Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You May Be Stupid And Not Know It

Strange as it seems, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and higher education positively fortifies it.
- Stephen Vizinczey, Hungarian-born Canadian writer (b. 1933)

One dictionary defines stupidity as "a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience."

Why would anyone with a higher education be stupid, possibly stupider than someone with less education?

Education--at least the education systems I am familiar with in many parts of the world--functions on a model that strongly promotes and supports conformity. Conformity, by definition, means following someone else's point of view of the world. Usually this takes the form of following the point of view of the power establishment, those who control power in a country, a state/province or a community.

Agree with the establishment and you "fit in." That means not only enjoying the benefits of agreeing with and supporting the ruling establishment and authority, but accepting its faults and warts without grumbling. And sometimes its illegal behaviour.

Poor people, for example, have trouble accepting the point of view of the establishment. Some slipped into poverty especially because they would not or could not conform to the belief system of the establishment. The establishment believes (sometimes even states publicly) that the poor are lazy, thus allowing themselves to be exempt from addressing the core of their problems.

People with severe health problems also have trouble supporting the establishment because they believe the people in power should do more to help them, especially to treat them according to the Golden Rule, the way the ruling people themselves would like to be treated in similar circumstances.

The people in power are never either poor or suffering from severe health problems. You never see someone with oxygen support or on a ventilator in a seat of a legislative assembly. These days you may see someone in a wheelchair, but those people, like the women who hold elected office, have fought their way through a morass and tangle of red tape to get there.

In some countries and elected legislative bodies, by law there must be a set minimum number or minimum percentage of seats for female representatives. I am not aware of any legislative body that has a minimum of requirement of representatives from among the poor or those with permanent health problems.

Ironically, social assistance for the poor--in whatever form that help may take--requires a huge portion of the budget for most governments. Health care, whether it comes from government coffers, as in Canada, or private health care or private health care companies with government assistance, demands a huge percentage of funds available for public use. In Canada, which has public health care, the budget for "free" health coverage requires over half the provincial budget totals.

Those who use the greatest portion of public funds have the least representation in legislative bodies. The people in power think this is a grand way of doing business. They, of course, are neither poor nor of ill health on a permanent basis. Consequently, the poor remain poor and those with permanent health problems seldom recover. That is, they remain permanently unhealthy even if good health care would cure their problems.

Does this mean that legislators suffer from "a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience?"

Anyone who hasn't been asleep for most of their life knows that corporations have great influence over governments. The bigger the corporations, the greater their contributions to political parties and elections and the greater their influence over decision making.So within government bureaucracies, conformity is not just the norm, it's the rule. Sometimes it's even the law.

Corporations themselves have bureaucracies run by a few people in power at the top. They like conformity because they have policies (both written and "informal") they want followed to the letter. In a sense, corporations are like the military, only without the uniforms (unless you call "suits" a uniform, which they may not be but they prove conformity), the foot stomping and the salutes.

The military, the ultimate in enforced conformity, requires underlings to obey even orders that don't make sense or that may contravene the laws of the land. That's enforced stupidity because those in lower ranks seldom get opportunities to think for themselves.

Religion enforces conformity, at least in the sense that what is said publicly must agree with the policies of those in higher authority. Those who don't want to conform either leave the faith, are banished or excommunicated. In a few cases, killed.

Most people who have passed through high school have learned that the wisest strategy for a paper or project is to give the teacher back what he or she wants. Be innovative, but only with certain parameters. In university and postgraduate school, the strictures tighten so that those who do not give the professors what they want in the form they want it may not pass or may not receive sufficient marks to move on to a higher level.

I disagree with Vizinczey's statement to the extent that I maintain all organizations in societies create stupidity, not just fortify it. They make thinking for yourself an anti-social act.

It has been said that having everyone thinking for themselves would result in chaos, in anarchy. This is not true. Even anarchists think alike. As to human chaos, that is highly unlikely because our nature as social beings would forced us to consider all possibilities for policies and procedures before making decisions. Our social nature would compel us to choose leaders.

Chaos? No. It would shift the present power mongers from their perches and place those who have the ability to organize and lead without fear and intimidation into positions where they could act in the best interests of the public that elected them.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who can think for themselves without sinking into the abyss of banality, conformity and stupidity.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What We Miss Most

When you are eight years old, nothing is any of your business.
- Lenny Bruce, comedian (1925-1966)

It's a good laugh line for a comedian. Just about everyone remembers that when they were eight years old nobody wanted to include them in adult affairs or conversations. And the adults in Lenny's audience likely did the same with their own kids.

I remember a man I overheard speaking to another man, when I was about 15 years old, saying "I don't bother trying to have conversations with anyone younger than 25 because they don't know enough to hold a decent conversation." It impressed me so much I decided to learn enough to be able to hold a good conversation by the age of 25.

I certainly didn't consider including my own children in conversations I had with my wife when they were that age. They weren't interested anyway.

I was wrong.

My kids were wrong, but maybe because of our practice of excluding our kids from adult conversations they just got used to how things were.

It's the sole purpose in life of a child to learn what it's like in the adult world they are enter within a few years. The young of every species has that same purpose.
If we, as parents and grandparents, don't include kids in our conversations, they miss out on opportunities to learn from us.

What we don't teach with intention, kids learn by our example. If our parents didn't talk about sex or even indicate that they had sex with each other, they likely didn't say much to us about the subject. We learn the hard way, probably the way our parents did. There's a pretty good chance that we and our parents both missed out on much of what we could have had and done if we and they had known more.

In turn, our kids miss out if we don't know what to teach them and how.

Kids most often follow the examples of their parents when they reach the age of majority and have to choose a political party to vote for. They have overheard discussions among their parents that led them to the conclusion that one party is better than the other(s). Most parents don't even indicate to their kids that voters have more than one choice. The young adults vote the way their parents would.

We're forced to learn too much the hard way. We make too many mistakes on stuff where there was no reason we shouldn't have known better, stuff that someone should have taught us.

Why should a child learn a foreign language and trigonometry in school if that child will never use it as an adult, but that child never receives proper instruction about how to make and keep friends, how to be a good spouse in a marriage or how to be a good parent?

We fail at friendships, marriages and parenting. We never get a chance to fail at speaking the foreign language or using trig in most cases, but that's just as well because we likely forgot most of it since we had no use for it.

Do the arithmetic. Which is more important, knowing how to make and keep friends, how to have a compatible marriage and how to be a good parent or how to speak a foreign language and do trigonometry?

That's not to put down learning languages or trig, only to state that we have other more important needs that our parents, our grandparents and our teachers seldom or never address.
We accept this because "That's the way it has always been done." It's clearly wrong, so does that mean that many generations of our ancestors were wrong? It's a sharp edged pill to swallow, but, yup, they were wrong.

When we chose to exclude ourselves from the natural courses of nature in our modern world, we didn't compensate for the important lessons that nature teaches to every other species on the planet. We miss some of the most important lessons in life. Parents don't know them so they can't teach what they don't know. Or they are reticent about teaching what they learned themselves by doing and making mistakes.

No matter, we have sports, drugs, other addictions, abuse, volunteering, exercising and lots of other ways to compensate for our lack of knowledge about important human subjects.
That won't change until some of us decide to change it. The longer we wait to change the system by teaching kids what they need to know as adults, the bigger the job will be.

It could all change in a flash if school curriculums were changed. That's not hard because curriculums change almost every year to some extent.

Doing nothing is easier. Except the problems keep getting worse.

Maybe we should talk about this subject more.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers that provides material that all kids should know but that most never get at home or in school.
Learn more at

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Just How Dumb Can We Get?

