Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Bad Are Your Problems Really?

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The manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured.
- Dean Acheson, US politician (1893-1971)

I find it hard to appreciate that everyone has problems, not just me. No, I didn't mean that I am a problem for everyone, though that would be a distinction that would be difficult to resist.

Furthermore, my problems are worse than those of everyone else. At least it seems that way.
The fact is that we seldom see others at times when they are in the process of expressing their problems. A drunk won't admit that he's drunk, even to himself. A drug addict may confess that he's high, but will not likely admit that he is an addict. Few addicts of any kind admit to their addiction, which is why Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organizations have their new members admit from the start that they are addicts before they will be helped.

Some parents are terrified of what may happen with their children as they go through the teens years. They would never admit this because it might give others the impression that they're bad parents, or inadequate for the job.

When my computer breaks down or my car is in the shop I feel as if I am at the brink of panic, that life is conspiring against me. Or at least that the gods of technology have a grudge against me.

To many people a computer or a car needing repair would be a minor inconvenience. Especially if the computer or the car is mine, not their own.

Our own problems always seem to be worse than those of others. But then, except for the rare instances of friends crying on the shoulders of other close friends, we seldom learn of the problems of others, the ones that bother them most.

As a sociologist, I am interested in the phenomenon that people almost inevitably consider their own problems worse than the problems of anyone else, to the point where I have studied it--albeit on an anecdotal basis--to see if my experience jives with that of others. It does.

Generally speaking, we don't know the problems of others. When we learn them we find that ours are not so bad after all.

A few years ago I did a study where I exposed several test subjects to the problems of others, without giving any names. I chose the problem sets of average people, of rich people, of people of good health and those with physical or mental handicaps, people just struggling through the rigours of their lives like most of us.

While the results confirmed my hypothesis, I was still shocked at how consistent everyone was. Not a single person was prepared to exchange their own problems for the problems of anyone else. A few noted that some people seemed to have few problems, though they were perhaps more severe. The people with fewer problems were usually those with physical or mental handicaps.

Though our problems seem worse than those of others, we don't want to exchange problems with anyone else if we have the chance. When we compare our own problems with those of others we realize not that ours are easier to solve but that they are easier to manage than the less well known problems of others.

Some of our problems we can't solve. They tend to be those whose origins lie in our early years of childhood. The best we can do with them is to learn to manage their effects on us and on others. An obvious form of this is how someone who loses a leg adapts to new ways of conducting their life and doesn't want to be treated as a "cripple." We learn to adapt and work around our early childhood problems or we become emotional cripples.

Your problems may seem bad to you, but you wouldn't want to trade them for the problems of anyone else if you knew the full depth and breadth of theirs.

Keep that in mind when you find yourself gazing enviously at people you see on television, people with talent, features and characteristics you don't have. They also have problems you wouldn't want.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children the knowledge and skills they need to be able to manage their problems as adults, rather than having them succumb to addictions, abuse, thrill-seeking or other forms of escape from their problems.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Key Lessons In Human Relationships

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Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.
- William Arthur Ward, US inspirational writer (1921-1994)

This quote captures concisely the essence of all human relationships.

People believe flattery about themselves because they want to believe it. How many well known women have listened to flattery from their dressmaker about how beautiful they look in his creation, only to find themselves later on the annual Blackwell list of worst dressed women or on the pages of some scandal sheet whose purpose is to show the lack of taste of famous people?

Flattery may more commonly be called the "white lie." The truth may be known to both the speaker and the receiver, but the receiver would rather hear the lie. Would rather believe the lie than the truth.

In some cases the truth is kept from the receiver "to prevent them from being hurt." Almost without exception that person hurts more when the truth is found out later.

Who can trust a person who lies to them? A fan or worshipper may be encouraged to provide a white lie, but a true friend would not. A true friend, not the friends that are more akin to business arrangement partners.

People don't like criticism, even if it's true and constructive. Some people appreciate constructive criticism because it helps them to improve, but they are in the minority. Written criticism is always taken to be destructive and is more emotionally hurting than the kind delivered face to face.

What's the problem? Most of us don't know how to deliver constructive criticism tactfully, in a helpful manner. The use of language we teach our children tends to be for the purpose of conveying a message directly or the kind that tells a fictional story in an interesting manner. We don't teach the language of diplomacy, which may explain why we have so many unresolvable conflicts among friends, problems that trash the relationships.

People are most hurt and over a longer period of time by being ignored. A child cries to get attention, not because of an injury. Some parents claim "Oh, he's just crying to get attention, he's not really hurt." They don't understand that a child can't get too much attention, can't overdose on attention and love. If the parent of an attention-demanding child withholds attention and love because they child has "already had enough," the parent hasn't been providing the kind of love and attention and support the child needs.

Couples who "draw apart" and find themselves "going in different directions" with their lives have not paid enough attention to each other, to the needs and desires of the other. In particular, they have not give enough of themselves to the need of the other for human touch. More couples separate because one needs more loving touch than he or she is receiving than for any other reason. That's what sexual affairs are all about and studies show that two-thirds of men and more than half of women have affairs while married.

As social beings, we need attention desperately. Being ignored may be the worst thing that one person can do to another who wants attention. For a child, being ignored (not receiving enough loving attention) often results in values that are twisted by community standards. Many prison inmates, patients of psychiatric hospitals and gulpers of Prozac had childhoods where they didn't receive as much attention from their parents as they needed. Some had too much of the wrong kind, of course.

"Encourage me and I will not forget you." Think back to your favourite teacher, neighbour or relative and chances are good that those people encouraged you. Their encouragement helped you to become the marvellous person you are today.

"Love me and I will be forced to love you" is an odd way of delivering this message. But it gets the point across. Many people stay with their mates because the mate loves them unequivocally and unstintingly. Many people agree to marry their partner because they recognize that the partner loves them completely. Couples come together in the first place because they each believe the other loves them.

Love attracts people. The adoration of fans of sports, movie or television stars drives many of them to be as outstanding as they are because they need that kind of love.

The world revolves around love, at least the human component of it. People lacking a sufficient amount of the love they need do some unusual, strange, even illegal or anti-social things to get the attention of the person of their desire. Ask yourself if the rich, the powerful or the war-mongering people you have known (even from seeing them on television) get enough of the human kind of good love or if they lacked it and turned to another form of gratification in its absence.

Being forced to love someone in Ward's sense of the word means that a person may not be able to resist the love of another person if that love is sincere and true. Love is attractive.

Love is the most powerful force of humanity, especially effective if the love of many people is joined together for a collective work of good.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children the lessons from this article as well as many others they need to thrive.
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Saturday, September 22, 2007

How To Lead An Exciting And Fulfilling Old Age

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Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. - Theodore Isaac Rubin

Wisdom seems to be not just a forgotten art, but a lost objective of humanity.

Over two millennia ago people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (among many others) committed their thoughts to writing (Socrates, thanks to Plato) and their thinking is revered as great wisdom today.

There were great writers of wisdom during the Roman era. Then the world went into the Dark Ages and almost no one wrote anything considered wise today. That's right, isn't it?

Actually, no. As much as possible of the wisdom of the past was destroyed by the Church of Rome after the fall of the western part of the Roman Empire in order that only church writing could be considered truth and taught to the uneducated flocks.

Meanwhile, in what we today call the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East, civilization and its authors of great wisdom carried on with great flourish and progress. Those of us in the west may not be as aware of their writing as we should be because these people thoughtlessly and discourteously wrote in languages other than English.

English speakers, being the inherent snobs they are, refused to acknowledge that anything of value could have taken place or been written down in any language other than English, Latin or the successors of Latin--in other words the languages of western Europe. Arabs, Indians and Chinese, for example, had marvellously well developed cultures during Europe's Dark Ages and Middle Ages.

If it had not been for some daring Irish monks who hid away written works when the rest of Europe was ravaged by a series of tribes, we would have no western history before the medieval period. Those Irish monks literally saved western history from disappearing forever. And western wisdom.

Europeans really started to roll during the Renaissance, though written work was still heavily censored or altered by the church.

