Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Radical Acceptance Meets the Longfellow Bridge

Photo courtesy: Mark Parkinson
The number of trucks meeting their demise under the bridges spanning over Memorial Drive and Storrow Drive are a source of constant amusement. The entrance ramps are well marked. As you see in these images, even the bridges themselves are well marked.

Still, every year there are endless backups caused by trucks getting stuck under the bridges. These stories generally happen over Labor Day weekend. It's one of the largest moving days in the Boston area: it seems that up to the third of the denizens of the metropolitan area take to the road to move someplace new.

The story usually goes something like this: an out of town family is moving their young adult into a college dorm and aren't aware of how high their moving truck/how low the bridge clearance is. Mayhem ensues and I'm likely to find myself in a traffic jam that stretches all the way to the New Hampshire border (no joke, years ago I was in a traffic jam that spanned from Wellesley MA all the way into Nashua NH).

As you can see from the above picture, it happened again. This was the scene from this morning.

A reminder about Radical Acceptance seems to be a useful at this point. In DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) we teach the importance of letting go of fighting reality. We teach the importance of accepting our situations for what they are. The bridges are clearly marked, they have a certain specific height, and vehicles have a certain specific height.

I can hear the conversations in the trucks. "Do you think we can fit? I think we can. Let's try it." The results, as you can see, often involve a terrible accident or the roof of a truck shaved off. 

A too tall truck is never going to fit underneath a too short bridge. It'll get stuck every time. Our nature, of course, is to think that we are different, we are special, or somehow the laws of physics don't apply. 

Radical acceptance demands we accept that trucks are never going to fit. 

What's my point? There is more to radical acceptance. In the rush of pop psychology to co-opt ancient traditions of mindfulness and acceptance, many have  missed the point. I see a many therapists, especially those new to DBT, get this wrong: they focus on just one part of accepting reality. A too tall truck will get stuck under a too short bridge. A Chinese restaurant will never serve you Italian food. Don't bother asking. It's never going to happen. Radical acceptance.

It's an error that popular psychology (and many who purport to provide DBT) is replete with.  Here is how we fail. We forget that it is part of our human nature to be ridiculous. We forget that we will be irrational and demand that a Chinese restaurant serve us Italian food. We become indignant when our moving trucks get the top of them shaved off by a bridge. 

We forget that radical acceptance includes accepting the parts of us that are ridiculous. That is what can set us free. 

We might laugh at images like this truck with a shaved top. I often do. We might think we are better than the thoughtless drivers. I frequently do. We aren't (and I'm not), and until we can accept our own ridiculousness, we'll remain trapped.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's Time: Marriage Matters (and so does equality)

The road to equality is long and its obstacles can seem insurmountable. Not today. "It's time", 1,225,000 views and counting....

From GetUP! Action for Australia

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The View From Here: Fort Hill Park

Fort Hill Park c. 1907
It was unseasonably warm yesterday afternoon. With the temperature hovering in the mid 60s it seemed to be an ideal day to take Maggie the Therapy Dog for a little impromptu therapy dog visit outside the grocery store. Maggie gets some great opportunities to have short interactions with a variety of people in a novel situation, she gets a lot of attention, and a lot of people smile. As those of you who are regular followers of the therapy dog, she is super outgoing--and she also has a few strange phobias left over from some negative interactions with a vet. The more exposure she gets to men with beards, the less concerned she is about men with beards. A win-win situation, don't you think?

On the way home we took a detour to Fort Hill Park, which is on the outskirts of Lowell Massachusetts. I tweeted a picture from the top of the hill and a follower on Twitter commented that the tops of both trees had fallen off. I got to wondering how that happened, and how it happened that there was a park at all. I thought I'd spend a little time doing some research about the origins of the public space.

Fort Hill Park, Lowell Massachusetts 
The Friends of Rogers Fort Hill Park provided the following helpful timeline. I've taken it upon myself to link the timeline with some helpful resources. 

