Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Only Solution To High Divorce Rates and Broken Families

We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
- William Somerset Maugham, writer (1874-1965)

While this sounds like the perfect explanation for why western countries have such high divorce rates, Maugham lived before that phenomenon began. What changed?

First, divorce ceased to be a social taboo such that divorced persons were no longer social outcasts from their married group associations. Divorce today is so common that it is almost expected. Tell someone that you have been married for 30 years today and they will react with surprise, "To the same person?"

No doubt there was a strong desire by people before the 1960s to leave each other, to separate by means of divorce so that one or the other (or both) could enjoy a happier life. But social pressure came to bear in keeping unhappy people together in marriage until they finally got old enough to be able to cohabit with a minimum of strife. Many of our grandparents and great grandparents were not the happy lovable people as we knew them, when they were younger.

Divorce became accepted as a necessity because so many people were separating and living common law with another person. It was easier to change the law to allow couples to divorce so that new couplings could form with new marriage arrangements. ''Til death us do part" gave way to "Until we can't figure out how to live together any more without someone getting beaten to death." (The remark was intended facetiously, but the amount of spousal abuse and murders of spouses today makes you wonder if that latter should not have been included in the marriage vows of some couples.)

A couple of generations ago when the average person didn't live to retirement age, staying together until the death of one partner was not such a stretch as it is today when a couple who marry at age 20 could conceivably live long enough to celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary.

As Maugham said, people go through many life changes over that length of time. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip will celebrate their 60th anniversary this year, for example, yet no one is ready to pack either of them off in a box.

Until the 20th century, the primary purpose of marriage was to give birth to and raise children to become the work force of the future and to provide for parents in their elder years. For many young people today, work is their main focus in life and family comes a poor second. They don't know how to succeed as couples because they have not been taught the skills necessary to secure this evolving relationship.

These skills are teachable, but we don't teach them on a broad scale.

We also don't teach young adults the skills of parenting. Most get babysitting courses and take Lamaze classes, but parenting courses are rare in most communities. So we find many conflicts within couples and within families.

We have the skills for successful marriage and successful raising of children within the professional groups of psychologists and therapists and some professional speakers. But the primary purpose of these professionals is to fix broken people, not to provide them with the skills that would prevent them from breaking in the first place.

Let's put this together. We have the skills, but we teach them to the wrong people or to the right people at the wrong time.

Why should we be amazed that a couple has lived together for many decades? These people learned--somehow, somewhere--the skills they required to have happy lives together.

Successful marriages and successful family raising can be done in today's world because it is happening around us. But a majority of couples are not receiving the necessary information they need, as the statistics show.
It's not a radical idea to suggest that the skills be taught to individuals who intend to be part of a couple and to individuals who plan to become parents in the future. What's radical is the idea that the education systems should alter their curriculum to accommodate this "new" social necessity.

As Maugham said, people grow and change naturally. If a couple is to remain together, they don't need to stare into each other's eyes every day. Rather they need to look outward toward the future in the same direction.

No doubt this will require better methods for sorting mates into those that are acceptable possibilities and those that are not. This, too, is teachable. There is little point in boasting about marrying the best looking girl or guy around if the marriage lasts only a few years (or months) and ends in tragedy.

(The best looking kids in school are so used to attention they can't get in a marriage and family situation that most of their pairings end in divorce, so physical attraction has only limited value in mating choice. Young people need to be taught other criteria.)

In today's world of megasocieties, we have returned to the days of our pre-human ancestors when it comes to teaching marriage and parenting skills. In later tribal societies and agricultural communities--parts of the past of all of today's modern societies--marriage and parenting advice was considered essential.

As a retired teacher myself, I can attest that there is room for this change in the curriculum. Moreover, the addition would add an important aspect to school that many kids find lacking today, which is teaching them about the real lives they will live as independent adults.

The alternative is the fragmenting of society that occurs today, with divorce rates over 50 percent and an increasing percentage of couples choosing to not get married at all.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the tough choices in life a little easier to understand.
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Saturday, April 28, 2007

When Someone You Know Talks About Suicide

The first duty of love is to listen.
- Paul Tillich, United States theologian (born in Germany) (1886-1965)

Perhaps the world's greatest need is for people to listen to each other.

Everyone agrees that love is a wonderful thing, that everyone should be loved and have someone to love. However, it's rare to find places where people actually teach what love is, how to create it, how to express it, how to recognize it in others, how to enhance it once it exists and how to make it last. These are all teachable skills, but in general they are not skills that we teach.

No loving friend or relative is more loving than when they listen to us. When we go through our most critical crises, more than anything else we need someone to listen to us as we think out loud. We need someone who will pay attention when we say things that sound stupid after they reach open air. We need a backboard for our thoughts.

One of the best ways to cope with crises is to talk about them. People who find their way to psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists pay others to listen to them. These experts, more than anything else they do, get paid to listen. Most often they guide their patients to solutions by reviewing with them what they have said, then allowing them to reach their own conclusions and solutions themselves. The best healing is always self-healing.

Modern society has a greater need than ever before for social science professionals, as we can see by watching lists of them expand in every city and town. Perhaps the need for them has increased so dramatically because we don't have enough close friends who will listen to us with love.

We tend to have many casual friends and hangers-on, workmates and neighbours who are with us when we host a good party but may disappear at the slightest whiff of trouble. Those who have gone through a divorce will often attest that their friends treated them as if they had a social disease when their separation or divorce was announced. Find yourself broke and you will likely also find yourself lonely, as if whatever you have was contagious.

The statistics regarding suicide and murder-suicides within families have increased shockingly. Reviewing these cases after the fact, the most common characteristic described of the perpetrators is that they were "loners." They were loners for a reason, that reason mostly being because they had no one who would listen to them and act as support when they most needed it. That may seem oversimplified, but it's at the core of almost every social problem.

Imagine this: a workmate comes to you to confess that he plans to kill himself on the weekend. What would you do? Most people would drag out the platitudes they have heard before, that someone loves them, that more people care about them than they realize, they they should think of who would be hurt if they ended their life. Yet what these people need most is to be taken somewhere quiet and allowed to talk, talk endlessly and without restrictions. Maybe with lots of coffee.

They need to know that there is someone they can count on who will listen. They need to know that between them and the cold dark earth is someone who cares. They may not have the skills to know how to find and develop such a friendship or even the nerve to tell anyone else about how welcoming death seems to them.

They need to know that someone cares. Often that caring can be shown by someone who will listen to them. It's a kind of love, a love for others of your own kind.

Few people talk about dying or about wishing their life was over or about killing someone unless they have a critical problem. If you hear something like that, it may be your chance to save a life. Or many lives. It may seem like a huge burden to adopt, but you become the appointed one.

The last thing someone who is having trouble coping with his personal problems needs is to feel alone, to feel that no one matters, to feel that he won't be missed. To feel that there is no one in his life who will listen while he blathers on about something just to keep his mind away from the terrible tragedy he is trying to avoid.

Someone needs you to listen. Now. Everyone feels more secure with their life when they know that someone will stand between them and tragedy and listen.

It's one good way to show someone you love how much you love them. Just listen and encourage them to talk about anything they want. That's love. It may transform you in the process.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the social necessities of life more clear so that we can address them.
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Friday, April 27, 2007

People Are Screwing With Your Head About Heaven

Don't wait for the Last Judgement. It takes place every day.
- Albert Camus, writer and philosopher (1913-1960)

What if that's true? What if what we have been told conditions are like in an afterlife is really nothing more than our daily lives?

Some people live lives that they would not know how to improve if they knew what they could wish for. Does that seem possible to you?

Some people live under such conditions that they would not shed a tear if their mortal coil were snatched away from them today because they can't imagine anything worse.

People living for the accumulation of money and wealth could not imagine themselves in a heavenly place on earth because they can never be satisfied, never have enough. That applies as well to those who live for sex, for gambling, for drugs or any other addiction, for hate or for the desire to destroy or to hurt. For them, this life is nothing but a continual wanting, a need for something they can never have. Isn't that a form of hell? Getting more, but never getting enough. Never finding happiness because they're on the hunt for something not related to happiness.

