Monday, December 13, 2010

I Can't Take It Any More

I Can't Take It Any More
Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.
- Leo Buscaglia, American author, motivational speaker, "Dr. Love" (1924-1998)

When someone has the power to change lives, to make others feel as if their lives have been saved and are much improved, that person deserves attention.
To me, Leo Buscaglia was "the Hug Doctor." He hugged everyone. Even other men did not feel threatened as Leo's infectious smile convinced them that they wanted to be hugged by him. He made others want to hug each other.
My father introduced me to Leo Buscaglia through the latter's many PBS specials. It shocked me when my father first hugged me after seeing Dr. Buscaglia. As a young man who played competitive hockey in a violent league, my father was more apt to fight (even to need police protection because of it) than to hug. As a father he avoided hugging me as he preferred hugging a liquor bottle.
My father didn't know how to hug, had no idea how important touch was to a child. A fatherless child himself, he didn't know much about parenting.He had given up alcohol at age 65. He started hugging after he saw Leo. My father came to like hugging. I came to believe that he was a pretty good guy after all. Before he retired he was just the man who came home for supper and naps. Not for hugging.
That sequence of events is important. From Leo I learned that everyone likes to be hugged. As I studied the subject more, I began to understand how important touch is to people. Strange as it may sound to those unfamiliar with the subject, loving touch (hugging is a prime example) is the way we measure love.
We may not know for sure what love is, though everyone wants it, and most of us don't know how to measure love or how to give it in such as way that the message of love will be accepted and understood. Now you do. Give it with a smile, by holding hands, by dancing, with flowers, any way you like. Just make sure you back up your message with loving touch.
It doesn't
really matter what kind of touch so long as it's understood as loving by both people. As the Nike ads say, just do it. Something deep inside us tells us that the people who love us most touch us most.What does hugging have to do with worry, the core of the quote? Quite a bit, as you will see.
Worry has no positive side. It's all negative. Worry has never solved anything, but it has destroyed lives and relationships. What's more, people worry mostly about things that never happen. It's like an addiction. How can a person stop worrying if he or she is a worrying kind of person?
How about a hug? No one can give and receive a decent hug and worry at the same time. But hugs last only a few seconds, so how can a person stop themselves from resuming their ingrained habit of worrying?
One hug will not suffice for anyone. Eighteen a day will. Every day. (What? Is he joking?) If you can't imagine hugging someone you love 18 times every day, you need other forms of loving touch to substitute in for the hugs you can't perform.
You will find it extremely hard to worry when someone you love and who loves you hugs you or touches you in a loving way 18 times every day.
Can't fit that in? Can't imagine someone who loves you finding time? That's like saying you can't find time to put gas into your car. You can find time if it matters. Love matters, at least if you want to keep it.Do you have trouble coping with your problems sometimes? Maybe most of the time? The biggest part of a coping deficit is confusion. The easiest way to alleviate confusion in your life is to have lots of love in it. How do you get that? Right, hugging and loving touch. (See? You have been paying attention.) Your mind will be better prepared to cope with problems in your life if it doesn't get bogged down in its search for love.
Your mind will be clear and your problems seem small if you don't feel a lack of love. And how will you know if you have enough love in your life? For one thing, you won't be worrying about your problems. For another, you will feel loved.
Yes, it really is that simple.Leo Buscaglia was loved by everyone he knew. At least by everyone he hugged. And who hugged back. I have seen two documentaries that showed two women who lived alone, in different cities (they may both have been widows) who knew they needed hugs but could no longer get them in the way they formerly could. Each one went out onto a main street in their city and asked total strangers if they wanted a hug. In each case, more than half of the strangers said they did want a hug. They got one. None complained. Some came day after day for more helpings.Love, hugging, lack of worry and having the ability to cope with our problems all help our immune systems to function at their best. Studies have shown that immune systems are compromised by worry over problems and lack of love.
How do you get love if you don't have enough or someone to give you more hugs? Love has a secret. Just as hugging requires at least two people, love works best with two or more. However, while a hug usually requires equal participation by all parties, love does not. Give love and you will get back more than you gave. You may not get back more from everyone, but the extra from some will more than make up for it.
Who should you give your love to? Turn it around and ask yourself if you would refuse an offer of love from anyone. Sometimes love is shown simply by caring for others. Care for someone who has no one to care for them.
Care about others who need your help. They will perceive it as love. You will feel good.
Now go and practice what you have learned. Just do it.
Prove to yourself that it works.Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and anyone who wants to learn the basics of what everyone should know about life.
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Monday, December 06, 2010

Grandpa Said A Naughty Word

Grandpa Said A Naughty Word

[My young daughter] Sophie was sitting on my lap at Grandpa's the other day. As Grandpa was talking to Grandma, he says "Oh, I hate that goddamn show." Sophie looks up at me and whispers, "Ooooh, Grandpa said HATE... that's a naughty word!"
- David Lauer, American father and advocate for good parenting

Four-year-old Sophie had no idea of the significance of her simple heart-felt observation. Her father may have, or he may have thought of the irony of what she said as funny. Sophie's words were hugely important and I will explain why.

First let me take you back many years to a family gathering in Canada. Three generations had gathered for a family dinner on a Sunday evening. The grandson listens to the conversation quietly--having nothing to contribute anyway--as the custom then was for children to be "seen but not heard." The boy has nothing else to do but listen and learn.

The grandmother told stories that took place in the Great Depression, which was not long past. Grandmother and grandfather had survived the Depression in comfort as they owned property as well as a bakery and a grocery store. The grandmother told of many incidents where people without money or food would come to the grocery store asking for handouts. Each was given something.

One feature of most stories was an observation about the cleanliness of the people coming into the store to beg for food. They were usually not clean, the grandmother observed, neglecting to mention whether or not these people might have had access to soap and water, or even a place to live. The child, having no reference other than his own personal experience, thought there must be many dirty people around. He always had access to water and soap.

One story involved a man with dark skin, unusual in those days in a basically all-white city. When grandmother tucked "dirty" and the "N-word" into a sentence in passing, the young grandson exploded. "Oh, Nana, shut up" is all he said. He knew the words of his grandmother hurt someone who could not defend himself. He knew enough to say no more and knew he could not take back what was already out and festering.

The lad was severely reprimanded, isolated from the others present at the time and promised further punishment when the younger family got home. The "sin" had been the boy telling his grandmother to shut up, not the grandmother's expression of racism. Apparently, in that setting and that time, telling a racist relative to shut up was the greater offence. Especially if one of the offenders was a child. And the other a financial benefactor to the younger family.

The grandmother, I should mention--my own grandmother--never again expressed a word that was racist or prejudiced. I can't remember if I was punished at home later, but it would not have mattered to me. I could not listen to prejudice as if it didn't matter, even as a young lad. I felt hurt by words intended to hurt others.

Why? My parents never said or taught me anything about racism or prejudice. My only entertainment in those days was the radio. In the mid-1940s, after the Second World War and before his untimely death, I heard many audio clips of Mohandas Gandhi, fondly known by almost everyone as "The Mahatma" (Great Soul). Gandhi, born into a Hindu family, grieved as untold numbers of Hindus and Muslims died at each others hands during the migrations between India and Pakistan at the time of independence from Britain. However, he managed single handedly to prevent more slaughter than the Brits could ever avoid by speaking words of peace to the Muslims of Bengal.

The Mahatma was a man of peace, a man who put his life on the line many times in the cause of peace, understanding and respect among all people. I learned more from Gandhi than I did from my biological father. His words guided my life when my parents provided no words of guidance. Gandhi was the parent I learned from as a young child and that learning shaped who I became and what I did with my life.

Someone taught Sophie well. She knew, without thinking, that even using the word "hate" was wrong, while never giving a thought to her grandfather's "taking the Lord's name in vain." While there is virtually no evidence that "the Lord" would take offence at the grandfather's statement, the books that profess to express the Lord's wishes all say that hatred is wrong.

More significantly, Sophie had been taught this life lesson about values and mutual human respect before she was old enough to begin her formal education. That lesson will shape her life.

Someone was parenting right. Note also from the quote that Sophie was on her father's lap. Touching (the loving kind) is another critically important experience in a parent-child relationship. Not only is she receiving good parenting today, she will pass these good skills along to her children when that time arrives. She will "pay it forward" and never realize why. Many will benefit later, though few will know the background story as you do.

My friends, this is the kind of good news, of world-saving news, that our news media never report. This small incident happened in one American household. It is likely happening also in many, many more. The world needs to know.

