Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grounding Kids from Electronics

Today is Thursday, October 31, 2013.

These days, keeping a child inside the house or in his or her room a a form of disciplinary action is not enough.  Even taking away the car keys isn't quite as effective as it used to be.  The reason?  The kids have all sorts of electronic toys to play with.  Even if they don't have a TV or radio in their room, they probably have an iPod or other digital music player, a mobile phone or smart phone, an iPad or other tablet device, an e-reader, or some type of gaming device.  That's in addition to their computer.  Basically, they can chat with friends 24/7, even if they are grounded.

Master Power Lock
The other day I saw an interesting photo of an electric plug – the two-pronged kind with  little holes in the ends of the prongs.  Through one of the holes someone had threaded a little padlock.  The caption said this is how parents have to ground teenagers.  I thought that it might be a tad hard to find a padlock small enough to fit into the hole in the prongs, but I wondered if there was something out there that parents could use. It turns out that there is.  The whole concept is called "e-grounding."

Electrical Plug Lockout from
Power Plug Lock from
The picture also reminded me of a time that my brother had to put a lock on the his home phone because one of his daughters was prone to making very long distance phone calls.  (She had lived with me for a while just previous to moving back to her dad's home, and racked up a $450 phone bill on my account, which I required her to pay, eventually.  That was part of why she moved out, I think, but that's another story.) 

Heavy-duty Plug Lockout from

This one's much more expensive.
Some electronic devices, such as cell phones, are best just confiscated and kept turned off and in a locked cabinet.  You can put plug locks on other items.  Many of these are fairly inexpensive little gadgets, running around $11-16.  Others may be a bit more expensive.  The trick is knowing how many you will need and having them in advance.  Just in case.  The other trick is knowing your child well enough to figure out which of his electronic toys he or she cares the most about.  Is it his Xbox?  Is it her iPhone?  Whatever it is, that's the one to take away first.  

Some parents only let their kids use a wireless connection inside the house, which they can control from their own computer.  When they want to cut off their kids' Internet connection, they do it from their own computer, so unless a kid has an internet hookup in his room and an ethernet cord stashed away in his closet, he can't get on the Internet.  Some parents have their kids' computers connected to a digital timer.  They set a curfew time at which the child's computer turns off automatically.  These same parents are savvy enough to limit which Internet sites they don't want their kids to visit, and they know how to add sites to the "block" list. 

Parents can get parental control apps (software) that will allow them to remotely lock their kids' phones and tablet devices, and keep tabs on or filter their calls, texts, and photo messages.  If this sounds a bit like mom reading her daughter's diary, or a dad looking for copies of Playboy under his son's mattress, well, yeah.  It is.  

It would be best if parents could cultivate an open relationship with their kids such that they don't need to be snoopy, but that doesn't always happen.  And kids test the limits, no question.  They always have.  Taking control of your kids' use of electronics and occasionally restricting their use of these things is an inescapable part of modern parenting.  :-/

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Time Out and Grounding

Today is Wednesday, October 30, 2013.

Time out and grounding are two sides of the same coin, just different ends of the spectrum.  Used judiciously, these techniques can be very effective in altering children's behavior.   

For very young children, "time out" is a great technique, but it must be done carefully.  The key is moderation.   For very young children, time-outs should only last a couple of minutes.  When they are kindergarten age and up, a time-out may last for a bit longer, perhaps 15 minutes at the most.  

For third-graders and up, grounding is more appropriate.  Kids can be restricted to the front yard, inside the house, or their room.  Grounding should involve taking away bicycle or skateboard privileges for younger kids, and teens should relinquish their car keys to the parents for the duration of the grounding.  (Parents will have to make sure their kids do not have an extra set of car keys.)  If your child's room has a TV or if your child has electronics, such as a computer, a smartphone, a tablet or iPad,  digital music player, radio, or gaming device in their room, a time-out in their room is not going to be much of a deterrent.  I'll write more about this topic tomorrow. 

Grounding should last no more than a few hours, or perhaps a day at a time for a child in in elementary school.  Junior high school kids and up may be grounded for longer periods, but generally speaking, anything longer than a week will provide diminishing returns.  Loss of privileges works better for longer periods than grounding, but parents of teenagers will have to spend a lot of time chauffering or chaperoning  their kids if car privileges are taken away.  If the grounding involves loss of TV privileges, then other members of the family may have to be prepared to make sacrifices, especially in a household with only one TV.  If the child is restricted to the house, someone needs to be there to enforce the grounding.

 Occasionally parents overreact and set too harsh or too long a grounding.  In that case, the parent should be prepared to apologize for reacting in anger, and giving the child a reprieve, but only for good behavior.   However, parents should take into consideration that if the child's behavior is not good, it is probably because the disciplinary action was too harsh to begin with.  Remember that a grounding that lasts longer than a week will be very hard to follow through with, and the best disciplinary action is always consistent.   The child should be allowed to express his or her anger – keeping in mind that this is a natural reaction of an emotionally immature person.  As long as the anger response does not involve destruction of property or bodily harm, it should be permitted.  It will take some emotional maturity of your own to ignore tantrums and whining, but if you are as emotionally mature as you think you are, you should be able to handle it.  

Even convicts in prison know how long their sentence is, and it should be no different with kids who are grounded.  The child needs to know how long the grounding is going to last and when it is over.  Kids also need to know exactly what they can and cannot do while they are grounded.  For teens, this may mean staying in his or her room (or another assigned rom) except for attending school, eating meals, or performing household chores.  Kids who are grounded should not watch TV, play video games, use radios, digital music players, or the telephone.  They should not be allowed to have visitors, snacks or reading materials except for school books.  There should be no outside activities except for school, work or church.  If the family has a commitment to an activity or an outing scheduled, a responsible adult must stay at home with the teen.  A short, but severe grounding with limited activities is a better choice than grounding a teen for weeks on end.  

