Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Think About Fear

Fear is powerful. It's manipulative, and advertisers love it. Why? Because fear sells. We spend money because of fear; we even dislike others out of fear.

Knowledge, though, can be more powerful than fear. Knowledge can make us less fearful by inserting reason into those nagging voices around us (i.e., society).

As I was thinking about this post and what I wanted to say, dozens of anecdotes kept coming to mind. I first thought of this past fall when the fear of Ebola spread like wildfire in the U.S., where, for most of us, there was very little risk.

I also thought of a recent excursion to the dentist where the dentist used a number of "scare tactics" in trying to coerce me into purchasing an appliance (for my mouth--not my kitchen!). While his reasons may have been sound, his sleazy salesman tactics led me to question his credibility; thus, I no longer felt as though he had my best interests in mind as a patient. For the discerning thinker, those kinds of tacks don't work; the discerning thinker questions and makes up her mind based on reason and logic, not fear.

I thought of the students whose fears of poor grades may cause them to cheat, thereby forgetting the reason for education.

And I thought of those whose fears of differences (of religion, race, lifestyles, etc.) cause them to kill or lash out in other inappropriate ways. 

And, finally, I thought of a book I read several months ago, Saving Normal by Allen Frances, M.D. Dr. Frances writes about the medicalization of normal life, manifested in the overdiagnoses/misdiagnoses of some (not all!) mental disorders/illnesses. Well researched and supported, Dr. Frances also bases his opinions on his experiences as a psychiatrist as well as his experiences with different editions of the DSM (DSM-5 is the most recent). This book also talks about, among other things, how, in marketing prescription drugs, the "worried well" are often targeted. Worries are often irrational in themselves. In other words, "worried" equals fear.


People are afraid of not being "normal," when normal is actually illusive and arbitrary. There are many states of being, and not all of them constitute a mental illness (in fact, most of them do not). One of the calls-to-action that Dr. Frances presents is in asking patients to be smart consumers; patients need to use their critical thinking skills and educate themselves. (Knowledge can overcome fear here.) Based on what I've read and what I've experienced, patients cannot (and should not!) rely on doctors and the Big Pharma marketers to provide them with all the information they need. Even when doctors do have a patient's best interest in mind, they may still be unwitting pawns in Big Pharma's money-grubbing.

The take-away is this: Applied knowledge (e.g., critical thinking skills) can outwit fear. Don't jump on the bandwagon. Don't believe the hype (the media, the ads, etc.) and fall victim to fear's power.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Think About Choice

This article appeared in my Facebook feed sometime last week: "Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married." I've never been a proponent of women changing their names upon marriage, so the article piqued my curiosity. However, my jaw about dropped to the floor (to engage in a bit of hyperbole...) when I read the first line of the article: "More then 50% of Americans think the woman should be legally required to take her husband's name in heterosexual marriages." What?!! Really?!! I wonder if these are the same people who think that women shouldn't have choices regarding their own reproductive health.

Because that's what it all comes down to: choice.

If a woman chooses to change her name when she marries, I certainly don't have a problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with people who think women should take their spouses' last name. In modern-day America, women are not their husbands' property. While, fortunately, I'm pretty sure that such a law would never happen, it's frightening to me that so many people think this way--"legally required"!  Laws are created to protect people and to protect justice. Legally requiring (i.e., forcing) women to take their spouses' names--besides erasing much of the equal rights work that people have fought for tirelessly for hundreds of years--does nothing for justice.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Think About the Implications of So-Called "Black Friday"

I heard on the news the other night that most "Black Friday" shoppers were buying items for themselves, not for others (at least in my local news area). While I question the accuracy of this kind of "statistic" (as well as the validity of the news reporting), it doesn't surprise me. It saddens me though. In the documentary film "What Would Jesus Buy?" (Google it if you're interested), there was this quote: "We used to be a nation of producers; now we're a nation of consumers . . . . a shopping-addicted country." This is not something to be proud of; this is NOT progress. More to the point regarding Black Friday--since, supposedly, the shopping is in preparation for Christmas--this is NOT what Christmas is about!

Although I loved the excitement of Christmas as a kid and started compiling 20-page wish lists for Santa earlier than I'd now like to admit, I never expected to get anything on my lists (and I usually didn't!). It didn't matter what I got for Christmas. It was the excitement of the holidays and spending time with family and extended family that I relished in. In fact, one of my most memorable presents was when I was five years old and my oldest brother sneaked into my room and took my favorite stuffed animal, wrapped it up, and gave it to me. (This prank actually turned into a running joke, and, for many years--even when I was in college!--we gifted the stuffed animal back and forth to each other: I'd give it to him on his birthday, and I'd get it back at Christmas.) Every year, then, I delighted in receiving something that I'd already had for years; I was delighting in the moment--the connection with my brother--and NOT in the item itself. When kids (and all people) start delighting only in the items themselves, as seems to be the case for much of America (evidenced by the Black Friday tramplings, stabbings, shootings, and spittings over waffle-makers and flat-screen TVs), there's something seriously wrong...