You know these lessons about parenting. Pass them on. Kids learn about life from the people they live with before they ever begin school. Schools are not empowered or directed to teach life lessons. Young adults need to know this. They need us to do what we can to teach them.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers about what and when to teach children to assist with their social and emotional development as well as their intellectual and physical development.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A "Can Do" Attitude Gets Things Done

A "Can Do" Attitude Gets Things Done
"We like to think if you need something done to your vehicle, we can do it."
- Kim Sturgeon, owner of Renous Automotive Repair (New Brunswick, Canada)

Kim is what we call a "can do" kind of person. Not much stops him.

Bear with me, this isn't a "thanks for the great car repair" kind of story.

Like the cleaning ladies of old who refused to clean ovens (too many strong chemicals) or windows (too much dangerous climbing without any safety harness), Kim and his mechanics will not repair your tires or do bodywork or paint your car. He will claim it's because they don't have the equipment. I'm pretty sure it's because they find such activities boring. They thrive on challenges.

I went into his shop to pay him for two recent repairs. One a simple cigarette lighter (accessory plug) repair so I could use the plug to power my GPS and MP3 player. The other more complicated because it involved a coloured spaghetti mess of wires behind a car radio that was draining the car battery every night due to a short, plus I wanted the radio changed to a different one. Most repair shops steer away from electrical repairs because they can be anything but straightforward. Not Kim and his boys.

The repairs and changes were done, but Kim was nowhere to be found when I went in. He had gone to Bangor, Maine, to pick up a part he couldn't locate in his own home province. He not only left the Canadian province where he has his shop, he left the country to get a part in the United States because a customer needed his vehicle repaired faster than it would take to have the part shipped by courier.

The chief mechanic told me the cars were ready to roll and how much it would cost. Twenty-five dollars. For two electrical repairs and a change of radio. Canadian Tire, the main supplier of automotive parts and supplies and repairs in Canada, charges more than twice as much as Kim per hour. Most dealers charge more than three times as much for "authorized" repairs. And they take twice as long as Kim to get the job done. I tucked a twenty and a five into the mechanic's pocket as he continued to work on a transmission he had just removed from a stake truck.

Last year I needed an engine replaced in one of my cars. Kim spent a good part of an afternoon phoning every wrecking yard he knew to find one. The following day I drove my trailer to Fredericton to pick up the engine he found. The day after that I drove my newly refitted car home. Kim takes little time making repairs to cars and trucks because he only has a small lot to store them.

He has people bring their vehicle repairs to him from all over the region. Every morning his lot is full, few remain by late afternoon. People count on Kim to do a job right, honestly, fairly and fast. For Kim that means a lot of business because dependable repair shops, sadly, are hard to find. People like his approach to business.

Oh, that drive to Bangor, Maine? About five hours of driving each way. In heavy rain the whole day (I know, I drove for four hours in it myself). Kim drove his full sized pickup truck, the one with the standard stick shift on the floor, on his right side. His right arm is paralyzed from an accident a few years ago on his snowmobile. He drives and shifts with his left. Better than most other drivers on the road.

Kim can do.

His approach to a problem is not "Can I solve this problem?" For him it's "How can I solve this problem?" It works.

You can do, too. It's all a matter of attitude. And perseverance. And, in Kim's case, using his head when he doesn't have two hands that work. He always has a problem solved in his head before his hand or his mechanics go to work.

Can do. At Kim's garage, smiles are free too. He gives a few with each repair job. People like that as well.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know all the needs children have to develop to lead a balanced life, not just their intellectual needs.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

When Is Your Time Up?

When Is Your Time Up?

If you plan for one year, plant rice.
If you plan for ten years, plant trees.
If you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.
- Chinese proverb

"My time wasn't up" a friend said recently as the closing remark to his narrative about a car accident.

I wished we both had time to pursue that statement in a discussion. When would he believe his time was up? Most people reading this will think "His time would have been up if he had died in the accident."

No, he might have died from injuries incurred in the accident because he was involved in an auto accident. No one designed that man's fate by putting another man, in a different vehicle, on the same road at the same time, along with the same thousands of other cars and drivers. Had that been possible, thousands of other car drivers and passengers on the same road would have needed their life courses to be designed outside their personal will so that everyone's pre-destined life course would have come together in one enormous coincidence.

Could life be that pre-determined? If so, what's the point of our living?

Fatalism, the belief that our lives are predestined, inevitable and unchangeable, still holds many followers well past its due date. Determinism (all events are inevitable), often associated with fatalism, relieves believers of responsibility for anything that happens, as if anything that anyone does to try to make the world or themselves better is a waste of time and effort.

How convenient. We die at a predetermined date and all bad stuff that happens to us had nothing to do with bad choices we made in the past. Presumably, all good things that come our way did so by good luck (or God's will), not good management or hard work.

With this belief, it matters little how we live because the date for our death and the state of our health before we get there are predetermined. We can do whatever we like and it won't matter. Even if we do harmful things to ourselves or others, if we become addicts or criminals, we aren't responsible because our lives were cast in stone before we were born.
While it's not clear how much religion had to do with this belief in fatalism and determinism, there is no question that Christianity stepped in to take advantage of it. According to Christian dogma, anyone who repents his lifetime of sins and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour before he dies will be accepted into heaven.

Again, convenient. While debate over whether heaven would benefit from a surfeit of lifetime sinners who wasted their time on this planet and even may have harmed untold others would serve little purpose, an examination of whether we are responsible for our own longevity and health in old age has value.

Western society has accustomed itself to finding others to blame for our own mistakes. We have the classic case of the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself as she was driving her car, scalding herself in the process, then suing McDonald's for selling her coffee that was too hot, and winning. According to a jury, McDonald's was wrong for selling "hot coffee" while the woman was absolved of any hint of guilt for driving while distracted and harming herself in the process.

Our governments test new food and drug products for safety for three years, at most. If no one has died or been noticeably harmed during the test period, the product is usually approved for sale. Snake oil with different names. I doubt that "snake oil", usually comprised of alcohol and some light oil, ever caused anyone's death. Just as the safety of "snake oil" sold as a cure-all in the 19th century was the responsibility of the manufacturer, our governments put responsibility for testing new food and drug products into the hands of the very companies that stand to benefit from its sale.

Safety of public health has a three year limit, sometimes only one year, according to government standards. Some of the foods sold to us in our markets, foods that include chemical preservatives for example, receive no long term testing. None, except was is done in a lab to create the never-decay masterpiece.

Young adults rarely suffer from their excesses and behaviour that harms them years later. Our bodies were designed to survive all kinds of harm, to even recover from most attacks of disease, when we are young. Indeed, it's how our immune systems develop as children. For most of human history, adults lived about 30 years on average. If our ancestors lived that long, they had fulfilled their mandate of having and raising children. If they died at age 30, no one worried because they had lived an average lifespan.

Now we expect to live past age 80. Within a few years over one million living Americans will have celebrated their 100th birthday. Many of us, including social medical systems in countries such as the U.K. and Canada and insurance companies in the U.S., worry that our financial systems will collapse under the weight of having too many sick and incapacitated old people to care for.

We get what we pay for. We pay for our excesses when we are young, then we pay with our health when we get older. We teach our people that they must pay for what they get at the time. But we do not teach that the excesses we pay for in our younger years we may also have to pay for again with poor health for many years when we are in our "Golden Years."

What we do not teach is that when our bodies survive attacks on our health when we are younger, we must pay the price 40 years or more later. That 40 years is an important number you may want to remember. When something goes wrong with your health in your older years--let's say neuralgia--it may be because of something you did repeatedly years earlier.

Skin cancer is another excellent example. No one thinks much of a child getting then recovering from a bad sunburn. Few think much about a case of skin cancer that is easily fixed in middle age. Forty years later. Medical science knows that association, so it advises us to use sun block on the exposed skin of children when they will be playing outside. Manufacturers of sun block know the association aas well, so it advises everyone to wear sun block whenever they are out in the sun, no matter for how long. What those sun block manufacturers don't tell people is that they may develop a lack of vitamin D in their diet of fast food and use of sun block and other kinds of cancers and diseases of body organs--to say little of depression, one of the most pervasive health problems in modern medicine--are highly likely to result. Forty years later. Less in the case of depression.

More is known about human health today than ever before in history. Much of what you read about health may be slanted to reflect the bias of the writer or researcher. The internet, the greatest source of information ever, has fiction about health as prominently displayed as truth.

