Friday, May 29, 2015

We were relaxing on the deck, talking to some friends this weekend, now that it's Summer.  We don't get Spring any more; it goes from sixteen feet of snow to 87 degrees in a week. But all this climate change stuff is just a Liberal plot to ruin business and make coal and oil companies look bad.

Relating to that, one of my friends has just returned from one of his many trips to China where he, like many American businesses, has employees.  He told me that he has a factory in a city I had never heard of that has nine million people.  I looked it up and saw that there are about twenty cities in China with more than five million people. Half of those have over ten million. By contrast, the U.S. has one city with a population of over five million,NYC. One.

I have worked as a mental health professional in a city that has a population of 110,000. There are lots of mental health problems to be dealt with. So, I wondered, what goes on on China?  What do those people think about?  What is it like to be in a swarming city of new high rise apartments that go on and on.

I have never been to China. I think I'd like to go, but I don't think I would really get to answer my questions since I don't know the language and I probably wouldn't get to do interviews with any of the people who live in those high rise apartments.

But I'm sure that their outlook on life, and the things that run through their brains and minds are in many ways very different, and in other ways very similar to mine.

I imagine they worry about their families and hope for the best for their children.
Do they worry about climate change?
I'm sure they have personal relationships, and relationship problems.
Would they talk to a therapist?  Is that something that is done?
Do they relate to a tight little community that surronds them, or are left feeling overwhelmed by having millions of people close by.

Culture, and subculture has so much to do with how our brains are programed and how we view ourselves and how we fit into the world.  We are all human, and that gives us some basics, but it can be molded and shaped so differently.

So many of the differences are clearly learned and shaped by culture. We know several Chinese-American families that are very American, but still have Chinese customs.  We know several Chinese born women who were adopted by American families as infants, and they are totally American.

The world shrinks, but it doesn't
People get to know each other, but they don't

This will continue to change.  I believe that we will all become more homogenized over time.
But not in the same ways.  Sadly, I am beginning to believe that the rich all over the world will become more like each other.  The poor all over the world will have similar difficult lives.  Those two groups will be very different.

I hope that the future proves me wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mental Health and Weather

The more that I continue to reflect on the psychotherapy treatment I am still doing, and that I have done over the last forty years, as well as what I read about in books, journals and in discussions with my colleagues, the more I see similarities between the treatment of mental health issues and the weather.

Psychology and psychiatry have both become very skilled at describing what is happening.  Weather people do that too.  We can describe the kind of storm that people are going through in their lives and in their minds.  It could be a panic attack storm, or a depressive storm, or perhaps a more destructive bipolar storm.

All of the mental illness diagnoses are descriptive.  They do not really give any idea of the cause of the problem.  But they usually are very good descriptions of what is going on.  However, if the cause is not known, finding a solution becomes more difficult.

Mental health professions are very good, although not quite as good as weather people, at making predictions.  We have a good idea of when someone will fall apart or pull themselves together. We can look at history and try to predict the future, often with surprising accuracy.

Weather people are better at that.  They have a lot of computer models to follow, all with little swirling diagrams of high and low pressure systems, wind currents, water temperatures, and cloud formations.

Psychologists don't have too many computer models that are used to predict human behavior.  Marketers have very good ones, and they use them more than Psychologists.  Google, Amazon, Walmart and Target are especially good at knowing what you will buy, even before you do, and then selling it to you. But I expect that computer models of your behavior will be coming soon.

Too often however, helping people to change is too much to trying to change the weather.  We can talk about it , be supportive, undeerstanding, and make suggestions.  But often, too often, the best we can do is give people an umbrella to help them weather the storm.

Now this post seems pretty negative.  I don't mean it to be.  I really just want to give people the idea that change is difficult, especially significant behavioral change.  I want people to realize that it's not surprising or their fault that it takes a long time.  They should hang in there and keep at it.

But I know that what catches on on the Internet, and it the world in general, is promising, hopeful messages, with an upbeat spirit and a happy ending, even when the odds of that are not very good.

Our brains like to be happy, even if it isn't realistic --- almost especially if it's not realistic.

So next time I will be more Inspirational, and not be such a grumpy old man.

I will be upbeat and show you how you Can Be anything you wish to be.
I'll try.
i mean I WILL!
(Happier now?)

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Baltimore: Solutions

Really, what’s the problem in Baltimore?  And more important: what’s are some solutions?

There is plenty of blame to be put on everyone.  It is easy to get angry.  It is easy to take a stand of righteous indignation, no matter what your point of view. It’s easy to show where the other side is wrong, because in some ways they are. But, sadly, as always, the answer is more complex.

Who’s wrong?  Everybody and nobody.

The underlying problem is fear and misunderstanding.  That has been going on for three hundred years, and three thousand years.  It was written into the hallowed United States Constitution.  Slavery was allowed.  That meant some people could legally own and rule over the lives of others. 

From today’s point of view that was awful.  Back then it was common practice.  A few people opposed it, but certainly not a majority.  Really, it was an energy policy.

However, the enslaved Africans were not happy with it, not even then.  They feared the people who owned them, and the owners knew it.  So the fear and resentment began then. Fear and resentment is circular.  It breeds on itself and expands. 