...Not to mention that, by shopping at chain retailers, your money is going into the wrong people's pockets and, thus, you are supporting a corrupt and unjust system. So, if you shop, SHOP LOCAL and INDEPENDENT stores, and support the people who deserve it!

That said, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! :-)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Think About Marketing Images

There's nothing quite like sitting around on a Sunday and reading a bunch of sociology articles/blog posts to get a person all worked up about the state of our society. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who notices what's going on in the world of marketing and consumerism; and, on one hand, it was refreshing to read sentiments that echo my own, to know that I'm, indeed, not alone in my thoughts. On the other hand, though, it is incredibly frustrating to realize how many people passively accept these marketing tacks, particularly the ones that objectify women. 

All it is is marketing; and, if you buy into it, you're supporting it: You're supporting the objectification of women. I don't care about Miley Cyrus. I don't care about twerking. I'm dumbfounded by the people who try to create controversy out of what she does. IT'S MARKETING! Let her do what she does. IGNORE HER. If you talk about it, even against it, you're supporting it. That's what "they" want. (Now, forget you read that because I don't want to be a part of the segment of the population who contributes to her popularity, both negative and positive.)

And while I'm ranting here.... When I was a kid, Halloween was about scary costumes; it wasn't about sexualizing 5-year-old girls. We made our own costumes. We were monsters, witches, devils; we were whatever we wanted to be. It's one thing if an adult woman chooses to be a "sexy devil"; it's quite another when costumes aimed at elementary school-aged children markedly indicate a difference between the devil costume for a boy and a (usually "sexy") devil costume for a girl. Then, there's this: Boy Pterodactyl Costume.

Make your own choices, follow your own instincts, BE CREATIVE, and, for crying out loud, don't let chauvinistic marketing ploys win (even better, don't let consumerism win--see the "BE CREATIVE" part above). 

There, I think I"m done for now.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Think About Roots

I love walking barefoot. I like the comfort of cool dirt on my soles, and I enjoy the simultaneous scent of an evening's dusty trail as it hits my olfactory unit, reminding me of summer camp as a child, when the counselors would trek all of us kids down to the lake shortly before dusk. I remember seeing the sun set through the trees, over the dock; I remember the chill of evening after the swim, as I wrapped myself up in a beach towel and longed for the warmth of my sleeping bag, although my feet . . . they weren't cold. 

But what do bare feet have to do with one's roots, one's origin, one's connection to a place?

After not having written much poetry for a few months, I wrote a poem this past weekend. It flowed out in one extended pen breath, so freely and quickly that I didn't even think about what I was writing until after the words were already on the page. Then, like any studious English major, I dissected it and looked for a deeper meaning, as if it weren't even my own poem. While not an especially deep (or, probably, even good) poem, in it I saw that I equated bare feet with freedom, motion, and contentment. The barefooted heroine of the poem tells my story in this partial stanza: " . . . there isn't a road / that can carry me back / to somewhere I don't want to be."

I read those lines multiple times, hearing something different each time. I played with word associations, and the first word that came to mind was roots. And I thought about a time when I wanted to be from someplace, to have a place to root myself--as if my identity depended on it. After moving several times in my twenties, bouncing from state to state to state, and from apartment to apartment to apartment to apartment to. . ., I wanted to settle somewhere. I found a new town, a new job, and I bought a house. Roots, I thought. And for a few years, it felt good to be in a "permanent" place, to have ties to somewhere, to have stability: Isn't that the so-called American Dream?

But at some point, it ceased being "home." It wasn't a place I wanted to be from anymore; it certainly wasn't a place where I wanted to have roots. And when you can't grow anymore in a place, when you've taken everything that a place has to offer, you know it's time to move on. That's what my poem was telling me.

That's when I realized that roots (of place, at least) are a myth of sorts. I felt most at home in places where I was living "temporarily," with no intent of staying for more than a couple or three years. Those are the places I miss, because I stayed just long enough but not too long.

And that's when I realized, also, that roots aren't where you live; they aren't a place. They are, instead, your experiences, thoughts and ideas, friends and family, and the imprint you leave on the world--what you do to help others and make the world a better place to inhabit. Roots are you, who you are, and the dreams you heed. Roots are your heart, if you follow it. Your roots are who you've been in the past, who you are now, as well as who you're becoming. Because people are (hopefully!) always changing, so are their roots.

So, where am I from? The actual place of my roots--where my ancestors came from--is a country I haven't been to yet. Otherwise, I'm not sure that I'm from anywhere. I can tell you where I grew up, where I've lived, or where I currently live, but I'm not sure that's the same thing. Where I live is just a rest stop on the way to another rest stop. There are no destinations in life; there's only movement--motion--so one's roots will keep changing, growing, expanding.

While I've always considered myself an intuitive and perceptive person, in the past six or seven months I've learned to listen even closer to my heart. Sometimes you just know when something is right or, inversely, when something's not right.