It will serve each of us well to research what we should be doing with our lives today if we expect to be around and kicking in 40 years time. Especially if we want to be fit and feeling well. Of course none of us knows if we may be around then. If our "time is up" before then, it could be because we did enough to harm our own health years ago.
We have a better chance of being healthy and fit 40 years from now if we treat ourselves properly today. That means doing a fair amount of reading because the worst advice tends to arrive at our attention easiest, like infomercials on television in the middle of the night.

No one can tell us what is best for us because no one other than ourselves knows enough about us. If we don't care enough about our future, we may have a costly price to pay for surviving for so many years as we get older.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents, written in plain and simple language, about what kids need to learn and when so that they can live well balanced lives as adults. Every child starts out good but some go bad and parents can't figure out why unless they have avoided the risks when their children were growing up.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How True Is What We Believe?

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.
- George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

While I like Shaw's quotation, I would alter that last part a little. We may believe that our country is superior to all others because we have been told that. What we believe is what we think and what we think we believe is true. If we believe something is true, we accept it as true and valid. Yet our belief is based on what we have been told by others.

Once we think something, we believe it. "If I think something and have no questions about it or doubts, it must be true." If we believe it's true, we will believe it as fact.

Once we believe something, our conviction is hard to shake. One example might be cars. Some people will go through their entire lives owning few cars that are not Fords. They believe in Ford cars. "GMs are crap." Other people devote themselves so much to General Motors cars that they wouldn't be caught dead owning a Ford. That devotion might be based on their experience. But more than likely it's based on what their fathers believed about GM and Ford cars. Seldom does either group have any hard evidence that their car of choice is the best, though they will tend to accept the advertising of their preferred choice as more true than the advertising of other manufacturers.

For many years my wife and I owned a couple of coffee shops. We believed our coffee was the best. The owner of the company that supplied our system's coffee also supplied coffee to coffee shop franchises that competed with ours. He told us once, in confidence, that ours was better than the others, even giving some evidence to support the claim. A few years later he denied both the evidence and the claim that our brand was superior. (He even denied the additive that was proven to make coffee addictive.)

Our customers were so devoted to our coffee that they would not buy coffee in other coffee shops. Customers in competitors' shops were equally convinced that their favourite brand was best. Over a period of years, several of the original stores closed. The customers all transferred their loyalties to their new favourite shops and coffee brands, without hesitation. Their new brand was best, because they drank it (though they would never admit that as their reason).

Because they believed something, it must be true. People don't think of their beliefs that way, but when you argue them to a fine point, they hold fast that their beliefs are true even without supporting evidence.

Advertising depends heavily not on persuading people that the advertised product is better not based on evidence, but on persuading them that the product is best because they have heard the advertising so often they have come to believe it. In the advertising industry it is accepted among big advertising agencies that a person who receives the same advertising message ten times or more will believe it. Big industries spend fortunes on advertising to deliver the exact same message to your television screen a few dozen times each evening or day. The most bought products tend to be those that are advertised most heavily. People believe what they have been told. Told often.

I have had people tell me that when they want to buy a product they know nothing about, they ask people who already own that product which brand and quality level they prefer. "I would rather take the word of someone who has experienced a product," they say. They will take someone's word about a product, even the word of a stranger who has experience with the product or at least an opinion, rather than do some research themselves to learn tested and proven facts about it. They believe something about the product because they have been told.

People tend to vote for candidates in elections that either belong to parties they have always voted for or that have the strongest presentations in the community. The latter means television advertising or lawn signs. The more signs people see, the more they believe that the candidate must have great support. They vote for the candidate they believe will win because they equate numbers of yard signs with popularity. Most voters know very little or nothing about the political persuasions of the candidates they vote for. When their candidate is elected, then later helps pass laws they believe are bad, they simply justify it by claiming that "politicians are all crooks."

We each like to believe that we have chosen, as adults, the best religion to belong to. In fact, most belong to the same religion (or lack thereof) as adults as they were introduced to by their parents when they were children. When people change to a different religion than the one they were brought up in, it is usually the one in which they find greatest acceptance by others of that religion. Religion is a social association, so attending service with friendly people is a very persuasive factor.

Many people around the world wonder how terrorist organizations manage to persuade individuals to commit suicide as they kill many others in events such as suicide bombings. Studies of suicide bombers suggest that most of them came, alone, from small rural settings to the city to find work. They don't find work or friends, but they do find a few people who welcome them into their small religious community. That social acceptance begins the process of brainwashing that eventually shows itself in suicide bombing. The bombers believe that the religious beliefs of the sect must be best because they have been accepted where no one else would welcome them. Eventually they believe what they are told about what will happen to them--how they will be welcomed in heaven--when they kill the enemy.

Suicide bombers do not make the connection that life here on earth, in the present, is good because it hasn't been for them. Except in one case where they were accepted by a group and promised something greater in the afterlife. [I have often wondered how those lonely country boys would fare in heaven if they were "given" 72 virgins. When you think about it, not only does it not make sense, it is totally unrealistic. In fact, dangerous. Virgins know nothing and can be clumsy or insensitive.]

This tendency to believe what we have been told is worldwide. Politicians, religious leaders and advertisers depend on it. If people are told something often enough, most people will believe it. No matter how wrong it seems and how unsupported it may be. Do you suppose that US troops are still looking for those "Weapons of Mass Destruction" they heard so often that Saddam had in Iraq? The believers never thought that someone else would benefit from a lie that was told so often. Told by those who would benefit. And it worked.

The only way to change a society that depends on the gullibility of its people is to teach the children to ask questions, to doubt, to wonder, to investigate, to think. It would not be hard to effect such change. It would be cheap, almost without cost. But it would require people who care to urge those who create curriculum for schools to change the way kids are taught. Today most kids learn to not think, only to obey and believe.

Our kids need to learn differently. Your kids and mine. The people who one day will decide our living arrangements when we are too old to do for ourselves. If we want them to think of us instead of themselves first, we will have to teach that now. Most kids today learn that they are the most important people they will ever know.

Remaining quiet and letting others decide for us is what got us where we are now. What our parents did, which was to trust that someone who cares would do the right thing. So, how do you think that worked out?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for people who want things to change for the better. Social problems depend on our doing nothing, were created because we let others make decisions for us. This book shows a path for change without great cost or revolution.
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How True Is What We Believe?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When You Find Yourself Totally Alone

When You Find Yourself Totally Alone

Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
- Ancient Zen saying

Some day you may find yourself totally alone. At least you will feel that way.

Virtually no one wants to find themselves alone in the world. But it happens. It happens to almost every one of us at some time or another in our lives. In our modern world where more people are alive than at any other time in human history, more of us feel totally alone. What's worse, no one is prepared for it. We may be surrounded by people, even family, yet feel alone. As if you are a shadow passing by other living creatures who don't know you are there.

You may not know anyone who feels totally alone today. That is a critical point. People who feel alone disappear into the crowd. You know someone, but you don't know how deeply confused and alone they feel. We may work with them or sit beside them at worship or nod as we pass them when leaving home or in the market, but not realize how alone they feel. For a person who feels totally alone, the world is a very different place from the one most of us live in. Same world, feels alien.

When it happens that we find ourselves alone in the world, most of us reluctantly ask ourselves if we are responsible for our own aloneness. Most of us convince ourselves that others were to blame. Or just one other. Always someone else, for some of us. Those who blame themselves for their total aloneness may be the worst off because they face their accuser every day in the mirror. They don't even want to look.

I'm not going to tell you that your aloneness (or anyone else's) was your own fault. Because it wasn't. Nor am I prepared to let you put the blame on someone else. Because they likely weren't at fault either. And because they no longer matter to you.

When you are alone in the world, the people of your past matter little. Even family members and loved ones seem unimportant. That's alienation, or some call it dissociation.

What matters to a person who feels alone is the people of their future. If it's you, you need a new future, not a repeat of your past. That means you need to learn how to create a new and healthy future. Often that means having to let go of the past, of the people, though not the memories. Much as you wish it to be different, you can't get people you know or knew to care more than they do. They knew the old you, got used to the old you, and you need to create a new you.

Most of us have wondered what it would be like to start our lives over again, especially our adults lives. And especially knowing what we have already learned. Now is the time. This is the big chance. Make a new set of friends, even relatives (by marriage or other association), the way you would like to have friends. The kind of friends you would like to have. The kind of friend who will appreciate you as a true friend. Easier said than done? I'll show you how.