The police in Baltimore were doing their job.  They had to deal with a population that didn’t trust them.  They had to be on guard.  They were afraid.  That fear, magnified by both stereotypes and experience, shaped their reactions. 

Those reactions created more resentment in the community. They feel mistreated because of prejudice, and they are.
Both parties were correct in their assumptions.  The cycle of fear, resentment and misunderstanding continued.

This is not new. Nor is it unique to America.  Last month I was in Israel and saw how the cycle of fear and misunderstanding in that part of the world goes back 3000 years.  It continues there today.  There are big fears over very small differences.  But there is no communication.  The different communities are isolated.  The fear increases because no one really knows the “other” as people.  Prejudice and stereotypes and misinformation take over.  The political system reinforces that. Politicians are good at splitting people into “interest groups.” And that is certainly true in Baltimore.

This has been so true for so long that it seems as if there is a genetic basis for it. It probably was adaptive a thousand, or even five hundred years ago to be fearful of people and tribes who were unknown.  Those strange young men swooping into your valley were not coming to teach meditation and yoga.  They wanted your gold, your crops, your women and your water.  They also were eager to cut off your head or make you a slave.

But fear and prejudice are not adaptive any more.  The people of the world overlap too much.  Our lives are too intertwined.  Our enemies have become our suppliers and our customers. Yet, fear, prejudice, hatred and vengeance still seem to be very widespread. It’s an easy sell, and our brains like easy.

What can be done?

We have to get to know each other as people, as individuals.  We have to see we are really all the same.  We have to care about each other instead of blaming each other. We have to build empathy based on our similarities, instead of fear based on our differences.

Sure? Easy to say, hard to do.
For example:
 Brown vs. Board of Education, 1951. A huge landmark case for racial equality.  Integrated schools.  A big step forward.  For a while, maybe, but that didn’t last.
The backlash drove white families into private schools and out of the cities.  Most cities now have badly funded, poorly run schools, filled with poor, almost all minority children.  Their skills are limited. Their networks are limited, and so is their future. The parents who pay for private schools don’t vote to pay taxes for the public schools. People who go to public schools don't pay taxes because they don't have the money.

The idea was to get people to know each other as people.  Instead now, whites and non-whites, rich and poor, religious and secular are now further apart.  We don’t know each other, but we have developed distorted ideas about how the “others” think. People get separated.  Fear and resentment develop.

Solution:  Close all private schools.  Integrate schools with an equal mixture of all levels of wealth.  Give the same education and same resources to all. All families would participate in developing, delivering and monitoring the same education. But mostly get children to feel safe and familiar with those who they now see as different. Fear declines, prejudice declines. America flourishes with contributions from everybody.
Likelihood of happening:  nil. 
Mandatory two years of national service between high school and college.  Everyone
would be sent away from homes and put into small, diverse groups that work on community building and nation building projects together: building a school, building a day care, building a wireless network. Asking not what their country can do for them but……
This is really possible, but likelihood of happening : .00003%
A family dinner exchange program.  Twice a month everyone would have dinner with some folks they didn’t know, who were different in some ways from themselves: racially, economically, professionally, culturally. Six families in six months, with dinner at each person’s place twice.  The costs would be shared unequally, or from the government.  Get to know new people, eat different food, open new pathways in your brain.
Another fun possibility that could be implemented in any city, county or state.
            Likelihood of happening: .00004%
            Why? Because it’s new and therefore feels risky. Because it’s so much easier to stick with the old way of thinking, to blame someone else, and to be frightened.

            If you don’t agree with me, come up with your own idea.  I like new ideas.  I’m an old dog that can learn new tricks.

“Look at me, Look at me, Look at me now.  It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how”
            --- The Cat in the Hat.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

inspiration, with mixed feelings (of course)

This weekend was the once a year conference of the writer’s group that has helped me put together a proposal for a book I am writing.

Everyone there is writing a book, hopes to write a book, would like to write a book.  Some have written books, some are published, some are published and read.

I admired everyone who was there for their devotion, creativity, perceptiveness and most of all to their persistence.   So many people these days feel they have something to say; and in truth, all of us do.

It can be infuriating to see that some folks  get so much attention for writing and saying foolish and misleading things, but it happens.

The writing, reading and publishing business is in flux these days, much like so many other businesses and professions.  That would music, medicine, law, organic farming, credit cards, nursing homes and taxi driving, along with just about everything else we spend money and time doing.  About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the duckpin bowling alley in Billerica, where I’m sorry to say I lost to my son in a rematch of a game that took place nine years ago.

Yet, of course, being who I am, I have mixed feelings.  The people were admirable: smart, witty, earnest and most of them trying to make sense out of the chaos of the world we live in.

The market is mean and merciless; as bad as dealing with health insurance companies who don’t understand or care about mental health.

The market, especially now, with so much competition from other media, wants redemptive stories, happy endings, and simple solutions. Especially from someone they have heard of and trust.  That’s understandable.

Except I don’t believe there are too many redemptive stories.  There are some happy endings, but there are very few, if any, simple solutions.

Also, I am less well known than Chris Christie, to pick on someone who deserves to be picked on. I'm even less well known than his cousin, and I don't even know who that would be.

That’s two strikes against me.

But, we are allowed three strikes, and as many foul balls as we can manage, so I will persevere.