Feature Articles

How marriage survives an environmental awakening

03/08/2010

Let's face it, some of us are just more environmentally conscious than others. 

 

Politically, we know how to handle that:  we propose policies at the appropriate levels of government, take a vote, and either set them or don’t. 

 

But what about romantically? 

 

According to a recent articlein the New York Times, marriage counselors are seeing a rise in the number of couples who are on the verge of divorce because one partner thinks the other isn’t “green” enough.

 

“Ms. Cobb chides (her husband) for running the water too long while he shaves or showers,” the Times writes, “and she finds it ‘depressing,’ she tells him, that he continues to buy a steady stream of items online when her aim is for them to lead a less materialistic life.”  He says she’s entered her “high priestess phase” – and points out that these issues weren’t on her radar when they married.

 

It’s not just couples – it’s parents and children, brothers and sisters, and most definitely friends, who are feeling the strain between those who aren’t environmentally conscious enough and those whose awareness has perhaps been raised too much.

 

“In households across the country,” according to the Times, “green lines are being drawn.”

 

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Doctors discover the power of touch

03/08/2010

It sounds amazing when we first hear about it.  Students who receive a supporting touch  from a teacher on the back or arm are nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class;  a kind touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that their visit has lasted twice as long;  a massage from a loved on can not only ease pain but also sooth depression. 

It goes on.  According to an article in the New York Times on the power of touch, high fives can actually enhance performance – and the  professional basketball teams that score most tend to the be teams that touch most. 

But it’s real.  It’s also not a surprise to scholars of complementary medicine, like Don Moss, who chairs the degree program of Saybrook’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine.

In mind-body medicine, the idea that people respond well to contact with human beings is basic … something we all experience on a daily basis.  It’s also been shown for some time by research – but too often ignored since it doesn’t fit in to the “medical model” of clinical practice.

“Touch is the tactile dimension of love, and love and connectedness are key needs for human beings to thrive and actualize their potential,” Moss says.  “Since the early work of psychologist Harry Harlow, who showed that monkeys raised with artificial mothers wrapped in soft fabric thrived much more than monkeys raised with wire cage mothers, psychology has slowly discovered the value of touch for human beings.”

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Mental Illness is the new colonialism

02/09/2010

In the early 1990s, Dr. Sing Lee began to see mental illnesses behave the way they’re not supposed to.

 A practicing psychiatrist and researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lee was studying anorexia in China – where it displayed virtually none of the symptoms of the disease in the West.  His patients didn’t diet, or fear becoming fat:  instead, they said their stomachs felt constantly bloated.

 Then, in 1994, an anorexic teenage girl collapsed and died on a Hong Kong street.  The death caught big media attention, and the Chinese language newspapers and TV covered it.  They went to western experts to describe the illness, and naturally those experts quoted from the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in its fourth edition):  they said anorexia involves deliberate dieting and fear of obesity. 

 Almost immediately, people around Hong Kong began exhibiting those symptoms – symptoms that had never before existed in a Chinese country – instead of the symptoms of anorexia that Dr. Lee had previously seen.  Those symptoms had been indigenous to the culture, but not as well known – and almost overnight they disappeared to be replaced by the same “mental illness” made famous by American teenagers and celebrities.

 By the late 1990s, three in ten women in Hong Kong reported symptoms of an American style eating disorder.

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From health care to the environment, fixing complicated problems isn't impossible in America ... yet

02/09/2010

Citizens of all 50 states are reeling from the budget cuts caused by the financial crisis.  Our nation’s fiscal nightmare is literally breaking state governments.

Or is it the other way around?

In a penetrating article for Governing Magazine, author Rob Gurwitt puts forward evidence that we have it exactly backwards.  A budget crisis isn’t wrecking state governments;  state governments are so broken that it’s creating a perpetual budget crisis.
 
“The realization has started to dawn — and not just in the hardest-hit places — that fundamental assumptions about how state government operates need rewiring,” he writes.  “The little budget tricks that states have tended to rely on in order to keep the electorate happy have mostly run their course.”

But we don’t need mazagine articles to tell us that govenments, from state to federal, are having trouble turning the ship of state around. 

But is that even doable?  Some say no:  a recent Wall street Journal article said the reason President Obama’s attempt to reform health care is failing is that you literally can’t reform health care:  at 16% of the economy, it’s too big.  Can’t be done.  Government is simply too large to transform.  End of story. 

Gary Metcalf disagrees.  It can be done, and thre’s even reason to hope. 

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A totalitarian regime's enemy number 1: Human Science

02/09/2010

As Iranian civil society reels from the impact of illegitimate elections, the Chronicle of Higher Education noticed a fascinating, if disturbing, trend:  a disproportionate number of dissidents put on public trial have been students of the human sciences … and they have been forced to denounce their field.

“The number of social scientists in Iranian prisons has multiplied,” the Chronicle says (where the Iranians use the European term “Human Sciences,” the Chronicle prefers the Americanized – and more limited – “Social Sciences”).  Meanwhile, members of the regime’s senior leadership, including the “supreme ruler” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have publicly called for human science to be discussed only among trained elites … or not taught at all … lest ordinary people be encouraged to doubt the legitimacy of the theocratic government. 

The Chronicle quotes from the forced confession of Saeed Hajjarian, a leading advocate for reform and a political scientist by training:  “Theories of the human sciences contain ideological weapons that can be converted into strategies and tactics and mustered against the country’s official ideology.”

At Saybrook University, the only university in America to offer graduate degrees in Human Science, the response has been “absolutely right.”

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The ingredients of innovation

01/14/2010

When Americans think of innovation, we tend to think of Silicon Valley.  We don’t think about Israel or India … but we should. 

