. But speak to them in person anyway.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to put some of those annoying acts of government employees into perspective.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why so many good ideas fail

"The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind."
- Maya Angelou, writer, actor (1928- )

The need for change seems to be on the minds of many people these days.

We need change in the ways we deal with our environment, with the way we use so much fossil fuels and contribute so much to the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

We need changes to our political system so that corruption is not possible. Or we need more honest politicians.

We need changes in the way nations communicate with each other so that solutions to problems may be found before two sides that are deaf (or invisible) to each other face off in war.

We need changes to the process of globalization so that multinational corporations don’t set up fiefdoms in poor countries and use their cheap labour while polluting their water, their air, their bodies and tossing them away when they become disabled as a result of lax safety.

We need changes to our attitudes, to our ways of shopping, to the form of faith to which we adhere.

Or not. No one can be completely certain that any of these changes are an absolute necessity.

But if they are, why can they not come to pass? Never mind global warming as an evil, we are polluting our air so that we can’t breathe properly, our children get asthma, elderly people die because they can’t get enough oxygen into their lungs, and everyone is subject to illness that would not be necessary if we had cleaner air to breathe.

Pick up a magazine or newspaper or listen to radio or television any day and you will hear all manner of arguments about why we should clean up our air. Why is it not happening?

The reason is that those who provide the science behind any of these proposed changes know nothing about sociology. Sociology is known as a "soft science" because the supporters of the "hard sciences" aren’t sure that sociology is worth anything to anyone.

Allow me to provide some examples of those who know their sociology and use it with magnificent success. Advertising agencies. Supporters of war (though it’s usually those at or near the top who actually manipulate the minds of the war mongers lower down the scale). Leaders of fundamentalist religious sects (remember Jim Jones and the suicide bombers). Leaders of charismatic religious groups.

Maybe even your mother. If your mother or father had a great influence on the values you hold dear today, then they practised the principles of sociology even if they were not aware of them through studies.

How to change people’s minds is one objective of sociology. The people who know it and use it make things happen, often without the people they influence knowing anything about it.

The second reason why perfectly valid and important arguments for critically needed change fall flat is that no one has a good plan to bring change about. That is, major social change requires the approval of a vast majority of the population. A plan that is devised to obtain that approval from the outset is critical for change to come about.

How many people do you think want governments and corporations to continue polluting our waterways and our air? Surely the answer would be near zero. That’s the kind of grass roots level question that needs to be asked of voters, such as in a referendum. On the basis of the results, legislation could be crafted that makes the results into law.

Learn the principles of sociology and get a plan that will garner wide approval from voters and the change you want will happen. OK, so you will have to tell others about your plans. But if your plan includes a change for cleaner air that would reduce health care costly tremendously, people will listen.

Next time you read or hear someone explaining how we must act now to improve our environment, see if they offer a plan. If not, you can be certain that they may be more interested in study grants than in social change.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to bring the issues, the proposed solutions and the plan to every voter.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Does two plus two equal four, for sure?

Doubt everything at least once, even the proposition that two times two equals four.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, scientist and philosopher (1742-1799)

Are you serious, Georg? [pronounced Gay - org] Doubt that two times two equals four?

Yes, he was serious.

If we don't doubt everything at least once, it means nothing to us. To have meaning for us, something must have crossed our consciousness in a way that causes us to think about it at more than simply a surface level.

When we don't question things, even things that seem obvious (but could be well-reasoned lies) we must take someone else's word for them. We know how often we have taken the words of politicians for things, especially before elections, then been disappointed, if not absolutely betrayed by them later.

The same can happen with anyone. Our boss could tell us to do something that doesn't make any sense and that costs the company unnecessary time and money, only because that's the way it has always been done. When we stop to question the boss, we may get nowhere. But later the boss might question it himself, then the procedure will change.

We need to confirm for ourselves that what we "know" and what we believe are true. We all know people who have been duped and who have duped themselves into believing things that bear no resemblance to the truth.

There is no point in arguing with someone unless we have worked our way through the subject of the argument ourselves. All the way through.

There are many things about life that we must extrapolate from a minimum of available facts. Let's not do it this way when we can figure it out for ourselves.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to get everyone to think it through.
Learn more at http://billallin.com