Saturday, May 31, 2008

Attacking The Hypocrisy Of Science

There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.
- Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885), Les Misérables

It's impossible at this time to know what Victor Hugo meant by "the human soul." As many different concepts exist for it, it would be nearly impossible to find a consensus among any group of people no matter how small.

Let's put this quote into perspective. It's extremely difficult for anyone to have a workable grasp of the immensity that is the great ocean that comprises most of the surface of our planet. As a frontier of science, the ocean is still relatively unexplored territory. New (previously unknown) species of ocean dwellers are discovered through research every week, almost at the rate of one per day.

The quantity of water and life in the great ocean are beyond the comprehension of most people, if not all of us. At the bottom of the ocean lies more than three times as much land as humans have ever walked in all of history.

What is the sky? If you take a photo of it, or many photos to comprise a panoramic view of the sky, then assemble them into a contiguous whole, would that be enough to explain the sky? Of course not. The blue of the sky is merely a blue shift of white light coming from the sun. Beyond that are galaxies we can see at night, plus billions more galaxies we can't see, then maybe other universes beyond that.

That's not even considering other dimensions that may exist all around us, features of reality we can't sense but some people feel or experience from time to time. As the concepts of multiple universes and dimensions of space-time other than the one we perceive enter science through theories such as the string theories of physics, science is forced to accept that there may be existence beyond what they can detect with their equipment, that is little more than supersensitive versions of our own five senses.

Scientists exploring other galaxies with their telescopes and spacecraft tell us that planets far beyond ours may hold life. They don't want us to accept anything we may perceive as real if they can't prove its existence themselves, but they are quite prepared to propose that whole planets of life--some maybe with non-DNA-based life--probably exist beyond our present ability to detect. They use statistics as evidence, as if anyone with any sense of experience with the false and deceptive use of statistics would grant that any credibility.

Many scientists deny the existence of the human soul. They claim it's a figment of our brains, if it exists at all. They can even show what happens in our brains when what we call a soul is active. But, they believe, it's nothing more than our imaginations at work. Yet they want us to believe in other civilizations light years away and other dimensions of existence for which they have no evidence more than a vague theory with no proof in the works.

The trouble with our concept of the human soul is that far too many people have used their own versions of fictional concepts they made up to bilk many of us out of our money. Frauds and charlatans have existed almost as long as our species has. Many of them have purported to have knowledge of the human soul that the rest of us don't have. They don't, but we and our ancestors have paid good money to hear their stories anyway.

That doesn't mean that the human soul doesn't exist. Or, for that matter, that God doesn't exist. We all know that there are as many differing concepts of God as there are religions on the planet. That includes societies such as what we call the Roman Empire, that appointed their own Caesars as gods--they worshipped their emperor as a god.

That doesn't mean that God or the human soul doesn't exist. It means that most of us haven't the ability to detect them. We may pray to God, hoping that he exists, having been threatened with eternal damnation in Hell if we don't fall on our knees before the God that someone else tells us is the real God. But we can't be certain that the God we praise is real, any more than we can prove that unknown civilizations light years away are real, or different dimensions are real.

Or even that thought is real. Science can prove that something happens in various parts of the brain as we think and that different parts "light up" on their scopes as we do different kinds of thinking. But science has only proven that something has happened in the brain when we think. It has absolutely no concept of what thought is, at least nothing I consider workable.

The very scientists who are thinking about how to explain to us that things they can't prove don't exist can't prove that thought exists. By rights we should be able to claim that their thoughts are nothing more than activity of their imaginations.

So, what is the human soul? Nothing more or less than a part of God that is on loan to us while we inhabit these bodies of ours. We are all part of one great whole.

When our body dies, it gets recycled. Not an atom is lost when our body decomposes. It all becomes either part of other things composed of atoms (matter) or it becomes some form of energy. Just ask Einstein who explained it with his famous equation, e = mc2 No matter or energy are ever lost when a transfer or transformation happens. It's all part of a great whole.

Science can't explain energy either. They know energy exists because they have experienced it. So what can science offer to those of us who have experienced something beyond what even they can't comprehend?

Perhaps science should do what it tells us to do with thoughts about subjects we can't explain: shut up.

The human soul cannot be explained by science, so science should not have any right to make definitive pronouncements about it. Since the human soul is merely part of the greater whole we call God, it follows that science should have no say about God either. Science has no right to tell us that something we believe doesn't exist while it blithely accepts theories that propose the existence of things they can't prove; that would be hypocrisy.