If the child or teen has broken some property, a limited form of grounding, such as having certain privileges taken away, may last until he or she has made restitution for the damaged article, but the child will have to be given ways to earn money to pay for a replacement or have it repaired. 
Parents can administer a modified grounding by listing some household chores on index cards, one chore per card.  Each card should include a detailed description of the job and expectations for satisfactory completion of the job.  When a misbehavior occurs, one card can be chosen at random and the child told that he or she will be grounded until the job has been done to the parent's satisfaction.  If the misbehavior is severe, more than one card can be drawn.  Remember that all chores should be age-appropriate and safe.   Your list of chores might include scrubbing down the family bathroom, cleaning the garage, washing the family car, vacuuming the living room, or washing all the windows in the house.  The time to choose these chores is in advance, when you can sit down with your teen to choose 10-15 jobs that generally need to be done around the house.  It's too late to choose these jobs when the disciplinary action needs to be taken.  This has to be set up in advance.  

In all cases, the child should understand exactly what it was that he or she did wrong and how to avoid the violation in the future.  The child should be reassured that you do indeed love him or her, and that you have the child's best interest at heart.   :-) 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Punishment versus Discipline

Today is Tuesday, October 29, 2013.

Those of you who know me, know that I have no children of my own, but as a retired teacher, I have spent plenty of time with kids of all ages, and have had a lot of experience with administering discipline.  I have also spoken to a lot of parents, and I have often wished that more parents were better at disciplining their kids.  It's a hard thing to do, and I hate having to do it myself, so I sympathize, but the consequence of failure to instill discipline in a child can be catastrophic.

Punishment is not the same as discipline, although the two words are often used interchangeably.  Both words have a Latin origin, but the word discipline comes from a root word meaning "to teach," while punishment comes from a root that means "to inflict pain." 

Discipline is being able to obey rules or regulate our words and actions according to a specific code of behavior. We can exercise self discipline, which means to regulate our own behavior, or we can discipline someone, which means we train them to obey the rules or regulate their words and actions according to a specific code of behavior. Part of the training is positive role-modeling. Another part is practicing the "right way" to do things.  Part is reminding the person undergoing training of the limits and making sure that there are consequences for violating the rules or code of behavior.  There is no intent to inflict harm or shame the person undergoing the training.  The intent is to make the person aware of the code of behavior and the consequences for violations, and ultimately, to ensure that the person will be able to exercise self-discipline in the future.

We discipline children because we know that they cannot yet discipline themselves.   We set rules and limits for them that we hope will ensure their safety and wellbeing.  In schools, we set rules not only for safety, but also to ensure a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. (This does not, by the way, mean that kids are to sit in rows all day without speaking.)  

Punishment, on the other hand,  is the "infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense."  The penalty may involve rough treatment possibly leading to bodily harm, or emotional abuse, such as ridicule, shaming, or shunning.  Notice all the negative words in this definition.  Notice that the focus is on violations and the intent is to inflict physical or emotional pain on a person.  There is no particular intent to achieve self-discipline on the part of the person being punished.  In fact, there is an underlying notion that the person cannot or will not ever learn to discipline him- or herself.

When we discipline children, teenagers, or adults who are under our authority, the focus should be on setting a good example, setting reasonable consequences for noncompliance, exercising patience with first-time offenders, recognizing that failure to obey rules may indicate a lack of understanding rather than intent to do wrong, and, if possible, allowing an offender to make restitution or re-do an unacceptable piece of work.  

When discipline is done in anger, it becomes a punishment.  If we truly mean to set an example for those under our authority, we must manage our own emotions.  That means discipline is best done when tempers have cooled.  If we err and inflict punishment, rather than administer discipline, it is good practice to admit this. Rather than making us look weak, it gives the impression that we are aware of the need to control emotions and we are willing to walk our talk.  This is a great way to role model, especially for kids.  It's hard to admit when we are wrong, but if we can't do it, how can we expect our kids or our subordinates at work to do the same? 

Setting reasonable consequences can be difficult when our kids do something that makes us mad.  Once again, there is a need to avoid overreacting in anger and setting overly harsh punishments.  Teachers know that if  make a student stay after school, they have to stay after school, too.  If they make a student do extra work, they have to correct it, which means extra work for the teacher.  Parents sometimes forget – and some don't seem to understand – that the person who doles out the discipline may have to make a few sacrifices in order to ensure that the disciplinary action works.  If you have ordered that the child not watch TV, you may have to avoid watching TV yourself.  If you have grounded your child, someone will have to stay at home to keep the child company.  If you have taken away your teenager's car keys for two weeks, expect to do a lot of chauffering for the duration.

Every disciplinary action should involve talking to the offender in a calm setting – after tempers have cooled – to ensure that the person being disciplined understands the rule and why it is in force, and exactly what was done wrong. 

The offender should be given a chance to explain his or her intentions without being blamed, ridiculed or shamed.  This is a good time to figure out whether the offender is truly remorseful, and the fact is that most people are.  The offender should be allowed to choose an appropriate way to make restitution, apologize, or do a job over again, if possible.  The offender – especially a child – should understand how to behave next time a similar situation comes up. Kids, especially, need strategies in place to do better next time.  Kids who get into a fight on the playground, for example, don't generally have very good conflict avoidance or negotiating skills, so these have to be modeled, taught and practiced.

If it is a first offense, it is better to tell the offender you know he or she can do better next time, and make clear what consequences will ensue if there is another offense.  If the misbehavior is a repeated offense, it's important to figure out whether the person needs additional help in managing emotions or in managing challenging situations.