Where is the written work that records the wisdom of today? Do we have no wise people today?
Schools for common folk (as opposed to just for children of the nobility) began in the 17th century, then continued to become more universal in the west until the end of the 19th century. The more people that learned to read, the more began to write. With the printing press, books became more common and available at reasonable prices for the ordinary household.

Today publishers (including self publishers) in the United States alone put out about 200,000 different titles each year. The problem is not finding books to read, but finding good books from among this massive number, then finding time to read as many as one might like to gain wisdom.

As it happens, a recent study showed that only about six percent of the adult population of North America reads more than three books per year. When you consider that many professionals must read books within their professional specialties in order to stay abreast of developments, that leave precious few of us who read books regularly.

Must we read books in order to become wise? It's not that simple, of course. Reading a variety of book subjects and genres forces the brain to work in ways that few other activities of life do. Experience alone doesn't make a person wise. Reading alone doesn't either. Nor does education of various sorts. It's the combination of all of these that develops a brain environment that is conducive to wisdom.

Wisdom is also not something that happens quickly. It takes decades and a devotion to learning for that whole time. It also requires a commitment to teaching what we learn so that others may develop their own form of wisdom. It's impossible to know or even to guess how many people have gained wisdom from the teachings of Socrates over 2400 years ago.

Just as becoming an athlete of Olympic calibre requires a combination of commitment and learning in a variety of ways, becoming a wise person requires learning and teaching in a variety of ways. Teaching itself becomes a form of learning (docendo disco).

The human body is designed to become weaker and less coordinated as we age. However, the human brain is designed to grow, gaining knowledge and wisdom for as long as we live. Our overall design shows that our well developed brain should take over as the most important organ of our bodies when other body functions begin to get well past their prime.

Dementia is what happens to those who don't follow that pattern. Dementia is preventable, totally, by each individual. Old people who become stupid have allowed their brains to atrophy along with the rest of their bodies as they age, until not much worthwhile of anything remains. For others, they are at their peak of wisdom in their senior years.

Research is even taking place now to see if Alzheimer's Disease may be prevented or slowed considerably in people with very active brains. My grandfather died of Alzheimer's and I watched him decline to becoming a baby in an ancient body. I don't intend to allow myself to go that way.

OK, the light has turned green. Get thinking. Wise up!

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how, what and when to teach children what they need to know to lead fulfilling and fruitful lives, right to their dying day.
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Friday, September 21, 2007

How So Many People Screw Up Their Lives

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One day at a time- this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.
- Ida Scott Taylor, author

While this sounds like an advertisement for existentialism or nihilism, it was not intended that way. Mrs. Taylor is concerned that so many people dwell on the hurts of the past or work so hard for benefits in the future that they miss living today.

If you are not one of those, how fortunate you are.

Carrying around the hurts of your past is literally like carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's the weight of your world, a world that no longer exists. The rest of humanity has moved on. Most never knew about your problem in the first place and don't care about it now. Whoever hurt you very likely is not suffering in the slightest.

Then there are the workaholics who invest their lives in a future they seldom accept has arrived. They become so accustomed to working continuously that they can't break out of the habit. For them, the future they work so hard to achieve never arrives. What they manage to do is to spend some of the money they have accumulated to buy ostentatious toys and decorations for themselves and for those who will be generous enough to show their love and admiration for them.

Almost inevitably, these people raise children who follow the same habits and hold the same values as theirs. Kids tend to become like their parents because their parents are usually the only full role models they have to follow.

In the Canadian province where I live, I drive past many properties whose main feature outside of the houses is grass. How beautiful and aromatic is the scent of grass? It's a weed that has been selected by rich people who own mansions as a way to cover endless amounts of land without bothering with flowers, decorative shrubs or trees.

We have parks filled with grass, most of which have signs telling people to stay off it. Heaven forbid the most boring plant on the face of the planet should die under the footsteps of people enjoying themselves with some form of entertainment other than admiring their lawns or cutting them.

People, kids and adults alike, are much more likely to find creative things to do on dirt than on grass. Grass is--at least to those of us who live in North America--the ultimate way to beautifying property.

Grass is not for living today but for having neighbours and family admire it. In fact, nobody cares about anyone's grass but their own. But we don't acknowledge that hypocrisy.

How can you live today? I don't want to answer that question for you. For many people living for today means shopping.

No one ever got to heaven by shopping. I can't say that for certain, but it seems like a safe guess. Shopping is perceived as "fun" by those who have been brainwashed by industries--primarily in the fashion and cosmetics fields--whose very existence is based on selling people stuff they don't need.

Those who spend time working in their gardens, hiking in the wilderness or trying to accomplish something no one has done before know how to live for today. Just working to improve yourself so that you are better at something than you used to be is a way of living for today.

Remember this: to live for today we don't need to spend our money, we need to invest our time wisely.

Money is not the treasure. Time is our only treasure. The only time we know anything about for certain is now.

If this means something to you, you have just invested your last few minutes wisely.

Congratulations! Now move on.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to invest your time with your children and grandchildren wisely, in ways they will appreciate and remember for the rest of their own lives.
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Educated Rant: Paris Hilton, Successful Disgrace

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"Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit."
- Conrad Hilton

Paris Hilton seems to have adopted the Hilton maxim. Look how successful she is.
If that seemed like a criticism, it wasn't. Paris Hilton knows what she wants--fame--and she gets it. As Conrad (great grandfather of Paris) recommended, she keeps moving, keeps doing things that keep her in the news. Fame and glamour are what she wants and she has been extremely successful at getting it.

Over the past several decades, primarily before the 1990s, citizens of western world countries were taught that by now we would have ample amounts of leisure time in which to amuse ourselves or to be amused. We wouldn't be short of money because technology would make our lives so simple that we could earn more than enough to keep us in luxury by working only two or three days a week.

Corporations latched onto that idea and began to provide us with things to do that would occupy our time even before our working hours and days were reduced. We got television, then videos, now movies and TV programs on our cell phones if we want them. We liked it. We cottoned onto the easy life.

We spent hours every day sitting in front of the tube, watching mindless pap that amused us but kept us from thinking. The appetites we had from our days of high activity remained with us while our energy expenditure decreased greatly. Some of us saved that extra energy intake on our bellies, our thighs and our butts.

Though we had the start of the life of leisure, we didn't manage to get the extra time off work. Some of us realized that not only was extra time off not coming, but if we wanted to have more of the luxuries that were offered we had to work longer hours to earn more income. Today some of us work 60, even 80 or 90 hour weeks.

Didn't that affect our family lives? Sure, but they were falling apart anyway. We learned how to relax to excess or to work to excess to earn more money, but we didn't know what to do with raising kids. That was OK because they no longer wanted to have much to do with us. We didn't talk because we didn't have interests in common. The kids developed their own dialect with words we parents didn't understand. That wasn't so bad because most parents didn't want to know what their kids were talking about.

We all kept moving, kept making mistakes, kept forging our lives wherever they were bound to lead us. Conrad would have been proud of us.

Maybe not proud of Paris or her sister Nicky. But then, our kids are like Paris and Nicky too, to some extent. Too many of them.

Conrad Hilton got what he wanted. He became one of the richest men in the world. Paris got what she wanted, fame and notoriety (it went with the task of getting news coverage daily). What did we get?

We got broken families. In many classrooms today no more than 25 percent of the students live with both their birth parents. We got drugs. We got teen suicide at unprecedented levels. We got murder so common that radio and television stations don't even report them any more.

We got gangs that didn't replace the former underworld of organized crime, but added to it. We got depression so common that it's almost a social disease. We got road rage and office rage. We got school shootings. We got dependency on prescribed drugs, therapists, so many people with unfit brains that they can't all be kept in institutions.

And we call ourselves successful. Political conservatives say that our social problems are nothing more than side effects of our enormous success as a society. They don't mind having to take Prozac to come down and Viagra to get up.

They also say that the rest of the world envies us because of our wealth. It doesn't. The rest of the world hates us (or at least thinks we are a poison to humanity) because we have sold our souls to the devil. Or to Toyota, the drug manufacturers and political spinmeisters who can convince us that anything their candidate does is just grand.

There is one thing we missed out on in our quest for heaven on earth. The ability to think. We allowed ourselves to have it programmed out of us.

