Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Parents Need to Cruise the Streets at Night

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.- Henry David Thoreau, "Walden", 1854
New fashions, seeming to defy the passage of time, tend to reflect old fashions of three decades ago. The reasons for this are obvious. Designers don't have to think of anything creatively new because by the time the fad buyers of one generation have outgrown their gotta-have phase, the next generation has taken its place.
Fashion itself is a peculiar industry where predominantly gay designers create designs for anorexically-thin size zero heterosexual models, presumably to be copied by rip-off designers who "design" for massive chain store clothing outlets.
Teenaged girls, in their effort to look attractive to the opposite sex, wear clothing best suited for prostitutes who walk the streets in the evenings. Their fashions bear striking similarities.
The thinking of the girls--mass hysteria in full blast as they try to be up with or slightly ahead of the crowd--is that prostitutes know the kind of clothing that attracts men. That thought link is not direct, but filters through one or more layers of designers at clothing manufacturers who ensure that the clothing is just inside the line of acceptability for most parents who shell out the cash for their body-peddling kids.
Theoretically, parents should be able to cruise the streets where prostitutes hang out at night to see what teenage fashions will be popular in the coming months.
Especially if you're the parent of a teenage daughter. Either you will know what she will want to buy or you will know what she is desperately trying to avoid, but losing personal popularity by doing so.
Bill AllinTurning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to keep it real and up front.Learn more at

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

When The Suffering We Know Is Better Than The Unknown

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Of the many peculiarities of human nature that are difficult to explain, this ranks near the top of the list.

We have people (men and women both) who are afraid to leave an abusive relationship because they don't want to live alone, because they are afraid that their lover will find them and harm them, because they don't know what to do to get away and can't bring themselves to make plans. Or, perhaps, these are mere excuses offered to those who know about the abuse they suffer and urge the victim to leave.

Many people work jobs they hate because they are afraid to leave. Their excuses include the risk of not finding a better job, of getting a new job and finding it worse, of needing the stability of an old job they know well during this "difficult time" of their lives, of the current job market being slim. In fact, most of them refuse to even look for a new job.

Many people attend the services of the religion they grew up with, regularly, because they fear the consequences of leaving.

Their minds are often made up so steadfastly that they can't be knocked off their position by reason. They don't feel the need to expalin to anyone else because their minds are so solid on the subject. But they will sometimes confide in others, leaving that small opening for change.

There are other examples of the fear that many people have of leaving the suffering they are familiar with, but they all have one common factor. The issue that is the problem is a very important parts of their life. Whatever the relationship they fear severing, it has constituted a major factor and commitment of their lives, an undeniable portion of their lives they invested in who they are today.

Of the several people I have personally helped over a major hurdle in their lives, they all wanted to know that they had someone behind them to support them if they faltered. They needed to know that it was alright for them to take the big step and fail, that they would not be failures in life if they did, that other opportunities would present themselves that would be better if they made a mistake with thier first choice.

They wanted to know that they were not alone when they changed their lives.

In the final analysis, we are each alone when we make major life decisions. Few of us have one friend so close and dependable that we can be absolutely certain they will be there for us if we try and fail.

What each person in a position of making such a life-altering decision needs to know is that no matter what happens, the sun will rise the next day and they will rise with it. Somehow, those of us who survive the night manage to find a way to build better lives if we dare take the big chance.

And there is always someone who will help if we look hard enough and ask people we believe we can trust.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the real opportunities for a better future.
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Trying To Stay Sane In An Insane World

Insanity - a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
- RD Laing, psychiatrist and author (1927-1989)

One dictionary defines insanity as a "relatively permanent disorder of the mind." Who decides that the dysfunctional condition of one mind is "relatively permanent?"

In times past people whose behaviour strayed too far from the norms of society were either imprisoned or incarcerated in insane asylums. Today the deciding factor of insanity seems to be whether or not a person might be a danger to themselves or to others. Even that danger must be a physical one, as people who are emotional dangers to others or to themselves are allowed to move freely among us.

Is the world around us insane? In some senses it is. We allow politicians who are known to have devious or suspicious pasts and beliefs to persuade us that they have the best plans for the next government. We vote for candidates who themselves make promises or their parties make promises that we know very well they will turn their backs on if elected.

We believe people who lie to us, even if we know they are lying. That may be someone who tells us we are stupid or incompetent or a leader who tells us to be afraid of an enemy who knows nothing about us and wants nothing to do with us.

We allow ourselves to be propagandized by television commercials, and the minds of our children to be programmed by them, without taking any trouble to either learn the truth about the products they advertise or teaching our children the skills they need so that they can tell when someone is trying to twist their minds.

We lock our doors at night against evils that may not exist when anyone with an IQ greater than a doorknob would not invade a home when the owners are home. And we leave large areas of easily broken glass windows available on our homes while we put multiple locks and deadbolts on our doors, as if no thief would be discourteous enough to not come through the proper door.

We work excessive hours to earn a mighty income so that we have enough money to buy recreational toys (and drugs) we barely have spare time enough to use. We value leisure time, in theory, but don't know how to relax when we have it. So we go shopping, even to the extent of choosing vacation destinations where the shopping is known to be good.

We take excessive and shocking amounts of drugs, both prescription and "recreational" because we don't live healthy lives and need something to protect us from the unhealthy lifestyles we have decided are necessary for us.

We pity those who have emotional breakdowns or who retreat into various medically accepted forms of mental illness because they couldn't cope with their lives using the coping skills at their disposal.

Rather than trying to figure out what is insane and what is "normal," a condition which keeps changing itself over time, we should plot a course for our own lives that is within our ability to cope and that will deliver to us the kinds of rewards we most want from life.

And not listen to all those crazy people out there who tell us different.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help each person carve a path of sanity for themselves through a seemingly insane world.
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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Only Way To Succeed

"I’d spent my whole life feeling like a freak and an outsider and that nobody understood me and suddenly I felt like it's OK to feel different."
- Madonna

You may have wondered how the performer who has reinventd herself several times to remain among the leaders of the music industry got to be the way she is.

She knew something special. She knew that she had to be among the best in her field--whatever field she chose to enter--and she committed herself to work extremely hard to the best of her ability to reach that goal and to stay there.

That may seem trite, that someone has to work hard. But in Madonna's case she worked hard in a field in which she was considered an outsider, because she was a woman, because she was aggressive, because she was talented, because she was bright and because she would not allow anyone to put her down. She was determined to be who she wanted to be.