When dealing with an offense, the focus should be on the action itself and why it leads or will lead to an undesirable consequence.  The underlying assumption is that it's the action that is undesirable, not the person who committed the action.  Another assumption, until proven otherwise, is that the offender is capable of distinguishing right from wrong and that he or she did not necessarily intend to break the rules.  This is another reason why the best discipline is done when the person doing the discipline is calm and focused, and not reacting in the heat of anger.

With kids, teachers know that much of their misbehavior is due to emotional immaturity, and that you can't legislate emotions or force kids into maturity.  There is a recognition that when they finally do begin to mature, emotionally, their behavior will improve naturally. With adults, it's harder to see this, but there are, in fact, many people who are physically mature but emotionally quite immature, and their immaturity is most often what gets them into trouble.  Emotional immaturity on the part of adults can take the form of chronic lateness for work, sloppy performance, improper behavior with members of the opposite sex, cutting corners with safety rules, or other risky business behaviors such as overspending, overinvesting, etc. 

Emotionally immature people who disobey the rules often don't seem to understand the point of the rules.  They may not care about group safety or about the welfare of anyone else in the group.  Basically they need to be made to understand that until and unless they are willing to exercise self-discipline, the enforcer will be there to see that they behave according to the rules. 

When we punish instead of discipline people, the consequence is often much more severe than the infraction. Especially when emotionally abusive techniques such as shaming are used, the offender gets the message that it's not necessarily his or her actions that resulted in the punishment, but rather that the offender is a "bad" person.  As well, we have to remember that, when we work with rule-breakers, for the most part, we are working with people who are emotionally immature. It is hard enough for a mature individual to withstand emotional pain, let alone physical pain.  It's even harder, or impossible, for an emotionally immature person to do so.  When emotionally immature people feel wronged, what do they do first?  They lash out and become more aggressive.  They may carry a grudge against the person who punished them, and they very often engage in further rule-braking behavior to get revenge. Harsh punishment only creates resentment, instead of regret for the thing that was done wrong.  This is why punishment backfires.

Tomorrow I will write about the use of "time out" and "grounding" as ways to discipline young children and teens.  :-)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How Philanthropic Colonialism Feeds the System

Warren Buffett and his son Peter
Photo credit: Kevin Perry/Wireimages/Getty Images
Today is Monday, October 28, 2013.

Peter Buffett is a musician and composer who writes music for commercials, film and television. He's also an author and philanthropist.  He is the son of one of the richest men in the world: Warren Buffett.  Last July he wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times that caused a great deal of discussion in certain circles, and made some very rich people very uncomfortable.  In the piece, he defined a phenomenon he called "philanthropic colonialism" as a tendency for the very rich to attempt to "save the day" in some way by donating large sums of money in such a way that the focus is on making the donor feel good, rather than on providing real solutions to social problems. 

Peter says he had never thought much about philanthropy until his father made good on a promise to give nearly all his accumulated wealth to charity to benefit society.  That was back in 2006.  One of the things Warren Buffet did at that time was to contribute money to some foundations that he and his wife had set up earlier, one for each of their children, with the expectation that the children would run the foundations.  Accordingly, Peter Buffett is co-chairman with his wife, Jennifer, of the NoVo Foundation, an organization which is dedicated to the transformation of global society from a focus on domination and exploitation to one of equality and partnership.  The foundation supports the development of capacities in people, both individually and collectively.  Specifically, they are working to educate and empower young girls, end violence against girls and women, teach boys and girls skills for cooperation and collaboration, and promote local living economies.

Peter says that the ways philanthropists have worked in the past are not really solving problems.  Philanthropists tried to transplant, wholesale, an idea or method that worked in one setting into a completely different setting, without regard for culture, geography, or societal norms.  The results were often unintended and regrettable.  More importantly, Peter says, big-money philanthropists are "searching for answers with their right hand that others in the room have created with their left."  In other words,  philanthropy does nothing to change the system of inequality whereby the rich get richer and the poor just keep on getting poorer.  Peter calls this "conscience laundering," and says that philanthropy is used to rationalize and justify making vast amounts of money by "sprinkling a little around as an act of charity."   Meanwhile, the recipients of the charity continue to be locked into a system that doesn't allow them to better themselves.  "As long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we've got a perpetual poverty machine."

Did you know that between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofit organizations increased 25 percent, and that their growth now exceeds that of business and government sectors?  Approximately $316 billion was given away in 2012 in the U.S., alone.  More than 9.4 million are employed in the nonprofit sector.  That's one massive business!

Peter wrote, "Often I hear people say, 'if only they had what we have' (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions).  Yes these are all important. But no 'charitable' (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues.  It can only kick the can down the road." 

According to Peter Buffett, money should be spent on projects that "shatter current structures and systems."  He says that people who work for nonprofits should think in terms of doing so much good that they do themselves right out of a job.  "It's time for a new operating system.  Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up.  New code," he says.  The key is "humanism," not materialism.  The goal is not for everyone to have more stuff, but for everyone to have a better quality of life.  New systems need to replace the old, and humans will need to learn new ways of behaving and relating to one another. He cites as an example of true progress "when no 13-year-old girl on the planet is sold for sex," or figuring out how all of humanity could "live on 2 dollars a day."   :-)

Cooperation Is Becoming the Norm

Today is Sunday, October 27, 2013. 