Why do so many teens do stupid things? They want to object to the unconscionable realities that we have accepted for ourselves and want to impose on them. They aren't brain dead yet, so they keep kicking as long as they can.

Who's to blame? That's another thing we adopted, a penchant for always blaming others for our mistakes. Guess what? It doesn't matter who is to blame. What matters is if we and enough others like us want to make our lives and the lives of our children, grandchildren and the people of the rest of the world better.

We can only begin with teaching children. That's how it works. From the day they are born they are clay models we mold, day by day, incident by incident, neglected or rejected moment by neglected or rejected moment. They become what we make them, one way or another. They have no innate abilities to become anything else.

We need to start teaching children properly. Not reading and writing, since those are already taught in schools. We need to teach them how to grow to become competent and confident adults.

We can't do that as it is now because most of us don't know how. If we did, we would have been teaching them. We need to teach young adults and teens how to be good parents, how to provide what their children of the future will need, when they need it and how they need it to be fed to them.

Don't stop moving on this when you finish reading this article. Talk it up among your neighbors and family, your workmates and fellow churchgoers, at your Home and School gatherings and political meetings.

Get something started. Nothing will improve without you. There aren't very many of us yet who know what we need. Remember, the conservatives are trying to tell us that everything's all right, that the universe is unfolding as it should. We need to tell them and everyone else that it isn't.

We need to begin teaching our children properly. Today.

Do your part. Keeping talking about it. We need to help each other through a tough transition period.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about what children need to learn and when and who should teach it. And it has guides for teachers and parents who influence our kids the most.
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Monday, September 17, 2007

Imagine Donald Trump Or Conrad Black...

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Be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.
- Wilfred Peterson, author

To some this quote will sound like a load of namby-pamby crap for addle-brained self-delusional wimps. As it happens, this article is about them. Not for them because they believe that everything is right with the world as they see it.

We have two kinds of people who live with more than their share of fear. One acknowledges it, the other pretends it doesn't exist.

We're more than familiar with the phobias, such as claustrophobia and agoraphobia. We're a little less familiar with those people who live in fear of failure, or being hurt or of being criticized. They're around us but we don't see much of this fear because they learn to disguise it well.

What few of us may realize is that the people who seem least afraid of anything, who act aggressively, who bully others and who actively and consciously try to put down or defeat others as signs of their own power have their own fears.

The greatest of their fears is that they may be found out. Found out about being inadequate, incompetent or unprepared for whatever task they must do. To compensate for this fear they overdo behaviour in the opposite direction. They act the exact opposite of what they feel deep inside.

They exude confidence--even overconfidence--between bouts of aggressive behaviour, but it's more bravado than reality. Mostly this gives them time to figure out who to blame for the next thing that goes wrong.

They always blame others for what goes wrong. Not only do they not admit ever having done anything wrong, the ones who are better at covering their true selves refuse to address the possibility that they have done something wrong. They won't even talk about it.

Witness some politicians when appearing in court, or civil servants appearing in front of a committee of government. The upper level ones act as if its beneath them to have to be there, let alone consider the possibility that they have done something wrong. Their underlings or associates always did whatever is wrong, if anything.

Big business executives who act arrogant enough that we think they must eat razor blades for breakfast are really like soured butterscotch pudding inside. The longer they are able to act that way, the deeper those true feelings sink. They actually convince themselves that they are as superior to the rest of the world as they act.

You don't have to imagine Donald Trump in front of a criminal court when told he is guilty of something ("You're fired!"). We have (former) Canadian executive--now a British Lord--Conrad Black whose trial is still going on in Chicago as of this writing. The man acts as if he can't even imagine why anyone think he has done anything wrong.

Bigots are nothing more than bullies that don't want to get their hands dirty. Advocates of political correctness, for the most part, are bigots with polished shoes and expensive hairdos. They act as if they are better than the common rabble because they have convinced themselves they are. Their act covers their insecurities, their fears.

The last thing these people could do is what Wilfred Peterson advised, to love themselves. Mostly they love money or power, or both. Secretly they hate themselves, though they would never admit this, even to their therapists.

Now you know those hubris-filled arrogant windbags that act superior deep down believe that they must never allow themselves to have their china faces crack or they will reveal their core of slimy mush.

Feel better? I do now that I have that out. But I need to rinse out my mouth to get the bad taste out. I'd rather think about pleasant people who love themselves.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to give children the knowledge and skills they need so that they don't turn to anti-social activities and behaviour in reaction to their ignorance and unfulfilled needs.
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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Making Your Dreams Into Reality

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We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
- Martin Luther King

Mr. King was not just an inspired speaker, he was inspiring in his use of the language. Disappointment we can expect, he said, but we must strive to always have hope.
Hope is one of the most inspiring words we have. It makes people feel good. However, it does very little except that.

When you have hope, you know what you want of life. Even if it seems to be out of reach, you have an objective in mind. That's the first and most important step in any change you can make in your life. You need to know where you want to go, what you want to accomplish, who you want to be before you can put into place any changes that might help you to get there.

Hope alone won't do it. Hope is the end of the line for lazy people and those who are frightened to make changes in their lives.

Hope accomplishes nothing except to give us a temporary boost of dopamine into our brain to make us feel good. Actually implementing the changes necessary to achieve the goals of our hope takes a great deal of commitment, a lot of hard work, determination to get through the rough patches that inevitably arise and persistence in ensuring that we become the person we want to be.

That last part may have surprised you if you expected me to say "where you want to be." The change happens first within your own mind, not where you body is located. You must live the role you want to play in your new life before it becomes a reality.

If you want to live in a better place than you do now, you must prepare. The new location may have no reliable source of income for you (a common characteristic of places that are healthier, friendlier and safer to live). You may have to rethink what you can do to earn a living. That may require new skills, some study at a college, joining some groups of people who have as hobbies what you want to do for a living and getting to know what life is really like where you aspire to live.

There will be sacrifices to make if you want change. You can't expect a new community to bend around you to accommodate someone who doesn't want to learn anything new or to do anything differently.

A change of lifestyle means a change of life. First that means some learning. Then the big decision and the commitment to never look back.

Will you have to sacrifice your family and friends? Maybe. People who moved to the New World in the Americas did that, believing that their new life would offer them more than the one they chose to leave behind. But today the internet and a headset allows you to speak to anyone, almost anywhere on the planet, for nothing or almost nothing, every day if you want. Likely more often than you speak on the phone now to those people.

A web cam lets you transmit pictures of yourself speaking and another allows you to see the person you are speaking to in realtime (as each of you speaks).

If you can get along without the hugs of the people you leave behind, at least for most of the time, you can find a better place where you can have new friends that will hug you even more. And actually care for you. People who will be happy to stop and chat with you on the street, who will help you with a flat tire or to find yourself a dentist.

Does it sound as if I am being very specific about something? That's because my wife and I have just been through this process. In a few months we will activate our plan and move to what we believe is the best possible place in the world for us to live. I have been through the process. I lived the dream. I acted on it to make it happen.

Where will we move? I won't tell you that. It's our dream. Find your own dream and make it happen.

Be prepared to work hard to make it happen. Be prepared to cut a few ties to make even better ones happen.

If you have the hope and the determination, you have the ability within you.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to make big changes happen by making small manageable changes one at a time. Think big, act on a small scale.
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

From Frankenstein To Our Children

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I am malicious because I am miserable. ... If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them a hundred and a hundred fold(words of Frankenstein "monster").
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author (1797-1851)

People are miserable. Some can be malicious. Perhaps fewer are malicious or miserable today than in Mary Shelley's day, but we still encounter lots of them if we meet many people over a period of time.

I think of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation as two sides of the personalities of everyone. In other words, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are metaphors for ourselves, much like Jekyll and Hyde of another story. We each have the potential to be creative on the one hand and destructive and malicious on the other.

While we may think of the Frankenstein story as early science fiction, the concept of doctors assembling body parts into whole beings in their dark cellars during the night was not beyond the imagination of the people of Mary Shelley's time. Medical researchers were known to hire impoverished labourers to bring poor people who died "anonymously" to them for dissection as study subjects for anatomy purposes.