A thoughtful reader will note that the land was given to Margaret Winthrop (daughter of Governor John Winthrop)  in 1649. No mention was made of the people who lived here before that. We hear about them indirectly in this timeline. The first mention of the native peoples living in the Merrimack Valley was in 1653, when John Eliot asked the general court to set aside the land for "christian" or "praying" natives. The time line takes us to 1669, a full 20 years after this land was given way to Margaret, and we finally get a direct mention of the original owners of the land, the Pawtucket Indians. They created a fort on the top of the hill to protect themselves from attacks by the Mohawk tribe.

Hidden here is a story of the displacement of the native people of America. A sad story worth remembering. It's also sad how little information I could find (at least easily find) about these first people.
  • 1649 The General Court of England granted 300 acres of land to Margaret Winthrop, which was bounded on the west by the Concord River and on the north by the Merrimack River; Fort hill was part of the territory.
  • 1653 John Eliot petitioned the General Court to set aside land for the exclusive use of the “Christian” or “Praying” Indians.
  • 1669 Wannalancit, son of Passaconaway and chief of the Pawtucket Indians had his people build a fort and palisade atop Fort Hill for protection against potential Mohawk attacks.
  • 1714 John Boland purchased 250 acres of land, which included Fort Hill.  The Pawtucket Indians are left with only hunting and fishing rights on the land.
  • 1805 Zadock Rogers bought 247 acres of land for $5,200.  He was 31 years old [he apparently died the same year he bought the land].
  • 1826 On March 1, Lowell is incorporated as a town.
  • 1837 The Rogers house is built facing the future entrance to the park.
  • 1881 The sisters Emily and Elizabeth Rogers offered their land opposite the house to the city for use as a public park.
  • 1883 A syndicate of businessmen – F.B. Shedd, E.W. Hoyt, E.A. Smith, and T.P. Garrity -- bought the land, put it in a trust and made $30,000 toward improvements on the property.
  • 1885 Ernest Bowditch of Boston [he got around, having done the landscaping in a historic park in my hometown of Cleveland - Rockerfeller Park], a “competent landscape gardener” began design of the park.  He removed boulders, laid out walks and carriage roads, and planted trees and shrubs.
  • 1886 The deed for Rogers Fort Hill Park was transferred to the City of Lowell.
  • 1894 The city purchased 4 acres of land between High Street and Hanks Street.  This “lower portion” was added to the park.
  • 1900-1904 Correspondence began between the Olmsted firm and the City Engineer.  The Lowell Parks Commission was established.
  • 1904-1908 Major work in the “lower park.”  A drinking fountain was put in the spring house, a fountain was placed in the lily pond, a maintenance building was built, trees and shrubs were planted, and walks were laid out according to the Olmsted plans.
  • 1910-1925 Work continued in the park; a nursery was added on the north side of Fort Hill, and a small zoo and deer paddock were added on its south west side.  Attendance was high.  First winter carnival was held in 1923.
  • 1925-1950 The city stopped publication of annual report books; little was heard or written about the park.
  • 1960-1980 City budgets were drastically cut.  Maintenance was all but eliminated.  Park slipped into a period of decline.
  • 1989-1990 Fort Hill Park Betterment Association organized to address crime and safety issues.  Police patrols were increased, security gates were installed and boulders were placed around the base of Fort Hill to deter vehicle access.
  • 1995-2000 The Belvidere Neighborhood Association’s Beautification Committee adopted the park as a project and made plans for the park’s management, restoration, and fundraising.  The Lowell Historic Board gained the park and surrounding neighborhood designation as the Rogers Fort Hill Park Historic District.
  • 2000-2005 With state matching landscape preservation grants, the City installed new trees, gardens, walkways, curbs, benches, and the fountain.  In 2001 the Friends of Rogers Fort Hill park formed to maintain these new features and to plan for future improvements at the park.
  • 2005-present The Friends of Rogers Fort Hill Park incorporated as an all-volunteer, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  Today their volunteers provide maintenance, educational programming, and advance improvements at the park.
Trees at Forth Hill Park by Meredith Fife Day
The park is now part of the Concord River Greenway Park, which is an area being built as a multi-use pedestrian/bike path designed to transform the Concord River into a shared natural resource that unites neighborhoods and connects them to regional resources. Check out this EPA document for how this plan has been developed. We don't often hear stories of our government doing useful things: it's nice to see examples like this where the government is investing in building better communities.