Not many people can say that they plotted the course for their lives and have followed it through relentlessly. The reason is that most of us face too many setbacks that cause us to take detours, so many that we lose our way and become someone we didn't plan to be.

Staying the course for a lifetime is very difficult because there are always people who want to divert us, for their own reasons and often for their own benefit. Ignoring the naysayers requires a kind of devotion of its own, one in which a person must develop a kind of emotional armour to let attacks against them bounce off while they continue on their chosen path.

No doubt detours will happen along the way. Life's detours get most people lost from their course. Those who eventually reach their goals find their way back to the direction they were headed after every detour. Every time.

Along the way they find others who want to either join them or to support them. They become the few good friends that persistent goal-seekers have.

Those who succeed at anything always have fair-weather supporters and hangers-on friends. These are accepted with gratitude, with the understanding that they will disappear again when the going gets rough again.

The going has got rough again many times for Madonna. Recently it was because she wanted to adopt a child from Africa. The media searched endlessly for some way to trash what she wanted to do. To help the media, several people were prepared to lie along the way to get their share of attention.

She will win again because her attitude is "To hell with the naysayers and the trash media!"
Sometimes winners can only succeed by turning and walking away from detractors. Over the long term, the critics disappear while the winners continue on. The winners work harder and never lose sight of their goal.

Bill Allin
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to shine a light on the path through the mess that life can sometimes become.
Learn more at

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Exercise Is For Sleepwalkers

I believe that every human has a finite number of heart-beats. I don't intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.
- Neil Armstrong

There comes a time while running the rat race that some of the participants stop to realize that racing with the rats is not as physically stimulating as their bodies need. Their minds, their emotions, their intellect, their very being has been absorbed by working hard to earn money for their employer (and for themselves so they can buy the products sold by their employer and other providers of rat race facilities) that they have become physically unfit.

As a result of some epiphany--a heart attack, a movie, the death of a friend or a warning from their doctor--they decide that they must exercise their bodies. So they join a fitness club and do what they are used to doing, devoting their entire time and energies during that period each day to exercising their bodies.

They seem to have two primary objectives for this period of physical stress: exercising their bodies as much as they can (preferably their hearts as well) and giving their brains a total rest.

As neutral observers we might be tempted to believe that this commitment to focussing their minds on the work of their bodies, be it on machines or on a track or pavement, is required to do the job of exercising well. However, that belief would be erroneous. With the possible exception of counting sequentially, the brain is not required for any of these exercises.

Exercising, either in a gym or outside, is time for brain-sleep.

Of all the possible ways in which a body could be put to use for the purpose of accomplishing something--with or without the brain in gear--these people choose to do nothing but stretch and contract their muscles for the entire period of their "workout."

I decline to offer ways in which a person could use their time beneficially while exercising to help their families, their community, the underprivileged, the homeless or many other causes because that would require me to assume that you can't think of any yourself. I choose to give you more credit than that.

I will ask that you consider, if you know someone who fits into this category of person who stops running the rat race just long enough to do the kind of activity a gerbil does on a wheel, suggesting to this person that their time might be spend more productively to make the world a little better place while getting the same amount of physical exercise for their bodies.

But please don't be any less gentle with your suggestion than the man who did the very first moonwalk, Neil Armstrong. Now there was someone who had more to do with his time than gerbil-race.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help people keep it real.
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Country: Free But Not For Every Citizen

The most certain test by which we can judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
- Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton), historian (1834-1902)

Canadians have viewed the claim by US President George W. Bush that the US is fighting the war in Iraq for "freedom" with skepticism. For one thing, Canadians are not certain what the measure of freedom would be when Mr. Bush achieves it.

However, we Canadians are confident that we live in a free country. Unless, of course, you happen to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Maher Arar, a naturalized Canadian citizen born in Syria, travelled to various countries as part of his business. With his Canadian passport, he felt confident that he could move freely, even into and out of his native country.

On one trip back to Canada from Syria, Arar was stopped at Canada Customs and held on suspicion of terrorist activities or connections. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the national police of Canada) and the Canadian Security and Investigation Service (spy agency) could get nothing of interest from Arar, they sent him to the USA.

When their equivalent agencies in the US could also not get any worthwhile information from Arar, they deported him to Syria where he spent a year in prison being tortured every day. The Syrian authorities also got nothing from him.

It had never occurred to these agencies that Arar had nothing to tell them because he had nothing to do with terrorism, terrorist cells or with arrnaging finances for terrorist organizations. He was born in Syria (an "Axis of Evil country), he visited Syria and he phoned people in Syria. That was enough for them.

Arar did, however, have a beard (as all Muslim men do), olive coloured skin and Syrian heritage, which seemed to be enough to make him guilty in the eyes of Canadian and US security agencies.

Neither Canadian nor US agencies had the legal right to send Arar to another country, least of all Canada because he was a Canadian citizen. The US deported him to Syria without even telling Canada about it.

Maher Arar survived, returned to Canada, suffered through successive thorough investigations and eventually was given about 10 million dollars to go away and shut up by the Canadian government. He was removed from the Canadian list of suspects relating to terrorism.

The Canadian government, pressured by the media who were now firm Arar supporters, asked the US to also remove Arar from its watch list. The US refused, declining to give any reason.

After all, that would be tantamount to admitting they broke their own and international laws.
Maher Arar continues to live in Canada with his wife and family, trying to cobble together a life after a year of torture and daily expectations of death in a Syrian prison. Nights, for him, are the worst time of the day.

Meanwhile, three other naturalized Canadian citizens in situations amazingly similar to that of Maher Arar want to be absolved of any accusation of association with terrorism, receive compensation and build new lives after their own extensive bouts with torture abroad.

These four men have a right to wonder where in the world they could live now where their lives and those of their families would not be at risk.

Certainly not in any country that is fighting in Iraq. Or in any country whose government knows how to find Iraq on a map of the world.

Free countries, yes. But how free when the national police break the law and destroy people's lives without fear of being held accountable?

Are we in the "free world" fighting for freedom for everyone or just for those with the same skin colour, religion and nationality as us?

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make a complex world a little clearer to understand.
Learn more at

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

One Tactic of Successful Liars

Several excuses are always less convincing than one.
- Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

It's an odd characteristic of human nature that we tend to accept one excuse that someone gives for not doing something or for doing something incorrectly or late, but the more excuses that person offers the less likely we are to believe him.