Ours is the age that is proud of machines that think and suspicious of men who try to.
- H. Mumford Jones, US critic & educator (1892 - 1980)

Not just your age Mumford, the present one as well.

Many people have an odd fascination with machines with Artificial Intelligence (AI). Two generations ago the most popular Christmas gifts for girls were talking dolls. A generation ago people flocked to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey to hear the computer Hal conduct conversations with the spacecraft's crew members. The Star Wars franchise brought R2D2 and C3PO (a near-android) and audiences loved them.

Today people scoop up for gifts anything automated, including video games and toys with robotic capabilities. A programmable cordless vacuum cleaner that looks like a shortened curling stone and gathers floor litter without human hands operating it is another immensely popular gift. Sony's walking robot remains an expensive dream for most kids.

So popular are automated things, especially those that use computers or computerized chips are their hearts that Microsoft is about to launch a new all-encompassing operating system that will tie together the computerized systems in many different household appliances, some of which have not yet been released to the marketplace.

We look forward to the day when our computers and computerized robots do some of our thinking for us. Are we not afraid that they will eventually replace us and become effectively the heads of our households? Though we should, apparently we do not have such a fear.

We believe that technology will not only make our lives easier, but it will also prevent itself from taking control of our lives. Arthur C. Clarke, the British science fiction writer and co-author of 2001 (with director Stanley Kubrick), warned us with Hal, but the lesson didn't stick. If anything, Hal (a metal box with an actor's voice-over) prompted even more research into AI and its uses to assist humans in their daily chores.

The modern world population, those who have easy and constant access to the Information Highway which gives us more information that we can absorb, has become essentially a race of stupid animals. As writer Stephen Vizinczey said, "We now have a whole culture based on the assumption that people know nothing and so anything can be said to them." Yet that culture wants machines that can think. think for them, we must assume.

Are we really stupid? The so-called post-modern world requires expertise in many fields, which in turn requires our best educated people to specialize in one field of study so intensively that they know less about most subjects than a high school dropout. We don't repair anything broken any more, we buy a new one. We don't fix broken equipment in our homes because we don't know how. We toss it and buy new.

We hope for casual conversations with colleagues because strangers might want to talk on subjects we know nothing about. Small talk about nothing of significance has risen to an art form.
We pollute our air with half a million chemicals, warming it unnecessarily with coal-fired electricity generating stations, drive huge SUVs that emit many times as much CO2 as smaller cars, and we drive as much as we can our vehicles that use fossil fuels rather than putting pressure on science to deliver alternative energy sources. And we know we are doing it. That's stupid.

But, as H. Mumford Jones said, we are suspicious of those who think, speak or write along any train of thought that differs from what our politicians, our industries and our pop scientists tell us is the right way to think. In fact, we often socially ostracize such people, cause them to lose their jobs or find ways to imprison them or otherwise silence them.

Perhaps we need Artificial Intelligence to compensate for the lack of intelligence we exhibit ourselves, in our personal and our public lives. Though our public lives are getting smaller as we turn our civic responsibilities over to politicians and their agencies, even to the extent of staying away from the polls on voting days.

Before you go thinking that I believe we are bound for hell in a handbasket or are dumbing ourselves down to the intelligence level of dirt, remember, we will soon be able to have transplants of brain tissue, whole brains or artificial brains.

We'll know it has already begun when we find a revival of the name Hal for newly born babies. Or C3PO.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want their children to be able to think as adults, including the tools, resources and plan to make it happen.
Learn more at

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why So Many Kids Go Wrong

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
- Albert Camus, French writer (1913-1960)

Well, I do, Albert, so where are you so I can refute your statement?

Seriously, Camus was right, some people do go to extensive lengths to be considered normal by others. But why?

We are social animals. As such we have standards, mores and rules/laws by which people must conduct their affairs so that our society does not descend into chaos. When we deal with a clerk in a store, for example, we have an idea of what to expect from that person, as the clerk does for us.

Two or three decades ago (depending on the location) a movement began to make people in wheelchairs have access to every building they may need to enter. That made sense for a medical building, for example, because someone in a wheelchair would certainly need to visit a doctor eventually.

People in wheelchairs wanted to be treated like everyone else and have access everywhere someone with two working legs would have. To them, normal meant having the same rights or access as those who could walk.

Striving to be normal goes much deeper than that. A child who is socially underdeveloped may work very hard to be like the rest of the kids, but that child can never be "normal" in a social setting. The child may seem to be a loner, may stutter, may remain quiet with others around, may agree with the leader of the group most often, will likely not do well with schoolwork, but try as he or she might they will not be able to be like the others, normal in a social setting.

Being socially underdeveloped as a child carries through adulthood, sometimes through life itself. Many socially underdeveloped kids eventually learn the social skills their peers did as children, whereupon they can interact in social settings like others, thus be "normal." That catching up socially requires a huge amount of effort, something Camus says that few understand.

Certainly the peers of a socially underdeveloped child don't understand. They consider the kid weird or strange. They nitpick to find faults with the child that may not exist in reality so they can talk about the odd one in their own "normal" groups.

Often a socially underdeveloped child will be bullied by another socially underdeveloped child. Bullies are classic cases of social underdevelopment, perhaps with a touch of maldevelopment. They need social interaction with peers, but have no idea how to achieve it. They want to be normal, but can't, so they lash out at the weakest among them, which is usually another socially underdeveloped child. The same happens with adult bullies and their victims.

Children who are underdeveloped emotionally have similar adjustment problems. They tend to be punished for their deficiencies and the resulting behaviours, as socially underdeveloped children are as well. What we don't understand in odd or strange children usually causes them to violate social norms, thus we punish them to teach them how to act normally.

Yes, we punish children and adults for being socially and/or emotionally underdeveloped and acting out because they can't cope with their inability to be normal with their peers.

By punishing them as children we ensure that they will not likely rise to the level of development of their peers because they will believe that it's impossible for them to be normal. They will always feel left out, different.

Almost every adult in a prison is either socially or emotionally underdeveloped or maldeveloped, or both. At that age they have been broken for so long that society could not afford to do the necessary psychological repairs, so we put them behind bars and forget about them. Pretend they don't exist in our society. Call them bad, social offenders.

It may be true that most children are born with the same potential. That potential is very different among them by the age they enter the school system because of their different opportunities (or lack thereof) to develop socially and emotionally as well as they do physically and intellectually in the intervening few years.

Trouble begins in the school system. Teachers are not only not granted permission to work to develop children's social and emotional skills according to the curriculum, they may be denied permission (in most classroom settings) by the administration. "There isn't time." "Stick to the curriculum."

By the time kids enter school, many parents believe they have taken their children as far as they need to socially and emotionally, so they leave it up to the school to carry on. The school can't do much in most cases.

Every socially or emotionally inappropriate behaviour of adults can be traced back to social or emotional (or both) deficits when they were children. No one wants to do this and few will try because it upsets everyone who prefers to deny any responsibility for underdevelopment or maldevelopment of social miscreant adults, when they were children.

Society can manage social and emotional development of children the same way it manages intellectual and physical development. In fact, plans to do this are fairly easy and very cheap to implement.

Before anything can be changed, we must admit as a society that we have children who are not receiving assistance with their social and emotional development. Then we can put programs in place to train parents and teachers how to fulfill the rest of their respective roles in raising a child.

Talk about it.

Bill Allin is a sociologist, retired teacher and author of the book Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, as well as the fountain of inspiration for programs related to the TIA program.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Secret Of Love

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.
- François Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire), letter to Count Schomberg, August 1769

As admirable as Voltaire's reasoning ability was and as impressive his observations about human nature, I wonder how he reached the conclusion that animals know nothing of the power of life.
An avowed dog person for most of my life, I became servant to a household cat some 18 years ago. Since then my wife and I have had two other cats, one of which has epilepsy and has gone deaf.