Your future will be entirely your responsibility because you will create it. If you fall back on ways that caused you to be alone in the first place, you will be responsible for that and you will feel worse because you failed yourself and you know it. You need to think out what characteristics you would want of a new friend before you go looking for one.

The first rule about making new friends when you feel alone is that the people who are easiest to befriend are the wrong kinds of friends to have. For example, spend money on them or actively engage in sex with them and they may quickly learn to like you. However, they will also vanish or betray you as quickly as they came, leaving you alone again. False friends. Temporary pals. Business friends that disappear as soon as they have nothing more to gain from associating with you.

False friends always want something from you or they drop you. Real friends--the ones you want to have--need something from you, but it's not much. They want you to care about them. In exchange, they will care about you. To make a real friend you have to care about someone beyond yourself. The life of that friend must be more important than what you care about the cashier in the supermarket or the meter reader who checks your power consumption for the utility.

People with whom you exchange pleasantries, a few drinks, a few laughs are not necessarily real friends. To them you are their means of passing some time in a pleasant way. Make the distinction. Pals and friends are not the same thing. Nor should you, when you make a real friend, forget how to treat them and to think of them differently.

The second rule about making new friends is to analyze what kind of people you had previously as friends. You obviously don't want to make more like them or they would still be your friends. Something was wrong in those previous relationships. Did you buy them with investments of money or energy or time, for example? Friends are made by investing time and energy in them or on their behalf, but if they have nothing to give back you will not have anything on which to cement a friendship.

The hardest lesson many of us have to learn about making friends and cementing relationships is that most people aren't worth trying to make into friends. For you. They may be suitable friends for others, but something doesn't click with you and you likely won't ever be able to make it happen. To be a friend to you, a person must invest emotional energy in you. That will often happen only after you have made the same investment in them. But, like sticking coins in a slot machine, not everyone you invest emotional energy in will become a true friend.

There are many different kinds of friendships, but the worthwhile ones begin and continue with your doing something of value to or for the other person. They will do things for you too, if they want to, if they know how and if they want to be real friends. Making a new friend means putting yourself out there to do something for someone else, with no promise of return. You may do something for many different people before you find one or two with promise for a friendship. Everyone will take from you if you offer, only a friend or potential friend will give back something in return.

We're a social species. When we find ourselves totally alone--or feeling alone, no matter how many others are around us--because no one cares, we feel alienated from the rest of the world. Aloneness is a feeling more than a physical reality. The feeling is real. Many times when someone feels totally alone it's because they have realized that no one cares about them the way they would like someone to care. In a highly social world, no one seeks them out for the pleasure of their company.

Despite our need for social experiences and social relationships, we also need some time to ourselves. Without that time to ourselves, time when we can do what we want and enjoy our own company, we can't be independent people. We can only be part of a collective of two or more people if we can't do things on our own and enjoy both the doing together and the aloneness. People who depend on other close friends or spouses so much they spend all their time together suffer most when the other is taken away, such as by death.

Death is real. We need to consider death. The death of a loved one or friend as well as our own. To survive the death of a close friend or mate, we need to have some measure of independence we can resort to after a tragedy. As we find ourselves alone, we need to have an independent life we can expand rather than no life other than with the one who departed. What happens to the "two who became one" when one dies? We need both the social part of relationships as well as knowledge that we can survive on our own. If we can survive our aloneness, we can build a new "together" with someone else.

Maybe the biggest question you would have about making a new friend or finding a new mate or spouse is whether or not you can trust that person. Ask yourself first, can you be trusted? How totally trustworthy are you? You can't and shouldn't expect a friend or mate to be more trustworthy than you. In one sense, you need to exude trustworthiness to make a friend because a potential new friend will look for that.

You will also need to need to feel you are contributing about 85 percent to the relationship in comparison to the other person's 15 percent. Can you feel comfortable with that? In most relationships that work well, especially with wives and husbands, each feels they contribute about 85 percent to the relationship and can be satisfied with that. It's not true though because neither one realizes how much the other contributes to the relationship. We only know fully what we contribute. Don't be shocked if you seem to be giving more to a good friend than you receive. That's human nature, the way it works.

Even in supposedly monogamous relationships, one of the partners or both will have sex with another person, covertly of course. In the United States a study has shown the 85 percent of married men and 65 percent of married women have at least one sexual experience outside the marriage. If you want a friend or spouse to forgive your mistakes, you must be prepared to forgive theirs. If you can, your relationship has a better chance of surviving than most. Remember, everyone makes mistakes of some kind. Everyone. Real friends forgive.

There will be mistakes. There will be errors. There will be times of neglect, of forgetfulness and of miscalculation of the importance of feelings by both parties. Forgiveness gets you past these problems. Holding a grudge, not forgiving, causes you more pain than it does the other person. It may not be fair, but it's life.

In a world where we each of us expects to have to look out for our own best interests, it's extremely hard to find someone worth investing your time and energy on to create a relationship. Finding one that works is worth the pain and struggle. Finding that special someone as a friend or mate or spouse may require a lot of pain and suffering along the way. It means failures and non-starters. It means being able to recognize a failed or unworthy relationship before you invest to much in it.

Failure to build a new relationship means you can try again. Quitting will ensure you remain alone.

When so many marriages fail within five years, for example, do you not wonder whether the couple jumped into something one or both were not ready for or whether they simply chose the wrong person? Was finding someone, anyone, more important than finding the right one? Did they share the same values? Did they want the same things from a marriage? Was each prepared to give to the other what the other needed? Or did they just want to be married, hoping that it would work out over time, as arranged marriages are supposed to do? Did they just want from a marriage what they wanted and judge the relationship on whether they got it or how completely they got it?

No matter what kind of relationship you want to begin, you must first decide what kind of person would satisfy your need. Not everyone will fit your need and you must understand that before you begin anything. Most people aren't worth your time and emotional investment. The ones who are don't wear signs advertising the fact on their chests.

Another factor to consider is that someone who is looking for a new friend or mate will be more interested in what you have to offer them than in what they can offer you. If you mount a public profile on a web site, for example, you are advertising. You will advertise what the other wants and you can satisfy, not what you are looking for. Tell what kind of person you are, what you enjoy, what you value. If you tell mostly what you are looking for you open yourself to the possibility of being targeted by someone who believes he or she can take advantage of that by pretending to offer just that.

Talking about yourself only works so far. In advertising, the advertiser needs to appear to be more interested in the needs of the buyer than his or her own needs. Be an asker and a listener more than a teller. The world is full of people who want to tell you about themselves but who don't want to hear about you because they don't care about you. To get their attention to start something, you need to listen first. And ask about them.

Whether you look for a new friend or a new mate, look where you expect to find such a person. Many think of joining a religious group or service club, but don't think of volunteering. When you volunteer to help a charity, for example, you meet others who are also offering themselves to help others. If finding someone who will give of themselves to help others is something you are looking for--that's a critical component of every long term relationship--then volunteering costs very little and offers many possible benefits, for everyone. Volunteering is a much overlooked place to find new friends.

To find a "best" anything is a struggle. But life is a struggle. That's the way it works. Anything that comes easy is rarely worth more than was invested to get it. Keep looking. Unlike the elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, finding a friend or soulmate you can treasure will happen if you do what is needed to find the right person. Don't take you time at it, friends don't usually come knocking on your door. Get doing it.

But remember, you must be the right person for the other as much as he or she must be right for you. The "lost love" was not just a missed opportunity. It was more likely a bad fit. Look for a better fit. It will happen if you work at it.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, an easy to read book about how to avoid personal and community problems before they become problems that are impossible to solve.
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

You Can Make A Difference, Yes You

You Can Make A Difference, Yes You
Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.
- Marianne Williamson, American activist, author, lecturer and founder of The Peace Alliance (b. 1952)

Big words. Few of us really believe we can change the world. Some of us don't try because we aren't sure how we would change it. Those people believe the propaganda they have been fed that they live in the best possible world, despite its problems, its unfairness, its warts.

Many don't try to change anything because they believe the world is too huge to change. Nearly seven billion people could not be reached with any message. How many people in the world today have never heard of Elvis Presley, even though he died 33 years ago? If they have heard his name it's likely because they have heard some of his music. Michael Jackson's name is almost as well known and for the same reason. Even the name Barack Obama is known by many people in almost every country in the world. And he hasn't recorded any music.

Of course these are exceptional people. We would expect them to influence others to an exceptional degree. None of these men steered their lives away from trouble or controversy by not conveying their message to others they could reach.