Mostly likely that tendency is based on our own experience. We have, in most cases, one reason for doing something. At any given moment, we may be able to think of one good reason why we didn't do what we promised to do or did incorrectly or late what we were supposed to do.

Our experience tells us that some people have the ability to think up a steady stream of excuses just as a lawyer in court can think quickly on his feet. However, we may feel that a person with a string of excuses is simply fishing for one that will work, whereas a simple excuse, though lame, might be passable. We accept from others what we might give ourselves in similar circimstances.

When someone offers us one excuse for doing something or for not doing something he should have done or for doing it incorrectly or late, we are quite capable of finding justification that will fit around that one excuse to make it plausible. At that point, though reluctant, we may be prepared to move on and forget or ignore the offence.

The most effective excuse that someone convicted of murder has ever given to elicit sympathy and assistance from others on the "outside" to free him is "No matter what the evidence given in court says, I didn't do it." That one simple yet inadequate (for legal purposes) explanation tends to gather support from others who believe the legal system may have failed an innocent man.
Give one excuse, stick with it and don't embellish.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to give a break to those who don't know how the system of human nature works.
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Monday, March 19, 2007

Do We Really Get The Government We Deserve?

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
- George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was a negative person much of the time and his sarcasm shines brightly with this quote.
What he is saying is that if voters are ignorant of the issues, if a majority of them don't vote and if the ones who do vote do so based on advertising parties have paid hugely for an advertising agency to create, then we shouldn't be surprised at the results of the people who get elected.

Who is to blame? Eligible voters who don't find out about the issues? In the highly charged political atmosphere that exists in many countries today, it may be nearly impossible to get a balanced set of information on any given issue from most media.

The ones who don't vote? These people may not be apathetic so much as they don't want to vote for one lackey over another. "They're all the same," many claim. These people don't want to admit that they are totally ignorant about the issues of the election.

People who vote for the most popular candidate? These people are sincere enough to want to do their civic duty. They simply don't have enough information at their disposal on which to make informed choices.

Despite appearances to the contrary, it is likely that most people want to vote, want to make an informed choice and want to know that the candidate of their choice knows about the issues that interest them. The problem is that no official mechanisms are in place to inform citizens in an unbiased manner about legislation that will affect their lives.

The media have staked out their territory, with the heavily biased ones prepared to inundate citizens with the highly editorialized versions of the party policies of their choice, while the others stay away from politics as much as possible.

We need some of the non-committed local newspapers or radio stations to devote some of their space or time to giving people the information they need.

As it is now, most people have access only to heavily biased outlets or others that do not cover political news.

It sounds ironic, but some of the media need to start delivering the facts. We need to ask them to do it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to throw a rope of hope to desperate voters.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Glimpse Into The Mind of a Deep Thinker

The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.
- Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

I find the term "religion of solitude" a bit unsettling bcause of the multiple meanings of "religion." I choose to interpret the phrase to mean a deep respect for time to be alone.

Do people with powerful and original minds welcome and respect the time they spend alone because they appreciate the relief of not being comfortable in social settings for which they are unprepared due to their social immaturity? Despite how common it is for people with powerful and original minds to be underdeveloped socially, making them uncomfortable in many social settings even if they look comfortable and happy, I would answer "no" to the question.

A powerful and original mind needs time to think. Originality demands a solitary gestation period and birth.

Deep thinking requires time for the mind to mull over multitudes of information, experiences, thoughts and inspirations without the mental clutter of non-relevant thoughts about.

Though I have no scientific evidence to support this theory, I suspect that deep thinking activates many of the same parts of the brain that dreaming does, plus some others. Deep thinking is like travelling through a land you have never visited before, without a map and with the path ahead strewn with random thoughts and impressions. It would be frightening for the average person who has not experienced it. Much like a bad dream.

Deep thinking is not highly organized thought, at least in the beginning. Organized thought requires the same levels of restriction and discipline used in ordinary thought in everyday life. That kind of barrier forbids original thought. Deep thinking can't exist within barriers, at least those of the intellectual or emotional variety.

It requires a mind to float free of the body, of the rigours of daily life, of time and place. Yet to forge on through the morass of thought bits to find something unknown.

It requires a certain amount of courage to take such a mind trip because its results are often not welcomed by others when the thinker returns. Original thinking, almost by definition, is resisted if not outright rejected when first presented. Being original oftentimes forces the thinker into a lonely, "outsider" position. Yet that does not impair the interest of the creative mind from searching further. There is a certain mental "high" to discovery.

Deep thinking is hard work. Studies have shown that it requires 31 percent as much energy as heavy lifting. The difference (69%) is easily made up because deep thinking tends to be constant whereas heavy lifting is usually intermittent. Great thinkers are more apt to be slim than pudgy due to the effort required in their thought.

Deep thinking is not for the faint of heart, or the faint of mind. It needs time alone to build something worth considering by the rest of the world.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to shine a light on some unusual parts of life.
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

If Happiness Has A Secret, This Is It

Those who can laugh without cause have either found the true meaning of happiness or have gone stark raving mad.
- Norm Papernick

A sobering thought for consideration. Mr. Papernick is not someone around whom I would spend much time laughing.

What's the mystery about happiness? I was asked a few days ago by a radio host what we "could all do to make us all happy." He was quite disgruntled that I refused to pull a magic formula out of my hat. I explained that his question could not be answered "for everyone."

Happiness is defined by each of us for ourselves. One way to ensure that we won't be happy is to accept the definition given by someone else. Each of us is so incredibly different, with different experiences and learning, that by the time we are old enough to really appreciate what happiness could be, we can't share it with many others because it means something different to each of us.

Actor Danny Bonaducci (of The Partridge Family fame), a guest on the same radio show that day, said that at one time he had "cars, women, alcohol, the other substances" but they didn't make him happy now. I told him that if he thought he would find happiness by following the definition given by anyone who stood to make money off him, he was surely looking for happiness in the wrong place.

Danny might indeed have been happy when he first got each car, each woman, when he first began each bottle of alcohol or when the first hit of each drug kicked in. He paid his money, had his kicks. It didn't last. But he was happy briefly.

What can make people happy is a subject that just about everyone has an opinion about. The opinions often don't pan out in real life as I have observed. Most people don't even follow their own advice to find out.

A truly happy person may not be stark raving mad, but he is certainly unusual. What would you think of someone who suddenly began laughing in your presence, for no apparent reason?
I am not convinced that a person who has found the true meaning of happiness will laugh without cause. He may, however, smile just because his world is right and good and he feels good about it and himself.

