Tag Archives: social responsibility

Mental Health Professionals Ignore Their Responsibility to The Public

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 10.20.39 AMJuly 20, 2016

Those of us in the mental health professions are too silent and disengaged from an important responsibility we have to individual lives and society today. To explain, we live with increasing fears and insecurity, as we worry about what may lie ahead in this world: The increasing disruption and violence. Steady, unrelenting transition to a diverse and non-white majority U.S. culture. Continuing economic uncertainty. The impact of not dealing with climate change, and how it will alter the lives of future generations. And, especially, growing cynicism about the capacity of our social and governmental institutions to really understand or deal with any of these new realities of life.

In view of the above, we psychologists and psychiatrists should be playing a visible role in identifying what psychologically healthy living consists of, in the midst of today’s world: What it looks like, in our ideas, our emotions, our behavior; and in our public policies. And, what supports those features of mental health in the face of today’s challenges. I think we’re abdicating this role. I plan to write more about this in the future, but want to sketch out some ideas here, for discussion.

Generally, we can describe health as whatever promotes positive, constructive adaptation to change; what enhances flexibility and proactive behavior when dealing with changing or unexpected life circumstances; and mentally embracing the reality that our internal wellbeing and outward success are interdependent with those of others. Overall, that means behaving in ways that promote the common good, publically and privately. Interdependence, much of which is fueled by globalization and the merger of technology and communication, requires it.

This perspective asks us mental health professionals to take some positions and voice them publically. That is, articulate and advocate those social, cultural and political issues that promote psychologically healthy lives and society, rather than ignore those that undermine or impede them. To do so, we’re aided by a wealth of knowledge and information to draw on. It comes from clinical experience with a range of people who seek our help; and from extensive, published empirical research. The two sources converge. But too many of our mental health professionals don’t connect the dots. Or they don’t want to, perhaps in fear that voicing a position would erode their professional authority with their patients. Continue reading

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Wisdom Requires Both “Head” and “Heart”

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.51.47 PMApril 5, 2016.

Of course! Our cognitive, logical, linear thought processes must be joined with our capacity for perspective and understanding of the larger context of a problem, for “wisdom” to emerge. This new study finds an interesting dimension of that “oneness”: the variability of the heart rate.

The research was described in this summary from the University of Waterloo. It found that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The study by Waterloo and the Australian Catholic University was published in  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The authors state that their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. “Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says the lead author,Igor Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. It points out that a growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.  Continue reading

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Behind the Climate Victory; a Human Victory?

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.37.39 AMJanuary 5, 2016

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A guest post from John Friedman, who heads corporate responsibility communications worldwide for Sodexo Group. John blogs on sustainability for The Huffington Post, and is a leading writer on corporate responsibility and sustainable business. He’s the author of PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build A Sustainable Brand.

Now that the fireworks have faded along with some of the afterglow from the very successful COP21 meeting in Paris we must begin in earnest in deciding what 2016 will bring. With guarded optimism I read articles summarizing the year and for the most part they reflect a renewed hope and optimism that comes from the global agreement not only on efforts to cap global temperatures to increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also the ‘stretch target’ of 1.5 degrees.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework. They recognize that we must continue to improve quality of life and social justice for more and more (ideally all) people within the constraints of our very resilient planet’s ability to replenish and restore (some) natural resources.

They bear repeating here:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What happened in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. And we can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, fighting corruption, etc.) Continue reading

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What Matters More — Your Character, Or What You Can Do For Me?

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 11.57.30 AMSeptember 22, 2015

This is one of those experiments that give credence to an intuitive feeling, one that’s consistent with a philosophical/spiritual perspective but we often ignore when we want to extract value from others, for our material benefit. The study, conducted by NYU researchers, found that people’s impressions of others’ character is a more important factor than what they might be able to do for us, when making decisions about them.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, contradicts the conventional thinking that when we learn from positive or negative feedback in our interactions with people, we make conclusions based on the benefits they bring us – their “reward value.”

As so often the case, “conventional” thinking,” is often based more on assumptions than on evidence. As this study’s lead author Leor Hackel explains, “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move. Instead, we often… form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions.”

In the experiment, participants made a series of “reward-based” decisions while their neural activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. Part of the study examined whether participants learned the relatively generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player. The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information more strongly than reward value.

After the experiment, described in detail here, participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task. The researchers found that their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. According to David Amodio, one of the researchers, “In other words, our results show that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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The Most Energized, Productive Workers: Not Who You Might Think!

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 5.34.51 PMSeptember 15, 2015

What fuels the energy and excitement that’s visible among people who are highly engaged and productive at work? Is it something about what they bring to their careers to begin with? The management culture they experience? Or, are those qualities found mostly among the young, because of youthful energy, as some surveys indicate?

Some new research sheds some light on this. It finds that the most energized and creative workers are not only the young, age-wise. They are best described as “young at heart.” The secret ingredient is their emotional attitude about life in general; and the way they typically respond and deal with negative, stressful experiences. That’s what differentiates them from others. But these interesting findings also raise this question: Why so many work cultures actively undermine the positive energy and vitality that such people bring into their workplaces? And which – one would think – companies would value and support in every way possible.

First, let’s look what at the evidence from two unrelated but complementary studies tell us about this. In brief, the first found that your overall attitude about life – independent of age -influences your performance and creativity at work. The other study found that positive emotions and your outlook on life — especially how you deal with stressful circumstances or conflict — is linked with greater long-term health. And many sources of stress are found in the workplace, needless to say. Continue reading

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Both Too Much And Too Little Power Are Linked With Mental Illness

Screen shot 2014-12-15 at 10.27.15 AM

December 16, 2014

Too often, the mental health field overlooks the significant role that social conditioning plays in the development of emotional disturbance…or psychological health. Social status, perceived or real power and how they are valued by society can accentuate existing pathology or stimulate pathological attitudes and behavior. A new study by the University of California at Berkeley found new evidence of how that happens.

This study of 600 young men and women concluded that one’s perceived social status — or lack thereof — is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. And, that the findings make a strong case for assessing such traits as “ruthless ambition,” “discomfort with leadership” and “hubristic pride” to understand psychopathologies. “People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power,” said senior author Sheri Johnson said. “In contrast, people at risk for mania tended to report high levels of pride and an emphasis on the pursuit of power despite interpersonal costs.” The study was published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy:Theory, Research and Practice.

Studies have long established that feelings of powerlessness and helplessness weaken the immune system, making one more vulnerable to physical and mental ailments. Conversely, an inflated sense of power is among the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, which can be both personally and socially corrosive.

The summary provided by Berkeley pointed out that Donald Trump’s ego may be the size of his financial empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s the picture of mental health. The same can be said about the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or unemployed. Continue reading

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Why Humble Leaders Are More Successful

Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 11.10.41 AMOctober 28, 2014

It’s increasingly evident that business leaders who are capable of experiencing and demonstrating such qualities as empathy, compassion, and humility have greater success. Research as well as direct business experience confirms this. One recent example is a study of 1500 leaders and their employees. It found that humble leaders, who have increased self-awareness and insight, receive greater commitment and performance from their employees.

According to the research findings, “Leaders with a strong self-insight demonstrate a good understanding of their own needs, emotions, abilities and behavior. On top of that, they are proactive in the face of challenges.” The study found that when employees experience this type of leadership, it has a positive effect, and that’s especially true when the leader is humble.

More broadly, other research in recent years indicates that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and it can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. These capacities reflect letting go of ego-driven attitudes and behavior; and they enhance positive, effective relationships. We are now seeing evidence that they are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage. For example, founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson has pointed out that “In business… companies that want to survive…are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Today’s organizations require what the New York Times columnist Adam Bryant has described as a “quick and nimble” management culture. This, in turn, requires leaders to let go of focusing so much on themselves; to let go of the “alpha male” role, as Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group has called it. Then, they are more able to engage with diverse employees, and from a more humble perspective. Vielmetter pointed out that “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who Continue reading

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A Sense Of Fairness: Part of Human Evolution

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September 23, 2014

Research has been honing in on establishing that a sense of fairness among humans evolved naturally. This new study reveals that an important element of fairness is a willingness to sacrifice personal gain in the service of long-term cooperation with others. This is something some of our politicians should heed and absorb.

In essence, the researchers found that giving up an outcome that benefits you in order to gain long-term benefits from the relationship requires not only an ability to think about the future, but also the self-control to turn down a reward. Only a few species are able to make the leap to this second step, which leads to a true sense of fairness — that is, a willingness to give up a benefit in order to reach equal outcomes and stabilize valuable, long-term cooperative relationships. It’s been found only in humans and their closest relatives, the apes.

This study, from Georgia State University and Emory University, and published in the journal Science, looked at how responses to inequality evolved, through studies of primates. “This sense of fairness is the basis of lots of things in human society, from wage discrimination to international politics,” according to Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State. “What we’re interested in is why humans aren’t happy with what we have, even if it’s good enough, if someone else has more. If you are cooperating with someone who takes more of the benefits accrued, they will do better than you, at your expense. Therefore, we began to explore whether responses to inequity were common in other cooperative species.”

The research was summarized in Science Daily: (Researchers) found that Continue reading

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Why Compassion Gives You a Competitive Advantage In Business

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 9.04.47 PMJuly 29, 2014

Accumulating research and observational evidence show that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. That these capacities enhance positive, effective relationships as well as greater internal wellbeing. It’s also becoming evident that these emotional attitudes and corresponding behavior are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage.

It’s good to see examples cited by successful business leaders, such as billionaire founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson: “In business, as in nature, companies that want to survive aren’t mindlessly pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet; they are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Branson was writing in Entrepreneur, in response to a question by a business owner about the reluctance of business leaders to consider anything but profit. According to Branson, “Business used to be a cutthroat world where the only thing that mattered was profit — but that’s changing quickly. It has become easier for people to learn which companies pursue profits at all costs and which behave ethically, and to make purchases based on those decisions.”

He emphasizes, “Don’t spend time worrying about organizations that don’t welcome or accept change — they’re not going to be around for long. Just keep looking for people who are willing to listen to your message and who genuinely care about something greater than themselves — those are the investors and partners you’ll be working with in the years ahead.”