When I started teaching in the United States in the mid-80's, I learned about a teaching technique that had a fairly long history of research to back it up, but which was still new to the public schools.  It was called Cooperative Learning, and it was more than just getting kids to work together in groups.  The object was not just to get the kids to work on content lessons (history, math, science, etc.) together, but to teach them some specific strategies for how to work together.  Cooperative Learning is still noted as one of the most successful models for teaching and leaning, but also one of the most difficult to organize and execute for the teacher.  It does seem to be having an effect in the adult world, however, and that is reason enough to continue.  I'd say it has affected students who were exposed to it, who graduated from high school anytime after about 1995 or so.  That means the people who are "thirtysomethings" now.  

There have been a number of studies in the past few years that have proven that the cooperative model works not only in schools, but also in the world of business.  The old model of competition and Machiavellian ruthlessness has slowly but surely been giving way to a kinder, gentler, workplace, where people are actually rewarded for cooperating with others.

These days, it's harder for people who are still functioning as competitors, rather than cooperators, to take all the credit for a project, or to throw a colleague under the bus to avoid taking the blame for something that has gone wrong.  People are more likely to speak up when one of their colleagues does something wrong, in order to see "justice" done.  They are also more likely to give credit to a deserving colleague who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to further the group effort.  

The late Randy Pausch, who was a professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, once taught an interdisciplinary course in which computer science students were teamed with students in the arts.  The students taking the course were required to work in groups on about four different projects, with a different group for each project.  At the end of each project, the group members were asked to rate each other on how well they worked with the group, and these results were shared with the whole class.  Pausch said he could tell whether a project was going to be successful by looking at a picture of the group. If they were standing close together in the photo, it was a signal that the group members had become comfortable with one another, and that they probably managed to work well together on the project to make it a success.

I think it's a good sign that people are more and more inclined to work together on things, not only in schools and in the business community, but also in life, in general.  Hopefully, this trend can be harnessed to solve some of the world's most pressing problems.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we all worked together to stop the destruction of Mother Earth, to heal the planet and humanity in general, to eradicate hunger and disease, and to build a lifestyle that is sustainable for the future.  :-)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Be Soft!

Today is Saturday, October 26, 2013.

 My mom's best advice to me has always been not to let hard times in my life make me a bitter person. Today's quote has been misattributed to Kurt Vonnegut, but I managed to find the original blog post for August 16, 2007 by Iain S. Thomas, entitled "I Wrote This for You: The Fur," and believe it or not, the photo he used was also that of a kitten.

"Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard.  Do not let pain make you hate.  Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.  Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place."

Merriam-Webster says bitterness is anger or resentment at being treated unfairly.  It's true that when people are bitter, they are generally angry at the unfairness of life.  The problem is, who told them that life was supposed to be fair?  That whole sense of entitlement is what makes people so miserable.  It's viewing the world according to their unrealistic expectations, instead of the way it actually is.   Besides, what does "fair" mean, really?  How many times have you had people agree that something was fair even when they got the short end of the stick?  Conversely, it's very rare for a person who is getting the better part of the bargain to charge that something is unfair.

Another part of the definition says is is something distasteful or distressing to the mind.  That's a key point: in the mind, because all our negative emotions originate in the mind.  A lot of times, we label something as negative, sad, wrong, or bad and then get upset about it.  If we didn't label it, would we get upset about it?  Truly, we make ourselves miserable. 

The last line of the quote recalls the ending of the "Desiderata," by Max Ehrmann in 1927.  "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."  The physical world is the lowest-density place in God's entire creation, and because this is a learning place, duality is a given here, because how would we know what darkness is if we saw only light?  How would we appreciate feeling full if we had never experienced hunger?  How could we understand pain if we didn't also experience pleasure?  So yes, there are negative things here in the physical world.  But they are balanced by the positive, and there is still incredible beauty and positivity in the world, in spite of the fact that a lot of people seem to think it's cool to be jaded and cynical.  :-)

(By the way, "Desiderata" is another piece of writing that has been misattributed, because it was included in a book of devotions for St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland a few years after Ehrmann's death.  The compilation included the church's foundation date:  Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, A.D. 1692.  People just don't read very carefully.  )


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Designing Living Spaces for the Future

Image credit:
Today is Friday, October 25, 2013.

When the automobile was invented, nobody realized how it would change the design of American towns and cities.  Nowadays, a feature of every American town or city is roads that are wide enough to accommodate at least two lanes of traffic, plus parallel parking on each side.  For Americans, parking spaces for their cars are treated as if they were a constitutional right.  In the newer housing developments, the garages are right in front of the house, and a "single" garage (just enough space for one car) is not enough.  In the newer homes, there is space for at least two cars, and preferably three.  Most new homes have a "double garage" plus a "single" off to the side.  Families of teenagers do actually have three or more cars, especially in small towns, where one has to have wheels to get almost anywhere.  And nowadays, Americans treat their garages as storage space.

Cars are convenient, but they are also dangerous, especially in a city environment.  It has been noted that, before the year 1900, no one in America was killed by a car.  In 1907, there were 500 automobile fatalities.  In 1925, more than 200,000 people were killed in auto accidents.The number has been climbing ever since.  In Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, published in 2008, author Peter Norton describes the American city before 1920:
American pedestrians crossed streets wherever they wished, walked in them, and let their children play in them. ... [In] 1914, the Chamber of Commerce in Rome, New York, had to ask pedestrians not to ‘visit in the street’ and not to ‘manicure your nails on the streetcar tracks’—with limited success.
Cars changed the way people thought about desirable housing locations, as well.  In many large cities, you can still see homes that were built for the wealthy in the late 1800s and early 1900s along the larger streets.  Most of these homes are no longer used for housing, today, but instead are used to house government, educational, or cultural institutions, or even businesses.  The wealthy families left the cities and went out to the suburbs to live.