For some people, the amount of money they may have or lack or need means very little. To the accumulators, these others live in poverty, a private form of hell. To themselves, they live in heaven because they do what makes them feel good and they never regret the passing of a day.

They don't imagine living in a place where the streets are paved with gold as being anything interesting, just a waste of resources on materialistic thinking.

The latter group are builders, supporters, helpers to their fellow members of the species of humanity. They won't lower themselves to the level of someone else when they would rather raise the other to their own level if that is desired. The help those who want to be helped.

They see their mission on earth as something very different from that of the accumulators. The accumulators gather as much as possible around them for as long as they can. They believe the old saying that he who has the most when he dies wins. But the accumulators have nothing to take with them when they die and most have little to leave behind except spoiled children who will enjoy their newly acquired wealth.

The builders and helpers don't consider themselves poor. On the contrary, they consider themselves rich in what makes their lives worthwhile. For them life is not about what you can buy with the money you have, or about power or influence. It's about what you do with the time you have.

It takes no wisdom to spend money. Everyone does it. It requires wisdom to spend time wisely.

The accumulators spend their time getting more money they can't take with them when they die and they can't really enjoy because they spend their time trying to get more. The builders and helpers invest their time in creating a life for themselves by helping others to grow toward their potential.

The accumulators look forward to getting their reward in heaven, even if they haven't earned a reward. The builders and helpers have their reward here, today.

Camus told us to not wait for the Last Judgment, that it takes place every day. Perhaps he should have added that each day we have the opportunity to build ourselves toward that Last Judgment at the end of the day.

Every time the sun comes up, we begin a new lifetime. Tomorrow is always blurry and yesterday fuzzy. Only today is clear and vivid. No one can prove that yesterday ever existed or that tomorrow is anything but fantasy. Today is in our faces.

Tonight when you go to bed, you will have done more to help yourself or more to help others. That's not to say that you shouldn't build yourself, grow yourself into what you want to be in the future. Everyone can help others to grow and to build, even if they are in the process of growing themselves.

The difference is the objective of what we want from life. If what we want from life is only what we can use in life, then we live a base existence. If we live to have others admire us for what we have accumulated, we live a base existence that will be squelched out of being one day, never to be remembered.

There is nothing special about the stuff of this planet from which we derive money and wealth of other kinds. It's all over the universe, in about 100 billion galaxies. Only this earth has humanity. That makes earth special. Only those who advance the cause of humanity will have meant anything while they were here.

You must figure out what you believe is important. You must stand up for what you believe. You must work for what you believe. But, at the end of the day when no mortal remains of you is left, what will you have contributed that benefits those who stay behind?

Tomorrow you will have another chance at another lifetime. You will choose between taking unto yourself or giving of yourself. By the end of the day your lifetime will have been wasted or will have contributed to the betterment of humanity.

Heaven won't wait for you. You have to do some building yourself. Heaven, whatever it is, is not an entitlement but a reward. It isn't bequeathed to you, you must work for it.

You can't buy it with money. You can only buy it with yourself.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to have life make sense because much of it doesn't.
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Leader Creating Fear Is A Sign Of Corruption

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts...perhaps the fear of a loss of power.
- John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968)

Lucky Alexander the Great! He died at age 26. Rather, lucky for his people.

It has been said that power corrupts. Most of us will have accepted that without thinking about it. There has been a correlation between power and corruption through history. Steinbeck took it one step further, asking why.

People who achieved their positions of power by clawing their way to the top, by putting their opponents and enemies out of the way by various means, got into the habit of fighting for power. When they reached their pinnacle, they had nowhere to go. They couldn't rally the troops because the troops had no reason to be rallied for the same causes as previously.

History has proven that it's not possible to maintain the status quo with relationships. Either they are building or they are crumbling. A great leader who has fought his way to the top position or to build a great empire has no more climbing to do. What then? The human structure beneath him begins to decay because the leader doesn't have the skills to maintain it. He knows how to rally and fight, not to hold onto one position.

With the structure under him failing, the great leader begins to fight his own people to hold power. That's akin to social cannibalism. Or he begins to form new relationships that will secure his position. These are usually not of benefit to the people. That is, the leader becomes corrupt.

No one seems to be clear when Adolf Hitler lost his sanity, but it may be reasonably assumed that he did so shortly after his early conquests in Europe. Was the Holocaust his way of demonstrating to his people--his military, his party and those who voted him into power--that no one should oppose him? He was known to use hatred of Jews as a way to achieve leadership, but no one expected him to annihilate millions of them. The Holocaust may have resulted from Hitler's fear of losing his position of power.

Fear hurts anyone who tries to maintain a position without building on it. Usually the relationships that crumble are those where the leader wants to hold power for himself, not where he wants to share it or to benefit those under him. The latter pair would be beneficient leadership, while the former would be selfish or acquisitory. Leaders that become corrupt want more for themselves, but can only get more by means of corruption.

A beneficient dictatorship is, theoretically, the best form of leadership for a people. However, examples of beneficient dictators through history are rare because the ones who achieved power by promising to help their people became corrupt when they got there. Perhaps, as Steinbeck said, it's the fear of losing that power that corrupts.

Fear, in general, is a destructive emotion. It develops from our natural emotion of apprehension, that which causes us to be careful in risky situations. A person who is afraid is always destructive, though the degree varies and the destruction could be inflicted on themselves, such as through worry.

It would pay us well to be aware of fear when we have it ourselves and when others are trying to inflict it on us. Either way it won't do us any good.

If a leader is trying to create fear in us, we can act to prevent ourselves from being taken over by that fear. We don't have to be afraid just because a political or military leader tells us to be afraid.

Generally speaking, a fearful person will have difficulty doing a competent job. A job that has become incompetent through corruption can only hurt everyone.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to provide some means of identifying fear in others and ourselves.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Media Make Us Confused Or Ignorant

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.
- Ben Hecht

The primary purposes of newspapers are to convey information about events of the recent past, about upcoming events and to pass along enough advertising to make the venture worthwhile. Most newspapers manage the third purpose, use the second as a propaganda machine to editorialize and the first to publish editorialized and managed information that the owners want to reach their audience.

In other words, if you want unbiased information, stay away from newspapers.

But stay away from radio and television news as well because they are as biased as the papers.

These media tend to "give the people what they want," which usually appeals to the lowest common denominator of society. You are more apt to get factual information about the latest escapade of Britney Spears than you are about anything of a political nature. Any report that is either political or educational may well be totally biased in favour of the owner of that media outlet.

Recent studies in Canada suggest that more people get their "news" from news satire televison programs (comedies) than from newscasts or newspapers.

The lack of balanced reporting in the media may account for why so few people turn to the traditional news sources for their news. In fact, better than half the people don't have a clear idea of what is happening in ther community or their country.

Enter the internet, which has had a reputation for biased reporting and outright fabrication of "facts" since early after its inception as a public information medium. However, the internet has the happy feature of making a wide variety of news sources available. Someone who wants to know what is happening can find out, no matter where in the world it's going on. Google News, for example, constantly polls some 4500 news sources.

The internet also has such a diverse range of sources that a person can get a somewhat balanced viewpoint of politically charged subjects by reading reporting of the same subject from several different sources. Unfortunately, this takes time and not many people are prepared to devote as much time as is needed to get a balanced series of reports on the same subject from a variety of sources.

This means that most of us will have biased viewpoints about most subjects based on the sources we have used. There is nothing wrong with this so long as we realize that what we know is likely to be slanted toward the direction our sources want us to believe. And if we accept that opposing, contrary or just different opinions from other people we speak with may be valid and true. No one can be perfectly correct with news today.

The trouble with that thinking is that the role models we follow from the media tend to make us believe that we should trust only our own point of view and treat anything that opposes it as wrong. This is not just news bias, but bigotry. Emotional prejudice we might call it.

The only way out of this progressively worsening situation is to teach adolescents and young adults how to find factual news, how to sort through many biased sources, how to recognize propaganda and how to reach valid and supportable conclusions about the material they consume.

This is being done, but on a small scale and often on an unofficial (not on the curriculum) basis.

In general, our education systems prepare children to be confused adults who are largely ignorant of the realities of what is happening around them and their world.