And, “…recent research demonstrates the strategy’s benefits. Continue reading

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We Need To Wake Up To ‘The Next America’

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 2.22.27 PMThe new report from the Pew Research Center describes significant shifts and ongoing evolution in American culture. This emerging face of “the next America” will have profound impact upon our lives, work and politics. I plan to write a longer piece about the implications of the Pew report as they relate to new challenges for personal relationships, careers and public policy. But among the basic findings are that America is becoming less white, more diverse and older.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has summarized the key findings and their implications, writing, ” The America of today bears little resemblance to the country of 50 years ago. It is older. It is less white. And those two demographic trends will only accelerate over the next 50 years.” Cillizza quotes Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center: “Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era,” writes “The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

For Cillizza’s full article, click here.

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The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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The Orientation of Millennials at Work Highlights a Social Transformation

Screen shot 2013-11-19 at 10.09.06 AMA recent article in the New York Times by Tom Agan, co-founder and managing partner of Rivia, highlights a significant transformation underway in our culture. Although it’s linked with the rise of the millennials, I think it’s part of a broader shift of mentality, values, outlook on life, and behavior — and will increasingly impact how people conduct their personal relationships, what they seek from their careers, and public policy. Agan’s essay describes how this shift is visible in the workplace; and why embracing it can enhance innovation and creativity, especially when joined with the experience of older workers.

Agan writes, “Social media permeate the personal, academic, political and professional lives of millennials, helping to foster the type of environment where innovation flourishes. So when compared with older generations, millennials learn quickly — and that’s the most important driver of innovation.”

And, “If corporate cultures don’t align with the transparency, free flow of information, and inclusiveness that millennials highly value — and that are also essential for learning and successful innovation — the competitiveness of many established businesses will suffer. Millennials are becoming more aware of their rising worth. Coupling their ability to learn quickly with their insistence on having a say, they pack a powerful punch.” For the complete article, click here.

An example of the innovative and creative energy of this generation is a report in Just Means that a group of Millennials have created an alternative website to HealthCare.gov: Three twenty-something programmers have created a functional website, HealthSherpa.com, that tells consumers what health insurance plans are available, based on their zip code, plan preference, and personal information. Users can find and compare plans and prices, and work with a subsidy calculator. The trio had each tried to get information from the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, but could not. So they built their own site, using data posted on HealthCare.gov and other information requested from state exchanges. Despite its limits (it can not sign up users), HealthSherpa.com has received 1.4 million views; the site’s “how to buy” buttons have been clicked over 150,000 times. It took the group just “a few days” to build out their minimal but useful site. The federal government should consider outsourcing to West Coast millennials instead of the “professionals” to get up a working HealthCare.gov.

 

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Great Companies Will Add Value More Than Extract It

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 5.47.22 PMAn insightful article in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, highlights the fact that many of the highly touted business consultants and authors — who describe high performing companies and why they will remain so — are, well…often flat wrong.

Schwartz writes that the most striking example involves Microsoft, which renowned consultant Jim Collins and his co-author of Great by Choice, Morten T. Hansen, cited, Schwartz points out, as “a great performer, and Apple, which they cite as the comparative laggard. Yes, you read that right. Here’s why: the 15-year period the authors happened to examine was 1987 to 2002.”

Schwartz asks, “How could so much research miss the mark by so far?” He explains that “…huge changes in technology in the last decade have redefined what it takes to be successful – elevating factors like the role of disruptive innovation, quickness to market and speed of responsiveness to competitors. What worked for Microsoft in the era that Mr. Collins and Mr. Hansen studied proved to be wholly inadequate to compete with Apple in the era that immediately followed.”

The prime reason Schwartz cites for getting it wrong is “the definition Mr. Collins uses for greatness…Maximizing returns for shareholders over a given period of time is narrow, one-dimensional and woefully insufficient. In an increasingly complex and interdependent world, a truly great company requires a far richer mix of qualities.”

In contrast, Schwartz emphasizes that “A company’s greatness is grounded in doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and the least harm. It is neither first nor foremost about maximizing short-term return for shareholders. Rather, it is about investing in and valuing all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, the community and the planet – in order to generate the greatest value over the longest term for all parties, including the shareholders.”

That’s the key.

For Schwartz’s complete article, click here.

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How To Align Your Money, Personal Values and Sustainability

This is a guest post by Brian Kaminer, founder of Talgra, which provides consultation to people on ways to create positive social and environmental change, through aligning money and values with investing. It was previously published on Green Money.

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My Roadmap

After 17 years in the brokerage business at a boutique trading firm, I got the chance to explore areas that were of greater personal interest to me and felt in alignment with my values. Sustainability quickly got my attention and my role as the father of three boys also furthered my interest on the topic. I initially focused on resource / energy conservation and solar energy for about 2 years. After learning about the concept of Slow Money and attending various conferences in 2010, my awareness about the role of money and investing was elevated to a new level. Since then I have immersed myself in this field while working to commit financial resources to support my core values and understanding of sustainability. This is very much an evolving and rewarding personal process.

While doing so, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of information and resources available on this subject. It seems to be exponentially growing in content and visibility. Organizing and connecting what I have been learning has increased my understanding of the field and presented the opportunity to share this with others by creating a resource document. This process enables me to see the bigger picture.

Towards that, I created the Money and Impact Investing Directory Continue reading

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Wealth, Entitlement and An Inflated Self

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 9.55.27 AMResearchers at Berkeley have found that higher social class is associated with an increased sense of entitlement and narcissism. This is another study in the realm of “demonstrating the obvious,” but that’s good, because it gives research data underpinnings to clinical observations. The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found that promoting values that reflect a sense of equality with others had a diminishing affect on their narcissism. And that’s especially interesting because it links with other studies that find that empathy and compassion are innate; we’re “hardwired” that way, as this recent study finds, for example. But that capacity can be dulled or diminished by socially conditioned values and rewards, which then shape our conscious sense of self. We then define ourselves in ways that limit and constrict our sense of who we’re capable of being.

The current study about social class and narcissism was summarized by Eric W. Dolan in The Raw Story:

Climbing the economic ladder can influence basic psychological processes within an individual. According to a new study , wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors. Continue reading

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A Rare Example of Political Disagreement and Mutual Respect

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 11.05.15 AMWriting in the New York Times, Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, praised his former student Jason Furman, recently appointed by President Obama to the same position. Mankiw points out that “In Washington these days, comity between Republicans and Democrats is rare. Yet my relationship with Jason has never been hampered by our differing political affiliations.”

While pointing out their political differences, Mankiw offers a description of how two people can come from a similar base of intellectual knowledge and tradition, and yet end up aligned with different political parties — while respecting and valuing each other’s point of view.

Mankiw provides three ways in which differing perspectives can lead to a more left-oriented vs. a right-oriented political position. His commentary is a clear, concise portrayal of how people’s sensibilities, values and perhaps temperament can lead to different positions. He writes:

“…I doubt that there is a simple answer. So let me suggest three. Continue reading

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The Rise of McCarthy Tactics From Some Republicans

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 10.47.11 AMWhen an elder politician like “Mr. Republican” Bob Dole says “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says closed for repairs…” you know we’ve entered Bizarro World. Especially when he added, in that same FOX interview, that neither Reagan, Nixon nor himself could “make it in today’s GOP.”

it’s worth examining what’s driving that trend, and a more serious one: A group of influential Republicans are creating a new norm of juvenile, schoolyard-name-calling behavior. And they’ve been churning out innuendos about Democrats consorting with the enemy — such déjà vu tactics harking back to the days of Joe McCarthy. There are political motives for this oddly, self-destructive path. But there’s another source worth considering as well: The mental and emotional drivers that may underlie the resurgence of McCarthyism at this particular point in our culture. It amounts to a kind of arrested development, borne of a crumbling identity of manhood; one that has always linked class status, power to control and dominate, and self-interest with a righteous sense of high moral stature.

I’ll explain below, but first take a look at some recent examples of the slurs and innuendos reminiscent of McCarthyism:

After attacking Chuck Hagel’s character during his Senate confirmation, Rep. Daniel Issa went on to call Obama’s press secretary a “paid liar.” And discussing the IRS scandal, he implied — in a typical McCarthy innuendo, that it’s “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters — and we’re getting to proving it.” (My italics, to illustrate the deliberate suggestion of associations). Despite these insinuations of high-level corruption, the originator was revealed to be a conservative Republican who sought greater clarification of the criteria for granting tax-exempt status. Continue reading

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The Life and Work of Albert Hirschman

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.59.46 AMI’ve long-admired the writings of economist and public intellectual Albert O. Hirschman, who died a few months ago at 97. In addition to his ideas, he had a remarkable, little publicized and heroic life during World War II, as this New York Times obituary reveals. And this essay by Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal shows how Hirschman offered some interesting perspectives about the role of dissent, relevant to politics and organizations. Lowenstein writes, “Once you start looking at the world through the Hirschman lens, the paradigm of exit and voice is all around. Suppose you are unhappy at work: Should you complain to the boss or simply quit? Or maybe you are the boss: How much should you mollify employees—or customers—to keep them from leaving? It might depend on the presence of a third Hirschman factor: loyalty. Broadly speaking, markets are all about exit, while politics deals in voice. What Hirschman grasped is that the strongest organizations (in either sphere) foster exit as well as voice.”

The complete essay: Continue reading

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Two Voices Of Sanity In Our Political Culture

Screen shot 2013-04-22 at 10.07.26 AMIn their recent join writings, the American Enterprise Institute’s Normal Ornstein and the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Mann, reflecting a center-right and center-left perspective, offer thoughtful critiques and analyses regarding the drift towards irrational and extremist positions in politics today. In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, they examine the roots of the current, continuing gridlock. In it, they point out that “…serious debates about policy avenues in these areas are impossible if half the political arena believes that climate change is a hoax, and if one political party is animated by the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge and the Mitt Romney vision of a nation of 53 percent makers and 47 percent takers.” And, that “…the broader pathologies in our politics remain. For all the problems that existed in previous decades, in a system designed not to act with dispatch, there was a strong political center, with responsible bipartisan leadership. The same cannot be said today.”