In apartment buildings, before cars came along, the most expensive apartments were located on the ground floor, with servants housed on the upper floors.  Nowadays, first floor apartments are the least desirable and the least expensive, because of the noise factor and safety concerns.  The upper floors (think penthouse) are now more desirable, and more expensive. Even in the suburbs, among homes situated in a cul de sac, the home farthest from the street is more expensive than ones situated closer to the street where traffic flows.

Cars made it possible for people to move to the less-crowded suburbs, but the poor, who tend to rely on public transportation, were locked into the inner cities.  In some cities, notably in the South, public bus service is intentionally absent in the suburbs, in order to keep the hoi polloi out.  Meanwhile, zoning laws, in suburbs as well as inner cities,  have created food deserts – neighborhoods where grocery stores that sell fresh food are miles away, and inaccessible without a car. Gone are the mom and pop corner grocery stores.  These days, most stores are centrally located in strip malls in commercial areas.  You could say that people who live in today's suburbs are actually enslaved by their own cars, because it is nearly impossible to live there without one. 

The thing that strikes people about American cities, suburbs and towns is how wide the streets are.  In fact, I've seen a number of construction projects where certain intersections are being widened to handle the increased flow of traffic.  By contrast, when you visit European cities, the thing that strikes you is the narrow, cobblestone streets that are not really meant for cars.  People's balconies look right out onto the street, and people on their balconies can actually chat with someone in the street.  Another feature of European cities is a central plaza that is within walking distance of many neighborhoods.

Many people bemoan the lack of porches on new houses in America, but as one architect noted, who wants to sit on the porch and watch cars go by?  The reason porches were so nice was that you could sit and watch the neighbors, who would stop and chat as they walked by, just like people on their balconies in Europe.  These days, even in neighborhoods with sidewalks, almost nobody walks anywhere, especially in the northern states, and porches are more decorative than useful.

Cars will probably always be a staple of life in the rural areas, but in the big cities, urban planners are thinking of ways to make neighborhoods more pedestrian and bike friendly by building so-called "pocket neighborhoods," where there is "pedestrian infrastructure" and ensuring that neighborhoods have access to fresh and healthy foods within walking or biking distance.  They are thinking of ways to add parks and plazas to be used as common areas, not only in residential neighborhoods but also along waterways in the bigger cities (rather than allowing private waterfront property). Urban planners are also thinking of ways to add community gardens in the larger cities.

Image credit:
The idea is to create higher-density neighborhoods that offer more opportunities for people to socialize with their neighbors, promote healthier, more active lifestyles, make play areas safer for children, and make fresh food available to everyone within walking distance. More private homes will face narrower streets not meant for automobile traffic, and more backyards will be connected to common areas. Apartments will be built around courtyards, with balconies looking out onto the courtyard area.  People will park in common garages or live in townhouses that have a garage on the first floor and living space above the garage.  In the suburbs, cars will only be allowed on certain streets, and more homes will be situated around common areas that are jointly maintained.  With fewer main roadways for cars and more pedestrian areas, snow removal in the winters would be easier, faster, and less costly. 

The most important thing urban planners need to think about is why the wealthier, more educated folks left the cities in the first place, and what will make them want to come back.  One way to make cities a lot safer is to find ways to eliminate the need for private cars.  Smaller towns should be thinking of ways their residents can live without their cars, too.  :-)

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Today is Thursday, October 24, 2013.

"Slow and steady wins the race" is the moral of one of Aesop's classic fables, "The Tortoise and the Hare."  I'll never forget the year that I led a class of second-graders in a simple enactment of this fable.  We read the story, retold it, then the class collaborated to write the lines for an original play. One group of kids was assigned to act it out.  (Other kids in the class enacted other fables.)  We created all the props and scenery, and we practiced our lines until they were letter-perfect, or nearly so.  We invited parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings to watch our plays.  And the principal.  Always invite the principal.  

After the audience went home, we celebrated our achievement and talked about the whole experience.  My co-teacher asked the class, "What is the lesson we should learn from the story?"  The whole class promptly recited the last line of the play, "Slow and steady wins the race!"  Then we saw a look of puzzlement come over the face of one Hmong student who was still in the process of learning to speak English, and the boy raised his hand.  When my co-teacher called on him to ask his question, he said, "Wait, I thought the tortoise won.  Who's "Slow and Steady"?  

*** *** *** *** *** ***
Who is slow and steady, indeed?  I would submit all of us should be that way.  Confucius wrote, "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."   The point is to keep on moving forward.  It doesn't matter how fast we accomplish our goals, or whether we reach some milestone in life before someone else.  What matters is that we stay focused on our goals, and avoid becoming bogged down in despair and discouragement when things don't go as we had expected.  When life presents us with obstacles or alternative paths, it's fine to pause a moment to decide what to do next, but it's ultimately to our advantage to keep moving, even if we are only treading water for a while.  

Jeff Dauler, radio personality, blogger and entrepreneur, wrote about his experience participating in a triathlon at a time when he was overweight and out of shape.  The triathlon involved swimming, biking and running. Dauler's coach told him that one of the most important things to manage was the transition time between the different sports.  "Keep moving forward, especially during the transition," advised the coach, "because that's when it's easiest to stop.  Don't let that happen.  Keep moving forward."  Dauler says that advice has become a guiding principle in his life. 

Transitions are hard.  When we are trying to make improvements in our lives, when we are in the process of learning something new, when we are engaged in replacing our old negative habits with new positive ones, that transition time is the point at which it's easiest to give up.  When we are trying to lose weight or grow our hair past our shoulder blades, when we are struggling to learn to play an instrument or master the multiplication tables, when we are working hard to finish a project or meet a sales goal, that's when we have to remind ourselves to keep moving forward.  