Gobbledy-gook! OK, you define happiness and be honest about whether you live that way or not. If you don't live your own definition of happiness, do you have a right to an opinion about what others should do to make themselves happy?

Donald Trump believes he is happy. I would hate his life. But he lives the life he has determined makes him feel best. I could not survive in his life, but then he could not survive in mine either. For one thing, my hair is messy for most of the day.

I know what happiness is. I live it. It works for me because my belief and my lifestyle agree.
I will only give you one hint about my happiness. I was never able to be happy so long as the most important person in my life was me. The more people I care about, the happier I find myself. The less I am the centre of my attention, the more I care give to others and the happier I am.

Maybe it won't work for you. Get your own definition. Then live it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make life's major decisions clear. Make them for yourself.
Learn more at

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is Media Reported Cruelty Realistic?

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

Not only do some nations seem to believe that they must be cruel to be tough, many individuals have adopted this belief as if it will either assure them of success in business or at least protect them from those who want to take away their power.

The United States military is tough. Many American citizens have joined with millions of people elsewhere in the world to make everyone aware of the atrocities at Abu Graib prison, the murder of innocent Iraqis, the slaughter of several troops of their allies (four Canadians at one shot) in incidents of friendly fire and more events that suggest the US military is cruel. By association, people come to believe that the United States must be a cruel country.

This is not true. Seldom are the many good deeds that the US military does in Iraq or Afghanistan daily reported in mainstream media. They aren't as interesting as people dying. The humanitarian and rebuilding efforts, the assistance with setting up government systems and training security forces so that the people of these countries can tend to their own problems go almost unnoticed. To people who have come to believe that oppression and restrictions are how life should be, teaching them the concept of freedom is a big job.

Afghanistan, still the laregest producer of opium poppies in the world, all of it under the control of rogue warlords, receives a contant supply of aid from the US to convert its agriculture base to something the rest of the world will respect and appreciate. If the small poppy farmer sees little help from the US, it's because the US can't put its experts in the field on a one-to-one basis to help everyone. They need to trust someone and sometimes they trust the wrong people.

In Iraq, the US challenge is not to subdue the Sunnis or the Shi'ites, but to keep the two factions from trying to annihilate each other in their struggle for dominance. The "Iraq War" is a US led mission to prevent the entire Middle East from turning into a bloodbath as the two flavours of Islam defy the most fundamental rules of the Prophet Muhammed by killing other Muslims, including unarmed and non-aggressive women and children.

US troops who could face death from a sniper or suicide bomber at any moment of any day receive full press coverage when one of them goes berserk from fear or stress overload and kills someone who wasn't a threat after all. The offence is reported, the stress seldom receives any attention.

The patina of cruelty by the US in Iraq or Afghanistan consists of nothing more than Hollywood style trash reporting by the media with little or no attention given to balance or depth.

Television, especially the reality shows, are trending toward cruelty among individuals in their attempts to outdo each other in the ratings, which are all about advertising dollars. Does the world really want to know which contestant on The Apprentice will be hired by the Trump Empire, or does the audience want to see what creative ways The Donald can devise each show to lead up to "You're fired!"?

Soap opera style incidents enlivened the competition on programs such as Survivor in the easly series, but dirty tricks get the attention today. Someone has to suffer if the show is to retain its popularity. People eagerly watch on television behaviour they would be ashamed to have happen in their own families.

That's not real life. In real life, Americans are helping Americans every day. And they contribute to charities and NGOs that help people around the world, every day. These events seldom make the news. During and after the Katrina disaster, did we hear about the good work that was done by thousands of volunteers from many parts of the country and from other countries daily or did we hear about those who suffered because someone didn't get to them soon enough?

The media have a right to choose what they print and broadcast. We have no right to interfere unless they break a law. However, we have the right to boycott the advertisers who pay for programs that twist the truth until it sounds like lies. And we have the right to turn our favours to programs and publications that produce more balanced reporting.

We don't need to be concerned about people who know the difference between propaganda and truth, between slanted reporting and balance. We need to be concerned about people who can't tell the difference. That includes young people who are just beginning to take an interest in world affairs but have not been taught to recognize propaganda and editorials masquerading as news. They are vulnerable. They are potential victims, our sons and daughters.

We need to teach those who don't know so that they don't reproduce more people who don't know.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put it all into perspective.
Learn more at

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If You Are Extreme, You Don't Matter

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.
- Susan Sontag, author and critic (1933-2004)
(or, what I see is not what you painted)

This applies as much to writing or any other art as it does to painting or sculpture.

Sometimes it shocks me how a reader can find the least important part of something I have written, misinterpret it in such a way that in seems to mean the opposite of what I intended, then assail me for being such an idiot.

Name-calling aside, it is nearly impossible to write something that someone with malicious intent can't misinterpret and use against the writer. It's like tearing off someone's leg, then beating him to death with it.

When I write something of the length of this article, my overarching objective is to get readers to think about the topic and the overall effect the article has had on them. However, some people can't see big pictures. They can only see small pictures, like watching a movie by viewing only a few frames at a time.

Recent research suggests that the brain changes as we age so that older people are able to see the big picture of some situation, whereas younger people are more inclined to only be able to see individual parts of it. These are generalities, not absolutes. But they are part of human nature. Some people can't ever see big pictures, so things like wars, the United Nations, the AIDS pandemic and global warming mystify them.

If writing can be misinterpreted when every part of it should be laid out and clear, then individual actions and ill-considered words can easily be misinterpreted as well. A close friendship of many years might disappear when one friend does something the other doesn't understand, then misinterprets the motives of the first and makes the split.

What is the overall message of this article? Ignore the extremes of what people do, say or write and examine the vast majority of words and acts that comprise the middle section of their behaviours. If all behaviours were put onto a bell curve, we could look at the high parts in the middle and ignore the extremes at either end that might not be valid or typical anyway.

Each of us exhibits extreme behaviour once in a while. We deserve to be forgiven for it if we have been moderate most of the time.

I will ignore the cranks who hate this piece as well as those who want me to contribute to a sperm bank because of it to save something so special. I'm just an average person trying to get you to think about the mysterious world of human nature.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the mysteries of life a bit easier to understand.
Learn more at

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why Having Long Term Life Goals Might Save You

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.
- J.M. Barrie, novelist and playwright (1860-1937)

How many people really do plan their lives, lay out the objectives and goals they hope to achieve? That would have to be in a meaningful and realistic way, as some people plan to make their first million by age 30 but few make it. Most of those people are divorced by age 30 instead.

