A Nation in Search of Leadership

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A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done,
his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
~Lao Tzu~

As we move toward major party conventions, the leading candidate on one side represents the establishment which has accomplished little other than to remain established. The other leading candidate mimics the anger of the populace about being disenfranchised by the establishment although he is himself well franchised. Neither shows any real sign of leadership toward a more harmonious world.

Unfortunately we have devolved into a society where the powerful rule and concentrate their efforts on maintaining their control of our national wealth and resources. At the other extreme many people have become focused on their own desires without concern about the effect on others. We have lost a sense of consensus we may have had once along the way. Neither candidate has suggested a clear path to supporting the well-being of the nation and its citizens as a whole although platitudes abound on both sides.

Our country was founded on the principles of freedom from persecution, especially for religious beliefs, equality of all people, and forming a democratic republic to ensure individual rights. Unfortunately, “all people” was not quite inclusive right from the beginning, particularly of Native American and people of color. It did not entirely extend to women either.

Throughout our history, we have struggled to maintain these rights and to make them more inclusive of those originally excluded. Although we have made progress in this area, we still have a ways to go. We need to be able to hear each other’s needs, desires, pain and frustration. Then we need to find ways to work together and balance our needs with those of others. Various groups and individuals have made efforts in this direction but none has taken hold consistently in the general populace.

Based on the current offerings of the major parties, we seem to have a choice between business as usual which has kindled widespread dissatisfaction and anger or giving vent to our frustration by joining in the campaign rants. Neither will bring about any meaningful change in how our society conducts itself or lead to greater satisfaction with our collective lot.

The third choice is to start caring for each other by listening to one another and taking appropriate action. Waiting for a leader to emerge with these values is not likely to produce one without our concerted effort. The reason we have the candidates we do is because we voted for them, regardless of what made us do so. The only way to change this is to come together in our common interest and elect someone who shares these values. Are you ready?

Life Lab Lessons

  • Open your ears to the voices of those who agree with you and of those who disagree.
  • Look for issues on which you can agree and express that agreement.
  • Listen to how people feel rather than to the words they use.
  • Find ways to connect with their feelings.
  • Try thinking of mutually agreeable solutions.

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Dispatches From the World Humanitarian Summit: Facing Our Common Humanity Together

 

Tomorrow in Istanbul, the first ever World Humanitarian Summit will begin. I have the privilege to be participating in this unique event, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will bring together world leaders and humanitarian-aid organizations to discuss how we can do more to alleviate human suffering across the globe.

By most metrics, conflicts have become significantly more frequent and violent in recent years. According to the UN, there were 409 political conflicts around the world in 2015, up from 278 a decade prior. This has contributed to the largest human displacement since World War II, with over 60 million people — about half of them children — forced from their homes because of violence. But despite the staggering need for humanitarian aid — the UN will request $20 billion in 2016, up from only $5 billion in 2006 — only 55 percent of the financing target for life-saving humanitarian assistance was met last year.

Excerpt from Forest Whitaker’s article in the Huffington Post– read more

You Know What I Mean? Finding Commonality Across the Gap

Expert Author Scott Marcus

In L.A.’s school district, when I was a kid, Health was a required class taken in junior high – eighth grade to be specific.

We were taught the basics of course, on how our bodies were changing and even the appropriate methods to shower and dress. And yes, there was that awkward period where our knowledge of the “bird and bees” was clarified – in great detail I might add. As almost-adults, we already pretty much knew the nuts and bolts but my memories are that it was an extremely uncomfortable week, especially since boys and girls were not separated. We were beyond the phase of snickering (at least in class) but everyone sat board straight upright, careful not to make eye contact with anyone else in the room.

I don’t know if it was a required part of the course but one thing I most remember was Mr. Hubbard took us beyond the basics and engaged us in discussions about politics, the economy, and relationships. One could rightly argue that he was as concerned with our societal health as he was with our physical health. Good for him.

Excerpt from Scott Marcus’s column in Ezine- read more

Ripples from an Infant’s Distress


With all that has to happen in the womb, it’s amazing that anyone is ever born at all.