I feel God within me. I can't explain that. I don't even have an interest in attempting to explain it or to prove it to anyone, let alone a doubter.

The doubters always make more noise than the believers who know they are right, who know what they feel within them. That doesn't make them right or those with greater perception and higher levels of consciousness wrong.

It only shows their ignorance and inability to tolerate thoughts that go beyond what they can comprehend. They are bigots with white coats.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach their children truths before the charlatans get at them. or to make corrections if they have.
Learn more at

Friday, May 30, 2008

One Life Goal: Achieved

The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now.
- Hilary Hinton "Zig" Ziglar, American author, motivational speaker (b. 1926)

While I am not fond of absolute pronouncements (they leave no room for exceptions), Mr. Ziglar's statement contains a great deal of truth.

Why do we trade long term goals for short term pleasures or desires?

This happens more today than ever before in history, likely because people have more opportunities to gratify themselves now rather than struggle to achieve long term goals that may or may not pan out later.

People accept jobs that have them working 75 to 90 hours per week, carry around laptops and cell phones, even grouse when they must turn their phones off while in a theatre, all to accumulate a high income they don't have time to spend effectively. They may lose their families and spend their income on stuff they would not need if they didn't work all the time. Their pleasure comes from buying, not from doing.

People take drugs for a few minutes of bliss, then forget from one time to the next the horrifying experience of regaining their undrugged senses after the fact. Their marriages, their families and their friendships eventually disintegrate, but they need that hit of pleasure for a few minutes no matter what the cost later.

People marry the wrong partners because they believe it will help them in years to come. They get the looks and recognition for a short time, but live years of misery later when it doesn't work out.

People buy products they see advertised--such as cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, fashion design clothing or upscale cars--despite the fact that these rarely achieve their intended purpose (real enjoyment) and often leave the buyer cash-poor, unable to engage in other worthwhile activities because they don't have enough money left. They don't "get it" that a $100,000 a year income is the same as a $20,000 a year income if both spend it all and have nothing left to show for it.

Why? The answer, I believe, is that we no longer encourage children to have long term goals for their lives as adults. Rather than urging them to determine what they want to make of their lives, what they want to accomplish with their time on this planet, our culture teaches them to buy for pleasure and recognition and work as hard as you must to get the necessary income (as high as possible) to do it.

In my personal life, I didn't have much in the way of goals as a young man. With my intellectual and physical impairments, social backwardness and emotional late development, I thought I would be lucky just to survive long enough to retire from something.

However, I did have one long term goal. One summer day when I was about 16 years old and working for the summer in a factory, a overheard one worker tell another "I never have conversations with people younger than 25 because they don't know anything." A quick self-examination persuaded me that I fit that, I didn't know anything, not much about any subject, no skills at any trade, no aspirations to get them, no hope.

I decided on the spot that one day I would like to know enough that I could speak with knowledge and confidence on some subject. As I had no idea which subject to choose, I decided that I had better gain a bit of knowledge on as many subjects as possible before I selected one to specialize in.

In the process of devouring information on a wide variety of topics over many years, I managed to neglect deciding which subject would be my specialty. Coincidentally, I became a teacher because teaching held more security for a man with a young family than the media work I had been in. That was an accomplishment in itself, since I was functionally illiterate at the time.

As getting an undergraduate degree, then a master's degree from a university brought in more money for a teacher in my region, I secured those as well. Still functionally illiterate. I became skilled at thinking through a subject for a paper, then searching out quotes in books I had not read to support my theses. (It was easy as I only had to read the quotes the authors of the books had quoted, not the whole of the books. Then I requoted the quotes and gave attribution to both authors.)

In my mid 40s, I learned to read for content and enjoyment. That improved my ability to accumulate more information and knowledge.

Eventually I became someone people turned to for information and answers. As my university experience specialized in sociology, people come to me for advice on subjects relating to the social sciences. I had reached my goal.

It had taken nearly 50 years from that first motivational prompt, but I had accomplished what few others had, achieved my life goal.

Looking around at people I know, I realize that few of them have life goals. Real goals they work towards. Most of them have more expensive cars than mine, have bigger homes than mine and pay taxes on higher incomes than mine.

But they aren't as happy. They don't understand why. So they go smoke some grass or get drunk and forget about it.

Remember, our job as adults is to teach the generations following us to make the world better, not to screw it up more than we did. Long term goals, life goals, are important.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and anyone who wants to teach children what they need to know (outside of schoolwork) to make successes of their lives.
Learn more at

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Are You A Doughhead? Find Out

We shall succeed only so far as we continue that most distasteful of all
activity, the intolerable labor of thought.
- Learned Hand, jurist (1872-1961)

Hand's statement seems like a backhanded universal condemnation of humanity. The hope he offers of success for humanity seems dim, at best.