This can be changed, but it must happen at the grass roots level, with parents speaking directly with the teachers of their children and the principals of those schools. School boards won't change soon because they are hide-bound to tradition.

Change is up to each of us.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to making confusing problems a little clearer and easier to solve.
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Monday, April 23, 2007

Why We Have War When Almost Nobody Wants It

In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.
- Leo Tolstoy, author (1828-1910)

Ask the citizens of any country on the brink of war or involved with war whether they want war and their answer will almost always be an emphatic No. "But it's necessary because..." Only a few people who make their lviing from war, who profit from war either monetarily or emotionally, support it.

If almost no one wants war, then why do we have so much of it? The United Nations recognizes 27 conflicts around the world that qualify as wars today. Though that is lower than at any time in history, it still adds up to a staggering death toll each year.

Through most of human history strong leaders have made and secured their positions either by involving their countries in war or in claiming that a foreign power was threatening war against them. Great leaders make their name and secure their power by scaring the life out of people by making them believe that a foreign power is near to attacking them and devastating them and their way of life, then proceeding to launch into a war to prove that they were right.

Was there a real threat that Hitler could have taken over the world in the 1940s? As contrary to historical propaganda as this may seem, not likely. Every great empire in history that desired to take over the known world failed when it spread itself too thin and it could not maintain what was needed to sustain constant occupation of so many places. Even the British Empire that controlled one-quarter of the land area of the planet was not threatend by war but spent itself out of existence by supplying its military.

The former Soviet Union did as well, both by buying influence in its sphere of controlled countries and by occupying Afghanistan. Occupying any country is extremely costly, as the US knows from its experience in Iraq. Hitler could never have occupied so many countries much longer than he did because he would have run out of money.

The people don't want war, but they fight them and send their sons and daughters to fight in them because, time after time, they believe the threats spouted by their military and their militaristic leaders.

One way to avoid this devastation would be to teach every young person in high school how to recognize propaganda and how to recognize when their minds are being bent by someone with the power of persuasion. It wouldn't be a hard subject to teach, but the power mongers would work tirelessly to prevent it from entering the curriculum.

We would have the power of numbers if enough of us care about it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to shine some light down the long dark tunnel of politically motivated education.
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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Speedway to Human Extinction on Earth

For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner ... on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies. ... That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that.
- Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer (1934-1996)

Do we live on a routine planet? Certainly if size matters earth is a dwarfy orb. The only thing keeping earth from being removed as an official planet by the world body that determines such things (International Astronomical Union?), as Pluto was recently, is that we get to make the rules.

Humdrum star? Our sun is on the small side of medium, at its most optimistic estimate. Obscure corner? We're certainly not front and centre of the Milky Way. Unexceptional galaxy? Among billions of galaxies, the Milky Way looks most magnificent only to us.

Then why the hubris about our being the most magnificent thing ever created? The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) told us that because they wanted their adherents to believe that humans were the ultimate creation. To be that, we had to live on a world that was the centre of the universe with everything revolving around us. Including the sun and the rest of the planets in our solar system--the stars that didn't blink, to the ancients. Turns out most of that was wishful thinking.

They told us that we humans had dominion over our planet. To them, the ancient, crude Bedouin tribes that created the religions that trace their ancestry back to Abraham, that meant that we were the greatest and that we could do whatever we wanted with the planet, its animal life and its plant life.

And we have. Rather, the leaders among us have and the rest of us just followed along because we needed the income.

Now we realize that we have at least partly destroyed our home planet in ways from which it can never recover. We worry about our atmosphere warming by a degree, but we don't worry about the poisons in the air that are causing the warming as well as causing untold harm to our health, including diseases that were never important until recently.

Now we have the problem with the bees. Biological scientists estimate that 85 percent of the plant life on earth depends on bees in one form or another. Forty-five percent of the food we eat is influenced in some critical way (usually by pollination) by bees. Now hives of honeybees all over the world that make our food supply possible are dying off by the millions at a time. No one knows why. Perhaps the most major key to our food supply is disappearing and we have no idea how or why. Billions of bees die daily.

Is that something we want to blame on a defect of nature? Are we prepared to do something to stop our atomosphere from warming by a degree, but allow the human population of the world to be decimated by lack of food because we believe that nature is throwing us a bad break?

There are many reasons why we should be humble and look at how we fulfill our role as dominators of the planet, preferably before we make ourselves extinct. CEOs of large corporations and political leaders who subscribe to this need to be humble and to work to make earth a better place so that we can survive are as scarce as hen's teeth.

That leaves it up to us ordinary folks who are just trying to make our way in the world without causing ourselves much grief. But ordinary folks are used to following what their leaders tell them, not taking leadership roles ourselves.

If our political and business leaders won't help us change, who can we turn to? We must find a leader among ourselves.

Remember that poor but populous former British colony called India? When it had fewer than half the population its has today and wanted to get from under its yoke of virtual slavery, it turned to a little guy who hadn't even grown up in India, Mohandas Gandhi, to lead them.

Gandhi never did become the political leader of India. He just said the right words to the right people. Together, in enormous multitudes, Indians followed Gandhi until the British had no choice but to grant independence to its colony.

No violence was ever proposed by Gandhi. Only peaceful demonstrations and walks. He believed that people can get their way if they talk--with support in great numbers--with the people who rule them.

We need leaders who will look more at us and our needs than admiringly at themselves in their mirrors. We must find leaders from among us. Now, before we begin to starve.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the need for a new kind of leadership, of leaders who care more about the welfare of their people and their planet than about big business.
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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Experts Could Destroy Us

"The fish in the water is silent, the animal on the earth is noisy, the bird in the air is singing. But man has in him the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth, and the music of the air."
- Rabindranath Tagore

The Indian Nobel laureate would have known about such matters because he gained expertise in and respect for his work in many different specialties.

The silence of the sea? Recent studies have shown that where there are animals in the sea, the environment is certainly not silent. But he was not wrong. We have the ability to choose whether we enjoy the pacific calm of the top of the sea, which has been proven to have a tranquilizing effect on the nerves, or the realm under the surface that brings mystery, adventure and excitement as well as an abundance of sound.

The noise of the earth? Those who live in rural or wilderness areas find their ears assaulted by the noise of the city while city folks think nothing of the constant din. City people who visit the countryside, a remote park or wilderness find it remarkably peaceful and quiet, while rural people hear the noise of the birds, of distant engines, of small animals scruffling among the leaves, a veritable cacophony of sound.

The music of the air? Could Tagore have been referring to the songs of warblers and songbirds? I suspect he meant this metaphorically, referring to the human imagination and all that it can devise, perhaps while daydreaming on a sunny afternoon in a hammock.

Together Tagore's quote means that we humans have the ability to make of the natural world what we want, to use the skills of birds to fly, of aquatic mammals and fish to swim with relative ease, to be within the earthly environment whatever we want to be. Not to bend and hack at nature to cause it to do our bidding, but to learn from what we see to become greater than the environment into which we were born.

What most of us lack is the vision to make it happen. And the knowledge to understand the foundation on which we could build.

Gone are the days of the liberal arts education in college where young adults learned a smattering of many different arts and disciplines. Today students focus on one area of study so that they may have enough knowledge and skill to gain entry into the vocation of their choice.

Oddly, most will migrate from that vocation, often many times through their working and retirement years, making the original specific studies redundant. Few manage to gain a broad range of knowledge about the world around them. They believe they know what they need to know.

We have many people who have expertise in one or two areas, but are virtually ignorant about most others. In fact, a high school dropout will have more knowledge about the world around him (or have had more opportunity to learn it) by age 40 than the college graduate or postgrad who specialized. This may seem counterintuitive, but remember that the dropout had to make his way in the world without a specialty, diploma or degree.

As a result we have many people driving SUVs that pollute the planet more than most other vehicles, but that provide the kind of status symbol that the highly paid experts seek. We have landfills (dumps) filling with appliances (some which still work perfectly, but were no longer "suitable") that have been discarded by people who bought something "better." Most of them are built to be thrown away so they couldn't be fixed in order to save the natural resources that went into their manufacture.