For the complete article, click here.

 

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What Does Having Power in Your Organization Do to You?

Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 10.10.11 AMCompanies are evolving and adapting to ongoing, often unpredictable business challenges today. in the context of teamwork and collaboration needs, leaders and the management cultures they build are rethinking the meaning and impact of power. Several new research studies have examined the impact of power and authority upon the behavior and emotional attitudes of people in their career and leadership roles. Much of this research yields useful findings for companies. But some contains significant limitations — and distortions.

Among the latter are many academic studies, based on controlled experiments in which college students are the participants. They construct artificial, experimental conditions, and then draw broad conclusions from the findings. Most seriously, they often neglect to study actual people in business environments. Moreover, some of the studies use definitions of “power” that don’t fit the realities of today’s organizations. Those flaws affect their conclusions.

For example, recent research found that “powerful” people are more likely to Continue reading

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A Case Study In CSR

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 1.51.45 PMThis is a guest post by John Friedman, head of communications for corporate citizenship for Sodexo. A thought-leader in CSR and sustainability, John has published widely in these areas, including The Huffington Post, and his work has been cited by Forbes and other publications. 

When any company or organization demonstrates that it is conducting its business in a way that benefits society, improves (or at least mitigates negative impacts on) the environment and is able to do so in a way that is profitable, it lives the values of sustainability and, in theory, everyone benefits. While smaller organizations may have it easier – in terms of getting buy-in and ensuring that practices support the desired objectives – they also struggle for financial resources. Conversely, larger multi-national organizations may (but not always) have more financial means but engaging a larger, decentralized workforce and a more complex supply chain can be difficult to say the least.

When big multi-nationals commit to sustainability they do so recognizing the challenge (although in my experience that is sometimes underestimated) as well as the massive opportunity to make a difference. The most successful companies, I have found, commit fully to the strategy based not on short-term market trends or a desire to ‘look good’ but rather based on their core and foundational values that have served them well for years. Staying true to the culture helps them to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that come up in the course of doing business. ‘Stay the course, because this is who we are’ is a stronger rallying cry than ‘this is the new way and we told you it would be rough.’ Continue reading

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Gun Violence, Mental Illness and Their Hidden Roots

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 1.40.33 PMI expanded my previous post for this Huffington Post article, as follows:

Much of the discussion about gun violence, mental illness and public policy is like looking at the branches of the tree and its trunk. But we don’t consider the roots, which fuel how the tree grows. Those roots lie within some of our cultural values and aspirations that we absorb as we grow through our families, schools, and into adult relationships and careers. They are murky, hard to see. But here I suggest some worthy of facing and dealing with.

First, it’s quite likely that not much will happen following the Newtown elementary school killings, in terms of curbing gun violence. As Dana Milbank recently wrote inThe Washington Post, the tendency has been to “slow-walk” discussion about change. And then it never occurs. But if a sea change of attitude and action does result, it would require a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans to summon the courage to confront the political power of the NRA, and enact reasonable gun laws, one’s that would be enforced. Such laws would respect the rights of sportsmen, target-shooters, and hunters, as well as those who want firearms to protect their homes. But they would also limit the availability of assault-type weapons that serve none of those purposes. Protecting the public from the danger of being killed by people wielding assault weapons with multiple rounds of ammunition is no less a “right” than that of possessing a gun.

At the same time, Continue reading

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Why We May See the Return of Mainstream Republicans

A few decades ago I asked my father why he had voted for Eisenhower in both the ’52 and ’56 elections. It puzzled me because my father was a lifelong Roosevelt-New-Dealer Democrat who had founded and led for many years the labor union local at his factory. There, the management regularly accused him of being a Communist and sometimes threatened his life. Not a person you’d expect to support a Republican, he fought for worker’s rights and benefits. That included, humorously, distributing readings to workers by Spinoza, Freud and Aristotle. The company decreed that to be subversive activity and tried to ban it. But he brought the case to the NLRB — and won a celebrated victory.

So why did he support Eisenhower, a Republican? His answer was short and simple: “Because he beat the Nazis.” To his thinking, that trumped politics, period.

I’m reminded of that perspective as I reflect on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. I’m wondering if we might start to see a swing of the pendulum Continue reading

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What Prevents Unethical Behavior In The Workplace?

A business school professor has argued that there’s a gap between business students’ description of ethical behavior in business and the traits they report in themselves. Thomas A. Wright, at Kansas State University, contends that there is a moral decline in higher education, which affects those entering the business world. “Many citizens are increasingly seeing the potentially grave consequences of dishonest and fraudulent actions by our business and political leaders,” he says.

Wright’s study examined student character strength on a number of dimensions including valor, hope, zest, honesty, critical thinking, kindness and gratitude. This is where the students exhibited gaps between their own qualities and those they value for ethical business. For example, MBA students listed honesty as one of their top five strengths. However, Wright found that 88 percent of the students reported that they have cheated in school, with many students reporting they had cheated 100 or more times. Wright said that students who cheat in school are not only more likely to cheat in graduate and professional school, but they also are more likely to engage in unethical business practices. And that this provides all the more reason for why higher education institutions should include ethical and character development. The study was reported in a news release from Kansas State, and summarized in Science Daily here:

 A Kansas State University professor’s research is showing a gap between the character traits that business students say make a good executive and the traits they describe having themselves.Thomas A. Wright, the Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in Business Administration, said business schools need to close that gap by continuously discussing ethics and character in the classroom. Continue reading

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Richard Branson Calls For A “B Team” Of Business Leaders

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Richard Branson’s ideas are always worth attention. Here, he calls for a “B Team:” A small group of business leaders who will campaign for reforms to make capitalism more oriented to the long term and socially more responsible. He’s always been on the forefront of ideas and actions that promote joining successful business enterprises with contributing to the social good. In this article from The Economist, he describes a new venture that he calls the “B Team:”

SLOWING down seems to be the last thing on Sir Richard Branson’s mind. Since turning 62 in July, the bearded British entrepreneur has as usual been making headlines around the world. On October 3rd he celebrated victory in a campaign to overturn the British government’s decision to strip Virgin Trains, of which his Virgin Group owns 51%, of the West Coast main-line rail franchise. The government now admits it got its sums wrong, as Sir Richard had claimed, and the bidding process will be rerun (see article). Recently Sir Richard has also been in the news for (among other things) urging Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to end America’s war on drugs; declaring his intention to visit Mars; and parking a mock-up of the new Upper Class bar from his transatlantic aircraft outside the New York Stock Exchange. From there he promoted his latest book (“Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School”) and led a discussion with his Twitter followers. The subject under discussion was: “How can business change the world for the better?”

This last topic has become increasingly central to Brand Branson in the past few years—although social activism has been part of Sir Richard’s repertoire since he opened advice centres for students in the 1960s. Under Virgin Unite, its charitable arm, his corporate empire has become a leader in the booming business of “cause marketing” (aligning brands with charities). Continue reading

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The 2012 Campaign Reveals Two Contrasting Views of Personal Success

The 2012 presidential campaign exposes a clash between an older, narrowly focused — and declining — view of success, and one that’s both broader and steadily rising. It has both social and political implications worth our attention.

The view that Mitt Romney conveys is the older one. It’s essentially that success means achieving power, money and career position for oneself and family. Period. It’s a traditional, self-focused vision of a successful life. It’s also embodied in Paul Ryan’s positions about the “makers” and the “takers.”

The other view, conveyed by President Obama, is closer to what I call “whole life” success. That’s a growing shift towards viewing a successful life as one that includes personal achievement, but extends beyond it to supporting and helping others elevate their own lives. It’s based on awareness that we’re all interdependent and interconnected in today’s world. And, that your own life course – including your financial and career success — is highly interwoven with everyone else’s.

The latter perspective is not new, of course. But it’s been steadily rising in our culture; increasingly visible in the values and actions of younger generations, in particular. Let’s look at some statements that contrast the older, traditional view of success with the broader, whole life view. Then, let’s look at where the latter is taking root, and why President Obama retains one foot in the older view when he describes the path to success, today.

First, Romney emphasizes that Americans should be Continue reading

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Wealthy People Less Likely To Help Others In Times Of Trouble

 

Some new research finds that less well-off people tend to reach out to each other in times of trouble, but the more affluent opt for comfort in their material wealth and possessions. In a study conducted at UC Berkeley, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the rich are ” more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” according to the lead author, Paul Piff. One interpretation is that the more wealthy take comfort in material possessions when threatened by feelings of chaos, crisis or disruption in their environment. The study was described in this Science Daily summary:

Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study from UC Berkeley suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions. “In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class — defined by both household income and education — and social behavior. Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and human-made disasters, including economic recessions, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes. Continue reading

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People Are Motivated To Help Others By Thoughts Of Giving, Beyond Self-Interest

This research from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan adds to the evidence that people are more prone to help others when they focus and reflect on giving and helping. I think this helps you move beyond self-interest and towards awareness of connection with others – which underlies service to others, promoting the common good, and actions that are an antidote to greed and self-absorption.

The study was summarized in Medical News Today, from a report in the journal Psychological Science, as follows:

 

We’re often told to ‘count our blessings’ and be grateful for what we have. And research shows that doing so makes us happier. But will it actually change our behavior towards others?

A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that thinking about what we’ve given, rather than what we’ve received, may lead us to be more helpful toward others.

Researchers Adam Grant of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Jane Dutton of The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan wanted to understand how reflection, in the form of expressive writing, might influence prosocial behavior. They observed that when we reflect on what we’ve received from another person, we might feel an obligation to help that person, but the motivation to help doesn’t necessarily extend to other people. And reflecting on what we’ve received from others may even cause us to feel dependent and indebted.

The researchers wondered whether thinking about times when we have given to others might be more effective in promoting helping. They hypothesized that reflecting on giving could lead a person to see herself as a benefactor, strengthening her identity as a caring, helpful individual and motivating her to take action to benefit others.

In their first experiment, Continue reading

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Green Leadership: Learning It And Doing It

A previous post described what a green business leadership mindset consists of. I argued personal buy-in among leaders is essential to establish, communicate and enact sustainable and socially responsible practices. Here, I describe how leaders can learn to build that mindset, and how that underlies successful and innovative practices.