~Coleman Haggerty, CP~

William was born in the usual way to the delight of his family, relatives and their friends. He appeared as a beautiful baby boy and everyone rejoiced. On his second day of life a nurse found him gray and crying in a high pitched tone indicating distress. His caregivers switched into emergency mode and immediately transferred him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The staff closely monitored him and conducted tests to rule out the most likely reasons for his distress. The tests were all came back normal. He stabilized and returned to looking and acting like a healthy baby.

When a baby is born we all expect or at least hope that no difficulties will arise. When a crisis arises for a newborn, we suddenly face the fragility of life. Babies are delicate and need a great deal of protection. We all accept that. But how do we react when a baby is faced with an unknown threat? We want to do what we can but we don’t know what we can do. We are left to rely on the medical experts and prayers to God to help the baby through the crisis.

Few of us remember a time when infant death was common. Physicians and medical researchers have made tremendous strides in dealing with infants in crisis but there is no guarantee that their knowledge and experience will get any particular infant back on a healthy path.

Such a crisis reminds us that we are all fragile. There is much we can do to keep ourselves as well as our children healthy. Yet there is no guarantee that our efforts will be successful. A crisis also reminds us how precious any life is, especially the lives of those who mean the most to us.

I once heard a sermon by Father Brendan Breen reminding us that whatever we do ripples out through the world with effects on everyone. We obviously do not affect the whole world directly. What we do, good or bad, affects those who come into contact with us. Our actions affect those in contact with us and modify their outlook on life and their actions toward others, again for better or worse. Then those we have affected pass on to others what they have gained or lost from their experience with us. In that way we are all connected, even though we will never meet most of the people we affect indirectly.

As I just mentioned, we tend to see babies as fragile and helpless. Yet William has already had a wide reaching effect on many people most of whom he will never meet. As word of his distress spread from his family to relatives and friends, others who were told of him gained an opportunity to turn their thoughts and prayers in his direction. All of these people got a chance to consider the fragility, wonder and connection with others we all share.

Thank you William for helping all of us to stay connected and human. Good health to you. We look forward to seeing how the rest of your life enriches us.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Treasure the lives of those you love.
  • Show them you care every chance you get.
  • Care for yourself. You are precious to others.
  • Care for people you don’t know when you have the chance.
  • Remember that we are all part of the human community.

If You’ve Lost Faith in Humanity, This One’s For You

Here’s something I’m noticing in alarming frequency: there’s a lot of blame happening, especially and overwhelmingly on the internet. And the blame I’m seeing is this pointing-of-fingers on who is ruining our humanity, which honestly seems like a tall order to throw onto ANYONE. I’m not really talking about politics or social justice issues or anything that high level, although that is certainly part of the finger-pointing.

Excerpt from Jamie Varon’s article in the Huffington Post- read more.

How Fear and Anxiety Cause Violence

How Fear and Anxiety Cause Violence

The world has achieved brilliance without conscience.
Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.
We know more about war than we do about peace,
more about killing than we know about living.

~Omar Bradley~

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? Not too long ago I suggested a possible connection between fear and violence. Let’s look at this closer.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) or avoiding it if it seems more powerful than you are. This kind of fear and response to it follow a direct and immediate threat of an attack such as by a wild animal or a wild person. You don’t have time to think about it but react almost automatically.

Related to fear is anxiety. The feared object might not be immediately present, but we can worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. We become anxious about our own welfare or that of our families, the possible behavior of other people or the course of the society in which we live.

If we are unable to find any way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside us and remain unknown to others unless we find someone whom we trust with our concerns or act on our anxiety. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that we all have a breaking point where we feel forced to act in ways not typical of us.

Perhaps some people seek violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear. The result can be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if we see it as responsible for our predicament. If we could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in our world would not seem quite so senseless.

But what can we do about it? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that our technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing us to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating us rather than bringing us closer together.

In the process of becoming immediately connected we seem to have forgotten what communication is for. Its purpose is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to try to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment and for advertising and of course to get as many electronic “likes” as possible.

Although our technology to a small extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may not have had goals much different from our own, but might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Use the media at your disposal to understand the history of the society you live in.
  • Learn about other societies through the same methods.
  • Meet others with backgrounds different from yours.
  • Find out what you and they have in common.
  • Think of ways to bridge cultures at least on an individual level.

