The Saybrook Forum



Existentialism and voting go together like freedom and responsibility


Yes, it's another election day.

Are you planning on voting? Maybe, maybe not? Feeling like it won't matter?

Well, you're probably not alone. The polls and pundits believe that voter turnout is going to be low today.  The diagnosis will be apathy.

130 million people turned out to vote in 2008, estimated to be 64% of the electorate. That's pretty good. This year these numbers are expected to drop.

Do potential voters really just not care or is there more to this?

Apathy is a lack of interest or concern, so voter apathy is a lack of interest or concern for voting…but is it that simple?

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Sixty years of rallying to restore sanity


Just before election day comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallied the nation’s attention in Washington, D. C..  Their “Rally to Restore Sanity” brought over 200,000 people to the National Mall. The goal? To use humor and politics to rekindle enthusiasm, turn away from divisive politics, and engender a spirit of working together toward the common purpose of making the world a better place.

Restoring sanity, of course, is a cause psychologists can get behind – but in fact they’ve been ahead of the curve. Humanists, existentialists, and transpersonalists have been proactively leading the way for decades—unequivocally standing in favor of human potential.  

These days it’s not as flashy or well publicized as a rally on the national mall, but by taking a closer look at the theoretical tenants of psychologists such as James Bugental, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Carl Rogers, and Kirk Schneider, one can see the domino effect their work is having in the realms of business, politics and adolescent mental health.

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Hate is a 21st century educational problem


Today there are over 60 hate groups in California alone – including racist skinheads, white nationalists, holocaust deniers, neo-nazis, and Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Surprised? 

When President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address in 1893, equality left out women, African Americans, indigenous Indians, and many other groups on the outskirts of society.  In the United States today, a recent survey shows that more than 6 in 10 latinos says discrimination is a “major problem”;  a woman is beaten every 18 seconds;  African Americans are arrested in significantly higher numbers for marijuana possession even though statistically they use the drug less; affirmative action continues to be necessary, we have yet to have a female president, and over 932 active hate groups exist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

For all the strides we’ve made, the 21st century has only made baby steps towards a sociocultural revolution that recognizes all people as equal. 

What can be done to take us to the next level?  What does a humanistic approach to equality in our time look like?

Paulo Freire, a leading expert on multiculturalism, suggests that it starts in school.

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In crisis there is opportunity - for community


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: 

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The benefits of adversity are very, very real


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. 

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How to drive innovation (and maybe reduce ADHD): eliminate standardized tests


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.

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Sorry about your research: the science of apologies


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.

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The psychological secrets of autobiography


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. 

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There's a good reason people don't trust their doctor$


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?

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Emotional identity theft - the psychological challenge of the Facebook era


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. 

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