I see two linked pathways to developing and applying green leadership: First, acquiring and learning relevant facts and evidence-based understanding about emerging global and workforce realities. These require new actions for long-term survival and success. The second is leadership self-development, through self-awareness awareness and other sources of learning. Both must become part of the leader’s “DNA” in order for sustainable practices to be successful.

Two Pathways To A Green Leadership Mentality

Learning Facts and Information

This includes acquiring information: Documented research findings; related, science-derived data; and evidence-based understanding and interpretation of current environmental and workforce realities. For example: Continue reading

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Green Leadership — What Is It?

Politically motivated politicians continue denying man-made climate change and it’s devastating harm. They reject the need for alternative energy sources that could stem the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. They gasp when hearing the word “sustainability.” They block efforts to deal with these or other significant challenges. Nevertheless, many businesses and even the military are seeking solutions to these threats to our economy, way of life, and our national security.

But creating successful, sustainable practices and policies, and the long-term vision they require is complex. The above challenges are interwoven with vested interests of those seeking deregulation or new tax laws that enables continued profit for themselves, at the expense of the larger society. Investment in infrastructure or human capital is ignored.

Positive solutions call for “green leadership.” In business, successful, sustainable practices rest upon an internal foundation, a mindset of emotional and mental perspectives, values and capacities. This mindset helps create sustainable, growth-oriented practices that contribute to long-term security and development for all.

In this post I describe what a green leadership mindset consists of. Part 2 describes what it looks like in practice, and how leaders can learn to build it.

Business and Military Organizations Embrace Reality

To better understand the rise of green leadership, consider that climate change is recognized and being addressed by many decision-makers, despite the deniers. For example, The Economist and others recently focused on the melting Arctic, the sea level rise and ways to deal with long-term implications. Companies research and invest in alternative energy technologies, and receive federal support, though the latter is opposed by fossil fuel-funded politicians, including Mitt Romney, who has called wind and solar power “…two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative energy.” Nevertheless, research abounds. Companies continue to explore innovations for increasing solar energy efficiency, for example.

The military recognizes the national security threat Continue reading

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Business Leadership Programs Ignore the Key Ingredients of Success

Leadership development and executive coaching programs have become pretty widespread in companies and organizations today, and with good reason: Positive, effective leadership is essential for success within today’s turbulent work environment. Moreover, growing your leadership skills is also necessary for successful career development in today’s workplace, where nothing is guaranteed.

But there’s a problem with these programs: Many fail to help with three crucial areas: building personal growth through self-awareness and self-examination; learning the leadership actions that increase company success in the midst of a changing workforce and fluid environment; and then, learning to align the two.

The absence of programs that really help in these areas gets reflected in periodic surveys finding that people at all levels are unhappy and dissatisfied with their work and careers. They struggle with the emotional impact of negative, unhealthy leadership that appears stuck in a 20th century mindset of top down, command-and-control.

Executive development programs typically take you through questionnaires, various exercises and “tools” to build skills and resolving roadblocks or conflicts. Many of them provide important and useful help for strengthening leaders’ knowledge and capacity for greater effectiveness in their roles. Some are provided by large consulting organizations like Right Management; others by university executive education programs, such as Harvard’s or Wharton’s. Efforts have been made to evaluate the effectiveness and scope of coaching programs, as well.

But many of them miss, on the one hand, building the necessary self-awareness of your “drivers” as a leader or manager. That is, your emotional makeup, your values and attitudes; your personality traits, and your unresolved conflicts. You’re a total person, not just a set of skills performing a role.

On the other hand, the programs often fail to incorporate current knowledge about the changing workforce, as well as the link between sustainable, socially responsible practices and long-term business or mission success. Yet bringing these two key ingredients together is the vehicle for both a thriving career and organization. Let’s look at both:

Self-Awareness and Self-Examination
Personal growth and career growth go hand-in-hand, and are the foundation for successful leadership in today’s organizations. Most successful and satisfied executives, whether at the top or on their way up, practice some form of self-awareness and self-examination. They learn to align their personal values and life goals with the kinds of leadership practices that will promote growth and development at all levels.

Becoming self-aware and orienting yourself to self-examination involves your entire mentality – that mixture of your emotions, your mental perspectives and attitudes, your values and beliefs. It includes, for example: Continue reading

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Why Our Political Culture Looks Insane

The ugly spectacle of political gridlock reflects a political culture best described as insane. It’s increasingly disconnected from realities of our current world. We’re living in the midst of massive, worldwide transformation towards a highly intertwined and increasingly transparent world. The impact of this transformation is visible in economic shifts, new political movements, changing social norms and personal values, business practices and in individual behavior.

The products of this transformation call for policies and actions that respond to them in pragmatic, positive ways. But here in the U.S., our political culture of both left and right operates as though these new realities either don’t exist or don’t matter; as though the old order still prevails.

Examples of the political insanity include:

  • From the left, President Obama is attacked for not achieving and pushing for a more progressive agenda, despite a range of accomplishments that he’s achieved. But the greater insanity is that he’s operating with the new “requirement” instituted by Republicans: That every piece of legislation must now be able to overcome a filibuster threat, rather than be hammered out through compromise and then subjected to a majority vote.
  • On the right, the Republican/Tea Party vilifies Obama’s “socialist,” “anti-American” or — in Newt Gingrich’s description — “Kenyan, anti-colonialist” agenda, despite an ironic reality to the contrary: President Obama’s policies and behavior are much closer to those of a moderate Republican of yore; the kind that doesn’t exist anymore.
  • Then there’s the ongoing clown show — Republican presidential hopefuls who argue for returning to policies that — as data show — have created the economic mess we’re now in. Moreover, they try to outdo each other to embrace anti-science, anti-knowledge positions, whether about climate change or evolution; and they vocally embrace anti-human rights positions when those rights concern gays and lesbians.

Contrast the above positions and policy objectives with some of the transformations whose impact is increasingly visible in everyone’s lives. On the surface, they appear disparate; unrelated. But collectively, you can see a theme: A rising change of mentality. That is, a mixture of values, world outlook, emotional attitudes, and conduct. It’s simultaneously a response to and a driver of the rise of interconnection and interdependency. And it has cascading political, economic and social implications.

Here are some of the seemingly unrelated shifts that reflect the reality of today’s world: Continue reading

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Why People Are Caught Between Public Lies And Private Truths

The latest “sex and power” scandals flashing across the media in the last few weeks underscore just how commonplace, even repetitive, they’ve become. Some are new, like the sexual assault charges against former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revelation that he had fathered a child with a former member of the household staff. Some are recycling, like John Edwards’ indictment or Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations, which revivememories about hislying about an affair while impeaching President Clinton for lying about an affair.

The list goes on, the latest being the Anthony Weiner’s “rolling disclosure” episode. TheWashington Post recently compiled may of the scandals into anice summary –for those who are interested in keeping track.

But I think this steady stream of sex-related scandals is just the most titillating and graphic part of something more widespread and troublesome in the lives of many men and women today: the gap between people’spublic lies andprivate truths.

That is, many people live with contradictions between their inner lives (the truths about their desires, emotional experience,self-image and ideals) and what they do with those truths behind the scenes, hidden from view (their private selves), and the lives they conduct publically, in theircareer paths, their relationships with their families or others they deal with and the positions they espouse or advocate (their public selves).

Public lies that contradict private truths have been part of our culture for some time. But in my work with people over the last few decades, I’ve seen it grow more rapidly since 9/11 and the economic/political events of the last few years. As I reflected on the reasons for this gap, how it damages people and our society, Continue reading

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The GoodMakers Street Team — A Mother Watches Young Activists Empower Global Change

The following is a guest blog by Tilo Ponder, a Los Angeles based Writer/Producer of documentary films. �Tilo Ponder has spent her career as a catalyst for dynamic and integrated campaigns across all media, working with major�entertainment and consumer brands in her 20+ years of working in�the advertising agency world. Given the chance to parlay that experience into a more purposeful existence, she co-founded GoodMakers Films. �Tilo’s intense passion is�a driving force behind�GoodMakers Films,�a�non-profit organization which creates�dynamic�promotional�documentaries that empower charities to get their message�out to a�global audience. �tilo@goodmakersfilms.org

When my 21-year-old daughter suddenly left�NYU Tisch a year and a half ago and came home to Los Angeles, she didn�t really know what she was returning to do — only that she was deeply concerned about how rapidly the deteriorating economy was impacting the world around her. She reported that her college friends were feeling anxious and depressed, some of them dropping out of school as their parents, who had lost their jobs, were unable to keep up with tuition payments.� In our home, we were scrambling to keep everything going, but were committed to keeping our daughter in college, no matter what.� My husband is a�freelance commercial director, I was at an ad agency heading up production and also running our own production company. Add to this, managing investment properties in other states, shuttling our 5-year-old son to pre-school and sports activities, while also supporting an 18-year-old daughter living in Scotland and a 2-hour daily work commute — our lives were jam-packed, but worked somehow.Our daughter�s announcement that she was taking a �semester break� created unrest and an ominous feeling that a small piece of our intricately maneuvered lives were being un-wedged in a dangerous way. I secretly wondered why she couldn�t just stay put.� Having tucked her away at a good college, I had assumed that she’d be set for 4-5 years, and that afterwards she�d be on her way to a prosperous career.� I challenged her assertions that her generation was apathetic and directionless, citing how it was her generation that only a year earlier ensured our nation�s first black president because of their passionate involvement in the final days of the campaign.� My daughter�agreed on that point, but added that after so much build up to��change� and the subsequent downfall of a global economy, her�generation had even less to believe in than before.

Given that, I wasn�t prepared for what followed. Continue reading

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Why The Tea Party/Republicans Fear A Transforming America

In the aftermath of the interim budget agreement, it’s clear that a new reactionary ideology has taken root in Tea Party/GOP policies. Psychological drivers are always present in political or personal ideologies and policies. I think it’s useful to expose and understand those within the positions of this new incarnation of the Republican Party, in order to order to counter them with constructive, positive alternatives.