Click here to be taken to a Picassa gallery of some historic postcard images of Fort Hill Park that I collected from around the internet. Super curious and want to do some deep research? Check out page 27 of the June 30, 1936 edition of the Lowell Centennial for an article about the city parks. Check out page 7 of Anne Ohlsen's oral history to learn about the bears that were kept in cages on Forth Hill Park. Special thanks to University of Massachusetts Lowell for making their Center for Lowell History available online.

That's right. Bears. Who knew?

Fort Hill Park, Lowell Massachusetts

Cambridge Turkeys, Part II

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Maggie and I discovered a small family of Turkeys wandering around Cambridge. An intrepid reader of my blog spotted this picture on Foursquare and sent it to  me. 

The turkeys last known whereabouts were outside Corporal Burns Playground (more info here) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you have any information as to their current location, please contact us. Magnolia the therapy dog is offering a reward.

Vibrator Miscellanea

My post-doc director of training frequently reminded us that 20 years from now we'll look back at the kind of therapy we practiced and be unable to believe we practiced that way. Our ways of understanding will become more complex, new types of therapy will develop and evolve, and things that were once popular will fade into obscurity.

Let's take hysteria as an example. During a large portion of the 19th century hysteria was all the rage. Women's sexually, however, has been deemed pathological and diagnosed long before that. In her book The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction, Rachel P. Maines quotes a medical text from 1653:
When these symptoms indicate, we think it necessary to ask a midwife to assist, so that she can massage the genitalia with one finger inside, using oil of lilies, musk root, crocus, or [something] similar. And in this way the afflicted women can be aroused to the paroxym. This kind of stimulation with the finger is recommended by Galen and Avicenna, among others, most especially for widows, those who live chaste lives, and female religious, as Gradus [Ferrari da Gradi] proposes; it is less often recommended for very young women, public women, or married women, for whom it is a better remedy to engage in intercourse with their spouses.
We have the ancient Greeks to thank for the notion of hysteria. Plato thought the uterus was a living creature that wanders around a women's body. At times it can wander to the wrong area which would cause "blocking passages, obstructing breathing and causing disease." Those pesky uteri.

What are the symptoms of hysteria? They include faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and as Maines aptly writes, "a tendency to cause trouble." Ladies, if you have any of these symptoms you might need treatment.

Charcot demonstrates a case of 'hysteria' c. 1885
Thankfully, treatment options expanded quickly in the 19th century. Physicians, interested in increasing their income, looked for ways to improve tedious manual treatments. It could take hours to manually induce a hysterical paroxysm. This seriously cut into billable hours. Also, for those of you who think physicians enjoyed this--they didn't. There is no evidence that physicians of the time found this an enjoyable task. To the contrary, they found it tedious and uninteresting work. It probably would have been considered unimportant work had it not made a significant amount of income.

How is this for an interesting fact: electric vibrators were first used in medicine in 1878 and were made available as a consumer product by 1900. The first appliances (in order) electrified: sewing machine, fan, teakettle, toaster, and electric vibrator. It took another ten years until the electric vacuum, iron, and frying pan were consumer products that were available for purchase. This tells you a little something about what made money at that time (businesses will develop products most likely to sell) and thus, what people considered important. Hysteria was big business.

Vibrators were so widely available they could be purchased for home treatment (medical use only, please!) from the Sears catalog:

We also have an advertisement from a 1913 edition of the New York Times:

Curious for even more images? Check out the vibrator museum. There is a collector for everything, isn't there? I wonder how many accidental electrocutions there were from these contraptions.

Cabinet Card Gallery
Curious why a fainting couch appears here on this post? It appears that these Victorian ladies, reclining on their fainting couches experiencing "the vapors," were actually having a personal physician apply the appropriate treatment for hysteria. Who knew? I certainly never did.