We are, indeed, surrounded by people who don't think. They have brain activity, but that is usually the means by which they rationalize their agreement with the dominant authority who provides them with the thoughts they absorb and believe. They don't actually think anything much for themselves.

Why, if humans are among the most successful species on the planet (we live and survive everywhere we can find food), how could so many of us lack the power to think or give up the ability to think for ourselves? That ability to think allowed us to survive where hundreds and thousands of other species went extinct.

The answer is: we assiduously teach ourselves to avoid thinking. Commercials and other advertising teach us that we don't need to choose among the many brands of detergents, fashion brands and toothpaste, we only need to choose the brand with the most effective advertising. The best advertising trains us best so we don't have to think about it.

Our media teach us what to think and believe about politics. There is no such thing as a major media network that does not have a political agenda and party it supports more than the others. They claim neutrality, but practise something quite the opposite.We tend to support the party and its candidates that the media we pay attention to advocate.

Within offices we have unwritten guidelines about what's right and what's stylish to wear. It's unusual in a factory lunchroom to find one person who regularly disagrees with the political stance of the majority. Workers may support different sports teams, but they enjoy the camaraderie and competition of challenging "their" team against those of others of their co-workers.

In schools, as children, often the lesson most consistently taught is to be quiet when others are talking, during a video presentation or at certain other times. While this behaviour is both courteous and a means of learning, it also teaches children that their thoughts and ideas and concepts they may devise are not worthy of airing or of consideration.

Opportunities to express and have accepted their own thoughts are few in some cases non-existent in the classroom. Without those opportunities to express themselves in a receptive environment, kids learn to avoid thinking because they have nowhere to speak up.

That's thorough teaching, socialization and training. We teach people that they don't need to think because others will always be prepared to do their thinking for them. Isn't the teacher or parent always right, at least to themselves?

To a great extent, this practice has worth. Every society in the world has values and beliefs it holds dear and these must be taught to every child and adult so that chaos does not ensue with people robbing each other, killing each other, raping or cheating each other. We need conformity to some extent.

What we don't need is the thorough lack of thought that so many people give to their lives. A simple example: at gift-giving time (such as Christmas) do we give a child the gift he or she wants or do we consider what gift would best help the child through the next phase of his or her life? That is, do we give a play gift or a learning gift?

In most cases, the gift will be what will satisfy the child. Toys and electronic games break so easily or get cast aside so quickly because the fun but meaningless gifts do not provide what kids naturally know they must have, preparation for their lives as adults. They inherently know what they need, but they ask for the toys they have learned to want from advertising and peer influence.

They have about 20 years to learn how to be competent and knowledgeable adults. By age 20, most young adults know how they should act, what they should do, how they should think. Each of the "shoulds" in the previous sentence results from repeated training: don't think about this, just do it.

Is thinking such hard work? Very much so. For someone of middle age who has done little of it, thinking independently may be virtually impossible. They don't know what to do to engage the gears required to think. They may literally lack the neural pathways to think beyond the surface level of any subject. They get used to learning from others what and how they should "think." They believe what they're told they should think.

Thinking requires about 33 percent as much energy as heavy lifting. The difference is that thinking can continue for an extended period of time, whereas heavy lifting usually takes place for a brief period of time. Over a one hour period, one person thinking can burn many times more calories than someone doing the average construction job, for example.

What happens from years of brain atrophy? Senility, for one. Senility results from long term lack of use of the brain. Senility is totally preventable. Just think.

Health professionals advise now that people should find many activities that will engage their brains to get them thinking as they get older. It's a way to greatly reduce, if not totally eliminate, the risk of Alzheimer's. Just as grass doesn't grow on a busy street, the lesions of Alzheimer's may not grow in a busy brain.

Whoda thought? Not nearly enough of us, judging by the increasing numbers of people dying from Alzheimer's. If you want more evidence, walk down the halls of many nursing homes where patients are left in the halls: watching people walk back and forth along their passageway is the most stimulation the brains of many of them get. There is no brain activity to speak of behind those hollow eyes.

Learned Hand said that "we shall succeed only..." He should have said "we shall survive only..." As individuals and as a species.

The world does not need a flood of more stupid old people to support. Let's make some changes.