In brief, the Tea Party/GOP is pushing for economic and social policies based onfears: Fears of massive transformation, turmoil and chaos underway in our society. And, fears about how those transformations will impact lives largely defined by self-interest, power and money. Some fear-generated policies are consciously created; others,unconscious. That is, some reflect a yearning for restoration of a way of life that no longer works in today’s changing society and globalized world. Other policy positions reflect conscious manipulation of those fears; But all driving the positions the Tea Party/GOP demands and is determined to enact.

I call their ideology and policies “reactionary” because they are a retreat away from creating positive,resilient responses to large-scale upheaval and change; and towards objectives that fail to address the sources of problems they aim to fix. Worse, their view of the impact their policies would have upon society doesn’t correspond to factual reality – as a broad range of commentators, bothconservative andliberal, have pointed out.

For both reasons, one may describe the policies and ideology of the current Republicans as, psychologically speaking, delusional.

Understanding What The New ReactionariesFear

We’re living through Continue reading

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Obama’s Call to “Win the Future” Requires a New Definition of “Success”

When President Obama urged Americans to “win the future” in his recent SOTU address, he called upon the innovative, communal spirit that’s enabled us to “do great things.” Ironically, that part of his message exposes a glaring contradiction: How we’ve defined achieving “success” in our lives has become outmoded and maladaptive in our 21st Century world. To meet the challenges of our “Sputnik moment,” we need to revamp our thinking about what success is, as well as what psychological orientation is necessary to achieve it.

Consider this: The old, conventional view of a successful life is mostly defined by financial and self-interested criteria — getting, consuming and possessing for oneself. As Ronald Reagan once said about pursuing the “American dream” everyone “...wants to see an America in which people can get rich.”

But as President Obama pointed out in his address, “That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful.” The reality of today’s interconnected, highly interdependent world, greed is not good. It’s psychologically unhealthy; it undermines the values, mindset and actions people need to strengthen in order to meet the challenges we face as individuals and as a nation.

That is, our security, success and well-being now require strengthening communal values and behavior; working towards common goals, the common good. Acting on self-interest alone, especially in the pursuit of personal power, steady career advancement and money Continue reading

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Psychological Health In Today’s World Needs A Redefinition

This post continues what I wrote about in In myprevious post –that we lack a clear, relevant description of what psychologicalhealth is, in today’s world; and, how you can build it. Here, I describe more about what a psychologically health life looks like – what it’s criteria are — in your relationships, your work, and in your role as a “future ancestor.”

To begin with, I want to emphasize that psychological health isn’t the same as the absence of mental or emotional disorders. For example, you can’t say that a happy person is someone who’s not depressed. Many people have consulted me who aren’t depressed by clinical criteria, but they aren’t happy with their work, relationships or their overall lives, either.

Moreover, self-awareness isn’t equivalent to health. It’s a necessary underpinning, but it’s not enough. Therapists often help their patients deepen self-awareness about the roots of their conflicts, only to wonder why they remain the same. Psychiatrist Richard Friedman described that dilemma in a recentNew York Times article in which he illustrated the puzzlement practitioners experience when they are confronted with the limitation of awareness, alone.

To the extent there’s a conventional view of psychologically health at all, it’s mostly equated with good life-management and coping skills. That is, managingstress in your work and personal life, and coping with — if not resolving — whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood.

A less visible view of psychological health also exists: Successful adaptation to and embracing of the dominant values, behavior and attitudes of the society or milieu you’re a part of. The problem here is that such socially-conditioned norms have also embodied greed, self-absorption, domination, destructiveness, and divisiveness. They’ve been equated with “success” in adult life.

The upshot is that you can be well-adapted to dominant attitudes and behavior that are, themselves, psychologically unhealthy. So you may be “well-adjusted” to an unhealthy life.

We’ve been witnessing the fruits of that form of “health” throughout our society in recent years, in the form of Continue reading

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The Rise of the New Global Elite

Chrystia Freeland has a very insightful, well-documented and researched analysis in The Atlantic about how the super-affluence of recent years has changed the meaning of wealth…and the implications for all of us. I’m posting it here for Progressive Impact readers.

She writes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he declared the rich different from you and me. But todays super-rich are also different from yesterdays: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunityand the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind.

If you happened to be watching NBC on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious. There, on the set ofMeet the Press, the host, David Gregory, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become very distorted. In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a significant recovery; the rest of the economy, by contrastincluding small businesses and a very significant amount of the labor forcewas stuck and still struggling. What we were seeing, he argued, was not a single economy at all, but rather fundamentally two separate types of economy, increasingly distinct and divergent.

This diagnosis, though alarming, was hardly unique: drawing attention to the divide….

Clickhere for the full article.

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Gen X and Gen Y Workers Are Driving The New “4.0” Career

I often hear the following laments from younger and older careerists — about each other:

Younger workers: “These older people just don’t get it. They expect us to just fall into line, follow bureaucratic rules, and they don’t show us respect for what we know or what we can do.”

The older workers: “These young people just don’t understand how to function within an organization. They want recognition, promotion, everything before they’ve earned it, step-by-step, like we had to do. That’s not how reality is.”

They remind me of a couple who said about each other, “It’s not that we see things differently. It’s worse than that: We’re seeing different things!”

In a way, they are. Different career orientations are like lenses through which you view the world. In my recent post on the rise of the 4.0 career, I wrote that this shift is most visible among Generation X and Generation Y workers, but that it’s a broader movement as well, originating with baby boomers and the 60s generation who are now moving through midlife. But as the 4.0 career orientation grows, it’s also spawning the above differences in perception. In this post I describe the younger generation’s contribution to the 4.0 career transformation. It began before the economic meltdown and will continue to have an impact on organizations and personal lives in the years ahead, post-recovery.

To recap a bit, what I call the 4.0 career orientation includes but extends beyond the 3.0 career concerns that emerged in the last 20 years. The latter are about finding personally meaningful work and seeking a good work-life balance. In essence, the 3.0 careerist is focused on self-development. In contrast, the 4.0 orientation includes but also moves beyond those more personal concerns. It’s more focused on having an impact on something larger than oneself, contributing something socially useful that connects with the needs of the larger human community. The vehicle is opportunity for continuous new learning and creative innovation at work. The 4.0 orientation links with the movement towards creating successful businesses that also contribute to the solution of social problems. Continue reading

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How Does Volunteerism Affect The Volunteer?

During our increasingly stretched-out holiday season, it’s easy to feel a bit cynical about people who suddenly want to do some volunteering. The staff of service organizations often wince at the prospect of receiving more offers of help than they actually need. “Where were you therest of the year?” they mutter silently.

To be fair, many people are not just a once- or twice-a-year volunteer. In fact, volunteering one’s time, service and expertise ison the rise among all age groups. For many, it’s an integral part of their lives, an expression of their core values. That’s raised a question in my mind: Does volunteering time and service impact the life of thevolunteer? And if so, how?

In recent years, I’ve researched this a bit through seminars we’ve held at the Center for Progressive Development for volunteers interested in exploring how their volunteering affects their personal and professional lives.

We’ve found that volunteer activity often reshapes or redirects people’s values, perspectives and even their life goals in several ways. It can spur new growth and awareness, both spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes the changes are slight, but clear — like the person who committed herself to ongoing work with a mission that she had initially chosen at random, in response to her company’s suggestion to employees that they consider volunteer service.

In other cases, the impact of volunteer work is more dramatic: changing the company one works for, or, asone man did, changing his Continue reading

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The 4.0 Career Is Coming: Are You Ready?

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Even in the midst of our economic disaster that’s hitting all but the wealthiest Americans, a transformation is continuing within people’s orientation to work. I call it the rise of the 4.0 career. ??This growing shift concerns how men and women think about and pursue their careers. It also defines the features of organizations that they want to work for and commit to. This shift that I describe below transcends its most visible form: Generation X’s and, especially, Generation Y’s attitudes and behavior in the workplace. Those are part of a broader shift whose origins are within men and women at the younger end of the baby boomer spectrum.

I first encountered this while interviewing yuppies (remember them?) in the 1980s for my book Modern Madness, about the emotional downside of career success. I often found that people would want to talk about a gnawing feeling of wanting something more “meaningful” from their work. They didn’t have quite the right language back then to express what that would look like other than feeling a gap between their personal values and the trade-offs they had to make to keep moving up in their careers and companies. The positive ideals of the 60s seemed to have trickled down into their yearnings, where they remained a kind of irritant.

Flashing forward 25 years, those people are now today’s midlife baby boomers. Their earlier irritation has bloomed into consciously expressed attitudes and behavior that have filtered down into the younger generations, where they’ve continued to evolve. Today, they’re reshaping how people think about and pursue their careers within today’s era of interconnection, constant networking and unpredictable change.

I’ll oversimplify for the sake of highlighting an evolution of people’s career orientations:

Career Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… And The Emerging 4.0

The 1.0 career describes Continue reading

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Is Serving The Common Good An “Un-American” Activity?

One likely spin-off from the recent election will be a creeping redefinition of programs and policies that serve the common good as “un-American.” Some of the Tea Party’s most vocal members, including Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others have already suggested having a “conversation” about privatizing or phasing out medicare, social security and even abolishing the Department of Education.

So I’d like to move the “conversation” along and state outright that, yes, promoting the common good is, indeed, un-American. And, that recognizing it as such is a good thing. Here’s why: The Republican/Tea Party’s stated vision for “taking America back” is a doctrine of extreme self-interest and greed. It both reflects and fuels what I described in a recent post as a “social psychosis” in personal and public life.

This “pro-American” vision is maladaptive to the realities of today’s world and our own changing society. Self-interest and the pursuit of individual power are twin agents for subversively undermining a healthy, thriving society. But that vision is likely to be with us for some time, with potentially devastating consequences.

However, there’s also a rising shift towards serving the larger common good throughout our society. I described the evidence for this in a subsequent post. And it is, indeed, un-American, with respect to the extreme Republican/Tea Party doctrine.

