Monthly Archives: August 2014

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

“San Antonio diverts people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead — an effort that has saved the city and county $50 million over the past five years.”

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Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“…They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life…”

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Is a Hard Life Inherited?

Is a Hard Life Inherited?

AUG. 9, 2014

 

Nicholas Kristof

“YAMHILL, Ore. — ONE delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence.

In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes.

Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

This has been on my mind because I’ve been visiting my hometown of Yamhill, Ore., a farming community that’s a window into the national crisis facing working-class men.

I love this little town, but the news is somber — and so different from the world I now inhabit in a middle-class suburb. A neighbor here just died of a heroin overdose; a friend was beaten up last night by her boyfriend; another friend got into a fistfight with his dad; a few more young men have disappeared into the maw of prison.

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Rick Goff, 64, of Yamhill, Ore., makes ends meet these days with odd jobs and his disability benefits. CreditSusan Seubert for The New York Times

One of my friends here, Rick Goff, 64, lean with a lined and weathered face and a short pigtail (maybe looking a bit like Willie Nelson), is representative of the travails of working-class America. Rick is immensely bright, and I suspect he could have been a lawyer, artist or university professor if his life had gotten off to a different start. But he grew up in a ramshackle home in a mire of disadvantage, and when he was 5 years old, his mom choked on a piece of bacon, staggered out to the yard and dropped dead.

“My dad just started walking down the driveway and kept walking,” Rick remembers.

His three siblings and he were raised by a grandmother, but money was tight. The children held jobs, churned the family cow’s milk into butter, and survived on what they could hunt and fish, without much regard for laws against poaching.

Despite having a first-class mind, Rick was fidgety and bored in school. “They said I was an overactive child,” he recalls. “Now they have name for it, A.D.H.D.”

A teacher or mentor could have made a positive difference with the right effort. Instead, when Rick was in the eighth grade, the principal decided to teach him that truancy was unacceptable — by suspending him from school for six months.

“I was thinking I get to go fishing, hang out in the woods,” he says. “That’s when I kind of figured out the system didn’t work.”

In the 10th grade, Rick dropped out of school and began working in lumber mills and auto shops to make ends meet. He said his girlfriend skipped town and left him with a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son to raise on his own.

Rick acknowledges his vices and accepts responsibility for plenty of mistakes: He smoked, drank too much for a time and abused drugs. He sometimes hung out with shady people, and he says he has been arrested about 30 times but never convicted of a felony. Some of his arrests were for trying to help other people, especially to protect women, by using his fists against bullies.

In that respect, Rick can actually be quite endearing. For instance, he vows that if anyone messes with my mother, he’ll kill that person.

A generation or two ago, Rick might have ended up with a stable family and in a well-paid union job, creating incentives for prudent behavior. Those jobs have evaporated, sometimes creating a vortex of hopelessness that leads to poor choices and becomes self-fulfilling.

There has been considerable progress in material standards over the decades. When I was a kid, there were still occasional neighbors living in shacks without electricity or plumbing, and that’s no longer the case. But the drug, incarceration, job and family instability problems seem worse.

Rick survives on disability (his hand was mashed in an accident) and odd jobs (some for my family). His health is frail, for he has had heart problems and kidney cancer that almost killed him two years ago.

Millions of poorly educated working-class men like him are today facing educational failure, difficulty finding good jobs, self-medication with meth or heroinprison records that make employment more difficult, hurdles forming stable families and, finally, early death.

Obviously, some people born into poverty manage to escape, and bravo to them. That tends to be easier when the constraint is just a low income, as opposed to other pathologies such as alcoholic, drug-addicted or indifferent parents or a neighborhood dominated by gangs (I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income, but how often the child is read to).

Too often wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness, rather than as a marker of civilization.

In effect, we have a class divide on top of a racial divide, creating a vastly uneven playing field, and one of its metrics is educational failure. High school dropouts are five times as likely as college graduates to earn the minimum wage or less, and 16.5 million workers would benefit directly from a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Yes, these men sometimes make bad choices. But just as wealthy Americans inherit opportunity, working-class men inherit adversity. As a result, they often miss out on three pillars of middle-class life: a job, marriage and a stable family, and seeing their children succeed.

ONE of Rick’s biggest regrets is that his son is in prison on drug-related offenses, while a daughter is in a halfway house recovering from heroin addiction.

The son just had a daughter who was born to a woman who has three other children, fathered by three other men. The odds are already stacked against that baby girl, just as they were against Rick himself.

This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it.

There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.”

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The App to Stop Food Waste

The App to Stop Food Waste

“Why you should care

This is just one simple way to use technology to solve an age-old problem: getting good food to people at a reasonable price.

The U.S. wastes up to 40 percent of its food. This is not only sad, considering how many people struggle to feed their families, but also costs America’s economy an estimated $165 billion a year.

But don’t despair just yet; PareUp has a plan.

This New York-based app developer aims to prevent food waste by letting its users connect with restaurants and grocery stores to buy their excess product before it’s thrown away. PareUp’s online marketplace is launching in early August and the mobile app will be available on Apple Store by mid-September.