When we are unsatisfied with the pace of our progress, let us remind ourselves that haste doesn't always accomplish the job.  It's better to proceed carefully, even if that means it will take a little longer to reach our goal.  Let us remember to keep moving forward, and that slow and steady really does with the race.  Others may get to the goal before us, but winning isn't about comparison with others. It's not a race with others that counts.  It's the race with ourselves.  It's the process of day-to-day improvement in our own lives that really counts.  :-)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Envy: Comparison with an Attitude

Today is Wednesday, October 23, 2013.

There would be no envy without the ability to make comparisons, and it appears that human beings make comparisons all the time, naturally.  It's part of our mental programming, and it can serve a useful purpose in our lives.  As long as we compare things in a totally neutral way, simply noting similarities and differences, comparison is an essential reasoning tool.  As well, when we notice something about another person that we'd like for ourselves, it sometimes serves as an impetus for us to improve ourselves and our life circumstances.  

"Comparison is an act of violence against the self," wrote Iyanla Vanzant.  Jean Vanier put it a different way: "Envy comes from people's ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts."

The problem starts when our comparisons engender feelings of discontent or resentment toward others.  That's envy.  Psychologists have distinguished two types of envy: benign envy has an element of inspiration in it.  "If she can do it, so can I," we think.  The feeling may still be unpleasant, but at least we can do something about it.  Malicious envy, on the other hand, is "bitter and biting, driven by the need to make things equal, even if that means tearing another person down," according to author Christie Aschwanden.  In fact, studies have shown that some people are even willing to tear others down, even if it is at their own expense. 

Remedy for Envy: Focus on the Whole Person

When we envy someone, we generally focus on one quality that they have, or the object or status that they possess that we do not.  It's like focusing on someone with a magnifying glass.  We are so focused on that one thing about them that we forget to look at the whole person.  Whether the thing that we envy about the person is just part of their genetic make-up or an accomplishment on their part, we forget that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We forget, also, to take into account how much hard work they may have done to achieve their accomplishment.  We forget to realize that no matter what they may have accomplished, they – like everyone else –  have their own struggles in life.  In order to combat this myopic view of ourselves and others, we must keep in mind that everyone has struggles at some time in their lives, and unless we know them very well, we may never understand the hardships that they had to rise above in order to get where they are now. People like to show off their accomplishments, but they try to hide, as much as possible, their struggles.  

Remedy for Envy: Acknowledge It and Find Its True Origin

Envy is most dangerous and destructive when we are in denial.  When we are unaware of the real reason for our feelings of envy, we have no way of correcting the situation.  Envy always has to do with a dissatisfaction about ourselves, or a lack in our lives.  When we realize that it's about us, and not about the other person, we can decide what, if anything, needs to be done.  If there's nothing we can do to change the situation, we can at least alter our attitude about it by putting ourselves in a more positive frame of mind.  If someone we know is successful, the thing to do is figure out why they are successful, then apply the information to our own lives.  Did the other person work harder than we were willing to?  Did the other person make sacrifices that we refused to?  Whose fault is that?  Why weren't we willing to work hard enough or make those sacrifices?  Was there a subconscious fear keeping us from achieving what the other person did?  Where did that fear originally come from, and how can we overcome it?  When we dig deep, we find that fear is the basis for most feelings of envy. 

Remedy for Envy: Focus on the Process

When we envy someone their accomplishments, it's time to focus on how they got there and try those things for ourselves.  What did the person have to do in order to reach that particular milestone?  How many hours of hard work were involved?  How much frustration did the person have to battle to get there?  How much help did the person have?  What did the person have to sacrifice in order to achieve?

When we envy a quality in someone's personality, it's a good idea to look at what that quality really means, and how it shows up in a person's actions.   You can't tell that a person is kind or trustworthy just by looking at them.  You tell these things about a person by their actions.  If you want to cultivate a certain quality in your personality, the thing to do is look at the actions of a person who is manifesting that quality and do what they do. 

Remedy for Envy: Change Your Attitude

Sometimes there's nothing we can do to change the situation.  We'll never be as tall as the person whose height we admire.  We'll never have a thick head of hair with lots of body like a co-worker of ours.  We didn't have the advantages of growing up in an affluent family the way so-and-so did.  

The trick is to re-frame our attitude.  Harold Coffin wrote, "Envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own."  To counter envy, we must make a habit of counting our own blessings.  What we focus our minds on is what we draw into our lives.  When we focus on our lack, then lack is what we pull into our lives.  When we focus on gratitude and plenty, then the energy of Creation fills our lives with plenty of things to be grateful for.  

As well, it is important to be realistic about the fact that we all have imperfections.  It's OK to be imperfect.  That's called being human.  No matter how perfect some other person may seem, they are imperfect, too.  Count on it.  Everyone is on a journey of unfoldment that never ends.  If it were possible to be perfect, then there would be no more potential left, and life would have no meaning.  

Remedy for Envy:  Celebrate Other People and Yourself

This is a practice that you can cultivate on purpose.  Just find one person each day whom you can celebrate either for his or her accomplishments or simply because the person is what he/she is.  To reinforce this, you may even decide to keep a "celebration journal" for a while, and write down something positive about the person.  At least once each week, find something to celebrate about yourself. 

Remedy for Envy: Do Everything in God's Name

When we envy someone, we want something for ourselves that will make us feel better, but it won't necessarily be a good thing for others around us.  When we do everything in the name of God, we consecrate ourselves to service to All Life.  Our focus becomes service, the highest good for all, rather than material gain or a boost in status for ourselves.  Let us take the focus off ourselves and train our focus on God, the Source of our being.  :-)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why Modern Wheat Is Toxic

Today is October 22, 2013.