The most impressive--dare I say shocking--lesson I have learned in my years of observing the behaviour of cats is that they are remarkably similar to humans in their needs. I don't mean just the needs for food, shelter and security, which all living things share.

Our cats do hear our grandmother clock strike because it gongs on the hour and half-hour. It means nothing to them because neither the ticking of the clock nor the gong itself serve any purpose toward satisfying their needs.

What does a clock add to our lives? At most it serves as a reminder that we must perform actions, usually in the service of others. Cats can be altruistic at times, but they are clearly not into servitude. Cats would have disappointed Pavlov.

Our cats know when they want to be fed because they are hungry. If they aren't hungry, they don't care if food is available to them or not. They don't overeat, nor do they eat in front of the television. They will, however, eat as a form of comfort, if their problem is not of a severely emotional nature.

They clearly know when they need to be touched (petted). Not only do they make their needs known to the petters, they allow little to stand in the way of their satisfying that need when they have it, if humans are around. They prefer petting from the humans they know, but will accept it from strangers who happen around at the right time.

Humans do not do that. We seldom know when we need to be touched by another, even though it's a need so fundamental to us that regular lack of touch can alter our personality.

Children almost never come to mommy demanding to be held. They may come, but they don't ask in words. The closest they come to asking is when they hurt themselves. Being held by mommy when they hurt does nothing to help the hurt, it's a way of (an excuse for) demanding to be touched without using words (we don't use words to express that need, sad to say).

Voltaire says that animals have no idea of death. I disagree. When our epileptic cat has a petit or grand mal seizure, he wants to be alone in an enclosed area, secure that he won't explode all over the place. However, for days before and after the seizure, he seeks touch and comfort many times each day. He knows when he will have a seizure, days ahead. He seeks the security he wants and needs ahead of time.

People seldom know they are about to have an epileptic seizure until it happens, or maybe just a brief period before. Cats are more sensitive to their bodies. Most of the time they do what they must to heal themselves. Only their owners insist upon taking them to vets.

For months before our oldest cat died, she came to me many times each day, to sit on my lap or to cuddle in the crook of my arm as I lied in bed napping. This was uncharacteristic behaviour for that cat, though it isn't for the epileptic one now. I don't doubt that they would know when the end of their life is near. Maybe they don't dream of heaven, but who knows?

Voltaire's reference to the clock striking, of course, refers to the death knell, not to the regular striking of a gong or ticking of the pendulum. His point is that we make much of a charade of death, most of which serves no real purpose but to make the grieving ones feel worse.

My point differs from Voltaire's in that I want us to pay attention to the characteristics and needs of animals that we share with them, but that they do better than us.

We know that dogs and cats love to be petted. We call them pets for that reason. They need touch and they demand it from those who can best provide it. To a dog or cat, brushing the fur is nothing more than another way for them to be touched.

We need to recognize our own need for touch. Life without touch is not easy and life with a decreasing amount of touch from a loved one is even harder because we feel the lack of touch and our increase in need. The death of a spouse may be hardest on those who benefitted most from loving touch from the dead mate for many years.

Hospitals (not all) and nursing homes have found the benefits of having people with pets visit so that patients can touch them. Nurses stroke their patients and touch them more than ever in the past because it helps the patients to feel better, even to heal faster in some cases.

Voltaire's quotation was not about animals after all, but about satisfying our own real needs instead of trying to play act unnecessary stuff while ignoring what is really important.

Now, while you think about it, go give someone you love a hug. Do it several times a day if you can. Don't miss a day.

One of the mysteries of love is that we can't measure it. Think not? Most of us, without being aware of it, measure how much others love us by the amount of loving touch we receive from them.

Remember, it's not just the amount of touch we receive from others that's important. It's just as important to those we love that we give loving touch to them so that they can keep track of how much we love them. It works both days. We measure love by the amount of touch we receive, they measure love by the amount they receive.

Now you can understand why the so-called Empty Nest syndrome of parents whose children have grown and left home can be so severe. And why people who consider divorce do so because their partners and they have "grown apart."

Love is an emotional word we use to describe our basic need for loving touch. Celibate nuns and priests receive little human touch, but when they devote their lives to God and to prayer the parts of their brains that trigger the feel-good response activate the same way that ours does when we are hugged by a loved one. Loving God fully can give people the same physical effect as receiving loving touch.

So, have you hugged someone yet?

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow balanced and well loved children.
Learn more at

Monday, April 21, 2008

We Have To Suffer, And We Do It So Well

Man has to suffer. When he has no real afflictions, he invents some.
- Jose Marti, Cuban freedom fighter and hero (1853-1895)

When you read the quotation you might be tempted to think that it was written recently. But Marti, Cuba's greatest national hero, lived well over a century ago. In the sense of this quotation, nothing has changed in humankind since his time.

The observation about life applies both to political/national and to personal lives. The USA and the United Kingdom, for examples, have been involved with wars at least once in each generation for hundreds of years. Were these wars necessary?

For the few hundreds of years leading up to and including Marti's time, the world was indeed a violent place. The evolution from tribal states to centralized governments took a very long time. That is, though centralized governments try to avoid wars in most cases (the US, UK, some African and Asian countries excepted), many got involved with wars until a century ago for the same reasons our ancestors did, control of land and resources. That's tribal.

Politically weak leaders in countries with centralized governments, who want to make names for themselves, stir up rumours that another nation is out to get them, that the people had better prepare for imminent attack or all will be lost. As this kind of politicking appeals to our natural sense of caution, fomenting fear within a population is relatively easy. In some cases, simply making up lies is sufficient to get people behind the leader who will defend them in their "time of great need."

Even in more peaceful times, political parties feel the need to devise the appearance of conflict between parties to get votes and between candidates to help one succeed over another. In most cases, the afflictions (conflict) are more imagined than real, as becomes obvious after an election when a new party in power assumes similar policies that it railed against when it was in opposition.

In our personal lives, some people revel in conflict. In business, for example, succeeding through conflict often gets one person the top job in a company over others who see no valid reason for it. Or who lose the battle.

At the personal level, family doctors see many patients every day who have nothing wrong with them except an overactive imagination and a penchant for hypochondria. Some hand out prescriptions which are nothing more than sugar pills, just to satisfy the imaginary needs of these people to be "cured."

Any phenomenon that can be called a bandwagon effect plays on the same need for an affliction even if one doesn't exist.

Is the planet really warming, inexorably and inevitably, as some say? The Arctic ice cap is melting, to be sure, but the ice cap in the Antarctic is increasing in size. That has always happened in cycles. Some parts of the world are getting hotter--more temperature extremes--while others are having colder temperatures in their winter than have been seen since the Little Ice Age.

Oh, that Little Ice Age. It happened roughly between 1450 and 1850. Since 1850, so our records show, earth has been warming. Reason suggests that it is warming naturally, as we would expect after a minor ice age.

Are we truly in danger of warming our own planet to the point of killing off most of its inhabitants? The hubris of that is astounding, that one species believes it has power of that magnitude. Our weather is governed by the sun more than by any other factor. When we learn to control the sun, we can control weather.

But fear over the effects of climate change is our global affliction of the day. I haven't heard of a single coastal city or even a low island that had to be abandoned because of rising sea levels.

I have heard of many possible causes for the increase of asthma. One primary cause is surely air pollution. We are polluting our air with about half a million chemicals emitted from smokestacks and about half that number of chemicals enter our waterways. That's the stuff we breathe and drink. Why aren't we riding that hobby horse, since it affects the health of almost everyone on our planet?