“We want to change the cultural conversation around what it means to consume food and the life cycle of food,” says co-founder Margaret Tung. “Because we’re throwing out a lot more than needs to be.”

Together with Jason Chen and Anuj Jhunjhunwala, the PareUp creators have designed what aims to be a win-win system that benefits businesses and clients alike.

Using PareUp’s platform, food retailers can showcase inventory and indicate excess items together with a discounted price and the time when they’ll be ready for sale.

This helps stores and cafés make money by selling products that they could not donate anyway, either because of food safety regulations or because they don’t meet the minimum weight required to arrange a pickup with a food bank or shelter.

Meanwhile, people using PareUp can call dibs and get 50 percent off their favorite treats, from chocolate cookies and artisanal baguettes to BLT sandwiches and quinoa salads.

Trial users claim it’s also a way to explore the city. “I’ve found one of my new favorite spots in Williamsburg because of PareUp,” says Sinead Daly. “I went there with friends to buy handpies after we got a PareUp notification. My two friends lived across the street from the place and had never been! Now they go there every morning.”

PareUp makes a profit by taking a small fee from every transaction, but the app is free to download for both users and retailers.

Still, getting people to eat food that was previously doomed for the trash might take some convincing. Tung admits to a perception problem. “The key is to stop labeling such items as ‘leftovers,’” she says, adding that no products are actually expired.

The startup is looking to create a network of businesses including both mom-and-pop grocery stores and trendy retailers like Breads Bakery, Pushcart Coffee and Oslo Coffee Roasters.

For now, PareUp will only be available in New York City but its creators are looking to expand as soon as possible. The next destination will likely be Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., but the team says it’s received interest from retailers in London, Sydney and Toronto.

Of course, an app won’t end food waste, but it might help reduce the volume. And it easily beats dumpster diving.”

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One Man’s Hospital Bill Shows Just How Screwed Up America’s Health Care System Is

One Man’s Hospital Bill Shows Just How Screwed Up America’s Health Care System Is

The news: New Jersey man Baer Hanusz-Rajkowski recently found out the hard way that the cost of American medicine is totally out of control. Two days after slicing his finger open on the claw end of a hammer, Hanusz-Rajkowski sought medical attention at Bayonne Medical Center’s emergency room when the cut didn’t seem to be healing.

After a brisk visit in which Hanusz-Rajkowski did not see a doctor and did not receive stitches, he got a bill in the mail for $9,000. Essentially, Bayonne charged him months’ worth of pay for some gauze and a tetanus shot.

Here’s the breakdown:

– $8,200 for visiting the E.R.

– $180 for a tetanus shot

– $242 for “sterile supplies” (presumably, the bandage)

– $8 for antibacterial ointment

– Hundreds more for a few moments of the nurse practitioner’s time.

This is all after insurance…”

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How Our Delusions Keep Us Sane: The Psychology of Our Essential Self-Enhancement Bias

How Our Delusions Keep Us Sane: The Psychology of Our Essential Self-Enhancement Bias

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4 Simple Ways to Replace Hostility with Equanimity

4 Simple Ways to Replace Hostility with Equanimity

Equanimity is the key to maintaining healthy social connections.
 
 

“Equanimity means to “maintain mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Are there certain people or situations that trigger anger, rage, and make it difficult for you to keep your cool? Equanimity is the antidote for burning bridges with people.

We all have co-workers, in-laws or friends-of-friends with whom there is going to be friction. As parents, it’s especially important to practice equanimity with our children. The most challenging situations for me to practice equanimity are when a backstabber tries to slander my character or intentions. Have you lost a friendship, romantic partner or a connection to a family member due to a lack of equanimity and saying something so hurtful that you could never take it back? 

Some people allow a need to feel powerful or superior to drive them to cut others down in an attempt to build themselves up. Don’t feed into it by trying to undermine them in return. Equanimity is always the best response when someone gossips or says nasty things about you. Let their negativity roll off your back like it is teflon coated and covered with Crisco.

If you let yourself slide into the mud pit and start combating someone’s hostile actions or words with more petty hostility you will only add fuel to the fire of negativity. Equanimity is always the best solution for interpersonal confilcts or haters. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Equanimity is one of the Four Noble truths of Buddhism. The idea of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are the golden rules of most religions. But practicing equanimity is secular. It’s also common sense. If you want to succeed in life, equanimity is going to take you a lot farther than hostility. Learning to not be emotionally reactive when you feel undermined or attacked takes a lot of restraint and practice.

Below are 4 very simple tricks you can use to defuse your anger and replace hostility with equanimity in the heat of the moment.

4 Simple Ways to Maintain Equanimity

1. REMEMBER THAT EQUANIMITY IS KEY AND ALWAYS PREVAILS. The first trick to achieving equanimity is simply to keep the concept of equanimity in the front of your mind — especially when someone pushes your buttons and you feel a physiological ‘rage response’ kicking in. We all know the feeling of anger taking over your body and making your mind spin out of control … your breathing becomes more shallow, your heart begins to race, you feel pressure build behind your eyes, the veins in your temples start to pulse… Never say or do anything hostile or negative in this biological state.