Most people I have met have a vague idea of what they would like their lives to be like a few decades down the road. With divorce being so common today and security in jobs more a dream of the past than a reality of the present, surely most plans will go astray somewhere.

Not necessarily. Life plans can go astray the way we have to make detours around the roads we planned to take on a long trip because of construction. The destination or life goals can remain in place even if we have to take different routes to get there than we planned.

I planned what I wanted to be, the kind of person I wanted to be and position I wanted to be in life at my present age, when I was 15. I had no idea how to get there, took a variety of interesting detours along the way--some delightful, some petrifying.

Whether I reached the goals I had for myself may be less important that the fact that I explored many avenues, especially paths I didn't think I was suited for, and made at least modest successes out of each. In taking those unplanned routes, I learned how to turn weaknesses into strengths as I had to accomplish tasks and objectives I had not previously prepared for.

I don't want to set myself up as a role model. However, each young person needs to know that they should set life goals for themselves, that they may take diverse paths to reach them, but that the goals are worth having.

Life goals keep us from straying too far from our course, such as by seeking short term pleasures with drugs or other addictions, and such as taking liberties with the law when we find ourselves short of income and long on bills owing and finding ourselves in prison as a result. And such as destroying our marriage because we can't cope with some of the unpleasantness of it. Or allowing ourselves to sink into depression or another state of (manageable) mental illness because we can't cope with the problems of the day.

We need to have a clear idea of what we want from life and we need to keep heading in that direction, more or less. Expecting someone else to tell us what life is all about won't get us to a destination or life goal. If we don't set our own goals, we won't be committed enough to stick to the course along the way.

Life is complicated if we look at all the little problems and diversions along the way. It's much simpler if we understand that these are not very important over the long term, but our forging our way toward our goal is what matters. We are the architect of the person we will become.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to give some perspective to what life is about.
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why Intelligent People Tend To Be Unhappy

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
- Ernest Hemingway, author and journalist, Nobel laureate (1899-1961)

Hemingway, who took his own life in 1961, knew his share of both intelligent people and of unhappiness. He lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, four wives and an unknown number of failed romantic relationships, none of which would help him to develop happiness if he knew how.

As Hemingway's quote was based on his life experience, I will base the following speculation on both my personal and my professional experience as a sociologist. Not enough study exists to quote on this subject.

Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered among the lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales).

Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.

Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and social.

In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other children than they are included in. They are "odd," they are the geeks, they are social outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.

Their emotional development, characterized by their ability to cope with risky or stressful situations, especially over long periods of time, also lags behind that of the average person.
Adults tend to believe that intelligent kids can deal with anything because they are intellectually superior. This inevitably includes situations where the intelligent kids have neither knowledge nor skills to support their experience. They go through the tough times alone. Adults don't understand that they need help and other kids don't want to associate with kids the social leaders say are outsiders.

As a result we have many highly intelligent people whose social development progresses much slower than that of most people and they have trouble coping with the stressors of life that present themselves to everyone. It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of prison inmates are socially and emotionally underdeveloped or maldeveloped and a larger than average percentage of them are more intelligent than the norm.

Western society provides the ideal incubator for social misfits and those with emotional coping problems. When it comes to happiness, people who are socially inept and who have trouble coping emotionally with the exigencies of life would not be among those you should expect to be happy.

This may be changing in the 21st century as the geeks gain recognition as people with great potential, especially as people who might make their fortune in the world of high technology. Geeks may be more socially accepted than in the past, but unless they receive more assistance with their social and emotional development, most are destined to be unhappy as they mature in the world of adults.

People with high intelligence, be they children or adults, still rank as social outsiders in most situations, including their skills to be good mates and parents.

Moreover, they tend to see more of the tragedy in the communites and countries they live in, and in the world, than the average person whose primary source of news and information is comedy shows on television. Tragedy is easier to find than compassion, even though compassion likely exists in greater proportion in most communities.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the difficult problems easier to understand so someone can change the system.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

Sleep Can Affect Every Part of Your Life

[Sleep is] the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
- Thomas Dekker

No one knows for certain why we need sleep. Obviously we need to rest our body and our mind, as they can't go on indefinitely without aperiod for recuperation. Or can they?

It's not certain why even that is necessary. Within each cell of our bodies is, in effect, a biological engine. It consumes fuel and expels waste, just like a mechanical engine that we might expect to be able to work endlessly (except for periods of downtime for maintenance and replacement of parts).

Why sleep and not just rest? So far as anyone knows, essentially the same types of recuperation could take place whether we rest or sleep. In fact, some people who live in considerable pain have little more than a few minutes of light sleep each day. The cause of their pain may get worse, but it doesn't seem to be as a result of not sleeping.

Dreams have always presented opportunities for people to speculate as to their meaning. Can dreams be interpreted or not? Recent research suggests that dreams consist of parts of our brain at work without connection to other parts that deal directly with reality. That is, without the active participation of the frontal lobes that keep us on track as members of a functioning society.

For that reason, dreams have no connection with morals or societal norms, because these are known to be functions of the frontal lobes. In other words, dreams must be considered to be amoral. If we had only the same parts of our brain operating when we were awake as are in gear when we dream, we could likely be considered insane.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who lead active intellectual lives in their waking hours, ones requiring a great deal of thinking, may have relatively mild dreams. Those who have few mental demands during their waking hours tend to have more active dreams, like adventure or horror movies. This may be more the brain getting exercise or relaxing while dreaming, as needed, rather than doing something warranting our attention as prophesy or warning.

Several kinds of animals--sharks and dophins would be two examples--have two sides to their brains, as we do, but they must continue swimming day and night or they would die (either suffocating or drawning, depending on the animal). To accommodate the necessary brain function to continue swimming, they rest one side of their brain at a time, usually for a couple of hours each side before switching off the active side and switching on the sleeping side of the brain. Some migrating birds are known to do the same in flight.

Some people believe that humans do the same thing at certain times. Have you ever tried to adjust your car radio and drive at the same time? You can be in complete control of your car as it moves along the road, but also give attention to your fiddling with the radio until you find the station you want. Then you may have trouble remembering driving but you will retain full memory of what you did with the radio.

The two sides of our brain can therefore function separately, even if they do so seldom. Do we sleep with one side of the brain awake and dreaming while the other is asleep and resting? Research says no, there is no evidence of "sidedness" when we sleep or dream.

Dreams occur as deep in the middle of our brain as we can imagine.