We have people getting excited about global warming who have only a vague idea of the concept, but they have a thorough grasp of the effects that a global atmosphere of ten or more degrees higher will have on calving of the Antarctic icecap and the extinction of the Mongolian titmouse (I made that up--it's a metaphor). The facts that air pollutants are poisonous to humans, may give asthma to children or depress their natural intellect and may have devastating effects on the health of eveyone during their lifetimes, for examples, are totally lost on them.

Heaven help the society that is filled with experts. It will be doomed to obscurity, like blindfolded mice constantly running a maze until they expire.

We need more people who don't go stupid once they get out of their work environment. We need people who understand, as did Tagore, that there is a balance to life. Most experts don't have it.

Experts are wonderful when you need someone with expertise in one particular area. They can be like rocks on a highway when you want to get somewhere--need to get somewhere--and they stand in the way because they believe they have sufficient expertise in all matters, even beyond their specific area.

Get most experts away from their areas of specialty and they are just as dumb as the rest of us. Except that they bring their hubris with them.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to present a balanced picture of the needs of a society.
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Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Democracy Fails You

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

In theory, the representatives of the people in a democracy should be from the people, in order to best represent the values and beliefs of the people. In the USA, a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" should have representatives who share similar lives to the majority of the people. Or the majority of people in a given jurisdiction at least.

Not only does this not happen, it may be an impossible ideal in today's world.

First of all, electors do not select from among a group of individuals like themselves. They select from a group of candidates who have already passed through a selection process as part of a political party whose platforms best represent the special interests and the money invested by their respective party members. This selection process itself precludes the possibility that a candidate for office will be like the average person in the constituency.

As the level of representation gets higher, such as in a senate, the likelihood of a candidate having much in common with the average voter is even lower.

By the time you consider party leaders, prime ministers and presidents, the elite from which these people are chosen have little in common with the lifestyle and personal life trials of the average person in a different economic, social and even health advantages class. A healthy and wealthy senator, for example, will likely have little empathy for a poor person who has become impoverished due to expenses related to multiple sclerosis, cancer or who lives in a roach hotel.

Because the lives of electoral candidates are nothing like the lives of many of the people he or she hopes to represent, there is a disconnection between the electoral process and the elegible voter. The eligible voter believes he has nothing to vote for because no one represents the values, the beliefs and the lifestyle he leads. He doesn't necessarily believe that his one vote will not count, but that there will be no one on the ballot who understands his life. Why vote for a stranger who has nothing in common with you and will not likely start once elected?

The most popular vocation of elected representatives in democracies is lawyer. Given the reputation of members of the legal profession, we should not wonder that voters want to stay away from the polling station.

Lawyers at one time (in the very early years) represented people in most kinds of legal matters, from real estate sales to barrister to corporate law and lawyer for governments. Today they specialize as much as doctors do, such that a lawyer from one specialty knows relatively little about the law of another specialty. So the laws under consideration in a legislature will not likely be within the area of expertise of a lawyer who was elected to office most of the time.

A lawyer elected to office knows how to do one thing well: what lawyers do best in his own specialty of the profession. Not much else.

Newly elected members of a legislature--men and women with no experience in the chamber or house--will undergo a training session. These last from one to three days, depending on the office. In other words, most of the newly elected officials know little more about how the system of government operates for their office than the average person on the street who pays some attention to political matters.

So we end up with elected officials who have little in common with their electorate, who have little understanding of the lives and lifestyles of the people they represent, who come from a different socio-economic background, who know precious little about the chamber in which they will be working at least some of the time and who will be taking orders from their party whip or leader in the chamber in any case.

We call this democracy. It's like voting for the best commercial on television or your favorite contestant on "Idol." Only the people behind the best commercials and the top Idol contestants have a much better grasp of what their audience wants than political representatives. And they know how to produce more later.

But then, all the politicos need to do is to follow orders. And outside, smile, shake thousands of hands, kiss babies and promise to represent the interests of the constituent to the best of their ability. A promise most are unable to keep no matter how hard they may try.

A revolution is not in order. A rethink of how the process works may.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the difficult to comprehend a little easier to swallow.
Learn more at

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Defeating The World's Worst Enemy

If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.
- Samuel Johnson

The man who is convinced that he has enough friends eventually doesn't.

Life is not about maintenance, holding the fort, maintaining the status quo. Life doesn't work that way. It slides backward if we try to enforce that way for ourselves.

Life is about renewal, building, growing, making mistakes, finding new ways to get where we want to go. Life is about taking detours and finding new routes to places we didn't know existed.

A young friend in a distant land contacted me today to say how she was depressed because she didn't like her job or the people she was forced to associate with as part of it. Her life was closing up, pulling inward, even to the extent of her losing her hair.

She concerned herself totally with the people she didn't like, couldn't respect, who didn't care for her, to the extent that it was affecting her health. She allowed her health to slide and her social life to go silent because she focussed so much on the people she didn't like.

Whether changing jobs or finding other people with the same company that she could like had not occurred to her, she didn't let on. I suspect that she was more concerned about what she didn't like than about creating something new that she could like and finding new people with whom she could share her life.

She may have been afraid of a major change in her life. Sometimes the pain of staying with what we know is easier than facing down our fear of the unknown, of what a changed future might bring.

There are times in the lives of most people where change is thrust upon them. The death of a parent or the divorce of parents while you are still a child are critical changes over which no kid has any control. Being fired from your job (for valid or insubstantial reasons) or going through your own divorce or death of a spouse are others. They require change because remaining the same is not an option. Nor is a new disability.

Voluntary change is much more difficult because, in theory, we have control over it. It's not imposed on us. By not making a change that is inevitable because circumstances have become intolerable, we enforce misery on ourselves.

Imposing emotional misery on yourself is masochistic, akin to physically abusing yourself or adopting an addiction voluntarily.

All fear is self imposed. Losing fear is one decision away. The decision is always yours. You are in total control of your own fear, whether you accept that control or pretend it is not so.

No one can feel good about themselves by abusing themselves. Accepting fear is self abuse. You can stop it with one decision, though keeping it away may require determination and persistance. Begin with "I no longer fear ...." Repeat it many times every day.

Once you disown your fear, it no longer lives with you. You can turn it away from your door as you would an unwelcome stranger.

Make the decision. Slam the door on the ugly and destructrive stranger. And keep it closed.

Meanwhile you need a strategy that includes meeting new acquaintances (lots of them) and making new friends (slowly and only a few to start). Seek them out because they will not come banging on your door asking for you. However, remember that the easiest friends to make are the ones who will do you the most harm over the long term. Friendship must be earned.

The best place to start is with yourself. Smile at everyone you meet. Everyone. A casual conversation that results might start you on the road to a new friendship. At the very least, many more people will like you because you seem like such a nice person. Eventually someone will want to know you better.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help people make fear a defeated enemy.
Learn more at

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Consequences of Depriving the Poor Are Harsh

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

There are those who will believe that this statement smacks of socialism, if not communism. Giving to those who have little, they say, is like throwing good money after useless people.

They have no quibbles about adding to the abundant wealth of those who have much, of those who have far more than they could possibly spend in their lifetimes. Those people, they say, have earned their wealth.

They also had the advantages, the skills and usually the education to use their resources to best advantage. Poor people usually do not.

Children from poor families are overrepresented with non-readers, kids who read at least two grade levels below their peers. They are also overrepresented in learning difficulties, which are often family (genetic) traits. They may not have sufficient food to keep their minds distracted from their hunger. Their home environment is often not conducive to doing homework or studying. Their evenings are often interrupted with social friction among family members or between parents.

No child can learn when they have significant social or emotional stressors weighing them down. Social and emotional problems always come first in importance to a child, no matter how hard the child tries to overcome them. A child with those kinds of problems on his mind has little ability to learn well.

A close examination of resources allocated to schools in poor districts often demonstrates fewer monies per student for teachers and other resources than for schools in wealthy districts of the same school board. That's a combination of less money for much greater needs.

The same kids from poor families commonly receive much less in the way of intellectual and physical stimulation to assist with their development than children in wealthier families.

If their family has been on welfare for more than one generation, count that as a third strike against them. These kids who have loads of things going against them are considered by some to be not worthy of equal resources from tax money. They need more to overcome their disadvantages, but they get less.