You make the road by walking on it.
- Nicaraguan saying

We make change by influencing one person at a time, not crowds or multitudes. Biblical Abraham and the Prophet Mohammed were already tribal leaders when they become religious leaders. Jesus of Nazareth wasn't. Tradition has it that he was an impoverished vagrant that depended on the largess of others he interested and entertained with his words. Yet he kept speaking those words to many people, a few at a time, until he was stopped. Even though not many of his words remain in print, some are and the man is remembered as much for his message as for his birth and death.

We don't have to gather crowds at major city intersections or in arenas to convey whatever message we want to say to others. We just have to say it to people, even if it's one at a time.

How many people had their lives changed by Jesus? We don't know for certain. His personal posse consisted of just over a dozen people and no doubt they only gathered to follow him to his various speaking engagements once in a while. The rest of the time he spoke with individuals he met and with friends.

I have a message I want to spread around the world. I do it through my articles, my web site, Facebook and the people I speak with in my daily life. It's an important message about how to improve the lives of children by improving what teachers and parents know about raising kids and about their needs.

I will never reach seven billion people. But I reached you. And you talk to people.

If you have a message of your own, talk it up with people you know and people you meet. Find out about my message, in my book, and talk about it too. Everyone talks about kids and social problems in their communities and in the world, so the topic interests everyone. So tell them. They'll listen because they are interested in the topic.

You can only do good. People on every continent are talking about Turning It Around and the TIA plan today. You won't be starting any revolution. You won't be crucified. You may be remembered for an important message you passed to someone who really began to care, who really believes that the message is worthwhile, who really can make a big difference. Someone who can improve the life of a child, or many of them.

As the Nicaraguan saying suggests, make the road by walking it. Eventually you will be a hero for spreading such an important and memorable message.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, an easy-to-read guide for parents, for teachers, for everyone, about the needs children have that, when met, make them confident and worthwhile adults. Messages don't get more important than this one.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love and Happiness: Good Advertising Words, Not Real Emotions

Love and Happiness: Good Advertising Words, Not Real Emotions

Oh, threats of hell and hopes of paradise!
One thing at least is certain -- this life flies;
One thing is certain, and the rest is lies;
The flower that once has blown forever dies.
- Omar Khayyam, Persian polymath, poet, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, and physician (1048-1131)

Love, happiness. Nice words. What does "nice" mean? Well, "positive." Except sometimes, such as when "What a nice outfit!" hides enough sarcasm to drown a rat.

How about the other words? Love. What does love mean? Again, it's positive, of that we can be certain. But is it? How positive would you consider love to be if a man loves his neighbour's young son? Don't stalkers love the movie stars or ex-lovers they follow around everywhere?

What does the word "love" even mean? A wife and husband may love each other, but their love always differs one from the other. In fact, on close examination, every case of love is different from every other. The word usually takes more space in dictionaries than any other word in the English language. How can we love if we don't know for certain what the word means? We do know that most of the time we like hearing it when others tell us they love us. It's a warm fuzzy with no substance behind it.

What is happiness? Most people have an idea, until you try to pin them down to words to describe it. The first dictionary I checked had this as its first meaning: "state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy." The dictionary uses a description that isn't definite. Characterized by a range of emotions. A range? Even the dictionary won't pin itself down to a meaning we can all latch onto.

I submit that love and happiness are not emotions at all. Religions use words such as "God" and "mother" to elicit warm feelings in their followers. Advertisers use "love" and "happiness" to arouse similar feelings, which people then associate with their product or service.

"Love" and "happiness" are advertising and entertainment lingo that mean little, but that make people feel good and want to buy products or watch movies. Have doubts? Watch a few television commercials and see how many have people who are obviously "happy" or "in love." Broad smiles that make people look beautiful as well as happy are so common in advertising today that it's impossible to land a gig in a magazine ad or a television spot unless you have perfect pre-whitened teeth you are prepared to show off in a big grin the way women used to show off certain parts of their bodies to sell product.

I know, I am presenting good ideas in a coarse manner. I want you to understand how you are manipulated into believing things by comforting words that give you warm feelings but that have virtually no verifiable meaning.

In religion, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept of what God (presented as male) will do for you is what a devoted mother would do. If you are old enough to have left the home of your mother, no problem, as God will look after you. All you have to do is to believe, to have faith that God is with you always.

I'm not saying there is no God. There is, I have experienced God and have sufficient evidence that I could convince any jury in a court of law. But I have evidence of God, whereas most religions have no evidence that is irrefutable. I don't look for followers of my religious ideas because I have no intention of profiting from their donations. Religions do. Advertisers and advertising agencies do. They are professionals and they are good at what they do.

You need to know when you are being swindled, hoodwinked. If you don't, it will cost you money and emotional energy, a part of your life. The science that studies these sorts of things is sociology. The people who use their knowledge and skills to twist minds--including those behind the leaders of major political parties--are essentially propagandists and brainwashers. They understand human nature and take advantage of those who don't.

I won't ask you to believe what I have said, because of what I have learned over many years in sociology and education. Learn for yourself. As I said, I don't want to make money off you or convince you of anything you can learn for yourself.

So, learn it. Then you will see how easily people around you are manipulated into thinking and believing what certain experts want them to believe. They believe what they are told to believe. The more often they are told they should believe a message, the more likely they are to believe it. Now you know why the same commercials appear so often on television on the same night, for example. Tell people something often enough and a certain percentage of them will believe it as fact. Even if the message is an outright lie.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to understand all the ways children need to develop, not just the limited amount they learn in school. If you know kids with problems, you know kids who have not developed in all ways. They can be fixed, but it's better to prevent them from having problems in the first place by knowing what they need. The book tells you how.
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Friday, August 06, 2010

My Man Betrayed Me

My Man Betrayed Me

Question: My partner's recent affair is causing me to lose sleep. He apologized, but is it possible to save the marriage?
Answer: If you can't live with what he did, then get out of the relationship. Remaining...will hurt you both.
- Colette Baron-Reid, Canadian intuitive, counsellor, speaker, author (b. 1958)

The questioner, no doubt fictitious, a composite of many women Baron-Reid has counselled, and her reply appeared in a column titled "Self Esteem" in the summer 2010 issue of Zoomer magazine.

The article led with a photo of a woman, alone, arms crossed, looking dejected yet angry, propped up on one side of a king size bed with a gap between the pillows so wide a Doberman could have curled up in there without troubling her. In fact, the look on the woman's face suggested a Doberman might have been welcome for protection. Or for offence.

This woman was upset, in abundance. But why? What had her man done wrong that violated something?

Had he broken his marriage vows? Not likely. Most marriage vows are not specific about fidelity. Some say "keeping only..." but those words are anything but clear. In most marriages, the husband doesn't promise to never have sexual relations with another woman. In fact, recent studies where anonymity was assured indicate that husbands have sex with at least one other woman in 85 percent of marriages.

Many will claim that fidelity is implied in the marriage vows, that a man knows he has promised to be "faithful" to his wife. As a judge would say, where is the evidence of that promise?

Should the woman feel cheated? Studies in the US show that 75 percent of wives have sex with at least one other man during the term of their marriage. I don't claim to be a math expert, but those numbers show something is very wrong.

First of all, and by no means a minor factor, is the fact that humans are mammals and like most other mammals have sexual urges that go beyond the marriage partner. Men have hormonal urges to spread their sperm (their genes) to as many available females as possible. Women have similar hormonal urges, only in their case to gather sperm from the best available males offering.

If anything, a husband who doesn't want to have sex with any woman other than his wife is unnatural. Or, in today's lingo, he would be "gay." That term doesn't necessarily mean homosexuality as it's used often as a reference to reputation.

Is every man who is faithful to his wife unnatural? Not necessarily. Some may be so sexually satisfied by their wives that they have no interest in or need to look at greater female challenges.

How many women fill that role. Many women believe, and studies can be presented to support the claim, that men never let sex get far from their minds. Their brain is locked behind a zipper. By reputation, if not by fact, that is not true of women. On the other hand, that 75 percent of unfaithful wives stands out as evidence that sex isn't buried that far down in most women.

This looks like an unworkable or unmanageable problem. It isn't necessarily.

Put four small children in a sandbox and eventually two or more of them will start scrapping. Parents interfere to show the kids social skills that apply to the situation. We don't think it unusual that kids will have differences of opinion in a confined space because they don't know the rules of social interaction that apply to that context.

