It’s not as bad as you think.
I know what the news says: stagnant economy? Check. Millions unemployed? Check. Juvenile election that ignores critical issues? Check. I know – and it’s terrible.
But in the midst of all this there are increasing reports that communities and individuals are coming up with ways to live better lives in the shadow of the crumbling rat race.
There’s something truly amazing that happening right now in this country. Surviving in spite of loss, some are coming together in the spirit of community – and discovering personal growth.
How do we find personal growth in the midst of crisis? There are many ways, but I suggest four steps, which center around a deeper engagement with one’s interiority and a more active engagement in building community:
Score one for Nietzsche: studies show that what does not kill you actually does make you stronger. At least in moderation.
A recent report, “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability, and Resilience” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that yes, when bad experiences happen we do suffer from mental, physical, and spiritual pain – but in that suffering many of us develop a greater understanding of hardship and are more prepared for it when (not if) it comes again.
While the concept has been around ever since Nietzsche first put it into words (if not longer), this is a relatively new area for serious psychological research. Past research tended to focus on how we reacted to when things fall apart – but not how we recovered. There are a number studies, stories and blogs that tell us that when hit by adversity we just crumble. Our health collapses, we eat terrible food, don’t exercise, fall into despair and hang on to the pain for far too long. End of story.
But humanistic thinkers and spiritual practitioners have long known there is another chapter.
There are record numbers of unemployed, a shrinking pool of jobs, and an increase in school failure rates. Is now really the time to shift our education system to a nurturing system that focuses on growth?
This economic collapse presents an opportunity to transform not only our economy but how we live within it. Schools are intended to be the incubators for future workers. Maybe that’s the problem. We don’t need more workers as so much as we need more creatives and innovators to lead us out of this busted wreck of an economy. This shift has to start in our schools.
How many times do you apologize per day?
We are a nation of apologists. Do we mean it? Is this just a euphemism to settle tension? Or do we really have that much to be sorry for?
Studies show it depends on if you’re a man or a woman.
Research psychologists in Canada have found that both genders are equally willing to apologize. However, women apologize more often than men; in fact four times as much. The disparity exists in what constitutes a transgression, and therefore requires an apology. Men, the studies suggest, have a higher threshold for insult and insensitivity – and therefore see less need to apologize.
Who we apologize too is just as interesting as how often. We apologies to friends first - 66% of the time; strangers 22% of the time; romantic partners 11% of the time; and family members 7% of the time. Sorry mom and dad: that’s just the way it goes.
Read any good autobiographies lately?
Rolling Stones founding member Keith Richards, best known for his shepherd’s pies, rock and roll, and bloody noise, releases his autobiography Life on October 26. The book, written by Keith himself, speaks to the glories and tragedies, the days of Boy Scouts and addictions for the originator of the Rock and Roll lifestyle.
There’s no shortage of autobiographies to read, however: held from the public for more than a century, Mark Twain’s autobiography came out just two days ago. Where Richards’ biography tells the story of a man who came to define his time, Twain’s depicts a man before his time. In his own words, Twain is markedly more political and repulsed by imperialistic militarism than we remember him. He emphasizes how greed and selfishness obliterate the founding father’s intention for instinctive American goodness.
Is it strange, when we stop and think about it, that two such radically different people – Richards and Twain, 100 years apart – both turn to the same medium, autobiography, to express their sense of their own lives? It’s not just famous performers: presidents, teachers, housewives, soldiers and scholars all have felt equally well represented in the form of an autobiography.
The reason might be because our psychology is geared towards the creation of narratives in our own lives: we think of ourselves as central figures in a narrative arc. The stories we tell about ourselves – often to ourselves – are narrative structures that parallel the autobiography.
Pop quiz, how many names of pharmaceutical drugs can you name off the top of your head? I have Paxil, Celexa, Viagra and Celebrex. I even have the little song in my head for the last one.
We’ve been getting sales pitches from drug companies since 1997. We were no longer the patient. We became the consumers.
On the other side of the coin, our doctors have been vendors for drug companies for years. Have you ever wondered if your doctor was prescribing a drug for your health … or because it was the latest and greatest drug being marketed?
Have you been a responsible citizen of the internet and used Facebook’s highest privacy settings? Too bad, because Facebook has recently admitted privacy leaks in many of their applications – including their top 10 most popular. All told, some 70 percent of Facebook users are at risk for identity theft.
The risk for emotional identity theft, however, could be 100 percent.
With one out of 14 people worldwide on Facebook – and more on social media sites like MySpace – social media has become a buffet for organizations that profit from personal information, even (especially) information that the person involved doesn’t know they have. At the same time, social media has become the heart of social interchange in today’s bustling world. For all our concerns about privacy on Facebook, nobody ever thinks of logging off for good. How could you? It’s where your “friends” are.
This combination of increasingly insecure information in a venue (social media) that is increasingly important to the emotional lives of its users creates a thoroughly modern paradox:
For most of human history the people you could trust most were the ones in your social network. Today you social network is the least trustworthy confidant you can possibly have.
Even if you communicate offline, there a good chance that a photo, blog post, or tweet will somehow commemorate the event to the world.
Two basic human needs – to socialize and to feel secure in ones emotional bonds – are being pitted against each other as the kind of emotional betrayal that was once deemed a travesty has now become a “feature.” The need to protect oneself against “emotional identity theft” is quickly coming up for everyone who is plugged in to modern technology.
How do we do that? More importantly, how do we do that without wrecking the rest of our emotional lives? This is a question 21st century psychology needs to be addressing – and largely isn’t.
By now you’ve heard about the vicious bullying of children.
Tyler Clementi of Rutgers made his plea for help via online forums and a video blog. Asher Brown, 13 Seth Walsh 13, Phoebe Prince and Justin Aaberg all committed suicide after enduring years of bullying by their classmates.
The suffering these children had to endure was outrageous – but part of the reason we’re so outraged is also that we don’t know how to make it stop. And we’ve tried everything.
Well, almost everything.
Our responses to bullying have given victims a full range of compassion, empathy, study, insight, and action – and it hasn’t worked. Our responses to the bullies themselves, however, has been simple: condemn and punish.
This is understandable. Who doesn’t want to make these kids pay for what they’ve done? But if it’s counter-productive … if bullies also need approaches marked by insight, study, and empathy … then maybe swallowing our disgust for the sake of tomorrow’s victims is the right thing to do.
Article about Saybrook University's College of Mind-Body Medicine ran in the San Francisco Chronicle October 18, 2010 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/18/BASF1FPNO6.DTL
Kate Siner Francis, PhD '08, is launching a new women's transformational leadership program called Women Leading Change. It is designed to provide women with the skills and experiences they need in order to help other women, both locally and globally, creating female leaders as well as women who can create other female leaders. Contact: Dr. Kate Siner Francis email@example.com