That is, serving the common good goes against grain of thinking that Continue reading

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Why Psychotherapists Fail To Help People In Today’s World

Many people who enter psychotherapy today aren’t helped at all. Some end up more troubled than when they began treatment. And ironically, some therapists are examples of the kinds of problems they’re trying to treat. In this post I explain why that is and how to become a more informed�consumer when considering psychotherapy.

The popularity of the TV show “In Treatment” is one indicator that there’s a large, market for psychotherapy, today. Despite the decline of the more orthodox psychoanalytic treatment – the kind that Daphne Merkin described in a recent�New York Times article about her years in treatment – people continue to seek competent professional help for dealing with and resolving the enormous emotional challenges and conflicts that impact so many lives in current times. Beyond healing, they want to grow their capacity for healthy relationships and successful lives.

Many skilled and competent therapists are out there. (I use term “therapist” to describe psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers – professionally trained and licensed practitioners.) Moreover, research shows that psychotherapy can be very effective. Either alone, or sometimes in combination with the judicious use of�medication.

Yet so often practitioners don’t help people very much. Some struggle for years in therapy with one practitioner after another, and never seem to make any progress. Others resolve some conflicts, but then are hit with others that hadn’t been addressed.

I see three reasons for this situation. One is rooted in the�kind of people therapists tend to be today. Their personal values, social attitudes and how they relate to conventional norms and behavior contrast in several ways with those of the “pioneers” from Freud’s era. That contrast impedes effective help.

Then there are the�kinds of problems that people experience. They’ve evolved over the decades, but especially since 9-11 and the near-depression that began in the fall of 2008. But many therapists aren’t in synch with the impact of that shift. They fail to understand how�21st Century conditions impact emotional lives and conflicts. Many are clueless about how life in today’s world interweaves with the dysfunctions or family conflicts that patients bring with them into their adult lives.

The third reason is the therapists’ vision of the�goals of treatment; what a healthy outcome or resolution of conflicts should look like, and how to get there. Many remain stuck within an older model – helping patients better manage, cope with or adjust to change and�traumas; build�resilience and restore equilibrium. But that’s no longer possible: Our�new environment is one of “non-equilibrium” and unpredictability. That creates new emotional and life challenges across the board — for intimate relationships, careers and for engaging with a changing society – the “remix” that America is now becoming.

The Psychotherapist – Past and Present

The early analysts were pioneers, adventurous explores of uncharted terrain. They were trying to uncover how human�personality and�unconscious passions evolve within people to create symptoms and dysfunctions. They courageously risked their careers when they called attention to the impact of repressed�sexuality. Aside from the accuracy of early theories about the causes of emotional disturbance, the practitioners’ aim was to reduce suffering. They wanted to help people develop more love, reason and independence – albeit within the context of the norms of their era that they, themselves, accepted.

Moreover, most were well-read in literature, history and culture, more so than today’s practitioners. That gave them a broad outlook and perspective on life. For example, Freud’s writings are filled with references from Shakespeare, Goethe and other great works of literature, drama and mythology. He drew on their themes, plots and character portrayals to help illuminate and understand the motives and�moral dilemmas underlying his patients’ emotional problems.

Most contemporaries and followers of�Freud possessed a radical spirit. They wanted to uncover the truth beneath patient’s symptoms; see beneath the surface. They shared the view that successful treatment was based on a love of the truth; that is, emotional reality. And that it must preclude any kind of sham,�deception or illusion.

Of course, Freud and his contemporaries interpreted their patients’ problems in many ways that were flawed. They made assumptions about psychological health that were part of the prevailing values and norms of post-Victorian, early-20th Century society – a largely patriarchal culture. For example, most assumed that a normal, successful life derived from being well-adjusted to those norms.

Nevertheless, their spirit of truth-seeking, rooted in broad understanding of human culture, literature and history, has become lost. Today’s practitioners tend to be�technicians, looking for the right technique that will treat the patient’s symptoms. Many tend to be cautious, often disengaged and detached people in their manner and interactions with patients. They are largely ignorant of philosophical,�religious, cultural and socio-economic forces that shape people’s psychological development, especially those in non-Western societies. And yet, all of those forces in all parts of the globe profoundly impact how and why we learn to think and behave as we do. Much current world conflict reflects those differences that define what we think in “normal” or “disturbed.”

Many therapists today simply assume that adjusting to prevailing values and norms reflects psychological health. Now that’s desirable for those whose conflicts have disabled them from minimally successful functioning. But it misses the mark for those whose conflicts are linked with their successful adaptation to begin with. The therapist then fails to explore their patients’ definition of “success” – how it’s shaped their�career and life goals, their conflicts and disappointments.

Some therapists will spend inordinate time ferreting out tiny truths about the patient’s family and�childhood, without figuring out which have relevance to the person’s conflicts today, and which don’t. They may ignore the impact of trade-offs and compromises patients made as they created their sexual and intimate relationship patterns

Overall, today’s practitioners tend to�share in, rather than�critique and examine, the social norms, values and anxieties of today’s world. Too often, they uncritically accept good functioning per se, and conventional values like power-seeking, as psychologically healthy. This blinds them from recognizing that “normal” adjustment can mask repressed feelings of self-betrayal, self-criticism, and the desire to be freer, more alive. All of those longings can conflict with or oppose parental expectations or the pressures from social class membership.

Emotional Conflicts In Today’s World

People’s problems have evolved. Up through World War II and into the 1950s-early 60s symptoms that were more typical of Freud’s time — hysteria or specific phobias, for example – diminished. People wanted help for fitting in with the apparent paths to success and�happiness and for dealing with conflicts that interfered with or limited it. Therapy often addressed things like guilt, inhibition, the need for approval, and dealing with the conflicts generated by defined, rigid roles for men and women. Desires or longings that deviated too much from the prevailing norms were troublesome and created conflicts, often unconscious.

The popular TV show “Mad Men” is a good portrayal of conflicts of that era, especially issues of�identity, longing for an authentic self and�gender�roles. At the same time, the men enjoyed the surface appearance of power and control. And women chafed against the limits imposed by gender roles, as the women’s movement began to arise.

The period of social upheaval of the late 60s and 70s created more openly conscious conflict and struggle for many people. The theme, here, was seeking more freedom from oppressive relationships and social constraints. Some therapists were able to address these issues in helpful ways. But others were bound by their own uncritical embrace of the very norms their patients wanted help to free themselves from.

Partly because of that disconnect, many�psychotherapy patients were attracted to the vision of personal development offered by the rising “new age” movement, although its gurus generally lacked any depth of understanding about emotional conflicts or psychological development.

Then, from the 1980s to about 2000 more men and women sought help to create more personally fulfilling, engaged relationships, and more personal meaning from their work. The�costs and limits of success became visible in patients who wanted help to create greater work-life “balance” while preserving their relationships and their upward climb in their careers. Dealing with the emotional fallout of the dot-com bubble burst added another dimension to these stresses. During this period of greater fulfillment-seeking, more people turned to�spiritual development as a companion to or substitute for traditional therapy, especially via older traditions like Buddhism and other Eastern practices.

And now, in the current era, emotional conflicts spring more from the psychological impact of our nonlinear, unpredictable, highly interconnected world. For example, financial and�career uncertainties. Changing practices in romantic/sexual relationships. Facing one’s responsibilities to fellow inhabitants of the planet, and for sustaining the planet for future generations. The psychological impact of these issues interacts with the legacy of family conflicts and their dysfunctions that people carry with them into the adult world. It’s a�new universe of potential pain and confusion that people are now struggling with.

What Helps?

Therapists need a vision of what healing and emotional health looks like, today, and how to help the patient achieve it. And therapists must engage in self-examination about their own values and attitudes. That’s one safeguard against rationalizing failure to help their patients examine these same issues within themselves. Otherwise, the therapist may collude with a patient to avoid confronting issues relevant to both of them. Then, it becomes like a Shakespearian play where the motives of the characters are visible to members of the audience, but the characters themselves remain oblivious to their�unconscious motives that propel them along.

Therapists bear a responsibility to help patients uncover the deeper truth about their life dilemmas – not just continue to detail all of its manifestations. Like the branches of a tree, all of them spring from the same trunk, the same roots. For one person, that might be a deep, unconscious desire to remain protected and secure like a baby. Or a desire to destroy one’s father or mother. It could be intense lust for power and domination. Exposing and confronting that core of truth can be liberating, like in fairy tales when the power of the�evil spirit is broken when you can call it by its name. At least you then have an opportunity to do something about it.

Being a more personally engaged therapist is also important today. People are increasingly turned off by therapists who maintain the old manner of silence and detachment. Or whose rigid focus invokes in patients the same unmet longings for nurturance and acceptance that patients may have experienced in their families to begin with.

The traditional practice is for the therapist to divulge little or nothing about him or herself. That’s been fading, especially in a Google world. More are drawn to people like the psychiatrist played by Gabriel Byrne on “In Treatment.” While that TV show has elements of a soap opera and the therapy sessions often sound like “life-management” discussions, the psychiatrist shows more openness and flexibility with his patients.

The viewer sees him as a human, himself, struggling with his own personal issues. People like that openness. It’s more consistent with psychoanalyst Steven Kuchuck’s�comment about Merkin’s article in�The New York Times. He described the greater appeal and benefit of practitioners who emphasize “…greater patient-analyst�collaboration, the analyst’s selective self-disclosure and other techniques designed to address many of the concerns and limitations Merkin has experienced…

In addition to personal qualities, therapists who are familiar with the broad impact of our post-9-11, post-economic meltdown world on people’s mental health are better positioned to help their patients. In addition to knowing that people’s emotional issues are tightly interwoven with global political, social and economic forces as I described above, it’s helpful for therapists to be tuned-in to demographic and other changes that are pulling many in our culture to move beyond motives of purely self-interest, and towards serving the�common good.

Similarly, too many practitioners tend to be sadly uniformed about the realities of life in business and career world — the political realities, the politics and conflicting agendas; the challenges of transparency, collaboration, and�innovation — all needed for success. Without that awareness it’s hard for them to�differentiate problems that people bring with them from in their�attachment issues and family relationships, from those that are reactive to confusing, demoralizing, non-linear challenges and constantly shifting goal posts in their workplace.