The air pollution scare tried and failed a few decades ago. Now scientists seeking government grants are ignoring our terribly polluted air that actually kills thousands of people in large countries every year in favour of scaring us into believing in the potential tragedies of climate change.

Meanwhile, several older climatologists who claim that climate change is natural and cyclical have been virtually silenced by the younger ones. The older ones are beyond needing grants, while the younger ones have great careers in fear mongering ahead of them.

It's hard to know what the real facts are because they get obscured by so many who have financial interests and celebrity in mind for themselves.

As Jose Marti said, we need to suffer. There are lots of people around who are well prepared to help us to do just that.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want children to have the skills to be able to distinguish between advertising propaganda and fact so they can live healthy and safe lives without fear of emotional bullies.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Are You Really That Helpless?

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
- Thomas A Kempis, German ecclesiastic (1380-1471)

Let him that would move the world first move himself.
- Socrates, Ancient Athenian philosopher (470-399 BC)

Many people claim they wish they could change the world, but they can't. Yet they would find it difficult to change themselves, even offensive if someone else suggested it.

Changing the world isn't hard. It simply can't be done by one person. Because they know they can't do it alone, many fail to make any attempt. Rather than working to gather others who will spread the same message, they do nothing, often ignoring the advice they would give to the world as to how to achieve new objectives and goals.

"If you can't beat them, join them." As common as that saying is, it identifies its users as guilty of something, and as quitters, if not as losers.

Starting with the ancient Jew we know as Abraham, the Semites began to spread the word among the other tribes they met about how to live a good life. Jesus of Nazareth picked up the theme about 550 years later. The Muslim Prophet Mohammed continued the theme with his own religion. In about 2500 years, around half the world believes the same precepts about living a good life.

Mind you, not every one of those people adheres to the rules. Generally speaking, the Jews are fairly peaceful people, except as they must defend themselves against those who would annihilate them in the Middle East. A large majority of Christians and Muslims are peaceful people, I believe. In fact, most of the people who belong to non-Abrahamic religions have similar beliefs about how to live a good life.

Considering how incredibly brutal the world was up until 600 years ago (and how brutal it still is in pockets around the world), we have come a long way. We probably have six times as many people on earth today as 600 years ago, which means that even more than in the past we humans have changed to a more peaceful and helpful life style.

We have no trouble hearing about those who violate our norms. The media ensure that we hear as much that's bad among us as they can get their hands on, and they make up some of what they tell us as it is. But the vast majority of people on the planet live good lives, healthier and longer than ever before in history.

Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed spread their words, others paid attention and passed them on. The same can be said of The Buddha and the originators of Hinduism, Taoism and other religions.

These people believed that their words would eventually spread around the world. They were right. They didn't give up because it couldn't happen within their lifetimes.

What does that make us, the good people of today who don't believe we can make a difference? Short-sighted, at the least.

Changing our own attitudes about what effect we could have on the future of our world could make such a difference in decades, centuries and millennia to come.

It's not so hard to tell others about the values we hold, so long as we don't try to convert them to a particular religion or ask them for donations. They will listen and, in time, they too will spread the word.

You can make a difference, if you believe in yourself.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to make a big difference in the world of the future by teaching children what they need to know to operate it with integrity and with honour.
Learn more at

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Albert Einstein: Behind The Scenes With Science's Superstar

Without doubt, Albert Einstein stands as the only true superstar of science. Most educated people admire Socrates, Plato, Copernicus, Isaac Newton and others, but no one can dim the glare of fame that has developed around the name Einstein. It's known in every culture of the modern world.

Mild mannered, shy and, like many highly intelligent people, socially fairly inept, Einstein was more at home with his equations in his study than with people.

Mention the name Einstein and the first thing that pops into everyone's mind is his most famous equation e = mc2 Yet Albert wasn't the first to publish the equation. That dubious honour goes to Austrian physicist Friedrich Hasenöhrl.

So why isn't Hasenöhrl a household name, like Einstein? Hasenöhrl failed to connect the equation with relativity. In other words, in Hasenöhrl's hands the equation went nowhere.

Speaking of relativity, Einstein didn't. He disliked the word. In his 1905 paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies he never used the word "relativity," instead preferring to call it "invariance theory" because it looks the same to all observers, no matter where they may be. Nothing relative there.

Einstein had his own ideas about relativity. In his words: "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That's relativity."

Albert was photogenic from his earliest photographs. Even in his elder years girls were attracted to his pictures. He described himself as a young man to his cousin, Elizabeth Ney, as having a "pale face, long hair, and a tiny start of a paunch, In addition an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth..But crooked legs and warts he does not have and so is quite handsome."

His first paper about special relativity, published in 1905, may have had undisclosed help from his first wife, Mileva. He wrote "I need my wife, she solves all the mathematical problems for me." Some believe Mileva even did the heavy lifting for the theory. She was known for her brilliant mind as well as for her beauty.

By 1914 his feelings toward her had changed. He ordered her to "renounce all personal relations with me, as far as maintaining them is not absolutely required for social reasons." Albert and his second wife, Elsa, didn't have children, but they stayed together until parted by death. His offspring, all with wife Mileva, all had problems with social or emotional adjustment.

Another term associated with Einstein is space-time continuum. That's not his either. The concept of time as the fourth dimension began with Hermann Minkowski, one of Albert's professors, who once called him a "lazy dog." That may have been because he skipped so many classes, borrowing notes from his friend Marcel Grossman so he could pass the tests.

Einstein scribbled many of his notes for his 1905 paper while working in the Swiss patent office as a clerk. He wasn't exactly a lazy clerk because his mind never stopped. He crammed his notes into his desk whenever his supervisor came by.

Though Einstein was a lifetime teetotaler, when he completed his 1905 paper he and wife Mileva drank themselves into a stupor, at least enough to mess with their own concepts of space and time.

Albert was unhappy with the consequences resulting from his theories. Though he believed them to be true, he didn't like what they forecast. He said that nothing could go faster than the speed of light, yet immediately after the Big Bang whatever was expanding must have gone faster than light for at least a short period of time in order that the universe be as big as it is today.

He also didn't care for what came of his work with quantum mechanics. Nothing, he thought, should be able to be in more than one place at a time, then choose to be in another place when someone wants to look at it. "God doesn't place dice with the universe." However, quantum mechanics predicts some pretty strange stuff that would have Newton rolling over in his grave. Black holes, an expanding universe and entangled particles among them.

Speaking of graves, Einstein didn't have one. The pathologist who autopsied Albert Einstein's body removed the brain and the eyes. The rest was cremated and the ashes spread in an "undisclosed location," at Einstein's request. Thomas Harvey kept Einstein's brain for years, taking it with him on his travels in Tupperware so he could show special friends.

In recent years Harvey sliced off and distributed more than a thousand portions of Einstein's brain for scientists to study. The results? He had a thinner than normal cerebral cortex, a greater density of neurons than normal, decreased "interneuronal conduction time," which might have allowed him to think faster. Within each parietal lobe he seemed to be missing the parietal operculium, which may have accounted for his having more interconnections in the inferior parietal region.

The inferior parietal lobes--the areas related to visual imagery and mathematical thinking--were about 15 percent wider than a control group. In the part of the brain that managed language and mathematical skills he had 73 percent more glial cells per neuron than average.

However, Einstein's total brain weight tipped the scales at a mere 2.7 pounds, notably less than the normal weight of 3.1 pounds, indicating "that a large brain is not a necessary condition for exceptional intellect," according to neuroscientist Sandra Witelson, of McMaster University, who did a major study of her portion of the brain.