In those days the components of the human body that could not be seen and what each did were mysteries known to very few, including medical "professionals" who were more like snake oil salesmen than healers. In turn, stories of what research went on in hidden places after dark abounded, though few had any real knowledge of what was taking place because it was illegal, thus kept secret.

Today we have a much clearer idea of what happens in research facilities, don't we? No, of course we don't. Most of us would shake in horror if we knew the number of animals that die in captivity, undergoing all the non-human experiments that take place for years before apparently good versions of new drugs hit the market.

We trust that researchers may be assembling living creatures using genetic material, but not by sewing together body parts spirited away from graveyards at night to make monsters. The monsters exist among us, nonetheless, in more conventional forms.

We have unprecedented numbers of road rage, office rage, murder, use of illegal drugs, alcoholism, physical abuse and other nasty social problems we prefer to avoid thinking about. At any given time of any day or night, someone in every large city commits an atrocity befitting that of Frankenstein's monster. While the numbers of these incidents in rural areas are naturally lower, the rates in proportion to the population are often higher than in cities.

We live in much more peaceful environments today, in general, than our ancestors. Only a few problems are worse than in their day. However, the ones that are worse seem to have no cure, other than to catch the perpetrators and put them into prison.

As societies, we have yet to mature to the point where we believe that growing people who do not feel the need to commit social abuses is better than allowing them to develop unprepared for the rigours of today's world and imprisoning them after the fact.

We only need to turn our attention to our children to see how social problems develop. Today we have fewer couples in the western world who choose to have children and more who have pets they treat as children. Oddly, the pets are better protected from abuse by the law than are children. Perhaps not so oddly, many parents see their roles as modellers of the next generation as similar to the roles pet owners play with their animals.

We have schools and books and web sites galore to explain to eager pet owners what they should be doing to provide the best living environments for their animals. While we have as many books and web sites for parents, we have many more children than pets and most parents are blissfully unaware of the information available to help them.

Children are not little dolls that we should keep "as innocent as possible for as long as possible." The whole purpose of human children having a long period of development intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally is that they need guidance for 20 years or so to prepare them for adulthood. It's a steep enough learning curve under the best of circumstances. Nature provided for that.
Children learn every waking hour of their lives. If they are not provided with a stimulating and fruitful learning environment for long periods of time, they act the way pets do when they are ignored for too long. They misbehave.

This may be a shocking revelation for many parents, but here it is: no child wants to misbehave. They misbehave as their way of showing us that we have not done our jobs of guiding them and providing what they need.

Some parents say "Oh, he's only crying (or screaming) to get attention." Their response to that is to ignore the expression the child has given of his need for attention. That may be the stupidest thing a person can do.

We have a basic need for touch, for example. It's an enormous need, almost as important as the need for food and shelter. Kids who don't get hugged or touched in a loving way enough grow up to have problems. Lack of knowledge about the need for touch is just the start.

We train doctors, lawyers and other professionals for many years to become competent at what we ask them to do. Parenting, a far more critical human task than that of any professional, gets zero training. All two people need is to have sex. We teach kids that on television.

I have yet to see a soap opera that teaches good parenting skills. They don't even teach good relationship skills and that's what soap operas are about. A few of the more popular situation comedies have demonstrated good parenting skills in recent years. We need more.

We have good programs about parenting on specialty channels, but few watch them. We need to have real life situation programs on television and in movies that show not how to kill the bad guys or to put them in prison, but how to grow kids who don't need either. As television writers have proven (Seinfelt above all), writers can write good programs with lots of humour while covering whatever subject (or nothing, in the case of Seinfelt) they want to discuss.

Have you ever wondered why you were born, what your purpose is in life? If you are a parent and you do it poorly, then you miss your most important purpose. Every living being looks after its young. Almost every one does it better, in general, than us humans. The most important function of every living thing is to raise new generations of its own kind to succeed in a rough world.

Let's turn our attention to young children and see more than little laughing, screaming, pooping dolls. Every parent needs to know much more than we are teaching them. We shouldn't need to live to be grandparents to learn what we needed to know to be good parents.

Please speak up. Our children need your voice.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about what children need and a plan for how to teach parents and teachers how to provide for those needs.
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Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, God, We're Screwed!

A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
- Robert Quillen, journalist and cartoonist (1887-1948)

What if Quillen is right? What if the only way to have a lasting marriage is to forgive everything your partner does that offends you?

Ah, but the problem today isn't quite that simple. In the past people who got married usually had similar goals in life, similar expectations of each other and of their neighbours, and the belief that (come what may) when the rough times came they had to work through their problems together or die trying.

Today we have people getting married or living common law who have no intention of having a family, children who would carry on their name, their values and their memories into succeeding generations. Marriage vows should be changed from "Til death us do part" to "Until we get tired of each other, take different directions in our lives, can't stand each other or can't figure out how to solve the problems we created."

People get married who have no idea what each other's goals in life are, have little idea of what is important to their mate, have limited skills with which to cope with the vagaries that face every couple over the years and certainly don't want to have to tolerate the "bad times" that used to be referred to in the marriage vows of old.

More and more choose to avoid having children. Others go ahead with having kids because they realize that we have to continue the species and reproduction is the only way. Having made that decision, they begin child rearing using the trial and error, hunt and peck, method. They have little idea what children need, when they need it and how children develop in various ways.

They grow. They learn to walk and talk. We give them lots of toys. They learn to read (somehow). They go to school or nursery school and we dump the job of really raising the kids on the teachers and caregivers there.

Intellectual development they understand. Physical development too. Social and emotional development--if they aren't keeping pace with the other two the others slow down and the kids get into trouble--they know nothing about. Many even lack knowledge of the basic needs of kids other than food, clothing, shelter and toys.

One of the key reasons why marriages fall apart today is that the parents have no idea of what is involved with parenting or child development. In the past people had neighbours they went to church with, worked with, chatted with in the stores and visited with at parties and other social occasions to act as advisers and to provide some adult lessons to the children themselves. Today most of those social ties of old are gone. Kids learn by watching adults around them.

Life and marriage in the western world today are more like business arrangements than emotional commitment. If you don't like it, change it.

Now don't misunderstand. If people have problems, change is needed. However, without the skills to negotiate their way through their troubled times, many people simply resort to separation and divorce as the only route they understand for change. Subsequently, many of the now-single parents live in poverty because they can't afford to support two households.

I don't believe that so many people divorce because they want to live in poverty, or alone, or with someone else they eventually can't get along with. They just don't have the skills or resources to work their way through their problems. They "drift apart" because they haven't bothered to find out what direction their mate was headed. They have no idea how to get back on the same track.

Maybe they're too busy with work. Or with watching television. Or with using their computer. Or with an addiction they turned to when nothing else gave them any relief from their misery and anxiety.

Ask most young parents today what their objectives are for their children and the two most likely answers are "I want them to be happy" and "I want them to have good jobs." Schools teach kids how to get the jobs. No one teaches them how to be happy. What the kids learn is how to make money. Making money becomes the life objective for many of them because they don't have any other they have been taught.

"Taught," there's the key. Parenting is about raising a child to become a competent and confident adult, no matter what occupation they may choose. Schools teach skills necessary for the job. Neither the kids nor the parents can be happy if neither knows what happiness really is. Going to Disney World? Shopping? Smoking pot? Racing around the natural world, destroying it in machines that do nothing but relieve the needs of the drivers for a feeling of power, of being in control?
I'm not about to provide answers here. To provide answers, someone must have asked the questions first. Someone needs to care that things are very wrong and we are doing little about it other than train therapists, hire police and build prisons.

No one is asking because we have all been taught to believe that we should be happy with our fine incomes, our big homes (twice as big as 50 years ago according to a recent study), our carbon monoxide-chugging SUVs and our $200 runners.

We have been trained, by industry, by television and by our schools, to be stupid. To be followers who never ask questions. To be consumers. To raise more consumers. And to never question why we never learned the skills of life.

We can't change anything until enough people accept that something is wrong and speak up to their friends and social groups about it.

Are we afraid of being ostracized by the majority of establishment followers? Of course. That's what the establishment has taught us. We fear being different.