Back to Maines book one last time:
Hysterical women represented a large and lucrative market for physicians. These patients neither recovered nor died of their condition but continued to require regular treatment. Russell Thacher Trall and John Butler, in the late nineteenth century, estimated that as many as three-quarters of the female population were "out of health," and that this group constituted America's single largest market for therapeutic services. Furthermore, orgasmic treatment could have done few patients any harm, whether they were sick or well, thus contrasting favorably with such "heroic" nineteenth-century therapies as clitoridectomy to prevent masturbation. It is certainly not necessary to perceive the recipients of orgasmic therapy as victims: some of them almost certainly must have known what was really going on.
And now back to my point. We forget in our current modernity that we all all one day be obsolete. While we might not be applying "vibration" to heal the wounds and maladies of our day, our current notions of sanity and insanity are as tightly wound with the Zeitgeist of 2011 as they were in 1900. 

The vibrating doctors meant well--at least most of them probably did. We mean well, too. We do the best we can with the knowledge and understanding of the world that is currently available to us. Too bad only a few of us have figured out that some certain portion of what we call therapy now will sound ridiculous in another 100 years.

 (Not to mention the aspects of therapy that already sound ridiculous but clung to to by a some ardent believers of different kinds of historical therapies).

By the way, apparently Maggie Gyllenhall is staring in the upcoming movie "Hysteria" that was recently screened at the Toronto Film Festival 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Great American Smokeout

I've been meaning to write about clinical hypnosis for a number of months now. My intention was to write this to correspond with the The Great American Smokeout. That was on November 17th. So while I'm a bit belated, I wanted to recognize the day. Since the first Smokeout on November 16th 1977, the American Cancer Society has worked toward helping American's quit smoking for good.

I'll do my part to help. Will you do your's? 

Why am I interested in helping people stop smoking? 

  • Inhaled cigarette smoke is made up of 4,000 chemicals, including cyanide, benzene, ammonia and carbon monoxide.
  • Second-hand smoke causes almost 50,000 deaths in adult nonsmokers in the United States each year, including approximately 3,400 from lung cancer and as many as 69,000 from heart disease.
  • 44.3 percent of all cigarettes in American are consumed by individuals who live with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.
  • Smoking skills about 200,000 people who live with mental illness.
Here are the facts:
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. As of 2010, there were also 5.2 million cigar smokers in the US, and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.
So for those of you who fall into the 22,500,000 Americans who have tried quitting for at least one day in the past year, I'd like to offer you a little help. Clinical hypnosis is a psychotherapeutic tool that can be used to activate under used resources, aptitudes, and skills in the service of accomplishing a particular goal. Hypnosis elicits the relaxation response. Additionally, this practice assists in turning the mind away from habitual patterns of response toward new and creative ways of problem solving. It is a state associated with selective wakefulness, controlled dissociation, diminished capacity for self-criticism, and increased suggestibility. Hypnosis ins not associated with giving up control, being controlled, or giving away control.

Can hypnosis help you stop smoking? It's important to understand that as with all types of therapies, hypnosis is a highly effective tool for some patients with some problems. However, like all types of therapies, it also fails some patients with some problems.

Here are some facts.
Interested in using clinical hypnosis to stop smoking? Reach out to me. We can schedule an appointment (I meet with people three times over approximately six weeks for smoking cessation). If you'd like to schedule an appointment with someone else, I can help you with that, too.

Should Parents Allow Teens to Have Sex in the Home?

In a recent Daily Dose piece in the Boston Globe, Deborah Kotz poses the question "Should parents allow their teens to have sex in their house?"
It's an unwritten rule in America that teens don't discuss their sex lives with their parents--except, perhaps, to obtain contraception--and that they don't invite their boyfriends or girlfriends to sleep over in their rooms, at least when mom and dad are at home. yet in Holland, two-thirds of dutch teenagers ages 15 to 17 in committed relationships reported in a national survey that their parents allow their significant other to spend the night in their bedrooms, and girls were just as likely as boys to gain this permission.
NEWSFLASH -- your teens are likely already having sex. They are probably having it in your house and you don't even know it.

The problem with unwritten rules is that they are generally stupid. They are also generally based on misinformation, prejudice, and otherwise unexamined beliefs. 

We here in the United States have been busy teaching (or at least complaining we should be teaching) abstinence only sex education. This form of "education" teaches that the only appropriate choice for unmarried teens (and presumably adults) is complete abstinence from sex. Also notable is what abstinence only sex education doesn't teach: it excludes information about sexual and reproductive health education including birth control and safer sex.