Start with yourself. Being a reader, you are not likely to suffer from senility or Alzheimer's, but you know people who will. Maybe you can motivate them to change. Think about it.

Some of the most brilliant thoughts these days are coming from elderly people who have recently learned to think for themselves. One thing we could do is to give them a forum to be heard.

Remember, they have been taught since childhood that their thoughts are not worthy and they will not be heard. They need you to listen to them. And maybe to find others who will pay attention as well.

Bill Allin
"Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems," a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children who can think, instead of socially acceptable automatons who do and think what they are told for their entire lives.
Learn more at

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Man's Weakest Spot

Typically, the weakest spot of men is their manhood, be it physically or mentally. We all know that a blow to the genitals can bring down the strongest man. But striking at a man's sense of manhood is just as efficient a cowardly "low blow". The magical formula to defeat a macho is by pushing him to do something dangerous and stupid, with the (not so) "secret" words : "I dare you to do it, if you're a man."
- Pascal Rassi, artist

A macho, as Rassi calls him, is not just stupid. He is a throwback to prehistoric days when the most powerful young men in a band or tribe were the most daring and strongest. These were the warriors. These were the men who forever trumpeted "My (blank) is better/bigger/stronger than your (blank)."

These were the people who, as children, would not only accept reasonable dares, they would be the ones to taunt others with unreasonable or risky dares. They learned that they gained social power by making others look like chickens because they would not accept unreasonable dares.

These people exist today, though they may be found in politics or in vocations that thrive on guile and people-management muscle as well as in gyms for muscle builders.

They are not bullies, though they may be violently aggressive. Bullies lack self esteem and pick on those they perceive as weak, whereas the Testosterone Kings want to confront their equals or those who consider themselves superior, to defeat them.

Confrontation is a constant issue with the machos. Like prize fighters working their way to the top, the machos win even when they lose because in a loss they learn how to do it better the next time, to defeat the next macho in line. They don't lack self esteem. More likely they suffer from an unsupportable excess of it.

However, not all men succumb to a dare against their manhood. Some are secure enough and intelligent enough to recognize a stupid dare and an unwinnable confrontation to walk away from it without looking back. They understand that their sexuality is not at risk because of a stupid dare.

While this machoness is usually attributed to men, women suffer from the same dares to their womanliness. The cosmetics industry thrives on it, indeed exists solely because of it. They dare women to be as beautiful as the models in their advertising, even though the models may be anorexic and madeup to within an inch of their lives, more like china dolls than real women.

Everyone wears clothes, but the women's fashion industry uses the threat of not being "in" to push new wardrobes on budget-weary women each year. In the medical field, cosmetic plastic surgery has grown enormously over the past two decades so that it is now the most lucrative and cushiest segment of the medical community.

The victims of these dares and threats to their sexuality testify that we have not fully emerged from the mentality of our forebears in their primitive days as carnivores of the African Rift Valley.

Security, sexuality and self esteem all exist entirely within our own minds. We act out our lives as our minds tell us they believe we are. If we listen to others, we will never be confident about any of them.

You are who you believe you are. If you don't like who that is, you can change your beliefs. That will change your life. That will change who you are. Believe it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach their children the social and emotional skills they need to be competent and confident adults.
Learn more at

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Greatest Motivational Act

The greatest motivational act one person can do for another is to listen.
- Roy E. Moody, motivational speaker

Judging by Google search results, this Roy Moody quote ranks as his most popular. And rightly so. A motivational speaker (president of Roy Moody & Associates) giving his best advice about how to motivate others.

But listening? Don't we do that all day long anyway? People natter at us for one reason or another and we have to respond.

That's just the point. Most of us consider what we say to be of value, while what others say is, at best, mildly interesting.

More often than not, our most common form of oral communication would be labelled as small talk. Stuff we talk about but have little or no commitment to. The weather. The results of a popular local sports team. The mischief a well known politician or Hollywood star has been up to. Nothing to spill your coffee over.

Yet everyone we meet has a story to tell. It's the story of how they got where they are. For most of us, it's a tale sprinkled with tragedy, life lessons about survival, the consequences of misdeeds, broken and failed relationships and a few great stories about good things that happened to them. Each person is an expert on that story.

But we have our own story to tell and no one wants to listen to it, so why should we listen to the story of someone else we don't care about and we don't want to hear the story anyway?

Because everyone's story is interesting if we give them a chance to tell it in some detail and with thought given to the telling. And because giving someone your attention long enough for them to tell their story is one of the beat ways to make a friend.