There are a number of reasons why eating foods made from wheat aren't as good for you now as they were in your grandmother or great-grandmother's time.  

First of all, the vast majority of wheat used in foods today isn't the same wheat that people ate in the 1950s.   The Mexican government received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank starting in the 1960s to create a genetically altered strain of wheat that would be easier to grow and more pest resistant.  (Monsanto is trying to do the same for corn now.) It sounded like a noble thing to do back then, because the goal was to end world hunger.  Unfortunately, what happened is that the wheat they created is a supercarbohydrate that is having some unintended negative consequences for human health.  Human beings have ever before been exposed to this type of food, and our bodies are having a hard time digesting it.  The result is diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, asthma, allergies, celiac disease, brain fog, vision problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep problems, and acid reflux.  And that's not the whole list!   Think about it.  How many of the diseases I just mentioned do you, personally, suffer from?  I would be willing to bet that many of you have at least one or two of these to deal with.

Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has written a book called Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.  He has also written a cookbook called Wheat Belly Cookbook.  In an interview on "CBS This Morning," Dr. Davis said that modern wheat is a "perfect, chronic poison."  Here's why.

"This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there's a new protein in this thing called gliadin," says Dr. Davis. "It's not gluten.  I'm not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease.  I'm talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate.  This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year."

Sure, we could go back to growing the wheat we were growing in the 50s, but the old style of wheat doesn't yield as much, and therefore farmers and food producers would not find it economically feasible.  Money talks, as usual.

People who cut out wheat altogether – and this is very difficult to do, I know, because I've done it, have lost significant amounts of weight.  When I went completely off wheat, I dropped 30 pounds, no sweat. Some people drop much more.  I also noticed that my joints didn't hurt as much and my acid reflux went away. 

Why did I start eating it again?  Because it was hard to find things that satisfied me as well as wheat products.  But now that I know about the opiates, I know why wheat satisfies me, and I know I need to get myself off it.  

There are other reasons why our wheat is toxic.  We know that our crops are now grown with pesticides that remain on the plant after harvesting. 

When we look at the way grains were prepared in the ancient and even the recent past all over the world, we realize that grains were normally soaked or fermented first, before being used to make porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles.  We no longer soak our grains. Soaking the grain in lactic acid medium such as milk or sprouting the grains take the phytic acid out of it.  Phytic acid robs the body of necessary minerals.

In addition, modern breads are made from fast-acting yeast instead of from slow-rising starters, the way they were made in Europe and America until the mid 1900s.  The slow rising process ensured that there were enough microflora to make the bread easier to digest in the intestinal tract.  The process of rising dough results in balanced proteins, fatty acids, cellulose, minerals, and other nutrients.  The slow-rise process also produced acids that break down and remove some of the gluten from the bread.  

Left to right: einkorn, emmer,
spelt and kamut.
To add insult to injury, breads nowadays are laced with additives such as preservatives and synthetic vitamins that some people are allergic to.  No wonder our modern bread is toxic!  No wonder we live in a nation where health-care costs are out of sight!  

Some older forms of wheat are called einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut and triticale.  There are other grains used in countries around the world that are not common here, but definitely available, if you look for them.  I'm going to be looking at different types of grains, and buying only sprouted wheat bread from now on.  If it doesn't taste good, I'm going to stop eating it, period.  I'll let you know how this turns out.  :-)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Important Encounters Are Planned in Advance

Today is Monday, October 21, 2013.

"Important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other."  –Paulo Coelho

Today's quote is one way to express a very common belief among New Agers.  Underlying it is a concomitant belief in reincarnation.  This is the idea that Soul is an eternal entity that does not experience death in and of itself, even though the bodily form that it interfaces with does eventually pass away.   Soul has much to learn in order to be able to serve the Creator to Soul's full capacity, so It is granted a succession of physical lifetimes, each one specially designed for the individual to learn whatever it needs to learn at the time.  Each lifetime, then, is an individual course of study, filled with practice exercises and problems to solve, a few experiments to do, and lots of pop quizzes and mid-term tests.  

As Dr. Michael Newton has explained in his books, Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls, we are generally accompanied on our journey through our various lifetimes by other Souls in a group.  The groups seem to be rather loosely-formed, with some Souls entering and others leaving the group as necessary.  Some Souls are leaders of their groups.  The whole group never seems to incarnate all at the same time, but certain ones in the group do agree to come into our earthly lives to work out some issues with us, to teach us something, or to be taught by us. 

Often, these Souls show up in our lives as members of the same physical family, as our spouses, or as close friends or business associates.  Occasionally one will show up as a teacher or mentor.  People report having a feeling that they have met the person before, or that they've known the person all their lives, even if they've just met in this lifetime. They feel an instant closeness; they feel comfortable around the person.  This is often the case when two people meet and say that they fell in love at first sight.  If there is a very strong attraction between two people, it is extremely likely that they have in fact had some previous earthly lifetimes together.

The opposite is also true.  When we feel an instant repulsion for a person, it is often a sign that the person is someone we have dealt with before, in another guise, and that we still have some issues to work out with the person.  People who are able to look into their past lives often find that the person who has just cheated on them, for example, is someone that they, themselves, cheated on in a previous life.  Sometimes we are able to come to some resolution of the issue in this lifetime, and other times, the test is to be able to walk away from the argument without creating more negative karma for ourselves.  Perhaps the lesson is simply to give up our need to be "right" all the time, or to have the last word. 

I've met a number of people over the years who are most likely in my Soul group.  Some of them I feel a little closer to than others, but that's natural.  I've been fortunate to be able to resolve karma with a couple of them, and that feels really great, like a stubborn puzzle piece that finally clicks into place, or a weight that magically lifts off our shoulders.  