But not everyone wants to be a stupid follower. There are others. You may be one of them, I am too. And many people will read this and agree.

Understand that we are all stupid in many ways. We specialize in our jobs so much and work such long hours at them that we know very little about most other subjects. High school dropouts often have a better general knowledge base and understanding of how to work their way through problems than doctors, lawyers, engineers and preachers.

The only way to make anything happen is to work together. That requires us to ask questions so we can learn more.

Okay, let's talk about it and get something started.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to formulate the plan and how to implement it without a revolution or going broke. It's amazingly cheap. And people know about it around the world. Catch up now.
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

You Can Make A Difference Easier Than You think

Please read the signature line at the end of the article about a book you should read and a worldwide plan to make the world a safer and healthier place to live.
Learn more about the book and the plan at

Deeds, not stones, are the true monuments of the great.
- John L. Motley, American historian and diplomat (1814-1877)

Motley needed to use the word "great" to have his words get noticed. (People used to love that adjective in his time.) That doesn't mean the advice doesn't work for everyone.

People may not read about your great deeds 1000 years from now. Then again, few of us read about the deeds of great people of the past who lived 1000 years ago. None of them had a monument built to them in their lifetime.

When you think about the names of people you do know who lived 1000 years ago or more, those whose lives are recorded in history books, not that many of them were warriors. Most were scholars, thinkers, people who explored with their minds. They were people who looked at the same things as everyone else, but saw something different.

Then they wrote about what they saw or thought. Some of them became famous only after the printing press was invented, centuries after their deaths.

Socrates never committed a word to paper (papyrus) so far as we know. He just taught. He taught his students to think critically, to consider all possible sides to any point of discussion, and to reach conclusions they could support. He also taught them to speak their minds, a practice he followed himself until the Senate invited him to snuff out his own life or they would have to accommodate him themselves.

You don't have to be great in your lifetime to be considered great afterwards. The men who are known today as St. Nicholas and St. Valentine were appreciated by a few of those they helped, but they certainly weren't heroes in their time.

If you don't feel competent to think great thoughts--it doesn't take an expert or scholar, only someone who studies a topic intensely--you can do great deeds. You can help others. Considering how rarely we see people going to great lengths to help others today, a great wealth of people needing help awaits anyone who wants to accept the challenge.

Maybe you won't receive the key to your city or a Medal of Honor, but you will be remembered. People today tell many stories of strangers who paused in their busy lives to help them. When the keys to the city and medals are gone and forgotten, the good deeds get passed along, often for many generations.

The holy men in whose names we celebrate today at Christmas with gifts and feasting and on February 14th never could have imagined how their deeds of help would be remembered through history. They just did them at the time because other people needed a hand with some things they couldn't cope with on their own.

That's not hard. Look around you.

Memory of good deeds you have done will be a greater monument to you through history than anything of stone that anyone might build.

More importantly, the receivers of your good deeds will want to do something good for other people. Maybe without even knowing why.

You will have made a difference.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to make a difference in many lives by teaching children what they need to know before they need it and before they get into trouble because they don't have what they need.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Here's How To Solve Your Problems

Please read the signature line at the end of the article about a book you should read and a worldwide plan to make the world a safer and healthier place to live. Learn more about the book and the plan at

Never make a defense or an apology until you are accused.
- King Charles I, of England

Wasn't Charles beheaded? Maybe he would reconsider this statement and his policy if given the opportunity.

His intention was to avoid bringing attention to something that others may never find out about. Heaven forbid the king (or anyone) should admit making an error or a bad decision before it's absolutely necessary.

It could, so the thinking goes, raise more problems than it might solve to admit to something or to offer a defence for something that no one knows about ahead of time. This policy has been adopted fully by both business and politicians in modern times. Never let them see you blink. Or sweat.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that it only lasts just so long until the entire system breaks down because too many people are hiding too much information for fear that they will be punished. Does the concept of "hiding too much" ring any bells? If not you haven't been paying attention to the news for the past decade or more.

You may have experienced this yourself, if you have siblings, when something goes wrong as children the first kid who gets to tell his story to mom first is believed while the other(s) almost always get blamed, punished or suffer in some way.

That includes admitting to having done something wrong so that you get to offer an explanation before being caught or before a brother or sister tattles on you. The first one to tell their story to mom usually gets off scot free. No one has a good explanation for this, except that it's human nature.

This "first to tell mom" thing doesn't just work for kids. It works for adults too if they know how to use the method properly.

Politicians about to be charged by police will often confess to something less serious and ask for the understanding of the public and their supporters for having foolishly committed some illegal act. The right sympathy act works so well that some return to the political arena, absolved of their sins, and get themselves re-elected.

Who will be treated more severely, the spouse who confesses an indiscretion to the other spouse and asks forgiveness or the one who is caught red-handed? Neither will turn out well, but one clearly will have less severe consequences.

In the case of a sexual affair, I must wonder why the spouse whose sexual needs have not been satisfied doesn't discuss the problem with the other spouse and turn to a professional, if necessary, to help resolve their problem. Not a hooker, I didn't mean that kind of professional.

Marriage was never intended to be a commitment to sexual abstinence, though that often happens in marriages, often resulting in divorce. Talking or counselling might avoid the whole problem, but people are afraid to admit that they have sexual needs that their partner isn't satisfying. So they look elsewhere and feel hurt--and hurt the other--when they get caught.

The best way to head off a problem of guilt is to avoid committing the guilty act in the first place. Most times the only way to do that is to discuss the problem with the other party. That other party could be a boss, a neighbour, a workmate, a fellow worshipper, another club member, just about anyone.

Talking works. It avoids personal conflicts and hurt feelings as much as it avoids wars. Wars almost always result when the talking stops or when one party to a negotiation deceives the other while pretending to discuss peace--as the Japanese did prior to Pearl Harbor.

Some people say that compromise is a form of losing. Those people experience many conflicts. They are the people who start wars.

Compromise, usually called negotiation, is a form of peacemaking. Anyone who equates making peace with losing is severely emotionally underdeveloped.

Peace never comes to those who will not talk about the problem. Peace never comes to those who do not understand the problem. Not understanding the full extent of a problem often happens to those who will not discuss it with the others involved because they only know one side of the problem, their own. Every problem has more than one side, more than way of assessing the "facts."

Peace, be it personal or at the international level, isn't a difficult concept to achieve. However, it does require the use of words. And thought, tolerance and understanding. It also requires a level of strength as wimps seldom get what they want. Even wimps can learn strength through discussion.

The first step to solving a major problem is to admit that the two (or more) parties have the problem. When that part if out in the open, the biggest step toward solution has been taken.

Then keep talking about it until everyone agrees to a solution. Remember, juries don't come out of their seclusion having beaten each other up and they rarely come out without a unanimous decision.

Talking works. It's for people with hearts.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach important concepts like peace, good, right and wrong to children.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Did The Impossible! So there

Do just once what others say you can't do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.
- James R. Cook

That's not to say that people will stop telling you that you can't do things. They won't stop. However, what they really mean when they tell you that you can't do something is usually that they can't imagine themselves doing whatever it is. The limitations they accept for themselves become those they want to impose on others.

The most common form of limitation that people try to impose on others is "You're too stupid to do that." Quite apart from the fact that such a put-down is a power killer comment used by people who want to control another person, it's dreadfully and egregiously wrong.

While some things that people want to do may be physically impossible, or impossible at this time due to the fact that they depend on technology that doesn't exist now, most things that people tell others they are too stupid to do, they aren't.

In the first six years of our lives we develop certain brain patterns, neuronal pathways we use repeatedly to do both the regular activities we participate in each day and those exceptional ones we find ourselves in occasionally. That is, we learn not just how to brush our teeth, but certain skills that come in handy when we play Hide-n-Seek or learn to use a computer.

For the next five years, roughly until age eleven, we continue to have extraordinary learning ability for certain things, such as language. Learning a new language after age 11 comes with greater difficulty and the refinements of speech pronunciation may be mastered by very few over the age of 11 years.