The people who make the most noise in political circles these days claim that this is the wisest dispersal of tax monies because it creates the most wealth for the nation. However, just as government borrowing puts a burden on future generations, mounting numbers of poorly educated children who become adults who lack the ability to cope with the stresses of adult life in a fast-paced high-tech world saddles future generations with problems.

In some countries, diminishing the size of the middle class and increasing the size of the poorer classes eventually results in revolution. In others the wealthy industrialists have to bring in more educated people from foreign countries to fill positions that their own people couldn't manage.

Social problems such as inequality don't go away by themselves, no matter how much we try to sweep them under the carpet. Delaying the repair of inequities inevitably makes the problems worse for future generations.

Increasing the rate of immigration to compensate for the failures of the education system and degradation of family support systems also raises the potential for social strife of a kind that most countries cannot cope with because they're unprepared for it.

Depriving children from any part of the community of the satisfaction of their basic needs to feel a part of their social environment is like building your own powderkeg and not knowing what to do with it. Adults who feel like strangers in their own community do strange and sometimes violent things.

Sometimes they go on shooting sprees in schools. Sometimes they blow themselves and many others up. Sometimes they turn to drugs, alcohol or many other forms of addiction. Sometimes they can manage to get through their days only with Prozac. Sometimes they can't manage and find themselves in prison without knowing how they could have avoided it.

Equality does not mean giving money to people who don't have much. Equality means finding ways to satisfy the basic needs of all children, be they intellectual, physical, social or emotional. Without addressing those needs, trouble is inevitable.

The needs of children go far beyond food, clothing, shelter and a school to attend. It's time we grew up as a culture and learned the basics of human needs. The alternatives are harsh.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to encourage everyone to give real equality a chance before trouble is inevitable.
Learn more at

Monday, April 16, 2007

Your Future: Eternal What?

The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

The days say nothing. Have you noticed how quickly your days pass than they did years ago?

Days, months and years passing quicker is a common perception of people as they get older. These packets of time seem to speed up with each passing decade. Then they are gone, having said nothing.

Oh, we have memories. Maybe pictures. But the pictures serve to mark the passage of time as much as they do to arouse memories.

Not everyone laments the passage of time. Not everyone lets their days pass silently, taking with them the gifts each brought and offered with so little fanfare. Those who made the most of their days look back at them not with regret but with pride.

More importantly, those who look back at days past with pride dwell only lightly on their past because they look forward to their future with vigour. Their future looks exciting because they have built their past up to it with activity that caused them to grow. To them, the future is something to look forward to with anticipation, each day an adventure to be launched with the rising sun.

If this seems poetic to you, consider how productive your past has been, how worthy of your time your investments in the components of your life. If you fear the passage of time in your life, maybe you need to build more into your future.

That doesn't mean more excitement, more daring, more places to visit, more travel, more stuff, more of the things that wear away at your time on earth. It means building something of value to show that you were here. To show others, when you're gone, that you're worth remembering.

To leave that kind of legacy, you need to do things that matter to other people, not just to yourself. If everything you do is for your own benefit, no one will have any reason to remember you after you are gone. If what you do involves and helps others, no matter how small each effort may be, then you will leave a lasting memory.

When you leave this earth, you will not be here to promote yourself. Only the others who are left can do that. If you want to be remembered fondly and with respect, you must act in ways that will benefit those who will succeed you on this planet.

OK, so maybe you're busy now, reading stuff on the internet. But you can begin tomorrow.
Tomorrow--your whole future--should be looked upon with a little apprehension. If you don't stretch yourself beyond what you feel comfortable with, you can never grow. If you don't grow, you will retreat with age. The longer you retreat, you more your spirit as well as your body will atrophy.

Rejoice in the bit of fear that the future holds because only by conquering that fear will you grow to become more than you are today. As you overcome that fear, you become greater than you are. And by helping others who will have greater capacity to do more that is worth remembering.

There is little point in eternal life if you didn't make much use of the one you had here. Eternal boredom offers little to look forward to.

Launch your future when the sun launches itself tomorrow morning. The sun will keep going in circles. You don't have to. You have a future to build. You have to build toward eternity.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help people build a better future rather than letting the present decay with age.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Life Mystery Solved

When your life is about serving, your needs will always be met. When your life is about obtaining your needs, your needs will always elude you.
- Bill Ferguson, author/speaker, Mastery of Life

Let me be candid. For the first four decades of my life I would have considered this advice foolish, if not a waste of time. What does serving mean? How could giving to someone else be better for me than helping myself?

More importantly, even if I had resources that I didn't have in those times, what could I possibly offer to others? Everyone seemed to know more than me. Everyone was better at almost everything than I was. The only serving I could do would be at a soup kitchen.

My transformation came in the latter years of my classroom teaching career. The more I helped the children I taught with stuff other than what was on the curriculum, the more I began to love teaching. And the more I became loved and respected by my students.

That transformation came hard because western civilization teaches that you take as much as you can get and you keep striving to get more. Give as little as possible and get as much as you can. I was living the lessons I had been taught.

I wasn't happy. I was afraid of something all the time. I didn't even know what happiness was because everyone I knew was in the same rat race and none of them were truly happy. Oh, they laughed, drank alcohol and took drugs to keep their spirits up, and their friends were those who indulged themselves in the same kinds of defences, but they didn't know how to be happy either. To the people I knew, happiness could be bought. Or couldn't, but they kept believing that eventually it could if they kept buying.

Those kids taught me different. While they enjoyed everything that people with money bought them, what they really loved was adults who would give of themselves to teach them about life. They didn't necessarily want adult friends, but adults who would teach them what they wanted to know about being an adult. And who would fill in the gaps between the information they had and what they wanted to know.

In other words, they wanted to know what they should know to be an adult.

The job of a child is to learn how to be an adult. The job of adults, especially parents and grandparents, is to teach the children how to be adults. That's how we are made. Those are our primary responsibilities in life.

I didn't know what the requirements were for a satisfying, healthy and well adjusted adult. I was a taker and all takers I knew were not that great at being adults. They could manage themsleves, mostly, but they had little idea how to teach their kids. They couldn't teach their children how to be happy because they weren't really happy themsleves. So they acted as role models, the way the system had taught them. They raised clones of themselves.

I figured out what the kids wanted, then gave it to them. In the process, I satisfied what I had always wanted. And I learned how to be happy.

No amount of money can make you happy. The most miserable people on earth include the richest. The richest among the rich, Bill Gates, is happier now than ever before in his life. He is giving away billions of dollars to help prevent and cure diseases and to help to educate children around the world.

That's not buying happiness. It's putting your heart where your wallet was.

Serving doesn't mean washing the feet of Jesus with annointing oils and drying it with your hair. It means helping others. Not helping them to get rich or to build a fence, but to get through the rough patches of life that they don't have the coping skills to manage. It's helping people who seem to be pushing others away because they are afraid of appearing weak.

It's giving a smile and a hug. It's giving people an opportunity to get their troubles off their chests to someone who won't judge them or give them advice. It's supporting them when they're down.

It's giving them a hand up, not a handout.

It's doing, not thinking about it or throwing money at it.

Serving is about helping. Call it coincidence or whatever you want, but people who help others always manage to survive and find happiness. No matter how much or how little money they have. To them, money is always a minor part of the equation.

Somehow giving of yourself is the best way to get what you need back. It may not be logical and it may not fit the economic system proposed by Adam Smith, but it works.
It's another mystery of humanity.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make life's important lessons clear enough to understand.
Learn more at

Saturday, April 14, 2007

China 2008: The Genocide Olympics

Here are two men disputing. One knocks the other man down, kills him, and then concludes that he who is alive must have been right, and he who is dead must have been wrong... a mode of demonstration still accepted in international disputes.
- Will Durant, writer and historian (1885-1981)

Note the dates for Mr. Durant. He was born in the 19th century, not the latter part of the 20th.
His is a different way of saying the old adage used by European powers over the centuries: might is right.

Everyone was afraid of Hitler from the 1933 Olympics on, though not one country did anything to stop him. Britain tried, but its efforts were restricted to a peace treaty with Hitler--essentially saying that neither would invade the other first--resulting in "peace in our time" lasting all of one year. Other countries simply looked the other way, leaving the hapless League of Nations to dissolve into dribble.