Since it is illegal in most of the United States for gay and lesbian people to be married, I suppose this means that gay and lesbian people are presumably never supposed to have sex. 

Check out the trash that the state of Florida puts out under the guise of sex education. The "It's Great to Wait" website points out that one study of one high school show that 50 percent of teenagers dont' have sex. Do you suppose the other 50 percent of teens that are having sex will get the information they need to develops safe, healthy, and loving relationships from this website?

Let me be unequivocally clear about this: the evidence simply does not support the use of abstinence only sex education. Tell kids to wait doesn't decrease unplanned pregnancy, it actually increases it. Conservative Republicans who have demanded we teach abstinence only sex education in Africa as a requirement for HIV funding has failed as well--abstinence only sex education has increased rates of HIV infection.

Here is one great article that reviews the research. There are many other research reports out there demonstrating that the "Abstinence-only was an experiment it failed." 

This, however, is not really my point today. Back to the article from the Boston Globe:
And there’s no worry that young teens in passionate love will leap into early marriages before they’re ready -- a notion that propels American parents to urge their teens not to have serious relationships in high school and college. “Very few Dutch parents think that teens will marry the first person they fall in love with,” she said.They’re comfortable with the idea that their kids may be ready to have sex but not start a family. As a result, they make sure their teens adequately protect themselves from pregnancy.
This nudges me a little closer to my point. How do teens learn how to have healthy loving relationships?

They practice. They watch. The model.

Our earliest opportunities to practice is with our first relationships. Our parents give us our original model for how to have relationships. What do some parents teach their children about relationships? In 2010 more than 5 children were killed every day by child abuse. We teach that relationships kill. Every 10 seconds in the United States a case of child abuse is reported. That's over 6,000,000 children every year. That's just what's reported. We teach that relationships hurt.

Here a real parent, also a family court judge, is teaching a child about relationships. It's graphic, awful, and difficult to watch. Many argue that this child is being spanked and it is an appropriate form of discipline. What do you think? What do you think she was taught about the world and how to relate?

How children feeling about spanking: Their own words and images

17.6 percent of women in the US have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of those, 21.6 percent were younger than 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17. We teach that relationships are about violence.

It is a twisty path I've just taken you on. Sex education, to child abuse, to rape, and now back to sex education. It's important, and it's related. We can't pretend that we can naturally figure out how to have healthy, peaceful, and loving relationships. We learn now to do them within the context of the relationships we form through our lives. We can't pretend that telling kids to wait and  not providing them with skills at saying no and saying yes to sex will actually help anything. It only hurts.

Back to the Globe article:
Dutch parents have been educating their teens on these concepts since the sexual revolution, according to Schalet, though they emphasize that sex should only spring from committed, loving relationships -- not hookups. “It’s never just pure sex, but sex within a relationship.”
This isn't to say that some Dutch don't abuse their children. It isn't to say that some Dutch don't experience sexual violence. I'm sure they do. They are, however, having a dialogue about something important. The Dutch are onto something. They teach about sex. They teach about relationships. They show kids the way, the kids can find that way, and everyone is just a little bit better.

We have to talk openly with our kids. Their lives depend on it. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Everything is Coming Up Turkeys

It's nearly Thanksgiving and all is growing quiet in Cambridge. On the way into work I didn't have to dodge the regular tableau of people standing in the middle of Central Square talking on their cell phones and bicyclists failing to obey the rules of the road.

Sadly, my favorite neighborhood turkeys were no where to be found. Maggie the therapy dog and I have been on the look out for said avian creatures since first spotting them. In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday we packed a small bag of bird seed today and were going to feed them.

They've gone missing: I hope a Cantabrigian did not lay eyes on them and decide they were a holiday dinner.

Who are these turkeys? Information is sparse. I have heard from reliable sources on Twitter that these plump creatures live in the Riverside area of Cambridge. I showed a line up of photos to some residents. They were positively identified as part of a rafter of turkeys who live at an undisclosed Riverside location under a blue kayak.

I won't disclose more. If they haven't found their way to a dinner table I'd like to make sure they remain free to wander about town. They are, I think, the only creatures who wander around with constant use of smart phones.