For many of us, friendships are more like business relationships than true friendships. In today's world, friendships are as disposable as old toasters. When someone (a "friend") can no longer provide us with something of value, we find someone else who can. We tend to spend more time with those who can give us more of what we want than with those who may deserve our attention. That's business. That's the business model of life.

Giving someone our time to listen to what they believe is important is giving them our most valuable commodity, our time. People not only appreciate that gift, they treasure it in many cases.

We all have busy lives, which we use as excuse for why we don't have time to listen to the life stories of others. Their lives are busy too. When no one cares enough to give that gift of time and caring about another to listen to what they have to say, true friendships and even good working relationships are impossible.

It has truly been said that a smile can make someone's day. It makes them feel good. But listening to someone in a way that shows you care makes them feel valuable.

Most of us don't have many ways that we can feel valuable and worthwhile to others. If we want to have that feeling with someone, listening to them is a great way to begin.

And it's a great way to continue that relationship. When people stop listening to others who love them, the others feel they are no longer loved. Whether the loss of love is true or not, that is what they feel.

When no one wants to listen to us, we have no reason to think of worthwhile things to say. Think about how many people you know that really don't have anything worthwhile to say and you will understand how rare it is to find someone to listen.

When we give people our time to listen to them, we trust them with a valuable possession. That trust may be warmly appreciated the first time it happens. When it happens again, they know we care. They want to be associated with someone who cares about them.

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 grow to be competent and confident adults who feel loved and listened to.
Learn more at

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Intellectual Obesity And Information Diarrhea

The internet and technology associated with it have opened access to quantities of information unparalleled in human history. No emperor of Rome, monarch of the British Empire or ruler of any other empire has ever been able to acquire information the way anyone with a computer can today.

A friend wants to buy a garden tractor. He is able to research many different brands, compare quality and durability within brands of each manufacturer and among the various brands available on the market. Having selected a few for further research, he accesses several blogs and forums to learn about the experiences of users of each and gets warning about what to avoid. Then, trailer behind his van, he can pick up the best buy he has made by playing each seller against the others.

Not long ago I was contacted by a college student from Australia as a source for material she was researching on a topic on which I have expertise. Others, strangers every one and representing six different continents, have contacted me for information and advice about problems they have experienced. To them, I am accessible due to the internet.

However, this unprecedented access to information by millions of people comes at a cost. That cost is time, as a researcher must wade through mountains of information that is more advertising and propaganda than fact, and that takes time. Google can only point to sources, not to the most factual and succinct sources.

Children use the internet to learn about all sorts of topics. The media warn us about the dangers of pornography and adult web sites for kids. And they caution parents to monitor the activity of their children on social sites like Facebook.

But the media can't help children or parents to distinguish between factual information and political propaganda, religious come-ons, sites that outright lie about the products they sell, warranties on products they sell that aren't worth the paper they could be (but aren't) printed on, or "research" that could better be described as personal hobby than oriented to scientific method.

In short, the internet is the greatest source of trash information in human history.
Yet children and adults read this stuff. If it's well written, readers tend to become believers. Form, rather than factual substance, gives it street cred.

As television viewership declines, reading of material on web sites increases dramatically. This contributes to what retired Canadian educator Jim World calls intellectual obesity. Kids and adults can have heads crammed full of misinformation, trivia that may be attractive but serves them no good purpose (think the style and content of supermarket tabloids) and opinions-turned-beliefs on topics about which they have very limited verifiable facts.

In general, schools don't teach how to distinguish between facts, lies and propaganda, whether on the internet or on television. A small part of one course I took years ago focussed on political spin, editorialized news sources and propaganda. It may have been the best time I ever spent in school. Most people never get that experience, so they become prey for the wolves of the internet. Internet wolves know their sociology.

Humans being subject to human nature, the more they know, the more they want to tell others. Rumour and unsubstantiated fact has always been a part of human dialogue. But it could usually be distinguished as rumour and ignored or treated accordingly.

Today we have kids and adults who believe the most outrageous things because they read it on the internet. In North America, over half of all adults use the internet as their primary source for news and information. With a few rare exceptions, most of it is not subjected to scrutiny the way newspaper and television news reports are.

If US President George W. Bush could use newspapers, radio and television to spread lies about weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist in Iraq, then use the lies to start a war, what could happen when the unfiltered internet is used to brainwash people in every country of the world about the lies or misinformation its sources want to spread?

Don't call it information diarrhea if the term offends you. But let's not pretend that the internet is a source of verifiable facts. It's not. Most web sites are supported by companies or organizations with something (product or idea) to sell or individuals who want their ill-considered and often poorly formulated thoughts to be recorded for posterity.