"time to leave my shoes behind, / to let my naked soles pray on hot asphalt, / to renew their calluses and faith in being, / to let my dirt-caked feet catch fire, / and dance once again"

You just know.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Think About the Lessons from Walden Pond

When I was about 20 years old, a poet friend told me that I was an enigma. I probably looked a little dumbfounded, because he quickly added (presumably so that I would know it was a compliment) that it was a "very endearing quality." He was quite a bit older than I was (of course, when you're 20, anyone over 30 is "quite a bit older"), but it was one of those rare moments in life when you feel like someone has caught a glimpse of what's inside you and has understood, on a deeper level than most people, who you are.

That's what--and who--a poet is. 

And I don't mean someone who writes verse: You don't have to write verse to be a poet (likewise, one is not necessarily a poet just because he or she writes verse). A poet is the person who sees and understands the enigmatic elements in another person, and a poet is also the enigma. Round and round, back and forth: This is why poets--thinkers, bohemians, artists, and other authentic selves--are drawn to each other.

And Henry David Thoreau was most certainly a poet.

I think that Thoreau's Walden is one of those books that people want to have read but don't actually want to read. In eleventh grade, we had to read a snippet of an already small snippet of Walden out of our literature textbook. It contained the passage that most people recognize and equate with Thoreau: "Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" We probably even discussed it for half a class period.

But how many people have read that passage and thought about what it really means? How many have gone even further and actually applied it to their lives?

And why is that the only passage from Walden that students tend to be exposed to in school? I typed out three (single-spaced) pages of my favorite quotes from the book. I considered them "favorites" because I found them thought-provoking and/or applicable to my life. Or I found them to be things I think--or have thought--only not with as much clarity or eloquence as Thoreau. Consider, for instance, his perspective on clothing: "As for Clothing, . . . perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility." Think about this the next time you put on a skirt, dress, or pair of pants that doesn't have a pocket.

Another choice quote: "While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them."

And his take on education: "We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making the most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this village does for its own culture. . . . It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women."

It is surprising to me how so little changes in so much time (about 160 or so years since Thoreau penned Walden) . . . especially when so much has changed.

Thoreau writes that he is "convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough." How come this was not the passage we discussed in eleventh grade English class?

But the reason I know, with certainty, that Thoreau was a poet is because of the line he wrote for me (and for every other poet): "The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through deepest snows and most dismal tempests, was a poet. A farmer, a hunter, a soldier, a reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love." This, too, is what makes poets different.

If you can get past Thoreau's periodic bitterness and arrogance, Walden is actually a smart, occasionally humorous, readily accessible, and, perhaps most importantly, relevant book. It should not be taken merely as literature, as a crazy man's two-year living experiment in the woods. That negates its usefulness. It should be read and considered as actual lessons for living.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I'm Madder Than Hell and I'm Not Going to Take it Anymore...

If you don't stand up for an injustice, then you're allowing it to continue. Silence is acceptance.

Why are people so afraid of upsetting the status quo? Why do so many people blindly accept what should be changed?

I'm appalled by passivity, just as I'm appalled by unfairness. Unfortunately, the two often go hand-in-hand. In fact, people often tell me to not "make waves." They give me varying reasons--not unfounded reasons, I'll admit--relating how my actions now will affect my future. This is true, but it also goes against my nature and what I believe: If something is unacceptable, if someone is treating you (and/or someone else) in an unacceptable manner, I think it's one's right--nay, one's duty--to stand up for oneself (and for those who may not have a voice). Doing so also affects one's future, but it affects one's present well-being, too. In the grand scheme of things, there is more at stake than, say, just a job reference. Change doesn't happen unless people "make waves," unless they disrupt the status quo.

Think of all the news stories and social media memes regarding people affected by bullying. While it's an overused word (in my estimation), it's a very real act. And it happens everywhere--not just in cyberspace or in schools. It happens in the workplace: Corporation as bully, management as pawns, silence as approval.

In ninth grade science class (and in homeroom), due to abhorrent alphabetical seating, an annoying kid sat behind me kicking and shaking my desk all class period, all semester (and, in homeroom, all year; but for as little time as was spent in homeroom, that was inconsequential). At first, I was fairly passive. I'd get to the class early and move his desk several feet away from mine. But as soon as he came to class, he'd either sit down and ram his desk into the back of mine or he'd slowly inch his way toward me (which was preferable--sometimes I'd have almost two-thirds of the class period free from his idiocy). Trying to reason with him didn't work either (as one might expect); instead, he added poking me with a pencil to his repertoire. Ultimately, I went to the teacher and asked if I could change seats. He wouldn't let me. (I did anyway, without permission, but my tormentor occasionally followed me.) Speaking up doesn't always make a difference, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you've done something.
If you don't speak up at all, though, the bully--be it a person, a company, an organization, or a general unjust act or rule--wins. Triumphs, in fact.

Don't accept the unacceptable. Question. Speak. Act.