Einstein's eyes had features that may have allowed him to see and understand things quicker than average.

Special relativity, the central theme of Einstein's 1905 paper, deals with objects moving at a constant speed. General relativity, the focus of his paper a decade later, deals with accelerating objects and it explains how gravity works.

At the time of Einstein's death in 1955, science had little evidence to support his theories, at least general relativity. However, so much evidence has accumulated in the past 50 years that it's now used to calculate the mass of galaxies and to locate distant planets by the way they bend light passing around them.

Finally, that famous picture of Albert with his tongue stretching down over his chin was taken on his 72nd birthday. A photographer asked him for a "birthday pose." That picture along with the rest of the Einstein iconography earn his estate an estimated US$18 million per year, making him the fifth highest paid dead celebrity in the world in 2007.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a handbook for parents and teachers who want to understand child development and to know what to teach kids and when.
Learn more at

[Primary source: Discover, March 2008]

Monday, April 14, 2008

Abe Lincoln's Best Advice

"A child is a person who is going to carry on whatever you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they will be carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations. Your books are going to be judged, accepted or condemned by him. The fate of humanity is in his hands. So it might be well to pay him some attention."
- Abraham Lincoln

"He is going to...attend to those things which you think are important."

What do you think is important? Did you (Do you) consciously, proactively, knowingly teach those things to your children?

Surprisingly, most people don't. Children, to a great extent in their first six years and to a slightly lesser extent during the following five years, form and reform concepts of their world frequently. Not your world, but the one they perceive with their senses and conceptualize with their minds.

Their entire existence rests within the concept they form of their world, usually based on what they observe from their parents, what they are taught by their parents and how they are treated by their parents. If their parents have extensive social skills, the kids will pick them up whether the lessons are taught formally or not. They will fare better if the parents teach pertinent social skills (such as how to make and keep friends, how to treat casual friends and classmates) rather than requiring the children to pick them up vicariously.

What children don't learn by watching is emotional skills, knowledge to advance their emotional development, especially in a small family with only one child. These kinds of skills--how to cope with life's problems and downturns--need to be taught and learned through experience and lessons from parents.

Will your child "assume control of your cities, states and nations" and "take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations" as you move on, the way Lincoln said? Yes, but only a very few of them will. Those who receive a balanced upbringing, with equal emphasis on intellectual, physical, social and emotional development will have the ability to assume leadership roles.

Don't the smartest ones reach the top? Not usually. The people who reach the top of situations such as Lincoln described have had thorough and balanced development in the four streams listed in the previous paragraph, but they also have a great deal of drive and determination to excel. These they usually pick up from their parents, though other sources (mentors) are possible.

Most people in our various societies are drones that get by with sufficient knowledge and skills in what they need to know and do, but know little else beyond that. An architect may not be able to sort recyclables on trash pickup day. A factory worker may know how to change a flat tire, but not how to economize on fuel efficiency and eliminate as much pollution as possible from his vehicle.

We all depend on others to do for us what we can't or don't know how to do ourselves. Mostly we don't do these things because we never learned how. We weren't taught by a parent or grandparent. Most of us know very little and can do very little beyond what we do for a living and what we do as hobbies.

We can't do what we never learned how to do. Most of the fundamentals of what we can do we learned from our parents, either by watching them or by learning from lesson they taught. Or we were prompted by them or some experience we had.

As children we depend on our parents to help us form our world. If they don't help with that (and many don't do it actively and knowingly), we grow up with many misconceptions, misinformation or ignorance about many subjects we should be able to get by with.

Sadly, there are few classes where parents can learn what they need to know and do to be parents and what they need to teach their children to help them with their various kinds of development. Every parent tries to do their best, but few know what they need to know.

Maybe you could get together with some others of your neighbours and encourage your board of education or school administration to launch such a program.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents who want to know what their children need and when they need it.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Tribute To Collected Wisdom

While I always have a book on my bedside table, waiting to be to read before I go to sleep, rarely do I have one that so absorbs my mind that sleep eludes me while I continue to turn pages. Richard Paul Evans' novel The Gift is one.

The Gift is admirable not just for its inspiring story, but also for the collected wisdom he puts into excerpts from the journal of Nathan Hurst, the story's protagonist, observer of life and receiver of "the gift" that makes him feel his life has value and meaning. (Before that he listened to others who treated him as a murderer.)

You can learn more about The Gift and the many other best sellers by this multi-award winning author from his web site at

What I want to tweak your interest with is a few of those journal excerpts, one of which begins each chapter of the book. They stand on their own. As you read them, take a moment to consider each after allowing it to imprint on your brain. Each has a special value that deserves your consideration.

Having completed your read, consider that Richard Paul Evans has Tourette's syndrome and chronic tic disorder. Tourette's is "an inherited neurological disorder characterized by physical and vocal tics." The fact that Evans is a much sought after public speaker gives evidence that he has overcome a great deal.
I don't believe society has ever grown more tolerant. It just changes targets.
It's one thing to order an execution, it's a whole different matter to swing the axe.
I feel like I've been handed a prize orchid. And I can't make a weed grow.
Sometimes I think all I have ever known are McRelationships.
The most important story we will ever write in life is our own--not with ink, but with our daily choices.
I just want to get through life without ending up as a cautionary tale.
I struggled to get out of bed this morning. I think I had an emotional hangover.
Sometimes I wonder if it's not so much that we intend to do harm as we don't intend not to.
Today Addison [Hurst's love interest] told me she loves me. I wasn't sure how to respond. I haven't much experienced with that sort of thing.
To the thief, everyone's a crook. To the liar, everyone's a fraud. The curse of all sin is the mirror of false perception it traps us in.
Heroes rarely look the way we draw them in our minds: attractive, imposing figures with rippling muscles and strong chins. More times than not they are humble beings: small and flawed. It's only their sprits that are beautiful and strong.
I believe that the difference between Heaven and Hell is not so much the climate as the company. Living in a world populated by people like themselves would, for many, be Heaven. And for others, it would, indeed, be Hell.
It is one thing to take joy in a child's achievements and quite another to aggrandize ourselves through them. It is emotional incest to live vicariously through a child's success.
Small kindnesses often, unintentionally, produce the biggest payoffs.
I feel spiritually cleansed and happy just reading these.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach life lessons to children before they need them, instead of trying to fix broken adults.
Learn more at

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pay Attention: It's Like Gold

Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.
- Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, philosopher and entrepreneur

The fastest way to make people like you is to give them the gift of your attention. That's attention without distraction, without doing something else at the same time.

Listen to what they have to say and look them in the face while they are speaking. Don't stare because that indicates you have become distracted by something other than the words being spoken. Such as a pimple, a scratch, the colour of the other person's eyes or something that doesn't belong on his or her face. Staring is bad because it achieves the opposite effect to making them like you.
You don't have to look the person directly in the face, at the same spot--such as the eyes, or one eye--for long. A sentence or two should be enough. Then look somewhere else nearby, briefly, to give the impression that you are thinking about what the person said.

Then look back at the face.

In order to give the impression that you are paying attention, you have to actually pay attention. You must pay attention because you will need to add a comment, ask a question or suggest something that indicates you are considering what has been said. Since you won't care about making someone you dislike or have little respect for like you, you needn't fear that you will give the wrong person the wrong impression.

People like when others pay attention to them. We live in a busy world where seldom enough does it happen.

What happens when you pay close attention to what someone is saying--someone physically close enough to you so that he or she knows you are paying close attention--is that the self esteem of the person rises. Even a self confident person feels gratification when someone unexpectedly pays attention to them.

People like others who raise their self esteem. That can be your opening for friendship.