Before Hitler, not one nation tried to stop the European countries from carving up space in the Americas, Africa, India or southeast Asia. The main reason might have been that all the countreis with any military power were competing against each other for colonial land. So long as the trouble was not in their own backyard, other countries remained silent as slaves were taken from their home countries and other citizens were enslaved within their own.

The fledgeling Russia after the revolution in which the communists took power became the Soviet Union as the Russian army swept across neighbouring lands gobbling up countries and promising them some autonomy within the union. Nobody watched as the rest of the world had turned away. "We don't need another war now."

Today the International Criminal Court, an effort by a majority of countries of the world to bring some control over international aggression is not supported by the USA which has declared that their military and their administration will not be held accountable by the court for any perceived offences in Afghanistan or Iraq. In other words, the country with the most firepower believes it can do what it likes without interference by any other country or world body.

We listen to the news of acts of genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan and click our tongues at the number of people who are dying of starvation or slaughter at the hands of both the insurgents and the government troops. Meanwhile, China, which has invested some ten billion US dollars in Sudan over the past few years profits by selling weapons to the Sudanese military and turning away when news of what soldiers are doing with those weapons comes out.

Some people are speaking out. Some are calling the Olympics to be held in the Chinese capital next year the Genocide Olympics. Beijing is not happy. It has offered to speak to its customers in Khartoum. Who expects a country that makes great profit from selling weapons to a poor nation so that it can continue to wage war against its own people to stop using those weapons and talk with its enemy until agreement is reached? Would China wreck such a profit stream?

The country with the world's largest military will not send its troops into Sudan either on a peacekeeping mission or even to protect its own citizens who are in the Horn of Africa for profit.
You and I can't do much because we don't have the ear of the president or prime minister of China. We do, however, have internet friends with whom we connect regularly. We can spread the word about next year's international athletic competition being the Genocide Olympics.

The leaders of China want next year to be the launch of China into the international spotlight as the newest superpower of the world. They want the Olympics to be their finest hour in centuries. Having it known as the Genocide Olympics would tarnish that image mightily before the event began.

Maybe we have enough influence to persuade China to stop the genocide in Sudan instead of supporting it. Half a million Sudanese have died already, with millions more on deathwatch through starvation, disease and slaughter.

Maybe if we keep telling each other on the internet about the Genocide Olympics instead of calling it the Beijing Olympics, the resulting public relations fiasco will force the Chinese leaders to act.

It may be the only chance that millions of innocent people have to live. We have some power here, the power of our own fingers on the keyboard. Or we can turn away and wait for the big show in the summer of 2008.

So, what do you know about the Genocide Olympics? Let's talk.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, strivng to save lots of lives if we can.
Learn more about making better lives at

Friday, April 13, 2007

Help or Please Your Friend? Which Is Right?

In giving advice, seek to help, not please, your friend.
- Solon

This simple, concise maxim delivers a great wealth of benefit.

Why would you not want to please your friend, rather than to help him? Because friends are not for pleasing.

We please those from whom we hope or expect some gain for ourselves. We please those about whom we feel superior, in gracious gestures of beneficience. We seldom do gestures to please our equals, other than our mate, even though they might greatly appreciate them.

Pleasing someone is like buying their love or respect. A friend doesn't want what he already has, by definition, as a friend.

Helping a friend does not always mean pleasing him either. Often you can help your friend by providing oppposition against which he may carefully consider a choice of action which could prove risky. Or he may be thinking along one line of thought without considering arguments or facts that oppose or contradict them. A bad choice or political association or religious affiliation would be examples.

A friend does not necessarily want to know that you have helped him. Pride may make him want to hide or disguise his need for help. It's not uncommon for people with a serious need to have few friends, not because others don't want to help, but because the person with the need may subconsciously back away from a close relationship for fear of the other person finding out his need and considering it a weakness.

A need or a weakness may be among the things a person least wants another to know. Even though we all have them and we often can't resolve our needs or overcome our weaknesses ourselves. We have been taught that we must be independent, that appearing to be self sufficient is even more important than actually being self sufficient.

Help may be what your friend most needs. Yet it may be something you must use care to put into effect in order to preserve your friendship. A real friendship involves needs that each can help the other with. It may need to be done with care so that the friend is helped up rather than made to feel lower by being needy.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the difficult things in life seem a little easier to understand.
Learn more at

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Uncontrolled Capitalism Failed Us

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
- Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

And yet we do. In general, the economic system practised in western countries follows the thinking of Adam Smith.

Smith said that the free market system where the wealthy are allowed to invest and make money to their hearts' content was the best system of capitalism. As the rich got richer, the poor would benefit because they would be needed to participate in a system that needed everyone to function. Tax moneys would be available for those who couldn't function comfortably.

Though no one was expected to compete on an equal footing with the rich, there would be equality among the general population because everyone would believe in the values of the system.

Happiness would be a natural benefit of Adam's economy because everyone would have enough money to do whatever they wanted. The pursuit of happiness was, in effect, the pursuit of money.

Unfettered capitalism has at its core the exploitation of greed. The greedier people are, the greater the chance that they will work hard to earn the money they want to make themselves happy by buying what they need and what they want. Those whose lives are less captured by greed would work less but still have enough to meet their more limited needs.

So how have we done? We don't have equality, as Smith promised, as most members of minorities will attest. That includes inequality for women who have to fight in many workplaces for equal pay for equal work.

People have the opportunity to work to earn a living. But some cannot work or cannot find work because they have problems that were created in the rush to get children brainwashed with the industrial curriculum that preaches that hard work and intellectual adaptation are the means to success in the working world. They "fell through the cracks."

We have come to accept that the homeless will always be with us, even in cities where nighttime temperatures go far below the freezing mark in winter and the homeless can't get social assistance because they do not have a permanent address. The homeless are the most obvious signs of the failure of the system.

Everyone still seeks happiness, but so many do without it that they are no longer certain what happiness is. They seek it in thrills and prescribed and illegal substances as well as other forms of activities that can become addictive. Happiness has not visited capitalist societies, let alone come to stay.

The gap between the rich and the poor has widened so that the two sides no longer recognize each other. The once mighty middle class dwindles as it separates into the two options as some get richer and others lose their jobs, their families, their self respect and their grasp on life.

But the rich are delighted at what capitalism has given them. They are richer than any previous generation, they control the advertising that teaches everything from morality to fashion, governments pass laws that make their fondest business wishes come true and children consider few other options than conforming to the dictates of industry as to how a society should be run.

Even our societal morality is that of industry, not of religion as in the past.

It is not the purpose of this article to offer up a solution that will be open to criticism by those whose fondest wish is to kowtow to industry. Rather it is to point out that the out of control capitalist system continues to function and gain more power because school curricula teach exactly what industry wants kids to know to become industrial workers within a few years.

The first step is not to think about how to change. The first step is to accept that change is needed.

The process of change can only begin what it will be most effective, in the teaching of children. Those children will within a few years be leaders of industry or followers of its demands.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show not just the degree of decay in western society but to offer solutions that are workable and will not cause revolution in any country.
Learn more at

Monday, April 09, 2007

Help! Let Me Out Of This Damned City

If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages.
- Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen), author (1885-1962)

Is she really concerned about birds in cages or is this a metaphor for something much larger? Both could be true at once.

Birds are kept in cages because people want to be able to see birds daily. These are the only wild animals that are permitted in city residences.

If birds were no longer allowed to be caged and people still wanted to be able to see them, they would have to create natural environments in urban areas where birds other than pigeons and gulls could safely live and propagate.

That would mean planting many more trees than presently exist in many cities, building more parks that are larger than will hold a playground for small children and perhaps creating some bird-friendly locations for nesting.

Ironically, the kinds of wild animals that live in cities today tend to be those that we don't want, such as rats, raccoons and some skunks. Many large cities have more rats than people and about one raccoon for every four people. Most of the time these are out of sight, so city dwellers are not aware of their presence unless they become a problem.

Why would anyone care as much about birds as Karen Blixen does? Big city environments, especially those with a great number of living units above ground level, have created a disconnect between humans and nature. Children grow up believing that meat and produce must be manufactured in the back rooms at supermarkets. That there is never enough room for cars on the streets or in parking areas.