What are the social rules of conduct of marriage? Where are those rules written down. Where are they taught?

Ask ten men what their specific role as husband is and most will find themselves speechless. Ask ten women who their role as wife is and several will have answers (based on what they actually do), at least answers that satisfy them. Now ask the ten husbands of those wives with answers what they understand the role of their wives to be. Again, don't expect much.

Most men expect their wives to be...Superwife. Whatever that means. Most women expect their husbands to be...something better than the man they married.

Talk about an unsolvable problem. But is it a problem when the players don't follow the rules of the game even if they don't know what the rules are and they were never asked to agree to them?

While you are speaking with those ten men and women, ask them to define "marriage," what the relationship called marriage really is supposed to be. The chances of your getting even one good answer are low. Is it, in fact, more than legalized, socially acceptable free sex? Everyone agrees it should be more, until they are asked what.

If the level and amount of legal and socially acceptable free sex works for one partner but not for the other, which feels cheated? In a relationship, does it not seem likely that the partner who feels cheated will eventually find a way to "fill the gap" with someone else, perhaps someone who serves no other meaningful purpose than satisfying the natural need for sex?

Few would disagree that sex constitutes a very important part of a marriage. Yet in how many marriages do both partners agree on the kind of sex, the amount and frequency of sex, even on the "cleaving only unto each other" part? And, in the cases of the few who agree, where would that agreement be? Is there a clause in the agreement to accommodate changes in the ability of one partner to provide for the sexual needs of the other, or the changes of interest in sex of either, or the need for variation in sexual expression of a couple over a marriage of, say, half a century?

Sex as a problem in marriage is only a problem so long as the two partners don't talk about it and reach an agreement, with both partners being honest with themselves and the other in the discussions. When one partner asks the other to defy nature, to ignore and overcome natural urges of chemicals that affect the brain as well as sex organs, it will be difficult for the agreement to stick.

Sex is only one component of marriage. If two partners don't talk about and agree about sex, they likely won't talk about other aspects of their marriage either.

Of this we may be certain: if one partner sets the rules and expects the other to follow them strictly, obediently and without failure, over time the rules will be broken and the relationship will fail.

Not that many years ago at least one partner of a marriage had died before both reached age forty. Today most people will live past 80 and many will live to see their 100th birthday. Something needs to change. If we don't talk with each other about our needs and expectations, they will not be met by our partners.

Remember the woman in the photo I mentioned at the start of this article? While her husband confessed to an affair, apologized and asked forgiveness, if nothing in the wife's behaviour changes from what caused him to look for sex with another woman in the first case, the problem with the marriage will persist. The woman in the picture thinks she did nothing wrong and has not given a thought to what she could have done differently to avoid the marriage breakdown. She believes it was all his fault.

In her mind, that's the way it plays out. Her ignorance of what constitutes marriage protects her from self recrimination. In real life, it never works that the other is always at fault. In most cases of marriage breakdown, neither partner knew what was expected of them, so they had nothing by which to assess their own performance as a partner and they believe the problem is the fault of the other. They only had their own feelings to evaluate their partner with.

If marriage today is a contract, then both parties need to know the details, the clauses, the expectations of the other, the needs of the other and what they should do if they find their needs are not being met.

Imagine the implications of a marriage contract being renewable every five years.

Bill Allin in the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to have their children develop in all the ways they need, not just physical and intellectual. The book has hands-on materials for parents and teachers.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trivia You Don't Need To Know About Television (but you will want to know anyway)

Trivia You Don't Need To Know About Television (but you will want to know anyway)

Don't blame Scottish engineer and inventor John Logie Baird for the lack of decent programs to watch on the main networks of television today. John only invented the hardware, black and white TV, back in 1926.

While our televisions can transmit digital signals with up to 1080 lines of data, John's little outfit only managed 30 lines. It looked like a peep show moving picture viewer, which made sense because these were popular in his day. It was cobbled together with scraps of wood, darning needles, string and sealing wax. No chewing gum and binder twine--materials commonly attributed to devices assembled in emergencies in agricultural country in those days--because he wasn't a farmer.

While we think of TVs as being electrical and electronic today, John's was also somewhat mechanical. He used a spinning metal disk with spirals of holes to take images apart for transmission. Kind of a fancy old fashioned box camera.

John showed off his colour television a mere two years later. But commercializing cameras and making affordable receivers delayed the popularity of colour for another two decades.

For many people, watching television in the mid 20th century meant viewing moving things in black and white. So what? People who grew up watching black and white television are more likely to dream in black and white than people who grow up today watching only colour TV. As media guru Marshall McLuhan said, "the medium is the message." And it sticks, even in our dreams.

The U.K.'s BBC was the first network to broadcast regularly using Baird's system. By 1936--well into the Great Depression, remember--about 2000 household had Baird televisions. They cost about £26 each, equivalent to today's US$7700. Not the kind of data we have been led to think of when we think of the Great Depression.

Television extravagance has not abated. Today you can buy Panasonic's giant (103 inch, nearly 230 cm--greater in diameter than most basketball players are tall) plasma monster for $70,000, should you happen to not have suffered much from the current economic slowdown. While Panasonic has the biggest set, that doesn't include projection TVs.

Philo T. Farnsworth, who invented the first all-electronic TV, was passionate about his invention. Lest anyone accuse his television of being a product of the devil, he stated firmly that it was a gift from the Lord. "God will hold accountable those who utilize this divine instrument." Where is Farnsworth when we need him today as a TV critic?

Here's a fact you will wish you never knew. By the age of 14, the average child in the United States has seen 11,000 murders on television. Let that sink in. The debate never ends about whether life eventually takes on less importance to a child as he sees death so often it becomes commonplace.

TV commercial time has gone up a bit in cost over the years. Bulova Watch paid nine dollars for a 20 second spot for the first ever commercial, in a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies on July 1, 1941. Today a 30 second spot in a Superbowl broadcast--traditionally the most expensive advertising time on TV--will cost around three million bucks.

With all the ways we have of storing video data these days it came as a shock when NASA announced it had lost all the videotapes of the TV broadcast from the Apollo 11 mission ("That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.")

The longest running talk show is either Ireland's Late Late Show, which started in 1962, or The Tonight Show, which began in 1954. The reason for debate is that the latter show didn't settled into a regular format until Johnny Carson took over, a few months after the Irish show launched.

To demonstrate that copyright for television was an issue long before today's battles, when Sony launched the first VCRs in the 1970s the film studios took it to court for promoting piracy. The U.S. Supreme Court favoured Sony in the litigation, but the public was not so fond of Sony's Betamax format. While JVC's VHS failed in Japan as Sony dominated the market there, VHS (more accurately advertising for VHS recorders) won the hearts of people in North America. VHS eventually had four formats in different countries and they couldn't play on machines with a VHS format other than their own.

Are TV's days numbered? While networks switch to digital format for large TVs and about half the cell phones sold today have the ability to receive television signals, billions of streams of TV signals are received on computers each month.

Queen Elizabeth II has her own channel on YouTube. No, she doesn't sing, dance or take her clothes off. I checked.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what lessons their children need to learn about social skills and emotional coping, stuff kids desperately need but usually don't get at home or in school.
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[Primary source: Discover, February 2009]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parental Wisdom: Lacking Respect or Missing in Action?

Parental Wisdom: Lacking Respect or Missing in Action?

Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.
- Marianne Williamson, American peace activist, author, lecturer, minister (b. 1952)

Where is wisdom in the inevitable transformation that is taking place on our planet? Is it stronger than ever, though apparently disguised. Has it vanished? Do we even recognize wisdom today as we did in the past?

Most people would agree that Albert Schweitzer was wise. Here's an example:

Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.
- Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)

We could explain so much about our world today using this thought. Where is that kind of wisdom? While Schweitzer's observation has always been true of our species, the fact that today the leaders of industry knowingly poison the air they breathe and the water they use in their own bodies for the sake of profit should raise alarm. They have put profit ahead of survival, which is clearly in opposition to the instinct of every living thing.

Leaders of industry hold out the promise of jobs as bait so that politicians and bureaucrats will allow them to commit acts that no other civilization in history has done to itself. They argue that, in effect, "my way must be right because I thought of it." They argue that making their industry eco-friendly will be economically unfeasible, though the evidence on the ground shows that this argument is patently false.

We believe them because we somehow attribute to them wisdom. Or we want the money that derives from the jobs they will create. Today, as in the past, wealth trumps reason. Does that mean that wisdom no longer exists?