It being almost Thanksgiving, you might be interested in some turkey trivia. Turkeys belong to the genus Meleagris. The wild turkeys we generally see, including our local rafter of birds living in Cambridge, are Meleagris gallopavo. Fossil records (and please, readers, tell me you believe in fossil records) indicate that this critters have been pecking around North America since the early miocene period.

That's a long time.

If you didn't already know (and really, this is important stuff, why don't you know this?), the wattle is the fleshy blob hanging from the top of the beak. Males are called toms (or gobblers) and females are called hens.

I'm unsure if the birds pictured here are gobblers or hens. I figured it was rude to look.

So there you have it. Your obligatory pre-Thanksgiving turkey post. If you see this rafter of turkeys please don't eat them. Let them know I have some bird seed from them.

Further, if you spot them, please capture a picture. I'd like to know their whereabouts. Maggie the therapy dog is offering a reward: unlimited therapeutic dog kisses.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Essentially a Food? Then Eat It.

Fox News "journalist" Megyn Kelly calls pepper spray "essentially a food product." First and foremost, it's a lie. Megyn Kelly is a liar. Here is a helpful post from Deborah Blum talking about the science of pepper spray. It's not a benign chemical agent.

Secondly, if it really is "essentially a food product" then Megyn should volunteer to either be sprayed by pepper spray or, put it on her food and eat it.

We need to expect our journalists in this country, and people representing "the truth" to be accountable.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling a little hateful lately?

I don't know about you, but I've been feeling a little hateful over the past few days. In some ways, it's ironic. I just wrote a blog post complaining about a celebrity psychiatrist's hateful response to a campaign against hate. In other ways, my hateful response over the past couple of days is very human.

Brian Nguyen
I watched with horror as I saw images of UC Davis students being sprayed with chemical weapons. The sounds of the crowd shrieking combined with the very powerful and now iconic imagery of young students (children, really) being overpowered by a single swaggering police officer shaking a can full of  chemical weapons. 

Looking at the chemical wielding police officer I become filled with rage. He does not appear scared, threatened, or otherwise in harms way. He appears to want to be in control. He appears to want to exert power over the young men and women. Maybe he wants to feel good. Maybe, in the energized thrill of the moment, the thin line of civility some of us cultivate disappeared. Maybe his own personal rage, hate, and sadism came unglued. 

I look at him and I'm angry. I look at him and I want to see him punished. I want to see him punished because I want to know there is justice in the world. I want to know that we live in a civil society, where inconvenient protests happen, and people without power can use the transformative tactics of non-violent protest to push an overlooked viewpoint into the minds and hearts of the public.

I want to believe. I want to believe I am not like him.

I don't want to believe is the murderous rage that wells up within me. While I might like to ignore what I'm feeling inside, I can't. I'm transported, right now, back in time to an interview I had with the director of training for what was to become my post-doctoral fellowship. He asked me many difficult, challenging, frustrating questions. Two provocative ones come to mind. Both were questions that asked the same thing of me.
"You elected not to wear a tie to your interview with me today. I'm wondering what you think that says to me about you, and what you had hoped that it would say to me about you. I'm going to tell you this now, Jason. If you don't have an answer for that question we'll end the interview right here. If you don't have an answer to that question there is no place for you in this postdoc."
I survived that question. Then he came up with this one.
"Tell me about a time you experienced murderous rage toward a patient."
Joe asked these two questions for two very specific reasons. What's germane here is his second reason. After working closely with him for my post-doc, I learned that one of the most important things to him was that his post-docs know themselves. He wanted to know that I could look at myself. He wanted to know that I could look deep, not turn away, and openly take in the totality of my experience. Even open up to the dark, twisty, and scary places.

So I take in my experience. I don't look away. I watch the video and I allow the rage to pass through me. I sit without movement and experience what is that I am experiencing.

I am moved. Are you? Where are you moved to?

Megan Garber at the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a smart article called Image as Interest: How the Pepper Spray Cop Could Change the Trajectory of Occupy Wall Street. Megan reminds us that Susan Sontag argues that photographs are
"invitations--to deduction, speculation, fantasy." They invite empathy, and, with it, investment.
 Take a few moments to look at some iconic, moving, and difficult images. Think of them as an invitation.