Recently a host of articles, in the New York Times, in Business Week, and elsewhere, have begun praising the new innovation-driven business cultures of up-and-coming countries like Israel and India.  These cultures, and other smaller markets around the globe, are grabbing headlines and investment dollars for their ability to come up with creative solutions that their bigger competitors … even in Silicon Valley … are missing. 

What happened?  How did corners of the world once better known for conflict and poverty suddenly turn into champions of original thinking?  

The same way Silicon Valley did, says Prasad Kaipa, a respected global consultant on business innovation who teaches Organizational Systems at Saybrook’s Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies and is the executive director of the Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India.  Whether in Boston or Bangalore, the process for creating “clusters” of innovation is fairly similar across the board. 

“You can’t just order people to be innovative and expect it to work in a meaningful way,” says Kaipa (who is also quoted in the Business Week article as an expert in India’s culture of innovation).   “You have to have an ecosystem for innovation, and that ecosystem has got several elements.”

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If you don't want therapy, don't get it

01/14/2010

 “I have a pretty good marriage,” author Elizabeth Weil wrote late last year in the New York Times.  “It could be better.”

It was the first line in an article about how she and her husband tried to improve their marriage – which they were already pretty happy with – through therapy.  It didn’t work out. 

“My marriage was good,” she writes, “utterly central to my existence …” until therapy.  As therapy went on, things changed. 

“Over the months Dan and I applied ourselves to our marriage, we struggled, we bridled, we jockeyed for position. Dan grew enraged at me; I pulled away from him,” she writes. “I learned things about myself and my relationship with Dan I had worked hard not to know.” 

In the end, they decided to abandon therapy, and the idea of marriage improvement, and settle for a “good enough marriage.”  Weil is now working on a memoir about marriage improvement.

Since the article was published, it’s been the subject of ongoing conversation.  What happened?  What does her experience say about therapy … and about marriage? 

Actually very little, says Ann Bernhardt, who directs the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Saybrook’s Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies.  Reading Weil’s article, she wasn’t reminded of any therapy sessions she’s seen … but she was reminded of an article she read that came out on the same day. 

It was about the White House dinner crashers.

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Good businesses; great reputations; very bad decisions

12/11/2009

The economy is still in a shambles after many of the world’s most prominent firms engaged in financial shenanigans that a sixth grader could see through – so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by a new study showing that there’s a strong correlation between a corporation’s prominence and its willingness to break the law.  

The study is presented in the Academy of Management Journal.  Of the 469 incidents of illegal activity sampled in the study, 382 (81 percent) were committed by firms on Fortune magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” list and were considered “high performing.”

Why?  According to a review of the study “It's not that poor firms necessarily have more scruples or that prominent, high-performing companies are inherently evil (or that Fortune magazine is playing a cruel joke on its readers), but that management teams at more prominent firms feel more pressure to do something — anything — to increase the bottom line and maintain their preeminent position.”

It is, in other words, the nature of the system:  the more successful a company is, the more it’s pressured to outperform expectations, and that leads to increasing pressure to cut moral corners. 

Marvin Brown, a respected business ethicist and member of Saybrook’s Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies Organizational Systems faculty, says that the very foundation of capitalism as we understand it – going back to Adam Smith – involves turning a blind eye to the ethical questions involved in corporate success.

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How not to grow old in the 21st century

12/11/2009

There may never have been a worse time to grow old than the 21st century. 

That’s the contention of MIT computer scientist Philip Greenspun, who recently suggested in his blog that a combination of modern technology and new prejudices “reduces the value of old people.”

“An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia?” Greenspun asks. “Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search?”

Worse is the fact that the skills that it takes a lifetime to develop are now rendered obsolete within years by new innovations in technology – meaning that the young often know more than the elderly about how to get by in the world.  This, Greenspun suggests, has never before happened in human culture.

As for wisdom?  Greenspun doesn’t discount it, but says that there’s a paradox here:  “Unfortunately, the young people who are most in need of an elder’s wisdom are the least likely to realize it.”  The end result is the same:  this is a terrible time to grow old.

Doris Bersing, a psychology faculty member with Saybrook’s Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies, doesn’t disagree with that basic conclusion, but thinks Greenspun has left one critical element out of the equation:  the elderly themselves.

Even if a young person wanted to receive guidance from knowledgeable elders – and don’t be mistaken, many of them do – where would they find one?  How would they connect?  Too often, they can’t.

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The philosopher and the Nazi

11/30/2009

Martin Heidegger is sometimes thought to be one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century – and a critical figure in the foundation of existentialism. 

He was also a Nazi.

For decades, his defenders have contended that he was a major philosopher, but only a minor Nazi – a member of the party for only a year, and an unwilling accomplice. 

But what if that isn’t true? 

Several new publications, some with new evidence, are suggesting that Heidegger was a more enthusiastic Nazi than he ever admitted, and his defenders ever knew. 

But more than Heidegger the person, they’re suggesting that Heidegger the philosopher is also suspect.

“Drawing on new evidence, the author, Emmanuel Faye, argues fascist and racist ideas are so woven into the fabric of Heidegger’s theories that they no longer deserve to be called philosophy,” Patricia Cohen writes in the New York Times.  “As a result Mr. Faye declares, Heidegger’s works and the many fields built on them need to be re-examined lest they spread sinister ideas as dangerous to modern thought as ‘the Nazi movement was to the physical existence of the exterminated peoples.”’

Intellectually speaking, those are fighting words – and the issue is one with which some Saybrook community members, as students and practitioners of existential psychology, are grappling.

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