These lessons we teach to our children, whether intentionally or not.

Historically, wisdom was the purview of the elderly. Elders traditionally had experience doing much the same activities as the younger generations were doing. Experience derives from making mistakes then learning from them. That learning could be taught, which made the teachers--the elderly, experienced ones in society--considered wise.

A century ago 85 percent of the population of North America lived in rural areas and derived their income directly or indirectly from agriculture. Today 85 percent of the populations of Canada and the United States live in cities. The continuity of experience has been broken. Today's young adults don't want to learn skills of farming. Many city dwelling adults today have not accustomed themselves to social and emotional survival methods required in city life, so cannot teach them to their children.

Within the memory span of older people living today women entered the workforce (during the Second World War when men were away fighting), it became acceptable for women to wear pants rather than dresses or skirts to work, women have learned the trades of welding, plumbing, auto mechanics and others, women have become bosses and employers rather than entry level employees and women have even become heads of states in large countries. The continuity was broken. We accept these changes but have little idea how they impact our personal and family lives.

Office "pencil pushers" of the past now press buttons on keyboards. The more skilled among them program software to operate to the specific needs of companies. Today's older people have stories to pass along to younger generations, but those stories are considered by young people to lack usable information, thus don't count as wisdom. Old folks just don't "get it."

Young people in North America now text their friends 300 times a day, on average, while their grandparents may still be reluctant to pick up a phone to call someone because they "may be busy." While many of today's parents of teenagers grapple with the thought of teaching "sex" to kids younger than 16 years, close to half our kids have sex before their thirteenth birthday and the number who have sex before their ninth birthday is closing in on double digit percentages.

Somehow our adult generations have come to believe that ignorance is important in children. They call it "innocence" as if they can stop kids from behaving in certain ways as they can stop certain behaviours of family pets.

The disconnect here is that childhood is the time people are supposed to learn about adulthood, not be protected from learning about it. The whole purpose of childhood is as a training period for adulthood. Conventional "wisdom" says that the world is too ugly for children to be exposed to, yet evidence shows it is actually more peaceful, organized and orderly than ever before in history. What parents believe becomes what children accept as fact.

Children know that they should know the facts about certain things, even if they are not certain of exactly what they should know. It's a gut feeling. A child of 12 who has sex understands that he or she should know more about what they are doing than they do, but has no idea where to learn the needed information, from whom or even what they should know. What they do know is how to put tab A into slot B, as every child knows, and nature provides them with the hormones to make the convergence more compelling.

An interviewer on a U.S. national radio network asked me not long ago, on air, when I lost my virginity. When I told him he all but called me a liar because he expected me to say age 12 or 13. He said so and his on-air colleagues agreed. This is the world of today.

Parents and grandparents who are not fully connected to that world or who are in denial of the facts will not connect with children who are constantly growing and experiencing outside of home. In turn, the children will not see their parents or grandparents as wise, maybe not even credible. Not only will many adults not tell the kids the facts they want to know, they refuse to tell them and they deny what the kids are living every day. And what they are learning, often inaccurately, every day.

How can we expect young people to consider their parents or grandparents wise when they aren't? "Innocence" equals ignorance. Denial equals stupidity. Stupidity is prolific. When kids can't get answers from their parents they turn to others who will answer. Just as with making friends, the people who are easiest to get answers from are the most dangerous and undependable. For example, drug dealers hang around outside many elementary schools today, ready to give free advice as well as "samples."

Wisdom exists today, but those who want access to it must search for it. The internet has answers to all questions. Some of the answers are wrong, even dangerous. But some are dead-on right. Rather than teach children how to evaluate what they may find on the internet, many parents deny their kids will look at such things and others put kid-control programs on their computers.

Today kids can find computers all over the place and the average six-year-old can figure out the passwords their parents put on. Denying kids access to information they want makes them believe their parents are stupid or oppressive, not wise. Indeed, parents who do not avail themselves of the opportunities to teach their children what they want to know and what they need to know--the primary objective of parenthood after having sex and giving birth--do not deserve to be considered wise.

Wisdom exists today, but not in conventional places or sources. For example, you learned something by reading this article that your parents could not have imagined a generation ago.

Pass it on.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach their children, and when, to help them develop socially and emotionally as well as they expect schools to help them develop intellectually. It's not what most parents think.
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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Stuff You Should Know About Fat

Stuff You Should Know About Fat

With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese and obesity in alarming numbers finding its way into every nation, even poor families in poor nations, let's have a serious look at what the fuss is about.

To begin, let's establish a couple of things. First, if we take everything we eat and drink, then subtract from that nutrition what we use up in energy or function of our organs, convert to muscle or expel as body wastes, what gets left over is stored as fat. Fat is stored potential energy.

Second, no young child aspires to be fat as an adult. None aspire to be insurance salesmen, call centre employees or cubicle workers in offices either, but those are conscious choices a person makes later.

To return to the first point, obese people can't say they didn't notice they were putting on weight. That's the criticism many slim people have of the heavyweights: "they ate too much." While that point can't be debated, the more important point is what they could have done about it. The answer is: they didn't know what to do. In fact, nobody does. Lots of people make fortunes selling to people who want to lose weight, but none are guaranteed, some created yo-yo dieting, some could even be harmful.

I am reminded of an old joke about the owner of a donkey who was determined that he could train his animal to adapt to life without food if he used methods similar to what nature uses to train animals to adapt to other adverse conditions and environmental changes. A year after the man began his program of gradually lowering the amount of food he gave his donkey, a friend asked him how he had made out with the experiment. He replied, "Just my luck, I got him to the point where he could live completely without food and the stupid animal died."

What to do to overcome obesity or being overweight is precisely the same thing as what slim people do to avoid gaining too much weight. Trouble is, no one, including medical science, knows exactly what that is. As ironic as it sounds, obese people usually have more efficient absorption of nutrients in their guts than slim folks. Some could eat like birds and still gain weight. Many slim people could eat boatloads of food and still remain thin because their digestive systems don't work as efficiently.

Diet? Sure but look at the abundance of diet advice we get in newspapers, magazines and on television--especially look at how each suggestion conflicts with other suggestions by "experts"--and you can quickly see that no one really knows. Studies have proven that so-called yo-yo dieting (diet, gain weight, diet, gain weight, repeatedly) has a more negative impact on body organs than simply carrying around too much weight. Even maintaining extra weight is healthier than losing weight rapidly.

Exercise off what you eat? Sure, but who is prepared to exercise for that much time in a day, setting aside all other commitments in the process? Society mitigates against it anyway. What would you think of a person who exercised--who even walked--for three hours each day? Could you spare that much time out of your day, every day? If you did, what would you have to sacrifice from your present life?

Why not just eat less? Have you ever tried to do that over a long period of time? Most people who have tried it learn to despise dieting because they always feel hungry.

How about eating different foods? Some kinds of food--such as high fibre--flushes stuff through your gut so fast that it doesn't have time to absorb some of the nutrition in the food. That might be okay if you knew how to balance what you lost by taking supplements a few hours before you ate the fibre and afterwards emptied your bowel. But, despite the advertising that gives you the impression that it knows what a balanced diet is, no one knows for certain. Study evidence conflicts. If you plan to diet, choose your vitamin and mineral supplements carefully, then commit to the bet of your life.

Californians seem to have something going for them. In a study of obesity rates in the U.S. from 1976 to 1999, obesity and overweight numbers increased across the board. However, as of 2007, California was the only state where the obesity rate did not increase. The study did not say exactly what had changed in California that could account for the change. No one is guessing that having a former Mr. Universe as governor has made the difference.

If you are overweight and you lose some of that excess, you will live longer, studies show. But likely only a few months longer. Excess weight reduces a woman's chance of getting pregnant. The U.S. National Institutes for Health believes that obesity accounts for why women under 25 are the fastest growing group experiencing infertility. Losing ten percent of body weight results in an improvement in your sex life.

People who often eat dinner or breakfast at restaurants or fast food outlets double their risk of becoming obese.

Leptin, our body's built-in way to convince us to stop eating when we are full doesn't work in supplement form on most overweight people. Their bodies have become insensitive to it.

Why do people eat more than their bodies need? My personal belief is that eating is a pleasure that never fails over the short term. Food never demands a divorce, gives you a hangover, threatens you or nags you. Only over the long term might it betray you with unwanted fat. But then, that applies to all kinds of activities we do when we are young that we survive, get thrills from, but pay for 20, 40 or more years later when our bodies age faster than those who played it safer.