It's also worth remembering that allowing yourself to be distracted while someone is speaking, especially paying attention to someone who has interrupted your conversation, is a great turn-off. Self esteem plummets when in the middle of speaking someone who has been listening suddenly turns away to give attention to an interloper. You might as well say to that person's face "I don't like you and I don't respect you."

Giving your attention to someone is relatively easy. You can repeat it for those you see regularly, if you want to ramp up your relationships with them. For those you will never see again, you will have been a bright spot in their day. They will remember you the next time they see you, if you cross paths again.

When you end each conversation, be sure to smile. Leave the person on a high note, a smile and some sort of wish for their welfare.

If it works into the event, touch the person briefly on the arm as you say goodbye. Touch is another indicator of liking and of wanting to enhance the relationship.

Next time you see that person, offer something from the previous conversation to indicate you considered their words valuable enough to think about when you were apart. It need only be something brief, an enhancement of something the other person said. Then move on to another topic because neither of you will want to rehash the same conversation.

At some point, if you want to make that person a friend, you must offer something of value to him or her. If that offering relates somehow to spending of money, you are telling the person that your relationship is based on a kind of friendly business association. Such casual friendships evaporate when two people no longer see each other frequently.

Most new relationships that begin with people intending to find a mate fall apart because they are largely based on something relating to money, not on the value of the people to each other. For example, if a guy begins a relationship with a woman by buying a dinner and buying a movie, the woman will feel that her interest is being bought. If there is nothing more personal to the date--even if it includes sex--the relationship likely won't go anywhere because it's fundamentally a gigolo-prostitute association.

To make it a more meaningful relationship, you will need to offer something more valuable than money, your time. That may involve your skill, such as help to put up a chandelier and attach the wiring, or it may involve just your time and effort, such as helping the person accomplish something he or she is having difficulty with. Or help to do something the person wants company doing.

Making a new friend is not hard if you know the techniques. What is much harder is to be able to figure out whether the person is worthy of being your friend. And, more important to that person, whether you are worthy of being his or her friend. Remember, if you want the other person to want to be your friend, you must offer value to that person as well as that person must for you.

In any successful relationship, each person usually feels that they contribute more to its success than the other does. That's natural because we can seldom know all of what the other friend does for us. It just seems unbalanced.

In a marriage, that apparent imbalance may seem as high as 80-20, with each person believing that they contribute 80 percent to the success of the relationship. That's how much most of us miss of what our spouse does for us and to contribute to our security, our welfare and our comfort.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, grandparents and teachers about what they need to know regarding child development, how important each kind of development is and when to tweak each. It's the handbook everyone needs.
Learn more at

Friday, April 11, 2008

An Important Life Lesson

God changes not what is in people, until they change what is in themselves.
- The Qu'ran

The greatest opposition that most people face about changing themselves is from themselves.
The greatest deterrent to social change resides with those who want social change but are not willing to do anything to advance the cause.

The most severe reason why our world's worst problems continue and often get worse is because people complain about them but refuse to work together to make anything different.

Why this reluctance? We want to look after ourselves and to protect or secure what we know as our greatest priority.

Nothing in the world changes unless and until humans change it. Excluding climate and weather, of course, which have the ability to change themselves as consequences of outside influences (usually from the sun).

Why do we not want things to change? Most of us face too much change around us every day. We have equipment that breaks down, commitments that get delayed because others didn't keep theirs to us, a bill we forgot to pay on time, upsets with loved ones, weather and illness that prevents us from doing what we had planned. The list of factors that affect our lives is endless and most of them we have little or no control over.

We don't want to have to change ourselves because too much is changing around us already that we can't control. So, what's he big deal? Why are we so focussed on ourselves that we're prepared to ignore problems we could solve elsewhere?

Somebody told us that we should be able to control our lives. Somebody led us to believe that we would one day reach a plateau where we would have mastered enough skills and have enough control that only minor things could go wrong. Somebody told us that one we day we could "have it made." Somebody told us we could have the perfect job and the perfect mate.

Those happened when we were kids. Those same people, trying to be encouraging and helpful, neglected to tell us that we are fallible, that we have weaknesses, that we would inevitably trust people who would lie to us and break our trust, that nobody is perfect including us, that our hearts would be broken. That sometimes life gets us down so much we think it sucks.

They also didn't give us the information we needed to understand that mistakes and failures are inevitabilities of life. Or the skills to be able to cope with life's downturns that sometimes make impending disaster seem certain.

They didn't teach us that worrying produces nothing and only does harm. Worry never solves anything, absolutely nothing. It not only wastes time, it harms our health and often our relationships with those closest to us. We worry when we think something might happen. We worry for ages, though what we worry about almost never happens.

This is the base from which we approach each new day. Change? Who the hell wants change when the world is swirling around us at a pace we can't keep up with?

Here's a suggestion. Let's teach kids the lessons that we wish we had been taught ourselves. Let's give them the tools they need to avoid the pitfalls we have faced and overcome in our lives. They won't avoid the pitfalls and failures, but they will be able to recover from them faster and with less grief.

Let's do that.

That's change though, isn't it? Yet a painless way to change.

While we're at it, teaching our kids, let's teach them about love. Not lust, not love of money (greed), not hero worship or domination, not abuse or addictive behaviour. These things masquerade as love in some places. Let's teach our kids about real love.

We may have to find out what real love is ourselves before we teach it. For those of us who grew up without love in our lives, finding real love is extremely hard. But doable.

That's painless. The lessons have to be searched out for many of us because they aren't taught commonly to all kids.

Let's teach our kids to have self respect and to respect others. If they love themselves, they won't have trouble respecting others. That's easy. And painless.

But it is change. And it won't happen by itself.

A saying I learned as a child went "God helps those who help themselves. And God help those who are caught helping themselves." It was a kind of ironic joke.

I like the version in the holy book better: God changes not what is in people, until they change what is in themselves.

What's to argue? It costs nothing. It will ease the pain of life's miseries.

Eventually it will make for a happier, more loving, more charitable and more peaceful world.
It's worth a little of your time.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book that provides the means to make social change without upset or revolution. It's a peaceful way to make changes in ways that will not defy any political ideology or religion.
Learn more at

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Strange Facts About Science Fiction

Strange Facts About Science Fiction

Opinions vary about when the science fiction genre began. Writer Hugo Gernsback founded the first known science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926.

But the ancients--remember what you learned in high school about the mythology of the ancient Greeks for example--had people abducted by beings from the sky, humans who could morph into strange beasts and events that would make Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein turn over in their graves. Okay, Einstein was cremated, but you know what I mean.

Getting back to Gernsback, the most famous award for science fiction writing today is The Hugo. At one point he even tried to trademark the term science fiction. Gernsback loved greenbacks. (Oh, that was too easy.) He paid writers for his magazine so little that H.P. Lovecraft dubbed him "Hugo The Rat."

In order for science fiction writers to earn a decent living from their work, they often wrote under several different pen names so they could have more than one story published per issue. Ray Bradbury, for example, used six different pseudonyms.

Science fiction writers today dislike the term sci-fi because it reminds people of cheap B-movies. They prefer SF.

Despite how outrageous some of the "science" was in SF stories, several well known real scientists contributed to SF literature. Wernher Von Braun, German science genius turned US nuclear and space advisor, wrote space fiction and provided expertise for such SF movies as Conquest of Space.

One famous SF writer of the 1960s, James Tiptree Jr., who wrote such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? remained in such secrecy that he was suspected of being a spy. In 1961, Tiptree's identity was discovered. Not a spy after all, but prominent feminist Alice B. Shelton.
Some SF writers have a strange aversion to technology, surely a startling irony. Ray Bradbury won't use a computer or an ATM and claims he has never driven a car.