That people should naturally secure their doors with multiple locks because anyone could break in with only a couple of security measures. That many people will be mean to you, even bully you, no matter what you do unless you are as hard-hearted as they are. That no one cares about you or loves you except a precious few in your family, if you are lucky.

Many studies have shown that people who live most of their lives above ground--such as in apartment buildings and office towers--feel less connection with nature than those who have regular contact with the ground and who can see ground when they look out their windows.

Today in North America, though people live in all parts of the USA and Canada, 85 percent of the populations of those countries live in urban environments. Few people have regular contact with what those who live outside of the city would call nature. Those who live in cottage areas can testify how very little city people know about nature and the countryside and its inhabitants when they escape the city to their cottages. They abuse nature by trying to turn a natural environment into a suburban type property.

The Iraq war pits military personnel who have lived most of their lives in cities and who have been trained by superiors who dictate high tech and sophisticated ways to fighting the enemy against people who are mostly "of the land," even those who live in a big city like Baghdad. In a guerilla war where terrorism is the main weapon of one participant, the side that knows the land and its features will present a challenge that foreign city-soldiers can never overcome.

How can a city be made more countrified? For one thing, the need to conserve energy has resulted in many large city buildings with flat roofs turning these into gardens with flowers, trees and birds, and people who love every minute they spend in these rooftop Shangri-las.

We can develop more ideas about how people can engage in activities that are outdoors, such as devoting some parts of parks to garden plots where people can have permits to plant real flowers and real vegetables. These can also be built on the roofs of buildings with flat tops, resulting in a cooling effect in summer and a warming effect in the minds of those who use them. (They clean the air as an added benefit.)

Just like their ancestors did. Those ancestors didn't need birds in cages to feel a part of nature. They lived on the ground and felt part of it every day.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to bring us all down to earth, for real.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Will Your Life Be Worth Living Past Age 65?

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy

Much as I would like to agree with Mr. Tolstoy, this observation is not so universally true today as it was in the past.

Many members of the Baby Boomer generation that made individuality more of a hallmark than any generation before them had ever done now want to change themselves to address a situation that no previous generation has experienced. They will live long past the traditional age of retirement, 65 years.

When Herr Bismark chose 65 as the age of retirement for the public service of Germany back in the 19th century, the average person didn't live 50 years. That was true well into the 20th century. Making some sort of provision for the few people that lived 65 years and beyond seemed a small price to pay.

Today the average person in the western world will live 80 years or more. In fact, within a few years there will be one million Americans 100 years old or greater.

That means that millions of Baby Boomers are looking at a minimum of 15 years of reasonably healthy life beyond their 65th brithday. Some will live 35 or 40 years past it. That requires some considerable planning.

The trouble is, humanity has no pattern to follow. Many will continue to work past age 65 because they need the income, while others will do so because they like what they have been doing and want to continue.

With more years to explore the individuality they sought so fervently in the 1960s, many open their own businesses. Being their own boss was always a goal for many of them. It's the great dream and countless numbers of them get an opportunity to fulfill that dream.

Volunteering takes up a great deal of time with today's retirees. Social programs for the elderly as well as mentoring programs and many other group activities that could not exist for seniors in the past due to insufficient funds can now be launched because retired people have time to invest time into them while not feeling the need to derive an income from them.

Many people approaching 65 still harbour the dream of their parents and grandparents, to become permanently on vacation from age 65 on. Sadly, most of them are unaware of studies that show that the average person who enjoys that "everlasting vacation" plan lives only six years past the date they begin. From age 65 on, atrophy sets in quickly.

Many retired people return to school, getting diplomas and degrees at an unprecedented rate. It has also become a time when people examine what they have accomplished during their lifetimes, consider what they hope to do with their remaining years and where religion and their beliefs fit into the grand scheme. These big questions can be serious problems because they don't necessarily know where to turn to find the answers.

An equally unprecendented number of retired people with many years ahead of them will live in pain and with severe disabilities, even bedridden. For some these will be the genetics of their families kicking in. For others--a great many others--the consequences of their abusing their bodies in their earlier years will play hard on them. Many diseases and physical afflictions take 20, 30 0r 40 years before they take hold as serious health problems.

Everyone among us has many spots within us that are technically known as pre-cancerous. In the past very few of these became malignant cancers because most people died before these pre-cancerous spots could mature. With more people living nine decades, more people will have time for the potential malignancies to mature.

In addition, diabetes will affect more and more people. Setting aside the rapid increase of diabetes cases among people who are younger at onset than in the past, everyone will get diabetes if they live long enough. It is estimated that even the healthiest among us will have diabetes if they live 140 years.

That's no joke. Many of today's children will live to be 125 to 140 years of age according to recent estimates among medical scientists who study such things.

That requires planning at a level that is unusual both for individuals and for national governments. We who are not into that retirement situation yet would be well advised to give thought to a long term plan for the years that our ancestors never got a chance to experience.

We need something worth living for.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the known problems of the future plain so that we can plan for them.
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Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Explanation for Teenage Rebellion

Be good and you will be lonesome.
- Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

It's a shame that this quote was taken out of context (I don't have access to its original material source). Mark Twain embedded life lessons or observations about human behaviour in just about every story he told.

To adults this seems like an observation about life. To an adolescent, it's advice.
In the latter part of grade school and the early years of high school, every child see that the most popular kids in their grade and above are those who are a little bit naughty, if not outright criminal.

It's part of the teenage rebellion thing. The kids who brag about being bad come across as being the best at rebelling. The best attracts attention, including "friends" and members of the opposite sex.

In the western world we have come to accept that teenage rebellion is part of the process of coming of age. It's almost expected. This is not the case in most of the world where the teen years are ones where a child transforms into an adult, not seamlessly but without large scale rebellion.

Why the difference? In the west we assume that if we teach our children the principles of our culture--that whatever has to do with money is good and the more of it that is either earned or spent is best--that our children will simply grow into our money-oriented culture and adapt as we did. In most of the world, money is not a god to be worshipped.

For much of the non-western world, simply surviving takes up most time for adults and adolescents. Teenagers must learn from their parents about how to find food and support to ward off enemies or they won't thrive as adults, have families and grow old enough to be supported by their children.

To accomplish this, people must teach to their children the details of their culture, including everything to do with work, support systems, friendships, alliances and how to deal with the problems of life that have been faced and overcome by their forebears. Life continues using the proven ways of the past because life itself is at risk if anything different is attempted.

In the west we have a different attitude toward the future, especially of our children. We grew up believing (because we were taught) that anything is possible, that every job possibility is available to someone who is prepared to work for it, that the economy will provide for those who work hard and that traditional life skills didn't need to be taught because the world is changing so fast that new skills would be needed anyway.

From the point of view of adolescents, they see parents who have trouble coping with their lives, so turn to divorce, drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution and theft (or cheating), among other things. Their role models do not conform to the ethics and morals they were taught (though loosely and ineffectively in many cases). They don't want to be like their parents, so they rebel.

The problem is that they don't know how to rebel constructively, so they rebel in ways that often turn out to be destructive. Consequently, western countries tend to have the highest rates of their citizens in prison (the US is the highest in the world, by a good margin) and the highest rates of mental illness and people taking mood-enhancing or mood-controlling medications to make their lives bearable.

One recent change in high schools (in some cities) is that the geeks are now among the more popular students. Shocking? Not at all. They are the students who are most likely to have the highest paying jobs, to become wealthy in the working world. The money ethic hasn't changed, but it has taken some of the lustre away from doctors and lawyers.

Teenagers rebel because they are confused. The closer they get to adulthood, the more they learn that the lifestyles of their parents are not sustainable, which is why the parents turn to personally or socially destructive behaviours. The young people want something different.

So long as we do not teach our young people what they need to know as adults, including coping skills, and meet their needs, they will want something different and will "rebel." Rebelling is their way of signalling their needs to us, but we take it as simply bad behaviour and feel they need to be punished.

These are generalizations, of course, and do not apply to every teenager or every family. They are social trends with enough study having been done on the subject to show that the conclusions are correct in a general sense.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make our social weaknesses clear so that we have a chance to correct them.
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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Violent Proselytizers Are Winning

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.
- William Hazlitt

That quote is not true, strictly speaking, for these emotions are known to be expressed by other primates. But the point is well taken.

