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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