It’s also valuable for therapists to be current with new research relevant to dealing with today’s conflicts. Two recent examples:�One finds that people who maintain a long-range perspective of their past, present and future are better able to navigate through turmoil or setbacks and maintain greater well-being.�Another study finds that some adversity in life actually contributes to mental health and resiliency.

The upshot of all this is that you need to be an informed�consumer of therapy. To aid that, here are some useful questions to ask:

About Your Therapist:

  • Does the therapist seem to enjoy his/her work? Sound bored or depressed?
  • Does he or she convey a sense of�humor?
  • Does he or she seem to have a broad, understanding perspective about the variety of human lives?
  • What experience and knowledge does he or she have regarding the impact of work and careers on people’s lives? Be wary if the therapist indicates that such familiarity is irrelevant to treatment.

About Yourself:

  • Do you feel challenged by your therapist to look at yourself, but within a safe, respectful, non-judgmental environment?
  • Do you feel the therapist is capable of “seeing” you; your hidden truths?
  • Do you think the therapist is engaged and interested in helping you, as opposed to treating a diagnostic category?

Keep in mind that everybody has some barriers to facing and dealing with unpleasant truths about themselves. You might rationalize your own and conclude that you’re dealing with a bad therapist. Try to be open and honest with your perception. Use your�intuition, but in consort with your reason. Don’t’ hesitate to discuss these questions and your response to them with the therapist.

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Fooling “All of the People….”

Its quite an achievement: Todays Republicans members of the Party of Abraham Lincoln, after all — are steadily disproving one of Lincolns most quoted lines: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

The current version of the GOP is doing a good job at trying to fool all of the people, all of the time. And, with the help of many Democrats, who give new meaning to the term, fellow travelers.

Case in point: The issue of the soon-to-expire tax cuts for the rich. The Bush tax cut legislation of 2001 included a provision that they would expire at the end of 2010, and tax rates would then revert to 2000 levels. The Obama administration wants to keep the tax cuts in place for the middle class, who would benefit from them during this continued economic near-depression; but let them revert back to previous levels for those with very high incomes, when they expire at the end of this year.

But guess what? The Republicans, together with a number of Democrats, are fighting vigorously to preserve the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Republicans and their Democratic allies argue that its more beneficial to the economy to preserve the tax cuts for the wealthy those making over $2 million a year — because that would help small business.

Tell me, how many small business owners make that kind of income? And how would we make up for the loss of revenue? By taking away benefits for the middle and lower classes, in the form of food stamps and other benefits or services.

This is where trying to fool all of the people all of the time comes in: The entire argument is disguised in Orwellian terms, as necessary and good way to benefit everyone. Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman exposes this with a good analysis of the deception and corruption behind it all.

For example, he points out that continuing the tax cuts for the rich would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.

And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But thats the least of it: estimates are the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. (and) the average tax break for those lucky few the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year would be $3 million over the course of the next decade.

Krugman is right on target when he points out that

its hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and arent likely to spend a windfall. No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy.

He also points out that this reflects our corrupt political culture,

in which Congress wont take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So, what will prevail: The corruption, deception increasingly rampant in our culture disguised in Orwellian terms, as helping you, the average American? Or Lincolns observation?

Stay tuned.

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Three Essential Pillars Of Health and Resiliency In Today’s World

Upgrade To Career 4.0; Practice Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

In a previous post I wrote that a key pathway to psychological health and resiliency in today’s world is learning to “forget yourself.” This post describes ways to do that in three important realms of your life – your work, your personal relationships, and your life “footprint.”

In the earlier post I explained that “forgetting yourself” doesn’t mean neglecting your own legitimate needs or concerns. Rather, it means letting go of our human tendency to overly dwell on ourselves – our own concerns, needs, desires, slights, complaints about others, and so on. Psychological health and resiliency in today’s world grows when you can do that and put your energies in the service of something larger than yourself: problems, needs and challenges that lie beyond your own personal, narrow self-interest.

That may sound like a paradox, but it’s based on a new reality: Today’s world is changing more rapidly than you can imagine and is becoming immensely interdependent, interconnected, unpredictable and unstable. In this new environment you can’t create or sustain a positive, healthy life through the old ways of reactive resiliency, of coping and hoping to rebound.

That is, chronic unhappiness, dysfunction and overt emotional disturbance lie in store for those who remain too locked into thinking about themselves and who use old solutions to achieve success in relationships and at work. For example, trying to achieve power and domination over others, and thinking you can hold on to that. Fearing collaboration and avoiding mutuality with people who are different from yourself, or with whom you have differences. Looking for ways to cope with stress and restore equilibrium or “balance” in your life. And overall, being absorbed by your own conflicts, disappointments and the like. The latter are inevitable, and dwelling on them is a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy, and blame. That’s a dead-end. The consequences are visible in people who are unable to handle career downturn, who experience mounting relationship conflicts and who suffer from a range of psychological problems like depression, boredom, stress, anxiety and self-undermining behavior.

In contrast, positive resiliency in today’s environment is the byproduct when you aim towards common goals, purposes or missions larger than just your own narrow self-interests. That keeps you nimble, flexible, and adaptive to change and unpredictable events that are part of our new era. Then, you’re creating true balance, between your “outer” and “inner” life.

Here are three ways you can move through self-interest. Each describes a shift, or evolution from the older, reactive form of resilience to the new, proactive form:

Upgrade your career to the 4.0 version; Practice “Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

Yeah, I know — those descriptions sound odd. Continue reading

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Learning To “Forget Yourself”

“Becoming Sane…” Part IV

In Part III of becoming sane. I wrote that our prevailing model of psychological health needs revision for todays world for outward success in a changing world, and for internal well-being. I concluded by saying that a key to emotional resiliency and, more broadly, psychological health, in current times is learning to forget yourself.

So what does that mean? Not thinking about your own needs? Not looking out for yourself? Not quite. Im using the phrase forget yourself to highlight an important capacity for health, survival, and happiness in todays tumultuous, interconnected environment: the capacity to focus more on problems, needs, and solutions beyond just your own. That is, the person who is too absorbed in his or her own self, own conflicts, own disappointments, and the like is much less able to engage the larger dilemmas and issues in positive, solution-oriented ways. And that deficiency circles back to create dysfunction, damaged relationships, and career downturns.

Along the way Ill be writing more about specific ways you can learn to forget yourself in your work, your relationships and your role as a global citizen. Here are some guidelines that help lay the foundation.

Three Responsibilities:

Think about your responsibilities as a human being living in todays world, and on this planet. Specifically, consider the following three responsibilities. They can serve as helpful guidelines for moving through and beyond the tendency we all share — to focus too much on our own selves.

Responsibility for your own mind-body-spirit

Recognize that its your job, alone, to continue learning and developing your emotional, mental, creative and physical capacities. Enlarging these capacities helps provide the flexibility and adaptability you need to deal with changes, good or bad. Dont become like the character John Marcher in Henry James The Beast In The Jungle, who waited passively, believing that something significant was going to happenand ended up with a failed life.

Responsibility for those less able

Part of the new criteria for psychological health include this awareness: You grow through your efforts to help and support others, less able than yourself, to find and follow a healthy path in this world. Find someone who needs and would welcome your aid, whether your children or family member. But stretch further, to include a stranger or those within the extended world community who suffer from lack of clean water, from famine, disease or torture. Organizations and individuals who could use your help are a click away on the Internet.

Responsibility for the planet

Reflect on the fact that your actions at home or in your community can help maintain a healthy, sustainable planet for future inhabitants, including your own descendants. Or, they can further jeopardize the environment they will live in. Look at your own actions in your home, your community, and at work. Ask yourself, are you becoming a good ancestor?

Some Steps You Can Take:

Loosen the grip of self-interest

Use self-awareness to observe and contain your Continue reading

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Becoming Sane….Part II

“What Happened To My Mental Health?”

In Part I of “Becoming Sane in a Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World,” Iwrote about why you need a new kind of emotional resiliency for success and well-being in todays world. Here, Ill extend those thoughts about resiliency to psychological health in general. Just as we need to redefine resiliency, I think we need to reformulate what a psychologically healthy adult looks like in this transformed world. Here are my ideas about that:

Throughout most of the last century, adult psychological health has been largely equated with good management and coping skills: Managing stress within your work and personal life; and effective coping with or resolution of whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood and we all bring along some.

So, in your work that might include being clear about your career goals, and working your way up a fairly predictable set of steps to achieve power, recognition and financial success all the things that weve equated with adult maturity and mental health.

At home, it would mean forming a long-term relationship that withstands the power struggles and other differences that often lead to affairs or even divorce. You would assume that the healthy adult doest that via compromise at best, or disguised manipulation at worst. In addition, you would accept normal decline of intimate connection and vitality over time.

But the fallout from the worldwide upheaval over the last few years have turned all those criteria of health upside down. To be clear, its important to be able to manage conflicts that could derail your career or personal life. But doing that isnt enough to ensure future success, sanity or well-being in this turbulent and highly interdependent world we now live in.

Massive, interconnected forces within this globalized, unpredictable world add a host of new emotional and behavioral challenges to living a psychologically healthy, well-functioning and fulfilling life.

I deal with the fallout almost daily: People whove functioned pretty well in the past, but now feel as if theyre standing on tectonic plates shifting beneath them. Despite their best efforts, they struggle with mounting anxiety about the future of their own and their childrens lives, and confusion about their values and life purpose.

Theres the former Wall Street financial executive who told me hed always defined himself by making it through the next end zone in his career, working long hours to ensure financial success. Now, as his company and career crumbled, he found that in addition to sacrificing time with his family, he had sacrificed his health: He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Kind of a reverse deal-flow, he lamented to me.

And the management consultant, pressured to ratchet up her travel to keep her career on track. Id been coping with everything, I thought, she told me, though I dont like needing Zoloft to do it. Instead of her career becoming more predictable as she gained seniority, her career propelled her into an even wilder ride. Now I dont have enough time for my daughter or my husband, she said. What kind of life is this? . . . My husbands checked out, emotionally. And what am I teaching my daughter?