Look around you and list five people who have had the most impact on your life, keeping in mind that the younger you are, the more chance there is that you may not yet have met all of your Soul group mates for this lifetime.  These people can be anyone, but they will definitely be someone who knows your name, so not a famous person (unless you are good friends with a famous person).  The people may no longer be in your immediate surroundings; they may have moved away, or they may have already returned to the Worlds of Spirit. What have you learned from each of these people?  How have these people caused you to change for the better?  What have they learned from you, and how have you helped them go through their own changes?   :-)  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Just Relax, and You Will Succeed

Today is Sunday, October 20, 2013.

"Don't seek, don't search, don't ask, don't knock, don't demand – relax.  If you relax, it comes.  If you relax, it is there.  If you relax, you start vibrating with it.  –Osho

At the end of his life, Chandra Mohan Jain, an Indian mystic and spiritual teacher, wished only to be known as "Osho," a Buddhist term for "teacher."  In today's quote, Osho was stating a principle that is variously known as the "Law of Reversed Effort," or the "Law of Reversed Effect."  Both names seem to fit. 

This is a law of life, in the sense of a scientific law, a description of the way things work naturally.  The law states that the harder you try to accomplish something, the harder it is to do it.  Here's a quote from Paul Twitchell, founder of Eckankar, taken from his book Letters to Gail, Volume I, January 23, 1963.
"This law is a practical law of nature concerned only with man, for man is the only animal on earth that can make use of his imaginative powers!  This law is concerned with the imagination.  It goes like this: The more you try to put your imaginative powers upon something in concentrated effort, the less you can do it.  The harder one struggles to achieve some goal, the more difficulty he will have to overcome; difficulty caused, at least in part, by the strain of his effort.  'You tried too hard, relax, take it easy and try again,' are frequently heard expressions.  It means to try not to force results!
Twitchell gave as an example, a person trying to ride a bicycle on a rocky road and striving to avoid the biggest rocks.  Because the rider is focused on the big rocks, he will hit them instead of missing them.  Another example he gave was of a man trying to walk across a narrow plank from one building to another on the tenth floor.  The person's mind will be on trying not to fall, and since he would be focused on falling, that's what he would do. 

When we try to force results, it means we have a certain result in mind.  The problem is that the result we have in mind may not be the best result for all concerned.  God may have another result in mind; we just can't see it yet.  This is another aspect of having patience with God, as I wrote about in my blog post yesterday. So often, we think we know best in a situation when we really don't.  

Here's a perspective from Jackie Kosednar, who was the publisher of Alaska Wellness Magazine until her death in 2012.  "When we 'try,' we gather our energy and push. Often, that energy seems to bump up against some cosmic wall and boomerang right back to us. All this serves to do is push us back the way we came. It’s like the old cliché: the dance of life is two steps forward and one step back."

Kosednar suggested that instead of saying, "I'll try," say "I'll do it," because when you "try" to do something, you are assuming that you will fail.  If you don't believe that, watch what happens next time someone tells you that he or she will "try" to do something.  Chances are, the person is really telling you that he or she doesn't really expect to do it, and the person is really just giving himself or herself an "out."  In other words, the message is not, "Wait for it," but, "Don't hold your breath."

Kosednar said that there are ways around this law.  When we try to do something new, the first thing we should expect is a bit of backlash.  After all, if it were that easy, we would have done it by now.  She suggested "jumping over the wave" rather than hitting it head-on. 

We also need to look deep inside ourselves to be sure that this new thing is something we really want to do.  "Desire is strong energy, and can cut through resistance like a sharp knife," Kosednar wrote.  So often, we do things that we think we "should" be doing, even though we don't want to.  When this happens, it's no surprise that we fail.  If we find that we don't really want to accomplish something, then it behooves us to figure out why.  For example, are we afraid of failure?  Are we afraid of the unknown?  Are we afraid of being disappointed that our problems will still be there, even after we have accomplished what we set out to do?  Do we secretly fear rejection?

Sometimes we just have to hit bottom before we can find the willpower to make a change.  We have to look at our bloated bodies in a candid photograph before we decide to lose weight.  We have to wake up in the emergency room of a hospital after an overdose of drugs before we decide to get free of our addiction.  We have to be booted out of a job before we start searching for a job that is more relevant, more challenging, or better-paid.  We have to have our manuscript rejected over and over by the "wrong" publishers before we find the "right" one.  

A Chinese friend of mine told the story of how he decided to get out of China.  During the reign of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung), intelligence was not favored, probably because all the thinking people resisted the totalitarian regime.  The "intelligentsia" were made to work in the farms, the factories, or the coal mines so that they would come to appreciate "the people."  My friend was assigned to a coal mine.  One day a coal car accidentally dumped a load of coal on him, and as he frantically dug himself out, he promised himself that he would get out of China at the first opportunity.  As he told his powerful story, all of us who were listening realized on some level that this man had made a decision at the level of Soul.  He did get out of China, and I met him at the University of Minnesota, where he was teaching linguistics.

Kosednar says that this kind of decision, at the Soul level, invokes a state of grace, where a higher law takes over, and the universe begins to cooperate with us in our endeavors.  This is often the point at which we ask for assistance from a Higher Power. 

To recap, it's important to focus on our desired outcome, rather than on what we wish to avoid.  It's important to do something rather than "trying" to do it.  It's important to avoid forcing outcomes according to our expectations.  Instead, we should be open to unexpected outcomes that may be much more desirable.  We should expect problems and rise to meet them, knowing that they are only temporary obstacles.  And we should relax, knowing that all is well, and that our efforts at making changes will eventually have some effect.  :-)