For the sake of discussion, let's divide everyone into two groups. There would be those who, as Hazlitt said, see the great differences between what things are and what they ought to be. And there would be those who know exactly how things should be and concern themselves at some length to see that what they believe should become what is.

On one side we have people (the vast majority, I believe) who know what should be but do little or nothing to see that it comes about. On the other we have people who are driven to make something happen.

Why are the latter group so driven, managing to carry on with their message when the rest of us would be exhausted? The message they carry is not thier own. They were waffling around with their lives, wondering what the truth about life could be, wondering why we are here at all, wondering where they could fit into a grand scheme. Then someone came along with an answer.

The answer sounded good. Sounded wonderful, in fact. It sounded as if heaven itself was about to open up and take in all that believed in it. All they had to do was to believe.

Spread the word, these people were told, as were those before them who had told them. They did, and they do. They take the message to anyone and everyone, whether their message is wanted or appreciated. Whether they can teach it to willing listeners or must wage war to use force to convince the others to accept their own set of beliefs.

Those who are prepared to go to war for their beliefs (whether in reality or figuratively) are most convinced that their cause is right. The more resistance they find, the more convinced that they are right and that their message must get through to the ignorant and unwashed multitudes.

They never stop to question whether their way might be right. They never doubt that the others may not want to share their beliefs or that they are happy with their own beliefs. They never hesitate about whether their beliefs are correct, accurate or beneficial over the long term, to themselves, their people or the world. They need to win.

It has been said that those who are most aggressive about spreading their beliefs to others have grave doubts. They want others to join them so that they can believe with greater confidence that their way is correct. By their reckoning, numbers are important. They want allies, not necessarily friends.

Those who are uncertain about many things in life remain quiet, for they have little to teach to others. When and if they do find a path they can believe in, they tend to remain quiet about it because doing otherwise would place them in conflict with the other group, who is already known to be prepared to go to war for their beliefs.

If the quiet ones remain quiet, never joining with others who have also found their way, never wanting to impose anything on anyone else, very little changes. Or so they believe. Eventually, those who have the strong beliefs and are aggressive about spreading them convince enough people to join them that they gain political and military power as well as the psychological power they have from the strength of their beliefs.

Hitler tapped into that in Germany with his National Socialists (who followed a path that was anything but socialist). Mussolini used it in Italy. The power brokers of the Japanese military also found ways to take over their country and subsequently much of Asia, with the three countries forming what became known as the Axis Powers. The Serbian leaders of the former Yugoslavia pumped up their Serbian culture mates to kill the Muslims. The emerging leaders among the Hutus of Rwanda filled the heads of their fellow tribesmen with it, using radio broadcasts, so that nearly a million Tutsis were slashed to death with machetes. Saddam used his abilities to convince the minority Sunnis that they should totally dominate the majority Shias as well as the Kurds in Iraq.

In each case the silent ones remained silent because they did not feel it their place to tell others how to run their countries. It wasn't their business. They were prepared to allow millions of slaughtered victims be burned or buried, but they assuaged their consciences by prosecuting the perpetrators who survived when the slaughter was over.

At least the leaders died too, they believed. They vowed to remember each event so that it would never happen again.

These movements all began with a few zealous individuals who had power in mind for themselves and a set of beliefs with which to convince their future supporters. It didn't matter whether their teachings and beliefs were correct, were acceptable or would be approved by the majority because they planned to take control of the majority.

The uncertain ones remained silent in every case. The aggressive ones never do.

The aggressive ones always have that message they want to reach so many others. The doubtful ones and those who have found the path to peace remain silent.

Bill Allin
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the motives of the power seekers plain before they take too much control over too many people and too much history.
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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dead-Ends of Society Are Drowning Us

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

"I don't vote because my one vote won't make any difference." Yet the whole process of democratic government is founded on the collection and sorting of those single votes that "don't make any difference." It's what democracy is.

"I don't contribute to cancer research because my few dollars wouldn't make a difference between solving the mystery of cancer and not finding the solution." Yet every cancer researcher depends heavily on small contributions from individuals who don't have much to give. Solutions are coming, but slower than cancer victims and their loved ones would hope.

"I don't save money in the bank (or under my matress) because I can only put away a small amount each week and that way would take forever to build up. And banks don't give you much interest anyway." Yet the same person will borrow on a 30 year mortgage to buy a house or a long term loan to buy a vehicle. Contributing, one way or another, a little bit each week.

"I don't coddle my child too much because I'm trying to make him independent, to help him learn that he will have to make his way alone in the world as an adult." Yet young children desperately need that cuddling and coddling while they learn the skills, knowledge and ways of the world that will allow them to cope with the downturns of their lives and to excel when they have the opportunities. Too many children grow up to be like trees that lack enough roots to provide the security and nutrition the part above ground needs to survive.

"I don't read magazines and books because no one can keep up with how fast new information is being revealed these days. And beside, my school days of book-learning are over." They likely didn't read a book in school either, except to fake the odd book report. With the rapid increase in knowledge, those who don't try to keep up enclose themselves in a bubble that gradually rolls them into history long before their time on earth is up. They become living anachronisms who increasingly hate the world as they age.

"I don't help those homeless people on the street because it just encourages them to not get jobs where they could afford their own homes." Yet many of those homeless people were so neglected in their childh0od development that the adults in their lives never realized that they had learning problems, coordination problems, physical weaknesses, genetic diseases that would not show up until they were adults or a learning problem similar to a runner "hitting the wall" where everthing taught beyond that point will be missed and most of what went before will be lost. On the street, as begging adults, they're just failures.

In a world of 6.5 billion people, no one person can make a huge difference. Indeed, our design as social animals demands that the only way we can be successful at building rather than destroying our culture, at improving our people rather than harming them, at creating peace rather than sinking again into war, is to work together.

Social animals can survive alone, but they can't grow, can't improve, can't do what our species has the ability to do together.

Failures in life are not those who do not try. Those who do not try are a waste of natural resources. The real failures of life are those who are picking themselves up and looking to how they can build themselves into something new. That kind of failure is temporary. The never-try variety are the dead-ends of our species.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to gather people together to eradicate those problems that the dead-ends claim can't be solved. They can if we work together and have the right tools and methods.
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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

We All Help Banks Make Fortunes

I place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.
- Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect and author (1743-1826)

Why does a government incur huge public debt? When several successive sets of elected representatives choose to keep taxes low instead of investing in infrastructure such as roads, sewers and water purification, one set eventually must bear the burden of raising enormous amounts of money to bring these up to standard before disaster strikes. That is always done by borrowing.

War require large debts to be accumulated, especially in modern times when weaponry and stealth investigation have reached such sophistication that both winners and losers of war take decades to recover financially. Banks rack up unbelievable profits while the public foots every bill, both principal and interest.

Occupying another country is so costly that it cripples the occupying country while inflicting limited damage on the country being occupied. The Society Union finally collapsed from the weight of its own debt when it could no longer sustain the fortunes it was paying to neighbours that were pro-USSR. Occupying Afghanistan proved the undoing of the old union because the Afghans refused to submit and continued to fight indefinitely.

The continually rising tax burden relating to hiring more police and judges, building more courts and prisons and incarcerating previously inconceivable numbers of offenders hobbles honest citizens who know little about how this could be largely avoided by changing the education system to provide what children need instead of what industry wants.

Jefferson's warning means little today. We tend to elect representatives who will spend the most, who borrow the most, but who promise to reduce taxes at election time. Most of us content ourselves with the excuses our governments offer us for why they couldn't reduce taxes and why their enormous borrowings were needed. Until the next election when they once again promise to reduce our taxes and we believe them again.

Yet can we blame our governments for accumulating huge public debt that must be paid from taxes when our amount of personal debt (through credit) has reached unprecedented levels? Many of us pay twice the cost of a home or vehicle because we must pay so much interest on our debt. Today's fifty year mortgages, for example, mean that the borrower will be in debt for a lifetime.

Forced saving through debt payment costs much more than voluntary payment by personal savings and investments. It's a simple lesson that the lending institutions don't want us to learn.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the most important lessons easy to understand.
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