The rush of adrenaline and other hormones is the fight-or-flight response kicking in from your sympathetic nervous sytem. Equanimity, on the other hand, triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and triggers a ‘tend-and-befriend’ biological state and puts the brakes on the fight-or-flight response.

Whenever you feel the fight-or-flight alarm system begin to sound. Stop. Take a breath and tag it as a cue or red flag that reminds you that now is a time that you need to bring your equanimity A-game. You can consciously flick your equanimity switch into the ‘on’ and locked position and get through just about any situation with evenness of mind.

I know that keeping your cool when someone really pushes your buttons takes a ton of mental willpower and mindfulness. Learning how-to practice equanimity takes work, but it is always in everyone’s best interest.

2. BREATHE, RECITE AN EQUANIMITY MANTRA, AND CALMLY WALK AWAY. Focus on your breathing and neutral things in the environment while reciting an ‘Equanimity mantra’, counting to ten and then coaching yourself in the third person.

When talking to myself in the 3rd person I would say something like: “Keep cool, Christopher … Equanimity is key … Breathe … Relax the back of your eyes …Take another deep breath … Breathe … Equanimity is key … Don’t say anything mean.” If I am unable to walk away calmly from the situation, I will recite words like this as a mantra until I feel my biological response to feeling angry simmer down.

Using your first name in the 3rd person as part of an inner-dialogue is a highly effective way to maximize the power of self-talk. You should talk to yourself in the 3rd person anytime you need to coach yourself towards a target behavior. I learned this trick doing ultra-endurance sports, but it works in life too.

3. VISUALIZE YOUR VAGUS NERVE, BREATHE, AND LET IT GO. Some people thrive on conflict and drama. Often times people will push your buttons intentionally hoping to provoke a reaction. I can think of a few people who are really good at pushing my buttons and getting under my skin, can you? The beauty of making equanimity your primary coping mechanism for conflict resolution is that it breaks the nasty cycle of hate and violence that can spiral out of control and destroys social connectivity.

Both of my parents had a tough time practicing equanimity in their marriage. Watching them fight endlessly made me determined to break that cycle in my relationships by using equanimity. I have a few friends who have really bad tempers. People say and do stupid things when our bodies are pumping with too much adrenaline, testosterone, and cortisol.

Your vagus nerve is there to calm you down. You can engage your vagus nerve simply by taking a few deep breaths while visualizing it squirting acetylcholine (vagusstuff) on your heart to slow down your heart rate and squelch the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of your sympathetic nervous system.

For more on the vagus nerve and tips for creating equanimity please check out my Psychology Today blog: “The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure.” 

4. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND MEDITATION ARE PATHWAYS TO EQUANIMITY. Everyone needs an outlet to stop cortisol from building up and to work through the dynamics of a conflict so that it can be resolved in a way that advances healthy, loving social connections. I find that aerobic exercise, yoga or lifting weights are all very effective ways to release the build up of anger that can fester when you bite your tongue or hold back from fully expressing yourself. Physical activity is a pathway to equanimity, as is any type of meditation.

During a workout you can deconstruct the elements of what happened, let out aggression, and figure out why something upset you. During a jog, bike ride, swim, kick-boxing session, elliptical ride… you can come up with a game plan to resolve conflicts in a magnanimous way.  

Many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation that includes LKM (loving-kindness meditation) can rewire your brain. Practicing LKM is easy. All you have to do is take a few minutes everyday to sit quietly and systematically send loving and compassionate thoughts to: 1) Family and friends. 2) Someone with whom you have tension or a conflict. 3) Strangers around the world who are suffering. 4) Self-compassion, forgiveness and self-love to yourself.

Doing this simple 4-step LKM practice literally rewires your brain by engaging neural connections linked to empathy. You can literally feel the tumblers in your brain shift and open up to empathy by spending just a few minutes going through this systematic LKM practice.

Conclusion: Make Equanimity Your Golden Rule

Taking a few long, slow deep breaths and literally counting to 10 is the best way to kickstart equanimity. Yes, it takes mental toughness to be nice sometimes. Especially when someone is attacking or judging you. But, evolution does not reward mean and selfish people — nor does modern day-to-day life. Sometimes you feel disempowered when you ‘turn the other cheek,’ but equanimity will always prevail. Hate and hostility will eat you up from the inside and out and sabotage your social connections which are the most important thing in life for your well-being. 

The goal of practicing equanimity is to avoid the backlash of adrenaline ortestosterone driven ”rage attacks” that destroy human connection and trust. Once your biological response has returned to a neutral state of homeostasis you can revisit the situation either in writing or in a face-to-face conversation on neutral turf. Never try to resolve a conflict via text messaging or voicemail. 

Equanimity is not about being a doormat or suppressing your emotions. Jackie Robinson was a perfect example of what I call ‘ferocious equanimity.’ If you’d like to read more on this please check out my Psychology Today blog, “The Guts Enough Not to Fight Back.”  

Equanimity is the most important state of mind to maintain when interacting with people who rub you the wrong way or push your buttons. The next time someone really gets under your skin and you want to lash out take a deep breath and try these 4 simple ways to replace that hostility with equanimity. You’ll be glad you did.”

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