About ten percent of our fat cells die every year. New ones grow again. Our total number of fat cells remains the same throughout our life. Dieting, even having the stomach stapled, has no effect on the body's number of fat cells. However, new fat cells do not begin their lives bloated with fat. They only grow as the body needs to store more fat. New fat cells begin as skinny fat cells.

The only permanent way to reduce the total number of fat cells in the body is by liposuction. Even liposuction does not remove fat from around body organs, so whatever risk fat presents to them remains unless it is reduced in some other way. Liposuction may make you look good, but not necessarily any healthier.

Obesity occurs commonly within families, but science is not certain if that has to do with DNA (nature) or family eating, exercising and related environmental problems (nurture).

Your brain is comprised about 70 percent of fat. Losing that fat is not recommended. Bottlenose dolphins use a fat sack in their heads to amplify sound as part of their sonar hearing ability. Human fatheads have not advanced to that stage so far as I know.

Whale bodies are surrounded by fat, in some cases up to 45 cm (20 inches) thick. They use it as insulation against the cold of the oceans. In our body fat tends to hold heat in as well, often making us sweaty when slim people feel cool. Camels in the desert don't want to conserve heat, which is why they concentrate their fat in one or two humps on their backs. People who lose lots of weight often complain they feel cold because they have lost subcutaneous fat that previously kept them warm (sometimes sweaty).

Still confused about fat? At least you have more knowledge about it now, and you have lots of company. One factor all serious health professionals agree about is that losing weight safely should be a long term project involving serious lifestyle changes.

In conclusion, it's worth noting that fat is essential to life. When stored body fat reaches zero percent, you die. That's why anorexia nervosa sufferers die even when they are being force fed in hospitals. Like everything else in life, the key is moderation. Even when dieting. Let the first three letters of that word be your guide to caution.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who are healthy and well balanced in mind as well as in body.
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Friday, July 02, 2010

Homo Stupidus: Our Present, Former Or Future Selves?

Homo Stupidus: Our Present, Former Or Future Selves?

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
- Charles Mackay, Scottish author, poet, songwriter (1814-1889)

Isn't it interesting that the same people who laugh at science fiction listen to weather forecasts and economists?
- Kelvin Throop III, fictional science fiction character

One of my greatest pleasures in writing has come from the thought that perhaps my work might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position. Then comes the saddening realization that such people rarely read.
- John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian economist (1908-2006)

Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.
- Albert Einstein, physicist and genius (1879-1955)

Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
- Ancient Zen saying

Quite different quotations. Quite different authors from quite different parts of the world and very different periods of time. Yet in the final analysis their messages bear great similarities.

The scientific name for our species, homo sapiens ("thinking man": the 's' at the end is for both the singular and the plural of this term), was devised by men who think. A large majority of us have no idea of the term's meaning. Most could care less what it means. Why? Because they do not burden themselves with such inconveniences as thinking.

Any thinking required to be done in their lives is done for them and provided by television, advertising, their employers, their parents or spouses, sometimes their children.

Those who define our species think. Even they can't be trusted however. With rare exceptions they all consider humans the most intelligent species on the planet. None have considered who devised the rules for the evaluation, whether the "winners" might be biased in their own favour, or whether the definition applied to every one of their species or just to a limited few. None consulted any other species for their opinions on the matter. They couldn't because we can't communicate with any of them.

We consider any other species of living thing that cannot speak our kind of language to be inferior, despite the fact that we cannot communicate with more than a couple other species ourselves and only with them in a very basic and inadequate manner. For 50 years we have been searching for extra-terrestrial intelligent beings, yet even SETI scientists believe that most beings more intelligent than ourselves would avoid us once they learned a bit about us.

We consider ourselves the epitome of development of living beings, despite that fact that most humans are capable of doing virtually nothing that any other animal on earth can do. Other than eat, poop and reproduce. Or that any plant can do, as every green plant creates oxygen we use to survive. Until very recently, with genetic engineering and nanotechnology, we created nothing, we only transformed what already existed.

In North America, barely six percent of us read more than three books per year. And that's generous because most people who don't read won't admit it to researchers. Many of the people who do read several books a year read on topics related to their occupations or about vocations they aspire to enter one day. Check the records of any public library to see how few people actually check out books they can read free, how many books the "readers" check out and what kinds of books they read. With the exception of students and others doing research papers, most nonfiction books collect dust on library shelves. Nonfiction means learning something new, whereas fiction allows readers to escape into other lives and places. For many of us, studying something new is verboten once we leave school.

In most countries that hold democratic elections, barely half of eligible voters cast ballots, often less. Exceptions include votes on hot button issues, elections where voters want to get rid of the old guard and constituencies where voting is compulsory. Why so few votes cast when everyone enjoys this right? In many cases people who do not vote claim that "They're all the same" or "It won't make any difference anyway." Ask those people what names they would expect to see on the ballots and what the candidates stand for and you rarely get an answer that makes sense.

Those of us who vote elect governments based on promises, usually promises of prosperity and more jobs. Both of these are extremely difficult for government to do and impossible to do without raising taxes, which voters don't like. Even though we know our government will never keep their promises, we continue to hope and vote accordingly.

The more "progressive" the democracy, the more debt load individual free citizens carry. In many cases, people pay twice the price of a big ticket item they buy due to interest rates on money they borrowed to buy it. A shocking number of people owe debts to credit card companies they cannot possibly ever repay because they can barely afford the minimum monthly payment.

But they look good. They drive the right cars. They live in the right neighbourhoods and belong to the right organizations.

Unless you work in your own home, look around you on the way to work and think about what is going on in the heads of the people making the same daily trek you are. Spend a bit of time watching people in the supermarket where you shop to see if what they are doing makes sense to you. Seriously, but take your time because stupid behaviour doesn't happen quickly. Watch people drive around the parking lot in a mall looking for the closest entrance, then walk for hours when they get inside. Compare what you see to what you would observe when watching an ant colony or a bee hive before you decide which species is the smartest.

Listen to conversations of people around you, no matter where they may take place. See how many of them involve any subject other than the weather or something they saw or could see on television. The most popular television stations in North America are the weather channels. Yet it's rare to see someone with an umbrella on a rainy day and common to see people with light shoes and no hats walking on snowy sidewalks in blowing weather.

Think about the people you have met over the past month. Have any of them asked you even one question that was not work related that would help them to learn something new? Intelligent thinking people ask questions.

That's the way it is today. What was it like in the past? Many people tend to believe that the world they live in is getting worse as they get older. It's not. They simply have not studied history enough to know that people were just as stupid, as violent, as careless and as ignorant of what they should know about life in the past as they are today. In fact, likely mores so than today. At least today we have more education worldwide to give us a basis on which to think.

Do conditions today predict anything for the future? In the past diseases and wars kept population levels down. Both of these factors are more limited today than at any time in the past. China, with the largest population in the world, limiting its population indicates that it will change its own future. If other countries take their future survival and health seriously--few do at present--the world may reach sustainable and manageable levels of population, pollution and resource management. Odds are that a massive die-off of people, perhaps related somehow to a failure of electronic technology on a global scale causing stock market crashes, less likely due to disease, will cause us to come together as nation members of one world community to take it's future seriously.

A massive shock of some sort is necessary to bring people around to thinking of the future in global terms rather than of their own present desires and pleasures. As uncontrolled as our world is at present, the shock is a certainty though its nature is in doubt.

Until that shock happens, we don't have enough "thinking men" among us to effect real and lasting change. The shock might come from our atmosphere and our water. As we debate global warming and climate change--who cares if the global temperature rises by half a degree in 50 years?--our industries continue to pour thousands of poisons into our air and our water. While we call them "greenhouse gases." That's the air we breathe and the water that keeps us alive. Darwin's claim that the most adaptable will survive crises will be tested. Check out the kinds of poisons industries are subjecting us and our children to.

Can we teach more of our people to think? Ask the teachers. They are the ones saddled with the impossible task of teaching children to think while working under such hobbling conditions most teachers could never make it happen. Our education systems are designed to produce consumers and employees, and they do it well. Ask any child why he or she should stay in school and get a good education and the answer will almost always be "to get a good job." Never "to have a better life." Jobs mean income to buy stuff our industries produce.

Real change can only happen in schools and homes. Real change in homes will be tough because we do not teach young people what they need to know to be good parents.

Education is the answer. Now, do you remember the question?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to effect real change in homes and schools so their children will be able to adapt to what life will throw at them in the future.
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