Compared to the full size of our brain, very little is used when we dream. At this stage of research, no one knows what the rest of the brain is doing when the few small parts are dreaming.

The brain is easily the most mysterious and complex organ of the body.

Moreover, it almost totally controls the health of the rest of our body.

Even when we sleep and are not dreaming, it continually sends messages to the other body parts that control our autonomic systems, such as breathing and blood pumping. Cells get fed 24/7.

But cells can't work 24/7. Even while they continue to eat from blood supplies, they take rest while we sleep so they can perform when we are awake. Hair and nails grow more when we sleep than when we are awake. But these are the least sentient parts of our body.

As Dekker suggests, we may not know exactly how sleep works to keep us going, but our bodies don't work well indefinitely without enough of it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic SocialProblems, striving to make sense of some of the mysteries of life.
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How Sunlight Can Affect Your Whole Life

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin

There is no way to couch this in cutesy, comfy language. The way you see the world around you reflects the state of your mind. Your world view is how you are.

The same world that some people see as dangerous, cutthroat, self-serving and frightening is seen by other people as compassionate, helpful, kind and generally moving forward in a way that is positive for the human species.

Are both groups extreme, perhaps crazy or self-deluded? No, in fact some people see their own families along the same range. And the people they work with. The state of their lives and their health shows their view of the world around them.

Health itself can play a huge role in a person's view of the world and in how they perceive and relate to members of their family and the people at work. People who live north of a line running roughly through the middle of the temperate zones then toward the poles from there may easily suffer from depression due to insufficient vitamin D from sunlight during the coldest three seasons.

Only during the summer season (and then only if they expose their skin and their eyes to it for 10 to 15 minutes per day) is there a sufficient amount of direct sunlight that can strike the human skin enough to cause it to produce vitamin D from it. Opportunities for sufficient exposure during spring and autumn are slim. During winter, no amount of exposing of skin to sunlight is sufficient because the rays come in at the wrong (low) angle.

We can't produce our own vitamin D alone. We need sunlight or a vitamin D supplement--and then a supplement that is sufficient for our personal needs. In winter in the northerly half of the northern temperate zone and the southerly half of the southern temperate zone human skin cannot get enough direct sunlight to create the vitamin D we require.

We call it SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) when people suffer from depression or long periods of sadness or lack of cheerfulness during winter. What we don't take into account is how a deficiency of vitamin D can affect our mood or our view of life and the people we love. That varies from peson to person and little study has been done on it.

Vitamin D deficiency is not like a light switch, either on or off. It can have varying degrees of effect on how we feel at any time of any day. Like any other kind of deficiency in the human body, the effects cannot be good.

If a person who is suffering from a deficiency of vitamin D is grumpy or miserable or hard to please, it could simply be a matter of correcting a vitamin deficiency.

Note that the most powerful political and economic centres in the most powerful nations in the world all fall within that winter sunlight deficiency zone. How does that affect how countries treat each other? How does it affect how the leader of one country perceives the leader of another, and how he persuades his government to perceive the other nation as a whole? We don't know for certain. It might affect how the political system works, especially in winter.

What we do know is that a person's attitude can be affected by his health and a person's approach to the world around them reflects his attitude.

It certainly will not solve all the world's problems for world leaders and government representatives to all take vitamin D supplements during the times of year when they get too little direct sunlight on their skin each day. But it wouldn't hurt for them to know about this potential problem and its consequences so that they could take measures to protect themselves (and us) from the damage of vitamin deficiency.

And it won't hurt you and me either to take action to make our own lives and those of our loved ones better during the colder months of the year.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make little known health issues that affect our whole lives easier to understand and manage.
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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is It Safe To Be Unpopular?

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

Is it safe to be unpopular in western society today?

The biggest announcement that President George W. Bush made during his term in office was "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." That is, agree with me or you will be labelled a terrorist supporter and treated accordingly. Those who opposed war were treasonous enemies.

On a program on FOX-News following 9/11, the son of a victim of the World Trade Centers tragedy who opposed going to war over the event was told to "Shut up!" by host Bill O'Reilly on camera. When the network went to an O'Reilly-ordered break, he told the young man to get out of the studio or he would slit his throat, according to statements made by the young fellow later (and recorded on camera).

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter called Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards a "faggot" for not supporting all-out war in Iraq, at any cost. Issues can't be debated in an atmosphere where one participant could use vicious labels against the other at any time.

Within internet communities, even being popular can be dangerous. Many have stalkers who hound and berate those who receive attention, giving them low ratings where that option is possible so that the published work of the popular person will not be given further attention. In that environment, being unpopular gets you no attention.

People in most large cities feel unsafe walking after dark and won't drive in some neighbourhoods because whatever they represent may be unpopular, be it their religion, their skin colour or even their gender.

Conservatives in the US claim that it's no longer possible to have a free society in a world where terrorists want to blow you up any time they can because they envy you.

When you treat everyone who may disagree with you as an enemy thereafter, you will have many enemies. Having many enemies makes life unsafe.

The real enemies are those who see those who are not like themselves or who disagree with them as enemies, those who make enemies because they don't have the capacity to make friends.

They can't make friends because they don't know how. They are too afraid of the "others" to believe that it's possible to have a safe world. They make the world unsafe.

The people who are afraid make it their life's work to make others afraid. To them, it's better that we all be afraid than that they themselves endure an attitude correction.

And we let them.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make some of the ugly realities of life clearer so they can be corrected.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Powerful People Do Not Live Balanced Lives

The power to command frequently causes failure to think.
- Barbara Tuchman, author and historian (1912-1989)

While most of us could think of many examples of people in power who fail to think, the majority of examples would be about powerful people who do not consider the full range of consequences of their actions. Especially they do not consider who might be physically hurt or killed or whose lives might be destroyed by their command choices.

Those who gain power must focus their attention in two different directions: how to maintain the power they have and how to increase their power. As these two often each take up more time than the people have available, they may try to increase their power by harming others who would compete for their power base or prevent them from climbing higher on the ladder.

Power demands a huge commitment to maintenance and growth. That usually requires the power mongers to sacrifice other parts of what are common to ordinary folks. They pay lip service to family, but family can never take precedence over their work. They may belong to a religion, but they use their fellow members as contacts for their network. Almost everyone they know have the potential to be used to their advantage at some point.

Powerful people do think. They simply think in so narrow a range that they necessarily ignore other aspects of life around them. Like happiness. Like addicts of other varieties, the power monger believes he is happy because he is "successful," as he has learned that power, success and happiness roll together into one great ball. They don't, but that is what they believe.