So it is that by the latter years of grade school some teachers and parents have pretty well given up on some children who seem incapable of doing some tasks that others have learned easily by that time. Since children depend on their parents and teachers to such a huge degree for more years than that (even teenagers claim that their most important source of information is their parents, according to studies conducted in Canada in 1991 and 2001), kids often give up on themselves because they accept the judgments of those who teach them.

I had the extraordinary disadvantage/advantage of having been taught almost nothing by my parents before I began school at age six. Consequently, my cognitive abilities were severely impaired and underdeveloped compared to those of my peers. My physical, social and emotional development were hugely underdeveloped as well due to extreme isolation, but that's another story. I couldn't read when my classmates learned in the primary grades.

I could barely recognize a few hundred words by seventh grade when I took an IQ test with my classmates. I completed less than half the test (I couldn't read most of the questions) but did very well on what I had completed. My teacher and the school administration labelled me lazy because I had not finished the test. That label followed me through high school and appeared on reports and in oral discussions with my parents until I left high school. It never occurred to anyone that I couldn't read.

I gained marvellously useful survival skills with schoolwork, such that I graduated from a three year college course and subsequently received an undergraduate degree from a university (York) and a graduate degree (M.Ed from Toronto) while still being effectively functionally illiterate. I never read a prescribed text, never even bought one. I couldn't read them. I could, however, read enough of snippets from library books to find text to quote for papers and I thought through the subject matter to compose the rest.

Only in my early forties did I force myself to learn to read. A decade later I figured out that I needed to be able to write as well. That took many years, as it does for everyone who writes well.

The point is that I was a functionally illiterate adult who could neither read nor write much before the age of 45. Could I survive in the real world? Yes, it would seem. My entire teaching career with grade school children took place before I reached age 45. Almost every child who left my class read very well for his or her age. They all liked school.

If this story seems unlikely, it's because you have accepted limitations on people that may not be valid. Maybe on yourself as well.

I wrote a book too, one that has been read today on six continents. It's about a subject that few believe there are solutions for: community problems and personal problems of a social/psychological nature. I wrote it before anyone told me solutions were impossible. Now many people don't know what to do with easy solutions that others don't even know exist.

Neo conservatives told me these problems are natural consequences of an advanced society, that we just need to hire more police and judges, build more prisons and courtrooms, train more psychologists to keep up with the proliferation of law breakers. I find their ignorance shocking, especially as it impedes the progress of humanity.

After writing the first draft of the book, a friend who read the manuscript told me that the plan would never work. Many others had exclaimed about how brilliant and innovative it was. That one naysayer acted as the motivation I needed to spur me to do rewrites, to follow through with changes from editors and other professionals and to complete the work.

In other words, I used the claim of limitations by one person as motivation for me to complete the plan that he said was impossible. I didn't believe him as I might have in the past. I used his doubt as stimulus to prepare an even better book. Resistance is necessary for progress. Nothing slides easily uphill.

Anyone of any age can do anything they want with their mind, if they have the desire, the determination and the belief that they can do it.

And if they ignore others who say they can't do it. Or use the words of the doubters as motivation to make their plan work.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to make the impossible happen. And a plan to implement it around the world. Plus it has guides for parents and teachers.
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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Overcoming Our Greatest Enemy

Never fear shadows. They simply mean that there's a light somewhere nearby.
- Ruth E. Renkei

The content of this quote is almost a metaphor for the lives of many people. They work long hours because they fear poverty. They eat too much because they fear starvation. They get married because they fear being alone. On balance it doesn't make sense, but fear never does.

The association of shadows and fear is a good one. The thing about shadows is that they can easily be made to disappear by producing light. Fear can also be made to lessen considerably when we shine a light on it.

We don't necessarily want fear to disappear completely because some degree of caution is necessary to avoid tragedy.

Like many people, I am afraid of heights. However, I have been up the CN Tower in Toronto, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York. When we bought a lakefront cottage with a fireplace, it became necessary to climb onto the roof to clean the chimney. The need to complete that task regularly motivated me up the ladder the first time. Subsequently it became easier and I don't think about it today.

I had to clean out the eaves troughs (gutters) in our two story house, which meant climbing over 20 feet to reach them. My ladder was a bit too short, being only 20 feet itself, but I thought I could get close enough to reach over the eves and remove the leaf litter. The farther I got up that ladder, the more my heart began to jump around in my chest.

A neighbour suggested that I might want to use his longer ladder so I could get up beside the eves troughs. Not wanting to reveal my fear of heights to him, I borrowed his ladder and found that I could get up high enough to do the job. Not only was I motivated to do the messy cleaning job, but it turned out that my problem was not heights so much as my claustrophobia kicking in as I climbed closer to the wall using my own ladder.

While I was thinking about my fear of heights, I couldn't climb high enough. When I thought about a necessary cleaning job, I had motivation. When I realized that it was claustrophobia, not fear of heights, that held me back at first, I was able to climb where I needed to go. Eliminating the claustrophobia as a factor, the job became easier.

I don't have a problem with elevators and I could remain quiet in a small closet for hours if someone were searching the house to separate me from my life. In each case, I shine a light on that shadow of fear (claustrophobia) by finding a motivator to focus on instead of my fear.

When we focus on fear, on the shadows, all we see are the shadows. We empower our own fear by giving it our attention. If we look for the light or turn on a light ourselves, the shadows disappear, or at least lessen greatly.

There is nothing pretty about fear in any form. However, it helps to remember that fear is entirely imposed on ourselves by ourselves. Rarely (except in movies and at theme parks) is fear imposed on us. Even in movies and at theme parks we choose to frighten ourselves. Real fear is like burying ourselves alive.

Fear not only reduces our ability to enjoy life, it's harmful to life. We can only stand epinephrine (aka Adrenalin) rushing through our bodies as we experience fear just so long until our immune system is compromised. That's like making ourselves open to attack from then-lethal microbes. If our immune system is compromised, we have little protection or defences against germs that could destroy us.

Fear is learned. We often don't know where or how we adopted a particular kind of fear. But because it's learned, it can be unlearned. We usually learn fears as children. Unlearning of those same fears often must take place when we are adults. Learning of any kind is harder for adults, so unlearning fear (a different kind of learning) is harder than learning it in the first place. But it can be done.

The first step is to shine a light on the shadow that is our fear. Whatever the fear is, we need to admit it to ourselves, and maybe to others if they matter. Deciding to eliminate the fear is the first step. Following through with the decision is the hardest part.

We wouldn't accept being imprisoned by a spouse, a parent, a neighbour or a stranger. That would be inhumane, a violation of our basic human rights. But fear has us imprisoning ourselves. We need to be as determined and as vigilant about freeing ourselves from our adopted fear as we would be about freeing ourselves from imprisonment by another person.

Say to yourself "I am not afraid of ....... I can do this. I am taking control of myself. I am the boss of myself." Repeat it until it becomes a part of your being, an integral part of your life. Especially say it when you don't have occasion to be afraid of whatever it is. Only when the occasion is not upon you will you be able to adopt the new way of thinking and acting. And only when you repeat the message many times over many days.

Repeat it a few times before you do what you must, what you were formerly afraid to do. Be sure you have motivation for doing it first. You can think about your motivator as you do whatever caused you fear before. Focus on it.

Do it. Then be proud of yourself. You have overcome the most powerful enemy you will ever have.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to master your own life and help others with their own. Most importantly, it's about how to help children grow into well balanced, competent, confident and unafraid adults.
Learn more at

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Greatness: It's Not About Killing Any More

Please read the signature line at the end of the article about a book you should read and a worldwide plan to make the world a safer and healthier place to live. Learn more about the book and the plan at

Those who occupy their minds with small matters, generally become incapable of greatness.
- Francois De La Rochefoucauld

Let's begin with the declaration that most people have no idea what greatness is in reference to people. They accept what they have been told by others, usually by the media or history books, and embrace it as their own.

Alexander of Macedonia, son of Philip of Macedonia, is known as Alexander The Great because he conquered the known world of his time. He conquered Egypt, Greece and Persia, then crapped out when he reached India and died shortly thereafter. (Nothing west of Greece was important to the world in his time, apparently.) He is known as Alexander The Great, so he must be great. "Everyone" says so, right?

