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The Casualties of War…Coming Home

July 27th, 2009
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“Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much.

He always packed a gun.

‘It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,’ said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, ‘Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.’

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.”

So begins “The Casualties of War,” by Dave Philipps, which appeared recently in the Colorado Gazette

It was forwarded to me by my old friend David Addlestone, who founded the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, DC and led it for many years, until stepping down in 2008.  Addlestone – whom the American Bar Association called “a Human Rights Hero…who dedicated his entire professional career to vindicating the rights of the often scorned warriors…” has fought for veterans’ legal rights for decades, going back to the Vietnam era.

So it’s no surprise that he would be calling attention to this latest human rights tragedy underway regarding the mental health of our returning veterans and the behavior their psychological condition provokes.

Philipps’ article documents chilling accounts of the emotional damage suffered by many vets, often leading to violence, murder and self-destructive behavior – both while on duty and especially after the vets return to “normalcy.”  Unfortunately the military appears to not take very seriously — and even eggs on, in some cases — the mental traumas that the returning soldiers bring with them.  See the rest of Philipps article at http://tinyurl.com/ngo3hz

Our elected officials and our institutions need to address this, perhaps with a war-to-peace transition program Read more…

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Values and Behavior Are Evolving Towards Success & Service To Others

July 18th, 2009
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Great Nicholas Kristof piece in NYT about Scott Harrison’s Charity: Water http://bit.ly/yfRgm

I interviewed Scott for an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2007 and was impressed with his ability to put his business and media savvy and talents in the service of addressing a humanitarian problem.

Even more impressive and significant is his personal story arc: From an awakening out of a self-centered life; which led to an unexpected, almost serendipity experience; which led, in turn, to creating a successful venture — one that’s having tremendous impact on people who are deprived of something as basic as clean water. http://www.charitywater.org

I’m finding that people like Scott are emblematic of a growing evolution within personal values and behavior, today: Redefining success away from self-centeredness, greed and purely personal gain; and towards using your talents to serve the common good.  My study of this evolution suggests that it reflects an emerging new definition of psychological health that fits the needs of our post-globalized era.

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Are We Capable Of Tackling Future — Not Just Present — Dangers?

July 9th, 2009
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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote that evidence from brain research shows “…that the human brain systematically misjudges certain kinds of risks. In effect, evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.”

“If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the “threat.” Yet if somebody tells you that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future — a portion of the prefrontal cortex — will glimmer.” http://tinyurl.com/mqkq4c

In other words, we will tend to acknowledge a threat and react to it when we experience it as more immediate.  But if it appears to lie in the distance somewhere, it doesn’t have the same impact.  In effect, our brain circuitry, from early in our evolution, makes us cavalier about future dangers, even if those dangers are horrendous in their consequences if not headed off by action that begins in the present.  And even if the dangers we’re programmed to react to were relevant in an ancient environment, but minimally present in today’s world.

Kristoff points out that “…all is not lost, particularly if we understand and acknowledge our neurological shortcomings — and try to compensate with rational analysis. When we work at it, we are indeed capable of foresight: If we can floss today to prevent tooth decay in later years, then perhaps we can also drive less to save the planet.”

I think there is even more encouraging evidence, beyond applying “rational analysis.”  In additions – and perhaps more importantly – is the capacity to grow consciousness about our impact on the world, through our actions; and deliberately use our empathy – which is also hard-wired, as brain research shows – to initiate actions that support desired outcomes.  Whether for our own lives or future generations.

For example, part of our early ancestry propels us to seek out multiple partners, because of evolutionary need to reproduce. (Of course, some of us continue to do that, repeatedly!)  But acting contrary to that – or any other impulse that may benefit your own self but hurt others – well, that’s a choice you can make, as your consciousness grows. The latter enables you to define what you value, why, and engage in actions based on conscious values that promoting and supporting life, not just your own.

The more our consciousness grows within us as a species, that, in turn, drives continued emotional, mental, and behavioral evolution.  It leads to thinking about what your “life impact” is; or what you want it to be.  I’m reminded of something Samantha Power said in a college commencement address last year, “Become a good ancestor

Now there’s a good principle to live by.

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