Do we need more laws to protect us? No. The present plethora of unenforced and unenforceable laws on the books now prove that method doesn't work. More laws just make the bad guys get smarter to avert and avoid them.

The only way to protect people from misinformation and religious or political propaganda on a global scale is to teach children how to identify fact from fiction, truth from propaganda, sham from gem. That means changing part of the curriculum in high schools.

The other day I discussed with a friend the twice in my life that I have used skills I learned from two years of trigonometry in high school. I struggle today to comprehend how the average person could use calculus in their lives when they can't tell truth from lie, don't know how to think for themselves and believe everything that is carefully presented as if fact by a politician.

Being able to tell fact and truth from what is not is an essential life skill. If it's not taught in schools, most people will not learn it. They will be potential victims waiting to be victimized. This has always been true, but never more important than in this 21st century.

This world does not need any more victims or people who are too stupid to distinguish between truth and lies. We need to teach every child.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to make their children savvy about the ways of the world that could make them victims if they can't protect themselves.
Learn more at

Monday, May 19, 2008

Clarence Beat The Odds, Did The "Impossible"

So Clarence Brazier can read. So what? Who cares?

You should.

As obscure as Clarence Brazier remained for most of his life, he is now a public figure, a man of letters. Canada Post, Canada's national postal service, in 2006 awarded Clarence its National Literacy Award. His country's head of state, the Governor General, awarded him as well.

What did Clarence do? And why should we care?

Clarence Brazier learned to read.

Doesn't everyone learn to read? Actually, no. The number of Canadians who can't read is in the single digits, that's true. The number of functionally illiterate people in Canada is between 40 and 65 percent depending on age (older people are more often functionally illiterate due to learning conditions not being conducive when they were kids).

Clarence, however, was a total non-reader. Until his wife Angela died, when Clarence was age 93, she had coached him through every bit of written material, forms, tax returns and news reports for over half a century. Then she died. As he was deaf by then, he decided that he either had to learn to read or totally lose touch with the world.

Clarence chose to learn to read. By age 95, he had accomplished his mission. He was age 100 in 2006 when Canada Post gave him its award.

For two years he had to survive without his beloved Angela before he could search the junk mail for stuff he needed to shop for, find the news of the day in newspapers, read directions on his medicine bottles and a million other things we all take for granted that require us to read. His daughter, Doris Villemaire, who is old enough to receive her government's old age security pension herself, acted as his language tutor and reader/helper.

During his working life, Clarence had a dizzying variety of jobs, most for short terms, none of which required him to read. At least when they did, he quit. One, as a jail guard, lasted only part of a day, until he learned that he would have to write a report of his day's activities at the end of each shift.

Finally he hit a wall at age 93. He had to learn to read or die trying. Non-readers are survivors by nature, or at least by constant training. Daughter Doris, a retired teacher, found her father a delight to teach, as she had found the many young children she had taught to read during her career in the classroom. "His eyes would actually sparkle," she said, "when he'd recognize a word. It was just as I'd seen with my students."

Clarence has received other awards over the past two years, including the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award at age 101. He has become the poster child for both literacy and for new learning by seniors.

The press release issued by the Governor General of Canada's office said "At 101 years of age, Mr. Brazier continues to display courage and conviction as he shares his struggle to overcome illiteracy and to raise awareness among students and adults throughout [Ontario]."

It works for me. I was functionally illiterate until I was well into my 40s myself.

There is no age at which learning should stop, or necessarily must stop. Our brain is capable of generating new neurons and forming new synapses every day until we die.

The human brain doesn't stop learning when it gets old. It gets old when it stops learning.
Just ask Clarence.

Imagine how he must feel, at age 102 today, to be looked at as a role model for the very skill he feared and avoided for nearly a century.

At age 93, Clarence cast off the "I can't do it" mantra and decided that he could.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know what is really important to children, not just what school boards say they should teach.
Learn more at

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How A 15 year old Scandalized A Nation

How A 15-year-old Scandalized A Nation

Miley Cyrus did the unthinkable. She had the unmitigated gall to grow from a child to a woman without going through a graceful transition period where the American public could approve.

The daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus (think Achy-Breaky Heart and television's Doc) is the runaway star of Disney's Hannah Montana, about an ordinary girl who makes it in the big time as a singer. With a fortune in Hannah toys and accessories in the marketplace, Miley had become the poster child for the clean and safe young American girl, a role model for all young girls with dreams.