What made Alexander great? Military victory. Julius Caesar is known as a great man because he conquered Gaul and defeated the fractious leaders of Rome to take control himself. Sir Winston Churchill was great because he led Great Britain through the darkest days of the Second World War, encouraging the British people to hold on until the Americans arrived to provide substance to a swindling Allied military.

Virtually all of the people known as great men of the western world were successful military leaders. Even Napoleon Bonaparte, who lost control as often as he gained it, is usually considered great because he led his followers to victory after victory until he became emperor of France.

Very few women of history have earned the accolade of greatness because few engaged in war until recently. Joan of Arc came closest, but she died at age 19 so she didn't have time to win many wars.

Was Socrates great? The Ancient Athenian philosopher, teacher of Plato and Xenophon (470-399 BC), never committed a word to paper (or papyrus) so far as we know. If it hadn't been for Plato we would know nothing about Socrates (nor about Atlantis, but that's another story). Was the first great philosopher a great man, or just great within his particular field?

How about Marie Curie, who won two Nobel Prizes, or Jonas Salk, who created the vaccine against polio?

We have trouble with the concept of greatness in terms of people today because the world is in a state of transition. Before the middle of the 20th century, what was considered most important in the world--thus what was recorded in history books and taught in history classes--was military strength and victory.

After the Suez crisis in 1954, when the world learned that war could be avoided through planning and negotiation (thanks to Canadian Lester Pearson, another Nobel winner), we lost our taste for war as the primary answer to everything. True, wars and genocides have continued since that time, but they happen less frequently now and they are generally frowned upon by the world community. Nations that continue to identify themselves with war are considered brutal or bullies these days in international forums.

Without success in battle, we aren't certain what we should use to measure greatness. We look to movie stars, chess champions, medical wunderkinds and the like, but we have yet to establish new definitions for greatness, for who should be our heroes.

It's harder than ever to be a hero these days. The faults and follies of Paris Hilton are as well known as whatever she does right (I haven't figured that out yet), whereas the public learned mostly of the successes of Marilyn Monroe and little of her problems.

Heroes and great people today must be categorized in terms of their relationship to their particular fields of endeavour. Without rising to international fame, a field-related hero doesn't have to endure close examination by the media. In other words, we care about the successes of Stephen Hawking the theoretical physicist, but not about any penchant he may have for unseemly behaviour.

We don't really have fewer heroes and great people today than in the past. Indeed, we have many more than ever before. We may not recognize them because they are no longer military leaders or emperors.

Today's heroes and great people may be more real than in the past because we recognize them for more than just the ability to kill more people than their enemies. They may be great athletes or great thinkers or doers of great charitable deeds. They may fight battles, but they are battles of words, and for reputation.

That's human progress of a kind we haven't seen before in our history.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to advance human progress in many ways other than through war. It's a plan that works.
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Friday, September 07, 2007

How To Take Control Of Your Life

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"I learned that we can do anything, but we can't do everything... at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything."
- Dan Millman, author of self help books (born 1946)

Since humankind has been identified as homo sapiens we have been too busy to get done everything we want to do. Only a small number of primitive tribes in selected tropical rainforest settings have enough time to indulge daily in activities that do not involve obtaining food, creating shelter and satisfaction of other basic needs.

In the 21st century few in the western world need to worry about when their next meal may come. The activity that occupies more of our time than anything else (including sleep) is acquiring the money to indulge ourselves in activities to fill our leisure time. Trouble is, we don't have much leisure time.

In the early 1970s futurists predicted that a majority of our time would be spent with leisure activities, with work only requiring a few days each week. The concern was that we might not have enough to do with our time, a possibility that gave pause to many entrepreneurs who chose to invest their money in providing toys and activities that would prevent subsequent generations from ever being bored.

Today most of us can't get done everything that needs to be done, let alone needing to find ways to fill out time. We use toys and vactions as escapes from the ugly realities of our lives more than for real recreation.

"Prioritize" preach self help gurus like Dan Millman. Decide each morning what is most important that you accomplish, then see that those things get done. If you don't complete things of lesser importance, you don't have to worry because you did the most important ones.

Helping disorganized people gain some structure to their lives so that they don't find themselves in a depression or breakdown because they can't figure out what to do next is a noble endeavour. However, those items that always find themselves near the bottom of the list eventually need attention.

Homes do need to be cleaned, windows washed, furniture polished, yard tidied, garage organized and cleaned and house exterior repaired when necessary. The jobs of lesser importance need to be allowed to rise up in the priority list of daily activities or they begin to impact our lives negatively, often in the form of hidden anxieties.

We can move house because we don't want to replace windows with more heat and cost efficient versions, but we will get less when selling a home that needs updating than one with the renovations already done. We can pay someone to do the work, but that can be extremely expensive. Doing the work ourselves is cheapest, but it requires us to learn new skills. And who has time?

That daily list of priorities must not remain static, with the jobs of lesser importance continuing indefinitely to be near the bottom of our list. Jobs around our own home need to be tended to regularly, including regular maintenance, or they will cost us more money if we leave them until a later date.

Machines with motors and engines begin to fall apart or rust with disuse and no maintenance. Plastic outdoor furniture decays from long exposure to the sun. Outside wood rots if exposed to the elements. Window caulking shrinks and discolours. Painted surfaces need repainting or they look shabby.

Everything we own needs some attention at least once in a while. And not just to be played with. Whether we use them or not, whether they are visible or hidden away, everything we own needs attention. If they don't get it, they become liabilities.

Hence yard sales, eBay, and Kijiji. (Google that last one if it's a new name to you.)

The only way to be in control of all of our daily activities is to pare down what we
own to what we can manage. That's not easy because manufacturers hire professional advertising specialists to make us believe that we need every little toy, machine, cosmetic and new fashion that reaches the market.

Who controls your life? If you have to work extra hours just to buy new stuff while stuff you already have goes neglected, then it's not you.

It's a helpless feeling to know that you can't get everything done you need to do in a day. It can be frustrating. It can create anxiety. It drives many people to alcohol, drugs, other addictions, abuse and emotional breakdowns when they realize that they can't keep up. We don't usually attribute these emotional problems to anxiety about our stuff, but that's something we should correct.

To take control of your life, begin by owning only what you can maintain and use. If you can't maintain something or use it or store it because it will increase in value, get rid of it. Then limit the activities that caused you to accumulate so much stuff in the first place.

You'll be amazed at how much time you have then to complete what needs to be tended to in your life. Including giving attention to family members who may have missed you while you were buying, playing and worrying.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how we can provide our children with what they need to develop properly, without teaching them a need for the unnecessary.
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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Finding Something Special Within Yourself

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The more deeply you understand people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel about them. To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. - Stephen R. Covey

I send this quote out with the full knowledge that most people have not experienced and will likely never have the experience of touching the soul of another human being.

Set aside any concepts you have about (or negative feelings against) the human soul. They are irrelevant to the discussion.

We tend to think of the soul as something revealed to us by the religion of our childhood, something we have when we are born. I disagree. I believe the soul is something you find during your lifetime, if you are fortunate. Soul is God within you. Either you can feel it under certain conditions or you cannot. If you can't, you likely have not discovered the essence of your soul. You may never find it if you look to others to grant it to you.

To "walk on holy ground" is not just for those who have been "born again in Jesus" or who are Sufi Muslims or mystics of other flavours. What Covey means by this is something akin to an enlightenment, a very special feeling that can't be described in words to those who have not experienced it.

Those who deeply understand people appreciate how similar we are, whether man or woman, mechanic or doctor, terrorist or preacher, child or ascetic.

Am I saying that you are like a terrorist who would blow up himself (or herself) as well as many others? Yes, at the core we are all the same. We all have the same needs. We may react differently when our needs are not met. And that happens a great deal more than most of us realize. More than some of us want to know or acknowledge.

Statistics have noted that terrorists often have college degrees and come from middle class families. But education does not come from school. School only teaches us how to educate ourselves. I received my baccalaureate when I could barely read, in fact never having read a prescribed course text. I could only read a tiny bit better when I received my postgraduate degree. No one today would deny my education.

We have needs that most of us do not realize. When those needs are not met, we can't focus on advancing ourselves in other ways, be they intellectually, socially or otherwise.