Or the lawyer, whod prided himself on eating what I kill, and Im a good killer. He told me he has more money than I ever dreamed of, but also says that, secretly, I hate what I do for a living. But whats the alternative, he asks, without looking like a dysfunctional failure if I opt out? After a failed marriage, he entered therapy and had begun to realize how his fathers unfulfilled dreams of success have impacted his own life when suddenly his father died. Im in a tailspin, he says; depressed and confused about what his own purpose in life is.

All of these people were on the kinds of life paths they expected would bring them predictable rewards. But counting on that linear upward climb is now hazardous to your mental health.

In fact, following that old path can make you more vulnerable to Continue reading

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The Psychology Of Public Policy

The other day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stirred up some interesting reactions. He said in a speech that Americans are faced with having to accept higher taxes or readjustments in programs like Medicare and Social Security, in order to avoid ever-increasing budget deficits that will be catastrophic.

Now I’m not an economist (see former Undersecretary of Commerce Ev Ehrlich’s blog for such matters). But I started thinking about Bernanke’s comments — and the reactions from some Republicans and assorted “anti-tax patriots” who came out with guns blazing (metaphorically….so far) — from a psychological perspective. I find some psychological attitudes and ideology about the role of individuals in society driving the reactions to what Bernanke raised. They’re visible as well in the angry, hostile response to the health care legislation and, more broadly, the fear and loathing of “government takeover.”

Here’s what Bernanke said:

“These choices are difficult, and it always seems easier to put them off — until the day they cannot be put off anymore. But unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.” And, “To avoid large and ultimately unsustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”

In The Washington Post story reporting Bernanke’s speech, writers Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomerypoint out that:

“…the economic downturn — with tumbling tax revenue, aggressive stimulus spending and rising safety-net payments such as unemployment insurance — has driven already large budget deficits to their highest level relative to the economy since the end of World War II. This has fueled public concern over how long the United States can sustain its fiscal policies.

The upshot of what we’re facing appears to be this: Our current way of life is unsustainable. So what’s a possible remedy, according to Bernanke and others? Raising taxes, not lowering them. Cuts in Medicare benefits. Raising the retirement age. And bringing rising health care costs down. To do any or all of that requires a different mentality about our responsibility and obligations to others in our society. And it’s not pleasant. That’s the psychology part.

That is, we’re highly attached to the ideology that we are and should be separate, isolated individuals; that each of us should look out for one’s own self-interest. And we define that largely by material acquisition and money. Hence, opposition to “redistribution” of wealth, even though that’s exactly what we do via taxes that support all the services that we expect society to give us. We also define our self-interest as psychologically healthy, mature, even; the hallmark of a succesful life. Those that don’t do as well are not my problem.

Except now they are: We’ve been hit with the reality that our world is so interconnected that someone else’s “problem” is also our own. Toconsider subordinating some of our personal wants and goals for the larger common good feels foreign and frightening. Yet that’s exactly what we’re faced with doing. It begins with shifting our mental perspectives towards recognizing that we’re all in the same boat — not just we Americans, but all of us in this global community. And it means stimulating the emotional counterpart of that perspective — the hard-wired capacity for empathy. And then, making the sacrifices that result from embracing the new realities. The economic collapse has made the need for those shifts very apparent. We’re faced with learning to sacrifice in ways that we’re not used to doing, in order to thrive as individuals and a society in the world as it now exists.

But such shifts meet with strong, ingrained resistance and denial. They’re fueled by unrealistic, almost delusional notions that pursuing self-interest at all costs will lead to success and well-being. So, for example, Republicans pounced on the suggestion of increasing taxes. They also went afterremarks byPaul A. Volcker earlier this week, who spoke very directly in favor of higher taxes. He said that the U.S. might have to consider a European-style sales tax, known as a value-added tax, to close the budget gap. He said “If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes.”

That’s a pretty direct, unvarnished statement of reality. But Republicans accused Obama of plotting a big tax hike, for nefarious purposes. ”To make up for the largest levels of spending and deficits in modern history, the Administration is laying the foundation for a large, misguided new tax, a first-time American VAT.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement.

Onward goes the struggle between facing reality and dealing with it, or not facing it….and still having to deal with it

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Becoming Sane In A Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World — Part 1

Why Emotional Resiliency Doesn’t Work In The 21st Century

It’s becoming clear that our understanding of emotional resilience – what it is and how to achieve it — (and, more broadly, psychological health) doesn’t mesh very well with today’s realities. Conventional descriptions of resilience and pathways to mental health don’t enable you to handle the challenges and stresses we face in the 21st Century.

Let me explain. Resilience is generally defined as the ability to cope successfully with misfortune or traumatic events. Being able to bounce back from adversity and keep on going. What helps you do that includes, for example, reviewing your strengths, focusing on positive thoughts and feelings, learning stressmanagement, looking down the road to what you can manage better. And, by getting psychotherapy and medication when you’re unable to bounce back very well on your own.

Prior to the 21st Century, that view of resiliency and how to build it was more relevant than today. The adversity and disruptions you were likely to experience were more stable, in a sense. The world was more predictable, more linear, with respect to the kinds of stresses and disruptions that would occur – as emotionally troubling as they might be.

Most of our thinking about emotional resilience and healthy functioning, then, fits a world in which unanticipated negative events are fairly predictable. They follow a fairly understandable course, following which you can reasonably anticipate a return to some form of previous stability. In that world, wars eventually ended. The economy went through recessions, then recovered. You might suffer a career or relationship setback but could assume that there was a path to recovery.

That notion of resilience and the ways to build it remain an important foundation for mental health. But they don’t help so much when you’re faced with the challenges of today’s environment. That’s because the very notion of resilience and the strategies for bouncing back are reactive. They focus on responding to something that happens to you, rather than on what you need to be doing proactively, as part of your way of life.

Starting with 9-11, and especially since the economic meltdown that began in the fall of 2008, we’ve been living in a world that’s rapidly transforming beneath our feet. Today’s world is an interconnected, interdependent, diverse, unpredictable and unstable global community. And that’s created new psychological challenges for everyone, challenges that require a highly proactive mentality.

Without it, you might feel like the woman who consulted me recently. Even before she sat down she said, ”I don’t know whether to reach for the Prozac….or Prilosec!”

Her grim humor masked her “recession depression” and other emotional battering. She didn’t know what would help. I’ve witnessed that a great deal in the last few years: Career and financial worries or losses; the ripple effect of those upon family life; anxieties about what sort of future one’s children are headed into, especially with climate change and terrorist threats; and the increasingly polarized views about our government’s role in people’s lives. Research and clinical observation show that all of the above are taking a psychological toll on relationships, families, career expectations, and on people’s entire sense of what they’re living and working for — their life purpose.

Unfortunately, those of us in the mental health professions haven’t been much help with these issues. Most of us continue to look through the rear-view mirror at a model of resiliency and health defined by coping with and managing conflicts in relationships and the workplace; conflicts that you can bounce back from and reestablish some kind of stability…all while continuing to pursue self-interest, such as getting your needs met, your personal goals achieved, your “happiness” acquired.

But today’s world of ongoing disruptions, continuous uncertainties and insecurity has become the new normal. Seeking to bounce back to stability and focusing on self-interest, which we’ve learned to think is the pathway to success, health and well-being, isn’t the right ticket.

In short, there’s no state of equilibrium you can bounce back to. In this highly diverse, interdependent, interconnected world. Trying to do so is a fast ticket to dysfunction and derailment. You can’t reestablish equilibrium within a constantly shifting world. But engaging these new realities in positive ways will support your success and well-being.

Research shows that you can proactively build specific emotions, thoughts and actions that are effective for adapting to life in the non-equilibrium world we now live within. That’s encouraging, because I think we’re evolving towards a new definition of psychological health via rethinking resilience.

The criteria of a new, proactive resiliency – maybe call it “prosilience – may sound contradictory because they include letting go of self-interest in your relationships and work. The new view of resilience emphasizes being flexible, open and nimble; being able to shift and redeploy your personal resources – emotional, creative, intellectual – towards positive engagement with others.

Resiliency grows from putting your energies, your values, emotional attitudes and actions in the service of the common good – something larger than just yourself. That’s what supports both success in your outside life and internal well-being. And in today’s rapidly transforming world, you need both.

In the future look for new posts about perspectives, research and actions that relate to “becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, turbulent world.” Through them I hope to contribute to a revised and needed reformulation of what psychological health and resiliency are in today’s world — in all realms of life: intimate relationships, career challenges, engagement with diverse people, and in our responsibilities as global citizens.

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Welcome To The New “Real America”

In two recent New York Times columns, both Frank Rich and Charles M. Blow dug beneath the current surge of anger and right-wing extremism and came up with some penetrating insights about the sources of the outrage; insights that are also the tip of an iceberg: Both of their analyses reflect a broad, sweeping evolution within the mentality of men and women that’s been taking place beneath our feet for the last several years. Ill describe some of those broader changes below, but first lets look at what Rich and Blow describe.

Rich points out that the tsunami of anger today is illogical, in the sense that the health care legislation is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare. He also reminds us that the new anger and extremism predated the health care debate:

The first signs were the shrieks of traitor and off with his head at Palin rallies as Obamas election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since from Gov. Rick Perrys kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to You lie! piercing the presidents address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

Hes pointing out that major changes are occurring in the demographics of our country. These changes and others, concerning what people look for in relationships and in their careers — are beginning to have major impact on us psychologically, including our psychological health. For some, they generate tremendous fear that can give rise to hatred and aggression; a desire to take back our country.

Rich points out that:

Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans havent had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Then, in a similar analysis, Charles M. Blow writes in his column:

Its an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of take our country back. The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasnt existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bills most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. Its enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

Blow cites a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found Tea Party members to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the countrys demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and less educated … than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack. Blow points out that this is at the very time

when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.

Well said. Mounting demographic and psychological research are confirming and extending what Rich and Blow describe. In fact, several strands of change have been underway and coalescing into a changing psychology of people their emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values regarding work and relationships, and behavior towards people in need or who suffer loss. These are shifts within a wide range of thought, feelings and actions. Here are some of them: Continue reading

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