Power seekers can never be satisfied because they always need more. A person who can never be truly satisfied with themselves can never be truly happy. They have a very narrow focus of life, but convince themselves that theirs is what life is about.

Consider this when you admire or give considerable attention to those in positions of power.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put a human face on those with fame and fortune. They are all people, just like you and me.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What's Behind The Fanatical Cults?

When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
- Robert T. Pirsig, author and philosopher (1928- )

Just to clarify, the doubt would be on part of the "believers." The vast majority of people know the dogmas and goals are hogwash.

While this seems a contradiction--why believe something about which you have doubts?--it is a strange fact of human nature. It's not like the captain going down with the sinking ship. It's more like the crew of a sinking ship vowing to defy all the facts of their sinking and a force their ship to refloat by virtue of their collective will.

Going back into history, the cultures that fought the invasion of the barbarians in the late Roman times of Europe tended to be the ones that disappeared by being wiped out. Those that succumbed to the invading hordes from the east usually survived and found the newcomers prepared to mostly assimilate into their new culture and blend the two. Belief in the purity of your own culture, it turned out, resulted in annihilation.

In modern times, the Palestinians are a prime example of a people who are fighting a losing battle because they believe they have a right to wipe out Israel and own all the land that now comprises the Israeli state.

In fact, the only reason there is a war now is that the states neighbouring Israel refused to accept what became known as the Palestinians as citizens of their own countries because the latter were considered too crude and brutal. Former Jordanians and Egyptians, for example, now identify themselves as Palestinians because their former home countries rejected their repatriation. No one wanted them.

Israel was created in lands where the Arab people had been supporters of the Germans during the world wars and the international community wanted to silence the troublemakers by giving their land to the new state of Israel. Then they provided economic, financial and moral support to ensure that the troublemakers remained silent. The fact that present day Israel exists on biblical Israeli lands was a bonus, not a true founding principle.

However, the Palestinians didn't remain silent. They devised a war in which their own people--by the design of the leaders of the warrior factions--died in much greater numbers than the "enemy." Apart from selling them weapons, the international community collectively offers little (or no) support for the Palestinian cause of taking control of Israeli lands and sending Israelis off in ships.

As annoying as Irael may be to its neighbours, it presents no threat to them. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have turned the Middle East into a potential war zone.

Finally, we must consider the terrorists of the world. Without exception, they subscribe to a version of Islam that is of their own invention, that doesn't really exist except in the minds the followers. The followers belong to many cults, none of which supports mainstream Islam nor is supported by it.

Consider these questions that the radicals refuse to think about. Do the men and women who commit suicide for the purpose of killing mostly other members of their own religion really believe that Allah wants this to happen? Do they really believe that 72 virgins--male virgins for the women, women for the males--await them when they reach heaven? Do they really believe that the world will be a better place because they have committed suicide--the worst sin in Islam--and created a bloodbath of body parts of innocent people (murder is the second worst sin)?

Of course they have doubts. But because that is the only course of action that their teaching has allowed--not Islam, but within the terrorist cults--they want desperately to believe it. And perhaps to die before their belief is proven wrong.

Think about it. If the belief set you had devoted your life to, the only one you knew, were about to be proven to be totally false and its members shamed, might you not seriously consider giving up on your wasted life? Especially if others of your ilk would praise you for your heroism when otherwise your life would be proven to be a waste of oxygen and protoplasm.

Fanaticism is a refuge for desperate people who have little else to live for.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make some sense of the difficult problems that confront our world.
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Defeat Can Sometimes Be The Best Outcome

In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be educated.
- Margaret Halsey, novelist (1910-1997)

A refusal to be defeated does not necessarily mean a refusal to admit making a mistake or losing a battle. It can mean working hard to point the blame toward someone else rather than to oneself.

Most of us have experienced contacting a customer service representative to explain that something has gone wrong with their product or service, only to be asked (in effect, if not in fact) "What did you do wrong?" Such a company, by its practice of pointing the blame to the victim, has no intention of improving its product or service. On the contrary, it will lose more customers than its advertising will ever bring in.

Only when we admit (at least to ourselves) that we have gone dreadfully wrong, made a bad mistake or clearly picked the wrong choice can we assess when the problem began and learn from it so that the problem will not happen again. No one can correct a problem if they deny the problem exists. Or if they lie to themselves by blaming someone else.

Defeat, in the sense that Halsey means, is an opportunity to learn, to improve, to climb the next rung of the ladder of life. Learning from one's mistakes has a very special name, one that is revered by most companies, most committees, most families. It's called experience.

Experience leads to wisdom, if enough of it is accumulated. Wisdom is a name we give to people who know a great deal, who can teach others how to avoid problems and take a faster, better or more efficient route to get where they want to go.

The wisest people have made the most mistakes. The wiser among them admit it.

Much of life is wasted by people who insist upon refusing to admit that they have made a mistake. They spend a huge amount of time, effort and money gathering evidence to show that they did not make a mistake. Later in their lives they often find themselves in a dead end.

It's a dead end they built for themselves. Many learn to be comfortable there, finding ways to blame others or bad luck on how their lives went. "Life sucks!" Sound familiar?

Defeat is not a bad thing if we use it as a stepping stone to gain experience and wisdom.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to smooth out the rough patches of life.
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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Overnight Success Takes A Good Decade

"You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile."
- Brian Tracy, business writer

In almost all cases, "overnight success" required years of devotion to improving whatever the skill, craft or athletic endeavour was involved. The usual rule of thumb is one decade.

That means that the "average" person who has found success and some level of notoriety slaved for endless hours, usually deprived of sleep, with a minimum of food and often in accommodations that leave much to be desired, before being "discovered."

Overnight success is a myth except in the sense that widespread recognition may come suddenly. In many cases, the work could well be called labouring in the trenches.

Why don't more people gain such recognition? Most people are not prepared to devote so much of their lives to reaching the objective of their dreams. To work extra hard at one part of your life, you must sacrifice some others. Often than means family, friends, career or income.
Some don't know that extreme devotion, perseverance and hard work for a long period of time will eventually help them to realize their dream. Or they feel that they will break down and give up along the way.

Some don't even have a dream they could pursue. They don't even see themselves as being outstanding at anything. They don't dare because they don't believe in themselves. They don't realize that their dreams are in their own hands, not in the hands of others they believe have considerable control or influence over their lives.