But Miley crossed the line. She reached physical womanhood without becoming of legal age. With her parents at the photo shoot, she posed for Vanity Fair magazine's June issue. I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but she posed with one shoulder and part of her back bare. Actual skin showing in the photo.

The fact that Miley and anyone else in the world would bare more skin in a bathing suit on a beach was irrelevant to self righteous American bigots. In the magazine picture she clutched a silk sheet around her and her hair was slightly mussed. Obviously Miley would be teaching young American girls who looked to her as a role model, an ideal, that sex is the right thing to do, the bigots claimed.

Oh, the dreadful degradation that Miley would bestow on American girls would stagger the imagination. Girls as young as three years old would see their idol as a shameless hussy and want to be like that themselves. Why three year old girls would be reading Vanity Fair, where many other models would be seen wearing far less than Miley, remains a mystery.

So does the claim that a bare shoulder and part of her back is sexually stimulating. Unless the bigots themselves find it stimulating.

Why parents who would not want their daughters to read the magazine would read it themselves is another mystery. Or I should say, hypocrisy.

Parents who know next to nothing about children want someone to blame if their daughters descend into sluthood and Miley fit the bill perfectly. Miley's embarrassment and claim that the photo was not to her liking and the distance her parents (who had approved the shoot with controversial photographer Annie Leibovitz ) put from the photo's publication was just what the scandal-lovers wanted.

The photo looks suspiciously like an art picture from the 1950s. Yes, art, not Hustler. Only Miley wasn't nude. But art doesn't matter to the bigots. Bare shoulders are all that's important.
The hypocrisy of the bigots boggles the imagination of anyone who observed the situation without emotion. The politically correct bigots wanted someone to suffer. They found Miley. She's a sweet girl, she should do the trick nicely.

All parents of young girls should take the time to explain to their daughters the grief that Miley Cyrus and her parents will experience. Not because Miley did something wrong. Because fame brings shame in the United States of America.

That's how it works. Tell your daughters about how cruel the morality police bigots can be.
Don't bother telling them about the sins of the bigots themselves, the ones they keep hidden away. Those sins don't get published in Vanity Fair anyway.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to make their children aware of the cruelty that prejudice can do to people so they can avoid it where possible.
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Saturday, May 03, 2008

How To Avoid Marriage Failure

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person.But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and zen master, author of Being Peace

Note that the monk stresses that blaming does no good at all. Neither does it help to adopt blame for something ourselves. Blaming is not a winning strategy in relationships.

At the time of breakup of a marriage, seldom does it happen that one of the couple admits to having done wrong. When it happens, the one who admits having done wrong usually has some excuse that is valid to him or her, usually that the other has abandoned him or her physically or emotionally and he or she committed some unacceptable behaviour out of need. In a majority of cases, each blames the other for something.

In some cases, the couple chooses the middle path, counselling. Someone with a certificate in something--usually marriage counselling--interrogates each individual of the couple to find what behaviours could be changed in order to reduce the stress or improve the interaction between them. That's "using reason and argument." Sometimes it works, but the success rate is not high.

Thich says that "if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well." In other words, if we know how to take care of each other, our relationship will grow.

Very nice. Glib. The divorce rates in industrial countries (above fifty percent in almost every case) gives evidence that we don't know how to take care of each other. Without that key element, knowing how to take care of each other, we have little hope of forming a long term successful relationship. Where do we learn this skill, this knowledge?

To be fair, some do learn on the job. They muddle through the rough patches to form something wonderful, as if they knew what to do in the first place. Few do.

In no society I know are the guides for forming and cementing successful relationships taught to everyone. Ideally they should be taught to children, as young as possible. Preferably at the sandbox age. That's the age when many people learn the value of friendships, at least of having allies as opposed to enemies.

Not long after the sandbox age kids form friendships if they can, temporary alliances if they can't make friends. The temporary allies are still called friends. The friends that are really allies are more like buddies that share similar interests, even if those interests include protecting themselves from a mutual enemy or bully.

What's the difference between allies/buddies and real friends? It's the same difference as between those who form successful marriage relationships and those whose marriages break down when the two people "grow apart." It's a question of who is more important.

That's not the Who is the head of the household? question, but Who is more important to each member of the couple? If each member believes himself or herself more important, that his or her own best interests must be maintained as higher priority than the other, the two are buddies, allies. It's effectively a business relationship marriage. Businesses fail.

When both individuals believe that the best interests of the other are more important than their own, the marriage will likely succeed. The friendship will last.