Isaac Asimov, a legend in both science and science fiction, wrote about interstellar space flight, but refused to use airplanes to move around the country.

The relationship between today's technologies such as the flip phone and the communicators of Star Trek can't be denied. Less well known may be Neal Stephenson's inspirations for well known online programs. Stephenson's Metaverse inspired Second Life and his panoptic Earth application is a similar concept to Google Earth.

While we don't yet have a machine that can produce food and beverages as the Star Trek crews had, SF writer Gene Wolfe helped to develop the machine that makes Pringles. Robert Heinlein devised the first modern waterbed. You have to wonder if Heinlein's waterbed had anything to do with the sexual liberation so common in his books.

After the overwhelming popularity of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, A Space Odyssey, US airline Pan Am released an actual list of names of people wanting to go to the moon. Among the 80,000 names were those of Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite.

Though the HAL computer of 2001 discussed its own feelings and cared about people (albeit sometimes maliciously), today's computers have trouble sorting out conflicting software and are less intelligent but more annoying than doorknobs.

Science fiction has a long history of stories where the heroes save the world, usually using technology to kill the enemy. Might SF be as influential on our reality if its heroes found ways to save the world using peaceful means, such as by using their intellect?

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book that has nothing whatever to do with SF but everything to do with helping children avoid severe problems related to social and emotional underdevelopment or maldevelopment. And about giving them more coping skills they can use as adults.
Learn more at

Primary source: Discover, February 2008

Monday, April 07, 2008

Brutality And Violence In The Bible

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.
- Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth President of the United States (1856-1924)

I don't stand in any queue to praise the life advice of a US president. However, Wilson's words have meaning deeper than the obvious, which is inspiration given to pump up an audience for a speech.

First of all, this simplistic explanation of the meaning of life or the purpose of life seems nothing more than a hollow platitude. Where does he even get this idea?

I propose that Wilson knew his history. He could see the progress of humankind over the centuries and millennia.

Looking back at the quality of life in what Christians call the Old Testament of the Bible, it was brutal. Slavery was common. Any nation that was more powerful than its neighbour would likely attack that neighbour, enslave the men, kill the children and take the women as extra wives so they could reproduce more children for the conquering nation.

The average lifespan was slightly below 30 years. Those who didn't die in childbirth or from disease would die in battle or in a massacre. The Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) was full of violence, sacrifice and brutal death. It was tribal in the most primitive sense of the word.

By the first century CE, the time of Jesus of Nazareth, little had improved. In those times, the Jews and their neighbours were all members of tribes and all tribes had grudges against the others, feared the others and (usually at least once in a generation) conducted battles against them.

The Romans, trying to bring peace to troubled lands, treated their Middle East territories as being populated by expendable, primitive, low-life people who they treated with far less dignity than Saddam Hussein treated the Kurds. Crucifixion was a daily event where several people could be hung by the side of a road together. Except the Romans recognized the skills of the Jewish artisans whom they employed to create beautiful works of art for Rome. The artisans were prolific, but few in number.

In the time period of Jesus, historically the most peace-loving person who ever lived, violence was a way of life. The teachings of Jesus about peace made him an anomaly.

During Europe's Dark Ages, most people were, effectively, slaves to their protector, the lord of the area. While Italy experienced the Renaissance, Britain was still primitive and brutal, as exemplified by Henry VIII who killed two wives and got rid of the others by various and nefarious means. How his daughters fought each other for dominance after Henry's death, killing by the dozens in the process, give further evidence of the ethos of the times.

Today we actually count the number of soldiers who die in battle, give them formal and dignified funerals and give some financial compensation to their widows and families.

Despite the brutal acts of murder (in Rwanda, with machetes, for example) and genocide today, the world is actually a more peaceful place than it has ever been before in history. Someone was responsible for that. Many someones. Over long periods of time.

What Woodrow Wilson asked his people to do was to continue that long tradition toward making the world a better place to live. He asked them to do what they could, no matter how little it seemed to them. Every effort counts.

When we look at how horrid the world is today, we must put it into perspective. People live longer than ever before, stay healthier than ever before, have a decent chance to find happiness that their predecessors never had and we have an opportunity to move the markers along to a better world. Few before us have had such an opportunity.

Let's rise to the challenge and do our parts to make the whole world a better place to live, not just our own homes and communities. All we need to begin is the right attitude.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who will take responsibility for the future of our planet so that it will be better under their watch.
Learn more at

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Listening For God

The highest level of prayer is not prayer for anything. It is a deep and profound silence, in which we allow ourselves to be still and know him. In that silence, we are changed. We are calmed. We are illumined.
- Marianne Williamson, inspirational author and speaker (b. 1952)

In my experience, prayer is a mystery for most people. Many know why they pray and their objectives for doing so, but don't know what to expect in return.

A good friend, a Christian with fundamentalist beliefs, claims that we should pray for things, whether these be things we want to receive or events we want to happen. Thinking back over the many years I have known him, he may be right. He seems to have received what he asked for.

I don't ask for anything when I pray. I pray, as Marianne Williamson does, in deep and profound silence. I don't talk, I listen.

Listening may be the most underrated human skill. As I don't read quickly, having an information processing impairment in my brain, I learn as much as I can by listening to others who know.

People like to be listened to. If I seem to be absorbing what they say and continue to pay attention as they speak, they think I'm a good guy, someone worth knowing.

People ask such penetrating questions as Does God Really exist? What can God do for me? Why am I here? What is my mission in life? How can there be a God when such bad things happen in the world?

They ask. They Ask. They ask. But they don't listen for answers.

The Bible says that God created humankind in his own image. It would be more accurate to say that humankind created their God in their own image. What's more, their God seldom does what they tell him to do. Which is why he disappoints so many people.

If God is an ethereal being, comprised of neither matter nor energy, how might we expect that God could communicate with us? Could he communicate in words, as some say? Don't we claim that people who hear voices in their heads have psychiatric disorders? Or is it only a mental problem when the voices don't come from God?

It makes sense that God can only communicate with us in a manner that is different from the way our fellow humans converse with us. If he communicated with us in the same way as other people, he would surely be a man-made God. That doesn't make sense, unless you are a religious leader who wants others to follow him because he communes directly with the deity. There's a lot of that going around.

It makes sense to me that if we want to know what God has in mind for us, we should place ourselves in a context that is natural, not in a structure built by men. And we should open our minds to what the natural environment offers to us.

When I do that, flushing the effects of human creations from my mind, I can breathe in such energy that I can't explain it. The same breath in my home or a store or church is nothing more than a deep breath. When the context and environment are right, I become more than an individual person with each breath. I become part of a universal whole where I see everything tied together with unseen and unexplainable bonds. Everything in a unity.

I also feel love unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere. So abundant is that love within me that I feel it necessary to share it with others. As I must communicate with others differently than I do with God, I offer it to those who want to share with me. I offer love with words, but also with smiles and touch. A simple touch, such as shaking hands or touching a shoulder or arm while speaking. Sometimes a hug is what's needed.

Does it work? Do I make a difference by sharing my love with others? I can only say that only those who are hardened of heart leave my presence without feeling better than when we met.
That seems like reason enough as a purpose in life.

I do more. I share with you, whom I cannot see. I leave it to you to accept my offering and to learn how to accept the love on your own.

Look for it in deep and profound silence. Listen. It may take a while for you to learn how to hear. When you do, breathe in deeply. Do it again and again, as you will want to. It will be exciting, exhilarating.