In order to "walk on holy ground," to feel the enlightenment, to have an appreciation of the human soul, to understand the reality of God and to have the experience of touching the soul of another, we must have our needs met. Those needs include social and emotional needs as well as physical and intellectual.

The latter two--the main ones focussed upon by our education systems--cannot be optimized unless the first two needs are met. A student may pass a course, but not achieve the level of education of which he or she has potential if their social and emotional needs have not been met.

Only when social, emotional, intellectual and physical needs have been met (for the most part) will a person have the potential to become enlightened and to show the way to others. To show the way for others becomes a personal quest, a need in itself so that the teacher and the student may touch each other's souls in the way that Steven Covey describes.

It has been said many times in many different cultures that if you can't find God within yourself, you will never find God in a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

To feel God is to find your own soul within yourself. To touch the soul of another, to communicate with another soul, is the ultimate human experience.

If you believe this is bunk, then you won't find your own soul and you will likely have trouble believing in God. So be an agnostic or an atheist for the rest of your life. No one will care.

If you one day believe that you have formed a special relationship with someone, perhaps through a shared experience or a discussion, something that goes far beyond what you have experienced previously with that person or with others, then you likely have touched souls.

You can call it love. Many do. But it's a special kind of love that goes beyond sexuality, sensuality and meeting each others social needs.

You have it within you. The potential is there for you to discover. It's up to you to find it because no one can help you.

HINT: Begin by giving of yourself to others. You will never find your own soul, never have the enlightenment, never feel the excitement of touching the soul of another if you focus on what comes to you rather than on what you can give. Those who give of themselves to others find that they receive more back. Hard to believe? Then you haven't tried it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to satisfy the needs of children and adults to give them the potential to find the soul within themselves.
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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Even You Can Play A Role In World Peace

It came to me that reform should begin at home, and since that day I have not had time to remake the world.
- Will Durant, historian (1885-1981)

We might wonder why a historian would be qualified to remake the world anyway. On the other hand, who would be qualified? A Nobel Prize winner? An astrophysicist? Your family doctor? My family doctor? (Oh, no! Don't go there.)

No one person has the qualifications to remake the world. Which works out well because it's physically impossible for one person to do the job anyway. Hitler tried, as did Genghis Khan, Alexander The Great and a few others, but not one of them had a clue about the people and cultures of most parts of the world.

How would we remake the world, even if a huge number of us had the ability? Probably enough of us want world peace that peace is where the greatest number of us could collectively agree to begin.

Yet today's world is far more peaceful than our planet has been for millennia. It may not seem that way because of the news reports we receive daily telling us about trouble spots, stating statistics about numbers killed and reporting on discomfort in various countries with how well the "war on terror" is going.

Peaceful cultures have existed in the past. But not many. And they existed because they had enormous and powerful armies that made fighting them unwise. Every peaceful culture in the past lived under threat from warring neighbours. Every peaceful society had a limited lifespan.

Until today. Among the regions most often at war in the past was Europe. Today almost every country in Europe, and some beyond, belong to the European Union, a cumbersome and fractured body to be sure, but one where no member seriously considers attacking a neighbouring country.

We see many wars in Africa, but far fewer than in the past. Same in South America. Even Asia, the largest and most populous continent, is showing strong signs of being more peaceful than ever before.

We might take happiness as a second world objective. After all, if more people were happy less would be unhappy and peace should be easier to achieve.

Yet no one definition of happiness satisfies everyone. For some, happiness means wealth. For others, having someone to love and someone to love them. For many people in the world, happiness is having enough to eat that day, or children knowing what to do because both parents have died of AIDS, or adults desperate to discover how to earn a living when no jobs are available.

So long as we have people whose lives are at risk for any reason, we will not be able to have happiness on a large scale. Those who feel at risk or who really are at risk will menace those who want to be happy like the plague. This fact of human nature dates back to our primitive past. People at risk can't support peace and can't achieve happiness.

Peace, it seems, must be the prime objective of a great number of people if the world is to improve in the way that most of us want.

How can we achieve peace? There is only one way. I am doing it. I am communicating to you my desire for peace in my home, in my community, in my country and in the world.

Peace is important to me. I want it to be important to you too. Then you will talk with others about it and they will spread the word to still more. Word of mouth is the only way that the world can change. The only way possible.

You are the key to the change.

Talk about peace. Teach it to children as one of the more important lessons they can ever learn from you.

As education improved around the world in the 20th century, the planet became more peaceful. Teachers taught about peace. Everywhere. In all sorts of contexts.

More people are talking about peace today than ever before in history. More people consider world peace a goal today than even would have considered it a possibility in the past.

Let's get on with it. Spread the word. Send this article to people you know. Or direct them to the web page where you are reading it. My web site will tell you even more.

Talk about it over coffee or tea tomorrow. And the tomorrows after that.

It's not hard. Lots of people want to know that world peace is possible. You will have a willing audience wherever you talk about it.

Now get going.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book that provides the method for implementing a plan for peace (when you're ready for it). You should find out about how easy and cheap it will be now.
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Monday, September 03, 2007

How One Man Stopped A Massive Riot Single-handedly

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My life is my message. - Mohandas K. Gandhi (The Mahatma--Great Soul) (1869-1948)
Disclosure: Gandhi has been a role model for me since I was a small child listening to his speeches on the radio, from my remote home in a rural wilderness. At the most impressionable time of my life, Gandhi taught me when and what my parents did not.

Mahatma Gandhi left the world with two fundamental and profound messages. The first message was that peace is a worthwhile life objective. The second was that we can use peaceful means to achieve the same goals as activists (who often use violence) resort to.

How effective was he? After several years of avoiding his program of peaceful resistance against the British Raj that ruled India at the time, he chose to protest a new British tax on salt. Salt was not just a condiment used by everyone from the wealthiest maharajas to homeless beggars (who could not afford to buy it because of the tax), salt was a means of income for poor people who gathered it and transported it to sell in local markets where it would make its way subsequently around the country.

The tax in effect made it illegal for Indians to sell or produce salt, making this essential condiment and preservative a British monopoly.

Gandhi decided to publicize a walk that he would make, on foot, a distance of some 240 miles from Sabarmati to Dandi on the Arabian Sea coast. He sent a letter to the British Viceroy advising him of his intention of gathering as many friends and supporters as he could find and march to protest the tax. The Viceroy wrote back to tell Gandhi that the tax would remain and warned him that the demonstration would be illegal.

What began with Gandhi and 78 male satyagrahis (activists of truth and resolution) turned into a massive crowd that arrived in Dandi eight weeks later. Gandhi picked up a piece of salt and ground it in his hands, thus breaking the law. The other satyagrahis followed suit. British soldiers beat them with clubs, killing many of them on the spot. The movement for Indian independence had begun.

One side used peaceful means of expression, the other violence. The peaceful side won, India eventually got its independence and the British Empire faded into history.

Seventeen years after the Great Salt March, the Viceroy of the time sent Gandhi alone to do what he could to prevent a riot of unimaginable proportions in Calcutta, while 55,000 British troops went to Punjab to tame a much smaller crowd. The British felt they had no way to stop the Calcutta riot.

While the British killed hundreds in the Punjab incident, not a single person died in Calcutta, not one was arrested, no riot occurred. Gandhi used words to prevent a massive riot that might have destroyed the city.

Mohandas Gandhi lived what he believed. He became the role model for 450 million Indians. While millions died in communal fighting when India and Pakistan separated in 1947, as Hindus moved to primarily Hindu India from Pakistan and Muslims moved the other way, these two heavily populated nations have been relatively peaceful ever since.

Even their wars and cross-border bickering have been relatively minor. Despite the fact that both countries have nuclear power and the west repeatedly claims that the two are constantly at each other's throats, neither country wants war and both are strongly committed to peaceful means to settle differences between them.

Gandhi's message said that we can use words to bring peace and achieve our collective goals. While that message had a profound effect on dozens of countries, it has yet to reach some.

My goal is to spread the message of The Mahatma to as many as will listen.

It works. Gandhi proved it by living the way he wanted the world to be.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to implement great plans to make the world a better and safer place to live. It includes some great plans of its own.
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