"What happens to you affects me, so it's in my best interests to see that you have a happy, successful and fulfilling life." Don't blame the lettuce. Learn how to grow it so that it becomes more valuable.

The lettuce will appreciate it and reward you greatly. In human terms, that reward continues throughout the lifetime.

When you are the more important person in a relationship, more important to yourself, then your relationship is like a business association. Buddies. Allies that help each other, but always have their own bests interests at heart.

That's a pretty simple lesson to teach to children. Very hard to teach to adults. Most kids don't receive that as a consciously and proactively taught lesson.

Unless they have been taught that lesson, most kids will grow up believing that their own best interests are what they should keep in mind most of the time. That's what nature teaches them. Marriages where one or both parties believe that will eventually fail. Worse, one or both parents will be blamed by the kids and they will grow to do the same in their own marriages.

Stop the endless cycle. Teach the children.

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 handle successful relationships as adults. The world doesn't need more buddy marriages.
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Thursday, May 01, 2008

This Painless Pleasurable Gift Could Save A Life

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.
- Mother Teresa

Without going into excruciating detail in analysis of kinds of smiles, let's just say that they come in two basic types. With one type, the emotion is in-coming, with the other it flows outward.

Some people smile at how they benefit from a particular situation. They might smile with glee as they leave their bank with more cash in hand than they withdrew from their account because the teller made a counting error. They don't care if the bank lost money. It didn't, but the money to make up the difference would come from the teller's pay. The customer may still not care, only interested in his personal benefit.

Another person might smile at the hurt of another. They delight at the suffering of someone because they feel it makes them superior. Or because the person suffering was falsely accused of doing something when the guilty party was the smiler.

A kidnapper would smile at a child before grabbing the child and forcing her into his car and driving away.

These smiles all involve benefits or perceived benefits for the smiler, sometimes (often) at the expense of another person.

Mother Teresa would not even acknowledge those kinds of smiles as real smiles. She only knew smiles that emanated love. One look at that exceedingly wrinkled ancient face and you knew there was love behind it, nothing but love going out to whoever received the smile.

When we give a gift to a charity, most of us know nothing of where it will go, how it will be used. When we smile a warm smile at another person with the objective of helping that person to have a better day we don't know how much good it will do. We know where it will go and who it will benefit, but we don't know how much or in what way it will benefit that person.

I am reminded of a time many years ago when it struck me that no one entering or leaving the bank branch I used regularly either smiled at others coming toward them or held the door open for them. I decided that I would follow that practice anyway. Every time I went into or out of that branch, I held the door for someone and smiled warmly at them.

About a year later I noticed that some people were holding the door for me, a few even smiled while doing it. Two years after that almost everyone I met going into or out of that branch held the door open for me if they went through first. Many smiled, not all.

Why the change? I submit that someone started it. Someone made a snowball and started it rolling downhill. I would like to think that it was me, but that doesn't matter.

What matters is that when I go through the door of that bank now, someone ahead of me will almost certainly hold the door open for me and will likely smile at the same time. It's the smile and the gesture that count, not the fact that I might have begun something that spread.

I have read comments written by people whose lives were saved by a smile. Two that I can remember--one man, one woman--were thinking of ending their lives by their own hands. Someone did something nice for them, they smiled warmly, and the depressed people decided that the world might not be such a bad place after all. After that, the world looked different to them. I don't know the rest of their stories, but they don't matter.

Does a smile really have that much power? Can such a small gesture make such a huge difference in someone's life? Remember that for someone who is severely depressed, enough to consider taking his or her own life, nothing makes sense anyway. A smile given freely and warmly to them might be worth more to them at that particular moment than winning a lottery.

In fact, winning a lottery is something related to our impulse toward greed, which may well be something that is crushing the emotional wellbeing of a dpressed person.

Small gestures that show you care about others make huge differences in their lives.

When you smile warmly at someone who looks miserable, who looks as if the world just ran over their lonely lifeline and split it open, then you see that face transform into a smile in return, even if it's a weak one, you feel as if your life truly is worthwhile.

As the agencies that collect blood for medical purposes say, "It's in you to give."

A smile costs you nothing. Except a measure of emotional giving. Some have trouble making that gift. For them, those who smile for their own benefit, giving a smile to hlep someone else is not something they do.

The ultimate test of the value of a smile is when you smile at the person in the mirror and that person smiles back. It means the person in the mirror likes you.

Take that to the bank. And hold the door open for someone while you're there.

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 know the value of a smile and the real worth it has when smiles are given to others. It's an important life lesson.
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