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Spirituality in action

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This last column on spirituality and health explores what leading international religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, calls the common foundation of all religions: compassion. Armstrong reminds that at the core of every religious value system is some form of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Compassion challenges us to stop viewing spirituality as a conceptual discussion reserved for sermons and pulpits, and to start making it about action. Spirituality in action… I believe this is what the mystics and prophets meant when they talked about loving your brother and sister as yourself.

Excerpt from Billy Rosa’s article in New Times- read more

The Great Work

In reality, there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human.

~Thomas Berry~

In my recent travels, I visited the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville Kentucky. It is based on the thoughts and writings of Thomas Berry, a priest who helped me find a new phase of my life in 1965. He went on to become a significant voice for the Earth and for the community of living things which inhabits the Earth.

During the past several centuries, humans have come to see the Earth as a collection of commodities for us to use and consume. We have come to see ourselves as the top of the heap with all the earth’s resources at our disposal without any obligation to respect the Earth in the process.  During earlier periods of civilization and indigenous cultures before what we see as civilization, the earth was viewed with reverence and wonder bits indigenous peoples.

Our recent history has led us to see ourselves primarily as consumers of what we want from the earth’s treasures, dumping what we don’t want in ever increasing piles of trash. Thomas Berry invited us to rediscover the Earth as our home. If we continue to destroy it as we have been doing, there will be no viable place for us to live.

This might sound alarmist, a Chicken Little complaint. When foreign settlers came to our continent, they viewed it as a vast inexhaustible supply of land, water, and all the other resources just lying around for the taking. They often ignored or laughed at the views of indigenous peoples that the Earth is a sacred place which needs to be respected. In exchange for giving us what we need, these peoples felt an obligation to care for the Earth in return. Otherwise it is like using the walls of your home for firewood. Soon there is nothing left and no place to live.

For many years, traditional cultures across the world continued their rituals and customs revolving around respect for the Earth. In more recent times, our consumer approach has spread to the far reaches of the globe and contaminated their traditional ways. In many ways the Earth and its resources is now seen as grist for the mills of global corporations, chiefly concerned with profit, despite the cost to mankind or to the earth itself.

We have gone quite a distance down the commercialization path. Whether we as humans can survive the damage we have done to the Earth in the name of profit remains to be seen. Continuing down this path may well make the Earth inhospitable to the lives of other species of animals and plants in addition to our own.

It is very difficult to give up immediate rewards of acting as predators of our planet. There are other ways to live. They involve taking a different approach in which we consider the well-being of the planet as well as our own immediate needs and wishes. Are you ready to do your part?

Life Lab Lessons

  • Study the history of how we have treated the Earth.
  • Spend some time communing with the wonders of the Earth.
  • Set aside time to watch a sunrise or sunset.
  • Meet some of the plants, birds, fish and animals which share the Earth with us.
  • Decide how you can respect the Earth and then try it.

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The Emotional Citizen- How Feelings Drive Political Preferences and Behavior

This is a photo of people making phone calls for a political campaign.

What we learned from the last general election:

When US citizens enter the voting booth on November 6 to cast their ballots for the next President of the United States, a complex nexus of factors is likely to impact who they vote for as well as how they arrive at their decision. Right at the top of this list is emotion. Early voting-behavior scholars viewed emotions as biasing factors that need to be eradicated because they lead voters astray from the issues and individuals of importance, but more recent work has steadily tipped the balance from emotions as irrational biases to emotions as fundamental determinants of political attitudes and actions (for reviews, see Brader, Marcus, & Miller, 2011; Groenendyk, 2011; Isbell, Ottati, & Burns, 2006). In fact, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the first publication to consider seriously the important role of affect in determining candidate evaluations (Abelson, Kinder, Peters, & Fiske, 1982). This work demonstrates that citizens’ emotional experiences in response to candidates are a powerful and significant predictor of how they evaluate candidates, even after controlling for citizens’ assessments of the candidates along numerous trait dimensions (e.g., honest, weak).

Excerpt from Elizabeth Isbell’s 2012 article in The Association for Psychological Science- read more.