What do you see? It is easy for me to have great compassion and empathy for aspects of each of this pictures. Thich Quang Duc self-immolated himself on June 11, 1963 to protest the brutal repression of Buddhists by Catholics. "Tank Man" standing alone before the repressive regime of Communist China. Kim Phuc, running down a road after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack. General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing the Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém. Dorli Rainey, 81 years old, pepper sprayed by police in the United States. Two nameless boys (one 18, one under 18) executed for engaging in gay sex in Iran.

And then there is Lt. John Pike. His swagger. His pepper spray. I can have compassion for the young men and women being assaulted with a chemical spray. Can I have compassion for the police officer?

Many see this image and are invited to anger and hate. I am, too. Compassion? Why would I want to do that?

Compassion and nonviolence help us to see the enemy's point of view,to hear their questions, to know their assessment of ourselves.
For from their point of view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses
of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit
from the wisdom of the brothers and sisters who are called the opposition.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think Dr. King was inviting us to look at our own shadow. Our own dark places. The places we find unbearable. When we look closely, we can protect ourselves from the darkness. We can stop our own slide into sadism. We can be transformed. We can be more.

Do it for yourself. Look deep and find your own shadow. Choose love. Choose compassion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Toys from another country

There is something to be said to seeing the world through another set of eyes. What's more amusing that watching commercials from another country? Here are a few that keep me laughing. If you look carefully you'll gather some glimpses in how children are socialized into adult behaviors in other parts of the world.

Have any fun examples of your own to share?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christian Terrorist

So those of you who closely follow my Twitter stream have likely discovered that I'm now on Tumblr. I use that space to keep track of things that I'm reading and thinking about. I've been reading a lot about the notion of compassion recently. One of those articles was by Martha Nussbaum.
In 2002, Hindu extremist organizations in India spurred attacks that killed over 2000 Muslims. "Approximately one-half of the dead were women. Children were killed with their parents; fetuses were ripped from the bellies of pregnant women to be tossed into the fire." p. 358 
Nussbaum, M.C. (2008). The Clash Within: Democracy and the Hindu Right. Journal of Human Development, 3, 357-357

If you are interested in hearing Martha Nussbaum deliver this speech, click here on this link. It's a poor quality video--you'll need to skip about 6:30 minutes until there is actual talking.

My Tumblr is linked to Twitter, so whenever I post something there a tweet is generated and sent out into the universe. Generally I think this is a good thing: I read some obscure things; many people don't read obscure things; the bits and pieces of what I read might spur others to think about things they wouldn't otherwise consider. All good, right?

The Nussbaum tweet quickly brought me to my new title, and the title of this blog post, Christian Terrorist. How did this happen? 

Sandeep Singh
indiaandislam Sandeep Singh 
@jaypsyd Hey Terrorist of CHRIST ..Why not have a Debate on New Testament "the 

Of course, why send one Tweet when you can send two.

Hindu IDF
HinduIDF Hindu IDF 
@jaypsyd Hey Terrorist of CHRIST ..Why not have a Debate on New Testament "the BOOK OF HATE " Vs the BOOK of LOVE GITA

Probably what happened is that someone set up a program to search for any mention of the word Hindu on Twitter. My tweet, mentioning Hindu extremism, got the person's notice. What I should have done was ignore the tweet. It would have been easier. However, I have documented difficulty not responding to things such as this. I always think I'm going to be helpful.

 Jason Mihalko 
 I'd be happy to have a real dialogue with you, but let's start by not assuming I am Christian. Polarization gets us nowhere.

It's hard to have a complete thought in 140 characters. I probably came on too strong.

 Hindu IDF 
 When U call Hindu militants ? & wht is the Problem when we call Christian Militants ? wht Polarization ? Just debate ? rt ?

 Jason Mihalko 
 The quote made reference to an extremist organization, not all Hindus. I would never group all people into one category.

Things went downhill pretty fast.

 Puneet verma 
  These are abrahaminic faiths that polarize. You may as well be a marxist pseudo-Hindu trash.