Artist and sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti said "If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." It would have been equally correct for him to say that his immortal works of art would never have come into being if he had not worked so hard to earn the mastery he had. He worked hard enough and made the necessary sacrifices.

Oh, Michaelangelo, your mastery would seem wonderful. On a tour of St. Peter's, in Rome (technically The Vatican), I stood transfixed and slack-jawed for ten minutes staring at your Pieta (Madonna and Child), camera dangling from my neck ignored because I refused to take my eyes off the most magnificent piece of sculpture I had ever seen. Then the group was called to move on to see St. Peter's tomb, a disappointment by comparison.

Brian Tracy referred to the many tiny efforts one must put in to achieve success in the business world, as that is his area of expertise and interest. But the advice applies to anything in life that we want to become expert in. We are each capable of fame.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the complexities of life a little simpler to understand.
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Friday, March 02, 2007

Understanding Your Fears Helps You Know Yourself

Fear is a question. What are you afraid of and why? Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them.
- Marilyn French

Fear is a mysterious question for many people. People are often not certain what they are afraid of. They may not even be aware that they are afraid of anything. They just "naturally" dislike or avoid some things, never considering that they might be afraid of them.

Being able to identify a fear goes a long way toward overcoming it, if that is desired. Just knowing that you are afraid of something does not eliminate it as a fear. But it does allow you to take steps (usually involving monitoring and assistance from at least one other person) to conquer the fear.

Our most deep-seated fears begin in childhood. They may begin with a bad personal experience, such as hearing of a severe problem that someone else has had which may have cost that person his life or a limb, or with watching a movie for which fear is an integral part.

Adventure movies, for example, depend on the main character(s) being involved with close-to-death events. In my case, I developed a fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) after watching a movie (with my parents, in my preschool years) about an escape from a concentration camp or prison in which the characters dug an extensive tunnel that was just large enough for them to crawl through. The movie spent considerable time focussing on the fact that the tunnel could collapse at any moment, killing anyone inside.

Horror movies, which many teens enjoy immensely, can be the sources for future fears if watched by younger children. Tarantula spiders, for example, are often used to create scary situations where the characters fear they will die of a spider bite (even though this is extremely unlikely from a tarantula bite). This movie experience by a young child may result in a fear of spiders or even of insects as well as the child gets older.

Acknowledging our fear of something is a beginning. It helps us to consider where we might have developed that fear. If our fear is of spiders, then knowing that a horror movie we saw as a child falsely portrayed a tarantula as an eight-legged arachnid worthy of fear could help us to rationalize our way out of a fear of spiders. In fact, most spiders are more helpful to us than they are harmful, a fact never conveyed in a horror movie.

Examining our fears can tell us a great deal about ourselves and our past, as fears and phobias are all learned, not instinctive. The study of some of the dark sides of ourselves can also help us to grow into more confident people as we learn how to overcome our fears and become masters of our own emotions.

Fear is a weakness of character. Learning about our fears and working to ovecome them helps us to build our character in ways we never thought possible, by empowering ourselves.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to smooth out the rocky parts of life.
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Thursday, March 01, 2007

One Good Reason For Hope For The Future

I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now only that place where the books are kept.
- John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968)

Let me say at the outset that what follows is a huge question which has been given too little consideration and to which I have no clear answers or solutions. Just some ideas.

Throughout history the greatest commitment that humankind has had was to its respective lands. Untold numbers of men fought and died, entire cultures were wiped out, families rent asunder and some put into slavery by acting to take or retake possession of their land. Almost a century after much Palestinian land was taken away from the Palestinians (who sided with Germany and lost the Second World War), the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continue to fight to regain the land that was once the property of their ancestors.

Every country except one in the Americas fought to gain independence, thus full possession, of their land from the former European colonial powers.

Land represented who a people were. Empires were built by taking over land through coersion or conquest from their previous overseers.

In the 21st century, imperial powers hold economic strength and do not focus on ownership or occupation of land. It turned out that the wisdom of the ages, that control over land was the ultimate power, was wrong because imperial powers went broke defending their territories from others who wanted to build their own empires or to take their land back.

Today we have young people in the families of western and Asian nations obtaining university educations and taking positions all over their native countries and in nations of rising production and trading activity in other parts of the world. Families today communicate less by hugging when they meet than by exchanging email. Using VOIP technology, mothers and daughters can chat by phone from around the world as if they lived next door to each other.

When land was the tie that held families together, their values and principles tended to be much alike. Now that families are not tied together by the tradition of owning the same land as their forefathers, how have values and principles changed as young people have been exposed to many other sets of values and principles of people from many other cultures?

For one, people take a greater interest in what is happening in other aprts of the world. While 9/11 produced wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, peacekeeping efforts have taken place in several other places where genocide had already happened or was about to happen. Now it matters more than it used to if people somewhere else are slaughtering each other. It matters if some country wants to make war on another because they all have ties with the United Nations.

It matters if a trading partner does well economically because a rich country doesn't want to just buy products from a poorer country and have nothing sold back to that country, thus generating a balance of payments problem (more money going out of the country than coming in).

Health care has become an important issue, such as with the potential of AIDS to spread from its hot bases in Africa and India through genetic mutations of its causal virus. The world watches as people die somewhere from bird flu because a mutated bird flu virus (H5N1) could devastate the world worse than the 18 million who died in 1918 from the Spanish flu. Now it matters to everyone if personal health habits of people of a distant land act to promote the spread of disease to more health conscious countries.

Obseity, an enormous problem in the US and UK, is also a problem in most countries of the world, though to a lesser extent. Now everyone wants and needs answers to the causes and cures or solutions for obesity. Even poor countries have too many fat people and no one knows why for sure.

Has our tie to the land of our ancestors becoming less important resulted in our sharing and caring more about the people of other parts of the world? Or has it given impetus to rich countries to control even more foreign people through economic ties making their business leaders greedier than ever before in history?

I prefer to believe the former. But we must be aware that the greedy among the people of every country will always want to have power over others. So our caring and sharing must include measures of assistance beyond trade and health care. It must include education and basic services such as clean water at least.

As the world recognizes fewer ties to specific pieces of real estate, its people see each other more as fellow members of a global village. DNA research has shown that there are no races among us. Climate change shows us that personal and industrial activity in even distant parts of the world can affect us in our homes.

Now everyone matters. It will take world history a while to catch up with that change. Transition periods traditionally are periods of great upset. We can see the upset around us. What we may not be able to see as easily is where we are headed as a species.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put it all into perspective.
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