Then share your abundance with those who need what they don't have.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to share the important lessons of life with children so they may lead full and happy lives as adults.
Learn more at

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Stages Of Life

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomesan adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; theday he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
- Alden Nowlan, Canadian writer, poet (1933-1983)

We, as parents, must take responsibility when our children discover us flawed, imperfect, even breakers of the rules of common behaviour we set as standards for them in their early lives.

Babies come into this world knowing very little. What they know from 40 weeks of listening in on the world they soon will enter provides them with some information, but we don't yet know the amount or the degree of impact it has on them as children. Let's assume that they have learned enough to make them curious about their new world and they have the beginnings of cognitive abilities by which they will learn more.

Many adults believe that babies gather information as they sense their surroundings for the first several months, even years. Eventually they assemble this data into a concept of what becomes their understanding of their world. This perception about babies is fundamentally wrong.

Babies devise a concept of their world shortly after they have enough information to make sense of it, which is not long after birth. The very act of making sense of it requires the creation of a concept. The concept gets revised as they add more data to their memory banks. Even as babies we believe we know what our world is about.

Throughout pre-adolescent childhood, most kids hold the belief that their concept of their world is the way the larger world is. If their parents satisfy their need for touch by caressing them, holding them and cuddling them, they believe that everyone in the adult world behaves this way. If their parents read to them, they believe that all parents read to their children, even when they discover exceptions to this in other families.

Babies and young children create concepts of their world based on the behaviours of their parents or others who care for them. As they grow and mature, they expect that new information will add to and confirm their concepts.

Most parents teach their children that some behaviours are wrong, dangerous or harmful. They also teach, either proactively or by example (as role models), a concept of right and wrong.

Some parents point out the mistakes of their children to them, but never admit to making mistakes themselves. Some even secretly break the same rules they set for their children. When an adolescent discovers this hypocrisy in the very people who have helped him form his concept of the world, his concept cracks or shatters. This begins the rebellious teenager phase that exists in some cultures (but not all by any means).

As he searches for others to help him to assemble a new concept of the world, he may turn to the easiest people to befriend. The easiest friends to make are those who have something to gain from the relationship, usually something that society considers wrong. The bad guys among their age group are always friendly toward their vulnerable peers. They have little trouble persuading a troubled teen to join them because the teen has nowhere else to turn (or so he believes). The troubled one gravitates toward one he perceives as a friend.

The bad guy always has a clear and positive concept of the world to present to the vulnerable one. This consists not only of a code of behaviour which seems to benefit everyone in the group, but a code that is internally consistent. That is, everyone in the gang or group adheres to the same code of behaviour and set of morals and everyone feels accepted within the group because they all share something very important to them.

They share a world view. It may not be a socially accepted world view in the bigger world, but each member sees it as consistent so long as everyone follows it. When the leader breaks the code, violates the rules, the spectre of hypocrisy looms again and some followers want to leave. However, most leaders maintain their position by following the same codes of behaviour as the rest of the group.

Eventually this group may find itself coming into conflict with the rest of the larger society. In the early years of adolescence, this bonds group members together. Eventually most group members find it impractical to maintain a distinct code of behaviour that is anti-social because it prevents them from breaking into the larger world of adults.

At that time, the adolescent sees the mistakes, the vulnerabilities and the failures of his peer group and holds it up to the same for his parents, for comparison. As Alden Nowlan said, that's when the adolescent becomes an adult, when he forgives his parents.

For most young adults, that act of forgiveness of parents for being imperfect is enough to hold them together as a family for the rest of their lives. So they grow from there.

Some, however, will see their own faults and weaknesses in stark contrast to what seem to be strengths of others around them. At that stage they still don't realize that the others have faults and weaknesses as well because these seldom show or are carefully hidden by most adults.

The more that adults see the weaknesses and failures of others, the more likely they are to see their own in comparison and realize that their own weaknesses, failures and faults are no worse than those of others people.

If they can then accept the weaknesses and failures of others because it's in their mutual best interests, they can forgive themselves for their own.

That is the beginning of wisdom. Only the beginning.

If a person chooses to pursue wisdom with forgiveness as its basis, a whole new life lies ahead for that person. He can create a whole new concept of the world that is consistent, with the condition that some things can't be counted on to remain the same. That is, it's the nature of some things about life to be inconsistent, to change, to be uncertain.

A new concept of life with this as its heart opens up enormous possibilities. Life is as complex as it seems. Wisdom embraces it all and searches for more, prepared to accept that nothing is perfect.

The child has truly matured when wisdom is his goal.

Bill Allin, the author of this article, is a parent, teacher, sociologist, philosopher and life guide. He has failed and grown from his failures in each. Wisdom also comes through growing from failure to success. He distilled a wealth of information he learned from his decades of study of child development into a book for parents and teachers.
Learn about his book Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems from his web site at

Friday, April 04, 2008

For Those Who Resent Others

If you aren't good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you'll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren't even giving to yourself.
- Barbara De Angelis, relationships coach

The first part of the quotation sounds like the basic material of any relationships coach. The second part, the part that most omit from the equation, allows the whole thing to make sense. It drives home the part about loving yourself.

I relate to most of the quotes I use because they conform so well to my own experience, either personally or through observation of others. This one describes much of my life.

My childhood was totally without love. It was without hate or rancor too. It could better be described as a business arrangement between my parents. One set of grandparents--the ones I saw often--exemplified the same business arrangement. My other grandmother, a widow, loved her children and grandchildren, but lacked the means or skill to express her love, so it went largely unnoticed.

When I married the first time, I made the best business decision I knew how to make, based on my experience growing up. My wife, who left me and our two children a decade later so that she could further her career, succeeded in the teaching profession, reaching the position of school principal before she died of cancer caused by excessive and persistent overwork.

Not long after her death, my new wife and I suffered a huge financial loss, so were unable to provide my now-twentyish kids with what their mother had led them to believe they deserved from me, in the sense of financial benefits. In turn, they made the best business decision they could, they dissociated themselves from me totally. I have not seen them for 15 years, or my grandchildren ever.

Working my way through my grief at being alienated (albeit illegally and by lying to their own kids about my being dead) I learned a very important lesson, how to love myself. That lesson showed me that I have value and worth as a human being, something I had not recognized before as everyone who knew me treated me as a business contact. That's how it works, people who treat others like business associates gather friends who treat them the same way.

Knowing how to love and respect myself gave me the insight to be able to love others. Lo and behold, I no longer resented others because of the love they withheld from me. They wanted to love me because I loved them.

What's more, the more love I gave to others, the more I received back. It was the goose that laid the golden eggs. Only the gold turned out to be love, not financial wealth.

My conclusion is that the resentment I had for others I should love--perhaps including my own children, but I'm not certain--vanished when I learned to love myself. I thought I loved them but maybe they sensed resentment. I certainly didn't know how to show them love very well then.

As a side benefit to my new life, I no longer feel lonely, even when I am alone for a long period of time. As another benefit, people come to me with their offerings of love because they know what they will get in return. It's a good deal both ways.

Now I see a world of lonely people who have business arrangements as relationships, who don't know how to give or receive love fully, who have troubled children even though they tried their best to raise them well, who can't keep a marriage or "significant other" relationship for long because "the business" changes.

Money is the most important thing in their lives, though they tend to think of it in terms of possessions--"he who has the most toys when he dies, wins." They think I'm simple because I'm happy without being rich. They don't even appreciate that they are rich without being happy.

I don't know how to explain it to them.

No one should have to go through hell to get to heaven, as I did.

There are important lessons to learn and we need to teach them. Those of us who know. We may fail with some, but we will succeed with many if we keep trying to teach them. We will regret our failures, but only until we consider our successes, those we love and who love us in return because of what they have learned and received from us.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow happy, loved and successful children into happy, loved and successful adults and parents of their own children.
Learn more at