Rajdeep Sardesai
rajdeepsardesai Rajdeep Sardesai 
blocked @jaypsyd . A true bigot who believes 2000 muslims were killed in 2002 gujarat riots.

Hindu IDF
HinduIDF Hindu IDF 
@jaypsyd U Stupid Lawyers is more authentic than Government of India & Other resources provided Indian's ? Racist Bastard..that is wht U R

Rajdeep Sardesai
rajdeepsardesai Rajdeep Sardesai 
This @jaypsyd guy does appear to be a bigot. Ill block him now.@HinduIDF @NishkaK
Hindu IDF
HinduIDF Hindu IDF 
@NishkaK True...A racist is a Racist and this Guy is a Racist@jaypsyd and no amount of Data or Books will change his Mind set

Nishka Krishna
NishkaK Nishka Krishna 
@jaypsyd you guys @rajdeepsardesai @HinduIDF r wasting ur time. This person is brainwashed & will just use ur argumnts agnst hapless indics

How did I go from a Martha Nussbaum quote, to being called a Christian Terrorist, to being called a racist bigot, brainwashed, and let's not forget my favorite, pseudo-Hindu Marxist trash?

I mistakenly entered into a geopolitical argument. I'm not Indian, I'm not Hindu, and I'm not Muslim. I'm a psychologist writing a book about compassion who happened to dig up an article about a 2002 riot in India. I was interested in what Nussbaum had to say about compassion. I also wanted to keep track of that quote because I really don't know much about the politics in India. I wanted to come back to the quote so I could learn more.

From what I can best gather, there was an explosion on a train and many Hindu pilgrims were killed. Some say that a Muslim organization planned the attack. Other's have concluded that a cook stove that a pilgrim brought aboard caused the explosion. What international observers have documented is that in the ensuing confusion and violence, over 2,000 Muslims were killed along with many Hindu people.

The quote from Nussbaum was heartbreaking--hate and anger directed toward any human life is always something that breaks my heart. There is not excuse for it, and I see no place for it in our modern world.

So back to being a Christian terrorist and pseudo-Hindu Marxist trash.

I asked for dialogue. I tried, as best I could, to be open to listening to another person's viewpoint. I also asked for references. I asked my twitter dialogue partners to provide me documentation that might support ideas that were being presented as facts. When presented with propaganda, I called it as such, and asked for resources that could be verified.

I responded like a Western academic. Many of you might have done the same. This is not likely a particularly helpful move. Please make a note of it.

What I didn't do was respond with compassion. I didn't hear the fear and anger in the voices of my twitter dialogue partners. In responding to their deliciously ridiculous claims about me, I ended up becoming slightly protective of my own position. An honest thing to do, Not a productive one. I chose to try to teach here rather than listen.

I could have done better. While my twitter dialogue partners were rather insistent that if I didn't see it their way, I was seeing it the wrong way, I didn't need to come from the same stance. I got into a situation where I was on the defensive, being asked to prove I wasn't a bigot, and only being allowed to do if I agreed with what someone else was representing as truth.

There isn't really a good way out of that situation.

Does this make me a Christian Terrorist, pseudo-Hindu Marxist trash, or a bigot? Not really. At least I don't think so. In the end, however, I really need to let other people decide this based on my behaviors and actions.

Dialogue is hard. We all are prone to engaging in the eternal game of "Who is right?" or "My idea is better than your idea". It's painfully difficult to enter into a polarized dialogue where both sides want to see the other as the other.

That's important enough that I want to say it again: It is painfully difficult to enter into dialogue where both sides want to make the other side into "the other". What does that mean? In order to be right, to be important, to be safe, we human beings tend to make what is different from us into "the other." The other is a thing to be hated. A thing to be diminished. A thing to be ignored. To accept the other can be a threat to self. A threat to our own existence.

Did I "other" my Twitter dialogue partners? Not too  much. I was annoyed and frustrated, yes. I failed to take a compassionate stance toward their experience. I didn't hate them, objectify them, or intentionally turn them into an other -- I felt though that I was becoming the other in their eyes.

It makes for some difficult times. We can make another choice and become open to vulnerability--we can be open to the other and in doing so, can help recognize our common shared humanity.